Z Animation Welcomes New Director, Dustin Grella

“Art is not what you see, but what you make others see.”-Edgar Degas

For the last seven years, Dustin Grella, has been developing and refining his style. His palette consists primarily of a slate chalkboard, soft pastels, and an HD camera.

Dustin’s animation career began shortly after he lost his younger brother, Devin, in the Iraq conflict.  He realized life was just too short to do anything other than what he really wanted to do, and that something he wanted to do was animation.  His widely celebrated film “Prayers for Peace” was an homage to the relationship he had with his brother.  “  wanted to honor my brother but I also wanted to process his identity as a man, and as a soldier: two facets of him I never knew or related to. It [the film] is really more my tribute to him and my growing to understand him than a statement on his death, or the war.” Prayers for Peace uses stark but lovingly realized imagery; rendered on a chalkboard, to record his brother’s last days, final communications, and impact on those he left behind.

This led to a creative exploration of animating personal, engaging and true stories. Some of these are hilarious, and they are all compelling for one reason or another.

Dustin created the Animation Hotline allowing people to call and leave messages on the answering machine. Dustin would select a message and animate it within 48 hours. So far there are 84 unique animations.

This led to a 16 spot package for a local homeless shelter.

Dustin’s style can be described as anti slick, believing that a viewer is engaged by a compelling story as much as beautiful animation. Dustin’s goal is to find the balance. Richard Gorey describes Dustin work as “personal, sophisticated in their visuals, and elegantly emotional.”

Peter Barg, executive producer and founder of Z Animation said he was thrilled with Dustin deciding to join the ZA roster.

“Our clients are always looking for unique ways to tell their client’s stories. Dustin’s work breaks the clutter with a distinctive and sensitive voice. I’m very excited about the possibilities.”

To view a selection of Dustin’s work please go to:


PES Teams Up With Michael Eisner for “Garbage Pail Kids” Pic

PES and Garbage Pail Kids

Indie animator PES (pictured above) moved from New York to Los Angeles a couple years back to fulfill his ambition to become a feature film director. It didn’t take long. Deadline Hollywood broke the story this afternoon that PES has been tapped to direct a feature film based on the Eighties fad Garbage Pail Kids.

The news is significant, representing not only a career shift for PES–best known for animated shorts like Roof Sex and Western Spaghetti as well as a slew of award-winning TV commercials–but also because it heralds the return of former Disney CEO Michael Eisner to feature filmmaking (at least on the financing side). Deadline reported that “Michael Eisner’s The Tornante Company will finance and produce the development of a feature film. . .Eisner bought the card company in 2007 and this is his first feature spinoff project.” Michael Vukadinovich will write the script and Toby Ascher will produce.

While neither the name Eisner nor “Garbage Pail Kids” instill much confidence, the real story here is PES’s involvement. He has proven himself time and time again as a force for innovative graphic ideas. A quick browse of Cartoon Brew’s archives will reveal some of his creative storytelling abilities (as well as some of his contributions as a guest blogger). I’ll certainly be looking forward to see what PES does with his first feature film.

PES’s latest short Fresh Guacamole debuted on YouTube last week:

The Failure of “John Carter” and Analyzing Andrew Stanton

Andrew Stanton

If you still haven’t had your fill of “Why John Carter Failed” articles, then don’t miss New York Magazine‘s lengthy read “The Inside Story of How John Carter Was Doomed by Its First Trailer.” The piece goes to excruciating lengths to absolve Disney marketing of any wrongdoing over the film’s US box office performance, and lays the blame squarely at the feet of Andrew Stanton:

While this kind of implosion usually ends in a director simmering in rage at the studio marketing department that doomed his or her movie, Vulture has learned that it was in fact John Carter director Andrew Stanton – powerful enough from his Pixar hits that he could demand creative control over trailers – who commandeered the early campaign, overriding the Disney marketing execs who begged him to go in a different direction.

The article, juicy as it is, should be taken with a grain of salt. Much of the information in the article appears to be sourced from public statements by Stanton, and only one anonymous “Disney marketing insider” is identified as having been interviewed. There are factual errors too that made me question the piece’s accuracy–the writer claims that Disney marketing approached the New Yorker in September 2011 to profile Stanton, when in fact, if you read the New Yorker piece, the writer of that piece said he’d been working on it since April 2011. At best, NY Mag‘s takedown offers one version of how the film’s marketing plan derailed. The real story is likely far more complex, and won’t be understood until some point in the future.

A more insightful piece is the aforementioned New Yorker profile of Andrew Stanton, which has finally been posted online. Unlike an earlier New Yorker piece about Pixar that left me unimpressed, this profile sheds much light on Stanton’s personality and his collaboration with the lauded Pixar “Braintrust.” In spite of the profile’s positive tone, Stanton comes off as overly self assertive and oblivious to the effect of his comments, like:

“We came on this movie so intimidated: ‘Wow, we’re at the adult table!’ Three months in, I said to my producers, ‘Is it just me, or do we actually know how to do this better than live-action crews do?’ The crew were shocked that they couldn’t overwhelm me, but at Pixar I got used to having to think about everyone else’s problems months before all their pieces would come together, and I learned that I’m just better at communicating and distilling than other people.”

(Illustration by Luis Grañena)

2012 So Far…

Through the first 70 days of 2012, we’re averaging 2.8 posts per day on Cartoon Brew’s homepage. That’s not counting all the posts on our industry news section CB Biz. For the curious reader, here are Cartoon Brew’s most viewed and most commented posts through the first two-and-a-half months of 2012.

