“The Customized Play” Is An Intriguing Indie Feature From South Korea

South Korean director Jin Sung Choi (Tom N Jerry, Entering the Mind Through the Mouth) is well into production of his first feature film, The Customized Play, which has a quirky storyline:

Chun Jaeyoung and Chun Yusun visit the unusual drama company, which produces the customized play for each client. They ask the boss of the troupe to make the play for their father, Chun Jongsik, who is having his 70th birthday. The boss creates the customized play through interviews with their father and his acquaintances. In the play, Chun Jongsik, experiences fiction and truth from the past, and realizes what he has done and what he has been feeling sincerely,and eventually faces the trauma that has harassed him.

The film is being made with a crew of just a half-dozen artists, but you’d never guess how small the team by looking at the film’s lush, complex visual style:

(via Catsuka)

“Oh Willy…” Wins Top Prize at Stuttgart

The Stuttgart International Festival of Animated Film announced their winners last Sunday. The grand prize, which included a 15,000 Euro award (approx. $19,500), was awarded to Oh Willy… by Emma de Swaef and Marc James Roels. The film’s continuing success on the international festival circuit means little for its Oscar hopes since it was already entered for consideration last year and was completely overlooked by the Academy.

Other winners at Stuttgart include Ryo Okawara’s short Kara No Tamago which won the prize for animated short, and Hisko Hulsing’s Junkyard which won the audience award. The animated feature prize was awarded to the French film Ernest and Celestine, which will open in the United States this fall.

International Competition Grand Prize (15,000 euros)
Oh Willy… directed by Emma de Swaef and Marc James Roels

Lotte Reiniger Promotion Award for Animated Film (10,000 euros)
Kara No Tamago (A Wind Egg) directed by Ryo Okawara (Japan)

SWR Audience Award (6,000 euros)
Junkyard directed by Hisko Hulsing (The Netherlands)

Young Animation Award/Best Student Film (2,500 euros)
Eine Murul (Breakfast on the Grass) directed by Erik Alunurm, Mari Pakkas, Mari Liis Rebane, Mihkel Reha (Estonia)

AniMovie Award for Best Animated Feature
Ernest & Celestine directed by Benjamin Renner, Stephane Aubier and Vincent Patar (France, Belgium, Luxembourg)

Tricks for Kids Award for Best Children’s Feature (4,000 euros)
Schrecken ohne Ende (Nearest and Dearest) directed by Michael Sieber and Max Stöhhr

Tricks for Kids Award for Best Animated Series for Children
Roy: “Foot Fat Fit” directed by Alan Shannon (Ireland)

Cartoons for Teens award for Best Animated Series (2,500 euros)
Der Notfall (Déjà-moo) directed by Stefan Muller

German Screenplay Award (2,500 euros)
Molly Monster: The Movie written by John Chambers

Animated Fashion Award (2,000 euros)
Freitag X-Mas Movies directed by Claudia Rothlin and Yves Gutjar (Switzerland)

German Voice Award (2,500 euros)
Rick Kavanian for Knight Rusty, Yesterday’s Hero Recycled (Universum, Germany)

Animated Com Awards (Awards for the best applied animation in the fields of advertising, technology and spatial communication 
sponsored by Mackevision Medien Design GmbH, Animation Media Cluster Region Stuttgart, Daimler AG, U.I. Lapp GmbH)

Main prize
The Real Bears directed by Lucas Zanotto

Advertising (2,500 euros)
MTV EMA 2012 Opener directed by Mate Steinforth (Germany)

Technology (2,500 euros)
Mass Effect 3 – Take Earth Back directed by Istvan Zorkoczy (Hungary)

Spatial Communication
Swiss Pavilion Expo Yeosu: “The Source–It’s In Your Hands” directed by Marc Tamschick (Switzerland)

Special Prize Mercedes-Benz Classic: Silver Arrows (2,500 euros)
A Racers Sketchbook directed by Falk Schuster (Germany)

Special Prize Lapp Connected Award (2,500 euros)
Pinball directed by Darko Vidackovic (Croatia)

These Are My Seven ‘Desert Island’ Animation Reference Books


What are the essential reference books that anyone with an interest in animation history should have on their bookshelf? It’s a question I’ve rarely seen discussed and would be curious to hear readers’ feedback. I’m not asking about the best written books about the art form, but rather the books that offer valuable information to those pursuing serious study of the history of 20th century animation.

I whittled down my ‘desert island’ list of animation reference books to just seven titles. There are, in fact, dozens of other excellent books, journals and articles related to specific filmmakers, studios, techniques and styles. I could have easily added another dozen titles to the list and still come up short. However, these are the seven books that I find myself returning to time and time again, and I think they provide a solid overview of 20th century animation for any intrepid researcher/historian/fan of the art form. Please share your favorite reference books in the comments.


1.) Before Mickey: The Animated Film 1898-1928 (1982, revised in 1993) by Donald Crafton — Walt Disney was an important figure in the development of animation, but so were Raoul Barré, James Stuart Blackton, John R. Bray, Emile Cohl, Winsor McCay, Otto Messmer, Lotte Reiniger, and Paul Terry. This book covers all of them, and is essential grounding in the early history of animation.




2.) Of Mice and Magic: A History of American Animated Cartoons (1980, revised in 1987) by Leonard Maltin — Capsule histories of Golden Age theatrical animation studios, still unsurpassed as a primer on that era.



3.) Hollywood Cartoons: American Animation in Its Golden Age (1999, paperback in 2003) by Michael Barrier — The yang to Maltin’s yin. A highly opinionated and meticulously researched take on Golden Age American animation. The book will be best appreciated if you have some existing knowledge of classic animation.



4.) The Illusion of Life: Disney Animation (1981) by Frank Thomas and Ollie Johnston — Everything that could have already been said about this book has been said. Suffice to say, if you can own just one book about Disney animation, this is it. The development of the studio’s approach to character animation has never been more clearly documented.



5.) Cartoons: One Hundred Years of Cinema Animation (1994) by Giannalberto Bendazzi — From Argentina to Zaire, this is the most thorough survey of global animation. I refer to this book frequently, and more often than not, I’ll find the name I’m looking for. A much-anticipated updated edition is due out later this year, which I plan to purchase the moment it’s released.



6.) Experimental Animation: An Illustrated Anthology (1976, reprinted in 1988 as Experimental Animation: Origins of a New Art) by Robert Russett and Cecile Starr — Many of the innovative techniques we see in commercials and music videos nowadays were done decades ago by the likes of Walter Ruttmann, Viking Eggeling, Hans Richter, Oskar Fischinger, Mary Ellen Bute, Len Lye, and Norman McLaren. This book is still the best source of information about the leading abstract and experimental animators of the twentieth century.



7.) The Animated Film Encyclopedia: A Complete Guide to American Shorts, Features, and Sequences, 1900-1999 (second edition released in 2011) by Graham Webb — Expensive but useful. This is a pure reference work and not something intended to be read, but with over 7,000 entries, it is the most complete listing of credits for Golden Age theatrical shorts, with plenty of credits not even found on IMDB.


Honorary mentions to the following three books: Design in Motion (1962), Film & TV Graphics (1967), and Film + TV Graphics 2 (1976) — These books are short on text, but filled with great images from animation produced between the late-1950s and mid-1970s. This vital, and poorly undocumented, period in animation history coincided with the growth and expansion of international and independent animation, which is in full bloom today. Many important names and films are represented in these books, and I find myself often cross-referencing them with Bendazzi’s book.

Memorial Service for 2D Animation Planned for San Diego Comic-Con

Hollywood animation studios seem to think that 2D animation is dead so we may as well go ahead and make it official. Former Walt Disney Feature Animation artist Raul Aguirre Jr. is organizing a mock-memorial service for hand-drawn animation that will take place this summer at the San Diego Comic-Con. He put out a call for participation on Cartoon Brew’s Facebook page:

I am putting together a panel discussion which I want to do a tongue in cheek Memorial Service for 2D traditional animation” Everyone on the panel would give a little speech in honor of the dearly departed. I’m hoping to get a little casket with an animation disc in it and some flowers. I would love to have some ladies in shawls crying hysterically the whole time. I want to end it with a positive note and revive the departed with audience participation. Like clapping your hands to revive Tinkerbell in the Peter Pan shows.

On Aguirre’s personal Facebook, a couple women have already volunteered to perform the crying-ladies-in-shawls role. This should be fun if he can make it happen.

Japanese Beverage Drinkers Can Create Disney Animation with Their Bottles

A Japanese beverage company is encouraging its drinkers to animate their drink bottles after they’ve finished drinking its contents. They are printing a series of Disney characters on the sides of their tea-drink packaging. Each drawing is numbered, like this:

After someone has collected all the bottles in a series, they can photograph the draiwngs to create an animation sequence:

More details (in Japanese) HERE.

