“The Clangers” Will Come Back in 2015

The BBC has announced that The Clangers, a much-loved British stop motion series from 1969, will return in 2015. The new 52-episode series will air on CBeebies in Britain and on the preschool channel Sprout in the USA, courtesy of the entertainment rights company Coolabi. The animation will be produced by Factory Transmedia and the puppets produced by Mackinnon and Saunders.

The original series, created by writer/narrator Oliver Postgate and modelmaker Peter Firmin, was noted for its charming hand-crafted aesthetic. The pink, mouse-like Clangers themselves were clearly knitted, and their extraterrestrial surroundings were likewise distinctly home-made. As Oliver Postgate himself joked in the 2005 documentary Animation Nation:

In the beginning was the void, and the void was eight-by-five sheets of hardbord painted midnight blue. On the first day threw we stars upon, even unto the uttermost corners, and we looked upon it and saw that it was terrible and started all over again. Would that the good Lord had had a chance to do the same.

Anybody dreading a CGI revival can sleep soundly: speaking to the Independent, Coolabi CEO Jeremy Banks has confirmed that the new series will be stop motion. Original co-creator Peter Firmin, 84, is resuming his old role as puppet-maker (as well as exec producer), while Daniel Postgate—the son of the late Oliver—will supervise the writing of the series.

This marks the first time since the seventies that a Postgate and Firmin series has been revived. In 2005, Oliver Postgate himself commented on failed plans to revive his cutout series The Saga of Noggin the Nog:

[The producers] went all round the world to different TV stations to try and get subscriptions, but for each country they went to, each one wanted it altered to suit their largest-paying audience, so any nuances of fun which we left in got taken out because they mightn’t understand them. When it came back, The Saga of Noggin the Nog was totally changed, all the stories had to be turned round so that it was about Noggin’s son instead, it had to have more violence in it… it was complete rubbish and I told them to get stuffed!

Postgate did, however, give his blessings to a stop-motion version of Noggin the Nog from Aardman, a project which fell through due to a lack of funds. Here’s hoping that the new Clangers will meet a happier fate.

Artist of the Day: Jean Jullien

Jean Jullien

Jean Jullien is a multidisciplinary French artist living in London. He studied at Central Saint Martins and the Royal College of Art.

Jean Jullien

Jean Jullien

Jean’s work often features clever character drawings and thick, black inks with bold, saturated colors. Take a look at Jean’s wide body of work on his portfolio website.

Jean Jullien

Jean Jullien

Jean works closely with the musician Niwouinwouin, who also happens to be his brother, Nicolas. Their collaborative motion work including animation is showcased as the Jullien Brothers.

The Jullien Brothers directed a video for the San Francisco SPCA featuring a catchy piece of music with a warning message. (In this case, the music wasn’t performed by Nicolas, but by Skyrmish):

Jean Jullien

Jullien also keeps a visual diary,example of which can be seen HERE. He writes that he has completed 5,800 pages to date of this wonderful, personal work.

Jean Jullien

Jean Jullien

10 Short Films Shortlisted for 2014 César Award

The French Académie des Arts et Techniques du Cinéma has announced ten animated short films that have been shortlisted for Best Animated Film at the 2014 César Awards. Unlike its American equivalent, the Oscar, the César awards do not distinguish between animated shorts and features. After members of the French Academy screen the films in December, they will choose two nominees from this list. The two shorts will compete in the same category alongside three animated features. The animated film award will be presented at the 39th César awards on February 28th, 2014.

Le Banquet de la Concubine (The Banquet of the Concubine) by Hefang Wei

Betty’s Blues by Remi Vandenitte [Watch the trailer]

Braise by Hugo Frassetto

La Grosse Bête (The Big Beast) by Pierre Luc Granjon

Lettres de Femmes (Women’s Letters) by Augusto Zanovello

Mademoiselle Kiki et les Montparnos by Amélie Harrault [Watch the film]

Palmipedarium by Jérémy Clapin [Watch the trailer]

Peau de Chien (Dog’s Skin) by Nicolas Jacquet [Watch the film]

The Great Rabbit by Atsushi Wada [Watch the trailer]

Tram by Michaela Pavlátová [Watch the film]

(via Catsuka)

Funny “Free Birds” Development Art by John Kricfalusi

There’s no ‘art of’ book planned for Reel FX’s first feature Free Birds, but some development art is appearing online. John Kricfalusi (Ren & Stimpy) contributed ideas to an early version of the film, and has posted character design concepts, as well as some rough CG models based on his work.

Kricfalusi writes on his blog that, “I don’t think anything I did was actually used; it was mostly exploratory stuff…” He also says that he made these drawings for an earlier version of the film, back when it had a different title, Time Turkeys, and a different director, Ash Brannon (Toy Story 2, Surf’s Up). His relationship with Reel FX stretches back to 2008 when he created a series of U.S. Presidential candidate toys.

“Mute” by Job, Joris & Marieke

Mute is a concept that would have been grotesque in live-action but turns into something kind of sweet and charming in animation. It’s a film about a world populated by people born without mouths, and the dark way in which they discover the gift of speech.

It’s to the credit of Dutch filmakers Job, Joris & Marieke (the production moniker of Job Roggeveen, Joris Oprins, and Marieke Blaauw) that they were able to make a baby gushing blood out of its mouth look appealing and cute. That’s the power of good production design, which this film has in spades. The visuals are accompanied by a jolly soundtrack created by the appropriately named Happy Camper.

When I thought about the film afterward, the concept started to fall apart. In a long-established world of people without mouths, wouldn’t they have developed an alternative means of communication instead of struggling to speak through non-existent orifices? Why would they have vocal cords if they have no mouths? Best not to think about it. The film doesn’t exactly hold together on a conceptual level, but it made me smile throughout and that’s good enough for me.

Bruce Timm Creates Short Celebrating 75 Years of Superman

This morning, Entertainment Weekly premiered a new two-minute Superman short created by Bruce Timm and Man of Steel director Zack Snyder. WATCH IT HERE. In two compact minutes, the short documents the highlights and iconic moments of the DC superhero’s career.

Timm told EW:

“It was Zack Snyder’s idea. We had approached him about maybe doing a short for the DC Nation program on Cartoon Network. He said, ‘I’ll think about it,’ and then he had this idea to do basically the entire history of Superman in, like, a minute. We said, ‘Okay … whoooo.’ We started working and quickly realized there was no way to do it, even in a minute.”

The choices of what was included and excluded will no doubt cause grumbling amongst fans, but Timm says that was his crew’s perogative as curators of the piece. “People are going to be arguing about it. ‘Why is that in there, but this isn’t?’”he said. “We had lots of different meetings about it. ‘What has to be in here? What would be nice to be in here but is not absolutely essential?’”

Like Guillermo del Toro’s recent Simpsons titles which relied on a knowledge of classic horror and del Toro’s own body of work, the appeal of Timm’s short derives from an assumed knowledge of Superman mythology. It’s a lovingly produced catalog of other people’s ideas, but it doesn’t hold up partiucularly well on its own merits as an animated film.

The short was produced by Warner Bros. Animation, but unfortunately, no credits were added to the piece. A high-def version of the piece will be included on the Man of Steel Blu-ray that will be released next month.

(via @Paul_Dini)

Joanna Quinn Says Disney Animator’s Comments Are “Complete Rubbish,” Animating Women with Emotions is Easy [UPDATED]

Last week we reported on the controversy sparked by Frozen’s head of animation Lino DiSalvo following his comments about the difficulties of showing emotion on Disney’s female characters due to the fact that they have to be kept ‘pretty.’ Besides the Internet reaction, DiSalvo’s comments generated mainstream media attention, including articles in Slate, NY Mag and the UK’s Independent.

In the Independent, Joanna Quinn, one of the most respected British animators and filmmakers, labeled DiSalvo’s comments “complete rubbish.” Quinn, who has won four BAFTAs, two Emmys, and two Oscar nominations, knows a thing or two about animating women. For years, she has animated impeccable and robust performances featuring all types of characters, but especially women. Quinn went on to say:

“It’s not at all hard to draw women showing emotions. The only challenge is the notion of beauty. It’s really hard to inject lots of emotion because you’re always trying to keep them [as] this sort of shiny, lovely character. I am looking for strong female characters that are not always gorgeous.”

The Disney Company has responded to DiSalvo’s comments as well. A company spokesperson issued a statement to TheWrap.com:

“Animation is an intricate and complex art form. These comments were recklessly taken out of context. As part of a roundtable discussion, the animator was describing some technical aspects of CG animation and not making a general comment on animating females versus males or other characters.”

Three days after DiSalvo’s comments blew up online, Dan Sarto, publisher of Animation World Network, published a laudatory article about the animators of Frozen. In the piece, entitled “The Animation of Disney’s Frozen: Striving to Capture the Performance”, Sarto avoided any mention of the controversy, but featured DiSalvo’s thoughts prominently. DiSalvo talked about his approach to character animation with AWN:

“In Tangled, we broke a wall down. Acting-wise, having Glen [Keane] there to push you to find the truth in what you’re caricaturing, we all learned that on the film. I started Frozen with that knowledge. I learned that all on Tangled. But now, it’s a finely sharpened tool instead of a blunt instrument. When Idina Menzel [the voice of Elsa] came in and we showed her two sequences in particular, she paid us the ultimate compliment. She said, ‘What you guys are doing here, some of the great actors, I don’t see it in their performance.’ She noticed little furrowed brows, wrinkles, eye tension, pulsation in the lips, the breathing.”

[UPDATE—Mon 11:50pm ET] Time magazine has published this piece about the discussion that has started after DiSalvo’s comments. They spoke with Brave director Brenda Chapman, who told the publication: “My immediate reaction was that I was absolutely appalled that anyone would say that.”

Filmmaker and USC professor Christine Panushka told Time that while believable humans are always a challenge to animate, it’s odd to suggest that a woman character would be more difficult than a man because “in terms of skeletons and muscles and how we move, they’re the same.”

[UPDATE #2] Brenda Chapman wrote in the comments section of this Indiewire post that Time misquoted her and took her comments out of context. Chapman said:

I couldn’t agree with your article more! As was DiSalvo’s quote, my comments were taken out of context, as well. It’s very disheartening, the lack of integrity that goes into some reporting. The article in question was a jumble of out of context thoughts and quotes and in the end, didn’t really come to a point.

I would very much like to set the record straight in regards to my reaction to DiSalvo’s quote. If she had continued on with my own quote of my initial reaction of being “appalled”, it would have gone against the type of article she wanted to write. I continued on to say that then I put his quote in the context of what he was really discussing, which were the characters specifically in FROZEN. And it made perfect sense. The two characters, I believe, are sisters (what I gleaned from the trailer) – maybe even twins – I don’t know because I have not yet seen it. Of course, if they look so much alike, it would be difficult to give them individual expressions and make them feel like different people. I was actually trying to defend the poor guy! His only mistake was to use the word “pretty” instead of “appealing”… which I have no doubt was his meaning behind it. As with the TIME article, my words have been taken out of context way too often – so I did recognize it in DiSalvo’s.

My other comments were about the industry in general needing more variety in female characters – both physically and character personality – and NOT at Frozen, which I am very much looking forward to seeing.

Dave Feiss Directs “Cloudy with A Chance of Meatballs 2″ Hand-Drawn Short “Earl Scouts”

Dave Feiss ( Cow and Chicken) directed Earl Scouts, a 2D short with CG wraparounds, as a tie-in for Cloudy with A Chance of Meatballs 2. The 2D animation was produced by 6 Point Harness. While slickly made, the humorous personalities of the film’s characters have been discarded in favor of a warmed-over Ren & Stimpy sensibility. Officer Earl is unmistakably modeled on George Liquor, minus the necessary timing that makes the latter character funny, and pickle and strawberry have obtained the generic over-the-top expressions of countless other post-R&S characters. The ‘dry brush’ rendering of pickle and strawberry is an attractive design choice, but the characters’ personalities and humor pales in comparison to the feature film.

France Will Produce 500 New “Peanuts” Shorts

Peanuts Worldwide, a joint venture between Charles M. Schulz Associates and Iconix Brand Group, has partnered with Normaal Animation and France Televisions to produce five hundred 90-second animated shorts adapted from Schulz’s classic comic strip Peanuts.

The development is part of a business strategy designed to build new global content for the Peanuts franchise that also includes the upcoming CG feature Blue Sky.

“Partnering with a dynamic production house such as Normaal Animation and a leading broadcaster like France Televisions, is a key step in our strategy to build all new content based on the characters and storylines by Charles Schulz,” says Neil Cole, chairman and CEO of Iconix Brand Group. “The new collection and format will also provide us with the opportunity to continually keep the characters in front of new generations of Peanuts fans.”

It has not been officially confirmed whether the new shorts will be animated traditionally or using CGI, and Normaal Animation’s portfolio is no indication as the Parisian studio is responsible for productions like Tangerine and Cow, Gaston and Hello World, which were created in a variety of media.

The animated shorts will be available for international distribution in fall 2014, and will also air on French television station France 3.

Artist of the Day: Niv Bavarsky

Niv Bavarsky

Niv Bavarsky studied at the Maryland Institute College of Art and now makes drawings and prints as an illustrator in the Bay Area.

Niv Bavarsky

Niv Bavarsky

Niv’s marks and lines are full of energy. His personal work is where wiggly clustered forms can take over entire compositions, while his illustrations stay more visually focused on the primary subject.

Niv Bavarsky

Above, an experiment in animation titled, TheLoudTalker.GIF. See another animated loop HERE that was made in collaboration with Michael Olivo.

Niv Bavarsky

Niv’s older work can be found on his abandoned blog, and new work and “odds and ends” on Tumblr. His portfolio website offers a collection of work focused on illustration.

Niv Bavarsky

Niv Bavarsky

Niv Bavarsky

Niv Bavarsky

Niv Bavarsky

Jordan Reichek Talks about His New Shorts Series “Animal Control!”

Jordan Reickek is not a household name, and he prefers to keep it that way. When asked to provide a photo of himself for this piece, he questioned why it was necessary. He could care less about self-promotion; the real goal is to create cartoons of which he can be proud.

He’s spent a long portion of his career working in development, but he’s also been involved with plenty of projects that have made it to the public, including working on the original Ren & Stimpy series and the early years of The Simpsons, directing the pilot of Invader Zim at Nickelodeon, storyboarding on DreamWorks films like Monsters vs Aliens, Megamind and the Kung Fu Panda series, and working with major art world figures Kenny Scharf and Robert Williams to translate their ideas into animation.

For the time that I’ve known him, which has been over a decade, Jordan has always been working on something interesting and different. Recently, he’s been exploring a unique action-oriented, unabashedly cartoony style, and he recently applied this look to a series of animated shorts, Animal Control!, produced for Cartoon Network Asia. This week, he relaunched his production company website PerkyPickle.com which is filled with artwork from throughout his animation career. I interviewed Jordan via email about Animal Control!, his career so far, and where he wants to go with his work.

Cartoon Brew: You started working in the business in the early-1990s, but a lot of people aren’t familiar with your work. Tell me a little about your background.

Jordan Reichek: I sort of fell into animation.  I was majoring in film at schools such as Pratt, NYU and USC.  Not finding what I wanted there, I sought out CalArts and was admitted by Bob Winquist through his school, character animation. My intention was to eventually transfer into the live action program there.  Kinda sneaky!  I didn’t really draw too much at that point, but when I saw what other students like Pete Docter and Ash Brannon were doing for student films, I was hooked.  I dropped live action and stayed in animation.  I worked hard and had weird tastes for the time.  I loved Hanna-Barbera and UPA when the school was leaning towards Don Bluth and the Disney revival of the ’90s.  Eventually, I met John K. while he was starting up the pilot on Ren & Stimpy.  It was right up my alley!  John and I became pretty good friends and he convinced me to leave school and come work for him.  It wasn’t a hard choice.

Since then, I’ve spent a lot of my career in development.  It’s a part of the animation business that doesn’t get too much light shone upon it.  I’d say for every show that gets picked up, there’s twenty that don’t.  Circumstances for choosing those shows varies…a lot!  Starting from a blank page is the hardest thing to do in animation….to bring a show from Post-it note idea, to blueprint, to production and then to the screen.  It’s a painful yet amazingly fun process that I’ve done a lot of.  

Cartoon Brew: You mentioned that you started working on the original Ren & Stimpy. You also spent time working on some of the early years of The Simpsons. How did those experiences inform your career?

Repetition is the key to learning in this field…you can’t cheat repetition, you just gotta do it.

Jordan Reichek: I actually got a job on the first season (yipes!) of The Simpsons while I was helping on the Ren & Stimpy pilot. Springfield during the day, Log at night! There’s no question your first jobs are the most influential…it’s the incubator for how you operate in the business later. For students, I think the first jobs are super important…soak in as much info as you can.  Because John K. is such zealot for the fundamentals, we all were lucky enough to get a first class education from him on the job. I’d say it took a while to sink in though!

Repetition is the key to learning in this field. John taught that. I also remember an excerpt from the Illusion of Life, where Freddy Moore had a scene checklist that he’d pin right above his animation disc—a list of basic fundamentals to make sure every scene had. At first it seems obvious, but then you realize you have to FORCE the fundamentals into being second nature. I forgot the quote, but Chuck Jones also said something like you’ll do 100,000 bad drawings before you’ll do a good one.  Those are good things for any student to remember…you can’t cheat repetition, you just gotta do it.  

Cartoon Brew: Your latest project is Animal Control! It’s an unconventional format—dialogue-less shorts that are a couple minutes each. How did the project come about?

Jordan Reichek: Animal Control! came about from the redevelopment of an existing property for Cartoon Network Asia.  There are actually several, centralized Cartoon Networks around the globe, each tailoring its version of the Cartoon Network signature content for their specific regions.  The Hong Kong based network asked me initially to redevelop their existing property about a zoo, but eventually, we decided to start over with a new property based on my style.  Rather than center on funny animals as central characters, we chose to center the stories on two animal reserve rangers…kinda like the Crocodile Hunter, but dumber.  Although this was supposed to be a pilot, we thought the show would be more interesting to work as several 1-1/2 minute interstitials. Because I have already done some development based on Asian characters, I liked the idea of making the show very “Asian-centric.”

Cartoon Network Asia’s distribution influence is huge, covering most of the Asia Pacific but also a lot of other non-US countries around the globe.  Since quasi-silent comedy such as Tom & Jerry do so well in non-English speaking countries, the network asked if I could write the show for minimal dialogue.  Scary at first, it became a nice challenge to get away with non-verbal dialogue that featured lots of emotional expression. [See all the Animal Control! shorts at the Perky Pickle website.]

Cartoon Brew: Will Cartoon Network Asia air these Animal Control shorts or were they intended as internal studio pilots?

Jordan Reichek: This was intended as simply a pilot.  After discussing with network management, we agreed that although a lot more work, doing ten ‘little stories’ would be more effective to introduce the characters and the world. Apparently, the international Cartoon Network affiliates have a more liberal broadcast structure than in the US. They thought the interstitial route could work well as an intro to their viewers.  I tried to tell a different part of the story with each short, something that would have been difficult with one linear pilot.

Cartoon Brew: The visual style you used on Animal Control was rooted in a show you developed a few years ago based on the Japanese live-action show Robocon. It’s a distinctive and fun look that mixes together Western and Eastern influences without being derivative of any specific style. Can you talk about how this look evolved?

Jordan Reichek: I was asked to do some development for Cartoon Network Japan awhile back on some of their asset properties.  We chose Robocon, the 1970s live action kid show with the rubber suited robot, which was owned by Itochu, the parent company.  I was given carte blanche to make whatever I wanted with the property for a Japan/US co-production.  Not wanting to be tied to the original live action Robocon but still appeal to both the US and Japanese audiences, I had the show take place in Japan with Japanese characters.  I kinda hate when foreign properties are re-worked to be American.   I also love when other countries do their take on Americans, so why not have an American do their impression of Japan?  Accurate?  Probably not, but that’s kind of the point!  It’s like an animated Paul Verhoeven film…probably way off culturally, but still fun to see his weird impression! 

The style is an amalgamation of my work over the years.  It’s got roots in Japanese and French comics, but also the expressive emotional nature of where I started with Ren & Stimpy.  John K. taught the purity of specific drawn emotion over stock or generic acting.  In the case of Animal Control!, I wanted Rangers Ya and Ba to be to funny jerks with real personalities you’d love to hang out with.   In my opinion , that takes organic acting.  My design style hopefully affords that.

All these shows that are variations on a unified world I’m creating.  Think of Matt Groening’s style…everything he does from The Simpsons to Futurama seems like it comes from the same Simpsons god.  Hanna-Barbera was sorta like that.  I want my shows, no matter what form they take, to appear as if they can co-exist in the same space.  The world of Animal Control! can easily exist in the same city as Rainbow Riders! or Robocon.

Cartoon Brew: You’ve been really good at working with artists from outside of animation and adapting their art and ideas to animation—the comics of Jhonen Vasquez, the fine art of Kenny Scharf, the world of painter Robert Williams. Do you seek out these type of collaborations or do they come to you?

Jordan Reichek: In all those cases, I was approached to work with the individual artists.  Not all artists are the same and not all work easily in the collaboratively necessitative world of animation production…some are more open than others.  I have tried to make sure to not overstep the artistic boundary of interpreting into animation what the artist wanted.  Sometimes that’s easier said than done!  The key is finding a middle-ground of what can be achieved in a commercial production process as opposed to a one-shot boutique project.  The next hurdle is convincing the artist and getting them involved in that process.  I have really enjoyed doing that.

Cartoon Brew: What elements are missing in animation nowadays that you want to bring to it?

Jordan Reichek: Well, things are really picking up now.  There’s some terrific, ground-breaking shows like Adventure Time that make you realize the potential of animation.  I think there’s a BIG NEED for individual voices.  I think the gap between what is adult and what is ‘children’s animation’ needs to be less defined.  I know I have been tailoring my work to hopefully fill a void in the content basket that is out there.  I believe now more than ever, specific, individualized points of view will connect best with audiences.  My work is starting to reflect that.  At first, I avoided being pigeon-holed. If you see my work on my site, it’s varied.  Now, I want to begin to explore my personal voice. Kids have always been pretty advanced in their tastes and now, with kids who are constantly connected, they sniff out authenticity more than ever.  I would like to see more people in animation recognized for their potential and given a chance even when they aren’t the squeakiest wheel.  

Cartoon Brew: What you’re planning to do next? And can you tell us anything about something that I’m personally looking forward to—Rainbow Riders?

Jordan Reichek: I actually have a lot of different shows with varied themes that are in planning.  Rainbow Riders! is the first one out of the gate.  It’s a culmination of what I’ve been working on the past few years.  I love doing slapstick comedy but I also love fast vehicular action.  The Animal Control! short “Joy Ride!” is a taste of that. Again, the show is set in a non-defined Asian setting…a fictitious city of the near future a la EPCOT.  A lot of my interests in Japanese comics and live action tokusatsu will be melded with comedic characters and situations.  I have such love for Shotaro Ishinomori’s work and after working with his family on the reboot of Robocon, that got solidified.  The characters and their stories in this one have a good amount of depth and the situation gives the whole story a great backbone. If you love MONSTER, MOTORCYCLES and MORONS, you’ll love Rainbow Riders!

Artist of the Day: Bob Flynn

Bob Flynn

Bob Flynn is an artist originally from Maine who lives in Boston. He works as the art and animation director at FableVision Studios. Bob additionally writes and draws pieces for SpongeBob Comics and designs characters for Cartoon Hangover’s Bravest Warriors.

Bob Flynn

Bob Flynn

Above is a rough and finalized SpongeBob spread, and below a design from Bravest Warriors.

Bob Flynn

Bob Flynn

As a personal pursuit, Bob co-publishes Heeby Jeeby Comix along with David DeGrand, Chris Houghton, and Dan Moynihan. It is an all-ages comic book with spooky, goofy comics in the vein of those found in the defunct Nickelodeon Magazine. It was Nickelodeon Magazine’s demise that inspired these former comics contributors to collaborate on Heeby Jeeby with the intent to fill the kid-friendly cartoony comics void.

Bob Flynn

Bob Flynn

Bob’s personal cartoon world is full of rubbery and hairy big-eyed monsters that could live comfortably between Dr. Seuss’s and Jim Henson’s creature universes.

Bob Flynn

Bob Flynn

Bob shares his thoughts on traditional/digital inking and animation tools on his blog. Here is a collection of posts Bob has written about inking and drawing with Flash. Here is his more recent exploration with Toon Boom.

Bob Flynn

Bob Flynn

Take a look at Bob’s blog, Tumblr, and portfolio to see more work.

Bob Flynn

Exclusive: Sony Animator Peter Nash Talks About the Foodimals in “Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs 2″

I had the chance to see Sony’s Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs 2 a few days ago, and was delighted to see the continued evolution of the studio’s visual language. Their approach to computer animation remains unique amongst major feature animation studios and the film is a triumph of animation, production design and graphic charm.

Among the film’s many visual highlights is the Foodimals, the deliciously insane zoo of pun-derived food animals that look like the fever-dream concoctions of a starving man. The designs of these characters run the gamut from cute and goofy to fearsome and majestic. What ties them together is an allegiance to fun and imagination—take for example, the ‘hippotatomus’ whose got a butter slab-lining inside his mouth and peas for teeth or the ‘crabcake’ who sports cupcakes for eyes. The dot eyes on many of the Foodimals is a great touch that, again, speaks to a contemporary design approach that is wholly unconvential in mainstream feature CG. The whimsical cherry-on-top that made these characters so effective was the contrast between their outlandish designs and their obsessively detailed photoreal textures.

A lesser studio might have blown their wad on the design of the characters and neglected to animate them in an equally unique way. Thankfully, this was not the case at Sony. Each of the Foodimals is accompanied by its own distinctive personality traits and style of movement that takes full advantage of the design. That leads us to today’s video, which was provided exclusively to us by Sony. In it, Peter Nash, senior animation supervisor at Sony Pictures Imageworks, sheds some behind-the-scenes details on the the crew’s approach to the Foodimals, and the considerations that went into both designing and animating these fantastic cartoon creations.

“Retreat!” by Lizzi Akana

Brooklyn-based Lizzi Akana directed “Retreat!” for Sharon Jones and the Dap-Kings. After Jones had finished writing and recording the song, she learned that she had cancer and subsequently had to cancel her album release and tour to undergo surgery. Now that she’s fully recovered, the theme of the song is more poignant than before, and Akana’s new video announces her triumphant return to the music scene.

It’s great fun to watch the video, in large part due to Lizzi’s ability to merge a slick commercial style with an indie filmmaker’s spirit of experimentation. She wrote about her eclectic grab bag of influences for the project:

Aesthetically, we took inspiration from many sources. Daptone is an independent label whose sound harkens back to classic soul of the late 60’s and 70’s, so we started our research by pouring over classic psychedelic animation that popularized that era. We took notes from films such as Yellow Submarine, Fantastic Planet, The Point, The Wall, and Heavy Metal, but also looked to individual artists outside of that sphere. We were particularly inspired by the work of Alan Aldridge, the theatricality of Busby Berkeley, and the backgrounds of Eyvind Earle, specifically his strong silhouetted designs in Sleeping Beauty. We even did a fair amount of research into Greek mythology and fairy tales to bring larger themes into play. By pulling inspiration from many influences, we strove to create a unique world that would ultimately strengthen Sharon’s mythology.

Below is a making-of progression. Plenty more behind-the-scenes stuff at the Slanted Studios website:

CREDITS
Director: Lizzi Akana
Art Director: Erin Kilkenny
Technical Director: Michelle Higa Fox
Additional Design: Josh Goodrich
Animation: Josh Goodrich, Shixie Shi, Tim Beckhardt, David Hobizal, Leah Shore, Gabriel Pulecio, Nika Offenbac
Watercolor Animation: Leeanne Brennan
FX Animation: Matt Timms
Production Company: Slanted Studios
Executive Producer: Michelle Higa Fox

Animation Vets Clay Kaytis and Fergal Reilly Will Direct “Angry Birds” Feature

Rovio Entertainment, the Finnish makers of the Angry Birds franchise, have recruited Clay Kaytis (pictured left) and Fergal Reilly to co-direct a 3D CG animated feature based on the popular game. The film will be released on July 1, 2016 by Sony Picures, according to Deadline.

This will be the directorial debut for both artists. Kaytis, who was an animation supervisor on Tangled and Bolt, recently left Disney after nineteen years at the studio. He is also known in the community for his Animation Podcast. Reilly has been a story artist since the mid-1990s, with his credits including The Iron Giant, Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs, The Smurfs, Spider-Man 2, and Hotel Transylvania. He had been slated to co-direct Sony’s The Familiars with Doug Sweetland; the status of that project is unclear.

Jon Vitti (The Simpsons, Alvin and the Chipmunks, King of the Hill) is writing the screenplay. Rovio has announced that they will produce the film in-house, though one may assume that they will set up an LA satellite and not produce the entire film in Finland.

Artist of the Day: Jim Stoten

Jim Stoten

Jim Stoten works as an illustrator in the UK, producing pieces for print publication, apparel, walls and various art projects.

Jim Stoten

Jim Stoten

He has an uncanny ability to find the humor in mundane editorial subjects, like “food blogging,” below:

Jim Stoten

Jim Stoten

Jim also plays music in Owen and the Eyeballs and makes his own home recordings. Recently Jim released a decade’s worth of his music online, and created an animated promo video for the occasion:

Jim Stoten

See Jim’s work on his portfolio website and at his repping agency Big Active.

Jim Stoten

Jim Stoten

Jim Stoten

Jim Stoten

Jim Stoten

See Video Footage of Richard Williams Speak in Los Angeles

The Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences has posted four excerpts from Richard Williams’ sell-out appearance last Friday in Los Angeles. In the clip above, Williams speaks about Milt Kahl and The Jungle Book. The rest of the clips are identified below.

The big news that came out of the event was that Williams will allow a workprint of Thief and the Cobbler to be screened at the Academy in December. In the past, Williams has distanced himself from the production as much as he could—an understandable position considering the personal pain that is associated with it. It is great to see him finally embracing the film, which even in its incomplete state, has many marvelous moments of artistic and technical achievement.

How Disney films inspired Richard:

The making of A Christmas Carol:

The making of Who Framed Roger Rabbit:

Breaking: Pixar Canada Just Shut Down; 100 Employees Let Go [UPDATED]

Just three years after it opened, Pixar Canada shut down today leaving over one hundred people unemployed, according to the Province. A Disney spokesperson, Barb Matheson, said that, “A decision was made to refocus operations and resources under the one roof. Staff were just told today. Not great news, obviously. It was just a refocussing of efforts and resources to the one facility.”

The studio, which worked primarily on shorts based on existing Pixar IP, had created films like Air Mater, Small Fry, and Partysaurus Rex. The news took a lot of people by surprise, including Partysaurus Rex director Mark Walsh, who posted this simple message on his Twitter account:

Pixar Canada animator Daniel Floyd is taking the whole thing in stride:

Sarah McNair, Pixar Canada’s director of human resources, calls it the saddest day of her professional career:

UPDATE: On Monday, just one day before the studio closure, the Province paper published this article about Pixar Canada’s studio space.

“Is there a place more beautiful than Vancouver?” asks John Lasseter. Real question: how much longer do you think this video will stay online?

“Frozen” Head of Animation Says Animating Women is “Really, Really Difficult”

Disney’s Frozen won’t be released theatrically for another month-and-half, but it’s already melting into one giant slushee of controversy. Some people have chosen to boycott the film because of the chauvinist revisions to its storyline. But the real shitsnowstorm of controversy started from within the studio after Lino DiSalvo, the head of animation on Frozen, claimed that it was “really, really difficult” to animate women because they have to be kept pretty while expressing emotions:

“Historically speaking, animating female characters are really, really difficult, because they have to go through these range of emotions, but you have to keep them pretty and they’re very sensitive to — you can get them off a model very quickly. So, having a film with two hero female characters was really tough, and having them both in the scene and look very different if they’re echoing the same expression; that Elsa looking angry looks different from Anna being angry.”

These comments were reposted on Tumblr earlier this afternoon, and tens of thousands of users have added notes to the initial post, while criticism has emerged from other well known creative practitioners, like comic artist Faith Erin Hicks on Twitter:

In fairness to DiSalvo, I get what he’s saying as an animator. Female characters in animation typically have a more limited range of facial expressions than their male counterparts, and they are caricatured only in villainous (think Cruella de Vil or Medusa in The Rescuers) or comedic contexts. Even Golden Age Disney animators complained about being assigned princesses and other female leads because they were expected to keep these characters within a predictable range of acting. Put two on the screen at the same time, and it becomes an instant challenge.

But DiSalvo’s comments about women having to look pretty and having a limited range of expression are not inherent rules within animation; they are arbitrary aesthetic choices that have been handed down from one generation of Disney animators to the next. Feature film animators choose to use a recycled palette of expressions and they choose to portray woman as cardboard cutouts because directors choose to make these type of films—and entertainment companies profit handsomely when they do.

The Disney Company grosses billions of dollars every year from its Disney Princess franchise. If a company can earn money simply by reducing half of the world’s population into a generic and falsified ideal of beauty, more power to them.

Enlightened animation fans, however, have begun to reject this male-dominated view of animated women, and they have been using every slight opportunity to express their discontent. Someday, an animation company will heed the call and create films with believable women characters that represent the full emotional, mental and physical spectrum of women. Until then, we’ll have to settle for Tangled, Brave and Frozen.

“Upstairs” by Matthias Hoegg

In the brilliant three-minute short Upstairs, Matthias Hoegg imagines what goes on behind the doors of our neighbors’s apartments. It’s a simple idea executed by a filmmaker with a superb understanding of visual storytelling possibilities in animation. Hoegg uses a box motif to both represent the claustrophobic physical living space of apartment dwellers and neatly frame the intensifying stream of paranoia running through the mind of the main character.

Hoegg also exhibits mastery of his digital toolbox and achieves a distinctive look using a seamless workflow of Photoshop, Illustrator, Flash, After Effects and Maya. The short was commissioned by Channel 4′s Random Acts and produced by Not To Scale London in association with Lupus Films. His student short Tuesday appeared in Cartoon Brew’s inaugural Student Animation Festival in 2010.

CREDITS
Director: Matthias Hoegg
Sound and music: David Kamp
Voices: Steve Furst
Additional Animation: Jason Kotey, Nick Brooks
Tape mastering: Munky
Producer: Daniel O’Rourke

“Boats” Explains How Animation Blockbusters Are Made

Is there anything more worthy of lampooning than bottom line-feeding studio executives unapologetically infecting a once-trusted movie studio with their white-collar smarm and misguided enthusiasm? In Boats, a group of suits brainstorm a new CGI franchise while spoofing committee thinking and corporate sycophancy. The video, written and directed by Justin Dec, takes creative liberties with its portrayal of how an animation studio works, but the results of the meeting certainly ring authentic.

The Russian “Snow Queen” Will Open This Friday

If you can’t wait until November to see Disney’s Frozen, there’s another CG film based on the Hans Christian Andersen fairytale The Snow Queen opening in the U.S. this Friday. It’s a Russian pic called, simply, The Snow Queen. This is the second time the fairytale has been made as an animated feature in Russia; the first time was Lev Atamanov’s 1957 feature of the same name.

This new CG version, which sticks more faithfully to Anderson’s original story than the upcoming Disney version, was produced by Voronzh, Russia-based Wizart Animation. It looks fairly cheap, but keep in mind its budget was $7 million (or somewhere in the ballpark of 1/25th the cost of Frozen). Directed by Vladlen Barbe and Maksim Sveshnikov, it has grossed over $10 million worldwide including $7.5M from Russia (where it was released in 2012), $1.5M from South Korea and $1M from Brazil.

