Looney Tunes on PBS History Detectives

Below I’ve embed the entire one-hour episode of History Detectives which aired last night on PBS. The first 18 minutes is devoted to tracking down the story behind a cache of rare cartoon cels, which turn out to be from the long-forgotten first Buddy cartoon, a Looney Tunes cartoon from 1933. During the course of the investigation, host Tukufu Zuberi interviews animation art expert Mike Van Eaton, Woodbury University’s Dori Littell Herrick, ink & paint veteran Martha Sigall and yours truly, Jerry Beck. For your further viewing pleasure, the PBS website has also post the first Looney Tunes cartoon, starring Bosko, Sinkin’ In The Bathtub (1930).

Watch the full episode. See more History Detectives.

Flapjack ends tonight


The Marvelous Misadventures of Flapjack ends its series run tonight on Cartoon Network after forty-six episodes. Chowder, which also ended its run earlier this year, lasted forty-nine episodes. The last eleven-minute episode of Flapjack titled “Fish Out of Water” will have live-action portions, and features an appearance by creator Thurop van Orman, and his son, Leif (pictured above), who portrays Flapjack.

(Thanks, Compn)

Is Aniboom Virtual Studio a legit studio?


Animation video sharing website Aniboom has announced they’re launching a “virtual animation studio.” They’re unclear about how their business model works, but as I understand it, Aniboom intends to create productions for corporate clients by cherry-picking crew members from the large pool of animators who have uploaded videos to their site. On one of their pages, they advertise to potential clients that the 9,500 artists who have uploaded videos are ready to create animation of high-quality in a fast and cost efficient manner.

How can they do high-quality, fast AND cheap? A clue can be found in this section where they describe how animators who participate in their virtual productions will be compensated with “a variety of potential monetary benefits that include revenue share, employment offers and payment for series development with Aniboom.” Note that their ideas of compensation do not include any of those pesky line items that other studios have to contend with like salaries, health insurance, vacation time, retirement benefits, maternity leave, and learning and development opportunities.

Aniboom has been indoctrinating young artists for years through a savvy and systematic use of contests that encourages users to create work for corporations on spec and without any expectation of pay. We’ve warned readers about these contests on mutiple occasions. Now they appear to be pushing the exploitation of young artists to an entirely new (and more profitable) level, and for a company with millions of dollars in venture capital backing, that’s exactly what we’ve always expected them to do.

UPDATE: Aniboom’s rep has told us that everybody who works for them will be paid and they have updated their website, which now says, “We offer creators around the world the attractive opportunity to work from home, on their own schedule and get paid directly via PayPal or Payoneer.”

How much do they pay? Not much according to a couple readers in our comments. The most detailed comment is from Mike who quoted this response from Aniboom:

“Thank you for your response to our call for illustrators. We are gearing up to start production of the second season of a popular animated series for television. It’s a comedy-action show for children based on five heroes who travel to strange fantasy worlds, and fight innumerable foes to try and save their kingdom. We’re looking for character illustrators and background illustrators.

The major production will begin in September, but we’re starting in about 2 weeks to produce the assets and several sequences. Are you interested, and would you be available to work with us starting in around 2 weeks time?

We’re paying:

· $90 an average per sequence.

· $250 for a full character package with all positions and facial lipsync

· $100 for a character with only basic positions.

· $100 for background art

(Thanks, Chris Sokalofsky)

The Solo Adventures

If you like Star Wars, you’ll get a kick out of this. The Solo Adventures was shown a few weeks ago at the Star Wars Celebration V in Orlando, Florida (I was there!), where it was an audience favorite and won a Best Animation prize. This 3D student film, written and directed by Daniel L. Smith and Jeffery Sheetz, was a class project by students at the DAVE School of Digital Arts and Visual Effects in Orlando.

