Experimental Animation Based on NYC Subway System

Alexander Chen‘s Conductor is a lovely marriage of automation and artistry that transforms the New York subway system into a stringed instrument. Built in HTML5, Flash and Javascript, the experimental piece runs through a 24-hour loop of the MTA schedule. To play with an interactive version that allows you to replay notes, visit MTA.me where it shows the trains departed in the last minute, then continues accelerating through a 24-hour loop. Read more details about the project at Alex’s website.

Dreamworks animating Kroft’s “Lidsville”

Hollywood has been taking classic animated cartoons and converting them to live action features for years. Now, The New York Times is reporting that Conrad Vernon (Monsters Vs. Aliens) will direct an animated version of Sid and Marty Kroft’s 1973 live-action Saturday morning show Lidsville, for Dreamworks.

I love the Kroft shows and Lidsville was one of the stranger ones (if that can be imagined). According to the Times piece, Vernon says:

“When I talk to a lot of adults about this, they look back and go ‘Oh, that show was great but it was so weird.’ And that’s what made me want to watch every single day.”

As anyone who still knows the “Lidsville” theme song by heart can tell you, the original series centered on a boy named Mark (played by Butch Patrick of “The Munsters”) who discovers a world of anthropomorphized hats, headpieces and chapeaus. There he befriends characters like Rah-Rah the football helmet and Nursie the nurse’s cap, and is pursued by a green-skinned magician named Horatio J. HooDoo (played with scenery-chewing zest by Charles Nelson Reilly).

Walt Disney, A Music Legend at the Cracker Barrel

American Music Legends

I went to a Cracker Barrel for the first time last weekend where I discovered this exclusive CD they carry (buy it here). The stock photo of Walt holding a pointer that kind of looks like a conductor’s baton is a nice touch. If Cracker Barrel can fool customers into believing what they serve qualifies as food, then there’s no reason they shouldn’t be able to convince their clientele that Disney was some kind of a music legend.

Rare Popeye spots – for Milk

Dig the loopy, fun animation in this 1983 commercial for Milk. As far I know this never aired in the states — and it may have the distinction of being the last Popeye animation ever voiced by Jack Mercer and Mae Questel:

While we’re at it, check this recent commercial for “Popeye-flavored Milk” (“Popeye-flavored”?) from Syria. Popeye goes all “Matrix” on Bluto in this one:

(Thanks, Fred G.)

SATURDAY: The Annie Awards

Tom Kenny, the voice of you-know-who SquarePants, is set to host this year’s 38th Annual Annie Awards, next Saturday, February 5, 2011, at UCLA’s Royce Hall. The evening begins with a pre-reception at 5pm followed by the Annie Awards ceremony at 7pm and post-award party immediately following the ceremony. All events will be held at Royce Hall.

This year’s Winsor McCay Lifetime Achievement Award recipients are Brad Bird, Eric Goldberg and Matt Groening. Among the presenters this year are animation legend June Foray, actors James Hong, Kevin Michael Richardson, Corey Burton, Jim Cummings and John DiMaggio. The complete list of nominees and award winners is posted at Annie Awards.com. A limited number of VIP Tickets (which admits guests to the champagne reception before the ceremony, the Annie Awards ceremony and post-award party) are still available for sale. To purchase VIP tickets check the Annie website.

General Admission tickets are available for $25 (this admits you only to the Annie Awards ceremony). General Admission tickets may only be purchased through the UCLA Central Ticket Office (CTO) at 310.825.2101 or UCLA Live or Ticketmaster.com.

(Photo above by Carol Wyatt, from the Voice Actors in the News blog)

First two minutes of “Rio”

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(via /Film)

TUESDAY in LA: “Cartoon Noir”

My next animation program for the Cinefamily is based on Film Noir – so naturally we call it Cartoon Noir. Private eyes, plainclothes cops, hapless grifters and starving putty tats all figure into the on-screen murder and mayhem. As usual, rare 35mm and 16mm film prints (and some video) of some of the funniest, violent and sexiest cartoons ever made. Join us Tuesday February 1st, 8pm at the Silent Movie Theatre on Fairfax in Hollywood. Order tickets now!

The Last Puppetoon?

When George Pal stopped producing his stop motion Puppetoon short subjects in 1947, he kept his pioneering replacement animation technique alive in various feature films he made throughout the years (Variety Girl, tom thumb, Wonderful World of Brothers Grimm). He even made one last Puppetoon (The Tool Box Ballet) for Chuck Jones’ Saturday morning series Curiosity Shop (1971).

Stop-motion master Mark Caballero sent me this You Tube embed (below) and wondered if I’d seen it before. No, I haven’t… and it begs the question: Did Pal keep his Puppetoon studio going during the 1950s to do TV commercials? I hadn’t read that anywhere before or seen any others. But then again, how often is the studio and producer given a credit like this on a commercial?

At the time, Pal himself was immersed in producing sci-fi features like Conquest of Space or The Time Machine. It’s interesting that he kept the Puppetoon name (and logo) alive during this period, when the late series was finding renewed interest due to TV syndication.

Walter Murch: Why 3-D Movies Don’t Work

Early 3D

There are plenty of reasons to dislike 3-D movies, like how they induce headaches and strain the eyes, make the imagery darker, and simply don’t contribute anything to the story. But legendary editor and sound designer Walter Murch sent a note to Roger Ebert explaining what he feels is the overwhelming reason 3-D movies are flawed: human eyes weren’t designed to focus and converge on images at two different distances. Murch says:

The biggest problem with 3D, though, is the “convergence/focus” issue. A couple of the other issues — darkness and “smallness” — are at least theoretically solvable. But the deeper problem is that the audience must focus their eyes at the plane of the screen — say it is 80 feet away. This is constant no matter what.

But their eyes must converge at perhaps 10 feet away, then 60 feet, then 120 feet, and so on, depending on what the illusion is. So 3D films require us to focus at one distance and converge at another. And 600 million years of evolution has never presented this problem before. All living things with eyes have always focussed and converged at the same point.

If we look at the salt shaker on the table, close to us, we focus at six feet and our eyeballs converge (tilt in) at six feet. Imagine the base of a triangle between your eyes and the apex of the triangle resting on the thing you are looking at. But then look out the window and you focus at sixty feet and converge also at sixty feet. That imaginary triangle has now “opened up” so that your lines of sight are almost — almost — parallel to each other.

Read more of Murch’s thoughts on Ebert’s blog.

(Thanks to the numerous readers who sent me this link.)

Disney’s “The Unseen Enemy”

Our friend J.J. Sedelmaier sent us these scans (click thumbnails at left and below to enlarge) from a 1945 book, Movie Lot To Beachhead, by Editors of Look Magazine (which has a spread on Private Snafu in Booby Traps on pages 56 and 57). J.J. sent the pages promoting the work Disney was doing for the Office of the Coordinator of Inter-American Affairs, in particular the film, The Unseen Enemy (1945 – aka What Is Disease?). This film was part of a series of simple, but very effective, educational films produced during the war as part of the studios Good Neighbor Program – which you can read about more in-depth in J.B. Kaufman’s highly recommended, South of the Border With Disney. The pages are intertesting, but it gives me an excuse to post the rarely seen film itself (above), which boasts simplistic graphics, contemporary with UPA techniques, conveying an important lesson on disease prevention with limited animation.

See the rest of the scans after the jump:
Continue reading

“Heart of Glass” by Alon Chitayat

Alon Chitayat directed this cover of Blondie’s “Heart of Glass” performed by Berlin band Skin Diary. The video skillfully combines pixilation and background compositing to appealing effect. More details about the video can be found on the director’s website.

Directed by Alon Chitayat / Animishmish
Assistant director: Dori Adar
Photography: Tillmann Engel
Lights: Dan Jung, Roman Hoffmann
Makeup artist: Marit “Schminkpistole” Kenning
on-site Catering: Micky Hickbert
Actor: Robert Speidel
Giant scene designs – Alona Wiess

Disney Interactive Fires Nearly 30% of its Workforce

Epic Mickey

Apparently, Epic Mickey wasn’t nearly as epic as it needed to be to save Disney’s gaming division. On Monday, Disney Interactive Media Group, which lost $234 million in the most recent fiscal year, laid off nearly 200 employees out of its 700-person staff. More layoffs are anticipated soon.

