It’s Official: Glen Keane Joins Motorola to Direct Interactive Hand-Drawn Short Film

We first announced last week that Glen Keane may be working on a project for Google-owned Motorola. Well, they officially announced today that the 59-year-old former Disney animator and director will be making an interactive hand-drawn short for Motorola’s Spotlight Stories initiative, developed by their Advanced Technologies and Project group.

If you’ve seen Jan Pinkava’s CG short for Motorola, Windy Day (more on that soon, I promise), you can understand why this is such a bold and surprising move for Keane. Unlike 3-D, this technology actually allows for a different kind of narrative experience. Combined with new technologies like Google Glass, the pioneering work being done right now by Pinkava, Keane, and others could have a disruptive impact on entertainment over the next couple decades.

Here’s the official announcement:

To animate means to bring to life.

Glen Keane’s work seems larger than life. As the creator and animator of beloved Disney characters such as Ariel from The Little Mermaid, Aladdin, Pocahontas, the Beast from Beauty and the Beast, and Tarzan, Glen has drawn more than figures on a screen. He has made the stories and characters of our childhoods. He gave us imaginary friends, admired heroines, misfits in search of understanding, and at least a Halloween costume or two.

At Motorola’s Advanced Technology and Projects group, we believe in the power of storytelling, so we’re building new stories made specifically for mobile. Not stories made for the big screen but shown on a small one. Not flat content. We’re building interactive, immersive stories made for your smartphone.

So we’re excited to announce that Glen—the artist behind so many classics—is working with us to push the future of animation with an original Spotlight Story.

Expected to release the middle of 2014, in this third Motorola Spotlight Story, Glen is going back to the drawing board. Literally. Together with the engineers who unlocked the graphics technology that made our first Spotlight Story, Windy Day, possible on the Moto X, we’re pushing new edges. The raw emotion of the hand-drawn line brought to life in our technological world. And yours.

What will happen when a master animator of the big screen jumps to an innovative, mobile canvas? We’re excited to see.

“How to Train Your Dragon 2″ Trailer Is Released

How to Train your Dragon 2, set five years after Hiccup and Toothless’s earlier adventures, now has a full trailer. In the trailer, a mysterious character, Valka, is introduced, and then her identity is immediately revealed to the viewer as Hiccup’s mother. Even if that scene takes place early in the film, it boggles the mind that a studio would spoil a key emotional moment months before a film is released. Directed by Dean DeBlois, How to Train Your Dragon 2 will premiere on June 13, 2014.

Artist of the Day: Raymond Lemstra

Raymond Lemstra

Raymond Lemstra is an artist living in Amsterdam. He creates drawings of figures with strange distorted features, some emphasized and others reduced. After prepatory drawings in his sketchbook, he meticulously draws many of his pieces in pencil without any underdrawing. A lot of his work references indigenous cultures’ masks and artwork, which he talks about more here.

Raymond Lemstra

Raymond Lemstra

Raymond Lemstra

Raymond Lemstra

Raymond Lemstra

Raymond Lemstra

Visit Raymond’s portfolio website and blog for more intriguing work.

Raymond Lemstra

Prepare for the Mary Blair Invasion

Thirty-five years after her death, the iconic animation artist Mary Blair is getting artistic representation. The Mary Blair Estate has teamed up with Firefly Brand Management to spread her whimsical and colorful creations to “a wide range of products, including cosmetics, home décor, accessories, apparel, and collectibles.” Firefly also represents such brands as Skippy Peanut Butter, Mr. Bubbles, the Village People, Etch A Sketch, and SPAM.

Maggie Richardson, who is Mary Blair’s niece, said in the announcement:

“My sister Jeanne and I are thrilled to be working with the dynamic, cutting edge team at Firefly. We both grew up around Mary and her art – not only her Disney, children’s books and other projects, but the art she did for herself, her family and friends and for special occasions – created from pure enjoyment and her deep love of painting. This unique and versatile body of work spans Mary’s lifetime and is imbued with her now famous Mary Blair Magic. We are delighted to be sharing it through our new association with Firefly.”

On the one hand, it’s nice to see Mary Blair’s artwork disseminated in the public sphere. On the other hand, Mary’s artwork, charming and fun as it may have been, was created as she battled addiction, an emotionally abusive spouse, and all sorts of difficult family issues. It’s tacky to see people who had nothing to do with her art profiting from work created under such tragic circumstances.

“Frozen” Story Head Paul Briggs Talks About Truth in Storytelling

The Disney studio has famously attempted to adapt Hans Christian Andersen’s The Snow Queen as far back as the 1940s. However, it wasn’t until the late 2000s when director Chris Buck (Tarzan, Surf’s Up) took a pass on the story that it started to come together as a fully realized idea upon which Disney would create Frozen.

Paul Briggs, story department supervisor at Walt Disney Animation Studios and the Head of Story on Frozen, sat down with Cartoon Brew to talk about the importance of finding a place of truth when developing an animated film and the different paths that must be explored in order to discover the characters. In his role, Briggs is part of the studio’s story trust, and “keeper” of the “safe room,” which is the nickname for the Disney’s writer’s room where artists and writers feel safe to share personal things from their own lives to help inform the stories they are telling. (Spoilers follow.)

