The Revolution Will Be Animated

A documentary by Marine Lormant Sebag about Nina Paley’s struggle with copyright while making Sita Sings the Blues. It’s difficult to meaningfully address copyright and public domain issues in such a brief piece, but I appreciate the film’s intimate look at the issue from the perspective of an individual artist who has to deal with the system. Bill Plympton also makes an appearance in the film.

Mickey and SpongeBob Drawn by Kids

Rob Bohn of The Amigo Unit says:

I taught animation at a summer camp for the 92nd St Y this past summer. One of the lessons was drawing characters and exploring the developing process. For my examples I had the kids (ages 5-11) draw some well known figures to get the hang of it and warm up. Many of the kids enjoyed the process but some did not. Many of them crumpled the paper, ripped it up, threw it out, etc. Well, I couldnt let them go to waste – I fetched them out of the trash, collected them, and compiled them into sequences.

A lot of the designs by the kids are absolutely fantastic!

Is Rockstar a sweatshop?

We don’t cover video game animation as much as we should, but this story erupting among animators in the gaming industry cannot be ignored. Apparently, Rockstar San Diego (a branch of the makers of the Grand Theft Auto videogame series in San Diego) has been working their crew six days a week, 12 hour days since last March. Conditions are said to be bad, and getting worse.

“Determined Devoted Wives of Rockstar San Diego” sent Gamasutra.com this letter, which describes the poor working conditions, which include “mandatory to work close to twelve hours a day including Saturdays” and that “for four consecutive years, salary raises have not adjusted properly to cover inflation.”

Rockstar has issued an internal email rebuttal, as mentioned in this article, on kotaku.com. All I know is Grand Theft Auto has made billions of dollars. There’s no excuse for any company to treat its employees like this. We’d love to hear from anyone with first hand knowledge of this situation.

Homunculus by Sam Stephens

An animated short directed by Sam Stephens from Humble‘s in-house directing collaborative Hydra. The film combines photography of decomposing fruit with CG characters on top. In the words of the filmmaker, Homunculus is:

a dark and twisted fable of spontaneous generation and untrammeled id. Taking its title from the Latin word for “Little Human”, the piece is an associative mashup between the two concepts behind the word: The first being middle-age alchemical beliefs that “little men” could be spontaneous generated from dead or decaying matter. The second being Carl Jung’s usage as a personification of pure id. These ideas, combined with our love of Dutch still life’s “beautiful decay,” sowed the seeds for this unique little monster of a film.

(Thanks, Mike Johnson)

Haiti Relief

Haiti poster by Theo Ushev

A beautiful poster by animation director Theodore Ushev (Tower Bawher, Drux Flux). Hopefully this poster will prove to be less controversial than the last one Theo made.

I’m curious to hear about what animation studios are doing to aid those in Haiti? I know DreamWorks is matching contributions from employees dollar for dollar. Good on them. Please report in the comments what your studios are doing to help out.

If you want to donate on your own, I’d recommend Partners in Health, Operation USA, UNICEF, and American Red Cross.

The Samsonadzes, the Georgian Simpsons

The country of Georgia now has a homegrown yellow cartoon family of their own–The Samsonadzes. If the clip above doesn’t convince you of the inspiration for these characters, check out the animated opening at the beginning of this video in the Guardian. The creator of the series, Shalva Ramishvili, says in that video:

I want to say it straight–this is not The Simpsons. This is The Samsonadzes. This is all about a Georgian family, with Georgian jokes, Georgian plot, with Georgian developments, and with Georgian social humor. The fact that it is about a family rings a bell for people and there is a certain resemblance in the family name of course. And I would be proud if anyone compared this series with The Simpsons

(Thanks, Mike Grimshaw)

James Cameron: It’s Not Animation Because I Say So

A video in which Jim explains that, “the thing that people need to keep very strongly in mind is that this is not an animated film.” So just to recap: yes, Avatar has 100% digitally animated characters in it; no, it’s not animation; why, because Cameron says so.

Regardless of how Cameron and Fox want to frame their marketing campaign for the film, I have little doubt that Avatar will be viewed by history as an animated feature, right there along with Zemeckis’s mo-cap works. Granted, none of these are particularly exemplary examples of animated films, but they do represent the beginning of a new animated technique. (It is a testament to how rapidly animation is evolving as an art that we can no longer even identify what is an animated technique.)

It’s important to stress that, as photography didn’t replace painting and drawing, performance capture won’t replace hand-drawn, traditional CGI (as practiced by the likes of Pixar and DreamWorks), stop-motion, pixilation or anything else. In fact, if we look at how the advent of photography pushed painting in a more expressionistic and abstract direction, perhaps the same will happen in animation. Traditional CGI clearly can’t compete with performance capture in terms of realism, so now computer animation can begin to move away from its preoccupation with slavish recreations of fur, hair and motion and mature in a more abstract and impressionistic direction. In any case, performance capture is here to stay and it is now one more tool in the animator’s ever-widening arsenal. I look forward to seeing more experimental uses of it as the technology evolves and artists aspire to use it in more creatively challenging ways.

(via Mark Mayerson)

Archer talkback

The FX channel is premiering a new spy spoof, Archer, tonight at 10pm. I was able to preview several episodes and, though its primarily a dialogue driven show loaded with sexual innuendo, I found the visuals slick and attractive and the scripts to be quite funny. If you like the current crop of animated sitcoms on Comedy Central and Adult Swim, you will probably enjoy this.

What did you think? Comments will be posted below.

Tuber’s Two Step by Chris Wedge

This is a 1985 student film directed by Chris Wedge, who, of course, went on to become the creative head of Blue Sky and direct Ice Age. To give it a bit of historical context, it falls between The Adventures of André and Wally B. and Luxo Jr. From the YouTube description: “Though visually sparse, the film marks a significant turning point in computer animation, both for eschewing the usual chrome-and-perfect-geometric-shapes of the era, and for extensively applying traditional animation techniques — follow-through, squash-and-stretch, etc.”

The video is part of the Vintage CG Channel on YouTube which is filled with rare examples of early computer animation. It’s still hard to wrap my head around just how far CGI has advanced in a few decades.

Mak the Horny Mac-Daddy by Ian Miller


I saw Ian Miller’s one-minute short last year at the Ottawa International Animation Festival, when I was a member of the festival’s three-person short film jury. We gave it an honorable mention for the undergraduate animation category (it was created at UArts in Philly). Looking at it again, I remain impressed by the insane amount of graphic inventiveness that Ian fits into every frame of his animation. There is nothing cliche about the way anything moves in this film. The ideas flow straight out of Ian’s twisted mind onto the screen, and it’s loads of fun to watch.

(Thanks, Brian Lonano, for the link)

Walt Kelly + Famous Studios = Cilly Goose

Walt Kelly, a former Disney animator and one of the greatest cartoonists of the 20th Century, is not one usually associated with the likes of Paramount’s Famous Studios. But did you know Kelly illustrated two comic book stories starring Paramount’s animated characters of the 1940s?

Long before Harvey Comics, or St. John for that matter, had the rights to Paramount’s cartoon menagerie, Western Publishing (Dell Comics) acquired those rights in the mid 40s — and produced comic stories featuring such animated “stars” as Hector the Henpecked Rooster, Herman the Mouse, Blackie Sheep and Cilly Goose. Kelly illustrated two 8-page stories – the first of which I’ve post below (click thumbnails to enlarge each page). These were done for Animal Comics, the book in which Kelly developed Pogo Possum and are thus worth hundreds of dollars each. My thanks to Mark Kausler for loaning me his copies to scan. Cilly Goose is based on a one-shot Noveltoon cartoon of the same name from 1944. The Famous Studios comics ran from issue #7 through #17 as far as I can tell. This Cilly Goose story, from Animal Comics #15 (June-July 1945), has no relation to the animated film, and I have no idea who might have written it.

This post was inspired by the many new sites popping up reprinting classic comic books (such as Cartoon Snap and The Big Blog of Kids Comics). I have no intention to compete with them – though if there is interest in seeing Kelly’s other Famous story (featuring Blackie Sheep) let me know.



Animal Drawing Workshop with David Colman

Character designer and story artist David Colman (who is also the author of The Art of Animal Character Design) will be holding a weekend animal drawing workshop on January 30-31st. The LA-area classes take place at the Page Museum and Los Angeles Zoo between 10am-4pm each day. The class description:

Learn anatomy, gesture, and construction. Gain the tools needed to become proficient at the art of animal drawing, especially how to study from life. The class will consist of numerous handouts, accompanied with demonstrations and 1-on-1 instruction. First day is a six-hour course spent studying bones and skeletal structure @ the La Brea Tarpits in which you will learn the basic inner structure of quadrupeds. David will be doing a one hour demo study of one of the skeletons. The second day will be six hours spent @ the LA Zoo in which you will be studying about five different animals throughout the day.

The two-day workshop is $200, but Cartoon Brew readers who mention our site when signing up will receive $25 off. You can register either by email – dcolman27 (at) hotmail (dot) com – or by phone (818-512-6255). Cash, check or charge accepted. Students will be responsible for admission to the Page Museum and LA Zoo.

Whatever Happened to Foodfight?

In 2004, CG animation studio Threshold Entertainment and Motion Picture Magic, a product placement company in Encino, teamed up to produce a food version of Toy Story titled Foodfight. Announced with great fanfare, Foodfight would team 80 name-brand products and their associated characters, including Mr. Clean, Cap’n Crunch, Charlie the Tuna, the Engergizer Bunny and the Brawny paper towel man, in an adventure set in a supermarket city – and a voice cast including Charlie Sheen, Eva Longoria, Chris Kattan and Christopher Lloyd. The last time we reported any news on the film was in 2007, when Lionsgate supposedly picked up the film for release.

I’d completely forgotten about the project until Brew reader Kurtis Findlay sent me this pic of merchandising (photo above) he found while he was Christmas shopping. Kurtis says, “I have to say that the characters look far better in 2D than they do in 3D! Do you think the manufacturer of this product got sick of all of them sitting in their warehouse and just released them without the movie tie-in?” Probably. And one look at the characters tells me this film might have better luck remaining unseen and on the shelf.

No Way!: Disney Exec on Fantastic Mr. Fox‘s Oscar Chances

Fantastic Mr. Fox

“It’s not even a contest,” was the response an unnamed Disney exec gave the NY Times when asked to comment on Fantastic Mr. Fox‘s Oscar chances against Up. Despite the swagger that some Disney folks apparently have, the Times warns that Disney and Pixar shouldn’t break out the bubbly just yet:

In a mid-December surprise, both the New York Film Critics Circle and the Los Angeles Film Critics Association named “Fantastic Mr. Fox” the best animated movie of 2009. Similar awards from five other critics’ groups followed.

Fantastic Mr. Fox and Up are both nominated for this weekend’s Golden Globe Award, along with Coraline, Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs and The Princess and the Frog. Since initiating a Best Animated Feature Film category in 2007, the Golden Globes have given the award to Pixar every year (Cars, Ratatouille, WALL•E). We’ll find out in a few days whether Pixar can make it four-in-a-row at the Globes.

Tussilago by Jonas Odell

Tussilago by Jonas Odell

This is the trailer for Tussilago, the latest short by Swedish director Jonas Odell. Story doesn’t sound like typical fare: “In 1977 West German terrorist Norbert Kröcher was arrested for having planned to kidnap the Swedish politician Anna-Great Leijon. Among the people arrested during the following raids was Kröcher’s former girlfriend ‘A.’ This is her story.”

Stylistically, it builds on Odell’s prior two shorts–Lies and Never Like the First Time!–which were biographical narratives combining an artistic use of rotoscope and live-actors with motion graphic embellishments. Tussilago debuts the end of this month at the Göteborg International Film Festival and will screen at the Berlin International Film Festival next month. Other festivals will undoubtedly follow. On a related note, Revolver, a beloved early short that Odell co-directed, can be seen in its entirety on the Filmtecknarna website.

New Looney Tunes dvds in April

I’m happy to confirm the news – first reported on TV Shows on DVD – that Warner Bros. is indeed continuing to release Looney Tunes on DVD beginning in April.

Two new single disc releases are scheduled for release on April 27th – with more being planned for release later this year. The first two in the Looney Tunes Super Stars line are Bugs Bunny: Hare Extraordinaire and Daffy Duck: Frustrated Fowl. No bonus material or audio commentaries – just straight cartoons. Fifteen on each disc, restored, uncut and previously unavailable on DVD.

BUGS BUNNY: Mutiny on the Bunny (1950), Bushy Hare (1950), Hare We Go (1951), Foxy by Proxy (1952), Hare Trimmed (1953), Lumber Jack-Rabbit (1954), Napoleon Bunny-Part (1956), Bedevilled Rabbit (1957), Apes of Wrath (1959), From Hare to Heir (1960), Lighter than Hare (1960), The Million Hare (1963), Mad as a Mars Hare (1963), Dr. Devil and Mr. Hare (1964) and False Hare (1964).

DAFFY DUCK: Tick Tock Tuckered (1944), Nasty Quacks (1945), Daffy Dilly (1948), Wise Quackers (1949), The Prize Pest (1951), Design for Leaving (1954), Stork Naked (1955), This Is a Life? (1955), Dime to Retire (1955), Ducking the Devil (1957), People Are Bunny (1959), Person to Bunny (1960), Daffy’s Inn Trouble (1961), The Iceman Ducketh (1964) and Suppressed Duck (1965).

Animator, with 8 Kids, Loses Home in Fire

Chad StewartKayla Stewart in front of her burned-out home. The caption from the Spokesman-Review says that Stewart is wearing her mother’s thirty-year-old coat.

Veteran feature animator Chad Stewart (Cats Don’t Dance, The Pagemaster, Surf’s Up, Open Season, The Polar Express, Fantasia/2000, Tarzan, The Emperor’s New Groove) lost his home in an electrical fire last Sunday while his family was attending church. The Spokesman-Review has the sad details. What makes the situation particularly tragic is that Chad and his wife, Kayla, have eight kids–four birth daughters and four adopted biological brothers from Liberia. A friend of Chad tells me that, “After sixteen years working the studios down in LA, Chad wanted to spend more time with his family and made the move to Washington, where he began freelancing full-time.” The family is currently looking for a nearby home to rent and acquire replacement clothing and furnishings while they rebuild their burned-out home.

A charitable fund has been established and donations can be sent to either of these two places to help the Stewarts get back on their feet:

Northview Bible Church
13521 N. Mill Road
Spokane, WA 99208

and

Chase Bank
12120 N. Division St.
Spokane, WA 99218

Cartoons on Hulu

Hulu’s library of animated TV shows, shorts and features is growing more impressive by the week. Hulu’s content includes current series (The Simpsons, Family Guy), anime (One Piece, Inuyasha), animated shorts (the Koji Yamamura library, Pink Panther, Ant and the Aardvark, Tijuana Toads), features (American Pop, The Secret of NIMH), and old TV series (Stressed Eric, Rocky and Bullwinkle, Fat Albert, Drawn Together, He-Man). Hulu isn’t perfect–most of their content is geo-targeted for specific territories, some of the animation is only available for limited periods of time, and the videos have embedded advertising (though the percentage of ads relative to content isn’t unbearable). But even with these issues, it’s a small price to pay for the opportunity to program your personal ‘cartoon network.’ Here’s to hoping that Hulu continues to emphasize animation amongst their other offerings.

Here’s an example of what can be found on Hulu–Koji Yamamura’s Kid’s Castle:

(Thanks, Max Porter)

BBC Knowledge “Eat Up Brain” by Sean Pecknold

Sean Pecknold (aka Grandchildren) crafted this stylish and funny stop-mo spot for BBC Knowledge.

Credits
Narrator: Richard E. Grant
Producer: Aaron Ball
Production Company: Grandchildren
Animators: Britta Johnson, Sean Pecknold
Sets and Creatures: Matt Lifson, Britta Johnson, Sean Pecknold
Rotoscoping: Stefan Moore
Painter: Matt Lifson
Effects DP: Michael Ragen
Editorial and Compositing: Grandchildren
Colorist: Sam Atkinson, Lightpress
Sound Design and Mix: Justin Braegelmann

Agency: Three Drunk Monkeys
Executive Creative Director: Justin Drape, Scott Nowell
Creative Director: Noah Regan
Copywriter: Damian Fitzgerald
Art Director: Matt Heck
Agency Producers: John Ruggiero/ Thea Carone
Content Director: Dan Beaumont
Content Manager: Brad Firth

Happy Fair Use Day!

Following the disheartening Tintin story posted below, it seems appropriate to note that today, January 12, marks the first ever World’s Fair Use Day. The event is taking place in Washington, DC, and they’re showing live webcasts of all the panels. The event is organized by the DC non-profit Public Knowledge whose mission statement is “to ensure that communications and intellectual property policies encourage creativity, further free expression and discourse and provide universal access to knowledge.” Speakers at the event include a number of animators and cartoonists like Nina Paley of Sita Sings the Blues fame, Dan Walsh (Garfield Minus Garfield) and Machinima artist Chris Burke. The event’s keynote will be delivered by Pennsylvania congressman Mike Doyle, who will discuss the important of fair use in the digital age. The webcast starts in a few minutes so head on over to WorldsFairUseDay.org.

Tintin Fans Attacked By Tintin Lawyer

Tintin

Nick Rodwell, the British lawyer who married the widow of Tintin creator Hergé and now controls the Tintin estate, has embarked on a malicious crusade to sue people who use the character–even historians of the comic whose use of the character would qualify under “fair use” doctrines in the United States.

Rodwell’s latest target is Bob Garcia, “a detective novelist, jazz musician and Tintin aficionado,” who has been ordered by British courts to hand over £35,000 or face the possibility of having his house and belongings seized. His crime: writing five essays about the character. According to the UK’s Telegraph paper, “One pamphlet drew links between his twin passions — Tintin and Sherlock Holmes. Another looked at the cinematographic references in Hergé’s works. Two of the five, printed on average 500 times, used ‘graphical citations’ of Tintin drawings.”

More details from the Telegraph:

Hundreds of Tintin fans have already backed Mr Garcia, who on Thursday called for a boycott of the film and claimed that many supporters were heeding his demand. More than 500 people have joined his page on the Facebook website which expresses “anger and disgust” over the issue. More supporters have also backed his cause on other websites.

Tintin is one of the most successful comics of the 20th century, selling over 250 million copies and translated into 50 languages. Mr Rodwell’s company, Moulinsart, stands to take a huge cut from spin-offs after Steven Spielberg’s film, The Adventures of Tintin: The Secret of the Unicorn, is released in 2011.

“Mr Rodwell is trying to clear the decks ahead of the film on anything or anyone who speaks about Tintin to have the absolute monopoly on the brand. For him, my studies are just spin-offs of that brand,” said Mr Garcia.

A sidenote about the lawyer Rodwell that might shed some light on his personal character. His official blog was shut down by Tintin.com last year after he started making personal attacks on journalists. One bizarre claim he made was that certain journalists disliked him because the children of those critics had autism and couldn’t appreciate Tintin. This is a link to a translation of Rodwell’s writings.

Here is the link to the Facebook page for those who wish to support Garcia (I’ve joined it myself). Below is a video of Garcia talking about one of his books on a TV show. The scholarly nature of his Tintin studies is clearly evident in the visual samples shown onscreen.

(via Boing Boing)

Avatar, The Animated Film That Wasn’t

Avatar

I was thinking today, If Alvin and the Chipmunks: The Squeakquel has enough animation in it to be eligible for Best Animated Oscar, and A Christmas Carol is considered animation, then Avatar most definitely qualifies as an animated film too. The only reason Avatar isn’t on the list of animation Oscar contenders is because the studio didn’t want it to languish in the “animation ghetto.” That doesn’t change the fact, however, that it’s an animated film and should be acknowledged as such.

This spurred me to do some research on the subject, and I discovered I’m not the only one who’s been thinking about this. Brad Brevet did an excellent in-depth report on the subject at Rope of Silicon where he discusses the blurry line between visual effects and animation and how it leads to a double standard at awards time:

[I]t has pretty much been agreed upon around the Internet Avatar will be taking home the Oscar for Best Visual Effects, which creates an interesting conundrum. Why is the CG in Avatar considered visual effects while the CG employed for a Pixar or DreamWorks film simply considered animation? If Avatar is up for Oscar’s Best Visual Effects award shouldn’t Up and Monsters vs. Aliens be as well? The fact they aren’t, but A Christmas Carol is, interests me. Perhaps the real question is When is CGI no longer considered visual effects and when is it considered animation?

There are serious problems at the Academy if they consider A Christmas Carol to be both animation and vfx, Avatar only vfx, and Up only animation. As animation matures and evolves as an art form, it is vital for those of us within the industry to recognize it in all its many forms, and not allow organizations like the Academy to make arbitrary value judgments about different forms of animation.

Job Offer of the Week

Another classic job offer, this time from iFreelance.com. A Nigerian musician, Cruci Derek, is looking for somebody to make him a “high-quality” CG music video with an “Avatar standard”. The budget is $250. They’ll pay you through Western Union, but be forewarned, “Deposit upon proven competence of undertaking this job.”

To be fair, the guy’s music isn’t awful:

(Thanks, Frank Panucci)