Chris Meledandri is Changing How Animated Features Are Produced

Despicable Me 2 is on track to become the most profitable film in Universal Pictures’ 100-plus year history, and that has turned Illumination Entertainment head Chris Meledandri into the current darling of Hollywood. This Bloomberg Businessweek piece is one of the few things I’ve read about Meledandri’s low-budget approach to feature animation. He pioneered this lower-risk model while he was at Fox, where he was responsible for the Ice Age series, one of the most successful animated feature franchises in history.

“We’re not spending our money on every blade of grass and the leaves on the trees,” says Janet Healy, who is Meledandri’s co-producer. Not only is the production process more restrained, but so is the development process. Illumination picks and chooses exactly what it wants to produce instead of spending money developing numerous pictures that may never move into production. Illumination’s US office has only 35 employees, and though most of the creative work is done elsewhere (particularly Mac Guff in Paris), that’s still a modest corporate structure for a feature animation studio.

Meledandri, like DreamWorks CEO Jeffrey Katzenberg and increasingly John Lasseter at Pixar and Disney, prides himself on the producer-driven approach to filmmaking. He mentions in the article that there is never any dissent because he oversees creative approvals on a daily basis: “There is never a situation where a production proceeds down a path only to discover those with ultimate creative authority aren’t in agreement.” The strategy has worked exceedingly well for him so far, though the strategy isn’t always clear, even to those who work with him. “I think he’s got a vision,” says his co-producer Healy. “I just don’t know what it is.”

Listen to This Tom and Jerry Music Performed Like You’ve Never Heard Before

This joyously energetic medley of Tom and Jerry music composed by the legendary Scott Bradley was performed recently by the John Wilson Orchestra as part of the 2013 BBC Proms at London’s Royal Albert Hall.

Peter Morris, who arranged the performance with Wilson, has written extensively about the work:

We wanted to create a score that wasn’t too fragmented and that didn’t rely on visuals so the music you hear is a compilation of some of the best bits of Scott Bradley’s music. There is no single video for the music—it comes from eight different cartoons: Smitten Kitten, Sufferin’ Cats, The Framed Cat, Cat Fishin’ Just Ducky, Jerry and Jumbo, The Cat Comes to Dinner and Mouse for Sale.

John is a dab hand at reconstructing scores from audio. Check his Wiki page for info. In this case, however, we used score fragments, archives and a lot of patience. I used FCP to extract candidate snippets of video and linked them to create a 3 candidate narratives which John and I then worked on. Copyright is a nightmare (MGM, Warner, Sony, Turner, EMI have all owned bits in the past) – only JW has the clout to cut though that quagmire. Scores are as rare as hens’ teeth.

Bradley’s original scores were played by typically 20 to 25 musos. In fact, if you look at the beginning of the performance there are only 3 violins, 1 viola, 1 cello and 1 bass, to start with the original MGM sound. However, more instruments are added as the piece progresses to the full 100-piece orchestra at the end. Scott Bradley also preferred orchestral sound effects to ones added by the sound department, hence the big “shock chords” that you find at various places.

Why Animators Should Care About The Recording-Breaking Debut of “Grand Theft Auto V” [UPDATED]

[UPDATE—Sept. 20, 5:20pm ET] Grand Theft Auto V has now exceeded $1 billion in sales in 3 days. No entertainment property in any media has ever achieved that mark in such a short period of time.

Publisher Take-Two Interactive reported that first-day sales of Grand Theft Auto V topped $800 million, a record for the video game industry. Actually, it’s probably a record for any cultural industry in history. To my knowledge, no piece of music, film or other art has ever made $800M in a single day. But if we wish to confine the discussion to videogames, the previous record holder was Call of Duty: Black Ops II, which generated first-day sales of $500M last November.

This fifth installment of GTA launched on September 17 for the Playstation 3 and Xbox 360. The sales figure is worldwide, although it excludes the upcoming launches in Japan and Brazil. The $800M figure equals sales of between 13-14 million units of the game, which is quite an acccomplishment considering that the last installment in the Grand Theft Auto series sold about 13 million unit over an entire year.

