In Celebration of Color

Lithopinion 16It’s amazing the things one can find in old magazines. Below is an article I recently stumbled across in issue 16 of Lithopinion: The graphic arts and public affairs journal of Local One, Amalgamated Lithographers of America published in winter 1969. The article was written by husband-and-wife artists Eugene Fleury and Bernyce Polifka, both of whom had worked in animation. By the late-1960s when the article was published, they were teaching at Art Center College of Design in Los Angeles as well as exhibiting their fine art.

Earlier in their careers, Fleury had been an in-house instructor at Disney and background painter at Warner Bros. on shorts like The Dover Boys and The Aristo-Cat. He had also worked in the Army Air Force’s First Motion Picture Unit and Lantz. Polifka also designed backgrounds at Warner Bros. (most notably on Wackiki Wabbit,), worked on UPA shorts like Hell-Bent For Election and Giddyap, and art directed Frank Tashlin’s short The Lady Says No, which we’re currently offering on CartoonBrewFilms. Both Fleury and Polifka also contributed to Lou Bunin’s puppet-animated feature Alice in Wonderland.

Their article, “In Celebration of Color,” is about how we perceive and appreciate color in art. It’s a fairly abstract examination of color, but then again, color has always struck me as being a fairly abstract concept. Beyond the application of basic color theories like hues, values, complements, and the like, there’s a second more expressive and pyschological component to good color. Most artists are content as long as their colors are tasteful and harmonious and never consider that second part of color. But there are tremendous possibilities to exploit color for deeper meaning and effect, and this article does a nice job of encouraging one to think about those other possibilities.

(Notes: The article pages are presented in their original order. The last page is a large fold-out. I was too lazy to scan in the oversized pages so these are digital camera pics, which is why some of the pages may appear somewhat warped.)

Eugene Fleury and Bernyce Polifka article

Eugene Fleury and Bernyce Polifka article

Eugene Fleury and Bernyce Polifka article

Eugene Fleury and Bernyce Polifka article

Eugene Fleury and Bernyce Polifka article

Eugene Fleury and Bernyce Polifka article

Eugene Fleury and Bernyce Polifka article

Eugene Fleury and Bernyce Polifka article

Eugene Fleury and Bernyce Polifka article

Eugene Fleury and Bernyce Polifka article

Tekkon Kinkreet

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The L.A. Times wrote about this film last month. We told you about it exactly one year ago.

From the studio that brought you Mind Game, here comes Tekkon Kinkreet, based on the manga known in the U.S. as Black & White.

Finally making its way to the States, The Museum of Modern Art will be screening a 35mm print of Studio 4C’s new anime feature for a one-week run from April 25–30, 2007. Director Michael Arias will appear at the April 25th screening.

While we are still struggling to revive 2-D, the Japanese are already re-inventing it. Check out the trailer and see why we’re so excited. If you are in New York in April, you have six chances to support the cause.

MoMA’s SCREENING SCHEDULE

Wednesday, April 25, 8:30. North American premiere. (Introduced by Michael Arias)
Thursday, April 26, 8:30
Friday, April 27, 8:30
Saturday, April 28, 2:00
Sunday, April 29, 2:00
Monday, April 30, 8:30

JibJab’s What We Call The News

What We Call The News

What We Call The News, the latest JibJab effort, premiered last night at the Radio and TV Correspondents’ Association dinner in Washington, D.C. and then later on the Tonight Show with Jay Leno. The short, which lampoons the inanities of contemporary TV journalism, can be viewed online at JibJab.com.

Now here’s what we call the news: normally JibJab charges $1.99 for a high-quality downloadable version of their films. However, this time around, JibJab studio founders Evan and Gregg Spiridellis have graciously given CartoonBrewFilms a 1-month exclusive on the high-quality download (640×480) of What We Call The News. And even better, they’re making it available for one cent to BrewFilms users. It’s a great way for everyone to sample how easy CartoonBrewFilms is to use—and to obtain the latest JibJab masterpiece for your iPod or to look at frame-by-frame on your PC/Mac.

Remember, this deal is only good through April. After that, you’ll have to fork over your hard-earned money at JibJab’s own website to get the downloadable version.

