Golden Book Art at Disneyland

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It’s rare for this website to promote a visit to Disneyland twice within the same week, but we’ve just recieved word from artist Kevin Kidney that, in addition to the Pirates of The Caribbean art exhibit (which Kevin is a part of), the park quietly opened a new exhibit in the Disney Gallery (above the Pirates of the Caribbean attraction) showcasing many of the great Disney Western Publishing book illustrations from the 1950s and 60s. The original paintings on display are among the cream of the crop of Disney book illustration–of any time–with so many of these images permanently ingrained in our memory from childhood. Kevin says:

Viewing these in person is a real treat. The artists represented include John Hench, Al Dempster, Retta Scott Worcester, Campbell Grant, Al White, Dick Kelsey, and several others. There hasn’t been much advertising for this exhibit, but the display is sure to excite a lot of artists who grew up with these beautiful books. In addition, many of the images are available for purchase as “print on demand” reproductions through the Disney Gallery.

Here is the link to Disneyland’s official site, though there’s not
much information on the artists and history, unfortunately.

Homage or Rip-off?

“Homage or Rip-off” should be a new category on Cartoon Brew. Certainly we have enough material. In the comments of the Lee Lennox’s “Girl and the Sea” music video, which was a homage/ripoff of Yuri Norstein’s work, Brew reader Doug posted a link to this new commercial for GE. The commercial is more than a little inspired by Osamu Tezuka’s short film Jumping (1984), and unlike Lennox’s video, it doesn’t build on the original concept or offer any new perspective on the material. The commercial is part of GE’s fittingly ironic campaign called “Imagination at Work.”

Below is Tezuka’s original (and much more creatively executed) short Jumping.

The Fly by Ferenc Rofusz

Another contemporary animation classic on YouTube. This 1980 Hungarian short by Ferenc Rofusz won an Oscar. Hungary was at the time a Communist country and Rofusz himself wasn’t allowed to leave the country to attend the Oscars. Without his knowledge, somebody accepted the award for him during the show. I recall watching an interview once with Rofusz where he explained who the guy was, and how surprised he was during the broadcast to see somebody he didn’t know accepting the award for him. This excerpt from the LA Times in 1981 discusses the mystery person who took his award:

Academy officials were still wondering late Tuesday night if the real Ferenc Rofusz had accepted his award. Rofusz, the Hungarian producer of the winning animated short film “The Fly,” had not been scheduled to attend the ceremonies. But just as presenters Alan Arkin and Margot Kidder were announcing that the academy would accept on behalf of Rofusz, a bearded man bounded onto the stage, made a short acceptance speech, posed for the obligatory photos and departed with an Oscar, leaving, somehow, an air of mystery…

(Thanks, Philip Rogosky)

Coo-Coo for Cocoa Puffs

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A few weeks ago I posted about Chuck McCann and mentioned his memorable voice work as Sonny and Gramps in the original 1960s Cocoa Puffs cereal commercials. At the time, I couldn’t find any on the internet to link to, but thanks to our pal J.J. Sedelmaier we were able to place several on You Tube ourselves. These spots were animated by the great Jan Svochak (1926-2006), who was best known for some of the early Hawaiian Punch commercials.

It looks like he had a lot of fun animating these.

Pure Portland Animation

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What do Brad Bird, Bill Plympton, Mel Blanc, Pinto Colvig, Carl Barks, Matt Groening, Basil Wolverton and Will Vinton have in common?

They all came from Oregon. Film historian Dennis Nyback has been running an animation festival there all month long, highlighting these local talents as well as the entire history of animation. There are incredible shows all week, leading to grand finale on Thursday March 15th at Portland’s historic Hollywood Theatre. The program that night will include classic shorts in 35mm by Jan Svankmajer, John Hubley, Mike Judge, Marv Newland, Will Vinton, Bill Plympton, John Lasseter (pictured above left), Barry Purves (above right) and, believe it or not, Paul J. Smith (center image).

The show starts at 7:15 PM. Admission: $6.00. Tickets can be purchased online at hollywoodtheatre.org

Thorndyke on Mercer and Crandall

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Here’s an oddity.

