“Neighborhood Watch” by Mike Carlo

Mike Carlo’s new short Neighborhood Watch premiered last Friday at the Midsummer Night Toons screening in Manhattan. There is no question that Carlo, who directed the animation on the second and third seasons of Superjail! at Titmouse East, knows how to put together a slick cartoon that looks as good as anything on TV. He’d be unstoppable if he collaborated with a writing partner to create characters and stories as polished as his animation.

Written and directed by Mike Carlo
Backgrounds and color desgn by Elliott Byrne
Music and sound design by Joseph Spallina

“Monsters University” Top Box Office Again and “Despicable Me 2″ Big Overseas

Pixar’s Monsters University, directed by Dan Scanlon, held first place at the U.S. box office with $45.6 million in its second weekend. The film declined 44.7% weekend-to-weekend, a smaller drop than any Pixar film since Up. Its domestic total now stands at $170.4 million.

Internationally, Monsters University grosses $44.2M from 38 territories, good enough for third place behind World War Z and Man of Steel. The Pixar prequel has now grossed $129.3M outside of the States, pushings its global cume to just under $300 million.

Equally impressive overseas was Despicable Me 2 which earned $41.5 million from just seven territories. According to Deadline Hollywood, the Illumination Entertainment film opened at number one in the UK and Ireland (where it was the biggest opening ever for a Universal film), France, Belgium, the Netherlands, French-speaking Switzerland, and Sweden. The film opens wide in the United States this Wednesday.

Artist of the Day: Laura Park

Laura Park

Laura Park is a cartoonist in Chicago who illustrates work with ink and color washes, and keeps detailed and personal sketchbooks. Her website is SingingBones.com.

Laura Park

Laura Park

Laura shares many pages of her sketchbook drawings and personal diary-style comics on her Flickr account. The work is as humorously self-deprecating as it is accomplished. Other pages that aren’t focused on the artist herself are just as keenly observed and rendered.

Laura Park

Laura Park

Laura also consorts with the Trubble Club, a group of Chicago-area cartoonists who get together regularly to produce absurd, funny and filthy jam comics. The Trubble Club recently created The Infinite Corpse (an online take on the Surrealist exquisite corpse game) in which cartoonists contribute three panels at a time to further the adventures of character called Corpsey. Laura’s contribution to that is here, among many others by notable cartoonists and animators alike.

Laura Park

Laura Park

Laura Park

The Supreme Court Decision That Thrilled the Producers of “Monsters University” and “Toy Story 3″

With LGBT Pride festivities taking place all over the country this week, the San Francisco Gate got together with Pixar power couple Kori Rae and Darla K. Anderson to chat about their relationship, the recent Supreme Court strike down of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), and the box office opening of Monsters University, which Rae (above, left) produced.

The twice-married (to each other), domestic-partnered producers and self-described “Pix-Mos”, Anderson (Monsters Inc., Cars, Toy Story 3) and Rae (Up, The Incredibles) started dating in 2001 during the production of Monsters Inc. and when they eloped in 2004, infuriated their family and friends, including Steve Jobs. “I remember Steve Jobs was mad,” Anderson recounted. “He said, ‘I can’t believe you didn’t invite Laurene and I to come down to City Hall to be with you guys.’”

“I was willing to leave the company at that point,” said Rae, expecting professional consequences to their new romance. “But [Pixar was] completely great. They were nothing but supportive, and have been the whole time.” The two maintain the sanity in their relationship by never working on the same film and maintaining strong boundaries. “It’s hard enough making one of these giant movies, and you put your heart and souls into them,” Anderson explained. “If we carried too much of that at home, we would just turn into animated characters ourselves.”

When asked if there will ever be (or has been) a gay character in a Pixar film, Anderson replied, “Our goal is to create great art, and if we’re telling true stories with great characters, people will project and identify with a lot of our films. A lot of people feel like a lot of our characters are gay, and have projected their stories onto it. If we’re doing our job right, that’s what should happen.”

Sponsor News: Bill Presing Pin-Up Show in LA Tonight

Pixar storyboard artist Bill Presing will unveil his new pin-up calendar Horoscope Honeys tonight, June 29th, at Gallery Nucleus (210 East Main St, Alhambra, CA 91801). Presing will be in attendance to sign the calendars. All thirteen original paintings featured in the calendar will be exhibited and available for purchase.

Gallery Nucleus is actually holding a dual-opening reception on Saturday. In addition to Presing’s show, they will also host the opening of the group art show “Yesterday’s Tomorrow.” The opening receptions for both shows run between 7-10pm. For more details, visit GalleyNucleus.com.

An Interview with “Junkyard” Director Hisko Hulsing

My introduction to the work of Dutch filmmaker Hisko Hulsing happend in 2004 when I saw his nightmarish short Seventeen at Annecy. It took another eight years before Hulsing released a new short, Junkyard. His new film captures gritty urban realism in ways that have rarely been attempted before in animation. The film has racked up awards at festivals around the world, including grand prizes at the Ottawa and Holland animation festivals, and an audience award at Stuttgart. Hisko just returned from Shanghai where he won the Magnolia Award, a top Chinese film honor. This is where we began our conversation.

Cartoon Brew: You’re a big deal in China where you just won the Magnolia Award at the Shanghai Television Festival. What’s that all about?

Hisko Hulsing:I was very surprised that Junkyard was even nominated for the award because I watched some clips on YouTube and it looked like a typical light, Oscar-like television event. I didn’t see how my dark film would fit in there.

I was flown to Shanghai where I was given a private driver and an interpreter for 5 days, which I didn’t use after the first day, because it made me nervous. They gave me a room on the 30th story of a posh hotel. The Shanghai Television Festival is related to the star-filled Shanghai Film Festival, that also screened Junkyard.

The award ceremony itself was a huge red carpet event with screaming fans and photographers. The live television broadcast was being watched by 350 million Chinese people, but I assume that the animation section might have been a small zap-moment for a couple of million. Of course I couldn’t understand a word of what was being said, but when they announced me, my interpreter whispered in my ear, “I think it is your film.” So I walked on the stage to the wrong person who sent me over to three beautiful girls with golden statues in their hands, and I gripped one of them out of their hands. I didn’t have any idea what to do, because I couldn’t understand a word. It turned out to be the wrong award because I actually won the Grand Prize for animation. Yaaay! Afterward we had a nice party. [Watch the video of Hisko’s award acceptance.]

Cartoon Brew: Well, I’m glad to hear that the Chinese recognized your film after Junkyard was snubbed by the Oscars last year. But then, when you look at the animated shorts that were nominated for the Academy Award, you realize that they’re not interested in promoting animation that pushes the boundaries of storytelling. Any animated film that doesn’t have a simple linear narrative or makes the viewer uncomfortable emotionally is instantly discarded, which could explain why excellent films like Joseph Pierce’s The Pub, Don Hertzfeldt’s It’s Such a Beautiful Day, and Emma de Swaef and Marc James Roels’ Oh Willy were similarly overlooked last year. Do you think it’s important for institutions like the Academy to recognize more complex themes, like those explored in Junkyard, or is it not important how your work is received by them?

Hisko Hulsing: It was important for me and I was disappointed, too. I have to say that I didn’t understand their selections for the shortlist. Some of them were great, but there were some very weak ones. I guess that a lot of Academy members come from a mainstream environment and that might be their taste, too. To me, an Oscar nomination mainly means something because it generates more media attention than all the other awards together, and because the Academy members are professional and skilled. But there’s a huge discrepancy between the films that are popular at festivals and the Academy Awards. Junkyard has won more than fifteen awards now, including the Grand Prize in Ottawa and the Audience Award in Stuttgart. Oh Willy has won more than sixty awards. Neither of them even got  on the shortlist of the Academy. It might have been the darkness of my film and the weirdness of Oh Willy. Maybe.

Cartoon Brew: Let’s talk about the darkness of your films. Hallucinations and dream states have played a role in all of your films so far—Harry Rents a Room, Seventeen and Junkyard. You’ve mentioned before in interviews that you did drugs when you were younger. Are these two things related? 

Hisko Hulsing: Yes, I think so. I started smoking pot when I was twelve years old, maybe once a week. But when I reached the age of fifteen, I smoked on a daily basis, sometimes as early as ten in the morning, which got me kicked out of school since I wasn’t doing anything anymore, apart from attending drawing lessons and philosophy classes. The latter interested me enormously, but the marijuana really stopped my brain from functioning rationally, so philosophy just confused me more than I already was.  The only thing that might have been good about that period is that other parts of my mind became more active. It was as if the marijuana made me see the world with completely other eyes, and I did have hallucinations.

Cartoon Brew: Hallucinations?

I believe that all animators, painters and drawers have this ability to almost see things that aren’t there.

Hisko Hulsing: All perception is actually a construct of the brain. Even when not hallucinating or dreaming, the brain constructs the image that we are seeing based on the wavelength of the light that enters our retina. That’s then converted into electrical signals which are translated into moving images that hold meaning for us. Drugs can confuse the system and make people see things that aren’t there. My hallucinations were never very strong, but I could see whole abstract animated films when I closed my eyes, the sort of films that would normally bore the hell out of me. But since I was creating them in my mind it gave a strange sense of control, as if I was creating the world that I was living in.

I believe that all animators, painters and drawers have this ability to almost see things that aren’t there. We are constructing characters all the time before we draw them. We have to be able to see them from all sides. We have these advanced 3D environments in our heads and the ability to draw them.  Anyhow, when I was 17, I was on the verge of psychosis. I remember that I started to think that I had telepathic contact with doves and that I was being watched by invisible entities. I stopped smoking marijuana when I was SEVENTEEN, the best decision of my life. If I would have continued, I would never have been able to become the filmmaker that I am. I would probably be stuck in a mental institution. I’m perfectly fine now, thank you.

Cartoon Brew: You wrote and storyboarded Junkyard, animated most of the film, painted the backgrounds and scored and orchestrated the music—what part of the process did you enjoy the most?

Hisko Hulsing: That’s an easy one. I LOVE to paint. Especially with oils as I did with Junkyard. Painting comes relatively easy to me, and it stays interesting most of the time. It’s an organic process and it can be very much like meditating. I used to like animating, but it is very hard and there are tedious moments—cleaning, tracing etc. There are phases in composing and orchestrating the music that I like, but it’s one of the hardest parts for me. I have a very clear idea of what the music should be in relation to storytelling, tension and dramaturgy, but I also like film music to be real music. I don’t like the kind of wallpaper film music that is now being produced in Hollywood on the assembly line. 

