This Week: Light Up Bristol

Light Up Bristol

Folks in Bristol, England are getting a spectacular large-scale animation show this week. The event, Light Up Bristol, which projects 400-feet wide pieces of animation across historic buildings, started yesterday and runs through this Friday. Bristol-based animator and illustrator Robin Davey, who has two pieces in this year’s line-up, explained to me what the event is all about:

“Now in its second year, Light Up Bristol is a week of festively-themed large scale video projections on to some of the UK city’s landmark buildings. All the work has been produced especially for the event by many of Bristol’s creative agencies and individuals, in a variety of media ranging from Flash and After Effects through to film, stop-motion, and shadow-puppetry. Everyone involved has volunteered their time and talents free of charge, and the event is free to all. It runs from Monday 17 to Friday 21 December in and around College Green. I’ve contributed two very different pieces to the line-up. You can see some stills on my blog here.”

Creative Review magazine has images from the animated pieces in this article. More photos from the event, including the one above by James Burniston, are posted on Flickr.

The Character Design of Ward Kimball

Drawing by Ward Kimball

It is well known that, for a variety of reasons, legendary Disney director and animator Ward Kimball was demoted by Walt Disney from director back to animator in the early-1960s. In 1966, Kimball made his comeback into the director’s chair. Responsible for the shift was not only Walt’s softening stance towards Kimball but also the retirement of director Ham Luske, which opened a slot for Kimball’s return.

The subject of today’s post is Kimball’s first project upon his return to direction: the rarely seen episode of Walt Disney’s Wonderful World of Color called “A Salute to Alaska,” which debuted on April 2, 1967. (A sidenote: this was the last episode of Wonderful World of Color that Walt Disney filmed an opening for before his death.) Kimball shares a co-direction credit with Luske on the show. According to Ward’s son, John Kimball, who worked on the animated segments, the animation in it is extremely limited, and some of the scenes are simply held cels that are slid across the screen. I’ve never seen it and am unable to comment on the animated segments that Kimball directed. If anybody has the animated segments from the special, feel free to post it onto YouTube.

Thanks to some recent digging around (more about this later), Kimball’s rough character models for the “Alaska” special have been discovered. These drawings offer a rare glimpse into Kimball’s personal design sensibilities and show a great designer at work. While Kimball is well known for his design-oriented films—Toot Whistle Plunk and Boom and Mars and Beyond—those were designed, respectively, by Tom Oreb and John Dunn. Kimball collaborated closely with both artists, and his imprint can be felt throughout, but the primary visual styling belongs to other artists, as is indicated by the very different looks of each project. The drawings in this post, albeit more than a decade after those films, allow us a look at pure Kimball design.

A good starting point to compare these designs would be the project that Kimball had worked on immediately prior to this, the theatrical short Scrooge McDuck and Money (1967), which can be viewed on YouTube in two parts (Part 1 and Part 2). In that short, Kimball served only as animator and had no influence on the design. The incidental characters in that short were designed by animator Art Stevens. A while back, I posted Stevens’ designs from the short here.

Drawing by Ward Kimball

Drawing by Ward Kimball

The level of design in Stevens’ work and Kimball’s is night and day. While Stevens’ designs are cute, they lack the sophistication of shape and form that only a master draftsman like Kimball could bring to the table. Kimball’s designs feel solid and complete. Despite their high stylization, they have a quality of weight and power that make Stevens’ designs look flimsy and insubstantial by comparison.

Drawing by Ward Kimball

Drawing by Ward Kimball

Drawing by Ward Kimball

Furthermore, Kimball’s drawings are incredibly funny to look at even without the benefit of movement. Around the time he made these drawings, Kimball was teaching at Art Center College of Design in Pasadena and one of the tips he imparted to students was, “A cartoon character who is funny to look at before he is animated is going to be made funnier by the movement.” He certainly practiced what he preached.

