Stop, Look and Listen on TCM

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Back in April, we posted to a YouTube link of Chuck Menville and Len Janson’s Oscar nominated live-action pixilation short, Stop, Look and Listen (1967). Warner Bros. keeps removing it from the ‘net (it was a MGM short), but you can capture it on video via TCM tomorrow night (actually early Saturday morning). It’s being broadcast Friday Feb 1 (really the wee hours of Feb 2) at approximately 4:13 AM, as part of their 31 Days of Oscar programming. So set your TiVo or DVR’s.

(Thanks, Kermyt Anderson)

Marcell Jankovics’s Fehérlófia

Every so often I find out about such an awesome piece of animation that I’m ashamed to admit I’ve never heard about it before. Tonight was such an instance when my friend Joshua Smith introduced me to the 1982 Hungarian animated feature Fehérlófia (aka Son Of The White Mare) directed by the legendary Marcell Jankovics. (Note: Other websites peg the film’s release date as 1980 and ’81. If anybody knows for sure, let us know.)

Admittedly I’ve never followed Jankovics’s work very closely. Like most indie animation fans I’m familiar with his award-winning short Sisyphus (warning: unintentionally NSFW soundtrack) and that’s about all. I had no idea that he’d also directed features, especially one as daringly experimental as this one. The first bit of Fehérlófia that I watched was this clip:

After watching this, I thought there’s no way there could be an entire film that maintains this visual intensity and innovation throughout. Then a search on YouTube revealed that the entire film is posted in eight parts and in fact it’s a pretty damn amazing piece of work. Visually, it’s rooted in a pastiche of late-’70s/early-’80s graphic styles yet it also manages to look remarkably fresh and contemporary. This ten-minute segment blew me away:

What the film lacks in the type of nuanced character animation that we demand from our US animated features, it more than makes up for with its experimental graphic animation and sweeping artistic vision. Joshua Smith tells me that he’s working to create an English fansub of the film. I hope he makes that available online so we can all learn if the story is as fascinating as the artwork.

Visions of Frank dvd

Visions of Frank

Visions of Frank is a dvd that came out last year collecting eight animated shorts by Japanese animators, all based on Jim Woodring’s wondrous comic creation Frank. The 45-minute dvd, which sells for $25 on Woodring’s website, also comes with a 16-page booklet, and includes Woodring’s own animated short Whim-Grinder. More info from the website:

VISIONS OF FRANK collects 8 wild Frank animations made by some of Japan’s most innovative and idiosyncratic filmmakers: Taruto Fuyama, Eri Yoshimura, art unit COCOA, DROP INC., Masaki Naito, Kanako Kawaguchi, Naomi Nagata. Each piece is an interpretation of a classic Frank comic and is scored by musicians from Japan and the USA. The films run the gamut of animation techniques: 3D CG, paper craft, clay, iron sand and traditional cel 2D…For each animation, you are able to choose between the original music and the newly composed music by other musicians. Participating musicians include James McNew (from Yo La Tengo), The Coctails, Dame Darcy, Kicell, Milk Yabe, and others.

A number of the shorts, if not all, are viewable on YouTube including this fine one:

Lili Chin and Eddie Mort Abandon Flash

Flash error

Everybody has been jumping on the Flash bandwagon these past few years, but could 2008 be the year that animators begin abandoning the infamously buggy software for a more stable and artist-friendly program? Lili Chin and Eddie Mort, the creators of one of the earliest Flash-animated TV series ¡Mucha Lucha!, have announced on their blog that they’re through with Flash. The creative duo is currently wrapping up a feature in Flash called Los Campeones de La Lucha Libre, but they say that beginning with their next project, a short for Cartoon Network Asia, they’ll be switching to Toon Boom’s Harmony. The statement on their blog reads:

“Goodbye Macromedia Flash. After 8 years we are truly over you. Those buggy filters you tantalisingly tempted us with in Flash 8 were the last straw. And you got an ANNIE AWARD for your inadequate software? We’re looking forward to working in some new kind of HARMONY for Rocquita.”

Is this an isolated incident or has the exodus begun?

1934 Lantz studio photo on ebay

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Another great eBay find.

The seller wants too much money for this admittedly historic Walter Lantz studio staff photo. Anyone got $4 grand to spare?

It’s dated September 1934 and it’s a who’s who of great names in the field (and it’s autographed by everyone as well), including Tex Avery, Ed Benedict, Cal Howard, LaVerne Harding, Bill Nolan, Leo Salkin and Lantz himself. Wow!

(Thanks, Kevin Coffey)

The 3D Machine

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Congratulations to our friends Joost van der Bosch and Erik Verkerk of Ka-Ching Cartoons, who just finished a new 3D cartoon short which will premiere tomorrow at the International Film Festival Rotterdam.

The 3D Machine, an homage to classic horror movies, about a professor who invents a machine that can bring everything he draws to life, was produced using the old anaglyph (red and blue) 3-D process. Bosch and Verkerk’s previous film, The Shoebox will soon be featured on Cartoon Brew Films. The 3D Machine premieres at the International Film Festival, Rotterdam on January 29th at 5pm at the Stadsschouwburg of Rotterdam.

Popeye Ali Baba stills

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It was common practice back in the golden age to release publicity stills for every Hollywood feature, short and cartoon. Cartoon producers usually had a staffer gather several cels and backgrounds after filming, to create special setups for a publicity shoot (Martha Sigall did this at MGM in the late 1940s, early 50s). Warner Bros., of course, had several pieces of special publicity art created (with titles, done lobby card style) for each Looney Tune and Merrie Melodie.

Here’s a nice set of six stills (below) which were released for Popeye the Sailor Meets Ali Baba’s Forty Thieves. They were auctioned on ebay this weekend. I didn’t win them (they went for over $290.) so I thought I’d preserve them by posting them here. I have several like these from Sindbad but had not seen the Ali Baba set before. Click on each thumbnail image to see it full size.

In this day and age, when we can make frame grabs off a dvd at whim, these ancient still photos may no longer be needed… but they sure look great to me.

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Mystery Frame

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Anyone know the name of the cartoon this scene is from?

No prizes… just thought this was a cool image from a classic cartoon I was reviewing this week and thought it would be fun to post it. This rare cartoon is part of a DVD collection I’ll be plugging a lot this year. Consider this your first sneak peek.

Oswald Comic Strip

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Recently sold off on ebay was a series of six sample comic strips for a purported Oswald The Lucky Rabbit daily comic strip from the late 1930s. David Gerstein grabbed images of them, and Andrea Ippoliti posted them on his Classic Cartoons website.

Any further information on this attempt to make Oswald a regular in the “funny pages” is appreciated. Any ideas on who might have drawn this, or what year this was created?

Diznee’s Aladin

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I’m back, with more madness from the same studio that brought you Animal Soccer World. Someone has just posted (on YouTube) their shameless rip-off of Disney’s Aladdin.

The language is German, but the voice-acting is much more bearable this way. There’s even a German “fanpage” dedicated to this company, offering plot overviews and direct comparisons of the characters with the original Disney characters.

If you haven’t had enough, check the Dingo Pictures website for information (and trailers) of their other movies. And don’t miss their inspired sequel More Dalmatians. Why hasn’t Disney thought of this?

The bigger question, you may ask, is why am I so fascinated with this crap?

(Thanks, Marco Scandurra)

Lost Classics from Zagreb Film DVD & Contest

Zagreb Films

Last year saw the release of lots of rare animation (Popeye, Lantz cartoons, Oswald, etc.) but perhaps none so rare as a dvd that came out last winter: “Lost Classics from Zagreb Film”, a collection of many of the studio’s most experimental and distinctive early shorts, almost none of which have ever been released before. (Full disclosure: I was an unpaid consultant on the set and the dvd follows very closely the lineup of films that I’d suggested.)

There are no words to describe how happy I become when I watch these films. The Zagreb filmmakers were willing to try just about anything, and their films are packed with tons of inventive visual ideas. Sometimes the risks they took paid off handsomely, sometimes they flopped. One can’t help but admire their fearlessness though. They managed to create these films with limited resources, limited budgets and next to no animation training. The animators were self-taught and as a result their timing and the way things move can be utterly bizzare. Concepts like squash-and-stretch were foreign to a lot of these artist so they figured out graphic solutions of their own and came up with some wildly eccentric styles of movement in the process. Thematically, the films tackle a broad range of subject matter from alienation to militarization, topics that were hardly common fare in animated shorts of the time.

There is a downside to the dvd: The prints, which come directly from Zagreb Films, are unrestored and in fairly poor shape. This is doubly a shame because color and design are such an integral part of these films. Nevertheless, these films have never been available on any home video format, and not having any major studio support behind them, don’t hold your breath for a restored edition of these films anytime soon. This dvd is the only way you’re going to be able to see the following films:

Opening Night (1957)
Alone (1958)
The Great Jewel Robbery (1959)
The Inspector Returns Home (1959)
At the Photographers (1959)
La Peau de Chagrin (1960)
A Man and his Shadow (1960)
The Boy and the Ball (1960)
Perpetuum & Mobile, Ltd. (1961)
Boomerang (1962)
Typhus (1963)

The distributor, Rembrandt Films, also recently released DuÅ¡an Vukotić on DVD, a collection of the works of Zagreb’s most famous director. Owning this and the “Lost Classics” dvd will give anybody a solid collection of the studio’s early work. The films on the Vukotić dvd are:

Playful Robot (1956)
Cowboy Jimmy (1957)
Concerto for a Machine Gun (1958)
Revenger (1958)
The Great Fear (1958)
Piccolo (1959)
My Tail is My Ticket (1959)
The Game (1963)
A Stain on His Conscience (1968)
Ars Gratia Artis (1969)

UPDATE: Thanks to all who entered. The contest is now over. The correct answer was DuÅ¡an Vukotić’s 1961 short Surogat (also known as Ersatz and The Substitute). The two winners are Scotty Arsenault and Gail Veillette.

And here are a few frame grabs from the animated shorts on the “Lost Classics from Zagreb Film” set:

Zagreb Films

Zagreb Films

Zagreb Films

Zagreb Films

Zagreb Films

Zagreb Films

Zagreb Films

Minotauromaquia by Juan Pablo Etcheverry

Minotauromaquia is an intriguing stop motion short I saw a few years back in Annecy. It’s directed by Spaniard Juan Pablo Etcheverry. The short will appeal most to those who are familiar with Picasso’s work, though the message should be clear to all. Jeff Hasulo’s blog Hydrocephalic Bunny also offers some nice thoughts about the film.

A Child’s Metaphysics by Koji Yamamura

Animation by Koji Yamamura

According to the website of Koji Yamamura, he has completed a new short entitled A Child’s Metaphysics. The film, which premiered last October, is just beginning to hit the festival circuit. The synopsis of the film is intriguing if slightly confusing:

A child whose head is numerals, a child who winds his own face and has it under his arm. What was left is his identity, a child whose eyes are provided by fishes, a child who lies down on the floor and head-butts his identity, a child who cannot say anything because of a zipper across his mouth. He undo the zipper but under it is another zipper…

Ecology and philosophy of children with sadness and humour.

Yamamura has emerged as perhaps the finest independent Japanese animation director of his generation. Though he’s been creating animated films since the late-’80s, he didn’t begin attracting worldwide attention until 2002 when his short Atama yama (Mt. Head) became a huge hit on the festival circuit and garnered an Oscar nomination. Since then, he’s turned out a couple of other winners—The Old Crocodile (2005) and last year’s Franz Kafka’s A Country Doctor, which I’ve heard is nothing short of incredible. You can familiarize yourself with a couple of his best known works below.

The Old Crocodile

Atama yama

Ratatouille vs. Persepolis

The Oregonian has a short but interesting article about what animation artists in Brad Bird’s home state, Oregon, think about the Oscar race between Ratatouille and Persepolis. The piece offers quotes from animators Joan Gratz and Will Vinton, who believe Ratatouille deserves to win, while Joanna Priestley and LAIKA recruiter Tom Knott are in the Persepolis. camp. I agree with Tom Knott who says that recognizing the accomplishment of Persepolis will have long-term benefits for the industry as a whole, and will hopefully encourage animated films with more substance and personal styles of storytelling. Knott says in the article:

“‘Ratatouille’ has some of the best animation to appear in decades, and Brad did a great job telling a story. He’s a friend of mine. But personally, I’d like to see ‘Persepolis’ win just because it’s an independent film, and it’s lower-budget. I think it gives hope to other filmmakers trying to do things on lower budgets that are more personal. So if something like ‘Persepolis’ can find an audience, that’s good.”

Do Artists Improve With Age?

Drawings by Chuck Jones

Do artists improve with the passage of time or do an artist’s skills begin to deteriorate at a certain age? Animation director Will Finn explores this fascinating topic on his blog, using as an example the late work of Chuck Jones. It’s a thought-provoking read that argues that Chuck was actually a better artist when he created artwork intended for the animation process instead of static pieces of fine art.

Brice Mack, RIP

Brice MackAnimation Magazine reports that background painter Brice Mack passed away on January 2 at the age of 90. His backgrounds appeared in Disney films such as Fantasia, Song of the South, Melody Time, Peter Pan, Alice in Wonderland and Lady and the Tramp. In 1954, Mack started a commercial studio with Milt Schaffer called Era Productions. I’ve seen only a few stills from the studio’s output though I wish some reels of the studio’s work would turn up. A lot of Mack’s friends from Disney, including Virgil Partch, Ward Kimball and Tom Oreb, moonlighted on the studio’s commercials.

The Animation Magazine article offers plenty of other details about Mack’s career including this fascinating tidbit:

Along with cartoonist pals Dick Shaw and Virgil Partch, Mack threw notorious parties, once aboard a train car loaded onto a barge in route to Catalina Island. Another time, they put wheels on a character boat and drove it Las Vegas, where a crane lowered it into the pool at the Sands hotel. In 1961, they partied on the last Red Car ride from Los Angeles to Long Beach while animator Ward Kimball played with his Dixieland jazz band, The Firehouse Five Plus Two.

Mack is survived by his wife Ginni, three sons (Kevin, Brice and Greg) and grandsons Jon, Ray and Danny.

Preston Blair Swipes

Nothing hits the spot after a hard’s day work like seeing a few good Preston Blair swipes. Reader John Luciano writes, “I never get tired of seeing Preston Blair swipes! I’ve been meaning to take a picture of a pet rescue sticker that’s been on my apartment door since I moved in.”

Preston Blair swipe

And just to show that stealing from Preston Blair is not an activity limited to Americans, Danny Wall sends us a gem from Japan—a cardboard popcorn container full of PB swipes. Danny writes, “Although why use that little donkey? Personally, I never liked that character, although I am guilty for using that lion for my senior class’s high school mascot.”

Preston Blair swipe(click image for slightly larger version)

More Preston Blair swips here, here, here, here, here, here and here.

Paul Dini on Contemporary Animated Films

Do you hate the pedestrian state of storytelling in today’s animated features? Probably not as much as Paul Dini does. Dini, best known for writing on the animated Batman and Superman TV show, has posted a long essay on his blog tearing apart the contrivances of contemporary animated features. An excerpt from Dini’s rant:

“Your primary objective as a modern animation feature storyteller is to get the audience members emotionally charged (i.e., distracted from logic gaps and not thinking too much) so they will be ready for your big finale. This usually consists of the hero defeating the villain (almost always by some initial violent action of the villain that the hero has “cleverly” used to boomerang back on the bad guy; real heroes never being allowed to slay dragons on their own these days) and the villain falling to their death from a great height, the only acceptable way for a baddie to meet their end in a cartoon (Gaston, Frollo, the bear in “The Fox & The Hound,” Scar, the poacher in “Rescuers II”, anyone notice a trend here?). If the villain can trip over the edge while trying to get in one last cowardly stab at the hero, so much the better. The demise of the bad guy puts everyone in a good mood, so the sidekicks fire up the juke box, or strike up the band, or simply break into song, and while the hero and heroine share a modest kiss, everyone rocks out over the end credits.”

(via Mayerson on Animation)

2008 Oscar Nominees

The nominees for the 80th annual Academy Awards were announced this morning:

Best Animated Feature
• Persepolis (Marjane Satrapi and Vincent Paronnaud)
• Ratatouille (Brad Bird)
• Surf’s Up (Ash Brannon and Chris Buck)

Note: The Surf’s Up nomination surprised even Sony. Yair Landau, president of Sony Pictures Digital, told Animation Magazine this morning, “We really didn’t run any campaign here whatsoever.” Considering that both Persepolis and Surf’s Up are released by Sony, it’ll be interesting to see whether they choose to promote one film over the other in the run-up to the Oscars.

Best Animated Short Film
• I Met The Walrus (Josh Raskin) Link
• Madame Tutli-Putli (NFB, Chris Lavis and Maciek Szczerbowski) Link
• (Meme Les Pigeons Vont Au Paradis)Even Pigeons Go To Heaven (Samuel Tourneux and Simon Vanesse) Link
• My Love (Moya Lyubov) (Alexander Petrov) Trailer
• Peter And The Wolf (Suzie Templeton and Hugh Welchman) Link

Note: This is the first time since 1999 that US filmmakers have been shut out of the animated short category. This year’s nominees are by Canadian, British, French and Russian filmmakers.

Ratatouille also received nominations for Best Original Screenplay (Jan Pinkava, Jim Capobianco, Brad Bird), Best Original Score (Michael Giacchino), Best Sound Editing (Randy Thom and Michael Silvers) and Best Sound Mixing (Randy Thom, Michael Semanick and Doc Kane).

UPDATE: Four of the five animated short nominees can be viewed online in their entirety. Ticklebooth has the links.

Studio 4C’s Genius Party

Genius Party

If you are anywhere–and I mean anywhere–in the DC area on February 15 and 16, then mark your calendars for the American premiere of Genius Party and the world premiere of Genius Party Beyond. These two new Japanese features are from Studio 4°C, the same production studio that has given us Mind Game and Tekkon Kinkreet. Each 90-minute film is a compilation of seven shorts, some from well-established directors, some from the young and up-and-coming.

The Washington DC screening, which is a part of the Japan! Culture + Hyper-Culture festival, will also include in-person appearances by three of the fourteen Genius Party directors: Shinichiro Watanabe, Koji Morimoto, and Mahiro Maeda.

Genius Party

To truly grasp the uniqueness of this undertaking, listen to Studio 4°C CEO Eiko Tanaka describe the idea for these features in this FPS magazine interview:

“Studio 4°C was born from the desires of the creators who longed to create what they really wanted to make. Creators and people generally cannot keep living without expressing themselves. [Genius Party] has to have this kind of energy with strong longing for self-expression. This was the only requirement and also the theme. It was of course clear to us that it is much easier to sell the product if all the short films have the same tone from a given particular theme. But we chose not to make the same theme or set particular conditions to the films. Instead, we decided to have the diversity of these films be the sales point.”

