“Fisher” by Yoram Benz

Yoram Benz – originally from Hawaii, grew up in France and spent many years working at studios in New York and LA – set up his own creative content company, One Eyed Robot, on a small 3-acre farm in Milton, Georgia. From there Benz has guided some wonderful commercials, commissioned pieces and personal films all worthy of attention. Here is one of the latter, Fisher, fresh from the festival circuit. Beautifully rendered, an intricate yet stylized peek into the world of a lonely fisherman. Haunting, strange… a cross between David Lynch and The Incredible Mr. Limpet. I like it.

Tuesday in New York City: Tissa David Memorial

This Tuesday, October 23, there will be a public memorial for the great East Coast animator Tissa David, who passed away last August at the age of 91. The memorial will begin at 7pm at the Academy’s Lighthouse Theater (111 E. 59th St
New York, NY 10022). Artists who knew and worked with Tissa will speak about her work, and a selection of her work will be screened from the Hubley Studio, Raggedy Ann & Andy, The Ink Tank and Michael Sporn Animation. Admission is FREE.

“The Man With The Iron Fists” Animated Preview by Eric Calderon and RZA

Once again Universal Pictures is using animation (in this case quite limited, though artistically done) to create a viral promotional piece to presage a major live action feature. The Man With The Iron Fists, stars Oscar winner Russell Crowe in a film directed and co-written by rapper RZA. This animated prequel finds the Blacksmith (RZA) beginning his journey through China. Eric Calderon directed this piece with RZA, through Titmouse in LA. Character design and storyboard by Chase Conley, illustrations by Chase Conley, Xiongliang Li, Connie Wong:

“Dehli Safari” trailer

Another year, another late-in-the-season animated release from India. This time: Dehli Safari, India’s first stereoscopic 3D animated feature. Mashing concepts from Madagascar, Open Season with Rio, and using animation a few notches below that of Valiant, it’s been dubbed into English by actors Cary Elwes, Brad Garrett, Christopher Lloyd, Jason Alexander, Tom Kenny, Vanessa Williams and… say it ain’t so… Jane Lynch(!). It’s now playing in Irvine California (Edwards Westpark 8). Quick, catch it before it disappears forever.

(Thanks, Eric Graf)

“Reagan” by Harry Teitelman and Daniel Garcia

Killer Mike’s song “Reagan” offers a much-needed corrective to the partisan politics of American election season. The lyrics, which boldly declare all American Presidents as puppets who tell “lies on teleprompters”, are accompanied by striking visuals by Harry Teitelman and Daniel Garcia, who use a red-white-and-blue color palette in the most ironic way possible.

Rare Animation on TCM: “Silent Cartoons”

Here’s a fun gallery of actual film frames from the collection of Tom Stathes – the collector extraordinaire who provided the rare prints that ran on on TCM’s Rare Animation night (Oct. 21st 2012). These films were shown as part of an hour of Silent Animation From New York Studios – and included shorts from Bray Studios (poster #1, logo #2 and trade ad #3), The Artists Dream (#4), Bobby Bumps Starts For School (#5), The Haunted Hotel (#6), Mutt and Jeff in Fireman, Save My Child (#7), Jerry on the Job in The Bomb Idea (#8), Koko the Clown in Trip To Mars (#9), Al Falfa in Springtime (#10), Krazy Kat in Scents and Nonsense (#11) and Van Bueren’s sound cartoon The Farmerette (#12). More information on each short is posted here.

Andy Serkis to direct Mo-Cap “Animal Farm”

Performance-capture actor Andy Serkis (Tintin, Lord of the Rings, Rise of The Planet Of The Apes), who recently directed second unit on Peter Jackson’ The Hobbit, is developing a mo-cap version or George Orwell’s Animal Farm for himself to direct. The Hollywood Reporter says Serkis bought the movie rights to the novel and is currently producing, through his own London-based studio Imaginarium, a proof of concept film.

This is NOT the worst idea I’ve ever heard… In fact, I’m apt to trust his judgement on this one. Serkis certainly knows what he’s doing with the mo-cap technique. He may be one of the few working in films who does. He just might pull it off.

(Thanks, Liam Scanlan)

FIRST LOOK: Jerry on TCM

As previously noted, this Sunday night yours-truly, Jerry Beck, spends the whole evening co-hosting an entire block of classic animated films on TCM (Turner Classic Movies). The line up is as follows:

•Max Fleischer’s Gulliver’s Travels (1939) at 8pm Eastern/5pm Pacific

•Max Fleischer’s Mr. Bug Goes To Town (1941) at 9:30pm Eastern/6:30pm Pacific

•UPA’s Jolly Frolics at 11pm Eastern/8pm Pacific

New York Studio Silent Era Animation from the collection of Tom Stathes at 12 midnight Eastern/9pm Pacific

•Lotte Reiniger’s The Adventures of Prince Achmed at 1am Eastern/11pm Pacific

We taped the nine intros in advance, shooting about six minutes of discussion per, which was then carefully edited down to 3 or 3-1/2 minutes for each segment. Sometimes the editing is very smooth, sometimes it creates awkward jumps in my narrative… but what’s important is our opportunity to screen and discuss these films in prime time. I, for one, want to see this happen again (and again, and again). Feel free to let TCM know that you support the idea of regular classic animation evenings! The best way is to post on their forums.

For now, here’s one of the edited segments – this is one (of two) introducing several UPA cartoons.


UPDATE: In case you missed them, here are all nine of my TCM host segments, posted on You Tube.

Blur’s Tim Miller Responds To “The Goon” Kickstarter Controversy

The commentary I posted a couple days ago about The Goon Kickstarter project generated a lot of heated debate, both on Cartoon Brew and elsewhere.

A couple nights ago, I had a lengthy phone conversation with Tim Miller, who is the creative director and co-owner of Blur Studio, the studio that will produce The Goon. It was an intense but respectful discussion.

I like Blur and sincerely hope they’re able to make The Goon, but the core issue of whether it’s appropriate to use Kickstarter to fund pre-production for a feature film that has no guarantee of completion is problematic. On that issue, we weren’t able to come to any conclusion. However, I offered Tim the opportunity to respond in any way that he sees fit. You can read his side of the argument below—uncut and unedited.

Response from Tim Miller

Many of the animators here at Blur are regular readers of Cartoon Brew and we were all disturbed to see this post. We really care what the animation community thinks and we care about our reputation so I felt the need to respond. I love a healthy debate and some of his issues are worthy of discussion but what I DIDN’T love was the tone of the article and the implication that Blur and David Fincher were somehow being deceptive and that we’d broken the rules of Kickstarter.

I called Amid and we discussed some of his issues and—though I didn’t change his mind—he did offer me a forum for rebuttal—so here I am rebutting! Let’s start with this one:

“Kickstarter launched with the promise of helping independent artists raise funding for projects that otherwise couldn’t easily be financed.”

At 110 fulltime artists and production folk and NO studio or corporate backing, Blur is—by any industry definition I know—an independent studio. Blur is owned by 2 artists and a programmer (I’m one of the artists)–not wealthy corporate CEO types. Amid’s statement here describes our studio and our Goon project perfectly; we’re an independent studio that couldn’t get our project easily financed.

“….those projects have been drowned out by the established creators who are grabbing much of the attention nowadays.”

He may have a point there but that’s not really a reason to put down our project. And for a positive spin it could be looked at another way; if a big named “established creator” brings attention to Kickstarter it CAN draw eyeballs and traffic to the site that otherwise might not show up there. More traffic means more attention; more light that can shine on ALL Kickstarter projects. I’m not painting our Goon project as some sort of altruistic endeavor or even a big draw—I’m just positing the more attention Kickstarter gets the better it COULD be for everyone.

“Curiously, the story reel that will be produced won’t be made available to the backers of the campaign.”

Not true, it will be available to SOME—though—granted only at insanely high donation levels. The reason for this is simply we have to keep story under wraps and can’t have copies floating around. A fair number of people have complained and we agree it’s not optimal so we’re working on ideas to show the final product to more people. Ideas that simply didn’t occur to us before as we (naively) didn’t think it was such a big deal; live and learn.

“Should the film be made by a corporate film studio, that company just saved themselves half a million dollars on the backs of dedicated animation fans who believe they’re funding an indie project, when in reality they’re funding a mainstream Hollywood feature.”

Let me first reiterate that we aren’t some big film corporation and any money “saved” will be put right back into the film, not our pocket. But let’s look at a current Kickstarter project to invent and prototype a new type of light bulb. Let’s say the inventor reaches his funding goal and it pays for the R&D and prototype development of a new energy saving bulb, which he then takes to, say… G.E., who buys the design, makes the bulbs and distributes them around the world. Is that evil or wrong? Does that violate “the spirit” of Kickstarter? I don’t think so—I think it’s great that something got made that’s good for the world that otherwise might not have.

“There is nothing “indie” about the way Fincher and Blur are setting up the film, and they have a responsibility to be upfront about the reality of what they’re creating.”

This implies that we are somehow being deceptive about our goals when we say clearly, in bold and all caps several times on the Kickstarter’s front page that we are creating a STORYREEL. Implying we’re deliberately attempting to fool people is not only insulting but completely false. Neither Blur nor David Fincher have ever or WOULD ever try to “cheat” fans or anyone else—this is the comment that bothered us most and made me call Amid to defend our honor, something we take very seriously here at Blur.

“A number of backers have expressed their concerns on the campaign’s comments page:”

True, a few backers have issues, but one look at the comments page will show you 20 positive and excited fans for every doubter.

“The problem with The Goon Kickstarter boils down to this: They’re not producing a story reel that will be made available to the project’s backers. That means it’s an open-ended project, and if that’s the case, then it’s a clear violation of Kickstarter’s policies.”

First of all, this is a false statement. We are producing a product: The Goon Storyreel. Secondly, this project was thoroughly vetted and approved by the Kickstarter folks who have been EXTREMELY helpful and supportive and done their best to give advice and encouragement. So my question is this: Who is a better judge of the Kickstarter policies and philosophy–the people that created and operate the site or Mr. Amidi?

What really bothers me here boils down to this: Blur is trying to make an animated film that is outside the box of the usual animated films and in so doing bring joy to our artists, bring Eric Powell’s great characters to life and maybe—if we’re lucky—make enough money to keep the aforementioned joyful artists employed on future films. We’re not greedy and we’re no shills for some mega-corp—we’re just creators who want to make something different. We’ve tried the traditional routes to get this film made and they haven’t worked—so we’re trying something new that MAY help move the needle and get our project made.

And one last thing on the “David Fincher” of it all. Believe me when I say this guy has many, many, many project opportunities he could spend his time and money on. Opportunities that I’m sure have a greater profit potential if that’s what he was interested in. But truth is I know David well and I know he’s involved because he loves the project and loves animation, NOT because he needs to trick any Goon fans out of their 10 bucks.

Thanks for posting this Amid, we may not agree but appreciate you giving us our day in court.

“Typesetter Blues” by Hector Herrera

One part Foster’s Home, two parts The Dot and The Line – Hector Herrera’s Typesetter Blues is a hundred percent pure design eye candy. The film is the first chapter in an animated collection of silly rhymes called Beastly Bards – and the inaugural project from Herrera and writer/producer Pazit Cahlon as Toronto-based content creators Together: Words + Pictures for Art & Culture.

Ward Kimball Biography Delayed Until 2013

I’ve received a slew of messages in the past week from people who pre-ordered Full Steam Ahead!, which is the biography I wrote about the life of animation legend Ward Kimball. People who pre-ordered the book on Amazon have been receiving updates that say the book’s release date has been delayed from November 2012 until May 2013.

According to my editor at Chronicle Books, the earliest possible date that Ward’s biography will be available is June 2013. The book was wrapped up a long time ago, and was submitted for approval to the Walt Disney Company last January. The Disney company hasn’t approved the book yet. I am hopeful that we will resolve all the corporate issues soon and get this book released so we can talk about what’s really important: Ward’s creative accomplishments.

In the meantime, you can show your support by visiting the Ward Kimball Tumblr (updated DAILY), and please, keep on pre-ordering the book!

(Note: The cover design above is not final.)

Rare Animation on TCM: “UPA Cartoons”

This is gallery of images from Columbia Pictures cartoon shorts produced by UPA (United Productions of America), the groundbreaking animation studio of the 1950s who changed the perception of what animation could be. These cartoons will be telecast Oct. 21st at 11pm Eastern/8pm Pacific on Turner Classic Movies – 1. A cel and background from RAGTIME BEAR (1949), 2. Book cover from GERALD McBOING BOING (1950), 3. cel and background from GERALD McBOING BOING (1950), 4. The poster for ROOTY TOOT TOOT (1952), 5. A color sketch for ROOTY TOOT TOOT (1952), 6. a newspaper advertisement for THE TELL TALE HEART (1953), 7. The one sheet poster for A UNICORN IN THE GARDEN (1953). 8. An animation cel and background from FUDGET’S BUDGET (1954), 9. A cel and background from CRISTOPHER CRUMPET (1953), 10. a frame grab from CHRISTOPHER CRUMPET (1953), 11. and 12. two comics books based on UPA cartoons.

Fox Launches ADHD With Obama, Romney and Hamsters

Fox debuted a political animated short yesterday called Robama. They’re making shorts as part of their cheekily named ADHD property, which stands for Animation Domination High-Def. It’s a multi-platform property with content appearing online and, beginning next year, on late-Saturday night Fox TV broadcasts.

It’s an extension of their Animation Domination label, which is how Fox markets their Sunday night cartoon block with The Simpsons and Family Guy.

