Animator Dan Meth is hosting his second annual Drinking and Drawing event in both New York City and Portland Oregon next Wednesday (Amid and I participated in the first such event in Portland last year and it was a blast).
The sad truth is that alcohol was the vice of choice for many of our animation heroes of the 1930s, 40s and ’50s. And of course, drinking made its way into the cartoons themselves, dating back way before Prohibition was lifted. Scrappy, Buddy, Woody Woodpecker and Betty Boop (to name a few) all made cartoons with beer gags – or about making beer itself. Matthew Hunter recently compiled this clip reel of drinking gags from early 30s Warner Bros. cartoons:
But honestly, I don’t think any character drank more than Magoo:
The Drinking and Drawing events commence January 23rd at 8PM. In New York it’s happening at the M1-5 Bar in lower Manhattan (52 Walker St. @ Church St.). To participate in NYC you need to RSVP: savemeaplace ( at ) frederator (dot) com. In Portland it’s being held at the Someday Lounge 125 NW 5 Avenue. RSVP to cascadesiggraph ( at ) gmail (dot) com by January 22nd at noon.
There are certain details of animation history that have always bothered me. For example, how did Tex Avery, arguably the greatest animation director of all-time, end his illustrious career? The answer is that he created a character called Kwicky Koala, who appeared in a 1981 Hanna-Barbera TV series of the crudest variety. Recently a bunch of Kwicky Koala shorts have found their way online and as expected, they are dreadful, though perhaps no more so than any other piece of Hanna-Barbera flotsam pulled from their vast sea of mediocrity. What makes these particular cartoons so painful to watch is the knowledge of who was making them. In what other art form could the creator of genius such as this,this, and this also have his name attached as the creator of these? Only in animation.
What’s troublesome is how the animation world has never bothered to make a distinction between its true auteurs and its workaday hacks, forcing each and every one to work on product of the most degrading sort. In live-action, by contrast, a Robert Altman or Eric Rohmer or Woody Allen can continue expressing themselves artistically right until the very end because there are enough people on the business end who recognize the value (financial though it may be) of supporting these artists.
While I was researching the life of writer and board artist John Dunn, I was granted access to his diaries and gained a good understanding of his feelings about working on the cheap animation of the Seventies and Eighties. Dunn, in fact, worked briefly with Avery at Hanna-Barbera on the “Dino and the Cavemouse” shorts, and he notes in his diary having conversations with Avery about the pitiful state of their industry. The studio veterans of that era certainly weren’t naive; they were aware of the hopelessly Sisyphean task of creating anything of quality or value. And yet artists like Avery and Dunn continued working up until the very end because they loved the art form so dearly. Avery, who passed away while working on Kwicky, was well past the age of retirement at the timeÃ¢â‚¬”72-years-old.
It makes one wonder: If the animation world can so casually discard one of its most distinguished practitioners and relegate him to working in the trash heap of television, what hope is there for everybody else? It’s a blight on the collective art form and industry that it has never been able to provide decent creative outlets to its artists who truly deserve them. It happened then, and I see it happening with alarming frequency today. Granted, an artist always has the option of charting their own course as an independent, but the fact of the matter is that an industry which consistently fails to recognize the value of the people working within it is an unhealthy industry that cannot be expected to advance or prosper.
There is nothing more depressing than watching the credits of oldschool Hanna-Barbera, DePatie-Freleng and Filmation shows and seeing the names of Golden Age artists scroll by, one after the other, a rollcall of beat down artists who had no option but to submit to the thankless art they had chosen as their life’s calling. Is it any wonder that so many of them, Dunn and Avery included, drowned their sorrows in drink? (Occasionally, a sympathetic younger artist like Richard Williams would throw them a lifeline, such as when he recruited animators like Ken Harris, Grim Natwick and Art Babbitt to work on his feature The Thief and the Cobbler, and boy, did they shine when given the chance, but such opportunities were few and far between.)
So has animation learned from its past? Is our industry diverse enough today to support and utilize the wide range of talents working within it? Twenty years from now, will we be looking at the credits of Bee Movie, Open Season, and Chicken Little with a similarly sad lament? And more importantly, does anybody even know who Tex Avery is in 2008? Questions worth considering as we move forward.
