Artist of the Day: Frederik Jurk

Frederik Jurk

Hamburg, Germany-based Frederik Jurk draws an assortment of monsters, girls, and other characters often in limited, flat colors. He is a recent graduate of HAW Hamburg, Fakultät DMI.

Frederik Jurk

Frederik Jurk

For Jurk’s thesis project, he created the book, Monster Limericks, which you can download in a free digital version.

Frederik Jurk

Frederik Jurk

Most of Jurk’s characters whether they are dragons, werewolves, humans or cats share a similar-looking skull structure–perhaps something like a kitten/human hybrid skull might look like. See more work from him on his Tumblr, Flickr, older blog, and portfolio website.

Frederik Jurk

Frederik Jurk

Frederik Jurk

Everything That Happened During Tex Avery Day

Last Saturday the town of Taylor, Texas held their first-ever Tex Avery Day in honor of their hometown animation hero. They hope to turn it into an annual event. Cartoon Brew reader Matthew Kordelski attended and has written a comprehensive report of everything that he saw. A bunch of photos were also taken by Drew DeGennaro, some of which are posted below.

The attendees ate Tex Avery cake (click for closer view):

They unveiled a Texas state historical marker dedicated to their hero (click for closer view):

They handed out buttons (click for closer view):

They invited a Tex Avery impersonator:

They had costumed Looney Tunes characters—two of which Avery had nothing to do with, but it’s the thought that counts (click for closer view):

There were back-alley shenanigans (photo by Joe O’Connell):

They watched this documentary about Avery and then watched a bunch of cartoons that were not directed by Avery…oops!(click for closer view):

A mural of Tex Avery was created by artist Tim Kerr and painted by the youth group Project LOOP.

Personally, I might have chosen a more recognizable shot of Avery, but the mural is indeed based on an existing photo of Avery:

Here is a video about the making of the mural:

All in all, it looks like a good time was had by all, and the festivities couldn’t have been in honor of a more worthy individual!

A Look at John Kricfalusi’s Animation For Miley Cyrus ‘Bangerz’ Tour

Miley Cyrus’s new “Bangerz” concert tour launched in Vancouver on Valentine’s Day, with the concert’s opening number featuring animated visuals by Ren & Stimpy creator John Kricfalusi. News of the collaboration between Cyrus and Kricfalusi was first announced last month.

John K. provided nearly 2-1/2 minutes of animation for the song “SMS (Bangerz),” which begins after Cyrus opens the concert by sliding down a gigantic version of her own tongue. Kricfalusi’s animation is as colorful and aggressive as the action onstage, and his wildly cartooned Miley reveals a caricaturist in peak form. He interprets some of the song lyrics, like “I’m flying high up on a bird,” literally, while others such as, “I let them know the rents due on the first,” are imagined more whimsically (the latter is depicted by Cyrus punching a giant blonde woman in the butt). The animation, which mostly features Cyrus and a cast of animals ‘strutting that stuff’ per the song’s lyrics, is untied to any grand narrative, but serves its purpose well as an accompaniment to Cyrus’s calculated attempt to be irreverent.

Kricfalusi has posted a bunch of concept drawings and production artwork on his blog, along with credits for who animated what. It’s hard to find a decent version of the sequence posted online, but the following recording shows a fair bit of the action beginning at the 2:28 mark.

Artist of the Day: Citlalli Anderson

Second-year CalArts student Citlalli Anderson draws funny cartoons and shares her school work, doodles, and notes, including items such as this sketch for a school layout assignment:

Citlalli Anderson

Citlalli Anderson

The 48-hour film challenge is a regular event at CalArts. The theme for 2013 was “duck” and Nicole Stafford’s 48-hour film from the same group was a recent Cartoon Brew short pick of the day. Anderson put together the following short, called Buff Dog Workout Video, featuring a hapless duck and one of her characters, Buff Dog. The rest of the students’ “duck” films are collected here.

Citlalli Anderson

Citlalli Anderson

Citlalli Anderson

Citlalli Anderson

Citlalli Anderson

See more school projects and personal work from Anderson on her blog and Tumblr accounts, including these sketchbook notes from DreamWorks and Glen Keane lectures.

Citlalli Anderson

‘Monsieur COK’ by Franck Dion

Mister Cok is the owner of a large bomb factory. Looking for efficiency and profit, he decides to replace his workers by sophisticated robots. The formers stare helplessly at the toil of the robotic laborers. But one of the workers does not accept being discarded so easily…

CREDITS
Story, design and direction: Franck Dion
Original score: Pierre Caillet
Animators: Gilles Cuvelier, Gabriel Jacquel, Claire Trollé
Animation made in the Studio Train-Train
Compositing and numérical painting: Salon Caulaincourt
With the voices of Gaëtan Gallier and Monsieur COK
Miniatures: Zoé Goetgheluck
Mix: Jean-Michel Collet
With the help of Le Fresnoy, Stduio National des Arts Contemporains
A PAPY3D production coproduced by the CRRAV NORD-PAS DE CALAIS and LE FRESNOY with support from the CENTRE NATIONAL DE LA CINÉMATOGRAPHIE-CONTRIBUTION FINANCIÈRE, in partnership with CANAL + and GTC, and with the help of THE PROJECT COMPETITION OF THE ANNECY FESTIVAL
Official website: MonsieurCOK.com

‘Life After Pi’ Documentary Exposes Flawed VFX Business Model

The 30-minute film Life After Pi documents last year’s financial collapse of vfx house Rhythm & Hues. Directed and edited by Rhythm & Hues employee Scott Leberecht, the documentary does a great job of explaining the current realities of the visual effects business model and why the bankruptcy of Rhythm & Hues is part of a much broader issue in Hollywood that has led to the shutdown of dozens of studios over the past decade.

In one of the documentary’s most poignant moments, which was filmed as the events were unfolding, R&H co-founder John Hughes reflected on the lose-lose scenario that he was confronted with as he tried to save the company he’d run for twenty-five years:

“Our choices were to cut people’s salaries or to lay off a significant number of people or to work people overtime without paying them for overtime by restructuring their contracts. So those kinds of changes are very difficult changes to make and I felt that any one of those would have so dramatically altered the culture of Rhythm & Hues that they would have destroyed Rhythm & Hues. And, well, instead we’re in bankruptcy, so I ended up destroying Rhythm & Hues anyways. Maybe I should have done something along those lines in order to have tried to preserve Rhythm & Hues.”

‘Sir Billi’ Retitled ‘Guardian Of The Highlands’ for U.S. Distribution

The 2012 film Sir Billi is to Scotland what Toy Story is to the United States—the country’s first CGI animated feature. Cinedigm and Random Media have renamed the film to the more majestic-sounding Guardian Of The Highlands and will release it on DVD, digital and On Demand on April 8th.

The film, written by Tessa Hartmann and directed by Sascha Hartmann, stars Sean Connery as an old skateboard-loving veterinarian who is on a mission to save Bessie Boo the beaver. It currently has a 0% rating on Rotten Tomatoes, but that hardly dampens my enthusiasm for seeing the film. It can be pre-ordered on Amazon.

PES Sells Jewelry With Surreal, Morbid ‘Black Gold’

Leave it to PES, the whiz of the very-short short, to use the visual of a decomposing woman being colonized by insects as a way to sell earrings and brooches. His latest stop motion film, Black Gold, was commissioned by Italian online fashion retailer Yoox to announce a partnership with jewelry designer Delfina Delettrez.

PES was given free rein to produce whatever he wanted as long as it incorporated Delettrez’ insect jewelry. “I wanted to create a surrealistic short film along the lines of a Dalí or Buñuel, the influence of which can be felt strongly in Delfina’s own jewelry,” he said. The film, with its evocation of memento mori, lends itself to different readings—is it a statement on decadence or the elegance of decay?—and as far as commercials go, the effect is sublime.

CREDITS
Written and Directed by PES
Produced by Frenesy Films, Milan
Animated by Dillon Markey
Original Score by Jeremy Turner
Fabrication/Production Studio: SCPS
Sound Design by PES
Final Audio Mix: Josh Marcy, Mophonics

Book Review: A Fresh Take on Anime History by Jonathan Clements

Anime: A History
By Jonathan Clements
(British Film Institute, 256 pages)
Order Anime: A History book on Amazon.com.

Jonathan Clements’ Anime: A History differs greatly from more populist overviews of anime available in the English-language market. This book is not about the anime texts themselves, but the surrounding industry: Clements delivers a tightly-packed account of anime production, distribution and viewership from the silent era to the present day.

Histories of anime often begin with Astro Boy (1963). By contrast, nearly half of Clements’ book is devoted to the pre-Sixties years: a seldom-told prehistory of Japanese animation, with pioneers creating shorts influenced by Western animators such as Emile Cohl before being corralled into wartime propaganda films.

Clements tells a fascinating set of tales from the era. To pick just one example, he relates how a prestigious 1940s animated feature based on the story of the “Emperor’s New Clothes” had its plug pulled by Toho’s Tetsuzo Watanabe—a strident anti-Communist who would later quell a strike by recruiting a small army, including reconnaissance aircraft and tanks – on the grounds that the film was “riddled with redness”.

The book unearths The New Adventures of Pinocchio, a 1960 stop-motion series animated by Mochinga for Rankin/Bass (the text is careful to place the word “American” in quotation marks when discussing US productions outsourced to Japan). Clements points out that, while Astro Boy is regarded as a milestone for delivering twenty-five minutes a week, the Pinocchio series had already reached the halfway mark with 12.5 minutes a week – and yet, this achievement has been largely forgotten.

As intriguing as this may be, Clements does not reinvent conventional history and still presents Osamu Tezuka’s Astro Boy as the beginning of anime as we know it. Tezuka appears to have coined the word “anime” to identify the limited animation used in his television cartoons – a truncated word for a truncated process, so to speak. “’Anime’, to the [Japanese] mainstream, comprised those cartoons on television that were deemed gratuitously violent”, writes Clements. “[T]he animation community now distinguished between the experimental films and apprentice pieces that could be seen at film festivals, and the junk that was on television.”

This is a warts-and-all history: Clements points out that the revolution in direct-to-video anime, which opened the door for more innovative and less commercial works, also led to a glut of pornography – including material that would be illegal in live action. But between relating the usage of backlit cels for inexpensive effects, and recounting how the creators of Gundam succeeded in telling a worthwhile story within a toyetic genre, the author paints a picture of creativity existing in the face of heavily restricted circumstances.

The book later settles into covering more familiar aspects of anime history such as the growth of otaku culture and increasing reliance on foreign markets, but even then Clements continues to cast a wide net in obtaining facts and anecdotes. Discussing international distribution, he avoids the common pitfall of focusing on the English-speaking world and relates how the Seventies anime UFO Robot Grendizer achieved notoriety in France and Italy for its violence—even becoming the subject of a French book about the effects of media on children. Towards the end, Clements discusses new avenues for anime: Internet distribution, the rise of sophisticated amateur works such as Voices of a Distant Star, and multimedia experiments such as the Hatsune Miku Live Party, in which CGI characters appear “live in concert”.

Looking through the book’s extensive usage of Japanese-language sources, it seems safe to say that much of this information is new to Anglophone scholarship. Anime: A History is heartily recommended for anybody who wants an insight into the industrial politics that lie behind the on-screen images.

Order Anime: A History book on Amazon.com.

‘Steven Universe’ Recap: ‘Giant Woman’

“Giant Woman”
Written and storyboard by Joe Johnston and Jeff Liu.

Last week Steven put Garnet on a pedestal and quickly learned she has flaws. This week in “Giant Woman,” he was fixated on the idea of what Amethyst and Pearl could be if they fused and became the “ultra powerful being” known as Opal.

In the opening scenes, it’s obvious Steven’s never heard of this character Opal. She’s as new to him as she is to us. All we know thanks to a sand animation that Pearl draws is that she and Amethyst have to do a little dance routine to create Opal, who apparently stands very tall and is only used as a last resort.

Meanwhile Garnet has been on a solo mission and returns home to tell the others to retrieve a heaven beetle. We learned last week it’s common for Garnet to do her own thing as she’s the strongest of the gang. She tells Steven to keep the harmony between Amethyst and Pearl who bicker continuously.

It seems like Steven could care less about keeping the peace between the two Gems or the beetle. He’s obsessed with seeing Opal, so much so that he sings a song about her. He may not have kept the harmony between his mission partners, but he definitely had it going on in his voice. Before and after the song comes a cascade of pestering questions that he calls “extremely important.” They’re all variations on “Who is Opal?” such as “Who controls what side?,” “Do you share a stomach?” and so on.

What is it with Steven’s need to see Opal? Was the fascination a symbol for a growing boy going through some changes? It was like when a boy first discovers his sexual awakening. Whatever they’re into is all of a sudden the most interesting thing on earth and they feel like they have to set eyes upon this talked about, but somehow forbidden fruit.

Back to the action, the Gems meet a mountain goat that Steven quickly dubs Steven Jr. Before approaching their final destination they’re met with a predicament: a line of strategically placed floating rocks similar to the ones you’d face in a Super Mario Bros. game. Pearl and Amethyst take to fighting and end up almost killing Steven.

They eventually come upon a mini-beetle temple. It’s literally like a dollhouse but for a beetle—too cute. The heaven beetle’s nowhere to be found, but a giant faceless bird with a jagged beak appears instead. Usually Steven Universe doesn’t make me laugh out loud, but when the bird swallows Steven Jr. leaving teardrop-pupilled Steven to say, “My son!”–well, that was the moment of the week.

Earlier Pearl and Amethyst didn’t think Steven almost falling to his death was reason enough to transform into Opal, but with the bird on a rampage and both Steven and Steven Jr. inside, they have no choice. After Opal saves the Stevens, she is revealed in all her glory: a lengthy four-armed blonde warrior, Hindu deity-like, wielding a bow and arrow with a raspy yet comforting voice.

Once home Garnet isn’t impressed and doesn’t care that Opal’s standing in front of her; all she cares about is if they retrieved the heaven beetle. The realization they failed their mission undoes Opal, and Amethyst and Pearl are back. Thankfully Steven and Steven Jr. wasn’t the only thing that big bird swallowed. While inside the belly of the beast, Steven grabbed the beetle. Garnet is not only impressed with Steven’s catch, but that he helped Amethyst and Pearl fuse.

Just when you think that’s it, Garnet dropped a bomb. She mentioned Steven will be able to fuse one day, too, like Amethyst and Pearl. Yet another Gem gift Steven has that he really doesn’t know all that much about.

“Cuckoo” by Velislav Kazakov

Directed by Velislav Kazakov, 1983. Kazakov was born in 1955 in Sofia, Bulgaria. In 1975 joined Animated Films Studio “Sofia” as Animator, then Director, Art Director on over 30 short films. Graduated in 1988 from National Academy of Theater and Cinema in Sofia with M.A. in Animation. In 1991-92 worked at Richard Williams Studios in London on The Thief and the Cobbler. Moved to Montreal in 1992 and did a lot of storyboards, layouts, timing direction and animation for many TV series, features and shorts. Cuckoo Animation released Bugging the Bug in 2004, Overcast in 2011 and currently has two new films in production.

Disney Just Released ‘Frozen’ and ‘Get A Horse!’ on iTunes

The window between theatrical releases and home entertainment distribution continues to shrink. Disney is releasing the HD version of Frozen on iTunes today, February 25th, while the film still remains in the top ten at the American box office. The download costs $19.99.

Notably, the extras also include Get A Horse! Here is the full list of extras:

“The Making of : Learn the secret of how the movie was made in this musical extravaganza.

D’frosted: Disney’s Journey from Hans Christian Andersen to Frozen: Once upon a time, Walt Disney wanted to make a movie about a Snow Queen. Join the filmmakers and Disney Legend Alice Davis as they discuss the company’s 75-year journey to Frozen:

PLUS: Deleted Scenes, Music Videos and the Original Theatrical Short Get A Horse!

Note: The iTunes extras are available only for use on a Mac or PC with iTunes 9 or later, or on Apple TV (1st generation with version 3.0 or later).

Richard Linklater Will Remake ‘Incredible Mr. Limpet’

Richard Linklater, currently nominated for an Oscar for Before Midnight’s screenplay, is making strides on the Warner Bros. remake of Incredible Mr. Limpet, a project with which he has been involved since 2011.

Linklater plans to work on Limpet with Tommy Pallotta and Femke Wolting, according to a recent report in Screen Daily. Pallotta and Wolting will design the look of the film and figure out how to integrate the animation and live-action components. Pallotta has been a friend of Linklater’s since the days of Slacker and was a producer on Linklater’s two animated efforts—Waking Life and A Scanner Darkly. Wolting is a veteran producer and director of documentaries as well as the co-founder of Dutch film production company Submarine.

Pallotta and Wolting together directed a just-finished film about Somali pirates, Last Hijack, which also integrates animation with live-action, and that film’s look has inspired Linklater’s ideas about Limpet. Wolting has been quoted as saying that, “Richard [Linklater] loved the animation technique that we used [on Lost Hijack].”

The original 1964 version of Limpet, starring Don Knotts, succeeded visually because the technological limitations of the era situated the concept purely in the realm of animated fantasy. Today, with CGI’s limitless possibilities, there are better-than-average odds that Limpet ends up looking like a grotesque refugee of the waters surrounding Three Mile Island. The character’s lack of visual appeal derailed Warner Bros. when they tried to remake the film nearly twenty years ago. The unmade late-1990s version, which was to have been directed by Steve Oedekerk, would have starred Jim Carrey in the role of Henry Limpet. Millions of dollars were spent trying to digitally paste Jim Carrey’s motion-captured human face onto a fish’s body, and the results were, by all accounts, disgusting. Brad Bird, one of the unlucky viewers who witnessed the CG tests, reportedly said that, “If you saw this in the water, you would get out of the water and run screaming and tell everyone the world was ending.”

When that version was canned, WB tried to relaunch the project with Beavis and Butt-head creator Mike Judge; the shortlist for the lead role at the time included Chris Rock, Mike Myers and Adam Sandler More recently, Kevin Lima (Tarzan, Enchanted) unsuccessfully attempted to jumpstart a remake with Zach Galifinakis.

Of all the various attempts to revive Limpet, the (still-not-greenlit) Linklater one sounds the most promising. A good director will surely recognize that Limpet not only has an abundance of perverse themes, but plenty of quirky visual possibilities that lend themselves to animated treatment. Given his track record, Linklater could be the guy to pull it off.

Images from top to bottom: Lobby card for The Incredible Mr. Limpet (1964); concept art by Bob Camp for the unproduced Jim Carrey version of Limpet; the cover of Theodore Pratt’s book Mr. Limpet (1942), which was a literary flop and sold just 3,500 copies upon first publication.

‘Get a Horse!’: The Art of the Oscar-Nominated Shorts

In this special Cartoon Brew series, we asked the five nominees of the 2013 Best Animated Short Academy Award to discuss the artwork of their films. Today we conclude this exclusive look at the short contenders with Get A Horse!, a Walt Disney short directed by Lauren MacMullan. The short, which premiered last June at Annecy, was distributed to mainstream audiences in front of the theatrical release of Frozen.

(Click on any of the images for a closer view. See the artwork of the other short nominees: Possessions, Feral, Mr. Hublot, and Room on the Broom)

Lauren MacMullan: Oddly enough, no model sheets from this 1928-30 era could be found. Clarabelle herself was sometimes a mere cow, sometimes upright in a schoolmarmish dress. Here was my attempt to split the difference with a half dress. Dale Baer contributed some poses as well.

Lauren MacMullan: For Horace, we found some reference from a model sheet we thought was made for the comic strips, then pushed him a bit back in time towards the almost-mule of The Barn Dance. I worked in some poses that I’d already boarded; I guess I always thought horses and cows saluting is funny.

Lauren MacMullan: Adam Green’s early test of the Mickey and Horace models helped us work out the CG version of ‘rubber hose,’ and demonstrates the Horace/Mickey bond to boot.

Lauren MacMullan: A lovely model sheet by Eric Goldberg, with just a few tweaks from me. We incorporated poses from the old shorts, to emphasize on graphic silhouettes, stretchy inventiveness, and some love.

Lauren MacMullan: I boarded the short more than once, trying to capture that sense of ribald joy I love so much in this era. Here’s a few that made it in.

Lauren MacMullan: Story artist Raymond Persi came up with this idea of cutting close so Pete suddenly dwarfs a tiny Mickey, lost alone on stage. The Mickey of this era was a littler guy, physically an underdog. His only chance? To outwit Pete.

Lauren MacMullan: All the 2D animation truly was hand-drawn, with pencil and paper. I could watch Eric Goldberg’s haywagon cycle all day long. Tony DeRosa contributed Pete pulling up to this scene, with sundry ducks and chickens. The chicken, startled, lays an egg that then proceeds to grow legs and runs away as well.

Lauren MacMullan: I happily fulfilled a lifelong dream by getting to animate this shot. All it took in the end was assigning the scene to myself—and I was a Disney 2D animator, for a few days.

Lauren MacMullan: I found the mix of 2D and CG animation in the short the most interesting, even haunting aspect. The mediums calling back and forth to each other across the decades, pushing each other into different meanings. Getting to concieve and make this short has been the best animation experience of my life.

Explore the artwork of the other 2013 Oscar animated short nominees:
Possessions
Feral
Mr. Hublot
Room on the Broom

Artist of the Day: Pieter Fannes

Pieter Fannes

Brussels, Belgium-based artist Pieter Fannes shows off insightful skill in his drawings of musicians performing. His collection of work includes many drawings that are drawn from life at music festivals and other live performances. He also draws stylized rural and urban cityscapes as well as expressive cartoon illustrations.

Pieter Fannes

Pieter Fannes

See more work from Fannes on his Flickr account.

Pieter Fannes

Pieter Fannes

Pieter Fannes

Pieter Fannes

Pieter Fannes

Pieter Fannes

Pieter Fannes

Pieter Fannes

Pieter Fannes

‘Ernest & Celestine’ and ‘Hoodwinked’ Directors Collaborate on French Pic ‘Yellowbird’

In an environment where The Nut Job can make $60 million at the U.S. box office, is it any surprise that American film companies are gung-ho about animated features? Deals for foreign animated films are being struck at an unprecedented rate, and budding Los Angeles-based distributor Wrekin Hill has joined the fray by acquiring the North American distribution rights to the CG animated film Yellowbird, which centers on a fearful orphaned bird’s journey of self-discovery from Europe to Africa. The film, acquired earlier this month by Wrekin Hill in a seven-figure deal at the European Film Market in Berlin, is currently wrapping production at the French studio TeamTO. It was originally titled Occho Kochoï, and later Gus, before settling on Yellowbird.

Yellowbird has a fascinating pedigree. The film was designed by Benjamin Renner, a co-director on the Oscar-nominated Ernest and Celestine. Renner designed Yellowbird prior to directing Ernest & Celestine, while he was still a student at the French school La Poudrière. Yellowbird’s helmer is industry veteran Christian De Vita, a story artist on Frankenweenie and Fantastic Mr. Fox. The film originally had a second director, Dominique Monfery (director of Disney’s Destino), but it appears that Monfery is no longer involved. De Vita worked from a script by screenwriter Antoine Barraud, French ornithologist Guilhem Lesaffre, and Cory Edwards, the co-writer/co-director of Hoodwinked (2005).

“We believe that Yellowbird will capture the imagination of children, teens and adults alike,” said Wrekin Hill president and CEO Chris Ball. “It is a beautifully written story about the power of self-discovery and community that will surely take audiences on an incredible emotional journey with its characters. With films like Frozen and The Nut Job showing strength at the U.S. box office, it is clear that there is a real hunger for satisfying family entertainment.”

The American dub of Yellowbird will feature the voices of Seth Green, Dakota Fanning, Danny Glover, Jim Rash and Christine Baranski. It is currently scheduled for U.S. release in fall 2014.

“LEGO Movie” Tops Box Office Again; “Wind Rises” Doesn’t Excite Americans

The LEGO Movie crushed its live-action competition at the box office and remained in 1st place for the third weekend in a row with $31.5 million (estimated). The two new wide releases that took second and third place—3 Days to Kill and Pompeii—mustered a mere $22M between the two of them.

Hayao Miyazaki’s The Wind Rises opened in 21 U.S. theaters with $306,000. Its per-theater average of $14,571 was weaker than Spirited Away’s opening, which earned an average of $17,301 from 26 theaters, and slightly better than Howl’s Moving Castle which had a per-theater average of $11,888 from 36 theaters. The film’s soft opening in super-limited release doesn’t bode well for its expansion to over 400 theaters next weekend.

Disney’s Frozen maintained its eighth-place position, despite a 30% drop in gross. The film’s weekend take of $4.4M (est) boosted its overall domestic total to an astonishing $384.1M. The film is now all but assured of reaching the $400M domestic mark, a height attaind only by two other animated films upon their original release—Shrek 2 and Toy Story 3.

International figures will be added soon…

‘SpongeBob SquarePants’ Oral History

This 36,000-word oral history of SpongeBob SquarePants compiled by Hogan’s Alley editor Tom Heintjes contains interviews with over twenty of the show’s crew. It’s pretty much the most comprehensive history of the show ever published, and a must-read for anyone who wants to understand how an animated series evolves over time and through the contributions of many different people.

‘Space Jam’ Sequel is In The Works

Is Warner Bros. preparing to make Space Jam 2 with NBA superstar LeBron James?

The Internet seems to think the answer is yes, and they have good reason to believe so after Deadline broke an exclusive story yesterday that claimed a Space Jam script has been written by Willie Ebersol, the son of former NBC Sports TV exec Dick Ebersol. However, there’s no guarantee that LeBron James will star in it; his camp has already refuted the story to a writer for Disney-owned ESPN.

UPDATE: In 2012, LeBron James himself tweeted, “Wish I could do Space Jam 2!”

Frankly, it’s hard to think of a time in the past couple decades when Warner Bros. hasn’t had a Looney Tunes feature in development. In fact, comedy writer Jenny Slate recently completed her own Looney Tunes script, according to a NY Times interview.

Looney Tunes scripts like Slate’s and Ebersol’s are a dime a dozen in Hollywood, and they usually don’t make it into production because they’re not very good. Hollywood’s misguided enthusiasm for creating these scripts is ironic because the original shorts have been loved by audiences for eighty years running precisely because they weren’t written with scripts. They were ‘written’ in a visual format by artists, and brought to life by directors with exemplary storytelling skills. It’s certainly possible to write a Looney Tunes script, just as it’s possible to eat a hamburger with your feet, but there are smarter, easier, and better ways to do it.

‘Room on the Broom’: The Art of the Oscar-Nominated Shorts

In this special Cartoon Brew series, we asked the five nominees of the 2013 Best Animated Short Academy Award to discuss the artwork of their films. Today we continue this exclusive look at the short contenders with Room on the Broom, a UK/German Magic Light Pictures (UK)/Studio Soi (Germany) co-production directed by Jan Lachauer and Max Lang. The 27-minute film originally debuted on BBC One on December 25th, 2012.

(Click on any of the images for a closer view. Explore the artwork of the other short nominees: Possessions, Feral, Mr. Hublot and Get A Horse!)

Introduction

Jan Lachauer and Max Lang: Room on the Broom is a story of change and company. More and more characters join the well-balanced team of Witch and Cat on their magic broom. With each new member, their journey gets harder and harder.

But in the end it turns out that even if it’s harder to travel together, there are obstacles that you don’t want to face alone. Even if you are much faster on your own, you get much further as a group. And it’s not the size of the broom that should define a group, but the size of the group that should define a broom. Together they create a world where no one gets left behind.

Like in the story, the film itself was a group effort. Many very talented artists at studio soi and all across Europe contributed to its making. We’re very proud and grateful that we got to work with such an amazing team.

1. Thumbnails

Jan Lachauer and Max Lang: For about six months we focused on the development of story and characters. The friendly Witch, an explorer who travels the land and helps others, is a character we are particularly proud of. While the Cat is a bit more conservative and doesn’t want things to change, the Witch stands for progress and welcomes the new and the unknown.

In these early thumbnail sketches we tried to explore the Witch’s and Cat’s relationship with each other and with their broom. We wanted their broom not just to be a flying broomstick but a multifunctional tool and essentially their home.

2. Storyboard

Jan Lachauer and Max Lang: This was one of the most challenging sequences to board and animate. We worked long and hard to get it right. It’s the lowpoint of the film, when the group falls apart and reunites. All of it told visually, without dialogue or narration. This sequence was animated by Waldemar Fast and animation supervisor Tobias v. Burkersroda, two good friends of ours who had previously worked on The Gruffalo.

3. Concept Art

Jan Lachauer and Max Lang: Here’s some of Manu Arenas‘ magnificent concept art for Room on the Broom. He had already captured the spirit and atmosphere of the film perfectly while we were still struggling with the story. The shot of the Witch and the Cat flying over the lake was the inspiration for the start of the film.

4. Color

Jan Lachauer and Max Lang: Working with Aurelien Predal was just amazing. Within a few weeks he laid out the color script for the entire film. This color script would become our guide for the rest of the production and had a major influence on everything from set design and lighting to compositing.

5. Set Building

Jan Lachauer and Max Lang: Inspired by Manu and Aurelien, the set builders, supervised by Klaus Morschheuser and Katja Moll, created the world of Room on the Broom. In these pictures you can see how they built a fir tree from actual broom bristles. For the needle-covered ground in the forest they used spices. It still amazes us how they would take everyday objects and turn them into something magical.

6. Shoot

Jan Lachauer and Max Lang: DOP Daniel Moeller was faced with the challenge of translating Aurelien’s colorful sketches into physical cinematography. He literally painted with light

7. Animation

Jan Lachauer and Max Lang: The nine animators on Room on the Broom were not only incredibly talented but also very fast. They animated an average of 12 seconds a week while pushing the quality of the performance beyond our wildest expectations. Here you can see how they went from layout to final animation. This particularly lovely shot was animated by Robert Lehman.

8. Matte Painting

Jan Lachauer and Max Lang: Inspired by Romanticism, we wanted to show our characters exposed to nature and weather within vast landscapes. It was not possible to build full-size sets that large, but we also did not want to lose the handmade quality so we built miniature sets, which were then photographed and arranged into beautiful matte-paintings. The fantastic matte painters—Alexander Lindner, Tobias Trebeljahr, and Jin-Ho Jeon—seamlessly expanded the sets further than our eyes could see.

9. FX

Jan Lachauer and Max Lang: There are countless and very varied FX in Room on the Broom, from saliva to magic to dragon fire. It was not affordable to calculate simulations for all of them. More importantly, though, we are big fans of stylized effects that are designed and timed by artists. A lot of the FX in Room on the Broom are actually animated traditionally by 2D animator Andreu Campos and in the case of the fire composited by Tobias Gerdts.

10. Music

Jan Lachauer and Max Lang: The music in Room on the Broom plays a very important role. Since we have long stretches with no dialogue or narration, the music carries a lot of the story and images. The wonderful Rene Aubry, who had already composed the music for The Gruffalo, helped us once again to elevate our pictures to new heights. Above you can listen to one of the pieces he created for Room on the Broom.

Explore the artwork of the other 2013 Oscar animated short nominees:
Possessions
Feral
Mr. Hublot
Get A Horse!

Frank Terry, Former Director of CalArts Character Animation Program, RIP

Frank Terry, the beloved former director of the character animation program at CalArts, passed away on February 11 at the age of 75. The cause of death was pulmonary fibrosis.

After graduating from Chouinard Art Institute in 1964, Terry worked at Cine Centrum in the Netherlands on The Beatles TV series. He spent the bulk of his animation career working in advertising, beginning at Spungbuggy Works in the 1960s, where he eventually became a partner in addition to directing and designing spots. In the 1980s, he worked at FilmFair and Duck Soup Produckions, and in 1988 launched commercial studio terryx2 with his wife and producer Nelleke Terry.

Terry designed and directed this promo for the Grateful Dead album From the Mars Hotel at Spungbuggy Works in 1974:

Terry joined the CalArts faculty in the School of Film/Video in 1995, and served as the director of the character animation program from 1996 through 2007. “Frank brought a new level of ideas to the program—from curriculum to the jurying process for the annual producers’ showcase, to his encouragement for student participation in film festivals,” said assistant dean Leo Hobaica Jr.. “He elevated the discourse in the classroom, always striking a balance between industry requests and art for art’s sake. The films became technically better and more interesting than they’d been before, and suddenly there were kids who believed that they could become auteurs.”

This is Terry’s sequence from Marv Newland’s 1984 short Anijam:

‘The Wind Rises’ Opens in Limited Release Today

Oscar-nominated The Wind Rises, Hayao Miyazaki’s last feature film (until he makes another one), opens in limited release today. The highest-grossing film in Japan last year, Wind Rises will screen at 21 American locations this weekend before expanding to approximately 450 U.S. theaters next week. Disney is the distributor of the English dub which features the voices of Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Martin Short, John Krasinski, Emily Blunt, Stanley Tucci, and Mandy Patinkin, among others.

The theaters that are screening the film this weekend include Kendall Square Cinema in Boston; Century Centre Cinema in Chicago; AMC Century City, ArcLight Sherman Oaks, Pacific El Capitan, and The Landmark in Los Angeles; Lagoon Cinema in Minneapolis; BAM Rose Cinemas, Landmark Sunshine Cinema, and AMC Loews Lincoln Square in New York; Hillcrest Cinemas in San Diego; Embarcadero Center Cinema and California Theatre in San Francisco; Tivoli Theatre in St. Louis; and Bethesda Row Cinema in Washington D.C.

‘Susana and her Load of Crap’ by Cesar Diaz Melendez

EARTH University is a non-profit university based in Costa Rica that specializes in sustainable agriculture and natural resources management. EARTH U offers students in Latin America, Africa and the Caribbean the opportunity to learn to use the earth sustainably, creating stronger, healthier, more prosperous communities.

This 90-second video animated entirely in dirt by artist Cesar Diaz Melendez (Paranorman, Frankenweenie) tells the story of one graduate, Susana Fallas, who is helping communities turn their bio-pollution into an alternate energy source. Literally turning poop into usable energy.

Making-of video below:

‘Mr. Hublot’: The Art of the Oscar-Nominated Shorts

In this special Cartoon Brew series, we asked the five nominees of the 2013 Best Animated Short Academy Award to discuss the artwork of their films. Today we continue this exclusive look at the short contenders with Mr. Hublot, a Luxembourg/France co-production directed by Laurent Witz and co-directed by Alexandre Espigares.

(Click on any of the images for a closer view. All images in this post are copyright ZEILT Productions. See the artwork of the other short nominees: Possessions, Feral, Get A Horse! and Room on the Broom.)

Laurent Witz: Stéphane Halleux’ characters were the basis for the short. We had two main characters, Mr. Hublot and Robot Pet, but we had to alter them for animation purposes. We adapted the characters so we could animate them and convey more emotions and poetry through them.

We worked a lot on the characters’ eyes, because that’s where the emotions come from. Mr. Hublot doesn’t have a mouth or eyebrows, his eyes were barely noticeable. That is why we had to adapt what would help us create this emotion (like the eyes and the glasses)… It was a real challenge for the animators.

Laurent Witz: Working on the ambiance of the film was important, both to underline the emotions—the poetry of it—and to find the identity of the film. We worked one year on the preproduction of Mr. Hublot. It is an important stage of reflection into which we put a lot of work.

Laurent Witz: Color research was a key stage in making Mr. Hublot. We knew we had a very small budget for the amount of work on the film. We couldn’t test things in rendering or in compositing. It’s so much less expensive to do tests in 2D rather than in 3D. So we took the time to do the research, at the risk of losing time. Several artists worked on this crucial stage, bringing varied suggestions that we then had to refine.

I remember the first suggestions, they were more in the bluish colors, less in the spirit of the film in its present version. But it’s part of the paths we have to explore before finding the direction we want to take. You can always be pleasantly surprised by ideas you hadn’t thought of when you began the film.

Laurent Witz: For the designs of Mr. Hublot, it was important to research the steampunk culture and Stéphane Halleux’ sculptures before coming up with the sets and props of Mr. Hublot’s universe. We needed to find the authenticity of the materials as well as the ingenuity of the mechanisms. We also wanted the interiors to feel comfortable, familiar, like a grandparents’ house, interiors that could contrast with the more menacing, oppressing exterior designs.

Laurent Witz: We didn’t want Mr. Hublot to just be a steampunk film, but rather a particular and original piece. The steampunk trend was a source of inspiration, not of copying. The work on designs, by Pascal Thiébaux among others, was crucial to create a coherent world for the characters to live in, a world that would support the scenario. We had to find the balance between the coldness of the industrial world and the warmth of stone, leather, and the Haussmann architecture.

Explore the artwork of the other 2013 Oscar animated short nominees:
Possessions
Feral
Get A Horse!
Room on the Broom