ADHD is headed up by Nick Weidenfeld, who has worked as an Adult Swim exec. There are few details on what will air on ADHD; Axe Cop is the only announced series so far. Fox is soft-launching ADHD this month with a website and some random shorts like Robama and a series called Hamsters on Rollerskates:

(Thanks, @TheOtherHillary)

“Seven Hours With A Backseat Driver” by Ivan Dixon and Greg Sharp

This video had me smiling all the way through. From its funny character designs by directors/animators Ivan Dixon and Greg Sharp – with Marlo Meekins – to its subtle subversive images done with a wink (literally). The music is cool, too.

Produced out of Australia’s Rubber House, with additional animation by Neil Sanders, Gavin Mouldey, Alex Grigg, Peter Lowey and Jérémy Pires, here’s Wouter De Backer’s (aka Goyte) Seven Hours With A Backseat Driver:

Why “The Goon” Is A Troubling Kickstarter Project [UPDATED]

Kickstarter launched with the promise of helping independent artists raise funding for projects that otherwise couldn’t easily be financed. As I wrote last month, the site’s animation category has more recently transformed into a place where established creators are raising six-figure dollar amounts from their fanbases. That’s not to say there aren’t plenty of independent projects on Kickstarter too, but those projects have been drowned out by the established creators who are grabbing much of the attention nowadays.

While Cartoon Brew has a longstanding policy to not promote active crowdfunding campaigns, the prominence of crowdfunding demands that we report on key campaigns that have news value to the community. The project discussed within has already received plenty of media attention, but it also has broader relevance to the animation crowdfunding discussion.

Last week, a Kickstarter was launched to fund an animated adaptation of Eric Powell’s Dark Horse-published comic The Goon. The project has a lot of high-profile names attached to it including live-action director David Fincher (Fight Club, Se7en), vfx/animation outfit Blur Studio, and actors Paul Giamatti and Clancy Brown.

The idea has been around for a while—a proof-of-concept trailer for The Goon was produced in 2010—but the project hasn’t moved beyond that stage. Now, Fincher, Blur, et al., are asking for the largest amount yet for a Kickstarter animated project—$400,000. What’s especially noteworthy—and troublesome—about their campaign is that not a single frame of animation will be produced for that amount of money.

Why?

Because they are asking for $400,000 to create a story reel for the feature film. Curiously, the story reel that will be produced won’t be made available to the backers of the campaign. While plenty of other rewards are being offered, The Goon represents a first for an animated project on Kickstarter—asking people to donate money to something they can’t see.

So what, you might ask? You’ll be able to see the finished animated feature. Well, maybe. If these guys require nearly half a million to create a story reel, that means they’re budgeting it as a traditional mid-sized studio feature, which will run in the range of $40-70 million (give or take ten million). There’s no guarantee the film will be made unless they can get that funding from a major studio, something that they haven’t been able to do thus far.

Should the film be made by a corporate film studio, that company just saved themselves half a million dollars on the backs of dedicated animation fans who believe they’re funding an indie project, when in reality they’re funding a mainstream Hollywood feature. There is nothing “indie” about the way Fincher and Blur are setting up the film, and they have a responsibility to be upfront about the reality of what they’re creating.

A number of backers have expressed their concerns on the campaign’s comments page:

The problem with The Goon Kickstarter boils down to this: They’re not producing a story reel that will be made available to the project’s backers. That means it’s an open-ended project, and if that’s the case, then it’s a clear violation of Kickstarter’s policies.

Further, while I’m sure Fincher and Blur Studios are well intentioned in their desire to make an animated feature, their approach of mixing their fans’ money with those of media corporations, the latter of whom will receive all the profit from a Goon feature, leads to an uncomfortable situation that is contrary to the entire spirit of Kickstarter. Artists should use the generosity of backers in crowdfunding campaigns to fulfill a creative vision, not to help corporations make money, as The Goon Kickstarter is currently set up to do.

[UPDATE]: Blur Studio’s Tim Miller just posted a comment on the Goon‘s comments page in which he said he wouldn’t share the story reel with the overwhelming majority of backers because, “[W]e believe having the whole film online would cause serious issues with any studio who wants to back the project.” This confirms my thoughts above that this project wouldn’t be possible without a major studio’s support. It also turns the Kickstarter campaign (in its current form) into an open-ended project with no complete project delivered to backers and no funding in place to take it further. This, as I mentioned above, is a violation of Kickstarter’s policies.

[UPDATE #2]: Read the response of Blur Studio’s Tim Miller to this commentary.

Why Animation on TCM is Important

Regular readers to this site are well aware by now that I’ll be part of a six-hour presentation of classic animation on TCM (Turner Classic Movies) this Sunday night (Oct. 21st beginning 8pm EST/5pm PST). For more information on the evening, see this Facebook page or TCM.com.

This programming stunt is a big deal, but it’s not about me being on TV or whether-or-not the films are restored with their original logos. It’s bigger than that for those who care about animation history – and its important for the entire animation community.

Classic animated films have no outlet in today’s media. Those of us of a certain age may recall seeing classic cartoons in movie theaters. Many of us grew up watching the entire history of Hollywood cartoons on television. Today, except for a few random showings at a festival, museum or repertory theatre, you’d be lucky to find Tom & Jerry or Looney Tunes buried within a block of kidvid. Look even harder and you might find Mr. Magoo and the Fox & Crow (but you gotta look real hard).

Mighty Mouse, Woody Woodpecker, Popeye, Betty Boop, or the works of Tex Avery are no longer there. Don’t even think of seeking out Flip the Frog, Oswald Rabbit, Felix The Cat or Molly Moo Cow. Disney shorts with Mickey Mouse or Donald Duck are rarer than Clara Cluck’s teeth. Let me repeat, there is no outlet for classic animation in the traditional media. Sure, you can find much on You Tube, or buy the DVDs… but you have to know what you’re looking for. As a teacher of animation history (at Woodbury University in Burbank), take it from me – the younger generation does not know who Winsor McCay is. Otto Messmer? Dave Fleischer? John Hubley? These names are lost on most animation students under 20 – and to the public at large under 30. There is just no exposure to this material.

Classic TV has several channels devoted to it. Ancient game shows and soap operas have a berth on cable. Animation has a place only on kids and pre-school channels or in prime-time series on Fox, Adult Swim and occasionally elsewhere. Turner Classic Movies is one of the treasures of the media landscape. They show the best (and worst, and everything in between) of classic Hollywood (and foreign) film. They do not run commercials – and thus do not subscribe to ratings services. They are practically a cultural gift from Turner Broadcasting and their parent company, Warner Bros.

The six hour spotlight on classic animation coming this weekend is a test. Will TCM’s traditional viewers respect and understand these are classic films? I’m betting they will. As far as I’m concerned, animated shorts and features – especially those produced for theatrical showing – from 1906 to umm, let’s say 1970 – are “classic film”. They are not “old kids fodder” – which is how they are perceived by their parent companies. They do not get the proper respect they deserve. The TCM broadcast is a rare opportunity for the medium; a great place to expose more people to the art, entertainment and legacy of animation.

I want to see TCM do this again. In fact, I’d like to see a regular place for vintage animation on the channel. Because TCM doesn’t read ratings, the only way they monitor feedback from their viewers is by response on their forum pages – or in written letters. I guess I’m urging you to send them a note, drop them a line; let TCM know you appreciate the telecast of these rare animation gems – and you’d like to see more.

It’s important – and it’s up to you.


UPDATE: In case you missed them, here are my TCM host segments, posted on You Tube.

FIRST LOOK: Disney Family Museum’s “Snow White” Exhibit

Diane Disney Miller, author J.B. Kaufman and Lella Smith (creative director of the Disney Animation Research Library) discuss the art just published in Kaufman’s second new Snow White book, Snow White and The Seven Dwarfs: The Art and Creation of Walt Disney’s Classic Animation.

This second Snow White book by J.B. – not to be confused with The Fairest One Of All, both on sale today – is primarily an art book published in conjunction with The Walt Disney Family Museum’s new exhibit, Snow White and The Seven Dwarfs: The Creation of a Classic (opening November 15th and will run through April 14th 2013). This book walks the reader through the movie, scene by scene, accompanying the art with behind-the-scenes stories about the film’s production. I highly, highly recommend it!!

Rare Animation on TCM: “Gulliver’s Travels”

To tie-into my forthcoming appearance on TCM and augment your viewing pleasure, I’m going to post a gallery of art and images each day related to the animation screening on Sunday night, October 21st. Today Fleischer Studios’ Gulliver’s Travels (1939) which will be telecast on TCM at 8pm Eastern/5pm Pacific. Here’s a selection of one-sheet movie posters and lobby cards (original release and re-lease, even one from Spain), children’s books, a piece of sheet music and a few model sheets for good measure.

