COPENHAGEN: Kay Nielsen Exhibit

Kay Nielsen artwork

The GL. Holtegaard museum near Copenhagen has a Kay Nielsen exhibit on display until August 19. The show features over 120 drawings and illustrations, including some of Nielsen’s work from Fantasia on loan from Disney. If you can’t make the show, there’s plenty of Nielsen’s illustrations online at the ASIFA-Hollywood Animation Archive and ArtPassions.net.

(Thanks, Alex Rannie)

New George of the Jungle in Flash

Here’s a sneak peek at some finished footage from the new Flash animated George Of the Jungle, in production by Studio B in Vancouver for Cartoon Network (U.S.) and for various other toon channels around the world. This clip is from cable’s G4 Tech TV network in Canada. Producer Kevin Gamble and director Jayson Thiessen do a good job of explaining the basics of producing animation in Flash for TV. The actual GTJ footage starts around 1:16 and was animated by artist Emmett Hall.

Lou Romano’s New Yorker Cover

New Yorker cover by Lou Romano

Congrats to Lou Romano who painted the cover for this week’s New Yorker. Various illustrators who work in animation, like Peter de Sève, have done New Yorker covers before, but could this be the first time a trained animation artist has done a cover in the mag’s eighty-plus year history? The New Yorker is also selling prints of Lou’s cover here.

(Thanks to Nate Pacheco for letting me know)

New Gobelins Shorts

Anima facta est

The latest batch of six student shorts from the French animation school Gobelins have been posted online HERE. All these films debuted on the big screen in front of the film programs at Annecy last week. As always, there’s some really slick animation work along with solid graphic sensibilities throughout. I’m not sure if anything really popped out at me this year like Burning Safari or Le Building from years past, though it’s hard to complain when the work is this technically proficient. And can you tell which student crew has been watching lots and lots of Mind Game?

A Letter from Ward Kimball

Ward Kimball letter

Animator and director Will Finn has posted a letter that he received from Ward Kimball in 1973 packed with sage words about becoming an animation artist. His advice about learning to become a well-rounded human being and having a flexible open-minded attitude towards art is not just empty verbiage but very much how Ward lived his own life and one of the keys to understanding why he was such an amazing artist. Similarly, it’s hard to think that any of the other Nine Old Men would ever encourage a budding animation artist to go and watch The Yellow Submarine or Fritz the Cat. The letter may be over thirty years old but the advice within it is still relevant and well worth listening to.

The Bigger Picture

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As an ex-theatrical film distributor myself, I’m always following trends in the industry as it evolves due to new technologies and changing public tastes. Yesterday’s L.A. Times had a good article on Jonathan Dern’s The Bigger Picture which, through various subsidiaries, is distributing anime and kiddie films to weekend matinees on a regular monthly schedule.

Dern’s company has found a way to market direct-to-video animated features to digitally equipped theatres, usually a few weeks before their DVD release. Filling the theatre isn’t a big concern for his business model, a fact made possible due to the low costs involved with distributing a film via digital projection.

Although major studio movies attract big crowds on weekends, Dern said that over the course of a typical week auditoriums are often filled to only 10% to 15% of capacity.

“If we can move the dial 1%, that’s a big number,” Dern said.

Bigger Picture started three years ago, when Dern and Rutkowski came up with the “Kidtoons” animation programs. A typical program might include a G-rated feature, such as this spring’s “Strawberry Shortcake: Berry Blossom Festival,” plus cartoon shorts, music videos and singalongs.

“The light bulb went on,” Dern said. “We said, ‘When else are there very few people in theaters? When else could we put people in seats?’”

If I had to guess, I’d suspect that Dern’s company is making its money by charging a distribution fee from the film’s video company, who may consider this a justifiable cost of special marketing the DVD release. Is it working? I’m not sure what kind of box office money they are generating (it wouldn’t surprise me if they are offering these films to theatres for free) but apparently theatre owners are pleased.

