Nostalgic for a Looney Tunes fix? Need a new Scooby Doo tumbler or a Tweety and Sylvester bookend? Brew reader Michael Levine and his wife just got back from traveling in Hong Kong. In Macau they stumbled upon an actual - gasp! -Warner Bros. Studio Store! Says Michael:
“I thought the pics of Chinese landmarks with Bugs and Tweety on them would interest you. I guess images of historic areas with Looney Tunes characters on it, are what people want – ?.”
As we cartoon fanboys anxiously await a big Disney Oswald merchandising blitz, it’s a bit disheartening to learn that one initial line of upscale merch is being directed exclusively towards the ladies.
Oswald footwear is currently being sold in the finest Paris fashion boutiques, via Brazilian shoemaker Melissa. These “Ultragirl peep-toe flats”, adorned with a retro Lucky Rabbit design, are apparently all the rage.
Unusual article in today’s L.A. Daily News about a cache of letters dating from 1918, sent by future animation director (Woody Woodpecker voice and Bugs Bunny namesake) Ben Hardaway (above right). The article points out something even more interesting — Ben’s son Bob (above left) is still alive and was a musician with Benny Goodman’s orchestra. Who knew?
I was bummed that I missed the centennial tribute to Tex Avery and Michael Maltese that was presented in LA last March, but I just learned that the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences is repeating the program in NYC next Monday, May 5. Even better, John Canemaker, who wrote Tex Avery: The MGM Years, is hosting the East Coast event. Cartoons on the schedule include A Wild Hare, You Ought To Be in Pictures, Little Rural Riding Hood, For Scent-imental Reasons, What’s Opera, Doc?, and The Legend of Rockabye Point.
General admission is $5, and students pay $3. In other words, there’s no reason to miss out seeing these amazing theatrical shorts on the bigscreen. Tickets may be reserved by calling 1-888-778-7575. Remaining tickets may be purchased in person the night of the event. The Academy Theater is located at 111 East 59th Street. For additional details, see the Academy website.
The 2nd annual Animation Book Look is the place to be. The Creative Talent Network and Van Eaton Galleries are presenting an all day book signing event on May 17th with appearances by a large number of artists and authors representing over seventy-five books. Everything from children’s books to artist’s sketchbooks, from illustration to fine-art, and from How To’s to History Of’s. Join me, along with Martha Sigall, Tom Sito, Rik Maki, Tony White, Willie Ito, Jim Smith, Amanda Visell, Stephen Silver, Maureen Furniss, Jon Gibson, Mike Kunkel and dozens more on Saturday May 17th, 2008 from 1:00pm-6:00pm.
VAN EATON GALLERIES
13613 Ventura Blvd.
Sherman Oaks, CA
The Animation Book Look is free and open to the public. Animation Magazine and MyToons are sponsoring the event. For a List of Authors and Books visit the website. You may pre-order signed and dedicated books online starting May 1st. If you have any questions, please call Van Eaton Galleries at 818-788-2357.
Pictoplasma is moving its conference on contemporary character design from Berlin to NYC this year. The two-day event will take place September 5-6 at the Skirball Center for the Performing Arts at NYU, with confirmed speakers including Friends With You, Akinori Oishi, Aaron Stewart, David O’Reilly, Tim Biskup, Motomichi Nakamura, Fons Schiedon and Gangpol & Mit. Pictoplasma is also accepting entries for the animation screenings that will take place during the festival.
Earlier Pictoplasma character design conferences have received positive reviews, but I’ve always found it difficult to warm up to the idea of Pictoplasma. My biggest reservation about the enterprise is that they try to sell the idea of “character” as new and fresh, and as something that is proliferating as never before. This would be true only if their conception of “character” was created in a bubble and ignored the rich history of character design that came before them, which is sadly what Pictoplasma does as a movement.
Pictoplasma says, “Our visual culture is being revolutionized by a new breed of characters, abstract and reduced to minimal distinguishing graphic features.” I say, look at the work of Fifties character designers like Tom Oreb, T. Hee, John Hubley, Ernie Pintoff, Bobe Cannon and Ed Benedict who also created “a new breed of characters, abstract and reduced to minimal distinguishing graphic features.” They say, “In the process of a truly explosive movement, [characters] invade digital media, animation, advertising, art, fashion and street art.” I say, look at Walt Disney’s iconic use of Mickey Mouse beginning in the late-1920s, in which Mickey was a character who transcended individual media and boasted an all-encompassing presence in film, comics, books, toys, advertising and fashion.
Those with even the slightest grasp on history will have trouble looking at what Pictoplasma purports to be revolutionary and groundbreaking–like the characters in the lineup heading this post–and finding anything novel about the creations. This type of character design was already done decades ago, and I might add, with far more skill and invention. An awareness and respect for the artists who pioneered the “character design movement” would encourage today’s artists to build upon their predecessors’ character design work and push forward into uncharted territory instead of merely churning out pale imitations of earlier works.
An article in today’s NY Times on the shocking proliferation of racist cartoons on You Tube has had an (unintended?) effect in further spreading the awareness of said cartoons. Gawker has just posted a link to it, adding to it an (awful quality) embed of Clampett’s Coal Black and de Sebben Dwarfs.
The Times article is somewhat sympathetic to the idea that these cartoons should be released legally. In the last paragraph, Michael Barrier, is quoted saying the cartoons should be “presented in an informed way for an intelligent, adult audience.” Barrier also said the Censored 11’s appearance on YouTube “shows that there is a demand, so the logical step would be to release them in a way that is profitable for you as a copyright holder.”
The cartoon itself is interesting as it reflects and lampoons the strikes and labor strife common in the US during the post World War I period. The plot has Mutt and Jeff going on strike when they are refused a pay raise and their attempts to make their own cartoons. “Chastened by the experience, they return wiser workers.” It also features a rare on screen appearance of Mutt & Jeff creator/cartoonist Bud Fisher. Exhibition prints will be distributed to the U.S. archives for screenings later this year.
UPDATE: The cartoon has been posted online, click here.
A while back I mentioned briefly on this site that I had been offered an opportunity to write a book for Pixar, and today I thought I’d offer a few more details about it. The coffeetable book I’m working on, which will be out later this year, is directly tied in to the Pixar Short Films Collection dvd, and is an in-depth history of the studio’s early shorts. I was naturally thrilled when they asked me to come on board because, well, come on it’s Pixar, but also because I know the importance of shorts to the company’s history and the value that they place on creating animated shorts even now that they’re a successful feature studio. Admittedly, in the beginning, I was slightly concerned about whether there was enough to say about the shorts to fill an entire book, but it took only a couple weeks of working on the book before I was begging my editor to double the initial page count. We’re still in production on the book right now, and one thing I can say about it is that there’s a lot more text and meat in this than your average art of book. It’s exciting to see it come together and I can’t wait to see how it turns out.
Because the book’s content stretches back to André & Wally B. which was done before Pixar even officially existed, I had to familiarize myself with the ins and outs of the studio’s entire history. It’s truly a fascinating story. Today we look at Pixar as the untouchable 800-pound gorilla of computer animation so it’s easy to forget that not so long ago, they were a struggling hardware company and their animation division was comprised of just a handful of folks working in a company of over one hundred people. There was hardly a guarantee that their animation division would become what it is today, and it only happened because of the genius and vision of individuals like Ed Catmull, John Lasseter, Alvy Ray Smith, and a slew of computer whizzes like Bill Reeves, Loren Carpenter, Eben Ostby and Rob Cook.
When I began researching the book, I wanted to find a reliable source that would help me understand the early roots of Pixar and its earlier incarnation as the Computer Graphics Division of Lucasfilm. During an interview with Pixar co-founder Alvy Ray Smith, he recommended I take a look at the recent book Droidmaker: George Lucas and the Digital Revolution. I took him up on that advice and am glad I did. This book is absolutely essential reading for anybody who wants to understand the roots of Pixar and its founders Ed Catmull and Alvy Ray Smith. The book is not entirely about computer animation, because Lucas’ Computer Division also dealt with editing, game and sound programs, but the parts about Pixar’s pre-history make it well worth the money and the solid technical details and hardcore research are enough to satisfy the geekiest of the computer geeks. George Lucas has played a crucial role in contemporary filmmaking by introducing digital technology into all aspects of his productions, and this book is a wonderful document of how it happened…and as a result, how Pixar came out of it.
Speaking of essential, below is YouTube video with the author of the above book, Michael Rubin, interviewing Ed Catmull, Alvy Ray Smith, Andrew Stanton and Brad Bird on stage. It’s 1 hour and 40 minutes, and it’s a fun and inspiring chat.