Which major feature production studio in the US would take the risk of producing not one, but two 90-minute compilations of anything-goes animated shorts? Which studio would be inspired enough to hand the reins to fourteen different directors and allow each to bring to the screen the stories they really want to tell, and then find a workable business model to distribute these films to the general public?

Genius Party

There are many promising shorts in the Genius Party packages including new works by Masaaki Yuasa (Mind Game) and Koji Morimoto. This trailer for the first Genius Party offers a taste of what’s in store.

In the FPS interview noted above, Tanaka lays out one of the primary reasons why her studio, which she cofounded in 1986 with Koji Morimoto and Yoshiharu Sato, is such a consistent producer of excellent and challenging works of animated art:

“Another reason for Studio 4°C being successful might be that we are not a profit-seeking company. We have not tried to grow bigger, or to pursue profit, or to float the company on the stock market. We keep the number of our management and controller staff to a minimum to save the budget for the production of the film. Our policy has been that the film is made by the creators, but not by the capital. In spite of our intention, the studio has expanded, had more employees, and the number of film productions has increased. Naturally there are issues with managing larger production budgets. But we are confident in cost controlling and the artists are also fully aware of the deadlines and the limitations of the budget. I believe that we have reached where we are now because we have been producing the best possible pieces within a budget.”

One of the Genius Party shorts that I’m most looking forward to is Wanwa, the Puppy directed by Shinya Ohira. MangaAnimation.net recently offered scans of a magazine article featuring artwork from the short. The images in this article are a tantalizing mix of stylistic experimentation and individualistic character animation; its free-spiritedness reminds of the very best of the works by John and Faith Hubley, a comparison that can’t be made often nowadays. As anime critic Ben Ettinger writes, “it’s truly stunning stuff that has little to do with anime and everything to do with great animated art.” Ettinger’s blog AniPages Daily offers some explanation of the short’s technique and his thoughts about the short’s potential:

“Ohira is creating the backgrounds himself in addition to doing all the animation. He’s not only drawing but also gluing origami paper and string and other assorted materials directly onto the paper to create a very rich and beautiful texture. Sections of animation are even being animated using crayons. The crayoned keys will be inbetweened in a conventional manner, however, and not with crayons. The film will be made using many of the same materials that might be littered around the house of some pint-sized Picasso, in other words, extending the thematic underpinning to the materials used to make the film. I can only say that each of the individual images he has created are of stunning beauty and seem like they would function just as well framed on a wall as photographed in sequence.

A few images from Wanwa the Puppy:

Wanwa the Puppy

Wanwa the Puppy

LINKS
Genius Party [official website]
Studio 4°C [official website]
Info/ticket page for DC screening on Feb. 15-16
Stills from the Genius Party shorts on Catsuka.com

Who’s Behind the Bottom-Biting Bug

Bottom Biting Bug

Last August Jerry wrote about one of the newest animation fads sweeping through Japan: a crude, borderline inept, series of animated pieces about the Bottom-Biting Bug. This article in Pingmag reveals that the creators are the husband-and-wife team UrumaDelvi. They are also responsible for the animated short A Long Day of Mr. Calpaccio, an entertaining little film that made the festival rounds a couple years back. In the Pingmag piece, the husband half of the team, Uruma, discusses the genesis of the Bottom-Biting Bug and speculates about why it has caught on with the Japanese public. A short clip of the animation is below, but if you really want to torture yourself, try watching this ten-minute spectacle.

Peter and the Wolf by Suzie Templeton

Suzie Templeton’s contemporary stop motion retelling of Peter and the Wolf can be seen below in three parts. As we reported last week, the film is on the shortlist for possible nominees in this year’s Oscar race. Last year the film was nominated for a BAFTA for Best Short Animation Film and also won both the Annecy Cristal and Audience Award at the Annecy International Animated Film Festival.

(Thanks, Karl Cohen)