Comic Con 2010

I’m on my way to “Comic Con” (aka The San Diego Comic Con) and I’m hoping to have a great time — despite the crowds.

To recap my scheduled appointments, I’ll be signing my book The 100 Greatest Looney Tunes Cartoons at the Insight Editions booth (#2913) on Friday 10:30-11:30am and Saturday from 2:00-3:00pm. I’ll also be signing the book TODAY (Thursday) at the Van Eaton Gallery booth #501 at 3:00pm. On Friday afternoon I’ll be moderating a special panel: Peanuts Turns 60 from 2:00-3:00pm in Room 25ABC. Panelists will include Jeannie Schulz (widow of Peanuts creator Charles Schulz) and Stephan Pastis (creator of Pearls Before Swine). And on Friday night, I’ll be screening my all-new edition of Worst Cartoons Ever at 9pm in Room 6BCF.

The photo above is not Stan Freberg at last year’s Comic Con. It’s Freberg with Peter Tork, Mickey Dolenz and Mike Nesmith from an episode of The Monkees in 1966. Stan and his wife Hunter will be appearing at the Con today in Room 6BCF in an interview with Mark Evanier at 11:45am. I’ll be there.

If you can get into Hall H, the very first thing you’ll see is a Dreamworks Megamind panel at 10am. Tron Legacy is previewed there at 11:15am. Bill Plympton will be discussing his work in Room 8 at 1:30pm. Nathan Greno and Byron Howard (directors), Glen Keane (animation supervisor), and other artists from Tangled discuss the new film in Room 5AB at 2:00pm. There will be a panel about The Hub, the new Hasbro animation channel/animation studio with producers Bob Orci, Alex Kurtzman and Jeff Kline, along with President and CEO Margaret Loesch, in Room 7AB at 4:30. Robotech and Carl Macek will be remembered at 6:45 in Room 6DE. And that’s just some of today’s activities.

Tomorrow (Friday) starts with a 10am Comedy Central panel devoted to Ugly Americans with series creator Devin Clark, animator Aaron Augenblick and several voice actors in Room 25ABC. Tom Sito hosts a State of the Animation Industry panel with Raul Garcia, Joe Haidar, Beth Sleven and Sean Petrilak in Room 9 at 11:30. The Adventure Time panel with Pen Ward (creator), Jeremy Shada (voice of Finn), John DiMaggio (voice of Jake), and Tom Kenny (voice of Ice King) is in Room 6A at 11:45. A Neighbors from Hell panel is at 12 noon with the voice cast including Molly Shannon, Patton Oswalt, Will Sasso, Kurtwood Smith in Room 25ABC. Don’t miss my Peanuts panel at 2pm in Room 25ABC. Pixar’s Ronnie Del Carmen discusses the story process and what it’s really like to work in Story at Pixar, followed by Q&A, at 4:30 in Room 26AB .

Saturday begins with a SpongeBob panel with producer Paul Tibbitt, creative director Vincent Waller, storyboard director Tuck Tucker, background painter Andy Clark and the voice of SpongeBob, Tom Kenny, 10am in Room 6A. This is opposite a panel called Writing Animated Feature Films with panelists Alan Burnett (Green Lantern: First Flight), Darren Lemke (Shrek Forever After), John Musker (The Princess and the Frog), Dean DeBlois (How to Train Your Dragon) and Wallace Wolodarsky (Monsters vs. Aliens), in Room 8. The Futurama panel with producers Matt Groening and David X. Cohen, cast members Billy West, John DiMaggio, Katey Sagal, and Maurice LaMarche, is at 12:45 in Ballroom 20. The Simpsons panel with Groening, showrunner Al Jean, executive producer Matt Selman, and supervising director Mike Anderson follows at 1:30 in Ballroom 20. Mark Evanier’s Cartoon Voices panel (part 1) features Evanier and Earl Kress talking voice acting with April Winchell, Candy Milo, Gregg Berger, Tom Kane and Jason Marsden in Room 6BCF at 1:45pm. After this, I’m personally spending the rest of the day going through the dealers room…

There are so many booths I’m anxious to hit. One in particular is shared by Pixar artists Josh Cooley, Bill Pressing and Scott Morse (Booth #4800). Cooley has has a new book, inspired by his love of classic movies mixed with his love of Golden Book art, Movies R Fun- A lil’ Inappropriate Book, a parody depicting scenes from favorite R rated movies in the Golden Book/Mel Crawford-ish style. Pictured below is Bill Pressing’s limited edition Intercontinental Cuties playing cards, which will be available at the Con at the same booth.

On Sunday – after Cartoon Voices part II with Phil LaMarr (Futurama), Janet Waldo (The Jetsons), and Cheryl Chase (Rugrats), at 11:15 in Room 6A – I’m leaving. And if I’m lucky I will have bought some old comic books.

CBTV Student Fest #3: August by Matthias Hoegg

Continuing our Student Animation Festival, we’re proud to present August created by Matthias Hoegg at the Royal College of Art. He has created that rare student film which manages to be stylish not just visually but also through its unconventional and layered approach to storytelling. Shoot questions and comments to Matthias in the comment thread below. Here are Matthias’s notes about his film:

I made my film August whilst on my two year Masters course in Animation at the Royal College of Art in London. I started the course with a loose idea for a film based around a Japanese fable, “The Dream of Akinosuke”. In the fable a wealthy landowner takes an afternoon nap in the shade of a big tree during a picnic with friends. He has an epic dream in which he’s married to the princess of a remote island empire for several years. When he awakes shortly after his friends tell him that a yellow butterfly, a symbol of the soul, appeared to have come out of his mouth when he was sleeping before being grabbed by an ant and dragged underground. Digging open the ants nest the men uncover an entire ant kingdom, in which Akinosuke immediately recognizes a model version of the island kingdom from his dream.

I was really intrigued by the fable’s blend of metaphor and natural reality. So the starting point for my film was really to use a colony of ants activities to reflect the internal process of a human character’s mind. Looking for a more contemporary setting that would involve ants I remembered my first awkward attempts at having a holiday of my own with friends as a teenager. After making a complete tip of our campsite we had to keep moving our tent onto different spots so that the ants that we attracted wouldn’t catch up with us. Perhaps I should mention here that I am originally from Munich, Germany and if you have ever been to a German-style campsite you may have witnessed campers dedicating their entire holiday to tidying and keeping a perfect order in the great outdoors. We were clearly the weakest link in that community. In August I wanted to use the ants to create anticipation and a sense of adventure that the boys are looking for in their holiday, when in fact they fail to realize any of it on a human scale.

I started storyboarding the film in late 2008 and had finished it by early June 2009. All elements of the film were drawn digitally and then animated in a cut-out style. I enjoyed working with the constraints of the cut-out approach and the sense of awkwardness it evoked in the characters. My friend the 3D modeler Mattias Bjurstom got on board with this project and he created the 3D set for the film based on a cardboard model of a camper van and various textures that I provided him with. Most recently I have put the final touches on my graduation film at the RCA. It is called Thursday and it follows two characters through and out of the repeating patterns of everyday life, but in a future world. Its style is more simplified and graphic, using a range of patterns that were created in 2D and 3D to evoke the dazzling futuristic world that the characters inhabit. I am represented by Beakus in London, a new animation studio started by Bafta-award winner and Trunk founder Steve Smith.

See more of Matthis Hoegg’s work at MatthiasHoegg.co.uk.

Seventeen by Hisko Hulsing

Seventeen by Hisko Hulsing

It’s surprising that I’ve never written about Hisko Hulsing’s film Seventeen considering how much I enjoyed it when I saw it at Annecy in 2004. I hadn’t seen it since then, and it’s never been posted on-line, but somebody recently uploaded a copy onto YouTube allowing me to rediscover this hand-drawn gem. I’m delighted to report that the film holds up after all these years, and it’s even better than I’d remembered.

Seventeen is a powerful and complete package, and achieves a cinematic quality as few animated films do, which can be attributed to Hisko’s expert storytelling through camera, cutting, color, sound and music. The visual imagery, which draws on magical realism, is fantastically creepy as the title character–a drunken and horny seventeen-year-old construction worker–staggers around a small European village that shifts between hellish nightmare and carnal fantasy. The animation is inventive and fun, and suits the style of the film perfectly.

Hisko hasn’t made a short since Seventeen which is understandable when you realize that he not only directed and wrote Seventeen, but also painted the backgrounds, composed the music, and animated most of the film. He’s currently working on his next film Junkyard. There’s a short clip posted on Vimeo that gives a taste of how he’s pushing his work to an entirely new level. His website is HiskoHulsing.com.

Seventeen is eleven-and-a-half minutes and can be viewed in two parts below. It might be considered NSFW.

Bret Easton Ellis’ The Crossing Place by Sascha Ciezata

Several months ago we featured Sascha Ciezata’s hand sketched animated short When Lynch Met Lucas. Since then, Ciezata’s been busy with his latest shot-with-an-iPhone animation, this time produced by Random House. It’s based a passage from the new book by Bret Easton Ellis, Imperial Bedrooms, read by actor Andrew McCarthy.

Cartoon Brew version 3.0

Welcome to the updated Cartoon Brew. This was an important redesign for us. We wanted to make the site more useful for regular readers without significantly changing the look and feel of a design that already functions well. We also wanted to add more functionality without cluttering it up with bells and whistles that none of our readers would ever use. So we’ve judiciously added a handful of new features that we hope will enhance your site experience as well as upgraded our servers which we hope will make the site a lot faster for everybody. Here is a guide to the new additions;

Industry Headlines: We don’t have the time to write a full post about everything that’s happening in animation, so we created this section, located on the upper side of the right-hand column, where we’ll have a constantly updated stream of links to news from around the animation industry.

Animation Tweets: This box, in the middle of the right-hand column, is a continuously updated feed of tweets by artists working in the animation industry. If you click on the directory link at the bottom of the box, you’ll be taken to the full list of artists and each of their latest tweets. The list is by no means complete and we will be updating the directory regularly to include as many artists as possible.

Top posts: Some of our favorite and most popular posts drop off the front page far too quickly. Our new top posts, located at the top of the site, will offer links to posts that we feel deserve a second look.

Suggest: To suggest an item for inclusion on Cartoon Brew, do not e-mail Jerry or Amid individually anymore. Please use the suggest form which is accessible through the navigation bar at the top of the page.

Commenting: Exciting additions here. You can now respond to specific comments by other readers and your responses will be threaded below the original comment. Simply click on “reply to this comment” below the comment that you want to reply to. Also, if you like somebody’s comment, click on the thumbs up button for that person’s comment. If enough people like a comment, a colored box will highlight the comment permanently.

Sharing: Sharing items on Cartoon Brew is now easier and more efficient than ever before. We have greatly simplified the process for sharing posts via e-mail, Facebook, and Twitter. Simply click on the appropriate button below each post.

Events: The events links in the right-hand column now lead to a map of where each event is located as well as additional information about the event.

Also, we wanted to take this opportunity to give a shout-out to our site designer and new web host, Rob Kohr. None of these changes would have been possible without his expertise. If you need somebody to design a site for you or to host a site, we can’t recommend him highly enough. He has always been incredibly responsive to the specific needs of our site, and is a collaborative partner throughout the design process who offers plenty of good ideas along the way. There is never an unsolvable problem when he’s involved, only potential solutions. Not to mention that on top of being a web designer, Rob is also an emerging filmmaker. His most recent animated film The Lift is playing all over the festival circuit, including in a few weeks at Animation Block Party. What more could we ask for?

Pres Romanillos, R.I.P.

Pres RomanillosPres and Jeannine Romanillos. Photo by Tim Hodge

Veteran feature animator Pres Romanillos passed away yesterday at the age of 47 after a battle with leukemia. His wife Jeannine posted on his Facebook group:

We have lost our wonderful innocent boy yesterday. Pres passed away peacefully on Saturday at 6 pm. He was surrounded by his family and friends. It is the next day and we are still waiting to wake up from this bad dream that just cannot be real. He had such love for all of you and that will stay with you. Goodbye, best friend, husband, lover, companion, shipmate, soulmate. I will love you forever, Jeannine

He most recently animated Prince Naveen in The Princess and the Frog. He studied fine arts and illustration at the School of Visual Arts in New York before beginning his animation career at Disney on The Little Mermaid. He worked on a total of eight animated features at Disney, including supervising animator of the villain Shan-Yu in Mulan. He also animated on five DreamWorks features including The Road to El Dorado, Madagascar and Shrek 2. His drawings can be seen on this blog and this blog.

UPDATE: Obituary by Charles Solomon in the LA Times.

Remembrances
Remembrance by Stephanie Olivieri
Remembrance by Kevin Koch
Remembrance by Paul Briggs
Remembrance by Steve Hulett
Remembrance by Tim Hodge
Remembrance by Patrick Mate
Remembrance by Tom Sito

First Look at Genndy’s Sym-Bionic Titan

Sym-bionic Titan

Our tech guru warned us not to do any posts this weekend because we’re migrating servers, but I’m not a good listener so here’s a first look at Genndy Tartakovsky’s new Cartoon Network series Sym-Bionic Titan. If our site breaks or evaporates into thin air, blame Genndy. There’s lots of animation superstars working on this show including Stephen DeStefano, Kevin Dart, Scott Wills, and Joseph Holt, and the dozen or so preview images show that these guys are earning their salaries and then some. Graphics-wise, it appears to even outdazzle Tartakovsky’s earlier effort Samurai Jack; now to wait and see if the animation moves any better than that show. Comments are off on the Brew this weekend, but you can tell the crew directly how much you like their artwork through the link above.

Sym-bionic Titan

The Sunday Friday Funnies

Because we are changing servers over the weekend, Sunday comes early this week – as we post our weekly round-up of animation related newspaper comics a few days early – First up, a multi-part sequence from Heart Of The City (7/13-15) by Mark Tatulli:








Strange Brew (7/11) by John Deering; Argyle Sweater (7/14) by Scott Hilburn; The Quigmans (7/12) by Buddy Hickerson; Natural Selection (7/13) by Russ Wallace; and Reynolds Unwrapped (7/12) by Dan Reynolds.

(Thanks to Jim Lahue, Kurtis Findlay, Charles Brubaker and Ed Austin)

Peter Fernandez (1927-2010)

According to our friends at Toonzone, Peter Fernandez, best known to animation fans as the voice of Speed Racer, passed away this morning due to lung cancer at the age of 83.

Fernandez adapted scripts, voice directed and acted on Speed Racer and Marine Boy. Another significant credit for him was as the non-singing voice of Alakazam in Alakazam The Great (1961). He co-wrote the animated series Johnny Cypher In Dimension Zero for Joe Oriolo Productions, dubbed the animated French feature Light Years (aka Gandahar, 1988) and voice directed The Adventures of The Galaxy Rangers. He could also be heard in numerous live action Japanese monster movies – from Mothra and Godzilla vs. the Sea Monster to the Ultra Man series.

Most recently Fernandez had a cameo role in the live-action Speed Racer (2008) and was also the voice director for Cartoon Network’s series Courage the Cowardly Dog.

Deep Green

The images above and below are from a new environmental documentary currently making the rounds, Deep Green. The feature contains several animation sequences produced by Portland-based Bent Image Lab.

Interstitial sequences include Greenagraphics (pictured above), directed by Pascal Campion, using a stick figure line-art style for a Flash piece explaining the importance of energy conservation in the home; and Earth Faces, directed by Chel White and Brian Kinkley, a combination of 3D CGI, live action and still photography that provide different views of the Earth combined with images of human faces depicted in clouds, “implying that planet stewardship begins with each one of us.”

Bent also created the two animated shorts that accompany the film. Voiced by Tom Kenny (SpongeBob SquarePants), they take a comedic approach to explain the most serious manmade problems facing our planet’s forests and oceans: Trees directed by Randy Wakerlin, offers a humorous yet urgent warning about the effects of deforestation – told by two talking trees, “green-collar guys”, voiced by Kenny; and The Krill is Gone (pictured below), directed by Jeffery Bosts, is a mix of 3D CGI and 2D After Effects animation, featuring a comedic cast of marine life voiced by Kenny and his wife Jill Taley.

Disney Cels at Roy Rogers auction

My old friend Mark Trost went to the Roy Rogers auction at Christies today and took some snaps of interest to us at Cartoon Brew. For some reason, Roy was in possession of the original art for the sheet music to Walter Lantz’ Chilly Willy. Does anyone have any theories as to why he would have this? (click thumbnail at left and below to see a larger images). Roy, of course, appeared in Disney’s Melody Time (1948) and narrates the story of Pecos Bill. Below are photos of three cels up for auction from the Roger’s estate: an unusual one representing Pecos Bill, and two production cels signed by Walt to Roy’s agent, Art Rush: Willie The Operatic Whale from Fun and Fancy Free Make Mine Music (1946) – perhaps given to explain that Roy would appear in a musical package film? And a Three Caballeros cel – perhaps symbolic that Roy would appear in a live action animation segment?? Mark also reported that the auction included “a number of letters from Walt to Roy on personal stuff”. There’s also a Mickey Mouse piece. Don’t fret, there’s still time to bid… this material goes up for bid tomorrow (Thursday July 15th) and the estimated prices are relatively low. Let us know if you win something.

Are Video Games Art?

Bioshock

Within the animation community, most people I know are progressive thinkers who already acknowledge video games as art, but the next time somebody tries to claim that video games aren’t art, as Roger Ebert recently did, direct them to this article by Grant Tavinor. It is the most exceptionally well reasoned argument I’ve read in favor of video games being treated as art. Tavinor makes clear that not all video games are art, nor do they all try to be, but that “to establish that video games are art does not rely on establishing that all video games are art.” He also eloquently takes apart the criticism that video games cannot be art because they have rules and competition. Tavinor writes:

Sure, previous works have not involved competition or rules of the kind seen in video games, but with every new art form that evolves there are likely to be new typical features. With the rise of film for example, the art of the moving image came about, and as a result film has an artistic nature quite different to previous forms of art…We are faced here with the kind of debate that follows from any number of studies of the world. Our experience of the world is always incomplete, and when we experience something new-be it something newly discovered, or newly invented-it can happen that the concepts with which we categorise the world need to be modified to reflect the new discovery. Video games may be just such a case in prompting us to revise our understanding of what an artwork can be.

Ed Emberley & Friends

Children’s book author and illustrator Ed Emberley has used his books to teach a generation of children to draw using the simplest of ingredients: squiggles, triangles, dots, circles and the other shapes.

Some of the kids inspired by Emberley grew up to be professional artists themselves. Opening July 17th at Scion’s Installation L.A. Gallery, Ed Emberley & Friends will explore the influence that Emberley’s books have had on this new generation of artists. Curated by Caleb Neelon, the exhibition features Emberley originals as well as five artists who were inspired by him. The artists include Seonna Hong, Raul Gonzalez, Matt Leines, Christopher Kline and Saelee Oh.

Emberley will have the largest presence in the show, contributing work from his archives including dozens of pages from the 1970s original mockups of his books. He will have recent drawings of his classic characters for sale, as well as a limited-edition print made especially for the show. An opening reception takes place on July 17th, 7—10 p.m. at the Scion Installation Space, 3521 Helms Ave. (at National), Culver City, CA 90232. The reception is free with complimentary valet parking and an open bar. All the artists will be present. This exhibit will run until August 7th and more information is available at the Scion Space website. Here’s a little trailer created for the event:

Interview with John Canemaker about Two Guys Named Joe

Two Guys Named Joe

John Canemaker’s eagerly anticipated book, Two Guys Named Joe: Master Animation Storytellers Joe Grant & Joe Ranft, will arrive in stores in early August. The book focuses on the lives and careers of two master animation storytellers who passed away in 2005–Disney veteran Joe Grant and Pixar’s Joe Ranft (who also started his career at Disney). Grant was 97 years old; Ranft was 45–and that’s just the tip of the iceberg in terms of how these men were different. Their combined work has influenced animated features as diverse as Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, Fantasia, Dumbo, Beauty and the Beast, The Nightmare Before Christmas, Toy Story, and Cars.

As an award-winning author of books such as Winsor McCay – His Life and Art, Felix: The Twisted Tale of the World’s Most Famous Cat and Walt Disney’s Nine Old Men and the Art of Animation, we’ve come to expect nothing less than excellence from John Canemaker’s books and he delivers yet again with Two Guys Named Joe. I conducted an in-depth interview with John via e-mail a couple weeks ago about his new book. Enjoy!

Amid Amidi: Let’s start with basics–why should artists today care about the careers of these two guys named Joe?

John Canemaker: To add to their knowledge of what constitutes excellent benchmarks in animation storytelling, narrative and character development; to find inspiration in knowing the impact that a singular talent can have on an entire film; to discover a creative work ethic that they can (and should) adopt as their own.

Joe Ranft’s mantra was “Trust the Process” and Joe Grant had a sign on his office door reading, “Get to work.” Both artists held the same philosophy regarding the creative process: just do it! Sit down and start in and, if you stick with it, ideas will occur and even flow, visual/verbal connections will be made in concepts, story sketches and scripts. Be open to all ideas and criticisms, make changes, make more changes, and problems will eventually be solved. In their own ways, both Joes were extremely positive and practical in their disciplined approach toward getting beyond the artist’s eternal dilemma: confronting the blank page.

I also think readers of Two Guys Named Joe will find compelling the struggles and challenges each artist confronted, endured and overcame in his personal and professional life.

AA: How did you initially come up with the idea to connect these two artists together?

JC: I knew both Joes for a number of years and interviewed them often for various projects. I considered them friends and enjoyed visiting with them in their respective studios and homes. They were witty, intelligent, superbly gifted, fully alive individuals whose deaths in the same year (2005) deeply saddened me, as it did many around the world.

I got to thinking about how similar they were despite a half-century age gap: their positive can-do approach toward making art, their bottomless creativity, the classic films they worked on, everything from SNOW WHITE to TOY STORY; the difference they made in the art form of character animation; how they each mentored other artists, and more.

Through the art and lives of these two particular guys named Joe, I saw the possibility of an overview of the history of storytelling at Disney and Pixar through a very human story of two artists straddling the 20th and 21st centuries. I ruminated about all this at a lunch in 2007 with V.P./Editorial Director Wendy Lefkon of Disney Global Book Group and she green lit the project before dessert arrived.

Joe Grant
Joe Grant (l.) with Walt Disney (Image from Hans Bacher’s blog)

AA: I want to hear about the practical aspects of writing the book–how long did it take you to research and write it, how was your experience talking to friends and family (especially when dealing with the sensitive nature of Ranft’s tragic death), and what were the unforeseen challenges that you encountered even after having written nine other animation history books?

JC: The book went through five re-writes and shaping (slimming down) over a two year period. Research started during a whirlwind week in LA in July 2007. My partner Joe Kennedy hit the LA Public Library seeking examples of Joe Grant’s 1928-1933 caricatures from the defunct LA Record newspaper, as well as addresses and census records from the period that proved to be a treasure trove of information.

I researched at the Walt Disney Archives, the Disney Animation Research Library (ARL) and the Disney Photo Library. I have worked with these excellent archivists on several projects, so, with advance notice of what I sought in data and visuals, they were ready for me upon arrival and I gathered lots of material quickly. All data and pictures were copied and transferred to disks and sent to me in NYC. Much later in the process, after the text is finally set, I always work directly with a book’s art director to select and place the art and photos within chapters — in this case, the gifted designer Jon Glick.

During that week in LA, I also conducted interviews with Grant family members and his colleagues at the studio, such as Burny Mattinson, Mike Gabriel, Eric and Susan Goldberg, John Musker, Andreas Deja, among others, including Howard E. Green, V.P. of Studio Communications, to whom I dedicated the book.

I dubbed Howard “the patron saint of animation historians,” because for nearly forty years he has helped me and so many of us gain access to Disney artists, information and permissions for our books, articles and lectures. Howard also lavished personal attention on a number of elderly animation masters, such as Frank and Ollie, Ward, Marc and he was especially close to Joe Grant.

In mid-August 2007, I flew to Pixar Studios for a week perusing their archives in search of Joe Ranft visuals, and conducting interviews with his family — his wife Su, brother Jerome Ranft, and his childhood friend John Tschudin — and colleagues, including Brad Bird, Darla Anderson, Bob Peterson, Ed Catmull, Pete Docter, Andrew Stanton, Jonas Rivera, Lee Unkrich. Later, in New York, I did phone interviews with John Lasseter, Jorgen Klubien, Kelly Asbury, Mike Giaimo, Tom Wilhite, Darrell Van Citters, Dean DeBlois, Tony Anselmo, Brenda Chapman and Joe Ranft’s mother Ruth.

Most the interviews were emotional because the deaths of the two Joes were so recent. But all interviewees were forthcoming and generous in detailing their experiences with both men. As might be expected, there was always a bittersweet tinge to even humorous remembrances. My probing was a delicate task. Several Pixar interviewees choked up or came to tears when talking about Joe Ranft. The most unforgettable meeting I had was with Su Ranft, Joe’s widow. After going back and forth about a date to meet in her home, we finally settled on August 16, 2007, not realizing until we got together that it was two years to the day that Joe died.

I first met Su back in the late 1990s when I stayed with her and Joe and their two kids at their Corte Madera home while I was researching my book Paper Dreams. Su is a strong woman and despite the difficulty of reliving so many memories, she was completely honest and candid, and trusted me with incomparable insights into her and Joe’s life together.

The writing process consisted of sifting through the research, including transcripts of interviews conducted by and generously offered to me by fellow animation historians. The writing took about a year. Then came the re-writes and whittling down. Regarding the writing process itself, as someone ruefully said, “Writing is easy. All you do is open a vein.”

Storyboard drawing by Joe Ranft
Storyboard drawing by Joe Ranft

AA: In animated studio features, the impact of the individual artist isn’t always evident in the finished film but in Ranft’s case, his personal stamp appears throughout Pixar’s output. Has Pixar’s approach to storytelling and characterization changed noticeably since Ranft’s death, and do you think for better or worse? Also, what sort of an impact do you think his unexpected death had in general on the studio?

JC: Joe Ranft’s death obviously deprived the studio of the tactile effect of his presence. This is significant because his mentoring and influence at Pixar had grown into a very personal, one-on-one visiting-country-doctor approach toward every project in the pipeline. He would drop by offices and offer encouragement and advice to his colleagues, who welcomed his help and his just being there for them.

Andrew Stanton described Joe as “almost a guidance counselor” who did “rounds” of the various departments at Pixar. “As a friend and artist,” Stanton told me, “he just cared and wanted to know how you were. It was always a breath of fresh air to get that knock on the door from Joe.” “He’s the kind of guy who would set aside whatever he was doing to help,” Brad Bird said. I believe Joe Ranft’s influence is still pervasive at Pixar; after all he was a prime architect of the studio’s signature narrative style that has connected so well with audiences.

His mentoring of many who are now top Pixar story artists continues to affect the structure and content of the films. I also think the impact of his untimely and tragic death brought Pixar young artists in general to a sharp, indeed shocking, awareness of life’s dark and sad side, the fragility and briefness of our lives, the need to give everything our best shot. I see elements of that awareness of our shared humanity and mortality in WALL-E, UP and TOY STORY 3.

Joe Ranft
Joe Ranft (r.) with John Lasseter

AA: “Goofy” and “good-natured” are words more frequently used to describe Ranft than “dark” and “troubled,” but the book’s artwork and writing show that there were many sides to him. Looking through the notes in the back of the book, it appears that you had an extensive written correspondence with Ranft through the years, and I’m curious to know how much, if anything, you knew about this other side of him when you first started working on the book?

JC: I was not fully aware of the full range of either his zany humor nor his nightmarish imagination until I spoke with his family and colleagues and saw numerous examples of his personal and professional artworks.

His brother Jerome Ranft clued me in when I interviewed him. He said the laudatory tributes after Joe died were only “half the picture” because “he still hard that dark side he didn’t share with everybody.” Jerome also noted that Joe “did become a fantastic man, but [as a child] he was tough.” Family anecdotes confirmed his personal struggle to transform himself from a young hellion into the giving, caring individual and the creative man he became. “I’ve never seen anyone try to improve himself as much as Joe,” Henry Selick said. How and why he did it is recounted in detail in my book.

AA: In some ways your book can be read as a repudiation of contemporary Disney studio films. The clear parallel you draw between the strength of storytelling in classic Disney films and Pixar’s films leaves Disney feature animation as the odd man out. Was this a point you were consciously trying to make?

JC: It wasn’t a conscious point, but one that could be inferred from the book. The films of both studios speak for themselves. Storytelling strength is a virtue that all animated films should strive for, be they features or shorts, studio-made or independent productions. Perhaps my book will prove to be an inspirational roadmap of sorts toward reaching that goal.

AA: Moving on to Joe Grant, the anomaly about his career is that he is revered almost to the point of hero worship by the younger generation that worked with him at Disney in the Nineties, but remains a controversial (and often disliked) figure by those who worked with him at Disney in the Thirties and Forties. In the book, you talk about how even his close creative partner Dick Huemer refused to speak with him in later years. How do you reconcile these vastly different takes on the same individual?

JC: Basically, there were aspects of his personality that rubbed some people the wrong way and endeared him to others throughout his career. This is gone into in detail in the book. But to briefly answer your question: Joe Grant arrived at the Disney studio in the 1930s as a young man (age 25) full of ambition for both himself and the medium of animation, which he truly loved. He was confident — he had local fame as a caricaturist of note at the LA Weekly newspaper, where Walt Disney discovered him — and energetic, a force to be reckoned with. Walt trusted his taste and judgment and placed him in various influential positions as a designer, story artist, producer, supervisor of a department (Character Model) and writer.

Joe admitted in interviews that he could be arrogant and disdainful toward some co-workers (mostly animators), and over-protective of his crew of concept artists. In turn, there was jealousy on the part of some of his power at the studio, his forceful personality, and his influence on Walt Disney himself. It was a volatile mix.

After he left the studio in 1948 he gradually adopted a placid, Zen-like attitude toward life and his former associates, including Walt. He never uttered publicly an unkind word about any of them. In later years, with a couple of exceptions, former colleagues had a change of heart about him, including Frank Thomas and Ollie Johnston, who often dined with Joe in later years. And Bill Peet, another supposed “adversary” from the old days, who often phoned Grant to chat.

When Grant returned to Disney after four decades in 1989, the young people at the studio were amazed by the living history in their midst and by his vital creativity — a link to the legendary period they hoped to emulate. He was no longer “management,” but exclusively one of the working artists. However, although he had mellowed in many ways, Joe at age 81 hadn’t changed in terms of his competitive nature or his aggressive selling of his ideas and concepts, or his energy. His outspokenness and persistence made him new “enemies,” especially among the corporate reaches. Read the book for a more detailed dissection of all the above.

One of the things that I’ve always admired about Grant is how he gathered some of the most unique and individual artists at Disney in the late-Thirties and Forties and gave them an opportunity to experiment in a relatively pressure-free environment. Is such a set-up feasible and does it make sense for contemporary studios to replicate? The flip side of that question is how important do you think the character model department truly was at Disney? His unit ceased to exist in later years as the animators assumed more control over the Disney films, and yet the studio continued to turn out features that became classics. Was it an absolute necessity to the success of the studio or should Grant consider himself lucky to have carved out that particular niche within the studio?

Joe Grant great taste in graphic designers included J.P. Miller, Martin Provensen, Mary Blair, Albert Hurter, Kay Nielsen, Aurelius Battaglia, James Bodrero, Helen Nerbovig, Charles Cristadoro, John Walbridge, Campbell Grant, Bill Jones, Duke Russell, Bill Wallett, among others, all of whom he brought into the Character Model Department, which also functioned as a “think tank” affecting story/character research and development.

A separate department may not be economically feasible for many contemporary studios, but all films have viz dev artists who conceptualize and explore the look of a film at the start of a project. Grant’s department wasn’t absolutely necessary to the studio’s success, obviously, but it is an example of how Walt lavished attention on aspects of storytelling during the studio’s great Golden Age, as he did all other areas of the production processes. I do think the style and production value of films such as PINOCCHIO, FANTASIA and DUMBO were enormously enhanced by the diversity of unique artists working under Joe Grant in his Character Model Department,

Interestingly, Provensen told Michael Barrier that Joe Grant “was a remarkable man, and Disney never knew how to use him very well because he wasn’t in the mainstream of the Disney cartoon point f view. He was more European, more . . . interested in the peripheral aspects of drawing . . . and I think he might have done the studio a lot of good if he had had the opportunity to pursue that.”

Joe Grant
Drawing by Joe Grant (Image from Hans Bacher’s blog)

AA: Though Grant never directly addressed the issue, do you personally believe he wanted to leave Disney on his own accord in the late-1940s or was he forced out of the studio?

JC: I go into detail in Chapter 11 (“Good-bye to Pixieland”) enumerating and speculating about all the reasons why he either left of his own accord or was asked to leave. I feel that Grant could have survived all the studio jealousies, petty backbiting, squabbles, and rumors if he and Walt were on the same page regarding the Disney studio’s future. But they were not.

Walt’s interest in diversifying his product into live-action and eventually television and theme parks was “anathema” to Grant. Joe told me in 1994 he considered animation “the greatest medium in the world.” Indeed, he joined Disney’s in 1933 because he’d fallen in love with the medium itself and its enormous potential at that particular studio.

When Walt made it clear that animation was no longer the focal point of his interests, Grant, the pragmatic survivalist, realized it was time to go. We’ll never know for certain because neither he nor Disney ever went on record about it, but I personally believe he chose to leave.

AA: My favorite part of the book was reading about Joe Grant’s second act at Disney in the 1990s and 2000s and the influence he had on the studio’s output, which was more significant than I’d imagined. In a studio as political and business-oriented as modern Disney, how do you think Grant was able to have such a long stint without any seeming job title or official role at the studio?

JC: Joe Grant delivered. His ideas were of proven value and he was a never-ending source of ideas for gags, situations, personality touches, bits and business — an instinct for enriching the entertainment value of the films. He was also revered and protected by top echelon execs, such as Roy E. Disney and Tom Schumacher, who brought him back to the studio.

It wasn’t easy for him because there were some (directors, producers, marketing types) who didn’t “get” Joe Grant or like his style — his persistence was once compared to that of “running water” which wears stones down. But a greater number of his young creative colleagues “got” him and loved his collaborative, open creativity, his young thinking, and his vast store of knowledge and experience.

AA: Which part of researching Two Guys Named Joe was the most personally interesting to you? Were there any facts or stories that you would have liked to include, but couldn’t fit into the book?

JC: Getting to know the personal side of each Joe and conveying it to readers was most fulfilling to me as a writer. In the people of animation that I write about, I try to find their varied human dimensions, and sincerely try tell their stories with compassion, fairness and truth. This project was fascinating and difficult, but one of the most satisfying I’ve ever had.

I believe I managed to fit in all the major facts and stories I wanted to. In this book, as in my “Nine Old Men” book, I insert a goodly amount of information about the creative process of each Joe. See Joe Grant on “essential questions for filmmakers” on p. 181, and his discussion about the art of caricature in Chapter Four (“Art Director of Myself,” pp. 119-121). See Joe Ranft’s legal pad doodles for NIGHTMARE on pp. 58&59; or his succinct rules for storyboarding (on p. 50), and his blueprint for teaching storyboarding (pp. 83-85).

AA: Has your take on the two Joes changed since you began writing the book?

JC: I do feel I know them better since starting the project and that knowledge has only confirmed the admiration I held for them originally. Personally, I miss them both greatly. So it was a privilege and a joy through this book to really get to know them. I hope readers of Two Guys Named Joe will feel the same way.

Our sincere thanks to John Canemaker for taking time out of his busy schedule to speak with Cartoon Brew about his latest book.

Pre-order Two Guys Named Joe on Amazon for $26.40.

Can We Call Them FARToon Network Now?

Some people just never learn:

Subject: Cartoon Network Fart Blaster
“Erica Schrag” [email protected]

Hey Amid,

I work with Cartoon Network and we just created a ‘Fart Blaster’ app to promote the new season of, Total Drama World Tour. You can check it out on Cartoon Network’s official Facebook: [link deleted] Who would be the correct editor cartoonbrew.com to speak with about news/reviews?

The Animation Show of Shows (Vols. 19-24)

Back in 2007, we reported on Acme Filmworks’ incredible 3-boxed set of 18-discs collecting 54 award winning animated shorts, The Animation Show of Shows. Today, I’m happy to report Acme has released a second set of three boxes (containing 18 more discs, an additional 54 shorts). And here is an unabashed plug:

The animated shorts collected here are celebrated works of independent artists, every film carefully curated and lovingly presented – and in the case of several older films, beautifully restored. Each box set contains six DVDs, each disc containing three shorts, held in its own slip case illustrated with still art from the film and a bio of each director. Watching the first box (Set #4, Vols. 19-24) I was struck by the the variety of styles included here. From the hand-drawn antics of Bill Plympton (Guard Dog and Santa: The Facist Years), to collage cut-out stop motion (an incredible restoration of Frank Mouris’ Oscar winning Frank Film) and the latest CG wonders (Jeremy Clapin’s Skhizein, Gobelins’ Oktapodi), there’s style and technique to spare. Unless you’ve attended the competitions at Ottawa or Annecy for the last ten or fifteen years you probably haven’t seen all of these before, but I’ll tell ya, there isn’t a bad film in the bunch.

To say this is an important compilation is an understatement. These are vital for any serious animation library and required viewing for students and all who want to see some of the best shorts ever made. To heck with downloads, owning them on DVD is the way to go. As you can tell, I cannot praise Acme’s Animation Show of Shows DVDs highly enough. For complete contents and ordering information, visit filmporium.com. The dvds are very reasonably priced — 3 films on each DVD for $5 (that’s cheaper than itunes). Each DVD will be offered individually (soon) and right now in the 6-DVD Box Sets for $30 each.

Toy Story 3 Breaks Record, Stellar Debut for Despicable Me

Today, Toy Story 3 surpassed Finding Nemo as the top grossing domestic Pixar feature. However, as Box Office Mojo points out, “it will still rank in the bottom half in terms of estimated attendance.” In other words, an evening at the movies in the United States increasingly turns into an elitist activity for middle and upper-class audiences who can afford to pay inflated prices.

The big surprise at the box office was the stellar debut of Despicable Me which opened with an estimated $60.1 million. Even the most generous estimates pegged this in the $30-40 million range. Score one for producer-driven Katzenberg-style filmmaking. Looks like this won’t be the last we hear from Chris Meledandri and Illumination.