Unfiltered: The Complete Ralph Bakshi

Unfiltered: The Complete Ralph Bakshi

Here’s the cover to one of next year’s must-have animation books: Unfiltered: The Complete Ralph Bakshi by Jon M. Gibson and Chris McDonnell.

I’ve peeped the interior and can report that it’s a 264-page visual feast packed with page after page of amazing artwork. Any book that can make Bakshi’s Lord of the Rings look like a competent piece of filmmaking has done its job well. Plus, a foreword by Bakshi aficionado Quentin Tarantino and interviews/anecdotes with John K, Albert Ruddy, Bruce Timm, Peter Chung, John Sparey, Tom Minton, and Frank Frazetta among others. Book launch is slated for Comic-Con International: San Diego in July 2008. Pre-order for $26.40 on Amazon.

Animated Painting at San Diego Museum of Art

Animated Painting

The LA Times has an in-depth profile about the new “Animated Painting” exhibit at the San Diego Museum of Art. The show, which runs through January 13, 2008, features “25 cinematic works by 14 international contemporary artists who adapt traditional painting and drawing methods to the concepts and technologies of animation.” Participating artists are the Barnstormers, Sadie Benning, Jeremy Blake, Sebastián Díaz Morales, Kota Ezawa, Ruth Gómez, William Kentridge, Ann Lislegaard, Takeshi Murata, Serge Onnen, Julian Opie, Wit Pimkanchanapong, Qiu Anxiong, and Robin Rhode.

Animated Painting

Janet Waldo on Stu’s Show

janetwaldo3.jpg

This week’s special guest on Stu Shostack’s internet radio broadcast is actress/cartoon voiceover leading lady, Janet Waldo (Judy Jetson, Penelope Pitstop, etc.). She’ll join Hanna Barbera cartoon expert Earl Kress and Stu to discuss her experiences as a Hanna Barbera super star. She and Earl will also take questions from callers. Here’s your chance to talk to a living legend. Tune into Stu’s Show starting at 4pm, Wednesday (11/7).

The Simpsons Movie Screening and Q&A

simpsonsmovielogo2.jpg

Tomorrow night (11/6), at the Directors Guild (7920 Sunset Blvd.), Asifa-Hollywood is screening The Simpsons Movie – preceeded by a reception (at 6:30pm) and succeeded (at 9pm) by a question and answer session with the filmmakers. There are still a few seats available – RSVP to (310) 369-8033

I’ll have the honor of moderating a Q&A with creator Matt Groening, director David Silverman, writer-producers Al Jean, Mike Scully and executive producer James L. Brooks. I’ve never met Brooks before and that will be quite a thrill. He’s one of Hollywood’s greats (Broadcast News, Terms of Endearment, Mary Tyler Moore, Taxi and on and on… not to mention Carleton Your Doorman and The Critic).

If you can’t make it tomorrow night – and keeping the questions strictly related to The Simpsons – what do you think I should ask Brooks, Groening, Silverman, Scully and Jean?

Book Review: To Infinity and Beyond

To Infinity and Beyond

To Infinity and Beyond!: The Story of Pixar Animation Studios (Chronicle Books, 2007) by Karen Paik is exactly the type of book you’d expect it to be, nothing more and nothing less, and so cautious as to be boring. Such might also serve as an adequate assessment of the studio’s last couple of films.

The first three chapters of the book are dedicated to Pixar’s big three—Ed Catmull (the tech guy), John Lasseter (the art guy) and Steve Jobs (the business guy)—and the story of their individual paths that led them to Pixar. It is followed by a look at Pixar’s early day as a hardware and software manufacturer, TV commercial producer and maker of short films. The bulk of the book is devoted to the studio’s features, with one chapter offered to each film from Toy Story through Cars. The book concludes with a chapter titled “Pixar Joins with Disney” which is a frank account (as far as corporate vanity books go) of the drama of the past few years which led to Disney’s eventual acquisition of the studio. Throughout, there are also spotlights on Sound, Voices, Music and RenderMan.

As a coffeetable book, it is handsome though hardly spectacular. The front and back cover, with their Buzz Lightyear stickers pasted onto cloth, strike me as not only a surprisingly thrifty approach for such an expensive book ($75 cover price), but also something that doesn’t evoke the proper image for a studio that has pioneered computer graphics. Interior layout is clean but bland; the artwork printed here is largely redundant if you have the earlier ‘art of’ volumes devoted to individual Pixar films. Among the types of visuals that can’t be found in those other book are some photographs and caricatures of the artists. Another type of art unique to this book is the inclusion of final rendered stills from the films, which is good or bad depending on your perspective.

Personally, I had a surprising reaction to the film stills. Looking at them on the printed page, without the benefit of movement or story, I was struck by how overwhelmingly primitive the finished artwork is in Pixar’s films. No doubt the graphics in their films have evolved in terms of complexity, lighting and rendering over the past decade, but the final imagery has not become any more aesthetically appealing from the days of Toy Story. The graphics in Pixar films remain literal and sterile with little sense of humanity or warmth in the finished characters or backgrounds.

While it would be easy to blame such graphic shortcomings on the nature of digital art, the lack of appeal is not so much a technological issue as it is about Pixar’s unwillingness to use the computer as an artistic tool. To date, the aesthetic development of CG has largely been left to smaller commercial studios and independent animators. A studio like Pixar excels in characterization (and occasionally story), but when it comes to graphics, they are more similar than most like to admit to other deep-pocketed and overly cautious CG studios like DreamWorks, Sony and Blue Sky.

There is, however, little reason that Pixar should be incapable of incorporating the type of visual imagination that is evident in their pre-production art into the finished movies. Certainly both the technical and artistic know-how exists at the studio; only the will to combine the two is lacking. While their film credit sequences often make a half-hearted nod to graphic respectability (ex. Monsters Inc., Ratatouille), it would be something else entirely to see such artistry integrated into the CG body of their films.

Pixar completists, and those who want a better sense of some of the production challenges that artists faced on each feature, will want to consider adding this book to their bookshelf, though if you’re an owner of the studio’s earlier ‘art of’ books, it’s doubtful you’ll find much in the way of visual inspiration. What you’ll find is a lot of the same pre-production pieces (or similar enough that they may as well be the same) and a fairy tale account of the studio’s rise to prominence with lots (and lots) of obligatory back-patting amongst crew members. Personally, I’m looking more forward to another book on the horizon: David Price’s The Pixar Touch: The Making of a Company, which will hopefully offer the in-depth history of the studio that many of us want. That book will be released next May.

Sony PS3 Spot by Superfad

Superfad spot

Superfad has delivered an impressive 3D spot for the Sony PS3, directed by Kevin Lau and Frank Pichel. Superfad’s animation of the ‘exploding’ PS3 are tightly integrated with the videogame footage but also make a unique impression of their own because of the stylized b&w art direction. The use of a simple grey background also heightens the impact of the piece. It’s refreshing to see such restraint on the part of directors working with CG.

(via Motionographer)

The Question of Beowulf

beowulfstill.jpg

What to make of Robert Zemeckis’ Beowulf.

Is it to be considered a pure animated film or a digitally enhanced live action feature? Is it of a piece with Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within and Polar Express? Or does it end up in the company of 300, Sin City or Sky Captain and The World Of Tomorrow?

I haven’t seen the film; I’ve only seen the trailers and clips. So far, I’m not impressed. And so far I’m having a hard time accepting this as an animated feature. Should this film compete for an Annie or an Oscar against Persepolis, Ratatouille and The Simpsons Movie?

Buzz from the first public screenings this weekend is overwhelmingly positive (these screenings were in 3-D Imax). This film is shaping up to be huge at the box office. Early reviewers are blown away by both the filmmaking and the technical razzle dazzle. Even sourpuss film critic Jeffery Wells at Hollywood Elsewhere (no fan of animation nor sword & sorcery pics himself) has posted an ecstatic rave:

“Robert Zemeckis’s Beowulf is an exceptional film on its own terms, but the 3-D version I saw last night is, no exaggeration, something close to stupendous… This film is obviously animated through and through. It deserves the Best Feature Animation Oscar, bar none. I don’t care what anyone says — this is not live-action except in the most rudimentary sense of the physical acting aspects, which represent, in my view, a relatively small portion of the whole.”

I’ll decide for myself what camp this picture falls into after I actually see it. In the meantime, I’d be interested in hearing what our readers have to say.

Casper’s got Balls

casperballs.jpg

A former minor-league baseball club known as the Casper Rockies will now be known as the Casper Ghosts.

The club unveiled their new team name and logos Wednesday, adopting their new identity from the animated character, Casper the Friendly Ghost. An agreement with Classic Media will allow the baseball franchise use of the Ghost’s name and to develop an entire souvenir line featuring the friendly ghost. Team merchandise, including Glow-in-the-Dark game caps, are available online at GhostsBaseball.com. This announcement was made — where else? — in Casper Wyoming.

November 1st

janetoswald.jpg

First day of the new month. Lots of cool stuff to do.

I’m showing cartoons tonight at the Janet Klein performance. In Hollywood at 8pm.

At the same time, USC is hosting the Redefining Animation Symposium. Tonight at 7pm.

And Steve Moore has post a new edition of Flip Magazine. This month: Alan Smart’s Tiki Room, a memo from Don Graham to Walt Disney, featured artist Steve Purcell, and one of Moore’s almost-true Hollywood horror stories.