I’m way overdue in posting, plugging and praising these two fine publications.
In this day and age of blogs and dedicated websites, niche publications are getting scarcer and scarcer. However, the proprietors of these books have a passion and point of view that you have to admireÃ¢â‚¬”both putting a spotlight on overlooked and esoteric aspects of cartoon history.
Cereal:Geek covers animation of the 1980s, specifically action adventure cartoons, particularly of the Transformers, He-Man, Ghostbusters, Voltron variety. The latest issue (#2) features 100 glossy color pages, packed with artwork and articles such as “Things We Love About Thundercats”, “Why I dislike Defenders of the Universe” and “There’s Something About Jem”. It’s aimed squarely at those who grew up taking these things very seriously. If that’s not youÃ¢â‚¬”move on.
Craig Yoe’s Arf Forum (which we plugged before, in pre-production) is a work of art unto itself. I can’t praise this series highly enough. Yoe packs so much incredible cartoon history and eye candy into 122 pages, you are left breathless and amazed. Overlooked artisans George Crenshaw, Max Ernst, Ted Scheel, William Ekgren, Henry Heath and Italian girlie cartoonist Kremos are among those featured in this forum. I recommend this to all readers of the Brew. Order now!
Serving as an appropriate complement to this earlier piece on Cartoon Brew, animation legend Gene Deitch has written a piece for Animation World Magazine entitled “Yes, But is It Animation?” in which he uses Beowulf as a jumping point for his thoughts on motion and performance capture. Deitch’s primary complaint is that while the type of work on display in Beowulf is technically qualifiable as animation, it is not a creative use of the medium. “We animators can animate absolutely anything we can imagine,” he writes. “We are graphic artists, and graphic art can be wildly anything.” Beowulf is not even mildly anything as far as animation art goes.
In the end, Deitch concedes that the whole debate about what is and what isn’t animation may be little more than a trivial technicality because a film’s worth is not rooted in its technique: “We may simply have to give up trying to categorize films by their technical process of production, which will surely be more and more a mixed bag of tricks, and simply judge them as films. Do they tell a story worth telling, and do they tell it well? ThatÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s really what movies are all about, isnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t it?”
We are happy to announce that Cartoon Brew is now accepting ads from third-party advertisers (in other words, you) in our right-hand column. Many individuals and companies have commented to us throughout the past year that they’d like to advertise on Cartoon Brew but that they can’t afford the prices that our ad partner, Federated Media, charges for the large vertical and horizontal banners. While we’re thrilled to have major advertisers like Adobe, Cartoon Network,Verizon, Toyota and Hewlett-Packard occupying those spots, we also recognize the importance of giving independent companies, studios and individuals the chance to promote their projects in an affordable manner to the Cartoon Brew readership.
So we’ve decided to introduce a new advertising option of 125x125px square boxes in the right-hand column of this site. Previously we have only used these smaller ads to promote our personal projects and to support special causes, but now we will be adding your ads to the mix. We are selling these spots for only $250/month. That buys you an uninterrupted month-long campaign on Cartoon Brew, which receives an average of over 200k unique visitors/month and over 300k page views/month. If you’re interested in purchasing an ad, contact either Jerry or Amid through our bio pages at the top of this site and we’ll set you up. As a bonus, the first two advertisers who sign up will receive $50 off of their first month.
Folks in and around the Bay Area should make a point to check out the “The Art and Flair of Mary Blair” exhibition which continues at the Cartoon Art Museum in downtown San Francisco through March 18, 2008. DreamWorks story artist Jenny Lerew recently visited the show and offered some perceptive observations about Blair’s work on her blog, including the notion that we shouldn’t allow today’s plethora of second- and third-rate Blair imitators affect our judgement about the quality of her original work. Jenny writes:
“There’s always a lot of talk about the obvious influence of Mary Blair on artists today–so much so, in fact, that it’s led in some circles to a bit of a backlash towards her or towards the stylings of artists who’ve been inspired by her. But when you see these up close and without the filters of photography(either the still camera’s or the animation stand’s)or the limitations of the published page, even now they leap out at the viewer and are as new and fresh as they must have been half a century ago. To see her technique up close is to appreciate how incredibly skilled she was. Intuitive, surely; imaginative and whimsical, yes–but also plain, keen, brilliant, diamond-hard thinking going on. It’s still a big wow.“
Nina Paley’s offbeat indie animated feature Sita Sings The Blues recently was accepted into the prestigious 58th annual Berlin International Film Festival, where it’ll be having its world premiere next month. But as Paley writes on her website, “The bad news is, sheÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s programmed in a theater that doesnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t do Digital Cinema. That means unless I have a 35mm print by February, her one and only World Premiere will be on, wellÃ¢â‚¬Â¦video. I canÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t let that happen.”