GTA:V took five years to develop and cost between $200-250 million, which is as expensive as any big-budget animated feature. Its earnings will easily top the highest-grossing animated feature of all-time, which would be the $1.06 billion gross of Toy Story 3.

It’s been fascinating to watch the ascension of games as a cultural force in early-21st century entertainment. It is an art form that requires new programming technologies to produce and new devices to consume, yet also relies heavily on traditional constructions like narrative storytelling and character animation. The latter is why we care, and why we will care for a long time to come. Even as immersive entertainment experiences displace older forms of media, the role of the animator only continues to grow in prominence.

Game publishers like Take-Two Interactive (and its subsidiary Rockstar Games which made GTA) obviously understand the value of graphics, otherwise they wouldn’t continually push to improve the complexity of their visuals and the nuance of their character animation. But there is still room for graphic improvement, and especially, greater believability in the character performances.

When will developers begin recruiting topflight feature film animators en masse and elevate interactive media to even more fantastic heights? The time when game producers start valuing the contributions of animators at least as much as feature film companies currently do can’t be far off, and competition for talent between game developers and film studios can only be a good thing for the animation community.

The following review of GTA:V not only provides a good sense of the gameplay, but also shows the incredible amount of animation that is contained within the game world:

Director Stephan Franck Returns “The Smurfs” To Their Hand-Drawn Roots

In The Smurfs: The Legend of Smurfy Hollow, the new 22-minute mini-movie by Sony Pictures Animation, competition gets the best of Brainy Smurf and Gutsy Smurf and lands them in trouble with not only Gargamel but also the mysterious Headless Horseman who roams the nearby Smurfy Hollow. Presented as a supplement to the recent CGI/live-action film series, Smurfy Hollow bookends its nineteen minutes of traditional animation with 3 minutes of the more familiar CG versions of the characters.

“The movies are hybrid films that focus on the human characters as much as the Smurfs,” Stephan Franck, director of Smurfy Hollow (pictured above), told Cartoon Brew. Smurfy Hollow, however, offers “a chance to refocus solely on the Smurf characters, more in the spirit of the books.”

While The Smurfs were popularized by their animated television series produced by Hanna Barbera from 1981 to 1989, the were originally created as the serialized comic strip Les Schtroumpfs in 1958 by Belgian cartoonist Peyo. Franck, who grew up in France reading the book collections in their original French language, says, “I have to admit The Smurfs had fallen off my radar,” but he warmed up quickly because of his childhood familiarity with the little blue creatures. “I knew these characters.”

Those expecting a stylistic retread of the original cartoon will be pleasantly surprised, as Smurfy Hollow’s animated performances and visual styling are significantly higher end than your usual Saturday Morning cartoon fare. “We really wanted to showcase the quality of the animation. We didn’t want the 2D to look like a poor man’s 3D.” While the Sony studio created the CG segments, the animation was produced by Sergio Pablos Animation in Madrid by way of Duck Studios in Los Angeles.

In the search for a production studio to handle the traditional work, there were “many contenders” and SPA was chosen for their “raw quality of work” and connection to the “European style” that was considered complementary to the subject matter.

“Shorts allow you to do something radical and 2D is radical now.” —Stephan Franck

Due to the expense of digital equipment like Cintiqs and the relative difficulty to do cleanup with a stylus, the animators at SPA employed original traditional animation production techniques, i.e. pencils and paper. For the few on the production who did animate using digital methods, Franck explains, their drawings would have to be printed out and re-pegged onto paper before being sent to cleanup. The result is consistently solid animation and subtle characterizations that generally come with well-produced short subjects.


Smurfy Hollow Pre-production gallery



Franck is an industry veteran whose credits include films like An American Tail: Fievel Goes West, Balto, Space Jam and The Iron Giant. “I cried tears of blood to learn to draw well enough [to be an animator],” Franck says.

Like many animators whose professional experience traces back to the pre-digital world of the Eighties and early-Nineties, he has his own opinions regarding the animation industry’s fundamental abandonment of traditional techniques. Franck believes that animation is unlike live-action filmmaking, which has steadily evolved its look with each passing decade. Hand-drawn animation got to the 1990s and stayed there. “The visual paradigm of 2D in the 1990s had been ubiquitous with the films and DVD sequels—regardless of story quality and animation, we had already seen this before.”