(Thanks, Mike Stanfill)

Scantily Clad CGI Horuses in a Conga Line


As best as I can make out, the animation combines a popular Japanese meme surrounding gay porn star Billy Herrington with a newer animation-loop meme called Fukkireta in which “anime characters dance with their hands on their hips and shaking side to side with cute background music,” like this:

A lot of the Fukkireta appear to be cycles edited from existing anime productions, but it’s all inspired by this piece of animation that first appeared online last May:

Disney’s Annie Awards Withdrawal

Last Wednesday we posted a link from Variety in our Industry Headlines column (at right), Disney Withdraws from Annie Awards, which clearly deserves further discussion on Cartoon Brew. The Variety piece, as far as I know, is essentially fair and accurate. But some of the secondary reporting on this, on such blogs as the Animation Guild and Michael Sporn to name two, are unintentionally spreading misinformation. So I thought we owed it to our readers to set a few things straight.

First, Disney’s withdrawal does not mean Disney films will not be considered or nominated, and does not mean the studio has no chance to win future Annie Awards. They certainly will.

Disney’s decision only affects the Annie Awards in two ways: Disney will not provide their traditional portion of co-sponsorship money (a role that dates back at least twenty years), funds that help mount the annual event at UCLA’s Royce Hall. And secondly, the company currently says they will not submit nominees from their feature animation studios.

Disney and Pixar artists (and all animators, anywhere) should be aware that they can submit their own work for Annie nomination without studio assistance. Also, Annie nominating committees have the power to nominate work which was not submitted. Nominations are decided by peer-group committees, not studio execs, and winners are voted on by Asifa’s professional membership. So again, I predict Disney and Pixar to be well represented come award time.

ASIFA was established by animation artists such as Norman McLaren, John Hubley, and John Halas in 1957. ASIFA’s Hollywood chapter, a non-profit organization, was started a few years later by Bill Scott, Stephen Bosustow, Ward Kimball, William T. Hurtz, Carl Bell, Les Goldman, June Foray, and Bill Littlejohn. The Annie Awards have always been presented by artists, for artists.

Long before the Oscars and Golden Globes thought animated features worthy of their awards, the Annies recognized features, TV shows, direct-to-video movies and commercials, as well the animators, story artists, background painters, voice actors and other behind the scenes talent.

It’s a wonderful thing when those who run the corporations that profit most from the artform support and celebrate the people who actually create the work. From what I know, the Annies will go on this year with strong support from Nickelodeon, Sony, Dreamworks, Warner Bros., Cartoon Network, Fox, Universal and Starz.

Disney management, in an email sent to Disney/Pixar employees last week, encouraged its employees “to maintain their memberships and support for the Annies as they deem appropriate”. Somehow, someday, I suspect Disney will return to supporting the Annies – at a time they deem appropriate.

Saturday Book Review

Here’s a roundup of few new books that several publishers and authors were kind enough to send my way:

ANIMATED PERFORMANCE (Ava Publishing) by Nancy Beiman is an instant classic. There have been many many “how-to” books written by current and past animation masters in recent years, many of them quite good (Richard Williams and Eric Goldberg’s books come to mind first). Beiman’s new book concentrates solely on character animation and she knocks it out of the park. It is a thorough, step by step examination of the art, aimed at the advanced student or professional animator who already knows the basics. The principles she discusses can apply to any technique (CG, Flash, stop motion, etc.) and she has packed the book with ample examples of her own animation, as well as classic comic strips, commercial art and movie stills to illustrate her points. She’s also peppered the book with inspiring quotes (such as this neat one from Kaj Pindal: “Animation begins where live action gives up.”). What’s most important is the book is a joy to read – even a non-animator such as myself can get a lot out of it. It’s 232 oversized pages, loaded with solid information based on a lifetime of professional experience. I highly recommend this book to anyone doing, or attempting to do, character animation on any level.

THE ADVANCED ART OF ANIMATION (Course Technology) by Ken A. Priebe is a sequel to Preibe’s 2006 book, The Art of Stop Motion Animation. This time Preibe takes a closer look at some the techniques touched upon in his earlier volume, as well as covering advances in the techniques during the last five years. The book contains a more thorough history of the stop-mo technique, extensive interviews with visual effects supervisor Pete Kozachik, clay animator Marc Spess, Screen Novelties’ Mark Caballero & Seamus Walsh, as well as expanded chapters on building puppets, character animation and visual effects. There are several books out there on stop motion, off hand I’d say Priebe’s new book is possibly the best.

SID THE SQUID (Immedium) by David Derrick is part of the trend of animators writing and illustrating children’s books. Derrick is a story artist at Dreamworks, and this charming book reads like a classic animated feature that never was. Sid leaves the ocean, and with the help of a little girl, he searches the city in hopes of finding the right job for his particular talents. Fun, and with an inspiring message. Perfect for kids of all ages.

Last but not least, CHRISTMAS WISHES (Stackpole Books) by Tim Hollis (co-author of Mouse Tracks, The Story of Walt Disney Records) is one to pick up for purely inspirational purposes. It’s Tim’s nostalgic recollections of Christmas past, lavishly illustrated with images of vintage toys, comic books, records, TV specials, sheet music, toy catalogs and advertisements from the 1950s, 60s and 70s. Cool stuff, nicely compiled, and fun to browse.

Shelter Stories

Speaking of animator Paul Fierlinger (as we did yesterday), The Animal Shelter Project and the Humane Society have brought Fierlinger together with cartoonist Patrick McDonnell (Mutts) to create six public service spots based on the book Mutts Shelter Stories.

According to producer Peter Barg, “McDonnell felt Paul’s ability to capture true-to-nature body language was the perfect complement to his famous Mutts characters”. Fierlinger’s feature My Dog Tulip, opens in NYC at Film Forum on September 1st and in LA at the Nuart on October 22nd. You can watch all six spots online at Z Animation.

Kihachiro Kawamoto, RIP

It’s not a good week to be a Japanese animation legend. Stop motion animator and puppeteer Kihachiro Kawamoto, passed away last Monday at age 85. The cause of death was pneumonia.

From Wikipedia:

Born in 1925, from an early age Kihachiro Kawamoto was captivated by the art of doll and puppet making. After seeing the works of maestro Czech animator Jiri Trnka, he first became interested in stop motion puppet animation and during the 50s began working alongside Japan’s first stop motion animator, the legendary Tadahito Mochinaga.

In 1958, he co-founded Shiba Productions to make commercial animation for television, but it was not until 1963, when he traveled to Prague to study puppet animation under Jiri Trnka for a year, that his puppets truly began to take on a life of their own. Trnka encouraged Kawamoto to draw on his own country’s rich cultural heritage in his work, and so Kawamoto returned from Czechoslovakia to make a series of highly individual, independently-produced artistic short works, beginning with Breaking of Branches is Forbidden (Hana-Ori) in 1968.

Heavily influenced by the traditional aesthetics of Noh, Bunraku doll theatre and Kabuki, since the 70s his haunting puppet animations such as The Demon (Oni, 1972), Dojoji Temple (Dojoji, 1976) and House of Flame (Kataku, 1979) have won numerous prizes internationally. He has also produced cut out (kirigami) animations such as The Trip (Tabi, 1973) and A Poet’s Life (Shijin no Shogai, 1974). In 1990 he returned to Trnka’s studios in Prague to make Briar Rose, or The Sleeping Beauty.

In Japan, he is best known for designing the puppets used in the long-running TV series based on the Chinese literary classic Romance of the Three Kingdoms (Sangokushi, 1982-84), and later for The Story of Heike (Heike Monogatari, 1993-94). In 2003, he was responsible for overseeing the Winter Days (Fuyu no Hi) project, in which 35 of the world’s top animators each worked on a two-minute segment inspired by the renka couplets of celebrated haiku poet Matsuo Basho.

This is a link to a news story in Japanese about his death. Here’s an interview with Kawamoto that offers more details about his career. Also, be sure to check out the fantastic imagery in his short film The Trip.

(Thanks, Chris Robinson)

Disney Remixes Old Cartoons into Blam!

Brew reader Topher writes, “I saw these on the Disney channel. They are called BLAM! and they are horrendous. Disney cartoons with America’s Funniest Home Videos style commentary and horrible music running over every second of footage. Why they don’t just show the cartoons I have no idea.”

Personally, I have no problem with remixing footage that might be too slow-paced for today’s media-saturated kiddies. The idea for Blam! is nothing new. Ward Kimball did the same thing in the 1970s with his TV series The Mouse Factory (watch an episode of the series with Don Knotts). The difference was that Ward edited and packaged the cartoons in a witty and fun way that enhanced an audience’s appreciation for the source material and made the viewer want to seek out the original shorts. These Blam! episodes, which are probably named so because the viewer wants to blam their head off after watching them, destroy the spirit of the Disney cartoons and over-explain every joke to the point where it becomes unfunny. I’ve included three in this post so you can judge for yourself.

UPDATE: Pixar’s Up has been “blammed”!

“My Dog Tulip” opening in New York

My Dog Tulip

Paul Fierlinger’s animated feature My Dog Tulip opens an exclusive two-week run on September 1st at the Film Forum in New York. It opens later elsewhere in the US (complete list of cities here). Fierlinger is an exceptional and exceptionally devoted animation filmmaker (he made the artwork for his film with only one other person–his wife, Sandra), and I can’t wait to finally see the results. As this article from the Boston Globe makes clear, the film isn’t conventional animated fare; the book on which its based, by J.R. Ackerley, has been called the “[most] preeminently disgusting of all great dog books” and derided as “meaningless filth about dogs.”

This is a revealing quote from Fierlinger from an interview in The Bark magazine, which says a lot about where he’s coming from:

From a very young age, I disliked Disney and loved The Little Prince because the fox explains to the boy [in The Little Prince] what he must do to tame him, the fox. If the fox would know this, wasn’t he already tame? But instinctively–I was seven or eight at the time–I undersatnd that it shows Antoine de Saint-Exupéry’s understanding of nature. He wasn’t violating any rules, whereas Disney violated all the rules of nature. That’s what I want our film to be: the opposite of 101 Dalmatians. So that people would not want to buy a dog after they saw Tulip, like too many people do who watch Disney movies.

History Detectives

A few weeks ago I recieved a call from the fine folks at the PBS show History Detectives. Seems they had someone who found a cache of animation cels, but couldn’t figure out who the characters were, and wondered if these cels had any historical significance. I met up with history detective Tukufu Zuberi and took a look at what they found: rare cels from the first Buddy cartoon, Buddy’s Day Out (1933). Pretty cool – and pretty rare. If you haven’t heard of Buddy, you are not alone. He’s probably the least known, and least respected, Looney Tunes star.

Next week, August 30th, the show will air on PBS stations across the U.S. (check your local listings for time and channel). Schlesinger ink-and-paint veteran Martha Sigall also appears in the segment. I hope you’ll tune in to watch the mystery unfold. Heck, this’ll mark Buddy’s first appearance on a broadcast television in over 40 years – that alone should warrant your recording this event. Click thumbnails below to see a few of the cels they uncovered. Click here to see a promo for the next episode – don’t blink or you’ll miss the back of my head!

CBTV Student Fest 5: Pdingpdoong

Pdingpdoong from the National Institute of Design is one of only two films in the CBTV Student Festival that has more than one director. It actually has four of them: Krishna Chandran A. Nair, Manasi Parikh, Nupur Mukherjee, and Chewang Lepcha. We really enjoyed the film’s sweet-natured celebration of diversity along with the ability of the filmmakers to create expressive and cartoony expressions and movement through stop motion. The distinctive soundtrack is also a highlight and adds greatly to the finished film.

Here is a group statement from the filmmakers about their work:

Back in 2008 in our second year, we were all waiting for December when Vaibhav Kumaresh, one of India’s most fun animators, would come to conduct a stop motion workshop at our school, the National Institute of Design. This would be our first ever film and we all couldn’t wait to get started! Pdingpdoong is what spurned out of bouts of madness for about four months.

