Man arrested for posting Dreamworks billboard in Hollywood

Dreamworks’ How To Train Your Dragon got a little unintended publicity this weekend in Hollywood. A man alleged to have put up a large, “supergraphic” billboard in violation of Los Angeles city law was arrested and held on $1 million bail over the weekend.

The massive movie ad was draped over a 1927 building on the corner of Hollywood Boulevard and Highland Avenue, property co-owned by Kayvan Setereh, the man arrested. The ad was strategically positioned to be seen by the throngs attending next week’s Academy Awards ceremony, both in person and on television. According to the L.A. Times, “the city outlawed such signs in August, arguing they are unsafe for pedestrians below and that they could prevent firefighters from entering buildings in an emergency. Critics also decry them as visual blight.”

Spongebob Little Golden Book

Regular Brew readers are aware that I collect old Little Golden Books relating to animation and have frequently mentioned my admiration of the recent “retro-stylized” Golden Books for current Disney and Pixar films. Add Nickelodeon to the watch-list. I just discovered Mr. Fancypants, a Spongebob Squarepants tie-in, at my local Barnes and Noble last night. The book was published as a commemorative to celebrate the sponge’s tenth anniversary and features great artwork by animation artist Caleb Meurer. Take a look — Random House has posted the first few pages online:


A Free Animation Book Idea For You

Finians Rainbow
Concept art from John Hubley’s Finian’s Rainbow

This repost of John Canemaker’s article about John Hubley’s unproduced feature Finian’s Rainbow reminded me of a book idea I’ve had for years. With my full plate of writing, editing, and creative directing various book projects, I know I’m never going to get around to doing this book, but I believe in the idea so I’m going to put it out there and hope somebody runs with it.

Here’s what I’d like to see: a richly illustrated coffeetable book that explores unproduced animated features. Kind of like Charles Solomon’s The Disney That Never Was minus all the dull-as-dishwater Disney projects. There’s a good reason why most of those Disney films were never produced! (An exception might be made for Marc Davis and Ken Anderson’s Chanticleer.) Looking past Disney, there is an extensive catalog of daring and colorful feature animation projects that were unrealized. It’s an eye-opening alternative animation history that spans some of the art form’s biggest names. Anybody who tackles the book should be sure to include:

* Orson Welles’ The Little Prince (developed with Hugh Harman and Mel Shaw)
* UPA’s The White Deer (developed by Leo Salkin and Aurelius Battaglia)
* John Hubley’s Finian’s Rainbow
* John Dunn and Vic Haboush’s Wolgalooly
* Richard Williams’ Thief and the Cobbler
* George Dunning’s The Tempest
* Fred Calvert’s Don Quixote (developed by Ray Aragon)
* Yuri Norstein’s The Overcoat
* Tom Carter Productions’ Huck’s Landing
* TMS’ Little Nemo: Adventures In Slumberland (with various crews that included Hayao Miyazaki, Chuck Jones, George Lucas, Isao Takahata, Ray Bradbury, Frank Thomas and Brad Bird)
* Ralph Bakshi’s Last Days of Coney Island
* Bill and Sue Kroyer’s Arrow
* Brad Bird’s Ray Gunn

The “what could have been” factor of these films is a persistent source of fascination for me. Any number of these projects had the potential to change the course of the art form. Imagine if Orson Welles had released an animated feature at the height of his influence, or if John Hubley’s vision of mature feature animation had come to fruition in the 1950s. Some of these films were indeed produced in bastardized forms (Little Nemo and Arabian Knight are examples), but most perished for a variety of reasons like financing, a director’s inability to finish, a director’s death, the Hollywood blacklist, or in the case of Huck’s Landing, the head of the studio being sent to prison.

Putting together this book won’t be easy. Whoever does it will have to do tons of research and detective work; it would even be wise perhaps to divide it amongst a cadre of historians and writers to ensure that the book is finished in a reasonable period of time. But if executed properly, I have no doubt it would be an entertaining, educational, and thoroughly unique contribution to animation literature.

Cartoons in Cinemascope

Next Tuesday, at my usual monthly screening at The Silent Movie Theater, I’ll be running a great selection of 1950s cartoons in widescreen CinemaScope. I will be showing rare 35mm and 16mm prints – many in Technicolor. Among the titles being screened will be Ward Kimball’s Toot Whistle Plunk and Boom and the Donald Duck Grand CanyonScope from Disney, Tom & Jerry and Droopy cartoons from MGM, Mr. Magoo and Gerald McBoing Boing from UPA, and a slew of rare Terrytoons, including Flebus, Dinky Duck in It’s A Living, and many others including R.O. Blechman’s Juggler Of Our Lady (narrated by Boris Karloff).

Join us at 8pm, 611 N. Faifax Avenue (one block south of Melrose) in Hollywood. For more information or to reserve tickets check the CineFamily website – or join our Facebook page.

Animated Review of Avatar

Nobody’s come forward to claim responsibility for this elaborate animated review of Avatar. I particularly like how they (I’m assuming more than one person made it) used the same performance capture animation technique as the film itself. Stats on YouTube show that the video is popular in New Zealand, but word on the street is that it’s not WETA. Hmmm . . .

(Thanks, Kim Hazel)

Rudy Larriva (1916-2010)

Variety is reporting that veteran Warner Bros. director Rudy Larriva passed away last Friday Feb. 19 in Irvine, Calif. He was 94.

Larriva, an animator for nearly six decades, worked primarily at Warner Bros. in the 1930s and 40s, recieving animation credit on several cartoons including the seminal Chuck Jones cartoon, Elmer’s Pet Rabbit (1941). He later joined Disney (Song of the South, Melody Time) and spent the 1950s at UPA (Mr. Magoo). He is credited as the animation director for the opening credits of The Twilight Zone in 1959-60. He spent much of his later years toiling on TV series for Ruby Spears and other studios. His greatest claim to fame, unfortunately, was his direction of several low budget Road Runner cartoons for DePatie Freleng in the mid-1960s. Funeral services will be held at 10:30 a.m. March 1 at Eternal Hills Cemetery, Oceanside, Calif.

(Thanks, Joe Apel)

Beyond Yellow

The Animation Guild is hosting its second-ever art opening at its new Gallery 839, on Friday, March 5th, from 6 pm to 9 pm. The gallery is located in the new Guild building at 1105 N. Hollywood Way (between Magnolia and Chandler) in Burbank. The show is called Beyond Yellow and showcases the work of Simpsons animators doing what they do outside the realm of Springfield.

(The images above are not part of the show, but are the work of David Barton at limpfish.com.)

Clips and Reviews of Sylvain Chomet’s The Illusionist

Illusionist

Sylvain Chomet’s The Illusionist easily tops my list for most anticipated animated feature of 2010 (sorry Tangled). The film premiered to raves last week at the Berlin International Film Festival, and the Pathé Distribution website lists a May 5, 2010 release date, which I believe is for France. Pathé is also handling UK distribution, though I haven’t run across a release date yet. ScreenDaily reported yesterday that the film has also secured distribution deals for Japan (Klockworx), Italy (Cinema 11), Greece (Nutopia), Benelux (Paradiso) and the Middle East (Phars Film) while “a US deal is expected to be announced shortly.”

The first clips from the film to appear online can be seen in this video interview with Sylvain Chomet. Here are three different reviews of the film from people who saw it in Berlin:

Screen Daily: “The imagery excels at depicting less-harried times: as a train chugs over a trestle bridge in the country, its reflection in the water below is as stunning as the changing light over Edinburgh. And somehow the animated rain seems more real than the wet stuff in live-action films. The deceptively simple story (which bears some scattered similarities to Chaplin’s Limelight) is anchored in nostalgia for bygone traditions. And yet the theme of dedicated craftsmen (a clown, a ventriloquist, a magician) made obsolete by changing tastes (not to mention age making way for youth) remains relevant.”

In Contention: “It took six days and an awful lot of films, but the Berlinale has finally turned up a masterpiece. Moreover, it’s a rare case of one of the fest’s most eagerly awaited titles managing to meet, and even subvert, expectations. The Illusionist . . . confirms a truly singular auteur sensibility, while revealing a more disciplined artist and storyteller within. A streamlined character study, less deliriously eccentric in tone and structure than his debut feature, The Illusionist nonetheless boasts an emotional heft that handsomely repays its creator’s restraint.

Variety: “The pic is a thrilling exercise in retro aesthetics, from the pencil-and-watercolor look to the 2D animation that harks back to mid-1960s Disney (especially “101 Dalmatians”) and the delicate lines and detailed backgrounds of Gallic animator Paul Grimault, to the details that perfectly evoke Scotland in the 1950s. All the same, the backgrounds here brim with little jokes that the long takes offer a chance to catch, such as the sight of lobster thermidor (with a fried egg on top and haggis) on offer at a fish-and-chips shop . . . Pace may seem a little slow for those reared on contempo animation, but for those immersed in the film, the rhythms are delicious.”

(Thanks to Martin Gornall, who worked on the film, for these links)

ASIFA-East Animation Festival Entry Deadline

The deadline to enter ASIFA-East’s 41st Annual Animation Festival is Monday, March 1. Entry forms are available on the ASIFA-East website.

Jury screenings take place in March at the SVA 3rd Floor Amphitheater (209 E. 23rd Street). They are free and open to all, though only ASIFA-East members can cast votes. Screening schedule is below (all of them start at 7pm):

TUESDAY, MARCH 9 – Student Films
THURSDAY, MARCH 11 – Commercials/Promos under 2mins
TUESDAY, MARCH 16 – Independent Films
WEDNESDAY, MARCH 17 – Sponsored Films over 2 mins (5th fl, rm. 502)

George Lopez to voice Speedy Gonzales in live action/CG movie

From the story in today’s Hollywood Reporter:

“We wanted to make sure that it was not the Speedy of the 1950s — the racist Speedy,” said the comedian’s wife Ann Lopez, who will serve alongside him as a producer. “Speedy’s going to be a misunderstood boy who comes from a family that works in a very meticulous setting, and he’s a little too fast for what they do. He makes a mess of that. So he has to go out in the world to find what he’s good at.” That path becomes clearer once Speedy befriends a gun-shy race-car driver.

“The racist Speedy”? Pardon me, but the Speedy I know from the 1950s cartoons was a hero, a champion. I would suggest the writers watch a few of the cartoons before inventing a scenario from whole cloth.

James Cameron: “I’m not interested in being an animator”

Avatar

In last week’s LA Times, James Cameron continued to assert his position that Avatar isn’t animation, though at least he’s acknowledging now that “a whole team of animators” is used in the process:

“I’m not interested in being an animator. . . . That’s what Pixar does. What I do is talk to actors. ‘Here’s a scene. Let’s see what you can come up with,’ and when I walk away at the end of the day, it’s done in my mind. In the actor’s mind, it’s done. There may be a whole team of animators to make sure what we’ve done is preserved, but that’s their problem. Their job is to use the actor’s performance as an absolute template without variance for what comes out the other end.”

In the LA Times, animation director Henry Selick also weighed in publicly for the first time on the issue:

“The academy has to come to terms with where [performance capture] goes. Is it animation? Is it a new category? I’m like the academy. I don’t know where it fits. I will tell you this, animators have to work very, very hard with the motion-capture data. After the performance is captured, it’s not just plugged into the computer which spits out big blue people. It’s a hybrid.”

In response to the recent article, Kristin Thompson at Observations on Film Art has written a thoughtful article about the hybrid nature of the performance and the disingenousness of Camerons’ claim that the creative work ends with his actors.

(Earlier Brew coverage about the amount of animation in Avatar can be found here, here, here, and here.)

An Evening with Richard M. Sherman

There’s something special going on in Hollywood this weekend, especially if you love classic Disney music as much as I do. Disney’s Howard Green just informed me that songwriter Richard M. Sherman is doing a special show this Friday and Saturday at the El Capitan Theater. Sherman, the Oscar winning composer of Mary Poppins and more than 150 songs heard in Disney films and theme parks, will make a rare personal stage appearance, singing and telling the stories behind his songs, in what is being billed as A Supercalifragilistic Evening with Richard M. Sherman.

The second half of the program will include additional performers (“including wacky Joanne Worley”) joining in on songs from Richard’s latest show, Pazzazz, co-written with Magic Castle founder, Milt Larsen. The show will be performed on Friday, February 26 at 7 p.m., and Saturday February 27 at 2 p.m. and 8 p.m. Tickets are available at the El Capitan Theatre Box Office (6838 Hollywood Blvd.) or by calling 1-818-845-3110.

Animation Legends and Facebook

I spent some time on Facebook last night compiling data that shows who the most popular classic animation artists are on the social networking site. As a historian, I’m interested in understanding how artists from the early years of animation are remembered within the online community. The results aren’t particularly encouraging. Of the forty-eight artists I managed to find, roughly a quarter of them have attracted over five hundred fans. That’s a small number considering that these are some of the most revered names in our art form. Furthermore, a majority of the artists (nearly 60%) have less than 300 fans.

However, there is a silver lining. Classic artists who have continued to receive exposure in recent years have a disproportionately larger number of fans, which means that people would care about these artists if they were more aware of their accomplishments. Mary Blair, who has had a couple gallery exhibits and books published about her recently is the sixth most popular animation legend on Facebook. Walt Stanchfield, whose instructional handouts were compiled into books last year, is one hundred times more popular than Bill Tytla, who despite his stature, has received scant attention in the past couple decades.

What is most surprising are the omissions. Are Bob McKimson’s cartoons so disliked that he can’t garner even one fan from a pool of 400 million Facebook users? And McKimson is the tip of the iceberg. For starters, where are Ken Anderson, Bobe Cannon, Norm Ferguson, Carlo Vinci, Hawley Pratt, Pete Burness, Dick Lundy, Emery Hawkins, Preston Blair, Rod Scribner, Ray Patterson, Bob Givens, Art Davis, Dave Hilberman, Hugh Harman, Rudy Ising, Dave Tendlar, Grim Natwick, Bob McKimson, Milt Kahl, Sterling Sturtevant, Frank Thomas, Tom Oreb, Eric Larson, Les Clark, Shamus Culhane, Bill Littlejohn, Ken Harris, Art Babbitt, Virgil Ross, Manny Gould, Willard Bowsky, Al Eugster, Joe Grant, Dick Huemer and T. Hee to name but a few. Nobody appreciates any of these artists enough to start a fan page for them on the world’s largest social networking site, and that says a lot when nearly everything else has a fan page or group on Facebook nowadays.

Animation artists have never been ones to hanker for the spotlight, and as a result, there are few celebrities in this art form save for the characters themselves. So while nobody may appreciate the name Bob McKimson anymore, his character the Tasmanian Devil has 82,000 fans on Facebook, and though the name Grim Natwick may draw blank stares, rest assured that his eighty-year-old character Betty Boop has 92,000 fans.

The list of classic artists on Facebook is after the jump. I’m curious to hear what others make of these numbers.

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Dear Sesame Street

Sesame Street

Dear Sesame Street,

We, the undersigned, would like to register our concern over the contest you are now conducting with Aniboom. We are concerned that your contest includes a solicitation of original design concepts, characters and content to be produced on a speculative basis by cartoonists, artists, motion designers and animators.

This approach, requesting new and original work to be created in competition, is one that we believe seriously compromises the quality of work that is entered into “competition” and is questionable, at best, for a reputable organization to request.

Sesame Street has long been a highly esteemed provider of educational programming for children. From its inception, it has shown respect and support for the independent animation, film, and design communities. Artists have responded by creating lasting work — that is as valuable for children and adults today as when it was first created. We applaud that work, and hope that Sesame Street will continue to push the fields of animation and film-making. As such, we also think that Sesame Street should uphold the ethics and professional behavior we’d like our own children to grow up with. Is the education we want to pass on to them that artists’ and animators’ work is not valuable? That the only way to ‘make it’ is through winning a contest?

There is a more appropriate way to explore the work of various artists. A more effective and ethical approach to commission new work is to ask a pool of talent to submit examples of their work from previous assignments as well as a statement of how they would approach your project. You can then judge the quality of the artist’s previous work and her way of thinking about your project. The artist you select can then begin to work on your project by designing an original solution to your criteria while under contract to you, without having to work on speculation up front.

Design should not be a one-way street, with artists creating work in a vacuum. We believe the best design, art and content comes at the request of a specific brief, mission or client. Speculative design competitions and processes result in superficial assessments of the project at hand that are not grounded in a client’s specific needs. Art always has something to say.

There are few professions where all possible candidates are asked to do the work first, allowing the buyer to choose which one to compensate for their efforts. (Just consider the response if you were to ask a dozen lawyers to write a brief for you, from which you would then choose which one to pay!) We realize that there are some creative professions with a different set of standards, such as advertising and architecture, for which billings are substantial and continuous after you select a firm of record. In those cases, you are not receiving the final outcome (the advertising campaign or the building) for free up front as you would be in receiving an original film or character design.

There are many artists, animators and cartoonists who can provide you with original and highly creative new work that will far exceed your expectations, with respect for an appropriate budget and schedule. We can think of dozens off of the tops of our heads who we’re sure would love to work with Sesame Street. And we’d would love to point you in their direction.

We believe that “leveraging the power of the web” is an exciting prospect and casting a wide net can quickly provide many interesting results. But we think that more considered curation and the selection of applicants whose goals may be more closely aligned with your own can provide better results.

It’s your contest, though and you are free run it as you wish. But you will do so without our participation.

Your consideration of these professional issues is greatly appreciated.

Sincerely,
Cartoon Brew
Motionographer

See the full list of document signers and how to put your name on the list after the jump. (UPDATE: Over 200 people have now signed the letter.)

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Tex Avery 102

Friday will mark Tex Avery’s 102st birthday. To commemorate, the students of North Dallas High School, Avery’s alma mater, the place where Avery picked up the “What’s Up, Doc?” tagline he later gave to Bugs Bunny, are decorating the halls of the school with a mural of characters he created.

In another tribute to Avery’s genius, I highly recommend the latest post by Chris Lopez on his ComicsCrazy blog. Chris has posted over 40 vinatge MGM model sheets from various Avery classics: Lucky Ducky, Little Tinker, Bad Luck Blackie etc. The one above is from Screwball Squirrel, drawn by Claude Smith.

(Thanks, Oliver Coombes, Kevin Kidney and Peter Kurilecz)

The Man Behind the First Tom & Jerry

A decade before Van Beuren’s Mutt & Jeff-like rubber-hose human pair, and many decades before Hanna-Barbera’s Oscar-winning cat and mouse, a comical duo named Tom and Jerry created mischief on movie screens in animated theatrical short subjects that have long been forgotten—and are perhaps lost for all time.

In the image above, Tom is the man and Jerry is the mule. This was a stop-motion Tom and Jerry series, filmed in Los Angeles in the 1920′s, modeled and animated by Joseph Leeland Roop, a stop-motion pioneer who today is just as forgotten as the films themselves. Lee Roop, his grandson, is presently preparing a book about the animator and provided Cartoon Brew with tantalizing information about the original Tom & Jerry films.

Lee says J.L. Roop worked on twelve shorts for producer Lloyd C. Haynes, released between 1923-1924. All are (as of this writing) lost films. If anyone has any clues to their whereabouts, please contact us. The titles are:

The Incomparable Aerial Comedians in Fly-Time by H. C. Matthews
The Amiable Comedians in Throbs and Thrills (“A Snappy Railroad Comedy Drama”) by H. C. Matthews
Gasoline Trail by Bumps Adams
Tom’s First Fliver by Bumps Adams
Tom Turns Sleuth by Doris E. Kemper
Tom Turns Farmer by Doris E. Kemper
Tom’s Charm by Marshall Roop
Moonshine Frolic by Glen Lambert
Tom Turns Hero by Doris E. Kemper
The Jungle of Prehistoric Animals by G. E. Baily Ph. D.
The Hypnotist
Tom Goes on Vacation

Lee Roop provided this biographical information:

Joseph Leeland Roop was born in Kentucky on December 22, 1869 and died on December 22, 1932 in Glendale California. He was a sculptor most of his life and his work can be found in Indiana, Kentucky, and California.

When he died he was working for the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles and made most of the Early California History miniature dioramas which most are still on display. He also started and almost finished some of the statues at the Page Museum in Los Angeles (The La Brea Tar Pits) but died before he finished them and Herman Beck finished them and got the credit. You can find the picture of the saber tooth tiger on the internet.

He worked on the 1925 version of The Lost World making and animating some of the dinosaur scenes. His picture is on the Ray Harryhausen website as a early pioneer. He worked on the 1926 version The Gorilla Hunt, making the gorilla model and animating the scenes. He carved a fourteen foot wooden indian which is still in San Bernardino.

Lee sent three images (thumbnails below – click to see larger image). 1. a trade advertisement for the Tom & Jerry series, 2. An article from the May 1924 Popular Mechanics magazine, 3. Second page of P.M. article:

This is the kind of stuff I crave, new information on the unsung pioneers of animation history. Mr. Roop will keep me informed on the progress of his book – and I thank him for sending us this little preview.

Songs the Brothers Warner Taught Me by Megan Lynch

Megan Lynch is a singer/songwriter who, like many of us, learned classic American popular songs via watching Warner Bros. cartoons. Lynch has been active in the San Francisco Bay Area for the last 20 years or so and on her debut album, Songs the Brothers Warner Taught Me, she is accompanied by Tony Marcus and Robert Armstrong of The Cheap Suit Serenaders (Armstrong himself is a well-known animation fan and underground cartoonist. He created Mickey Rat back in the day).

Songs on the album include Hello Ma Baby, I Love To Singa, Someone’s Rockin’ My Dreamboat, The Latin Quarter and eight more you’ll surely recognize. I found it a total joy to listen to. You can purchase a cd or download an mp3 via cdbaby, though Lynch has graciously allowed Cartoon Brew readers to enjoy the entire album free, via the embed below:

<a onclick="javascript:pageTracker._trackPageview('/outgoing/meganlynch.bandcamp.com/album/songs-the-brothers-warner-taught-me');" href="http://meganlynch.bandcamp.com/album/songs-the-brothers-warner-taught-me">Hello Ma Baby by Megan Lynch</a>