INTERVIEW: Carolyn and Andy London Are Eager to Please With Their New Project

Over the past decade,the husband-and-wife team Andy and Carolyn London have produced one of the most eclectic bodies of indie animated shorts in New York City. Working under the banner of London Squared, their films—Subway Salvation (2003), The Back Brace (2004), A Letter to Colleen (2007), The Lost Tribes of New York City (2009)—have a distinctive personal voice that is refreshingly unburdened by animation storytelling cliches. Their visual style has an earthy urban tone, and is a playground for stylistic exploration. They jump from style to style, and technique to technique, having made use of hand-drawn, stop-motion, pixilation, rotoscope, and After Effects.

I recently conducted an email interview with Andy and Carolyn. We talked about their history, their earlier short films, and the major new project that they’re developing: Eager to Please, an idea based on Andy’s family life that has already generated a graphic novel, interactive on-line comics, mini-shorts, as well as an offshoot TV series currently in development called Our Crappy Town.

Cartoon Brew: Your films are among the most stylistically diverse of any New York animators. Do you consciously attempt a different style with every film?

Carolyn and Andy London: We don’t consciously set out to do a different style, but in order to stay inspired and true to the story we want to tell, we almost always change mediums. A big part of what makes us happy as filmmakers is experimentation and being playful, but we usually let the story dictate the medium we work in. When we became obsessed with voices and the hilarious people you saw every day in the city, it led to our clay animated film Subway Salvation in 2003. When we were attempting to adapt an autobiographical “memory” story, it led us to create a ghostly, rotoscoped technique for A Letter To Colleen. When we need to tell the story of Andy and his scoliosis in a really demented comic way, it led to the cut-out physical object style of bagels, tuna cans and toilet paper tubes of The Backbrace. So who knows where it takes you.

Cartoon Brew: Do you think the constant experimentation has hurt you in any way or prevented you from broader recognition?

Carolyn and Andy: Sure, we’re confident that having a singular style is useful to getting the attention of a commercial rep or production company, but I guess we’ve been really undisciplined about that. It’s always been more interesting to us to keep growing, experimenting and developing our story telling skills. But oddly enough, two things have happened just by making films for the last 14 years.

1. We’ve gotten really good at storytelling and have started to create a world and recurring characters that are showing up in TV shows we’re developing and other series ideas.

2. The second thing that’s happened is we’re finally settling on a “signature look.” We’re starting to call it “THE MAGIC EYE.” Do you know those 2D image books where your eyes have to de-focus, and suddenly the 3D images come into the foreground? That’s the heart of what we do. Whether we’re finding faces in inanimate objects OR taking inanimate objects and abstracting them into characters, we’re using a Magic Eye technique and showing you characters that you didn’t know were there. It’s a kind of alchemy that we find endlessly entertaining and seems to be lending itself to a rich world. You can see examples of what we’re talking about in examples for the latest TED TALK we made and also the style frames for a series we’re developing called Our Crappy Town. This is the total example of ‘magic eye’.

Cartoon Brew: I think part of what makes your work so refreshing is that neither of you come from a traditional animation background. You had a lifetime of experiences before you made your first film. Tell me a little more about your backgrounds prior to becoming filmmakers. What attracted you to animation and made you choose it as an expressive outlet?

Andy: I majored in painting at Pratt in the Eighties. I worked as a guard at the Met and sold my work—mostly kinetic sex-related sculptures—at auctions at an East Village gallery called the Emerging Collector. Then I moved to Prague and wrote a graphic novel called Jeremy Pickle Goes to Prague that got published by Fantagraphics. It was there I learned to teach English as a Second Language, my trade for the next fifteen years. When I returned to New York with my future wife and collaborator Carolyn, I continued to teach ESL. First in illegal immigrant schools, then in tourist programs, then privately. Mostly Japanese bankers’ wives. Carolyn and I got a commission to do a music video in the late-Nineties and it was an excuse to dive into animation, which turned out to be a great fit.

Animation is a great way to make something. You can control all aspects of the product and use a wide range of elements to be infinitely expressive.

Carolyn: I studied theater and playwriting at Brandeis University. I wasn’t exposed to a formal animation or film program, but I was exposed to set design, costume design, directing. A very early influence was growing up in Chicago. In the 80’s, they used to run the “Spike and Mike Animation Festival” at the Music Box Theater across the street from where my father lived. That was my early introduction to underground animation. And it was also the same time of Liquid Television on MTV. But all of the stuff I was watching on TV, my interest in writing and direction, plus my predilection for punk rock and new wave music shaped my sensibility. When I met Andy in the Czech Republic and he was doing comic books and graphic novels…it felt like a natural fit to bring our aesthetics and points of view together. It’s doing whatever you need to do to be in service of the story. And animation is a great way to make something. You can control all aspects of the product and use a wide range of elements to be infinitely expressive.

