Taiwan’s Next Media Animation

I’ve never written a post fully expressing my appreciation for the Taiwanese animators at Next Media Animation who create news segments like the one above, but I’ve been fixated by their work since they made a splash last year with their reportage of Tiger Woods. Using the most basic CG models and animation style, they’ve developed a take no prisoners series of animated political cartoons with a sharp outsider’s point of view on American and global politics. Not every one of them is a homerun, but that is to be expected considering that they often produce two minutes of animation on a three-day turnaround to keep aligned with news cycles.

Looking beyond the simplistic, crudely rendered imagery (I like to call it honest CGI), there is plenty of creativity evident in their work. They pepper their films with visual metaphors and symbolism to make them understandable in any language, and they take storytelling liberties that are possible only in a graphic medium like animation. The work that NMA produces has been improving throughout this year, and they get my praise for being among the funniest and most creative computer animated projects currently in production.

UPDATE:: Brew reader Johnnn points out this article in the latest issue of Wired about Next Media Animation. Haven’t read it yet, but it appears to be quite in-depth.

SEPT 23: John Dilworth in NY

John Dilworth

John Dilworth (Courage the Cowardly Dog, The Dirdy Birdy) presents his work in Manhattan next week at the 92Y Tribeca (200 Hudson Street). The screening is on Thursday, September 23, at 8pm and tickets are $12 (purchase at the 92Y Tribeca website or at the door).

Dilworth events in the past have been anything-goes affairs with live music and special guests, and this one appears to be no different. The flyer for the event even promises a prize for a free head massage from the infamous French pornographic animator Pierre Delarue, whose only film to date has been The Return of Sergeant Pecker.

Fruit Snacks by Buck

CG has been imitating stop-motion for years, but this spot from Buck, the bicoastal (NY & LA) design and animation studio, had me fooled. It perfectly captures the fun of clay-animation.

Directed By: Buck
Creative Director: Orion Tait
Producer: Kitty Dillard
Character Design: Stephen Kelleher, Kent Mudle, Thomas Schmid
Environment Design: Thomas Schmid, Daniel Oeffinger, Jacques Khouri
CG Supervisor: Ryan O’Phelan
Lead Character Animator: Jordan Blit
Additional Animation: Kent Mudle, Ryan O’Phelan, Pete Hamilton
3D Modeling / Layout Artists: Dave Soto, Pete Hamilton, Ryan O’Phelan
Rigging: Vadim Kiyaev, Ryan O’Phelan, Jordan Blit
Lighting / Shading Artists: Michael Lampe, Ryan O’Phelan
Texture Artist: Dave Soto

Who was Herbert Iwerks?

Ub Iwerks

The abundance of information on-line has a curious way of creating more mysteries than solving them. For example, everybody knows who Ub Iwerks is (ok, at least everybody who reads this site…hopefully), but who was Herbert Iwerks?

Harry McCracken found this 1932 patent application on Google Patents in which Ub identifies himself as Herbert “Ub” Iwerks. It’s a name that he’s not known for using which begs the question, why was he submitting a patent application under an alias? Animation historian David Gerstein made a guess on Harry’s blog, “His full name was–I always thought–Ubbe Eert Iwerks. But ‘Ubbe Eert’ seems to Anglicize to ‘Hubert,’ not ‘Herbert.’ Very peculiar… the signature certainly looks like his lettering style (and matches that seen on some early Disney title cards).”

Anybody else have any theories? And as a sidenote, if you find any more vintage patents by animation artists, please share them in the comments.

iPad Light Animation by BERG

Interface designers BERG used iPads to create an ingenious experiment that combines the device with photography and animation. After building CG models of a typeface, they rendered a sequence of cross sections of the letters–think David Daniels’ strata-cut animation technique adapted to CG. Now, the strata-cut technique wouldn’t typically work in CGI because the calculated precision of the computer disallows spontaneity, but BERG solved that by playing back the sequences on the iPad while dragging it through space to extrude the animation into physical space. Each frame of the film, which is subject to the effects of natural human movement, is a long photographic exposure of three to six seconds. There’s more information about its making on BERG’s blog and behind-the-scenes photos are posted on Flickr.

More than anything, this experiment by BERG is a fine example of environmental animation that breaks the confines of animation’s traditionally flat and square image frame. It points to a day that is not too far off when animation will play a vital role in the real world. Imagine being in an office lobby, and depending on where you’re standing in the lobby, you’d see a different kind of animation superimposed over the physical space to guide you around. Animation need not be restricted to a passive filmic experience, and interacting with animation in our everday lives is within reach as BERG has so cleverly hinted at in this piece.

(Thanks, Dave Follett)

“Umbra” by Malcolm Sutherland

Montreal-based Malcolm Sutherland, who seemingly completes a new animated short every few minutes, debuted his latest–Umbra–last week. His creative range never fails to impress, and what is more remarkable is how fully conceived and realized each idea is. There’s something complex and introspective bubbling underneath the surface of Umbra, and it’s a film that I’ll be definitely revisiting over time.

Sutherland’s production notes: “The animation is all hand-drawn; a mix of drawing on paper and digital animation with a Wacom Cintiq tablet, assembled in After Effects 7 and edited in Sony Vegas 8. Music by Alison Melville and Ben Grossman, foley by Leon Lo, sound design/mix by Malcolm Sutherland.”

(Thanks, Kat Morris)

Dash Shaw’s New Animated Feature “The Ruined Cast”

Twenty seven-year-old indie comic artist Dash Shaw is worked on a hand-drawn animated feature called The Ruined Cast. The teaser trailer is posted above, and he’s keeping a production blog at RuinedCast.com. His project was among those selected for the Sundance Institute Directors and Screenwriters Lab, and is described as “a disconnected family thrown into chaos when the scientist father loses the test subject of his experiment with appearance-altering technology.” He discusses the project in an audio slideshow on the Sundance Institute website.

The film, which is being made in Brooklyn, is written and directed by Shaw. Other contributing artists include Jane Samborski, Frank Santoro, Lily Benson and Ray Sohn. The film is produced by John Cameron Mitchell (whose film Rabbit Hole just premiered at the Toronto Film Festival), Howard Gertler, and Biljana Labovic (who was Bill Plympton’s producer on his latest feature Idiots and Angels).

KLIK! Starts Tomorrow in Amsterdam

Raymond Scott

The animation festival KLIK! begins tomorrow in Amsterdam and continues through September 19. They presented their first edition in 2007, and they’ve evolved into a full-fledged animation festival with lots of quirky events to boot.

Among the highlights: the Dutch premiere of Deconstructing Dad, a documentary about composer Raymond Scott (pictured above), whose songs have been used in cartoons by everybody from Bob Clampett to John Kricfalusi. Scott’s son, Stan Warnow, who made the film, will be present, and afterwards composer Nik Phelps will lead a jam session “in the spirit of Raymond Scott.”

Another interesting event is the Ren and Stimpy tribute, in which Dutch animators and comic artists will present their favorite scenes from the show and talk about how it changed their lives. The event also includes a karaoke sing-a-long with the Log Song and Happy Happy Joy Joy. There’s also the Animator’s Cage, in which “you can see animators in their natural habitat, [and] watch how animators create an animated film right before your very eyes!” One more event that caught my eye is the Political Animation Competition in which recent politically-oriented animated shorts will be screened. Tickets for the entire festival are reasonably priced and available on the festival’s website KlikAmsterdam.nl.

“2 Bajillion A.D.” by David Ochs

How do you top your freshman student film when that film is the impressive Who’s Hungry? Now a sophomore at CalArts, David Ochs posted this clip from his latest project called 2 Bajillion A.D. According to the video description, it represents “what I have finished so far for my second year film at CalArts.” Ochs uses a decidedly different style from his earlier short–I sensed some Gorillaz influence in design and motion–but it is no less impressive with skillful filmmaking, characters that act naturally and believably, and well-observed, nuanced animation. Somebody pull this kid out of school and give him his own studio–he’s more than ready to take over the animation world!

