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)
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.”
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.
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:
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
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.
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 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.
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:
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.
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:
These pieces (of art) were spotted on display aboard a recent Disney Cruise, for a very high priced auction by the Park West gallery. They were created by M Kungl, a “fine artist” specializing in art deco creations. Cinderella, Tinker Bell and Ariel are given the Miley Cyrus/Annie Leibowitz treatment. Even Jessica is more graphic than usual. What do you think?
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 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.
Thought of the moment: someday in a more enlightened future there will exist a court of law where we can bring to justice the people responsible for animated atrocities like The Velveteen Rabbit. No child should be forced to endure cartoons this ugly and poorly made.