Among the casualties is Vancouver’s Propaganda Games, which made the underperforming game Tron: Evolution. There were also layoffs at Austin-based Junction Point Studios, which made Epic Mickey, another underperforming title according to PC World. A Wall Street Journal article summarized that, “Disney appears to be focusing its future efforts in the games business on newer categories like social games, sales of which have been growing more quickly than traditional games and with a greater potential for profit because of the efficiencies of online distribution.”

The Chinese Government Is Afraid of Cartoons

A Chinese animation company recently made the Webcartoon posted above to celebrate Chinese new year. Now, as The Guardian reports, the Chinese government is scrambling to censor the film and make sure nobody within China sees it. This is a wonderful demonstration of the effect that animation can have exposing the paranoia and corruption of governments who fear even drawings of cute bunny rabbits.

A translation and additional info about the cartoon can be found on the ChinaGeeks.org:

Regardless of what the disclaimer says, it is probably obvious even to those who don’t speak Chinese that this video makes repeated and explicit reference to real life events. The milk powder death, the fire, the illegal demolitions, the beating of protesters, the self-immolation, the “Tiger Gang” car accident, etc. are all references to real-life events that any Chinese viewer would be immediately and intimately familiar with…Of course, sarcastic animations and other web jokes about these incidents are common. What is not common is the end of the video, which depicts a rabbit rebellion where masses of rabbits storm the castle of the tigers and eat them alive…The clip ends with what seems almost like a call to arms for the new year, with Kuang Kuang saying it will be a meaningful (有意“¹‰, could also be translated as “important”) year and then the end title reading: “The year of the rabbit has come. Even rabbits bite when they’re pushed.”

(Thanks, Jonathan Sloman)

“Tezcatlipoca” by Robin George

Tezcatlipoca is a three minute animated short from 2009 by Robin George, inspired by the music from Tchaikovsky’s Swan Lake and the Aztec myth of Tezcatlipoca, a “deity who descends from heaven in the form of a jaguar”. This was George’s senior thesis at Southern Adventist University’s School of Visual Art and Design. The animation department there is run by Disney veteran animator, Hendel Butoy (The Black Cauldron, Fantasia 2000). The school is currently producing an animated feature about The Life of Christ.

(Thanks, Jim Turner)

“Enthiran” Is A Crazy Live-Action/CGI Film from India

Check out this insane footage from the Tamil film Enthiran, which is the most expensive film ever made in India. Keep watching and the CG just gets nuttier and nuttier. In terms of graphic bravado and sheer ridiculousness, this puts American superhero films to shame–a true live-action cartoon.

(Thanks, Christy Karacas)

Oscar Nominations

The Oscar nominations were announced this morning.

Nominated for BEST ANIMATED FEATURE were:

HOW TO TRAIN YOUR DRAGON – Dean DeBlois, Chris Sanders
THE ILLUSIONIST – Sylvain Chomet
TOY STORY 3 – Lee Unkrich

Also: TOY STORY 3 was also nominated for BEST PICTURE, BEST ADAPTED SCREENPLAY, SOUND EDITING – and the song “We Belong Together” was nominated for BEST MUSIC (Original Song).

HOW TO TRAIN YOUR DRAGON was also nominated for Best Music (Original Score).

TANGLED nabbed one nomination: for Best Music (Original Song), “I See The Light”.

And it’s worth noting Tim Burton’s Alice In Wonderland copped three nominations (Art Direction, Costume Design and Sound Editing) and Tron: Legacy got a nod for Sound editing.

Nominated for BEST ANIMATED SHORT are:

Day & Night Director: Teddy Newton. United States.
Let’s Pollute Director: Geefwee Boedoe. United States.
Madagascar, A Journey Diary Director: Bastien Dubois. France.
The Gruffalo Directors: Jakob Schuh, Max Lang. Great Britain.
The Lost Thing Directors: Andrew Ruhemann, Shaun Tan. Australia.

A complete list of nominees in all categories is posted here.

The filmmakers nominated for Best Animated Short will appear in person for Q&A at Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, Samuel Goldwyn Theatre, on Tuesday February 22nd at 7:30pm — For more information check the Academy’s Oscar Event website.

