David O’Reilly’s History of Animation

David O

Twenty-two-year-old animation wunderkind David O’Reilly, who we’ve mentioned frequently on Cartoon Brew (here, here and here), was asked to create an original piece of animation for BoingBoing.tv. The resulting piece is a ‘history of animation’ from Disney through John K, and beyond to CG. In a humorous manner, O’Reilly makes a thoughtful point: that CG animation represents a quantum-leap forward in the development of this art form because it offers the possibility for a clear break from traditional reality-rooted styles of animation. Instead of replicating existing worlds, CG offers the chance to create entirely new worlds, an opportunity that few artists have explored to date.

New Book by Chris Robinson

Canadian Animation: Looking for A Place to Happen

Chris Robinson’s Canadian Animation: Looking for A Place to Happen is one more to add to the list of animation books I’m looking forward to reading in 2008, alongside Stepping into the Picture: Cartoon Designer Maurice Noble and Unfiltered: The Complete Ralph Bakshi. The book will be published in September 2008 by John Libbey Publishing. From the description posted on Chris’s blog, it sounds like an On the Road for the animation set, and if anybody can pull that off, it’s Robinson:

In 2007, writer Chris Robinson traveled across Canada to meet with some of the country’s leading independent animation filmmakers. Along the way, Robinson muses about the animation art form in Canada and his own relationship to the scene and personalities, many of whom are friends and colleagues. As he travels from place to place he carries along his own private (and sometimes not-so private) struggles with insomnia, depression, identity, cab drivers, hobos and nobos and the shocking murder of animator Helen Hill, whose life and work embody many of the themes that colour these conversations.

With the intimate detail of a diary, Canadian Animation: Looking for a Place to Happen weaves together history, memoir and dream into a mesmerizing and candid portrait of Canadian animation, art, doing, drifting and dying.

Lavishly illustrated, the book’s cast includes award-winning animators Marv Newland (Bambi Meets Godzilla), Chris Landreth (Ryan), Chris Hinton (Nibbles), David Fine (Bob and Margaret, Ricky Sprocket), Wendy Tilby (When the Day Breaks), Anne-Marie Fleming, Torill Kove (The Danish Poet), Claude Cloutier (Sleeping Betty), Janet Perlman (Why Me?) and many more.

Projector Festival (January 30-February 2)

Projector Festival

Attention UK folk. The Projector animation festival takes place in Dundee, Scotland from January 30 through February 2. I was a guest of the festival during its previous edition in 2006 and I had one of the best times I’ve ever had at an animation festival. It’s an intimate gathering, nothing on the scale of an Annecy or Ottawa, but that is precisely what I enjoyed so much about it. Feisty festival director Susie Wilson manages to always bring together an eclectic group of artists, authors and thinkers, and the low-key setting allows everybody to get to know one another. There are also a couple animation schools in Dundee, which ensures plenty of energetic students at the screenings.

This year’s special guests who will be presenting masterclasses are Phil Mulloy, Bill Plympton, Abi Feijo, Regina Pessoa and Sharon Colman. Other programs include a talk by author Jonathan Clements about the rise of digital animation in Japan, a program of typography in animation and motion graphics curated by Jayne Pilling, and an “Acting for Animators” workshop presented by Ed Hooks. There are also plenty of screenings of recent animated shorts, as well as features including Free Jimmy, Persepolis, Paprika and The Three Musketeers.

A couple tips for festival attendees: For the most enjoyable Projector experience, do not suggest to the festival director that all of Scotland’s castles should be torn down. For that matter, do not suggest this to anybody in Scotland if you value your health and well-being. Also, no trip to Dundee is complete without a late-night session or two at Fat Sams. You’ll just have to take my word for this.

Ticket info and further details are at ProjectorFest.com.

Amid in Dundee
Me, extolling the wonders of Dundee in ’06. Photo by Fiona Barty

THIS MONDAY: Mr. Magoo Screening in NY

Pink and Blue Blues

UPA theatrical cartoons on the big screen are a rarity nowadays which is why I’m happy to point to an East Coast screening of Mister Magoo shorts this coming Monday, January 14, at the Jacob Burns Film Center (364 Manville Road, Pleasantville, NY). Most intriguingly, the show listing promises NEW prints of Destination Magoo, Pink and Blue Blues, Trouble Indemnity, and When Magoo Flew, along with archival prints of Sloppy Jalopy and Magoo’s Cruise. Besides the fact that these cartoons are pretty funny, there is some terrific design, layout and background painting throughout, and it’s all the more striking when seen on the large screen. Screening times are 5:15pm and 7:15pm. More details at the Jacob Burns Film Center website.

(Thanks, Robert Schaad)

“Birth of the Cool” Exhibit and Book

Birth of the Cool

I completely forgot to plug the “Birth of the Cool: California Art, Design, and Culture at Midcentury” exhibit which just closed at the Orange County Museum of Art last weekend. What reminds me to mention it now is that I recently saw the accompanying exhibition catalog, and even though I only managed to flip through it briefly, it looks to be a fetching and attractive coffeetable book.

Not having seen the exhibit, I’m curious to find out how they treated the “Cartoon Modern” look in the context of the larger West Coast contemporary art movement. I do know that the exhibit made some acknowledgment of midcentury animation by displaying shorts like Gerald McBoing Boing, Toot Whistle Plunk and Boom, and a Road Runner cartoon by Chuck Jones.

If you didn’t see the show while it was in SoCal, the exhibition continues at the Addison Gallery of American Art in Andover, MA (February 15-April 13, 2008). Then it’s on to the Oakland Museum of California (May 18-August 17, 2008) and the Blanton Museum of Art in Austin, TX (February 27-May 31, 2009).

Enrico Casarosa Talks Miyazaki

Enrico Casarosa

GhibliWorld.com offers a superb in-depth interview with Pixar story artist Enrico Casarosa in which he talks about Hayao Miyazaki’s influence on his work. Of particular interest is the insightful passage in which Enrico contrasts the ways in which Pixar and Ghibli tell their stories. An excerpt:

“Well, as I was just saying, the process [at Pixar] is very much one of doing and redoing, making things better step by step. It involves a willingness to pick apart the movie and its themes. This constant editing and refining can be frustrating at times. The huge difference is that at Ghibli storyboards are done by the director and they are followed without exception. So you find a very different way of doing things there, the studio and its artists are following the leader’s vision without deliberation, editing or feedback necessary. Incidentally it sounds like Suzuki-san might be the only person at Ghibli able to have a discussion with Miyazaki-san regarding the story or characters of the movie they’re producing. In this setting though Miyazaki is free to go on his own journey finding the movie he wants to tell, bit by bit. The result are stories that are more fully personal and hold an authenticity and uniqueness which is close to impossible to achieve in the US, where a story, in the best case scenario, is well crafted by several gifted people while in the worse case scenario is made by committee. I think that’s what is great about many projects coming from Japan, with their own merits or faults, they possess an unwavering will to stick to their director’s vision. The stories are allowed to be more idiosyncratic that way and that is what I personally find inspiring and refreshing.”

Kiskaloo by Chris Sanders

Kiskaloo by Chris Sanders

Director Chris Sanders (Lilo and Stitch) has launched a new comic strip on his blog called Kiskaloo. He plans to offer a new strip every Monday. In what appears to be an “F.U.” to Disney, the title character of Sanders’s comic strip bears a striking resemblance to some of the development art he created for American Dog, a film he originated and then was unceremoniously fired removed from in December 2006.

Jeep Spot by Deli Pictures

Jeep commercial

This new commercial for Jeep, produced by Deli Pictures in Germany, incorporates children’s drawings into a CG environment. It’s an interesting experiment but the results are graphically disingenuous because the filmmakers made no attempt to reconcile the funky and whimsical world of children’s drawings with the perfect physics and mechanics of CG. The piece would have come off a lot better had they attempted to create styles of movement that were honest and appropriate to the children’s drawings, instead of simply texture-mapping kiddie artwork over a slickly produced piece of CG.

(via Feed)

“Rani Bonkeshwari” by Rohit Iyer

Rani Bonkeshwari

In the past few years, it’s been encouraging to see so much creative student animation coming out of countries like South Korea and India, places that were previously known only for turning out production artists for Western service work. Most of the work I see in festivals doesn’t turn up online, but 22-year-old Rohit Iyer, a senior animation student at NID (National Institute of Design) in Ahmedabad India, sent in a recent example of work that he created for MTV India and Kamasutra condoms during an internship at MTV last year. The spot, titled “Rani Bonkeshwari,” can be viewed HERE. Iyer offers a few background notes on the production:

“The script was written by an MTV writer named K.M. Ayappa. I did all the animation myself, starting from the designs and rough storyboard to final composite. The process comprised of creating artwork in Adobe Photoshop which was then animated and composited in Adobe After Effects. The whole spot took about a month to animate. The commercial has become quite popular here in India. It’s currently on air on the MTV India network.”

DUMP tonight in New York

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We’ve been preparing for this event for monthsweeksdays… at least several hours!

Cartoon Dump invades New York tonight at 8pm, live at Comix 353 W. 14th St. (Just east of 9th Ave.) NY, NY 10014.

Order Advance Tickets HERE or call the box office (212) 524-2500.

Pictured clockwise from above left: Kathleen Roll (Buf Badger), Jerry Beck (Producer), Frank Conniff (Moodsey the Clinically Depressed Owl) and Erica Doering (Compost Brite). Join us tonight!

Who Writes Cartoons?

If there’s one thing the animation blogging community guarantees, it’s plenty of controversy. The latest squabble that has evolved is about who wrote animated shorts and features during the Golden Age of animation. In one corner is Steve Worth of the ASIFA-Hollywood Animation Archive, who claimed that artists drew storyboards and that “THERE WERE NO CARTOON SCRIPTWRITERS prior to 1960.” (his emphasis). On the other side is historian Michael Barrier, who offers evidence that Bill Cottrell was one example of a scriptwriter at Disney in the 1930s. Then there were artists like Bill Peet who did both screenwriting and storyboarding on a film like 101 Dalmatians.

In a recent Variety interview, director Brad Bird offered some comments, which while not specifically addressing this argument, seem to be quite appropriate. Bird said, “The whole question of writing for animation is skewed. There isn’t a giant difference between animation and live action. You need characters, stories, themes. It’s called good storytelling…I write scripts first, before the work gets to the storyboarding stage. But I write with the knowledge of what animation can do.” His comments make perfect sense, but with the caveat that the animation world rarely attracts storytellers the caliber of Brad Bird and Bill Peet, which is why animation suffers today and why engaging storytelling is the exception instead of the rule. A sidenote: the Variety link above is also worth checking out to hear about some of Bird’s favorite film writers.

Wanna buy Bob Clampett’s studio?

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The ultimate Looney Tunes collectible, the historic Bob Clampett studio on Seward Street in Hollywood, is for sale.

I don’t know the whole history of the building, but in addition to being the home base for the animated Beany & Cecil show, it’s where Klasky Csupo got its start, the Tracey Ullman Show Simpson’s bumpers were created and first episodes of The Simpsons produced. Several post production companies have used the space over the years, and daughter Ruth is currently running Clampett Studio Collections on the second floor.

And it’s where Bob had his incredible memorabilia-filled office, where he welcomed fans like me in to chat about the great Warner Bros. cartoons of the ’30s and ’40s. The building has been the family for over 40 years and holds many great memories. I hope it ends up in good hands.

