When Frank Lloyd Wright Met Disney

In my book CARTOON MODERN, I mention briefly the story of what happened when legendary architect Frank Lloyd Wright visited the Disney Studios in 1939. Wright had brought along a Russian animated film, THE TALE OF CZAR DURANDAI, and screened it for the artists to inspire them to think more modern.

Never did I imagine that a transcript existed of Wright’s discussion with the Disney artists. Historian Didier Ghez has uncovered the transcript and posted the first five pages of it on his Disney Books blog. He says the rest of the transcript will be posted soon. The discussion in this first part takes place primarily between Wright and storyman T. Hee, who would work at UPA for much of the 1950s. Studio composer Leigh Harline is also present and chimes in briefly. Wright’s unwavering dedication to being progressive and modern must have been quite a jolt to the Disney artists; John Hubley said he was greatly inspired by Wright’s visit to the studio and it’s easy to see why after reading this transcript.

Lasse Gjertsen

It’s a full-time job trying to keep track of all the emerging animation stars of the online world. One of the newest hit-creators is 22-year-old Norwegian Lasse Gjertsen whose videos are racking up millions of hits on YouTube. At the end of this entry, I’ve posted his most successful short, AMATEUR. The film, which uses an offshoot of the pixilation technique, was created in two days and has received over 1.8 millions views in the month that it’s been on YouTube.

Earlier this week, Gjertsen was profiled in the WALL STREET JOURNAL. The article is well worth checking out. It reveals that Gjertsen studied animation in both the UK and Norway. His creativity wasn’t appreciated at either of the schools, so Gjertsen dropped out, began creating his own shorts and posting them onto YouTube.

The WSJ piece also points to this TV commercial for FOSTER’S HOME FOR IMAGINARY FRIENDS that blatantly rips off (I’m sorry, pays homage) to another of Gjertsen’s shorts called HYPERACTIVE. Has there ever been a truer sign of the times: Cartoon Network, with its healthy budgets, plentiful resources, and dozens of artists working on each show, has to look to a lone animation artist working from his parents’ basement in Norway for creative inspiration. We all know that the mainstream animation industry has been creatively bankrupt for years; what’s different is that for the first time, there’s a viable alternative to Hollywood. Whether it’s the heartfelt simplicity of Dony Permedi’s KIWI, the satirical edge of JibJab, or the innovative animation techniques of Lasse Gjertsen, audiences are discovering and embracing an exciting new world of animation that previously wasn’t available to them…and this is only the beginning.

UPDATE: It’s been pointed out to me that the FOSTER’S promo spot, which I mentioned above, was not produced by the crew that produces the TV show. It was created by CN’s On-Air group in Atlanta, without any creative input from the FOSTER’S crew.

The Importance of Sympathy

Mark Mayerson has posted a terrific analysis on his blog of the different ways that sympathy can be created for animated characters. He uses plenty of examples from Disney films. Mark writes:

Sympathy turns out to be a major factor in whether or not an audience roots for a character and based on animation history, the character can be passive or active. I can think of only three ways to make a character sympathetic. If a character obviously does not have the ability to protect himself or herself, if the character is treated unfairly for any reason, or if the character is attempting to help another, more needy, character. A character who is defenseless, the victim of injustice or altruistic will automatically gain audience sympathy.

Animation Still Key At Nickelodeon

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While Cartoon Network continues to abandon cartoons in favor of live-action productions, this article in yesterday’s NY TIMES reaffirms how important animation is to Nickelodeon’s success. These paragraphs stood out in particular:

“Animation really is the heart and soul of our business,” Ms. [Cyma] Zarghami said. It accounts, she said, for more than 70 percent of annual revenues from advertising and licensing of consumer products.

Witness the results from the network’s recent 24-hour “SpongeBob” marathon, capped by a single new episode and the first television broadcast of “The SpongeBob SquarePants Movie” (2004). Those “SpongeBob” episodes accounted for 25 of the 40 highest-rated shows on cable for the week, each drawing from 3.3 million to 6.6 million viewers, according to Nielsen Media Research.

The TIMES piece was “coincidentally” timed with today’s announcement by Nickelodeon of their upcoming slate of animated productions. Among their new shows is EL TIGRE: THE ADVENTURES OF MANNY RIVERA, created by my pals Sandra Equihua and Jorge Gutierrez (pictured above). I haven’t seen any of the episodes yet (the show premieres March 2, 2007), but visually, I’m pleased to report that EL TIGRE features some of the most kick-ass eye candy I’ve seen in a TV production in recent years.