As a first time director helming an installment of a fifty-year-old franchise, Franck’s approach, from the animation to the voice work was to remain “natural” and “honest”. He worked with production designer Sean Eckols to create a look that is graphically refreshing while remaining true to the source material. This approach extended to the storytelling as well: “The Smurfs stories are not sugarcoated,” Franck says. “They have individual struggles, they have flaws, petty jealousies, egos and they crave approval. [However], at the end of the day, they are a family. I wanted to reconnect to that.”

The Smurfs: The Legend of Smurfy Hollow is available on DVD for $4.99 at Amazon.

Artist of the Day: Tim Beckhardt

Tim Beckhardt

Tim Beckhardt studied animation and printmaking at the Rhode Island School of Design. After graduating in 2009, Tim went to work as an artist at Augenblick Studios. Tim currently works as a freelance artist and animator in Brooklyn.

Tim Beckhardt

Tim Beckhardt

Pellet Gunn, a short that Tim made at RISD is described as “a dog, a cyclops, and others kill some time with the help of wormholes and hobbyist self-modification.” The piece plays out unexpectedly, remaining fresh until the satisfying end:

A follow up student film from 2009, Inner Tubes, is described as “a frank look at tube-hole relationships.” This meditative piece may leave you thinking about your own tubes and holes:

Tim Beckhardt

Take a look at Tim’s portfolio website and Tumblr for more animated loops, drawings, comics and prints.

Tim Beckhardt

Tim Beckhardt

Tim Beckhardt

REVIEW: “Mr. Burns, A Post-Electric Play” Pushes The Simpsons Beyond the Apocalypse

I’m sure it will come as no surprise if we tell you that the 24th season of The Simpsons will not stand the test of time. In fact, if Anne Washburn’s Mr. Burns, A Post-Electric Play, is any indication, not much will be remembered beyond season six.

In her new play, which was staged last year in Washington by the Woolly Mammoth Theater Company and opened at Playwrights Horizons in New York City earlier this week, storytelling is paramount in our world – post-nuclear holocaust. So much so, that reenacting scenes from the long-running animated series, mostly classic episodes like Bart of Darkness and A Streetcar Named Marge, is not simply entertainment, but a means of survival and coping with the fears of a newer, darker world.


The play opens with a group of friends around a campfire recalling lines from the classic Simpsons episode “Cape Feare,” in which Sideshow Bob gets out of prison and begins stalking the Simpson family with the intent to murder Bart. The episode is a parody of the 1991 Robert DeNiro thriller, Cape Fear, which is itself a remake of a 1962 film. Early in the play, these details are mentioned by the characters, but the Simpsons episode then takes on a life of its own and adopts mythic qualities that transform it into a theatrical tragedy rivaling the work of Hesiod or Euripides.

This first scene, which was, according to Ben Brantley’s glowing review in the New York Times, scripted from early workshops as the actors tried to recall lines from the episode in question, is buoyant and funny. It’s a treasure to any hardcore fan of The Simpsons who will be hard pressed to not want to contribute to the conversation, while at the same time, tense and eerie and barely covering up an unknown horror that exists outside of the proscenium.


In the second of the show’s three parts, the campfire group evolves to a fledgling theater troupe, perfecting their version of Simpsons episodes for audiences in nearby areas. Their reenactments, honed by bartering with other survivors for their memories of random lines from the lost episodes, now include commercials and choreographed medleys of Top 40s hits. But regardless of how much they use their craft to distract themselves from the continued fear of uncertainty, it always comes back to The Simpsons and more specifically, Cape Feare.

“That single Simpsons episode becomes a treasure-laden bridge, both to the past and into the future,” says Brantley, “And in tracing a story’s hold on the imaginations of different generations, the play is likely to make you think back — way back — to narratives that survive today from millenniums ago. Every age, it seems, has its Homers.”


In the last part, the source material has been deconstructed and blended seamlessly with popular references as far apart as Britney Spears and How the Grinch Stole Christmas with Mr. Burns, Springfield’s dark specter of nuclear power, taking center stage as a post-modern Mephistopheles. The result is self-referential theater about a popular television series that deftly manages to dodge the precious, the pretentious and the snarky, high art about low art and the fuzzy line between the two. It’s a clever, compelling embodiment of storytelling as a cornerstone of our society and asking what, in our world, will live on after society falls and we are forced to rebuild.

Mr. Burns, A Post-Electric Play will be staged through October 20 at Playwrights Horizons’ Mainstage Theater. It is written by Anne Washburn, directed by Steve Cosson, with music by Michael Friedman.

(Photos: © Playwright Horizons & The New York Times)

At Least 13 Films Are Vying For Animated Feature Oscar This Year

We’re getting close to that time of year again when the animation industry enjoys a little mainstream credit and prestige for all its hard work: awards season. Our Animation Oscar Tracker has been updated with a list of films that we understand will be submitted for the Best Animated Feature category of the Academy Awards. The current total stands at 13 films:

  1. Escape from Planet Earth (Weinstein Co.) 2/15/13
  2. The Croods (DreamWorks Animation) 3/22/13
  3. Epic (Blue Sky) 5/24/13
  4. Monsters University (Disney-Pixar) 6/21/13
  5. Despicable Me 2 (Illumination) 7/3/13
  6. Turbo (DreamWorks Animation) 7/17/13
  7. Planes (Disney) 8/9/13
  8. Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs 2 (Sony Pictures Animation) 9/27/13
  9. Ernest and Celestine (GKIDS) Fall 2013
  10. A Letter to Momo (GKIDS) Fall 2013
  11. Free Birds (Reel FX/Relativity Media) 11/1/13
  12. The Wind Rises (Studio Ghibli/Touchstone Pictures) 11/8/13
  13. Frozen (Disney) 11/27/13

To be clear, we can’t guarantee that these films will qualify for the category, and can only say that they are being submitted for consideration to the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences. For there to be a maximum of five nominees, a total of 16 animated features must qualify for the category. If between 13 to 15 films qualify for the category, then there can be a maximum of four nominees.

The good news is that there will very likely be more films submitted for the category besides the ones listed above. For example, I expect that the South African studio Triggerfish will qualify their latest effort Khumba, especially since last year they qualified their first feature Adventures in Zambezia. If your studio is planning to qualify a feature film, please drop Cartoon Brew a line and let us know.

Pixar Shuffles Release Lineup After It Delays “The Good Dinosaur”

One of the big questions surrounding the recent removal of Bob Peterson as director of The Good Dinosaur was how would Pixar finish the film in time for its May 2014 release date.

The answer: they won’t.

The Walt Disney Studios announced today that they are pushing back the release date of the director-less The Good Dinosaur from May 30, 2014, to Nov. 25, 2015. That will also bump the release of Andrew Stanton’s Finding Dory from November 25, 2015 to June 17, 2016.

Pixar president Ed Catmull told the LA Times, “Nobody ever remembers the fact that you slipped a film, but they will remember a bad film. Our conclusion was that we were going to give the [dinosaur] film some more time.”

Pixar will not release a film in 2014. Their next film will be Pete Docter’s Inside Out due on June 19, 2015.

Gallery: DreamWorks Artist Devin Crane Exhibits in Paris

We’re a little late on this one, but it’s worth mentioning that veteran DreamWorks visual development artist Devin Crane (Kung Fu Panda, Megamind, Monsters vs Aliens) is exhibiting at the Galerie Arludik in Paris through this Saturday, September 21. The show, entitled “Dreams, Fashion and Fairy Tales,” features Crane’s trademark primped and preened women, ready to conquer the world with a glass of champagne in hand and a Louis Vuitton bag over their shoulder. This is Crane’s second exhibit at Arludik, following the “Heaven Can Wait” series in 2010.

See a preview of some of the show’s paintings and drawings below:

Artist of the Day: Scott MacDonald

Scott MacDonald

Scott MacDonald lives and works in Halifax as a freelance animation artist, designer and illustrator. He studied graphic design and animation in separate two-year programs at Nova Scotia Community College. The range of studies is reflected in his playfully good-natured illustrations and character designs.

Scott MacDonald

Scott MacDonald

Scott frequently contributes illustrations to Local Connections Halifax Magazine of which you can see more of at ScottKMacDonald.Tumblr.com.