Elsa and Anna
One of the biggest changes that Chris Buck brought to the production was turning Andersen’s distant, abstract character of the Snow Queen, and Gerda, the protagonist trying to rescue a loved one from the curse of a frozen heart, into the sisters Elsa and Anna. This fundamentally changed the dynamic of the story to something more grounded and relatable.

“Chris started with the simple idea of love,” says Briggs who has four sisters of his own. “The strength of familial love vs. romantic love.” The concept was then expanded to “love vs. fear,” which provided clearer guidance for the motivations of the principal characters. “Elsa lives in fear because she’s afraid she’s going to hurt the ones she loves, while Anna has so much love in her, but is never able to give it to anyone.”

“I knew before the film was released that people would have that reaction: ‘Oh. He’s the comic relief character,’” Briggs says of Olaf, the optimistic snow man that the two sisters build together as children. “[But] he’s serving a stronger purpose; he symbolizes the love between them.” Earlier versions of Olaf had him as the general in the Snow Queen’s snow man army, but as the story evolved, so did he, until the filmmakers hit upon the idea that he would represent the pure, fundamental connection between the two women.

The presentation of this theme in the final film may be fairly subtle to some viewers as there is no big scene where Olaf is first brought to life and his purpose is illustrated. Was the decision to leave this moment out a conscious choice? “We never actually had that [moment],” says Briggs.” We never got notes, we never felt the need to address it.”

“It took a while to find him,” says Briggs of Kristoff, the loner ice deliveryman who helps Anna on her journey. Since Kristoff doesn’t exist in the source material, he went through a good deal of changes before they settled on the character in the film. “We played with the idea of him being a man of few words with a deep connection to nature, really true grit, gruff and rough around the edges. But it just got really boring and didn’t get the interaction with Anna that we wanted.”

Hans is the fairy tale prince from a far away land who steals Anna’s heart, and then, in an unexpected twist, plots to steal the kingdom of Arendale by attempting to murder the two sisters. The storytellers spent a great deal of time questioning his motivations and received a lot of feedback requesting that they give the audience a clue of his real character earlier in the film.

“In every screening, we were burying this secret and people always wanted us to tip our hand,” Briggs says. “But we stood our ground.” When asked if he believed Hans’ arguably light punishment in the finale fit the severity of his crimes, Briggs thought it was appropriate. “We never wanted him to go down the path of falling on his own sword or dying.” However, he does admit to personally wanting a little bit of chivalry in the end. “I always wanted Kristoff to come in and punch Hans in the face.” Director Jennifer Lee insisted, perhaps rightly so, that it should be Anna who takes a swing.

Paul Briggs is currently working on Big Hero 6, the upcoming Disney/Marvel Comics feature, which by definition alone, will be action-packed and visually thrilling, however, he’s quick to point out that the same rules apply to every story. “I’m really excited to work on a Marvel superhero movie,” he says, “but finding a pure, emotional, universal truth that everybody can relate to is what excites me the most.”

23 Creative Christmas Cards by Disney Legend Ward Kimball

Between the mid-1930s and the mid-1960s, legendary Disney animator Ward Kimball, one of the studio’s vaunted Nine Old Men, created an annual Christmas card for both friends and family. The cards proved hugely popular, and the list of recipients numbered over one thousand by the time he designed his final card in 1966.

I ran across these cards while I was researching Ward’s biography (the same biography that the Walt Disney Company desperately doesn’t want the public to see) and was immediately enamored with them, mostly because they offer such a pure insight into Ward’s quirky sense of fun and creativity.

The cards reveal Ward’s artistic restlessness and continual search for new visual concepts. They also document the evolution of his drawing style during the mid-Forties from traditionally rounded cartoon forms to confidently stylized illustration. This same shift can be seen in the streamlined characters he animated at Disney in the same period on films such as Peter and the Wolf and Pecos Bill.

His wife, Betty, and the three Kimball children—Kelly, John, and Chloe—often participated in the creation of the cards and were featured prominently in photographs. “When I was little, I was a happy kid and a camera was fine,” Kelly Kimball told me. “Then I became self-conscious [at a] very young age, and I didn’t like the camera pointing at me…And I had a father who wanted to document everything with the camera. It drove me nuts.”

Click on any of the images to enlarge.


Original art for 1936 card






Scan detail of original artwork for 1942 card












Outtake photo from 1958 card




Original photo paste-up of card




Outtake photo from 1966 card

BONUS: Early-1950s drawing by Ward of his band, the Firehouse Five Plus Two

And here’s the Firehouse Five playing “Jingle Bells”:

New Markets for Animators: Crime Re-enactment Films

Here’s a new and potentially lucrative market for animators: recreating alleged crimes with computer animation. Yes, primitive CG is often used in trials to describe locations and recreate crime scenes, but attorney Dan Gilleon is expanding the technique to create character animation that depicts physically accurate representations of the people involved in the incident and their interactions with each other.