I found a copy of cartoonist Chuck Thorndyke’s 1939 book The Business of Cartooning: The Success Stories of the World’s Greatest Cartoonists. In it, he profiles three dozen print cartoonists (mainly artists of newspaper strips, magazine gags and editorial cartoons), with caricatures by Thorndyke. Under a subsection for Animated Cartoonists, Thorndyke profiles only three animators. He devotes a whole page to Walt Disney, that’s understandable — but some some unknown reason, from all the animators to choose from in 1939, he singles out Fleischer’s Roland “Doc” Crandall and Jack Mercer.

What? What about Max or Dave Fleischer? Paul Terry? Walter Lantz? Why not Hugh Harman? It’s great to learn a little more about Crandall and Mercer, but it seems a bit odd. My guess is he knew Crandall and Mercer personally. Perhaps owed them a favor. Here’s the spread devoted to animated cartoonists. It’s not particularly well written, but a few bits of odd information can be gleaned from it.

Russian Pooh

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Russian animation director Fyodor Khitruk once said in an interview that the best award he ever received was when Disney director Woolie Reitherman told him, “You know, your Winnie is better than mine.” Now we can judge if Reitherman was right. The first of Khitruk’s three Pooh shorts, Winnie the Pooh (1969), has been posted online (watch it below). I think if I ever had to point to an example of perfect stylized animation, this short would be it. Just look at the way Pooh and Piglet move in this cartoon–so simple yet so much personality and humor throughout. There’s a moment when Pooh is talking to Piglet and he takes a deep breath before speaking. It is absolutely beautiful. You can truly feel these characters thinking before they act.

Looking at this, I can’t help but think of all the Flash TV cartoons being produced nowadays. The character designs in this Pooh short, in terms of complexity and construction, are no more complicated than anything one would find in a contemporary piece of Flash animation. Yet the animation in Khitruk’s film is light years ahead of anything being produced today. I was just watching an episode of a Cartoon Network Flash series yesterday. The movement was even fuller than this Pooh cartoon, but it left me feeling completely empty. The characters moved with generic gestures, mechanically matched to the dialogue and scripted actions; there was never the sense that the characters were alive or had a thought process beyond their meaningless movements on the screen. To create great character animation, whether it’s stylized or full animation, one must believe in…empathize with…truly feel…their characters; clearly Khitruk and company did.

Some stills from Khitruk’s other Pooh shorts are here.

The Girls at Disneyland

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Here’s a reason to visit Disneyland next weekend. Michelle and Amanda (aka The Girls Productions) will be doing a signing Sunday March 18th from 9-11:30 in the Disneyland Gallery above the Pirates Of The Caribbean attraction. This is to commemorate the 40th Anniversay of the ride. There will be some cool new merchandise available and one-of-a-kind art for sale. The Girls will be joined by artist Jeff Granito, and Disney Legends Alice Davis, X Atencio, Bob Gurr, Harriet Burns and Blaine Gibson.

Here’s a link with more info.

Geena Davis on Cartoons

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Actress Geena Davis spoke at the National Conference for Media Reform in January, discussing her new foundation, See Jane. This group seeks to reduce gender stereotypes, and encourages an increase of female characters in the media–particularly in children’s media. In her speech, she discussed the history of female cartoon characters. Although her facts may not be completely accurate, she certainly makes a valid point. Her speech was broadcast this morning on public radio’s Democracy Now!.

DAVIS: “Do you remember the kinds of stuff that they made for us, for kids, in the oldie old days? Let’s see, the first animation, of course, was Disney’s Minnie Mouse and… Daisy Duck, who didn’t really do much at all, except ask to go shopping, I think. There were a lot of Hanna-Barbera cartoons — Magilla Gorilla, Wally Gator, George of the Jungle — virtually no female characters. I had a vague recollection that Yogi Bear had a girlfriend, and I searched and searched, and I finally found her, Cindy Bear, as you all remember…”

“…On the Looney Tunes website, they list twelve characters, and only one of them is female, but it’s the great one. It’s the one you all love and remember the best: Granny. She’s the one who owns Tweety, and she has to leave so that the story can happen.”

