Wall-E Builders

Talk about dedicated cartoon buffs. There’s a group of Pixar fanatics who are spending months building their own life-size replicas of Wall-E…and the film doesn’t even come out until next month. The results are impressive. Here’s a few of the vides showing different Wall-Es in various stages of progress.

It also looks like an official “real” version of Wall-E exists:

Chomet’s Illusionist footage to debut at Cannes

The Illusionist
(click for full-size image)

The Hollywood Reporter notes that the first footage from Sylvain Chomet’s The Illusionist will debut this month at Cannes. The hand-drawn and CG feature, scheduled for release in the UK and France in 2009, is budgeted at $22 million, quite a bit heftier than Chomet’s earlier Triplets of Belleville which had a modest budget of $8 million. The story of the film, based on an unproduced script by French comic legend Jacques Tati, is described by the Reporter as the tale “of a dying breed of stage entertainer whose thunder is being stolen by emerging rock stars. Forced to accept increasingly obscure assignments in fringe theaters, garden parties and bars, he meets a young fan who changes his life forever.”

Speaking of Chomet, here’s an oldie but goodie: an article he wrote for the NY Times in 2004 about his time working at Disney, as well as the general lack of personal vision in contemporary animated features. The experience he describes of working at Disney Toronto is sadly one that is repeated far too frequently throughout the industry. Chomet writes:

“Once, my team in Canada was sent to Los Angeles to meet the people in charge of our project there. By this time we were on the sixth rewrite of the script, and we had a daylong brainstorming session in which we were locked in a big room with executives and so-called creatives. One executive suggested a rewrite incorporating an idea she had in the car that morning. Heads nodded, notes were scribbled and script No. 7 was born. It was like watching a runaway steam train being driven by a flock of headless chickens.”

Inside UPA Update

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It’s been a while since I’ve posted an update on my latest book Inside UPA but there’s a couple important reasons to write about it now. Firstly, of the fifty signed editions of the book, there are only six copies left. In other words, if you want a copy signed by the legendary likes of Millard Kaufman, Fred Crippen, Willis Pyle, Bob Dranko, Bob McIntosh, Erv Kaplan, Gene Deitch, Sam Clayberger, Dolores Cannata, Howard Beckerman, Joe Siracusa, David Weidman, Joe Messerli, Edna Jacobs, and Alan Zaslove, then now would be a good time to pick one up.

The other reason for mentioning the book is that Tee Bosustow, son of UPA co-founder Stephen Bosustow, will have the books available for sale this Saturday, May 17, at the Animation BookLook in LA. Only 1000 copies of this book were printed and I’d love to see them go into the hands of people who appreciate the accomplishments and legacy of the studio. Every sale also helps raise funds to help Tee continue his UPA research and film documentary efforts. If you want to enjoy a one-of-a-kind photographic tribute to animation’s greatest design-oriented studio, pick up a copy of Inside UPA from Tee this weekend or order one from the UPA website.

The Disney Girls

Girls at Disney

I’m fascinated by the continually emerging stories of women who worked in creative positions at Disney during its Golden Age. Women didn’t have it easy at the studio, but through sheer determination and dedication, a surprisingly large number of them managed to find their way into artistic positions, including Retta Scott, Bee Selck and Retta Davidson.

Didier Ghez just posted a May 1941 Glamour article that has photos of other creative women at the studio such as Ethel Kulsar, Mildred Rossi, Gyo Fujikawa and Sylvia Moberly-Holland.

Semi-related is this reprint of a Parents’ Magazine article from January 1949 in which Walt Disney describes everything that he’s learned about girls and women. The article is prefaced with new comments from Walt’s daughter Diane Disney Miller.

A book about the achievements (and struggles) of women artists at Disney would have been amazing, but sadly we’ve missed the boat on that one. Nearly everybody who should have been interviewed for such a book is now deceased. Through the Internet, however, we can begin to put together pieces of the puzzle and gain a better understanding of their role in creating the classic Disney films.

Remembering Joe Grant

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Today is Joe Grant’s 100th birthday (or the 100th anniversary of his birth). Howard Green sent us these pix with a note, “He passed away in 2005, just one week shy of his 97th but his spirit lives on in the many folks he mentored and influenced. Attached is a nice pic of him at the DVD reissue event for Dumbo (below), and a studio portrait from 1938 (above).”

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Bolt Character Designs

Bolt

Sometimes a picture is worth a thousand words, but unfortunately, none of those words are appropriate for printing on this blog. Even when I dismiss all prior knowledge of what Chris Sanders’ original vision for this film was, these designs for Disney’s next feature, Bolt, look downright embarrassing. They veer disturbingly close to this, but we’re not talking about some cheap startup animation studio here. This is Disney dammit…the friggin standard-bearer of this art form for much of the past hundred years. What could possibly be the defense for such witless homely unimaginative designs? Somebody at Disney please fill me in…publicly or privately. Because I’m seriously having difficulty believing that some of the most highly skilled animation artists in the world could come up with something that looks only slightly better than your average student film.

(image via Character Design blog)

Fox Launches Inkubator Shorts Program

This Variety article explains how 20th Century Fox TV and Fox Broadcasting Co. are launching Fox Inkubator, a new inititative designed to find and develop animated projects. The program will give animators the opportunity to make two-to-three minute shorts, and the successful ones will later be developed into pilots and series. Inkubator, headed by Jennifer Howell, a former supervising producer on South Park, could eventually turn out up to 25 shorts a year. Most notable, unlike development programs at other networks, the Inkubator shorts will be distributed online and available to the public.

In addition to Inkubator, 20th Century Fox has established an in-house animation department for the first time in its history. It is also headed by Howell. The Variety article makes it sound as if Fox is dedicating its future to animation in a big way. Various Fox execs are quoted in the piece saying that animated series “have done so much for us financially and building the brand of this studio. We felt we needed to shine a bigger and brighter light on the future of animation production at this studio,” and “Animation is the perfect product for the world we live in, where DVD sales are so critical, appealing to young men is so critical, and there’s growing digital distribution of shortform content.”

Read between the lines though and things look less rosy. For example, take this quote from one of the suits about the production costs of the Inkubator shorts: “It will be cost effective given the way technology has developed…This isn’t about paying big premiums or big fees to writers. It’s intended to be done on a less-expensive scale.” In other words, they’re likely planning to hire a bunch of young artists and have them produce a crapload of cheapo Flash cartoons with the hope that audiences latch onto one of them. That’s too bad. I’ve long felt that development programs today are shortsighted by focusing on the creation of one-hit wonders and trendy properties, instead of pouring their resources into the long-term development and nurturing of talented artists, who in turn could develop many successful properties. Perhaps if any good comes out of the Inkubator, Fox will finally realize that there are plenty of talented animation creators out there whose names don’t begin with “Seth” and end with “MacFarlane.” I’m not holding my breath though.

Portishead Videos by Nick Uff

Nick Uff’s new videos for Portishead songs “The Rip” and “We Carry On” are two of my favorite pieces of animation so far this year. This article from the Bournemouth Echo says that the 44-year-old Uff makes his living as a gardener, which helps to explain why I’ve never heard of him or seen his beautiful hand-drawn animation before. The lo-fi look is authentic; Uff shoots all his work on 16mm. He says about his work, “I don’t storyboard my ideas, but let the films go where they take themselves. There’s all sorts of ideas in there – things that have happened, a bit of social comment – like a stream of consciousness you could say. Each frame has to be different, animated films cannot stand still. That means they can be quite difficult on the eye, especially in the style I use, it’s very busy, a bit scratchy.”

“The Rip”

“We Carry On”

Analyzing the Greatest Game of Baseball Ever

Baseball Bugs

“Bugs Bunny, Greatest Banned Player Ever”, a ridiculously long and deadpan examination of Friz Freleng’s Baseball Bugs (1946), is a treat for any baseball fan like myself. The piece was recently selected for inclusion in the 2007 Best American Sportswriting annual. To follow along with the analysis, I’ve posted Freleng’s short below. (Thanks, Mark Newgarden)

Southwest Airlines watches Kids TV

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The illustration above appears in the latest issue of Southwest Airlines inflight Spirit Magazine. This month the magazine has a fun article written by a parent who spent a marathon day watching all the kids cartoon channels. It’s an interesting snapshot of what’s right – and mostly wrong – with kids TV these days. Read the whole article here.

The article also features several great illustrations (below and above) by Pasadena based cartoonist Mark Matcho.
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VOICST Music Video by Fons Schiedon

Fons Schiedon Music Video

Dutch director and animator Fons Schiedon, previously featured on Cartoon Brew and quickly becoming a favorite director of mine, just finished a lovely looking music video for Amsterdam-based band VOICST. Schiedon tells me, “The video was completed in just about five weeks from animatic to final (a schedule that leans towards insanity I must admit), working with basically the same compact team that previously worked with me on the MTV ASIA Mobbed series (2006). Technically, we’re looking at cel-style Flash-animation and Adobe Illustrator/Photoshop/Maya backgrounds in an AfterEffects composite.” The character animation was created by Brazilian studio Birdo. Watch the video and read a ‘making-of’ on Fons’ site.

The Lure of Live-Action

Does the fact that cartoon channels like Cartoon Network and Teletoon are no longer interested in airing animation have any relation to the fact that Ice Age director Chris Wedge and Ratatouille director Brad Bird are now directing live-action features. Animation director Mark Mayerson seems to thinks so and his commentary is a thought-provoking read. Here’s what Mayerson has to say about directors like Wedge and Bird who are trying out live-action:

“As much as we want to believe that animation is a medium and not a genre, maybe everybody outgrows it after a while. Which isn’t to say that animation isn’t capable of more than it’s currently doing, but looking at what’s out there now, it’s not hard to sympathize with directors who want to try something new.”

Unpaid Stars of the Movies

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This 1930 article from Popular Mechanics magazine (below) tries to explain the process of recording sound for animated cartoons in pseudo-scientific terms. There are all kinds of interesting and oddball facts bandied about, such as cartoons costing $20,000 per reel, and the artists themselves being able to draw the dialogue soundtrack (Huh??). The images are cool, and one seems to demonstrate an early method of matte photography. In a particularly dated reference the article’s author, in explaining that cartoons are popular all around the world, says, “They appeal alike to the Chinese Coolie and the Alaskan Indian”!

Click on thumbnail pages below for larger, readable images.
(Thanks, Leslie Cabarga)
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Inspired by Cartoon Brew

One of the most rewarding parts of running Cartoon Brew is hearing from artists who are inspired by the items that we post here. Here are letters from two regular readers who have recently completed short animated pieces. The first letter is from Jerry Pyle:

“my friend, dion labriola and i just finished a music video for singer/songwriter daniel ahearn. we employed a few animation techniques that i thought you might be interested in seeing. in addition to the flash animation you see at the beginning, middle and end of the video, we used cut out animation for much of the song and for the chorus, we used an “eight-frame-fade” technique where we printed out every eighth frame, stapled them all together and nailed them to a pole outside, ripping off each frame and rephotographing it. the look suprised us.

“i’m a big fan of cartoon brew. you’ve turned me on to a lot of great animation both new and old and its a daily destination for me on the web. i’m sending along this link so you can put the video on the brew if you like. and also to show you what you in some way have inspired. thanks.”

The next letter is from John Brown (aka Jaye Bhee):

I’m an aspiring animator, busting my hump to put myself through animation courses (animation mentor, more specifically), and I’m so grateful to have cartoon brew as an enormous inspirational “bottomless well” of inspiration and history (I am obsessed with classic black and white cartoons)…

I’ve even done a sort of faux-homage (fauxmage?) to classic animation myself. It’s my first real try at a do-it-yourself animation (a la Bill Plympton), but I find it extremely rewarding (but exhausting, haha).

Anywho, if you have a free 2 minutes, feel free to check it out. If not, just know that what you’re doing is of incredible importance to beginners like me, and you guys provide constant inspiration. Thanks a quadrillion!


Christian Aid Week Spot

Christian Aid Week

Richard Mitchelson writes in to tell me about a new ad that he animated in Flash for Christian Aid Week. Though created before any of the recent natural disasters, it’s unfortunately very timely at the moment because of the tragedies in Myanmar and China. The spot was directed by 2AM’s PAM (Paul, Anthony, Malcolm), designed by graphic collective Eboy, and composited in Flame by Jason Watts of Finish. I really like this spot; not only is it well animated, but in a commercial world of rapid-fire cutting and dizzying camera angles, it’s refreshing to see a static isometric-shot for an entire 30-second commercial.

“Guernica” in CG

Guernica

Lena Grieseke created this 3D “exploration” of Picasso’s famed painting “Guernica.” In the description of the project, Grieseke writes that recreating the work in 3D “provides the unusual opportunity to view the painting from a unique perspective, revealing aspects that would normally stay hidden from the casual viewer.” While experimentation like this is worth applauding, I’d also argue that the 3D adds little to the original. The power of the painting derives largely from Picasso’s nightmarish Cubist-inflected composition, and attempting to ‘deconstruct’ the objects in realistic space diminishes the graphic impact of the original work. Picasso’s work is certainly not off-limits to animated interpretation, but I think such attempts are better served when there is original thought behind the artwork, as in Juan Pablo Etcheverry’s Minotauromaquia, instead of exercises in recreating his artwork literally.

Bakshi in NY Mag

A short but fun interview with Ralph Bakshi appeared in last week’s New York magazine. I particularly enjoyed this exchange between the interviewer and Bakshi:

You mentored Ren and Stimpy’s John Kricfalusi. But we can never forgive you for giving Thomas Kinkade his big break.
That son of a bitch! Kinkade was the coolest. If Kinkade wasn’t a painter, he’d be one of those cult leaders. Kinkade came into my office with James Gurney when I was looking for background artists [for Fire and Ice]. He’s a good painter, and he did a spiel. He made all these deals. How he went out and did what he did is beyond my understanding now. He’s very, very talented, and he’s very, very much of a hustler. Those two things are in conflict. Is he talented? Oh yeah. Will he paint anything to make money? Oh yeah. Does he have any sort of moralistic view? No. He doesn’t care about anything. He’s as cheesy as they come.

Jazz in Early Theatrical Animation

Jazz in Animation
(click for full-sized chart)

Designer Allister Roberts recently created a chart documenting the use of jazz in animated shorts between 1929 and 1945. He has generously allowed me to share his work with Brew readers. In addition to being informative, it’s a lovely piece of information graphics. Roberts tells me, “By all means this is not a complete list, as I purposely glazed over some lesser works, but barring time and money I would love the opportunity to completely flesh this out to cover entire eras.” Personally, I’d love to see him extend it out to cover the late-’40s and 1950s, when musicians like Oscar Peterson, Shorty Rogers and Ella Fitzgerald worked with animators like Norman McLaren, Bill Hurtz, Ernie Pintoff and John Hubley.

The above graphic will be reprinted in a forthcoming book by Robert Del Tredici, and a ten-foot printout of it is currently on display at the Mel Oppenheimer Centre in Montreal.

Animated American

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Former Disney 2D animators James Baker (Mulan, Tarzan, etc) and Joe Haidar (Beauty and the Beast, Pocahontas) have directed a new combination live action/animation independent short film, Animated American. I don’t know much about it, but I was handed a postcard announcing a screening of it at the Rialto Theatre in South Pasadena on Thursday night. Click on image above to see the full poster for the film. Voice actors Jason Marsden (Batman) and Bill Farmer (Goofy) star. It sounds intriguing. Hopefully James and Joe will write in and give us more information.

Popeye meets Aladdin

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One of the highlights of the forthcoming Popeye Vol. 2 DVD is the remastered print of the 1939 two-reel special, Aladdin And His Wonderful Lamp. The image above is from the very rare set of still photos released by Paramount for promotional purposes. A set of three are currently being auctioned off on ebay. These stills are actually black and white images of production cels and backgrounds, repositioned, “colorized” with inks using primary colors. Click on image at left to see the same set up, in full color, from the actual restored film.
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Back in February I posted the rare opening title, previously lost, to this Technicolor Popeye cartoon. That image was snapped with my funky cel phone off a TV screen. Below are the actual frames (of the three cards that make up the titles) for your calligraphic pleasure. The DVD set goes on sale June 17th.

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Clampett originals at the Academy

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Whoa! I got quite a shock as I entered the lobby of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences in Beverly Hills tonight. I attended this evening’s incredible Marc Davis Lecture, but the Academy had a surprise for us attendees – the Ink and Paint exhibit, scheduled to open next Friday (with a reception next Thursday night), was up on the walls today!

It’s an amazing exhibit – a must-see if you live/work or are visiting L.A. in the next four months. Of particular interest: the lost Horton Hatches The Egg (1942) original title cel set up (image removed by request). There are dozens of pieces from Disney, UPA, Warner Bros. and even DePatie Freleng. But my favorite material was on loan from the fabled Bob Clampett archive. Here’s a partial list of the Clampett goodies on display:

1. HORTON HATCHES THE EGG (1942) ­ Cel Set-up and model sheet
2. Clampett’s Employee Card 1940
3. WHAT’S COOKIN’, DOC? (1944) story sketch – Bugs
4. WHAT’S COOKIN’, DOC? (1944) cel set-up of Bugs at table in Coconut Grove
5. THE GREAT PIGGY BANK ROBBERY (1946) ­ Two (2) pages of story meeting notes!
6. ROVER’S RIVAL (1937) ­ a page of Mel Blanc’s recording script!
7. BIRDY AND THE BEAST (1944) Storyboard panels
8. BOOK REVUE (1946) an original Daffy Duck model sheet

The exhibit opens to the public next Friday, May 16th. Do not miss this! And it’s FREE!