When Craft Beer Labels Get Animated

Video editor Trevor Carmick is receiving all sorts of attention for his new side project called Beer Labels in Motion, a collection of beer labels cleverly animated in GIF format.

Carmick was inspired by a set of cinemagraphs that documented a brew session with Dogfish Head. Originally published by The New York Times in 2011, these animated GIFs set a new bar across the Internet. “It’s so hard to look at them and not lose track of time,” said Carmick in an interview with Cartoon Brew. But Carmick’s GIFs do more than cinemagraphs—they imagine unrealized movement, bringing a whole new dimension to a flat graphic.

Carmick’s process usually begins in a location familiar to many animation artists—the beer aisle—where a certain label will catch his eye. He then separates the beer label in Photoshop and fills in behind elements that move, a process he was first exposed to while working on Forgotten War: The Struggle for North America for Mountain Lake PBS.

Carmick is actually surprised no one had thought of animating beer labels before. “It seems like such an obvious thing to do,” he said. “I just thought it would be so cool if these labels came to life.”

To see more examples of Carmicks animated beer labels, visit his site.

“John Carter” Animator Shares An Insightful Reel of Work

I still haven’t seen Andrew Stanton’s John Carter, but that didn’t lessen (and perhaps enhanced) my enjoyment of this nifty character animation reel put together by Emanuele Pavarotti, who worked on the film at Double Negative. Pavarotti has organized the reel nicely to give a sense of how his scenes progressed from video reference to blocking to final animation, and finally, FX/cloth/compositing passes. He even drops in comments throughout the reel to explain how certain shots evolved. Emanuele has recently been working at Blue Sky Studios on Epic and the forthcoming Rio 2.

Artist of the Day: Dana Terrace

Dana Terrace

Dana Terrace graduated this spring from the animation program at the School of Visual Arts in New York City. She moved to Los Angeles where she was recently hired to do storyboard revisions on the Disney Channel TV series Gravity Falls.

Dana Terrace

Dana Terrace

Here is Dana’s 3rd year student film, Kickball! (featured last year on Cartoon Brew), completed at SVA in roughly eight weeks start to finish, according to the description on Vimeo:

Here are some character studies from Mirage, Dana’s thesis film co-created with Iker Maidagan, which was also recently featured on Cartoon Brew:

Dana Terrace

You can explore more artwork from Dana on her blog and portfolio website.

Dana Terrace

Dana Terrace

Dana Terrace

Dana Terrace

Sponsor News: Bid on This Original “Song of the South” Model Sheet

Tomorrow morning, July 31st, auction house Profiles in History will be holding a massive auction of animation art with over 900 lots. Among the pieces available is an original model sheet of Br’er Rabbit from Disney’s rarely seen Song of the South (1946). It is estimated to sell for between $8,000-$12,000. Click on the image above for a closer view.

If you want to bid in the auction, visit the Profiles in History website. Below are a few other quirky items I enjoyed seeing in the catalog.

Promo artwork from Ralph Bakshi’s Hey Good Lookin’ (1982)

Publicity cel from Tex Avery’s last project, the Hanna-Barbera series The Kwicky Koala Show (1980)

Production background by Pete Alvarado from the Warner Bros. short So Much for So Little (1949)

Fan card signed by Max Fleischer (ca. 1930s)

Production cel and background from Officer Duck (1939)

A model sheet from King Leonardo and His Short Subjects

Watch the “Wander Over Yonder” Title Sequence (UPDATED)

The Disney Channel provided Cartoon Brew with this sneak peek of the main titles for Wander Over Yonder, their new series created by Craig McCracken. The main title theme song is written and performed by Two Man Gentlemen Band, and the group’s banjoist Andy Bean is the composer of the series. The Wander Over Yonder first-look telecast will premiere on Disney Channel Friday, August 16 (9:00 p.m., ET/PT), followed by the series premiere on Friday, September 13 (9:00 p.m. ET/PT).

Bonus points if you spot the tribute to Ward Kimball’s Mars and Beyond!

UPDATE: Joe Pitt has posted the rough cut of the Wander Over Yonder titles as well as credits for the sequence. He also wrote about the production of the piece on his Tumblr.

Storyboards: Craig McCracken, Dave Thomas, Vaughn Tada, Chris Houghton
Art Direction: Alex Kirwan
Animation: David Gemmill, Justin Nichols
Backgrounds: Chris Tsirigiotis, Alex Kirwan
Edit/Composite: Joe Pitt

“Stress Baal” Lets Users Beat Up a Cartoon Character for Relief

Filmmaker and animator Arthur Metcalf (Fantaisie in Bubblewrap, It Took A While To Figure Shit Out) has taken a moment between short films to create Stress Baal, a new game app that is now available for iPhone and Android phones. The game, which features a high-strung imp ready to be tortured for the amusement of the player, is like an interactive Duck Amuck, in which the user chooses how often to inflict agony on their character. “You beat him up with your fingertip,” Metcalf told Cartoon Brew. “There’s no score, no goals. It’s meant to just be entertaining rather than addictive.”

