The boys and girls at one of my favorite stop-motion studios, Screen Novelties, were recently assigned an unlikely task: restoring the original (and now dilapidated) puppets used in the production of the 1964 Rankin/Bass holiday classic RUDOLPH THE RED-NOSED REINDEER. There’s a documentation of the puppet restoration (restored by Robin Walsh) along with plenty of photos posted on the Screen Novelties blog. The puppets are currently on display at Atlanta’s Center for Puppetry Arts.
Gabriele Pennacchioli, an animator/story artist/designer at Dreamworks Animation, has completed his on-line graphic story Kamuc. Says Gabriele:
It “only” took 6 months of my spare time. During this time my main job was animating on “Flushed Away” and as you know, that takes a lot of energies but nevertheless I managed to do the 23 panels that create the full story.
The panels are posted one a day on his blog. It’s best to scroll down to July 13th (that’s the first panel of the story), and work you way up to December 19th to enjoy the full experience.
Right after the production of FERNGULLY: THE LAST RAINFOREST (1992), Bill and Sue Kroyer attempted to produce a noir-ish action-adventure animated feature called ARROW. A trailer was produced with animation by the likes of Tony Fucile, Doug Frankel, Bruce Smith and Dave Brewster. It’s been at least a decade since I’ve seen the trailer but I still remember how cool and promising the idea looked.
One of the animators on the project, Dave Brewster, recently posted on his blog a clip of his animation scenes from the trailer. The clip is without sound or color, but it’ll give a taste of what the film could have been. Brewster mentions in his blog’s comments that one of the reasons Warner Bros. passed on the film was because it featured an interracial love plot. Sad but typical.
What happens when a bunch of young animation artists are given their own animation studio and assigned to create hundreds of animated shorts with complete visual and narrative freedom? The results would be Zagreb Film, which was quite possibly the most exciting cartoon studio in the world during the late-50s and 1960s. Their films remain as fresh and exciting today as they were a half century ago – animated shorts created without creative compromise by artists who wanted to explore the art to its fullest potential. Unbelievably, and quite unfortunately, almost none of the Zagreb library has ever been released onto home video or dvd. But there is a bit of Zagreb online. Hans Bacher has just posted an inspiring series of frame grabs HERE and HERE from some of the studio’s early shorts. And below you can watch Dusan Vukotic’s ERSATZ/SUBSTITUTE (1961), which is one of the studio’s best known shorts.
French animation history Didier Ghez, publisher of the indispensable WALT’S PEOPLE interview series, has started working on a new book called BUGS’ BUDDIES, which is a collection of interview with Golden Age Warner Bros. animation artists. He’s currently looking for a volunteer or two to help transcribe a couple of interviews with Bob Clampett and Dave Monahan. Didier’s work in compiling these interviews is of great value to the animation community, and considering the books are self-published via print-on-demand, they’re obviously not being done for financial gain. Definitely a worthy cause. His note and contact info are below:
I have started working on a book project called Bugs’ Buddies, which aims to collect the best interviews ever conducted with Warner Bros. animation artists of the Golden Age. In order to achieve this however, I am
looking for one or two big fans of Warner animation who’d be willing to
transcribe two fantastic sets of interviews that I have received recently. One is an extremely long session with Bob Clampett conducted by Reg Hartt, the other is an interview with animator Dave Monahan by Robert Story.
I would transcribe those myself if English was my mother tongue. Unfortunately this is not the case and it makes this complicated task close to impossible. I won’t lie: transcribing is a complex and painstaking task and the interviews are loooong, but I hope one or several of you will be motivated enough to volunteer and help preserve these key nuggets of animation history. Please contact me at dghez [at] hotmail.com
Michael Barrier returned to his blog yesterday with a lengthy review of Neal Gabler’s WALT DISNEY. Barrier’s been putting the finishing touches on his own Disney bio, and writes about the difference between the two books. He also posts a large list of his corrections to Gabler’s errors, a list worth printing out and keeping with your copy of the book.
photo by Fatkat Animation Studios
Earlier today, I ran an item about Kaj Pindal‘s passing, but as many have emailed, he is, in fact, still quite alive. He was teaching at Sheridan College today and even emailed me himself to say, “Please be advised that I’m alive and well.”
The story of his passing started when an executive at the National Film Board of Canada emailed Ottawa International Animation Festival director Chris Robinson to say that they’d just heard on the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC) that Pindal had passed away. It’s still unclear whether the person at the NFB misheard the report or whether the CBC misreported the news. In any case, Robinson emailed us with the news, and everything in that chain of knowledge seemed reliable enough for me to run the story. If anything, this whole incident serves as yet another good example of why animation execs – whether American or foreign – are never to be trusted.
So again, our sincere apologies to Kaj. He’s busy teaching and producing new animation, and we hope he continues to do so for a long time yet to come. To celebrate his continuing aliveness, here is a Kaj Pindal rotating head on YouTube:
The Archie Show was one of the biggest hit TV cartoons of the late 60s/early 70s. And the Archie Comics company has been pretty good about not messing with the formula that has kept the books popular for about 65 years. Well, I guess all good things must come to an end. Starting in May, Archie and the gang will now be drawn in a new, more realistic style, in longer serialized stories.No matter how you draw them, I prefer Betty to Veronica.(Thanks, Thomas Martin)
Today’s the day the annual “wave” of Disney Treasures come out. Leonard Maltin produces these compilations, and discusses the contents of the current sets here. I was delighted to help him quality control the More Silly Symphonies collection and provide several tracks of audio commentary. If you’ve never seen the uncut MOTHER GOOSE GOES HOLLYWOOD – that alone is worth the price of the set. And don’t overlook the Pluto or live action sets. This is rare vault material, no longer run on Disney Channel or available anywhere else. These sets usually go out of print quickly, as Disney makes fewer of these than any other video they produce. They also do almost no advertising for these. Take my word for it, they go on sale today and are totally worth the asking price.
Caricature by Patrick Owsley
This post will be continually updated with stories and remembrances about Joseph Barbera (1911-2006). Send your memories to amid [at] animationblast.com or jbeck6540 [at] aol.com
* Animation historian/critic John Canemaker writes about Joe Barbera in THE WALL STREET JOURNAL.
* Fred Seibert, the former president of Hanna-Barbera and founder of Frederator Studios, writes:
Thanks guys, as usual, for the thoughtfulness you put into recognizing all that made a difference in the cartoon world.
And jeeezz, did Joe make a difference.
Leave out all he did to make my childhood happier (and everyone else’s for that matter). Joe and Bill made almost 20 years of great feature shorts and then, at almost 50 years old, started a company that redefined the way the business worked forever –and I absolutely will not countenance an argument on the quality of the cartoons, no. That much joy in the world is quality enough for everyone– and kept themselves and most of the industry working for 40 years after. Hell, most of the industry is alive and well today because of the groundwork these two guys laid.
And Joe himself! Jordan Reichek said it right, there were many opinions about the man. But what self made man, a supremely creative man, a leader and an innovator, got somewhere without shaking a few trees?
Creativity? Jeeeez, again. So first he leads the creative effort on 20 years of basically silent films, almost no words of dialog from anybody. Then he goes and adds dialog galore, dialog in every frame, and the cartoons stay funny, relevant and saavy. No one else did it. No one.
So, I’ll say something I’ve said over and over to almost deaf ears. Joe Barbera and Bill Hanna were two of the greatest film comedians of the 20th century. Fine Chaplin, fine Keaton, fine Lloyd. But Tom & Jerry are stars in some of today’s most beloved films in the world, that’s right, today’s, while the others live on mostly in museums, libraries, and colleges. Not that there’s anything wrong with that, just sayin…
* Kevin Langley has posted a bunch of terrific vintage photos of Joe Barbera on his BLOG.
* Animation writer Paul Dini says that, “Mr. B. was in many ways, animation’s answer to Sinatra, a larger than life Italian who left his own mark on popular culture for several decades.”
* Animator Bert Klein writes:
I was working briefly at WB a year ago down the hall from Mr. Barbera. He was still coming into work and I was star struck whenever I saw him. I mustered up the courage to meet him and visited with him as often as I could while I worked there. I am especially grateful to his assistant Carlton for facilitating this. One day I brought in a copy of the short Boys Night Out which I made with Teddy Newton a few years back. I got over my nerves and played it for Mr. Barbera. He was a little tired that day, so it was hard to tell what he thought of our film (which is set mostly in a strip club). I left a copy with him. Some time has passed, and I saw Carlton again when he brought Iwao Takamoto to give a lecture to my CalArts class. I asked Carlton if Mr. Barbera liked the film. Carlton told me that he watched it over and over – probably about 17 times or so. His favorite scene was the one where the girl walks away jiggling with the dollar bill (which was animated by Eric Goldberg). It was an honor of a lifetime that Mr. Barbera liked it so much.
Bill Hanna (l.) caricatures Barbera,
and Barbera (r.) returns the favor.
* Animation writer Mark Evanier has some great memories and anecdotes about Joe on his blog NewsFromME.com.
* Joe Barbera was legendary for being able to sell anything. Here’s a story from an interview I did with Hanna-Barbera designer Iwao Takamoto about Barbera’s salesmanship abilities:
Sometimes a name, like THE BEVERLY HILLBILLIES, would start a design. Joe comes up with this great title, “Hillbilly Bears.” Everybody loves it. So he comes in and says he’s going to New York and asks if I can give him a family of bears – a mother, a father and this time a teenage girl and a little kid brother – which sounds like THE JETSONS. Anyway, all I know is that they’re bears and they’re hillbillies. So I do a lineup on that and he grabs it and takes it to New York, comes back and says, “I’m in trouble.” I ask, “Why?,” and he says, “Because they loved it. They loved the title, concept and designs. And we got the show. Now I don’t know what the hell to do with it.” So it works like that sometimes.
* Animation director Jordan Reichek writes:
Wow. What a gut-punch to get on Monday. Surely, not a surprise in a mortal sense. Joe was no kid. He lived a long, great life.
Joe outlived practically every contemporary in his world. Talk about getting the last word! He navigated the rough seas of the animation racket for almost eighty years…successfully. He dripped with style and moxie, putting those gifts to great use. He transformed popular culture. He made a bundle in the process.
Many have opinions about this man. Some good. Some, well, he was a controversial figure to be sure.
I loved what was the Hanna-Barbera studio. So many wonderful things grew from it’s existence, it’s hard to think of what our world in animation would’ve been without it. Joe was a big part of that. Now, he’s gone.
Just a week ago, I was talking with my pal, Will Finn about how great it was that here we are, in 2006, sharing the planet with someone as historically significant to animation as Joe. Losing Ed Benedict a couple of months ago was a similar situation. Both of these men had a connection to our field that cannot be replaced. With Joe’s passing, animation history is quickly moving from a living history to a distant one.
I hope we all can look back on the teriffic legacy this man leaves behind, understand the torch is passed onto us and raise a large glass of vino to one of the greatest figures in popular animation.
* Animation legend Floyd Norman writes:
The last of animation’s superstars to be sure. Joe Barbera was special to work for. Not to mention all the funny ideas he inspired for my gag wall at the studio. In a way it was sad to see these guys grow old. I sure miss the days when they ran their studio the old fashioned way. Barbera the ultimate pitchman, and taskmaster Bill getting the work done.
The funny thing is — and others I’ve talked to agree — these guys were even great to fight with. I stormed out of Hanna-Barbera one afternoon because of a major disagreement. Yet, I have only the highest respect for Bill Hanna and Joe Barbera. No doubt, these guys weren’t angels. But, they were saints compared to the bandits running today’s studios.
I’ll miss Joe Barbera’s flash and dazzle, and his super salesman attitude. He made you feel proud to be in the animation business, even if our product sometimes left a lot to be desired. Gone are the days when making cartoons was fun.
Word is circulating around Hollywood today that Joe Barbera has passed away.
UPDATE (3:29 pm): The sad news has just been confirmed by the Associated Press.
The BBC reports that at DisneyWorld in Florida, park officials told a man that he would have to leave the park if he didn’t stop looking so much like Santa Claus. He was then told by a park official that, “Santa was considered a Disney character.” I love this part of the article:
Mr Worley took off his red hat and red shirt but said: “I look this way 24/7, 365 days a year. This is me.”
Even after bowing to the request to alter his appearance, Mr Worley,from Tampa, said children continued to ask if he was Santa.
