Imagination: In Portland and On DVD

Imagination dvd

Imagination, an experimental indie feature that combines live-action with hand-drawn animation, stop-motion puppet animation, pixilation, and time-lapse, was released onto dvd earlier this week. The dvd offers numerous special features including:

1. “Making Imagination” Documentary with cast/crew interviews
2. “Behind The Animation” Documentary with director Eric Leiser
3. Q&A with the Leiser brothers & Ed Gildersleeve at Sunset 5 Theatres
4. Isolated Film Score
5. Stills Gallery
6. Director’s Statement

Additionally, the film has two theatrical screenings scheduled for this weekend. Tonight, it plays in Portland at the Hollywood Theatre, and on Saturday evening, it screens at the Capitol Theater in Olympia, Washington. Director Eric Leiser will be present at both screenings, as will his brother Jeffrey Leiser, who co-wrote the film and composed the film’s music.

To read reviews of Imagination and find out about future theatrical screenings, visit the film’s MySpace page. The film was previously mentioned on the Brew last July.

The Little Island by Richard Williams

Little Island

Richard Williams’s epic first animated short The Little Island (1958) has been posted online. Highly stylized, dialogueless, serious themes, and over half an hour long, the film definitely takes some effort to sit through. Nonetheless, it’s a fascinating–and surprisingly offbeat–early work by a contemporary animation legend, and well worth a view.

(Thanks, Patrick McCart)

The Movie That Inspired John Lasseter

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The UCLA Film and Television Archives has an ongoing series of screenings entitled The Movie That Inspired Me, in which leading filmmakers present films that have influenced their life and art. The Monday April 21st screening will feature the selections of special guest John Lasseter.

Lasseter has selected Dumbo (1941) and a special program of animated shorts for the evening. The archive’s Honorary Chairman and series curator Curtis Hanson will host the program, which will start at 7:30pm in the Billy Wilder Theater, 10899 Wilshire Blvd. at Westwood Blvd. (in the courtyard level of the Hammer Museum). Advance tickets are available for $10 at www.cinema.ucla.edu. Tickets are also available at the Billy Wilder Theater box office starting one hour before showtime: $9, general admission; $8 for students, seniors and UCLA Alumni.

Superjail

Superjail

Seemingly the funniest and cartooniest animated projects nowadays are set in jails. There’s the Japanese CG series Usavich, which was written up here last month, and now there’s Superjail, an Adult Swim pilot from last spring which is being turned into a series.

Superjail is one of those rare pieces of animation that reaffirms my faith in mainstream industry animation. (A clip from the pilot episode is posted below; the full series premieres later this year.) At first glance, it’s an unlikely candidate for greatness: it is, after all, a Flash-animated show for Cartoon Network’s Adult Swim. But Superjail defies all expectations, both for Flash and Adult Swim. Far from the typical Adult Swim fare of characters standing around with their lips flapping, this show takes advantage of the fact that it’s animated, packing every scene with outlandish visual gags, hilarious drawings, frenetic animation, bright colors and enough gratuitous cartoon violence to fill a thousand Popeye shorts.

The premise of the series is simple: Superjail is an ultra-violent prison complex run by a mad Willy Wonka-esque warden determined to “perfect the art of incarceration.” He is aided by a butch guard Alice, an alcoholic accountant Jared, and the punishing robot Jail-bot. Beyond this basic setup, anything goes. It’s a stream-of-conscious free-for-all that’s both exhilaratingly creative and guaranteed to offend. Heidi MacDonald of The Beat blog called the pilot “the most incoherent, violent and irredeemable thing I have ever seen.” Luckily for her, she hasn’t seen the actual show yet. I’ve managed to peep a bit more beyond the pilot and can say that the pilot is only a taste of what’s to come.The actual series is even nuttier and more insane.

Graphically, Superjail achieves a level of cartoon grotesquerie that would make Basil Wolverton blush. There are also hints of Mike Judge, Yellow Submarine, alternative comics, and Wes Archer’s classic short Jac Mac & Rad Boy . The results are grungy and raw; real cartoons by real cartoonists without any of the on-model fussiness and overcautiousness that hinders most of today’s TV animation.