Random Chipmunk Notes

Alvin and the Chipmunks

One of the most unexpected surprises at theaters last year was the box office success of Alvin and the Chipmunks. Nearly everybody expected a modest showing, better performing than the Underdog pic, but certainly not a blockbuster. The film, however, is now Fox’s second highest grossing film of the year (behind only The Simpsons Movie), and with over $160 million to date, it is showing no signs of letting up. By the time it leaves theaters, it will have surpassed the grosses of The Simpsons Movie, Ratatouille and 300.

Obviously, we’re going to be seeing a lot more CG Alvin over the next few years. But perhaps this will also convince Viacom (Paramount Home Video) to release the awesome original Sixties animated series, The Alvin Show, produced by Format Films. It’s amazing that nobody at Viacom has awakened to the fact that they’re sitting on a goldmine with this TV series. Then again, this is the same company that owns the libraries of Terrytoons, Puppetoons, Famous and Fleischer (including Betty Boop). Apparently, their home video strategy is “We don’t like to make money.”

Despite the film’s box office success, it’s still an embarassing project to be involved with if you’re a major part of its creative team and you consider yourself to also be an artist. This became clear when actor Patton Oswalt made an offhand comment on his blog about how he and comedian Brian Posehn were both offered the role of Ian, the agent, and how they both rejected it because of its awfulness. David Cross, who took the role, was so peeved by the notion that he was a sell-out wrote a five-point blog post defending his decision to be involved in the movie. Thankfully, the film’s animation director Chris Bailey, doesn’t have to write a blog post defending his work on the film. Because unlike live-action actors, animation artists have no choice but to work on shit. It’s the only game in town sadly.

Terrytoon voice actress, Jo Miller

Dayton Allen, Tom Morrison, Lionel Wilson, Doug Moye, Allen Swift… these are a few of the performers known to voice characters in Terrytoons. Now add Jo Miller to the list of those who lent their talents, anonymously, behind the mike for producer Paul Terry.

Through my Cartoon Research website, I was recently contacted by a woman, Debbi Rigdon, who wanted information on an obscure one-shot Terrytoon, A Wolf’s Tale (1944). Upon inquiring why, Ms. Rigdon replied, as follows:

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My grandmother’s name was Jo Miller Frackman (Stage name Jo Miller) and in A Wolf’s Tale, she did the voices of Little Red Riding Hood and the (Mae West style) Granny. My mother was hoping to get the cartoon while my grandmother was still alive (she suffered from Alzheimer’s the last 9 years of her life) but got it shortly after her passing.

I’m attaching a picture of my grandmother from around 1940. Living in New Rochelle, Grandmother was the client of furrier, Paul Terry, who asked her to do the voices for his cartoon project. As far as we know, it was her only one. My mother told me how exciting it was when the family went to the theater to see the cartoon premiere and she was allowed to stay up, LOL! My grandmother was also a comedienne and came in 2nd place the contest auditions for the voice of Betty Boop, when she was 17.

Paul Terry, a furrier? What’s that about?

From what I understand, Mr. Terry was a furrier and my grandparents were both friends and clients. My grandfather was a prominent Jeweler in New York and, as was common with the times, discouraged my grandmother’s career after they married. So aside from performing for some troops and doing a few vaudeville acts, there were few achievements later. She passed away January 1999 at the age of 94.

So now we know. Thanks to Ms. Rigdon (and the internet) we have another piece of the giant jigsaw puzzle of researching animation history. A Wolf’s Tale was a color remake of a black and white 1938 Terrytoon The Wolf’s Side Of The Story, which featured a different actress doing the voices. Below is an excerpt from the 1944 remake featuring Ms. Frackman’s performance:

Juno opening titles

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The current film Juno is one of the smartest, sweetest and funniest films now playing. The icing on the cake is the hand made cut-out style animated opening titles (thankfully at the beginning of the film, where they belong) that really set the tone.

