Neal Gabler has an front page editorial in today’s LA TIMES on how Walt Disney represented the best and the worst of Amerian ideals, pop culture and patriotism.
Yet it is in Disney’s odd combination of libertarianism and liberalism, optimism and cynicism, nostalgia and futurism, faith and doubt that one may find not only the real man but the real America he represented.
(Image above, by David Gothard, illustrated Gabler’s piece on the front page of the CURRENT section. It was scanned from my copy of the paper. LA Times apparently does not have it on their website).
ASIFA-East president David Levy has an interesting interview with fellow Brewer Jerry Beck in this month’s ASIFA-East newsletter. I particularly enjoyed reading Jerry’s answer to this question: “If you could only save one short from each vintage cartoon studio below, which would it be, and why?”
This has nothing to do with animation but it’s a delightful character design project worth noting. Last month, LA-based graphic designer Stefan Bucher started a “Daily Monster” videoblog. Every day, he throws down a random inkblot onto a piece of paper and then transforms that blot into a wonderful little creature. Each monster’s creation (there are 26 so far) is documented with a short video. And recently, his blog readers have started to come up with back-stories for the monsters. How’s that for innovative character development – artist and audience working together to create new characters.
Howard Green sent us the sad news that Bill Tytla’s widow, Adrienne, passed away yesterday at her farm in East Lyme, CT. It was the same farm that she and Bill bought back in 1942. Adrienne was 92 years old. Cause of death was cancer-related. Copies of her book are still available by contacting Peter Tytla (Bill and Adrienne’s son) at www.petertytla.com. In addition to Peter, she is survived by a daughter, Tamara Schacher-Tytla, and a granddaughter, Fantasia.
Atlanta animation director Ward Jenkins has posed an excellent question to his blog readers: “What would you consider The Holy Grail of Animation? What cartoon, short film, or feature (or anything else) that you’ve heard about but have never seen — preferably something that is practically impossible to see — that has achieved legendary status throughout the years?” He’s received answers from many fine folk so far including John Canemaker, Tom Sito, Jerry Beck, Tom Knott, Mike Barrier and Clay Croker. Head on over to Ward’s blog and contribute to the list.
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.
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.
Sad, but true… Ain’t It Cool News has posted the awful one sheet poster to the live action UNDERDOG movie coming out next summer. Directed by Frederik Du Chau (Quest For Camelot, Racing Stripes), the film stars Jason Lee (My Name Is Earl) as “Shoeshine Boy”. Silly me, I was hoping for something more along the lines of the image below.
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.
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.
Stop-motion animation teacher/historian Ken Priebe (The Art of Stop Motion Animation) has posted on YouTube what he calls “the creepiest puppet film ever made”, an experimental piece by filmmaker Len Lye in 1933. Don’t watch it with the lights off…
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.