Spark Animation ’09

Spark 09

Spark Animation ’09 is taking place next week in Vancouver. I wasn’t blown away by the line-up for the event’s first year, but this second time around they’ve brought together an exciting and diverse group of industry bigshots including DreamWorks director Conrad Vernon, David Fine of Bob and Margaret fame, Blue Sky art director Michael Knapp, Pixar production designer Ricky Nierva, The Secret of Kells co-director Tomm Moore, and feature animators like Dave Burgess and Chris Wiliams. There are also discussion panels and film screenings including $9.99, Mary and Max, The Secret of Kells, and Azur and Asmar. The event is industry-centric–no surprise because it’s being put on by SIGGRAPH–but there is a definite need for an event like this on the West Coast, and Vancouver is a lovely place to host it. The schedule and single-ticket/full pass info can be found on the SIGGRAPH Vancouver website. If any reader wants to send some notes about how it goes next week, I’d be interested in hearing about it.

I Got Opinions

Incredible eye candy in this new animated music video by Watermark, an illustrator’s collective based in New Zealand and Australia. With only 8 weeks from start to finish, they created a music video for Greg Johnson’s song I Got Opinions utilizing the creative talents of eight different illustrators and their distinct styles. You can see a hi-def clip on the Watermark homepage, and check out the production blog with storyboards, pre viz and stills, as well as the animators credits here.

(Thanks, Dave Follett)

First 1/3 of Princess and the Frog

I dropped into the big D23 Disney Fan Expo in Anaheim today, attended Bob Iger’s talk and watched the Disney Legends ceremony. The big surprise at the show was a screening of the first half hour of The Princess and The Frog (PATF). I’m now officially enthused. If the rest of the film is as good as the first 1/3 I saw today, it will be a huge hit for the studio — and just could revive Hollywood’s dormant interest in hand drawn character animation. They’ve got the visuals, the humor and the heart down tight on this one. I had a huge smile on my face throughout the screening. What I really like about what I’ve seen of PATF so far, is that it combines familiar elements of classic Disney and throws them into a whole new stew, completely different in tone from the rest of the traditional “princess” films. I’ll leave the plot surprises for you to discover – but I must quickly comment on one musical sequence: The “I Want” song. It’s called Almost There and it’s terrific. But it’s especially interesting as it’s visualized in an art deco/poster graphics style of the 20s (can anyone inform me which artist inspired this sequence?) and its directed like an homage to the 1936 Tex Avery short, Page Miss Glory!

The other PATF news today, is that the studio is opening the film early in L.A. and New York. It’ll open November 25th exclusively at the Ziegfeld Theatre in Manhattan. In L.A., the studio is playing the film for two weeks on the studio lot. For the first time I know of, the general public will be able to buy a ticket (at $30 bucks a pop) and screen the film in a Disney screening room! In addition, Disney will “dress” the backlot like a mini-Disneyland with PATF-themed attractions! For more information and tickets click here.

Sony and Frederator to develop Animated Movies

Get your feature film pitches ready. The Hollywood Reporter just announced that Sony Pictures Animation and Frederator Studios have teamed up to develop a slate of new animated features.

Fred Seibert says he’ll be looking for new ideas that can be developed for all manner of animation techniques: hand drawn, CG, stop motion or any other form defined as animation. Sony Pictures Animation has recently announced other development deals, including a first look agreement with The Gotham Group, distribution of Aardman Animation features and the acquisition of several properties including The Familiars and Hip Hop from Platinum Studios. And of course, Sony Animation’s next movie, Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs, opens on September 18th.

Letters from Chuck

Chuck and Linda Jones

Is anybody following the official Chuck Jones blog? Because fans of Chuck should be! Chuck’s daughter, Linda, has been posting a fascinating series of letters that he wrote to her when she went off to boarding school in 1952. Even though a lot of the details are mundane, the value of sharing these letters is immense. They offer a totally new personal perspective on how Jones handled being a father at a time when he was also at the top of his game. There are also some great animation-related bits sprinkled throughout the letters, like his thoughts about working on the Roadrunner/Coyote shorts:

Been slamming through another Coyote and Roadrunner, as I may have mentioned. These are sort of money-in-the-bank type pictures. We don’t have to worry about establishing a premise or continuity or character development much or trick backgrounds. Everything’s pretty open. Just sit down and start drawing and when all the gags are roughed out, arrange them according to pace, so’s the picture will build in tempo, find myself a strong gag to end on and I’m in business. Timing is a snap because no dialogue and there’s no worry about making it too long, because I can time the gags as I go along and use just as many as I need. All in all, life could be very simple and maybe a little bit dull if all I had to do was direct coyote and r.r.s.

Read Linda’s intro to the series and then check out all of the letters. Start at the back with the first post if you want to keep proper chronology.

More Rabbit Tales

I don’t have the mp3′s of these recordings, but the sleeves are too cool not to share. Click thumbnails below to see larger images.

Brew reader Hiland Hall sent in the front and back sleeve of a rare Mel Blanc promotional recording (below left and center) with nifty unidentified artwork. It’s hard to believe Blanc had to pitch himself like this – he must have been the world’s most famous voice actor at the time. UPDATE: Steve Worth at the Asifa-Hollywood Animation Archive posted the audio from this record here.

Below right is the cover of some bizarre kiddie record I got off one of my daily visits to the LP Cover Lover blog. Check that out regularly for the coolest in oddball albums.

Looney Tunes liqour

I’m all for aiming cartoons towards adult audiences, but here’s one of the strangest Looney Tunes items ever licensed. Currently on ebay is set of Warner Bros. mini liquor bottles by Alpa Distillery, Italy dating from 1978. The set being offered includes Bugs Bunny, Honey Bunny, Wile E. Coyote, and Hippity Hopper. Hippity Hopper comes in the original box. Click on thumbnails below to see larger images.

Several years ago, Tim Cohea and Jon Cooke on the Termite Terrace Trading Post pointed out that there were at least seven others in the collection: Elmer Fudd, Daffy Duck, Porky Pig, Speedy Gonzales, Foghorn Leghorn, Petunia Pig and Granny.

Damn, these are ugly figurines. I could use a drink.

(Thanks, Joe Szczender)

Luxo sues Pixar/Disney

Poetic justice – or inevitable? The Los Angeles Times reports that the Norwegian lamp maker is suing over non contractual uses of its lamp design in merchandising and at Disney World.

UPDATE: Fellow Brewer Amid wrote about the relationship between Luxo and Pixar in his recent book The Art of Pixar Short Films. The following excerpt from the book explains that Pixar was granted permission to use the Luxo name, so the issue appears to stem from Pixar’s merchandising of the lamps:

The success of Luxo Jr. caused one unanticipated problem: Pixar had used the name of a trademarked porduct without permission. This misstep was hastily corected by Ralph Guggenheim, a veteran of NYIT and Lucasfilm, for which he headed the development of Lucas’s EditDroid editing system. Guggenheim, who joined Pixar’s animation group around the time Luxo Jr. premiered at SIGGRAPH, immediately contacted Jac Jacobsen Industries to clear the use of the name. Computer animation was so new that the Luxo representatives could not even understand what Pixar had done. “They thought we had taken two of their lamps and animated them by hand in stop motion,” said Guggenheim. The notion of computer animation was still unfathomable for most of the public. Ultimately, Pixar and Luxo reached an agreement in which Luxo could screen the film at its own trade shows and Pixar could distribute the film without restraint.

Danny Antonucci’s 4 “C”s to Great Cartoons

Lupo the Butcher

Danny Antonucci (Lupo the Butcher, Ed, Edd n Eddy) posted this refreshingly frank piece of advice on his Facebook page, and he’s allowed me to share it with everybody on the Brew. Even with all his years in the biz, Danny hasn’t forgotten what it’s all about:

Danny Antonucci’s 4 “C”s to Great Cartoons
1. CREATE (…new territories through art not technology)
2. CONTRIBUTE (…to the art form, not rape it for cash!)
3. CHALLENGE (…everything currently being done)
4. CHANGE (…don’t redo, copy, or repeat)
If you can’t adhere to any of these 4 “C”s, get the fuck out of animation.

E. Michael Mitchell R.I.P.

Artist and beloved CalArts instructor, E. Michael Mitchell, passed away early this morning. He was incredibly influential to many now working in the industry. Mitchell had worked extensively in animation with many credits, including conceptualizing FernGully: The Last Rain Forrest. One of his students, Spencer Ockwell, posted a tribute to Mitchell on his blog, including many photos of his amazing concept art. Here is his (woefully incomplete) IMDb page.

King Kelly of the U.S.A. (1934)

I will be off the internet for most of the next four days, enjoying my holiday weekend at Cinecon (the classic movie festival at the Egyptian Theatre on Hollywood Boulevard). Cinecon specializes in screening rare films and recent studio restorations not available on DVD, TCM or anywhere else.

King Kelly of the USA (Monogram, 1934) is the kind of offbeat B-movie Cinecon would show – except that this film can be found easily on DVD, as it is one of hundreds of Hollywood orphan films that have fallen into the public domain. It’s not a particularly good picture (though co-stars Edgar Kennedy and Franklin Pangborn have some funny scenes, and they’re always worth watching), however it has this curious animation sequence about 18 minutes in.

Here, Broadway singer Guy Robertson (starring in his only film) tries wooing co-star Irene Ware in song, with a little help from his table cloth drawings. The animation looks familiar, but I can’t quite place who did it. Bizarre in a fun way – check out the mouth action – very much like something a New York studio would do. It certainly isn’t from Terrytoons or Van Bueren. Anyone want to take a guess who’s behind this… Ted Eshbaugh? Les Elton?

“My Favorite Way” video directed by Marck Al

“My Favorite Way” is a colorful and visually inventive video for Black Drawing Chalks directed by Marck Al at the Brazilian studio Nitrocorpz. Virgilio Vasconcelos, who was responsible for the CG animation, has posted some interesting ‘making of’ footage and production details on his blog. In his email, Virgilio also told me that two of the band members animated on the project.

Production: Nitrocorpz / Bicleta sem Freio
Direction: Marck Al
Dir.Photography: Jovan de Melo
Illustrations: Douglas Castro, Victor Rocha, Jovan de Melo
2D Animation: Douglas Castro, Victor Rocha, Jovan de Melo
3D modelling: Virgilio Vasconcelos
3D animation: Virgilio Vasconcelos
Aditional animations: Suryara Bernardi, Daryn Wakasa
Composition: Victor Rocha, Marck Al

“A Nose” by Mordi Gerstein

WOW! A real rarity today. It’s A Nose, an animated short from 1966 directed and designed by Mordi Gerstein (who prior to this had worked at UPA). The film is based on a surreal piece of satire by Russian writer Nikolai Gogol, and was produced at Jack Zander’s NY studio Pelican Films. There’s some impressive bits of animation in the film, which shouldn’t be a surprise considering that Emery Hawkins and Jack Schnerk are credited as animators. Nowadays, Gerstein is illustrating children’s books, including the well-received The Man Who Walked Between the Towers.

(Thanks to Mordi’s son, Aram Gerstein, for posting the film onto YouTube.)

Johnny Cupcakes goes Looney Tunes

Is this anyway to rebuild a brand? Hmmmm…. Could be!

Warner Bros. Consumer Products has entered into a licensing agreement with urban clothing designer Johnny Cupcakes to produce a line of limited edition T-shirts featuring the Looney Tunes characters. The new t-shirts will be available ($40 each) beginning this month at Johnny Cupcakes stores in LA, Boston and Hull, Mass as well as online. More info to come via the Johnny Cupcakes blog.

A Couple Cool Time-Lapse Pieces

You’ll never look at an apple the same way again after Ecological Apple, an unsettling experimental piece by Swedish artist Andreas Soderberg. It’s standard time-lapse photography edited in After Effects with time remap and camera shakes.

Also appearing online are a number of time-lapse films, like the one below by Eric Spiegelman, that capture the fires happening in LA. Nature is clearly the most awesome special fx animator.

(Ecological Apple video via Kottke)