(Thanks, JL, via Cartoon Brew’s Reader Submission Forum)

“Transe Le Gros” by Julie Faure-Brac

This sequence—Transe Le Gros—by Julie Faure-Brac was made for “Incantations”, an interactive installation produced in collaboration with dancer Rachid Ouramdane. It premiered in 2009 at “La Nuit Blanche” in Paris. It’s the first time I’ve ever seen an animated piece capture the frenzied fervor of ritualistic practice and the disturbing sense of chaos and comedy that often accompanies such appeals to the divine.

You can see the other parts of Julie’s installation—Transe Le maigre and Transe Le rockeur—as well as how they were all combined together into an installation.

A Play about the Death of Walt Disney That May or May Not Be About His Death

Fictionalized accounts of Walt Disney’s life are all the rage this season, so much so that even the Walt Disney Company is inventing random stories about its founder that are loosely based in fact.

On Monday, the Soho Rep in Manhattan will debut a new play written by Lucas Hnath called “A Public Reading of an Unproduced Screenplay About the Death of Walt Disney.” I haven’t found any reviews of the show, but the Wall Street Journal wrote that it “begins with a friendly greeting, but as [Disney] becomes ever more obsessed with his control of the narrative, he becomes less open with the audience, less appealing. He’s striving to dominate the truth.”

Character actor Larry Pine (House of Cards, Moonrise Kingdom, Oz) plays the role of Disney. It runs through May 26. The official show description:

Tonight Walt is going to read you a screenplay he wrote. It’s about his last days on earth. It’s about a city he’s going to build that’s going to change the world. And it’s about his brother. It’s about everyone who loves him so much, and it’s about how sad they’re going to be when he’s gone.

Right? I mean, how can they live without him? How can anyone live without him?

Artistic Director Sarah Benson directs the world premiere of Lucas Hnath’s adrenaline-charged odyssey, a supersonic portrait of the man who forever changed the American Dream.

Set Design by Mimi Lien, Costume Design by Kaye Voyce, Lighting Design by Matt Frey, Sound Design by Matt Tierney, Props by Jon Knust, Choreography by Annie-B Parson, Special Effects by Steve Cuiffo, Production Stage Manager: Heather Arnson, Production Manager: BD White.

Featuring Larry Pine as Walt Disney, Amanda Quaid as Daughter, Brian Sgambati as Ron and Frank Wood as Roy.

(Thanks, Daniel Savage)

Parts of The Don Bluth Archive Are Viewable Online

In 2005, Don Bluth and producing partner Gary Goldman donated their animation archives to Savannah College of Art and Design (SCAD). The substantial collection includes all the artwork they had saved beginning with Banjo the Woodpile Cat in 1979, as well as administrative and legal documents, scripts, unproduced concepts and publicity materials.

SCAD is currently on a years-long mission to process and catalog the material so that it will be accessible to researchers and students. They’ve posted a generous sampling of the materials on the Don Bluth Collection website including pencil tests from Space Ace, storyboards from The Secret of NIMH, and character designs from Thumbelina. Even if you’re like me, and find Bluth’s work to be mechanical and generic, it’s hard to deny the immense value of preserving an archive of this scale and making it available to future generations.

(via Michael Sporn’s Splog)

Animated Fragments #23

It’s the return of a readers’ favorite: Animated Fragments. These clips celebrate the briefest of the brief: short animated experiments, work-in-progress clips, advertising pieces, animated GIFs, trailers and and small pieces that otherwise wouldn’t have a home on Cartoon Brew. For more, visit the Animated Fragments archive.

“La zona blanca” by Reza Riahi (Iran/France)

“Louis” by Mathilde Parquet (France)

“Amoo Lucky” teaser for Riz Mouj Co. directed by Mohammad Kheirandish/Tuca Animation Studio (Iran)

“Cake” (WIP) by Anna P

“NoName Walk Cycle” by Ariel Victor (Australia)

Animation Legend Ken Mundie Pitches “The Match” on Kickstarter

Director and animator Ken Mundie, who is in his late-’80s, is probably the oldest animator to date who has used Kickstarter to fund an animated short. The project he’s pitching is something he’s been working on for years called The Match. Here’s a short test from the project for which he’s aiming to raise $10,000.

Mundie has had a fascinating career in Hollywood, walking the mainstream-indie tightrope for much of it. He is perhaps best known for directing the 1969 Fat Albert pilot, which has absolutely nothing to do with the Filmation crud that followed and ranks as one of the greatest TV specials in animation history.

One of his indie shorts, The Door (1967), was released by Warner Bros. in 1967:

He did lots of film and TV series titles like The Wild Wild West:

While working on lesser projects in Hollywood, he always did personal projects on the side, like this adapation of Homer’s The Odyssey which he was never able to get off the ground:

It’s exciting to see him with the desire to finish an animated film at such an advanced age. According to the campaign page, his son is assisting him, and they’re aiming to complete by September 2014. Unfortunately, the project is poorly set up and is basically a “what not to do” for crowdfunding. Every newbie Kickstarter mistake has been made, though it’s not too late to fix many of these issues, such as:

  • It’s set up by someone who isn’t Ken Mundie and who hasn’t made his relationship to Mundie clear.

  • There have been no updates in the first week.

  • There’s no video of Ken Mundie explaining his project (seeing a ‘grand old man’ of the art form personally explain his project could make a crucial difference to many potential backers.)

  • The descriptions of what the money will accomplish are vague. (They say the money will complete the ‘first act,’ but is that a stand-alone short and of what length?)

Even with these reservations, I felt the project was worthy of being highlighted because Mundie’s animation tests look phenomenal and the man is one of the unheralded renegades of the American animation industry.

Artist Kevin McShane Draws Himself in A Hundred Different Animation Styles

Cartoonist Kevin McShane has spent the last two years drawing himself in the styles of different animators and animated films. He’s collected one hundred of these stylistic deviations on CartoonKevin.com. One might criticize McShane’s decision to emphasize only the most superficial stylistic traits of a character design as a representation of that style, but it still manages to be a worthwhile exercise that makes the viewer aware of both the similarities and differences in character design styles across the spectrum of animation history.

(Thanks, Justin Hilden)

Why Jeffrey Katzenberg is Considered Among the Most Powerful People in American Politics

The new print issue of Mother Jones (May/June 2013) has a fascinating piece about DreamWorks Animation CEO Jeffrey Katzenberg and his central role during the 2012 U. S. Presidential elections. The article will be an eye-opening read for anyone who considers the animation business to be detached from American politics. It makes clear that Katzenberg’s involvement in Obama’s Presidency has opened doors for him at the highest levels of both U. S. and Chinese government, and given him the ability to more quickly expand into the Chinese film market, whose box office returns are expected to overtake the American film market within the next decade.

The six-page Mother Jones piece by Andy Kroll isn’t online so here are some of my takeaways from the piece:


  • Katzenberg, who is worth an estimated $800 million, donated $3.15 million to Democratic super-PACs during the 2012 election cycle. (He potentially donated more to other groups which aren’t required by law to disclose donor lists.)

  • He helped raise nearly $30 million from other Hollywood figures, including a $1 million donation from Steven Spielberg. According to actor Will Smith, “Jeffrey has no problem asking you for, like, way too much money.”

  • Katzenberg is considered unique among President Barack Obama fundraisers for his tenacity and personal involvement. One person in the article said, “He’s like soy sauce in Chinese food: He’s everywhere,” and another commented, “No one in the United States did what Katzenberg did. He is in a class of one.”

  • Katzenberg and his political advisor Andy Spahn visited the White House an average of once a month during Obama’s first term as U. S. President.

  • Obama takes Katzenberg’s phone calls personally.

  • The son of a Wall Street stockbroker, Katzenberg has been involved in politics since childhood. In his teens and early-twenties, Katzenberg worked as an aide to NY mayor John Lindsay, and helped during Lindsay’s 1972 run for President.

  • Katzenberg’s wife, Marilyn, first saw Senator Obama in 2006 on Oprah and encouraged her husband to meet him. Obama reminded Katzenberg of John Lindsay. Katzenberg said in a TV interview that Lindsay was “very much about hope and about engagement and change. All the things we hear today were things he represented in 1965.”

  • Obama has said of the Katzenbergs: “Jeffrey and Marilyn Katzenberg have been tireless and stalwart and have never wavered through good times and bad since my first presidential race, back when a lot of people still couldn’t pronounce my name. I will always be grateful to them.”

  • It’s not clear what Katzenberg’s endgame is from supporting the President, but most presume that easier access to the Chinese film market is a big part of his motivation.

  • When China’s top leader ‪Xi Jinping‬ visited the U. S. in 2011, Katzenberg sat next to him at a State Department luncheon. Later that week in California, Katzenberg announced a $350 million deal to open Oriental DreamWorks, with Jinping’s personal approval.

  • Vice-President Joe Biden asked Jeffrey Katzenberg and Disney CEO Bob Iger what they thought was a fair solution to the profit-sharing disputes between the Chinese government and U. S. film studios. Biden was able to craft a new agreement that gave 25% of the profits to film studios, and also allowed more American 3-D and IMAX movies to be released in China.

  • Katzenberg’s advisor Andy Spahn denies that Katzenberg had discussions with anybody in the Obama administration about his Oriental DreamWorks venture or that he played a role in the deal that Biden made with the Chinese government about film profit-sharing.

  • DreamWorks is among several studios that are under federal investigation for possibly violating US anti-bribery laws in China.

  • Katzenberg is involved in politics beyond Obama. He is set to cohost a fundraiser soon for the 2014 Senate bid of Newark mayor Cory Booker. He also helped raise $150,000 for the Los Angeles mayoral bid of former DreamWorks employee Wendy Greuel.

David OReilly Talks About His Glitchy “Adventure Time” Episode

Rhizome.org published a great interview with David OReilly about his recent Adventure Time episode “A Glitch is a Glitch” and the challenges of making convincing styistic glitch:

“In general, doing stylistic glitch is easy compared to doing good character animation. Mixing the two gets very tricky though. One of the hardest things was corrupting the scene near the end of the entire broadcast so that the earlier clip is superimposed over Finn & Jake to give them an idea (i.e., using glitch as a kind of thought bubble). It was easy to storyboard that idea, but making it work properly took a lot of grind…It was all generated from ‘real’ glitches—but since everything is run through compositing software and sort of controlled you could also say it was all fake. The glitches needed to begin locally—inside objects—then spread out until they became part of the scene itself. The local stuff was done by generating a ton of sprites that had random pixels move outwardly to create the colorful flourishes we associate with video compression. These had a decent amount of control—a blob of glitchy stuff could move around a scene, for example. Once the scenes were fully animated and rendered the global full-frame glitches were done. There was some jpeg corruption added on top of the battle scene at the end.”

Artist of the Day: Vince Collins

Vince Collins

Vince Collins is an experimental filmmaker known for the films that he animated in the 1970s and 80s that featured his deeply-saturated, perpetually moving and morphing figures.

Malice in Wonderland (nsfw):

Fortunately, Vince is active online and his films are available to watch here, but unfortunately the early drawn films are marred by digital compression exacerbated by the rapid motion and color changes.

Life is Flashing Before Your Eyes:

For more about him, see recent interviews with Vince at NetworkAwesome.com and Vice. Vince’s website is here.

Vince Collins

Euphoria:

It makes some kind of bizarre sense that Vince is now making 3D shorts such as the crude, colorful Instant Clown Party which is either designed to entertain or drive you insane:

Artist of the Day: Stefan Gruber

Stefan Gruber is an artist, animator, musician and teacher. He founded and teaches in the animation department of the alternative high school, Nova, in Seattle.

Stefan Gruber
Stefan Gruber

Stefan’s work is personal, often experimental, and always worth experiencing for its original perspective.

Stefan Gruber

One of his long-standing platforms for broadcasting his various work is the Fantasy Pleasure Complex, which may be best described as an online, multimedia zine. Ten issues have been published, and each is designed as an interactive Flash screen that is a unique work itself and allows access to other videos, comics and experimental pieces.

Fantasy Pleasure Complex was strange and exciting to experience at its debut in 2000, and still stands as a strong, independent presence that is like nothing else online in 2013. Find the vertical column of numbers in the lower left of FPC10 to navigate backwards to earlier editions.

Stefan Gruber

A small sampling of his animation is available his YouTube account, such as “Six Mystic Flipbooks; Magic Gems of Animation”:

A short documentary from producer Patricia O’Brien and director Paige Barnes on Stefan is here is a good introduction to him and his work:

Another more recent short about Stefan from Ben Taylor and Brittany Alsot is here:

“Mulan” Director Tony Bancroft Will Teach You How to Direct Animation

Animation veteran Tony Bancroft (co-director of Mulan) has an interesting sound book in the works. It’s called Directing for Animation: Everything You Didn’t Learn in Art School.

The 246-page book will explore the directing process from start to finish, mixing personal stories and experiences with insights from top mainstream directors including Dean DeBlois, Pete Docter, Eric Goldberg, Tim Miller, John Musker, Jennifer Yuh Nelson, Nick Park and Chris Wedge. The book, which will be published in June by Focal Press, will retail for $34.95, though it’s currently available as a pre-order on Amazon for $22.32.

Annecy Announces 23 Animated Features for 2013 Festival

Annecy, the longest-running and largest animation fesival, has announced the feature film selections for their upcoming festival in June. Nine films were chosen to compete for the Cristal award for feature film, which will be decided by a jury consisting of producer Didier Brunner (Les Armateurs), Cartoon Network exec Brian Miller and director Robert Morgan (The Cat with Hands, The Man in the Lower-Left Hand Corner of the Photograph). An additional fourteen features will screen out of competition.

Marcel Jean, the festival’s artistic director, said of this year’s feature selections:

“Many films have been created in a totally independent way, using traditional means, which illustrates the change in production habits that is opening the way for smaller companies and happening at the same moment as the production of digital 3D features is becoming more accessible. Japanese production has also particularly stood out through the number and quality of science fiction, horror or genre films.”

Feature Films—In Competition

  • Arjun, The Warrior Prince
    Directed by Arnab Chaudhuri (India)

  • Berserk Golden Age Arc II: The Battle for Doldrey
    Directed by Toshiyuki Kubooka (Japan)

  • Jasmine
    Directed by Alain Ughetto (France)

  • Khumba
    Directed by Anthony Silverston (South Africa)

  • Legends of Oz: Dorothy’s Return
    Directed by Daniel St. Pierre and Will Finn (U.S.)

  • My Mommy is in America and She Met Buffalo Bill
    Directed by Marc Boréal and Thibaut Chatel (France)

  • O Apóstolo
    Directed by Fernando Cortizo (Spain)

  • Pinocchio
    Directed by Enzo D’Alo (Italy, Luxembourg, France, Belgium)

  • Rio 2096: A Story of Love and Fury
    Directed by Luiz Bolognesi (Brazil)

Feature Films—Out of Competition

  • After School Midnighters
    Directed by Hitoshi Takekiyo (Japan)

  • Aya de Yopougon
    Directed by Marguerite Abouet and Clément Oubrerie (France)

  • Blood-C: The Last Dark
    Directed by Naoyoshi Shiotani (Japan)

  • Buratino’s Return
    Directed by Ekaterina Mikhailova (Russia)

  • Consuming Spirits
    Directed by Christopher Sullivan (U.S.)

  • El Santos vs la Tetona Mendoza
    Directed by Alejandro Lozano (Mexico)

  • Gusuko-Budori no Denki
    Directed by Gisaburo Sugii (Japan)

  • It’s Such a Beautiful Day
    Directed by Don Hertzfeldt (U.S.)

  • One Piece Film Z
    Directed by Tatsuya Nagamine (Japan)

  • Persistence of Vision
    Directed by Kevin Schreck (U.S.)

  • Sakasama no Patema
    Directed by Yasuhiro Yoshiura (Japan)

  • The Legend of Sarila
    Directed by Nancy Savard (Canada)

  • The Snow Queen
    Directed by Maxim Sveshnikov and Vladlen Barbe (Russia)

  • Tito on Ice
    Directed by Max Andersson and Helena Ahonen (Sweden)

Animation Editor Jay Lawton, RIP

We received an email this afternoon from a friend of photographer and film editor Jay Lawton, who passed away on Tuesday, April 23, after a battle with cancer. He was 51. Lawton’s family provided the following obituary:

As an assistant editor he worked at several Los Angeles animation studios, including DreamWorks Animation, Warner Bros. and Walt Disney Television Animation. Projects included Recess, Lady and the Tramp II: Scamp’s Adventure, The Jungle Book 2, Clifford’s Really Big Movie, Loonatics Unleashed, Johnny Test, and The Replacements.

For over a decade Lawton ran his own fine art studio, JayPG Photography, and his recently completed “Project 50,” a set of fifty portraits of gay men over the age of fifty (a demographic Lawton felt was unjustly marginalized within an already marginalized minority), is scheduled to be exhibited at this summer’s LA PRIDE / Christopher Street West Festival. Lawton’s photo archives documenting over two decades of Gay and Lesbian history in Los Angeles have been acquired by the ONE National Gay & Lesbian Archives housed at USC. Lawton is survived by his partner, Peter Ayala, and a sister, Janet Brunty, of Waycross, Georgia. Donations in his name may be made to the ONE Archives, www.onearchives.org.

Photo credit: JayPG Photography

Artist of the Day: Marlo Meekins

Marlo Meekins’s observational, drawing and painting skills are exceptional. She fantastically distorts specific shapes and forms of peoples’ bodies to Basil Wolverton extremes. Her sense of humor and fearlessness in execution are equally responsible for the humorous, grotesque, appeal of her work.

Marlo Meekins

She has an older blog with many oil paintings and drawings, and a more frequently updated Tumblr with more of her comics and short gag cartoons.

Marlo Meekins

Live drawing as a caricature artist is a form of performance itself, so it isn’t a stretch that Marlo has expanded her artistic output to live-action videos and, more recently, Vine pieces.

Marlo Meekins

Marlo Meekins

Marlo Meekins

Marlo Meekins

Why Is It So Difficult to Make Cute Cartoon Characters?

Over on question-and-answer website Quora, someone posted a very simple question: Which is the cutest cartoon character ever created? The answers from Quora members cover a broad spectrum, some more obvious (Tweety, Pokemon, Pooh) and others less so (Gertie the Dinosaur, Night Fury from How to Train Your Dragon).

So what makes a cartoon character cute? You could reduce the answer down to a few basic characteristics: big eyes and head, fluffiness, warmth and chubbiness. “Cuteness is based on the basic proportions of a baby plus the expressions of shyness or coyness,” wrote Preston Blair in Advanced Animation. According to Blair, other cute traits include:

  • Head large in relation to the body.
  • Eyes spaced low on the head and usually wide and far apart.
  • Fat legs, short and tapering down into small feet for type.
  • Tummy bulges—looks well fed.

But cuteness is far more complex than even Blair’s set of rules; some consider E.T., Yoda and WALL·E to be the epitome of cute, despite their furless, odd appearances. Cuteness and a character’s perceived hugability aren’t always determined by aesthetic appeal. “Cuteness is distinct from beauty,” wrote Natalie Angier for The New York Times. “Beauty attracts admiration and demands a pedestal; cuteness attracts affection and demands a lap.”

In essence, any creature deemed cute is one that speaks to our nurturing instincts. The cuteness of an infant can motivate an adult to take care of it, even if the baby is not a blood relation. Even more, studies have found that humans transfer these same emotions to animals (or even inanimate objects) that bear our similar features. Finding Nemo combined all of these psychological elements perfectly—you can’t hug or cuddle a fish, yet adorable Nemo, with his fin damaged from birth and his human-like facial features, appeals to our caregiving instincts. In fact, every character in Pixar films, whether it’s a clownfish or a car, features forward-facing eyes, the most crucial feature for achieving an emotional connection with the audience.

But with any extreme comes another. If a character is too cute and sugary sweet, the audience can develop skepticism. “Cute cuts through all layers of meaning and says, ‘Let’s not worry about complexities, just love me,’” philosopher Denis Dutton told The New York Times. It is for that very reason cuteness stirs uneasiness and sometimes feels cheap.

After all, the adorable, smiling face of a child can hide the havoc he just wreaked by breaking all of his toys. “Cuteness thus coexists in a dynamic relationship with the perverse,” writes Daniel Harris in his book Cute, Quaint, Hungry And Romantic: The Aesthetics Of Consumerism. You could call this the Gremlin Effect—a character with an underlying creepiness. Troll dolls (which were recently acquired by DreamWorks Animation) and Cabbage Patch Kids are the inexplicable result of this paradox.

There’s no denying a cultural need to pigeonhole and perfect the attributes that could be popularly deemed cute. In his fantastic short essay on Mickey Mouse, biologist and historian Stephen Jay Gould asserts that Mickey’s changing appearance over time is a physical evolution that mirrors cultural attitudes toward cuteness. As the Benjamin Button of animated rodentia, Mickey’s eyes and head have grown larger, his arms and legs chubbier. Mickey has become more childlike and, most would say, more cute and less rat-like. Mickey isn’t the only character to undergo this transformation. The teddy bear, first sold in 1903, started out anatomically similar to a real bear, with a long snout and gangly arms. Today’s teddy bears more closely resemble the Care Bears, with pudgier features and colorful fur.

Audience don’t always need Mickey’s goofy grins and huge eyes to connect with a character’s cuteness. Pictoplasma, the artists’ network and conference that celebrates characters extracted from context, reveals how sometimes it’s our own invented narrative that blasts a character into hall-of-fame cuteness. As Pictoplasma co-founder Peter Thaler said explains, “It’s a horrible example, but Hello Kitty has no facial expression. You don’t know if she’s happy or sad; you just see these two dots. You’re projecting all the narration, the biography.”

Our ideals of cuteness continue to evolve, a trajectory in visual culture that has birthed Hello Kitty and Japan’s kawaii movement, Giga Pets, Furby, Elmo and Slimer. Often the most exciting, memorable cute characters are the ones who bear negative traits that reveal the vulnerability. Scrat, the saber-toothed squirrel from Ice Age, is adorable and loved by audiences even more for his greed. Cuteness, perhaps then, is not just about an objective set of physical features—it’s also about a behavior that compels audiences and connects us emotionally to the character.

Mickey Mouse Short “Get a Horse!” Will Debut at Annecy

Disney announced today that they will release a ‘lost’ Mickey Mouse short called Get A Horse! featuring Walt Disney himself as the voice of Mickey Mouse. The hand-drawn short “follows Mickey, his favorite gal pal Minnie Mouse and their friends Horace Horsecollar and Clarabelle Cow as they delight in a musical wagon ride, until Peg-Leg Pete shows up and tries to run them off the road.”

The never-before-seen work will be presented at the Annecy International Animated Film Festival in Annecy, France on Tuesday, June 11. Lauren MacMullan (Avatar: The Last Airbender, Wreck-It-Ralph), Dorothy McKim (Meet the Robinsons) and animator Eric Goldberg (Winnie the Pooh, Princess and the Frog, Aladdin) will be on hand to present the film.

Artist of the Day: Michael DeForge

Michael DeForge

Michael DeForge produces a lot of work. He contributes designs and storyboards to Adventure Time and produces comics and illustrations regularly. His comic Ant Comic is being collected and published by Drawn and Quarterly, and was recently reviewed on The Comics Journal.

Michael DeForge

Michael is largely a digital artist, drawing from sketch to final stages entirely on the computer. His letter forms and title designs are as unique and varied as the strange characters that inhabit his comics. He has a blog and Tumblr with lots of work to view.

Michael DeForge

Michael DeForge

Michael DeForge

Michael DeForge

“I Am Art” by David Stodolny

DreamWorks animator by day, independent filmmaker by night—David Stodolny keeps busy for sure. His pop culture parodies of The Hulk and The Hunger Games have earned him a growing online following. In his latest short, I Am Art, he stretches his range to satirize a more refined target: the fine art world.

The accompanying making-of video explains his thought process and visual approach to the film:

Joe Pitt Shares the Artwork That Inspires Him

Industry artist Joe Pitt has started a new Tumblr called Straights Against Curves to share “a collection of animation related art, primarily character development, thoughts, and anecdotes that greatly inspire me in hopes to inspire others as well.”

Pitt is the lead character designer on the upcoming Disney series Wander Over Yonder and formerly a director on Gravity Falls. (He’s also a recent Cartoon Brew Artist of the Day pick.)

There’s only a handful of posts so far, but already some valuable insights, such as this observation about how Disney feature characters were developed in the late-1930s/early-1940s compared with today:

The great thing about the old Character Model Department at Disney is that with Joe Grant running it, the concentration was less on solving a final model, but approaching design from a place of story…It was in the model department under Joe’s supervision that they would work with story to help develop the character’s personalities. You don’t see this process much any more. Finding the characters’ traits and personalities are now mostly solved in the story room. This is not a bad thing, it’s just a lot more departmentalized now. I would love to see this structure brought back though, blurring the lines between design and story. It would breed a more collaborative atmosphere I feel.

The Rise and Fall of 38 Studios

The NY Times offers an infuriating and detailed article about the recklessly stupid Rhode Island politicians who gave $75 million to baseball player Curt Schilling so he could launch a video game company. Predictably, Schilling’s company, 38 Studios, not only failed to deliver the online role playing game it set out to make, it accrued $150 million in debt in just two years before the company collapsed last spring and left the state’s finances in ruin. With so much discussion about government subsidies and incentives for VFX and film production, there’s a valuable cautionary tale in here somewhere:

And yet, you don’t have to dig very hard into the record to find that there were plenty of serious-minded advisers who tried to warn state officials away from 38 Studios. Among them, apparently, was the corporation’s own financial portfolio manager, Sean Esten.

According to the state’s pending lawsuit, Mr. Esten was alarmed that 38 Studios’ worst-case projection for its business seemed to rely on releasing a successful game every two years — a track record that most gaming companies can only dream of.

“I don’t think I can support a $75 million guarantee to any single company in this industry due to the wide volatility in commercial success of game releases,” Mr. Esten told his bosses in an e-mail. “Perhaps we should develop a toolbox of incentives (including loan guarantees) to attract companies into a cluster and not rely on a single company to build the cluster around.” According to the state’s complaint, Mr. Esten’s bosses decided to bury his analysis.

Another skeptic was Gina Raimondo, a Democrat who was running for state treasurer at the time and now holds the office. Ms. Raimondo spent the previous decade working in venture capital, and after reading about the proposed investment in July 2010, sent an unsolicited and eerily prescient e-mail to Keith Stokes, who was then the corporation’s executive director and the deal’s main architect.

“In general, I would proceed very carefully on this,” Ms. Raimondo wrote. The company “is in the Boston area where there are 200 venture capital firms, and it is in a very hot area of gaming so if it were in fact a compelling investment I would have to think it would be well funded already by venture capitalists; the fact that many have looked at it and passed is a red flag.”