Ugly just got Uglier…

This is not the ugliest kids show I’ve ever seen – but it comes darn close.

Found among the 1,050 look-alike cartoon shows offered at last week’s annual children’s TV market, MIP Junior, was this one: Twisted Whiskers, a co-production of American Greetings, Moonscoop Productions and DQ Entertainment.

The project’s entire pitchbook / powerpoint presentation is online, and you can see for yourself how “wacky, quirky, irreverent and attitudinal” these characters are. (Click thumbnails below to see images from the pitch book). I just can’t get past the eyes. They’re creeping me out, man.

To be fair, the development art — backgrounds and pencil sketches — in this PDF look good. Bill Kopp and Savage Steve Holland (Eek! the Cat) are attached to the show, and have already directed a series of nine 40-second web-shorts that try their best to make a silk purse from a sow’s ear – but why do these characters have to look so goddam creepy:

Wanna buy Max Fleischer’s animation desk?

Ahhh… the things you’ll find on Craigslist.

According to the seller, “Felix the Cat (comic, strip AND animation) was created on this very table (I have no actual proof of this, though times/dates/people involved would point this towards the truth). This table was also used by Famous artists Joseph “Joe” Oriolo and Otto Messmer (as evidenced by notes on the animation disc’s backside.)”

Hmmm… maybe Casper the Friendly Ghost was created on this desk too. The seller certainly sounds “friendly”. Bid on it here.

(Thanks, Bob Foster)

Cartoon Brew TV: Together!

Together

Prepare yourself! That’s all I can say about David Sheahan’s Together! (2009). The first time I saw this film was like a punch in the face. It’s bizarre, unsettling, endlessly inventive, and wicked fun. In a nutshell, it’s a completely original take on traditional cartoon animation. The character animation of Candice is inspired, and the use of space and camera is dazzling. The multi-talented Sheahan also composed the music, and voiced the Spider and Candice (the words “I’m wearing a dress” have never sounded so disturbing). Sheahan made this as a graduation film at Pratt Institute, but his fully-realized vision of Together! pushes far beyond student film territory and into a realm of its own. Discover how a moth and roach come Together! exclusively on Cartoon Brew TV.

Cartoon Brew TV #21: Together!

We’ve got a new short on Cartoon Brew TV today: Together! (2009) directed by David Sheahan. This was a thesis film created at Pratt Institute. David is participating in the comments section below so fire away if you have any questions. Also, be sure to visit his website TastyHand.com where he’s posted concept artwork and the original music that he composed for the film.

Here are director’s notes from Mr. Sheahan:

In the real world, you would never expect things to go well in the personal lives of bugs. You probably wouldn’t care. But this unhappy insect couple are fascinating and familiar. Yet at the same time, they are the squashably despicable stars of my film Together!

It’s fun and and traditional to hang a cartoon around a collection of gags and slapstick. I toyed with making that kind, but story drives this film. There is just enough symbolism in Together! to punctuate any gut reaction with a question mark. The main symbol is the television, representing the sinister side of the illusions that so often guide our lives. We all know that the glowing screens we watch make a nice, sticky trap.

It’s tricky to place my influences. Today, Madame Butterfly. Tomorrow, Meet the Feebles. So far, I’ve heard S. Clay Wilson. Amid mentioned Ralph Bakshi. I love late-Thirties and early-Forties American cartoons. I try not to imitate them though. That would bore me.

I benefited from getting to know New York animators while working on Superjail!, and from the talented students around me, all of whom I look up to in one way or another: Maya Edelman, Javan Ivey, Katie Cropper, Jake Armstrong, and Kat Morris (among many others). Thanks to all.

The Art of Joseph Mugnaini

VFX artist artist Ryan Leasher is writing a book about illustrator and animation artist Joseph Mugnaini. His book, Wilderness of the Mind: The Art of Joseph Mugnaini, contains a Forward by Ray Bradbury and is currently set for publication in early 2010 from Art of Fiction.

Mugnaini is best known in animation circles for his work on Icarus Montgolfier Wright, the 1962 animated short produced by Format Films, which received an Academy Award nomination. All the artwork for the film was done by Mugnaini, based on an original story by Ray Bradbury; It was produced by Jules Engel, directed by Osmund Evans with narration by James Whitmore and Ross Martin. The painting above is from the film.

Leasher tells us that he obtained “a lot of materials relating to Icarus. Lee Klynn had a great number of items–including orignal artwork, the shooting dialogue script, etc. We’ve currently slated approximately 50 pages in the book for Icarus artwork – including concept artwork for post-Icarus projects with Format that never materialized..”

Other notable animation projects for Mugnaini were Concept, a pitch film for the Hollywood Museum in 1964, on which he did all the artwork; as with Icarus it was a static art, animated camera affair but with better use of multi-plane cameras; and Room for Heroes, a 1971 Walt Disney educational film about American folk heroes for which Joe did background paintings

Ryan also tells us:

We’ve had unrestricted access to the estate’s archives and, most importantly, to Joe’s journals. What we’ve found is nothing short of amazing. The book will include many pieces from Joe’s journals and give an unparalleled view into Joe’s creative process.

Joe is best know as the illustrator for many of Ray Bradbury’s books, including their first collaboration on Golden Apples of the Sun, the iconic Fahrenheit 451, The October Country, and my personal favorite The Halloween Tree. No previous book has come even close to showing the depth of the collaboration between Joe and Ray Bradbury. We’ve got stunning concept work, including the very first and never-before published Fahrenheit 451 sketches. They were discovered during the research, hidden in a scrapbook in the estate archives, safely tucked away by Joe’s wife Ruth some 45 years ago.

The book will include Joe’s views and teachings on art. Although Joe was best known to many as an artist and illustrator, his greatest impact was as a teacher. His focus on the structure of form has found purchase in animation studies; Walt Stanchfield references Joe’s approach to form and structure in his lecture series.

We’ve spent a lot of time making sure that the reproductions will be as close to the original pieces as possible, with an emphasis on color reproduction. The book will also present many 1:1 reproductions of segments of Joe’s larger pieces so the reader can appreciate and closely examine Joe’s mind-blowing line work.

Sounds like a book we have to have. For updates, check the Wilderness of the Mind website.

Monte Schulz on Stu’s Show

Charles Schulz’ son, Monte Schulz, will be the guest all this week on Stu’s Show, the internet radio show you can listen to each day at 4pm.

Monte will discuss his new novel, This Side of Jordan, then talk about what it was really like growing up in the Schulz household in Sebastapol. Monte is very grateful to Cartoon Brew because, as you’ll hear on the show, he owes his novel being published to the fact that the owner of Fantagraphics Books reads this site. When Monte was posting comments about the Michaelis book two years ago, the publisher saw his posts and contacted him. Monte sent him his manuscript and Fantagraphics bought it and four other novels almost immediately.

Tune in to hear right here!

Wild Wind by Leo Campasso

Twenty-one-year old Leo Campasso, an animator at Buenos Aires studio HookUp Animation, created Wild Wind in his spare time. The short is an experiment that combines pixel-style characters with traditional cartoon animation principles. The results are a lot of fun and prove that one need not associate pixel animation with stilted, boring movement . Interesting sidenote: Leo said in his email to me that he’s been animating since he was twelve when he got his hands on a copy of Flash 4.

A high-res version of the film can be downloaded here.

A rare Starevich article

Another purchase I made at Cinecon this past Labor Day, was an entire stack of Films In Review magazines, the entire run from 1956 through 1959. I’ve been going through them slowly and enjoying them throughly, finding many great insights and articles about the history of film. There was so little written about animation in these pages that I was surprised to find this piece on pioneer stop motion animator Ladislas Starevich in the April 1958 issue. It’s a nice overview of his career, written while Starevitch was still alive and working. Since I couldn’t find it posted anywhere else on the web, I figured it was my duty – in the interests of history – to add it here myself. (Click thumbnails below to enlarge)

For those who need to brush up on their Starevich I highly recommend the DVD collection, Cameraman’s Revenge & Other Fantastic Tales. In the meantime, here is the one of his classics, from 1933, The Mascot:

The Decemberists Perform with Animation

Guilherme Marcondes

If I were in LA next Monday, I’d go to see this multimedia music/animation performance by The Decemberists at UCLA’s Royce Hall. With seemingly every other band using animation for their videos nowadays, the format is in need of some fresh takes like this:

On October 19, The Decemberists will unveil Here Come The Waves: The Hazards of Love Visualized, a special project that takes their ambitious and acclaimed song cycle to new heights for its final American performance at UCLA’s Royce Hall in Los Angeles. This unique live experience will feature The Decemberists in collaboration with four filmmakers–Guilherme Marcondes, Julia Pott, Peter Sluszka and Santa Maria–each of whom have created animation to accompany a section of the music. Flux commissioned the films and worked with Hornet Inc. who produced them. This is a one time only – not to be missed – live experience. The film will later be released on iTunes.

Tickets are available through Ticketmaster. This is the trailer for Here Come The Waves: The Hazards of Love Visualized.

Stan VanDerBeek Retrospective in Ottawa

Breathdeath

There’s a lot of good stuff happening at the Ottawa International Animation Festival this week. Eric Goldberg, Henry Selick, David Silverman and Ronnie del Carmen will be speaking up there, Don Hertzfeldt, Suzan Pitt and Jim Blashfield are having retrospectives, and there’s the to-be-expected impeccable selection of shorts as well as features like Mary and Max , $9.99 and My Dog Tulip. Inbetween this animation frenzy, I hope you’ll take the time to check out the retrospective of filmmaker Stan VanDerBeek. His films screen Friday, October 16, and Saturday, October 17, at the Arts Court Theatre, both nights at 7pm.

It’s a disservice to label VanDerBeek (1927-1984) merely a filmmaker because he was so much more than that. He was a multimedia artist years before the term even existed. He was constantly getting his hands dirty with new technologies and trying to figure out artistic and educational applications for them. This included creating huge murals via fax machine, projecting film onto steam, and designing interactive multi-screen TV shows. No surprise that VanDerBeek was also a computer animation pioneer who starting experimenting with CGI in 1965.

His short films–often surreal, often funny, and always a visual free-for-all–combine animation, collage, cut-out, photography and video, with manic cutting that looks more contemporary than ever. Terry Gilliam has said in interviews that it was VanDerBeek’s cut-out films, and specifically Breathdeath (which will be shown in Ottawa), that inspired his animation style for Monty Python. I’ve personally been influenced by VanDerBeek’s work since I first saw it last year, and I recommend you check him out in Ottawa later this week. The screening will include examples of his analog and CG films, as well as rare film clips of VanDerBeek at work and at play.

See Saw Seams

If you haven’t seen Sita yet…

…you have no excuse. You can watch it this coming Saturday October 17th, if you have a satellitte dish, on LINK TV, DIRECTV Channel 375 and DISH Network Channel 9410 at 7:30am Eastern/4:30am Pacific.

Or you can watch Sita Sings the Blues in its entirety right now on LINK TV’s website. Or check Nina Paley’s page for downloads, festival screenings and future broadcast playdates.

(Thanks, Lee Burack)

Lightheaded

Drips of humanoid wax worship the fire that gave them life, and then risk everything to investigate a mysterious object that lands beyond the next horizon. This is a 40 second trailer for Mike Dacko’s 5-minute short, Lightheaded, currently playing festivals around the country (though sadly not in Ottawa this week). Dacko is an animator at Disney’s ImageMovers Digital Studio (A Christmas Carol).

THIS THURSDAY: Peter de Sève in Paris

Peter de Seve

This Thursday, October 15, Galerie Arludik (12-14 rue Saint-Louis en l’ÃŽle, 75004 Paris) presents a one-man show of the work of illustrator and character designer Peter de Sève. The opening, from 6:30 to 9:30pm, will feature published and upublished pieces by de Sève, some of which will be available for sale. A preview of the show’s artwork can be found at Peter’s blog here, here, and here.

The event also marks the official launch of Peter’s monograph–A Sketchy Past: The Art of Peter de Sève–for which I wrote the introduction. I haven’t seen the finished product yet, but Peter tells me that it looks gorgeous, and I bet that he’s right.

CTN Expo Update

Last month we told you about the animators expo shaping up for this November in Burbank being organized by former Disney character designer/animator Tina Price. In addition to the folks attending we mentioned in the last post, we have these updates and additions to announce:

• Pixar Art Director Daisuke “Dice” Tsutsumi, Laika Art Director Lou Romano, Sony Art Director Andy Gaskill, and Disney Art Director Dave Goetz discussing the art of Color Scripting. Moderated by LA Times animation critic and author Charles Solomon.

• Pixar comes to CTN-X with Andrew Gordon (Pixar/Spline Doctors), character designers Derek Thompson and Jason Deamer, art director Scott Morse and Pixar recruiter Pam Zissimos who will be participating in Raising the Bar Recruiting, looking for Story Artists.

• Live art demonstrations by Sean Galloway (Got Cheeks?), Marshall Vandruff, Kent Melton, Peter de Sève, Eric Goldberg and Mike Mignola.

• A screening of The Secret of Kells and Banjo the Woodpile Cat on Saturday night. 3-day pass holders admitted first.

• An artist contest sponsored by Corel and Wacom. Artwork is executed on site at CTN-X and judged by top creative talent. Two categories Pro and Non-Pro and the winners of each win a free software package of Painter from Corel and an Intuos 4 tablet.

• Also, Cartoon Brew will be holding a contest for 2 free room nights at the event hotel plus a 3-day pass. Includes all panels and speakers, Raising the Bar Recruiting, Speed Talent Portfolio Reviews and CTN-X@nite schmoozing and connecting.

• Also note: as of Oct 1st the exhibitor floor is sold out.

The CTN Expo will be held at the Burbank Marriott Convention Center – located across the street from the Burbank Airport and an Amtrak Station – on Friday November 20th through Sunday, November 22nd.

Early bird tickets are $25 for the exhibit floor only, $50 for a day pass and $125 for a 3-day pass. Early bird deadline is Sept. 30, 2009. Discounted rates are available to students, active military and professional industry organizations. Space is strictly limited at this groundbreaking event. Click here for more information or to register or call (800) 604-2238 and mention the special member discount code (BrewX09) to obtain an extra 10% off any 1-day or 3-day professional/general passport.

Joe Murray Plans Animation Video Site

KaBoing TV

Joe Murray is in the planning stages of a new site called KaBoing TV, which he envisions as “an all cartoon, all animation channel, not only with my content, but bringing in other content providers as well.” Murray, who has a long history in TV animation with series like Rocko’s Modern Life and Camp Lazlo, wrote on his blog about his desire to “make a home for animation that is cool, creator driven, and fair business wise to the people who make the entertainment, as well as being responsible in the advertising we choose to run.”

To date, most of the major online cartoon channels and animation video sharing sites have been started by corporations looking for ways to exploit creators. There hasn’t been any attempt on the part of sites like Aniboom or Channel Frederator to find sustainable and fair models that encourage online animation production. Murray’s track record as an artist responsible for successful shows on both Nick and CN gives him a unique edge as an entrant into the field of online animation distribution. It’ll be interesting to watch what he does.

(Charles Brubaker via Cartoon Brew’s Facebook page)

Happy Halloween from JibJab

Here’s the scariest thing you’ll see all month:

This Jib Jab Halloween Sendable incorporates new technology which allows users to cast themselves inside cool props (like a Frankenstein head or the Wolfman) and color correct their faces if they choose. That’s Uncle Walt as Frankenstein, June Foray (as the Bride), Ward Kimball (as Dracula) and John Lasseter unrecognizable as the Wolfman. Try it yourself here.

P.S. Artist Justin Parpan did all the backgrounds for this piece and just posted a personal blog with his artwork here.

(Thanks, Evan Spiridellis)

The Creative Integrity of William Golden

William Golden

Recently I revisited The Visual Craft of William Golden, a book published in the early-Sixties about the legendary CBS creative director. There is an essay in the book by CBS exec John Cowden that sheds light on Golden’s artistic integrity, and helps to explain why the advertising work created under his guidance remains to this day the strongest body of advertising ever created for a TV network.

Golden’s world revolved around graphic design, illustration and advertising, but I find his experiences to be relevant to creative people working in any commercial field, and especially animation. For example, Cowden recounted how Golden was offered a promotion from creative director to an upper management position. Golden flatly turned down the offer, Cowden wrote:

Many years ago, when he was offered the title of Vice President in charge of Advertising and Sales Promotion, he said no thanks. His reasons were significant–and characteristic. He said the stripes would be bars…that they would force him to become a “company man”…to take the so-called “broad view” at the expense of principle.

Bill preferred to keep his independence and to preserve his inalienable right to shout–when the occasion demanded–that the emperor wasn’t wearing any clothes. In any case, he said he didn’t want to go to meetings, or be snowed under by administrative duties. I mention this because it reveals how Bill was willing to sacrifice anything–including his own advancement–if he felt it stood in the way of better design and advertising.

The story, incidentally, has an ironic but delightful ending. In scorning the conventional status symbols, Bill won far more. By turning down a vice presidency, he eventually gained a respect and status that outranked any vice president in the company.

Contrast Golden’s unwavering integrity to all of the animation artists in recent years who have moved into high-profile executive and management positions. In every case–with the notable exception of John Lasseter–these artists have unwittingly weakened their creative influence and become part of the problem by entrenching themselves within broken production systems.

Golden, who refused to become a part of upper management, also had his own ways of dealing with clueless business people. Again, from Cowden’s essay:

This integrity and pride in craft were also apparent in his willingness to lay his job on the line if anyone tried to invade his special area of responsibility. I remember a layout for a rate card he once submitted to his superior–the President of the Division. It came back by messenger with a note saying “I don’t like it very much. Let’s discuss.” Bill’s answer was simply to scotchtape a drawing pencil to the corner of a large layout pad and send it back with this message scribbled across the top sheet: “Let’s not. Why don’t you make a better one.” There was no reply. The rate card was produced as originally designed.

Here’s another example of how he dealt with the endless stream of unqualified individuals who tried to encroach on his domain:

Bill flatly refused to submit art for approval to anyone. On another occasion, he commissioned the artist Rene Bouché to do a drawing of a certain television star for a newspaper ad. When the star saw the sketch in the paper he exploded. He demanded that only authorized photographs be used in all future ads. I was one of many who urged Bill not to make an issue of the matter but to go along with the request. Instead, Bill immediately commissioned Bouché to do another drawing of the same performer and again refused to show it to the star. Eventually the new sketch appeared in another ad and became the famous trademark–on the air and off–of America’s all-time favorite comedian: Jack Benny.

Bill Golden demanded the best, and didn’t accept excuses from artists:

Nothing upset [Golden] more than someone who alibied his samples on the ground that his particular client would not let him do good work. Bill maintained–and proved it at CBS–that there are no good or bad clients, there are only good or bad advertising men.

Unlike so many blockheads in positions of power within the contemporary animation industry, Golden could identify skill and talent with his trained eye. This is evidenced by the group of people who worked for him, which is a who’s who of mid-century illustration and design giants: David Stone Martin, Feliks Topolski, Leo Lionni, Joe Kaufman, George Lois, Ludwig Bemelmans, Ben Shahn, Miguel Covarrubias, and Jan Balet, to name but a few. Cowden’s memories of Golden are a reminder that great commercial work, whether it’s a piece of print design or an animated film, doesn’t happen by accident. It happens because of this:

[Golden] accepted the fact that part of the responsibility of being an advertising man and a designer was to have the courage of one’s convictions…a bulldog tenacity…a willingness to do daily battle for the things one believed in…and the recognition that constant vigilance is the price of freedom.