His approach to creating the game is not unlike that of one of his films, and the small moments of personality are just as important as the big action scenes. “As a kid, I spent a lot of time just playing with Sonic on my Genesis,” said Metcalf. “Not playing the game, just playing with Sonic’s animation. If you left him alone for a few seconds, he’d cross his arms, kick the ground and so forth. It was this one simple animation, but it added a lot to the game – it made it feel like Sonic was more than just a sprite box sliding around.”

Rather than moving towards digital puppetry with simulated physics, Metcalf challenged himself by sticking to his traditional animation background while simultaneously pushing the number of reactions he could get out of the character. “Part of my decision to make Stress Baal was to try to figure out if this kind of animation would work at all in a game. I was told by a lot of tech guys that it would probably be impossible due to technical limitations, that there was a reason characters had to only have one animation for each action. I’m glad to find out it wasn’t so.”

As a result, the action in Stress Baal is a combination of repetition and surprises that makes the game charming, fun and comically sadistic. “It’s meant to be sort of an easter egg hunt. You will see animation repeated, but I can tell you from having done the game testing myself, that it can take an entire day of nonstop play to actually see it all.”

Stress Baal is available for 99 cents in the iTunes app store and Google Play.

CG Animated Films Are Dominating the 2013 Global Box Office

The Wall Street Journal published a story last weekend about Hollywood’s struggle to recoup its costs on big-budget tentpole films, but there’s one bright spot the WSJ (along with the rest of the mainstream media) always fail to recognize and that’s that animation is more successful than ever before.

Despite Turbo’ stumble at the box office and Henry Selick’s diss that American animated films are all the same, audiences around the world can’t get enough of big-budget CG animated features. Check this out:

Only six films have grossed $500 million dollars or more at the worldwide box office in 2013, and three of those films are animated. Let’s put this into perspective: animation studios have released just five animated features this year with a production cost of over $75 million and three of those films became half-billion grossers; on the other hand, live-action filmmakers have released over 20 films this year that cost $75 million or more, and only three of those films have achieved a similar mark. The evidence is clear: expensive animated tentpoles have a much better chance of being profitable than their live-action counterparts.

Leading the way amongst animated films at last week’s box office was the mega-hit Despicable Me which landed in 3rd place with $16.4 mil in its fourth U.S. weekend, boosting its domestic total to $306.8 mil. The film added $24.5 mil from foreign markets for an overseas total of $354.5 mil.

Monsters University continued a similarly strong run, earning $2.9 mil in its sixth U.S. weekend and $15.6 mil from overseas. The film’s totals are now $255.5 mil domestically and $321.6 foreign. The film has yet to open in markets like China and Italy, and by the time it’s all over, the film should become Pixar’s fourth highest-grossing movie ever.

The only animated clunker in theaters right now is DreamWorks’ Turbo, which had a sophomore frame gross of $13.7 mil, good enough for fourth place and a U.S. total of $56.2 mil. The film had a slim 35.5% decline, but it was slim only because the film couldn’t decline much further from its already meager opening weekend. Turbo managed to pick up $12.5 mil from 30 overseas markets pushing its foreign total to $41.9 mil. After two weekends, the film’s combined gross is $98.1 mil.

More animation is coming soon, too. Sony’s Smurfs 2 will be released this week, and Disney’s Planes next week.

“Parametric Expression” by Mike Pelletier

Amsterdam-based digital artist Mike Pelletier describes his experimental piece Parametric Expression as “a series of ambient video loops exploring quantified emotion.” It might also be seen as the contemporary (and somewhat creepier) CGI equivalent of Bill Plympton’s Your Face. However you see the piece, it’s hard to look away from the jarring facial contortions on display.

(via Boing Boing)

Layout Artist Maurice Noble Didn’t Get Along With Chuck Jones

In their new episode, the podcast 99% Invisible profiles legendary layout artist Maurice Noble. Noble made significant contributions to Disney films like Dumbo and Bambi, but he is better known for his layout and design work with Chuck Jones on memorable Warner Bros. shorts like Duck Amuck, Duck Dodgers in the 24½th Century, Ali Baba Bunny, What’s Opera, Doc?, and the Road Runner/Wile E. Coyote series.

That’s why it may be surprising for many readers to learn in this podcast about the personality battles between Noble and Jones, and how the two men weren’t particularly fond of one another despite their frequent collaborations. The subjects who were interviewed for the podcast are reliable authorities on Noble: his biographer Bob McKinnon; Tod Polson whose upcoming book about Noble’s techniques will be a must-own; and Pixar artist Scott Morse, who worked with Noble early in his career.

