China’s real response to Kung Fu Panda

Apparently China had a response to Dreamworks’ Kung Fu Panda that’s more pointed than the film mentioned in this previous Brew post. According to the KFP entry on Answers.com: “In August 2008, a direct-to-video Chinese animation feature entitled Kung fu Master aka Wong Fei Hong vs Kung Fu Panda was released on DVD in East Asia by Vscape Enterprises. The film is an unofficial sequel; it reportedly combines Kung Fu Panda and Chinese martial arts folk hero Wong Fei Hung. In the film, the panda is assigned by the Buddha to protect an ancient treasure that could give the bearer the power to conquer the world. Upon losing it, the pair sets off on an adventure to retrieve it.”

If anyone has this video, please post a clip. We are anxious to see it. Apparently you can buy it here or here.

(Thanks, Bryan Theiss)

COMMENTARY: Animated Feature Oscar is Still A Bad Idea

Idiots and Angels

Earlier this decade, when the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences began handing out Oscars for best animated feature, I viewed it as a misguided decision. Increasingly, over the past eight years, I’ve come to see it not only as misguided, but as downright awful, an idea that is at best backwards and out of touch with contemporary times, and at worst, a reactionary measure designed to protect their live-action base of filmmakers from the threat of an emergent art form. Furthermore, the immature manner in which the Academy presents the animation award during their ceremony is completely at odds with what is actually happening within the art form. If I didn’t know better, I’d think their intentions were to pigeonhole animation into its own specialized niche instead of promoting the art form as a valid equivalent to the live-action process.

The Academy’s animated feature award looks increasingly antiquated as more progressive film awards and festivals begin to recognize animation on its merits as film and not as some weird subset removed from the rest of film art. Yesterday, the 29th edition of Fantasporto, a major film festival in Portugal, awarded its top prize for Best Film and Best Screenplay to Bill Plympton’s feature Idiots and Angels. Plympton beat out of dozens of live-action films for both awards. The screenplay award is notable because Idiots and Angels is dialogue-less and Plympton relied purely on visual storytelling to make his film.

Also, this week at the Fargo Film Festival, Don Hertzfeldt’s latest short I Am So Proud of You won not only Best Animation, but also Best Picture and Best Screenplay. The 22-minute short won the Best Picture award over dozens of live-action features, animated films and documentaries. Festival co-chairman Matt Olien told Fargo’s local paper Inforum that their selection of Hertzfeldt’s film falls in line with animation’s emergence “as a major player in movies” and that he felt WALL-E should have received a best picture nomination at the Oscars.

Animation filmmakers are continuing to push creative boundaries as never before and they are being recognized for their progress throughout the film community. It’s unfortunate that at the exact moment animation began coming into its own and regularly equaling live-action in terms of writing and filmmaking quality, the Academy took action to make it more difficult for animation to compete in its major categories. As animation continues its evolution so should the Academy. It should embrace animation as a film art worthy of its major awards and abolish its separate but equal treatment of animated films.

Obama Mo-cap

Obama Mocap

The Onion reports that Barack Obama has been outfitted with motion-capture sensors and that his entire presidency is being recorded in 3-D. While the article is obviously in jest, I wonder how far away we are from the day where all of our lives will be recorded in digital form giving us the option to virtually replay personal events from different perspectives and to create different outcomes.

(via Motionographer)

The Legend of Milu Deer: Princess Yoyo

Legend of Milu Deer

One of my favorite sources for learning about obscure foreign animated features is TwitchFilm.net. Certain films though are perhaps best left undiscovered. Case in point: the forthcoming CG effort called The Legend of Milu Deer: Princess Yoyo directed by Guo Weijiao. The film is largely a response to DreamWorks’s Kung Fu Panda. The success of a Chinese-themed story produced by an American company miffed a lot of Chinese citizens and has inspired them to make more (if not better) use of their cultural symbols and traditions.

The film is being produced by the Zhonke Weiwo Digital Technology Co. in collaboration with the Scientific Art Center of the Institute of Automation in the Chinese Academy of Sciences. According to the film’s official website, they are employing “special effects such as 3D deformation, hair, fabric, particles, groups animation, motion capture, and network rendering, which reaches the [most] advanced level in the world.” Apparently, the world they are referring to is the one of 1990.

The State Administration of Radio, Film and Television is planning to offer this movie as a “present” to the people of China for this year’s 60th anniversary of the People’s Republic of China. If this is a present, I’d hate to think how they punish people in that part of the world.

