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 winnersÃ¢â‚¬”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 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 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.
Animation 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.
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.”
And just to show that stealing from Preston Blair is not an activity limited to Americans, Danny Wall sends us a gem from JapanÃ¢â‚¬”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.”
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.”
The nominees for the 80th annual Academy Awards were announced this morning:
Best Animated Feature
Ã¢â‚¬Â¢ Persepolis (Marjane Satrapi and Vincent Paronnaud)
Ã¢â‚¬Â¢ Ratatouille (Brad Bird)
Ã¢â‚¬Â¢ 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 didnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢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
Ã¢â‚¬Â¢ I Met The Walrus (Josh Raskin) Link
Ã¢â‚¬Â¢ Madame Tutli-Putli (NFB, Chris Lavis and Maciek Szczerbowski) Link
Ã¢â‚¬Â¢ (Meme Les Pigeons Vont Au Paradis)Even Pigeons Go To Heaven (Samuel Tourneux and Simon Vanesse) Link
Ã¢â‚¬Â¢ My Love (Moya Lyubov) (Alexander Petrov) Trailer
Ã¢â‚¬Â¢ 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).
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.
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?
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 4Ã‚Â°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.
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.
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.
While Disney artists bring their imaginations to life through animation, Disney executives are living a lifestyle that animators can’t even begin to imagine. The Wall Street Journal recently reported that Disney chief executive Bob Iger received a 7% pay increase in 2007 for a total financial compensation of $27.7 million. According to the company’s proxy statement, the breakdown is as follows: $2 million salary, which remained the same as 2006; a $13.7 million bonus, which was a decrease from his $15 million bonus in ’06; stock awards totaling $7.9 million, and $740,000 for personal air travel, security and a car benefit. Other Disney execs who earned healthy sums were CFO Thomas Staggs ($9 million), General Counsel Alan Braverman ($7.9 million), executive vp of human resources Wesley Coleman ($2.7 million) and executive vp for corporate strategy Kevin Mayer ($2.6 million). With figures like these, there’s only four words these guys can be thinking right now: High School Musical 3. (PS: If you’re curious about what the average animation artist makes, download this PDF of the 2007 wage survey by the Animation Guild, Local 839 IATSE.)
If I had a Sony PSP (or played video games for that matter), I’d be looking forward to the February release of Patapon, a visually striking rhythm-based fighting game. The game’s graphics are based on the work of French artist and toy designer Rolito, who also has a blog here. Here’s a few links that tell you all you need to know about this title:
Character actor Allan Melvin – the voice of Magilla Gorilla – has passed away at age 84.
He provided numerous voices for Hanna Barbera characters, including significant parts on The Banana Splits, Hong Kong Phooey and Wait Till Your Father Gets Home. He was also the voice of Bluto on HB’s All New Popeye Hour and Popeye and Son. On camera, Melvin is best known as Sam The Butcher on The Brady Bunch and Cpl. Henshaw on The Phil Silvers Show. He died on Thursday January 17th of cancer.