(Thanks, Bob Flynn)

“Lady with Long Hair” by Barbara Bakos

Lady with Long Hair by Barbara Bakos is our third debut in Cartoon Brew’s 2013 Student Animation Festival. The graduation film was produced at the Moholy-Nagy University of Art and Design in Budapest, Hungary.

The film tells the story of an old woman who relives memories of her life contained within her hair. Bakos tackles the challenging concept using hand-drawn animation to create a sweet, memorable personality for her protagonist. The character is depicted as both frail with age and full of life and strength, which comes through especially when she bakes.

The film moves into expressionist territory with a visual analogy that ties together the flow of water with the woman’s long wavy hair. It builds to a particularly poignant ending that uses the hair to merge the character’s current reality with her memories.

Technically, the film is impeccable, with an eye for detail in every aspect of the art direction. Bakos applies color elegantly to distinguish between her characters’ present and past. She also unveils the story with cinematic language and uses the hair as a striking compositional element in numerous scenes.

Continue reading for comments from the filmmaker:


The idea of the film came from my family and from my own grandma. When I was a child, I spent most of the time with my grandparents because I never wanted to go to the kindergarten. So I had a lot of lovely memories and adventures with them. We would sit in the backyard playing with little fingerpuppets, painting, and baking cherry pies together, and I was always amazed at how much my grandparents loved each other. Since my grandpa passed away, my grandma lives alone. Her personality, her feelings, memories and her point of view inspired me to make this short film about her lifelong love, and about that state of mind where you just can’t let go of the most important person in your life.

I have also a strange obsession with the hair. A few years ago it became my obsession to draw skyhigh hair and create little worlds in them depending on the characters it belonged to. I always think that hair is one of the most characteristic things about a person. How she/he styles it, or what colour it is. So when I started to develop this short film, I felt that I had to connect these two things.


It’s a traditionally hand-drawn animated film. I chose this technique because of the tactile nature of the medium, and I thought this was the best way to create a connection with the audience. During the whole film we are focusing on one granny. She has to tell us her past and her memories through her facial expressions rather than dialogue. Also I was using traditionally painted backgrounds and props. I then put together the final picture in After Effects.


It was the first time that I had to inspire and lead a lot of people at the same time—animators, editor, music composer, actress, 3D artist. It was also very useful to learn how to convince them that your idea is good, unique and worth the hard work! But the biggest challenge was to present the idea to my family and my grandma. It was an amazing moment when I saw my grandma’s face while she was watching the film.


Storywise and also visually, I was inspired by a lot of short films. I was most impressed by The Man with Beautiful Eyes from Jonathan Hodgson and Charles Bukowski, Father and Daughter from Michael Dudok de Wit, Sunday from Patrick Doyon and La Maison en Petits Cubes from Kunio Katō. I love stories that are based on childhood, and not just childhood, but how we remember those times—how memories are working if for instance, you go back to the same place where you grew up or spent summers. What kind of thoughts appear in your mind when you sense a familiar smell or the light is exactly the same as on an autumn afternoon decades ago.


Right now, I am a freelancer art director and illustrator, which I really love. At the same time I would love to work in a big team where people can inspire each other. Also I am developing a new short at the moment so I really hope that five years from now it will be finished ☺


Personal website: BarbaraBakos.com

The Cartoon Brew Student Animation Festival is made possible by the generosity of our presenting sponsor JibJab.

“Slimed!” Will Tell the Story of Nick By Those Who Made It Happen

Enough time has passed that the cable channel Nickelodeon can now be seen to have had a ‘Golden Age.’ That’s the theory, at least, for Mathew Klickstein’s forthcoming book Slimed!: An Oral History of Nickelodeon’s Golden Age. Here is the book summary from the publisher Plume/Penguin:

Slimed! An Oral History of Nickelodeon’s Golden Age tells the surprisingly complex, wonderfully nostalgic, and impressively compelling story of how Nickelodeon—the First Kids’ Network—began as a DIY startup in the late 70s, and forged ahead through the early eighties with a tiny band of young artists and filmmakers who would go on to change everything about cable television, television in general, animation, and children’s entertainment, proving just what can be done if the indie spirit is kept alive in the corporate world of contemporary media… All from those who made it happen!

Klickstein interviewed over 250 people for his oral history, which sounds like a promising read for anyone interested in children’s television history. The 320-page book will be released on September 24th. Cover price is $20, but is available to pre-order on Amazon for $15.41. The Slimed! Facebook page offers supplements to the book.

Henry Selick Slams American Animation Biz

Director Henry Selick (Coraline and The Nightmare Before Christmas) states the obvious about the American animated feature industry:

“It’s too homogenous. It’s way too much the same. The films aren’t really that different one from the other. Despicable Me could have been made Pixar, by DreamWorks. It’s not a great time for feature animation if you want to do something even moderately outside the formula.”

“New York Times” Profiles Five Rising Animators

Worth a read today: the New York Times profiles five rising animators in the American animation scene. The five featured artists are Rebecca Sugar (Steven Universe), Minkyu Lee (Adam and Dog), Jason Ruiz (Murder Police), Justin Roiland (Rick and Morty), and Timothy Reckart (Head Over Heels).

How Porter Airlines Bucks the Trend With an Animated Mascot

Porter, a regional Canadian airline, has quietly built a unique brand through print and animated ads featuring a jet-setting raccoon named Mr. Porter. I recently flew with Porter for the first time and was blown away by the entire experience; not only are their lounge areas filled with WiFi, free espresso and shortbread cookies, but TV screens display animated clips of Mr. Porter, flying from city-to-city, occasionally stopping to give the weather forecast before picking up his suitcase and heading to another destination.

Mr. Porter debuted in 2006, the work of London-based branding and design agency Winkreative. The graphic, black and white raccoon was just one part of a larger branding identity created to evoke the carefree feeling of retro air travel. Now, Mr. Porter is inseparable from the brand, showing up on the company’s brochures, water bottle labels and in-flight meal boxes. “Raccoons are intelligent, adaptable creatures that succeed in a variety of environments and unfavorable conditions, so our mascot choice was no accident,” said Porter founder and CEO Robert Deluce.

Porter is going against a trend afflicting many major brands; logos and mascots are becoming more and more reductive and impersonal. American Airlines, for example, has slowly transformed its eagle from a stylized illustration to an implied, decorative swoop. Similarly, the Quantas Kangaroo has become almost unrecognizable.

Mascots, whether realistic or graphic in style, definitely matter. When American Airlines recently retired its famous logo that was designed by Massimo Vignelli in 1967, Vignelli revealed that the company wanted a stylized eagle, something he was against—he believed that the eagle should be detailed down to the last feather. “I refused to do it. We started without it, and the pilots threatened to go on strike because they wanted the eagle on American Airlines,” Vignelli told Businessweek.

So why are so many companies shying away from punchy mascots that make a statement?  Perhaps they’re afraid that a personality-driven character makes it more difficult to control a company’s message. Yet in embracing Mr. Porter, Deluce has created a stronger sense of the company’s goals, even among employees, saying, “Everyone at Porter has a clear understanding of the brand.” Mr. Porter is intriguing, mysterious and charming, three very dynamic adjectives that could never be applied to the American Airlines eagle-turned-swoop.

Artist of the Day: Valentin Seiche

Valentin Seiche

Valentin Seiche is a cartoonist and author of the comic book Anguille et Baldaquin, published by Ankama Editions, which is the publishing arm of the French production company Ankama Group that created the massively popularly MMORPG Wakfu. On Valentin’s webpage about Anguille et Baldaquin, the book’s naive heros are described as existing in “a world buffeted by the specter of war.”

Valentin Seiche

In an interview, Seiche discussed his inspiration for his comic book characters. He mentioned Mickey Mouse, Pinocchio, Astroboy and The Little Prince as sources. Many of Valentin’s characters are constructed with simplified, dimensional forms that could fit nicely into the worlds of his inspiration.

Valentin Seiche

Valentin Seiche

Valentin explores broader, intriguing territory in his personal work as well, which he shares on his blogs. Visit Valentin’s Tumblr and blog for his recent work and further links to explore.

Valentin Seiche

Valentin Seiche

Valentin Seiche

Valentin Seiche

Valentin Seiche

Valentin Seiche

Valentin Seiche

This Afternoon in Burbank: “Turbo” Book Signing and Art Demos

This afternoon in Burbank, the newly opened Center Stage Gallery will present “Fast Track to Animation” featuring the work of artists who worked on DreamWorks’ Turbo: senior visual development artists Marcos Mateu-Mestre, Takao Nagaguchi and Jason Scheier, visual development artists Jeremy Engleman and Mike Hernandez, and lighting designer Dominique Louis.

From 3 to 4:30pm, the gallery will present a book signing of The Art of Turbo. The signing will be followed with live art demos presented by Jason Scheier (5-6pm) and Mike Hernandez (6:30-7:30pm).

RSVP for the FREE event at CenterStageGallery.com. The gallery is located at 847 Hollywood Way, Space 100, in Burbank, California.

Robert Valley Talks About “Shinjuku” Series and Wonder Woman for DC Nation

A quick glance at animation director Robert Valley’s filmography reveals major projects from storyboard work on Aeon Flux in 1994 to animation for big corporate names like Nike and Coca Cola, and working with Passion Pictures on music videos and short films for the Gorillaz. When he discussed his latest project—a new feature film being released online in installments called Shinjuku—with Cartoon Brew he was quick to relate his professional experiences with that of an assistant coach in the major league. “At some point I needed to venture out and present myself as a coach in my own right, so regardless of success or failure I feel compelled to put myself out there and see what happens.”

Shinjuku, which is a Twistory property by Christopher ‘Mink’ Morrison and Yoshitaka Amano (Final Fantasy), is a work of noir fiction based in a Tokyo of a not-too-distant future. Morrison presented the project to Valley with the intention of adapting it into a feature-length bigscreen film. Valley has been directing segments of the film, which are being released online in short installments, while simultaneously collecting the artwork from the episodes into book form. “What’s really important for me is this cross-over between animation and graphic novel, so periodically we will be releasing a book based on the animated films,” Valley explained. “This [is] my goal, film, book, film book, and so on…”

Over the last several years, Valley has been honing his personal aesthetic by self-publishing his own comic series—turned—animated film, Massive Swerve, which has become a creative jumping off point for defining his approach. “This has been a great way to develop a personal style and voice. I take ideas from my Massive Swerve books and re-purpose them for the task at hand.” His look, which he defines as a “burning man/muscle car/beach theme” was heavily debated by comic book fanboys when DC Comics unveiled his recent Wonder Woman shorts for their DC Nation franchise.

The shorts, produced by Valley and his buddy Jorden Oliwa, and featuring Wonder Woman as a West Coast urbanite cruising the shores in her invisible Charger, seemed to be a perfect fit for DC Nation, which showcases creative reinterpretations of popular superhero properties. “Some people like the spin I had,” Valley said. “Others are completely repulsed by it.” When you consider the fickle nature of comic book geeks, perhaps that is the greatest compliment one can receive.

UPDATE (July 28, 2013): This story was updated to reflect that Shinjuku is owned by Twistory, although Dark Horse had earlier released a Shinjuku comic. The story was also updated to list Shinjuku as a feature film project that is being released online in installments, rather than being a webseries.

Artist of the Day: Hannah Ayoubi

Hannah Ayoubi

Hannah Ayoubi is a recent graduate of the animation program at Cal Arts. She keeps student films produced during her studies here.

Hannah Ayoubi

Hannah Ayoubi

Hannah likes to draw monsters and has created a personal project to direct this monster energy towards. Her Monsters Abroad blog is where Hannah collects her character development sketches from this original project.

Hannah Ayoubi

Hannah Ayoubi

Hannah also blogs here and here where you can find her drawings of all sorts of characters.

Hannah Ayoubi

Hannah Ayoubi

Sponsor News: “SpongeBob SquarePants” Art Show Opening at Gallery Nucleus Tomorrow

Created by marine biologist-turned-animator Stephen Hillenburg in 1999, SpongeBob SquarePants is one of Nickelodeon’s most popular and longest running television shows. The upcoming group art show, “Nautical Nonsense: A Tribute to SpongeBob SquarePants,” will feature artistic interpretations from an eclectic roster of animation artists, illustrators, and cartoonists.

The show’s opening reception will be tomorrow night—Saturday, July 27—from 7-11pm at Gallery Nucleus in the LA suburb of Alhambra (210 East Main St). Admission is $5, and the event will include costumed characters from the show, a scavenger hunt and raffle prizes.

“Plankton Scream” by Peter Bennett (Acrylic on canvas)

“Jellyfishin’ with Gary” by Cuddly Rigor Mortis (Acrylic on panel)

“Sponges” by Oliver Akuin (Gouache)

(Artwork at top of post: “Nautical Nonsense” by Joey Chou, digital illustration)

“I Was A Guy Because I Used A Pencil”: The Candy Kugel Interview

Candy Kugel is an icon of the New York animation scene whose body of work over the last forty years includes everything from classic Sesame Street segments like It’s Hip to Be a Square

…to memorable spots that established the visual identity of MTV in its earliest days:

In this new episode of Frenzer Foreman Animation Forum, Candy Kugel talks about what it was like to work as a woman animator in New York’s commercial animation scene in the 1970s, at a time when women animators in commercial studios were few and far between. She also brings us up to date on her latest projects, including the TED-Ed short Sex Determination: More Complicated Than You Thought, which is one of the most viewed TED-Ed shorts to date.

Buzzco Associates, Inc.
Teen Wolf opening titles
Strawberry Shortcake in Big Apple City

Watch 9 Famous Animation Directors Talk About Their Careers

If you were unable to attend the SIGGRAPH Keynote panel on Monday, featuring nine distinguished animation directors, you’re in luck because the 92-minute discussion is posted below.

The panel, entitled “Giants’ First Steps,” focused on the early careers of the following artists: Pete Docter (Monsters, Inc., Up), Eric Goldberg (Pocahontas, Fantasia/2000), Kevin Lima (Tarzan), Mike Mitchell (Shrek Forever After, Alvin and the Chipmunks: Chipwrecked), Chris Sanders (Lilo & Stitch, How to Train Your Dragon), Henry Selick (Nightmare Before Christmas, Coraline), David Silverman (The Simpsons Movie), Kirk Wise (Beauty and the Beast, Atlantis: The Lost Empire) and Ron Clements (The Little Mermaid, Aladdin).

2014 Is Shaping Up To Be The Year of Cartoon Crossovers

Considering that three crossover events have already been announced for next year, 2014 may just become the year of the cartoon mash-up.

With still three weeks left Phineas and Ferb join forces with Spider-Man, Iron Man, The Hulk and Thor in Phineas & Ferb: Mission Marvel, it was announced at Comic-Con that the angle-headed stepbrothers would star in an hour-long episode that relocates them to the desert planet of Tatooine, living next door to a popular sci-fi figure named Luke Skywalker. When plans for destroying the Death Star accidentally fall into their hands, they are recruited into the Galactic rebellion, and…well, you know the rest.

In addition, there have been recent announcements that The Simpsons will be rubbing shoulders with not just one, but two sets of their ‘toon contemporaries when they team-up with both Futurama and Family Guy. Serving as either The Simpsons season 25 finale (May 2014) or the season 26 premiere (fall 2014), Futurama’s Bender will travel back in time with the intention to kill Bart before his actions negatively affect the future. Meanwhile, a date to-be-determined Family Guy episode will feature the Griffins becoming fast friends with Homer and his family after a road trip leads them to Springfield.

While these episodes are guaranteed to be fan pleasers, they would also appear to be carefully coordinated gambits for ratings. As less and less media conglomerates own more and more entertainment properties, expect to see these kinds of opportunistic crossovers with increased frequency in the future.

Report: Society for Animation Studies Conference Focuses on Redefining Animation

Besides creating animation, I love to study it theoretically. The process of creation for me is very ‘un-graspable’. There’s so much to take into consideration at once, so many different elements that are at work in the same timeframe. Theory on the other hand is very concrete. It gave me a place to start with my graduation film two years ago and something to hold onto until now, at the point where I’m finished up. Writing a paper while making the film gave me something to base my creative descisions on.

I graduated with a decent version of the film, Flashing By, and with the completed paper, “Pushing the Background To the Front,” but I didn’t feel like I was done with the topic. I wanted to talk more about my findings and thoughts with others scholars. The perfect opportunity arose: a call for entries from the Society for Animation Studies conference, which would take place at the University of Southern California, Los Angeles, in the summer of 2013. I submitted my paper and, much to my surprise, it was selected. So last month, I travelled from Amsterdam to Los Angeles to present my thesis, receive feedback and dive into the field of animation theory.

The Society for Animation Studies, or SAS, is an organization dedicated to the study of animation history and theory. Thanks to a small but devoted team, the society publishes peer-reviewed papers online, holds an online directory of animation theorists and organizes the annual conference. Every year the event is held in a different part of the world to allow as many people as possible to participate.

Three days of talking theory kicked off with a set of four 20-minute paper presentations, including mine. Yikes! A bit nervous, I set out my thoughts on the use of mise-en-scene in the 2D animated short for an audience full of professional theorists. There was nothing to be afraid of though – everyone listened attentively (or faked it extremely well), was genuinly interested and had great questions during the Q&A. Even during the following days people would come up to me with compliments, thoughts of their own or simply for a chat.

Getting my own talk over with so early allowed me to relax and enjoy the rest of the conference. There were studies about specific events in history, ideas for new platforms, talks on technical and creative aspects of animation, and tributes to animation professionals and studios. Topics ranged from calligraphy-inspired animation to the history of CGI, and from differences in development between animation and live-action to social issues in the animation community. Most talks were good, several were fantastic, others were really vague, unprepared and quickly forgettable. But I guess that’s what you get with around 80(!) presentations, which is a large number in the relatively small and new field of animation theory.

This year’s theme was very broad: ‘Redefining Animation.’ Of course, several presentations were dedicated to the trend everyone’s discussing nowadays: stereoscopy. Theorist Ann Owen’s research from a neuroscientific perspective offered some fresh and legitimate insights into the already much-discussed topic. Owen laid out a connection between the human need to relocate oneself in every new environment he’s in, and how he feels that need also when watching film. Only after the viewer manages to relocate himself is he able to follow the characters and their actions. Knowing this, it is only logical to understand it takes even longer for the viewer to relocate when watching a stereoscopic film. Therefore, Owen argues, stereoscopy can add something to a film, instead of just being a distraction, only if the shots give the viewer enough time to relocate. As we all know, most of the 3-D films we see do exactly the opposite. Owen concludes with what stereoscopy can do well: provoking a desire to explore the space visually and making the viewer want to touch what’s on the screen.

A less-discussed trend brought up in another presentation is the crossover of live-action and animation film practices. We all know that the boundaries between live-action and animation are becoming harder to define. Tom Klein approaches this subject not by trying to define a boundary but instead shining light on what he calls ‘the mind-game film.’ According to Klein, the possibility to apply best practices of other media (like Rango used natural acting conversations and Mission: Impossible—Ghost Protocol removing live-action frames as animation would do) has led to challenging, innovative storytelling. Klein notes that those ‘mind-game films’ that make use of other media’s possibilities are becoming increasingly popular with the general audience. Both Life of Pi and Cloud Atlas would be considered arthouse films though they gained great populairity with the general audience. Will this trend continue? Klein leaves that question open and promises to come back with an answer at a future edition of the conference.

But perhaps the most fundamental brain-picking regarding this year’s theme was, nicely enough, done by SAS’ co-founder Harvey Deneroff. He states that personality animation began with the drawn animations of Winsor McCay, was further developed by Otto Messmer, and fully realized at Disney during the sound era. So for a long time 2D has been central to history books, schools and the industry, even though stop-motion is as old as 2D, and CGI is extremely present in today’s landscape. Underappreciation for each others’ artforms is as know to the history books as it is to the animation industry, Deneroff acknowledges sadly. The recurring effort to define the medium pushes artists into camps. But if there’s one way to describe art of the 21st century it would be the constant blending of different techniques, fields and media. That’s the strength of animation. It has the ability to constantly redefine itself, to evolve. “People who practice the medium define what the medium is,” couldn’t be more true when it comes to animation. Deneroff’s talk was based on research he and his wife are doing for a book called The Social Life of Filmmakers – how could anyone not look forward to a book with a title like that?

Inbetween the paper presentations, established artists flew in for the daily keynotes. Michael Fink (The Golden Compass, Blade Runner) showed us art history through his eyes as a visual effects supervisor, and made us realize technique has always influenced and perhaps even determined new creative forms, stories and styles. Robotics designer David Hanson gave a peek into his life as a creator of androids (humanlike robots with intelligence and feelings) and even let us touch his Dick—that is, his scarily realistic Philip K. Dick, who felt extremely soft like a piece of freshly baked cake. Davide Quayola shared all the details on his artistic approach and how he makes use of animation in his films and installations. The keynotes were incredibly interesting and essential contributions to the conference as a whole. Furthermore, the organization treated us to some special film screenings at night, with shorts from USC and CalArts, and a documentary on legendary German animator Lotte Reiniger.

Even though it’s clear there’s a group of close friends that forms the core audience of the conference, I felt very welcomed being the new kid on the block. (Part of that may also have been the delicious cookies USC provided during breaks.) I guess that’s the part of the conference I enjoyed most: the fact that all those present had interesting thoughts to share and enjoyed discussing their ideas. It created an environment I hadn’t experienced before. Being able to discuss animation and creative decisions for three full days was incredibly inspiring.

After 25 years the SAS is still growing. I hope the society will be able to grow even more connections with the animation creation community so both groups can benefit from each others’ activities and findings. Next year’s theme ‘The Animator’ seems to be a good step in that direction. I’ll be looking forward to the coming conferences, and hope the cookies there will be as good as they were this year in Los Angeles.

Tünde Vollenbroek graduated from the HKU in Holland last year with both a Bachelor’s and a Master’s degree in Animation. This month her latest short film Losing Nemo, on which she did the production, had its online premiere and was featured on Cartoon Brew. At the moment Tünde is finishing up her graduation film Flashing By, developing the tv-series That’s Not Nice, writing for the Dutch animation blog and organizing the annual KLIK! Amsterdam Animation Festival.

Artist of the Day: Barry Johnson

Barry Johnson

Barry Johnson has worked on feature animated films for Aardman, Disney and DreamWorks as a story and development artist.

Barry Johnson

Barry Johnson

Barry shares story sketches on his blog from unrealized projects that were in development (such as the bears drawing above from DreamWorks), and others that represent the beginnings of memorable moments in films that made it to theaters, such as Timon doing the hula in The Lion King:

Barry Johnson

Barry Johnson

There is a lot more of his work, as well as posts about other story artists on his Tumblr.

Barry Johnson

Barry Johnson

Barry Johnson

How Can We Make Adult Animation Truly Adult?

The potted history of animation’s shifting demographics should be familiar. Once, animated films were aimed at general audiences. Over time, animation began catering primarily to children. Then, more recently, animation intended for older audiences once again began to make itself known.

But the closer we look, the more intricacies we find. From Persepolis and Waltz with Bashir being discussed on the BBC’s current affairs program Newsnight, to the premiere of the late-night animated sitcom, there are countless example of adult animation bubbling up, sometimes disappearing again, other times leaving a mark.

Adult television animation developed in different ways around the world. In America, cartoons from The Simpsons to Adult Swim show that it is the ribald ethos of Ralph Bakshi and Spike and Mike’s Sick and Twisted festival which ultimately won out. The Japanese industry, meanwhile, found vast quantities of source material in the country’s multifaceted comics scene.

Sometimes it takes only a single agency to have a major impact. In Britain, adult television animation is associated primarily with Channel 4, which adopted the festival model. Throughout the Eighties and Nineties it screened countless animated shorts, mixing original commissions with work gathered from around the world.

If I were to pick a single work in which multiple streams of adult cartoons converge to great success, I would pick Some Protection, a 1987 short made by Marjut Rimminen for Channel 4. This film is based around an unscripted monologue from an incarcerated teenager named Josie O’Dwyer; the other characters with speaking roles are portrayed by actors, making the film a mixture of fact and fiction. The case of Josie O’Dwyer is abstracted into something broader, her story becoming potentially representative of any number of people with similar experiences.

Some Protection is mostly literalistic but makes use of expressionist elements. When the central character is isolated, she is placed naked against a plain white background. To show her bewildering new surroundings, there is a point of view shot swinging from one leering face to another. The film also uses symbolism in the same way as political cartoons: the outside world is portrayed as a colorful funfair, but when the protagonist escapes into it, she is immediately grabbed by the tentacle of a policeman-octopus. The imagery is not subtle, but it serves its purpose in carrying the narrative forward through a scene which would have been unwieldy if portrayed in a more literal manner.

Political cartoon, biography, social commentary, expressionism, drama, documentary – all of these elements combine in Some Protection, showing just what can be achieved once the many strains of adult animation begin to merge.

If animation was greatly affected by television, then the coming of the Internet shook things up even more. The effects of the online revolution are twofold: firstly, sites such as YouTube provide unprecedented access to animation old and new. Secondly, it has increased communication between animation viewers by providing new ways for fans to gather and share recommendations.

The Internet emerged as the ideal home for what can be termed the geek demographic, with TV Tropes being a prime example of a website put together by and for self-proclaimed geeks. The site prides itself on covering as broad a range of fiction as possible, emerging as a sometimes fascinating form of populist, open-access media scholarship. In theory, this would make it the perfect place to cover lost gems of animation, but in practice it has many blind spots. There is little discussion about Svankmajer or Norstein, while juvenile mediocrities such as Disney’s Gargoyles are treated as masterpieces on a par with the television dramas of Dennis Potter and David Simon.

TV Tropes has a page devoted to what it calls the Animation Age Ghetto, which gives a reasonable if scattershot overview of the subject. The page’s “examples” section, however, consists in large part of people filibustering about how their favorite superhero cartoons never caught on. The main reason that most of these cartoons never attracted adult audiences, of course, is that they are simply not for adults.

That’s not to say that there’s anything wrong with having guilty pleasures. The humorist Stephen Fry summed things up well: a fan of Doctor Who, he commented that “every now and again we all like a chicken nugget.” As he continued, however,

If you are an adult you want something surprising, savory, sharp, unusual, cosmopolitan, alien, challenging, complex, ambiguous, possibly even slightly disturbing and wrong. You want to try those things, because that’s what being adult means.

The ever-enthusiastic geek demographic certainly does not see animation as being merely for children. But it suffers from an inverted snobbery, with more inventive or experimental animation dismissed as “pretentious” or “arthouse”, and from a view of the medium that is built largely on nostalgia for beloved childhood cartoons. Even dedicated animation enthusiasts can overlook much of the best work which is out there: perhaps it is in human nature for audiences to stick to the films which they think they might enjoy rather than try anything new.

When commercial television first arrived in Britain in 1954 it was opposed by Lord Reith, then director-general of the publicly-funded BBC. Reith was a firm believer that television should provide quality programming which was beneficial to the public, commercial considerations and popular taste be damned. Now, with producers of online animation competing to create the crudest and most lowbrow fare, the approaches taken by festivals or outlets such as Channel 4 look rather Reithian by comparison.

Works such as Some Protection show us what adult television animation can achieve when supported by a body that is willing to back inventive and challenging creations. Just think what the broad canvas of Internet animation could achieve with a similar agency, be it a prominent funding body or a broader-minded fandom.

(Images in this post from Marjut Rimminen‘s “Some Protection”)

Artist of the Day: Eliza Ivanova

Eliza Ivanova

Eliza Ivanova found employment as an animator at Pixar after graduating from the animation program at CalArts. Her 2011 graduation film was called The Real McCoy:

Eliza decisively models forms while simultaneously incorporating imaginative marks that add style and movement to her drawings.

Eliza Ivanova

Eliza Ivanova

Eliza Ivanova

One of the side-projects that Eliza is working on is the independent short film, The Dam Keeper, directed by Pixar art directors Dice Tsutsumi and Robert Kondo.

Eliza Ivanova

Eliza Ivanova

See more of Eliza’s work on her website.

Eliza Ivanova

Eliza Ivanova

Eliza Ivanova