Frederator Awards

frederator2poster2.jpgSpeaking of Leslie Cabarga (as I did in the previous post below), Leslie just designed the beautiful poster for the 2nd Annual Channel Frederator Awards (click thumbnail at left for larger image).

Fred Seibert threw a great big Hollywood party last year to honor animators and cartoonists, and he’s doing it again on June 4th. This time the bash will be in New York City, downtown at Canal Room (Broadway and Canal). Fred will post more details on his blog as they are set.

Last year Seibert’s CFA honored John Lasseter as “(Animated) Cartoonist of the Year”. I’m not sure what nominees they have in mind for this year, but I’ll bet our Brew readers can name a few deserving individuals.

Hot Stuff

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The latest compilation book of vintage Harvey Comics, Hot Stuff – Harvey Comics Classics Vol. 3 is now on sale (though the official publication date is technically next Wednesday, March 26). Leslie Cabarga and I present the best stories and art from this classic Harvey series, which features (in my humble opinion) the finest comic art that Warren Kremer and Howard Post ever did for the company. Leslie laid out the book, and touched up the color art and original black & white proofs for outstanding reproduction, I provide a historical overview of the strip in my Introduction, and Harvey expert Mark Arnold contributes an informative Foreword. Check out the amazon link to see a preview of several pages. For 480 pages of devilish fun (only $13.57 on amazon), you can’t go wrong.

Jim Carrey hawks Horton

No, it’s not Jerry Seinfeld in a bee costume – it’s Jim Carrey dressed as an elephant shamelessly cross-promoting Horton Hears A Who! on Fox’s American Idol last week. Carrey, no stranger to looking and acting silly, seems almost embarrassed to be hawking the kid flick on this show.

Carrey comes in about 1:15 and his shtick ends at the 2:45 mark.

Saturday afternoon Movie Talk

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Brew Radio Alert: Tomorrow afternoon (March 15th) I’ll spend an hour on the radio discussing 101 Dalmatians, Horton Hears A Who and other cartoon trivia on Movie Talk with Dave Dubos. The program is broadcast out of New Orleans on WGSO 990AM from 12noon till 3pm Central (I’ll be on the final hour from 2-3pm Central/3-4pm Eastern/12 noon-1pm Pacific). You can listen live – or download a podcast at a later time (also check out my previous appearance on the show last month, Feb. 16th).

The Bear That Wasn’t (1967)

I just finished reading the new Maurice Noble biography Stepping Into The Picture by Robert McKinnon and am working up a review of it. In the meantime, I thought it’d be worth posting the 1967 short The Bear That Wasn’t (1967), a film on which Noble receives co-direction and production design credit.

It’s based on a 1946 illustrated book by Frank Tashlin, and Tashlin detested the finished film, saying that, “[W]ith the exception maybe of your best girl friend running you over in your own car, that was just about the worst experience I ever had, the making of that cartoon.” He explains further in this interview with Mike Barrier why he hated the film.

Tashlin is right. It’s not a good film by any stretch of the imagination. Conceptual problems and weak animation aside though, I have to admit having a soft spot for Noble’s production design on the film. Even if in many ways the design is largely inappropriate to the tone of the story, it’s undeniably appealing, inventive and fun. Credit is also due the background painters Phil DeGuard and Don Morgan.

While The Bear That Wasn’t may not make anybody’s all-time greatest shorts list, it does show Noble at the height of his game, and a willingness to always push animation production design in new and exciting directions. This film has intriguing earmarks of a highly abstracted “pure” design approach that Noble was exploring in the mid-’60s, which become epecially evident when you place it alongide another film he worked on during that period, The Dot and the Line (1965). It’s a shame that Noble never had the luxury of letting this approach evolve over the course of multiple films, like his work on the earlier Warner shorts, because with appropriate stories and collaborators, I think he could have taken animated films in some fascinating directions in the 1960s.

How to Enjoy Horton Hears a Who!

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Instruction site eHow.com is known for posting some silly subjects, with equally silly solutions, but this latest one takes the cake: How to Enjoy ‘Horton Hears a Who!’

In the Things You’ll Need section they suggest:

• An appreciation for the works of Dr. Seuss
• A love of animated films
• The ability to feel young at heart

Oh, and don’t forget “step 5″ of their six-step program:

• Get some merchandise to extend the magic

I really want to like Horton, but with hard-sell marketing like this (to paraphrase Dr. Seuss) Oh, the places they’ll go!

(Thanks, Joe Cabrera)

LA Times‘s Silly Pixar Article

Yesterday’s LA Times had an unnecessarily sensationalistic article about the difficulties of breaking into the directing ranks at Pixar. The piece is misleading simply because the idea of building a hand-picked stable of animation directors is not unique to Pixar but a cornerstone of most major animation studios, past and present.