(Thanks, Celia B.)

Animation Bands to battle September 25th CANCELLED

A follow up to our 8/18 post about Women In Animation’s Battle of the Animation Bands. The battle is now on – and scheduled September 25th at 6 Point Harness Studios in Hollywood. The Battle of the Animation Bands has been postponed. New date to be set soon. “We are just postponing this event. Watch for the next date,” said Rita Street.

Women In Animation has announced three contestants for its rock concert/fundraising party: Bonsai Tribe, Groove Bazaar and Go-Go Global. They will go against each other and the audience will choose the ultimate star. Tickets can be purchased online at GrooveTickets.com (Search for “Battle of the Animation Bands”). Each ticket includes two drink coupons. No one under 21 will be admitted. A trendy food truck will also be on site. Check with Women In Animation for more information.

“Lisa and the Orange Juice” by Nicolas Fong

A commissioned film for Oxfam, Lisa and the Orange Juice shows how the organization helps local farmers in South America remain competitive against corporate factory farming. The film is in French, but the director Nicolas Fong communicates the message visually so that it is understandable to any viewer. The production design by the Belgian illustrator Cream is bright and appealing, and graphically reinforces the idea that local farming is better.

“Precise Peter” by Martin Schmidt

Martin Schmidt’s Precise Peter is an inventive bit of CG filmmaking, made more impressive by the fact that it’s a student film produced at the German school University of Art Kassel. It’s fun to see a film in which the animation itself plays such an important role in the storytelling. The sound design, which has a rhythmical quality of its own, adds to the experience. More of Martin’s work can be seen at HerrSchmidt.tv.

(Thanks, Thomas Meyer-Hermann)

Wacky Japanese Mickey Mouse Merchandising

What the hell is this?

Actually, these are officially licensed Cubic Mouth Disney Key Covers (above), designed by Satoshi Fumihara, the artist behind the Japanese MTV animated series The World of Golden Eggs. It’s strange how strict Disney licensing can be when it comes to drawing the standard characters strictly on model — but in Japan you can reinterpret the Mouse any which way.

Below are examples of a Mickey brick styled toy, and of course, the infamous Mickey Mouse vibrator. If readers have any other examples of strange Mickey toys from Japan (or anywhere), I’d love to see them. It’s not fair they get to have all the fun.

(via Fanboy.com)

Popeye and Olive get Married (1939)

The killer ebay find of the week: a rare 1939 publicity photo (click thumbnail below left to enlarge) of voice actors Jack Mercer (Popeye) and Margie Hines (Olive Oyl), announcing their marraige in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. The caption on back (below right) says the couple ate a “wedding breakfast of Spinach!”

The caption also indicates this particular photo was taken “at the Fleischer Studio in Long Island City”, and the couple were “ready to begin work on a new release”. I assume the Fleischer’s used a Paramount sound stage in Long Island City to record tracks… but if that’s so, why didn’t Mae Questel continue doing Olive during the Miami years?

If you’re interested and got the dough, click here. The bidding starts at $99. and the auction closes at 5:48pm. Good luck!

Saturday Book Review

If you ever wished one of the creators of a cartoon series on Nickelodeon or Cartoon Network would just explain everything about how they sold their shows – and what happens step-by-step during the production process – your wish has been granted. Joe Murray (Rocko’s Modern Life and Camp Lazlo) has written one of the best books on the subject – and a perfect companion to David Levy’s essential volumes. Murray’s new book, Creating Animated Cartoons with Character, explains it all, in rich detail, using his experiences in pitching and producing Rocko and Lazlo, illustrating every part with storyboards, model sheets, photographs, internal charts and graphs. He gives in-depth behind-the-scenes information about his two series, and makes it easy to see how this info can apply to your, or anyones, project. On top of that, Murray corrals his colleagues Steve Hillenberg (Spongebob), Everret Peck (Duckman), Tom Warburton (Codename: Kids Next Door), Craig McCracken (Powerpuff Girls), art director Sue Mondt, voice actor Tom Kenny, sound designer Jeff Hutchins and others for informative sidebar Q&A’s. Linda Simensky provides a great introduction to set the scene. This is a must-have if you are interested in creating TV animation, pitching a show or producing a series – or simply interested, historically, on how Joe himself did it. Highly recommended.

When experienced animators turn to creating comics or illustrating children’s books, I usually find the results successful and quite satisfying. That’s certainly the case with animator Mitch Schauer (Angry Beavers) and his first graphic novel, RIP M.D. (from Fantagraphics). It’s about a little boy who discovers that all the monsters (zombies, wolfmen, ghosts and blobs) we’ve always heard about are actually real – and in desperate need of his special help. The storytelling is very clever and the art (with inks by Mike Vosburg) is lush and appropriately horrific. This is the first project to publicly emerge from Lincoln Butterfield, a small indie animation studio in Burbank. RIP M.D. would make an amazing 2D animated feature – if Hollywood were still making those. For now, graphic novels such as this are a great outlet for ambitious creators with ample imaginations. Check it out.

And finally, animation character and background designer Eric Gonzales has created and self-published an excellent “Day of the Dead” themed children’s book, Rosita y Conchita. The text is presented in both English and Spanish, and it includes a section on how to make a Sugar Skull. The recipe, like the artwork in the book, is mouth watering!

Tons of Disney Legends in One Photo

Ben Sharpsteen retirement party

If you’re a fan of conservatively dressed middle-aged white men, boy, do I have a treat for you today. This photo from February 24, 1959, was taken on the occasion of Ben Sharpsteen’s retirement from Disney. Sharpsteen, who is flanked by Walt and Roy, was the supervising director of Pinocchio and Dumbo, as well as Walt’s most frequently whipped “whipping boy,” among many other roles during a thirty-year career at the studio. Pretty much anybody who was a somebody at Disney showed up for his retirement soiree. It is an inspiring image from Hollywood’s Golden Age, and alternately, a sad commentary on how little diversity existed in the upper ranks of the Walt Disney Company during this period.

See the group party photo and identifications after the jump.

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November 19-21 in Burbank: CTNX Part Deux

First off: In case you haven’t bought your tickets yet – the CTN Expo is two months away. Anyone who attended last year knows that this event is the closest thing we have to an animation artist and creators convention in the United States – and the inaugural expo last November was a blast. (That’s Peter De Seve above, addressing the appreciative crowd last year).

This year’s CTNX is set for November 19-21, and organizer Tina Price is planning bigger and better panels, seminars and exhibits. Like what? Like this:

Chris Sanders and Dean DeBlois on Directing Dragons at Dreamworks…
The new “secret” from Cartoon Saloon…
All three amazing heads from Headless Studios…
Sergio Pablos from Barcelona on writing the screenplay for Dispicable Me
Pablo Navarro master animator from Barcelona…
Those folks from “The Third Floor” master pre-viz artists…
…and, of course, The Cartoon Brew Lounge!

And that’s just for starters. I’ll be posting more about the guest list and panels in the next few weeks. Meanwhile, Tina has just announced a special, exclusive Saturday night attraction: An Evening with Moebius.

Famed animation artist and graphic novelist Jean Giraud “Moebius” will appear November 20th at the Convention Center at the Marriott Burbank Airport Hotel. This event will be a separate ticket from the CTN Expo. CTN’s official press release says:

Having not been in the United States for over 15 years “An Evening with Moebius” is a rare exclusive opportunity to see and hear from this internationally recognized genius artist. Now, less than 70 days away, this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity with limited seating is designed to promote a “special event” atmosphere that includes moderated interview, presentation, drawing demonstration along with surprise special guests. All attendees are invited to the after hours cocktail party directly following the event. Only one US appearance. Tickets $75.00. Reservations available now.

For more information about the CTN Expo, click here. See you there.