Artist of the Day: Steven A. MacLeod

Croods week continues for our Artist of the Day profile. Steven A. MacLeod worked as a storyboard artist on The Croods as his first job straight out of college, bounced over to How to Train Your Dragon, then as that wrapped up, he switched back again to The Croods. On his blog he shows off several design ideas that he contributed for Croods teaser posters such as the above image.

Steven A. MacLeod

Steven A. MacLeod

Steven’s personal work includes many studies of landscapes sketched in oil pastels and pencils, and larger pieces drawn exclusively in pencil. Steven keeps an art blog here and another main blog here that includes doodles, artwork and commentary.

Steven A. MacLeod

Steven A. MacLeod

Steven A. MacLeod

Steven A. MacLeod

Steven A. MacLeod

Happy 80th Birthday, Richard Williams!

Today marks the 80th birthday of legendary animator, director and educator Richard Williams. Born on March 19, 1933, in Toronto, Canada, Williams may be (along with Hayao Miyazaki) the most important and influential living animator today.

His credits stretch across decades and include features (Raggedy Ann & Andy: A Musical Adventure, The Thief and the Cobbler, Who Framed Roger Rabbit), TV specials (A Christmas Carol, Ziggy’s Gift), movie titles (The Charge of the Light Brigade, What’s New Pussycat, The Pink Panther Strikes Again), shorts (The Little Island, Love Me Love Me Love Me) and thousands of TV commercials.

He is the bridge between the Golden Age of hand-drawn animation and today’s endless stream of computer-generated blockbuster features. He has spent decades imparting the knowledge that he learned from the greats (Art Babbitt, Grim Natwick, Milt Kahl, Ken Harris, Emery Hawkins) to younger generations. For decades, he ran a studio that was as much a school as it was a production studio. Later, he traveled around the world to teach masterclasses, and more recently, he has reached his largest audience through the bestselling book The Animator’s Survival Kit.

His legacy in animation will be discussed for decades to come, as will his inability to finish his most ambitious feature film project The Thief and the Cobbler, but I would argue that his greatness does not stem from any single project. More than any film he made, it is Williams’ lifelong commitment to craft and his pursuit of excellence that will be remembered. He has unwaveringly promoted and upheld a standard of quality throughout his career, even during eras when such standards were considered unfashionable.

Williams’ ambition to create spectacular animation has always trumped all other considerations. Take the following commercial he single-handedly animated in six weeks:

In another animator’s hands, this would have been an instantly forgettable TV spot, but Williams turned it into one of the most breathless pieces of action animation ever committed to film, complete with dramatic camera motion, animation on ones, and exquisite rendering. In comical contrast to the prosaic product being advertised, the animation is an epic achievement.

Williams’ best work, be it commercials or fragments of The Thief and the Cobbler, offer an indescribably exhilarating thrill. It is the stuff that animation lovers live to see and of which we see far too little. One of Williams’ mentors, Art Babbitt, said, “Everything we’ve done up till now hasn’t even begun to scratch the surface of what animation can do.” Williams has been scratching away at that surface for the past sixty years, and has time and time again revealed new possibilities that were previously inconceivable.

You will not be disappointed by spending some time exploring Williams’ career output at the indispensable Thief Archive on YouTube, including this peerless sequence of pure visual excitement from Thief and the Cobbler:

Richard Williams’ current project is a soon-to-be-released interactive iPad app version of his Animator’s Survival Kit which will also include a copy of his new animated short Circus Drawings.

Happy Birthday to Richard Williams, an animation rebel and master.

Rhythm & Hues is Hiring Hundreds of People—In Taiwan

A little over a month after Life of Pi VFX studio Rhythm & Hues declared bankruptcy and laid off hundreds of employees at its Los Angeles studio, the China Post reports that its new Taiwan outpost is offering 200 job openings.

Rhythm & Hues recently had a booth at a job fair at Taichung’s National Chung Hsing University, where it was recruiting special effects engineers, 3D animation artists and other creative personnel. Starting salaries for new graduates at the Taiwan studio are roughly in the range of $250-per-week, according to the China Post.

The Beautiful Failure of Walt Disney’s Burbank Studio

In the late-1930s, Walt Disney enlisted German architect and industrial designer Kem Weber to design a state-of-the-art animation studio from scratch. Weber oversaw every detail of the new Burbank studio from the exterior architecture of the buildings to the Streamline Moderne design of the furniture, desks, and appliances, to the custom typeface used on the studio’s signage.

Yesterday, Hans Bacher posted a fantastic series of images I’d never seen before that show Weber’s layouts of the different spaces in the Burbank studio. You can also see some of Weber’s furniture at the Blue Sky Disney blog.

The Burbank studio wasn’t the smashing success that Walt had envisioned, however. It felt cold and sterile to the artists who were accustomed to the cramped and comfortable charms of their old Hyperion digs. Animator Fred Moore complained to Ward Kimball one afternoon shortly after moving into the Burbank studio, “No distinction in the rooms.”

But more than the lack of charm, the Burbank studio’s ostentatious in-your-face luxuriousness suggested a certain tone deafness on Walt Disney’s part. It rankled the hundreds of artists who were struggling to get by on $15-per-week salaries, and who now realized that the company cared more about its films than the well-being of its rank-and-file employees. It hardly mattered to the artists that Walt had had to borrow money from the banks to pay for the construction of the studio. Labor tensions began to escalate just months after artists moved into the studio, and within 18 months, the nasty Disney strike that threatened to destroy the entire studio had begun.

Walt had miscalculated the desires of his artists. He thought they wanted a state-of-the-art facility to create animated films. The average Depression-era artist, however, would have been happier with a few extra bucks per week so that he/she could afford food and housing. Managing the competing interests of studio owners and artists is still a struggle in today’s animation industry, which is why the construction of Disney’s Burbank studio remains an especially instructive moment in the art form’s history.

Artist of the Day: Chris Sanders

Chris Sanders

This week we’ll take a look at the work of artists who were part of the production crew of The Croods, which will be released into theaters this Friday, March 22nd. If there’s any downside to focusing on the artists of Croods, it’s that there are countless more impressive artists on the film’s crew who are equally worthy of being featured here.

For starters, one of the crew members with a substantial web presence happens to be Chris Sanders, the co-director of the film. Although the gallery and comics section of his website (Chris creates a strip called Kiskaloo) are currently empty and being refreshed at some point in the future, Chris’s work can still be seen throughout his website’s blog, deviantART and Twitter.

Chris Sanders

Chris Sanders

Chris Sanders

Chris Sanders

Chris Sanders

Chris’s drawings of humans and creatures tend to have a distinctive facial/eye design and proportions that are strongly identifiable as his own. His style was particularly on display in his first feature, Disney’s Lilo & Stitch.

There is also a generous amount of storyboard drawings from The Croods that Chris has posted on his blog in its own category.

Chris Sanders

Chris Sanders

“Not About Us” by Michael Frei

Not About Us is a sensitively composed student film effort by Swiss artist Michael Frei:

The short is a symbolic staging of the complex dance of rapprochement between a man and a woman. A mechanical ballet flitting between black and white, light and dark and countless mirroring motions—until at last contact is made and a relationship develops.

Frei recently wrapped up the film’s festival run, which included screnings at Annecy, Hiroshima, Fantoche, DOK-Leipzig and the Krakow Film Festival. He is a graduate of HSLU (Lucerne University of Applied Sciences and Arts), but produced Not About Us mostly during an exchange year at the Estonian Academy of Art under the mentorship of filmmakers Priit and Olga Parn. Frei kept this blog during the production of the short.

“Cyanide and Happiness” Shatters Kickstarter Animation Record

The Kickstarter campaign to produce an animated series based on the online comic Cyanide and Happiness concluded a few minutes ago with a grand total of $770,309 from 14,242 backers. The amount of money raised obliterates the previous animation crowdfunding record held by David Fincher and Blur Studio’s The Goon animatic, which raised $442,000 last November.

Last month when the Cyanide and Happiness campaign was at its midway point, Cartoon Brew wrote about how well the effort was doing. The four creators of C&H—Kris Wilson, Rob DenBleyker, Matt Melvin, Dave McElfatrick—had set their fundraising goal at $250,000. They exceeded that amount by 300%, and with the money they’ve raised, their team will now produce eleven 10-12 minute episodes, as well as weekly short-form pieces for an entire year.

“Escape from Planet Earth” Sets Weinstein Co. Box Office Record

In its fifth weekend at the American box office, the Weinstein Company’s Escape from Planet Earth grossed an estimated $2.3 million, which was good enough for a 10th place finish. Its grand total now stands at $52.2 million, nudging it ahead of Hoodwinked as the top-grossing Weinstein animated pic. Hoodwinked earned $51.4 million when it was released in 2005.

Other VFX-heavy films in this week’s top 10 include Disney’s first-place finisher Oz The Great and Powerful, which captured $42.2M in its second weekend for a total of $145M, and Warner Bros/New Line’s $200-million mega-flop Jack the Giant Slayer, which picked up $6.2M in its 3rd weekend for a total of $53.9M.

93-Year-Old Cel Painter June Patterson Talks About the Disney Classics

June Walker Patterson worked as a cel painter on Disney classics like Pinocchio, Fantasia and Bambi. Today, she is 93-years-old and lives in the Los Angeles area. Animation artists Larry Whitaker, Chance Raspberry and Luis Escobar had the brilliant idea of visiting her to record a video interview. It’s part of their new animator interviews website called TheCornerBooth.net.

If you’re looking for more details about what it was like for women who worked as ink-and-paint artists at Disney, I recommend this Vanity Fair article from a few years back.

In the video interview with June, she mentions her husband Ray Patterson, who also worked at Disney and later became a core member of the Tom & Jerry crew at MGM. I had the good fortune of interviewing Ray in 2000 and published an interview with him in Animation Blast #5. This was the title page of the piece:

The Dark Fate of Disney Princesses in “After Ever After”

Dreams die quickly and magic fades in the cruelest way possible in John Cozart’s (aka Paint) latest a cappella medley. Focusing on the fates of some of Disney’s most loveable ingenues, their post-happily ever after lives take a grim turn when blended with political issues of the modern day like environmental destruction, the war on terror and bestiality. In a recent interview with the Huffington Post, Cozart explains his motivation for the song and video, which took five weeks to record and film, “To just put those characters in our world — our dark, terrible, sad world; hilarity ensues.”

Dark, terrible and sad, yes. Hilarious? Sure, ok.

Artist of the Day: Hyojin Bae

Hyojin Bae

Hyojin Bae is studying at Cal Arts and she keeps an active blog of lively sketchbook drawings here.

Hyojin Bae

Hyojin Bae

She also completed a ten page personal comic project which you can see on that blog along with many characters and drawings. She additionally has a portfolio blog and another older blog that goes back further in time.

Hyojin Bae

Hyojin Bae

“Strange Oaks” by Headless Productions

Barcelona-based Headless Productions has attracted a lot of attention for its hand-drawn projects. They’ve translated their quirky aesthetic into CGI before, such as this feature trailer, and now they’ve tried it again with a CG test piece called Strange Oaks.

CREDITS
Directed and designed by HEADLESS
3D supervisor: Javier Verdugo
Modeling&Lighting: Javier Verdugo
Rigging: Miquel Campos
Animation: PH Dallaire, David St-Amant, Guillaume Pelletier, Christine Houle

Cartoon Brew is Nine Years Old Today

Our first official post went up on Cartoon Brew on March 15, 2004 which makes the site 9 years old today. Happy birthday to us!

Much has changed since those quaint mid-aughts when the site looked like this, and we catered to just a few hundred daily visitors insteads of today’s tens of thousands.

In the past decade, animation, too, has exploded in size. It used to be that the number of people working in the global animation industry numbered in the thousands, and then, tens of thousands. In the past decade, thanks to digital animation of all kinds, the industry has grown into a workforce of hundreds of thousands. This rapid growth has led to a renaissance of new content and new voices, while at the same time jumbling established areas of the industry into disarray, as we’ve seen with the recent instability of the American VFX field.

Today, I want to acknowledge all those who have helped build the site into what is, including the co-founder of Cartoon Brew, Jerry Beck, the current roster of editorial contributors, our behind-the-scenes tech and sales teams who keep the site running smoothly, and YOU, the readers, who bring so much spirit and verve to the whole thing. Animation will continue to expand in exciting and unexpected ways over the coming decades, and Cartoon Brew plans to be there for every moment of it.

(Party photo by Elzbieta Sekowska/Shutterstock)

Artist of the Day: Vincent Giard

Vincent Giard

Vincent Giard creates comics, drawings and animation in Quebec.

Vincent Giard

Vincent Giard

His work is consistently exciting, challenging and experimental. Vincent fearlessly draws and animates into unknown territory. It’s also often very funny.

Vincent Giard

Vincent Giard

Vincent Giard

His site aencre, and an English language mirror here contain much more work that defies description or explanation and just has to be seen.

Vincent Giard

Vincent Giard

The Draw Shrek Tumblr is Where You Draw Shrek

The Draw Shrek Tumblr (NSFW) is described as “a place where we draw Shrek.” For those of you rebellious artist-types who were considering drawing other characters from the classic DreamWorks franchise, don’t even think about it! The site’s rules clearly state: “NO DONKEY FUCK FIONA ONLY SHREK. SHREK TIL U DIE.”

Shrekquille O’Neal

Shrek Fighter by Aaron Cowdery

Ballin Shrek by Edgar

Shrek Kawaii

Shrek Onion by Matt Marblo

Shrekbath by Sean Glaze

“23 Degrees 5 Minutes” by Darragh O’Connell

Irish animation studio Brown Bag Films released its 2011 short 23 Degrees 5 Minutes online today. Based on a story by Austin Kenny, the CG short is directed by Darragh O’Connell, who has been twice nominated for the animated short Oscar for co-directing the films Give Up Yer Aul Sins and Granny O’Grimm’s Sleeping Beauty.

Artist of the Day: Sam Hiti

Sam Hiti

Sam Hiti is a machine with his brush and ink. The combination of looseness and confidence in his mark-making is powerful, and his years of drawing practice are evident. Sam’s story of being the solo writer, artist and self-publisher of his own work is inspiring to do-it-yourselfers and control freaks everywhere (which should include many animators). One of his self-published comics, Tiempos Finales, was optioned for development into a feature film by Focus Features not long after it was published, although it hasn’t come to fruition as a film yet. His website is here and his most active blog is here.

Lastly, check out this kick-ass cyborg tiger:

Rediscovering Walt Kelly’s Lost “Pogo” Short

If you want something done right, you have to do it yourself.

Walt Kelly had had a regrettable experience making The Pogo Special Birthday Special (1969) with Chuck Jones.

“How did you ever okay Chuck’s Pogo story?,” Ward Kimball asked Walt Kelly shortly after the special aired on TV. “I didn’t, for Godsake!,” Kelly cried out. “The son of a bitch changed it after our last meeting. That’s not the way I wrote it. He took all the sharpness out of it and put in that sweet, saccharine stuff that Chuck Jones always thinks is Disney, but isn’t.” Kimball, who was dining with Kelly at the Musso & Frank Grill in Hollywood, pressed further. “Who okayed giving the little skunk girl a humanized face?” he asked. Kelly was so angry he couldn’t answer. His face turned red, and he bellowed to the waiter, “Bring me another bourbon!” In Kimball’s words, Kelly wanted “to kill—if not sue—Chuck.”

Shortly after that debacle, Walt Kelly took matters into his own hands and decided to personally animate his popular Pogo characters. With the help of his wife Selby Daley, he planned on creating a fully-animated half-hour special for television, with the characters expressing a strong stance on taking care of the environment. But due to his ill-health, he was able to complete only thirteen minutes of We Have Met the Enemy and He Is Us, which you see below.

The finished portions are absolutely charming and beautifully crafted. Much like his character P.T. Bridgeport, Kelly is a real showman here. Although he hadn’t animated since Dumbo thirty years prior, his animation skills are still top-notch. While the animation can be a bit choppy at times (mostly keys and some breakdowns with no in-betweens), his drawings are solid and appealing with some real flourishes of fluid animation throughout.

The color, though muddy in the existing prints, also appears to be as vibrant as his Sunday pages, and the backgrounds are as intricately detailed as his splash panels, if not more so. And the voices, humorously performed by Kelly himself, fit the tone and mood of his characters.

Besides Winsor McCay, I can’t think of any other mainstream comic artist who animated their comics to such a painstaking degree. While many comic strips have been adapted for film and television before and since, none of them have met or surpassed the charm and quality of the original artist’s work. Here, the animator and the creator is one and the same, and the drawings are pure, unfiltered and straight from the artist’s hand.

“Legends of Oz” Set for 2014 Release

Now that Disney’s Oz The Great and Powerful is a box office hit, let the Wizard of Oz remakes commence.Variety reports that Clarius Entertainment will theatrically release the 3-D CGI pic Legends of Oz: Dorothy’s Return in the first quarter of 2014. We posted the film’s trailer last fall, back when the film was called Dorothy of Oz, and the reaction was tepid.

The film is inspired by L. Frank Baum’s Wonderful Wizard of Oz as well as an Oz book series written by his great-grandson Roger Stanton Baum. Daniel St. Pierre (Everyone’s Hero) and Will Finn (The Road to El Dorado, Home on the Range) directed the film through Summertime Entertainment, and Bonne Radford produced with Summertime co-founders Ryan and Roland Carroll. Indian animation studio Prana (Hoodwinked! and Disney’s Tinker Bell movies) handled the animation production.

Disney Is Producing New Mickey Mouse Shorts and Premiered the First One Today [UPDATED]

Disney unveiled a new Mickey Mouse short today called Croissant de Triomphe, that can be viewed HERE. It is one of 19 new shorts that will begin airing on Friday, June 28, on the Disney Channel, Disney.com and other Disney-branded platforms.

Paul Rudish (Dexter’s Laboratory, Sym-Bionic Titan, My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic) is exec producing and directing. Aaron Springer (SpongeBob SquarePants, Korgoth of Barbaria) and Clay Morrow (Dexter’s Laboratory, Chowder, Camp Lazlo!) are also directors. Joseph Holt is the series art director.

If the newly released short Croissant de Triomphe is any indication, this will be a handsome and distinctive series, featuring a mixture of Cartoon Modern-styled backgrounds, Thirties-influenced character designs (complete with pie-cut Mickey eyes), and loose, expressive animation. It’s easily one of the best revivals of a classic cartoon character that I’ve seen, remaining faithful to the original while adding a fresh visual twist. The three-and-a-half-minute running time of the first short is perfect, too. It’s great that studios are awakening to the fact that there can be other lengths besides 7- and 11-minute episodes.

My prime observation about the first short Croissant de Triomphe is that it struggles to find the humor in its set-up, which is Mickey driving around Paris on a scooter. Outside of a handful of lukewarm attempts at gags (including Minnie’s tonsils appearing in a phone, nuns knocked into the air like bowling pins who then float down, an appearance by Cinderella), the cartoon emphasizes frenzied videogame-influenced action sequences over slapstick. Even obvious gag set-ups—for example, Mickey dressed as a knight and lancing croissants—have no comedic payoff.

Whatever may have been lacking in the classic Mickey shorts, they at least emphasized personality-driven humor, something that is completely absent in this new short, which relies on conventional situation-based comedy. Hopefully as the crew finds its footing, they will be able to balance the accomplished action sequences with a more spirited comic sensibility.

UPDATE: Andy Suriano, who worked on these new shorts, has updated his blog with a complete list of everybody who worked on the cartoons at Disney. It’s one heck of a line-up:

Paul Rudish
Jenny Gase-Baker
Aaron Springer
Darrick Bachman
Clay Morrow
Chris Roszak
Chris Hacker
Andy Suriano
Joseph Holt
Illya Owens
Chris Savino
Derek Dressler
Alex Kirwan
Dave Wasson
Robert Lacko
Stephen DeStefano
Justin Martin
Justin Parpan
Narina Sokolova
Rae McCarson
Alonso Ramirez Ramos
Kali Fontecchio
Tara Billinger
Jasmine Bocz
Todd Popp
Steve Lininger
John Chang
Monica Mitchell
Animation produced at Mercury Filmworks (Ottawa)

Artist of the Day: Erica Jones

Erica Jones

Erica Jones is studying character animation at CalArts and she blogs her sketchbook doodles, various assignments and film projects here and here.

Erica Jones

Erica Jones

Erica’s drawings show off deft cartooning skills and a whole lot of humor. Many of the pieces appear to be one-off drawings for fun, but there are several posts that revolve around a student film in progress in which there are some crystals and special-crystal-light-refraction-animation tests.

Erica Jones

Erica Jones

U.N. Millennium Development Spots by Daniel Og

Brew reader Leo Santos introduced me to the fantastic work of Brazilian animator Daniel Og, who animated this series of eight 30-second spots for Canal Futura—one for each of the UN’s Millennium Development Goals:

  1. Eradicating extreme poverty and hunger,
  2. Achieving universal primary education,
  3. Promoting gender equality and empowering women,
  4. Reducing child mortality rates,
  5. Improving maternal health,
  6. Combating HIV/AIDS, malaria, and other diseases,
  7. Ensuring environmental sustainability, and
  8. Developing a global partnership for development.

Og’s eccentric animation style tweaks the conventional patterns of movement. His characters jolt around the screen with an aggressive staccato edge, and everything’s just a little wobbly, but make no mistake, it’s skillful artistry done for effect.

After seeing these spots, I checked out Og’s reel, and while there are hints of the individualistic quirks that make these commercials special, it’s clear that Og’s creativity flourishes most when he works within his personal funky contour-line drawing style. Here’s hoping we get to see a lot more of that because it’s quite unique.