Amazing Animation History Online

Bobe Cannon animation

The Internet is home to a wealth of classic animation goodness nowadays. It’s hard to keep up with all the wonderful material that people are posting everyday but here’s a few things that have caught my attention recently:

Kevin Langley has posted animation scenes from two of my favorite animators: Pat Matthews animation from the Shamus Culhane short The Greatest Man in Siam (1944) and Bobe Cannon animation from the Tex Avery short Wags to Riches (1949).

Animator Colin Giles put up video clips of Marc Davis and Ward Kimball from “Disney Animation: The Illusion of Life,” a 1981 documentary which aired on the Wonderful World of Disney.

The ASIFA-Hollywood Animation Archive is featuring a Yogi Bear storyboard drawn by animation great Warren Foster.

Warren Foster storyboard

Liar of Kudzu

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Bob Schooley and Mark McCorkle (creators of Disney’s Kim Possible) will be signing their new book Liar of Kudzu at Storyopolis in Studio City, CA at 3:00 on Saturday March 31st. They’ll also be appearing at Square Books Jr. in Oxford, Mississippi next Tuesday the 3rd at 4:00. The book is a “Southern-gothic-science fiction-teen-comedy, with a romance” and it was just optioned by the Disney Channel for a Disney Channel Original Movie. They told us that they’d be happy to sign any Kim Possible books for any fans of the show who come out and say “howdy”!

The cover of the book (above) was illustrated by the amazing Chris Turnham.

The Ralph Bakshi Book Project

Heavy Traffic

I’ve known about this for a while and am excited that I can finally let everybody know about it. Pals Jon Gibson (of I Am 8-Bit fame) and Chris McDonnell (of Meathaus fame) have begun working on a bio/art coffeetable book about animation legend Ralph Bakshi. The book is slated for July 2008 release by Rizzoli NYC. Most importantly, Ralph Bakshi himself, currently 68 years old, is 100% on board with the project. Bakshi is allowing full access to his archives and granting these guys the opportunity to write an unbiased tome about his life and career. Here’s more about the project from Jon and Chris:

Since Ralph has worked with such an absurd amount of people in his 40+ years in the industry, we thought the best way to go about doing our research is to open the floodgates. To start things off, we’ve opened a production blog that will chronicle the making-of our book called Ralph’s Spot named after the legend’s own studio from back in the day. Rizzoli NYC, a great publisher that has printed many masterful art books in the past, has given us hundreds of pages and extra-large dimensions to truly exploit all the amazing art and stories that a book about Bakshi should not be without.

We’d absolutely LOVE to here from any Brew readers that have worked with Bakshi, have some Bakshi-relevant artwork to share, or just have some tales (because, as we’ve learned over the last year of getting this book going, pretty much everyone knows a least one Bakshi yarn, whether they’ve met him or not). Seriously, no matter how insignificant someone may think the story is—or if it’s only one drawing—we want it!

Knowing Jon and Chris, I have no doubt they’ll deliver one of the must-have animation books of 2008. So spread the word that they’re looking for Bakshi stories and art, and if you can deliver the goods, get in touch with them at jon [at] jonmgibson.com and chris [at] meathaus.com.

Chris Sanders to DreamWorks

After animation director Chris Sanders (Lilo and Stitch) was unceremoniously booted off of Disney’s American Dog, it was obvious that some major studio would scoop him up. Quite unsurprisingly that studio has turned out to be DreamWorks Animation. Ben Fritz reports in a Variety Web exclusive that Chris Sanders has signed on with DreamWorks and “will direct Crood Awakening, a project that DreamWorks had been developing with Aardman but took inhouse after its partnership with the British claymation house recently ended…Crood Awakenings, which is about a culture clash between cavemen, has a script by Brit comedy icon John Cleese and Krik De Micco (Racing Stripes). Sanders is rethinking the project, however, and will likely end up doing a significant rewrite.” More details can be found in the Variety article.

Tim Onosko (1947-2007)

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I didn’t really know the late Tim Onosko personally, but I always admired his writings. We’d corresponded a few times throughout the years and thus I was saddend to hear today of his passing.

