The Bugs Bunny Story

My friend Martha Sigall is one of the last living survivors of Termite Terrace (aka the Leon Schlesinger “Looney Tunes” Studio). She’s just posted a You Tube video in response to the number one question she gets asked all the time: Who Created Bugs Bunny? Here’s her response:

And she ought to know, she was there — as a member of the ink and paint crew. For more of Martha and her recollections, I suggest you pick up her wonderful book, Living Life Inside The Lines.

Ottawa ’09 Competition Selections

Ottawa Animation Festival

The Ottawa International Animation Festival has announced their official selections for this year’s festival, which takes place between October 14-18.

There are ninety-three films competing in the various short categories. Competition selections in Ottawa are a wonderful reason to attend and always one of the highlights of the festival. The line-up is filled with challenging, progressive and interesting uses of the animation medium. Check out the list of competing films here. I’m especially pleased that they maintain such high standards because I’m on the festival’s short film jury this year alongside filmmakers Suzan Pitt and Jim Blashfield.

Feature competition is also more robust than usual with seven films vying for the prize: Henry Selick’s Coraline, Tatia Rosenthal’s $9.99, Neil Burns’s Edison and Leo, Priit and Olga Pärn’s Life Without Gabriella Ferri, Sunao Katabuchi’s Mai Mai Miracle, Adam Elliot’s Mary and Max, and Paul and Sandra Fierlinger’s My Dog Tulip. It’s nice to see a healthy selection of features, especially after the feature debacle in Ottawa last year in which the best feature prize was inexplicably awarded to Battle for Terra.

(Ottawa poster by Theodore Ushev)

Obama = Felix The Cat?

We try our best to keep politics out of Cartoon Brew, but an item reported this morning on The Huffington Post caught my eye, and I felt it should be noted here (heck, any time a classic cartoon character is compared to a current politician, I’m interested. Anyone remember when Bill Clinton compared himself to Baby Huey?).

Today, columnist Niall Ferguson of London’s Financial Times compared President Obama to Felix the Cat, saying that, like Obama, the cartoon cat was “black and lucky”. The lede of Ferguson’s column reads:

President Barack Obama reminds me of Felix the Cat. One of the best-loved cartoon characters of the 1920s, Felix was not only black. He was also very, very lucky. And that pretty much sums up the 44th president of the US as he takes a well-earned summer break after just over six months in the world’s biggest and toughest job.

Ferguson’s column was accompanied by a cartoon (above) and a caption which reads, “Felix the Cat, the wonderful, wonderful cat! Whenever he gets in a fix, he reaches into his bag of tricks!” See the original column here (site may require registration to read).

Who’s Afraid of Song of the South?

Song of the South, the one film The Walt Disney Company will not release on DVD, lives on.
There hasn’t been much to report lately on the status of Walt’s 1946 Uncle Remus classic, but I just read Jim Korkis’ outstanding “making of” article in the latest issue Hogan’s Alley (a Comic Con purchase that I just got around to reading today) and am inspired to raise the issue again. Why isn’t this film on DVD? The studio has released much more “offending material” already, without a peep from special interest groups who might object. I appreciate all the fantastic wartime material the studio has already released, and am grateful to the company for making available all the 1930s and 40s shorts, despite some dated racial stereotypes contained therein.

“Who’s Afraid of the Song of the South?” – that’s the question I’m asking, and also it happens to be the name of Korkis’ piece in the 16th edition of Hogan’s Alley. The article is an absolute must-read and, at 19 pages, is thoroughly researched and possibly the last word on the subject. Korkis documents the complete story of the project, from pre-production to latter day reissues – with all the controversy inbetween. And if this edition of Hogan’s Alley only contained Korkis’ great article it would be well worth the cover price, but there are excellent articles on Little Lulu merchandising (and animation), an interview with Popeye artist Stephan DeStefano, rare Dan DeCarlo comic strips, and a dozen other great features. Buy this today.

On a related note, Mike Van Eaton just acquired a set of Ub Iwerks notes and production boards from SotS (see storyboards below, click thumbnails to see larger images). Note the deleted sequence on the boards second row, below right. Mike isn’t selling these – but graciously allowed me to post them for our readers enjoyment.

Cartoon Brew TV: Singles by Rebecca Sugar

Singles by Rebecca Sugar

A few months ago I shared my thoughts about the student screening at the School of Visual Arts, and in there I noted that Rebecca Sugar’s Singles was one of the highlights of SVA’s graduating class. Today we’re delighted to present the online debut of her film on Cartoon Brew TV. Frankly, I have no idea how anybody manages to become so adept at drawing and animation by the time they’re 22, but Rebecca’s done it, and the beneficiaries of her hard work are my eyeballs and yours. Click over to Cartoon Brew TV and watch her film Singles.

Cartoon Brew TV #21: “Singles” by Rebecca Sugar

When I first discovered Rebecca Sugar’s drawings, I was perplexed by her work yet dazzled by her drawing chops. She impressed again with this masterful comic piece. Now, we’re proud to present the online premiere of her thesis film Singles, which picked up the award for best Experimental Film at last month’s Animation Block Party. With this film, she shows herself to be both a creative animator and a thoughtful filmmaker. The short’s visual gymnastics are staggering, with characters nested into each other and whose shifting perspectives confound the senses while creating mystery and intrigue. The film was made at the School of Visual Arts, the same school that brought us the last Cartoon Brew TV film, Jake Armstrong’s The Terrible Thing of Alpha-9!

Questions for Rebecca are welcome. She’ll be participating in the comments section below. If you’d like to find out more about her work, visit her website or blog. Here is more about Singles, in her own words:

I love to draw comics, so for my thesis I wanted an idea that absolutely had to be animated. I wanted to do Singles because it could never work as a comic; it hardly worked as an animatic!

The main guy lives with infinite selves, they all move the same way at the same time because they’re all the same person. The film is about being alone.

I came up with this film one night when I couldn’t sleep. All that really changed after that was the main character, he started out thin and got fatter every time I drew him. My friend Frans Boukas came up with using “Singles” as American cheese and as the title, I thought it was perfect! I asked my advisor Don Poynter about it, and he said, “But you have only one character, and ‘singles’ is plural.” I said, “Oh, but he IS plural!”

The radio voice is my good friend Peyton Skyler. He and Mikhail Shraga have inspired me for years to be less narrative and more conceptual. The chewing and humming is Ian Jones-Quartey. He inked and animated chunks of the film and was a huge inspiration to me in general.

I wanted this film to imply that there’s a lot more going on than what the guy or the audience can see. This guy is getting a fraction of a much bigger picture that he can’t possibly understand. This film is part one in a trilogy. All three films happen in the same apartment building at the same time. What happens in all three films happens in each individual film though that character doesn’t know or see it. What is actually happening is something else entirely and can’t be known.

Part two is Peyton Skyler’s Cat which can be viewed at Peyton’s website, and part three is Mikhail Shraga’s Metromorphosis, which can be viewed on Mikhail’s website.

Fleischer double-feature at the Egyptian 9/25

Mr Bug Goes to Town

Just a quick heads-up that I’ll be introducing a double feature Max Fleischer’s two great animated features, Gulliver’s Travels (1939) and Mr. Bug Goes To Town (1941) at the Egyptian Theatre in Hollywood, California on Friday September 25th. Both will be presented in 35mm, with uncut IB Technicolor prints projected on the large screen, just as they were meant to be seen. Mark your calendar now! More details about this event will be posted when we get closer to the actual date.

Daffy Duck’s Rhapsody

I love this record. And I couldn’t resist showing off the label (above).

Marquis Howell (of Hobo and bass player for Janet Klein and her Parlor Boys) handed me this record at the show last night. He found it in a thrift shop for a buck and gave it to me as a gift. Thanks, man! I’d heard the track before, but I don’t recall ever seeing the label for it.

You can listen to the classic Daffy Duck’s Rhapsody on You Tube — as well as it’s flip side, I’m Glad That I’m Bugs Bunny, both written by Warren Foster and Michael Maltese, with incredible vocals by Mel Blanc. For more information on vintage Looney Tunes recordings, visit Golden Age Cartoons. Click thumbnails below see larger images of the labels and record sleeve.

Hiroshima Anniversary

Today also marks the 64th anniversary of the bombing of Hiroshima, in which upwards of 100,000 Japanese people were killed instantly by an atom bomb dropped by the US military. In commemoration, here is Dan Blank‘s Shadowplay, a moving stop-motion film about the “permanent shadows imprinted on the city’s walls and streets by the intense flash, creating indelible images from the exact moment the bomb hit.” Made at NYU, it won a gold Student Emmy as well as a bronze Student Academy Award.

Happy 10th Birthday, The Iron Giant

Iron Giant

The Iron Giant was released ten years ago today–August 6, 1999. Wired magazine celebrates the occasion with a commentary by Scott Thill that contrasts Brad Bird’s thoughtful filmmaking to today’s “dumb” Hollywood efforts like Iron Man and Transformers:

Big guns and fiery explosions have been Hollywood’s status quo for a long time, with mindless violence selling tickets – and a warlike message, which The Iron Giant stands on its head. Hogarth dons the requisite helmet and BB gun after his future pal wrecks the nearby woods, and the boy even salutes himself in a mirror, armed in defense of America against the Sputnik-launching Russians, before galloping off to meet the “enemy.”

But after watching the Iron Giant (voiced by Vin Diesel) scream in pain while caught up in power lines, Hogarth’s compassion is activated as he realizes that his interstellar visitor can communicate. It is something Mansley could realize himself, if he wasn’t so busy pursuing his wargasm. Yet he does not, and that is Bird’s brain at work: Consumed by what philosopher Theodor Adorno once controversially called the “authoritarian personality,” Mansley is possessed by cynicism and a quest for power. He simply cannot conceive a world where robots fall from the sky to do anything other than annihilate America.

Children’s Books by Animation Artists

2009 appears to be the year of illustrated books by animation artists. It’s hard to keep track there are so many of them. Below are some of the latest offerings. None of the artists wrote these books, with the exception of Carter Goodrich, who illustrated his own story.

Being a Pig is Nice: A Child’s-Eye View of Manners illustrated by Dan KrallIllustrated book by Dan Krall

The Hermit Crab illustrated by Carter GoodrichIllustrated book by Carter Goodrich

How to Train with a T.Rex and Win 8 Gold Medals illustrated by Ward JenkinsIllustrated book by Ward Jenkins

How to Potty Train Your Monster illustrated by Mike MoonIllustrated book by Mike Moon

And one that comes out in a couple months: Toy Story: Ride ‘em, Cowboy! illustrated by Lorelay Bove. More details on Lorelay’s blog.Illustrated book by Lorelay Bove

Victor Haboush (1924-2009)

Vic Haboush

Victor Haboush passed away on May 24, 2009 at age 85. A first-generation American of Lebanese descent, he was born on April 16, 1924 and grew up in Indianapolis, Indiana.

Vic Haboush
At home with his family. Vic is third from the right.

During World War II, he took part in the D-Day landings at Normandy as a member of the Coast Guard, and later served in the Pacific theater. (His brother was mortally wounded at Leyte.) Following the War, he attended Art Center College of Design on the G.I. Bill where he studied extensively with Lorser Feitelson.

Vic Haboush
Figure drawing from art school.

On the recommendation of his Art Center classmate Eyvind Earle, he was hired at Disney in 1952 to help finish layout on Peter Pan. His first association with Disney came earlier, when he helped Earle draw this Golden Book adaptation of Peter Pan. He built up an impressive list of credits at the studio including assistant art direction on Melody and Toot Whistle Plunk and Boom, and layout on Lady and the Tramp, Sleeping Beauty and 101 Dalmatians.

Vic Haboush
(l. to r.) Victor Haboush, Tony Rizzo, Walt Peregoy and Tom Oreb at Disney in 1958

Vic was one of Tom Oreb’s closest colleagues during the 1950s and they worked together as a team, especially in Disney’s TV commercial unit. The characters in this Cheerios ad were styled by Oreb with background layout by Vic:

He described to me in 2000 his relationship with Oreb:

“Eyvind [Earle] and I were the two hot new guys, and we developed a lot of people not liking us. We’d work on the weekends, we’d throw storyboards up…a lot of the old guys just absolutely turned on us. It was really kind of brutal in a way. But guys like Tommy [Oreb], Ward Kimball, Bill Peet, Don DaGradi, they didn’t have that closed kind of thing. Tommy really married Eyvind and I. He became our friend. He looked after us. He talked us up. So the three of us became really good friends. We started hanging out together and all of that. Eyvind was kind of like Tom’s equal. They were both in the same age range. And I was the young kid. I was probably nine nor ten years younger than both of them. I just became Tom’s protege. I idolized him.”

Vic Haboush
Concept art by Haboush for an unproduced industrial film. Click for larger version.

When Oreb left Disney to work at John Sutherland Productions, Vic followed, and they worked together on films like Destination Earth and The Littlest Giant. They both soon returned to Disney to finish Sleeping Beauty, where Vic played a key role in designing the “Thorn Forest” sequence. In an interview, he spoke about his work on the sequence:

“I saw these awful drawings of the Thorn Forest, these big huge thorns, and it was a big mess. Basil Davidovich told me, ‘Vic, Woolie [Reitherman] doesn’t want anybody working on it anymore.’ But I went ahead anyways and spent the next three weeks working on this sequence. Everybody’s kind of laughing because they know that Woolie’s going to be pissed off when he sees that I’ve wasted all that time on it. The problem is that when you draw a vine, it gets smaller as it’s coming towards you, and that destroyed perspective. I worked it out where the vine overlapped itself so as it came towards you, it would be coming in front of itself and that created the depth. So I see Woolie one day and I say, ‘Woolie, I’ve solved the thorn forest,’ and he says surprised, ‘What! We should be finished with that.’ I take the work to show him in his office and he looked at them and pushed them aside. I thought ‘Oh no, here it comes,’ and he says, ‘Haboush, these are wonderful. From now on you’re the thorn forest guy.’ For the next three months, all I did was draw those stupid thorns. Bill Peet would come in and say, ‘Vic, nickel a thorn, charge a nickel a thorn, don’t ask for a raise, just get a nickel a thorn.’”

Vic Haboush
Concept art from Disney’s How to Have an Accident in the Home. Click for larger version.

Vic worked at numerous other animation studios besides Disney, including Quartet Films, early seasons of The Flintstones and The Jetsons at Hanna-Barbera, and The Incredible Mr. Limpet at Warner Bros. He was the art director of UPA’s second feature Gay Purr-ee as well as the Mr. Magoo and Dick Tracy TV series.

Vic Haboush
Concept art by Haboush from Gay Purr-ee. Click for larger version.

He told me that one of the most embarrassing moments in his career was during a short film screening at the Academy. UPA owner Henry Saperstein had submitted one of the Dick Tracy episodes for Oscar consideration, and when Vic’s name appeared onscreen as art director, he shrunk low into his seat. Working on the inferior UPA TV shows made him realize the direction the animation industry was headed and he resolved to set out on his own. In the early-1960s, he launched a studio, Spungbuggy Works, in partnership with animator Herb Stott and storyman/designer/all-around creative dynamo John Dunn. It was at this studio that he worked with Dunn to develop numerous feature and TV concepts, many of which would be later produced by Friz Freleng, who lured Dunn to his studio DePatie-Freleng.

In the mid-1960s, Vic left animation and shifted into live-action. He started his own studio, Victor Haboush & Associates, which later became The Haboush Company. Over the next thirty years, he directed and photographed over 1,500 commecials, winning numerous Cannes Gold and Silver Lions, Clios and IBAs. His campaigns included the Kibbles N’ Bits “The Hook” campaign, numerous commercials featuring Ronald McDonald for McDonald’s, the Taco Bell “Crashing Bell” series, the Hefty Bag series with Jonathan Winters, early Keebler Cookies spots, and the Schlitz Malt Liquor “Bull” campaign.

Vic Haboush
Vic on commercial sets

One of his former producers Paul Babb said, “Vic was one of the go-to guys in the 1960s, ’70s and ’80s for commercials…He was no businessman but he was an incredible artist–and not just as a director. Try putting a pencil or a paintbrush in his hand, sit back and wait for something remarkable.” Vic might have agreed with the sentiment that he wasn’t an expert businessman. He knew how to sell an idea and he knew how to execute, but he was more interested in achieving a quality result than heeding the bottom line. He often told me that his studio wouldn’t have lasted had it not been for his brother, who served as his producer for many years. Jon Derovan, who was Vic’s producer during the final decade of his career, told Shoot magazine, “Victor allowed me to be a creative producer. He brought me into the creative process beyond the nuts and bolts of the business….He was generous. He was open to good ideas no matter where they came from–and he was quick to credit the person who came up with the idea. He would never take credit for an idea that wasn’t his.”

Even while he ran the studio, he remained connected to animation and art. He employed many animators over the years including John Kimball, Robert Swarthe, Dale Case, and the unheralded Robert Mitchell. Through his company, Vic produced three shorts directed by Mitchell–K-9000: A Space Oddity (1968), the Oscar-nominated The Further Adventures of Uncle Sam (1970), and Free (1972). His company also produced another art film, Paint (1968) directed by Norm Gollin and starring LA airbrush pioneer Charlie White:

I first met Vic around the year 2000 while I was researching the life of Tom Oreb. By this time, Vic had retired from filmmaking and was painting full-time. We hit it off and formed a friendship that endured until his death.

Vic’s attitude towards life was different from the majority of older people I’ve encountered. He was young at heart, with an insatiable curiosity about the world around him and a flexible thought process. His opinions about different artists evolved over time, much like his distinctive painting process, which often involved reworking an image dozens of times until he was satisfied. He refused to live in the past. Whenever we would get together, he couldn’t wait to discuss people he’d recently met, a new place he had visited, or a new book he’d read. He was as enthusiastic about younger artists as he was appreciative of veteran artistic colleagues. When he returned to animation one final time as a development artist on The Iron Giant, he became enamored with artists like Mark Whiting and Teddy Newton, the latter whose work he felt was some of the freshest he’d seen in a long time.

Vic Haboush
Vic drawn by Teddy Newton

To fully appreciate Vic, you had to know him in person. Charismatic and energetic even in later years, his social skills were second to none. Not only could he strike up a conversation with a random stranger, but he could also get their contact info and perhaps form a long-term friendship–and remarkably, he could do all of this inbetween sips of his morning coffee. He was Malcolm Gladwell’s concept of the “connector” personified.

Vic Haboush
Iron Giant development art by Vic Haboush

I always considered him more of a pal than a teacher, but looking back on the time we spent together, he was one of the most influential mentors I ever had. His enthusiasm for art was contagious and instilled in me an appreciation for the same, from Lundeberg to Diebenkorn to Vlaminck to Pascin. Vic didn’t always have the easiest time imparting his wisdom. He once spent an entire morning trying to explain to me why Cézanne’s work was such a remarkable accomplishment. I was too dense at the time to grasp what he was saying, but it eventually sunk in.

He was one of the earliest supporters of my writing, and we spent months developing a story book together, which gave me the opportunity to see how skilled he was handling story and character. He prodded me for years to pursue writing seriously, and that too eventually sunk in. I remember during one visit I had brought my camera along and he asked me to take a photograph of him. The results were less than spectacular. The director in him emerged, and I received a firsthand taste of what he must have been like to work with on a live-action set. With the assured confidence of a master cinematographer, he directed me where to stand and where to point the camera, and he set himself up properly in the natural light. Within seconds, we had a fine portrait.

Thank you, Vic. For being a mentor, an inspiration, and a friend. It was an honor knowing you.

He is survived by his wife Monica, three children–Auguste, Cedric and Laila–and six grandchildren.

Vic Haboush
Vic and I in 2008

Sand Painting

Not animation, but an incredible exhibition of artistic talent from a broadcast of Ukraine’s Got Talent. It’s a stunning and touching artwork/performance about WWII from the Ukrainian point of view, eliciting not only applause but tears from the audience. It’s refreshing to watch an artist draw and perform — and win — instead of the many average singing acts. And it’s also captivating to watch the story develop as each scene is swept away to create a new one:

(Thanks, Jeana Tran)

“Throw Me to the Rats” Music Video

A music video for the track “Throw Me to the Rats” by the Tom Fun Orchestra. It’s directed by Alasdair Brotherston and designed by Jock Mooney, out of the UK’s Trunk Animation. I dig the quirky, humorous illustrations and choppy movement. Digital puppetry via AfterEffects and Flash is dime-a-dozen, but there’s a real energy and spontaneity when it’s created in the real world like this video. Brotherston explained in an interview:

“I had a good idea that I wanted to make a puppet theatre and film the action live in an effort to break from the perfectionism of digital animation that I was beginning to find a bit prescriptive and unspontaneous. I then decided to recruit an artist I knew from my time at Edinburgh College of Art called Jock Mooney as I knew that his illustration would be perfect for this job. He also brought some great ideas and a slightly perverted sense of humour as well as a spare room in which to do the shoot.

“The shoot itself turned out to be a bit of a nightmare and what had planned to be a fairly straightforward operation with most of the action caught in camera on set ended with myself and Jock setting up a green screen in his room and working puppets that were being held in place by jacket potatoes. Although it seems funny now, I distinctly remember being not that pleased at being holed up in a small room with blacked out windows, surrounded by several halogen lights on the hottest week of the year.”

Director:Alasdair Brotherston
Art Director: Jock Mooney
Producer: Shot On Site Media
Compositer: Dylan White
Puppeteers: Jenni Nylander, Natalie Ryde