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Richard Williams Interviews Ken Harris

Richard Wiliams and Ken Harris

Thanks to digital tools available nowadays like Flash and various CG packages, everybody knows how to move a character, but very few understand how to make a character act and emote. There’s a lot more thought involved in the latter, as is made clear in this insightful mid-1970s discussion between animation legends Richard Williams and Ken Harris. And don’t forget, Ken Harris has an entire website dedicated to his work at MasterAnimator.com.

The Harris and Williams photo above and the link to the interview both come courtesy of Hans Bacher.

Fantasia Overrated?

Fantasia

“[FANTASIA] is a mishmash of pedantic narration and erratic tone (the finale’s soul-sucking demon gives the death of Bambi’s mom a run for the money in the childhood trauma department), and, frankly, some of the animated sequences now seem dangerously akin to screensavers.” That’s the assessment according to PREMIERE magazine’s list of the 20 most overrated movies of all time.

Brew Holiday Gift Guide: Laugh-O-Grams

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The sixth in a series of holiday gift-giving suggestions from your pals at Cartoon Brew.The big video event this week for Disney buffs is the release of the new Disney Treasures wave – particularly the incredible must-have More Silly Symphonies (take my word for it – you want this!). However, Inkwell Images just released a perfect companion piece which will also make a great gift (to yourself or that animation geek closest to your heart), The Legendary Laugh-O-Grams Fairy Tales. I just got my copy and it may be Ray Pointer’s best release yet. The DVD contains exceptional copies of four of Disney’s earliest known cartoon shorts (from 1922 – way before Mickey, Oswald and Alice). Bonus materials include Disney’s first educational film, Tommy Tuckers Tooth (also from ’22) and an excerpt of a rare audio interview with Laugh-O-Gram employee Rudy Ising. Perfect accompaniment to the above mentioned Silly Symphonies dvd and Neal Gabler’s excellent new Disney biography.

Cartoon Brew Holiday Gift Guide
Stuart Ng Books
Animated Soviet Propaganda dvd
Terr’ble Thompson book
Scott Bradley cd
Silly Symphonies book

Genndy Tartakovsky’s Nicorette Commercial

Genndy Tartakovsky commercial

This Nicorette commercial is the first spot I’ve seen directed by Genndy Tartakovsky (DEXTER’S LAB, SAMURAI JACK) since he became connected with The Orphanage. I’m somewhat ambivalent about the spot at the moment, but the graphics are undeniably slick and there’s some snappy timing throughout. Besides Tartakovsky’s direction credit, other talent on the spot includes Webster Colcord (animation supervisor), Brian Kulig (cg supervisor), and Jonathan Rothbart (vfx supervisor).

Shawn Marion: NBA Star and Cartoon Fan

According to the NEW YORK TIMES, Phoenix Suns forward Shawn Marion loves cartoons and has a collection of thousands of animation dvds. I got a kick out of this sentence in the article: “His stock consists mostly of classics like ‘He-Man,’ ‘Transformers,’ ‘DuckTales,’ ‘ThunderCats,’ ‘Hong Kong Phooey’ and ‘Scooby-Doo.’” Old school? Yeah. Classics? Hardly. Anyway, it’s a fairly amusing article.

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Cartoon Characters and Merchandising

Independent animator (and former syndicated newspaper cartoonist) Chris Harding has a thought-provoking rant on his blog about the perils of allowing your cartoon characters to be licensed for merchandise. He writes:

Here’s how it works: You spend all your energy and passion, and it almost kills you, but somehow you manage to breathe a tiny bit of life into a character… your baby. And then some genius comes along and, bing-bang, sells the rights to print that character’s face on a napkin. That people wipe their food on. On your character’s face. That you worked so hard to breathe life into. Chocolate cake all over their face. It shows contempt for the very idea of a character, because they only exist where we put them. And if they are even slightly real to you, if you care even a little about them, it shows a lot of disrespect to wipe your filth on their faces. It only makes sense if your goal is just to cash out, leaving behind the husks of other peoples’ once lively creations to rot and stink in the nostrils of posterity.

Trippy Commercial by Hans Fischerkoesen

I pointed to some surreal French animated commercials last week, but they don’t come close to this mid-century theatrical spot by German animation legend Hans Fischerkoesen. The commercial, which is kind of like Hitchcock-meets-Harryhausen, advertises Underberg, an herbal formula used to treat indigestion. And all we get in the US for heartburn is squiggly Blechman drawings.

SITO AT THE BARN

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Attention all Angelenos: Tom Sito, Disney animator, former president of the Animation Guild, and now author of Drawing the Line: The Untold Story of the Animation Unions from Bosko to Bart Simpson will speak Thursday, December 14, 2006, 7:30 pm, at the Hollywood Heritage Museum. No one has collected more stories about the Golden Age of Hollywood animation than Tom, and his book is a must have. The Hollywood Heritage Museum is in the Lasky-DeMille Barn at 2100 North Highland Avenue (across the street from the Hollywood Bowl). Parking is free. Admission is $8 (Hollywood Heritage Members: $5) for this special event.

THE LIVING ANIMATION FESTIVAL

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Animation director Matt Ferguson (Harold Rosenbaum Chartered Accountant and Grossology for Nelvana) has, over the past week, been posting clips and full versions of the 2006 Annie Award nominees on his new blog, The Living Animation Festival. Matt’s also been posting all kinds of great stuff he finds on YouTube, including early films of John Lasseter and Michael Dudok de Wit. Well worth a daily visit.

UBUWEB

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UbuWeb bills itself as a “YouTube of the Avant-Garde” and I can’t think of a better description. Among other things, they have a great collection of avant-garde film, all available for free viewing. The animation offerings are kind of sparse, but there are some difficult-to-find films that are worth checking out including Robert Breer’s A MAN AND HIS DOG OUT FOR AIR, numerous shorts by Walerian Borowczyk, Ed Emshwiller’s early CG landmark SUNSTONE, Frank and Caroline Mouris’s Oscar-winning FRANK FILM, and a couple of stop-motion classics by Ladislaw Starewicz.

Brew Holiday Gift Guide: Stuart Ng Books

Stuart Ng Showroom

The fifth in a series of holiday gift-giving suggestions from your pals at Cartoon Brew.

This one is only for folks in southern California. It used to be that to get your hands on Stuart Ng’s amazing collection of out-of-print and contemporary illustration and cartoon books, one had to wait for the annual San Diego Comic-Con or arrange a personal visit to Stuart’s collection. But now, Stuart has opened a 1000-square-foot showroom in Torrance, and he’s holding his first-ever open house this holiday season. The showroom will be open from 11am to 5pm for the next two weekends: December 9-10 and 16-17. The Stuart Ng showroom is located at 22910 Crenshaw Blvd., Suite B, Torrance, California 90505. To check out his catalog or for more details, visit StuartNgBooks.com. But please, leave a couple Ronald Searle books for me.

Cartoon Brew Holiday Gift Guide
Animated Soviet Propaganda dvd
Terr’ble Thompson book
Scott Bradley cd
Silly Symphonies book

Hardly a Miracle

Miracle Animation's Tom Hignite

What happens when a nutty evangelical homebuilder decides to become the next Walt Disney, and hires a bunch of ex-Disney animators to build his own 2D animation empire in Wisconsin? That sounds like the set-up to a bad joke, but unfortunately, it actually happened last year and the results were predictably disastrous. The story of Tom Hignite and Miracle Studios is recounted in painful detail in the current issue of MILWAUKEE MAGAZINE. It’s a long but mighty entertaining read.

Platform Animation Festival

Platform Animation Festival

We’ve needed a good animation festival here in the US for the long time and we may finally be getting it in the form of the Platform International Animation Festival, which will take place June 25-30, 2007 in Portland, Oregon. The recently launched festival website has more info including details on how to submit films (deadline is March 1, 2007).

The festival is sponsored entirely by Cartoon Network, which was initially some cause for concern, but thankfully, CN seem to be taking a largely hands-off approach and allowing this to become its own festival. I’ve spoken extensively with the festival’s director and founder Irene Kotlarz, and she’s attempting to really push the limits of what an animation festival can be. In addition to screenings of short films and special programs, Platform will weave in and out of related arts by having installations and art exhibits, as well as incorporating comics, illustration and toy design into the programming. It’s exciting to finally have a major festival so close to the animation epicenters of Southern California and the Bay Area. I definitely know where I’ll be next June.

A DATE THAT WILL LIVE IN INFAMY

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What are you doing on Pearl Harbor Day?janet3.jpgThis Thursday (tomorrow, Dec. 7th) John Canemaker will be in Hollywood, hosting a program to celebrate the DVD debut of DISNEY TRUE-LIFE ADVENTURES 1949 -1960. He’ll be screening highlights from the pioneering live action Disney film series, and lead a discussion with a panel of filmmakers, including Roy E. Disney. Paul Kenworthy, Bruce Reitherman, and David Bossert. At 7:30 p.m. in the Egyptian Theatre, 6712 Hollywood Boulevard, Hollywood, CA.I myself will be half a mile away, running a fine selection of vintage animated cartoons at the Janet Klein concert at The Steve Allen Theatre. I do this every month, the first Thursday of each. It’s a great evening of fun which starts at 8:00pm. For more info go here.