KidRobot does Underdog

pollyriffraffkidrobot2.jpgunderdogkidrobot.jpgJust in time to clear the stench of that current Underdog movie debacle from my memory cells, come these delightful KidRobot figures that restore the fun designs of the original characters.

Click here to see close-ups of (and get ordering information for) these cool vinyl figures of Underdog, Polly, Riff Raff, and Simon Bar Sinister. Like a breath of fresh air – these characters look great in three dimensions!

A Few Notes About Don Hertzfeldt

Everything Will Be OK

The dvd single of Don Hertzfeldt’s latest (and in my opinion, strongest and most intensely cinematic) short Everything Will Be OK goes on pre-order sale today at noon (Pacific time). According to his Bitter Films website, “all pre-orders will receive a free ‘everything will be ok’ FILM STRIP, clipped from a 35mm print from Don Hertzfeldt’s collection.” Additionally, a limited number of signed art prints are also available this morning for people who pre-order the dvd.

I’ll admit that when I first discovered Don’s films (around ’98 or so), I wasn’t exactly his biggest fan. His early films like Ah L’Amour and Billy’s Balloon, though amusing, were too trivial to capture my interest. It wasn’t until Rejected that I really began to warm up to his work and get past the stick figure hurdle.

Early on the difficulty I was having with his work is that it seemed like the stick-people might be the entire gimmick, that it wasn’t really about his stories, but the fact that stick figures were telling these stories. The exquisitely crafted Lily and Jim should have convinced me otherwise, but I’m slow sometimes. (Sidenote: Lily and Jim is all the more impressive when one realizes Don was only 20 years old when he made it). His new films, however, have completely erased any doubts about his capabilities as a filmmaker. While Don uses simple figures in his animation, he manages to evoke more with these frugal pencil marks than most animators do with their fully-articulated anatomy-laden characters. The real meat in Hertzfeldt’s work is his ability to use the film medium to tell engaging, funny and interesting stories, and while his drawing style is one of the more striking and obvious aspects of his work, it is only a minor component in the overall picture of his films.

Don recently told an interviewer, “I’m not the kind of guy who’s gonna struggle for weeks getting someone’s ankle to look just right, you know? Actually I don’t even draw ankles. I animate to tell these stories…” While true, the comment belies the careful attention that Hertzfeldt invests into the visual side of his shorts. His characters are often crudely drawn, but the cinematic and visual potential of the animation medium is never ignored. The humor in Rejected is equally divided between the visual and verbal, The Meaning of Life is a largely visual narrative, with the dialogue in the film used more to add mood than anything else, and the in-camera optical effects and live photography in Everything Will Be OK create an unexpectedly rich and textured visual experience.

With the graphic evolution and non-linear narrative experimentations of his previous three films — Rejected, The Meaning of Life and Everything Will Be OK — Don has clearly established himself as an animation original. If you’re familiar with Hertzfeldt’s work, you’re sure to enjoy his latest Everything Will Be OK, and if you’re not, do yourself a favor and pick up a copy of the exhaustively complete Bitter Films Volume 1 dvd which contains all of his earlier shorts through The Meaning of Life. It’s a fine introduction to the work of a still-evolving filmmaker who easily ranks among the most exciting indie animators currently on the American scene.

For all things Hertzfeldt, visit BitterFilms.com

Everything Will Be OK

The Making of Pencil Test

With SIGGRAPH 2007 now wrapped up, I thought it might be appropriate to link to the video below about a CG animated short that debuted nearly twenty years ago at SIGGRAPH 88. The film, Pencil Test (watch it here), was created in-house at Apple Computer to display the capabilities of the Apple Macintosh II. The film below is the ‘making of’ that explains how they did it. Interestingly enough, Andrew Stanton (director of Finding Nemo and the upcoming Wall-E) receives a credit on the finished film as illustrator and storyteller, and John Lasseter has a credit as “coach.” And one more cool note: the applications engineer who appears in the short, Nancy Tague, is now Mrs. Nancy Lasseter.

UPDATE: A Brew reader who prefers to remain anonymous writes, “The woman building the character is Galyn Susman, producer of Ratatouille. She’s really awesome, and has been at Pixar since before Toy Story.”

(Thanks, John Karel)

New Ed Emshwiller Bio

Ed Emshwiller

Emshwiller Infinity x Two by Luis Ortiz is a new joint-biography of artists Ed and Carol Emshwiller. Carol was a fiction writer, but of interest to animation folk is the life of Ed Emshwiller, a multi-faceted artist who established himself as one of the most well-known sci-fi magazine cover illustrators during the 1950s and early-60s. From there, he turned his attention towards experimental filmmaking, and eventually began to experiment with CGI. One of his pioneering CG experiments, Sunstone (1979), can be viewed online here. In 1979, he became the dean of CalArts’s School of Film/Video and served in that post through his death in 1990. In 1983, he founded the school’s Computer Animation Lab. For more details, see this book review by Fred Patten.