Just for the heck of it, let me share a few other random Pixar bits that I discovered online while researching the book:
Here’s a link to the personal website of Pixar co-founder Alvy Ray Smith. He has an interesting page with rare Pixar documents and a page about the first “Pixar” short André & Wally B. with an amazingly in-depth PDF file about the making of that short.
Here’s a new link posted yesterday: Didier Ghez did a short interview with David Price, author of the just-about-to-be-released The Pixar Touch: The Making of a Company. I don’t know how the book will turn out, but it sounds like Price has done his homework and I can’t wait to read it.
Finally, one of the fascinating aspects of Pixar that nobody talks about is their TV commercial work. Did you know Pixar produced 71 TV commercials in the early- and mid-’90s? A complete list can be found by following this timeline on their site. They’re surprisingly difficult to locate online, but there’s a handful on Youtube, including the very first one the studio produced, for Tropicana, directed and animated by John Lasseter:
The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences new lobby exhibition, Ink & Paint, opens to the public on Friday May 16th. It highlights the work of animation artists who have devoted decades to creating the characters, storyboards, color keys, backgrounds, layouts, and cels needed to assemble the classic, 2-D Hollywood animated cartoons. According to the press release:
Encompassing all stages of the filmmaking process, this exhibition showcases artwork from the 1940s through the 1990s and features such animated classics as Alice In Wonderland, Sleeping Beauty, 101 Dalmatians, Gay Purr-ee, The Secret of NIMH, Who Framed Roger Rabbit, The Lion King and The Iron Giant as well as from Oscar-winning shorts starring such timeless characters as Mr. Magoo, Winnie the Pooh and the Pink Panther, as well as Warner Bros. Looney Tunes cartoons and the Academy Award-winning shorts of UPA.
Artists whose work is represented include Ãlvaro Arce (The Prince and the Pauper), Mary Blair (Cinderella), Paul Carlson (Gay Purr-ee), Ron Dias (The Secret of NIMH), Ann Guenther (Winnie the Pooh and Tigger, Too), Michael Humphries (The Hunchback of Notre Dame), Homer Jonas (Sleeping Beauty), Art Leonardi (Pink Panther), Abe Levitow (1001 Arabian Nights), and Gloria Wood (Gay Purr-ee).
The Academy’s Grand Lobby Gallery is open Tuesday through Friday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. and weekends from noon to 6 p.m. Admission is free. Please note the Academy will be closed May 24-26 and July 4-6 in observance of Memorial Day and Independence Day.
I can’t stand Popeyes Chicken, but if the restaurants looked like this one in Puerto Rico I might give them another try.
This one, recommended by one of our readers, is on Highway 3 between San Juan and Luquillo, hasn’t gone all “New Orleans”, but continues to embrace its animated namesake. I’ve been told Popeyes is very popular on the island, and all of them have some sort of reference to the character. Click on each photo for a larger image.
The 2008 Tribeca Film Festival kicks off this week and there are three animated features in competition. Each of them plays multiple times over the next week. Show times and ticket info can be found on clicking on the title of each feature. First up is the world premiere of Idiots and Angels, the latest from Bill Plympton. Fellow NY indie Nina Paley offers the American premiere of her feature Sita Sings the Blues. The film got a special jury mention at its world premiere last February in the Berlin International Film Festival. And finally, there’s a feature I’ve never heard of: a celebrity voice-heavy, indie CG feature titled Terra directed by Aristomenis Tsirbas. Check this last one out at your own risk.
Over the past couple years, I’ve mentioned the French animated feature Peur(s) du Noir, which is a collection of black-and-white horror tales. I finally saw the film a few weeks ago, and though I admired the effort to do something different, the overall experience was underwhelming. The themes and ideas made an attempt to be “adult,” but the quality of storytelling was lackluster and didn’t engage an adult’s mind. Part of the problem was that the filmmakers were primarily comic artists whose lack of animation training was evident, and who didn’t seem to grasp the inherent possibilities within animated filmmaking.
The notable exception was the segment directed by illustrator Richard McGuire whose piece was not only the most minimalist, but also the most intense and frightening. Graphic design historian Steven Heller recently interviewed Richard McGuire about his work on the film and it’s a good read.
There’s no word yet of a US release date for the film but here are a few related links: the official film website, a clip from McGuire’s segment, and a blog with a thoughtful review of the film by Ed Howard.