1. Ricky Garduno, RIP
2. A Tale of Two Titmouses: A Cartoon Brew Investigation
3. Preview: 2012 US Animated Features
4. Why Kids Today Think Walt Disney was a Jew-Hating, Hitler-Loving Racist
5. Web Premiere: “Wild Life” by Amanda Forbis and Wendy Tilby
6. Stephen Colbert’s Must-See Interview with Maurice Sendak
7. Rediscovered: Long-Lost Version of “The Hobbit” by Gene Deitch
8. The End of the Creator-Driven Era in Animation
9. Out of Context Animation
10. Ghostshrimp Exposes the Hypocrisy of Cartoon Network

1. A Tale of Two Titmouses: A Cartoon Brew Investigation – 350 comments
2. Ghostshrimp Exposes the Hypocrisy of Cartoon Network – 135 comments
3. New Brave Trailer – “The Prize” – 112 comments
4. Lou Dobbs Says “The Lorax” and “Arrietty” Indoctrinate Children – 100 comments
5. My Favorite Super Bowl Commercial – 95 comments
6. The Oscars: Animated Feature Nominees – 90 comments
7. Academy Award Talkback; RANGO and MORRIS LESSMORE win – 86 comments
8. Joe Murray’s Kaboing Goes Kaput – 75 comments
9. “The Adventures of Tintin” Wins Golden Globe – 74 comments
10. How Cartoon Brew Spawned Bronies – 68 comments

Let’s Cast the Walt Disney Biopic

Who needs the Disney Company! We’ve already got the movie poster for a biopic about Walt Disney so we may as well go ahead and cast the movie. That’s what Cartoon Brew reader Ron Yavnieli did in the comments section yesterday. Below are his novel casting choices for the likes of Roy Disney, Ub Iwerks, Margaret Winkler, Fred Moore, Bill Tytla, Art Babbitt, Frank Thomas, Ollie Johnston and others. Share your dream cast in the comments.

Roy O. Disney :: Joel David Moore
Disney biopic

Ub Iwerks :: Tarran Killam
Disney biopic

Charles Mintz :: Jeremy Piven
Disney biopic

Margaret Winkler :: Samantha Morton
Continue reading

Don Markstein (1947-2012)

Don Markstein may not have been a household name in animation circles, but he was one of the best friends comics and cartoon history ever had. His wife, GiGi Dane, just informed us of Don’s untimely passing.

Donald David Markstein was a comic book writer and creator/proprietor of the indispensable online Toonopedia. Among his many accomplishments was being the founding editor and co-creator (with Rick Norwood) of Comics Revue and the co-founder (with wife GiGi) of the animation apa, Apatoons.

Long before the internet, Markstein got the idea of adapting the established comic and sci-fi fanzine communication network (known as Amatuer Press Associations) to a world wide community of animation enthusiasts. I was a grateful participant in Apatoons (cover of a typical edition, with art by Dave Bennett, below). This project was a rich and rewarding experience for all involved, and helped bond fans, professional animators, cartoonists, writers and all like-minded enthusiasts in an era way before blogs and Facebook.

Animation historian Jim Korkis recalled the group’s origin:

“On May 12, 1981, Don Markstein and GiGi Dane sent out a one-page orange flyer to a select group of fans. The flyer announced the formation of an apa for animation buffs. Markstein wrote, “There’s a potential for an animation fandom lurking among publishing fans. We don’t knowhow many people there are in it, but we do know Funnyworld and Mindrot aren’t being published in a vacuum. That potential has probably always been there, but lately, with more and more lifelong cartoon buffs becoming video collectors, it’s been exploding. Just as comics fandom grew out of science fiction fandom to create its own fan movement 20 years ago, we expect cartoon fandom to come into its own very soon now.”

“The first issue of APATOONS appeared July 1981 and that first issue had only seven members: Jim Korkis, Alan Hutchinson, Don Markstein, Meera Dane (GiGi’s daughter), GiGig Dane, Marcus Wielage and Rick Norwood. I think one of the key things I remember about Don is that he loved ideas, loved cartoons and loved doing something to fill necessary gaps whether it was with Apatoons or Toonpedia.”

I asked several fellow Apatoons alumni to contribute their thoughts about Don. Disney comics historian David Gerstein wrote to say,

“I had the great pleasure of editing Don Markstein’s Disney comic book stories for Egmont Creative Center, the Denmark-based Disney comics studio, from 2000 to 2004. Many of these inspired, often outrageous stories were later reused in the American-published Gemstone Disney comics. We can’t forget Don’s original Disney creations – Sam Simian and his giant wrestling robots; the high ministers of Outest Bungolia, forever seeking the “King of the Bungaloos”; even über-cheap filmmaker Freefer F. Freefer (Don told me that the middle F. stood for “Freefer,” too, though he was sworn not to reveal it in the story). Only Don could give us a supervillain whose master supercomputer was powered by a cat brain and a dog brain – which didn’t get along very well.

And only Don had an affection for Bucky Bug, Disney’s early newspaper strip character, so deep that it manifested itself – somehow, somewhere – in a good fifty percent of all the Disney output Don created. We’ll all miss you, Don.”

I’ve posted a panel (above) from Don’s King of the Bungaloos Strikes Back (WD C&S #680, 2007), drawn by the great Cèsar Ferioli, with what I believe is a caricature of Markstein in the crowd at left, with mustasche, beard and glasses.

Harry MacCracken, now a Technology editor-at-large for Time Magazine, wrote in:

“What sad news. I still think of Don as the grand master of APA mailing comments–he was perceptive, precise, funny and engaging. Things he said in Apatoons thirty years ago still rattle around in the back of my brain and influence my writing. I was very happy to see Toonopedia succeed and bring his work to a large audience.”

Comics, anime and animation expert Fred Patten remembered his longtime admiration for Don:

“My memories of Don Markstein go back to the 1960s. We were both in CAPA-alpha, the comics-fan APA, and Don’s “Om Markstein Sklom Stu” was one of the most literate, thickest, and most eagerly-read parts of the monthly mailings. Later, after we had both dropped out of K-a, he and his wife GiGi founded APATOONS in 1981 and we were both in that for — how many years? After that, we were not in things together but I would see his name in the masthead of Comics Revue and as the author of stories in the Disney comic books. Still later, I would go to his Toonopedia website for accurate and informative details about cartoon-related facts.

Although it has been decades since we were in close contact, I am very saddened to hear of his passing. Comics fandom has lost a long-time friend and a rare expert scholar.”

Markstein died of respiratory failure after a prolonged illness. His family can be contacted via email through toonopedia-at-yahoo.com.

“Ants in My Scanner” by Francois Vautier

Installing an ant colony in a scanner and scanning it every week doesn’t sound like the ingredients for filmmaking success. But Paris-based François Vautier managed to uncover the exquisite visual possibilities within that concept. His camera and editing choices push the project from nature documentary into experimental film territory.

Vautier’s description of Ants in My Scanner:

Five years ago, I installed an ant colony inside my old scanner that allowed me to scan in high definition this ever evolving microcosm (animal, vegetable and mineral). The resulting clip is a close-up examination of how these tiny beings live in this unique ant farm. I observed how decay and corrosion slowly but surely invaded the internal organs of the scanner. Nature gradually takes hold of this completely synthetic environment. The ants are still alive: the process will continue…

(via Kottke)

Editorial Cartoonist Jules Feiffer Wins 2012 Fischetti Lifetime Achievement Award

CHICAGO (March 7, 2012) — Pulitzer Prize-winning editorial cartoonist Jules Feiffer is the 2012 recipient of the John Fischetti Lifetime Achievement Award, presented by Columbia College Chicago. The Fischetti Lifetime Achievement Award honors an outstanding career of editorial cartooning, work skewering cultural mores, misguided public policies and self-important people.

Jules Ralph Feiffer is a cartoonist, playwright, screenwriter and children’s book author and illustrator. Feiffer has created a career turning contemporary urban anxiety into witty and revealing social commentary. His most famous strip, “Feiffer,” for which he won a Pulitzer Prize for political cartoons in 1986, ran for 42 years in the Village Voice. Feiffer’s cartoons can be also seen in The Los Angeles Times, The New Yorker, Esquire, Playboy and The Nation.

“It’s the rare person who can combine art and satire in a deftly drawn cartoon,” said Nancy Day, chair of the Journalism Department at Columbia College Chicago, which coordinates the competition and the event. “Jules Feiffer has excelled in many media. We are so pleased to honor him with this award in memory of John Fischetti.”

Feiffer became interested in cartooning early in life and, at the age of 16, became an assistant to writer-artist Will Eisner, who gave Feiffer his own page in Eisner’s weekly syndicated comic insert. Feiffer’s first comic, “Clifford” ran from 1949-1951. In 1997 he was commissioned by The New York Times to create the first comic strips for its Op-Ed page. Besides his cartoons and the anthologies of this work, Feiffer has created more than 35 books, plays and screenplays.

In addition to the Pulitzer, Feiffer has received other accolades for his work, including the George Polk Award, the National Cartoonists Society’s Milton Caniff Lifetime Achievement Award and induction into the Comic Book Hall of Fame. He received the Creativity Foundation’s Laureate in 2006 and won a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Writers Guild of America.

Feiffer will receive his award on April 5 at the 30th anniversary celebration of the John Fischetti Editorial Cartoon Competition. Richard Locher, who won the first Fischetti Lifetime Achievement Award last year, will present Feiffer’s award. Locher is also a Pulitzer winner who drew editorial cartoons and the comic strip “Dick Tracy,” and the two men knew each other decades ago in New York, where Feiffer lives.

The evening will also honor this year’s recipient of the editorial cartoon competition, as well as the Fischetti scholarship winners.

Beijing’s Reach Glory Animation Preps TV Series “Troubleshooters!”

BEIJING, CHINA. Reach Glory Animation has just completed the first tranche of episodes for their animated television series, Troubleshooters! The show will begin airing on CCTV this Summer with the first 104 episodes.

Produced by Sophie Helian and Ben Erwei Ji, and Executive Produced by Alex Wu and Mark Byers, the series follows the adventures of six children on another world who have set up their own business to help solve problems for their friends and neighbors. Problems range from the whimsical to the poignant, and the solutions are always unexpected and hilarious.

Troubleshooters! is directed by Luke Allen and Robert Nie, Co-Produced by Nie and Suey Chen, with Supervising Producer Bin Zhao. Script writing and production services are provided by Popoko Studios, with Chen and Byers serving as head writers. The series is designed for export to the international markets after the initial run on CCTV.

“We’re very excited by the potential of Troubleshooters! for both the domestic Chinese market and international broadcast,” said Executive Producer Wu. “The series is fun and funny, but also carries an important message about cooperation and helping others.”

Reach Glory Animation is a division of Reach Glory Media Group, a leading China-based media group providing services in multiple aspects of the entertainment industry. The three core arms in the group include RG Communications, an integrated branding and marketing agency; Angel Wings Entertainment, a motion picture and television production and investment company; and RG Animation, an emerging creative animation production, licensing, and merchandising practice.

Recently, Reach Glory Media Group was involved in the production of the feature films Color Me Love and Laws of Attraction, and brand integration for a Chinese fashion company in the Hollywood hit, Iron Man 2.

Box Office Report: “Lorax” Beats “John Carter”

John Carter

An animated film led the US box office for the second week in a row: Illumination Entertainment’s The Lorax dropped 44% from its first week for an estimated earning of $39.1 million. Its two-week total now stands at $122 million, making it the top grossing film of the year to date. It is currently pacing $3.5 million ahead of Illumination’s biggest hit Despicable Me, which went on to earn $251.5 million domestically.

This weekend also saw the debut of John Carter, the first live-action feature from Pixar director Andrew Stanton (WALL·E, Finding Nemo). The megabudget sci-fi film, with a reported production cost of $200-300 million and marketing costs of $100 million, was positioned as Disney’s next “tentpole” property, along the lines of the Pirates of the Carribean franchise. It opened weakly, as expected by most industry observers as well as the Disney studio itself, with an estimated $30.6 million, on a par with the opening for Disney’s Prince of Persia, which opened with $30.1 million. It trailed the debut of last year’s sci-fi Cowboys & Aliens which opened with $36.4 million. The film’s saving grace may be its overseas performance, where it has opened powerfully, especially in Russia, and has already racked up over $70 million.

One can’t even begin to imagine the pressure that Stanton is under, but he hasn’t been particularly graceful in dealing with the film’s critical reception. In interviews, Stanton has been defensive about the film’s budget, and over the weekend, he wrote an oddly worded tweet that blamed moviegoers as “jaded” if they didn’t enjoy his film:

Andrew Stanton tweet

Studio Ghibli’s The Secret World of Arrietty added an extra $402,000 boosting its US total to $17.6 million. It is the fourth highest-grossing anime film ever released in the US, behind only Pokemon: The First Movie, Pokemon: The Movie 2000, and Yu-Gi-Oh! The Movie.

Jean “Moebius” Giraud, RIP (1938-2012)


RIP, French comic artist and illustrator Jean “Moebius” Giraud, who has passed away from cancer at the age of 73. This is a good place to begin learning about his work. His best known film design work is in live-action, like The Abyss, Alien, TRON and The Fifth Element, but he also contributed to a number of animation projects including Little Nemo: Adventures in Slumberland, Space Jam and Time Masters (below). He was revered in France where they exhibited his comic art with respect and appreciation.

Moebius influenced many people in our industry. I’ve collected some of the animation community’s reactions on Twitter:

Rare Episodes of “Do-It-Yourself Film Animation Show”

Here’s some fantastic weekend viewing: episodes of Bob Godfrey’s seminal British TV series Do-It-Yourself Film Animation Show. The episode above, broken into multiple parts, features Richard Williams. The rest of the videos are on Charactermation’s YouTube Channel. A few months ago, we also posted Terry Gilliams’ appearance on the show.

(Thanks, Joel Mayer)

Music Video Round-Up (#7)

To August And Youth by The Future Roots

Finnish animator/illustrator/visualist Aleksi Revonkorpi made this music video using “Cinema4D and it’s “Sketch And Toon”. From start to finish this took me one week to wrap up. This one was more of a favor to my friend and his new album.”

New Day by Olav Basoski

Nicholas Temple first heard this track last year and loved it so much he started producing his own music video for it. The general idea is that the monkey and the 70′s disco man are driving across a barren desert looking for a good time. They get lucky and find a pyramid in the middle of no where and meet up with a like minded panda, flamingo, hippo and get their boogie on.

Figment by Raygun Ballet

A nobody named Eddie Crane dreams of what his life would be like if he made it to the big time. Actual talent is optional. This piece was animated in Flash, then texture was added to the characters and environment via compositing. Directed by Rhythm & Hues’ John-Mark Austin, animated by Nathan Smith (aka SWiTCH).

Montreal’s Studio Technique To Host Masterclass With Disney Animator Andreas Deja

Attend a MASTERCLASS with legendary Disney Animator Andreas Deja. Part of the Shop Talk Masterclass Series sponsored by Studio Technique, the workshops will be held in Montréal on June 2 & 3, 2012.

Andreas Deja has worked at Walt Disney Feature Animation for 30 years. He created some of the most memorable characters animation has known, and has worked on several Academy Award-winning films. He is also one of only a few animators the Disney Studio has authorized to draw Mickey Mouse.

Andreas is a recipient of the Winsor McCay Award for outstanding contribution to the art of animation, presented in 2006 at the 35th Annie Awards. He is responsible for many of animation’s famous characters, including Roger Rabbit, King Triton, Gaston, Scar, Jafar, Hercules, Lilo, and Mama Odie. He is also the creator of the world famous blog Deja View.

Andreas is one of the industry’s leading animators, respected by his peers all over the world for his remarkable influence on the art form. Visit his blog at www.andreasdeja.blogspot.com.

This masterclass is suitable for animation industry professionals, students or enthusiasts. There are two options for the masterclass weekend:

1) The one-day Animation Intensive Seminar, held in downtown Montreal (June 2, 2012).

2) The two-day option which includes the Animation Intensive Seminar (June 2, 2012) as well as an exclusive full day Life Drawing Class (June 3, 2012) with hands-on feedback from Andreas, on location at Studio Technique. Please note that the 2 day option is available to a maximum of 15 people, space is very limited!

About Studio Technique
Studio Technique is an artistic training studio for professional and amateur artists, focusing on drawing and animation. Please visit us at www.studiotechniquemontreal.com

For information on pricing and registration please visit: http://www.studiotechniquemontreal.com/events/

Call For Entries: 2012 CG Student Awards

London, UK — The Tasman Theory Pty Limited is now accepting submissions for the 2012 CG Student Awards. The event is split into three categories: Student of the Year, Studio Internships, People’s Choice. There is a prize pool of over $100,000USD and ten (10) Studio Internships. The deadline for submissions is 20th May, 2012. Winners announced 1st June, 2012.

The CG Student Awards has an extensive list of high profile companies sponsoring the event.  Our five platinum sponsors include Autodesk, Ballistic, Conceptshare, Digital-tutors, and Next Limit Technologies. Other notable industry sponsors include: Pixologic, NVIDIA, Adobe, The Foundry, Stash Media, Side Effects Software, Smith Micro, and 3D Artist Magazine.

Leading production studios Double Negative, MPC, Framestore, Prime Focus, The Mill, and BlueBolt are also offering 10 professional internships throughout Europe, Canada, USA, and India. Each studio offers slightly different internships, but an internship winner can expect to receive 2-4 month professional experience, support and guidance from industry leading experts, standard intern salary, and an amazing opportunity to network and prove your skills.

“We’ve been amazed by the quality of our interns we picked up from the CG Student Awards. During their time with us, the interns gained the respect of our senior crew members and made a tremendous contribution to the lighting, fx, rigging, modelling and texturing of all our current movies” said Karl Wickens, Co Head of 3D Double Negative.

“I never really thought I would win the title of Student of the Year. It opened the door for me into the visual effects industry. After the Internship at Framestore, they hired me straight away” said Maximilian – Gordon Vogt.

“This opportunity changed my life and I now find myself rigging on major blockbuster movies, a dream come true” said Elliot Stammers.

XYZ Signs Animation Director Mat Landour

New York and Melbourne-based studio XYZ announced that it has added Mat Landour to its artist roster.

Landour’s commercial work includes standout spots for Coca Cola Super bowl, Royal Bank of Canada, TNT and The International Olympic Committee working with gun agencies such as W+K Portland, Y&R NY, Sapient and Cole&Webber.

Landour studied at Supinfocom France where he directed his first animated short film En Tus Brazos. This tango love story won awards the world over including an Excellence Award at Siggraph 2007 and was screened during the World Tango Championship in Buenos Aires. Landour, a recipient of awards from Clio, Young Guns and Shoot, likes to play with all media, often mixing them to create breathtakingly poetic environments. Just signed, he is already in production on his first job with Kia via Inocean Sydney.

“Ugly Americans” on Comedy Central — Season 3 Premiere at NYC’s Big Screen Plaza

When: Wednesday March 14, 2012

Where: Bar Basque Lounge & the Big Screen Plaza

839 6th Avenue, New York, NY

Event Start Time: 10:00 PM

Air Time: 10:30 PM

About the Event:

See Ugly Americans on a giant 30” x 16.5” LED screen!

Viewing from the south lounge at Bar Basque.   Enter through the Bar Basque entrance on 6th Avenue between 29th street and 30th street to get to the second floor.

Comedy Central and Augenblick Studios premiere season 3 at 10:30 pm.  Ugly Americans highlights will air from 10-10:30pm before the show. Audio will be on in the Bar Basque lounge.

Screening is free and open to the public with a cash bar for fans.

Tradition Studios Signs “Horrible Bosses” Screenwriter For Untitled Brad Lewis Animated Feature

PORT ST. LUCIE, FL — Tradition Studios, the new animated feature film studio of Digital Domain Media Group, announced that Mike Markowitz, writer of Horrible Bosses, has signed on to write its next animated feature. Brad Lewis, formerly of Pixar and PDI/Dreamworks (Cars 2, Ratatouille, ANTZ) is attached to direct. The untitled Brad Lewis project is in development at the studio’s San Francisco facility, and will be produced at Tradition Studios in Florida.

This will be Tradition Studios’ second animated feature and is slated for release after The Legend of Tembo, directed by Aaron Blaise and Chuck Williams (Brother Bear), and written by William Schneider.

LAAF 2012: Bill Plympton, Liquid TV, Fantastic Planet and more…

One more quick shout-out for the LAAF (The Los Angeles Animation Festival) now going on at the Showcase Theatre in Hollywood (near the corner of La Brea and Melrose).

Tonight at 10pm: a screening of MTV’s new version of Liquid Television, plus a Liquid Television/Titmouse sponsored after-party featuring live music from all-girl rock group Nylon Pink; Saturday afternoon at 4pm Sean Lennon will present at screening of Rene Laloux’s Fantastic Planet (1972) and at 5:30pm I’ll co-introduce the ASIFA presentation of of Fleischer’s Gulliver’s Travels (1939), a 35mm Technicolor print; Sunday night at 8pm Bill Plympton will present a 20th anniversary screening of his animated feature The Tune. (P.S. before his screening on Sunday, Bill Plympton will be at Gallery Nucleus in Alhambra giving a talk about his documentary, new films, Q and A, and signing books. Click here for details).

And these are only a few of the wall-to-wall animation screenings scheduled this weekend. For a complete list of events click here. The theatre is located at 614 N. LaBrea Ave. – right around the corner from Golden Apple Comics on Melrose. See you there!

Everybody Wanted to Sue Disney in 1940

Walt Disney and Lawyers

It’s no secret that the Walt Disney Company is fiercely protective of its intellectual property, but the law works both ways, and they’ve been accused of wrongdoing almost from the moment that Walt’s company became successful. While researching my upcoming biography of Ward Kimball, I found a reference to a “Mann lawsuit” in his notes from 1940. Ward wrote about how animator Fred Moore had been questioned by Mann’s attorneys, as well as how animator Ham Luske had testified on the stand.

I became curious to learn more about what the lawsuit was all about. The plaintiff was Ned Herbert Mann, a well respected veteran special effects artist who had started his career working with the production designer William Cameron Menzies on The Thief of Bagdad (1924). Mann believed that he had patented an animation process back in 1934 that was similar to Disney’s and he was trying to prove that Walt had traced the mouths of characters off of photostats while producing Snow White. The Disney company was eventually able to prove that the claim was completely baseless and the judge dismissed the case.

The only information I could find online regarding the case was an article from the St. Petersburg Times from June 29, 1940. You can read the entire article below. The article is fascinating, not just for the information it provides about the Mann case, but also because it lists some of the dozens of other cases filed against Disney at the time. According to the Disney studio’s attorney Gunther Lessing, “The trouble seems to be that almost everybody sees one of his brain children somewhere in Disney’s cartoons.” Some of the cases against Disney at the time included:

* Adriana Caselotti, the voice of the character Snow White, had sued Disney because some of the songs she sang had been released as records, and she wanted a share of the record profits. The case was thrown out when Lessing produced a document that proved “she had signed all her rights in her performance to Disney every time she put her signature to her paycheck.”

* A guy in California filed a lawsuit because he claimed that one of the dwarfs used his laugh or “an exact imitation.”

* A woman filed a lawsuit which claimed that while Disney hadn’t copied her words or music, he had infringed on the spiritual feeling of her work.

* A gas station operator in Minnesota claimed he had sold 15 gallons of gas to an animator who was on vacation, and that he had suggested to the artist that the Disney studio produce Pinocchio.

The article also talks about how Disney had sued a biscuit company that was making unauthorized Mickey, Pluto and Horace Horsecollar animal crackers. The Disney company sued for $24 million dollars, but eventually settled out of court for $8,000.

Here’s the entire piece:

Walt Disney and Lawyers

Bent Image Labs Animates Segment For “Portlandia”

Fred Armisen and Carrie Brownstein’s fantastical train ride through the bowels of the small town/big city of Portland, Oregon has spiraled into the dark crevices of a rat hole. Produced by Portland animation house Bent Image Lab, “Zero Rats” features Fred and Carrie as animated rodents attempting to break into a zero packaging grocery store. The nearly three minute segment directed by Rob Shaw, captures the essence of the improvisation show while not getting lost in animated translation.

The skit opens with a live action shot of Fred and Carrie discussing a new zero packaging grocery store. Fred’s comment about the rat threat prompts a cut to an attic set populated by stop motion rats. Fred Rat, Carrie Rat and a third rat friend, John, plot their pillaging strategy while assessing their strengths (not afraid of mice), weaknesses (freak out, jump all over each other, eat), opportunities (no rat poison and a well placed heating vent) and threats (raccoons, possums) to getting their food. With help from an unsuspecting grocery clerk, the rats’ dreams of a world with zero packaging foods rival that of Charlotte’s Templeton at the county fair, but their exuberance overrules their good sense and their adventure ends with comical results.

“Jonathan, Fred and Carrie came to Bent to take a tour and talk about some visual effects we were doing for other episodes of the show,” remembers Shaw. During the visit the Portlandians brought up an idea they had for a funny animated segment based off of a real zero packaging grocery store. “As soon as they started talking about the ‘Zero Rats’ concept I was completely on board.”

But creating an animated Portlandia segment was going to be tricky. Both live action and animation production require planning and precision, but live action production can thrive off of spontaneity and improvisation while animation requires commitment to its original vision. Capturing Portlandia’s improv style in an animated world while still remaining true to its live action roots required trust, creativity and commitment.

Building a live action show in animation

The Script/Animatic

For the animation process to begin on “Zero Rats” the crew needed the final dialogue nailed down at the beginning so they could develop the storyboards for the animatic (a mock up of storyboards cut to dialogue). The Portlandia cast quickly recorded lines from a script and then jumped into an improv session for just under two hours, giving them plenty of material for the segment.

“Stop motion is rarely unscripted. The voice over is usually set in stone,” says Bent Senior Producer Kara Place. “You don’t get to do improv in stop motion very often. So to have the dialogue driven by an improv voice over session that hasn’t been cleaned up, perfected and smoothed out, where the characters are talking over each other and winging it, is really nice.”

For me, some of the best parts of the skit are when people take a long time to say their line,” says Shaw. “It’s not telling the story, it’s not setting up for another gag. In animation that stuff usually gets cut out but here it’s left in, so it actually becomes the joke.”

Shaw and team launched into creating the animatic, fleshing it out a bit more then usual to showcase the “acting” of the characters and helping to convey what the final skit would look like to the Portlandia crew. “In the end I think that really worked out to our favor because everyone who saw the animatic said ‘Oh this is already funny’ so we knew it would only get funnier when it was fully animated,” says Shaw. With a locked animatic the Bent team dove into production mode.

The Essence of Fred and Carrie

To capture Fred and Carrie in the rats, the puppet fabricators turned to the Internet and season one of Portlandia for reference. Shaw chose a wig for the Carrie Rat, styled after one Carrie actually wore on the show and a headband as a nod to her character in Portlandia’s “Hide and Seek” skit. Fred Rat features a fedora and Armisen’s signature black-rimmed glasses that are made of painted brass. The rats themselves were made from foam latex with a flocked fur application that was stimulated by an electro-static flocking gun that charges the fur, drawing it together and standing it on end. The hands, tail and feet are all silicone rubber, chosen for its natural skin tone appearance. Though they wanted the rats to look as natural as possible (with the exception of the light accoutrements) they did add whites to their eyes to make the rats more expressive. “We needed the whites in their eyes so you could see eye lines, who they were talking to or that they are rolling their eyes at each other,” says Shaw.

The Portlandish Attic

While the rat puppets evolved, Art Director Greg Arden began sussing out his plans for the attic set. Wanting to create the perfect rat cave, Arden utilized all sorts of garbage inspired props for his décor. “One of the most exciting things we heard from Fred, Carrie and Jonathan is that they wanted it to be really dirty,” says Arden. “Everything we normally do in our world is absolutely spotless, clean, no streaks, no fingerprints. This was the chance to go hog wild with details that could make it filthier.” Arden incorporated old 45s stacked by a window as a radiator, an old rat-chewed case stereo with a “Margaritaville” tape ramp, a few lamps made out of old fruit peels and lots of scraps, food crumbs and rat droppings to dirty up the set. As a nod to Portland, Arden even included a kombucha water cooler and based the overall design on a “vintage eclectic” look which he contributes to the Portland style. In addition, the crew created a tomato can oven and sardine can coffee table for the set. Not wasting the tomatoes and sardines Arden made a delicious spaghetti sauce which he slurped up for dinner. “Greg is a really funny dude,” says Shaw. “He added little jokes here and there like the rat turds, the little dried fruit Tiffany lamps, just things on their own that were kind of funny, that weren’t scripted or boarded.”

Once the rats and set were ready to go, the actual animation could begin. Bringing the rats to life with Carrie and Fred’s nuances fell to Lead Animator Jen Prokopowicz. Studying footage of both of them, including recordings from their voice record session, Prokopowicz worked with Shaw and the Director of Photography for Portlandia Bryce Fortner (who also DP’d the “Zero Rats” segment), to draw from their observations of the Portlandia actors. “Bryce noticed that when they were filming Portlandia Carrie would put her hands out in front and make these paddle-like gestures when she spoke,” says Prokopowicz. “We tried to use that as often as possible. With Fred, he’s being such a character as the rat [during the voice record] that we looked for characters that he played like that in Portlandia; where he is kind of a nervous guy.”

Shaw also worked with Prokopowicz to rehearse the scenes before going into animation. Shaw and Prokopowicz recorded themselves acting out the dialogue several times. “I really believe in acting out reference for animation because there’s all sorts of subtle nuances that you pick up,” says Shaw. “You do it a bunch of times and try to find what little weird things that you do naturally and apply those to the different parts of the shot. We wouldn’t have gotten that if we just listened to the audio and winged it.”

Once the animation was complete the footage was delivered to the Portlandians for their review. Bent Producer Nate Baston feels they were very happy with the final results “They loved it,” he says. Shaw was also told by Carrie herself that they were happy with the “Zero Rats” footage. “I said good, because we loved doing it,” says Shaw.

With a committed crew, a creative spark and a love for a show about their fellow Portlandians, the Bent crew hopes that the rats will be a big hit and that Portlandia will want to bring them back for more. “I just hope that they find an excuse to re-use the rats and we get to see more of them in the future,” says Shaw.

“Zero Rats” aired on Portlandia, February 3rd on IFC 10pm/9pm Central.

9 Story Entertainment Announces Animation Slate For MIPTV

Toronto, Canada — 9 Story Entertainment announces its new and returning animation slate for MIPTV, featuring Fugget About It, the company’s first foray in producing primetime animation. The slate includes:

*New* Fugget About It (26×22’), a primetime animated sitcom about the misadventures of former New York mob boss Jimmy Falcone and his family, who are forced to enter a witness protection program in small-town Canada. The Falcones are now the “MacDougals” and it’s not easy going from glorified gangsters to neighborhood nobodies. The series will on air on TELETOON AT NIGHT in Canada.

Almost Naked Animals (52×22’ or 104×11’).  Now in its 3rd season, the international hit kid’s series features an ensemble cast of underwear-clad animals, set in a beachfront hotel named the Banana Cabana, home to mayhem, destruction and all around fun!

*New* Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood (40×22’ or 80×11’) The charming animated preschool series features Daniel, a shy but brave 4-year-old tiger, who lives in the beloved Neighborhood of Make Believe.

*New* Camp Lakebottom (26×22’ or 52×11’) An animated kids comedy about 12-year old mastermind and ultra-rich kid McGee, who gets sent to the most dangerous and exciting summer camp in the world, Camp Lakebottom.  The cabins are possessed, the staff members are a real creep show and McGee and his misfit pals are having way too much fun!

*New* Arthur  (20x 22’ or 40×11’) Everyone’s favorite little aardvark and his gang of pals are back for a digitally refreshed 16th season of 20 new exciting episodes now produced by 9 Story Entertainment.

Wild Kratts (66x 22’) The Kratts brothers leap into animated action in the 2rd season of Wild Kratts, an adventure comedy from the creators of the hit shows Kratts Creatures and Zoboomafoo. Chris and Martin Kratt travel to a different corner of the world to meet amazing new animals.

NY International Children’s Film Festival Adds North American Premiere of “Monkey King: Uproar in Heaven” to 2012 Slate


NEW YORK, NY, MARCH 7, 2012 —New York International Children’s Film Festival has added the North American premiere of The Monkey King: Uproar In Heaven to this year’s festival lineup. The film is a new frame-for-frame restoration and 3D rendering of the Wan Laiming masterpiece, a national treasure and China’s most celebrated and accomplished work of animation. The film had its world premiere at the 2012 Berlin Film Festival.

Composed of gorgeously flowing animation created by hand from over 130,000 ink drawings and an opulent soundtrack inspired by the Beijing Opera, the film follows the adventures of the magical Monkey King of Flower Fruit Mountain, a mischievous character who creates havoc by refusing to bow down to the authority of the Celestial Jade Emperor. After stealing a magic staff from the Dragon King of the Eastern Sea , the cheeky Monkey King challenges the established order of heaven, freeing horses from the imperial stables, disrupting imperial banquets, and entering into epic battle with one colorful god after another — while snubbing his nose at the pompous formality of the heavenly court. Based on the classic Chinese story Journey to the West, the original film was made at the height of that country’s golden period of animation and was released a mere months before the before the entire film industry was shut down by the Cultural Revolution. This is a truly stunning work of animation and mythological storytelling, far surpassing anything China has produced before or since.

The film will play Sat, Mar 10 at 11:00am and Weds, Mar 21 at 6:30pm at Walter Reade Theater at Lincoln Center . Tickets for all NYICFF events are now on sale at www.gkids.com. As in past years, all screenings are expected to sell out, so advance purchase is highly recommended.

Turner Classic Movies and Sony Pictures Home Entertainment to Bring 38 Classic UPA Cartoons to DVD for First Time Ever

Fans of classic animation will have a lot to cheer about this spring, when Turner Classic Movies (TCM) and Sony Pictures Home Entertainment (SPHE) bring 38 timeless cartoons from the 1950s to DVD for the first time ever. UPA: The Jolly Frolics Collection is a treasure trove of animated shorts from United Productions of America (UPA), home to such beloved characters as Mr. Magoo and Gerald McBoing Boing. The three-disc set will be sold exclusively through TCM’s online store at http://shop.tcm.com, beginning March 15.

Featuring a video introduction by film critic, writer and historian Leonard Maltin, UPA: The Jolly Frolics Collection is the perfect addition to any animation and classic movie fan’s DVD library. Each short has been digitally remastered, with audio commentaries by Maltin and animation historian Jerry Beck included on select cartoons. Extensive bonus features include a rare Pencil Test for the short, “Christopher Crumpet’s Playmate” (1955), and over 100 examples of production art, marketing materials, and more. The beautiful gate-fold collection is accompanied by a 16-page in-depth booklet featuring historical backgrounds, animator bios, and a timeline of the studio.

“I’m sure I’m not the only animation enthusiast who’s been longing to see these great cartoons released on DVD. It’s a privilege to be able to introduce them and provide commentary tracks, but it’s even more exciting to see them so beautifully restored.” says Maltin.

Meticulously restored and remastered, this collection represents a milestone for cartoon fans of all ages. “TCM is proud to add these historically important films to TCM Vault Collection series,” says Dennis Adamovich, SVP Brand Activation, Turner Entertainment Networks. “The UPA cartoon library has not been available in this quality since the cartoons were originally theatrically presented over a half century ago. SPHE has done incredible work in bringing this library back to life. Many of these shorts are modern masterpieces of the animation world and can now be enjoyed again for a new generation.”

“We are thrilled to once again work with our partners at Turner Classic Movies to bring these films into the homes of those who have been waiting for their release,” says Marc Rashba, Vice President, Marketing for Sony Pictures Home Entertainment. “We hope the new bonus content, including commentaries by Leonard Maltin, will make an exciting viewing experience for fans.”

Among the highlights of UPA: The Jolly Frolics Collection is the 1949 short “The Ragtime Bear,” which introduced the world to that lovably cantankerous, near-sighted millionaire Mr. Magoo, voiced by Jim Backus. The Academy Award®-winning 1950 short “Gerald McBoing Boing,” based on a story by Dr. Seuss, is also featured, along with “Gerald McBoing Boing’s Symphony” (1953) and “Gerald McBoing! Boing! on Planet Moo” (1956).

Other highlights include the studio’s first two shorts for Columbia Pictures, “Robin Hoodlum” (1948) and “The Magic Fluke” (1949); an adaptation of Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Tell-Tale Heart,” narrated by James Mason; and “The Unicorn in the Garden,” which was originally intended to be part of an ambitious feature-length cartoon based on the works of James Thurber.

UPA was formed in 1943 by a group of artists and animators who left Walt Disney during the 1941 animators strike. Hoping to break away from the ultra-realistic animation style Disney had been advocating, the UPA artists sought freedom to experiment with animation techniques, non-realistic colors, contemporary designs and sometimes-provocative storytelling. They began applying their concepts in wartime work for the government, later scoring their first major success with “Hell-Bent for Election,” a Chuck Jones-directed short produced for FDR’s 1944 re-election campaign and sponsored by the United Auto Workers (UAW).

After government contracts dried up in the late ’40s, UPA forged a contract with Columbia Pictures to produce theatrical animated shorts, achieving great success casting Columbia’s Fox and Crow characters in “Robin Hoodlum” and “The Magic Fluke.” When those projects both garnered Oscar®-nominations, Columbia gave UPA free reign to create its own characters. That led to the emergence of Mr. Magoo and Gerald McBoing Boing, the latter earning the studio’s first Academy Award for Best Animated Short. The studio went on to win two more Academy Awards for “When Magoo Flew” (1954) and “Magoo’s Puddle Jumper” (1956). UPA would continue to enjoy unprecedented critical acclaim and awards recognition in the 1950s, including collecting all three of the nominations in 1957, a feat not even achieved by Walt Disney.

Throughout the 1950s, UPA scored several successes, despite losing several of its most talented staff members to the communist purge of the film industry in the 1950’s. After earning 15 Oscar nominations and three Academy Awards over 12 years, the studio stopped producing theatrical shorts in 1959. Two theatrical features followed: 1001 Arabian Nights (1959) and Gay Purr-ee (1962).

UPA artists revolutionized animation, not only through their striking design aesthetic but also through the use of limited animation, which incorporated more static backgrounds and less fluid movement. Beginning in the mid-’50s, UPA found great success on television, where lower budgets and tighter deadlines allowed limited animation to thrive. The studio produced such series as The Gerald McBoing-Boing Show, Mister Magoo and The Dick Tracy Show, as well as the enormously popular 1962 holiday special, Mr. Magoo’s Christmas Carol.

The following is a complete listing of shorts in UPA: The Jolly Frolics Collection:

“Robin Hoodlum” (1948) — Oscar nomination
“The Magic Fluke” (1949) — Oscar nomination
“The Ragtime Bear” (1949)
“Punchy De Leon” (1950)
“The Miner’s Daughter” (1950)
“Giddyap” (1950)
“The Popcorn Story” (1950)
“Gerald McBoing Boing” (1951) — Oscar winner
“The Family Circus” (1951)
“Georgie and the Dragon” (1951)
“The Wonder Gloves” (1951)
“The Oompahs” (1952)
“Rooty Toot Toot” (1952) — Oscar nominee
“Willie the Kid” (1952)
“Pete Hothead” (1952)
“Madeline” (1952) — Oscar nominee
“Little Boy with a Big Horn” (1953)
“The Emperor’s New Clothes” (1953)
“Christopher Crumpet” (1953) — Oscar nominee
“Gerald McBoing Boing’s Symphony” (1953)
“The Unicorn in the Garden” (1953)
“The Tell-Tale Heart” (1953) — Oscar nominee
“Bringing Up Mother” (1954)
“Ballet Oops” (1954)
“The Man on the Flying Trapeze” (1954)
“Fudget’s Budget” (1954)
“How Now Boing Boing” (1954)
“Spare the Child” (1955)
“Four Wheels No Brakes” (1955)
“Baby Boogie” (1955)
“Christopher Crumpet’s Playmate” (1955)
“The Rise of Duton Lang” (1955)
“Gerald McBoing Boing on Planet Moo” (1956) — Oscar nominee
“The Jaywalker” (1956) — Oscar nominee
“Trees and Jamaica Daddy” (1958) — Oscar nominee
“Sailing and Village Band” (1958)
“Spring and Saganaki” (1958)
“Picnics are Fun and Dino’s Serenade” (1959)