Cartoon Brew: One of your new projects, Eager to Please, is a step in a different direction yet again—it’s a graphic novel, an interactive on-line experience and a series of brief animated shorts called Made You Cringe. How do these all fit together, and what do you hope to accomplish with this expansive approach to narrative as opposed to the self-contained shorts you’ve produced in the past?

Carolyn and Andy: We want to create a world this time. A world that is the source material for a TV series. So a couple years ago, [Andy] decided to bite the bullet and write a graphic novel with a whole TV season’s worth of content. Then it came time to find a publisher and get it out there in the world. We soon quickly learned that there is limited interest in publishing graphic novels in the U.S. So this lead to rethinking the whole project. We put together a website called Eager-To-Please.com and began to explore various ideas. First was an interactive comic based on one of the stories from the book that did cool shit when you click and roll over things. Then we added an animated section called Made You Cringe based exclusively on the characters from the book. Those shorts gave us a chance to explore what an animated Eager To Please TV show would look like.

AND then we went to LA last year and started to work with a manager to help sell this idea. The funny (or not so funny part ) of this story is that we spent the last 8 months developing the look for the TV pitch, we have a 23-minute pilot episode, we created an animation test, bringing in graphics and packaging….and after all that work it seems like this series idea may be more successful as a live action idea. GOOD TIMES! But I guess this is normal in the development process. SO now we’re looking for the right producers to partner with and networks to pitch to. But in the meantime, we’d love to share our animation test online so everyone can see the development process.

Cartoon Brew: Eager to Please is intensely personal. In fact, one of the “stars” is Andy’s handicapped sister, which some readers might be uncomfortable with as a source of humor. It doesn’t seem that there’s anything in your personal life that you consider off-limits. Granted, Andy wrote it under a pen name, but do you ever feel you’ve gone too far afterward?

Does anybody else have a 39-year-old sister whose spiritual guide is Mr. T?

Andy: I don’t set out to humiliate my family. I love them. But there are stories that are crazy and poignant and funny and deep and I need to get them out in the world. Some of them are just straight up batshit. Some are heartbreaking. And I want to share this craziness with everybody because it’s so great. What parent do you know that makes twelve-foot tall barbecue pits out of Belgian blocks? Does anybody else have a 39-year-old sister whose spiritual guide is Mr. T? Maybe I shouldn’t write about how my parents had my sister arrested for sport but then I wouldn’t be doing the story justice or true to myself as a writer. My family is very unique, and think the world will appreciate every nutty detail.

Cartoon Brew: The first of the interactive Eager to Please shorts—”The Elephant Dollar”—is now on-line. Do you consider this more of an animated graphic novel or an interactive film? What do you think it’s possible to communicate with interactivity that you couldn’t through a traditional passive viewing experience?

Carolyn and Andy: It’s more of an animated graphic novel than an interactive film at this point. We want to go further with this idea. Perhaps with Andy’s follow up graphic novel entitled “I Give Up.” With iPad and smart phone technology, the possibilities are endless. We love printed books, however at the same time, we’re excited about all the new possibilities with web browsers, apps and e-readers. Film is beautiful but it’s not exactly interactive. And it seems like there should be a way to have a narrative experience that embraces the interactive technology of gaming– but still has the intimacy and pleasure of a graphic novel. We don’t know what this experience is just yet….it’s not a book and it’s not a game and it’s not a film…it’s something else and we’re challenging ourselves to figure out what that next thing is and how we can make it a cool, entertaining experience.

Cartoon Brew: Last year, one of your earlier films The Lost Tribes of New York City was featured in the high-concept “Talk to Me” exhibition at MoMA. How’d you manage to get your work into such a prestigious museum?

Carolyn and Andy: They found us! We had Lost Tribes running in various film festivals and online for approximately three years. Apparently they did a search and found our film and it fit into the theme of the show. It was pretty cool to be part of a show on technology, communication and design and see Lost Tribes in the context of other art projects other than film. It was also exciting to be part of a bigger dialogue about communication and technology and to get to contribute to this pool of ideas. We’ve always felt very inspired by established and contemporary art.

To learn more about their work, visit LondonSquared.net

EXCLUSIVE: CTN Expo speakers include Glen Keane, Tyrus Wong, Syd Mead, Brenda Chapman

One month to go.

The Creative Talent Network Expo (aka CTN-X), now in its fourth year, has established itself as the premiere character animation conference in the United States, if not the world. Attendance is virtually bursting at the seams of the Burbank Marriott – and yet, CTN head honcho Tina Price tells me that tickets are still available to Cartoon Brew readers if they use the special discount code – BREWX12 – which is good for any 1-day and 3-day general passport.

