Cartoon Culture: A WB Store in China

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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 – ?.”

Lucky Rabbit Feet

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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.

Can sneakers be far behind?

(Thanks, David Gerstein)

Bugs Hardaway WWI letters found

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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?

(Thanks, Mark Kausler)

NEXT MONDAY IN NYC: Avery and Maltese Tribute

Looney Tribute

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.

Animation Book Look

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Move over, UCLA Festival of Books and BookExpo America.

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 NYC in September

Pictoplasma

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.

NY Times on The Censored 11

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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.”

Mutt and Jeff being preserved

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Among a cache of recently discovered American silent films from 1912-1927 was one cartoon, Mutt and Jeff in On Strike (1920). It, along with seven others, will be restored via a new international cooperative film preservation program between the major U.S. archives and Australia.

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.

Fresh Hare

Skinned Bugs

Is this the fate of Bugs Bunny?

Suicide Food is a blog that tracks food marketing that depicts animals (usually cartoon animals) who cheerfully wish to be consumed, cataloging all the real life Cluckin’ Chicken’s out there.

They’ve just done a post on a Spanish fresh rabbit meat market using a grotesque amateur sign picturing Bugs Bunny’s head on a skinned rabbit carcass as a come on. Yeeeeecccchhh!

(Thanks, Doran Gaston)

The Art of Pixar’s Short Films

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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.

Pixar has a sub-site where they make available all the technical papers that their technologists have presented at SIGGRAPH. It’s pretty heavy on the tech, so beware, but there’s also some QuickTime tests that accompany a few of the papers, like this one about “Volumetric Methods for Simulation and Rendering of Hair.”

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:

Academy Exhibit of Classic Animation

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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 Álvaro 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.

Popeyes in Puerto Rico

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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.

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(Thanks, George)

Plympton, Paley and CGI at Tribeca

Idiots and Angels

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.

Peur(s) du Noir & Richard McGuire

Fears of the Dark

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.

Coloring Books

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Aaron Higgins of Toonarific has started a new website devoted to cataloging classic coloring books. As an art resource, it’s invaluable as the site is showcasing and preserving coloring book art since the 1930s. Higgins’ RetroReprints site is a guide to what books have been published over the years, and he is slowly adding images under the books themselves for users to download and color. He is also reformatting the images and creating complete ebooks, also available to download.

And in case you were wondering where you could buy vintage coloring books of your favorite characters, Aaron also has over 1000 coloring and activity books for sale here on ebay.

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New Book: Working for Disney

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On his blog, Didier Ghez points out an interesting-sounding book that was self-published a few days ago: Working for Disney: 1936-1937, The Ingeborg Willy Scrapbook. This is the description of it:

Reproduction of a 1936 scrapbook made during Ingeborg Willy’s first year working as an inker for the Walt Disney Studios. The scrapbook contains numerous photos of other Disney employees, internal memos, production work sheets, and a large number of original pencil sketches from the first feature-length animated film, Snow White, and other early Disney cartoons.

I’m going to wait to hear more before recommending it though. As is often the case with self-published books like this, the quality of image reproduction and presentation could leave a lot to be desired. The amateurish cover design certainly doesn’t do much to inspire confidence. But it could potentially be a very cool book.

The Pixar Story on TV tonight!

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The television broadcast premiere of Leslie Iwerks documentary, The Pixar Story, will be on the STARZ cable channel tonight at 10pm EST/PST. It will be preceded by the feature presentations of Cars (6pm ET/PT) and Ratatouille (8pm ET/PT). Also visit starz.com for additional show times and two new Leslie Iwerks mini-docs, Emeryville Studio and the Love Lounge and Pixar University.

Drawing On the Future

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The 12th Marc Davis Celebration of Animation Drawing on the Future: Mentorship In Animation will feature (above L to R) Pete Docter (Monsters Inc), Eric Goldberg (Pocahontas), James Baxter (Enchanted) and Andreas Deja (Aladdin), in a panel moderated by animation critic Charles Solomon. The panelists will spotlight the mentors who fostered their professional development, as well as provide insights into their individual approaches to their art. The lecture will include clips from the animation that inspired each of the panelists, and from their own work reflecting that inspiration.

The Marc Davis Celebration of Animation will be held on Friday May 9th, 7:30pm, at the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences in Beverly Hills, CA (Samuel Goldwyn Theater, 8949 Wilshire Blvd.). Tickets are $5.00 (Students $3) and available online at Oscars.org.