I first became aware of Onosko with his transcription of a Bob Clampett Q&A in The Velvet Light Trap (Bob Clampett: Cartoonist, No. 15, Fall 1975), a piece that desparately needs to be reprinted or posted on the web. He went on to write articles about the future, the past, about film and amusement parks, so it was no wonder he’d end up working at Disney in various capacities, including in the development of Epcot, and designing Disney Adventures magazine.

Onosko later worked for Universal Studios and most recently produced a documentary, Lost Vegas: The Lounge Era.

He was one of us–and he’ll be missed.

Ottawa 07 Programs and Call for Entries

Ottawa 07 poster by Oscar GrilloThe Ottawa 2007 International Animation Festival, planned for September 19-23, has announced its slate of special screenings and retrospectives. Among the highlights: a 4-part tribute to UPA, the mid-century design geniuses responsible for Gerald McBoingBoing, The Tell-Tale Heart, Rooty Toot Toot, and the Mr. Magoo shorts; retrospectives devoted to Joanna Quinn and Janet Perlman; a program called “Poetry in Motion,” featuring animation inspired by classic poetry; “Saul Steinberg and Animation,” a showcase of films influenced by the famed New Yorker cartoonist; and a memorial tribute to animator Helen Hill, who was tragically killed earlier this year in New Orleans.

The festival has also put out a call for entries. There’s no entry fee and deadline to enter films is June 1, 2007. Entry forms and submission details are available here. Festival artistic director Chris Robinson notes that, “This year we’re putting some emphasis on reaching out to the gaming, mobile, wireless and interactive world. With more and more animation being made for non-traditional distribution platforms, it’s important that the OIAF celebrate the work being done in these new forms, so we’ve expanded our New Media Competition to include mobile content and interactive educational and gaming animation as well as shorts made for the Internet.â€?

2007 festival poster by Oscar Grillo

New Blog: Animation – Who & Where

Old artists

Joe Campana, a film editor who works in animation, recently started a blog called Animation — Who and Where, and it has already become an indispensable daily read for me. Joe has done an incredible amount of detective work when it comes to biographical research on artists and their families, and now he’s sharing that info with everybody. Right now, he’s writing about the lives of artists who would have been celebrating their 100th birthdays this month if they were still alive. They include Johnny Cannon, Tom McKimson, Tom Johnson and Disney composer Leigh Harline. He also promises to identify the Disney animation artists playing softball in the footage recenly included on the “More Silly Symphoniesâ€? dvd. I can’t wait!

On a sidenote, wouldn’t it be amazing to have this biographical info available someday on a wiki, and to have it cross-referenced with a list of scenes and cartoons that the artists worked on, similar to what Alberto Becattini has started here. There are dozens of people out there, myself included, who have compiled plenty of original research, and if we pooled it together, it would amount to an unprecedented animation reference.

(website found via Hans Perk’s A. Film LA)

A Disney Art Exhibit in LA?

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While it looks like animation fans in the United States definitely won’t be getting the “Once Upon a Time Walt Disney” exhibition that was in Paris last year and is currently displaying in Montreal, there is some exciting news to report. Colin Stewart, a columnist for the OC Register, did some research about the potential of a US exhibit and shares his findings at his Arts of Innovation blog.

Speaking to Lella Smith, director of the Walt Disney Co.’s Animation Research Library, Stewart found out that fifteen other museums, including the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA), attempted to the get the exhibition, and because of that enthusiasm, there’s a “good possibility” of a similar show. In fact, the curator of the current exhibit, Bruno Girveau, is headed to LA in April to discuss the possibility of a show with LACMA. (Apparently, the reason that they can’t just bring this exhibit to the US is that the fine art pieces by Albrecht Durer, William Blake and Gustave Moreau were lent by the Louvre on condition that they only be displayed in two locations, a precautionary measure designed to limit possible damage to the pieces.)

Mark Kausler’s It’s The Cat

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Today we are very proud to add a new title to the CartoonBrewFilms library. Mark Kausler‘s engaging and heartfelt homage to 1930s Hollywood-style cartoons, It’s The Cat (2004).

Mark is not only one of the best animators in the business (Beauty & The Beast, Roger Rabbit, The Lion King, etc.), but one of its greatest historians. With this film he combined two great passions to create one remarkably entertaining film. We asked Mark himself to introduce the film. Here’s what he has to say:

You are invited to see and hear a miracle! A little film that took 15 years to complete, which was given up for dead quite a few times, but eventually decided to exist: It’s The Cat!

I love listening to dance band records of the 1920s, and when I heard the Harry Reser’s Syncopators’ 1927 recording, “The Cat,â€? it triggered a vision. A vision of a cat, not just any cat, but a feline spirit, wild, raucous, mischievous, yet sweet. The music literally wrote the story, not a note or a beat of the original recording was altered. Scenes sometimes had to be started, then torn up and re-done because they didn’t quite “syncâ€? right. Sometimes I would re-do a scene because the concept wasn’t funny enough, or the layout was wrong. I wound up doing all the drawings because there was no money to pay anyone else, and I was the only animator who really understood this cartoon. It’s doubly hard to do all the drawings in a scene yourself, then when the test is shot, step OUTSIDE yourself and become a tough director.

Greg Ford was the “Cat�’s angel, taking on the difficult task of inking and painting the cartoon. Greg worked hard to be invisible along with Kim Miskoe, color director, Rose Eng and “Igor�, two of the last cel inkers in the USA, artists both, and so many others. So step into my little world, the world of 1920s pop, and the free interpretation of it as seen by my “third eye.� It’s a dance band “fantasia,� made with nothing but love!

Mark and his producer Greg Ford have provided an extra incentive for viewers: anybody who purchases It’s the Cat through April 30 will automatically be entered into a drawing to win an original production cel from the film. We’ll keep you posted on that. In the meantime, take a look at It’s The Cat, a work of pure cartoon joy.

Famous Balloon Movies

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An independent director (who asked to remain nameless, but often works for Disney), did these sequences a few years ago for an overseas theme park project. The show was an homage to classic movies, tied together by a running gag of a stray balloon that gets loose. The director added the balloon using After Effects and did an amazing job matching each film’s cinematic style. The balloon subplot was eliminated from the project, but the director has now posted a bunch of his test clips on YouTube.

Balloon Part 1 (Safety Last)

Balloon Part 2 (Casablanca 1)

Balloon Part 3 (Butch Cassidy)

Balloon Part 4 (North By Northwest)

Balloon Part 5 (Star Wars)

Balloon Part 6 (Casablanca 2)

Balloon Part 7 (La Femme Nikita)

Balloon Part 8 (Singin’ In The Rain)

Balloon Part 9 (Wizard of Oz)

Balloon Part 10 (French Connection)

Balloon Part 11 (Mary Poppins)

Balloon Part 19 (Lord of the Rings)

About the film project they were from, the director himself says:

“The main through line was a romance between a guy in the audience and a woman in the movie. The “every man” goes into the movie (right through the screen) and meets a beautiful woman there. There is a spark of romance. He is then chased by villains out of her movie and stumbles through many other classic films, lost and alone. The woman leaves her movie to go on a quest to find him.

“So — now you’re probably wondering where the balloon shots come in. Well they don’t. Not in the final show. However, just before we committed to film the project, we decided to go through a kind of wild card period. Float some totally different ideas. I thought it might be fun to do a nod to “The Red Balloon”. I did a few of these balloon shots at home and took them into the studio. Everybody enjoyed them. So we explored a possible version centered on that idea. I did more and more shots, took them in, hunkered down with the editor and stitched together a draft. We all got a kick out of it, but utimately decided that we missed the romantic comedy of Plan A. So after the diversion, we returned to our original course.

“So I had all these shots at home that I’d done on spec. I figured that since I did them and they contain no material from the studio, and I don’t reference the context we used when toying with them, they’re safe to post.”

UPDATE: For all you Balloonaholics, here is an 18-part, six and a half minute compilation of the Balloon Movies:

Helium and Celluloid

Keep Moving Forward

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This isn’t a review or critique of Meet The Robinsons, but I saw the film today at a screening at the El Capitan, in 3-D.

In a nutshell, it’s a very likeable film with eye-popping visuals, gorgeous art direction and pleasing character designs. The 3-D is great. The Streamline Moderne future is pretty cool, though the architecture reminded me more of Music Land (the 1935 Silly Symphony) than Tomorrowland. The story is a bit disjointed—shifting from heartwarming reality one moment to off-the-wall zaniness the next. In Disney terms, think if Pollyanna were grafted into Babes In Toyland. But it does hang together pretty well.

The film ends with a great quote from Walt Disney himself:

“Around here, however, we don’t look backwards for very long. We keep moving forward, opening up new doors and doing new things… and curiosity keeps leading us down new paths.”
–Walt Disney

This quote perfectly caps the theme of the movie, but even moreso, it sends a subtle message about Lasseter’s commitment to Disney heritage—and possibly states a new direction for the beleaguered animation studio. Or at least I’d like to think so.

Am I reading too much into this? All I know is the quote was a nice touch, and I left the theater feeling pretty optimistic about the future—of Disney.

Ugly CG Peanuts

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Good Grief! Some drawn characters just shouldn’t be rendered in 3-D.

A German telecommunications company, Combots, is selling animated icons based on popular animation and comics characters. These Peanuts ones are pretty hideous.

However, there are some characters that could (and do) work. I suppose it’s all based on design. Check out some of the others, particularly these Spongebob icons, which look pretty good. It’ll be interesting to see how they handle the Looney Tunes characters, which they’ve apparently licensed.

UPDATE: Little wonder the Spongebob icons look so good. They were done by the talented crew at Studio Soi. Soi also created the Zodies series and the “Tom and Lily” site tutorials (click on ‘trailer’ on the homepage to watch the six episodes).

Disney at PhillyFest

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A ‘heads up’ on some Disney Programs at the upcoming 16th Annual Philadelphia Film Festival, April 5th through 18th.

Friday, April 6 • 6:45 • Prince Music Theater • Tickets $10.00
Fantasia (1940) — A screening of the landmark film with an ensemble of Philadelphia Orchestra musicians, performing onstage preceding the screening.

Saturday, April 7 • 2:30 • Prince Music Theater • Tickets $8.00
The Disney Cartoon: Nine Decades of Magic — A screening of Disney shorts spanning nine decades of the company’s history. Shorts will include Pixar’s Red’s Dream, Roger Rabbit’s Roller Coaster Rabbit and the Salvador Dali-designed Destino.

Saturday, April 7 • 7:15 • Prince Music Theater • Tickets $10.00
A Salute To Roy Disney, an on-stage interview with Leonard Maltin. (Maltin will also be hosting a screening of rare Our Gang shorts on April 7th at 4:30pm)

Sunday, April 8 • 2:15 • Prince Music Theater •Tickets $8.00
Disney Cartoon Rarities – 35mm prints of Disney shorts including Hell’s Bells, Egyptian Melodies, Music Land, The Whoopee Party, Hawaiian Holiday, The Band Concert, as well as examples of Alice in Cartoonland and Oswald the Lucky Rabbit.

Non-Disney animation at the Philly Fest will include a screening of the forthcoming anime feature Paprika and a program of contemporary animated shorts.

An Open Letter

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Dear AOL/MSN/Yahoo/NBC-Universal and News Corp.,

Congratulations on the news of your new company to compete with YouTube.

The announcement of of this new partnership has me very excited. You say you are going to use your vault assets to create a new venue for programming—a “video-rich site… with thousands of hours of full-length programming, movies and clips, representing premium content from at least a dozen networks and two major film studios.”

One of my favorite quotes in your press release is the one from Yahoo’s CEO Terry Semel, who says, “We are excited to be a part of this landmark partnership that connects people to the content they care about…”, promising users “unprecedented access to their favorite shows”.

Allowing us access to the riches in your combined movie/TV libraries will be a great thing for our culture and will add to our collective knowledge of film history. It might even help thwart Internet piracy.

My only concern is that you might overlook the thousands of classic animation titles in your massive holdings. AOL’s parent company, Time Warner, holds the popular Looney Tunes and Merrie Melodies, the MGM Happy Harmonies, Tom & Jerry and Tex Avery masterpieces and the incredible Max Fleischer/Paramount Popeye cartoon; News Corp owns Crusader Rabbit, the historic first TV cartoon series; NBC-Universal has the wonderful Walter Lantz library of vintage Woody Woodpecker, Chilly Willy, and Oswald Rabbit. I’m not even mentioning all the TV cartoons and animated features contained therein, everything from Marine Boy to Wizards, all awaiting a chance to find—and entertain—a new audience.

And I’ll let you in on a secret. Your home video divisions have only released a fraction of the material you own.

Making them all available—the entire library, at minimal cost—will certainly connect your content to people who really care about it, namely our readers. There’s tons of money to be made from this proposition. This illegally posted 1940s Tom & Jerry short on YouTube has over 400,000 views. That’s more views than most of the modern animation posted there.

This is a watershed moment, the begining of a new age, with no rules, no ratings, no demographics to tell you people don’t want this or that. One thing we’ve learned from DVD is that people do want complete runs of great material. One thing we’ve learned from YouTube is that people are interested in esoteric material.

So release your old cartoons. Make them available for purchase. Believe it or not, people really want to see them. And I promise to be the first person in line to support the effort.

Best of luck,

Jerry Beck
CartoonBrew.com

Elbert Tuganov (1920-2007)

Elbert Tuganov (1920-2007)

Pioneering Estonian animator Elbert Tuganov has passed away at age 87. Chris Robinson, author of Estonian Animation: Between Genius and Utter Illiteracy, writes in with some details about Tuganov’s life and work:

Elbert Tuganov, the father of Estonian animation, died on Thursday, March 22, 2007. He was 87. Tuganov was actually born in Baku, Azerbaijan and began his animation career in Germany. When Hitler took power, Tuganov returned to Estonia. He joined Estonia’s state film studio, Tallinnfilm in 1946. For eleven years, Tuganov shot, drew, and painted titles and credit sequences. During this time Tuganov built an animation stand that would allow the studio to do frame by frame shooting. A visiting Moscow official was impressed by the new apparatus and suggested that Tuganov make animation films.

Tuganov immediately set out to find scripts and landed a Danish story called Palle Alone in the World. This became the basis for the first Nukufilm (the name of the puppet animation division of Tallinnfilm) production, Little Peter’s Dream (1957). For the next four years, Tuganov and his small crew of six people worked on films alongside artists from the Estonian puppet theatre. After his fourth film, Mina and Murri (1961), animation production received a budgetary blessing from Tallinnfilm. The division’s staff grew to twenty and it was decided that the puppets would then be fashioned in the studio.

Throughout the 1960s and 1970s, Tuganov made a number of innovative puppet and cutout films for both adults and children including the satires, Park (1966) and Bloody John (1974); the astonishing time-lapse film Inspiration (1975), a document of the famous Estonian song festival; and what may be the world’s first stereoscopic puppet animation films Souvenir (1977). In total, Tuganov made 38 animated films and received numerous international awards. He remained at Nukufilm until his retirement in 1982 and later wrote an autobiography, Walking Through the Century, that detailed his failed attempt to flee the Soviet Union in 1982.

Tuganov’s passing comes as Estonia celebrates Nukufilm’s 50th anniversary this year. In November, an international puppet animation symposium is being held in Tallinn to commemorate Nukufilm’s anniversary.

A complete list of his works can be found on the Nukufilm website.

LA SHOW: The Ancient Book of Myth and War

Ancient Book of Myth and War

“The Ancient Book of Myth and War” opens at Gallery Nucleus (30 West Main St., Alhambra, CA) this Saturday, March 24, from 7-11pm. The show of paintings, illustrations and prints based on classic myths and legends features work by four exceptionally talented animation development artists currently working at Pixar: Don Shank, Scott Morse, Lou Romano and Nate Wragg.

With their already crazed animation dayjobs, I have no idea how they find the time to create so much amazing art, but if the show isn’t enough, the work is also being collected into an 80-page hardcover book. A limited number of copies will premiere at the show this Saturday and the book can currently be pre-ordered on Amazon. This Sunday afternoon, there’s also an (almost sold-out) four-hour workshop/painting demo with the quartet. Details for that event are available here.