Why attend? For starters, we’ll be there with a table on the exhibit floor and are hosting a Cartoon Brew cocktail lounge in the lobby. If hanging out with us isn’t enough – how about these incentives:

• CTN-X opens with a few words from director Brenda Chapman (Brave)
• Keynote Speaker Glen Keane
• John Musker interviews Argentinian caricature artist Pablo Lobato.
• 102 year-old Disney Legend Tyrus Wong (Bambi) has confirmed his appearance in conjunction with a documentary-in-progress Tyrus Wong: Brushstrokes in Hollywood.
• Legendary futurist Syd Mead will be doing a seminar about his design career.
• Gaming panel with Doug TenNaple, Creature Box, Michel Gagne and the guys from Halon and Blizzard Ent.
• Sneak peek of Rise of the Guardians at the Dreamworks Animation theater on the studio lot.
Wreck-it Ralph screening on the Disney lot, in the big theater.
• Gkids will screening all of their new Oscar-qualifying features at the nearby Laemmle NoHo 7.
New Talent Spotlight featuring 10 international animators, including Jacob Wyatt, Faye Hsu, Elena and Olivia Ceballos and from Madrid, Nacho Rodriguez (I’ll be doing a Q&A with him).
•Other guests include illustrator Jean Baptiste Monge, and the key personnel from Blue Sky Studios.

Not to mention drawing workshops, parties and an exhibition hall with over 100 artists, schools and companies represented – including Stuart Ng, Walt Disney Animation, Dean Yeagle, Wacom, Focal Press, Ryan Woodward, Stephen Silver and on and on…

There’s really too much to mention. The whole thing is one giant artists’ party – and a fantastic networking opportunity. You really should be there. For more information, check the CTN website.

Google Creates Homage To Winsor McCay’s Little Nemo

I can’t praise enough Google’s use of their homepage to give credit to animation and comic pioneers. Their front-page Google Doodle for Monday, October 15, is a tribute to Winsor McCay and his comic strip Little Nemo.

The interative, animated HTML5 comic is entitled Little Nemo in Google-land and was created by Jennifer Hom and Corrie Scalisi. It’s being released on the 107th anniversary of McCay’s comic. If you can’t wait until tomorrow to see it, it’s already live on Google sites in other parts of the world.

RELATED: Meet the artists who make the Google Doodles.

Czech Animation Legend Břetislav Pojar Dies at 89

One of the giants of 20th century animation, Czech animator and director Břetislav Pojar, died last Friday evening [link to story in Czech newspaper]. He was 89. After studying architecture in college, Pojar started his animation career in the early-1940s. He was among the first group of artists to work at the state-run Studio Bratri v triku in Prague. There, he met Jiří Trnka, and in the mid-1940s, he left with Trnka to start a new animation studio. Pojar became Trnka’s key animator on numerous puppet shorts in the late-1940s and early-1950s, including Story of the Bass Cello, The Emperor’s Nightingale, and Old Czech Legends. Even after Pojar became a director, he continued to animate on Trnka’s later films like A Midsummer Night’s Dream.

Pojar began directing his own films with the 1951 short Gingerbread House (Pernikova chaloupka). Among Pojar’s first important films was the anti-drinking short A Drop Too Much (O sklenicku víc. The film is a mixed bag: “Today’s viewer might find [it] melodramatic and artificial,” says historian Giannalberto Bendazzi, but he also praises “a rare cleverness in its camera movements, expressionist illumination and visual invention.”

Pojar’s 1959 short The Lion and the Song (Lev a písnicka) is an allegorical tale about the struggle of art against power. The short won the top prize at the very first Annecy animation festival held in 1960.

The films by Pojar are not easily classifiable and represent one of the most diverse bodies of work by an animation director. He worked in stop motion and drawn animation, and his films tackled a wide range of eclectic themes, often revolving around political, humanistic, social and anti-war concerns.

Pojar’s films also displayed a sophisticated sense of comedy and humor. His most beloved work is the 1960s children’s series Hey Mister Let’s Play. The shorts, which were featured years ago on Cartoon Brew, have a freshness and playfulness that sets them apart as some of the most brilliant children’s animation ever produced.

Even when tackling serious ideas like intolerance, as in the NFB short Balablok, Pojar did it with style and humor.

Pojar was active until the very end. He continued to direct well into the new century, and at the time of his death, Pojar was the head of the animation department at FAMU (Film and TV School of Academy of Performing Arts) in Prague.

To learn more about Pojar’s work in English, I recommend this essay written by Zdena Škapová.