French Roast Production Blog

French animation studio BIBO Films is working on a new CG short called French Roast directed by Fabrice O. Joubert and with character designs by Nico Marlet. The short has a production blog–written in French but with lots of pics. The studio is also wrapping up its first feature–A Monster in Paris–directed by company founder Bibo Bergeron (co-director of Shark Tale and The Road to El Dorado).

(Thanks, Matt Jones)

The Ultimate Panther Collection

Now that you can buy a copy of my Pink Panther Guide for as little as 24¢ on Amazon, MGM Home Entertainment is including it with The Pink Panther Ultimate Collection a DVD collection of all almost all Panther live action features and animated shorts owned by United Artists (MGM). This does not include Return of The Pink Panther with those gorgeous Richard Williams opening titles. However, among the 18 dvds are more Inspector, Roland and Ratfink and Ant and Aardvark cartoons than you’ll ever need. Oh, and I as I’ve mentioned, they’re throwing in a copy of my Ultimate Pink Panther book. The Pink Panther Ultimate Collection will cost $199.98 and will go on sale November 25th. More details are posted here.

Don Hertzfeldt Nationwide Tour

Don Hertzfeldt

Don Hertzfeldt has just completed his latest short, I Am So Proud of You. It’s his longest work to date, and to celebrate he’s going on a 16-city US tour this fall. During these events, he’ll screen the new short, as well as show some of his older films and speak with audiences. Below is the list of cities he’ll be appearing in. More details on his site BitterFilms.com.
Don Hertzfeldt

An Ugly Disney Poster

I’m still at Cinecon watching movies. Picked up a few nice stills and lobby cards in the dealers room. Here is something I got cheap: an incredibly ugly Spanish movie poster for Beaver Valley and some Disney cartoons, with the strangest drawings of Mickey, Donald and Goofy… err, Pluto, ever seen on studio approved publicity. I both love it and hate it. And that giant realistic beaver hovering above them doesn’t help. Click on thumbnail below to see larger image of the piece.

“Too Art for TV” Call for Entries

“Too Art for TV” has put out a call for entries for its 2008 edition. The yearly New York art show, founded by Liz Artinian (the color supervisor on The Venture Bros.), is “designed to promote and encourage the fine arts in the animation industry.”

All types of art media are accepted for consideration, and 25-35 artists will be selected for the exhibition. According to the submission site, “All applicants are selected by committee this year. Our committee members are artists in the industry who have been pre-invited to help with the show. This year’s committee members (so far) are Kelly Denato, Todd Lown, Christy Karacas, Jared Deal, and Justin Simonich.”

The deadline to submit an application is September 5. The exhibition will take place in November at the Erebuni Gallery Space in Williamsburg.

Cartoon Network Acquires Adventure Time

Adventure Time

Here’s news that’s sure to please a lot of folks. Pendleton Ward‘s quirky Adventure Time short has been picked up for a full-series commitment by Cartoon Network, according to this Animation Guild story. The cartoon was originally produced for Nickelodeon’s Random! Cartoons, the as-yet-unaired (I think) shorts series produced by Fred Seibert.

As a refresher, here’s the original Adventure Time short:


(Thanks, Adrian)

Weekend Inspiration

As we head into the long holiday weekend, I thought it’d be nice to take a moment and share some inspiring images I’ve run across this week. Most of the artists represented below work in animation, though a couple work in consumer products at Disney.

Lou Romano

Lou Romano offers a sneak peak from a personal animated short he’s currently working on that’s based on the poem “Annabel Lee” by Edgar Allan Poe.

Will Finn

Quick sketches by Will Finn of his two young sons.

Sam Michlap

Four superb gouache paintings of LA scenery by Sam Michlap.

Stephane Kardos

Stephane Kardos is sketching on his iPhone(!) here and here.

Luc Desmarchelier

Great production and development artwork throughout Luc Desmarchelier’s blog (make sure to browse the archives). He even makes films like Road to El Dorado and Spirit look enticing which is no cakewalk.

Matt Cruickshank

This piece by Matt Cruickshank is one of the single best pieces of stylized illustration I’ve seen in a long time. The inventiveness and playfulness is matched only by the sophistication of color, pattern and composition. Certain parts of it remind me of Stuart Davis too.

Mike Lee
I don’t think there’s any animation fan left online who’s not aware of the Totoro Forest Project taking place next month at Pixar and the Cartoon Art Museum, but I have to link to the project’s blog, which is filled with quality work like the piece above by Mike Lee.

Cinecon

If you are wondering where I am this weekend – I’m hanging out all day and night at the Egyptian Theatre in Hollywood, attending the annual Cinecon convention. Cinecon is essentially a non-stop schedule of screenings of classic Hollywood films – from 1914 through the mid-50s, new restorations of mostly obscure films, projected in 35mm, from 9am to midnight for four days. Highlights include several films with Shemp Howard, the final chapters of The Iron Claw, and the rare Krazy Kat cartoon, Southern Exposure. Complete schedule here.

Also on the program, a rare theatrical showing of Crazy House, Olsen and Johnson’s zany follow-up to Hellzapoppin’. Someone posted the first five minutes of this film on You Tube. Check it out and you’ll have an idea of how bizarre this film is. And what kind of films I’ll be seeing this weekend.

3038 Photos in 3 Days

A kid in Boston, Robbie, took just over 3000 digital photos in three days documenting his life in and around the city, and then compiled them into the animated film below. The life he documents is hardly extraordinary (lots and lots of public transport), and yet the film manages to evoke an emotional reaction by offering an intimate glimpse into one guy’s personal life. If not necessarily an original idea, it’s still a well done experimental film.

“It’s Always Six O’Clock” by Eva and Franco Mattes

Eva and Franco Mattes

Pooh plays the role of Gulliver, Mickey has hung himself, Superman is a painter, and a cellphone has been kidnapped by the Grinch. These are some of the images in “It’s always six o’clock,” a gallery exhibition by Eva and Franco Mattes aka 0100101110101101.ORG. Similar to Toy Story, the show offers an interesting new way of looking at everyday toys and dolls. Exhibition photos are here.

Mass Animation Project Pays

Mass Animation

Some happy news to report today. The Mass Animation project that we mentioned here last week released a new set of details today on their Facebook page. Notably among those details is that every artist whose work is used for the short will be compensated financially. Granted that the project is still structured like a contest and there’s a chance that the work you create won’t be used in the film (hence no compensation), but at least the artists whose work wins approval will receive something for their effort. Exploring new production models based on online collaboration is a worthy cause as long as it’s not done on the backs of artists, and I’m glad that we can now show some support behind a contest like Mass Animation.

Bolt: Storyboard vs. CG

Bolt

AICN recently posted the above two images as part of a preview of Disney’s Bolt. So, as I understand the animation process at Disney, here is how you translate a board drawing into a final CG film frame:

1. Remove all the funny shapes in the character design and turn the character into a nondescript blob.

2. Take out any asymmetry (like the angles on the arms) and even out the pose.

3. Tone down the funny expressions.

4. Just in case there is any appeal still left in the CG model, add flat lighting and excessive texturing so the characters and background mesh into an indistinguishable dark muck.

5. Repeat this process until you have blown $150 million dollars.

Another Day, Another Dump!

Join us tonight for Cartoon Dump, our monthly live comedy and cartoons showcase in Hollywood. We will have two guest comedians performing within our show tonight: Andy Kindler (above left) and Jim Turner (above right). So join Andy, Jim, Moodsy, Compost Brite, Officer Pete, Dumpster Diver Dan, Cue Card Goddess and me, Jerry Beck, tonight Tuesday, August 26th at 8 PM, for an evening of hilarious comedy, demented songs, and really, really crappy cartoons.

It’s at the Steve Allen Theater, 4773 Hollywood Blvd. (two blocks west of Vermont). Map here, see you there!

LA Times on Lee Blair’s Olympic Gold

Disney animator Lee Blair won a Gold medal for watercolor painting at the 1932 Olympic Games in Los Angeles. That was back in the day when the Olympics recognized the arts as well as athletics. The LA Times has nice piece on Blair’s win in today’s Calendar section. The print edition has a great photo of Lee and Mary Blair and an image of his award winning watercolor, Rodeo (above). Apparently the painting is lost – its whereabouts unknown. BTW, the Silver medal for watercolor that year went to Percy Crosby, the creator of the comic strip Skippy.

(Thanks, Tom Pope)

LP Cover Lover

I’ve really been enjoying the posts over at the LP Cover Lover blog. Matthew and Tony have been posting images of their incredible collection of obscure record albums, especially the odd, unusual and unintentionally hilarious. They have a category devoted to Animated Cartoon LP covers, most of which I’ve never seen before, all with terrific publicity artwork (a few samples below). Very inspirational stuff, well worth a bookmark.

Awesome Animated 3D Illusion on iPhone

David O’Reilly has built a very cool animated walk cycle that takes advantage of the iPhone’s motion sensitivity.

O’Reilly describes the effect on his blog:

“The application works by assuming a constant viewing angle (35-45 degrees), typical for when the device is placed on a tabletop. The 3d scene’s perspective is warped using anamorphosis, the same technique used in Hans Holbein’s painting The Ambassadors. This application does the exact same but updates dynamically.”

There’s been some controversy online about whether O’Reilly’s animation is actually motion-sensitive or if all the animation was completed earlier and he’s simply moving the iPhone to match the onscreen action. Regardless, the reality is that there is amazing potential for interactive cartoons on the iPhone and other motion-sensitive devices. Let’s do a little blue-sky thinking and imagine the possibilities. Instead of simply watching a cartoon, viewers can now interact and control the actions of their favorite characters. A simple tilt of your iPhone could send a character walking in any direction. A quick shake could make your character turn away from another character. Don’t feel like watching an 11-minute cartoon today? Control the pace of short and make it a four-minute cartoon. New technologies will open up new narrative possibilities for animation artists.

The linear cartoon is so 20th century. For a new generation of kids, watching a cartoon with only one ending (i.e. every cartoon today) will test the limits of their patience. It’ll be the equivalent of riding a horse-and-buggy after cars had been invented. Sure, Chuck Jones and Mike Maltese came up with a good ending for One Froggy Evening, but today’s cartoonists can come up with twenty different endings for their shorts, exploring all sorts of what-if scenarios. They can begin to understand their creations from a deeper, more psychologically complex perspective. As a viewer, if you like a particular ending, you can control your character’s actions to always achieve the same result. But every individual viewer can also change the outcome of the cartoons they watch with a simple tilt or turn of their screen. Viewers can become engaged in the universe of their favorite cartoons as never before, and it will become a much richer experience for both creator and viewer. All of this could happen, but it will take the combined efforts of programmers, animators and studios with the vision and desire to push their cartoon characters into the 21st century.

Previous Brew posts about David O’Reilly HERE, HERE and HERE.

Mass Animation or Mass Exploitation?

Mass Animation

Animators beware! There’s a new collaborative animation project called Mass Animation that is asking animation artists (both pros and amateurs) to come together via a Facebook application to produce a 5-minute CG animated short destined for theatrical release. The project hasn’t launched yet, but the details that are available on the official website and in this Intel press release aren’t encouraging.

The program, which doesn’t compensate any of the animators who work on it, is being sponsored by Intel, Autodesk, Facebook, Aniboom and Reel FX. The film is being directed by former Sony Pictures Digital exec Yair Landau. He says, “Mass Animation combines original computer-generated animated storytelling with social networking in a powerful, new way…we will reach so many talented animators who might not otherwise have access to this community of imagination and artistry. This project is the future of creative collaboration.”

Apparently Landau believes that the future of creative collaboration on the Internet means getting lots and lots of different people to create free work for deep-pocketed corporate sponsors so that they can release your work theatrically. Unlike earlier technologies, the Internet empowers artists so that they can avoid being taken advantage of in this manner. Companies that are trying to facilitate the exploitation of artists via the Internet are truly living in the past. Perhaps this contest started with benevolent intentions, but the press release makes it sound super-exploitative, and the fact that a Hollywood exec is directing the project simply adds to the ick-factor. I’ll make an effort to stay on top of this story and find out how it turns out.

(Thanks to Chris Roman for bringing this to everybody’s attention on the Cartoon Brew Facebook group)

LA Times on Disney’s Mickey Mouse copyright

Today’s Los Angeles Times has a terrific page-one article on the quirks of Disney’s copyright of Mickey Mouse and explains how the images of the early Mickey may be available for public domain use.

It’s not a news story, but an overview of the company’s 80 years of copyright enforcement, and a profile of several folks (including former Disney archivist Gregory Brown) who have attempted to expose the holes in Disney’s copyright claims. To quote the piece: “Welcome to the wonderful world of copyright law.” To read it online click here.

Update: As addendum to the Times article read Lauren Van Pelt’s and Douglas A. Hedenkamp’s papers on Disney copyright.

(Thanks, Aaron H. Bynum)

Year of the Fish: An Animated Feature?

Year of the Fish

As the line between live-action and animation blurs, there are more and more controversies about what qualifies as animation. Is A Scanner Darkly animation? Is Beowulf animation? It’s all up for debate. Here’s an easy one though. Is Year of the Fish animation? Most definitely not.

Year of the Fish is an indie film that opens next week in New York and San Francisco. I’m perplexed why the filmmakers are billing the film as an “animated feature film” when there is nothing remotely resembling animation in the trailer (watch it here). Movement that is created in real-time and then digitally-enhanced does not fit the definition of animation, which is generally acknowledged to be movement created frame-by-frame through the manipulation of static images. The confusion with films like A Scanner Darkly and Beowulf stems from the fact that there is possibly enough frame-by-frame enhancement and distortion of the recorded live-action footage to constitute animation.

Year of the Fish, on the other hand, appears to have had minimal work done on it by animation artists. Here’s the description of the “animation process” from the film’s website:

Using Synthetik Studio Artist….Kaplan and his small group of part-time assistants were able to work quickly and efficiently, doing with 3 people what would normally employ 40 full-time animators. A single miniDV live-action frame was upconverted to a high-definition painted frame, and that one frame was interpolated into a technique for converting an entire shot. After rendering these shots, Kaplan and his team were able to go back and refine the images frame by frame, add particle effects, and hand-paint details. This entire animation process was achieved on four Macintosh G5 computers and two Wacom tablets, and took only 6 months.

The process described–which is setting a stylistic filter on one frame per scene and rendering out the rest of the scene with that filter setting–is not animation. The filmmaker does say he went back for frame-by-frame manipulation, but it’s evident from the trailer that they were enhancing the filter effects frame-by-frame, not creating or enhancing movement frame-by-frame. The number of digital crew (3) and amount of time it took to do the “animation” (6 months) also makes clear that this is more a case of digital processing than animation.

In recent years, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences has qualified films like Waking Life and Beowulf for Oscar consideration in the animated feature category. It’s a slippery slope that has now opened the doors wide open for experimental live-action films like Year of the Fish to claim that they are animated.

Tarsem’s The Fall

The Fall

I saw an unexpectedly great live-action film last night–Tarsem’s The Fall (view the trailer here). The film’s production design is insanely gorgeous, with nearly every shot a lush and breathtaking tableau of color and composition. The landscapes in the movie are so exotic and magical that I automatically assumed they were all computer-generated like every other Hollywood film. Amazingly, though, it was all shot on-location.

Tarsem’s background–directing commercials like the classic Levi’s “Swimmer” and music videos like R.E.M.’s “Losing My Religion”–means that he knows how to create stylish and imaginative imagery, but in The Fall he backs it up with a sweet and engaging story about a 5-year-old immigrant girl and a Hollywood stuntman who befriend one another while recovering from injuries in a 1910s LA hospital.

The film premiered at festivals in 2006 but didn’t receive a theatrical release in the US until May of this year. The distribution difficulties of the film are reflected in the film’s production history: Tarsem financed the film almost entirely out of his own pocket using the millions of dollars he made as a commercial director. Its production was as unconventional as the final film. For example, Tarsem scouted locations for the fantasy sequences for seventeen years, he shot the film in over twenty countries, and a good deal of the film’s story structure was ad-libbed by the little girl protagonist.

The reason I’m mentioning this film on the Brew is that it also features a brief yet highly effective stop-motion sequence conceived by Christoph and Wolfgang Lauenstein, the brothers who won an Oscar for their 1989 animated short Balance. I haven’t seen a new piece of work by them in a long time and was pleased to see their names pop up in the credits. Their website Lauenstein.TV indicates that they’re busy and still producing plenty of work.

Tarsem’s The Fall is currently playing in only a handful of theaters. I highly recommend checking it out on the bigscreen if you can. It’s final New York screening is tonight at the Cinema Village 3. There’s also an interview with the director at the A.V. Club in which he discusses this film’s production at length.

The Fall