Shari Redstone, president of National Amusements Inc. in Dedham, Mass., said the distributor was building a following at theaters such as The Bridge in Los Angeles.

At 10 a.m. on a Saturday in March, she said, the chain’s 24 theaters taking part in “Kidtoons” sold 1,200 tickets for “Strawberry Shortcake” — a strong turnout at a time when business is typically slow or nonexistent.

“When I was a kid, we’d watch a horrible print of ‘Gulliver’s Travels’ and buy stale popcorn,” Redstone said. “This is a new and better experience for the whole family. And it’s another way to ensure that a generation grows up knowing that when they want to be entertained, they can go to their local movie theater.”

As someone keeping track of U.S. theatrical animated feature film releases, I’ve been struggling with how to chart these film showings. Technically these are theatrical releases, but there are no physical prints and the movies themselves were clearly made for video release. For now I’m considering them a footnote in my long term research. Time will tell how they should be cataloged — and whether The Bigger Picture will endure .

Disney In Deutschland

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For those of you who were disturbed by our post of Bimbo in Israel, here’s the flip side of the coin.

Currently playing in San Francisco is Disney In Deutschland, a new play by John J. Powers. It purports to recount a meeting between Uncle Walt and Der Fuehrer, face-to-face, with Leni Riefenstahl thrown in for good measure. It even goes so far to suggest Disneyland was Adolf’s idea! Calling Max Bialystock!

Luckily, our brave buddy Harry McCracken went, saw the play and posted his review here. It sounds awful.

Variety: Ratatouille Rave Review

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Variety has posted the first trade review of Ratatouille – and it’s a rave.

“After the superhero spoof of “The Incredibles” and the auto anthropomorphism of “Cars,” the idea of yet another talking-critter toon might strike some auds as overly quaint and familiar. But the last thing “Ratatouille” wants to serve up is yet another shrill, jabbering, pop-culture-referencing menagerie. Under Bird’s careful direction, Remy, with his persuasively rat-like movements and meek nods and shrugs, delivers one of the more endearing and soulful animal “performances” in recent memory… The entire production is a captivating visual delight, as the fluid shifts between human and rodent perspective, and the camera’s sensitivity to different gradations of light and color, are nothing short of stunning.”

Thank you, Pixar – again!

(Oh, and check out Mike Barrier’s review and the WALL•E trailer for a taste of what’s to come).

Weather Man

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Soundac was the Miami Florida animation studio that did commercials, station IDs, and most famously, the first color cartoon for TV (beating out Hanna Barbera’s Ruff and Reddy by a few months), Colonel Bleep. Creative head Jack Schleh was the main artist and director of the studio, and the same year he was immersed in work on Bleep (1956-57), another job came into the shop: Weather Man.

Fran Noack was the studio’s top character designer and he, with staff artist Hal Lockwood, animated these incredibly cool, ’50s modern Weather Man spots which were sold to local news broadcasts around the country. Check them out. Each one is visually clever, with great graphics and cool lettering (and you gotta love that weathervane headpiece!).

(Thanks, Bedazzled!)

Goodbye Toucan Sam

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An era has ended. Kellogg’s has announced it will no longer market its sugared cereals to children.

Kellogg’s also said it would stop using licensed characters (like Shrek and Spongebob) and branded toys to promote its products, according to today’s New York Times.

Will Toucan Sam (Froot Loops) and Dig ‘em Frog (Smacks) soon go the way of Sugar Pops Pete? Stay Tuned!

Go see “Surf’s Up”

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Last night Asifa-Hollywood had a screening of Surf’s Up and I moderated an enjoyable Q&A with Ash Brannon and several key members of the production crew.

Don’t let this film pass you by. It’s excellent. It’s not just another “penguin movie”. It’s a surfing comedy with funny characters and, bottom line, it’s very entertaining. And you can tell the different penguin characters apart!

I never thought I’d be raving about effects animation, but the wave effects alone are worth the price of admission. The story is told in a semi-mock documentarty style, with hand-held camera moves I haven’t quite seen in an animated film before. I could go on and on about it; it’s superior in every way and I’d hate to see it get lost in the shuffle between the other summer heavyweights (Shrek The Third and Ratatouille). I don’t often do an out-and-out plug for a current release, but this film deserves a shot. It’s one of the best of the year.

Eddie studies Clampett Inbetweens

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Is anyone employed in the U.S. as an “inbetweener” anymore? Has the computer taken that over, too?

Our pal Eddie Fitzgerald has posted some theories and analysis about inbetweens using a Porky Pig scene animated by Rod Scribner from Bob Clampett’s Kitty Kornered.

Dissecting cartoons on a frame by frame basis is a full time obsession for some animators, but nobody does is more entertaining than Eddie.

Columbia’s Barney Google

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One of the “Holy Grails” amongst us cartoon historians is the series of four Barney Google cartoons produced in Technicolor by Columbia Pictures’ Screen Gems cartoon unit in 1935.

King Features had it in their contracts with Hollywood studios that the films adapting their comic strip creations would be destroyed after ten years (popular demand allowed exceptions to the rule for the Popeye cartoons, Flash Gordon serials and Blondie movies). Thus, many of King Features movie adaptations were considered lost for many decades (luckily prints of King’s numerous serials – The Phantom, Mandrake The Magician, Secret Agent X-9, etc. – have surfaced in recent years). However, Google still remains on the “Most Wanted” list by cartoon buffs and comic strip historians. (A 1946 Paramount Snuffy Smith cartoon, Spree For All is, as far as I know, still non-existant).

British film collector Lee Glover has tracked down several 50 foot rolls of black and white silent Barney Google 16mm home movies versions (excerpts of the Columbia Google cartoons were sold to home movie enthusiasts of the era). He has virtually reconstructed Teched In The Head (1935), the first of the series. It’s no classic, but it’s a treat to see one of these, just to get a taste of what we’ve been denied all these years. Check it out on his website. Thanks Lee, nice job!

(Cel set-up above is from the final Google film, from 1936, Spark Plug)

Vaudeville by Chansoo Kim

Chansoo Kim

New week, new film on CartoonBrewFilms. This week, it’s Vaudeville by Chansoo Kim. The film’s subject matter is heavy—the Japanese occupation of Korea—yet Kim manages to create a film of unexpected beauty with an abstract, highly personal approach to the material. The film, produced as a graduate thesis project at USC, has been extremely popular on the festival circuit over the past few years and for good reason: Vaudeville is easily one of the more fully realized student films I’ve run across in recent times and it represents the arrival of an important new voice in animation. Since graduation, Chansoo has been working at CG studios like Rhythm & Hues and ILM but tells me that he hopes to return to short filmmaking soon.

UPA-NY TV Spots Donated To MoMA

UPA TV commercial

It was just a couple weeks ago that I was lamenting on the Cartoon Modern blog the unavailability of the UPA commercials. Today I have some good news to report. I just got word that animation legend Tissa David has contributed her collection of rare UPA-NY TV commercials and original artwork to the Museum of Modern Art’s Film Study Center. David, age 86 and still animating, donated a dozen pristine 16mm and two 35 mm b&w films of TV commercials for products such as Piels Beer, Cheer, Cannon, and Windex.

Also in the donation are original animation production folders for UPA TV commercials (Nescafe, Chrysler, The Danny Thomas Show, Ford Edsel, Grape Nuts and Coca Cola, among others) containing designs, character models, layouts, exposure sheets and hundreds of sequential animation drawings (in rough and cleaned-up versions). The drawings are by both by Grim Natwick, and Tissa David, who was Natwick’s chief assistant for many years. A huge thanks to John Canemaker for orchestrating this donation and helping Ms. David prepare the material for transfer to the museum.