Last week Gilleon released a computer animated film in a civil sexual harassment lawsuit filed against disgraced former San Diego mayor and convicted creep, Bob Filner. The video documents Filner’s allegedly crude behavior toward the accuser. Gilleon isn’t done yet either. “For this initial release, we downplayed some of the more severe acts by Filner, such as the initial handlock and the later headlock that included his elbow rubbing her breasts,” the attorney told a local San Diego TV station. “The story and animation will be developed as depositions occur, such as when the two park rangers depicted in the animation testify.”

Gilleon intends to introduce the computer-animated film as evidence in the lawsuit. While that plan seems unlikely to be allowed by the courts, the film has already served its purpose as a tactic to draw attention to the case. In the coming years, this novel use of animation could proliferate in our increasingly animated society, and it’s both tempting and troubling to think how a professional-quality animated film that strikes the right emotive notes might decisively alter the outcome of a future lawsuit.

Animated Holiday Greetings 2013, Vol. 1

‘Tis the season for animated holiday greetings. Here’s a selection of some of the pieces we’ve come across recently.

Santa Claus’ Carbon Footprint by Pixileon (France)

Director: Jeremy Depuydt
Writers: Erik Struyf, Jeremy Depuydt
Voice: Théo Wenger
Voice recording, consultant: Loïc Villiot

A Synthesizer for Christmas by Ambar Navarro (USA)

Animated/Directed by Ambar Navarro
Music by Hyperbubble
Additional Animation: Julian Petschek, Tempe Hale, Quique Rivera Rivera, Isabela Dos Santos, Tomas Christian
Post-Production: Julian Petschek
Shot at BE∆RD H∆US
Made at CalArts, 2013.

Snowflake by Eoin Duffy (UK)

Hyvää Joulua by Mummu (UK)

Art Direction & Animation: Sam Atkin
Sound Design: Oswald Skillbard

Joyeux Temps des Fêtes coquin! by Squeeze Studio (Canada)

British Animation Landscape is Robust but Underfunded, New Report Reveals

Animate Projects, the non-profit organization that supports experimental animation in Britain, has always been keen to adapt. Officially formed in 2007, its roots go back further: it grew up around the Animate scheme, a collaboration between Channel 4 and the Arts Council that was initiated in 1990.

The Animate scheme closed down in 2011 after the Arts Council ceased funding the project as part of Britain’s austerity budget. Animate Projects remained, however, and continued to find new ways to back inventive animation. The organization is now aiming to set up a new initiative entitled Accelerate Animation, due to begin its activities in spring 2014.

Earlier this month Animate Projects released a comprehensive report that will inform the creation of the scheme. Looking into the animation community of Britain, this document paints a picture of a skilled workforce that is lacking in post-graduation guidance, with local but not national frameworks in place.

The report is based on contributions from animators across the UK, with information gathered through surveys, interviews, and a roundtable discussion about the needs and future of British animation. It emphasizes the range of animation being produced in the country—from art installations and independent films to music videos and computer games—and celebrates this diversity, while stressing the need for more animation that exists outside of children’s entertainment.

The document hails independent animation as the true soul of British animation. A selection of quotations from various animation artists back up this belief, such as this comment from Paul Bush:

People starting out should stick with working on what is true to them, and not bend overly to fashion, market forces or what others say. Fashions change, and there is enough commonality of human experience for all work to connect with an audience.

It is enlightening to see the statistics that have been gathered by the survey, which give an idea of how the British animation industry is currently structured. When the contributors were asked what kind of projects they work on, the biggest proportion—76%—named independent films for festivals and cinemas. The next largest categories were online projects (45%) and advertising (41%). Television and music videos each scored 37%, while feature films earned a relatively low 18%. It would be interesting to compare these statistics with the US industry, which would doubtless show a rather larger proportion of feature animators.

Another factor that is emphasized is a general lack of money. Only 36 of the survey respondents received funding; 86% instead self-funded their animation.

The conclusion reached by the report is that Accelerate Animation should prioritize three areas: helping networks between members of the British animation community; developing skills and talent amongst animators, with Accelerate assembling a faculty of as-yet-unnamed leading figures to provide guidance; and providing advocacy for animation, with the scheme seeking to improve public understanding of the medium and to lobby organizations such as the BFI and Arts Council England for additional funding.

British cinema has a history of obtaining funds from public money. From 1957 to 1985 a tax on box office receipts, dubbed the Eady Levy, boosted the national industry; at around the same time the government-funded National Film Finance Corporation helped such films as The Third Man and Saturday Night and Sunday Morning to get off the ground. More recently the UK Film Council, which existed from 2000 to 2010, used National Lottery funds to back films such as Millions, This is England and The King’s Speech—along with a critically panned comedy entitled The Sex Lives of the Potato Men, which resulted in controversy over how such public grants should be spent.