Superjail

Superjail is created by Christy Karacas, Stephen Warbrick and Ben Gruber. Karacas is directing the series and Aaron Augenblick, whose Augenblick Studios is producing the series, serves as the animation director. The stories are written by Karacas, Warbrick, Augenblick and other animators on the show, with the finished scripts penned by John Glaser and John Lee. A host of other fine cartoonists and animators are contributing to the series including Fran Krause, Will Krause, Jesse Schmal and M. Wartella.

The show also puts to rest the fallacy that Adult Swim shows are poorly animated because of their small budgets. The creators of Superjail have not only managed to deliver impressive animation on a standard Adult Swim budget, but they’re producing the series entirely in the US, from pre-production through final animation. New York-based Augenblick Studios is cutting few corners on the production, with little reliance on stock expressions and poses, and plenty of original drawing in every episode. Even the impressively laborious animated pan used in the opening titles is being re-animated for each episode with new backgrounds.

It’s refreshing to see a production that puts its budget back onto the screen and gives audiences quality that they can enjoy. I’ll try to write more about the studio’s production pipeline in the future, but suffice to say, Augenblick is one of the few studios that operates with a “no producers” policy.

Superjail will debut on Cartoon Network’s Adult Swim line-up in summer ’08 with an initial order of ten 11-minute episodes. Until then, check out some of the earlier shorts by Christy Karacas and Stephen Warbrick like Barfight and Space War.

A few preview stills from the series. Click on the pics for bigger versions.

Superjail

Superjail

Superjail

An Academy Tribute to Tex Avery and Michael Maltese

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The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences will pay tribute to Tex Avery and Michael Maltese, both born a century ago in early 1908, on Monday March 24th at the Linwood Dunn Theatre (on Vine Street) in Hollywood. If we have to tell you who Avery and Maltese are, you shouldn’t be reading this website.

Crossing paths at the Leon Schlesinger studio in the 1930s and 40s, their collaborations and later individual career achievements are among the greatest moments in animation history. The Academy’s tribute, entitled Putting Looney in the Toons, includes some of the classic shorts Avery and Maltese worked on together, as well as separately from their individual careers. The program will also feature audio presentations of rare recorded interviews with both Avery and Maltese discussing their careers with film historian Joe Adamson.

Tickets are available for advance purchase beginning next Monday (3/3). General admission is $5.00 ($3. for students). The Linwood Dunn Theater is located at the Academy’s Pickford Center for Motion Picture Study, 1313 Vine Street, in Hollywood. Doors open at 6:30 p.m. All seating is unreserved. For additional information check the Academy website.

Popeye Vol. 2 Bonus Materials

popeyeboxv2.jpgLast week Warner Home Video announced the release date (June 17th) of Popeye Vol. 2.

One of the bonus materials mentioned on the official sales sheet was the 1939 Max Fleischer feature film, Gulliver’s Travels — and this has confused many people (at least according to email I recieved). I’ve just received the actual, final list of bonus materials to be included on this set and Gulliver has been dropped. (I have no idea where they would’ve gotten the print from, or how it would’ve fit on the crammed two disc set). No need to fret, however, over the loss of an oft-seen widely available animated feature. The bonus goodies included in this package are even more exciting — particularly several rare items unavailable anywhere else.

Here then, is the full and accurate list of extra content on Popeye the Sailor Vol. 2:

Disc 1

Commentaries
The Jeep by Historian Glenn Mitchell
Bulldozing the Bull by Writer Paul Dini
Mutiny Ain’t Nice by Filmmaker Greg Ford
Goonland by Historian Glenn Mitchell
A Date to Skate by Historian Michael Barrier with Animator Gordon Sheehan
Cops is Always Right by Historian Michael Barrier with Animator Dave Tendlar
Customers Wanted by Director Eric Goldberg
Aladdin and His Wonderful Lamp by Filmmaker Greg Ford
Wotta Nightmare by Historian Jerry Beck
Hello, How am I? by Animator Mark Kausler
It’s the Natural Thing to Do by Historian Michael Barrier with Animator Arnold Gillespie

Popeye Popumentaries
Eugene the Jeep: A Breed of His Own – Running Time: 3:14
Poopdeck Pappy: The Nasty Old Man and the Sea – RT: 5:07
O-Re-Mi: Mae Questel and the Voices of Olive Oyl – RT: 8:30
Out of the Inkwell: The Fleischer Story – RT: 48:00

Disc 2

Commentaries
Stealin Ain’t Honest by Director Bob Jaques
Puttin on the Act by Historian Daniel Goldmark
Popeye Meets William Tell by Filmmaker Greg Ford with Animator Shamus Culhane

Popeye Popumentaries
Men of Spinach and Steel RT: 6:21

From the Vault
Paramount Presents Popular Science (1938 Paramount short; behind the scenes at Fleischer’s Miami studio) – RT: 6:16
The Mechnical Monsters (1941 Superman short) – RT: 11:01
Early Max Fleischer Art Gallery – RT: 3:04
Females is Fickle Pencil Test – RT: 0:29
Stealin Ain’t Honest – Storyboard Reel – RT: 6:00 est.
I’m Popeye the Sailor Man Vintage Audio Recording – RT: 2:27 (audio only)
Michael Sporn Interviews Jack Mercer – RT: 6:12 (audio only)

Pixar, Pixar, Pixar

Pixar story crew

A few items of note from the Pixar universe:

* Pixar story supervisor Ronnie del Carmen writes about the celebration at the studio following their Oscar win for Ratatouille. Identifications for the above photo of Pixar story artists can be found on Ronnie’s blog.

* Production designer Bill Cone (A Bug’s Life, Cars) has started a blog to showcase his plein air pastel paintings.

* How does a graphic designer fit in at Pixar? Rataouille title designer Susan Bradley explains her role at the studio in this interview.

An Afternoon of Remembrance

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Once each year, at the DeMille Barn in Hollywood, the Animation Guild, ASIFA Hollywood and Women In Animation present An Afternoon of Remembrance, “a non-denominational celebration of departed friends from our animation community”.

This year it takes place on Saturday, March 1, at 1pm. Tributes will be paid to:

Renee Alcazar · Roger Armstrong · Dick Arnall · Warren Batchelder · Max Becraft · Pat Boyd · Sheila Brown · Erica Cassetti · Harvey Cohen · Alberto De Mello · Greg Drolette · Walker Edmiston • Ray Erlenborn · Natatcha Estebanez · Becky Fallberg · Mary Lou Ferguson · Ben Ferrer · Lu Guarnier. Ed Hansen · Terry Harrison · Florence Heintz · Dave Hilberman · Dick Hoffman · Steve Krantz . Ryan Larkin · Carol Lundberg · Celine Miles Marcus · John Marshall · Roberta Gruetert Marshall . Tom O’Loughlin · Henry Ortiz · Brant Parker · Nicole Pascal · Charles Nelson Reilly · Will Schaefer . Charlene Singleton · Ken Southworth · Art Stevens · James Street · Iwao Takamoto · Aleksandr Tatarskiy . Caren Terry · Jim Thurman · Elbert Tuganov · Al Wilson · Jack Zander

The Afternoon of Remembrance is free of charge and is open to all. No RSVPs necessary. Food and refreshments, 1 pm * Memoriams, 2 pm
Hollywood Heritage Museum (Lasky-DeMille Barn)
2100 N. Highland (across from Hollywood Bowl), Hollywood, California.

Stu’s Show

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The image above can only mean one thing: Brewmaster Jerry Beck will once again be broadcasting live on Shokus Internet Radio.

Tomorrow, Wednesday February 27th from 4pm to 6pm Pacific time (that’s 7pm to 9pm for you in the Eastern Time Zone) Stu Shostak and I will be discussing classic cartoon DVD compilations like Popeye Vol. 2, Woody Woodpecker Vol. 2 and other classic animation DVDs. If you have a specific question you want answered, call in during the broadcast and ask me, toll free (888) 746-5875. Click here to listen in. If you miss the show, it’ll be rerun for the next seven days at the same time.

Goobies

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Brew reader Michael Losure is a graduate student at the Texas A&M Viz lab who recently finished work on a couple of projects worth a look.

The first is a 3 minute CG short, just finished, named Goobees. It’s a darkly comic film about the inner workings of a vending machine, with a senario that’s a cross between Braveheart and Candyland. Losure and his partners — Seth Freeman, Tony Piedra, Patrick O’Brien — spent 18 months making the CG short inbetween taking classes and dealing with other college obligations.

The second is a stop-motion music video for the band Motion City Soundtrack. A fellow A&M lab student, Lauren Simpson, won an mtvU contest to direct a music video. Losure became the lead animator and editor. The resulting video, It Had To Be You, is a lot of fun – and a pretty good song. Losure adds:

I’m sending the films to you because I’m proud of them as films, not because I think the actual character animation itself necessarily meets Cartoon Brew standards. I have a strong interest in animation, but my schooling and job (I’ll start an FX position at Dreamworks this summer) are more technical. The viz lab specializes in the technical side of computer graphics – and on merging artistic skills with the technical – but there is no specific coursework in animation. I don’t think we’re very well known in the animation industry as a whole (probably because we don’t usually produce animators or shorts), but a lot of our graduates end up in various TD positions at the big animation companies (Seth and Tony are now at Pixar doing rigging and matte painting, and Patrick, Lauren and I are signed with Dreamworks for lighting and FX).

Pretty good for student work at a school that doesn’t teach animation per se. Pixar and Dreamworks are lucky to get you.

Cartoon Dump: Tonight in Los Angeles

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Cartoon Dump resumes its monthly Los Angeles performances tonight at the Steve Allen Theatre in Hollywood. Our February show includes our regular cast — including MST3K’s Frank Conniff, me (above left) and “Cue Card Goddess” (above right) — the worst cartoons ever made, and special comedy guest star Morgan Murphy.

It’s a great big load of fun. And don’t take my word for it… read Peter Sanderson’s rave review at Quick Stop Entertainment. Join us tonight at 8pm!

Michael Knapp

Michael Knapp

Michael Knapp, who is currently art directing Ice Age 3 at Blue Sky, has redesigned his website MichaelKnapp.com and added a blog as well. The site includes lots of his development and design work from Blue Sky’s earlier films like Ice Age: The Meltdown and Robots, while his blog offers a preview of his new comic that’ll be published in the soon-to-be-released second edition of the comic anthlogy Out of Picture.

Pebbles & Bamm Bamm on KFWB (1965)

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Here’s a fun website to browse: Radio Use Only is a new site devoted to collecting and making accessible downloads of rare radio station promo discs. One highlight is this rare Hanna Barbera recording especially made for Los Angeles radio station KFWB, featuring the song (with special lyrics) “Open Up Your Heart and Let The Sunshine In” (famously featured on the 1965 Flintstones episode “No Biz Like Show Biz”).

(Thanks, Joel O’Brien)

John K. Analyzes The Hep Cat (1942)

Hep cat

John Kricfalusi’s visual analysis of Bob Clampett’s The Hep Cat offers interesting ideas about why this particular cartoon works so well:

“It’s not Clampett’s funniest cartoon, although it is pretty funny. It doesn’t have any star characters in it. What makes it stand out, then? This cartoon is a mood piece. It’s an experiment in atmosphere and emotion…I think the best cartoons revel in goofiness and achieve a kind of gorgeous beauty not attainable in any other medium. Clampett takes the wacky surrealism natural to cartoons and places it in a lush atmosphere.”

Hattie Noel as Hyacinth Hippo

Hattie Noel

This post got deleted during our troublesome server upgrade last week so I’ll try it again. As a followup to a post earlier this month, above are two more photos which have appeared on eBay of actress Hattie Noel from her posing sessions as the model for Hyacinth Hippo in Disney’s Fantasia.

Alex Rannie writes that Hattie Noel’s live-action work can also be found on YouTube. This clip is a cameo in The Women (Hattie appears as the maid on the train at 00:24). Even more interesting is the clip posted below about which Rannie writes:

This is a specialty dance sequence, “Alice Blue Gown,” from Irene (1940) which features Hattie Noel dancing up a storm (Hattie enters at 03:47 and jitterbugs at 04:32). Hattie’s part is all too brief, but if you keep an eye peeled you can get a sense of how she helped to inspire the animators to great heights in Fantasia’s “Dance of the Hours.”

One more note: Disney Editions will be publishing a book later this year by dance historian Mindy Aloff entitled Hippo in a Tutu: Dancing in Disney Animation. This would be the ideal platform to officially acknowledge Noel’s heretofore unacknowledged contributions to the Disney canon. Alex Rannie, who has been helping out with the research for that book, says that because of our post earlier this month, there is indeed a chance that Noel’s work on the film will be included in the book, which is wonderful news to hear.

(Thanks to the indispensable Disney History blog for pointing out the new photos)

My First Imperial ABC

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I had the pleasure of meeting animator Jakob Jensen over this past weekend. Jensen has worked in the animation industry since the age of 17 with stints at A Film in Copenhagen and Amblimation in London, before settling down at Dreamworks Animation in Los Angeles in 1995 (as animator on The Prince of Egypt, The Road to El Dorado, Madagascar and all the others. He is currently the Animation Director on Warner Bros. Astro Boy at Imagi Animation Studios).

Jensen gave me a copy of his recently self-published book My First Imperial ABC, a beautifully illustrated spoof of American media and politics disguised as a children’s primer. Jensen “juxtaposes over-used, politically charged words with drawings expressing the author’s dismay with our current state of affairs.” Jensen edited together a video preview (with a bit of animation) of the books cartoon content and posted it on You Tube. I’d love to see a fully animated film based on these ABC’s – till then, this delightful book will have to do.

1930′s wartime Japanese cartoon

David Gerstein and Cole Johnson found this delightfully primitive 1934 Japanese cartoon about a war in 1936(?). Clearly inspired by Hollywood cartoons of the era, one can read plenty into the fact that the brave Japanese warriors are doing battle with a “mickey mouse” army. Says Gerstein:

Maybe it’s a “Nutcracker Suite”-inspired thing? Dunno if the “Nutcracker” was known in Japan in the 1930s, and this uses pre-”Nutcracker” classical themes, but it does have a mouse kingdom trying to take over a toyland-like world. What’s great, though, is that the mice are obvious Mickey clones, and at about 1:45 a cat lead briefly mutates into Felix. The music over the main and end titles sounds like it belongs with a 1930 Terrytoon or Van Beuren, doesn’t it?

If anyone can translate the title or tell us more about the film’s plot, we are eager to learn.

1942 Comic Book story about Animation

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Courtesy of Marc Schirmeister, The Asifa Hollywood Animation Archive has posted the complete 18-page Crimebuster story from a 1942 issue of Boy Comics. The story, written by Charles Biro and drawn by future stooge-in-law Norman Maurer, uses the fictional Acme Animation Studio as a backdrop. There are references to animators with some familiar sounding names (Gordon, Tyre (sic), Lovey (sic), Foster). Read it here.

Roy Jenkins’ Good-Girl Art

Brew reader Andy Kinyon writes in with a query:

Over ten years ago I was given two drawings. I guess youd call them pin-up cartoon girls. They’re signed JENKINS. On the back of one says, ROY JENKINS, 12625 Welby Way, N. Hollywood. Could it be the same animator who’s name appears on several Columbia Screen Gems cartoons (Cat-tastrophy, Big House Blues and Boston Beanie). Any information would be much appreciated.

Jenkins also did a stint at Walter Lantz in the 1960s. I’ll throw it open to our readers. Does anyone know anymore about the life and career of Roy Jenkins? These drawings (which seem to be inspired by the Bill Ward school) are pretty hot. (click on thumbnails below for larger image)

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Popeye DVD Vol. 2

popeyeboxv2.jpgIt was officially announced today that Popeye the Sailor Vol. 2 from Warner Home Video will be released on June 17th 2008. Bonus materials will include a documentary on the Fleischer Studios, an interview with Jack Mercer, and the complete Fleischer feature film Gulliver’s Travels (1939). I’ll reveal more information on the bonus features in a future post, closer to the release date. In the meantime, enjoy this rare title card (below), snapped with my notoriously funky cel phone camera, off a glare-filled TV screen. It’s the original opening title card to Aladdin And His Wonderful Lamp, not seen since it’s initial release in 1939. This film, the third Technicolor two-reel Popeye special, and thirty other Popeye black & white classics will presented complete, uncut and beautifully restored on this landmark volume.

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Cartoon Brew Server Upgrade

After some record-breaking days of traffic last week, we’ve decided to take the next big step and upgrade Cartoon Brew to its own dedicated server. We hope that this will speed up everybody’s site load times as well as prepare us for future traffic spikes. The transition to a new server has not been especially smooth, hence the downtimes during the past couple days, but everything should be back to normal after this weekend. Thanks to all the Brew readers for your patience and support!