The article uses Jimmy Hayward as an example of an artist who had to leave Pixar to get his shot at directing Blue Sky’s Horton Hears a Who! but what the article neglects to mention is that Blue Sky’s first three features were directed by the same two people: Chris Wedge and Carlos Saldanha. The simple math of hundreds of artists at an animation studio and one or two directors on each film makes it obvious that not everybody’s going to direct. Also, with the stakes so high on each computer-animated film, it makes sense that studios would develop a core of trusted directors instead of trying out new helmers on each pic. Why the LA Times feels that Pixar should be any different is beyond me.

In fact, the article fails to discuss one of the great things that Pixar does which most other feature studios don’t, and that’s how they use their short film division as a place to try out new directorial talent. In just the past few years, numerous Pixar folks have directed shorts for the first time including Andrew Jimenez and Mark Andrews (One Man Band), Gary Rydstrom (Lifted), Jim Capobianco (Your Friend the Rat) and Dan Scanlon (co-director, Mater and the Ghostlight). The short that’ll debut in front of Wall-E is again helmed by a freshman director, this time the talented Pixar animation veteran Doug Sweetland. Considering the relatively few directing slots available in animation in general, I think Pixar does as fine a job as any contemporary studio possibly can in terms of spreading directing opportunities amongst its artists.

[Disclosure: I am currently working on a book for Pixar.]

Wall-E Trailer

Pixar has released the final trailer for Wall-E before its June 27 release. All I can say is that I really want to see this film! And this is coming from somebody who’s not a particular fan of robots or sci-fi. It’s just that this film looks refreshingly different in so many ways.

I’m also predicting that Wall-E will be a huge success, if only because the title character reminds me of E.T., visually and also in its endearingly innocent personality (not to mention the name). Considering how moviegoers embraced E.T., I think it’s a safe bet that audiences will be similarly receptive to the character Wall-E.

Wall E and ET

Dave Stevens, 1955-2008

Dave Stevens

Comic artist Dave Stevens, creator of The Rocketeer, has passed away after a battle with leukemia. An extensive obit can be found at The Comics Reporter. Early in his career, Stevens worked on Hanna-Barbera action-adventure cartooons like Jana of the Jungle and Super Friends. Background painter and fellow comic artist Bill Wray has written some nice personal memories of Dave Stevens on his blog, and writer Mark Evanier is also sharing memories on his blog.

101 Farting Dalmatians?

An animator/director friend, who asked to remain anonymous, emailed me with a bizarre observation: that Disney is adding fart gags to some of its TV ads for the dvd rerelease of 101 Dalmatians. Can anybody else confirm this or post the TV spots onto YouTube? I find it a little difficult to believe, and yet, it’s ill-conceived enough that I can just imagine some exec approving this idea. Here’s my friend’s description of what he saw:

I recently saw a commercial for “101 Dalmatians” and they put in a fart gag–brilliant. You not only hear it–they took the time to have this horse’s ass digitally distort as you hear the sound…then they cut to one of the dogs saying “that sounds strange” or something like that. AND I’ve only seen that version on Cartoon Network. I’ve seen a separate commercial for it when it’s on primetime network TV without the fart.

I guess it’s to be expected nowadays, but still. It’s crazy how Disney feels the need to have to add something like this to sell its classics… kinda false advertising, I suppose. Kids will probably be pissed when they don’t see that gag in the actual film.

Abe Levitow website

Abe Levitow drawing

Roberta, Judy and Jon Levitow have created a new website devoted to their father, Abe Levitow.

Levitow, a largely overlooked figure in American animation, is best known for his work under (as animator), and alongside (as co-director), Chuck Jones. He later became an animation director (Mr.Magoo’s Christmas Carol, Gay Purr-ee) and an associate of Richard Williams.

Trailer above contains scenes from Levitow’s classic Magoo’s Christmas Carol (1962) and the NBC primetime series, The Famous Adventures of Mr. Magoo (1964). For more about Abe Levitow, go visit the site!

Simon’s Cat by Simon Tofield

British commercial director Simon Tofield, who is repped by Tandem Films is the creator behind Simon’s Cat, an absolutely delightful series of Flash-animated shorts. While the cartoons are minimalist to the core–simple line designs, no color and basic backgrounds–the animation has two key ingredients that make them a success: personality and charm. The latest short posted below, “Let Me In,” has racked up over 1 million YouTube views since its debut last week. The earlier one, “Cat Man Do,” is also a gem.

The Space Explorers

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Research into the origins of the serialized feature The Space Explorers, by folks who grew up obsessed with it from TV viewings in the late 50s/early 60s, never ends. Years ago I posted all the information I had about this Fred Ladd pastiche on my Cartoon Research FAQ. Ladd apparently combined live action shots from a German sci-fi film Weltraumschiff 1 Startet (Spaceship 1 Launches) with scenes from some random foreign outer space cartoon. Ladd has never been able to recall the name of the animated film from which the cartoon segments were culled.

You can all sleep easier tonight. The mystery has been solved. All character animation, from the interior of the spaceship to the scenes of the planet exploration, were extracted from a Russian short called Polet na lunu, (Flight to the Moon), produced in 1953. More information (with frame grabs) is posted on a French website located HERE.

Monsters vs. Aliens

Monsters vs Aliens

DreamWorks has released the first latest official image from their March 2009 feature Monsters vs. Aliens. It’s hardly groundbreaking visually, but the simple fact that a DreamWorks publicity still doesn’t make me want to claw my eyes out is cause for celebration. I’ve been hearing the same whispers on this film that I have for nearly every other DreamWorks feature: at first, it was that the artists were getting a chance to really show themselves, and more recently, that it’s being watered down. What’ll end up on the screen is anybody’s guess but this image at least offers a glimmer of hope.

There’s an accompanying article in today’s USA Today about Monsters vs. Aliens, in which Jeffrey Katzenberg says that to avoid confusion between 3-D computer animation and stereoscopic 3-D, he’s going to begin calling stereoscopic animation “the Ultimate 3-D.”

(via Cooked Art)

“Studying Character” Show at Moral Punch

Painting by Eliza Frye

This Saturday, March 15, Moral Punch Art Gallery in West Hollywood will be hosting a show called “Studying Character: Seeing Everyone We Know.” The show comprises character driven-artwork by five young LA artists, all of whom are graduates of or currently studying animation at CalArts: Eliza Frye (whose work illustrates the top of this post), Leo Matsuda, Tim Beard, Christian Robinson, Nic Sweet. Moral Punch is a relatively new gallery on the LA scene that also hosts fun-sounding “themed” life drawing sessions every week. They are located at 7600 Melrose Ave. (upstairs) in West Hollywood, CA. This weekend’s opening is from 7pm-10pm. Lots of artwork from the show and additional details at MoralPunch.com.

John K. on Rocky & Bullwinkle

Rocky and Bullwinkle

John Kricfalusi has posted a fascinating visual analysis of the early episodes of Rocky & Bullwinkle. If there’s one bit of advice that contemporary animation producers could take away from his post, it’s this bit of wisdom:

“If you gotta do limited animation, use great drawings I always say. They don’t cost that much. Just hire real designers and don’t step on them.”

In other words, even if you’re working on a limited budget, there’s no reason a piece of animation should ever look this incompetently designed or atrociously drawn.

‘Please Say Something’ by David OReilly

Please Say Something

Please Say Something is a visually and narratively intriguing series of CG micro-shorts by David O’Reilly, creator of RGBXYZ. O’Reilly tells me that the series of five dramatic pieces is designed to be seen on the Web and is influenced by the “amazing comics” of Jason. The shorts speak for themselves but should you require additional explanation, there’s always this blog entry.

Donald Duck Taverne

Places I’d like to visit (number 1 in a series):
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Tony Medeiros from Sandbox World sent in this photo:

I thought I would share with you a fine establishment called the “Donald Duck Taverne” in Montreal. I personally find this place to be out of place and character in our fair city.

If you find yourself in this quaint Canadian neighborhood, check out Taverne Donald Duck at 3223 rue Beaubien Est. And don’t order the orange juice.

A Tale of Old Whiff

Tale of Old Whiff
(click on the image above to see more of this model sheet)

With so much attention being paid nowadays to film gimmickry like stereoscopic 3D, it may be only a matter of time before Hollywood begins resurrecting other outlandish ideas from the past, like Smell-O-Vision. As far as I’m aware, there’s only one piece of animation ever produced using the Smell-O-Vision process, in which audiences were exposed to aromas that accompanied the visuals onscreen. The cartoon is called A Tale of Old Whiff. I’ve never seen the short, but I can offer the model sheet above which allows us to see what the characters looked like.

A reviewer named F. Gwynplaine MacIntyre has written extensive commentary about the short on IMDB that includes the following synopsis:

Bert Lahr does hilarious work as the voice of Old Whiff, a cartoon bloodhound searching for a museum’s lost dinosaur bone worth $100,000 … but whose search is hampered by the fact that he has lost his sense of smell. While the bloodhound meanders through this cartoon, muttering to himself in Bert Lahr’s distinctive voice, we see various items which Old Whiff encounters … including a hot dog, mustard, soap, soup, chocolate, violets, pine trees, a field of clover and a horse. We also SMELL those objects; at least we smell them if the Smell-O-Vision process is working properly. But poor Old Whiff can’t smell anything.

I found the faded and many-times photocopied model sheet in the collection of Alan Zaslove, who is credited with directing the film. The film was originally being directed by John Hubley in New York but, for reasons that are unclear, he abandoned the project midway. The most likely scenario is that he had a financial or creative conflict with the bankroller of the Smell-O-Vision process, the notorious Hollywood producer Mike Todd.

Zaslove remembers that all of the artwork, including much of the completed animation, was shipped by Hubley to to Format Films in LA, where it was photographed and completed. Story artist Leo Salkin, who was working at Format at the time, is credited with storywork on the film, which perhaps implies that the story of the film wasn’t completely figured out when Hubley stopped working on the film. I’m not sure if the model sheet above was drawn entirely by Hubley, but the designs are certainly his, and a lot of the drawings look like they could be from his hand.