The directors nominated for Best Animated Feature will appear in person for Q&A with Tom Sito on at Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, Samuel Goldwyn Theatre, on Thursday Februry 24th at 7:30pm — For more information check the Academy’s website.

The Academy Awards will be presented on Sunday February 27th at the Kodak Theatre in Hollywood.

The Obscene Pay of Viacom Execs

Sumner Redstone, Philippe Dauman and Tom Dooley
Sumner Redstone, Philippe Dauman and Tom Dooley

Viacom, the media conglomerate that owns Nickelodeon, Comedy Central, Spike TV, and other animation-producing divisions, as well as Paramount, which is releasing Rango this year, pays its top executives ridiculous amounts of money, according to the company’s latest Securities and Exchange Commission filing. Its three top execs took home $164.2 million last year in the form of salaries, stock options and awards. Here’s the breakdown:

Philippe Dauman, chief executive: $84.5 million
Tom Dooley, chief operating officer: $64.7 million
Sumner Redstone, chairman/controlling shareholder: $15 million

“Those are amazing numbers,” Charles Elson, director of the John L. Weinberg Center for Corporate Governance at the University of Delaware, told the LA Times. “Those are entrepreneurial returns for a managerial role. I’ll be interested to see what the investors think.”

Look at it this way. According to this internal memo, Viacom reduced its staff to 11,350 people in late 2008. Using that figure, these three guys earned the equivalent of $14,466 for each of the company’s 10,000 plus employees. Or another way to think about it: they could have given every Viacom employee a $5,000 bonus last year and still split over $100 million between the three of them. But they would never consider doing anything like that. These mofos are the personification of greed, plain and simple.

And what is it that they do exactly? One can only imagine how difficult it must be for Messrs. Dauman and Dooley to decide how many new episodes of SpongeBob and Jersey Shore to greenlight. Even if these guys were curing cancer and eliminating hunger in the developing world while manning a space mission to Mars, I frankly don’t see how this type of payday could be justified. As it is, being responsible for running a shitty media conglomerate that produces volumes of crass, here-today-gone-tomorrow junk, the only words that come to mind for their compensation packages are obscene and disgusting.

Animation Guild Interviews

Steve Hulett of The Animation Guild has started posting a wonderful series of audio interviews with the current “old guard” of Hollywood hand drawn animation. The first ten sessions are online now with more to come. My good friends Mark Kausler, Dan Haskett and Tom Sito (pictured above) relate some great stories of their almost 40 years (each) in the business. Other interviewees include Mark Kirkland (The Simpsons), Brian McEntee (Beauty and the Beast), Tim Walker (Warner Bros.), Robert Alvarez (Fosters Home), Ed Gombert (Little Mermaid), Bruce Smith (Proud Family) and Rubin Aquino (Lion King) – these are good long interviews, all worth downloading. Click here and enjoy!

“UP” cake

We haven’t featured a post about cartoon cake in several months, so this is long overdue. Submitted for you approval, this clever “Up Cake” which was featured on GirlyBubble a while back. Apparently Pixar’s Up has inspired dessert chefs as much as it’s inspired the animation community.

And if this doesn’t make you hungry, check out these delicious Up Cupcakes!

(Thanks, Bill Perry)

MONDAY in LA: “Cartoon Dump”

The first Cartoon Dump of 2011 is Monday (1/24) at 8pm at the Steve Allen Theatre in Hollywood. My long running show is kicking off the new year with its usual blend of sketches, songs, puppets, stand up comedy and some of the absolute worst cartoons ever made – no shit, these are real life animation atrocities from the traumatic Saturday mornings of our shameful past.

With Frank Conniff (MST3K and, until last Friday, of Countdown with Keith Olbermann), Erica Doering as Compost Brite, J. Elvis Weinstein as Dumpster Diver Dan, Kristin Ariggo as Cue Card Goddess and April Hava Shenkman (Grand daughter of Fleischer/Warner veteran animator Ben Shenkman) as Madame Hava – and special stand-up comedy guest, Matt Braunger (Mad TV). Info: here. Tickets: here.