What better time to protest Hollywood’s woeful treatment of animation and visual effects artists than on the film industry’s biggest day—Oscar Sunday. Tomorrow afternoon, between 1pm and 4:30pm, there will be a demonstration at Hollywood Blvd and Vine Street demanding more equitable treatment of animation/VFX artists. The event organizers have also rented a plane that will circle the Oscars between 3:30 and 4:30pm carrying a banner urging a VFX union. Over 200375 people have already confirmed their attendance on the event’s Facebook page.
The instigating event of this renewed interest in artists’ rights has been Rhythm & Hues’ bankruptcy, which makes little sense considering that the work R&H produces is among the best in the industry and responsible for a significant portion of Hollywood’s profits:
Life of Pi (Fox) and Snow White and the Huntsman (Universal) together grossed almost a billion dollars worldwide. Rhythm & Hues Studios, the company that brought Richard Parker to life and created the bulk of the visual effects for these two Oscar nominated films, has just declared bankruptcy. Many of the artists who worked nights and weekends to create those effects are out of work and unpaid for weeks of work (including nights and weekends) on new tent-pole films for the same studios, Fox and Universal. It’s time for change!
A round-up of protest coverage can be found on VFX Soldier.
The Cesars, the French equivalent of the Oscars, were handed out on Friday evening. The sole prize for animated film (shorts and features are combined into a single category) was presented to the feature film Ernest and Celestine, directed by Benjamin Renner, Vincent Patar, and Stéphane Aubier.
Good news for Americans: distributor GKIDS has picked up the film for U.S. distribution and is prepping a fall 2013 release. Every clip I’ve seen from the film makes it appear sweet and charming in the best way possible.
British animation legend Bob Godfrey has passed away. We received a note from his grandson Tom Lowe this morning with the following sad message: “He passed peacefully in his sleep, on Thursday 21st February 2013, aged 91.”
Godfrey once told an interviewer that he considered his life a long-lasting ambition to make people laugh, and he did exactly that during an animation career that lasted over fifty years, spanning dozens of shorts films and TV series. In the process, he became the first British animator to win an animated short Oscar (for the short Great), and he also helped animation mature by exploring contemporary and adult themes in his work.
Born in Horse Shoe Bend, West Maitland, Australia on May 27, 1921, and raised in London, Godfrey attended the Leyton Art School. He began his visual arts career working in advertising. In the late-1940s, he began working at David Hand’s G. B. Animation, and helped create promotional items related to Animaland shorts. This led to his full-time entry into the animation field in 1950 at the modernist commercial studio W. M. Larkins.
While at Biographic, Godfrey began making personal short films. Early efforts like Polygamous Polonius and Do It Yourself Cartoon Kit (1961), with their sharp satiric humor and quirkily designed cut-out animation style, were considered fresh for the time. The BFI Screenonline website says that these films, “display the range of influences and preoccupations that characterise his work—music hall routines, avant-garde comedy in the spirit of The Goons, political satire, and concerns with British attitudes to sex and social conduct.” Historian Giannalberto Bendazzi also notes that in these early films, “Godfrey comes out as one of the few animators to share some common traits with the Free Cinema of his contemporaries Lindsay Anderson, Tony Richardson and Karel Reisz.”
Still from “Great” (1975)
Godfrey continued his career as a short filmmaker with a string of successful films including The Rise and Fall of Emily Sprod (1962), Alf, Bill & Fred (1964), Henry 9 ’til 5 (1970), Kama Sutra Rides Again (1972), an erotic-comedic short that Stanley Kubrick personally selected to accompany the UK release of A Clockwork Orange, and culminating with his ambitious Oscar-winning short-epic Great (1975), about the life of British civil engineer Isambard Kingdom Brunel.
In the mid-1960s, Godfrey set up his own studio, Bob Godfrey Movie Emporium, through which he not only produced shorts and commercials, but also began making a variety of children’s TV series, such as Roobarb (about the rivalry between a dog named Roobarb and a cat named Custard), Noah and Nelly in… SkylArk, and Henry’s Cat, all of which became beloved staples of generations of British children.
Godfrey also created the Do-It-Yourself Animation Show in the mid-1970s, a how-to series with weekly guests who included Richard Williams and Terry Gilliam. The show, which made animation accessible to the masses by taking the mystery out of the production process, was vastly influential and inspired an entire generation of kids in England, including Nick Park, who created Wallace & Gromit, Jan Pinkava, who directed the Pixar short Geri’s Game, and Richard Bazley, an animator on Pocahontas, Hercules, and The Iron Giant.
Enjoy this great BBC mini-doc about Godfrey from the early-1970s:
The Weinstein Company’s Escape from Planet Earth surprised many people by earning a robust $21.1 million over the four-day President’s Day holiday weekend. Its success was all the more surprising because the B-list kiddie pleaser didn’t have a huge marketing presence, wasn’t made by a name-brand studio, and didn’t seem to have wide appeal beyond its target demographic. But it benefited from a quiet period for family films, while managing to surpass the debuts of other CG space pics like the $12.3M opening of Planet 51 (2009) and the $6.9M opening of Mars Needs Moms (2011).
“[It] was focused on first presenting our core audience with a longer form look at the full story via in-theater trailers, advertisements, and long-lead digital placement. The television campaign was bifurcated to raise awareness and interest with parents and kids, through a six week flight that first aimed [to] re-introduce the concept, then highlight the comedy, and of course close with the exceptional voice cast.”
Within the last 6 months, two of the biggest U.S. visual effects houses—Digital Domain and Rhythm & Hues—have declared bankruptcy. Among the culprits responsible for their downfall is outsourcing and offshoring of VFX work to countries like India, China and Malaysia. This goes hand in hand with other reasons like foreign government tax subsidies and credits, corporate mismanagement, and Hollywood studio economics.
But what exactly does it mean when work is sent to one of those other countries? Work isn’t sent overseas simply because it’s cheaper. The cold, hard reality is that work goes overseas because developing countries have lax labor laws that offer minimum worker rights and maximum opportunity for worker exploitation. It amounts to sweatshop labor, and in some cases, indentured servitude.
We hear a lot about the perspective of Western artists affected by the outsourcing and offshoring, but nothing from the overseas artists who are the supposed beneficiaries of the work. It turns out, they’re not exactly enjoying it either.
This commentary piece was submitted by Bhaumik Mehta, an artist who spent 7 years working in the rendering and lighting departments of many top Indian animation and effects houses. He has now left the industry to work as a freelance 3D artist for interior designers and architects, a field that he says is much less exploitative. Per Mehta’s request, I have removed the names of the studios he listed in his original piece to protect colleagues who may still be working at those places.
Commentary by Bhaumik Mehta
I read your story of recent layoffs happening at studios like DreamWorks and Rhythm & Hues. I wish to express my deep sorrow and concern for all those artists who have had to put aside their families, friends and health to finish the tasks that were assigned to them by the studios.
Many bad things happen at studios in India, too. At one studio, artists are asked to work without salary for at least four months, at which point the studio can ask them to leave if they didn’t find their performance “good” enough. At another studio, they reduced their staff in the 3D animation department from 150 people to a mere 5 people. One studio takes Rs 30,000 (approximately $550) as a deposit from artists and only returns to the artist (without interest) once they complete two years employment at the studio. [Note: An average MONTHLY salary might be Rs 7,500 ($138 month) so the deposit is equivalent to nearly 4 months salary.]
Every studio has adopted a hire-and-fire policy in which artists are asked to sign a contract of six months after which the studio has a right to either keep the artist or remove them according to the project’s requirement. One studio has laid off their most senior artists and shifted their base from Mumbai to Banglore; another studio will either delay an artist’s salary by two months or won’t pay at all; and yet another studio requires their artists to come to work on Sundays as well as on public holidays. All the while, animation institutes are taking fees like Rs 450,000 (approx. $8,300) but providing education and equipment that isn’t even worth Rs 4,500.
It would be nice to raise this issue and let everyone know the condition that Indian artists have to endure. They are sacrificing their lives for their passion, but they are exploited by people who have no interest in art and whose only motivation is earning as much as possible by spending as little as they can.
I left the industry two years ago. I am glad to have done so and have started working as a freelance 3D artist for interior designers and architects. I am not earning as much as I used to when I was in the studios, but I have no fear of someone asking me to leave their office once their project is completed. I choose to live with dignity and honor as well as giving time to my family, friends and health.
I hope that by making others aware of these issue, I can save my artist friends from further exploitation.
Santa Monica and Dallas-based Reel FX has no plans to slow down. Already producing two features—Jimmy Hayward’s Turkeys and Jorge Gutierrez’s Book of Life—Reel FX announced today that they are developing a third feature based on the Dark Horse comic book series Beasts of Burden. Shane Acker, who directed the animated feature 9 is on board as director.
All I can say at this early stage is that Reel FX’s approach to feature animation is refreshingly eclectic and mature for an American animation studio. They will definitely be one to watch over the next couple years.
More about the Beasts of Burden feature in this official announcement:
(Dallas, Texas and Santa Monica, California) February 20, 2013—Reel FX announced today that Academy Award-nominee Shane Acker (9) will direct the studio’s upcoming untitled CG-animated feature based on the Dark Horse Comics series Beasts of Burden, written by Evan Dorkin and illustrated by Jill Thompson. The film is being written by Darren Lemke (Turbo, Shrek Forever After). Aron Warner, Reel FX’s President of Animation, is producing the film alongside Mike Richardson from Dark Horse Entertainment and Andrew Adamson from Strange Weather.
Warner notes, “Reel FX is continuing to partner with some of the leading filmmakers in animation. Shane is an immense talent and will bring his fresh vision and approach to this adaptation of Beasts of Burden.”
Says Acker, “It’s a pleasure to be working with such accomplished producers and filmmakers on this incredible project. There is a real independent spirit at Reel FX—the studio is full of energy and fresh ideas—which is necessary to bring this unique story to life.”
The project is an animated adventure about the baffling behavior (tail chasing, barking at “nothing” at all) of our favorite four-legged friends. In the charming town of Burden Hill, there might be more to these animal antics than meets the eye. The town is inhabited by the supernatural, and when its paranormal activity becomes even more abnormal than usual, it’s up to a group of fearless canines called the Watch Dogs to protect its citizens – and humanity – from the mysterious things that go “bump” in the night.
Coming soon: the iPad app version of Richard Williams’ indispensable The Animator’s Survival Kit. The publisher, Faber and Faber, hasn’t set a price or exact release date, but it’s being timed to roughly coincide with Williams’ 80th birthday next month.
Key features of the app will include:
The entirety of The Animator’s Survival Kit Expanded Edition, optimized for the iPad.
Over 100 animated examples from The Animator’s Survival Kit Animated DVD box set.
Previously unreleased Circus Drawings animation from Richard Williams
Silent Film Logo for the Pordenone Silent Film Festival.
New video introductions by Richard Williams.
Sensitive navigation, fading gracefully away when not needed, allowing users to focus on the lessons at hand.
Break down and watch the animated examples frame-by-frame to see how they’re put together.
Onion skin some animated examples to see the preceding and following frames.
UPDATE (4/18/2013): The Animator’s Survival Kit iPad app has been released!
Below are a couple stills from Circus Drawings, the new Richard Williams short that will be included on the app:
Today marks the centennial of Frank Tashlin (February 19, 1913 – May 5, 1972), one of the most important figures in the history of American animation.
If Tashlin is recognized at all by the general public, it is for being the Looney Tunes animation director who ended up making kooky, subversive live-action comedies starring the likes of Jerry Lewis and Jayne Mansfield.
He was so much more than that though—a restless and ambitious creative powerhouse who didn’t play by anyone’s rules and whose filmic innovations were often decades ahead of their time.
Tashlin’s reputation has been bashed routinely by film critics, both while he was alive (“Tashlin has become sympathetically obsolete without ever becoming fashionable”—Andrew Sarris) and after he died in 1972 (“Tashlin remained the safe, cold-blooded side of bad taste, never came to terms with the full-length form or the live-action image, but never sensed the pungent onslaught in cartoon that, say, Gillray or Ralph Bakshi have achieved.”—David Thomson). Even online, it sometimes feels that he gets no respect; the editors of the Looney Tunes Wiki can’t identify Tashlin well enough to put up an actual photo of him on his biographical entry.
They didn’t know what to do with a fellow by the name of “Ducky” Nash—Clarence Nash, he was the voice of Donald Duck—because when they weren’t recording Donald Duck, what do you do with the fellow who’s the voice of Donald Duck? Ducky had an office in this building, a little tiny office where he would come over and go to sleep. These were hillside places, and the ground beneath his window was maybe twelve feet. Roy Williams, this big fellow, and I, when Ducky was asleep—and he slept just like a duck, he made funny sounds—in this big wicker chair, we would take this chair, with him in it, and we would hold it out the window, and drop him. This chair would hit, and because it was wicker, it sort of had a recoil, you know, the legs went out like this. He’d start quacking away down there, and he’d come up, dragging this chair with him. This happened many times, and it was a high point of humor—you know, you want to talk about low humor, that’s what we thought was funny.
4. He directed the most elegant, cinematically modern black-&-white cartoons in the history of animation.
5. His eclectic career is full of detours into different areas of film, like when he made the stop motion films The Lady Said No (1946) and The Way of Peace (1947).
6. He played an important role in kickstarting the ‘cartoon modern’ era.
When Tashlin became the head of Columbia’s Screen Gem studios in 1941, he transformed it into a haven for artists who wanted to create modern-looking animation. Zachary Schwartz, who became a founder of United Productions of America, said of Tashlin, “He was an inspirational man to work for.” Another animation modernist, John Hubley, said of his experience, “Under Tashlin, we tried some very experimental things; none of them quite got off the ground, but there was a lot of ground broken. We were doing crazy things that were anti the classic Disney approach.” The visual experimentation continued for a couple years after Tashlin’s departure from Columbia, such as in this 1943 short Professor Small and Mr. Tall:
7. He created the Fox and Crow.
The Fox and the Grapes, the first cartoon that Tashlin directed with these characters, featured a novel blackout-gag structure that served as a model for many later cartoons, including Chuck Jones’ Coyote and Roadrunner series.
8. He invented his own system of cartooning called SCOT-ART.
Tashlin’s how-to cartoon book proclaimed that anybody could create original cartoons if they could draw S(quares), C(ircles), O(vals) and T(riangles). You can find the entire book HERE.
9. Jean-Luc Godard loves him:
According to Georges Sadoul, Frank Tashlin is a second-rank director because he has never done a remake of You Can’t Take It With You or The Awful Truth. According to me, my colleague errs in mistaking a closed door for an open one. In fifteen years’ time, people will realize that The Girl Can’t Help It served then—today, that is—as a fountain of youth from which the cinema now—in the future, that is—has drawn fresh inspiration….Tashlin indulges a riot of poetic fancies where charm and comic invention alternate in a constant felicity of expression….Frank Tashlin has not renovated the Hollywood comedy. He has done better. There is not a difference in degree between Hollywood or Bust and It Happened One Night, between The Girl Can’t Help It and Design For Living, but a difference in kind. Tashlin, in other words, has not renewed but created. And henceforth, when you talk about a comedy, don’t say ‘It’s Chaplinesque’; say, loud and clear, ‘It’s Tashlinesque’.
10. John Waters loves him:
11. He allowed Chuck Jones to adapt his illustrated book The Bear That Wasn’t into an animated short, and when Jones ruined the film, he never spoke to him again.
12. He married Mary Costa, who was the voice of Princess Aurora in Disney’s Sleeping Beauty.
13. He created an amazing graphic novel called The World That Isn’t.
This bleak yet perceptive commentary on modern American life is as relevant today as when it was first published over sixty years ago. Tashlin uses the cartoon medium to expose the follies of humankind, including religious intolerance, environmental destruction, political corruption, tabloid trash, celebrity worship, and nationalism. In his cautionary tale, mankind finds peace only after destroying himself through nuclear apocalypse and starting over again.
14. He was a leg man.
This one hardly needs explanation.
15. He pushed live-action further than anyone before him and anticipated the creative possibilities of today’s CG-infused live-action filmmaking.
Minkyu Lee conceived his Oscar-nominated short Adam and Dog while attending the Film Directing program at CalArts. Lee, 27, spent nearly three years making the film, all the while working a dayjob at Disney on the features Winnie the Pooh and Wreck-It Ralph. He squeezed in time on his own film during nights and weekends, but his ambitious vision (Adam and Dog is fifteen minutes long) eventually necessitated a four-month sabbatical from Disney so that he could devote full attention to his Biblically-inspired tale.
Lee was not only the film’s director, but also its producer, storyboard artist, designer, lead animator, and background painter. The backgrounds, painted in Photoshop, are one of the film’s highlights. The dramatically lit compositions contrast lovingly textured elements of nature with wide expanses of open space. It is an unlikely vision of the Garden of Eden that suggests at once comfortable familiarity and ethereal majesty.
Lee shared the following selection of background paintings with Cartoon Brew:
My old friend Harald Siepermann has passed away this morning. He was suffering from cancer. Harald was one of the foremost character designers, an incredible artist and wonderful human being.
Siepermann was 50 years old. Born in Bochum, Germany, he studied art and illustration at the Folkwang School in Essen, where one of his teachers was Hans Bacher. Siepermann began his career working for ad agencies in Düsseldorf, London, and Zürich.
In the mid-1980s, Siepermann became the character designer for Alfred J. Kwak, a character that originally appeared in a Dutch theater show created by entertainer Herman van Veen. The resulting comics and TV series, which he worked on closely with his former teacher Bacher, have appeared in dozens of countries.
Following the series, Siepermann began working in animation regularly. His first feature film credit was story sketch on Who Framed Roger Rabbit. It was his character designs for which he was most sought after, and he contributed visual development to numerous Disney features including Mulan, Tarzan, The Emperor’s New Groove, Brother Bear, Treasure Planet, and Enchanted, as well as to films from other studios such as Jester Till, We’re Back! A Dinosaur’s Story, and Space Chimps. Visit his BLOG and FLICKR to see a selection of his character design work.
Siepermann, who frequently lectured about character design at animation schools throughout Europe, was also a regular attendee of the Annecy animation festival. While I can’t admit to being close friends with him, I got to know Harald as a festival friend over the past decade, and I shared many pleasant conversations with him at picnics, cafes and parties at Annecy. My memories of him are always as an affable and easygoing artist who was deeply committed to his art. I’m sorry I won’t get any more chances to see him at the festival.
For German speakers, here is the first part of a TV interview with Harald: