Animation’s 2nd-Class Status

Film reporter Patrick Goldstein, in today’s LA Times, writes about movies that are long shots for the Oscar’s Best Picture nomination. One of them is Pixar’s Wall•E:

A wonderful, critically beloved movie, “Wall-E” in any normal world would be a shoo-in nominee for best picture. Its problem? It’s an animated film, the one genre (along with comedy) that gets no respect from the academy — no animated film has won an Oscar for best picture, even though many classics, notably “The Lion King,” “Toy Story 2,” “Spirited Away” and “Ratatouille,” were just as good as the live-action winners in their year of eligibility. Actors, who make up the biggest branch of the academy, almost never vote for animated films, so it’s virtually impossible to put together enough support from other branches of the academy to register a win.

Hence, the best animated film ghetto, which, just like at Sunday’s Golden Globe Awards, allows an animated delight like “Wall-E” to get some recognition without having a legitimate shot at best picture stardom. Some commentators have suggested that if Disney had spent just another $20 million to push “Wall-E,” it could’ve gotten over the top, but Disney is probably right not to throw good money after bad — too many academy members have a built-in bias against animated films, viewing them as just not “important” enough to vote for.

As much as I’d like to see an animated film recognized alongside live action in the Best Picture category, I’m afraid Goldstein speaks the truth. This is the reality: no matter how much money animation makes, or how many hits Pixar and Dreamworks churn out, animation is still a 2nd class citizen in Hollywood.

I don’t like it that way. It’s not how I think — but it’s the way it is. And nothing that happens seems to change that perception. Four of the top 10 movies of 2008 (in U.S. box office gross) were animated features – four – and the other six were blockbusters that had more than their fair share of CGI effects (Iron Man, Dark Knight, etc).

And consider this scenario, which is entirely within the realm of possibility: Waltz with Bashir could be nominated (and win) in three categories (Animated Feature, Foreign Film and Documentary), Wall•E could be nominated (and win) as Best Picture, and leave, perhaps, Kung Fu Panda (my pick) winner as Best Animated Feature. Even if this could happen (and it’s not impossible) animation would still be considered by non-animation folk, as Goldstein says, “not important enough”.

It’s been a hell-of-a-good year for animation but, according to some, we still rank 2nd place.

Tonight at L.A.’s Silent Movie Theatre

Sound cartoons… Disturbing sound cartoons. Cartoons too violent, too scary, too depressing and, though made decades ago for all ages, are considered no longer suitable for todays kids! Tonight, Tuesday January 13th, at 8pm I’m returning to the Silent Movie Theatre in Hollywood with a full program of classic cartoons no longer shown on television and not on DVD.

If your childhood wasn’t already perverted by hours upon hours of unhinged animation, this show will make it up to you. I promise to fry your brain with ultra-rare 16mm and 35mm prints. Bring kids at your own risk. For more details, check the Silent Movie website.

UPDATE 3:00pm: The 8pm show is almost sold out! A second screening at 10:15pm has been added. The show also got a nice plug on LAist.

2009 New Year’s Greeting by Art Grootfontein

Every year around the holidays I receive a whole slew of animated greeting cards. The new year’s greeting below by French artist Art Grootfontein is the most impressive from this past season’s batch of e-cards. It should be evident from the piece itself, but Grootfontein also tells me that one of his favorite sources of inspiration is my book Cartoon Modern.

Comics and the American Jewish Dream

Wanna meet three comic art legends? The YIVO Institute in New York will be presenting one-on-one interviews with three comic book innovators.

Al Jaffee, Jules Feffier and Harvey Pekar will be interviewed by comics writer and critic Danny Fingeroth. YIVO’s Comics and the American Jewish Dream series kicks off Wenesday January 21st at 7:00 pm with The MAD, MAD, MAD (Jewish) World of AL JAFFEE. The series continues with Jules Feffier on Tuesday, February 3, at 7:00 P.M. and Harvey Pekar on Tuesday, February 17, 7:00 P.M. The YIVO Institute For Jewish Research is at 15 West 16th Street, in Manhattan. Admission $25 / YIVO members: $18 / students: $12. For tickets call 212-868-4444 or visit smarttix.com.

Cartoon Mojo Launches

A new site launches today: CartoonMojo.com. It’s a video sharing site in the YouTube mold that focuses exclusively on animated shorts. In that respect, it’s similar to sites like AniBoom and MyToons. Notably, the site was created by artists–industry veterans Louie del Carmen and Octavio Rodriguez. It remains to be seen how Cartoon Mojo will distinguish itself from its already more established brethren but there is still plenty of room for competition in this arena. Below is one of the shorts featured on their website: “Anniversary” by the boys at Ghostbot.

Cel-ebrating Animation’s New York Roots

We’ve plugged the forthcoming It All Started Here! several times already, but once more couldn’t hurt. I also couldn’t resist posting this photo of J. J. Sedelmaier and Howard Beckerman which appeared in the Westchester section of the local NY Times on Thursday. The Times article gives a good overview of the events planned starting next Saturday around the New York area. Don’t miss this series if you live in the Northeast. You’ll hate yourself if you do. For even more details, click here.

T28 teaser trailer

Already deep in production on Astro Boy and Gatchaman, the creative heads at Imagi Studios now have their sights set on another classic anime series to revive in CG: Gigantor.

They have just produced a kick-ass teaser trailer for T28 (short for Tetsujin 28, aka Gigantor). Click here to watch. It looks very hot to me. Faithful to the original manga and beautifully rendered. Looks like a winner – if they can get it produced.

New Paintings by JJ Villard, Morgan Kelly and Jeremy Bernstein

Painting by Morgan Kelly
“Edward Gorey at the Bowery” by Morgan Kelly

Need something to do tomorrow evening? Then head on over to Atwater Village for the opening of “Y’aint Gonna Get There Free: Screams in Hollywoodland,” a new show of paintings by JJ Villard, Morgan Kelly, and Jeremy Bernstein. It opens 7pm at the Little Bird Gallery (3195 Glendale Blvd. LA, CA). Since emerging out of CalArts, all three of these guys have been working in the bowels of the animation industry, at studios like DreamWorks and Sony, but they’ve managed to retain strong artistic identities by self-publishing books and painting. It bears mentioning that Villard, who currently isn’t working at a studio, is also the director of some amazing animated shorts like Son of Satan and Chestnuts Icelolly. A preview of the work can be seen on the gallery’s website. They also put together a bizarre series of show invites, a few of which can be viewed on Jeremy’s blog.

Times Up! What are your favorite Looney Tunes?

The Looney Balloons above remind me that today is the deadline for you to contribute your personal lists of favorite Warner Bros. cartoons. This is your chance to influence the outcome of the contents of my forthcoming book, The 100 Greatest Looney Tunes. Please post your choices in the comments below – or in the comments of the original post. Thank you to all who have participated!

(and thank you to Adam King for the Looney Balloon link)

Steve Martin in Disneyland Dream

A postscript to my post last week on the Library of Congress selection of the home movie Disneyland Dream to the National Film Registry.

Apparently comedian/actor Steve Martin, a former Disneyland cast member and Disneyland buff, appears in the home movie itself! Says Martin, in a letter to filmmaker Robbins Barstow, published in The Hartford Courant:

“At age eleven I worked at Disneyland. I sold guidebooks at the park from 1956 to about 1958. I am as positive as one can be that I appear about 20:20 into your film, low in the frame, dressed in a top hat, vest, and striped pink shirt, moving from left to right, holding a guidebook out for sale.”

What Tex Avery And Frank Zappa Both Knew About Making Great Entertainment

Want to understand why entertaining cartoons are all but impossible to produce nowadays? You can have the answer in just two short minutes by watching the first part of this interview with Frank Zappa. Though Zappa is explaining the decline of the music business, everything he says is applicable to the animation world as well.

I made a transcript for my own reference. Here is what Frank says:

“One thing that did happen during the Sixties was some music of an unusual or experimental nature did get recorded or did get released. Now look at who the executives were in those companies at those times. Not hip young guys. These were cigar-chomping old guys who looked at the product that came and said, ‘I don’t know. Who knows what it is. Record it. Stick it out. If it sells, alright.’ We were better off with those guys than we are now with the supposedly hip young executives who are making the decisions of what people should see and hear in the marketplace. The young guys are more conservative and more dangerous to the art form than the old guys with the cigars ever were. …Next thing you know [the hip young executive has] got his feet on the desk and he’s saying, ‘Well we can’t take a chance on this because that’s not what the kids really want and I know.’ And they got that attitude. And the day you get rid of that attitude and get back to ‘Who knows. Take a chance.’ That entrepreneurial spirit where even if you don’t like or understand what the record is that’s coming in the door, the person who is in the executive chair may not be the final arbiter of taste of the entire population.”