With its continued ties to the Arts Council, and the emphasis of its report on the lack of funding currently faced by British animators, the new scheme looks set to fit within this tradition. We wish it well.

For more information, including profiles of many animators who contributed to the report, see the Accelerate Animation website.

Images in this post from top to bottom:
The Royal Oak by Sandra Salter
Still from Wonky Films
Chipotle sponsored short directed by Johnny Kelly (Nexus)

12 Days of Inappropriate Elves by Dan and Jason (NSFW)

Dan & Jason, New York commercial directors and creators of the Nick/Teletoon series Rocket Monkeys, decided to celebrate the holidays this year with twelve days of naughty elf cartoons. The micro-shorts are guaranteed to provide some chuckles, or at the very least, disgust you. Today, they unveiled the eighth one in the series, which is posted above.

“The holidays are so saturated with phony cheer that these little manics seemed like a good foil,” Dan Abdo tells Cartoon Brew. “I got to say it felt really good letting our ids run a wild in the form of these sick elves. Jason [Patterson] and I are making these because we wanted to make something that was straight up just for fun! There’s no money, no show, just pure mindless silliness.” For more elf misbehavior, visit their YouTube page.

“Arcadia” by Federico Gutiérrez

Arcadia is the playful utopia of eternal childhood. The film is a four week project made with the support of the Digital Culture Center in Mexico City. The film is animated traditionally, colored with markers and composited in After Effects.

Script, direction, animation: Federico Gutiérrez
Original score and sound design: Manuel Velazquez

WWE Throws Itself Into The Cartoon Ring with Scooby-Doo and Fred Flintstone

Get ready to rumble, because beginning in 2014, WWE Studios will be body slamming you with a tag team of cartoon collaborations and an original animated series based on their WWE Superstars called Camp WWE.

The adult web series, Camp WWE, which will be released on WWE’s digital platforms in 13 three-minute episodes, is a co-production with Film Roman (The Simpsons, King of the Hill), who is also co-financing the series with WWE. It will be written by Mike Benson (Entourage, The Bernie Mac Show), and will feature delinquent kiddie versions of wrestlers sent off to be reformed by Mr. McMahon, “the most terrifying counselor who ever lived.”

And debuting on home video on March 25, John Cena, The Miz, Brodus Clay Kane and their associates will team up with Mystery, Incorporated in Scooby-Doo WrestleMania Mystery. A collaboration between WWE Studios and Warner Home Entertainment, the story centers on Scooby and the Gang’s attempts to solve the case of a mysterious ghost bear haunting the WrestleMania event in WWE City. This will be followed up by another DVD release in 2015, when The Flintstones attend the very first WWE event and attempt to exhaust viewers with a barrage of geologically themed monikers like Vince McMagma, John Cenastone and CM Punkrock.

New “Powerpuff Girls” Special Will Debut in January

The new Powerpuff Girls special, titled Dance Pantsed, will debut on Cartoon Network January 20th at 7:30pm (ET/PT). The show will feature a new character, flamboyant mathematician Fibonacci Sequins, voiced by Ringo Starr. Starr will also perform a new song titled “I Wish I Was A Powerpuff Girl.”

In Dance Pantsed, why is Mojo Jojo kidnapping a mathematician, an opera singer and a badger? To steal Chemical X, of course, and to finally take over Townsville. But when the Powerpuff Girls thwart his plan, he invents an evil video game called “Dance Pants R-EVILution” to control their minds and bodies to fulfill his evil plot! The Professor must visit his dark dancing past to save his girls so they can save all of Townsville!

Originally titled Powerpuff Girls Dance Pants R-EVIL-lution, the special was reportedly made using CG techniques and has been finished for a while. Production was headed by Dave Smith (The Flintstones: On the Rocks) who served as director, Kevin Dart (Steven Universe) as art director, and UK’s Passion Pictures as animation producer. Powerpuff creator Craig McCracken didn’t participate in the production.

20 Rare Pieces of Animation Art You Can Buy at Auction This Week

For the past year, media outlets have been reporting that the animation art market is making a comeback, marking a turnaround from a decade of depressed prices. With the year drawing to a close, we can now confirm that the reports are true, and 2013 will go down as a banner year for animation art.

The market continued to pick up steam throughout the year. Auction house Heritage hosted its first-ever auction devoted solely to animation art last February, and followed with a second auction last month that netted $1.3+ million. Profiles in History, which has been doing animation-specific auctions since 2011, ran an animation auction last July, and their second auction this year will take place later this week. Other major auction houses like Bonhams are also testing the waters with animation art, and animation art conserver S/R Laboratories had an auction of its own last October. Meanwhile, veteran animation art dealer Howard Lowery hosts near-weekly online auctions on his website. (Disclosure: Bonhams, Heritage and Profiles in History are Cartoon Brew sponsors.)

What is remarkable about this surge in animation art sales is the sheer amount of quality work that has become available. Every auction I’ve seen this year has had appealing and rare items in it. The consistently high quality can be attributed to a variety of factors. For starters, many collectors had been holding on to their best pieces for years waiting for a good opportunity to put them back onto the market. Secondly, many Golden Age animation artists have passed away in the past decade, and the families of those artists are consigning personal collections that have never been available before. The bottomline is that it’s a really exciting time if you collect animation art. I’m not much of a collector myself, but even I haven’t been able to resist picking up a few pieces this year, and I might add, at affordable prices, too.

The upcoming Profiles in History animation auction will take place this Friday, December 20. To view the artwork, bid online, or register for the live-action, visit their website. Below is a gallery of just a few of the nearly 600 pieces that will go on the auction block this week:

Pixar President Ed Catmull Reveals His Favorite Books of 2013

Taking part in a Wall Street Journal survey of the year’s best books, Pixar and Disney Animation president Ed Catmull shared his two favorite titles of 2013:

I am constantly struck by how many people think of stories solely as entertainment—edifying or time-wasting but still: entertainment. The Storytelling Animal by Jonathan Gottschall shows that the storytelling part of our brain is deeper and more complex than that, wired into the way we think and learn. This struck me as a powerful idea, that our brain is structured for and shaped by stories whose value goes beyond entertainment and socialization. On a lighter note is Chip Kidd’s Go: A Kidd’s Guide to Graphic Design. At a time when arts programs in schools are under assault, this book offers a beautiful distillation of the principles of great design and the careful decisions that go into making things look the way they do. The book is “for kids,” but this grown-up was captivated too.

Catmull’s own book, Creativity, Inc., will come out in spring 2014. Stanford professor and best-selling author Bob Sutton has already declared Catmull’s book to be “the best book ever written on what it takes to build a creative organization.”

“Around the Lake” by Noémie Marsily and Carl Roosens

Autour du Lac (Around the Lake) is the first single from La Paroi du ton Ventre, the second album from Carl et les hommes boîtes which was released April 2013 on the Brussels label Humpty Dumpty Records. This short animated film was written and directed by Carl Roosens and Noémie Marsily uses a mixture of pencil and ink during a residency at the Abbey of Fontevraud in May 2012. It testifies a deep desire to strengthen the link between image and music that make Carl et les hommes boîtes a unique project tied to a strong visual identity.

Directed by Noémie Marsily and Carl Roosens

“Gloria Victoria” Most Well Liked Animated Short of 2013

In a survey of fifteen respected festival programmers and critics who were each asked to name the best animated shorts of 2013, the film that came out on top was Theodore Ushev’s Gloria Victoria. Produced at the National Film Board of Canada, the film was selected by eleven out of fifteen people surveyed.

The results of the survey are a fantastic portrait of the richness and diversity of contemporary short-form animated filmmaking. The survey also serves as a valuable guide because it represents the viewpoints of individuals rather than a unanimous awards body. Below are the ten animated shorts that received the most votes:

Gloria Victoria by Theodore Ushev, Canada
Palmipedarium by Jérémy Clapin, France
Subconscious Password by Chris Landreth, Canada
Autour du lac by Noémie Marsily and Carl Roosens, Belgium
Marcel, King of Tervuren by Tom Schroeder, United States
Feral by Daniel Sousa, United States
Futon by Yoriko Mizushiri, Japan
Lonely Bones by Rosto, The Netherlands
Mademoiselle Kiki et les Montparnos by Amélie Harrault, France
Plug & Play by Michael Frei, Switzerland

Here is how all of the Oscar shortlisted films fared in the survey:

11 mentions
Gloria Victoria by Theodore Ushev

8 mentions
Subconscious Password by Chris Landreth

4 mentions
Feral by Daniel Sousa

1 mention
Get a Horse! by Lauren MacMullan

0 mentions
Hollow Land by Uri and Michelle Kranot
The Missing Scarf by Eoin Duffy
Mr. Hublot by Laurent Witz
Possessions by Shuhei Morita
Requiem for Romance by Jonathan Ng
Room on the Broom by Max Lang and Jan Lachauer

Tellingly, the majority of the films that the Academy shortlisted were not on the radar of the animation community at large. This growing rift between the Oscars and the cutting edge of short form animation was discussed on the site a couple days ago, too. It would be a shame if the Academy’s struggle to keep pace with the evolving art and craft of animation filmmaking jeopardized the credibility of the Animated Short Oscar.

Artist of the Day: Delphine Dussoubs

Delphine Dussoubs

Delphine Dussoubs is a French artist living in Montreal. She creates drawings and animated video art to play and mix at live events as a VJ, such as The Friendly Tiger-flower:

Together, Delphine and Louise Druelle form BBBLaster, a group that performs audio-visual projects with different music producers.

Delphine Dussoubs

Delphine Dussoubs

Delphine Dussoubs

Dussoubs’ 2011 film, Little Monkey, is animated with a flexible, unfussy no-outline style and tells the story of a young monkey fighting his symbolic fears of becoming an adult by wailing on the sacred djembé. This short is her final project from her time studying at EMCA Angoulême.

See more work on her Vimeo, blog, and portfolio website.

Delphine Dussoubs

Exclusive: Glen Keane Might Be Working for Motorola

Is Glen Keane’s next animated project set up at smartphone manufacturer Motorola? The Google-owned company certainly wants you think so. I received a cryptic email this afternoon from Motorola…well, actually from “Pepe the Mouse,” who is the star of the company’s interactive motion-controlled short Windy Day directed by Jan Pinkava. The email had the subject line “My Friend Glen Keane.”

The email read in part: “It’s getting close to the holidays and all through the house, only one creature was stirring aside from this mouse.”

The “creature” was the above pic of Glen Keane, hard at work. Keane resigned from Disney in March 2012, after working at the company for 38 years.

Will the Animated Short Oscar Become Relevant Again This Year?

There has been noticeable grumbling and griping within the animation community over the past few years about the Animated Short category of the Academy Awards. The complaints, many of which come from Academy members themselves, are that the Oscars have fallen hopelessly out of touch with the evolution of animated short filmmaking. As animated shorts have evolved in narrative complexity and visual sophistication, the Academy’s short films branch has been consistently unable (or unwilling) to identify important new works in the medium.

The problem with this type of grievance is that it can easily be dismissed as opinion. After all, art is supposed to be subjective—although there’s hardly any subjectivity when an organization declares something as the Best Animated Short. Nevertheless, it’s difficult to suggest that Oscar nominees and winners like The Longest Daycare, La Luna, and The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore are any less worthy of the honor than the other animated shorts released in their respective years.

The idea that the Academy is out of touch with animated short trends can’t be chalked up entirely as a subjective belief. To illustrate this point, it might be helpful to do a comparative analysis between the nominees at the Academy Awards and the winner of the annual Grand Prix at Annecy, which is the second longest-running animated short award after the Oscars. Annecy was chosen for this exercise not because it represents the be all and end all of animation festivals. It clearly does not. However, Annecy has existed since 1960 and is generally considered to be the most prestigious animation festival in the world. The festival’s tendency to be more commercially-oriented than the average animation festival also makes it a good barometer for the Oscars, whose Hollywood-centric biases often veer toward the extreme end of commercial short filmmaking (The ChubbChubbs! anyone?).

The other good reason for comparing these two honors is that Annecy and the Oscars have shared a surprisingly symbiotic relationship spanning many decades. The winner of the Grand Prix at Annecy has also received an Oscar nomination 15 out of 21 years between 1981 and 2010. (Annecy was a bi-annual event until 1997 which accounts for only 21 comparable years over a 30-year period.)

In 2011 and 2012, however, the Annecy Grand Prix recipient was overlooked at the Oscars. This may not seem remarkable, but then we should ask, When was the last time that the Oscars didn’t nominate the Annecy Grand Prix winner for two years in a row? You’d have to look back over forty years, all the way to the Annecy festivals of 1965 and 1967, to find an instance of that happening.

Perhaps one could argue that Annecy simply chose two poor films in a row, but looking at the trajectory of both awards, I would readily suggest that the Academy’s recent choices have been more unpredictable from a quality standpoint. Without naming names, there have been more than a few questionable animated short Oscar nominees in recent years. These films aren’t necessarily bad (though some certainly are), but they represent the choices of an organization that seems increasingly out of touch with the fresh and interesting works that are being produced by the global animation community.

If there’s a silver lining, it’s that the 2013 Grand Prix winner at Annecy, Chris Landreth’s fascinating Subconscious Password, has been shortlisted by the Academy, along with a group of films that generally looks more promising than other recent years. The question remains whether the shorts branch of the Academy will bring back some consistency and thoughtfulness to the category this year or if they will continue down a road of irrelevancy.

“Croods” To Become a Netflix TV Series

DreamWorks, which we already know has big plans for Internet television, is currently in production on a Netflix series based on The Croods, according to a report in Variety.

The piece about DreamWorks’ TV plans says that, “DWA has yet to disclose which other characters will get their own series, though Croods is already known to be in production.” The previous news that had appeared online about a Croods series suggested that a show was in development, so Variety seems to be confirming that it’s happening now.

There are some other interesting takeaways from the article:

  • Turbo, which grossed only $82 million in the U.S. and was one of DreamWorks’ lowest-grossing computer animated features to date, is still profitable for the studio after home video and merchandising sales are factored into the equation.

  • Turbo: F.A.S.T., the first series in the monster 300-hour DreamWorks/Netflix deal, will be released online in chunks of episodes. The first five episodes will debut on December 24, and per Variety, instead of TV’s usual two 11-minute episodes per half hour, each episode will contain three 11-minute episodes.

  • The benefit of working with Netflix is that DreamWorks bypasses the traditional network standards and practices, which means creative teams exerise greater control over the final product. Turbo: F.A.S.T. exec producer (and Titmouse co-owner) Chris Prynoski says, “We’ve had to police ourselves on what we felt was good for kids. Sometimes we even ask if we’re being harder on ourselves than standards and practices (would be).”

For some big-picture analysis on DreamWorks’ TV plans, read this post by Steve Hulett on the Animation Guild blog.

Help Fund the “Most Beautiful Erotic Animation Film Ever Made” (NSFW)

Copenhagen-based Naked Love Film specializes in hand drawn erotic animation, and after producing two short films in the same amount of years—Little Vulvah & Her Clitoral Awareness and NAKED LOVE-Ea’s Garden—they have turned to Kickstarter to help fund their most ambitious project to date: a hand-drawn film that will be between 25-45 minutes in length. The movie, titled We Got Lost on the Other Side of Wilderness, is the sensual brainchild of the studio’s founders, animator Sara Koppel and composer Sune Kølster, who describe it like this:

“The film is an erotic epic love story, a modern fairy-tale in a burlesque near-future parallel world, where humanity is living under the constant threat of an inevitable natural catastrophe, but still is continuing their destructive ways, trying to escape their destiny with mindless consumerism. And all over the place, nature is trying to get through the clean and cultivated appearance of human culture including, of course, on the erotic field…”

Koppel and Kølster have an assortment of unique incentives for interested backers including original artwork from the film, DVD collections of their work, and Koppel’s painted works, which come in the form of her Moving Women paintings and Flora Vagina plates. They are also offering an opportunity for backers to appear in the film in an “erotic situation,” a perfect holiday gift to give to a loved one (or your boss). Uniquely, some of the ‘upfront’ goals, like downloads of their short films, will be made available to backers regardless of whether or not they meet their goal.

The filmakers are seeking $75,000 to produce the 18,000 to 32,400 drawings required to complete this film by 2015, and have currently raised nearly $9,000 (or 11% of the goal). You can learn more about the minds behind Naked Love Film in the update section of the Kickstarter page where they are documenting their progress with a 24-days of Christmas video calendar.

Conceptual Art Meets Classic Cartoon Characters in These Paintings by Antek Walczak

Brooklyn-based gallery Real Fine Arts is currently hosting an exhibition of paintings by Antek Walczak entitled “New Transbohemian States.” The monochrome oil works depict ‘state transition diagrams,’ which as far as I can figure out, are connect-the-dots diagrams of classic cartoon characters with words written along the lines connecting the dots. The words spell out sentences such as “I want to be a contemporary artist” and “Work is much less important than attitude.”

A snarky person might say that the most clever part of Walczak’s work is that he profits from the audience’s familiarity with classic cartoon icons without having to pay the animation rightsholders since his work falls pretty clearly under the umbrella of fair use. According to the gallery’s description of the show, there are plenty of other clever things about these paintings, too, though:

As graphic-poetic machines, these diagrams formulate messages in relation to the outside world (here grounded within the use-case of being a contemporary artist), and each message causes the machine to transition from one state to another, as a hypothetical description of interaction within the behavior of a system. It can be argued that while using the routines and clustering techniques of visualization common to data analysis, the artist has instead opted to venture off into the realm of portraiture, even self-portraits, in an expanded sense of course.

The work of Antek Walczak picks up faint historical echoes of concrete and visual poetry, along with the early conceptual art probing of linguistic systems in the relationship of art and language, while repurposing these informing practices within the current that developed roughly during the same post-war late twentieth century climate to shape the realities and experiences of today. The birth of the computer age, i.e., the continuing effects of information theory and cybernetics across technology development, communications engineering, and the accompanying revolutions in the sciences. For the artist, it is too late to just be awakening to these facts as if some inescapable conspiracy has been hatched that needs to be denounced and held out as a warning to humanity. Rather, to recognize that instead of a pessimistic straightjacket, the notions of the systematic predictability of individuals in given forms of social and economic activity can be grappled with, navigated intensely, to buckle and warp in unexpected ways, instead of serving up the by-now truly archaic conservative way of shocking tradition in positing an empty, fuzzy, nihilistic, blank, chaotic-edgy, post human, techno-futurism.

As test patterns carved out within the ruin of bohemian passion/compassion, underneath the fully-operational wreck of American culture and its biased self-superiority, these tortured and beautiful constellations of moves in the game of contemporary art emerge as a break from critique, a rupture from the all-too-passive intellectual safety of pointing out flaws and defects from a distance. Even in today’s virtual, hands-off methodology, there is the possibility of putting oneself directly in the material, revealing an exquisite sensibility of the nervous system still pulsing in the man-machine template, even if it is experienced as something on the verge of painful collision through several computer and linguistic screen interfaces. What is interesting here is no return to painting, to the oil paints of bohemia in a bygone heroic age for modern art, as is there neither a claim to resurgence in the mythologies of the unheated art studio or cramped writer’s garret. These forms have persisted beyond their one directional anti-bourgeois gestures, mutating in into inner and outer states that transfigure bodies and psychology in a much more fluid and playful way. It remains to be seen how habitual, decidedly alienated notions of network and connectivity, with their frightening disembodied power, how these theoretical and symbolic abstractions-helplessly theorized in the presence of real forces of separation-will hold up in a parallel de-differentiation of individualities and bodies that assemble and seek out more and more dense, interwoven connectivity. The strength of a meshwork, rich and complex in consciousness and creation, after the seemingly headless, centrally auto-controlled, remotely self-regulating network.

Artist of the Day: Ayumu Arisaka

Ayumu Arisaka

Ayumu Arisaka is a Japanese artist who collaborates with Ren Kohata and Oitama, whom she met while studying at Tokyo National University of Fine Arts and Music. Together they are known as Saigo No Shudan. You can visit the collective’s website to see the mixed-media animated videos that they have created, such as the recent Relaxin’ with music by Yakenohara:

Ayumu Arisaka

Ayumu’s drawings bring a lot of the cloudy and soft aesthetic to the collaborative animation that Saigo No Shudan creates. A lot of energy is also communicated in the electric colors that she chooses.

Ayumu Arisaka

See more drawings and animation by Arisaka on her Tumblr.

Ayumu Arisaka

Director Luiz Bolognesi on “Rio 2096,” An Animated Feature About Love and Revolution

Produced in Brazil for just $2.5 million by first-time animation director Luiz Bolognesi, Rio 2096: A Story of Love and Fury is among the more unconventional animated features that has been submitted for the Best Animated Feature category of this year’s Academy Awards.

The story follows six hundreds years in the life of an immortal man who, obsessed with finding an existence with the woman he loves, continually takes on the role of a revolutionary fighting the system. “The film is about resistance, that’s the point,” Bolognesi (below) told Cartoon Brew. “The hero is not a hero. He is a loser—he loses all of the time, but he never stops fighting.” Whether he’s facing colonization during the 1500s, social unrest in the 1970s or class warfare ignited by dwindling natural resources at the end of the 21st century, he always finds himself in the role of an everyman whose life is at the mercy of the greedy and the powerful.

The film’s story of struggle and persistence in the face of overwhelming odds can perhaps be seen as a metaphorical tale of small foreign animated features attempting to exist in a universe of mega-budget animated extravaganzas produced by American film studios. As an underdog, Rio 2096 has fared well playing with the big boys. The film surprised the animation world earlier this year when it won the best animated feature at the prestigious Annecy animation festival.

Considering that Bolognesi’s career up to now has been exclusively writing live-action character-driven Brazilian dramas, it made sense to ask what motivated him to make an animated feature in the first place. “It would be impossible with the budget that we had to make the things we did if I was doing this film in live action,” Bolognesi explained. “To travel in time, to write a scene with two hundred Indians from the 16th century fighting a war, then another scene where we see Rio in 2096 with space ships over the city – my producer would have killed me if I had written that.”

Rio 2096 is the culmination of his diverse personal interests—a childhood love of graphic novels and comic magazines like Heavy Metal and an enthusiasm for historical research. “Before writing the script I worked with a group of four students of history and anthropology on researching interesting little known facts of Latin American history,” Bolognesi said. “I decided to tell the story from the point of view of the Tupinambás, the natives who lived in Rio before the Europeans arrived, whose history is not so different from the history of the Indians from the United States, and use their true mythology as the dramatic arc of the film.”

For the animation process, Bolognesi decided against a paperless digital production in exchange for hand-animating the characters on paper followed by digital cleanup and compositing. “The animators were much more used to that,” he said. “When we tried to work on tablets, their work didn’t go so quickly.” And despite the animators’ desire to create animation on ones and twos, Bolognesi preferred threes and fours. “My team was used to working closer to the American process of full animation and very expressive characters, and I didn’t want that. I wanted something closer to the feeling of Japanese, Korean, and even the French process of character animation.”

“The real political fight for a better world can only be something good if it is motivated by love.”

When it came to the production design of the film, he continued to push for a more expressionist “graphic novel style” with less naturalism, even going so far as basing the look of each time period after a different season of the year. He gives much of the credit to the film’s art diretor: “Anna Caiado is the big talent of the film, and she realized very quickly the intention of the film and she did really a great job with a very small department of five [artists].”

The result is a passionate animated film that’s one part historical fiction and one part divine fantasy, and ultimately, a powerful story of love. “I think that the real political fight for a better world can only be something good if it is motivated by love,” Bolognesi said. “You love your people, you love someone, you love your children: that’s the reason why you should want to change the world.”

“Waltz with Bashir” Director Ari Folman Will Make Animated Anne Frank Film

Ari Folman, the Israeli director of Waltz with Bashir and The Congress, has announced that his next animated film will be a family-friendly film based on Anne Frank’s diaries. “Bringing the Anne Frank diary to all screens is a fantastic opportunity and challenge as there is a real need for new artistic material to keep the memory alive for younger generations,” Folman said in a statement.

Folman has been granted full access to the Anne Frank Fonds Basel archive. The film will be produced by Purple Whale, a new Belgian production firm that is owned in part by Folman’s Israeli company Bridgit Folman Film Gang and Belgian producer Entre Chien Et Loup. Production will begin by winter 2014.