Reading The La Times On New Year’s Eve

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I read the LA Times during lunch today and found this tribute cartoon by Gary Varvel in the Editorial pages. The LA Times printed it in black & white, but I found it online in color for you. It’s a nice piece, but does anyone else find it odd to see Johnny Bravo standing in there?Meanwhile, over in the LA Times Book Review section, Ed Park reviews Fantagraphics excellent POPEYE comic strip compilation book, I Yam What I Yam, Vol.1. A little late for Christmas, but it’s great to see Popeye (in any form) receiving some recognition in a major newspaper.

Cartoon Brew: Year in Review, Year Ahead

Jerry and I tend to view Cartoon Brew as both a complement and antidote to the mainstream media’s coverage of the art form. We aspire to fill in the gaps of MSM coverage by offering historical and independent perspectives on the animation art, and by creating a reliable outlet for sharing the insider views of all the industry artists who are in constant communication with us.

Looking back at our monthly news archives, I personally think this past year was our most successful in fulfilling these aims. I have a feeling that many readers would agree with that assessment, especially because we also experienced a banner year in terms of site traffic. In fact, Cartoon Brew’s traffic more than doubled from the previous year with over 1.6 million unique visits to our homepage in 2006, and well over 2 million uniques across all Cartoon Brew pages. It may be true that the Brew is something of a niche blog, particularly when compared to general interest blogs like BoingBoing or Metafilter, but with these type of numbers, it’s safe to say that animation is a thriving and popular blog niche.

What went on behind the scenes at our humble website was even more exciting. We’ve been hard at work on a major overhaul of the Brew website which will add all types of new functionality including individual entry pages, search functions, and the ability for reader comments. There’s also an even bigger Brew-related project in the works, one that I can’t discuss right now, but which I’m sure many of our readers are already aware of. 2006 was a great year for us, but 2007 promises to be even bigger and better. None of this, of course, would be possible without you, our valued readers, and we hope you’ll continue to come along with us for the ride.

Just for fun, here’s a roundup of some of my most popular/controversial posts from 2006:

Artist reactions to the Disney-Pixar merger

Continuing coverage of Cartoon Network’s abandonment of animation: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6

Interview with Garrett Gilchrist about his THIEF AND THE COBBLER: RECOBBLED CUT project

Commentary: Is My Animated Short Worth A Penny? and responses

Commentary:To Pitch or Not To Pitch

The year of stupid animation comments, courtesy of Mick LaSalle, James Lipton, Jason Anderson, Jeff Lenburg and George Miller

Prescott Wright (1935-2006)

prescottwright.jpgKarl Cohen (president of ASIFA-San Francisco) reports that Prescott Wright, a co-founder of the Ottawa International Animation Festival and ASIFA-San Francisco, and the original producer of the Tournee of Animation, has passed away.Prescott had been in slow decline for several years with Picks Syndrome, a form of dementia related to Alzheimer. He died on December 28th at age 71. Karl Cohen writes:

“Pres spent about 40 years of his life promoting animation as a great art form. In the late 1960s several of his friends with ASIFA-Hollywood decided to put together an international animation program. It was almost impossible to see quality animation in the US at that time. Pres was active with the group and having worked previously in film distribution, he was asked to head the project, The International Tournee of Animation, when they decided to show the program in other places. He continued to organize and distribute the annual celebration until Terry Thoren’s Expanded Entertainment purchased rights to the program in the late 1980s.”For many years Prescott was on ASIFA’s international board of directors, and was an advisor to the Ottawa and other major animation festivals. More recently he worked for Disney as an artist recruiter and then worked in the Philippines and India as an instructor and in development with emerging animation studios.”

I met Prescott myself shortly after I moved to L.A. in 1986, when I came to work with Terry Thoren to distribute the Tournee for Expanded Entertainment. Prescott was always friendly, knowledgeable and eager to help us communicate with filmmakers and theater owners across the country and around the world. Prescott was a pioneer – in those pre-cable, pre-Internet days – by getting independent and international animation showcased and making those films accessible to those unable to attend festivals in far off lands. Without Wright’s vision, the Ottawa festival would not be what it is; successor touring programs like Spike and Mike and The Animation Show would not be; ASIFA-SF would not be the strong chapter it is. Karl Cohen says Prescott’s family will have a small ceremony in his honor in Albuquerque, New Mexico in a couple of days; and ASIFA-San Francisco will dedicate their annual party, on Friday January 5th, to his memory.

Alex Chun Reviewing Animation in LA Times

Alex Chun, who’s been writing a lot of superb animation and comic-related pieces for the LA TIMES over the past year, is now also reviewing some animated films for the paper. His first review, published today, is of Luc Besson’s ARTHUR AND THE INVISIBLES. Chun isn’t pulling any punches; he writes, “Director Luc Besson, best known for ‘La Femme Nikita’ and ‘The Fifth Element,’ admits he knew nothing about animation before he started this project, and it shows…taken together, there’s little in ‘Arthur’ to evidence the seven years it took to put the project together.”