His ideas about how old-school execs were better for the music industry than younger “hip” execs mirror my own ideas about why the animation industry’s output nowadays is creatively spineless and lacking in point of view. Back in 2005, I wrote a piece called “Animation’s Greatest Executives” in which I sung the praises of the Golden Age animation execs like Leon Schlesinger, Eddie Selzer and Fred Quimby. These guys don’t receive much praise in history books, but it’s no accident that the most entertaining industry cartoons were produced under their watch.

In that earlier post, I offered the following quote in which director Tex Avery discussed his relationship with executive Leon Schlesinger at Warners:

“We worked every night – [Chuck] Jones, [Bob] Clampett, and I were all young and full of ambition. My gosh, nothing stopped us! We encouraged each other, and we really had a good ball rolling. I guess Schlesinger saw the light; he said, ‘Well, I’ll take you boys away from the main plant.’ He put us in our own little shack over on the [Warner Bros.] Sunset lot, completely separated from the Schlesinger studio, in some old dressing room or toilet or something, a little cottage sort of thing. We called it Termite Terrace. And he was smart; he didn’t disturb us. We were all alone out there, and he knew nothing of what went on.”

It should come as little surprise that Avery’s endorsement of Schlesinger so closely mirrors Zappa’s praise for the “cigar-chomping old” music execs. Leaving great artists alone to create great work is common sense. Execs in animation’s earlier days understood their roles; they provided the money and then they stepped back. It was their job to facilitate an environment where cartoons could be created most efficiently, not to dictate the content of the animation.

Today, execs want to noodle with every aspect of the process, even those aspects about which they are often clueless like entertainment and humor. They have gone so far as to give themselves oxymoronic job titles like “creative exec” and “development exec” to justify their interference in the creative process. There are obviously rare exceptions when a quality cartoon makes it to air, but look at the history of those projects and in most cases, it is in spite of the system in which the cartoon was produced.

The secret to creating memorable cartoon characters and successful series is not so much a secret as it is common sense. If any studio ever figures it out, they’ll be laughing all the way to the bank.

Tex Avery and Fred QuimbyDirector Tex Avery and exec Fred Quimby at MGM

UPDATE: See also What Frank Zappa, Tex Avery and Monty Python have in common

(Thanks, Seamus Walsh, for the Zappa link)

New Music Video by Dax Norman

One-man creative powerhouse Dax Norman, whose short film The Last Temptation of Crust we featured in episode 4 of Cartoon Brew TV, recently completed a fan music video for the Rafter song “Juicy.” The video employs a style he calls “double-image animation” in which he fits dozens of different characters into the shapes of the primary characters. The result is trippy and one you’ll have to watch at least a few times to catch all the craziness.

I also have to share a non-animation art piece that Dax recently posted on his blog: it’s called Super Mario Coke Head. Recycling has never been this much fun:

Super Mario Cokehead

Disney’s Secret of the Magic Gourd

If you believed Roadside Romeo was Disney’s oddest co-production; or if you thought Disney couldn’t sink any lower than producing the hybrid Beverly Hills Chihuahua – Well here’s a contender for 2009: Disney’s The Secret of the Magic Gourd, “featuring the voice talents of High School Musical’s Corbin Bleu!” The film, which was Disney’s first-ever Chinese co-production, was released in China in 2007, where it grossed a respectable amount roughly equivalent to the Chinese box office take of Ratatouille and twice as much as Shrek the Third. There is an article about Disney’s involvement in the film at OnScreenAsia.com

(Thanks, Pete Emslie)

Essential Visual Music: Rare Classics

The UCLA Film and Television Archive and the Center for Visual Music (CVM) are presenting a program of rarely screened 16mm and 35mm films from the CVM collection, at The Billy Wilder Theatre at The Hammer Museum, Los Angeles on January 21, 2009. The program features a range of works, from experiments by German film pioneers to light show psychedelia, and highlights of new visual music and experimental animation. It includes little-seen films by Oskar Fischinger (pictured above), Jules Engel, Charles Dockum, and Mary Ellen Bute, among many others. From the website:

Several of the works in the show were designed to be used in performance contexts, light shows and other expanded forms of cinema, often with independent musical accompaniment, such as the 35mm ‘recreation’ film of Oskar Fischinger’s multiple-projector film performances from the mid-1920s. A number of the films were made in Southern California, including early experiments in computer graphics from UCLA in the 1960s and Cal Arts in the 1970s. Many of the prints in this show represent recent preservation work by CVM.

Admission to this event is FREE. The Billy Wilder Theatre is in the Hammer Museum, at 10899 Wilshire Blvd. in Westwood. Title list and film notes are at CVM’s website.

Animation Trends: 3-D Papercraft/Cut-out Animation

3D book covers

Recently three-dimensional paper sculpture/cut-out/origami has exploded as a major trend across multiple disciplines including animation, illustration and design. In an animation context, the factor that distinguishes this trend from traditional stop-motion is that the artist builds their own models/sets out of paper and other household materials. Two new books have been published documenting the movement in primarily non-animation media: Three-D: Graphic Spaces (Amazon link or book review) and Tactile: High Touch Visuals (Amazon link or book review ). One of those books even has Steven Heller’s name on the cover, a sure sign of fad status in the design world (seemingly the only design trend Heller hasn’t ‘discovered’ yet is our little world of animation).

In animation, one of the first major contemporary examples of paper sculpture was Virgil Widrich’s Fast Film from 2003. It remains a mighty impressive piece of work:

Another widely seen example of three-dimensional paper animation was Jamie Caliri’s “Dragon” spot for United Airlines which aired during the 2006 Super Bowl:

Caliri’s paper sculpture work is more mainstream than ever with his direction of the end titles for Madagascar: Escape 2 Africa. The art director of the Madagascar titles was Megan Brain, whose paper sculpture animation has also been seen in segments of Nick Jr.’s Yo Gabba Gabba! and Cartoon Network’s Class of 3000.

Animation artists all over seem to be enjoying creating paper sculptures. Last month Jon Klassen and his brother created an iceberg sculpture loosely based on Jon’s illustration concepts for this Royal Bank of Canada commercial.

Jon Klassen sculpture

Animation industry veteran Joe Orrantia is currently in the process of building an awesome-looking three-dimensional spaceship for one of his projects. He’s using PVC pipes, foam core, cups, and cereal boxes, while documenting the making of it on his blog.

Joe Orrantia sculpture

It would be an oversimplification to label the emergence of three-dimensional paper sculpture as a mere backlash to the mathematically precise aesthetic of CGI or the longing for a simpler more tactile art. At least in the animation world, a lot of artists are using digital technology to aid their three-dimensional animation projects. For example, The Seed, a sublime piece of work by Johnny Kelly, would have been much more difficult to create without the aid of computers. The ‘making of’ video below hints at how the production incorporated digital technology alongside paper and scissors:

And then there’s the wildly inventive My Paper Mind by recent Pratt grad Javan Ivey:

The film is entirely made of cut-paper imagery but Javan shows on the film’s “making of” page that he used computer animation tests to make sure it would look right. “Computers are dirty cheaters… don’t we love it,” he writes on his website. So true.

Before anybody gets too excited about having discovered the next big thing, it would be wise to give this trend a bit of historical context by pointing out that Bill Justice, X. Atencio and T. Hee were doing paper sculpture animation at Disney in the early-1960s in films like A Symposium On Popular Songs (1962)…

and the opening titiles for The Misadventures of Merlin Jones (1964)…

Then, of course, there’s Russian animator Yuri Norstein whose dimensional work with paper in a film like Tale of Tales (1979) seems to come from another planet entirely:

Animation Month on Shokus Radio

It’s “Animation Month” for Stu’s Show on Shokus Internet Radio. The current voice of Porky Pig, Bob Bergen, kicks off things with an interview on the show today (Wednesday 1/7), live beginning at 4:00 pm PDT (7:00 pm EDT) and re-broadcast the same time all week. Batman: The Animated Series and Duck Dodgers writer/producer Paul Dini will appear next week (1/14) , followed by writers Mark Evanier, Earl Kress, with voice actors Janet Waldo and Gary Owens on 1/21, and last but not least, yours truly Jerry Beck on 1/28. As always, listeners will be encouraged to call in with their questions and comments on the station’s toll-free telephone number. Click here for more details.

Pixar’s Jim Capobianco Offers Advice on Short Filmmaking

Leo still by Jim Capobianco

Jim Capobianco, Pixar story artist and director of the short Your Friend the Rat, is nearing the end of production on Leonardo, a personal short of his own. He’s been documenting the production on a production blog at leoanimation.blogspot.com. Last week Jim started a series of blog posts called ” 10 things I’ve learned in making a short film.” The advice in these posts is wonderfully informative and in-depth. Jim openly shares his experiences and offers case-specific examples in every blog entry. Moreover, his tips are applicable not just to short filmmakers but anybody involved in a creative endeavor. As a writer and editor, I was reminded of good work habits that will help forward my book projects. Here are links to the tips that Jim has shared so far:

1) Those helping you need to get something out of it too
2) Have a plan
3) Goals Goals Goals
4) 5 minutes a day
5) Chunks of Time

It All Started Here!

Here’s a restored 1936 Fleischer Studios drawing wedge (click photo above to see larger image). It’s made of wood and fitted with ball-bearing’d wheels to ease the rotation of the heavy disc. It also has two inventions of the Fleischer’s employed on it:

1. a lever which when pushed down, will slide the drawings off the pegs in an uniform fashion so as to not rip the peg holes in the paper

2. an inkwell tray with a sliding latch which locks the bottles in place. (This was added later on and wouldn’t have been on an animator’s/asst’s disc)

This contraption began its life in the NY studios at 1600 Broadway, then traveled to their new Miami complex for several years, only to return to Manhattan as the property of Famous Studios. It also comes with Marty Taras’ fieldguide. . .

…and it will be part of It All Started Here, the East Coast animation exhibition curated by Howard Beckerman and J. J. Sedelmaier. Presented by ArtsWestchester in partnership with J. J. Sedelmaier Productions, Inc. and Blue Sky Studios, this citywide celebration of New York’s 103 year relationship with the animation industry will have its opening reception on Saturday, Jan 17th, from 5-8pm at The Arts Exchange, 31 Mamaroneck Ave. in White Plains, New York. This is the kick-off for a month of screenings, parties and displays.

For more info regarding all the It All Started Here festivities check the Facebook page. And, to whet your appetite, JJ sent us a very vintage 70s era Wyler’s Lemonade spot by Jan Svochak that will be in the Commercials section of the film program. . .

The LA Times on the Future of Animation Production

Mass Animation

The Mass Animation project headed by former Sony Pictures Animation exec Yair Landau continues to receive press, most recently in an editorial that ran in yesterday’s LA Times. To summarize the project via the Times:

Through Facebook, Mass Animation invited the public to create scenes for its first short video, “Live Music.” The company supplied the animation software, the story, backgrounds, characters and audio. Animators whose work is chosen will receive $500 per scene. All told, the project will cost about $1 million and take six months to complete, a fraction of the money and time required for a comparable Hollywood project.

The unsigned Times editorial believes that this is “an early sign of things that are certain to come” as “a new class of creators and entrepreneurs is coming to vie for its share of the global entertainment dollar.” We’ve written about the Mass Animation project before on Cartoon Brew here and here. As I argued in one of those posts, unlike previous technologies, the Internet empowers artists so that they no longer have to settle for exploitative compensation models handed down from above.

The LA Times gets it right in predicting that the days of corporate-driven entertainment are drawing to a close, but it won’t be because of shady production models conceived by the likes of Landau. It’ll be due to the burgeoning generation of savvy entrepreneurial artists who understand that the road to creative success and financial security doesn’t run through Hollywood any more. Execs like Landau are dinosaurs within this new digital/online paradigm, and they’re grasping at straws trying to find “innovative” ways of paying artists cheaply on the Internet. Their attempts at doing this will become increasingly desperate and outlandish as more and more artists recognize the uselessness of such people in an entertainment landscape where the means of production, distribution and promotion are accessible to all. That is the true definition of mass animation.

For an even less-flattering perspective on the Mass Animation project, see yesterday’s post by Steve Hulett on the Animation Guild blog.

1970s Cracked Magazine accurately predicted 2009

This post is slightly OT, as I am discussing print cartoons, not animated cartoons. I received several old issues of Cracked Magazine over the holidays and I couldn’t help noticing how one humor piece, predicting life in the 21st Century, was surprisingly accurate.