JibJab “Starring You”

jerrywalthula.jpg

First, let me again apologize for foisting my face on the blog, but it’s an image from my latest starring role. The big news is that starting today, anyone – even you – can be in a JibJab video!

Starring You allows you to upload your own heads, cut them out, and star in a JibJab! They’ve made five template movies to begin with and this sample (starring me and Walt) gives you an idea of the possibilities. If you want to try out the tools and see the other movies just go to JibJab.com

Anyone can make a movie, but you have to register with JibJab to publish. You can then email your film or the links, post them on your blogs, MySpace pages, Facebook accounts… anywhere! And it’s completely free. Check it out.

Cartoon Dump Episode 2

Cartoon Dump

Calling all animation haters! The second episode of our new web series Cartoon Dump is now up at CartoonBrewFilms.com. Somehow we are managing to keep up with our schedule to deliver a fresh episode once a week. This week, Compost Brite reads her fan mail!

The big news in Dumpster-ville is that we’ve arranged to perform Cartoon Dump live, one night every month, at the Steve Allen Theater in Hollywood, California. We’ll be there every fourth Tuesday of each month starting August 28th. (Mark your calender for Sept. 25th, Oct. 23rd and Nov. 27th in 2007). If you are in town, or planning a trip to L.A., please come by and meet the cast and crew in person. We will be introducing new cartoons, new characters, and guest “famous name” comedians each month.

Dangerous Opinions

The advent of blogging has added a new dimension to the discussion about animation, especially as it pertains to artists themselves talking about the industry. What can and can’t an artist working in animation say about the state of the industry? More importantly, what should and shouldn’t one say? Those are difficult questions and while there’s no definitive answer, CG animator Keith Lango has some interesting thoughts on the topic in this blog post entitled “Dangerous Opinions.” Well worth a read.

Amautalab

Amautalab

It’s rare to find a studio whose work truly excites like that of Amautalab, a young outfit based out of LA, Buenos Aires and Lima, and headed by Carlos Battilana, Martin Jalfen and Julian Montesano. They’re employing a wide range of animation techniques, and across the board their work has an incredibly fresh and funky aesthetic. A few of my favorite pieces: this stop-motion spot for Tokyo.Now about how Japan remade its image following WWII, super-lo-fi music vid for Anne Laplantine and a tripped-out CG/live combo for Resfest: Buenos Aires. Their stop-mo website Amautalab.com is a good bit of fun as well.

(via Motion Design blog)

Amautalab

Win a Woody – Contest CLOSED!

woodyboxsmall1.jpgIf you haven’t picked up your copy of the new Woody Woodpecker Classic Cartoon Collection, shame on you! Everyone reading Cartoon Brew should have this. This morning we had a contest and gave away three copies.

Answer the question below in our comments section and the first three correct answers will win the DVD collection.

Who was the original voice of Woody Woodpecker? (HINT: he was also Bugs Bunny, Barney Rubble and Pepe LePew)

CONTEST NOW CLOSED! We have our winners. Congratulations to Craig Davison, Kelly Kilmer and William Russo (MGH) for being the first to submit the correct answer (answer: Mel Blanc)!

Special Thanks to Universal Studios Home Entertainment for providing us with the prizes.

Aurora In The UK

Aurora

After Annecy and Platform, I figured I’d had my fill of animation festivals for the year, but I’m rethinking that stance after hearing about Aurora. Aurora, you ask? This is the new name of the UK’s Norwich International Animation Festival, and it’s happening this year from November 7-10. While the festival has dropped ‘animation’ from its name, it has done so in an effort to redefine the notion of what an animation festival can be. A bit of explanation about the name change can be found on the Aurora site:

The change of the name is the annual festival’s latest move towards a truly multidisciplinary programme, and represents the opinion that ‘animation’ itself has become a restrictive tag which rarely does justice to the myriad artistic activity that it encompasses. It follows, then, that an ‘animation festival’ is no longer capable of staying abreast of this enormous artistic diversity – so in order to more freely reflect the way we think animation is heading, we’re dropping the label.

However, the festival is emphatically not abandoning animation – quite the opposite. The move away from an ‘animation festival’ will allow it to concentrate on what animation really is, on what it’s truly capable of, without being constrained by arguments about definition or limited to presenting film work alone.

Aurora has five featured artists this year—Robert Breer, Takashi Ishida, Jeff Scher, Naoyuki Tsuji and Jim Trainor—all of whom will be there in person to present programs of their work. These are complemented by an intriguing array of curated short programs, discussions and debates, and live performances combined with real-time animation. We’ve already seen some of this boundary-busting attitude at Platform earlier this year with its installation and cell phone animation competitions. Aurora is pushing it one step further, ushering in a new breed of animation festival that extends beyond films and embraces the entire cross-disciplinary potential of the medium. To read more from another blogger excited about this festival, check out Ben Ettinger’s AniPages Daily.

Andrew Stanton Talks Wall-E

Wall-E

IGN has an interview with director Andrew Stanton about Pixar’s next feature Wall-E. The following comment from Stanton perfectly encapsulates what sets Pixar apart from almost every other major feature animation studio:

One of the keys to us is we’ve never thought about our audience, or never thought about who our audience might be. We honestly are just making the movies that we want to make, that if we didn’t show it to anybody else but ourselves we’d be fine…[I]t’s all artistic; there’s not a single sort of corporate kind of audience point of view looking at any of the stuff we do — at least within the walls of Pixar.

Incidentally, one can find similar sounding quotes from any number of Golden Age animation directors like Chuck Jones and Tex Avery. Allowing a filmmaker to make the film that they want seems like the most obvious concept, the only requirement being that the filmmaker’s vision has to be trusted. Sadly, with the exception of Pixar, most contemporary animation studios don’t extend that type of trust to their directors.

Before and After

ravencomparison420.jpg

(Click on images above for larger version) The painting above left is original art from Fleischer Studios Technicolor two-reel special The Raven and how it may have looked on screen in 1942. The image at right is a blurry 16mm frame grab of the same shot – the way it looks today as it sits unrestored and essentially unavailable to view. ASIFA-Hollywood is working with the UCLA Archive to help preserve neglected films like this (and in fact, The Raven may be ready later this year). It’s a real crime that these animation classics are allowed to rot in the vaults of the mega corporations who own them. The Raven is one of the Fleischer’s lesser efforts, but can we really judge it in the horrifying condition as it now exists?

If you’d like to see a larger, more complete version of the gorgeous background painting above, click here. And for those of you who might like to own it, the piece is being sold at auction by S/R Labs sometime during October 22-23, 2007, along with more than 250 fine pieces of animation art like it. S/R is an animation art conservation center that specializes in restoring vintage cels and paper (as well as doing ceramic, porcelain and oil conservation). They do good work.

Horton Hears A Who In Russian

[Video link was removed from Google]

Horton Hears A Who is a 1992 Russian animated short directed by Alexei Karayev, who also directed another Dr. Seuss adaptation that we’d linked to earlier called Welcome (1986). The English translation of the piece, producd at Pilot Studio, was done by Niffiwan who writes more about the film on his excellent Russian animation blog Animatsiya in English.

Haven’t had a moment to watch the film yet, although the man-elephant design of the title character is a bit off-putting at first glance. Niffiwan writes, “The art took me a little time to get used to, but I soon realized that it is really quite beautiful…It shows the exaggerated, overly-saturated, slightly unreal world of the creatures which must seem like gods to the people on the dust speck.” He also offers a thought about how this Russian version compares to the recent trailer for Blue Sky’s Horton:

I think that Pilot Studio’s version changes the surface layer by using an utterly different art style (among other things), but keeps the heart and soul of the story completely intact. The Blue Sky adaptation looks like it will do the opposite; keep the pretty crust and toss the insides.

Bugs Bunny’s Autobiography

haregrowsmanhattan.jpg

Once again the ASIFA-Hollywood Animation Archive provides a new piece of the giant jigsaw puzzle that is the history of animated cartoons.

Steve Worth has scanned sections of a December 1945 issue of Coronet magazine which includes an autobiography of Bugs Bunny (illustrated with original images loosely based on the storyboards from A Hare Grows In Manhattan (released in May 1947). Anybody have any guesses as to who did the art?

Kenyan Village Cashes In On Simpsons

Simpson Carvings

This short Reuters video tells the story of how soap stone carvers in the Kenyan village of Tabaka are earning more money than ever by turning out delectably off-model carvings of Simpsons characters. In particular, the shot of the villagers trying to watch an episode of the Simpsons is priceless. According to Reuters, the village has an official license from Fox to produce these figurines. Now the question is, where can one purchase these statues?

UPDATE: Brew reader Hunter writes in the comments that the statues will soon be available here.