Here’s what looks like the Polish version of Fritz The Cat: Jez Jerzy (aka George The Hedgehog). It’s based on a comic by RafaÅ‚ SkarÅ¼ycki and Tomasz LeÅ›niak, and is now an adult feature directed by Wojciech Wawszczyk, Jakub Tarkowski and co-creator Tomasz LeÅ›niak. Animator Leah Shore saw it at SXSW in Austin and couldn’t believe her eyes:
“Its crazy. It used to be a comic book but they turned it into this weird graphic insane feature. Basically its about a hedgehog that drinks a crap load, skate boards, and does a lot of women. Then there’s this neo nazis that work for a scientist that want to kill and clone George to make the ultimate superstar. It bizarre. There’s a lot of bouncing boobies, pustular things and humping of intimate objects.”
Here’s something a little different for fans of violent anime: My Last Day, a nine minute animated short commissioned by The JESUS Film Project and animated by Japan’s Studio 4ÂºC – the production house behind The Animatrix, Genius Party, Tekkon Kinkreet and Mind Game – depicting the crucifixion of Christ through the perspective of one of the thieves killed with him. Anime News Network says this was written by Barry Cook – the director of Disney’s Mulan and Aardman/Sony’s forthcoming Arthur Christmas. It’s a far cry from Cook’s previous shorts, Trail Mix-Up and Off His Rocker.
Sao Paulo, Brazil-based Animatorio created this stunning piece of stop motion animation. There’s some CG effects thrown into the mix too. I’ve posted the description of their short below, but honestly, it’s such a visceral feast for the eyes that no written description will do it justice:
Transformation trough mutations stages. Evolution as a function gain is called neo-morphic. Imaginary creatures adapt into an Ecosystem and the transformation of these habitats for these creatures generates a fantastic cycle. The mutation symbolism is part of our experiences in that trajectory, changing places, finding a new spectrum, a new phase, evolving.
UPDATE: A ‘making-of’ vid posted by the Animatorio crew:
Congratulations to our friends at Blue Sky. Bravo! Well done! 72% Fresh on Rotten Tomatoes, nice reviews in the New York Times and the L.A. Times – and I personally think it’s the Connecticut studio’s best film since the first Ice Age. Carlos Saldanha’s Rio opens today in the U.S.
It’s a traditional audience pleasing adventure comedy, with an assortment of colorful characters, set in a spectacular location. The art direction, voice acting and animation are first rate. The use of 3-D is pretty good too. Is it the most important animated film of the year? Probably not, but I had a few laughs and enjoyed the ride. What did you think?
As usual, our talkback section below is open to those who have seen the film. C’mon, let everyone know what you think.
Last year I wrote about how the family of British animation legend Bob Godfrey was uploading his films to YouTube. Now they’ve removed the films and are selling them on demand at Godfrey’s official website. A handful of his films are currently available including Do It Yourself Cartoon Kit, Henry 9 ’til 5, Instant Sex, and the super-rare Watch the Birdie. Films cost around a buck, but purchasers can only view the films and do not receive a permanent digital copy.
Godfrey’s family explains the reasons for switching from free YouTube videos to pay-per-view: “The answer is very simple. Digitising the videos, cleaning-up the soundtrack and picture and encoding for the web and then hosting the videos all costs money. Unfortunately the ad-funded videos on YouTube only generated Â£11 in 9 months, nowhere near enough.”
Some thoughts and questions:
1. Should the public be expected to pay for animated shorts today that were available to view for free when they first debuted fifty years ago?
2. Isn’t there more value to keeping Bob Godfrey’s name relevant on major sites like YouTube than the few extra bucks that could be earned by hiding his work behind a paywall? On the Internet, indie filmmakers can compete with the big boys, but hiding one’s films isn’t a competitive plan when studios like the National Film Board of Canada give away their shorts for free through mobile apps and websites.
3. What are other ways that a classic filmmaker could earn money from shorts? Why not make them available in the highest quality possible on an ad-free site like Vimeo, and then sell original art from the shorts? Or how about a Bob Godfrey iPad app with his films as well as interviews, photos and supplementary materials — the contemporary version of a coffeetable book.
Historically, shorts have never been an easy way for filmmakers to earn money, and filmmakers who make a living from shorts hardly represent the majority. In the case of a still-living animation legend like Godfrey, cementing his legacy within the pantheon of animation greats would be a more effective plan in the long run than attempting to exploit his work for nickels and dimes.
The don’t-miss clip of the week: a 1970 appearance by “casting director” Ward Kimball on the NBC daytime game show Lohman and Barkley’s Namedroppers. Bob Cummings, Ruth Buzzi and Bob Newhart also appear. Ward’s appearance was in conjunction with his short It’s Tough to be a Bird and took place sixteen years after his appearance on You Bet Your Life:
Here’s the exquiste trailer for Kirk Hendry’s new short, Junk, which has been selected for competition at Annecy this year. The film was produced at London-based commercial studio th1ng, where Hendry works as a house director.
The film took two years to complete and tells the story of a boy with an obsession for junk food – literally – and the importance of following your “gut instinct”!
Collector Martin Almeyer sent me this curious piece from his animation collection: a 1931 letter (in a Fleischer Studios envelope, above) by Grim Natwick to his Toledo, Ohio friend Matt Zimmer, about his plans to leave New York and join a studio on the west coast. Natwick would land at Ub Iwerks shop and later went onto Disney (on Snow White), back to Fleischer in Miami (on Gulliver), then to Lantz and UPA in Los Angeles.
The letter, posted below, written on a piece of Fleischer animation paper and dated “Lincoln’s Birthday”, isn’t significant – but to animation history junkies like me, its just one more piece of the puzzle and another sliver of insight into the real person behind the pencil.
Feelin’ down about the state of hand drawn animation? I was watching my favorite news channel and spotted this modest, but nicely animated, commercial for the anti-depressant prescription drug, Abilify – and it perked me right up! It was apparently produced out of th1ng (pronounced “thing one”) in London and directed by Neil Boyle (Roger Rabbit, Space Jam), with animation by the talented team of Mike Shorten (Arthur Christmas, The Illusionist), Geoff McDowall and Sam Taylor. Forget the drug – watch this and maybe the animation will cheer you up too:
Director: Neil Boyle
Animators: Mike Shorten, Geoff McDowall and Sam Taylor.
Assistant animators: Alan Henry, Ange de Silva and Ed Roberts.
Few industry artists I know are as committed to personal projects as Gabe Swarr who’s consistently been making his own work for as long as I’ve known him, which is something like twelve years. He hasn’t slowed down one bit either, an especially impressive feat now that he’s in the middle of producing and directing the hefty 52-episode order of Nickelodeon’s Kung Fu Panda: The Legends of Awesomeness.
For years, Gabe drew Big Pants Mouse — as a comic book, on-line comic strip, and even a pilot at Disney TV Animation (where in typical corporate fashion, they rechristened it Big Shorts Mouse). He retired the character last year to focus on a new pet project Life in the Analog Age.
The tone of Life in the Analog Age — which appears in both comic strip and animated webisode form — is more genteel and introspective than his earlier work. The slice-of-(childhood)-life tales are drawn from his memories of growing up in the late-1970s and early-’80s, which he portrays as a simpler and more innocent time “before digital dominance and information overload”.
His approach is refreshing for its lack of snark and attitude. Watching the shorts brought back plenty of stowed away memories, for example, the mandatory Valentine’s card exchange in grade school (embedded above). Beneath the rose-colored view of such events, Gabe acknowledges the weirdness of childhood rules and rituals. For example, in the Valentine’s Day episode, he observes that the card exchange “was a time to feel liked…a time to feel as if you were part of the class.” But, of course, not really a part of it.
The design of the series has plenty of quirky touches. Some of them, such as the animal-like features on human characters, work better than others, like the stingy color palette of orange and purple, which struck me as too severe for the nostalgic tone of the stories. The animation style is spare but applied smartly to fulfill the need of each story.
The animated webisodes have been released at the pace of one per month, with comics in-between, but beginning next month, Gabe will be releasing two animated shorts per month. I’m looking forward to seeing how the characters evolve as the series moves into a more regular schedule.
Once in a blue moon I see a piece of animation that plain knocks me out. “The Pirate by Trollhättan, Sweden-based Meindbender is one such piece. Masquerading as an innocuous Cartoon Network station promo, it is a boundary-busting achievement in CG animation. The marriage of realistically shaded/lit environments and madcap cartoon distortion (particularly in the bird character) suggest new avenues in computer animation that are worth exploring further. Here’s some background info about how Meindbender achieves its organic looking CG aesthetic.
Director: Olov Burman
Shading and Rendering: Michael Bengtsson, Hervé Steff
Animators: Calle Halldin, Olov Burman
Modeling: Hervé Steff, Michael Bengtsson, Olov Burman, Marcus Ottosson
Rigging: Calle Halldin
Post Production: Michael Bengtsson
Music: Joel Eriksson
Voice Acting: Pär Nymark
Sound Effects: Ljudlabbet (Daniel Saxlid)
Cloth and Hair Simulation: Marcus Ottosson
Closepup Explosion: Matt Radford
Water Simulation: Brian Looney
Renderfarm: Rendernet (Henrik Norin)
Modelmaking: Chris Schifferns
Technical Support: Kustaa Vuori
Programmer: Mihnea Balta
3D Scanning: Paulo Kiefe (Creative Tools)
Cartoon Network Representatives: Raf Gasak (Creative Director, Turner Broadcasting Europe), Lola Gamester (Project Assistant)
Rendered with Maxwell
I would have noted this earlier, but I just spotted it myself. Hollywood trade paper, Variety, posted the first review of Disney’s new Winnie The Pooh feature on its site April 1st, and it appeared in its weekly print edition this past Sunday (issue dated 4/11-17).
The review (by Justin Chang) is luke-warm, but positive. In case you can’t get past Variety’s pay wall, here are a few of the relevant parts:
“This soothingly short 69-minute picture boasts a few touches that, if not exactly crass, have been applied with perhaps too knowing a wink, resulting in a slightly condescending aftertaste.
“Misled by Owl’s iffy reading-comprehension skills, (Pooh and friends) come to believe Christopher Robin has been abducted by the Backson, an ugly, ill-mannered monster that looms ever more fearsomely in their imaginations in “The Backson Song” (the most memorable of the original tunes penned by Kristen Anderson-Lopez and Robert Lopez). Performed over an inventive montage of quick-moving chalkboard drawings, this interlude is one of two musical sequences conceived and animated in a bolder, more fanciful style, the other being “Everything Is Honey,” in which Pooh finds himself in a golden-hued wonderland where everything is made of something sweet.
“(The directors) stick to a visual palette that, under Paul Felix’s art direction, retains the two-dimensional, watercolor-based style of the classic Pooh adventures, albeit polished to a high-tech gloss that in no way compromises its retro charm. The desire to stay true to what was lovable and enduring about the originals is palpable throughout, down to the amusing storybook conceit of having the characters interact not only with the narrator (voiced by John Cleese), but also with the letters and punctuation marks on the page.”
The film opened today in Europe. If you’ve seen it, tell us what you think (a U.S. talkback post will be here on July 15th).
Oh, and the photo above was snapped in the hallway of Disney Feature Animation (in the “Hat Building”). It’s a full-length mural, painted on the wall, I suppose to inspire the production staff to think 60s style… and, for the record, Disney never released any film in “Deluxe Color” which was owned back then by 20th Century-Fox. Disney of course, had a long term deal with Technicolorâ„¢ (though they did strike an Eastman Color print on rare occasions), but I digress…