Inside UPA: A Cartoon Brew Book

inside UPA

Today I’m pleased to announce the upcoming publication of the first-ever Cartoon Brew book. Inside UPA is a 64-page volume offering an unprecedented look into the legendary UPA animation studios. Packed with over fifty photos, most of which haven’t been seen in decades, the book offers a rare glimpse into what it was like to work at the mid-century’s greatest design-oriented animation studio.

Like the studio itself, this book is a bit of an experiment. It’s an animation book that treats artists like the stars they are and allows them to be appreciated in a way like never before. Personally I think it’s quite the appropriate companion to my earlier book Cartoon Modern because as that book focused on artwork and animation, this book recognizes the artists who made those groundbreaking films a reality.

Inside UPA captures long forgotten moments from the studio’s history including such images as John Hubley sketching dancer Olga Lunick during the production of Rooty Toot Toot, Aurie Battaglia and Leo Salkin working on the unproduced James Thurber feature The White Deer, architect John Lautner talking to UPA animators about his building plans for the studio, Pete Burness and Mister Magoo voice Jim Backus going through a storyboard, Gene Deitch and Cliff Roberts having an impromptu jam session at a picnic, and a late-night production staff meeting at the Smokehouse Restaurant.

Inside UPA, which measures 7.5″x8.7″, is a softcover with french flaps and b&w interior. All proceeds from the sale of the book will go towards the production of the UPA documentary that Tee Bosustow is working on so every purchase helps to further advance the documentation of the studio’s output. The book also includes a six-page filmography, which is the most complete UPA filmography to ever appear in print. It includes not only the studio’s theatrical shorts, but also its industrial and training films, TV commercials and shows, and other special projects.

The book is available in a numbered edition of 1000 copies. It’s a limited run and certainly not the type of book that will be available forever. The pre-order price (valid through September 15) is $35 (plus S&H). After that date, the price increases to $45. Fifty of these copies will come with a bookplate signed by UPA veterans who are still alive. These are available at $150.

To order your copy today, visit UPApix.com.

A few spreads from the book are below:

UPA Photo Book

UPA Photo Book

UPA Photo Book

Fons Schiedon

Fons Schiedon

Dutch animator and illustrator Fons Schiedon has a lot of impressive work on his website FonzTV.nl, and none more so than the educational piece Teen Facts: Hormones, which employs a beautifully-executed split screen concept and features some really fun and appealing animation. The short is currently screening at the Nemo Science Center in Amsterdam. Also it’s worth noting that Schiedon is currently art directing a new children’s TV series, The Incredible Adventures of Kika and Bob which will air this fall on Discovery Kids in the US.

Below is an interview with Schiedon from designFLUX where he talks about his work and influences.

(via Motion Design blog)

South Park Creators Get Online Ad Revenue Deal

This is a must-read article in the New York Times about the new deal that South Park creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone have struck with Viacom. The deal, which is reportedly worth $75 million to its creators, includes a three-year extension of the series and the creation of SouthParkStudios.com, an incubator for new projects that, I believe, Parker and Stone will have an ownership stake in.

The most attention-grabbing part of the deal, and very likely a first for the creator of an animated TV series, is that Viacom has agreed to give Parker and Stone a 50-50 split of ad revenues on digital platforms, though not on television. The deal was made possible thanks to the duo’s lawyer, Kevin Morris, who in 1997 had the foresight to demand that the creators would share in any revenue not derived from the episode airings on cable. What was then a seemingly minor contract clause has today “created what may be a new model in the balance of power and money between creative artists and companies like Comedy Central,” as so succinctly put in this op-ed in the Times. The precedent-setting contractual victory of the South Park creators is a cause of celebration for all creators, as the antiquated exploitation-based business models of the entertainment industry crumble in this new digital age and artists slowly but surely begin to receive equitable compensation for their creations.

Animation History Round-Up

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Golden Age comics by animation artists Rod Scribner and Dan Gordon.

Even B-animation studios get love online: “Why we love Famous cartoons.”

Terrytoons animator Carlo Vinci: Artist first, animator second. A valuable lesson if there ever was one.

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The greatest Warner Bros. background painter: Paul Julian.
Ample evidence here, here and here.

Lovely pre-production art from Dick Williams’s Raggedy Ann and Andy.

Rubber hosey goodness: The Office Boy, a Flip the Frog short by Ub Iwerks.

A Tribute to some Disney Heroes

Joe Grant
Van Eaton Galleries, in conjunction with the Creative Talent Network, is holding a unique event featuring a tribute to some of Disney Heroes of Imagination, past and present. Honorees for the evening are Rowland Wilson, Joe Grant (above), Walt Stanchfield and Mel Shaw. From the press release:

There will be an exhibition of art, never-before-seen-publicly, from the private collections of family, friends and colleagues of these artists on display throughout the gallery. Attendees will receive a commemorative brochure that includes biographies of each artist and a collection of statements and anecdotes from the many celebrated artists who have shared studio space with these great talents.

The Disney Heroes of Imagination event will be held on Saturday, September 15th, 2007 from 6:00pm to 9:00pm at Van Eaton Galleries, 13613 Ventura Blvd. Sherman Oaks, California. RSVP’s are now being taken. Anyone interested in attending should call (818) 788-2357.

Achieving Hand-Drawn Animation Via CG and Flash

Adam Yaniv, an animator at Rhythm & Hues by day, recently pointed me to this small personal project he created as an entry in Heinz’s Top This TV Challenge.

What’s notable about this spot is how he used a combination of 3D software and Flash to achieve the hand-drawn look. Cel shaders in CG programs generally bother me because in order to create a hand-drawn look, they attempt to mask the CG, and the end result is neither fish nor fowl. Yaniv, on the other hand, used CG only as a foundation to assist the hand-drawn process. He explained the pipeline to me via email:

“I use 3D as kind of my blue pencil phase, getting the characters down in simple shapes, animating their action in front of the camera and so forth. Then I move into traditional frame-by-frame cleanup, using Flash in this case. The key is that cleanup is done in the same exact way that it would be in 2D, no cut corners. Meaning that I make judgment calls on every frame pertaining to model, volume, line-quality and animation style same as I would in 2D. So I use the best of both worlds, it’s all in the technique.”

Yaniv has plans to use this process in future personal projects. He’s excited about the potential of the process citing its flexibility to make changes right through the end of production, the sped-up timeframe in which hand-drawn animation can be created, and the ability to distribute the workload across a team of animators.

It should be noted that Aardman’s recent multiple-award winning short The Pearce Sisters uses a somewhat similar technique, beginning with CG roots and ending up with a hand-drawn look. Though Yaniv’s technique isn’t groundbreaking, it excites me to see artists experimenting with the digital tools at their disposal and finding ways to make technology work for them. As more and more artists like Yaniv embrace hybrid approaches, we can finally put to rest the tired 2D versus 3D debate and recognize the possibilities that exist when digital and hand-drawn are combined.

Fresh-Up Freddie

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Lest we forget: This year marks the anniversary of Disney’s biggest commercial cartoon star: Fresh-Up Freddie.

It was fifty years ago (in 1957) when the Leo Burnett Agency created the Freddy ad campaign for 7-Up and its sponsorship of Disney’s prime time Zorro TV series. The Disney studio made the commercials and designed the character (essentially a hybrid of Panchito and the Aracuan Bird from The Three Caballeros). I’ve seen very few of them myself, but luckily, like everything else, they are now showing up on the Internet. There is a nice long Freddie commercial currently featured at The Museum of Broadcast Communications website near the start of the American Bandstand episode (at the 1:50 mark). And here’s another one from YouTube:

These spots are nice, but they are nothing Walter Lantz or any other commercial cartoon studio couldn’t do just as well. Commercials were not really part of Disney agenda…perhaps he should have stopped doing them 35 years earlier, after Tommy Tucker’s Tooth.

This Morning: Gary Rydstrom Speaks

Pixar

This morning, from 9:30 to 10am (PST), tune in to S.W. Conser’s radio program Words & Pictures for an interview with Pixar sound designer Gary Rydstrom. Rydstrom also directed the studio’s most recent short Lifted. Portland-based listeners can listen on KBOO 90.7fm, and folks elsewhere can listen to a real-time webcast at KBOO.fm.

