Stu’s Show: Freberg this week, Beck next week

This week on Stu’s Show, the one and only Stan Freberg will be live and in-studio, along with comedy writer/producer Mark Evanier, who will co-host. They’ll cover as much of Stan’s illustrious career as they can, including his years doing cartoon voiceover work at Warner Brothers in the 1940s and 50s, partnering with Daws Butler to write and perform Bob Clampett’s Time For Beany, recording some of the greatest comedy records of all time, and opening an advertising agency responsible for producing the most hilarious and innovative commercials to ever hit the TV airwaves. The show airs live on your computer, 4:00 p.m. PT/7:00 p.m. ET, with rebroadcasts daily at the same time. Listen to it HERE!

Next week, (live on March 24th) Brewmaster Jerry Beck will join Stu to discuss classic animation and take phone calls. I’ll remind you about this again next week.

Swimming by Shiho Hirayama

In Swimming by Shiho Hirayama (b. 1979), a chubby boy’s imagination transforms an awkward swim class into a magical experience. This short really sneaks up on the viewer. It didn’t seem much at first glance but its simple honesty grew on me quickly and left a lasting impact. Charming character animation, a playful visualization of space and distance, and elegant sound design come together to make this one of the more memorable shorts in recent memory. There are more examples of Shiho’s animation on her website including a cute piece located on her “about me” page.

The Prowler at Film Forum

The Prowler

Beginning this Friday, a restored print of Joseph Losey’s film noir The Prowler plays for one week at the Film Forum in Manhattan. The film was co-scripted by blacklisted Hollywood Ten member Dalton Trumbo, photographed by three-time Oscar winner Arthur Miller, produced by Sam Spiegel (Lawrence of Arabia), and production designed by (get ready for this) John Hubley.

I asked a couple of the Hubley kids about this project recently and they told me that their dad actually worked on a number of live-action films and theatrical productions. John had earlier helped Losey with the design of an LA stage production of Bertolt Brecht’s Life of Galileo starring Charles Laughton. When Losey directed Prowler, he called on Hubley to explore the cinematic staging possibilities and push it beyond his own sensibilities, which were rooted in theater. Hubley was not the only Golden Age animation artist who worked in live-action. Just to name a few other examples, Ray Aragon storyboarded Norman Jewison’s In the Heat of the Night, Mary Blair did color design for How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying (directed by Disney animator David Swift), and Tyrus Wong worked for decades as a production designer at Warner Bros. It’s (yet another) area of animation history that is poorly documented and ripe for further research.

1960 Cartoon predicts Skype and Roomba

Silly Science (released May 1960). Director Seymour Kneitel. Animation: I. Klein, Irving Dressler. Story: Carl Meyer, Jack Mercer. Scenics: Robert Owen. Music: Winston Sharples.

Silly Science is a somewhat forgettable Paramount Modern Madcap cartoon from 1960 featuring numerous spot gags about “space-age living”. However, its worth another a look due to its rather accurate predictions of a telephone-video combo (Skype), a pint-sized flat vacuum cleaner (Roomba), and wide-screen drive by movies (I’m still waiting for this). Disney buffs will note an unauthorized appearance by Baby Weems at the 30 second mark.

This cartoon also made use of subtle cut-out animation techniques. This is cited in Eli Levitan’s long-out-of-print book Animation Techniques and Commercial Film Production (1962). The process is described on three pages which I’ve posted below (click thumbnails to enlarge each page). This is how it was done before Flash. Paramount made even better use of cut-outs in another short released later that year, Bouncing Benny.

(Thanks, Mark Kausler)

Cartoon Brew is Six Years Old

Six Years Old

Cartoon Brew launched six years ago today. We’re not doing a whole lot to celebrate–unless eating raisins counts as a celebration–but we didn’t want to let the day pass without some sort of acknowledgment. It would be an understatement to say that the online animation scene is different today than when we launched in March 2004. Back then there was no YouTube or Vimeo, no animation podcasts, only a handful of animation blogs (our pathetic blogroll from March 2004 illustrates the barren landscape of the time), and a much smaller community of animators and cartoon aficionados online. Since those days, the online animation community has grown a lot, and if our site traffic is any indication, continues to grow a lot. In fact, if we may blow our own horn for a moment, we’ve set new traffic records on the Brew five of the last six months.

Your enthusiasm and excitement for this amazing art form and its limitless possibilities is what keeps us motivated to update everyday. And we’re not planning to stop anytime soon. Cartoon Brew TV will return in April with a very special month of new episodes, and we’re refreshing the site’s look and adding new features later this spring. To be sure, many people gravitate to the site for our occasionally controversial topics, but we get our greatest satisfaction from exposing readers to new films, artists, and ideas. When somebody tells us that we made them aware of a classic piece of animation they hadn’t seen before, or when a young, talented artist writes to say that being featured on the Brew got them a job, that’s when we know we’ve done our job right. Who knows what the next six years will bring, but even if the entire industry switches over to making “emotion capture” films, we promise to keep doing what we do as long as you keep reading and participating. Cheers!

C.O.R.E. Digital Shut Down This Afternoon

CORE Digital

C.O.R.E. Digital Pictures, the Toronto-based CG/sfx house that produced Disney’s The Wild, shut down this afternoon. The studio has also provided animation for the features Valiant and Ant Bully, Chris Landreth’s short The Spine, and dozens of TV shows and features. Canadian Animation Resources has been following the story and reported that at 3pm this afternoon employees were called into a boardroom and told that the studio was closing. They were asked to pack their personal belongings and hit the road. As many as one hundred and fifty people may have lost their jobs, and many of them have not received their paychecks for their last few weeks of work. There is concern amongst employees about whether they will be paid. The studio was founded by Bob Munroe, John Mariella, Kyle Menzies and William Shatner (yes, that William Shatner).

UPDATE: The Tuesday edition of the Hollywood Reporter has a brief story about the shutdown of C.O.R.E. Digital.

Mars Trailer

This roto-heavy animated feature really slipped in under the radar. The first I heard of Mars was last week when it premiered at SXSW. The film, described as an interplanetary romantic comedy, is directed by Geoff Marslett, who is a teacher at University of Texas at Austin. Marslett described the production process in an indieWIRE interview:

Visually falling somewhere half way between “Sin City” and “Waking Life”…or half way between a graphic novel and a hand colored photograph. Basically we shot the actors in a green screen studio here in Austin. They were there, and had costumes…but no props or backgrounds–that stuff was all green boxes and walls. The footage of the actors themselves was rotoscoped using a hybrid of line drawing and image processing. We did the bulk of the color work on them by processing the actual colors from the live footage using a program that Tray Duncan and I developed based on my previous program. Then we added the major line details by hand before finishing the final shading work using another automated process. These characters were composited with environments and props that were a combination of hand drawn, 3D animation, and roto-ed over 3D work (all of those made from scratch).

A Tribute to Joe Ranft

Today, Joe Ranft would have been fifty years old. Disney director John Musker created this storyboard tribute to the late Pixar and Disney storyman. It was originally shown at Ranft’s memorial celebration on September 17, 2005.

Joe was one of the prime creative people behind PIXAR and a major contributor to Toy Story, a Bug’s Life, Cars. Joe was tragically killed in an automobile accident 5 years ago. This is a visualization of anecdotes I heard about my friend and colleague Joe.”

TONIGHT IN NY: Q&A with Kells Director

Secret of Kells

This afternoon, Secret of Kells director Tomm Moore will do a Q&A following the 5pm screening of his film at the Village East Cinema in NY. Also, the distributor of the film, GKID, is launching a limited release of Secret of Kells around the US. When I saw Tomm in LA last week, he mentioned to me that he’ll be doing Q&As after the film in numerous cities. The film opens in Boston (Landmark Kendall Square) and Philadelphia (Landmark Ritz at the Bourse) on March 19, Washington DC (E Street Cinema), Chicago (Siskel Film Center) and San Francisco on April 2, Houston (Angelika) on April 9, and Denver (Starz FilmCenter) and Columbus, OH (Gateway Film Center) on April 16. More release dates will be announced on the Secret of Kells Facebook page.

If last weekend’s super successful New York opening of Kells is any indication, the film’s US release should do well. The show sold out all but one of its weekend shows. According to Movieweb, the film broke “the opening weekend box office record at New York’s IFC Center” and “propelled the IFC Center to its biggest single day and weekend grosses ever, as well as the best Friday and Saturday in the theater’s history. The Secret of Kells weekend gross of $39,826 was the best screen average of any film in the nation for the weekend of March 5-7.”

Richard Balzer’s Collection of Antique Animation Devices

Thaumatrope

East coast animator Brian Duffy has been cataloguing the collection of Richard Balzer, who owns a one-of-a-kind cache of antique animation toys and devices. Brian writes:

Richard Balzer’s collection numbers in the thousands and includes all manner of zoetropes, thaumatropes, phenakistoscopes, magic lanterns, and any other such devices that produce an optical effect. I have been working with Dick for the past year to help catalogue his collection in an online database, and produce flash-based galleries to show off the effects of select pieces. It’s been quite an eye-opening experience, and I’ve learned a great deal about what is essentially a lost history of animation. Some of the zoetropes and phenakistoscopes show evidence of bedrock principles of animation decades before Winsor McCay and Walt Disney.

I was blown away by all of the ancient goodies displayed on Richard Balzer’s website DickBalzer.com. It’s packed with pre-film artifacts that will prove invaluable to anybody wishing to understand the historical roots of animation. Brian says that they will soon be adding more Flash galleries that show the devices in action. Updates about the collection can be found at DickBalzer.blogspot.com. Kudos to Mr. Balzer for sharing his amazing collection with the world.

HEAVY METAL 3D by David Fincher, Zack Snyder, James Cameron et al.

Filmmaker David Fincher (Fight Club, Se7en, Benjamin Button, etc.), who began his career working for Lucasfilm in special effects (Return of the Jedi) and on the animated film Twice Upon A Time, is setting up a new eight-or-nine part Heavy Metal animated feature. Besides himself, he’s enlisted James Cameron (Avatar), Gore Verbinski (Pirates of the Carribean) and Zack Snyder (300) each to direct a segment – with other big-name directors to be announced. Deadline Hollywood says TMNT creator (and Heavy Metal publisher) Kevin Eastman and Blur Studios’ Tim Miller may also be attached. Should be interesting to see how this comes together…

Shrek Obsessions in Iran

This piece by Brian T. Edwards about Iranian cinema in the Believer‘s film issue isn’t really about animation, but it does have some intriguing details about the Iranian obsession with Shrek. For example:

A single American film like Shrek inspires multiple dubbed versions–some illegal, some not–causing Iranians to discuss and debate which of the many Farsi Shreks is superior. In some versions (since withdrawn from official circulation), various regional and ethnic accents are paired with the diverse characters of Shrek, the stereotypes associated with each accent adding an additional layer of humor for Iranians. In the more risqué bootlegs, obscene or off-topic conversations are transposed over Shrek’s fairy-tale shenanigans.

Disney ends deal with Zemeckis and his Mo-Cap

The Los Angeles Times is reporting that Disney has ended its deal with Robert Zemeckis’ mo-cap factory, Image Movers. Disney is closing down the Marin County studio and laying off 450 people. But, according to the Times piece:

ImageMovers is currently completing production on “Mars Needs Moms,” which Disney plans to release in March 2011. Zemeckis is also developing a 3-D adaptation of the 1968 Beatles animated film, “Yellow Submarine.”

Without a major studio backing it, and with some luck, the Beatles project will die a quick death. Hopefully Mr. Zemeckis will return to the quality live-action filmmaking he was so good at before this disastrous detour into CG animation.

Day & Night by Teddy Newton

Day & Night

ComingSoon.net posted this publicity image from Teddy Newton’s Day & Night, the Pixar short that will screen in front of Toy Story 3. Teddy has been in the industry for quite a while–I did a profile on him back in 2002 for Animation Blast #8–and it’s exciting to see him finally get the spotlight with a short that’ll be seen by many people. Don Shank, who worked on the film, wrote on his blog earlier today that Day & Night is “unlike anything Pixar has produced before” and that working on the film was “one of the best times I’ve ever had working on anything, which is saying a lot because I’ve worked on some really great projects (uh… hello… like the academy award winning UP!).”

(Thanks, Tony Wisneske)

Kaj Pindal Blog

Kaj Pindal

Animation legend Kaj Pindal has his own blog at KajPindal.blogspot.com. The blog is edited by Sheridan student Amir Avni and Chris Walsh, who teaches the animation history class with Pindal at Sheridan. The blog has stories from Pindal, rare examples of his animation, and artwork and video of his illustrious friends like Ward Kimball and Zach Schwartz. There’s only five posts so far but every one of them is a winner. I especially enjoyed King Size, a funny and brilliantly animated anti-smoking cartoon that I’d never seen before and now can’t stop watching:

The Disappearing Cartoon

Director and animator Will Finn made a thought-provoking observation on his blog a few days ago. He began the discussion by surmising that if Disney ever decided to remake Lady and the Tramp, it would likely be some Frankenstein hybrid of keyframed CGI, live-action and performance capture. I don’t doubt that for a second. Where it gets interesting though is that Will feels this is happening because cartoons, in their traditional sense, are increasingly viewed as ineffective. He writes:

[T]he tolerance for a well-crafted cartoon image, even one as sedate and safe (albeit expert) as any in the original LADY, even if it were faithfully re-created, rendered and impeccably lit in CGI, is pretty much shrinking in the hearts of the public and the minds of the power brokers. As the world of CGI expands the roles of animators and animation, it also somehow seems to ever marginalize the space cartoon art occupies in animation, especially features. This isn’t the old CG vs. 2D thing I am lamenting here, it is the encroaching realism even on CG cartoons, just as realism encroached on 2D. It is about realism vs caricature, specifically cartoony caricature and how the tide seems to be turning ever more toward the former and away from the latter.

Will’s comments are particularly relevant in light of how Jeff Smith’s Bone is in the process of being transformed from its cartoony original form into mo-cap animation, and how forthcoming Yogi Bear and Tom & Jerry features are being turned realistic a la the Chipmunks. As Will is careful to point out, this is not CG vs. 2D; it’s a deeper and more profound change in attitudes towards cartooning.

His thoughts remind me of an experience I had not so long ago with an ad agency in which the agency rep informed me that our website was considered unhip for corporate advertisers because it had the word “cartoon” in it. Cartoons are considered by many to be fuddy-duddy because of the term’s long-standing association with junky animation (i.e. Saturday morning cartoons). Films like Avatar present an alternative that further diminishes the cartoon form, even to the point of redoing successful cartoons in more realistic styles. As Will says, “I fear that in the aftermath of AVATAR and films like it the public and the industry may find cartooniness to be too quaint, too passe, too childish, all the specious negatives that threw up roadblocks in my early career days.”

Maybe by Sam Chou

Maybe is a sweet little, 2-minute, “Eco-piece” by Sam Chou of Toronto’s Style5 animation boutique. Chou says the work was inspired by a frustrating conversation he’d had with a friend. The film asks fundamental questions about human nature and our relationship to the environment, and uses a combination of techniques: from the traditional, hand-drawn animation, rotoscoping, to full on digital painting and compositing.

Adventure Time sneak peek TONIGHT!

Sorry for the last minute notice, but our friend Joseph Games (Chogrin) says a full-length preview episode of Adventure Time will air TONIGHT (Thursday, March 11th) at 8:30pm Eastern (5:30pm Pacific) on Cartoon Network.

With so little originality in TV animation these days, I’m really rooting for this series to catch on. It’s not “Spumco” or the cookie cutter standard we’ve come to expect from CN, Nick or Disney. Pen’s got a fresh new take that TV cartoons desperately need. His art style it isn’t everyone’s “cup of tea”, but I love it – and we need more artists and creators like him.

The show’s official premiere will be on Monday, April 5th. In the meantime, if you haven’t already, visit Pen Ward’s website, read the production blog, watch the original pilot and check out the cool tribute art by The Autumn Society.

Alice in Wonderland artists at Nucleus

The artists behind Tim Burton’s new Alice In Wonderland film will make a one-time appearance for a panel, Q&A and book signing this Saturday afternoon at Alhambra’s Gallery Nucleus.

The event will begin at 2pm and run all afternoon, Saturday March 13th. Nucleus will also be the first and only location for you to purchase a copy of the ‘Art of’ book, Alice in Wonderland: A Visual Companion, before its release date (March 30th). Speakers in attendance will include character designer Michael Kutsche and concept artists Dylan Cole, Scott Lukowski, Steven Messing, Daphne Yap, Christian Gossett and Jim McPherson. For more information, visit the Nucleus Gallery website.