The Internet started buzzing last Thursday when the blog Newlywed in Dubai reported that Chris Sanders (LILO AND STITCH) had been “fired” as director of Disney’s AMERICAN DOG (scheduled for release in 2008). Many people, myself included, have really been looking forward to this film, and it’s hard to believe that Disney, under the new enlightened leadership of John Lasseter and Ed Catmull, would remove a talent like Sanders from his pet project. But that’s exactly what has happened and it may not be such a bad thing.
Last Wednesday, December 13, Disney’s feature animation division experienced layoffs that affected all departments from artistic to production support. That is not news. The announcement that the studio was laying off approximately 160 people had already been made a few weeks before. What surprised many though was that on the same day, Chris Sanders was relieved of directing duties on AMERICAN DOG.
Having spoken to some people who are close to the production, the decision to separate Sanders from his “baby” most likely came from John Lasseter and Ed Catmull. Even though MEET THE ROBINSONS (scheduled for release in March 07) will be the first film released during the the new Lasseter/Catmull era, it was in production long before they arrived and neither of the Pixar bosses will be under scrutiny for how it performs. AMERICAN DOG, on the other hand, has fallen clearly under their creative supervision, and they know that their first outing at Disney Feature Animation has to result in a high-quality, commercially successful product.
It’s unclear exactly why Sanders wasn’t allowed to stay on the picture. Last October, Jim Hill suggested on his site that Lasseter thought the film was “too quirky for its own good” and had asked Sanders to make significant story changes. Or perhaps the pre-Lasseter/Catmull management had fiddled around with it too much and the film had deviated from Sanders’s original vision. Whatever the reason, Lasseter and Catmull apparently felt that the best way to get the project back on track was to start with a clean slate, much like what happened with Pixar’s upcoming RATATOUILLE when Brad Bird took over directorial duties from Jan Pinkava.
One Disney artist I spoke to suggested that after everything Sanders has had to put up with on AMERICAN DOG, he may be feeling a bit of relief knowing that he no longer has to deal with this project. At this point, there’s still every reason to be hopeful for AMERICAN DOG. It’s unfortunate that it won’t be Chris Sanders’s original vision, but when Lasseter and Catmull remove an unquestionable talent like him, one has to assume that they are doing it in the film’s best interest. As for Sanders, I certainly don’t think he’ll have any difficulties getting a new project off the ground, whether it’s at Disney or elsewhere.
UPDATE: An individual who knows a lot about the situation wrote to take issue with the statement that Chris Sanders felt “relief” at being taken off AMERICAN DOG. Sanders had apparently been informed before last Wednesday that he was no longer going to be the director, and according to this source, was deeply disappointed, hurt and angered. The source also writes, “Chris felt like his heart had been ripped out, and he didn’t expect if from someone (Lasseter) who always talks about a director-driven studio model. This was totally Chris’ project from the start, he was pouring himself into it, and now he’s fired.”
UPDATE #2: Animation director Mark Mayerson writes on his BLOG about the AMERICAN DOG situation: “I do not expect Pixar to make any public statements about this, but I think they should. If they don’t, Pixar’s reputation within the business may be seriously damaged.”
I wrote about the charming pilot for the TV series MINUSCULE back in September. MINUSCULE is a new CG series from France created by HélÃ¨ne Giraud and Thomas Szabo at Futurikon. The show is comprised of seventy-eight shorts chronicling various (mis)adventures in the insect kingdom. When I wrote about the first short, I said, “If the rest of the episodes hold up to the quality of this pilot, I think we’re in for something special.”
Well, two more of the shorts have been posted onto YouTube and I’m happy to report that they’re absolutely wonderful. The visual mixture of live-action backgrounds, semi-realistic characters and cartoony animation works flawlessly, and the storytelling and pacing of these shorts are things of beauty. In the “Catapult” short, the grasshopper’s snickering laugh seems like a tribute to Tex Avery’s bulldog character, which is only appropriate since these shorts remind me of Golden Age theatrical shorts more than anything else I’ve seen recently. The show is currently airing on the Disney Channel in the US, and if I read the schedule correctly, new shorts air Sunday nights at 7:55pm. The show’s official website is Minuscule.tv.
(Thanks, Graham Finch)