It’s also worth pointing out that Alex has been involved as editor and writer for some great Fantagraphics books over the past few years including TOPHATS AND FLAPPERS: THE ART OF RUSSELL PATTERSON (with Shane Glines), THE PIN-UP ART OF DAN DECARLO, and the upcoming must-have WHERE’S DENNIS?: THE MAGAZINE CARTOONS OF HANK KETCHAM.

REGINALD MASSIE

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Screenwriter Jeff Massie, an executive board member of The Animation Guild, has started blogging about his life and stuff he likes, mostly about culture and politics. However, earlier this month Massie started posting about his artist dad, Reginald Massie:

Not long after Paramount signed (George) Pal to a contract in 1939, Reg Massie came to work for him briefly between gigs at Disney. Along with much of the Disney studio’s best and brightest, Dad walked out of Disney in the 1941 strike, where he met my mother on the picket line.During WWII he was in charge of effects animation at the Army Signal Corps Photographic Center in Astoria, Long Island, working with Frank Capra and John Huston on animated maps and special effects. After the war, he returned to Pal in time for the Puppetoon’s brief golden era.Although he was only credited for “backgrounds”, Dad was essentially the art director, responsible for the overall look of the shorts.

More on Reginald Massie and downloads of his his Puppetoon films are posted here on Jeff’s This Is Not My Blog.(Image above is a gag drawing by Virgil “Vip” Partch of fellow Disney inbetweeners, left to right: Sam Cobean, Tony Rivera, Bill McIntyre, Partch, Reginald Massie (foreground), and Dick Shaw. More info on this drawing see Massie’s post here)

George Miller Has A Case of Foot-in-Mouth

HAPPY FEET director George Miller gives us a classic line, from a recent piece in the WASHINGTON POST:

“I knew even the greatest animators in the world would take a lifetime to pull off the nuances of dancing that a gifted dancer is able to pull off.”

Animation director Mark Mayerson comments on his blog about Miller’s ignorant and uninformed quote. And somebody remind me, if Miller feels this way about the potential of the lowly animation art and its artists, why the hell is he directing animated films? Just look at the prince’s final kissing scene in the COAL BLACK link directly below this post; Rod Scribner’s animation performance in that scene is genius. One could easily counter Miller’s statement by saying that it would take the greatest live-action actors in the world a lifetime to pull off the animated performance that Scribner offers in that film. But why these apples-and-oranges comparisons? Animation allows you to do things that can’t be accomplished in any piece of live-action film or dance. It amazes me that a guy who just directed an entire animated feature still doesn’t understand that most basic and fundamental of concepts.

Coal Black and Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy

Animator Bob Harper sent over a link to this online print of Bob Clampett’s classic short COAL BLACK AND DE SEBBEN DWARFS. It is easily the nicest looking version of the film that I’ve ever seen posted online.

And below you can watch the Oscar-nominated 1941 Lantz short BOOGIE WOOGIE BUGLE BOY OF COMPANY “B”. It was posted online by Thad Komorowski of the incomparable Animation ID blog. The stereotyping is unfortunate and uncomfortable, moreso in this Lantz short than in COAL BLACK, though certainly evident in both films. The cartoons, however, provide some great entertaining animation and can hopefully be enjoyed as products of a less enlightened period in American history.

Great Article on Master Animator Bill Tytla

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Here’s some great weekend reading. The ASIFA-Hollywood Animation Archive has posted another wonderful animation document: scans of a 1994 catalog for a Bill Tytla exhibit at the Katonah Museum of Art in New York. The exhibit was organized by John Canemaker and the piece about Tytla in the catalog is also written by Canemaker. The link above is to the first half of the article. The second half will be posted soon on the Animation Archive.

(via Michael Sporn’s Splog)

COYOTE CATCHES ROAD RUNNER

Scenes We’d Like To See Dept.

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Our thanks to Brew reader Steve Austin who sent in this incredible drawing by Chuck Jones.

Sorry for the quality of the pic but I don’t know how to operate my wife’s so-called “idiot proof” camera. Chuck drew this for me in 1977 when I wrote an article on WB cartoons. During the interview I made a few comments about the iconic characters in a “where are they now?” situation. He liked the one about the Coyote so much that he drew it for me. I was stunned. It’s a scenario which never occured in the WB universe… and to the best of my knowledge, Chuck never drew this gag again.

THE SECRET SHOW

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As animated features currently dwell in a CG rut of fairy tale spoofs and talking animal adventures, television animation has become the place to see a more refreshing diversity of cartoon styles. The Nicktoons Network has quietly started premiering original programming – some good (Skyland), some bad (My Dad The Rock Star), some ugly (Thugaboo). I just recieved a preview video for a new one called THE SECRET SHOW, and this one’s pretty good. Keeping in mind that it’s aimed at the kids in the 9 to 14 year old demographic, it’s quite entertaining. Produced in CelAction, with nicely stylized art direction and clever scripts by Britian’s Collingwood O’Hare Entertainment, the show will begin regular weekly airing on the digital Nicktoons channel in January.Each episode starts off with an old Granny welcoming us to The Fluffy Bunny Show, after which secret operatives take over the scene and the real cartoon begins. It’s yet-another spy spoof, with shades of Get Smart, Austin Powers and a bit of Monty Python, but it never takes itself too seriously, and the plots are witty and fun. The Secret Show is certainly worth a look, and you’ll have your chance starting January 20th, 8:30pm on Nicktoons Network.

BUSTER BALLOON

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I was lucky enough to attend a wonderful Boxing Day party last night which was teeming with Hollywood celebrities (not to name drop, but my favorite character actors Fred Willard, Paul Dooley, Robert Forrester and Chuck McCann were there, as well as Stan Freberg, Harlan Ellison and Buck Henry, to name but a few). But, as likewise reported by Mark Evanier, the hit of the evening was this guy making balloon figures and objects. Anything anyone could throw at him, he was able to quickly concoct into a more-than-resonable likeness in colored latex. I saw balloon versions of Elvis, Jack Skellington, Goofy and The Little Mermaid. Songwriter Richard Sherman got a Mary Poppins, painter Olivia DeBeradinis obtained a balloon version of Betty Page, actor/movie collector Bob Burns recieved an amazing balloon rendition of George Pal’s Time Machine. Me? I asked for Tex Avery’s Droopy. And ya’know what? I’m happy! (photo of me with my Droopy balloon here)The balloon maker was Buster Balloon, a stout fellow in a zoot suit, looking like he just stepped out of a Columbia two reeler from 1944. Within a few minutes I was transfixed with his activities – and by the end of the evening he had won everyone over with his art. This is one of those things you just have to see in person to appreciate. I really admired his knowledge of cartoon character design which enabled him to create balloon objets d’art in seconds. If you are in a party planning situation and in need of something guaranteed to delight your guests, get Buster.
And invite me.

DISNEY’S TRAIN

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For Christmas of 1949, Walt Disney received a miniature ride-on steam locomotive from Santa, as seen in the first Disney TV special, One Hour in Wonderland (aired December 25, 1950). It was built by elves at the Disney Studio machine shop, and when installed in Disney’s backyard, the little train enabled Walt to entertain his guests on a theme park-type ride for the first time. In the photo above, Walt Disney (center) is seen at the premiere steam-up of his partially-completed miniature locomotive Lilly Belle (named for his wife Lillian) on December 24, 1949. Others on hand are (clockwise from left, studio draftsman Eddie Sargeant, machinist Dick VanEvery and animator Ward Kimball). Walt’s miniature railroad hobby was a precursor to what he created at Disneyland just five years later.Now, Disney’s original train can be seen in a rare Southern California appearance at the Richard Nixon Library in Yorba Linda, CA (extended through January 11th, 2007; closed New Year’s Day). The train likely won’t be shown again until the Disney Family Foundation opens a new museum at San Francisco’s Presidio in 2009. (The locomotive was once exhibited at Main Street Station in Disneyland, but was replaced by a replica several years ago.) Footage of the train in action can be found on the recently released Walt Disney Treasures DVD, Your Host Walt Disney. The exhibit will be staffed in part by members of Walt Disney’s miniature train group, the Carolwood Pacific Historical Society. The Disney train is just a portion of an exhibit that contains what has been called the biggest holiday toy train layout ever constructed. Click here for a CBS newscast video which explains more.(Thanks, Steve Waller)

MERRY CHRISTMAS!

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Here’s an old photo of me in 1964 (age 9) under our pathetic aluminum Christmas tree, all dressed up and proud of my favorite Chiristmas gift that year, the Ideal Monster Lab game (which turned out to be one of lamest toys I ever owned – more info about it here). My sisters Stephanie (middle) and Laurie (right) hold up their favorite gifts, but I’m hogging up the picture space with my prize. Gosh – remember those neck ties? What were they called?

MIYAZAKI’S 28-TON CLOCK

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Studio Ghibli presented an early Christmas gift to Tokyo’s Nippon Television Network on Wednesday. A huge mechanical clock, designed by Hayao Miyazaki. The Mainichi Daily News reports:

The clock, which is 12 meters tall, 18 meters wide and weighs 28 tons, was made from 1,228 copper plates, and displays 32 mechanical trick features. The clock resembles images from Miyazaki’s film “Howl’s Moving Castle,” and at fixed intervals blacksmith dolls come out of the clock as music is played.

Jeremy Bernstein sent us a You Tube link to a video of the clock.

2007 Animated Short Oscar Shortlist

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Circulating amongst animators this week was the shortlist of possible Oscar nominees in the Animation Short Film category. The final nominees, chosen from this list, will be announced in February. Till then, here’s what Academy members will be considering:

The Danish Poet by Torill Kove (NFB)
Everything Will Be OK by Don Hertzfeldt
Family Ties: Dreams & Desires by Joanna Quinn
Guide Dog by Bill Plympton
Lifted by Gary Rydstrom (Pixar)
Little Match Girl by Roger Allers (Disney)
Maestro directed by Géza M Toth
No Time for Nuts directed by Chris Renaud & Mike Thurmeier (Blue Sky)
Tragic Story with Happy Ending by Regina Pessoa
One Rat Short by Alex Weil