Who is Rocket Johnson? (previously mentioned on the Brew) is the new graphic novel anthology being self-published by Disney animation artists and debuting at Comic-Con in a few weeks. A special copy of the book is currently being auctioned on eBay, and all proceeds from the sale will be donated to the National Multiple Sclerosis Society to help fund research in finding a cure for the disease. The copy on eBay is signed by all of the Disney artists in the book and also comes with a set of pins made especially for Comic-Con. The auction ends on July 10. More details about the book are at WhoIsRocketJohnson.com.
Below are a few sample pages displaying some of the lovely artwork that can be found in the book. Click on each for a larger version.
Anime website Digital Manga once again sponsors Pop Japan Travel’sMind Over Manga Tour from Aug. 21st through August 27th. This year the tour will include a meeting with anime art director Nizo Yamamoto and a visit to Nippon Animation, the studio that helped give Hayao Miyazaki and Isao Takahata their start. Yamamoto will also introduce the group to the art staff he directed on this year’s acclaimed anime The Girl Who Leapt Through Time.
Yamamoto has served as art director on many acclaimed anime, including Princess Mononoke (above) and Grave of the Fireflies. His background art has also appeared in Spirited Away, Perfect Blue, Lupin III: The Castle of Cagliostro and more.
Mind Over Manga also includes a backstage visit to the Comitia indie manga event, plus Hayao Miyazaki’s Ghibli Museum, and a tour of Tokyo, plus a few excursions outside the city. Optional tours of Hiroshima, Kyoto and Osaka are also available.
The Mind Over Manga tour, including round-trip airfare from LAX to Tokyo, full hotel accommodations, transport in Japan, entry fees, bilingual guides and customized guidebook, is $2,198 plus a $235 fuel surcharge. The Kyoto and Osaka option is $898, while Hiroshima is $100. Considering the price of gas these days, this seems like a bargain. More information on the Pop Japan Travel website.
The Movie Marketing Madness blog offers interesting in-depth analyses of the marketing campaigns supporting the recent animated features Wallâ€¢E and Kung Fu Panda. The blog concludes that both movies had successful ad campaigns.
Then again, they had better be successful for the amount of coin they’re spending to market these pictures. This recent article in Variety discusses the exorbitant costs of promoting animated features nowadays, and says that these two animated features have the costliest marketing campaigns of any two Hollywood films this year, with Disney’s $54 million Wallâ€¢E campaign leading the way.
There is little doubt in my mind that videogames are one of the major emerging art forms of the late-20th century and beyond, but how do games stack up against other more established narrative forms like books and movies. Pulitzer Prize-winning author and videogame fan Junot DÃaz wrote a piece in last weekend’s Wall Street Journal that examined the new Grand Theft Auto IV and the comparisons it has drawn to works like The Godfather and The Sopranos. Diaz argues that certain elements are inherent in all great pieces of narrative art and that those elements are missing from GTA IV:
GTA IV sucks you the hell in but its narrative doesn’t move me in any way or shake me up or even piss me off. I get madder when I crash my car in the game than when Niko makes a stupid decision in the cut-scenes (the movie-like interludes that players don’t control). GTA IV for all its awesomeness doesn’t have the sordid bipolar humanity of “The Sopranos,” and it certainly lacks the epic flawed protagonists that define “The Godfather” and its bloodier lesser brother “Scarface.” Successful art tears away the veil and allows you to see the world with lapidary clarity; successful art pulls you apart and puts you back together again, often against your will, and in the process reminds you in a visceral way of your limitations, your vulnerabilities, makes you in effect more human. Does GTA IV do that? Not for me it doesn’t, and heck, I love this damn game.
According to Diaz though, videogames do have the potential to be a powerful form of narrative expression:
What’s interesting though is that GTA could have been exactly what some folks are claiming it is. For all its over-the-top aberrance and brash transgressiveness, GTA IV doesn’t really wrestle with the radiant feverish nightmare labyrinth that post-9/11 America has become. Which is too bad. When you’re as lost as we are in this country, maps, no matter from where they come, are invaluable. It could have been that popular art blade that cuts through all pretensions and delusions; it could have been the map that we’ve been needing. But for that to have been possible GTA would have had to have put a small portion of the people playing the game at risk of waking up, even if only for a second, from the dream that is our current world.
Heads up on yet another animation event at the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences. The Sound Behind The Image II: Now Hear This! is an evening celebrating the art of sound in animated films. It will take place at the Samuel Goldwyn Theatre in Beverly Hills on Friday August 8th. Hosted by sound editor Mark Mangini (Looney Tunes: Back In Action, Runaway Brain, Raiders of the Lost Ark, etc.), the presentation begins at 7:30. You can order tickets ($5./students $3) here.
Here’s a rare treat: El Mono Relojero (The Clockmaking Monkey – Argentina, 1938) is only surviving film by the creator of the first animated feature (El Apostol, 1917), Quirino Cristiani (who also created the world’s first animated sound feature, PeludÃ³polis in 1931). The rest of his films perished in a fire in 1962. Oscar Grillo says the voice is by Pepe Iglesias (aka “El Zorro”), the actor who later dubbed into Spanish the voice of the fox in Disney’s Pinocchio. A few months ago Jorge Finkielman posted a rare cel from this film on the Animation Show forum. For more about Cristiani, read Giannalberto Bendazzi’s 1983 article on AWN.
Billy Collins, a former U.S. poet laureate, writes about his love for Warner Bros. Cartoons in today’s Wall Street Journal. This quote sums up the jist of the piece:
Bugs would do the impossible by jumping out of the frame and landing on the drawing board of the cartoonist who was at work creating him. This freedom to transcend the laws of basic physics, to hop around in time and space, and to skip from one dimension to another has long been a crucial aspect of imaginative poetry.
Collins life long enthusiasm for Looney Tunes is evident. The article has several nice illustrations, plugs for several essential reference books and a concise illustrated timeline of the golden age of Hollywood cartoons.
I know most people have my book Cartoon Modern by now, but if you’re in need of a copy, Amazon is currently selling new copies at a 42% discount, the cheapest I’ve seen to date on their website. I don’t believe it’s been remaindered because those discounts are generally much steeper, but $23.28 is still a good deal for a $40 book.
From my understanding, the first printing of the book is nearly out of stock and there aren’t plans for a second printing as of this writing, so it’s a doubly good time to pick up an extra copy or two. Also, if you’re in New York City, it’s worth noting that the great Strand Books always keeps a nice stock of Cartoon Modern and sells them at a 20% discount (or $31.95). Amazon link to Cartoon Modern
UPDATE Looks like the discount period is over. Amazon has returned the book to its usual 34% discount instead of the 42% discount.
Here is the trailer for Universal’s CG adaptation of the children’s book The Tales of Despereaux. Sam Fell (Flushed Away) is directing, but the production has had a troubled history with earlier directors including Sylvain Chomet (Triplets of Belleville) and Mike Johnson (The Corpse Bride). Chomet told an interviewer about his decision to leave the film: “As the budget got bigger, the studio wanted a less dark, more commercial story and it wasn’t what I wanted to make.” Chomet’s wife and business partner, Sally, added, “We had barely finished a character sketch and its potential as a plastic toy was being assessed.”
Several years ago I curated a program of CinemaScope cartoon shorts from the 1950s, which I screened at the Ottawa Animation Festival, the Museum of Modern Art and several other venues. While researching the subject, I came upon a small article by Ward Kimball, from Films In Review (March 1954), in which he discusses the subject.
Kimball makes several interesting points referencing his work on Toot Whistle Plunk and Boom and shows the thought Disney’s animators put into using this unique, new screen shape. Kimball notes how wide shots and longer scenes play better in wide screen and how, in CinemaScope, “cartoon characters no longer perform in one spot against a moving background, but are moved through the scenes.” He also makes note of the use of directional Stereophonic sound used in these shorts. (Grand CanyonScope will be released letterboxed and in stereo on the forthcoming Disney Treasures: Donald Vol. 4 later this year).
Kimball’s piece is preceeded by an overview by writer Ed Lubin entitled “Disney Is Still Creative”(!) which touts the studio’s relevancy during the changing animation scene of the early 50s. Click on the thumbnails below to read both articles.
Big news for New York anime fans: acclaimed Japanese animation director Satoshi Kon (Paprika, Perfect Blue, etc.) is coming to New York City this week to personally host a retrospective of his films for the Film Society of Lincoln Center. Kon will be participating in an onstage interview opening night, Friday June 27th, to kick off the series, and will be introducing all the films for the duration of the screenings (June 27-July 1).
The CalArts Character Animation Department is looking for a new program director. Here’s the job listing. The CalArts grad who sent us this link added in his email:
“As an alum, I’ve grown somewhat disappointed with the level of ability graduating from the same department that raised me (don’t even get me started about last year’s Producers’ Show), so I have great hopes that whoever they get back in the school will do whatever it takes to restore its once sterling reputation.”
Dan Harmon, one of the writers of Kung Pu Panda, has written an entertaingly long rant about how much he disliked working on the film and particularly how much he disliked working with Jeffrey Katzenberg. Actually I’m not sure what’s more amusing: that Harmon hated working with Katzenberg so much or that he’s so damn clueless about the animation process. To begin the piece, Harmon expresses incredulity that some animated films are written with storyboards and not scripts: “First they storyboard the entire film. That is the first step. Not kidding. No writers, no script, just a story, and an entire film drawn on pieces of paper.”
Here’s another choice excerpt:
“I came in about four writers into the process. It’s kind of hard to write a “better” scene than the last writer when the rules are that you can only change 30 percent of each scene or completely change 30 percent of the scenes, per Katzenberg screening. So, for instance, in this scene, the panda comes up a flight of stairs carrying a bucket of water, slips on a banana peel, says something to two geese and does an air guitar. The good news? There can be anything in the bucket. Your mission: make the movie better.
“It’s harder than it sounds. Especially when the larger “bucket” that the movie is contained in cannot change: the fact that the story has to be about a panda who is informed he is the chosen one, destined to …beat up… a guy who has escaped from prison and who is spending the entire movie walking to town, in order to…try to beat him up, because that’s the prophecy. And I won’t spoil the movie, but the bad guy doesn’t win. Because he’s not destined to. But just to make sure he doesn’t win, and because there’s 70 minutes of time to kill before he gets there on foot, the panda is trained in the martial arts. it’s kind of like Karate Kid, but if Mister Miyogi had long ago banished the Kobras and was running the karate tournament.”
According to Steve Hulett of the animation union Local 839, the execs at Sony are perplexed about why their films (Open Season, Surf’s Up) are underperforming at the box office:
“[Co-Chairman of Sony Pictures Entertainment] Amy Pascal asked animation executives why Pixar movies were doing so well and Sony Pictures Animation’s weren’t. This was a few months ago. A couple of the story artists who’d worked at other studios wrote up a little paper about what some other feature studios did, how they approached things. They passed it on to Penny and Sandy before those two left. Whether the paper got into Amy Pascal’s hands or not, I’ve got no idea …”
Of course, Pascal is the executive whose suggestion for improving Surf’s Up was to add “more poop,” but besides the obvious cluelessness, their problems can be boiled down to the lack of one key element in their films: vision. The films Sony produces, like those of many other studios, are filmmaking by committee. They have no coherent vision, voice or reason supporting them. They borrow a piece from Pixar, a bit from DreamWorks, and the result is a cobbled-together half-baked Frankenstein idea.
As much as I cringe at the DreamWorks animated features, I have to give credit to Jeffrey Katzenberg for sticking with an original and singular vision for the type of films his studio produces. For what it’s worth, he established the crass humor, celebrity-driven, parodic CGI style with Shrek in 2001. Look at the animated features that were released prior to Shrek and one doesn’t find a whole lot of similar films, though elements of this style were budding in Katzenberg’s Disney-era features. Katzenberg succeeded by doing something original that nobody else in animation was doing at the time, the very same thing that Pixar had done a few years earlier, with the primary difference being that Pixar’s formula was based on a foundation of artistic and narrative integrity.
Sony, on the other hand, seems to be headed down the same doomed path of Fox and Warner Bros. circa mid-’90s: copying the formulas of more successful studios with slight variations on their themes. There have been plenty of shake-ups at Sony Feature Animation in recent months, but I’ve yet to hear of anybody taking over their animation division who might encourage a shift towards an original direction.
Bedrock City, the kitschy little theme park in Custer, South Dakota, was created in 1966 by a coalition of local concrete makers.
Now, artist/photographer Todd Oldham has discovered the park’s inner coolness. Oldham has been creating a series of art books, called Place Space, devoted to unusual environments, covering a variety of subjects – from John Waters quirky Baltimore home to the creative living spaces of art students at the Rhode Island School of Design.
Ammo Books has just released Oldham’s latest, Bedrock City, a collection of photographs of the funky stone age recreation area with an essay (wrapped around the book on the poster/dust jacket) by architect/designer Michael Graves.
This book isn’t for everyone. It’s an art book that’s a piece of art in of itself, but the subject matter is a lot of fun (the book even comes with a set of souvenir postcards). Recommended to all sophisticated Flintstone connoisseurs out there.
Oh, and if minimalist books about the citizens of Bedrock turn you on… I’ve got another one in the works I’ll be telling you more about in a few months.
A few months ago on Cartoon Brew we announced a new and affordable monthly advertising option on Cartoon Brew for independent companies, studios and individuals who couldn’t afford the standard rates that are charged by our ad partner Federated Media. We’ve just set up an Advertising page that offers all the details on this advertising option.
Also, here’s a shout-out to the advertisers who’ve already signed up. Yesterday, we put up two new Comic-Con related ads for: Fleet Street Scandal Hard Eight
Cima Balser, the wife of animation director Bob Balser, has written a fantastic piece for AWN about the early years of the Annecy International Animation Festival. As much fun as it is to attend the festival nowadays, I can only imagine the excitement of those glory years when one could mingle lakeside with the likes of Bobe Cannon, Chuck Jones, John and Faith Hubley, Pete Burness, Bill Littlejohn, George Dunning, Peter Foldes, Yoji Kuri, and all the other greats of animation that I so admire. Cima’s article is one of my favorite historical reads in recent months, and she offers many wonderful stories about the festival that I’d never heard, such as this one about the Hubleys:
“That was the year that John and Faith Hubley showed their Of Stars and Men. We had noticed that the French audiences were not restrained in any way from showing their regard for each film. As well as wild applause, there were equally loud boos, and worse yet, the sound of stomping feet walking out and slamming the door as loudly as possible.
“Each filmmaker, when their film was projected, was obliged to sit in the balcony box, which we all rapidly named “The Hot Box,” and take a bow — to either applause or boos, and in this case the boos were heartbreaking. John and Faith bowed and then exited as quickly as possible. I still firmly believe this is one of the most important and beautiful animated films ever made, and we tried to assuage their deep disappointment, and assure them this was a film for all time. Alas, it has been forgotten, which is a loss to all of us.”
Was privileged to see two new CG shorts last week: Disney Animation’s Glago’s Guest and Pixar’s Presto. Both films couldn’t be more different, yet both succeed in accomplishing their modest goals with style to spare.
Glago’s Guest is the second film from Disney’s new shorts unit, established by John Lasseter when hne took over the studio. The sole intent of producing new shorts at Disney is to experiment with style, test new techniques, and to develop new directors. Chris Williams was a story artist at Disney (Mulan, etc.) for fourteen years. His original tale of a Russian soldier stationed in a remote Siberian outpost is so far removed from what a Disney cartoon has been, it’s just what the staff needed to flex their muscles. To tell you what happens, or who his guests are, would ruin the experience – but the short is layered in luscious detail, and filled with more heart than most features ten times its length. It’s being released in 3-D on November 26th with Disney’s Bolt and it looks incredible in that format.
Pixar’s Presto is as perfect as any homage to classic Hollywood cartoons could be – especially with it’s opening title tribute to Disney shorts (against burlap) and MGM cartoons (note the type style). The story is a mash up of UPA’s Magic Fluke (1949), Avery’s Magical Maestro (1952), and Jones’ Case of the Missing Hare (1942) – magician versus his adversarial rabbit, who gets revenge via a magical hat. It’s the fast pace, strong poses, appealing characters and visual gags that turn this into a charming original entertainment – top notch fun from first frame to last. An absolute winner from Pixar. Catch it on the head of Wall-E this weekend at a theatre near you.
These shorts are special – that’s something we can’t usually say about short form films. I’m delighted Disney is producing films like these. Could a modern day equivalent of Melody Time grow out of such a program? After seeing these two, that wouldn’t be such a bad idea.
While I work up a few reviews from the Annecy International Animation Festival, held earlier this month in France, check out the Annecy festival openings created by groups of students at French animation school Gobelins. My favorite openings this year are Garuda and La ballade sauvage.
There’s minimalist animation and then there’s Grant Orchard‘s work. His short Park Foot Ball (mentioned on the Brew back in 2006 is a masterpiece of graphic clarity and communication. I was pleased to learn in this interview Grant recently did with The Animation Show that Italian broadcaster Qoob has commissioned him to do ten more sports-themed shorts based on the pared-down graphic and aural approach of Park Foot Ball. The first of the ten new “Love Sport” shorts–Paintballing–can be viewed below. I can’t wait for the rest of the series.
Hope to see you on Tuesday June 24th when we welcome this month’s special guests: Dana Gould (Simpson’s producer writer and comedian), actor-comedian-cartoon voice actor Ron Lynch and the original Tom Servo, J. Elvis Weinstein, as “Dumpster Diver Dan” (pictured with me above). If you haven’t been to the show in a while, we’ve got lots of new material (both comedy and animated) – and the Steve Allen Theatre is air-conditioned! Buy advanced tickets here!
Beginning this month, a group consisting of hundreds of Japanese animation artists have launched the Japan Animation Creators Association (JAniCA), an attempt at unionizing Japanese animation artists, especially those who freelance, and creating awareness of the generally poor working conditions of Japanese animators. More details about the formation of the group can be found at Anime News Network. To better understand the necessity of this group, this article describes some of the working conditions that Japanese animators have to endure:
One 32-year-old female animator is working in her second year at an animation company to pursue her childhood dream, but she works 12-hour days for half the salary of her former job. Another animator used to be a regular company employee with an apartment to himself, but had to move back with his parents since he could not afford rent on an animator’s budget. Without health insurance, he would not check into a hospital even when an illness worsened. One 59-year-old had to cut back due to deteriorating physical health, and now subsists on 120,000 yen (US$1,000) a month. Some of the 59-year-old animator’s former colleagues now receive public assistance or are now homeless.