They were created by L.A.’s Shadowplay Studios. Studio founders Gareth Smith and Michael Horowitz specialize in mixed media — check out their short film This Guy Is Falling (2000). And check out Juno when you get a chance.

The Future of Character Animation

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The Visual Effects Society is holding a panel on Saturday January 19th on The Future of Character Animation. Frank Gladstone (formerly of Disney/Starz/Dreamworks and Warner Bros) will discuss “what new technologies mean to artists” with animators Ken Duncan and Steve Chiodo, producers Don Hahn (Disney) and Michelle Papandrew (Fosters Home), visual effects supervisor Ken McDonald (Sony Imageworks) and puppeteer Dave Barclay (Perform FX).

The panel will commence from 11am to 1pm at Sony Pictures Imageworks (Ince Theatre), 9050 W. Washington Blvd. in Culver City, California. Admission is $20. VES members admitted free, and there are discount prices for members of various unions (TAG) and organizations (ASIFA). Contact VES at (818) 981-7861 to RSVP.

Cartoon Brew Moves To NYC

With the new year underway, it seems like a good time to announce that Cartooon Brew now has a bi-coastal presence. As many have surely heard by now, I moved to NYC a couple months ago. My estimable co-editor Jerry Beck continues to take care of business on the West Coast. Our coverage of the animation world will remain largely unchanged, as can be evidenced these past few months. The agenda for the Brew remains the same as always: write about topics that interest us, and that’s what both Jerry and I intend to keep on doing. As an added bonus, perhaps the posts on the Brew begin to reflect an even broader and more diverse tone as a result of my new surroundings.

Personally I’m quite pleased to be in and around the New York animation community. The NY animation scene has appealed to me from afar for a long time. One big reason for that is because artists do things in New York. They make short films, they teach, they cross over into other media, they dip and dabble in everything and don’t pigeonhole themselves as “animation artists.”

Hell, they even make animated features; three local indie animated features are nearing completion — directed by Bill Plympton, Nina Paley and Emily Hubley — and a fourth is starting production by Michael Sporn. I point this out not to suggest that a feature is the highest form of expression, but because a feature is one of the most time-consuming and ambitious things that one can endeavor to do in this art form. To embark on an independent feature with limited resources and budget takes guts, and it’s a testament to the drive and dedication of NY animators that so many have undertaken the challenge. Animation and beyond, I’m looking forward to spending some time in this amazing city and experiencing its rich and vibrant atmosphere…and eating lots of pizza by the slice.

Steve Brodner and “The Naked Campaign”

There may not be a whole lot that’s funny about the recent assassination of Benazir Bhutto, but illustrator Steve Brodner managed to create this political cartoon that works in references to both Pluto and Bluto:

Drawing by Steve Brodner

Speaking of Brodner, he not only has a blog that features his latest work, but also a fun new video series on the NewYorker.com—“The Naked Campaign”—where he does ‘chalk talks’ about the presidential candidates and places them in context of earlier presidents and cultural figures. The Obama/Lincoln transformation is particularly entertaining. The After Effects animation in these pieces is provided by NY commercial studio Asterisk Animation.

(Thanks, Jakob Schuh)

Cartoon Dump takes Manhattan…

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…or Manhattan takes a Cartoon Dump! One of those things.

We’re going LIVE In New York next Tuesday! Our twisted take on the children’s shows of yesteryear and my worst cartoons ever will make their first east coast appearance, with Frank Conniff (MST3k), Erica Doering, Kathleen Roll and special guest comedian Mike Dobbins. And me.

Tuesday 1/8 @ 8pm • Comix 353 W. 14th St. (Just east of 9th Ave.) NY, NY 10014

Order Advance Tickets HERE or call the box office (212) 524-2500. Use our discount code for an extra $5.00 off!! Discount Code: DUMP9 (That makes advance tix just 5 bucks!)

“It’s like a children’s show, but in Bosnia!” – Patton Oswalt.

And check out this rave review on Sequential Tart!