Geena rips into the Smurfs, Judy Jetson, Winnie The Pooh as well. It’s very entertaining. The whole transcript is posted at the Democracy Now! website, and you can also download a streaming video of the speech.

More on George Pal’s Puppetoons

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As a follow up to my posting a 1943 Look Magazine article on George Pal, Brew reader Kevin Kidney sends us this April 1944 Coronet Magazine article. Lots of neat things to look at here, including famed sculpter Wah Chang (in picture #3), and the fact that they are making Jasper Goes Hunting, the one with a cameo by Bugs Bunny. Click on thumbnails below to view at full size.

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Paul Driessen at UCLA

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Dutch animator Paul Driessen will make a rare Los Angeles area appearance next week, on Friday March 16th.

Driessen will do an Q & A at the UCLA James Bridges Theatre following a screening of some of his best work. The program begins at 7pm and there will be a reception after the screening. The whole evening is free (though parking is $8.00 in Lot 3 and you may need to RSVP). See you there!

Of Mice and Magic

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I was rummaging through my stuff and found this ad I clipped from the October 30, 1980 issue of Rolling Stone.

Of Mice and Magic came out in Spring 1980 (I don’t recall the exact publication date), originally in hardcover from McGraw-Hill. It was issued as a trade paperback by NAL in October 1980, updated in 1987 and hasn’t been out of print since.

I still can’t believe the publisher took out an ad in Rolling Stone! Considering the state of animation back then, I can’t believe they advertised it at all.

Gumby World

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It’s easy to knock Gumby

He’s been mocked by Saturday Night Live, trivialized in junk merchandise, and mostly ignored by the younger generation. The thing is, the early Gumby cartoons are pretty cool and quite trippy. And, though recently displaced by Wallace and Gromit, Gumby and Pokey were the most famous clay animated characters ever created.

Gumby recently celebrated his 50th anniversary and Clokey Productions and Premavision Animation Studios (still producing Gumby and Davey & Goliath segments) have updated their websites. It’s worth a visit to Gumby World to check out its funky video section with several Gumby episodes and Art Clokey’s pioneering abstract GUMBASIA shorts from the 1950s.

Osvaldo Cavandoli (1920 -2007)

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Giannalberto Bendazzi sends word that Italian animator Osvaldo Cavandoli died in Milan on Saturday, March 3rd, 2007, of natural causes. He was 87. Bendazzi writes:

Osvaldo invented and animated La Linea, possibly the best known character Italian animation ever produced. A marvelous human being loved by everyone, he had been honored in June 2006 by the Annecy Museum and the Annecy International Animation Festival.

J.J. Defends 2-D

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Go J.J.!

Animator J.J. Sedelmaier has written an editorial for latest edition of Create Magazine making the case for animation diversity. He raises many good points:

“It’s my opinion that animation thrives in an environment that creates an alternate reality, instead of trying to simply re-create it. You’d think a lesson or two would’ve been learned from all the Saturday morning cartoon disasters of 20 to 40 years ago. These were nothing more than radio scripts in tandem with drawn moving images—badly drawn and animated, at that…”

“There are two more important reasons for techniques other than CGI being valid crowd pleasers: 1. “Warmth of the Human Touch”. Styles that look like they were created, drawn and animated by human beings provide a lovely contrast to the hyper-real, machine made, formulaic approach…”

Read the whole piece here.

Alexei Karayev’s Welcome (1986)

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What would happen if some Russians took a Dr. Seuss story and turned it into a paint-on-glass animated short? The results would be Welcome (1986), a gorgeous ten-minute cartoon directed by Alexei Karayev. It is based on Dr. Seuss’s 1948 book Thidwick the Big-Hearted Moose. The film’s art director was a young Aleksandr Petrov, who today is the most famous proponent of the paint-on-glass animation technique with films like The Old Man and the Sea (1999). The three-dimensional rendering of the painted figures in Welcome is absolutely stunning; they manage to build on Seuss’s original line drawings while retaining the warmth and appeal of his characters, which is quite an accomplishment considering how easy it is to make Seuss’s characters cold and unappealing.

One more note: the film is in Russian, but the YouTube version below is translated into English. The translation was done by Brew reader ESN, who also sent me the link to this film. A big thank you for translating this and allowing all of us to enjoy the film.

Arf Forum

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The “Unholy Marriage of Art and Comics” is back!

Craig Yoe has redesigned his Arf Lovers blog with new features like an rss feed, perma-links, comments and lots of new links. Yoe’s posts are often hilarious and eye opening – and certainly of interest to Brew readers. Yoe’s new Arf book, Arf Forum is now at the printer and can be pre-ordered at a discount price on Amazon. Based on his previous two Arf collections we highly recommend the latest edition sight unseen.

Craig is also compiling a book full of Clean Cartoonists’ Dirty Drawings, raunchy comics and cartoons by cartoonists known for their
mainstream wholesome stuff (Milton Caniff, Rube Goldberg, Will Eisner, Joe Shuster, Bob Kane, Mort Walker, Dr. Seuss, etc.). Previews of this book and Arf Forum will be posted regularly on Yoe’s blog.

How Hollywood Censored Its Animated Cartoons

The Hays office, and Hollywood cartoon producers, were just as mindful of young audiences back in the Golden Age of animation as broadcast standards and practices are today. This article, from Look magazine (January 17, 1939), produced with the full cooperation of Leon Schlesinger Productions, illustrates how the Hays Code operates in regards to animated cartoons.

Note the use of actual stills from classic Looney Tunes and Merrie Melodies like Clean Pastures, Robin Hood Makes Good, Case of The Stuttering Pig, Speaking of the Weather, along with several cel set-ups created especially for this piece, to illustrate specific points like nudity, “the razzberry”, and cow udders. I can think of a half-dozen cartoons released around this time with all of the above. And note the line, “Neither may cartoons show men who appear too effeminate.” Clearly Egghead’s days were numbered.

Click on the gallery below to learn about the different ways that Hollywood censored its animated shorts:

John Lasseter in the NY Times

Lasseter in the NY Times

Yesterday’s New York Times featured an interview with John Lasseter and some interesting bits can be gleaned from the article. One thing I found quite telling is the fact that 60% of Disney’s upcoming Meet the Robinsons has been scrapped and redone in the past year. Most animated features are reworked heavily nowadays, but the extent to which this film has been revamped is a clear sign of how poorly managed the old Disney Feature Animation was; judging from the way Disney has barely been promoting the film, you get the feeling that they would have scrapped the entire film had it not already been so deep into production.

Another piece of info is that WDFA is planning to move out of their semi-iconic (and architecturally dysfunctional) hat building and into brand-new headquarters in Glendale. At first, I thought to myself, “Wow, that’s a huge and unnecessary expenditure to build another studio, even if the current studio does leave a lot to be desired.” But after giving it more thought, I realized what Lasseter and Ed Catmull were doing. What’s notable is not that they’re building a better animation studio, but that they’re moving the whole animation operation off the Burbank lot, far away from the studio’s acrid corporate culture, and creating a separate campus that will hopefully be dominated by passionate artists and storytellers. Looking at it from that perspective, it’s a daring and excellent business decision.

While Meet the Robinsons has a better-than-average chance of falling flat on its face at the box office, and Lasseter himself has raised eyebrows in recent months with some of his decisions, such as the dismissal of American Dog‘s Chris Sanders, in general, I feel Lasseter is making smart decisions. I still have high hopes that Disney Feature Animation can be turned around under his stewardship.

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Random Cartoon Postcards

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Fred Seibert has posted a group of publicity postcards created to promote his new series, Random Cartoons. Thirty-nine animated shorts were produced by the likes of Bill Plympton, John Dilworth, Doug TenNapel, Pat Ventura, Jun Falkenstein and yours truly. Nickelodeon is scheduled to air the series sometime this year, but no one knows when. In the meantime, these images should keep you intrigued.