Upstart indie distributor Vertical Entertainment will release the film theatrically in the U.S., and a DVD release is scheduled for the day before Disney’s theatrical release. The film’s official Tumblr has some details on the few theaters, so far, that will screen the film.

This Wednesday in London: Run Wrake Memorial Event

Director and animator Run Wrake died from cancer last year, much too young at age 47. This Wednesday in London, onedotzero and the Royal College of Art will present a memorial event to celebrate Wrake’s life and work. The program will take place at the RCA campus (Kensington Gore, London, SW7 2EU):

The evening will feature a screening program of his most celebrated short films, commercial work and music visuals, introduced by stellar guest speakers from key points in his career. Plus there will be a small exhibition of print work and long-time collaborator, Howie B, will take up the deck’s in RCA’s Art Bar to play music from Run’s extensive LP collection.

The program will begin at 6:30pm. It’s unticketed and seats are available on a first-come basis so arrive early.

“Gravity” Breaks October Box Office Record

The jury is still out on whether we should call Alfonso Cuarón’s Gravity an animated film, but one thing we can call it with certainty is a blockbuster. The film opened this weekend in the U.S. and Canada with a massive $55.6M (est.), setting a new box office record for openings in the month of October. The film also surprised the film industry by earning 80% of its gross from 3D screens. The 3D share of most features nowadays ranges between 30-55%.

The animation and vfx created by Framestore comprises eighty percent of the film’s visuals. There is little doubt that the makers of the film had an animator’s mindset when they made the film. The film’s exec producer Chris DeFaria, who has produced numerous animated films, explained their approach in a 2012 interview:

“Instead of trying to create real people and what they’re doing, let’s turn it around and create almost an entirely animated film and then backwards engineer the people into that film. As a matter of fact, let’s not even engineer the people into the film, let’s engineer their faces. So you’ve got these little faces inside these little helmets.”

Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs 2 dipped a respectable 37% to an estimated $21.5M and a second place finish. In its first ten days, Cloudy 2 has earned a solid $60.6M in the US. The film is being rolled out slowly overseas, where it has grossed $11 million to date. It’s still too early to make predictions about how it will perform in international territories.

How Dozens of Artists Worked Together to Create “The Doodle Project”

Playfully referred to as “a big collaborative group hug,” The Doodle Project brings together the diverse artistic styles of 62 designers and 14 musicians from over 20 countries into one compact, illustrative showcase.

After animating a bare bones stick figure in motion, animator Dante Zaballa invited some artist friends to flesh out the work by having each person contribute five frames of character designs over the existing animation. He was encouraged to expand the project to designers outside of his immediate social circle. “I made a list of these far away idols and started sending e-mails to all of them,” Zaballa tells Cartoon Brew.
Despite some “really confusing” conversations with prospective contributors in the beginning, the guidelines were simple: each illustrator would provide one unique character design per frame of animation. The intention was to create a “flickering visual effect” that motivates the viewer to pause the video on any given frame to inspect not only the detailed design work, but the credits of each individual artist as well.

“I never thought it would sound interesting for anyone to get an e-mail from an unknown guy, asking them to design five characters for animation. [However] lots of people, even the busy ones who couldn’t join in, got as excited as me about the project.”

CREDITS:
IDEA AND ANIMATION
Dante Zaballa

HAND LETTERING
Guillermina Gomez (aka Kind Instants)

CHARACTER DESIGN
Argentina:
Chu
Colorblok
Ezequiel Matteo
Fernando Bruno
Gabriel Fermanelli
Juan Casal
Juan Molinet
Juan Vegetal
Juli Satran
Kind Instants
Leo Campasso
Manu Correa Soto
Manó Madé
Matias Vigliano
Maximiliano Alejandro Zas
Seba Acampante
Sonni
Superflashilandia

Brazil:
César Pelizer
Ygor Marotta

Canada:
Andrea Wan
Nicolas Ménard
Noam Sussman

China:

Mak Ying Ping
Wong Ping

England:

Billy
Max Taylor
Osian Efnisien
Peter Millard
Sam Taylor
Sebas and Clim
Tsktsk
Wesley Louis

France:
Anne-Lou Erambert
Cheyenne Cruchon
Loup Blaster
Mathilde Kitteh
Max Maleo
Olivia Blanc
Pierre Zenzius
Souv
Thomas Rouzière
Vaiana Gauthier
Yoann Hervo

Germany:

Dana Damki
Fons Schiedon
Max Gärtner
Robert Loebel

Holland:
Mark Verhaagen
Niels Kalk

Japan:

Akinori Oishi
Keita Takahashi
Motomichi Nakamura

Switzerland:

Michael Frei
Rylsee

Fran Cunha – (Uruguay)
Leo Espinosa (Colombia)
Martin Allais (Venezuela)
Ori Toor (Israel)
Paolo Pochettino (Italy)
Pincheloco (Mexico)
Raymo Ventura (US)
Thomas Eide – (Norway)
Yeka Haski (Russia)

SOUND MASTERING
Fede Chiclana

MUSIC
Blake Stone
Claus Hesse
David Kamp
Fede Chiclana
Flor Zaballa
Horacio Giraldez
Jorge Jaramillo
Juan Tortarolo
La Ola Que Queria Ser Chau
Muveo
Nacho Czornogas
Raymo Ventura
Seba Acampante
Tall Juan