Chaotic Tom & Jerry commercial

Tom and Jerry have always represented chaos — but this Indian commercial is mind-numbing in its confusion. Here, Tom & Jerry join forces with Bollywood mega-star Kajol and Alpenliebe candy mascot, the crocodile Mr. Mach. The animation was produced by Black Magic Motion Pictures and directed by Abhijit Chaudhuri. The 3D crocodile animation was produced by R&H India.

(Thanks, Karl Cohen and Animation Express)

25 Animation Twitters

Did you know that Adventure Time creator Pen Ward drinks Shasta Cola in the bathtub? How about that Sony animator Kim Hazel wants a remote control airplane? Or that even Family Guy creator Seth MacFarlane can’t get decent customer service from AT&T? If you love useless minutiae about the lives of other people, Twitter can fulfill those needs.

Animation artists are beginning to join the site in significant numbers, though at the moment the number of graphic designers and illustrators using the service seems to outweigh the number of animators. If you’re just getting started with Twitter, here’s our list of twenty-two animation Twitterers who are worth following, as well as three feeds that are related to Cartoon Brew and the Brewmasters. Feel free to share your suggestions for twittering animators in the comments.

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Hollywood’s Greatest Year: 1939

This summer, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences will be running a film series on Monday nights showcasing the ten (yes, 10) Best Picture nominees of 1939. It’s the 70th Anniversary of what many consider the Hollywood’s greatest year. The celebration will include restored prints of such films as Mr. Smith Goes To Washington, Stagecoach, Gone With the Wind and of course, The Wizard of Oz.

In addition to the feature films, each week will include a chapter of Universal’s Buck Rogers serial with Buster Crabbe (surely this must be the first time a serial is screened at the Academy!) and a 35mm print of a select 1939 cartoon. The cartoon line up hasn’t been announced, but it is sure to include Disney’s The Pointer (above), The Ugly Duckling, MGM’s Peace on Earth and Warner’s Detouring America. I believe the restored Popeye two reeler Aladdin and his Wonderful Lamp will also be screened.

When I get the get the cartoon schedule I will post an update. In the meantime, mark your Monday’s from May 18th through August 3rd. The series ticket is $25. for all ten films – that’s $2.50 per screening! For more information check the Academy website. See you there!

Oddball Sixties Disney Industrial Films

The Social Side of Health and The Fight are a couple of oddball industrial films directed by Nine Old Man Les Clark at Disney in 1969. The films are rarities which I’d never seen, which is why I’m posting them here. There’s a reason though why these haven’t appeared on any of the “Disney Treasures” DVDs. Like every other major Hollywood animation studio, Disney was not immune to the restrained film budgets of the 1960s and the results are evident, if not unintentionally amusing as well.

The Social Side of Health

The Fight


Dreamworks had a very good weekend.

A $58 million dollar opening for Monsters Vs. Aliens was the biggest opening weekend gross this year and generating the third highest March gross on record. It also set a record opening for a 3-D film in digital and IMAX screens. Even more impressive was the debut of the new Dreamworks animated series, The Penguins of Madagascar which Nickelodeon is reporting as the most-watched series premiere in the network’s history, drawing 6.1 total million viewers.

I caught the Penguin show last night and, considering it’s aimed at kids, its better than most of the CG series that have come along lately. It doesn’t break any new ground, but it’s very entertaining. Mark McCorkle and Robert Schooley, the executive producers, toiled on many of the better Disney television productions in the past ten years (including those wonderful Genie Great Minds Think For Themselves interstitials). The TV critic at the L.A. Times points out that the show…

“…doesn’t revolve around bratty/neurotic children and their pets. (May I take this moment to remind every parent of a cartoon-watching child that the iconic “Tom and Jerry” and “Roadrunner” were essentially silent — oh time, time, go back in thy flight.)”

Nickelodeon will feature two weeks of Penguins primetime premieres weeknights until April 10, at 8:00 — 8:30 PM (ET/PT). The series will move to its regular timeslot on Saturdays at 10:00—10:30 AM (ET/PT) beginning April 18.