Stay tuned to the Brew for more details about the book and a contest you won’t want to miss.

El Tigre Beat Boards by Dave Thomas

Dave Thomas Beat Board

A quick follow-up to yesterday’s El Tigre review: the show’s supervising director Dave Thomas also has a blog where he’s posting many examples of his beatboards. Thomas would do between 30-60 pages of these beatboards before the episodes were handed out to the board artists, so he could visually describe how he wanted the action handled. It’s an immense amount of work that most TV directors don’t do, but it’s a good way for the director to take more control over the vagaries of the TV animation process. And the resulting quality speaks for itself. Dave also has an excellent post about his conversion from traditional pencil drawing to an all-digital paperless production using the Cintiq. Personally, I’m waiting for Dave to tell the story of his biggest accomplishment: how he came up with the 99 Cent Super Value Menu.

Naruto Movie: A new approach for U.S. release

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We don’t usually report on anime releases (we leave that to others more qualified like Anime News Network and the like), but this one is worth noting—not for the film itself, but the manner of its U.S. presentation.

Naruto, the Viz manga series-turned-anime hit series (on Cartoon Network in the U.S.), about the trials of a young ninja, is one of the most popular Japanese series now playing. Three theatrical films have been spun off and released in Japan. The first of these Daikatsugeki! Yukihime Ninpocho Dattebayo!! (English Translated Title: Snow Princess’ Book of Ninja Arts) is being theatrically released in the U.S. this year, on Wednesday June 6th at 7:00pm.

It is being shown on that day and time only, in selected theaters in cities including New York, Philadelphia, Atlanta, Boston, Los Angeles and San Francisco. NCM’s Fathom Events is handling this distribution plan. Fathom’s approach is somewhat unique. Taking advantage of digital distribution technology, they are creating a nationwide locked date event for this film. This forces all those interested in seeing the film to attend the one-time theatrical showing, practically assuring sold-out shows at each location.

This kind of “four-wall” event showing has been done before, but I don’t recall it being done on a national basis. As a former film distributor myself, and a student of trends in animated theatrical distribution, this strikes me as a great idea, a great way to get specialized film (particularly foreign animation) showcased.

The plain truth is that these films can’t make big money theatrically in the US. DVD, cable and Internet distribution have wiped out commercial theaters as a financially viable place to screen foreign animated films. The shame is that some of these films deserve the big screen experience.

National CineMedia (NCM), a partnership of AMC Theatres and Regal Theatres, was set up to explore alternative movie programming. They are experimenting with events centered around targeted audiences: Nascar films, faith-based movies, a Metropolitan Opera series… even a repertory screening of Dirty Dancing. Naruto the Movie (now subtitled Ninja Clash in the Land of Snow) is clearly test of the anime/animation fanbase.

I think this distribution scheme may work for them. It’ll certainly excite Naruto fans and build anticipation for the US DVD release (in September). I’ll certainly be keeping my eye on it and, if successful, NCM has the potential to become a new outlet for many international films unable to attain a US release. And that would be a good thing.

REVIEW: El Tigre (Nickelodeon)

El Tigre

My introduction to Jorge Gutierrez’s work was at the 1999 CalArts Producers’ Show. It was a screening of his CG short Carmelo. If I recall correctly (and I may not be) the film wasn’t even finished that year and was presented as a work-in-progress. No matter though, Jorge’s film instantly stood out. Here was that rarest of rare among student filmmakers: somebody who actually had something to say. The CG in his film might be considered crude by today’s standards, but what hasn’t dated is the passion and affinity for Mexican culture that he infused into that work.

I met him around town shortly after that screening and over the years have had the pleasure of getting to know both him and his lovely wife, Sandra Equihua, who is equally passionate about her art and heritage. Together, they are the animation world’s answer to Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo…well, minus the physical abuse, marital infidelities and communist sympathies.

All this is to say that it’s hardly surprising somebody else has also recognized their talents. Jorge and Sandra now have a show on Nick called El Tigre: The Adventures of Manny Rivera. The show premiered earlier this month, and after watching the first four episodes, I’m delighted to report that it’s everything I could have hoped for and more.

When I first heard the series pitch a few years ago, I was immediately impressed by its concept and the dramatic possibilities it presented: the adventures of a young superhero (El Tigre/Manny Rivera) whose father is a superhero (White Pantera) and grandfather a supervillain (Puma Loco). As often as El Tigre fights villians in the show, he must also do battle with his own conscience and learn to distinguish between right and wrong. Does he cheat by his using his superheroic powers to win a soccer (sorry…futbol) match? Does he steal people’s pets and then return them to collect the reward money? Does he spend the family’s guacamole fund to buy a tattoo maker? These are the type of issues that young Manny struggles with in the series.

The series rarely broaches the deeper inner character turmoil inherent in such a setup, those fuzzy and exciting grey areas that fall somewhere between good and evil (I know, I know, it’s a kids show), but there are other levels of richness to be found in the series. Among them is a nicely fleshed out relationship between Manny and his best friend, Frida; a standout is the episode “Adios Amigos” where Manny makes the decision to stay away from Frida in order to protect her from harm, and the ensuing pain that it causes both of them. First and foremost though, the show is designed to entertain, and there’s no shortage of fun throughout. One of the show’s highlights is the stream of deliciously silly villains that El Tigre has to contend with: early episodes have included Dr. Chipotle Jr, General Chapuza and his grandson Che, Sartana and Titanium Titan. It’s a south of the border rogues gallery worthy of Dick Tracy.

El Tigre

Artistically, El Tigre clicks on all fronts. What is particularly impressive is how the visuals channel Mexican folk art without turning it into a caricature. It absorbs the bright rhythms, shapes and feeling of vernacular and folk art, and through digital means, transforms it into something new and exciting. Part of that new and exciting translation comes from how far the production pushes the use of Flash. El Tigre offers hands down the most dynamic implementation of Flash I’ve ever seen in an animated TV series, seamlessly combining the cinematic possibilities more commonly associated with 3D CGI alongside the organic appeal of drawn animation.

The show is intensely stylized but it is not the random styling one finds in most contemporary animation. The various pieces of the puzzle fit together well and form a compelling overall visual point of view. This includes tight energetic direction by Dave Thomas, lush color and background design by Roman Laney and Tod Polson, the eccentric and endearing character design sensibilities of creators Gutierrez and Equihua, and the artistic contributions of an almost too-good-to-be-true crew including Gabe Swarr, Fred Osmond, Chris Battle, Steve Lambe, Ray Morelli, Katie Rice, Sean Szeles, Joseph Holt, Luke Cormican, Ricky Garduno, Dave Knott, Gerald De Jesus, Eddie Trigueros, Fred Gonzales, Denise Chavez, Aaron Horvarth and Katrien Verbiest.

El Tigre

The show is not entirely free of weaknesses. Among them is its annoying tendency to stage too many scenes on slants and diagonals, voice acting performances that I couldn’t understand (good enunciation is apparently not in vogue among current voice actors), instances of out-of-character dialogue (though far less than other modern shows), and at least in the four episodes that I watched, not as much focus as I would have hoped for on the central relationship between El Tigre, his superhero father and his supervillain grandfather.

On the whole, the show’s strengths overwhelm its faults. Thanks to its creators, the series is colored with a generous Mexican spirit and personality, while remaining accessible to all audiences, whether you’re full-blooded Mexican or somebody whose knowledge of Mexican culture extends as far as the end of a churro stick. Refreshingly good-natured and lovely to look at, El Tigre is one of the finest animated offerings to appear on TV in recent memory.

New episodes of El Tigre: The Adventures of Manny Rivera air Saturdays at 10:30am/9:30c.

El Tigre

A sidenote: many of the El Tigre artists are also bloggers and they’re posting some illuminating production material on their blogs. Here’s a selection:

* Specialty poses by Gabe Swarr

* Rough Flash animation by Sean Szeles

* Various designs and paintings by Steve Lambe

* A piece of promo artwork by Chris Battle

* A great doodle of Frida by Katie Rice

El Tigre