Bakshi — In the Gallery and On Radio

Bakshi Painting

Folks in Manhattan may want to check out the Animazing Gallery in Soho (461 Broome St.) which has a show of new paintings by Ralph Bakshi. The work will only be on display through this weekend. I saw it a few nights ago and was impressed with Bakshi’s aggressive and loose painting style. His paintings tend to be ‘loud’, much like the man himself, but there’s also a great deal of sophistication in the draftsmanship and composition, and particularly, I felt, in his use of color. I certainly wouldn’t mind having a few of them hanging on my walls. For those who can’t make it, lo-rez versions of the paintings have been posted online.

Also, last week, Bakshi was interviewed on “The Leonard Lopate Show” on WNYC. It’s a delightful 17-minute chat with plenty of intelligent questions from the interviewer. Bakshi discusses his early Terrytoons career and also talks about the importance of honest expression in music and the arts in general. You can listen to a streaming version or download an MP3 on the WNYC website.

(Thanks, Chris Siemasko, for the WNYC link)

Trailers From Hell: Yellow Submarine

One of my favorite non-animation websites is Trailers From Hell. This site archives various genre (mainly sci-fi/fantasy/horror) film trailers with commentary by noted directors (including Joe Dante, John Landis, Allan Arkush, etc.). I’ve been waiting for them to get around to doing an animation trailer and they finally have. Here’s documentary filmmaker (and childhood friend of Disney director, Kirk Wise) George Hickenlooper discussing his love of Yellow Submarine:

Rare Terrytoon photos

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That’s Gene Deitch (left) examining cels of Bert and Harry Piels (of the famed Piels Beer commercials) with director Connie Rasinski in 1957.

J.J. Sedelmaier recently unearthed several rare photographs depicting behind the scenes life at Terrytoons during the Deitch era (1955-57). They have been added to Deitch’s online book, How To Succeed in Animation. You can see these pictures in Chapter 15A (“Terrytoonery”) on Page 8 (shots of Vinnie Bell, Bob Kuwahara, and Connie Rasinski), page 10 (photo of background artist Bill Focht) and on page 11 (rare pictures of Jules Feiffer, Eli Bauer, Frank Schudde, a recording session of Tom Terrific with Lionel Wilson and Tommy Morrison, and the only known photo of “the Dark Lord”, Bill Weiss!).

An Open Letter to Paramount, MGM and Lionsgate

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It was announced today that Viacom and Paramount have teamed with MGM and Lionsgate to create a new cable channel to compete with HBO and Showtime (which is owned by CBS). The channel will be mainly showing new movies, and it is not yet clear whether this will be a basic cable or a premium pay channel, but the initial press release says “the new venture will have access to motion picture titles spanning the vast libraries of the five studios”. And they plan to push its video-on-demand capabilities.

I’ve posted open letters like this before (see here and here). It doesn’t do much good, but it makes me a whole lot feel better.

Dear Viacom/Paramount/M.G.M./Lionsgate,

The announcement of your new cable TV venture has me very excited. I especially like that you are going to use the “vast libraries” of the partner companies to create this new venue for programming. My only concern is that you might overlook the thousands of classic animation titles in your massive holdings.

Viacom/Paramount has rights to the Terrytoons library, hundreds of cartoons which include such rarely seen cartoon characters like Mighty Mouse, Heckle & Jeckle, Deputy Dawg and many others. Paramount also owns classic cartoon shorts of the 1960s. Lionsgate has licensed from you (and does nothing with) the pre-1950 Paramount cartoons which include Little Lulu, George Pal’s Academy Award winning Puppetoons, and the library of Betty Boop cartoons, amongst much else. Together, you can make these classics available for the first time in decades.

Additionally, MGM brings the DePatie-Freleng cartoons to the table. This library includes Oscar winning Pink Panther shorts, and numerous other cartoons featuring The Ant And the Aardvark, The Inspector and the Tijuana Toads.

And guess what? Your home video divisions have only released a fraction of the material you own. Making them available now on cable would provide you with unique, exclusive, entertaining fillers that people of all ages will enjoy. I know you aren’t starting a children’s channel, nor competing with Cartoon Network, but these classic animated shorts are a lot of fun, and deserve to be seen.

So unearth your old cartoons. Make them available as interstitials between programming or for video-on-demand purchase. Believe it or not, people really want to see them.

Best of luck,
Jerry Beck
CartoonBrew.com