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.
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.]
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.”
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 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.”