Cartoon Dump on Tuesday Night

I’m just back from Ottawa and hung over from a week of watching great animation. Tomorrow night is the antidote: Cartoon Dump, our monthly live comedy and cartoons showcase in Hollywood. We will have guest comedian John Fugelsang adding to the madness. Join Moodsy, Compost Brite, Officer Pete, Dumpster Diver Dan, Cue Card Goddess and me, Jerry Beck, Tuesday, September 23rd at 8 PM, for an evening of hilarious comedy, demented songs, and really, really crappy cartoons.

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

Highlights from Ottawa


I’ve been in Ottawa since Wednesday and it’s been wall-to-wall screenings, presentations and panels (not to mention parties, meetings and lots of walking). Today Eric Goldberg is giving a lecture, there’s one last competition screening, and tonight is the award ceremonies. One of the major highlights of this five day event was the John Canemaker interview with Richard Williams last night. Two hours was not enough. Williams and Canemaker could have gone on for four hours and I still would have wanted more. If you are in New York tomorrow night, do not miss the encore at MoMA (and I understand Williams will be touring the U.S. giving similar interviews to promote his 16-part DVD set The Animators Survival Kit Animated – more about this in a forthcoming post).

The competition has been pretty good, and I came away from each screening with at least one film (sometimes several) that blew me away with creativity and visual imagination. I’d like to note a few here that were particularly worthy of seeking out.

Skhizein, Jeremy Clapin’s 3D/2D tour-de-force about a man hit by a meteorite and finding himself existing 91 centimeters away from his body. The story was so unique and fun, I can see Hollywood remaking it, perhaps with someone like Michael Gondry, as a live action vehicle for a Ben Stiller or Steve Martin. Let’s hope not. This animated film is gloriously original and beautifully realized.

Berni’s Doll by Yann Jouette, about a lonely man who buys, builds and sexually abuses a female robot, is so well made and so funny you can forgive it’s politically incorrect attitudes towards women. Its an outstanding short, which arguably becomes pro-feminist in its climactic resolution.

I also really loved Camera Obscura, directed by Matthieu Buchalski, Jean-Michel Drechsler and Thierry Onillon, three students at Supinfocom, the computer graphic university in France. If Guy Maddin did animation, this is what he’d make. Luckily, I found an embed and can share it with you below:

Link: Bitfilm TV

I’m also wild about Nina Paley’s feature Sita Sings The Blues, which I’m seeing again, for a second time, today. More about this film, and other Ottawa highlights, in a forthcoming post.

Rabbits Kin 2.0

Matthew Hunter and Jon Cooke have a terrific blog which I’ve linked to before, Miscel-Looney-ous, which regularly examines the odds and ends of Warner Bros. cartoons. Today they found a video on YouTube worthy of much wider exposure – someone took the 1952 Bugs Bunny cartoon Rabbit’s Kin (the one with Pete Puma, voiced by Stan Freberg), slowed down the dialogue of super-sped-up little Bunny so we can actually hear what Mel Blanc is saying. It’s well worth a listen and a real joy to hear some new Looney Tunes dialogue from Blanc.

RBC Blue Water Project by Convert and Jon Klassen

Blue Water Project

This excellent spot for the Royal Bank of Canada’s Blue Water Project is among those rare pieces of design-oriented animation in which an equal amount of thought is given to the movement of the artwork as to its production design. There’s only one cut in the entire commercial; the scenes flow smoothly into one another in a way that drives home the commercial’s subject matter–water. The spot is directed by Convert for The Ebeling Group and designed by Jon Klassen, who has posted his illustration designs for the commercial on his blog. Klassen also co-directed a fine student film at Sheridan a few years ago called An Eye For Annai.

The State of NY Animated Features

There’s a great ASIFA-East panel coming up this Tuesday, September 23, in New York. It’s billed as a panel discussion on the state of NY animated features with panelists Emily Hubley, Daniel Kanemoto, Bill Plympton, Michael Sporn and Tatia Rosenthal. Every single one of these artists is currently making or has made an animated feature in the past year. Other East Coasters who aren’t on the panel but could be added to this list are Nina Paley and Paul Fierlinger. Never before in the history of animation have so many indie animated features been produced. We’re currently in the middle of an animation revolution and this panel will try to give some perspective to this unique moment in the history of the art form. How are these features being made? Who’s supporting them? Where is all this headed? There’s a lot to talk about. I’m moderating the panel and I’m really looking forward to having this discussion with such an esteemed group of filmmakers. Best of all, admission is FREE. It takes place at the School of Visual Arts (209 East 23rd Street in the 3rd floor Amphitheater).

Humor Panel At Ottawa Animation Festival

I’m moderating a panel at the Ottawa International Animation Festival this weekend. It’s called “Animation Makes Me Laugh: Ha!” and it’s all about what’s funny and what isn’t in animation. There’s no sure-fire formula to funny so I can’t guarantee we’ll unlock any secret keys to humor, but I can guarantee you’ll get to hear from four funny and talented filmmakers: Nick Cross, Will Krause, Fran Krause and Superjail creator Christy Karacas. The panel takes place Sunday, September 21, at 3pm in the National Gallery (Lecture Hall). Drop by and say hello.

Friz Sketch

Animator Mike Kazaleh found this incredible Pink-Panther-meets-Bugs -Bunny sketch by Friz Freleng (click on thumbnail below to see full image). Says Mike:

As usual, I went looking for something in my house, and I found something else. It’s a Friz sketch from 1974. Please bear in mind that I scanned this picture from an ancient thermal fax, and the image had all but disappeared. It took a bit of work in Photoshop to make the image semi clear again. If memory serves me correctly, the “Lance” that the picture was drawn for was (writer/character designer) Lance Falk, and I believe it was he who faxed it to me in the first place. Quite an artifact, eh?

(Thanks Mike!)

Love by Yoji Kuri

It’s a shame that Yoji Kuri’s animated shorts aren’t more widely available in the West, especially considering that Kuri is one of the godfathers of indie Japanese animation. Below is his film Love from 1963. Kuri, who turned 80 this year, is the subject of a new documentary that premiered at the Hiroshima Animation Festival last month. Also worth a look is this article about his films.

Introducing Cartoon Brew TV

Cartoon Brew TV Logo

We’re excited to bring you something new today – Cartoon Brew TV. The new site is available by clicking on the CBTV logo above our main site logo. We’ve been experimenting with broadcasting animated shorts since last year when we launched our film download site Cartoon Brew Films, and we’re really happy with the latest evolution that has come in the form of Cartoon Brew TV.

So what is Cartoon Brew TV?

Here are a few key elements of the project:

1.) New episodes premiere every week on Monday.

2.) Every short we present is an exclusive online premiere. We’re not looking to bring you the same films that are already available on every other video sharing website and podcast.

3.) We pay filmmakers. Online animation distribution can’t work unless filmmakers get paid for their efforts. This is something that we regularly preach on the site and we’re delighted that we can now put those words into practice and lead the way as an animation-specific film site and podcast that pays independent filmmakers.

4.) A broad view of animation art. Just as we love exploring all aspects of the art form on Cartoon Brew, we’ll be presenting an eclectic variety of programming on Cartoon Brew TV: hand-drawn cel, mixed-media, CG, experimental, stop-motion, pixilation…the element that connects all these varied approaches is the quality.

5.) Every third week, Brew TV will present a “historical” episode with original commentary by Brew co-founder and animation authority Jerry Beck. We’ll explore everything from the earliest theatrical animated shorts to TV specials and obscure bits of cartoon history.

6.) We’re just getting started. With your support, we have plans to grow this in every direction. More shorts, more guest commentaries, different types of content. Supporting this site is as simple as emailing a friend about it, embedding an episode, writing about a film on your blog, or simply watching the cartoons yourself. (Tech note: Ability to subscribe via iTunes will arrive shortly.)

7.) Here’s the link to our first episode:
Michael Langan’s award-winning short Doxology.

Doxology
We hope you, the wonderful community of Cartoon Brew readers, enjoy watching these films and take the leap with us as viewers of Cartoon Brew TV.

Cartoon Brew TV #1: Doxology by Michael Langan

We’re pleased to bring you our first episode, Michael Langan’s Doxology, a graduation film produced at Rhode Island School of Design. Since its debut in 2007, the film has won over ten festival awards including Best Undergraduate Animation at the Ottawa International Animation Festival and Best Experimental Short at the Slamdance Film Festival.

Langan offers this description of the film:

Before reaching spiritual enlightenment, one sweater-vested young man must face a dancing Oldsmobile, endure a boozy encounter with God on a frozen tundra, and brush his teeth, comb his hair, floss, Q-Tip, lather and shave simultaneously. “Doxology” combines groundbreaking stop-motion animation techniques and unusual storytelling with the time-honored quest for spiritual awakening.

Below is an interview with Langan about the film. He’ll also be participating in the comments section of this post so if you have any questions for him, feel free to ask.

Interview with Michael Langan, creator of Doxology, by Sung-Joo Kim, head programmer for Seoul International Animation Festival

Sung-Joo Kim: What would you like to tell to audiences through “Doxology?”

Michael Langan: Learn to adapt to and find contentment in your surroundings.

SJK: What was your motivation for making the film?

ML: I set out to create a film, having no idea what the end product would be. The only rule I gave myself was to trust my intuition completely. I began by creating tons of animated “sketches,” very quickly-executed ideas, which accumulated into a bank of loosely-associated short films. I rushed the entire process, not allowing myself to censor or judge each idea before it had been executed. Eventually the pieces began to speak to one another, and I started drawing lines between them and shaping them into a film. The overarching theme that developed is an account and commentary on the relationship between Heaven and Earth, incidentally connected by tennis balls (which I like to think of as prayers.)

SJK: Could you explain your proprietary techniques used to make this film?

ML: I used a combination of stop-motion and pixilation in “Doxology,” with a little altered live action thrown in for good measure. There is one scene featuring 3D-animated snow, but nearly everything else in the film is photographed from life. I developed a number of original techniques for the film. The recurring image of the earth from space is in fact a time-lapse panorama of the sky from below, which I flipped upside-down and warped to simulate the curvature of the earth. The climactic scene at the conclusion of the film involves a combination of visual techniques which alter the original footage into a new interpretation of space and time. First, I shot image sequences out of plane windows with a digital still camera every time I flew in a commercial jet over the course of a year. Then I stabilized these shaky sequences on a focal point, like a church steeple, so it appears as if the viewer is rotating around this central point. Next I simulated a narrow depth of field by blurring the background and foreground, thereby miniaturizing the subject to call attention to the relativity of scale. Finally, I duplicated the footage several times and wove these sequences into themselves, creating an animated Shepard’s Scale in which time and distance appear to pass, but are in fact perpetually rooted to the same moment and place.

SJK: What was the most difficult point in the production of “Doxology?”

ML: The most difficult scene to animate in “Doxology” was the bathroom sequence, in which I appear to be brushing and flossing my teeth, combing my hair, cleaning my ears, lathering, and shaving all at the same time. This scene was shot using pixilation–that’s stop motion animation with actual people and places–one frame at a time, for two hours. Like some other effects that appear in “Doxology,” I had to first take out all drifting motion before I could connect the elements. Compare it to trying to assemble a puzzle on a boat in rough seas; you need everything still before you can put it together. After stabilizing each arm and the corresponding section of my face, I carefully pieced together every action so that they could all take place at once without interfering with one another. The last step was to re-introduce the motion I removed in order to assemble the puzzle. Shifting the head with the combing motion and including sideways bumps from toothbrushing and shaving makes the illusion seem more natural. The finished composite involved hundreds of layers and over three months of editing to reach completion.

SJK: Any notable memories?

ML: Perhaps my favorite part of filmmaking is designing the sound and music for a film. “Doxology” involved extensive original recording, for which I enlisted the help of a choir, two organists, a box of corn starch, and a mariachi band. The song which plays over the climax of the film is called “The Doxology,” which is an English hymn sung at the close of many church services. To achieve the full sound of an enormous church congregation, I had to multiply the sound of a single choir many times over. This required animating a sing-along video of sorts, from which the choir and organist could take their cues and sync up when joined by editing. I recorded the Higher Keys of Brown University in a large dance hall, asking them to sing the song ten times, changing their voices and positions after each take to add as much variety as possible to the recording. They sang like grandparents, children, opera singers, bored teenagers, and hopelessly tone-deaf churchgoers. On a separate day in another hall I recorded the organist playing the hymn with no choir. I then layered all of these sounds on top of each other, creating the illusion that the audience is listening to a single, gigantic congregation being led by an organist.

A little trivia: The music playing during the credits sequence is an old German klezmer tune, “My Hat, It Has Three Corners,” which is the theme to Jan Svankmajer’s film “Etcetera.” I adapted the song for a Mexican mariachi band and recorded it as an homage to one of my favorite filmmakers.

SJK: What is your purpose in creating animations? For commercial success or indie animation or what?

ML: My ultimate goal is simply to continue exercising my artistic license to the fullest extent possible. That said, I’m definitely not limited to independent filmmaking. So far I’ve been very content creating bizarre, commercial short films for a clothing label in San Francisco called Upper Playground. You can see these shorts at youtube.com/walrustv.

Unnatural History of Wall Street

Unnatural History of Wall Street

Today is bad news if you work on Wall Street, but it’s good news for folks who want to watch cartoons about Wall Street. Animator Gary Leib just debuted a timely animated piece on the NY Times website: Unnatural History of Wall Street. It’s one minute of fun, loose and cartoony animation with a jazz score by Mike Hashim. This is Leib’s second piece for the Times website; his first was this history of the Meatpacking District.

“Mickey Mouse must Die!”

Mickey Mouse is “one of Satan’s soldiers” and makes everything he touches impure… or so claims Sheikh Muhammad Munajid during a religious affairs program broadcast on al-Majd TV, as reported in today’s London Telegraph.

The Sheikh warned that depictions of the creature in cartoons such as Tom and Jerry, and Disney’s Mickey Mouse, have taught children that mice were, in fact, loveable. The cleric, a former diplomat at the Saudi embassy in Washington DC, said that under Islamic law, both household mice and their cartoon counterparts must be killed.

(Thanks, Doran Gaston)

Nieto’s Nike Spot

Luis Nieto

This new Nike commercial featuring British sprinter Nicola Sanders is a real winner, particularly in its artful execution. The mixed-media approach combines stop-motion, CG and live-action in a surrealist rainbow-colored package. It’s out of Wieden+Kennedy (Amsterdam) with direction by Nieto, model-making and animation by Brice Lartigue and lead VFX by Damien Martin.

The director, Nieto, is better known as Luis Nieto, who broke onto the scene with his student film Carlitopolis (2006). His subsequent follow-up–Prof. Nieto Show–gave the impression that he might be a one-trick pony, but this commercial, along with others for Sprint and Peugeot, prove that Nieto has plenty of tricks up his sleeve.

Seth MacFarlane launches Cavalcade of Comedy

Seth MacFarlane recently launched his new ad-supported animated shorts series “Seth MacFarlane’s Cavalcade of Cartoon Comedy” through SethComedy.com. The show is structured through Google’s Content Network with sponsors such as Burger King. As you can tell by the embedded episode, the reason for discussing this on Cartoon Brew is clearly not because of the content (left-over Family Guy gags that demean both the terms “cartoon” and “comedy”) but because of its novel online distribution model, which could open doors for other filmmakers. According to Ars Technica, here is how money is made on the shorts:

The episodes are short, ranging from under a minute to no more than two, and so far, they only consist of a preroll sponsorship-type ad (which is animated in McFarlane’s style, so it’s not very jarring at all) before the actual video. For now, the two available shorts are sponsored by Burger King, and they are cross-posted to the “BK Channel” on YouTube…As with much web video these days, episodes of the Cavalcade of Cartoon Comedy can be shared with friends and embedded onto blogs and websites. The interesting part of the deal, however, is the revenue distribution. The videos will be run on sites across the web, basically as both content and advertising. Each time a viewer clicks on a Cavalcade video or ad, advertisers will pay a fee that gets split between MacFarlane, Google, the production company partner Media Rights, and the site hosting the video.

No one has the solution yet for how filmmakers can consistently earn money by placing their work online and in fact there may be dozens of solutions. What’s not in doubt is that the integration of advertising and content has proven to be one driving factors behind the growth online short film distribution. Experiments like MacFarlane’s will only help everybody figure out the models.

Daffy Tapioca

Cynthia Petrovic of Red Tango spotted this package (above) in a local supermarket:

Maybe I’m just getting more perverted in my old age, but I could not resist this packaging by Vons, who has it’s own “eating right” selection of foods, and they are now enlisting Warner Brothers characters to help hock the goods. What stopped me in my tracks was this insane pic of Daffy, coated gleefully in pudding, having a gay old time. What pudding has to do with eating well I don’t know, but the image of Daffy reveling in being splattered with goop on the front of a food product certainly made my day!

These products, exclusive to Safeway, Vons and Pavilions supermarkets, are part of an initiative announced several months ago by Warner Bros. to begin linking their characters to healthier food choices for kids. For more information on this, here’s an intereview (below) with Brad Globe, President of Warner’s Consumer Products, shot earlier this year at the Licensing Expo in New York.