The Word & Pictures audio archives also houses interviews with Understanding Comics author Scott McCloud, animation director Marv Newland (Bambi Meets Godzilla), and this recent chat with Jerry and I, which marks the only time the Brewmasters have done a joint radio interview.

New This Week: Mary Blair’s Cinderella

Cinderella by Mary Blair

I’ve mentioned it before but the new Cinderella storybook, illustrated with Mary Blair’s conceptual artwork from the Disney feature, is arriving into bookstores this week. There’s also this article in Publisher’s Weekly which talks about how the project came to fruition, and more importantly, offers the news that two more Disney storybooks using Blair’s concept art are scheduled: Alice in Wonderland in ’08 and Peter Pan in ’09.

Looney Tunes Golden Collection Vol. 5

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I’d be remiss if I didn’t update Brew readers to the forthcoming Looney Tunes Golden Collection Vol. 5 – which will be released on October 30th, available from your favorite online retailer or at a brick and morter video store near you.

Details of its contents have been floating around various websites for a couple of weeks. TVshowsOnDVD.com has the best listing – but even their information has a few omissions and errors: for example, the Snafu and Hook cartoons are actually part of Disc 3 (not Disc 2) and the Walter Lantz Hook cartoon, “Take Heed Mr. Tojo”, and the Private Snafu cartoon “Gas” are unfortunately not included, despite what others on the Internet have reported. There are a few things on the set that nobody has mentioned yet. Disc 1 has a bonus section featuring of over a dozen rare Bugs Bunny Show prime time TV commercials for sponsor General Foods, for such products as Tang and Post Cereals. I’m particularly delighted with the inclusion of these little advertising gems, most transferred from 35mm elements, which were produced during the waning days of the original studio.

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And then there are the restorations (see comparison below: laser disc frame at left, DVD frame at right) and several newly restored original titles… but I’ll be telling you much more about that in the weeks to come. For now, mark the date: October 30th.

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Harman & Ising VD film

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As long as we are exploring The Smoking Gun – check out this mainly live action, somewhat campy, obscure educational film by Hugh Harman Productions: A Message To Women (1945). The film, produced for the United States Public Health Service, is a frank discussion on the perils of veneral disease. It’s about eighteen minutes long and contains some simple human body diagram animation by Robert Allen. A far cry from the Happy Harmonies of just a few years earlier – but an interesting footnote nonetheless.

(Thanks, Tom Maynard)

Paradise by Jesse Rosensweet

Jesse Rosensweet

The NFB has already released one terrifically original stop-motion film this year—Madame Tutli-Putli—and next month they’re rolling out another promising stop-mo piece onto the festival circuit. Paradise by writer/director Jesse Rosensweet debuts in September at both the Toronto International Film Festival and the Ottawa International Animation Festival. The stop-motion characters in the film are painted metal tin toys and move in a correspondingly staccato toyish manner. The visual style is apparently a metaphor for the film’s subject matter, which is “the story of a man [voiced by Dave Foley] whose actions are controlled by fate, who is forced to follow a predetermined path.” More details and a trailer are available at the NFB website.

Afterworld

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Fascinating story in yesterday’s LA Times about Afterworld, a new CG animated series which premieres online this week at MySpace. The $3 million production (a significant sum for an online animated series) is comprised of 130 episodes, each between 2-3 minutes. The first ten episodes have been posted onto MySpace and the series can also be seen at Afterworld.tv. Below is an excerpt from the Times about how the creators intend to make money from the series:

Instead of a traditional licensing fee, [production company] Electric Farm gets a cut of the ad revenue MySpace generates from the show. Financial terms weren’t disclosed.

The company also has made money by selling international television, Internet, mobile and gaming rights to Sony Pictures International, which helped finance the project. Sony also is developing a mobile game to be released early next year based on the series.

The global rollout began this month when the Sci-Fi Channel in Australia began airing the show, which is also available in 13 half-hour episodes.

It also will air on television and mobile phones in several other countries.