The trailer:

Anime is Dying

The Japan Times has a long, and at times sensationalistic, article describing how the Japanese animation industry is struggling to survive and why their “animation bubble” is about to burst. A vast number of reasons are offered. I don’t know enough about their industry to properly assess which reasons are accurate and which are overblown, but some of the reasons covered in the article include a sluggish economy leading to lower production budgets, too much adult content turning off general audiences, piracy and fansubs in the West, lack of financial incentives for show creators, shady business practices by production studios, and low pay for the average animation worker. I was also surprised to read that 90% of their animation work is outsourced to countries like China and the Philippines. Maybe the US animation industry isn’t that bad after all.

(Thanks, Karl Cohen)

Zap! Pow! Bam!

If you are in L.A. or plan to visit between now and August 9th, check out the incredible super hero exhibit at the Skirball Cultural Center, Zap! Pow! Bam! The Superhero: The Golden Age of Comic Books 1938-1950.

It’s an incredible exhibition of golden age original art, character merchandise and rare comic books in a fantastic museum installation. There is also a companion exhibit, Lights! Camera! Action! Comic Book Heroes of Film and Television which focuses on live action and animated super heroes, including material from Popeye, Flash Gordon and Dick Tracy. This portion of the exhibit features original movie posters, movie costumes (Superman and Batman) and the Bat Cycle (from the 1966 TV series). Comic book legend Jerry Robinson (Batman) will give a Curator’s Talk on Thursday night (March 5th, moderated by Mark Evanier) at 8pm. Highly recommended – for more information check the Skirball Center website.

The Plot Sickens (1961)

Man, those guys at Famous must have really hated their wives. By popular demand, I am posting the 1961 Modern Madcap cartoon, The Plot Sickens. This is another of the Paramount’s series of dark “domestic” comedies, but unlike the others this one is pretty funny – thanks to Irv Spector’s storyboards and Eddie Lawrence’s voice overs. This one was one of several that was released to theatres, but never shown on TV… the subject matter was way above and beyond the viewers of the New Casper Cartoon Show (where most of this era’s Modern Madcaps ended up). It would’ve been a great short to play in front of Jack Lemmon’s How To Murder Your Wife.

The Director of Hoodwinked Speaks

Cory Edwards

Cory Edwards, the guy who made the moderately successful steaming pile of CGI known as Hoodwinked is still plying his wares around town and is currently tapped to write and direct Fraggle Rock: The Movie for the Jim Henson Company. He talks about his work in this interview on the Fulle Circle Productions blog.

Whatever one’s opinion of Hoodwinked, you’ve got to admit that Edwards was on the forefront of indie CG, a trend that is becoming more and more prevalent nowadays. In his own words:

“And I realize that there were other independently-funded projects being done at the same time, but yes, we were the first… the first kind of a new model and a new way of making an animated film. It was made with no studio money, overseas, then picked up by a major distributor. A few other animated films have followed this path, but not to the level of success that Hoodwinked was able to achieve. I know Veggie Tales had a movie come out earlier that year, but that was with a struck deal and brand recognition. Hoodwinked was this freak of nature that was made completely outside of the studio system and, thankfully, worked. I rarely toot my own horn, but these are facts that never get mentioned and I am really proud of what our little film did. Hoodwinked was made for under $8 Million, and has grossed over $150 Million worldwide. That easily makes it the most profitable animated film of its time.”

Beyond the business aspects of indie CG, the rest of the interview is packed with gems that both infuriate and tickle the funny bone. For example, Edwards reveals one of his reasons why he’s not directing Hoodwinked 2: “I wanted desperately to get into live action films, and was very concerned about being pigeon-holed as an animation director.” There’s also a wonderful bit about how he’s going to approach the feature-length Fraggle Rock: “I’m shooting high with this one, trying to say some big things about humanity in the way that WALL-E did, but at the same time, make a really cool adventure film.” Apparently the new formula for success in Hollywood is to just give it a little bit of that Wall-E humanity oomph.

Most amusing though is where Edwards sees himself in ten years:

“I sincerely hope that I will be able to carve out a niche in this business where I am a ‘brand name’ director. By that I mean, when an audience sees my name, they anticipate something good… and when a studio thinks of me, they are eager to make a “Cory Edwards film…I want to keep surprising people, but still keep my name synonymous with quality.”

Considering that every project his name has been attached to (Hoodwinked, Doogal) has been an artistic abomination, keeping his name synonymous with quality is a ship that sailed a long time ago. No worries though…nobody notices in Hollywood anyway. Keep up with Cory’s attempt to turn Fraggle Rock into the next WALL-E at CorysCuriosities.blogspot.com.

