Similar Ideas, Different Approaches

I couldn’t help and notice a similarity between this music video by Kristofer Strom of Sweden…

…and this signal film for Cartoon Forum 2008 directed by Regina Welker and Max Lang of Filmakademie Baden-Wuerttemberg’s Institute of Animation.

Cartoon Forum

I’m not suggesting that either idea was copied from the other. After all, non-descript blobby creatures straight out of a Pictoplasma book and cavorting in a real-world environment is hardly anything new. Still I thought it might be interesting to show two different animated approaches to a similar problem.

(Thanks, BitterAnimator, for the Cartoon Forum link)

Looney Tombs

Editor’s Note: Welcome to the first post by award-winning filmmaker and regular Guest Brewer Pes.

Recently I’ve been spending a lot of time in the fabulous Woodlawn Cemetery in the Bronx — doing research for a new short film. It’s been no hardship to pass the day here…Woodlawn is one of the most beautiful cemeteries I’ve ever seen and feels more like an impeccably manicured park than a burial ground.

Woodlawn is home to many creative luminaries including Miles Davis, Herman Melville and Thomas Nast, and curiosity getting the better of me, I decided to stop by their graves to see what’s going on. I was slightly horrified to find that people choose to pay their respects to Herman Melville by balancing BIC and other cheap clickable ballpoint pens (the free kind you get at a bank) on his tombstone — so that it now looks a bit like a trash can. Despite this, I really like that Melville’s tombstone has a blank sheet of paper sculpted into the front, as if encouraging every visitor to think for a moment about the dreaded blank page at the end of life. I wondered momentarily if this was Melville’s last brilliant idea.

Herman Melville's Tombstone

In my wanderings in the cemetery, some other interesting things have happened. For instance, one day I was photographing a tombstone and just as I clicked the camera, a rabid wolf or wild dog thing jumped from behind the tombstone baring his teeth at me. My heart raced. I was in the center of the cemetery, alone, and I hadn’t seen anyone for at least an hour. I instantly thought about being mauled alive by this thing. Would my tombstone read something like “Eaten alive by a wolf right on this spot”? Fortunately, I held my ground and the thing ran away. Evidently he was more scared of me than I of him. I later learned from a groundskeeper that what I had seen was one of the cemetery’s resident (and harmless) coyotes and that I should be happy to have seen him without having to pay admission to the nearby Bronx Zoo.

In another corner of the cemetery, on another day of research, I stumbled upon this fascinating tombstone, which tells of a 15-year-old boy who died on his birthday in 1909 in a most unfortunate manner. The tombstone has to be seen to be believed: click to enlarge.

Curious, I did a little research. First, the Penbid website (yes, an Ebay for pens!) clarified this little thing called an “ink eraser” : “Modern ink is dye or stain, but writing of the early period was done with inks containing carbon as a pigment and on animal skins (such as vellum or parchment) or on paper made entirely from rags. Carbon ink did not penetrate these writing surfaces but dried on the surface, sort of like paint. This explains the tools known as steel erasers or ink scrapers [aka 'ink eraser'], which were used for scraping mistakes from the writing surface.”

So, basically an “ink eraser” was a knife, kind of like an X-Acto blade: and George Spencer Millet fell on his while trying to avoid getting the cooties on his 15th birthday.

The Ink Eraser

But did the ink eraser stab him in the eye or in the heart when he fell on it? And what about the girls, throwing birthday kisses at him? What happened to them? Just how did this horrifying scene unfold? After a bit more research I uncovered this New York Times article from February 16, 1909 (links to downloadable PDF article) which helps reconstruct the horrifying event and adds some interesting plot details along the way.

Wanna be an Annie Judge?

ASIFA-Hollywood is seeking a few good men and women interested in serving on nomination committees for the 36th Annual Annie Awards. Nomination judging will be taking place on Saturday, November 15, 2008, at Woodbury University, in Burbank, California. Judges may also be required to do some additional judging within the following days, or participate in pre-selection activities, via email, prior to the judging sessions.

Applications must be received no later than Friday, October 17, 2008. Individuals who are selected to serve on a nomination committee, shall receive a pair of complementary VIP tickets to the Annie Awards ceremony, on January 30th at UCLA’s Royce Hall. To apply click here.

Academy posts Animation highlights

If you couldn’t make it to the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences in Beverly Hills this year for their record number of animation exhibits and programs, the Academy has just posted a review and gallery online, as well as a video podcast with highlights narrated by Academy president Sid Ganis.

Academy animation programs this year included Drawing on the Future: Mentorship in Animation with James Baxter, Andreas Deja, Pete Docter and Eric Goldberg; the gallery exhibit Ink & Paint: The Art of Hand-Drawn Animation; The Sound behind the Image II: Now Hear This!; Canadian animation with composer Normand Roger and animator Frédéric Back, as well as the current exhibition Frédéric Back: A Life’s Drawings. The Academy is preparing further video highlights from each of these events.