I’ve heard positive words from numerous people who have seen work-in-progress versions of Sita. The film, which Paley started production on in 2004, is uniquely personal, tackling the story of breaking up with her husband in India, combined with an unlikely mashup of Indian mythology and 1920s American jazz. Paley made the film entirely on her own, without a producer or studio backing, and still needs $20k to create a 35mm master. She is accepting tax-deductible donations through this website. It’s a worthy cause for animation fans who have a few extra bucks to spare.
UPDATE: Nina Paley wrote in one of the comments on her blog that everybody who donates will receive a credit in the finished film. But she says that credits will be closed Monday, “since thatÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s the latest I can render everything out from my computer.” So head over and donate now.
The Chicago Spire, a building designed by superstar architect Santiago Calatrava, is poised to become North America’s tallest free-standing structure and the world’s tallest all-residential building when it is completed in 2011. When the developers officially unveiled the project last September, their presentation included a slick five-minute animated promo. Pushing far beyond typical animated architectural renderings, the developers enlisted vfx houses Lightstream Pictures and Sony Imageworks to create a feature film-style piece complete with dramatic staging and lighting. A portion of the film can be seen on the building’s website, TheChicagoSpire.com, and a video about the building with a few more animation clips can be seen on YouTube. It just goes to show that there’s no product or idea that can’t benefit from some well conceived animation.
As a follow up to my previous post on plush dolls (and I promise this will be the last one for the time being), I just found out they made one for Anton Ego, the beloved food critic from Ratatouille!
Who wouldn’t want to cuddle up with a plush doll of one of the most cherished characters in Disney/Pixar history? He’s certainly one of my favorites. Here’s an eBay link. However, I’m still waiting for the Anton Ego vinyl action figures and bobble-head toy.
Is anyone surprised that Persepolis wasn’t nominated for the Best Foreign Language Film Oscar? No foreign animated film submitted by its home country has ever been nominated in this category.
And its interesting to note that Persepolis wasn’t even the first animated nominee from France. In 1953 France submitted Jean Image’s Johnny The Giant Killer. In 1975 Belgium submitted Tarzoon, Shame Of The Jungle.
For the record, here’s a complete run down of previous animated films submitted to the Best Foreign Film category:
None of them made it. Most of these entries were submitted in the years before the Academy recognized animated features. Unlike some of my colleagues, I’m grateful the Academy’s Best Animated Feature category exists. With the exception of Beauty And The Beast, the organization has failed, time and again, to recognize the art. The industry simply does not consider animation in the same league with live action. Eliminating the Animated Feature Oscar will not change how Academy voters consider animation. Having that award at least brings us to the table.
To some the Best Animated Feature category may be a “ghetto”, but ultimately it’s up to us to raise the consciousness amongst the filmmakers, the Academy and the public.
Earlier this month, I linked to illustrator Steve Brodner’s podcast series “The Naked Campaign” which offers his views on various Presidential candidates. This got me to thinking about whether there are other people who are creating animated pieces in hopes of influencing the outcome of this year’s Presidential elections.
A bit of searching on YouTube uncovered a number of independently produced animated pieces, though none of them appear to be making a huge splash at the moment. But it’s only January and with ten months still to go, I expect we’ll be seeing an unprecedented use of animation during the 2008 elections. The most viewed animated piece supporting an individual candidate that I found on YouTube is the following Ron Paul Brickfilm short, which has garnered over 60k views since debuting ten days ago.
Andrew Arnold has created an impressive CG political animated series called Heada’State which features strong condemnations of candidates Rudy Giuliani and Thompson (below).
Ray Noland (director) and Rebecca Berdel (animator) have posted a piece called Revolt in support of Barack Obama.
Democratic longshot Mike Gravel is promoted in this puppet and stop-motion piece titled The Word: Mike Gravel.