Get Plastered with Plympton and Lasseter

Plympton Wine Bottle

When I think of the alcohol of choice for animators, I typically don’t think wine, but a number of animation artists are becoming involved in the wine industry. We start with indie filmmaker Bill Plympton who recently designed the labels (above) for PS1909 produced by the Dhaliwal Vineyards in California.

Lasseter Winery

That’s nothing compared to Pixar’s John Lasseter who is starting up his own Sonoma Valley winery called Lasseter Family Winery . A newspaper article from last December discusses some of the ideas for the 38-acre property. Of particular interest to animation fans, the winery will also be the home of Ollie Johnston’s locomotive and Ward Kimball’s train depot. In other words, it’s going to be a pretty damn awesome winery.

(Lasseter wine info via Pixar Touch blog)

Hand Carved Animation

We’ve seen animation with sand, with pin screens, and made by scratching directly on raw film. Here’s something new: Printed Linomation. British graphic designer Mark Andrew Webber created it, carving images by hand onto 296 individual pieces of Linoleum. He says it took 500 hours to create the film (the animation is looped three times). You can watch a “pencil test” using the actual Linoleum carvings here. Here’s an earlier experiment and here is time-lapse animation of Mark working on the carvings.

Michael Jackson’s auction

Good news — especially if you are a Disney Peter Pan fanatic.

In case you haven’t heard, Michael Jackson (“The King of Pop”) is going through some financial problems and has to sell a good portion of his personal collection. Julien’s Auctions has just posted the “Amusements, Arcade Games, and Entertainment” catalog for Jackson’s April 24th public auction on their website.

There’s some really interesting Disneyana starting on page 206, including dioramas and other items made specifically for Michael Jackson. Some Warner Bros. and Simpsons items scattered about as well — including his personal first edition hardcover of Of Mice and Magic!! Say it isn’t so, Michael… I hope you’ve kept the paperback edition!

(Thanks, Danielle Keenan)

Glen Keane Interview

Glen Keane

The new-ish animation blog Lineboil offers up a fine interview with Glen Keane, in which he talks about his preference for pencil over Cintiq, who his greatest source of animation inspiration is (a surprise, at least to me), and suggests that he may one day become a full-time teacher. When asked if the amount of animation we’re seeing today constitutes a new Golden Age, Keane diplomatically shoots down the idea with a fantastic answer that I couldn’t agree with more:

“It seems to me that a ‘golden age’ starts with a movement to discover and learn. It worked that way when Walt turned Hyperion studios into a veritable animation university complete with animal pens to keep deer for study. The result was Snow White, Bambi and Fantasia. In the seventies, when Disney re-started its training program, there was an influx of new talent, new discoveries and wonderful new films like Little Mermaid, Beauty and the Beast and Lion King. Branching out from Disney, there are the films of John Lasseter, Brad Bird and Tim Burton.

“We need to be stretching out and learning, discovering, trying new things. We cannot rest on where we are. There is always a stronger, more convincing, more personal and expressive way to tell our stories and to animate our characters. If we do that then we can move into another ‘golden age.’”

(photo via O-meon)

Meet Michel Ocelot in San Francisco

French animator Michel Ocelot (Kirikou And The Sorceress) will be visiting the San Francisco Bay Area this week to attend the opening of his latest feature, Azur & Asmar. The film opens Friday, March 6th for one week at the Landmark Opera Plaza Cinema in San Francisco and Ocelot will attend Friday night and take questions.

Before that, on Wednesday night, The French American Cultural Society will present a free, public screening of his first feature Kirikou And The Sorceress, presented in French with English subtitles. Mr. Ocelot will introduce the film and do an after-film Q&A. That event will be Wednesday night, March 4th at the Landmark Opera Plaza Cinema, starting at 6:40pm. Anyone who is interested in attending needs to RSVP to contact-at-facs-sf.org with their name and expected number of guests. People are advised to arrive early for seats as RSVPing does not necessarily guarantee admission (like any promo screening).

Drux Flux by Theodore Ushev

The National Film Board of Canada has made Theodore Ushev’s powerful 2008 short Drux Flux available on YouTube. This is a film that benefits greatly from the bigscreen but if you’ve been unable to see it elsewhere, this video offers a glimpse of its fast-cutting layered montage approach. The official synopsis of the film is as follows:

Partly figurative, partly abstract, Drux Flux is an animation film of fast-flowing images showing modern people crushed by industry. Inspired by One-Dimensional Man by the philosopher Herbert Marcuse, the filmmaker deconstructs industrial scenes and their terrifying geometry to show the inhumanity of progress.

Ushev informs me that a 3D anaglyph version of this film (as well as a 3D version of his earlier short Tower Bawher) will soon be posted on a special NFB website.

Disney Studios, 1959

Last month Burbank city officials removed a 50-year-old miniature time capsule that was encased in concrete in the Magnolia Bridge in 1959. It contained a roll of 35mm film with 47 black and white images of Burbank landmarks. This week, the local newspaper The Burbank Times has posted all the images on their website. In addition to shots of City Hall, NBC Studios and Burbank Airport, there are two photos of Walt Disney Studios on Buena Vista Street. To see enlargements of the Disney Studio shots, click here for the Gate, click here for the Animation Building.

Floyd, can you spot your car??

Looney Tunes 1941-42 pressbook

Here’s something I’ve never seen before, a 1941 pressbook for Warner Bros. Looney Tunes and Merrie Melodies shorts. I’m a nut for stuff like this. Click thumbnails below for larger images. Look at those posters and standees (I’m proud to say I have both one sheets, framed, on my walls). This was certainly the first big push for Bugs Bunny — and to target this sort of publicity to exhibitors indicates that Warners knew they had a new star in their hands.

This item was sold on ebay yesterday. If the buyer is reading this — (hint, hint) — I’d love to get hi-rez scans for my new Looney Tunes book.

UPDATE: Collector Eric Calande found he had two of the character ad mats, pictured in the pressbook above, in his collection and sent in pictures (below). They are naturally reverse image (below right), I flipped them (left and center) to view:

USC Animation Screening

The University of Southern California’s School of Cinematic Arts is presenting an open screening on Thursday (3/5) showcasing the latest films by its students and recent alumni. The John C. Hench Division of Animation & Digital Arts (aka DADA) will present its annual Adobe First Frame screening, at the Directors Guild (DGA) Theater Complex at 7920 Sunset Boulevard (at Fairfax) at 7:30pm.

The program features 19 animated films spanning a range of genres and techniques – including stop-motion, 2D and 3D CG, character and experimental, all by Hench-DADA BA and MFA students. The program running time is 80 minutes. The event is FREE. No reservations necessary. Wine and dessert reception following screening. For more information check the Hench/DADA website

Harry Happy (1963)

I got such a good reaction to the previous 1960s Paramount cartoon that I posted last week, I couldn’t resist torturing you with another.

First, a confession: Of all the classic Hollywood cartoon shorts, the Paramount/Famous Studios cartoons in general are my favorite “guilty pleasures”. Why? I’m not sure, but I truly admire the skill of the animation crew and art staff. The big problems at Paramount lie in direction, gag timing, and with matters of good taste. By the 1960s they were coasting on their celebrated past, as remnants of the Fleischer studio and their shorts from this era fascinate me. The budgets were cut to the bone and the characters the studio developed for a decade were no longer available for use. They had the freedom to go off and make animated shorts on any subject they wished, in any style of art or technique. Sometimes they took advantage of this freedom, most times they did not. A few gems have risen to the surface (My Daddy The Astronaut, The Itch, The Plumber, Marvin Digs come to mind), but the bad ones of the 60s are so wrong on so many levels, such train wrecks, I can’t keep my eyes off them.

Below is one of these. It’s one of several “domestic cartoons” that Paramount made under it’s Modern Madcap label. Various studios tried this type of fare in the 1950s. Robert McKimson’s Wild Wife (1954) at Warner Bros. is an example; the Pete Hothead cartoons at UPA and the Gene Deitch John Doormat series at Terrytoons are others. Paramount tried a few of these as well, however here the characters aren’t funny, and there’s no attempt at social commentary. They are simply bleak and pessimistic – each one more depressing than the last. Perhaps next time I’ll post In The Nicotine (1961) about a man who terrorizes his wife with his constant chain smoking; or The Plot Sickens (1961, written by Irv Spector) in which a nebbish plans various ways to kill his shrewish wife. Unpleasant subjects, poorly made, with painfully unfunny results.

Here’s one short that really disturbs me – and once again, I don’t believe this it was ever aired on television. It’s about a guy who is a complete asshole and wife abuser. It’s dark. It’s oppressive. So of course it’s called Harry Happy.

What were they thinking?