Afterworld is a great example of the multi-platform future of animation. While series animation on TV is far from dead, it can no longer be regarded as the final frontier for animation creators. There are an ever-increasing number of distribution platforms and revenue streams for animated series nowadays, and projects like Afterworld are helping to pave the way and find what works in this exciting post-TV environment.

The Pixar Story

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Starting today, an Oscar qualifying one week engagement of Leslie Iwerks new feature documentary The Pixar Story will be screening at Laemmle’s One Colorado Theatre, 42 Miller Alley in Old Pasadena, California. There’ll be two showings daily, at 7:10pm and 8:45pm. Leslie will be at the theater in person (along with family and friends) at the 7:10 screenings on Saturday 8/25 and Sunday 8/26. The film will only play through Thursday, August 30, and it’s really worth seeing on the big screen. I’ve seen it and it’s really good.

The 88 minute film was written, directed & produced by Iwerks and features narration by Stacy Keach. Its only prior public showings have been at Annecy and at the San Diego Comic Con (where it was reviewed by Variety). For periodic screening updates, visit www.LeslieIwerks.com.

Tom McKimson’s paycheck, 1944

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If you love Looney Tunes even the little details are interesting. Warner Bros. uber-art collector Eric Calande recently added this item to his collection: A 1944 paystub belonging to animator Thomas McKimson (click above to see slightly larger image). Notes Eric:

Schlesinger was paying him a whopping $90 a week. This comes to about $4700 a year when an average salary in 1944 was $20 – $25,000 $2, 600. As these were the war years, the check shows a “Victory Tax” deduction. There’s also a field for a “war bonds” deduction.

Examine the rest of Eric’s collection at WarnerArt.com.

A Tweety Boutique

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Who says Cartoon Brew isn’t up on the world of fashion?

Warner Bros. Studio Stores may be a thing of the past, but that hasn’t stopped the Warner Consumer Products division from selling high end designer Looney Tunes items and opening a fancy Tweety boutique in Beverly Hills.

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Located at 9699 Wilshire Boulevard, and open for a limited time (through September 3rd), the boutique had a splashy opening last month with several photo ops with Hollywood starlets (including Hillary’s Duff’s sister Haylie, pictured at left). According to the press release:

The latest offerings from the Tweety collection are decidedly more designer-oriented and cater to a more sophisticated female shopper, as the line expands to include appropriately themed products from Alexandre Herchcovitch, Alexander Wang, Alice Ritter, Erickson Beamon, Issa London, Miss Davenporte, and Scoop.

Not that we need anything else to further blur the line regarding Tweety’s sexual status. For the record: He’s a man, baby!

Augenblick Animates The Ten

The Ten Movie

Animation Magazine has a good article about the new art house movie The Ten and the Flash-animated sequence in it produced by Augenblick Studios. The film, directed by David Wain, is a series of ten short stories inspired by the ten commandments, one of which—”Thou shall not bear false witness—â€? is animated. Animation director Aaron Augenblick explains the piece has strong hints of Fleischer in it:

“They wanted a multitude of characters all sort of bouncing along and dancing and that kind of stuff. Fleischer cartoons have always been my favorites, so my approach was to try to do it in a style that was evocative of Betty Boop and Popeye, without trying to make it look old. I didn’t want to try and do some faux retro piece like in [our web series] Golden Age, as if it were an old cartoon. I wanted to do it in a style that was evocative of those cartoons, but still really vibrant with bright colors, dirty humor and disturbing, gross visuals. The approach was to imagine what Fleischer Studios would do if they were around today and they were animating an all-animal orgy.”

Dead Animators on MySpace

A bit of a curious trend worth noting is the growing number of MySpace pages dedicated to legendary animation artists. While the pages are often tacky and annoying (just like so many other MySpace pages), it’s nice to see classic artists being remembered and introduced to new generations in such a contemporary tech-savvy setting. Below are the classic animators I’ve found on MySpace. Feel free to point out others in the comments.

Tex Avery
Chuck Jones
Ward Kimball
Bob Clampett
Tom Oreb
Freddy Moore
Disney/WB composer Carl Stalling (here and here)