Coming up with a melody and harmony is not very hard for me. The hard part is the thin line between being good music and serving the film. My wife, Carmen Eberz, is a professional violinist. She corrects my scores and also put the magnificent orchestra together. She is very honest about what she thinks so I listen to her and to other people who understand music, like my brother, Milan, who is a cartoonist, illustrator and record dealer.

Cartoon Brew: What part of the process did you enjoy the least?

Hisko Hulsing: The absolute most boring thing about making Junkyard was to paint the shadows on the characters. [Watch a demo of the shadow painting process on Hisko’s website.] With Seventeen, I used flat shadows and did it quickly. With Junkyard,I painted them digitally on top of the flatly colored characters in TVPaint, in all kinds of tones that had to be consistent. I used a watercolor brush that I designed myself. It took me two whole years of extremely boring, but hard work. I found out that I couldn’t really delegate this part because in a way it was really painting. I wanted to make sure that the characters would fit in with the painted backgrounds.

Cartoon Brew: Why did you make he aesthetic choice to do something so time-consuming? Your other films are more expressionistic, and when I first saw Junkyard, I was surprised that you chose such a tight graphic look. Did you feel this was necessary from a story standpoint? 

Hisko Hulsing: I chose a realistic but slightly rough oil painted look because the story itself is rough and realistic. I like to have style and subject talk the same language. I would hate to have a polished style for a subject matter like this, but it also had to be a convincing world, so it shouldn’t be  too rough. Because the backgrounds were so realistic, I was forced to make sure that the characters would fit in completely, and I think that worked pretty well. It is beautiful and grim at the same time which really was my purpose.

Cartoon Brew: Two years is a long time just to paint shadows. I know Junkyard had some funding, but how can you support yourself and your family financially for such a long period of time while working on a single film?

Hisko Hulsing: Junkyard had a budget that most American independent animators can only dream of: $250,000 for an eighteen-minute film. [The producers on the film were Il Luster Productions and Cinété Productions.] Still, it was definitely not enough to support me because I worked on it for more than six years and other people had to be paid to for long periods of time. The way I fill the financial gaps is by making storyboards for films and commercials one day a week, approximately. It pays very well, so one day a week is enough. I also did other illustration and animation work inbetween.

Cartoon Brew: Each of your films has increased in visual complexity, cinematic ambition and production time. How do you plan to follow this up?

Hisko Hulsing: While I was painting those shadows, I listened to hundreds of TED talks and other lectures on the Internet, so I became really smart. Well, not really. But it did influence the themes for my new film, which will probably be a philosophical sci-fi film.

Cartoon Brew: That doesn’t sound like typical animation material.

Hisko Hulsing: I’m not completely sure yet what it will be, but the thing that really bugs me is that so many people nowadays are still religious in an age where there is so much real knowledge about our universe. I imagine that life elsewhere in the universe might have evolved for a much longer period.

Human beings sort of came into existence one hundred thousand years ago, but the universe is approximately 13.7 billion years old. If you see how fast our technological and scientific evolution has been in comparison to our biological evolution—5000 years of science versus 4.6 billion years of biological evolution—it is not hard to imagine that an alien life which has had a technological evolution of a million more years may have qualities that might be unimaginable to us, and may seem God-like to us. So how would humanity react to such an encounter? Probably in a religious way. These are some of the themes I am playing with.

I haven’t put any real hard work into it yet, because right now I’m busy painting eighty oil backgrounds for The Last Hijack by Tommy Pallotta (Waking Life, A Scanner Darkly) and Femke Wolting.

Cartoon Brew: What do you still want to accomplish as an animation filmmaker that you haven’t done in your first three films?

Hisko Hulsing: My first three films were all partly autobiographical. But I want to move on to more intelligent subject matter while also trying to reach a larger audience. That might be a difficult combination. As far as technique goes, I love the oil paint look of Junkyard, but the animation process was too elaborate and boring, especially for the main animator Stefan Vermeulen. So I have to find ways to make it more fun to make.  Also I want to work faster with a larger team, while still maintaining the same quality. The technique will probably be dictated by the script and the budget. I’m also learning how to take advantage of the unique talents of the people I work with. I will have to try to be less of a control freak. But that’s what I say every time so we’ll see what happens.

Cartoon Brew: Will you be releasing Junkyard online at any point? And how can people see the film right now besides festivals?

Hisko Hulsing: Junkyard is sometimes shown on television, but I don’t think it has been sold in the USA yet. I’m not sure about online. I love Spotify, and I hope that Netflix, which is coming to Europe too, is comparable to that. My problem with putting it up on Vimeo, is that most people watch Youtube and Vimeo clips inbetween their work. That’s why cats and pussies are so popular. Short little silly things. I’m afraid that people will not watch a eighteen-minute dark film that way. So I would like to wait for a more serious structure.

The DVD can be ordered at this website for 10 euro plus shipping costs. It’s a beautiful DVD with lots of extras like the moving storyboard, complete soundtrack, and line tests.

Call for Entries: CutOut Fest, Cinanima and Primanima

If you have a short film, take note of the following call for entries from these quality festivals: CutOut Fest in Querétaro, Mexico, Cinanima in Espinho, Portugal, and Primanima in Budaörs, Hungary.

CutOut Fest will take place November 14-16 in Querétaro, Mexico. I want to enter simply based on their triptastic ‘call for entries’ video, which was produced by Memoma. They accept entries for narrative and experimental animation as well as music videos. Graduation films are accepted only for animation students in Mexico.

Submission is FREE. Films should be 30 minutes or less and produced after January 2012. Deadline is this weekend, June 30th. For full details, go to CutOut’s submission page.

CINANIMA celebrates its 37th edition this year in Espinho, Portugal. The festival takes place between November 11-17, and has competition categories for shorts, graduation films, commissioned films and feature films.

Submission is FREE. Deadline is July 12. Regulations and entry forms at the CINANIMA website.

Heading into its second year, PRIMANIMA is a festival dedicated to up-and-coming filmmakers. They accept only student films, graduation films and debut animated shorts. The festival will take place between October 23-26, in the town of Budaörs (a suburb of Budapest, Hungary)

Submission is FREE and the deadline is August 20. To submit, visit the festival’s official website.

“Out on the Tiles” by Anna Pearson

Anna Pearson directed Out on the Tiles as a graduation film in 2010 at Edinburgh College of Art. The film evokes a surprising amount of pathos for its small-scale drama. Credit that to the finely observed personality animation. I could feel the character’s blurry and impaired thought process behind every action on screen.

(via Stop Motion Portugal)

Chris Sasaki Shares Development Art from “Monsters University”

Pixar vizdev artist Chris Sasaki posted a generous heap of his Monsters University development art on his blog. One can’t help but think that the clarity of his design approach, with the simple funny shapes and candy colors, might also lend itself well to a hand-drawn animated version of Pixar’s Monsters universe. Of course, there’s plenty more of this type of work in the film’s ‘art of’ book.

Artist of the Day: Calvin Wong

Cal Wong

Calvin Wong is an artist who lived in the Bay Area working in programming before relocating to the Los Angeles area where he works on Regular Show.

Cal Wong

Cal Wong

Cal has been active in the art and comics zine world and has sold his books at independent comics-friendly shows such as the Toronto Comics Arts Festival.

Cal Wong

Cal Wong

You can see Cal’s older work on his website, newer items on Flickr and Tumblr, and ask him things over here.

Cal Wong

Cal Wong

Cal Wong

Where Pixar Artists Enjoy a Drink in Emeryville

It’s hardly a secret that artists who work in animation love to drown their sorrows in alcohol. Some like it so much that they drink themselves to death. While we’re not aware of any Pixar artists having done so, they certainly have enough alcohol at the studio should somebody decide to pursue that path. Here’s a photo tour of the Pixar studio’s private bars, with evocative names like Ye Olde Knife & Fiddle, The Love Lounge, and The Lucky 7. The good news is that if any of the establishments ever runs dry, they can just call on their boss John Lasseter who runs a booze-production facility on his sprawling estate.

“Sarah and Duck”: TV Review

Pre-school animation appears to have something of a stigma in the United States. Cartoons targeted at children aged 6-11, such as SpongeBob SquarePants, My Little Pony Friendship is Magic and Adventure Time, have picked up adult followings of varying sizes; however, there seems to be an assumption that anything aimed at the 5-and-under crowd will be too simplistic and didactic to interest older viewers.

In Britain, things are slightly different. Most animated television series made in the UK today are aimed at the preschool audience, but often cater to any adult viewers who appreciate gentle whimsy. In this way they can be seen as continuing the tradition of Bagpuss, The Clangers and Noggin the Nog, children’s series which were not intended specifically for the preschool demographic but now find themselves pigeonholed into that area when they are rerun – and yet still maintain fond adult followings.

Sarah and Duck, a recent CBeebies series created by Sarah Gomes Harris and Tim O’Sullivan of Karrot Entertainment, has plenty of charm and is sure to net itself a number of adult admirers. Its appeal for older viewers lies not in any winking asides above the heads of the target audience, but in its way of evoking the more fondly-remembered aspects of our childhoods.

The series follows the exploits of a seven-year-old girl and her pet duck. The third central character is the narrator, who serves as the only true adult presence as he interacts with the characters, giving them advice but never intruding into their world. The storylines deal with simple subjects, such as visiting a shop, building a kite or drinking honey and lemon while poorly, in a way that gently pushes tidbits of information at the audience. Older viewers will be taken back to how, during early childhood, even the most mundane activities can be a fascinating journey of discovery.

This is reflected in the colourful and sometimes strange world which Sarah and Duck inhabit. When they leave their house, a line of talking onions in the garden bids them farewell. They often bump into an elderly woman, well-meaning but somewhat absent-minded, much to the annoyance of her short-tempered talking bag.

There are shades of Tim Burton in Sarah’s quirky, wide-eyed design; meanwhile, the fact that so many inanimate objects are prone to sprouting faces and talking suggests Fleischer Studios. The series is not self-consciously creepy or surreal, however, and merely reflects just how odd the world of childhood imagination can be.

Although the visual style is simple, the characters are injected with genuine vitality. They are not bundles of stock poses and expressions, but instead react to their surroundings in a well-observed and believable manner—such as when heroine develops a slumped posture, dawdling gait and half-closed eyes in the episode “Sarah Gets a Cold”.

As an example of engaging character animation created with a minimalist visual style on a television budget, and a cartoon for pre-school children which does not talk down to its audience, Sarah and Duck is right on target.

Sarah and Duck was developed, designed, written and animated entirely in-house at London-based Karrot Animation.The show is animated in CelAction2D. Visit the Sarah and Duck Facebook page for regular updates.

Director: Tim O’Sullivan
Writer: Sarah Gomes Harris, Benjamin Cook
Producer: Jamie Badminton
Animation director: Tim Fehrenbach
Lead animators: Alastair Park, Rachel Thorn
Storyboard: Tony Clarke
Senior Design Team: Rufus Blacklock
Art Direction: Annes Stevens, Rebecca Whiteman

Artist of the Day: Andrew Ohlmann

Andrew Ohlmann

Andrew Ohlmann draws and animates often with digital tools. Andrew sometimes uses filters, software functions and programs to partially generate the visual patterns, mirrored drawings and degenerated lines in his work.

Andrew Ohlmann

Andrew Ohlmann

In the following animated loop titled “bad party”, Andrew successfully captures the spinning that often immediately precedes a vomiting session:

Andrew Ohlmann

Andrew Ohlmann

More drawings and animated loops can be found on Andrew’s blog and website.

Andrew Ohlmann

Andrew Ohlmann

Andrew Ohlmann

Andrew Ohlmann

Andrew Ohlmann

Frenzer Foreman Animation Forum #4: Leah Shore

(This episode contains strong language.)

Filmmaker Leah Shore drops by Cartoon Brew’s Frenzer Foreman Animation Forum to discuss her career path from cleaning Rachel Weisz’s hands to making the controversial festival-circuit-hit-animated-short, Old Man, featuring the voice of Charles Manson. Inbetween, she explains why she needs to get revenge on Golden Girls actress Betty White.

Leah Shore’s website
Old Man film site

Hand-Drawn Sequences by MAKE for “Invisible to You” Doc

Minneapolis-based MAKE created this poignant flashback series of hand-drawn animation sequences for Ramon Nuñez’s feature-length documentary Invisible to You. The film looks at the stories of street kids (homeless, runaway, at-risk and outcast) in the United States.

Director: Ramon Nuñez
Creative Director: Danny Robashkin
Animators: Aaron Quist, Alec Mueller, Andrew Chesworth, Ben Bury, Jordan Hill, Justin Weber, Niklas Norman
Edit/Sounds design/Mix: Mike Nelson

Annecy Film Festival Review by Bill Plympton

Bill Plympton with Chris Landreth

BILL PLYMPTON is the Oscar-nominated filmmaker of seven animated features and more than thirty animated shorts. His new feature Cheatin’ will premiere this fall. Learn more about his work at Plymptoons.com.

I went to Annecy with mixed emotions this year—after all, it was a year of major changes.

The iconic Bonlieu Centre, where all the action usually takes place, was being torn down to be replaced by a larger and hopefully more beautiful structure. Some say the new theater complex will be finished next year and some say in two years—who knows, with French construction workers.

The other new kink was the fact that celebrated artistic director Serge Bromberg was leaving after fifteen wonderful years, to be replaced by Marcel Jean. So, naturally, I felt that this would be a transitional year.

My wife Sandrine and I arrived just in time to go to the opening night event, taking place in the freshly-constructed hybrid tent cinema. The opening film was the long anticipated Pixar sequel Monsters University, directed by Dan Scanlon, along with the new Pixar short Blue Umbrella. The latter six-minute short by Saschka Unseld had a very different look from all of the former Pixar shorts, a lot more realistic, and the love story involving two colored umbrellas in a rainstorm has certain similarities to last year’s Oscar winner, Paperman.

Monsters University was a bit disappointing—for me there were too many extraneous characters to get emotionally involved, and the colors, especially the backgrounds on the campus grounds, were too neon-bright, which made it hard to enjoy the beautiful design and follow the characters.

The next morning I had a panel about crowdfunding and Kickstarter. Like a similar panel I hosted at Stuttgart, it was a packed house. After years of sucking off the government teat, the Europeans are mad for a more democratic, and perhaps hassle-free, way for raising money to make films.

Bill Plympton with his son Lucas Plympton

Tuesday afternoon was the Competition Shorts creening #2, and my film Drunker Than a Skunk was in that group, so Sandrine and I needed to attend to present the film. The program started off promisingly enough—meaning that the films were not that good and hence the audience would love our film. All the early films in the program were abstract or avant-garde, therefore not crowd-pleasers. Then came Remi Vandenitte’s Betty’s Blues, a wonderful ode to Southern blues music that had a terrific style. Then Drunker came on and we received a very nice reaction. We felt we were looking good for Awards Night.

But, later in the program, came Chris Landreth’s unmemorably named Subconscious Password, a totally delightful and bold CG film starring Chris and the enigmatic John Dilworth. Then and there, I knew our awards chances flew out the window. Oh well, once I knew I didn’t have to worry about awards, I could just enjoy the week and relax.

My next event was a work-in-progress screening of my new feature, Cheatin’. There was a really good buzz going about this film, so tickets were hard to get and a lot of people asked me to sneak them in.

I showed some pencil tests and finished scenes, drew some of the character designs and talked about the production. The audience applauded throughout (which I loved) and then I moved to a table just outside the exit, next to a beautiful creek, and gave everyone in line a free sketch, which took about an hour.

For the past seven years, I’ve been presenting the “Annecy Plus” show, first with Pat Smith, and now with Nik and Nancy Phelps. It’s been a smashing success. This year, we were forced to relocate the popular event to the wonderful Café des Arts in Old Town. We promoted the hell out of it, and the weather was perfect so we had high hopes for a big success. Unfortunately, there was no movie screen!

Jonas Raeber, the projectionist and sound man, was able to “borrow” two large sheets from his hotel. Another problem: the door with access to the balcony, where we wanted to hang the sheets, was locked with no key. So, a drunk Indian animator volunteered to leap from an open window across to the balcony—a real Jackie Chan-type moment. I had visions of a terrible accident, and me spending three years in French courts fighting a lawsuit, but the dashing Indian succeeded, and he had free beers all night.

Nik Phelps and his band kicked off the evening with some lively music, and we began the show. Then, the next tragedy struck. Even though Virginia, the proprietor of the bar, had received permission from the city council to hold a late-night screening, there was a rave the night before and it created such a ruckus that her permit was revoked. Thus, we had to turn the sound off at 10p.m., and the problem with that was that it didn’t get dark until 9:30. As a result, the audience only heard one out of the four programs—the last three were silent. Quel dommage.

Bill Plympton with Titmouse’s Chris Prynoski

However, there was enough beer and wine for everyone, and a good time was had by all. The Annecy Plus winning film, by the way, was Super by Johan Klungel. As for the main Annecy awards show, it was a happy affair with nice weather, and Serge showed up to give out the awards with Marcel Jean. The big winner of the evening, and justifiably so, was Subconscious Password by Chris Landreth. He gave a fantastic speech, then we all went to party at the Palais, where I visited with Eric Goldberg, Bill Kroyer, Chris Prynoski of Titmouse Studios, Dominique Puthod (the president of the festival), Chel White, and Michaela Pavlatova, last year’s winner with Tram.

The best news was that everyone was talking about Cheatin’, so chances are good it will be in competition next year in Annecy. See you all there!

Dominique Puthod (Annecy Festival President), his wife Catherine, Bill and
Sandrine Plympton

Artist of the Day: Vincent Stall

Vincent Stall

Vincent “King Mini” Stall has been an active artistic voice in the independent comic scene for well over a decade. An experienced screen printer and print designer, Vincent publishes comics and posters as “King Mini” in Minneapolis.

Vincent Stall

Vincent Stall

Vincent is also the co-owner of PUNY Entertainment, a digital media group that produces television and interactive pieces with credits that include Yo Gabba Gabba and Cartoon Network’s MAD series, among other projects. PUNY has studios in Minneapolis and Los Angeles. (Disclosure: Last year I was commissioned by PUNY Entertainment to work on some illustrations for interactive cereal websites, but did not work with Vincent directly.)

Vincent Stall

Vincent Stall

See more of Vincent’s comics and prints on the King Mini International website, his blog and Tumblr.

Vincent Stall

Vincent Stall

Vincent Stall

Watch a New Mickey Mouse and Donald Duck Short “No Service”

A second new Mickey Mouse short, No Service, has been made viewable (for American viewers) on Disney’s website. This short is night and day from the first one they made public, Croissant de Triomphe. It has a solid setup, fast-paced but clear direction, character-driven conflict and gags, and most importantly, it’s funny.

A couple weaknesses stood out. As with nearly every other contemporary cartoon, the short is padded with unnecessary dialogue. What does the audience gain from hearing Donald Duck say, “That’s not funny,” after we already see him fuming from being dissed by Mickey? The bigger issue is the backgrounds. As lovely as they are as illustrations, they don’t fulfill their primary purpose for the shorts, which is to stage the characters and gags. There are random background textures and details that distracted from the character action in nearly every scene. The backgrounds even obscured the jokes. For example, there’s a gag with Mickey’s tail in the framegrab below that I completely missed on the first couple viewings because of the random dark shadow area placed exactly where the gag takes place:

I don’t know the production order of the shorts, but No Service is a huge improvement over the first offering. These could end up being some of the funnier takes on classic cartoon characters, and I’m looking forward to seeing the rest of the series.

An Update on the Jenny Slate-Penned Looney Tunes CGI Feature

We reported last September that comedian and former Saturday Night Live performer Jenny Slate had been hired to script a new CGI/live-action Looney Tunes reboot. She recently updated Splitsider on her progress:

“I don’t know what I’m allowed to say about it, but I will say that I love writing it and I love the research that I did for it, which is basically watch one million cartoons and categorize all the characters. It’s a really, really fun world to be in. It’s just an instant, really fast, punchy fun world, and the people that I work with at Warner Brothers and at [production companies] Heyday and KatzSmith are so nice to me. I’ve never written a movie before, and there are a lot of questions I have to ask that I feel are very stupid. They actually had to give me the new version of Final Draft, and I had to like buy a new computer. They seem to just put faith in my ideas and because they’ve always been supportive of me as a creative person, writing this has been a real pleasure and I’m proud that they let me do it. I love it, and I like the story that I’ve written a lot. You know, we’ll see. I don’t know. There might be somebody else there writing one that’s better, but I like the one that I’m writing. So, that’s all I can say. What else can I do except for like the shit that I’m doing and try to not be an asshole?”

It’ll be interesting to watch what Slate comes up with and whether the producers (which include Jeffrey Katzenberg’s son David) move forward with her treatment. It’s in her favor that the last two Looney Tunes features—Space Jam and Looney Tunes: Back in Action—were comedic duds, and that there hasn’t been a truly funny or memorable version of the Looney Tunes characters since the 1950s. Unlike many other well known properties that are being revived nowadays, there’s no pressure to live up to any contemporary standard for this group of characters because every revival/reboot is seemingly more awful than the last.

Also noteworthy, in the same article Slate says she’s working with her husband, Dean Fleischer-Camp, to develop an independently funded stop motion feature about Marcel the Shell, the character that she co-created with Fleischer-Camp and which became a breakout online hit thanks to the animated short Marcel the Shell with Shoes On.

Artist of the Day: Madeline Sharafian

Madeline Sharafian

Madeline Sharafian recently completed her second year studying animation at CalArts where she made the film Omelette:

Madeline Sharafian

Madeline Sharafian

In these drawings, Madeline sketches out simple, rough lines and varying values to frame her characters in an accomplished way.

Madeline Sharafian

Madeline Sharafian

See more of Madeline’s work on her blog and Tumblr.

Madeline Sharafian

Madeline Sharafian

Cartoon Brew Reveals Lineup For Its 2013 Student Animation Festival

For the fourth year in a row, we are delighted to present the Cartoon Brew Student Animation Festival, the premier online showcase for animated short premieres by student filmmakers.

Our 2013 festival offers one of the strongest and most dynamic slates of short films since we launched the festival. Chosen from a record-breaking 266 film submissions, the eight films in this year’s festival represent a remarkably high level of creative vision and filmmaking skill. The films selected were made by adventurous filmmakers who show a commitment to exploring the narrative and visual possibilities of the animation art form, and whose ideas and concepts are fully realized.

More quality student work was submitted than ever before. In fact, half of the films in this year’s festival are from schools that haven’t been in the festival during its first three years—Moholy-Nagy University of Art and Design, DePaul University, University of Southern California and Massachusetts College of Art and Design. On the other hand, Eric Ko is the first filmmaker who has been selected twice for the festival; his junior film Troubleshooting was a part of our festival last year.

Each of the eight filmmakers whose work is featured in this year’s festival will receive a cash award of $500 (US), thanks to the generosity of our festival sponsor JibJab. Further, Evan Spiridellis, the co-founder of JibJab, will select one additional film to receive the Grand Prize and an extra $500, for a cash prize totalling $1,000 US.

The festival will debut on Monday, July 8th, and a new film will be presented every week throughout July and August. And now, we proudly present the 2013 class of Cartoon Brew’s Student Animation Festival:

Lady with Long Hair
Directed by Barbara Bakos
School: Moholy-Nagy University of Art and Design (Hungary)
Synopsis: An old lady relives memories of her life contained within her hair.
Running time: 8 min 45 s

Sun of a Beach
Directed by Natan Moura
School: Sheridan College (Canada)
Synopsis: Shunned for shining a little too brightly, the poor sun feels alone in its search to connect and be wanted.
Running time: 1 min 20 s

Dumb Day
Directed by Kevin Eskew
School: DePaul University (USA)
Synopsis: Flower sniffing, carpet calisthenics, and other restless leisure-time activities. Domestic life can be tough. Finally, the day breaks.
Running time: 9 min 30 s

Brain Divided
Directed by Josiah Haworth, Joon Shik Song and Joon Soo Song
School: Ringling College of Art and Design (USA)
Synopsis: The story about an ordinary guy who meets a not so ordinary girl, but his brain cells can’t agree on how to go about winning her over, which leads to Conflict!
Running time: 5 min

Our Son (우리 아들)
Directed by Eric Ko
School: Rhode Island School of Design (USA)
Synposis: Celestial bodies and the fragility of happiness.
Running time: 4 min 30 s

Directed by Isabela Dos Santos
School: California Institute of the Arts (USA)
Synopsis: Hand-drawn animation and dance performance intersect and interact in this short piece that deals with a well-known question: Who am I?
Running time: 3 min 35s

Wolf Within
Directed by Alex Horan
School: Massachusetts College of Art and Design (USA)
Synopsis: A father prepares his son for a world without him.
Running time: 9 min 35 s

Passer Passer
Directed by Louis Morton
School: University of Southern California (USA)
Synopsis: An animated city symphony celebrates the hidden world of background noise. Field recordings from the streets of Los Angeles and Tokyo drive imagined characters and cycles that build to form a living musical creature.
Running time: 3 min 47 s

“Rio 2096″ and “Subconscious Password” Top 2013 Annecy Animation Festival

The Annecy International Animated Film Festival, which concluded on June 15th, awarded its Cristal prize for feature to the Brazilian film, Rio 2096: A Story of Love and Fury. The festival’s Cristal for short film went to the NFB short Subconscious Password, a CG/pixilation effort by Oscar-winner Chris Landreth (Ryan).

The complete list of winners is below:

The Cristal for best feature
Rio 2096: A Story of Love and Fury
Directed by Luiz Bolognesi (Brazil)

The Cristal for best short
Subconscious Password
Directed by Chris Landreth (Canada)

The Cristal for best TV production
Room on the Broom
Directed by Jan Lachauer and Max Lang (Great Britain)

The Cristal for best commissioned film
Dumb Ways to Die
Directed by Julian Frost (Australia)

Feature Films: Special Distinction
My Mommy Is in America and She Met Buffalo Bill
Directed by Marc Boréal and Thibaut Chatel (France/Luxembourg)

Feature Films: Audience Award
O Apóstolo
Directed by Fernando Cortizo Rodriguez (Spain)

Short Films: Special Jury Award
The Wound
Directed by Anna Budanova (Russia)

Short Films: Distinction for a first film
Directed by Paul Wenninger (Austria)

Short Films: Jean-Luc Xiberras Award for a first film
Directed by Robbe Vervaeke (Belgium)

Short Films: Special Distinction
The Triangle Affair
Directed by Andres Tenusaar (Estonia)

Short Films: Sacem Award for original music
Lonely Bones
Directed by Rosto (The Netherlands)

Short Films: Junior Jury Award
Directed by Daniel Sousa (USA)

Short Films: Audience Award
Lettres de femmes
Directed by Augusto Zanovello (France)

TV: Special Award for a TV series
Tom & The Queen Bee
Directed by Andreas Hykade (Germany)

TV: Award for best TV special
Poppety in the Fall
Directed by Pierre-Luc Granjon and Antoine Lanciaux (France)

Commissioned films: Special Jury Award
Benjamin Scheuer: “The Lion”
Directed by Peter Baynton (Great Britain)

Graduation Films: Award for best graduation film
Ab ovo
Directed by Anita Kwiatkowska-Naqvi (Poland)

Graduation Films: Special Jury Award
I Am Tom Moody
Directed by Ainslie Henderson (Great Britain)

Graduation Films: Special Distinction
Directed by Matus Vizar (Slovakia)

Graduation Films: Junior Jury Award
Rabbit and Deer
Directed by Peter Vacz (Hungary)

Unicef Award
Because I’m a Girl
Directed by Raj Yagnik, Mary Matheson, and Hamilton Shona (Great Britain)

Fipresci Award
Gloria Victoria
Directed by Theodore Ushev (Canada)

Fipresci Special Distinction
Directed by Daniel Sousa (USA)

“CANAL+ creative aid” Award for a short film
Autour du lac
Directed by Carl Roosens and Noémie Marsily (Belgium)

Festivals Connexion Award – Région Rhône-Alpes with Lumières Numériques
Directed by Daniel Sousa (USA)

The Funniest Film according to the Annecy Public
Directed by Alexey Alekseev (Hungary)

“Monsters University” Scares Up Huge $82 Mil Opening Weekend

Pixar’s Monsters University opened with a powerful first-place finish in the United States. The Dan Scanlon-directed film nabbed $82.4 million in its opening weekend, which makes it the second-biggest Pixar opening ever behind Toy Story 3′s $110.3M opening in 2010. The real test will be next weekend: will the film decline in the mid-40% range as Toy Story 3 did or will it drop over 60% as Cars 2 did? Overseas, Monsters University opened in approximately three dozen international territories with an international cume of $54.5M, which was good enough for a second place finish behind Man of Steel. After one weekend, the film’s total gross is $136.9M.

Meanwhile, as expected, Monsters University pummelled Blue Sky’s Epic at the American box office. Epic plunged a massive 71.5% percent for a fifth-weekend total of $1.8M. The film finally crawled its way across the $100M mark, but it will now certainly end up as Blue Sky’s lowest grossing film in the U.S., and among its lowest grossing films internationally.

John Wilson, British Animation Legend, RIP

British animation director, designer and studio owner John Wilson (above, left) passed away on Friday, June 21st, according to a report published by Michael Sporn. Wilson was born in 1920 in Wimbledon, London, England. Per his personal biographical notes:

He attended the Royal College of Art and was working by age 18 as a commercial artist with Willings Press Service. In WWII he served with the London Rifle Brigade in African where he was seriously wounded. Recuperating in hospital, he drew many cartoons of which several were printed. Eventually he would recover and get work at Pinewood Studios in the art department where he worked on Great Expectations and The Thief of Baghdad, among other films.

Wilson’s animation career began at the Gaumont British Animation studio in the late-1940s. He moved to the United States in the early-1950s, where he worked at UPA and Disney. His sole screen credit from this period was as a layout artist on the Disney short Pigs is Pigs (1954):

In 1954, he started his own studio Fine Arts Films. Among his well known projects from the period was a 1956 short film Petroushka that was arranged and conducted by Igor Stravinsky himself. The 16-minute film aired as part of the The Sol Hurok Music Hour, and is regarded as an early example of an animated TV special.

Wilson also directed this classic television spot voiced and written by Stan Freberg for Instant Butter-Nut Coffee (1958):

Other projects included directing the trailer for the live-action feature Irma La Douce (1963):

…directing the animated feature Shinbone Alley (1971):

…and directing the main titles for the 1978 musical film Grease:

A biography and full credit list can be found at John Wilson’s website FineArtsFilms.com. A generous selection of his artwork is available at Michael Sporn’s website.