NEXT WEEK: Don Hertzfeldt In NYC

Don Hertzfeldt

If you haven’t heard, filmmaker Don Hertzfeldt is currently in the midst of a nationwide tour of his films, including the debut of his latest tour de force I Am So Proud of You. The show has been a huge success and has sold out (or nearly sold-out) in every city the tour has hit. Hertzfeldt continues appearances in Allentown, Pennsylvania tonight and Rochester, New York on Saturday. Next Wednesday, November 19, he’s doing a couple shows in New York at the IFC Center (323 Sixth Avenue). Both the early and late show have already sold out, but Don tells me that they’re planning to add a third, extra-late show. Stay tuned to this page for ticket info on the third show, which should go on sale soon.

If you’re feeling lucky, Cartoon Brew is giving away two tickets to the 9:15 show. Just enter your name on our Cartoon Brew group on Facebook by Saturday. I’ll be moderating the Q&A sessions with Don for the New York portion of the tour so get some good questions ready for us. More info about the tour on Don’s website And while we’re at it, here’s a good recent interview with Don about his latest short.

“Inside a Boy” Music Video by Rafa Toro

“Inside a Boy” is a fresh-looking music video for the group My Brightest Diamond. It’s directed by Spanish artist Rafa Toro. He says that he made it “with a tight schedule (barely a month and a half) and low budget (I made every step of the production, including design, animation, editing, etc…).” The illustrations in this vid are a treat for the eyes and the real highlight of the piece. This is Toro’s first major freelance animation assignment and I hope it’s not the last.

BOOK REVIEW: The Art of Disney’s Bolt

Art of Bolt

I received a complimentary copy of the The Art of Bolt in the mail recently. I’m going to ignore the fact that it wasn’t intended for me since there was a note inside of the book that was addressed to the editor of a certain other animation-related print magazine which shall remain unnamed.

In terms of text, there’s little to discuss. The book, credited to Mark Cotta Vaz, is thin in the writing department, even relative to other ‘art of’ books in my collection. It makes me wonder why I invest so much effort when I’m hired to write similar ‘art of’ books. With the exception of a dozen or so pages of text, everything else is quotes, including deep bits of insights like the following from a couple of the animators: “Animating a dog is quite complicated. Instead of two legs you have four, and the overall motion is something the audience is very familiar with, so it has to look perfect for everyone to believe in it.”

Then again, it’s called The ART of Bolt for a reason. We buy these books for the artwork and there’s plenty of that on every page. At times, the book almost feels like it should be titled “The Art of Paul Felix.” It’s dominated by the digital paintings of Felix, who was art director on the movie. I’m not complaining. Felix’s work is skillful and has a certain charm. There are also plenty of other digital paintings by artists including Greg Miller, Jim Finn, Ric Sluiter, Kevin Nelson, Sean Samuels, as well as some graphite drawings (how quaint!) by Bill Perkins.

The buzzword for the art direction of this film is “painterly.” It’s repeated frequently in the book, and they cite a desire to recreate the “painterly” feel of Edward Hopper, George Bellows and the Ashcan School artists. It’ll be interesting to see how this painterly notion appears onscreen since the treatment of light and color has been a weak point in a lot of contemporary CGI (though it is improving). There are examples in the book of render tests, and what they illustrate is that in CGI, “painterly” translates to softer textures and a brushstroke feel, but at the end of the day, the backgrounds are still controlled by the perfect geometries of a computer-generated image. It is, at best, an approximation of a painter’s work. There is no abstraction of masses or compositional decisions that are based outside the realm of the digital model. That is not a fault of the artists so much as it is asking something of the technology that it is incapable of providing. But it’s also why I find it difficult to muster enthusiasm for page after page of Disney’s attempt to codify a “painterly” approach in their films (top image) without really ever approaching anything remotely as exciting as a true painter’s work (bottom image, by George Bellows).

Art of Bolt

One area in which CGI doesn’t have to play second-fiddle to the traditional arts is in the realm of characters, and there’s plenty of character design artwork in this book. The book offers solid and appealing designs by lead designer Joe Moshier, supported by work from Jin Kim and Chen-Yi Chang. Moshier comes from the Tom Oreb school of character design, and he does the super-graphic and elegant shapes and forms as well as anybody today. I think his designs excite me even more than Craig Kellman’s designs for Madagascar, which is another heavily Oreb-influenced production. My reservations are in the obviousness of the design choices. There’s never any real exploration of the graphic possibilities, such as what one saw in Teddy Newton’s inventive character exploration work on The Incredibles.

Another thing that I don’t see in the character designs is a unified vision of the universe, especially not in the way that was evident in the work of Chris Sanders on American Dog, the earlier incarnation of Bolt. Not only is the work of Sanders absent in this book, but his name has also been entirely omitted from the production history. As a historian, this type of revisionism raises my ire, but I don’t know the behind-the-scenes story that necessitated his name being omitted from the book. In the book, Vaz writes that Paul Felix started figuring out the look of the film in 2005. Did Felix and Sanders never speak to one another during Sanders’ tenure as director? Obviously a lot of stuff was figured out when Sanders was still aboard.

In a hint at why Sanders was let go, Lasseter writes in the foreword that in Bolt, “as innovative as the production design is, the artists made sure the style was always serving the story.” My only wish is that the style they ended up using wasn’t so safe and generic. The Disney studio has built a reliable animation brand that hews to the “Illusion of Life” philosophy, but I don’t believe for one second that to achieve that, they need to dumb down their design sensibilities and regress to blandness. As is evident in films like Fantasia, Sleeping Beauty, 101 Dalmatians and Lilo and Stitch, the Illusion of Life is not tied to any set Disney style. It’s a flexible idea that can accommodate more creativity and experimentation than the artwork that’s shown in this book. This ‘art of’ book may not have the most interesting or inspiring art, but let’s hope at the end of the day, at least it serves the story, as Lasseter believes it does.

Click here to buy the book on Amazon.

Emru Townsend, RIP

Emru Townsend
Emru (r.) with sister Tamu

Our friend and colleague Emru Townsend passed away last night after a brave battle with leukemia. Emru was the founder of the print and online magazine FPS Magazine and one of the sincerest, most passionate and articulate animation critics around.

He put up a valiant fight against his illness over the past year, and in doing so he brought awareness about the importance of bone marrow donation. It’s something easy that almost anybody can do, and it can save a life. To learn more about how you can become a bone marrow donor, visit

From both Jerry and Amid, we want to offer our sincere condolences to Emru’s entire family, and particularly his sister Tamu who is an active member of the animation community and an important part of FPS’s online presence. Emru will be missed.

Remembrances of Emru are beginning to be posted online:
Richard O’Connor
Matt Forsythe
Vicky Tamaru
“StandingInTheMiddleOfLife” (nice writeup)
Dan Tynan
Madeline Ashby
Mark Mayerson
Chris Robinson
Harry McCracken
Didier Ghez

Emru Townsend
Emru (c.) with animators Ward Jenkins (l.) and Pat Smith (r.)

Aristo-Cat Food

I’m allergic to cats so I never wander down the pet food aisle. So imagine my surprise when I found a stack of Disney Aristocats brand cat food on display — and on sale (two for a dollar) — at my local super market this week. For the record, I’ve blogged about Disney Dog and Cat Food before, but the colorful kid-friendly label of this canned Aristocats product really grabbed my attention.

My question: I know the studios have stopped marketing unhealthy food products towards kids – so now they go after their pets? And speaking of healthy Disney food for kids, I couldn’t help but snicker at this awkward sounding item (pictured below) now being sold in England: Mickey’s Fun-Size Bananas!

Sometimes I think I should just blog about oddball cartoon merchandise…

June Foray on Stu’s Show

Cartoon voice actress June Foray (Witch Hazel, Granny, Rocky, Natasha) will hang out on Stu’s Show live today at 4pm Pacific Time/7pm Eastern Time. Host Stu Shostack and animation historians and writers extraordinaire Mark Evanier and Earl Kress will ask June about her incredible career – and listeners can call in too. If you miss the show, it will be repeated every day for the next week in the same time slot each day. But listen in today (It’s Stu’s 100th broadcast), call in and speak to a living legend!

London (Harder, Better, Faster, Stronger) by David Hubert

I’ve linked to similar films before on the Brew, but I think this is a particularly stellar example of time-lapse/pixilation animation. The choice of photos and editing show a sophisticated eye at work; it’s little surprise then that the person who made it, David Hubert, identifies himself as an animator at DreamWorks. Hubert took 3300 photos in London, and composited them with AfterEffects and Premiere, and set it all to Daft Punk’s “Harder, Better, Faster, Stronger.” If I were the city of London, I’d license this film from David (and Daft Punk); it’s a terrific advertisement for the city.

(via NotCot and Fubiz)

Bill and Joe Show You How It’s Done

Bill and Joe on the CBC

This 1961 film clip of Bill Hanna and Joe Barbera explaining the TV animation process is well worth a view. There’s a lot of crazy stuff that happens in the mere span of three-and-a-half minutes. First there’s the shot of layout man Alex Lovy, who takes a long drag on his cigarette before he even starts to draw, which is a unique sight for any animation documentary. That’s followed by a shot of a stereotypically obese animator who barely fits in the frame. I more or less expect animators to look like this today, but it’s something of a surprise to see such a bulky animator in 1961.

Mark Mayerson, who originally linked to this clip, also notes the video’s “casual sexism” in which “‘girls’ do ink and paint, but a ‘man’ paints the backgrounds.” Along those lines, it’s worth noting that the best “how-to” advice in the video has nothing to do with animation. Just watch as Joe Barbera puts the moves on the foxy woman interviewer at around 1:30 into the clip. Now there’s a glimpse into a long-lost era when animation execs were also smooth operators.

Oscar Qualified Features

The Academy has released its list of animated features that qualify for Oscar consideration. 14 titles. Had Universal deemed to enter The Pirates Who Don’t Do Anything and if Warner Bros. submitted Star Wars: The Clone Wars, or had Fox entered Space Chimps, we might have had the opportunity for five nominees. As it is Academy members will pick three from this selection:

Bolt – Disney
Delgo — Fathom Studios
Dr. Seuss’ Horton Hears a Who! — 20th Century Fox/Blue Sky
Dragon Hunters — Futurikon/Peace Arch
Fly Me to the Moon — Summit Ent./nWave
Igor — MGM/ Weinstein Co./Exodus
Kung Fu Panda — DreamWorks Animation
Madagascar: Escape 2 Africa — DreamWorks Animation
$9.99 — Regent Releasing
The Sky Crawlers — Production IG./Nippon/Sony Pictures Classics
Sword of the Stranger (Stranger Mukoh Hadan) – Shochiku/Bones/Bandai
The Tale of Despereaux – Universal
WALL-E — Disney/Pixar
Waltz with Bashir — Sony Pictures Classics

If anyone knows where and when The Sky Crawlers and Dragon Hunters are booked for their one-week Oscar qualifying release in Los Angeles, please let me know. I’m curious to see these.

Any thoughts on which three the Academy may nominate?

Come Have An Omelette with Me

I’m not sure why I’m linking to this one-minute short besides the fact that it made me want to have an omelette. This is what happens when food-related cartoons show up in my newsreader before breakfast. Animation and music are by NYU grad Stephen Neary, who most recently was working in the story department at Blue Sky Studios. Neary also created the student film Shark Suit: The Musical.

Cartoon Brew TV #9: It’s a Grand Old Nag

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

This week we shine a spotlight on a rarely seen Hollywood cartoon by the great Bob Clampett. It’s a Grand Old Nag (1947) is in fact Clampett’s final animated cartoon created during the golden age of Hollywood.

Clampett was one of the chief architects of the Warner Bros. school of cartoon comedy. In addition to directing dozens of classic Looney Tunes (including such titles as Porky In Wackyland, The Great Piggy Bank Robbery and Coal Black and De Sebben Dwarfs), Clampett created two Warner Bros. mainstays, Tweety and Beaky Buzzard. After Clampett left Warner Bros. in 1945, he spent several months punching up stories for Screen Gems (Columbia’s ill-fated cartoon unit) while setting himself up as an independent producer. He approached Republic Pictures, which did not have a cartoon division but had a need to demonstrate a new 2-color film process: TruColor (the studio owned one of the biggest film labs in Hollywood, Consolidated Film Industries).

In 1946, Clampett made a deal to produce one theatrical cartoon, budgeted for $20,000, with an option to make 35 more. Taking his cue from the kind of pictures Republic was known for–B-Westerns and rural comedies–Clampett created “Charlie Horse”, sort of a four-legged Mortimer Snerd (not unlike the personality he gave to Beaky Buzzard at Warners).

The film is filled with Clampett’s gag sensibilities, from the eye-popping double takes to the punny signs that cover the action. (I’ve Always Loathed You was a take-off of Republic’s biggest film of 1946, I’ve Always Loved You; Ciro Van Snoot being referred to as “The Horse With The Inhuman Mind”, a jab at the billing for Roy Roger’s horse, Trigger, “The Smartest Horse In the Movies”).

The cartoon even has a “joke” director credit (to “Kilroy”, the graffiti phenomenon of the 1940s), and though Don Towsley (Dumbo, Bambi, Fantasia) is credited as Supervising Animator, Clampett clearly has his fingerprints all over the film (and that’s literally his handwriting in the credits and in other lettering seen throughout the film). Bob used voice talents Dave Barry (as “Mr. Retake”) and Stan Freberg (as “Charlie” and “Ciro” – take note, this is Freberg’s first official screen credit!) both of whom had worked with Clampett at Termite Terrace. One credit noticeably missing is that of “story.” Rumor is that Clampett hired Michael Maltese to moonlight on the film. (In 1954, animator Paul J. Smith directed A Horse’s Tale for Walter Lantz. It’s a de facto remake, with a tell-tale story credit to Maltese.)

It’s a Grand Old Nag was released on December 20th, 1947. No information exists to gauge its initial success, but it was released at a turning point in Republic’s history. Financial losses due to the war and depressed revenues at the box office were forcing Republic to tighten its belt. Early in 1948 Clampett’s multi-cartoon deal was cancelled. Undeterred, Clampett threw himself into his pioneering TV puppet show Time For Beany (bringing Stan Freberg along for the ride). Clampett returned briefly to animation in the late 50s/early 60s with a series of Beany & Cecil cartoons for ABC-TV.

Charlie Horse is just a footnote in the fabulous career of Bob Clampett. One wonders what the other 35 cartoons could have been like – or where Clampett (and Republic) may have gone if things worked out differently. For now, we have this one surviving example of that alternate route – and, like the rest of Clampett’s work, it’s a refreshing blast of cartoon energy.

Jerry Beck and Mark Kausler provide audio commentary on this short. Thanks to Michael Geisler for recording the commentary track, and Randall Kaplan for his expert sound and picture editing.

Here is an original cel from the short:

Notes on Bolt

Saw Bolt yesterday. Before the screening they gave everyone a promotional deck of playing cards featuring development artwork from the film. Aren’t the pencil images of the lead characters (above) beautiful. I really wanted to see that movie.

Instead I saw the CG version (and I saw it flat, not in Disney Digital 3D). What did I think? First off, let me recommend that all Cartoon Brew readers see this feature. It’s definitely a good solid family film and an improvement (story-wise) over Chicken Little and Meet The Robinsons. I don’t know all the behind-the-scenes problems – but I’m aware John Lasseter got involved, the director was replaced, the film was reworked and pushed through production in eighteen months.

The first ten or 15 minutes of the film is pure action. I’m talkin’ Incredibles, 007, Jason Bourne-style fast cutting with wild stunts, chases, explosions, cliff-hangers and a dog with super powers. Could Brad Bird have had a hand in this section? This was exciting stuff. Actually, this action-packed opening sequence is preceded by a heart-tugging opening scene that shows Bolt being adopted several years earlier.

Following the action set-piece, the film then goes to great lengths to explain the set-up: Bolt is the star of a TV show who is motivated to “act”, by his director (James Lipton, a nice touch), because he believes the situations (and his super-powers) are real. Before you can say “deus ex machina”, Bolt is accidently shipped to New York and the remainder of the film is taken up with his journey back to Hollywood, his traveling companions, and his realization that he isn’t who he thinks he is.

John Travolta does a great job as Bolt’s voice. Susie Essman (from Curb Your Enthusiasm, as Mittens the alley cat) and Disney story artist Mark Walton (as a fanboy hamster) deserve kudos as the true co-stars of the picture. I suppose I should mention Miley Cyrus. Her part is much smaller despite it being the pivotal role of Bolt’s human master. Does anyone know if Miley was in this film from day one – or did she replace another actress and was shoehorned into the production after the success of Hannah Montana?

The film hits all the right notes as the characters trek across America and have numerous adventures. The climactic rescue of Penny from a burning Hollywood sound stage is also quite effective. The production has all the polish we’ve come to expect from a Disney (or Pixar) production (including the now-requisite 50s stylized 2D end titles) – however there were several little things that kept pulling me out of the film. For one, the film’s settings (in the old days we’d say “the backgrounds”) are mainly photo-real, but are sometimes painted. There’s one scene in New York, where Bolt is staring at the back of a U-Haul truck. My eye was distracted by the unrealistic painting of the truck’s poorly rendered license plate.

Another thing got to me… there’s a dialogue scene between Bolt and Mittens in a field in Las Vegas. I admired how they got the intense Nevada daytime sunlight just right. But the dialogue track took me out of the scene. The characters sounded like they were in a recording booth – not in a Las Vegas field. I’ve never thought about this before seeing this scene – but couldn’t dialogue for an important outdoor scene actually be recorded outside? It would’ve added touch of realism to the situation.

But these are just tiny nit-picks. Overall, I really enjoyed the film – especially its digs at the behind the scenes world of network television production. Bolt is a lot of fun, and a good step in the right direction as Disney continues to rebuild its brand in Feature Animation. I’m rooting for Bolt, and the studio, to succeed.

P.S. to Disney brass: I still wouldn’t mind seeing a hand drawn version of Bolt as depicted in the development art. Could such an idea be in the cards – and not just in the playing cards?

Kanye West’s New Video Inspired by Bakshi’s American Pop

Kanye West writes on his blog that this new video for “Heartless”, directed by Hype Williams, was inspired by the rotoscope-animation in Ralph Bakshi’s American Pop. The Jetsons also make an appearance in the vid. West says, “WE RECORDED REAL PEOPLE AND THEN HAD 65 ANIMATORS IN HONG KONG HAND DRAW OVER EVERY CELL [sic] . INSPIRED BY THE MOVIE “AMERICAN POP” . HYPE SHOWED ME THE MOVIE AND I WAS SOLD.”

(Thanks, Jeremy Bernstein)

Splatter pics

The image above comes from a London art exhibit, Splatter, which we reported here last month. The show has now closed (yesterday was the last day) but in case you missed it, artist James Cauty has posted several pics from the opening and has posted several more.

And if that isn’t enough, Cauty is selling exclusive merchandise here. My only question: is this stuff authorized by Warner Bros.?

(Thanks, Steve Gordon)

Betty Boop Broadway Bound?

The New York Times, Playbill and several other news sources are reporting on plans, just announced, for a Betty Boop musical supposedly en route to Broadway. Of course, Betty’s been there before. She was created by Grim Natwick at Fleischer Studios at 1600 Broadway in 1930.

The new musical production, according to reports:

…will feature music by 15-time Grammy Award winner David Foster, with book by Sally Robinson and Oscar Williams. The show is planning to debut on Broadway in the 2010-2011 season at a Nederlander theatre to be announced.

In the new musical, the inimitable Betty Boop joins her friends Bimbo and Koko to work her irresistible charm in reuniting her grandfather (who has created the Greatest Invention of Mankind) with the long-lost, true love of his life, while saving the Happy Heart Theater from the developer’s bulldozers.

I wish they’d use a few Sammy Timberg songs… but hey, all I hope is that publicity generated from news of this production is so great it might finally give someone the idea to release a complete collection of the vintage Boop cartoons on DVD.

(Thanks, Felicia Spano)

Pablo Valbuena’s Wall Animation

Pablo Valbuena Wall Animation

Animation is such a ubiquitous part of our contemporary lives that it can no longer be confined to mere screen projection. It increasingly appears all around us and has become part of the fabric of our everyday lives. Over the past year, I’ve been pointing out examples of artists who use real-world settings either as a canvas for creating animation or as a place to project finished works. These artists include Blu, Fons Schiedon and Karolina Sobecka.

Pablo Valbuena is another artist who can be added to the list. Valbuena pushes it further than these other artists and actually manages to alter our perception of real-world space through his animation. To get a sense of what I’m talking about, check out this piece he created in the Netherlands:

For the full effect of this piece, see the official video on Pablo’s website. His indoor experiments are equally mesmerizing. For all the talk of “stereoscopic 3D” animated features, all those films are still being projected onto a single surface . Valbuena is pursuing a more honest and exciting form of 3D animation by using three-dimensional space as his work canvas.

On his website, Valbuena offers the following explanation of what he’s trying to accomplish through his work:

Pablo Valbuena Wall Animation

“This project is focused on the temporary quality of space, investigating space-time not only as a three dimensional environment, but as space in transformation. For this purpose two layers are produced that explore different aspects of the space-time reality. On the one hand the physical layer, which controls the real space and shapes the volumetric base that serves as support for the next level. The second level is a virtual projected layer that allows controlling the transformation and sequentiality of space-time.

“The blending of both levels gives the impression of physical geometry suitable of being transformed. The orverlapping produces a three-dimensional space augmented by a transformable layer suitable to be controlled, resulting in the capacity through the installation of altering multiple dimensions of space-time.”

(via Submarine Channel)

Follow the Bouncing Ball

Never thought I’d be posting about High School Musical 3, but I noticed this ad in yesterday’s paper and just had to comment.

Is that the bouncing ball I see at the top of the ad? Isn’t the “bouncing ball” property (or at least Intellectual Property) of Fleischer Studios or possibly Paramount Pictures? Even if they aren’t actually using the “Famous Bouncing Ball” in the Sing-along HSM3, isn’t it interesting that they use this iconic image – one created by Fleischer Studios – in their advertising?

Just asking.

Sleeping Beauty: Blu-Ray Doesn’t Mean Better

Sleeping Beauty

The Blu-Ray release of Sleeping Beauty has generated a lot of attention, not only from the media, but also from animation fans who have noticed this version’s oversaturated colors, poor color timing and DVNR. The changes in color have also been noticed by industry professionals like Lou Romano, art director of The Incredibles, who writes on his blog that he prefers the 2003 DVD release and also posts a bunch of frame grab comparisons. I agree with Lou and everybody else; to my eyes, the colors in this new version look way too hot. It’s a shame that they can’t get the colors right on a film in which color plays such an integral role.

Contest #4: Hanna Barbera Mini-Books

The winners of today’s little contest will receive a set of three Hanna-Barbera Mini-Books just published by Insight Editions.

The first three people to post correct answers in the comments below will win today:

Question: Scooby Doo made his television debut on September 13th 1969. What network did SCOOBY DOO WHERE ARE YOU premiere on?

The contest is now CLOSED! We have our winners. Check the COMMENTS below.

Magic and Merchandise

There’s an art show going on at the Laguna College of Art and Design, Magic and Merchandise: The Art of Collectibles, the theme of which being merchandising artwork… either people who do it for companies like Disney or for those who do their own thing. The opening reception is tonight, but the show will be going on for a few weeks, through December 8th. Those who live in the LA/OC area might want to check it out just for inspiration. Artists Kevin Kidney, Jody Daily, Cynthia Petrovic, Liz Granger and Jason Bahret will be there! Dave Kuhn (he used to work at Disney, Warners, etc now works at the college) arranged it all. Very cool stuff!

It’s at the Ettinger Gallery, 2222 Laguna Canyon Road, Laguna Beach, CA – Info at (949) 376-6000

Colony Theatre 9/24/27

It was eighty years ago this month when Walt Disney’s Steamboat Willie made its debut at New York’s Colony Theatre — and the history of animation was changed forever.

I was rummaging through my movie files over the weekend and I came across this four page program for the Colony Theatre from 1927, a little more over a year before Mickey’s gala premiere. At the risk of going slightly OT, I thought I’d post this (below) for my friends J.B. Kaufman, Leonard Maltin, David Gerstein, Michael Barrier and the six other people I know who might find this fascinating.

There are a couple of things to note. First off, it has a great cover illustration by C.E. Millard, and a logo which designates the Colony as “A Universal Theatre”. On page 3 you’ll see Disney’s The Ocean Hop, an Oswald Rabbit cartoon, is programmed to play after the feature (as a “chaser”?). Also note that cigarettes are provided free, and there is no tipping the hostesses. The final page features the theatre floor plan and indicates that the admission price is only 25 cents before 2pm.

Ahh, moving-going in the 1920s. Click on thumbnails below to enlarge – and return to the way it used to be.