Scott MacDonald

For more of Scott’s work including character designs, click over to his website.

Scott MacDonald

Scott MacDonald

Scott MacDonald

Scott MacDonald

Scott MacDonald

Scott MacDonald

Meet NFB Directors Chris Landreth and Theodore Ushev in New York

The Ottawa International Animation Festival begins tomorrow in Canada, but fret not for New Yorkers who can’t make it—a small part of the festival experience is coming to you.

On Wednesday, September 25, the National Film Board of Canada will present its latest works, headlined by stereoscopic 3D screenings of Subconscious Password by Oscar-winning director Chris Landreth (Ryan) and Gloria Victoria by award-winning filmmaker Theodore Ushev (Lipsett Diaries, Tower Bawher). Landreth and Ushev will attend the screening to discuss their work. Both of these guys are thoughtful artists whose intelligence shines through their work. Their films are always worth seeing and these new works are no exception.

The screening, which is co-sponsored by ASIFA-East and Dimitris Athos of BeFilm, will also include presentations of the following films: Hollow Land by Michelle and Uri Kranot (Dansk Tegnefilm/Les Films de l’Arlequin/NFB), The End of Pinky by Claire Blanchet and Impromptu by Bruce Alcock (Global Mechanic Media/NFB).

The event will take place at the Park Avenue Screening Room (500 Park Avenue at 59th Street). Entry is FREE, but it’s open only to current ASIFA-East members. Tickets are limited and seats must be reserved.

Volume 13 of “Walt’s People” Interview Series is Released

The thirteenth volume of Walt’s People: Talking Disney with the Artists Who Knew Him has been released. I own at least half of the volumes, and while the length and quality of the interviews varies widely, Disney researchers, historians and fans will discover worthwhile nuggets in each and every edition. The latest volume, edited as always by Disney historian Didier Ghez, is nearly 600 pages and includes material from a who’s who of Disney historians including John Canemaker, Jim Korkis, John Culhane, Michael Barrier, and the late Robin Allan.

Here is the contents of volume 13:

Foreword by Dave Smith
Jim Korkis: Virginia Davis
John Culhane: Reg Massie
John Canemaker: George Bakes
Paul F. Anderson: Milt Neil
John Culhane: Al Dempster
John Culhane: Joe Grant
John Culhane: Woolie Reitherman
Michael Broggie: Becky and Carla Fallberg
Dave Smith: Jean Erwin
John Canemaker: John P. Miller
Milton Zolotow and Lawrence Weschler: Jules Engel
Michael Barrier: Fred Kopietz
Dave Smith: Don Duckwall
Pete Docter: John Sibley
Malcolm Willits: George Sherman
Malcolm Willits: Floyd Gottfredson
Robin Allan: Richard Todd
Les Perkins: Roy E. Disney
Les Perkins: Stormy Palmer
Les Perkins: Paul Kenworthy
Les Perkins: Hunt and Chris Hibler
Jim Korkis & Didier Ghez: Boyd Shaffer
Paul F. Anderson: Fess Parker
Didier Ghez: Dave Spafford
Alberto Becattini: Bob Moore
Didier Ghez: Blaine Gibson
Jay Horan: X. Atencio
Michael Broggie: Don Iwerks
Didier Ghez: Tony Baxter

Buy it for $15.54 on Amazon.com.

(Above: Volume 13 cover art by John Musker)

Mickey Short “Croissant de Triomphe” Wins Another Emmy

Disney’s Mickey Mouse short Croissant de Triomphe picked up another Emmy—its third one—for Outstanding Short-format Animated Program. The award was announced during the 65th Annual Creative Arts Emmy Awards, held on Sunday, September 15.

The short had already won two Emmys in the juried Individual Achievement category. The large number of Emmys won by the short does not necessarily mean that it is the best of the new Mickey shorts, but only that it was the short chosen by Disney to be submitted for Emmy consideration.

In the Outstanding Animated Program competition, South Park won for the episode “Raising the Bar.” It is the show’s fourth Emmy Award in that category. The series was competing against episodes of Bob’s Burgers, Kung Fu Panda: Legends of Awesomeness, Regular Show, and The Simpsons.