As we flipped through sketchbooks for ideas, an illustration of conjoined twins excited all of us at once. Research led us to twins Abigail and Brittany, who shared a body and had such fantastic co-ordination and rhythm that if we could hear it, it would surely sound musical. Inspired, we decided to create a musical that would celebrate the lives of all such twins in the world.

After storyboards, character sketches, animatic, colour keys, set building, model making and lighting, we were all set to start shooting (which commenced with the traditional Indian ritual for good luck, breaking open a coconut by slamming in on the floor!).

Our film involved eleven sets in all and we had to spend an unanticipated amount of time lighting each set to suit the day’s transition. We also had a tough time making the kids walk as they had two large heads and one set of tiny legs. The most fun was working with expressions; the twins had to get as naughty as they could! Each expression was sculpted in every frame as opposed to replacing them which gave us a lot of freedom in getting just the right one. We didn’t work with a dope sheet, and ended up working with our instincts instead! It felt nice when some audiences said they liked the spontaneity in the film; we’re glad it came through.

The next part was composing the music, which ended up being the toughest bit. We’d animated on an approximate tempo of 120 beats per second, but what were we thinking when we thought we’d manage to compose the entire music track ourselves? Frustrated, we eventually had to turn to a music composer. Usually music and animation is worked on simultaneously, but since the animation was already done we had to go through a lot of edits before the film was musically correct. The music had to be created by the things the twins did, which is why we were looking for raw sounds and not instruments. Clanging utensils, soda bottle pops, salt and pepper shakers…all made it to the final track.

In retrospect, Pdingpdoong was a very innocently made film; we don’t remember caring about anything much except having fun. Surprisingly it made it to quite a few festivals and it was a lot of watching audiences from different countries react to the film. It was heartening to see people laugh wherever it was screened. Humour really is a universal language. Presently all of us are in our fourth and final year and are working on our individual animated shorts.

There is also an informative making-of article about the film on CGTantra.com.

Illusionist Producer Threatens Animator who Worked on Film


Bob Last, producer of Sylvain Chomet’s The Illusionist, sent a threatening email to one of the animators who worked on the movie because that animator had the temerity to promote the film on his blog. Animator Victor Ens posted a few pencil tests of HIS own work which prompted this ridiculous over-the-top letter from the producer:

Dear Victor

You have posted a number of linetests from The Illusionist on your blog and other web sites. These posts all infringe Django Films Illusionist
Ltd’s copyright and must be removed immediately. Please confirm that you have done so.

Please also note that to have these digital materials in your possession breaks the legal undertakings you gave Django Film Illusionist Ltd under the terms of your employment. You had no right whatsoever to remove these linetests from Django Films Illusionist Ltd’s studio and you should destroy them.

I look forward to your swift compliance with our requests above and meantime Django Films Illusionist Ltd reserves its right of further action against you to protect its copyright and enforce the contractual undertakings you have made.

Yours sincerely

Bob Last

It angers me to see a studio reprimanding an artist who was trying to promote a low-budget animation production with a limited marketing budget. It’s the type of corporate behavior that leaves a bad taste in the mouth and makes me NOT want to see The Illusionist. If anything, Victor should be commended for being so enthusiastic and doing what the studio itself should be doing in the first place, which is sharing pencil tests and other artwork on-line to promote their film.

UPDATE: Director and producer Patrick Smith wrote a brilliant comment below where he suggests how the producer could have handled the situation with a respectful tone that showed appreciation for the artist’s contribution to the film. With Pat’s permission, I’m reprinting his alternate letter as a service to anybody who wants to see a more productive way of communicating with artists:

Hi Victor, while we appreciate your enthusiasm for the film, and posting the clips, could you please please please take them down for the time being?? you see we’re trying to implement our promotional strategy, and don’t want anything out there at this time. in a few months, let’s talk! Thanks for your great work on the film btw! and I hope you are well. if you could confirm that you have taken the clips down that would be great.. mmm-kay? Cheers- Bob

(Thanks, Florian Satzinger)

IPhone Game Angry Bird goes to Hollywood

For what certainly won’t be the last time, a successful iPhone game is attempting to make the leap into animated features and series. We’ve reported before about artists who have developed animation show pitches into iPhone games, but in this instance, the creators of the iPhone game Angry Birds already have a hit on their hands. Variety reports that they’re currently shopping the property for movies and TV shows.

The article doesn’t actually say that anybody in Hollywood is interested–just that they’re pitching the idea around–but they already have a toy deal in place. The game has sold over $7 million worth of downloads through the Apple store and the “cinematic trailer” above has topped 5.5 milllion views on YouTube. Mikael Hed, the CEO of Rovio Mobile, the Finnish company behind the game, isn’t being modest and thinks he just might be the next Pixar: “Time and time again, they take an unknown brand and make it big,” he said. Good luck with that.

“Yannick Nézet-Séguin: No Intermission” by Theo Ushev

Yannick Nézet-Séguin: No Intermission by Theodore Ushev (Lipsett Diaries, Drux Flux) combines documentary with abstract animation to illustrate the work of up-and-coming conductor Yannick Nézet-Séguin. Ushev writes that, “It was my first experiment with the computer programming language Processing. Basicaly all of the animation was done using it — crossing the data, and randomizing the data from the sound information and the movements of the hands of Seguin.”

The Big Girl by He Weifeng

A film that answers the eternal question: “Will you still love me the same as before if I was a fatty?”

This Chinese student-made short, a blend of chalk-drawing animation, 2D and stop-motion is beautifully made, and a heck of a lot of fun. The interactions of the 2D characters with the “real world” props is very good. He Weifeng is a soon-to-be graduate of Guangzhou’s Academy of Art.

(Thanks, Russ Handelman)

Satoshi Kon (1963-2010)

Satoshi Kon passed away in Tokyo on Tuesday. He was 46–and in the middle of directing a new film, The Dream Machine. Kon was one of a handful of internationally respected directors of anime films. He started his career as a manga artist and editor for Young Magazine, and then became art designer and key animator on Katsuhiro Otomo and Hiroyuki Kitakubo’s Roujin Z (1991). He then wrote the “Magnetic Rose” sequence in the animated anthology film, Memories (1995). Kon made his directorial debut with Perfect Blue in 1998, followed by Millennium Actress (2001), Tokyo Godfathers (2003), Paprika (2006). His 2004 TV series Paranoia Agent played in the US on Adult Swim. All of his works as a director have been made by Studio Madhouse, where he was a staff director along with Rintaro and Yoshiaki Kawajiri.

(Thanks, Charles Solomon)

Nike World Basketball Festival promo by Buck

Nike World Basketball Festival

Buck created this commercial for Nike’s World Basketball Festival. I’m not fond of the basketball players-wearing-corsets design style, but I like the way the forms break up into abstract shapes during scene transitions. The arbitrary wiggles also seem to owe a lot to a much older animated campaign by Nike. The main reason I’m posting this though is because I’ve been seeing posters for the campaign around New York and shaking my head at how epically unappealing the illustrations are; surprisingly, with the animated abstraction, those same designs look good in motion.

Creative Director: Ryan Honey
Associate Creative Director: Jeremy Sahlman
Art Director: Joe Mullen
Character Design: Saiman Chow
Design: Joe Mullen
Modeling: Rie Ito, Ivan Sokol, Jens Lindgren, Ana Luisa Santos, Claudio Salas, Jaime Klein
Texturing: Ana Luisa Santos, Jaime Klein, Jorge Canedo, Ivan Sokol
Rigging: Joel Anderson, Jens Lindgren, Matt Everton
Animation 3D: Matt Everton, Steve Day, Alessandro Ceglia, Claudio Salas
Cel Animation: Alessandro Ceglia, Regis Camargo, Will White, Kendra Ryan, Stephanie Simpson, Jenny Ko, Claudio Salas, Jorge Canedo
Lighting: Jens Lindgren, Ana Luisa Santos
Compositing: Moses Journey, Claudio Salas, Jens Lindgren
Software Used: Maya, Flash, After Effects
Music and Sound Design: John Black / CypherAudio