And this live-action spot by candidate Mike Huckabee has inspired two different animated parodies, both of which are posted below:
If you know of other pieces, please post links to them in the comments. This is not an attempt to catalog animated pieces that express a political viewpoint because there are plenty of those. Rather I’m curious to find out how animation is specifically being used to effect this year’s Presidential elections through pieces that are either for or against individual candidates.
(PS: A friendly reminder to keep any discussion in the comments focused on the use of animation in the campaign, and not to express any personal political views.)
A few random notes on the French animated feature Persepolis:
Ã¢â‚¬Â¢ Upon winning the best animated feature prize from the NY Film Critics Circle, Persepolis creator Marjane Satrapi said, “In France, they always call the New York critics tough bastards. So thank you, my bastard friends.” Animation director Michael Sporn responded on his blog, “ItÃ¢â‚¬â„¢d be nice to hear what she might say if she wins an Oscar. SheÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ll get my vote.”
Ã¢â‚¬Â¢ The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences announced yesterday the nine films which are advancing to the next round of voting in the Foreign Language Film category. Persepolis, which was France’s entry, was snubbed and didn’t even make the shortlist. I’ve been opposed to the Oscar’s Animated Feature Film category from the very beginning for the simple reason that it continues to ghettoize the art form. Academy voters don’t feel compelled to recognize the merits of animation as film when they know that a special category exists solely for animated features. As the art form continues to mature with films like Persepolis, the flaws of the Animated Feature Film category will only become more and more evident.
Ã¢â‚¬Â¢ Whoever said animation isn’t a powerful medium and can’t be used to instigate positive change in society? Chicago’s Daily Herald has an interesting article titled “Local Iranians hope Persepolis will open eyes about their homeland.” Says one Iranian interviewed in the piece, “I think Americans are generally very open-minded, but there isn’t a lot on the news about the people of Iran, just its government. Persepolis shows how important it is to see that a country’s government and its people can be different.”
Ã¢â‚¬Â¢ The box office numbers for Persepolis are deceivingly tiny. While the film placed 28th on the charts last weekend with $187,000, it is performing remarkably well considering that it is only playing in 18 theaters. In fact, it had the second-highest per-theater average of any film playing last week, behind only Paul Thomas Anderson’s There Will Be Blood. If there’s any question why the animated art form is viewed so poorly by the general public, it’s because a film like The Pirates Who Don’t Do Anything can open in 1300-plus theaters while an animated feature like Persepolis remains virtually inaccessible to the general moviegoing public. One can only assume that distributor Sony Pictures Classics will move Persepolis from its current platform release into a wider release once the Oscar noms are announced next week.
As readers of this site may recall, I didn’t offer many kind words for the contest when I posted about it last month. It’s nice that they have a contest winner and I hope the “development deal” works out for the creator, but I still strongly believe that contests with gimmicky prizes like development deals and cash prizes are a cheap and insulting way to encourage new talent in this field.
If companies like DailyMotion and Animation Magazine were serious about helping young creators, they would offer legit production resources to artists, and create opportunities for artists to experiment and develop their artistic voices over a period of time. A fine example to be applauded is the National Film Board of Canada’s Hothouse which is structured in a way that genuinely encourages talent and allows artists the chance to learn about the art form in a professional studio setting.
UPDATE: Regarding the earlier accusation of the ‘plagiarism’ in this short, that is incorrect because the cartoon was produced by the same NYC commercial studio Panoptic that produced the MTV2 commercial. I apologize to the filmmakers for the unnecessary hassle, and I apologize to readers for not fact-checking properly (at least it’s not as bad as the gaffe I made a couple years ago). Below are frame grabs comparing the original Panoptic MTV2 commercial (left) and the Panoptic-produced contest winner (right) which reappropriates the character and animation from their commercial.
Reader Jim Engel wrote in to let me know that Kohl’s department stores are having a charity fundraiser where for $5. you can purchase for a limited time, several exclusive Dr. Seuss character plush dolls (from Horton Hatches The Egg, Yertle The Turtle, Hop on Pop, and Fox In Socks) that look pretty good to me. Profit from the sale of these items will support health and educational opportunities for children nationwide. You can even purchase them online. Sounds like a deal!