The Secret of Kells

The Secret of Kells is a largely hand-drawn 2-D animated feature that is garnering a lot of good buzz from people who have seen it, such as this Variety review that calls it “absolutely luscious to behold…UPA-studio-meets-the-Dark-Ages characters with intricate, Celtic design-inspired detailing.” The 6 million Euro feature originated out of the studio Cartoon Saloon in Ireland, but is a truly global co-production with studios from Brazil to Hungary working on the film.

A couple weeks ago, the film was screened privately for artists at Disney and Pixar. Below is a post-screening Q&A that took place at Pixar with the film’s director Tomm Moore and producer Paul Young, the duo who founded Cartoon Saloon in 1999. They get a lot of praise and positive feedback from the folks at Pixar. Tomm Moore also has a blog about the film here. No American release has been set, though Secret of Kells is playing at a lot of festivals, including Annecy in June.

Crumley Cogwheel (1962)

Another week, another oddball adult-skewing Paramount cartoon from the 1960s. Unlike previous films I’ve posted recently, this one was indeed shown on theaters and on Saturday morning TV (hence the The New Casper Cartoon Show titles), but was left off the recent Complete Harveytoons dvd set.

Written by Irv Spector, Crumley Cogwheel features Paramount’s usual vocal team of Eddie Lawrence and Eddie Lawrence, using his two stock voice characterizations. If you enjoy his voices (and I do), you’ll like this picture. Once again, adult frustrations are at the core of the scenario: nebbish corporate employee Cogwheel hasn’t asked for a raise in 20 years and his boss challenges him to do so. Cogwheel eventually gets the nerve to ask, and becomes a man — but only after getting bombed at the local bar. It’s amazing this was considered suitable for Saturday morning. Note Casper in the end titles, shrugging his shoulders as if to communicate to the kids at home that he has no idea where this cartoon came from.

Monsters vs. Aliens: The Twitter Reviews

Monster vs Aliens

I’m still on the fence about whether I’ll subject myself to Monsters vs. Aliens, but I’ve been getting a kick from reading other people’s thoughts about the film on Twitter. The usefulness of a service like Twitter is in its aggregation of opinions, while its 140-character limit forces users to boil down their thoughts into a clear opinion. You can keep up with a steady stream of average moviegoer’s thoughts by looking at the following search results: “Monsters vs Aliens” and “MVA”.

Here is a random selection of Twitters about MvA:

gobzero Saw Monsters vs Aliens tonight. It was pretty damn funny!

jttiki MvA was better than I thought it would be, but it ain’t Pixar.

mattholley Went and saw Monsters vs Aliens…hilarious! I love a good animated flick

michaelkwan Just got back from Monsters vs. Aliens. The 3D made for a fun movie experience.

hownottowrite MvA: The real sad thing is that the jokes in the trailers are funnier than they are in the movie. Dang, and I thought I was a bad writer…

kmvassey Back from MvA. It was great, and the 3D was really good. Definitely the best 3D I’ve seen from any film or ride yet. Good stuff. :)

FyodorFish Glad I saw MvA at a advance screening then. Don’t know if I’d pay that much to see MvA.

linuxrebel MvA was so funny at so many levels kid and adult. You gotta go.

Ske7ch MvA was cute. Superb animation but character development was lacking. Oh well, it’s just a kids’ movie.

shdowchsr Monsters vs. Aliens was fun. I suspect that most people had no idea why what they were laughing at was funny.

KuraFire Monsters vs. Aliens is fun, but not very polished. Lip sync was mediocre; lot of missed opportunities for jokes; too high a Disney factor.

crossstreet monsters vs aliens. good movie. lots of geek reference, esp liked part with a missile saying “ET go Home” soundtrack at the time was from ET

dylanthunter MvA gets my seal of approval, very entertaining… the last 5 mins were sorta wtf but sshh… that’s just b/w me and the internet

jesusnerd4ever really enjoyed Monsters vs Aliens. I totally think everyone should see it!

fynesy Dreamworks latest movie (MvA): good fun. Seeing it on IMAX in 3D.. Amazing…

And, of course, our very own jerrybeck: Saw MvA. Here’s my first impression. The good news: The art direction is superb. The bad news: There are no laughs. A major disappointment.

Bob Arbogast (1927-2009)

The L.A. Times is reporting the passing of cartoon voice actor Bob Arbogast. Not exactly a household name, Arbogast nonetheless entertained me greatly as General Brassbottom on Roger Ramjet and as various characters on numerous Saturday morning cartoons. He was also a well known radio personality and one of the writers behind Jay Ward’s ill-fated live action pilot The Nut House (1963) – of which I’ve posted the opening and closing credits below:

Tatia Rosenthal’s $9.99 Debuts in New York


Can’t wait to check this one out! Tatia Rosenthal’s stop-motion drama $9.99 has its New York premiere this weekend. It’s playing at 7pm on Sunday, March 29, at the MoMA, followed by a screening next Wednesday, April 1, at the Walter Reade Theater in Lincoln Center. For additional info, including online ticket purchases for either screening, visit the Film Society of Lincoln Center website. The Film Society also has an article about the film on their blog.

Roger Ebert Says It So I Don’t Have To

Monsters vs Aliens

Roger Ebert offers thoughts about 3-D after watching Monsters vs. Aliens:

I will say this first and get it out of the way: 3-D is a distraction and an annoyance. Younger moviegoers may think they like it because they’ve been told to, and picture quality is usually far from their minds. But for anyone who would just like to be left alone to see the darned thing, like me, it’s a constant nudge in the ribs saying never mind the story, just see how neat I look.

[I]f this is the future of movies for grownups and not just the kiddies, saints preserve us. Billions of people for a century have happily watched 2-D and imagined 3-D. Think of the desert in “Lawrence of Arabia.” The schools of fish in “Finding Nemo.” The great hall in “Citizen Kane.” Now that flawless screen surface is threatened with a gimmick, which, let’s face it, is intended primarily to raise ticket prices and make piracy more difficult. If its only purpose was artistic, do you think Hollywood would spend a dime on it?

Ebert also disliked Monsters vs. Aliens, although he suggests that kids might enjoy it, “especially those below the age of reason.” Ouch!

The WB Cartoon Billboard returns!

Remember the Warner Bros. cartoon mural that adorned the Burbank studio lot at Olive and Pass Avenues? I noted back in December that the studio took down the 15 year-old cartoon wall and I wondered what would take its place.

Well the good news is that Looney Tunes, Hanna-Barbera and the animated DC Comics characters will return. In fact, you’re all invited to the public unveiling of the new billboard. Warner Bros. is holding a free, open to the public, Animation Celebration on Tuesday, April 7, 2009. At 7:00 p.m. a public entertainment program will precede the billboard reveal at 7:20pm. A live, special performance by the Beat Freaks, “the phenomenal all-girl dance crew from the 2009 edition of America’s Best Dance Crew.” The studio is encouraging people come dressed as your favorite DC Comic super hero (Batman, Superman, Wonder Woman, Green Lantern, etc.) or other Looney Tunes or Hanna-Barbera character and there will be prize giveaways, including tickets to the Warner Bros. Studios VIP Tour, as well as DVDs, toys and more. Free refreshments will be provided. Get there early… this is guaranteed to snarl traffic.

Early Terrytoons: Fried Chicken and Chop Suey

During the golden age of animation Disney was the top – and Terrytoons were the bottom. Cartoonist Paul Terry started making cartoons at the birth of the medium in the mid-teens, and established his long running Terrytoons studio in 1930.

My fascination with this studio never ends. Michael Sporn reprinted several interesting Terrytoons newspaper clippings dating from the 1940s and 50s on his blog yesterday. Today animation historian David Gerstein adds to our collected knowledge by unearthing several press sheets from Terrytoons studio first year of sound production. Fried Chicken is one of several lost cartoons from this era – cartoons whose only record of existence are these printed plot synopsis (click on thumbnail below left to read). These synopsis from 1930, in particular, are actually rather shocking – as they describe ethnic characters in the crudest possible terms; using words no longer acceptable to society. Chop Suey is one of the initial sound Terrytoons, and comparing the publicity synopsis (below) to available film copies shows how these early cartoons rely of prevalent stereotypes of the day.