“Today’s Swinger is Tomorrow’s Square”, illustrated by John Severin, appeared in the 1974 annual Super Cracked (It was most likely a reprint from a 1970 issue). In it, the writer predicts that young people will embrace the “skinhead” look, home computers (“Electronic Home Teacher”) and even the ipod: as “electronic brain stimulators” and a “musical computers” that young people are hooked on.

It’s not a stretch to think Bill Gates read Cracked, though I’d like to think Steve Jobs was a Mad man. I couldn’t find a Cracked index online – is there a Cracked historian out there who knows what issue this piece originally appeared in? Click the thumbnails below to read the article at full size.

2009 Animation Book Preview

While the Internet has killed off the print animation magazine (or at least the demand for such publications), it hasn’t yet diminished our thirst for print animation books. To the contrary, there are more and better quality animation books being published today than ever before. This new year promises to be no different with a lot of interesting books slated for publication. Here is Cartoon Brew’s look at some of the forthcoming titles.

Two Guys Named Joe

Let me put this one front and center. The book that I’m most looking forward to in 2009 is, without question, John Canemaker‘s dual-biography of Disney story artist Joe Grant and Pixar story artist Joe Ranft. Two Guys Named Joe: Master Animation Storytellers Joe Grant and Joe Ranft will be released in Fall 2009 from Disney Editions. According to the official description, “This book explores the interplay between personal creativity and the craft of animation storytelling, as seen through the lives and art of two of its most inventive and imaginative practitioners, Joe Grant (1908 -2005) and Joe Ranft (1960 – 2005).” It’s a novel setup. Looking at Grant and Ranft through the same prism should shed fresh insights into the common storytelling values that have made classic Disney and Pixar such successful enterprises. Combined with Canemaker’s always infallible research, this book should be a real gem. No online pre-order info available yet but we’ll be posting plenty more about this book in the coming months.

British Animation - The Channel 4 Factor

British Animation:The Channel 4 Factor takes a look at the glory years of Britian’s Channel 4 and their dedication to bringing quality animation to television. Since 1982, they’ve aired works such as The Snowman, When the Wind Blows, Street of Crocodiles, Girls Night Out, Feet of Song, The Village, Creature Comforts, Screenplay, Bob’s Birthday, Abductees, City Paradise, Rabbit and Peter and the Wolf. In addition to this amazing line-up of animation, the channel also set up the Animate initiative with the Arts Council of England, and backed the animator-in-residence program hosted by the British Film Institute’s Museum of the Moving Image. The book, which will be published in February by Indiana University Press, should offer plenty of insider details because it’s written by Clare Kitson, who was the commissioning editor at Channel 4 from 1989 until 1999. Channel 4 is one of the bright spots in TV animation history and I’m looking forward to learning more about the people and circumstances that made their artistic approach to TV animation possible.

If you want to get your own animation onto the air, don’t get your hopes up for a supportive forward-thinking broadcaster like Channel 4. But that shouldn’t stop you from trying. David Levy’s Animation Development: From Pitch to Production will guide you through the icky process of getting a TV show produced nowadays. It’ll be out in September from Allworth Press. Levy is an industry veteran, president of ASIFA-East, and proprietor of this fine blog. His first book Your Career in Animation: How to Survive and Thrive is packed with solid common-sense advice from successful artists working in the biz. I know he’s interviewed a lot of people for this new book and I’m sure it’ll be a valuable handbook for anybody who wants to create their own TV shows.

Pixar books

Two Pixar art books are coming out courtesy of Chronicle Books. The Art of Up by Tim Hauser presents all the artwork from Pete Docter’s new film. The Art of Pixar Short Films is by yours truly and it’s scheduled for release later this month. The book, which is a companion piece to this dvd, documents the studio’s shorts going back all the way to the 1980s. Because of its historical nature, there’s more text than the typical Pixar art of book. I haven’t seen the finished item yet but I’m really looking forward to seeing how it turned out. My experience working with the publishing team at Pixar was one of utmost smoothness and efficiency. Everybody went out of their way to make sure it turned out right, and I’m hoping the results reflect everybody’s hard work on the project.

And there’s more ‘art of’ books. Coraline: A Visual Companion is officially released this week though I hear it’s already in some bookstores. The Art of Monsters vs. Aliens is out in February. Also, later in 2009, Disney’s The Princess and the Frog will receive ‘art of’ book treatment from Chronicle Books.

Mickey Mouse, Hitler and Nazi Germany

Mickey Mouse, Hitler, and Nazi Germany: How Disney’s Characters Conquered the Third Reich by Carsten Laqua has quite the eye-catching cover. It was originally published in the early-1990s in German. This English translation is eagerly anticipated by Disney book expert Didier Ghez which means that it’s probably worth picking up.

Disney Edition books

Disney Editions is releasing a bunch of Disney-related art books: A Disney Sketchbook 1928-2008, Disney’s Neglected Prince: The Art of Disney’s Knights in Shining Armor (and Loincloths), Hippo in a Tutu: Dancing in Disney Animation. I’ll be honest, I wasn’t expecting much from any of these books until I saw a recent book by Disney Editions called Disney’s Dogs. It’s a mini-book designed for kids and Disney fans, which means they could have put together a slap-dash collection of cheesy film still artwork, but instead they turned out a wonderful volume packed with carefully chosen and never-before-seen artwork from Disney’s Animation Research Library. If that’s any indication of the new direction Disney Editions is taking with their animation-related books, then all three of the above books should be worth a look.

If Disney is not your bag, then be sure to check out The 100 Greatest Looney Tunes (working title) by fellow Cartoon Brewer Jerry Beck. The book will be out in the fall from Insight Editions. More importantly, the online community is currently helping to choose the titles that’ll appear in the book. Submit your choices for the book on this special Cartoon Brew page.

From University Press of Mississippi comes Iwao Takamoto: My Life with a Thousand Characters, which is the story of the late Hanna-Barbera art director and Disney artist Iwao Takamoto. The text is in his own words, with editorial collaboration from historian Michael Mallory. University Press of Mississippi deserves credit for publishing a number of animation artist bios in recent years though they’ve been a mixed lot; I was disappointed with the depth of research and quality of writing in last year’s Maurice Noble biography but the Martha Sigall memoirs they released a few years back were charming and fun. Here’s to hoping the Takamoto text reaches to the standard of the Sigall book.

Walt Stanchfield books

Students, get out your credit cards: Focal Press is releasing two volumes of the legendary lecture notes by Disney in-house instructor Walt Stanchfield. Here are the Amazon links to Volume 1 and Volume 2 . Photocopies of these notes have been passed around animation schools for decades. It’ll be nice to have them collected in one place. The series is edited by Disney producer Don Hahn.

The other big how-to book of 2009 is focused on a long-neglected aspect of the animation process. Elemental Magic: The Art of Special Effects Animation by animation veteran Joseph Gilland is also from Focal Press, the publisher of the Stanchfield books. According to fx animation guru Michel Gagné, the book is “fantastic.” Gagné wrote on his blog recently that, “I can assure everyone that this will be a ‘must have’ reference for animation students and those interested in the art. The book will feature step by step demonstrations covering all the main categories: liquids, fire, smoke, explosions, magic, transformations, and spiritual entities. In addition to Joe’s art, the book will display photographs, diagrams and artwork from various artists in the field.” Joe Gilland has also started a blog about the book.

Art of Harvey Kurtzman

Finally, one comics-related pick that I had to mention: The Art of Harvey Kurtzman: The Mad Genius of Comics. Kurtzman is one of the few uncontested geniuses of the comic world, and his achievements are impeccable both artistically and editorially. This book draws upon his vast archives and spans everything from his early Hey Look! and EC war comics to Help and Playboy‘s “Little Annie Fanny”, as well as including comic layouts, illustrated correspondence, and vintage photos. It’ll be out in April from Abrams and on my bookshelf shortly thereafter.

Dreamworks to broadcast 3D MvA trailer

Leave it to Jeffery. No stone is left unturned in promoting a Dreamworks animated feature. Now comes word that the studio will telecast a 3D trailer for Monsters Vs. Aliens during the Super Bowl on Sunday February 1st.

The special 3D glasses required, which are of the old comic book variety (anaglyph, red and blue), will be distributed in Pespi Cola displays in supermarkets nationwide. I’ve been to the press junkets and have seen over 20 minutes of footage from this film in InTruâ„¢ 3D and it looks spectacular. However, for the record, current publicity is painting a picture of 1950s 3D movies which simply isn’t true. The movies released during the 1950s 3D craze (B’wana Devil, House of Wax, Lumberjack Rabbit, etc.) were released in full Technicolor 3D, using polaroid glasses – not using eye-straining red/blue filters.

For your pleasure, some publicity images for 3D films from 1950s: