Cartoon Brew TV: Like Me, Only Better

Like Me, Only Better

We’re a few days late with the new episode of Cartoon Brew TV but this week’s film is worth the wait. Like Me, Only Better by Martin Pickles is a film we’ve been seeing at animation festivals all year long and it makes us laugh each and every time. We’re delighted that Martin is doing the online premiere of the film here on the Brew. Watch Like Me, Only Better on Cartoon Brew TV.

Cartoon Brew TV #14: Like Me, Only Better

Like Me, Only Better is a film that made us laugh in Annecy last spring, and then made us laugh even harder when we saw it again in Ottawa last fall. That’s when we knew we had to find a way to share it with viewers of Cartoon Brew TV. Directed by Martin Pickles as a graduation project at the Royal College of Art in London, the film has been a big hit on the festival circuit appearing in over fifty festivals to date. Prior to studying animation, Martin had been primarily a live-action filmmaker and many of his earlier films can be seen on his film company website.

Martin Pickles will be participating in the Brew comments if you have any questions for him. Here is his artist’s statement about the film:

Like Me, Only Better is about our day-to-day neuroses and compulsions. I treat a serious subject with sympathy and humour to try and make a film that is both pertinent and entertaining.

Before the RCA I made mainly live-action films, in which the apparatus of filming was often integral to the story. But my experience on the MA course and my sideline as a Flash animator led me towards more traditional animation and my graduation film is almost entirely hand-drawn on paper.

Afterwards I would like to do more commercial work whilst pursuing my own projects and perhaps, in the distant future, even combine the two.

Rankin/Bass’s Tale of Holiday Woe

Heat Miser

The official Rankin/Bass website has a disturbing front page story that alleges Warner Bros. is witholding millions of dollars owed to Arthur Rankin and Jules Bass, creators of classic holiday specials like Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer and Frosty the Snowman. More details about the situation can be found in this article printed in Rankin’s hometown Bermuda paper The Mid-Ocean News. According to that piece:

The dispute arose when popular 1980s cartoon ThunderCats was re-released recently as a DVD box set by Warner Bros, which owns the distribution rights to that and 21 other Rankin/Bass titles. The box set went on to sell over a million copies, prompting Mr. Rankin to wonder about profits owed to him and his colleagues. “Sales were jumping off the charts,” said Mr. Rankin in an exclusive interview with the Mid-Ocean News.”But Warner Bros said they didn’t have any accounting on it except that they’d sold a million copies. My legal team started investigating and found out that for the last 20 years they’ve been deducting handling fees of $200,000 annually.”

Mr. Rankin explained that while Warner Bros readily admits an accounting error resulting in $2.6 million of improper deductions, they claim he caught the mistake too late. “They knew it was wrong, but said that because it has been so long, the statute of limitations has kicked in. You would imagine that Warner Bros, which makes an awful lot of money with our productions would say, ‘We’re sorry about our mistake. Here’s what we owe you’.”

(Thanks, James Hutson)

2008 Brew Holiday Gift Guide #2

Three more books I’m recommending for holiday gift giving, mainly because they are really good reads.

Directing the Story by Francis Glebas (Aladdin, Lion King, Pocahontas, Hercules, etc.) is the ultimate book on storytelling and storyboard techniques. 346 oversized color pages explaining everything about the craft, with excellent informative text and hundreds of storyboard drawings to illustrate every point. Highly Recommended!

Ted Stearn is a storyboard artist (Beavis and Butt-head, King of the Hill, Futurama, Drawn Together, etc.) by day and an alternative comics genius at night. His Fantagraphics funny animal duo, Fuzz and Pluck, star in separate adventures in their latest graphic novel, Fuzz and Pluck: Splitsville. These are seriously demented stories, and hopefully the template for some future animated adaptation. Crazy drawings and crazy fun. Recommended!

I wish Fantagraphics had also printed Beetle Bailey: the First Years 1950-1952. This book doesn’t have the classy feel of the Peanuts or Dennis The Menace reprint volumes, but nonetheless is a fascinating volume tracing the origins of America’s favorite Army private. I spent a half hour going through this book at Barnes and Noble (note to my close buds or Brian Walker: I don’t own a copy and would love to get one as a a gift – hint, hint), I couldn’t put it down. Walker was a terrific cartoonist back then and you can see why the strip became a hit. Recommended!

A Blog for Animation Legend Fred Moore

Fred Moore blogi

This Spanish blog is a one-stop source for Freddie Moore animation drawings, girlie sketches and photos filched from around the Internet. There’s two Moore drawings I posted a while back on Cartoon Brew which still haven’t been added to the collection.

And here’s a question I have for all you Fred Moore historians out there. In some recent research I’ve been doing, I discovered that Moore was freelancing outside of Disney between 1942 and 1943 for Swan Soap. He apparently created a character called “Betty Lou” as well as some gag cartoons. Does anybody know what these are? I’ve looked online at Swan Soap ad campaigns of the period and can’t find anything that suggests Moore’s artistic involvement with the company.

(Moore blog link via Michael Sporn)

Life of the Party

If you are looking for a gift for someone this Christmas or just in the mood to buy something for yourself, my number one choice (and favorite picture book of the last year) would be Kirk Demarais’s:  Life of the Party: A Visual History of the S. S. Adams Company.

S.S. Adams was the mastermind behind many of the most popular gag/novelty pranks of the last century, including the Joy Hand Buzzer, the Dribble Glass, the Snake Can, the Squirting Nickel, the Bug in an Ice Cube, the Exploding Cigar, and hundreds of others.   As one writer put it,  “The man’s rivals must have felt toward him as other dramatists have felt about Shakespeare.” I’m not exactly sure who his rivals were – other fart-cushion manufacturers, maybe? – but the sentiment is right on.

This book is treasure and nostalgia all wrapped up in one, like reading the back of an old comic book and trying to decide whether to order the vacuum cleaner hovercraft or a new pair of X-ray specs.   The images are often enlarged so you can really appreciate the original art and packaging genius of Louis M. Glackens*, the cartoonist who Adams hired to bring all of his products to life.  I also confess a soft spot for the personal touch of ordering it direct from the factory in Neptune, New Jersey.  I wish all books were like this.

In 1906 Adams discovered the existence of a potent chemical called Dianisidine and began marketing it in small vials labeled  “Cachoo Sneezing Powder” (the company was originally called the “Cachoo Sneeze Powder Company”).   The powder was so powerful that you could fill a room with sneezing people simply by blowing it through a keyhole or a crack in a door.

While Adams was busy exploiting Dianisidine stateside for laughs, the Germans were on the other side of the Atlantic stuffing it into their artillery shells, wreaking further disorder in the trenches of their enemies as the chemical also inhibits breathing.  Fortunately for Adams, he had a good 35 years before the F.D.A. decided that Dianisidine wasn’t as “harmless” as his label proclaimed and banned it.  By then, Adams had built an entire business with the money he made and had already used it to create countless other novelty items, some of them just as successful, if not more so, than sneezing powder.

Asked to share some advice on what makes a great novelty item, Adams once said, “The best idea is to work with an ordinary everyday object which is around the house.”  Case in point is his “Snake Jam Jar”, also known as the “Snake Nut Can.”

Apparently, around 1915 Adams had a habit of leaving the jam jar lid unscrewed. His wife wasn’t too happy about it and she began checking the lid to catch him in an act of neglect.   So, Adams rigged the jar by stuffing a wire coil wrapped in colorful fabric, and sat in the wings waiting for his wife to come in and inspect it.  The rest is history: when the 4-ft “snake” jumped out of the jar at his wife, she let out a scream so loud that Adams knew instantly that he had a new classic.

You will spend hours soaking up the thousands of images in this unbelievably rich and beautifully-produced “Visual History.”  If you’re lucky, you may even find yourself curled up under the sheets with a flashlight and a magnifying glass, feeling just like a kid again.

Get it here directly from the S.S. Adams factory in Neptune, New Jersey.

*Glackens was also a successful director and animator.  Check his filmography here.  If anyone can turn up a sample of his work online, please share it in the comments.

Warner Bros. Animated Industrials

Back in September I wrote several posts about a stash of Warner Club News magazines I came into featuring rare photos and information about the Warner Bros. Cartoon Department. Here’s one more. The photo above comes from the February 1958 issue and it shows the Commercial and Industrial Film animation crew in conference – left to right: Chuck Jones, Leo Salkin, Lou Scheimer, Maurice Noble, Owen Crump (producer), Carol Chaka (secretary) and Richard Hobson (executive). Dave DePatie (not pictured, was a production coordinator and editor in this division at the time).

In 1956, Warner Bros. created the WBTV Commercial and Industrial Films Division which produced dozens of films – live action, animated and sometimes combining both. When animation was needed it was coordinated through the Cartoon Department, and utilized the skills of their veteran animators and directors. They created TV spots, many made exclusively for sponsors of Warner Bros, TV shows – for Eastman Kodak, Gillette, General Electric, Nabisco, Ford, Kelloggs, Crest, Camay, etc. Perhaps their biggest project was the Bell Systen Science series. My guess is that in the photo above was taken during the production of Gateways To the Mind (1958) which contained this scene below (which I found on You Tube, forgive the pitch to purchase the DVD, I’m not selling, but you can purchase it here):

Compost by Jim and Diane Downer

I saw Compost a few months back and was really pleased to discover that it’s online. It’s a beautiful piece of work. Husband-and-wife filmmaking team Jim and Diane Downer talk about their filmmaking process in this interview with Rooftop Films:

“It wasn’t apparent to me at first, but now looking back on the project I see it as a documentary, a record of all the walks Diane and I took together with our four dogs to collect specimens. Things go by so quickly on the screen, when in reality they took months to collect and assemble. There’s a lot of wonderfully peaceful memories associated with this film. Also, along with being entertaining the film also has scientific value. It represents a cross section, a sampling of Rochester’s biomass. Grade-school children always seem to make that connection when they watch the film.”

Delgo Has One of Worst Openings in the History of Cinema

Delgo

The CG animated feature Delgo opened last weekend and nobody went to see it. According to Box Office Mojo, Delgo had the worst opening ever for a film that opened in more than 2,000 theaters earning just $511,290 or $237 per theater.

Moments like this really make one pause and reflect. What is the world coming to when an animated film with the voices of Freddie Prinze Jr., Jennifer Love Hewitt, Chris Kattan, Anne Bancroft, Eric Idle, Val Kilmer, Lou Gossett Jr, Malcolm McDowell, Michael Clarke Duncan, Burt Reynolds and Kelly Ripa isn’t a box office blockbuster? A story that makes sense and visuals that don’t make you want to heave are quaint touches, but the filmmakers behind Delgo understood where it really counted: celebrity voice actors. They hired every B- and C-list actor this side of Dancing With the Stars and somehow still failed. You know the recession is affecting Americans deeply when they no longer want to see Chris Kattan and Kelly Ripa voicing their CG characters.

Here’s a little taste of what all of America missed last weekend.

MGM Shorts Story

MGM

Here’s something you may not have seen. During the 1930s, MGM published a bi-monthly in-house magazine, MGM Shorts Story devoted to its numerous short subjects. Distributed primarily to its exhibitors and Loews Theatre managers, the oversized slick magazine devoted many of its pages to its latest cartoons and occasionally featured a cover story related to its animation studio. The November-December 1939 issue took a closer look at Harman Ising with this article below.

This is basically a studio publicity piece, but its interesting to note Harman and Ising defending their use of animal characters (over humans) and the spin that having no “star characters” frees them to experiment with different ideas. (Click thumbnails below to read):

Rumor Central: Animation Collective Not Paying Artists?

Animation Collective

Just a week after the news about Nick’s downsizing in New York comes this rumor about NY studio Animation Collective. A reliable Cartoon Brew reader writes:

“I wanted to let you know that I recently spoke to one of my friends and colleagues who works (worked) at Animation Collective in NYC. It looks like they shut down shop (whole staff) because they couldn’t pay their employees. Larry Schwarz (CEO) told the staff that one of their contracted clients can’t pay them. Word on the street is that Animation Collective hasn’t paid their staff in four weeks! Another gloom sign in the animation world. Ugh. Can it get worse? I’m guessing yes.”

Can anybody provide more details about the situation? Let’s hope this is not true because it would be a disgraceful and unacceptable way for any studio to treat their employees.

UPDATE: We received an email from an artist who had been working at Animation Collective. The artist asked for anonymity but allowed some of the information to be shared with Cartoon Brew readers. The artist says that not all the productions at the studio were affected, however the studio was never compensated for one of the productions that they completed for a French producer. Since being laid off, the artist still hasn’t received AT LEAST four weeks of payroll, some of it dating back to September and October. According to this artist, the studio hired accountants and lawyers to help them recover the money owed, but to date Animation Collective hasn’t delivered any of the backpay and isn’t offering details about what’s happening. They only apologize to employees and say their payments have been delayed.

The Twelve Animated Days of Christmas, #1

The “twelve days of Christmas” technically begin after Christmas Day, but we’re starting them early. Every day between now and Christmas, we’re offering one holiday-themed piece of animation.

To get things started, here’s a classic from the NFB: the Oscar-nominated 1963 short Christmas Cracker with segments directed by Norman McLaren, Jeff Hale, Gerald Potterton and Grant Munro.

The Spirit That Never Was

Thank you Mark Evanier for pointing us towards a must-read L.A. Times article by former Chuck Jones/Bill Melendez/Richard Williams publicist-turned-animation producer Steven Paul Leiva (Space Jam), about his ill-fated attempts to bring Will Eisner’s The Spirit to the screen. The story tells how Brad Bird, John Lasseter, John Musker, Jerry Rees (and other Hollywood bigshots) tried to make a potentially ground-breaking animated feature over 20 years ago (Leiva is pictured above left, in 1981, with Brad Bird (center) and Will Eisner at right). Read it now!

2008 Brew Holiday Gift Guide #1

Several animators have expanded beyond simply publishing their own sketchbooks and have moved up into creating personal illustrated stories, and authoring children’s books. Here are a few suggestions, off the beaten path, for gifts you might want to give your animated loved ones this holiday season.

First off, if you were wondering where to find a great childrens’ book about a town of hamburger-headed people… Well, your worries are over! Writer Mike Reiss (The Simpsons) has teamed once again with animator Xeth Feinberg (their past collaborations include Queer Duck and Hard Drinkin’ Lincoln) to create a clever, funny book just published by Inkwater Press, City of Hamburgers.

Next, meet Gabriele Pennacchioli, a Dreamworks animator-story artist who’s spent one year of weekends developing the story of a little horned hero. Now he’s collected his incredibly appealing drawings into a book, The Young Minotaur, which he’s selling $15.00 (which includes his signature and a sketch). See his blog for more information.

David G. Derrick Jr. is an artist and sculptor at Dreamworks Animation who has documented his adventures sketching animals in Africa in a new self published soft cover, African Diaries. It’s a first person account, in words and drawings, of his recent trek through the dark continent. Check out his website to order and see his amazing sculptures.

Speaking of Africa and Dreamworks, I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention, once again, my own holiday gift book The Art of Madagascar. Take a look:

(Thanks to Teoh Yi Chie/Parka81 for making the video above)

Nick Cross and Dave Cooper’s Music Video

What a perfect way to start the weekend! Today marks the debut of a new music video by illustrator/comic artist Dave Cooper in collaboration with animator/director Nick Cross. The video is for Danko Jones’ song “King of Magazines.” Nick says, “The animation was all done in Flash by myself and Steve Stefanelli, working from Dave’s storyboard and rough designs.”

I’ve already watched it a few times and can’t get enough of it. It’s so refreshing to see a cartoon that actually indulges and celebrates its cartooniness. Lots of joyful animated FUN in this one.

Madagascar: Escape 2 Africa Titles by Jamie Caliri

Madagascar

As our outgoing Commander-in-Chief is fond of saying, “Fool me once, shame on you–fool me…you can’t get fooled again.” So while I didn’t get fooled again by going to see Madagascar: Escape 2 Africa, I also managed to miss the film’s opening end titles, which actually offer a fun and creative take on the characters. The sequence can be viewed and downloaded in hi-res at the DUCK Studios website. If the style looks familiar that’s because the paper cut-out animation was designed and animated by Jamie Caliri, who is also responsible for the end credits of Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events and United Airlines’ “Dragon” commercial.

UPDATE: Below is the credit list for the artists who worked on this stop-motion sequence. Also, Megan Brain who created the paper cut-outs, has a couple blog entries here and here displaying her paper puppetry. (Thanks, Jorge Ribeiro)

Preproduction
Jamie Caliri:Director & storyboard
Dan Ridgers:Line Producer
Megan Brain:Art director, puppet design/fabrication
Alex Juhasz:Storyboard & background art
Pablo Grande:Prop design/fabrication & background art
Todd Hemker:Animation Director

Animators
Yorico Murakami
Scott Kravitz
Jinna Kim
Hsinping Pan
Hsin-I Tseng
Blake Robertson
Evan James
Jan Chen

Jstache

J-Stache

There are bad animation ideas, and then there are ideas so utterly imbecilic that make you wish you had never become interested in cartoons in the first place. This one is of the latter variety. Jstache is a series idea featuring Eighties rocker John Oates of Hall & Oates and, get ready, his crime-fighting mustache, voiced by stand-up comic Dave Attell. According to Billboard, the idea was concocted by Evan Duby, the creative director of Primary Wave Music Publishing, which owns the Hall & Oates music catalog. A Jstache pilot was recently produced by NY-based Curious Pictures. Here’s the setup for the pilot:

It will portray Oates opening a new wing of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame that focuses on mustachioed musicians. Suddenly, a dying David Crosby appears and with his last breath warns Oates of a mysterious secret group of mustache wearers bent on killing other mustache wearers. As actor Tom Selleck attempts to escape from the latest murder scene, Oates summons his own mustache with a fist pump that simultaneously changes his clothes from conservative attire to pink pants and white boots.

Perhaps what’s most depressing is the last line of the Billboard article: “As one network executive who has seen the trailer says, ‘These guys are approaching the publishing business from a new angle. They’re taking rich copyrights and doing something innovative with them.’” Anybody who is familiar with animation knows that this type of innovation is nothing new within the art form. Producers, execs and all manner of creatively-clueless people have been ‘innovating’ since the earliest days of this art form. Thankully these people rarely last long in the business. Then again, sometimes they’re voted the smartest person in television too.

$9.99, Delgo and Dragon Hunters open today

Big animation day in L.A. – three (count ‘em, three) animated features open to qualify for an Oscar nomination:

• Dragon Hunters at the Laemmle Grand 4 Plex at 345 S. Figueroa, in downtown L.A.

• $9.99 at the Laemmle Music Hall at 9036 Wilshire Blvd. in Beverly Hills.

• Delgo at The Bridge, 6081 Center Drive in West L.A.

One week only! If you check any of them out, let us know what you think. Please leave comments below.

(Thanks, Eric Graf)

Google Magazine Search

Check out this great article on Hanna Barbera from the September 1960 issue from Popular Mechanics (that’s Carlo Vinci above shown animating Fred Flintstone). I found it using the new feature on Google’s Book Search which now includes magazines. It’s unclear how many magazines are currently in their system, but at launch it seems to include New York magazine, Popular Mechanics, Popular Science, Ebony, Jet, Vegetarian Times, and Baseball Digest.

For example, a quick search for Disney or Animation brings up articles like this 1945 classic from Popular Science about how Disney combines live action and animation. This looks to be a great resource for us as they add more periodicals.

(Thanks, Bill Robinson)

Golden Globe nominations

The Hollywood Foreign Press Association (aka a group of anonymous journalists who cover Hollywood for international publications, but nonetheless produce a glitzy influential awards show that is somehow a bellwether for the Oscars) has announced their nominees for the 2008 Golden Globes. For Best Animated Feature Film they have nominated Bolt, Kung Fu Panda, and Wall-E. The winner will be announced Sunday, January 11th, 2009 on NBC.

Cartoon Brew 2008 Favorites: Jerry’s Picks

Favorites of 2008? Cartoon Brew co-editor Amid certainly chose several that could have/would have made the top of my list. However, upon careful reflection, I can truthfully claim that the following alternates are not only my personal favorites of the year – but will remain favorites of mine for years to come.

ANIMATED FEATURE

As Amid pointed out, I loved Sita Sings The Blues. But, as Sita wasn’t widely released this year, nor qualified for 2008 Oscar or Annie recognition, I decided (for this post) to be swayed by traditional commercial releases. Of those, Dreamworks’ Kung Fu Panda was the most entertaining movie I saw all year. I felt the entire film, from beginning to end, worked perfectly – as an adventure, as comedy, with delightful eye candy art direction, great voice acting and wonderful character animation. The 2D opening sequence was icing on the cake. It’s Dreamworks best film and it revived my hope that Jeffery’s studio can compete aesthetically (as well as commercially) with Pixar.

TV SERIES

It’s hard to believe that both Amid and I selected shows from Adult Swim. You haven’t heard me rave about Robot Chicken on the Brew, but I’ve been quietly monitoring the show this year and have concluded its the most consistently funny animated series I’ve seen in a long time. Sure, there have been several killer episodes of The Simpsons and King of The Hill this season, but I’ve been won over by Chicken’s delightfully crude stop motion animation and equally crude humor. The two Star Wars specials were the series personal best. All of it well worth your fifteen minutes.

SHORTS

I saw a lot of shorts this year, but two really stood out. I saw Skhizein (pictured above) in Ottawa and it really blew me away. Jeremy Clapin’s 3D/2D tour-de-force about a man hit by a meteorite and finding himself existing 91 centimeters away from his own body. I’m still thinking about it. Great concept, well done.

Oktapodi was my other big favorite. Created by the students at the French animation school Gobelins, this film has everything: suspense, humor, heart, great design and a hilarious, ridiculous concept – perfect for animation.

BOOKS
Bakshi and Baby Huey

Who says print is dead? Collected wisdom in the form of books is still alive and appreciated by those (like me), who prefer to linger over dedicated research and desired images otherwise unattainable in any form. That said, my favorite reads this year were actually several non-animation pop culture references (Mark Evainer’s Kirby, King of Comics, Martin Pasko’s The DC Vault, Grace Bradley Boyd’s Hoplalong Cassidy, An American Legend, among others). But among the animation books, my favorite has to be Jon Gibson and Chris McDonnell’s Unfiltered: The Complete Ralph Bakshi. An overdue tribute and a stunning visual feast, Gibson and McDonnell deserve kudos for shedding light on Ralph’s many accomplishments, from beginning to end.

I’m also proud of my contributions to the continuing series of Harvey Comics reprints that Leslie Cabarga is compiling for Dark Horse Books. I’m particularly happy with my Introduction in the Baby Huey book featuring quotes from Martin Taras and Dave Tendlar along with several rare Herman & Katnip model sheets. Slowly but surely my master plan to bring recognition and respect to the artists of Famous Studios is coming to fruition.

DVD RELEASES
Animation dvds

What can I say? I'm biased. These three DVD sets are my favorite videos of the year. (Full disclosure: I was a consultant and active participant in their creation). If you love classic cartoon shorts, these will give you hours of viewing pleasure. I told you about them in April, July and November and I’ll say it again. In an era of declining DVD sales, your purchase of Looney Tunes Golden Collection Vol. 6, Popeye Vol. 3, and Woody Woodpecker and Friends Vol. 2 do more than give hours of vintage animation goodness – they tell the studios that you want to see more.