Cartoon Brew TV: Dinner Time

Today we’re kicking off the first edition of Cartoon Brew TV’s “Brew Vaults.” Every three weeks we’ll present a long-lost piece of animation history along with brand-new audio commentary by animation historian Jerry Beck and other special guests. Our first pick from the “Brew Vaults” is the 1928 short Dinner Time (1928), a synchronized sound cartoon produced before Walt Disney’s Steamboat Willie and rarely seen since its release 80 years ago. The short, directed by Paul Terry and John Foster, was in the words of Walt Disney “one of the rottenest Fables I believe that I ever saw.” But its historical significance is undeniable as it was the film that inspired Walt Disney to create a better sound cartoon. The rest, as they say, is history. Jerry Beck and Mark Kausler offer knowledgeable commentary about this cartoon curio. Watch episode 3 right here!

Cartoon Brew TV #3: Dinner Time by Paul Terry and John Foster

(Alternate commentary-free version: This link will allow you to watch the original cartoon without audio commentary)

Welcome to the first in our series of Cartoon Brew TV’s “Brew Vaults.” Every three weeks we’re presenting an animated short, movie trailer, vintage TV commercial or some other cartoon rarity and offering an exclusive audio track commentary about its production, historical significance and the artists who made these films. Animation historian Jerry Beck and other guests will provide the commentaries.

The first pick from the “Brew Vaults” is one of the earliest sound cartoons ever released. Dinner Time (1928) is perhaps the most significant cartoon in animation history that no one has ever seen. It was one of the few synchronized sound cartoons produced before (though released after) Disney’s Steamboat Willie. It played a small but pivotal part in Walt Disney’s creation of his first Mickey Mouse sound cartoon. It was this film, shown to Walt in New York on the cusp of recording his track for Steamboat Willie, that gave him the confidence to press on with his plans.

Dinner Time was an entry in Paul Terry’s popular series of the era, Aesop’s Film Fables, produced by Amadee J. Van Beuren, and released through RKO Pathé. During the 1920s, Terry produced one Fables cartoon each week through his New York based Fables Studio, and Walt Disney was known to be quite fond of them. But when sound came in, Terry had little interest in adding music, voices or effects to the cartoons, and this led to a disagreement between the animator and his producer. Terry left Van Beuren the following year to start his own company, Terrytoons.

Dinner Time is not a particularly good cartoon. Walt Disney himself called it “one of the rottenest Fables I believe that I ever saw. And I should know, because I have seen almost all of them!” The film, and Walt’s reaction to it, has been noted in every major biography of Disney (Michael Barrier, Bob Thomas, Neal Gabler), yet no one has really seen it in eighty years.

It turns out that Disney was right. The soundtrack is “rotten” and the animation quite primitive (especially compared to Fleischer’s KoKo cartoons or Messmer’s Felix cartoons made the same year), but the early Paul Terry cartoons have an old-school hand-drawn charm that all the technical innovations to come can’t begin to match. There’s an air of chaos in Terry’s cartoon universe, with cats chasing birds, dogs chasing bones, farmers chasing hounds, and plot and character nowhere in sight. And yet, the Fables were fun, popular and a mainstay of the silent era and early days of sound. Terry ultimately had the last laugh on his old boss, Van Beuren. His rival Terrytoons studio thrived for four decades (Van Beuren’s studio closed in 1936 with his passing), and Terry himself never really left Dinner Time behind–he lifted animation from this short to pad his 1931 Terrytoon release, Jazz Mad.

UPDATE: Additional research since the time we first post this cartoon has turned up the missing coda or “Moral”:

Aesop Says: “There is a real need for a tonic for people whose heads are bald on thew inside”

We’d like to thank Mark Kausler for his participation on the audio commentary and locating the source films; Randall Kaplan for editing and restoration services; and Michael Geisler for recording the audio commentary.

Messy Despereaux Business

Despereaux

I alluded in an earlier Brew story that Sylvain Chomet (The Triplets of Belleville) wasn’t happy with his short-lived directing stint on Universal’s upcoming Tales of Despereaux. He was fired from the project shortly after the film received a production greenlight. An article in this weekend’s NY Times includes a lot of nasty allegations from Chomet, including the assertion by him that the film’s producer Gary Ross (Seabiscuit) wanted to direct the film “but because he can’t draw, he had to use me in order to get the green light.” Chomet also says that after he was fired from the film, “these bodyguards, big nasty-looking guys in suits, showed up; they took everything out of the studio and nailed doors shut so we couldn’t have access to it.” But the article’s most colorful Chomet quote is this one:

“We’re making a film for kids, a film that has a moral, and behind it is such aggressive action about lawyers and legal things – there are no human relationships. I felt like a lemon; they got the juice out of me and threw me away.”

Based on everything I’ve read and heard about Chomet, he doesn’t necessarily sound like the most easy person to work for, but it’s difficult not to admire a director who stands up for what he believes in and demands that films be filtered through his personal point of view. Directors, like Chomet, who aren’t afraid to speak their minds and actually have something to say are a rare breed in animation, and if anything, we need more artists like him.

(Thanks, Carolyn Bates)

Joe Murray Explains it All…

Artist, illustrator and animator Joe Murray is also one of the most successful cartoon show creators working today. Joe has just produced an e-book entitled Crafting A Cartoon, loaded with tips on how to pitch, sell and produce a series in the current marketplace. Says Joe, the book contains:

“…behind the scenes stories, photos and art from the making of Rocko’s Modern Life and Camp Lazlo. Realistic approaches to creating cutting edge, memorable characters for several mediums as well as a guide for fresh storytelling. Inside tips on how to put together pitch materials, contract tips on selling a show, and how to produce the series once it has been picked up. Plus sanity-saving advice on creating win-win relationships with networks – and alternative methods to getting your series out there without the network.”

You can browse the first 14 pages here. To order the whole book, visit Joe Murray’s website.

Annie Awards Call For Entries

ASIFA-Hollywood is currently accepting entries for consideration for the upcoming 36th Annual Annie Awards. Annie Awards will be presented in the categories of animated theatrical feature, television production, television commercial, short subject and video games, as well as to individuals who have worked on these productions.

Entries submitted for consideration must be from productions that were originally released theatrically, appeared on television, or were exhibited in a film festival between January 1, 2008 and December 31, 2008. To enter the Annie Awards, please visit www.annieawards.org. The deadline to receive entry forms is Friday, October 10, 2008. The 36th Annual Annie Awards will be held on January 30, 2009, at UCLA’s Royce Hall, in Los Angeles, California. For further information or questions, please email Gretchen Dixon at Gretchen-at-annieawards.org or call (562) 209-9900.

Cartoon Spooktacular

On Tuesday October 21st I’ll be screening a selection of spooky, kooky, strange and creepy Halloween related animated cartoons at the Silent Movie Theatre on Fairfax Avenue in Hollywood. The vintage prints will be in 16mm and 35mm, and I’ll be running some surprises and bringing along some special guests. More details in a post closer to the playdate, but I wanted to give our readers an early heads up.

UPDATE: Chris Sanders Still Crood and Directing Dragon

The Seward Street blog, run by a DreamWorks animator, notes that Chris Sanders is no longer directing Crood Awakening at DreamWorks and he’s working on another film at the studio. The animator writes:

Chris Sanders is now the director on the next film I’m working on, How to Train Your Dragon. Dean DeBlois is coming on as a writer as well. Have to admit, I always liked Lilo and Stitch, so this is pretty exciting.

The previously announced director of How to Train Your Dragon was Peter Hastings, a producer/writer on Animaniacs and director of The Country Bears live-action feature. Can somebody say improvement.

UPDATE: The original post was removed from his blog.

UPDATE #2: A representative from the law firm representing Chris Sanders sends in the following information: “Our firm represents Chris Sanders, and can confirm that he remains the director of CROOD. He will also be taking over HOW TO TRAIN YOUR DRAGON.”

The History of the NBC Peacock

Mike Clark runs a website devoted to the history of Tampa’s Channel 13 (WTVT, a former CBS affiliate, now a Fox station). The site has dozens of interesting articles about the history and local personalities of “Big 13″.

However one of his pieces, slightly off his given topic, should be of interest to most Cartoon Brew readers. Clark devotes an illustrated article, running several pages, to John Graham (NBC’s director of design) and the story of the animated NBC peacock logo. He cuts the story just short of the 1993 remakes by the likes of Al Hirshfeld, Peter Max and John Kricfalusi (see below), but it’s fascinating to read the story behind the iconic image we all grew up with.

Analyzing the Animation of Seth MacFarlane

A former Family Guy fan, Kyle Evans, has come to the conclusion that Seth MacFarlane is a “talentless writer” who “doesn’t have a clue about animation.” He’s written a lengthy blog post analyzing MacFarlane’s work from a critical perspective. What I found particularly insightful was the section in which Evans observes the clumsy animation in Seth’s shows, particularly in an episode of Seth McFarlane’s Cavalcade of Cartoon Comedy titled “Super Mario Rescues the Princess”:

The animation of Family Guy, American Dad and Cavalcade of Cartoon Comedy consists almost entirely of character’s mouths moving, with the occasional rigid pose-to-pose animation. This movement is banal and devoid of any true expression, with the same exact timing on every movement. Watching “Super Mario Rescues the Princess” with the sound-down would convey little more than a general sense of displeasure in the characters…I can only imagine how mind-numbingly dull it would be to work as an animator for Seth McFarlane, who continues to stifle any sort of imaginative character design or fluid, expressive movement. But to visualise my point, here is the video edited so that all but the moving parts of the cartoon are blacked out.

Light-Paint Piano Player by Ryan Cashman

Ever since the animated short Pika Pika by Takeshi Nagata and Kazue Monno, there’s been a slew of light-animation both in the advertising and indie film worlds. This one by Ryan Cashman takes the technique a step further by offering some fun character animation of a little green creature playing the piano.

A description of the process by Cashman:

Animated light paintings of a little piano player performing. Filmed at night with the lovely I-5 and San Diego skyline in the background. I would like to thank everyone for the fantastic feedback I have received lately. To answer a few questions, I wrote the music and recorded it first. The frames were photographed with a Canon Rebel using 20-30 second exposure time. I used a small green LED keychain light to draw each frame. Once all the positions were photographed they were strung together and synchronized to the music in After Effects.

(Thanks, Tony Canepa)

Uh-Oh! Disney Princess Spaghettios?

Eat your heart out, Andy Warhol!

I saw this ad (click thumbnail below) in the Sunday newspaper coupon section (yes, I clip coupons). I don’t know exactly why, but this product just seems wrong. Yeah they’ve had Dora, Cars and Danny Phantom shaped Spaghettios and Chicken Soup for years, and that never bothered me. But these labels — advertising Cinderella, Ariel and Belle as “shapes” — feel demeaning and are possibly sexist. Or am I being too sensitive? Maybe I’ll just stick with my Chef Boyardee Smurf Beefaroni.

Cartoon Brew TV #2: The Pumpkin of Nyefar by Tod Polson and Mark Oftedal

The Pumpkin of Nyefar (2004) is a short directed by Tod Polson (El Tigre, Another Froggy Evening, Poochini) and Mark Oftedal. The story was co-written by Maurice Noble (1911-2001), who began his animation career at Disney in the 1930s, and eventually designed many of Chuck Jones’s classic Warner Bros. cartoons including Duck Dodgers in the 24½th Century and What’s Opera, Doc?. The film is narrated by June Foray (the voice of Rocky in Rocky and Bullwinkle).

Go here for a Flash website with plenty of details and artwork from the film. Below is a some background information about the film from its director Tod Polson. Tod will also participating in the comments section and looks forward to your comments and questions.

In 1994, Maurice Noble began training a group of young designers at Chuck Jones Film Productions. A lot of us were working on our own personal short projects, several of them based on ethnic folktales. Maurice thought it would be a great idea if the group of us could develop a series of shorts inspired by stories from around the world. We called this series “Noble Tales,” and we, his trainees, became known as the “Noble Boys” (which also included a few girls). Many of us traveled around the world and developed and together designed several dozen idea.

“The Pumpkin Of Nyefar” was one short idea Maurice and I wrote while visiting Turkey. Our first morning in Istanbul we came downstairs to the dining room and around the table were twenty belly dancers and a lot of pumpkin dishes. All the girls of course were smitten by Mr. Nobles charm. Ha ha… I can still see him grinning from ear to ear.

Afterwords we talked things over, and decided to write a story about a prince who could marry any beauty in his kingdom, but instead chooses to wait for true love. As fate would have it, the prince finds true love in the form of a pumpkin. While I was supervising a TV show in Thailand, James Wang (Wang Flm) invited Maurice and I to use his Thai studio to make our short. Maurice underwent surgery so that he could make the flight to Bangkok. Unfortunately he died a few weeks later. I came to Thailand a few months later to work on the short myself. But my friends didn’t leave me to do the film alone.

Soon after, my pal Mark Oftedal, came to town for a visit. His short vacation, turned into a several year working holiday. He became so involved with the project, re-working designs, storyboards, editing, setting the animation style, that he became the co-director. It was very much a partnership and it was fantastic working with such a talented fellah. Other friends from America helped out too. June Foray donated her voice to the film. Ben Jones, and Lawrence Marvit both did short stints in Bangkok to help get things going. Sue Kroyer did a lot of inspirational character design as did Roman Laney. Jules Engel looked over a lot of the early design and color. Aaron Sorenson, Dave Marshall, Dave Thomas, and Mike Polvani all donated time to the project. It was really a great collaboration of friends, just the way Maurice had dreamed about: doing a short film together, everything donated, just because they wanted to do it.