(Thanks, David Gerstein, and readers Kliph and Debbie)

Academy tribute to Milt Kahl

The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences is celebrating the centential of Disney master animator Milt Kahl, “The Animation Michelangelo”.

On Monday April 27th at 7:30pm, the annual Marc Davis Lecture (recently renamed the “Marc Davis Celebration of Animation”) will be in tribute to Kahl (1909-1987) with a spectacular slide and clip show hosted by Andreas Deja – and a panel featuring Kathryn Beaumont (voice of Alice and Wendy), Brad Bird, Ron Clements, John Musker, Floyd Norman. Animation critic Charles Solomon will moderate. Tickets are $5. each – and this event will sell out, so buy them now. For more information check the Academy’s website.

(Thanks, Alberto Natel)

The Art of Pixar Short Films: Contest, Interview & Reviews

The Art of Pixar Short Films

UPDATE: Thanks to everybody who entered! Here are the winners:
Maya Shavzin (who commented on this post)
Brad Blackman (who follows us on Cartoon Brew Twitter)
Fabian Molina (who is a member of our Cartoon Brew Facebook page)
Stay tuned…we’ve got a lot more contests coming up!

It’s give-away time on Cartoon Brew! We’ve got three sets of my new book The Art of Pixar Short Films and its companion DVD, the Pixar Short Films Collection, Volume 1. Here’s how to win a set:

* We will choose one winner from the comments section of this post. Anybody who posts a comment below, before 12am tonight, is automatically entered.

* A second set will be given away to a random subscriber to the Cartoon Brew Twitter account. If you’re already a subscriber, then you’re already entered. If not, just subscribe to our Twitter feed. Winner will be chosen tonight at 12am.

* A third winner will be randomly chosen tonight at 12am from subscribers to our new Cartoon Brew Facebook Page. To enter, just join the page. (Note: This is different from our Facebook group.)

Want to hear more about the book. Check out this interview I did with Mike Bastoli at The Pixar Blog.

Reviews of the book are starting to come in. A selection:

“[W]ith the Pixar Shorts book, Amid has written what I consider to be his best book. His writing style is fluid and easy to read, but he doesn’t dumb down the material. His focus is more on the people who made the films than the films themselves, although he smartly lays out what is so remarkable about each film.” (Ricky Grove/Renderosity)

“Author Amid Amidi gives wonderful insight into the Pixar process with stories and anecdotes you won’t find anywhere else…It’s kind of hard to do this book justice via a write-up, you really need to take a gander at all the beautiful art that is contained within. I’ve had it in my living room for a couple of weeks now and every time I have friends over they end up getting caught up in it for a good amount of time. The book is definitely an easy way to show off your passion for all that is Pixar.” (Monki/Ain’t It Cool News)

“[N]one of the art-of Pixar books to date have taken us behind the creative process, and deeper into the history of the company, the men and women who made the company the juggernaut it is today. That has changed with Mr. Amidi’s terrific The Art of Pixar Short Films. A lovingly packaged and in-depth look at not only the films themselves, but also a de-facto history of Pixar, and their critical importance in the development of digital animation in general. (Brett Warnock/Hey Bartender!)

“An always astute Amid Amidi has partnered with Chronicle Books to write a concise but fairly thorough and very smart monograph hidden in an “art of” that, frankly, looks like every other ‘art of’ book Chronicle has ever produced…Amidi provides some excellent historical information and carefully measured editorial observations in a smart, easy to read take on the development of Pixar via the amuse-bouche of animation.” (Rhett Wickham/Laughing Place)

“The writeup is great. There’s a short history of Pixar before it was even known as Pixar (founded in 1986). Following on, it details the making of each short film. There are interesting things like how depth map shadowing and tweening were used in Luxo Jr. or how John Lasseter would animate into the morning and sleep under his table.” (Parka/Parka Blogs)

“Going through the book, it’s obvious that Amidi wanted to give the spotlight to a wider variety of artists than what one often sees on DVD special features, where the main directors and producers generally get the spotlight. In this book, you get to see work from a large number of artists who contributed to the films. There is no conceit here in terms of making us think that any film is the product of one man; rather, the exuberance of Pixar collaboration is quite evident.” (Randall Cyrenne/Animated Views)

“I can really appreciate the difficulty of writing the establishing section, distilling highly technical systems and challenges in understandable terms while avoiding the obvious out of respect for the readers. As each short appears in the book, historic narrative is woven in order sustain the context of the films and their impact.” (Greg Ehrbar/MouseTracks)

“What’s particularly nice about The Art of Pixar Short Films isn’t its use of seldom-seen photographs…but — rather — that Amidi isn’t afraid to dig into the more controversial aspects of the Pixar story…Amid Amidi strikes just the right balance with this handsome new hardcover. There are just enough new stories to interest history buffs like myself. While — at the same time — there are enough great illustrations to be found in The Art of Pixar Short Films that animation professionals & students of the medium will probably want to pick up a copy of this new Chronicle Book just for inspiration and/or reference purposes.” (Jim Hill/Jim Hill Media)

“I’d like to start off by saying that The Art of Pixar Short Films by Cartoon Brew’s Amid Amidi is, in one word, beautiful!…The Art of Pixar Short Films will look great next to your other “Art of…” books, but on the inside it is more like To Infinity and Beyond!: The Story of Pixar Animation Studios (also from Chronicle) although it focuses on the shorts in more detail than ever before!” (Martin/Pixar Planet)

The Lost Tribes of New York City

Filmmakers Andy and Carolyn London (A Letter to Colleen) interviewed people around New York City and transposed their voices onto inanimate objects. The result could be likened to a grittier (and more disturbing) version of Creature Comforts. Andy told me that to covertly record the two drunks who appear in the short, he had to slouch down on the ground next to them in Penn Station and act drunk while pretending to listen to music. I think it was well worth the effort.

Cartoon Network promises more Live Action!


Yeah, I know… what else is new?

Cartoon Network’s upcoming slate of programming was announced at the 2009 Upfront presentation yesterday at Time Warner Center in New York. Here’s some excerpts from the press release:

Cartoon Network Continues Its Evolution With Largest, Most Diverse Development Slate in Network History

• 19 New Programming Ventures: Seven New Animated Series and Four Original Movies (Live-Action/CG-Animated)

• Network Introduces For the First Time Six Live-Action “Alternative” Series and Two Scripted Live-Action Pilots

• Sports Partnership with NBA, Recruits Boston Celtics Superstar Eddie House for My Dad’s a Pro Short-Form Series

Highlights of Cartoon Network’s new content strategy to launch across the 2009-2010 season include the following:

Adventure Time with Finn and Jake The 30-minute series is from Cartoon Network Studios, created by Pendleton Ward and executive produced by Fred Siebert and Derek Drymon.
Stoked Six teenaged groms (young surfers) come together for 12 weeks over summer to work and surf . From Cake Distribution and Fresh Animation, Stoked is created by Jennifer Pertsch and Tom McGillis (Total Drama Island).
Total Drama Action Showcasing all the elements of favorite reality TV shows, fourteen contestants face thrilling challenges on an abandoned film studio back-lot, all inspired by the movies. From Cake Distribution and Fresh Animation.
Ben 10: Evolutions An all-new animated series .
Sym-Bionic Titan From creator Genndy Tartakovsky (Dexter’s Laboratory, Samurai Jack) comes an exciting hybrid of high school drama and giant robot battles.
Generator Rex Infected by microscopic molecular-altering nanites, 15-year-old Rex has the ability to grow incredible machines out of his body. From Man of Action, creators of Ben 10.
Scooby-Doo — Mystery, Inc. More Fred, Daphne, Velma, Shaggy and Scooby-Doo.

The Othersiders This thrilling reality adventure series follows five friends on real missions to explore mysterious, potentially haunted locations in search of evidence that will confirm or deny the existence of paranormal activity.
Survive This An exciting reality series challenges teenagers ages 14 to 17 to push their limits, overcome fears and develop lifelong survival skills. Hosted by Les Stroud (Survivorman), each episode aims to test endurance, wit and self-determination.
Destroy Build Destroy In a huge construction zone, two teams become demolition experts with the guidance and assistance of experts in the field, using wrecking balls, human destroyers and real explosions. Each week brings a new challenge to build from the debris, with strategy, wits and teamwork deciding which team’s creation out-performs the other–and whose hard work goes up in smoke.
Head Rush Kids participate as game show contestants playing for cash while riding thrill-inducing amusement park rides.
Dude, What Would Happen? This series stars three adventurous teens who ask and answer imaginative questions such as, “Dude, what would happen if you attached 350 helium balloons to a sumo wrestler?”
Bobb’e Says Starring Bobb’e J. Thompson (30 Rock, Human Giant), Bobb’e Says is a fast-paced, viral video clip show where other people’s painful mistakes become tools for Bobb’e as he dispenses sage wisdom to an unsuspecting public.

Ben 10: Alien Swarm An all-new, live-action movie based on the hit animated series
Scooby Doo! The Mystery Begins The never-before-told story of how a mismatched quartet of teenagers first came together before becoming known as the Mystery Inc. gang. Directed by Brian Levant (Snow Dogs, The Flintstones).
Firebreather Cartoon Network’s first original all-CG animation adventure, Peter Chung (Aeon Flux) is attached to direct.
Tiger’s Apprentice The best-selling young adult book by Lawrence Yep will be brought to life in a live-action movie. Wayne Wang (The Joy Luck Club) is attached to serve as executive producer/director

Unnatural History An action-packed series centered around Henry Griffin, a teenager with exceptional skills acquired through years of globe-trotting with his anthropologist parents. Henry faces his biggest challenge of all when he moves back to America to attend a high school stranger than any place he’s ever lived before. Created and written by Mike Werb (Face/Off, The Mask)

Prepped A rebellious teen wakes up one morning to find himself trapped at a mysterious prep school that offers no escape. He forms a secret group to discover what they’re being trained for and how to escape. The pilot is executive-produced and written by Paul Dini (Batman Beyond).

Ray Aragon, 1926-2009

Ray Aragon

Animation artist Ray Aragon passed away on Sunday, March 15, at the age of 83. He had been in poor health in recent months. Aragon was born in Boyle Heights, California on January 12, 1926, the second oldest of five children. After high school, he enlisted in the military for WWII, and served overseas in France and Germany for eighteen months beginning in March 1945. Following the war, he studied illustration on the GI Bill at Chouinard Art Institute.

Aragon was frustrated working in advertising illustration, and in the mid-1950s, he returned to Chouinard to take night classes. There he met instructor Marc Davis, who also happened to be one of Disney’s top animators. “I told him what I was doing,” Aragon said, “and he realized I wasn’t happy so he gave me a number and said, ‘Call Ken Peterson.’ I said, ‘Marc, I can’t draw Mickey Mouse. I can’t draw Donald Duck.’ But Marc said ‘Never mind.’ So I called Ken Peterson and they hired me in the layout department on Sleeping Beauty.

Mary Poppins layoutLayout sketch by Ray Aragon from Mary Poppins.

After Sleeping Beauty, Aragon continued in the layout department on 101 Dalmatians (1961) before moving on to a diverse career that included working at a wide range of LA studios (UPA, Fred Calvert Productions, Hanna-Barbera, TMS, Sanrio, Tom Carter Productions, Filmation and Warner Bros). Besides the two Disney features, his film credits include Gay Purr-ee, Mary Poppins, Yellow Submarine, Metamorphoses, Little Nemo: Adventures in Slumberland, The Iron Giant and In the Heat of the Night. On the latter film, he worked closely with director Norman Jewison as a storyboard artist. In a recent interview, Aragon reflected on the nature of his collaboration with Jewison and how he contributed to the shot set-ups in the film:

“We were looking for locations and…we get off the main highway [onto] a small road just to explore and we come to a roundhouse for the engines. So we drove up and it’s a dead end! The place is abandoned, hadn’t been used in years. We walked in and I looked back at the sunshine, and it’s rather dark inside where we are. Then I said, ‘Mr. Jewison, what if instead of the sequence being shot by the river, Tibbs comes in here to get help [and] finds he’s trapped? He’s trapped and those guys pull up in their cars and we see them in the bright sunlight with their pipes as they come in.’ I’m not even part of the crew! This script was written by one of the top writers of the day and I’m just this guy, you know? How dare I change his script. And Jewison looked at me, just gave me this cold look, and I said to myself, ‘Oh God! He’s gonna fire my ass right here.’ And he said, ‘Alright, smartass. Board it that way.’ I did it [and] the picture was shot that way.”

In the 1970s, Aragon developed an ambitious and visually striking feature adapatation of Don Quixote while working at Fred Calvert Productions. The film was never realized. Aragon’s animation career included numerous detours into other fields, such as live-action films and theme park design. One of his favorite projects was designing the ride “El Rio del Tiempo” (The River of Time) in Epcot’s Mexico Pavilion. He was involved in every aspect of its creation from the costumes to backdrops.

Sketches by Ray AragonPersonal drawings by Ray Aragon

Director Brad Bird remembered Aragon’s work in the early pre-production efforts on The Iron Giant:

“He was a great guy, very vigorous. Though he had the draftsmanship chops to do really precise, nailed down work (see his layouts from 101 Dalmatians), his joy was from really vigorous, rough exploration, and I would classify his involvement with Iron Giant in that way. By that time in his life he had no enthusiasm for nailing it down with any tight drawings.

“At the beginning of the film, we took a small group of artists on a trip to Maine for inspiration (though it was a little too early in the year to get the foliage the way we needed it for the film) and Ray was part of that group. I just remember a bunch of us bundled up in warm clothing against the biting cold wind and here’s this old guy hiking up the cliffs wearing cargo shorts. He was funny, energetic, and passionate about drawing. Like his friend Vic Haboush, he loved being around younger people and seemed to match their vigor about life. I feel very happy that I had a chance to work with him.”

Ray also taught during the 1980s at CalArts. Art director and production designer Ralph Eggleston (Toy Story, Wall-E, Finding Nemo), who had Aragon as a life drawing teacher for three years, recalled:

“The most important thing Ray Aragon said to me when I took his first few life drawing classes at CalArts was ‘You can’t draw. And that’s a compliment.’ It wasn’t as if I didn’t know this (and I still struggle with it!), but I didn’t realize until later what he really meant: that I didn’t have any bad habits to unlearn. Ray Aragon began teaching Life Drawing classes at CalArts my first year, 1983. He didn’t rely on formulas of construction, but instead encouraged LOOKING and DRAWING WHAT YOU SEE in LINE. He really didn’t get into shading forms, but wanted us to learn how to describe form with line alone–a very difficult thing to do! I can’t say I was always the most consistent student of his classes, but what he taught me stuck, and has aided me in every project I’ve approached since, and can be summed up in one word: LOOK. The only thing I regret is that Ray didn’t begin teaching layout classes until shortly after I left CalArts–something I would have truly valued. Friends and I would run into Ray at the Sherman Oaks Galleria for years after we left school, sitting in the food court, filling sketchbook after sketchbook with sketches of people passing by…the guy loved to observe and draw, and it showed in everything he did.

Personally, I got to know Ray better than many of the veteran artists I’ve interviewed, and it was such a privilege to have known him for the time that I did. When an artist of his caliber dies, the biggest regret you have is simply not spending more time with them. Every time I visited with Ray, I learned something new, not just about his life and career, but about what it means to be an artist. I have fond memories of talking art in his studio, surrounded by his sketchbooks and artwork, as well as shelves lined wall-to-wall with books.

I remember once we were talking about crowd scenes, and he pulled out a book of Reginald Marsh drawings, and began to analyze the work by showing how every individual figure in a Marsh scene had distinctive personality and posture while still fitting within the overall composition. I also remember arriving at his house on multiple occasions during the scorching heat of the Valley summer only to find him outside working on hands and feet in the garden. Ray was a hands-on kind of guy; if he wasn’t in the garden, he might be in the garage working on his vintage car, a Triumph TR3.

His daughter Victoria remembers that, “He had an open eye for everything,” and that he taught them to “Look at all the opportunities there are out there. He came out of East LA during the Depression. This is one thing he always said, ‘If there’s a brass ring, take it, take the ride.’ Victoria goes on to describe him as an upbeat person who loved life and always remained down-to-earth. “He loved to talk to everybody,” she says. “It didn’t matter if you were the gardener or the girl at the checkout counter. He really liked to talk to people And whenever we had parties at our house, everybody would want to talk with him. He touched everybody in one way or another.”

Last month, Aragon summed up his career to an interviewer in this way: “My career in the movie business–in animation and live action–was nothing but sheer joy. I loved it! I always did! We all did, you know. It was a bunch of wonderful people.” He is survived by his wife, Lena, two daughters, Victoria and Lorena, and two grandchildren.

For more vintage images of Ray, see this set of photos he took at Disney in 1958 during production on Sleeping Beauty and 101 Dalmatians.

We Swear, It’s Not A Gimmick

Monsters vs Aliens

To paraphrase a well-worn saying, With employees like these, who needs enemies? The DreamWorks employees interviewed in last weekend’s NY Times don’t exactly exhibit the type of enthusiasm for 3-D filmmaking that their boss Jeffrey Katzenberg appears to have for the technology. Nowhere in the article do they even attempt to describe how 3-D is integral to the film’s narrative or creative structure. That’s probably because, according to the article, 3-D was added midway through production.

In the piece, Monsters vs. Aliens director Conrad Vernon recalled how he felt when Katzenberg told him that they would be switching to 3D: “We were totally taken aback. I didn’t sign up to do something garish.” Producer Lisa Stewart had a different reaction when she heard the news: “I just remember thinking, ‘Oh, great, I’m going to have a headache for the next two and a half years.’”

The Times also explains how Katzenberg told the artists that 3-D shouldn’t be used as a gimmick, but that when the film was nearly finished, he asked the filmmakers to go back and add more 3-D “pow.” Stewart, who prepared herself for 3-D by studying Beowulf, says that they put in a paddleball sequence at the beginning of the film, because “that was basically us telling the audience, ‘Look what we could do to you, but we’re going to control ourselves.’”

Re-Animating Live-Action Films

Night of the Living Dead

Artist Christopher Panzner is promoting a new animation technique that he has dubbed Re:Naissance, which is essentially rotoscoped key frame drawings with traditional in-betweens. He plans to use this technique to create “homages” to older live-action films. This interview with the website Eye For Film offers more details about his process. Panzner says:

“Re:Naissance can be succinctly defined as ‘the re-creation of live-action films in animation’. It’s a new spin on adaptation and the remake. For the first time ever in the 100-year history of animation, Re:Naissance is going to invert the adaptation process by taking existing live-action films and faithfully reproducing them in animation, in a totally original graphic style unique to each film. We use a process known as ‘rotomation,’ which is a combination of rotoscopy and traditional animation. Our goal is not merely to rotoscope the original film – we are creating an entirely new film while remaining faithful to the original; an homage to the source film. The end result is an original animated feature film, meaning the stars in the live-action film will be caricaturized in some form but the movements and expressions (and original dialogue) will remain true to the original actors, although the animated characters will be completely new original graphic representation.”

The first live-action feature that Panzner is adapting via his Re:Naissance method is George Romero’s cult classic Night of the Living Dead. Below is a line-test based on the French film La Traversée de Paris that gives some sense of what the finished product will look like. The animation was created by Hong Ying studio in Shanghai. Panzner has a blog that offers progress updates on the production of his first feature.