Drawing by Ward Kimball

This design of “Ivan the Fur Trapper” communicates textures in the fur cap and facial hair, while maintaining the integrity of the overall shapes and forms.

Drawing by Ward Kimball

Another notable aspect of these drawings is that many of them are based on real-life figures, which allows us to observe Kimball’s gift for caricature. Ward hits hard with his caricatures of the aristocratic Russian businessmen who were running Alaskan affairs in the 1800s. I’ve managed to find online the engravings and illustrations that Kimball based his drawings on and have included them alongside Kimball’s roughs. He caricatures not only their likeness, but also their pompous poses and power-hungry, borderline maniacal, desires. Like the best caricaturists, Kimball tells us more than simply what these people look like, he tells us who they are.

Drawing by Ward Kimball

Drawing by Ward Kimball

Drawing by Ward Kimball

His caricatures of other historical figures are broader and cartoonier, based on the style of the cartoon, but even the cartoony rendition of US Secretary of State William H. Seward (in Uncle Sam garb) is spot-on when compared to one of his photos.

Drawing by Ward Kimball

After “A Salute to Alaska”, Kimball continued directing and producing full-time until his retirement in 1973. His final years at the studio are a mixed bag—they include his last great “edutainment” short It’s Tough To Be a Bird (1969), the occasionally brilliant Dad, Can I Borrow the Car? (1970), and other projects like the “The Mickey Mouse Anniversary Show” (1968) and the syndicated TV series The Mouse Factory (1971).

A few of the images above can be enlarged by clicking on them. The rest are as-is. Enjoy!

Holiday Gift Ideas: Not Quite Animation Books

Have enough animation books already? Here are ten books from the past year which, while not necessarily about animation, are well worth adding to any cartoon and illustration book collection.

Miguel Covarrubias Book

Miguel Covarrubias: 4 Visions

Charley Harper

Charley Harper: An Illustrated Life

Saul Steinberg: Illuminations

Saul Steinberg: Illuminations

Betsy and Me

Betsy and Me collects the rare syndicated newspaper strip of Plastic Man creator Jack Cole.

Hank Ketcham book

Where’s Dennis?: The Magazine Cartoon Art of Hank Ketcham

Completely MAD Don Martin

The Completely MAD Don Martin

Original Art of Basil Wolverton

The Original Art of Basil Wolverton

Perry Bible Fellowship

The Perry Bible Fellowship by Nicholas Gurewitch just might be the best absurdist comic since The Far Side.

Longest Christmas List Ever

The Longest Christmas List Ever, a fine children’s book written by Jibjab founders Gregg and Evan Spiridellis, and illustrated by two up-and-coming talents Brandon Scott and Ian Worrel.

Follow the Line

Follow the Line, an amazing children’s book by Laura Ljungkvist. See interior pages here.

David O’Reilly

Serial Entoptics

CG filmmaker David O’Reilly (RGBXYZ) has redone his website DavidOReilly.com and also posted an enticing trailer for his new short Serial Entoptics. What continues to impress me about O’Reilly’s work and what makes him one of the more exciting young CG animators working today are his efforts towards finding a true and honest graphic expression befitting the CG medium instead of trying to force traditional graphic concepts to fit a CG mold as most everybody else does.

In other words, his work is designed from the groundup for the digital world. It doesn’t look like anything that could be accomplished in a medium besides CG. Impressively, he’s uncovering this new visual terrain sans a bloated crew of hundreds or an overblown Pixar-sized budget; the only things necessary are creative aspiration and a clear sense of artistic purpose.

O’Reilly gave a talk last month at the Pictoplasma Animation Festival, which impressed cultural commentator Régine Debatty so much that she calls him a ‘genius’ in this discussion of O’Reilly’s work on her blog.

Previously on the Brew: Up-and-Coming: Miwa Matreyek & David O’Reilly

Cartoon Dump News

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The photo above is from our Halloween show in October. Don’t ask me to explain.

Needless to say Cartoon Dump continues on every month at the Steve Allen Theatre in Hollywood. Our Christmas show is next Tuesday December 18th at 8pm. Our special holiday guest comedian this month will be J. Elvis Weinstein (the original Tom Servo on MST3K and the proprietor of Stinkburger), and our cartoons will be the coal in your stocking.

We are also bringing the Dump to New York City starting next month! We will be at Comix on West 14th Street on January 8th at 8pm. Join us!

Viking Eggeling

Diagonal Symphony

I’m currently reading Matthew Gale’s Dada & Surrealism, an entertaining and authoritative primer on two of the most important, yet frequently misunderstood, art movements of the early-20th century. The book does a fine job of evoking the passion that these artists had for their work. Creating art was not a 9-to-5 for any of these artists; they lived and breathed their art to an extent that is perhaps difficult to understand nowadays.

Both movements happened in a competitive creative climate: artists would intentionally provoke audiences to the point of physical riots, art critics would challenge artists to duels over stylistic disagreements, artists would publish magazines to deride the work of contemporaries. In this type of challenging environment, boundaries were inevitably shattered and creative breakthroughs made.

To bring this back to animation, the book notes that a few of the Dada artists, like Viking Eggeling and Hans Richter, also moved into experimental animation. In the early-1920s, they were creating pioneering pieces of abstract animation in Germany alongside other artists like Oskar Fischinger and Walter Ruttman. The combined output of these artists would have a major influence on future abstract animators like Len Lye, Norman McLaren and beyond. This sentence in the book about Eggeling caught my attention in particular: “Despite the relative simplicity of the technology, the production of [Horizontal-Vertical Orchestra and Diagonal Symphony] was a financial and physical strain and led to Eggeling’s premature death in 1925.”

The thought of an animation artist dying for his art is a powerful beautiful sentiment. A quick search online turns up a website that says the cause of Eggeling’s death was septic angina, a type of food poisoning, so I’m not exactly sure where Gale’s information comes from, but reading about the dedication of various artists throughout the book, it’s not difficult to imagine that an artist like Eggeling could work himself to the point of death. It is indicative of the commitment that artists felt towards their work and how far they were willing to push themselves in pursuit of their artistic ideals.

The wonders of the Internet allow us instant access to the film that did Eggeling in, Diagonal Symphony, a silent abstract short that was completed in 1924, but didn’t debut in Berlin until 1925. Eggeling died six days after the film’s first public screening. The same site, UbuWeb, also offers examples of early abstract animation by Hans Richter and Walter Ruttman.

Variety on Animation

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FYI: Today’s Daily Variety has a special section focusing on animation. The print edition has a cool faux-celluloid cover advertising The Simpsons Movie. Among the articles within (all available online), “Why ‘Beowulf’ passed Oscar test but ‘Alvin’ didn’t,” Bill Plympton commentary on traditional hand drawn animation, and a piece on the Oscar chances of foreign animated features (namely Tekkonkinkreet and Persepolis) written by some guy named J. Beck.

Seasons Greetings

This JibJab video is a lot like the dream I had last night after seeing The Pixar Story at the Egyptian. What a great film — and just like the Pixar features themselves, I found it very inspiring.

Speaking of Pixar, The Food Network has been running a special episode of their series Dinner Impossible shot at Pixar’s Emeryville studio. In Pixar Movie Mission the chef has 6 hours to feed the entire staff of Pixar, with recipes based on Pixar characters from Finding Nemo, Cars and Ratatouille. Worth watching just to see Brad Bird introduce the Food Network cook — with Lou Romano was one of his “assistant chefs”. It airs again on January 19th at 3:30pm ET/PT.

(Thanks, Evan Spiridellis and Andrew Atteberry)

A New Low For Online Animation Contests

Animation Procreation

The Internet is home to many embarassing animation “contests” nowadays, but none moreso than this new one called “Animation Procreation” sponsored by Dailymotion and Animation Magazine. When I saw the above banner plastered on the homepage of videosharing site DailyMotion last week, I immediately thought two things: “Who the hell is Loren Bouchard?” and “Why would I want a development deal with him?”

I originally assumed he’s just the latest two-bit development exec at some TV network. But as it turns out, he’s not even that. He’s a show creator: one-half the creator of Home Movies and solo creator of another awful looking and sounding “Adult Swim” series I’ve never heard of, Lucy, Daughter of the Devil.

Perhaps the contest organizers can explain what a four-month “development deal” entails with a guy who himself is at the mercy of producers and networks, who has no production resources, and who has no money to invest in your project. Add a dollar to this stunning prize package and it still won’t buy you a cup of coffee at Starbucks. Then again, maybe getting advice from the person who’s responsible for this is reward enough:

Home Movies

The Dailymotion contest page offers this gem: “Loren Bouchard will watch all the videos and judge based on originality, animation style and potential for development.” Because if there’s anybody who’s qualified to judge originality and style it’s an artist whose own work exhibits neither traits. After this, you may as well have your parenting skills judged by Britney Spears.

Why would any half competent artist who aspires to create quality work want to receive advice from the creator of some of the most embarassing work this medium has ever seen? If DailyMotion and Animation Magazine had any true desire or intent to encourage new talent, then they would have offered a prize that was meaningful and relevant to creators. As it is, this “contest” is a slap in the face to animation artists everywhere.

Holiday Gift Guide: Times Square Spectacular

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Times Square Spectacular: Lighting Up Broadway by Darcy Tell, traces the story of the famous Times Square advertising signs, as seen in cartoons like Lights Fantastic. It’s illustrated with numerous rare photographs, maps, restaurant menus, theater programs, magazine covers, postcards, sheet music, and archival documents. What makes this especially interesting for animation historians is Tell’s special tribute to Douglas Leigh, the man who created such Times Square billboards as the legendary Camel cigarettes “smoke rings” sign – and more importantly, his animated light boards, animated by Otto Messmer for 37 years. A beautiful tribute to the Great White Way.

(Thanks, J.J. Sedelmaier)

Holiday Gift Ideas: Disney Treasures

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On sale starting today, the latest three volumes of the amazing Walt Disney Treasures series. Talk about a gift that all animation buffs, Disney enthusiasts, and cartoon fans must have. Take your pick, there is something here for everyone: Donald Duck Volume 3 contains some of the best Duck shorts from the golden age of animation, Oswald the Lucky Rabbit restores Disney’s pre-Mouse work to both the studio, and to fans of lost silent-era animation (but don’t forget, it didn’t really “start” until after the rabbit), and Disneyland: Secrets, Stories and Magic. I know some animation fans who ignore the live action entries in this series. My advice: Don’t. These Disneyland discs are loaded with great things about Walt, and rare footage of the artists, designers and animators behind the Magic Kingdom.

Amazon.com is selling these at $22.99 each, Best Buy (see ad above) is selling them even cheaper. You have no excuse. Pick ‘em up for yourself or some animation nut you love.

Holiday Gift Ideas: Cartoon Retro

Billed as “home to the world’s largest online archive of vintage illustration, animation, comics and cartoons,” Cartoon Retro is the creation of character designer Shane Glines (Spumco, Batman Beyond, Superman). With over two years of daily updates, the site now boasts thousands of images that are guaranteed to inspire and educate any artist. Best of all, a mere $5 a month offers access to all the material, while a year-long subscription runs $50. More details at CartoonRetro.com.

Sometimes it’s better to just let the pictures do the talking so here’s a small selection of artwork recently posted to the site:

Cartoon Retro

Holiday Gift Ideas: Screening Room dvds

Screening Room

A company called Documentary Educational Resources (DER) has begun releasing episodes of a rare 1970s tv series called Screening Room that featured interviews with lots of independent animators including John and Faith Hubley, Derek Lamb, Ed Emshwiller, George Griffin, Suzan Pitt, Robert Breer, Caroline Leaf and Mary Beams. Their site offers the following description of the TV series:

Screening Room was a 1970s Boston television series that for almost ten years offered independent filmmakers a chance to show and discuss their work on a commercial (ABC-TV) affiliate station. The series was developed and hosted by filmmaker Robert Gardner (Dead Birds, Forest of Bliss), who was Chairman of the Department of Visual and Environmental Studies and Director of the Carpenter Center for Visual Arts at Harvard for many years.

Upcoming releases offer discussions with directors Jan Lenica, John Whitney, and Stan Brakhage. The downside is each interview dvd is $50, but then again it’s not everyday that one finds lengthy filmed interviews with such a who’s who of the animation world. Personally I’m tempted to pick up the chat with the Hubleys. The episodes can be purchased from the DER website.

Hello Maggie

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I ran into Willie Ito at The Animation Guild Holiday Party on Friday night in Burbank. Ito, as you may know, started his animation career at Disney in the 1950s and has worked on Clampett’s Beany & Cecil cartoons (and did many comic books and merchandising art for same), on some of the last (pre-1964) Warner Bros. cartoons and had a lengthy stay at Hanna-Barbera from the ’60s through the ’80s.

He gave me a copy of his hot-off-the-press, self-published children’s book Hello Maggie. The book is written by Shigeru Yabu and is a story taken from his childhood experiences in a Japanese internment camp during World War II. It’s a wonderfully upbeat tale about a difficult period in Japanese-American history. As far as I know, the only place you can get it (unless he hands you a freebie like he did to me) is at the Japanese American Heritage Source website. Ito is planning further publications and collaborations with Mr. Yabu through their Yabitoon Books (website to come).

Speed Racer Trailer

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Once I saw this image (above) of Spritle and Chim Chim, I had the feeling the filmmakers were on the right track (pun intended).

And then I saw the trailer – and I think the Wachowski’s have nailed it. I’m not a fan of live action versions of cartoon shows (think Underdog, Scooby Doo, Josie and the Pussycats, Dudley Do-Right, Mr. Magoo and on and on), but the Brothers Wachowski’s forthcoming live action Speed Racer movie is lookin’ very good to me. It’s the 60s Japanese cartoon come alive in a candy-colored, pop art way, not seen since Adam West’s Batman series from 1966. I’m sure there are some purists out there who will feel the subject isn’t being treated as seriously as they would like. To those people I say: Get over it. It’s not Jonny Quest or even 8th Man. It’s Speed Racer!

I have no idea if the film is any good. It’ll be out in May and we can all judge it then. In the meantime this looks like a lot of fun. And thank goodness Chim Chim is a real chimp, not a CG animated blob. Watch the trailer here and see more still images here.

The History of America by MK12

History of America

Kansas City-based motion graphics/design collective MK12 recently completed their long-awaited epic short The History of America. I, among many others, have been curious about this film ever since they posted a trailer of it online a couple years back. The film, a combo of CG and rotoscope animation with live-interludes, is a self-described “psychedelic Western space opera,” presenting an alternate American history of warring cowboys and astronauts.

Both streaming and downloadable versions of the short are available at Ventilate.ca. The film is certainly a curious effort. The pacing of the story and overall tone of the film are very “live-action,” due in large part to the reliance on live actors, though for the most part MK12 manages to dress the roto with enough artistry to make it palatable to the senses. The film’s ultimate downfall is its half hour length, which is far too sluggish for the amount of story it offers. I can’t help but think this would have been much more entertaining and effective as a tightly edited fifteen-minute short. Still, one has to give them kudos for their ambitiousness, both graphically and conceptually, and their willingness to tackle such a large project inbetween commercial gigs. The film has been selected to screen next month at Sundance.

MK12 has a website about the film at HistoryofAmerica.tv and there’s also a recent interview with the MK12 crew in New York Magazine in which they talk about their ideas behind the film.

UPA VP Hated Terrytoons

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Several years ago, when Playhouse Pictures closed its Hollywood office, cartoonist Mike Kazaleh purchased some old files being sold off in their garage sale. In one of the folders Mike found this intriguing bit of correspondence (click on pages below) between UPA Vice President and Production Manager Adrian Woolery and Spyros Skouras, President of 20th Century-Fox Film Corporation.

upaterrytoons1.jpgupaterrytoons2.jpgIn this initial letter from November 7th, 1952, Woolery, who has just established his offshoot animation studio Playhouse Pictures, complains to Skouras about the quality of Fox’s Terrytoons (in particular, a Heckle & Jeckle short named House Busters):

“It was not a good picture. The story was completely lacking in charm and imagination. There was not a new or interesting idea in the entire reel. The characters and backgrounds were poorly designed and drawn. The story and gags were not funny or even amusing. I had a feeling this same picture had been done dozens of times in the last score of years and in fact was done much better twenty years ago.”

After hurling a few more insults at the Terrytoon, Woolery concludes:

“It is my sincere belief that we in the animation business have at our command the finest medium of expression. It must be exploited by capable people who have the courage and ability to recognize its unlimited potential. Fortunately, good pictures do not cost any more than bad ones.”

upaterrytoons3.jpgupaterrytoons4.jpgWas Woolery trying to convince Skouras to drop Terrytoons and commision Playhouse to provide modern cartoon shorts, as UPA did for Columbia? Skouras replied on January 23rd, 1953 (click letters at left), that he was quite pleased with the Terrytoons as is:

“…I cannot agree with the conclusion you arrived at after seeing the particular Terrytoon called House Wreckers (sic). As a matter of fact, Terrytoons Cartoons are immensely popular with audiences everywhere and are played in thousands of theatres. Audiences found them attractive enough to make our 1952 reciepts from Terrytoon releases to be most gratifying. You may be sure we are always endevoring to make this product better and, in 1953 we will do our utmost to improve all of our short subjects.”

And in fact, shortly thereafter, Fox forced Terry to begin producing his cartoons in CinemaScope. In 1955, perhaps taking Woolery’s suggestion to heart, Terrytoons installed UPA director Gene Deitch to overhaul the theatrical cartoons and bring them up to date with modern graphics.

Below is the first minute and a half of the cartoon that set Woolery off, House Busters, which features animation by Jim Tyer (the scenes of the convict escaping prison) and a delightful song written by Philip Schieb.

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Janet Klein Tonight

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Tonight in Hollywood is my monthly mini-movie show with Janet Klein and her Parlor Boys. As always Janet’s live musical concert, featuring pop tunes of the 1920s and 30s, will be preceded by a selection of vintage musical shorts and cartoons, screened in glorious 16mm celluloid. Join us at 8pm, at THE STEVE ALLEN THEATER (Center for Inquiry-West), 4773 Hollywood Blvd. in Hollywood (Two blocks west of Vermont — Plenty of FREE parking in the rear). Admission $15. – a bargain!

Ken Southworth 1918-2007

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This just in from animator Ken Priebe:

It is with a heavy heart that I pass this news on to you….

I just got a call at VanArts from Carol Southworth, wife of Disney/MGM/Hanna-Barbera veteran animator Ken Southworth, saying that Ken passed away this morning after a series of strokes. He was 89.

I got to know Ken well over the years, having had the privilege to work with him and visit his house in Anaheim; he was a very talented artist who will be missed greatly. He was a guest instructor at VanArts for many years in our summer program. (Ironically, he passed away on the anniversary of Walt Disney’s birthday).

Priebe collected career information on Southworth for his website several years ago. Click here for that information.