“Obsolescence In Love” by Jon Dunleavy

Obsolescence In Love ( The Ballad of Smiley Face ) by Jon Dunleavy tells the tale of a “twisted romance between a loved up phone and a promiscuous hand.” The sideway-emoticon-as-a-character’s face is a smart creative choice that I can’t recall having seen in animation. Even if it’s been done though, the idea is appropriate and executed flawlessly in this short. The film’s impish lyrics and suggestive imagery pack a surprising amount of comedy in its brief ninety-second runtime. Dunleavy is repped by London-based Tandem Films.

“Dick Figures: The Movie” Attempts Unique Distribution Model

If Ed Skudder and Zack Keller’s Dick Figures – The Movie is any indication, the animated feature revolution will not only be televised, it will be fan-funded and delivered directly to its audience through an innovative multi-tiered distribution strategy.

On = September 17, the entire film will be available for purchase or rental in a variety of digital platforms, including Google Play. However, the 73-minute movie adaptation of the popular webseries Dick Figures will have a day-and-date episodic release. It will be made available free of charge on YouTube, distributed in twelve weekly ad-supported installments.

“We want to give people the option to download or stream the movie from wherever they’re comfortable, from wherever they have accounts, from wherever it’s easiest for them to get access to the movie,” co-creator Keller told Mashable. “We operate in online space, so we wanted to keep it in an online space. People don’t even have to leave their couches or their desks or wherever they are.”

Since its premiere in 2010, Dick Figures, which follows the comic experiences of two juvenile young adult stick figures, Red and Blue, has racked up 43 short episodes and over 350 million views on YouTube, making it one of the most popular animated webseries to date. Creators Skudder and Keller raised over $300,000 in crowdfunding for the feature project on Kickstarter last year. (Most of the Kickstarter backers will be able to download the film at no cost.)

Tailoring the film’s release primarily with its core audience in mind, distributor Mondo Media and production company Six Point Harness partnered with digital platform manager Cinedigm, (who will also release the film to DVD in December) and Yekra, a VOD provider that enables viewers to stream and download content through blogs and social media sites.

Artist of the Day: William Laborie

William Laborie

William Laborie is a graduate of the Ecole des Métiers du Cinéma d’Animation (EMCA) who works in London. William’s recent professional animation work includes designing characters and storyboarding on the Cartoon Network show, The Amazing World Of Gumball.

William Laborie

William Laborie

William shares his personal drawings, sketchbook pages and Post-it doodles which include multiple Cool Dinos and a lot of humor.

William Laborie

William Laborie

You can see more of William’s artwork on his Tumblr and blog.

William Laborie

William Laborie

William Laborie

Moonbot Delivers Feature Quality Animation for Chipotle’s “Scarecrow”

American food chain Chipotle eschews TV advertising and stopped using external ad agencies a few years ago, but when they create ad campaigns, they go all out. Their latest project is “The Scarecrow,” a game-and-film collaboration with Bill Joyce’s Moonbot Studios based in Shreveport, Lousiana.

“The Scarecrow”, conceived in collaboaration with CAA Marketing (a division of Creative Artists Agency), is a free arcade-style adventure game for iPad/iPhone/iPod Touch that encourages players to think about industrial food production and the processed foods that they consume. Players can win coupons for free Chipotle food if they achieve certain goals within the game. There’s also an accompanying short film directed by Brandon Oldenburg and Limbert Fabian, and music by Fiona Apple:

Like their earlier “Back to the Start” campaign, Chipotle’s “Scarecrow” campaign is being praised for putting across its message in an entertaining, classy package. Adweek says, “Branded entertainment goes doesn’t get much more well rounded or better executed than this.”

Moonbot, which won the animated short Oscar in 2012 for The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore, has created a lush and well-conceived feature film-quality universe for The Scarecrow. The golden-hued nostalgia that defines the studio’s visual aesthetic is a perfect complement to the environmental themes of Chipotle’s campaign.

This making-of video reveals some of the effort that went into creating The Scarecrow:

Koji Morimoto Directs Sequence for Lexus-Sponsored Short Film

A little product placement can go a long way, as proven in Mitsuyo Miyazaki’s A Better Tomorrow, a short film about a pair of kidnapped orphans in a water-starved, not-so-distant future.

In the short’s third act, our young protagonists hop into a flying Lexus LF-LC (naturally) and escape their captors via an expressionist anime fantasy sequence directed by Koji Morimoto (Akira, Memories Animatrix) with music composed by Simon Webster. Produced by the Weinstein Company and sponsored by Lexus Short Films, the film premiered at Cannes earlier this year.

If you want to see the animated sequence by itself, here it is:

Artist of the Day: Jesse Balmer

Jesse Balmer

Jesse Balmer draws with skillful lines and renders his creations with tactile forms. His strange ideas multiply the visual impact of his work.

Jesse Balmer

Jesse Balmer

Based in San Francisco, Jesse creates illustrations, comics and artwork that he exhibits in shows. His sketchbook pages are full of similarly fine drawings. He also turns some of his designs into prints and shirts which he sells here.

Jesse Balmer

Jesse Balmer

You can see collected artwork on Jesse’s Flickr account, including an animation storyboard test that Jesse completed for a popular show. More of Jesse’s art can be found on his Tumblr and JesseBalmer.com.

Jesse Balmer

Jesse Balmer

Jesse Balmer

Jesse Balmer

“The Art of Happiness” Is An Adult Animated Feature From Italy

L’arte della felicità (The Art of Happiness), an animated drama about a bitter, existential taxi driver with familial abandonment issues in urban Naples, debuted recently at the Venice Film Festival’s International Film Critics Week section.

The film is a 2D/3D hybrid helmed by first-time feature director Alessandro Rak, a graduate of Rome’s Centro Sperimentale di Cinematografia Film School, and produced by Neapolitan studio Mad Entertainment, newly formed by producers Luciano Stella, Antonio Fresa and Luigi Scialdone. “Italy lags behind in the animation sector, especially in terms of being able to adapt to changing storytelling forms for new media,” Stella told Variety. “We are trying to change that.”


In a recent Q&A with the National Union of Italian Film Critics, director Rak reflected on the processes of resourcefulness and collaboration used during the production of L’arte della felicità: “We tried to realise this film with what and on what was available to us. We looked carefully. We have been lucky enough to collaborate with some talented artists belonging to the new Neapolitan music scene. We can say that this film is also their film, if they are happy with it.”

Reviews for the film have been reserved but hopeful, as typified by Deborah Young’s comments in the Hollywood Reporter:

“…this first feature is promising but stuffed with a little too much to finally click, and an noxiously loud, ever-present music track adds to the confusion. In Italy, young adult audiences will most easily latch on to its crudely expressed but ultimately uplifting message, and the same qualities may entice adventurous offshore buyers.”

The most positive sentiments come from David Ollerton in the London Film Review, whose review also points out how different this is from conventional feature-animation fare:

“The film moves backwards and forwards in time in a whimsical and playful manner as Sergio drives through the city. There is no big drama here, no huge crisis, no hero overcoming an obvious obstacle or struggle. Instead we are presented with a beautiful looking and sophisticated story combining philosophy, memories, love, music and politics all in one easy-going narrative.”

In October, the film will open in Italy through the distributor Luce Cinecittà Institute. Paris-based sales and acquisitions company Elle driver has picked up all international rights so perhaps audiences worldwide will soon have an opportunity to judge for themselves.

Disney Sets North American Release Date for “The Wind Rises”

Disney revealed release plans today for Hayao Miyazaki’s The Wind Rises at the Toronto International Film Festival. Here are the dates:

The film is slated for limited release in North American theaters on Feb. 21, 2014, and expanded release on Feb. 28, 2014, under the Touchstone Pictures banner. The Wind Rises will also open for Academy Award qualification engagements in New York and Los Angeles Nov. 8-14, 2013, showcasing the original film in Japanese with English subtitles.

It would be safe to assume that the consumer theatrical release will be dubbed in English, even though the Oscar-qualification screenings will be English-subtitled, as pointed out in the press announcement.

First Look at “Legend of Korra—Book 2: Spirits”

The Legend of Korra returns to Nickelodeon with a new season this Friday, September 13, at 7pm (ET/PT). While the new season trailer is action-fueled drama (with a glimpse of the first Avatar Wan), we’ve got an exclusive clip featuring Bolin in a lighter moment from the upcoming season:

Korra’s second season, titled Book 2: “Spirits,” takes place six months after the end of Book 1:

Korra has rid Republic City of Amon and the Equalists, but now she must take on an even larger threat as the physical and spirit worlds collide. During the one-hour premiere, “Rebel Spirit/The Southern Lights,” Korra struggles to find a deeper connection with the Spirit World as she and the gang attend a Southern Water Tribe festival. Then, Korra and Chief Unalaq journey into a dangerous maelstrom and find a source of great spiritual power.

The Legend of Korra is co-created by Michael DiMartino and Bryan Konietzko, who also created Avatar: The Last Airbender, and exec produced by DiMartino, Konietzko and Joaquim Dos Santos.

Artist of the Day: Tuna Bora

Tuna Bora

Istanbul-born, LA-based Tuna Bora works as a freelance visual development artist in Los Angeles, applying her skills to feature animation production, games, commercials and more. In a recent personal project, she co-produced an illustration book with Elsa Chang called Tendre Retrouvailles. A few examples of Tuna’s work from this book are above and below.

Tuna Bora

Tuna Bora

Tuna Bora

On her blog, Tuna shares sketches including the animal gesture studies below. These were observed and drawn from the online Figure & Gesture Drawing website which is a useful tool for artists who want convenient drawing practice but don’t have live nude models or wild animals on-hand at that moment.

Tuna Bora

Tuna Bora

Visit Tuna’s website and Tumblr for character designs, gouache studies and plenty more work.

Tuna Bora

Tuna Bora

“The Daws Butler Collection” Collects Hours of Audio Related to the Iconic Voice Actor

The Daws Butler Collection is seventeen-and-a-half hours worth of radio plays, comedy recordings, cartoon scripts, and acting tutorials related to voice acting legend Daws Butler. Butler was the iconic voice of countless Hanna-Barbera characters including Yogi Bear, Huckleberry Hound, Quick Draw McGraw, Elroy Jetson, and Snagglepuss. He also voiced advertising characters, most famously Cap’n Crunch.

The collection of Butler materials is available as an MP3 download ($18.99) or on 18 CDs ($33.56). For the amount of material, it’s a bargain either way.

Sme of the materials are Daws Butler performing himself, and there are also a series of scripts by Butler that are performed by one of his protégés, Joe Bevilacqua. Here’s a rundown of what’s in the audio collection:

  • Daws Butler’s Halloween Happening by Daws Butler: A new production of the classic radio play, this ghostly story was originally written and performed by Daws Butler. Veteran voice actor Joe Bevilacqua teams up with Lorie Kellogg in this new recording, complete with music and sound effects.

  • What the Butler Wrote by Daws Butler: In this series, Joe Bevilacqua presents performances of several scripts Butler wrote for his 1975 acting workshops.

  • Rare Daws Butler by Daws Butler, Stan Freberg, Herschel Bemardi, Shep Menken, and Carol Hemmingway: Daws Butler voiced many of Stan Freberg’s greatest comedy records. Here is a hilarious collection of his never-before-released comedy records.

  • Rare Daws Butler, Volume Two by Daws Butler: A follow-up to Rare Daws Butler, this second collection features another hour of Butler’s rare comedy recordings.

  • Daws Butler Teaches You Dialects by Daws Butler: Voice magician Daws Butler teaches accents and dialects in this radio production.

  • Uncle Dunkle and Donnie by Daws Butler and Joe Bevilacqua: A collection of imaginative cartoon scripts, this series of 35 fables was created by Butler in the 1960s. Here his protégé, Joe Bevilacqua, performs all 97 characters with music and sound effects.

  • Uncle Dunkle and Donnie Two by Daws Butler and Pedro Pablo Sacrista: This second collection of fables features 19 never-before-released recordings of Daws Butler’s stories, as well as two new Uncle Dunkle fables.

  • The Christmas That Almost Never Was by Daws Butler: It is Christmas Eve at the North Pole when Santa Claus loses his “remembery” and only a child who has been good for 365 days can save Christmas! Written and performed by Butler, this children’s radio play was recorded in the 1940s.

For a nice intro to the man, watch this 1986 video in which Daws gives a personal tour of his office: