Raymond Scott, Doc!

Film editor Stan Warnow has made a documentary about his father, the musician/composer/inventor Raymond Scott. Deconstructing Dad: the Music, Machines and Mystery of Raymond Scott is now playing film festivals around the world. The six minute preview above explains it all, with commentary from musicians Mark Mothersbaugh, John Williams, historians Irwin Chusid, Will Friedwald, producer Hal Willner and many more. I can’t wait to see the whole thing.

(Thanks, Craig Clark)

Dock Ellis & The LSD No-No by James Blagden

Dock Ellis & The LSD No-No by James Blagden isn’t going to win any awards for its animation, but it packs a real punch as a short film. Actually, it’d be hard to screw up the story, which is a colorful recording by former baseball pitcher Dock Ellis describing how he pitched a no-hitter in 1970 while under the influence of LSD. Much of the short’s success comes from Ellis’s storytelling–his line “Ooh, I just made a touchdown” is hilarious even without drawings–while Blagden’s semi-realistic illustration style and oddball eye movements on the characters provide enough visual accompaniment to make it work. Even the amateurish filmmaking elements, like unnecessarily dividing the film up into parts, didn’t ruin the overall effect for me. Ellis, for his part, became an anti-drug crusader before he passed away last year.

TV Guide on Prime Time Animation (1961)

Whenever I appear on Shokus Internet Radio, I get to plow through Stu Shostack’s incredible library of TV Guide back issues – and I always seem to find something of interest for Cartoon Brew. This time I grabbed the July 1st 1961 issue, with the Flintstones cover (click thumbnail at left to see at full size), which contains a good article on the then-current trend towards prime time animation. It’s a pretty nice piece. The writer includes an intriguing list of forthcoming shows that were apparently never made: Sir Loin and the Dragon, Waco Wolf, Muddled Masterpieces and The Late Late War.

(Click thumbnails below to read pages at full size)

Fantastic Mr. Fox talkback

Wes Anderson’s Fantastic Mr. Fox opens today in New York and Los Angeles. The mainstream movie critics love it. Rotten Tomatoes is saying 91% Fresh on the Tomatometer based on the 77 reviews garnered so far.

The film has stirred debate among animation fans. Those who have seen clips or the trailer are not thrilled. However, most who have actually seen the film, love it. I loved it.

I love that this stop motion film is as far away from Coraline (which I love equally), Mary & Max and A Town Called Panic (two incredibly strong films) as it can get. I love Anderson’s take on the story, the performances of the voice cast …and even the intentionally funky character animation won me over.

What did you think? If you’ve actually seen the film, post comments below.

Tim Burton’s MoMA Spot

The Tim Burton retrospective opens on November 22 at MoMA. Animation has played a significant role in Burton’s career, and continues to figure into his work as evidenced by this animated trailer he created to promote the exhibit:

Directed by Tim Burton
Produced by Mackinnon and Saunders
CGI Animation: Flix Facilities
Animation: Chris Tichborne
Lighting Camera: Martin Kelly
Music by Danny Elfman

(Thanks, Craig)

Fumiko’s Confession

The film’s sound track is a bit annoying, but this short has an energy that’s undeniable. It’s called Fumiko no Kokuhaku (or Fumiko’s Confession) and apparently it’s an independent production produced by 21-year-old student and aspiring animator, Hiroyasu Ishida. Ishida has also posted a production blog (in Japanese) featuring storyboards, backgrounds and character designs.

Director/Animation/Background/3D CG/Editing/Sound: Hiroyasu Ishida (a.k.a. Tete)
Background/3D CG Textures: YÅ«ko Iwase
3D CG Textures/Background: Kazuhiro Murakami
Animation: Tatsurō Kawano
3D CG Modeling: YÅ«saku Nagata

(Thanks, Marc Gagnon and Anime News Network)

Next Weekend: CTN-X Animation Expo

Next weekend (11/20-22) is the CTN Animation Expo, and that’s where I’ll be with several hundred of my friends. It’s a convention/trade show/seminar for those in, those who want to be in, and just plain fans of, the world of animation. If only the invitees show up, it’ll be a success – and very well attended. Tina Price is running the event and she says, “Everyone will walk away from this event with more than the walked in with whether an idea, a job opportunity or a career mentor.”

Some of the highlights of the event:

• Simon Wells and Rob Minkoff discuss the differences of directing live action vs. animation.

• Don Bluth and Gary Goldman interview (with me, Jerry Beck)

• Peter de Sève, Harald Siepermann, Kent Melton, Mike Mignola, Lou Romano talk about their careers and share industry secrets. Maquette artists Kent Melton and Ruben Procopio discuss maquettes.

• Special screening of The Secret of Kells followed by round table discussion with the Producer and Director moderated by LA film critic Charles Solomon.

• Pixar in the house with Art Director Daisuke “Dice” Tsutsumi, Animator and founder of Spline Doctors Andrew Gordon, Character Designers Derek Monster, Scott Morse, Bill Presing and more…

• Exhibitors will include Blue Sky Studios, Cal Arts, Disney Animation Studios, Sony Pictures Animation, Rik Maki, Mike Mignola, Stuart Ng Books, Nucleus Gallery, Bill Pressing, Renegade Animation, Stephen Silver, Dean Yeagle and many many more artists, animation studios and organizations.

CTN-X takes place at the Burbank Marriott Convention Center with ample discounted parking, conveniently located near the Burbank Airport and an Amtrak Station. Early bird pricing and discounted rates are available to students, active military and professional industry organizations. Early bird prices extended to Nov 15th. Prices start at $25 for exhibit floor only. For more information and to register, please visit www.ctnanimationexpo.com for more info.

PSSST: Cartoon Brew will hold a contest within the the next few days to give away a few tickets – AND a two night FREE stay at the hotel during the Expo. Stay Tooned…

KNTV The Act Of Sex

You’ll be singing this one all day…

Believe it or not, this is from a kids show which just won a Scottish Bafta Award last week for Best Children’s TV! The KNTV Show is an educational TV program that has been broadcast on Channel 4 in the United Kingdom since 2006. Previous seasons tackled science and philosophy – this year they take a frank look at sex. Wikipedia describes the show this way:

The show is presented by two animated fictional teenagers from Eastern Europe (specifically the fictional state of “Slabovia”, the “last remaining communist state in Europe”), called Kierky and Nietschze, named after Søren Kierkegaard and Friedrich Nietzsche. The show melds comedy and education into one as form of edutainment.

If you enjoyed this video, you might enjoy the others devoted to Puberty, Pregnancy and the Male Body.

The Dolphin: Story of a Dreamer

In case you were wondering, as I was, what the Oscar-qualifying feature film, The Dolphin, Story of a Dreamer, is: look no further:

UP has nothing to fear. 20th Century Fox is currently releasing the film in South America. UPDATE: Reader Eric Graf informs us that The Dolphin will play at the Laemmle Claremont 5 starting December 11 – same theater and week as A Town Called Panic, per the Laemmle Theatres website.

(Thanks, Matthew Gaastra)

Waterloo Festival for Animated Cinema 2009

Fedot the Hunter

The Waterloo Festival for Animated Cinema is back for its 9th edition, and festival organizer Joseph Chen has compiled another fantastic line-up of foreign animated features that can’t be found anywhere else in North America. Chen’s smart curation is yet another step towards challenging the ever-prevalent misconception in North America of animation as a kiddie art form. The selections include films that we’ve discussed on the site recently such as The Secret of Kells, Mary and Max, Panic in the Village and Boogie the Oily One, along with other features that hail from Russia, Serbia, Sweden, and Japan. There is also a retrospective of a couple vintage Russian animated features. The festival takes place from November 19-22 at the Gig Theatre (137 Ontario Street North) in Kitchener, Ontario. Film details as well as ticket info can be found on the festival website at WFAC.ca.

Mark Bodnar exhibition

Artist Mark Bodnar has been having fun painting a new batch of his bizarre cartoon-inspired visions. His latest art show, “And We All Go”, will open on Friday November 6th at the La Luz de Jesus Gallery (4633 Hollywood Blvd.) in Los Feliz, and there is an opening reception Friday night from 8-11pm. The exhibit runs through November 29th – but you can see much of it online on the gallery website. Fun stuff!

20 Animated Features in Oscar Race This Year

Start making your predictions now! The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences announced today that twenty films have been submitted for consideration in the Animated Feature Film category. As we discussed last week on the Brew, this means there will be five nominees in the category for only the second time since the inception of the award. The submitted films are:

“Alvin and the Chipmunks: The Squeakquel”
“Astro Boy”
“Battle for Terra”
“Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs”
“Disney’s A Christmas Carol”
“The Dolphin — Story of a Dreamer”
“Fantastic Mr. Fox”
“Ice Age: Dawn of the Dinosaurs”
“Mary and Max”
“The Missing Lynx”
“Monsters vs. Aliens”
“Planet 51”
“The Princess and the Frog”
“The Secret of Kells”
“Tinker Bell and the Lost Treasure”
“A Town Called Panic”

One important note: seven of these films have not yet completed their LA qualifying run: “Alvin and the Chipmunks: The Squeakquel,” “The Dolphin — Story of a Dreamer,” “Fantastic Mr. Fox,” “Planet 51,” “The Princess and the Frog,” “The Secret of Kells” and “A Town Called Panic.” Also, there is still the possibility that films will be disqualified from the field if they do not fulfill the category’s requirements. With this many films in the running though, we’re most definitely looking at a five-nominee field this year.

UPDATE: Looks like The Dolphin is playing at the Laemmle Claremont 5 starting December 11 – same theater and week as A Town Called Panic, per Laemmle Theatres website

The Secret of Kells will be at the AMC Burbank 8 December 4-10 at 7 PM, per the Kells Blog.

(Thanks, Jerrett Zaroski)

Looking for Calvin and Hobbes

Looking for Calvin and Hobbes

Nevin Martell’s Looking for Calvin and Hobbes: The Unconventional Story of Bill Watterson and His Revolutionary Strip has piqued my interest. The author wasn’t able to score an interview with the notoriously reclusive Watterson, but he’s pieced together his life by interviewing Watterson’s friends and family members including his mother and editor at Universal Press Syndicate. Comic Book Resources has an interview with Martell in which he talks about the challenges of writing the book and how he didn’t want to end up with an overwrought biography like the Charles Schulz volume by David Michaelis.

Germans in the Woods by Tim Rauch

In honor of Veteran’s Day, the Rauch Bros. have posted on-line their short but powerful film Germans in the Woods. The film’s audio track is recorded by WWII vet Joseph Robertson who fought in the Battle of the Bulge. More details about the film can be found on the Rauch Bros. website and their online store offers pieces of original artwork from the film.

Jerry on Internet Radio – again!

Once again, yours truly Jerry Beck will be a guest today on Stu’s Show on Shokus Internet Radio. This will be my eleventh or twelfth (I’ve lost count) visit to discuss all things animation with Stu and his listeners, live beginning at 4:00 p.m. PDT (7:00 p.m. EDT). Topics this time will include the upcoming Mighty Mouse DVD box set from CBS, forthcoming classic cartoon DVDs from Warner Bros. and your phone calls. As always, listeners will be encouraged to call in with their questions and comments on the station’s toll-free telephone number. Click here for more details. Oh, and if you miss the live broadcast today, the show is rerun in the same time slot during the next six days.

Puck Cinema Caravana

Puck Cinema Caravana

Dani from the Spanish animation blog Protoones turned me on to Puck Cinema Caravana, a cool little project from Spain conceived by Carles Porta and Toni Tomàs. In short, Carles and Toni got their hands on a trailer home, decorated it beautifully on the outside, outfitted the inside with a cinema, and are roaming the Spanish countryside screening rare animated shorts for young and old alike. There is a more in-depth description on the Puck Cinema Caravana blog:

“Puck is a caravan fitted out as a cinema. Its inside is a tiny cinema, maybe the smallest in the world. There is room for seven people. Puck shows animation films which are not usually broadcast on TV. There is a wide selection of international films from all around the world that have been made throughout time. The menu is varied but selected. It aims mostly to the spirit.

The objective is to capture a brand new lover of animated cinema or simply be able to recover the experience of cinema in a particular way in order to enjoy in a short time a little big piece of work of audiovisual creation.”

Puck Cinema Caravana

They’ve put a lot of care and detail into the presentation and branding of their cinema, from the beautiful paint job on the exterior of their cinema-on-wheels to this cute animated trailer:

ASIFA to honor Tim Burton, Jeffrey Katzenberg and Bruce Timm

ASIFA-Hollywood has announced its Winsor McCay Award recipients for 2009: Tim Burton, Jeffrey Katzenberg and Bruce Timm. The award is given in recognition of career contributions to the art of animation.

Tim Burton, of course, has had a strong influence on the world of animation. Burton began his career as an animator (Tron, Fox And the Hound) at the Walt Disney Studios where he directed his first shorts, Vincent (in stop motion animation) and Frankenweenie (live action). He co-produced the CBS Family Dog series, and returned to Disney to make Nightmare Before Christmas (1993, directed by Henry Selick) and later co-produced the stop-mo feature James and The Giant Peach (1996). In the past decade, Burton co-directed the stop-motion Corpse Bride (2005) and created an internet animation series, The World of Stainboy (2000). Burton is currently developing Frankenweenie as a full length animated feature.

Bruce Timm forever changed the world of TV adventure cartoons with his visual take on DC Comics super heroes, beginning with his co-producing Batman: the Animated Series in 1992. Timm began his career in animation at Filmation, doing layouts on He-Man and Flash Gordon. He did storyboards for Ralph Bakshi (on Mighty Mouse: the New Adventures) and John Kricfalusi (Beany & Cecil). While working on Tiny Toon Adventures, he helped create a new take on Batman. The success of that series has led Timm to redesign the entire DC Comics universe in various Warner Bros. Animation series as Superman, Batman Beyond and Justice League Unlimited.

Jeffrey Katzenberg is the CEO of Dreamworks Animation. Katzenberg was responsible for reviving the fortunes of Walt Disney Feature Animation with his supervision of The Little Mermaid, Who Framed Roger Rabbit, Beauty and The Beast and The Lion King. Katzenberg left Disney in 1994 to team with Steven Spielberg and David Geffen to create Dreamworks SKG, where, as head of the animation studio, he oversaw the production of such hand drawn animated features as The Prince of Egypt, The Road to El Dorado and Spirit. Switching to CG production, the studio since produced a string of hits including Shrek (and its sequels), Madagascar (and its spin-offs) and Kung Fu Panda.

The awards will be presented at the 37th Annual Annie Awards scheduled for Saturday, February 6, 2010 at UCLA’s Royce Hall in Los Angeles, California.

“Good Vibrations” by Jérémy Clapin

Good Vibrations

I can’t get enough of mid-century educational and safety-related animated shorts so I’m delighted to see a contemporary take on those films with The Responsibility Project from Liberty Mutual, which is a series of entertainment shorts intended to “create a forum for people to discuss personal acts of responsibility.” The most impressive animated short created for the program thus far is Good Vibrations by French animator Jérémy Clapin, the director of Skhizein. The four-minute film, which is directed, designed and written by Clapin, manages to be funny and entertaining while slyly slipping in its message about the necessity of individuals taking initiative instead of rubbernecking. With his strong graphic concepts and effortless visual storytelling, Clapin’s work continually impresses, and he’s proving himself to be one of the more exciting new voices in animation. Watch Good Vibrations on the Liberty Mutual website.

Gene Deitch: Quo Vadis Animation?

Veteran animation director Gene Deitch and his wife Zdenka were invited to the Xiamen International Animation Festival (Oct. 30th-Nov. 3rd) in China — Gene as the main foreign guest and keynote speaker, and Zdenka as a jury member. However, Communist government authorities took one look at their passports, and made the irrational assumption that because they were both in their eighties, they were unfit to travel, and decided not to issue them visas.

The festival organizers wrote that they were bereft and begged Gene to at least film his keynote speech for projection at the opening ceremonies. So a crew came to Deitch’s private studio, and he “performed” a five-minute version of his talk. And Gene has graciously allowed Cartoon Brew to share it with the world. Says Deitch:

“The core of my speech is a pitch for the survival and eventual return to primary favor of “drawn animation.” (Don’t provoke me by mentioning the term “2D” in my presence!)

Below is the 7-minute video Gene prepared for the festival, AND below that is the full text of the actual speech he would have given.

Gene Deitch: Quo Vadis Animation? Animation has come a long way since I was a boy. I was raised in Hollywood and fell in love with movie cartoons at a very early age. In those days – the early 1930s – going to the movies was a giant experience. For one admission ticket -25 to 35 cents for an adult – just ten cents for me – we could see two complete feature films, which in those days were not more than an hour-and-a-half long, a newsreel, a travelogue, an adventure serial, perhaps a comedy “Short Subject,” and a cartoon – sometimes two cartoons.

For me, the cartoon was the best part, but for the movie theater owners it was just another time filler that limited the number of shows he could schedule per day. To earn their place on the program the cartoons had to be wildly funny, and they quickly became formula productions. In Europe they were called “grotesques,” and there was no attempt to imitate reality.

The arrival of television changed all that. With nightly news for the growing mass TV audience, there was no further need for newsreels. Then came all sorts of soap operas, dramas, documentaries, comedy shows, travel features, sports, and of course cartoons galore. Why go to the movies when you had all that at home?

And why should theater owners pay for short subjects when all the people wanted to see was the feature? So soon enough, all we got for the higher price we paid for a movie ticket was one feature film, some advertising and lots of previews of more movies.

It was the visionary Walt Disney, who all the way back to the 1930s saw that cartoon shorts were doomed. He had the impossible dream of making the cartoon become the main feature attraction. To do that he believed that he had to somehow make drawn animation look more realistic. As a 13-year-old kid, I attended the premiere run of Snow White & The Seven Dwarfs at the Hollywood Pantages Theater, I witnessed the first example of a historic change-of-course for film animation. Disney felt that cartoon simplicity could not sustain a feature-length movie. So Snow White contained the dramatic lighting effects, the shadowing, the rounded shading of characters, and the amazing MultiPlane camera depth effects – the first steps toward making animated movies become more and more realistic.

Once began, this became the dominating goal of animation: to become as close to a live action movie as possible. By today, with the development of computers and amazing digital procedures, computer generated animation, motion capture, and stereoscopic 3D. We’re almost there; the perfect imitation of reality with animation. Is this a success? Or is it the end of a blind alley? What next?

As it happened, I began my career in animation at a studio that pioneered the opposite course. “Why should animation, potentially the greatest of all existing art forms, incorporating and blending all of them, limit itself by trying to imitate what a camera does? It was UPA, United Productions of America.

A glorious name for a tiny studio founded on a simple but revolutionary idea: that the whole world of graphic art was open to animation – animation bringing magic and storytelling in every visual style, with no attempt to imitate what the camera will always do better.

I am here to raise a cheer for what I prefer to call Drawn Animation. We who have been raised on the tradition of animated drawings, attempting create what Frank Thomas and Ollie Johnston called, “The Illusion of Life,” have been more and more pushed aside and given the demeaning title of “2D” animators. I am quick to remind you that anything projected onto a flat movie screen is essentially 2D. It’s a meaningless term. I repeat that the entire world of graphic art, every drawn or painted style can be animated in any fanciful way, which in turn would lead to the widest range of storytelling and endless visual variety.

Whereas so-called 3D animation, with its amazing refinement, technical dazzle, and natural-looking realism, is becoming more and more alike. Drawing and painting goes back to the beginnings of humanity, and is still a limitless means of expression. It certainly should not be pushed aside in the world of cinema animation!

Of course, I know that there is another branch of animation; Special Effects for essentially live-action movies. That kind of animation – recreation of dinosaurs or entire cities being blown up, and stunt performers saved from injury with the substitution of animated dummies….is hyper reality that I greatly admire and respect. It MUST be extremely realistic and visually convincing! Amazing special effects animation is now so seamlessly blended into live action movies, that we accept it as real. Such movies do not claim or pretend to be animation features.

As a 48 year member of the Hollywood Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences, I am one of the people who vote each year for the awards known as Oscars. In my own category of Animation, it becomes harder and harder to distinguish whether a film is in fact basically an animation or live-action movie. Today, every film contains at least some elements of both. Historically and technically, cinema animation involves the creating and manipulating still images that when projected onto the screen in very rapid sequence – faster than the human retention of vision – gives the illusion of motion. So human acting in front of a camera is by that definition not animation. Yet the technology of digital motion capture can be used to convert human acting – pantomime – into designed creatures, which does look very much like animation. So to many people – most people in a cinema audience, if it looks like animation it must be animation!

I’ve given up trying to argue the point, but still have difficulty in voting for a movie in the Animation category which I know to be actually a digitalized manipulation of human acting. and not the illusion of motion created in series of still images. So what? It must soon come down to eliminating a separate Animation category, and allow us to vote for any movie on the basis of the story it tells and how skillfully and artfully it tells it, regardless of the mix of technologies used in its production.

It is in fact getting harder and harder to find a clear definition of what is an animated film, and what is a live action. film! What was The Lord of The Rings, which so deftly combined animation into an essentially live action film? What are the Harry Potter films, including so many animation effects? And now we have the technology called “Motion Capture.” Which does claim to be form of animation. How do we classify Motion Capture -”Mo-Cap?” Many movies today combine all of these elements. How do we classify them? Today, nearly every film is a combination of live-action, special effects and some form of animation. When we see drawings, we’re pretty sure we are seeing animation!

There must be room for the art of drawing and painting to hold onto it’s role in storytelling and the stimulation of imagination. Graphic art and design has a great influence on all of our lives, and we really cannot live a full life without it!

In my on-line book, How To Succeed in Animation I make the claim that animation is potentially the greatest of all art forms, as it combines nearly all of the others. Drawing, painting, music, story telling, literature, acting, theater, singing, dancing.. you name it; all can be incorporated into this miraculous art form do cinema animation! The word animation itself means, “The breath of life.” Why should this potentially powerful medium be limited to literal realism, when the endless possibilities of magic realism are open to it?

I feel this is an important topic for discussion, and I would like to hear your thoughts about it. I welcome your questions and ideas.

Allison Schulnik – Grizzly Bear “Ready, Able”

Allison Schulnik‘s video for Grizzly Bear is an unabashedly handmade stop motion piece. The colorful smears of lumpy clay are put through Bruce Bickford-esque transformations, and the imagery is manipulated well to match the haunting tone of the music. Schulnik is a graduate of the experimental program at CalArts.

(Thanks, Max Porter)

Box Office Report

A Christmas Carol

A Christmas Carol pulled in $30 million last weekend, falling short of industry expectations, which had ranged from $35 to $40 million. According to Box Office Mojo, the film sold fewer tickets than other recent holiday-themed films like Elf, The Santa Clause 2 and How the Grinch Stole Christmas. Seventy-four percent of the film’s gross came from 3D presentations, and it was the best opening weekend of Zemeckis’s career. The opening was nearly identical to Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs, though that film opened in 500 fewer theaters in a slower box office period and had no megastar anchor like Carrey.

Speaking of Cloudy, while no longer in the top ten, but it added another $1.3M over the weekend for a total of $121 million. It has surpassed Disney’s Bolt at the domestic box office, and will end up grossing in the range of Bee Movie and Robots. It’s Sony’s first animated feature to cross the $100M mark.

Meanwhile, Astro Boy is officially a bomb. After three weeks, the film’s cume stands at a measly $15.1 million. Its final gross should be somewhere in the low-to-mid twenties, putting it alongside Titan A.E. and The Iron Giant, and far below last year’s Space Chimps, which took in $30.1M.