Can Jamaica Become A Force in Global Animation?

Animation may not be the first thing that pops to mind when you hear the name Jamaica, but the Caribbean island of nearly 3 million people is making an effort to position itself as a player in the global animation industry. Two weeks ago, 43 students graduated from the inaugural class of ‘Animate Jamaica,’ a six-month certificate program of the Caribbean Institute of Media and Communication. [The graduation photo above comes from this set on Flickr.]

The program has garnered enthusiasm in Jamaican media as a possible solution for easing the country’s perpetual unemployment problem for young people. Animate Jamaica has the backing of both Jamaica’s government and the World Bank Group. The initiative’s lofty aims, according to the World Bank, is to position Jamaica “as one of the global hubs of animation with South Korea, India, and the Philippines as a means of tapping into the significant creative talent of Jamaican youth and their interest in participating more actively in the global economy.”

Nearly two-thirds of the graduating students have already been guaranteed work, in part due to the Jamaican studio Reel Rock GSW, which was a major backer of the Animate Jamaica program. They signed a co-production deal last year with French animation outfit Red Frog to produce 13 episodes of Quiz Time for Disney Junior France [see video below]. The success of that production has led to an even bigger co-production deal to work on 52 episodes of the Disney Channel/Nickelodeon series Lucky Fred in conjunction with Spain’s Imira Entertainment.

Jamaica, which is an economically troubled country, obviously cannot invest the tens (and hundreds) of millions of dollars that Asian countries like Singapore spend to build technology infrastructure and develop artists for their entertainment industry. Jamaica is building a stealth animation industry with minimal resources and investment, and by that standard, it is remarkable how much progress they have made in such a brief period of time. Reel Rock was founded just two years ago. The Animate Jamaica training program was conceived only last June at the Kingstoon animation conference held in Kingston, Jamaica. The students are now trained in Toon Boom Harmony, an industry-standard software that Reel Rock uses to produce their work. Montreal-based Toon Boom has been involved from the beginning, backing the Animate Jamaica program and providing support to Reel Rock.

The creative/entertainment sector was not an option for most global youth a couple decades ago. Today, with standardized software and a pre-existing familiarity with Hollywood standards, youth in developing countries like Jamaica can join the global animation marketplace almost immediately. If animation history in other parts of the world is any guide, the most talented and savviest of Jamaica’s young animators will set out to launch their own studios. And just like that, an animation industry is born in a place where one did not previously exist. Developing countries that wish to launch their own animation industries would be wise to track the progress of the Jamaican model and its evolution over the next few years.

Book Giveaway: ‘The CG Story’

On Saturday, we’re giving away a copy of The CG Story: Computer-Generated Animation and Special Effects by Christopher Finch (The Monacelli Press, 368 pgs, $75). To be automatically entered into the giveaway, sign up for Cartoon Brew’s email list in the right-hand column by Saturday noon ET. A member of the email list will be selected at random to receive the book.

Artist of the Day: Thierry Martin

Thierry Martin

Nancy, France-based artist Thierry Martin illustrates comics and books. Below, you can spend a relaxing three minutes watching Martin ink a comic panel with confidently placed brushed strokes accompanied by nature sounds.

Thierry Martin

Thierry Martin

Thierry Martin

Martin’s work includes cartoon illustrations geared toward children and all sorts of narrative character-based work executed with a professional cartoonist’s precision. On his Tumblr and blog you’ll find additional artwork of his (and of other artists who inspire him), sketches, animated GIFs, and photos of his drawing table and various works-in-progress.

Thierry Martin

Thierry Martin

Thierry Martin

Thierry Martin

Thierry Martin

‘Possessions’: 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 Possessions, a Japanese film directed by Shuhei Morita. The film initially appeared in Katsuhiro Otomo’s Short Peace film omnibus.

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

Shuhei Morita: Stories that are written in old Japanese folk stories usually don’t have big actions or surprising tricks. They are very simple, but attract people somehow. I thought this is one style of entertainment. I really like it. I believed that the challenge of creating Japanese folk stories as a style of entertainment could only be done in by short film.

We made Possessions very simple, nothing extra is added. I’m attracted to flashy styles such as “Hyakki-yagyo” or “Utagawa-Kuniyoshi,” because I really like Japanese ghosts. But the time format is too short for that, and it meant I can’t create the Japanese ghosts that I imagined. It was very hard to make it short, but I think I was able show the entertainment that is expressed through Japanese folk stories.

This is a unique idea that things have souls. For example, when you lose an important thing on your desk, without becoming frustrated you should think of it this way. “It is trying to come back to me!” Then you won’t get so frustrated or you’ll be happy when you see them again.

Shuhei Morita: In the past few years, we have been creating a “Theatrical Plan” for a film themed on ‘Things.’ At the time, I met Mr. Keisuke Kishi and his sculpture art attracted me a lot. Ever since, I’ve wanted to work with him somehow.

Finally this time, I got a chance to work with him, and I asked him to create ‘plot design’ and ‘the original plan.’ The reason the design has been changed is he had worked on it before the title Possessions was decided. I received his idea, and made up the script and design.

Shuhei Morita: “Stuff” such as characters and items in the anime cannot be ignored, so I used the sounds such as “Ding,” “Bang,” and “Crack,” and expressed its presence. I came up with the idea that they look three-dimensional.

Shuhei Morita: As you see in the design, I was particular about the details. Interesting thing is I used a Sumo wrestler from Ukiyoe-art in Edo period as reference on how to draw the muscles.

(above: Kouzo-gami for skin texture, Japanese paper for hair texture, Chiyo-gami for clothes texture)

Shuhei Morita: Japanese paper or Chiyo-gami were used for all characters in Possessions. The idea came up when I saw Chiyo-gami which my wife bought for our kid. I was looking for texture something warm for “Thing” at the time. Kouzo-gami which was used for skin of the man. Kouzo-gami is made of fiber of wood skin. During final checking, I found ‘Freckles’ and ‘Moles’ on his skin which were dust in Japanese paper. But I liked it and told everyone not to erase it. These are just on the best spot and made the character more attractive. Japanese paper has various texture—we even used Japanese paper for tree and hair.

Shuhei Morita: At the beginning, it was eight seconds for the yawn scene. Eight seconds is usual time for the scene, but no impact… Mr. Horiuchi, an experienced animator, told me about a movie having a looong yawn scene that had a big impact. Then I challenged to create a super long yawn scene for 1 minute! I thought it would be hard for a voice actor to handle such a long yawn. But the voice actor for the man, Mr. Yamadera, finished it at once. That’s incredible!!!

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

The Left Front: Radical Art in the 1930s ‘Red Decade’

Politically-conscious graphic art has a long history, from Daumier up to Lynd Ward and Eric Drooker. The 1930s and ’40s were a rich period in this respect, as the rise of Communism and Fascism coupled with the Great Depression brought issues of social justice to the fore. The John Reed Club, an organization founded by staff members of the Communist magazine New Masses, formed in 1929 to support leftist artists and writers. It allied with the American Communist Party, and spread to thirty chapters nationwide before it was replaced in 1936 by the American Artists’ Congress, which survived until the Second World War.

The Mary and Leigh Block Museum of Art, at Northwestern University in Evanston, Illinois, has mounted “The Left Front: Radical Art in the ‘Red Decade,’ 1929–1940,” an exhibition of artists who showed with the John Reed Club and the American Artists’ Congress. Drawn from the Block’s collection and elsewhere, the show naturally features artists from the Midwest, among more famous names. Some of the lesser-known works holds their own: Mabel Dwight’s “Danse Macabre” (1933-34, above) with its vaudeville show of political caricatures, and Carl Hoeckner’s “The Yes Machine” (1935, below), a scathing look at the capitalist fat cat. Among the famous fine artists included are Rockwell Kent, Stuart Davis, and Raphael Soyer. Diego Rivera, who made such a bad impression on Club members when he addressed them in 1932 that they repudiated him, is represented by his 1934 book, “Portrait of America.”

Artists who worked in cartooning and animation are also represented. William Gropper, who helped found New Masses, produced many paintings and cartoons on social themes, and is represented by several lithographs. Boris Gorelick has three lithographs, including his brilliant, Cubist/Surrealist-inflected work, “Sweatshop” (1938, pictured below). Gorelick’s career as a background artist in animated films spanned decades, including UPA’s Brotherhood of Man (1945), Friz Freleng’s Oscar-winner Birds Anonymous (1957), and television work on The Alvin Show and the animated Star Trek.

In a 1964 interview, Gorelick summed up the decade of the 1930s: “There was ferment; there was curiosity; there was agitation; there was activity; there was interest, and there was freedom of thought.” When the U.S. government-sponsord Works Progress Administration (WPA) began combating the Depression by commissioning artwork, Gorelick joined and helped bring other artists, like Gropper and fellow John Reed Club member Harry Sternberg, into WPA programs. Artists with leftist politics would never be quite so welcome on the government payroll again. Gropper was called before the House Un-American Activities Committee in 1953; he pled the Fifth and was blacklisted.

Co-curators (and Northwestern doctoral candidates) John Murphy and Jill Bugajski have done a fine job of scholarship and, I hope, started the ball rolling for future studies of the period. There remain tantalizing avenues to explore: Isadore (Izzy) Klein, a long-time animator and writer, credited with helping to create that protector of the proletariat, Mighty Mouse, was part of the group that started the John Reed Club; or Otto Soglow, who exhibited work in two John Reed Club-organized exhibitions in New York in 1930 and 1932, just as he was inventing The Little King. Caricature and exaggeration run like threads through print cartoons, animated films, fine art, and illustration, from long past to the present minute.

With over one hundred works, “The Left Front” is the largest and most comprehensive exhibition to examine this facet of political art, though, as you can see from the omissions, there’s room for more research. The exhibition runs until June 22.

(above: Johnny Appleseed and Paul Bunyan from the series “American Folk Heroes” by William Gropper)

‘Feral’: 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 begin this exclusive look at the short contenders with Feral, an independent film directed by Daniel Sousa.

(Click on any of the images for a closer view. Explore the artwork of the other 2013 Oscar animated short nominees: Possessions, Mr. Hublot, Get A Horse! and Room on the Broom.)

Daniel Sousa: “Initially, the film was going to tell the story of Kasper Hauser, a boy who had been locked in a dark room for his whole childhood, without human contact. He escaped when he was a teenager, and was found in the center of town holding a mysterious letter that read: “I want to be a horse-rider, like my father.” The riddle fascinated me, so the first few designs are illustrations of that story. This one is a simple watercolor study.”

Daniel Sousa: “I also tried pen-and-ink and playing around with transparencies, thinking of the boy as a hollow receptacle of information, soaking in the chaos of the new-found civilization, allowing it to flow through him.”

Daniel Sousa: “As my research into the subject progressed, I gradually moved away from the specific story of Kasper Hauser and started exploring just the idea of an isolated child, trapped in his own mind, naked and fragile. This is a look test done in acrylics on board.”

Daniel Sousa: “I started to feel that the boy needed to be more savage, untamed, aggressive. So I tried a very loose painterly approach, allowing the brush-strokes to be more expressive, and removing the facial features since they gave the character a very cartoony and overly sentimental look. Without facial features the boy looked more mysterious, like a blank slate, without personality. He felt ghostly and more animalistic. You couldn’t tell what he was thinking, and that was crucial for the story.”

Daniel Sousa: “Following this line of thinking, I started to build the world around the boy, using broad shapes and silhouettes, blocks of shadow and light. I started to feel that I was finally capturing the wight and physicality that the story required. At this stage, the hunter character was not yet fully developed, so here he is shown as a fisherman, or a farmer.”

Daniel Sousa: “Then I started to refine the color palette of the film, desaturating the extremes but staying within an earthy, harmonized spectrum, and using strong contrasts of light and shadow. The world around the boy needed to feel cold and oppressive, so a saturated color space no longer made sense. Here the man is still a fisherman, holding a net, but his look is already very close to the final version. The cityscapes were informed by my memories of Lisbon, a patchwork of shingled rooftops and plastered walls.”

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

Greg McLeod On Animating 1 Second Every Day for A Year

365, the new short from the Brothers McLeod, has an unusual concept. It is a compilation of brief clips that were animated by Greg McLeod (pictured right) at a rate of one per day throughout 2013; the results were first released as a series of monthly chunks, which have now been gathered together into a single seven-minute film. Cartoon Brew spoke to Greg about the creative process behind the film and the business model of creating a self-funded short film and then selling it online.

Cartoon Brew: Was the idea for the film a sudden burst of inspiration towards the end of 2012, or something that you had in mind for a while?

Greg McLeod: It was a sudden burst—I was looking to make a new short film and had toyed with a few ideas, but 365 struck me as an interesting challenge and one that wouldn’t be tied down by a traditional narrative structure.

Cartoon Brew: The film contains a credit for “rules.” Can you let us in on the guidelines behind the film?

Greg McLeod: Each day had to be a second, so I had to post a still from that day on Facebook with an explanation of the image. Then each month, we’d post that month’s installment. My brother Myles then made sure I didn’t redo any animation after the fact and didn’t re-use animation. That was it, really. 

Cartoon Brew: Most artists keep daily sketchbooks; what you have here is essentially an animated daily sketchbook. Would you recommend this process for other animators, even if they may not wish to publish the results?

Greg McLeod: It is a challenge and time consuming, over a thousand hours’ work. However, it forces you to generate ideas that you feel worthy of animating. Even on a boring uneventful day, you have to search for inspiration. I found it very rewarding. It was like an animation gym with a workout every day. I’d say I’m pretty fit now!

Cartoon Brew: By releasing the film first as monthly half-minute segments, and later as a complete seven-minute short, you made use of the fluid formatting approaches that only Internet distribution offers. Has it inspired you to try further experiments with format?

“We’d normally get thousands of views if we made the film free. We’ve only had 40 purchases so far. That says a lot.”

Greg McLeod: It’s been interesting watching it grow online and it seems to have gone down well. Non-traditional forms of narrative have always interested me. Most of our commercial work is heavily narrative and we love doing those projects, but I enjoy breaking those conventions in my personal work. Whether people will be prepared to actually purchase the film is an interesting question. So much is free online now that I think that’s what people expect. However, if people get used to purchasing high-standard short films, then this can only benefit the filmmakers and may mean they can make a modest income from working on their own projects. So far, it’s been a slow start on the downloads. We’d normally get thousands of views if we made the film free. We’ve only had 40 purchases so far. That says a lot.

Cartoon Brew: Did you ever consider varying the art style more significantly—doing the occasional stop motion or CGI piece, for example—or was consistency of style a factor from the get-go?

Greg McLeod: I always wanted a consistent style. I figured the viewer is going to have to work pretty hard anyway without the style shifting as well. It also made the project more practical as I had to have a remote setup so I could animate wherever I was.

Cartoon Brew: Any plans for further projects along the same lines?

Greg McLeod: I’ve started a film with sound designer extraordinaire Tom Angel called Consequences. I animate ten seconds and pass this to him, he adds sound to my pictures and adds a further ten seconds which I animate to and so on. No idea where it will end or what it will be about, but we are having a lot of fun doing it. When it’s animated we will print out the frames, all done in simple black and white, and have a big coloring-in party with paints, pencils, felt-tips and beers, nibbles and many friends. Then we’ll photograph them all and comp together with the soundtrack.

Bob Godfrey Answers the Question “What Is Animation?”

British animation legend Bob Godfrey (1921-2013) answers the question “What Is Animation?” in this short film directed by Martin Pickles. Pickles was inspired to become a full-time animator and to study Animation at the Royal College of Art after meeting Godfrey at Animafest Zagreb in 2004. He recorded the interview with Godfrey in 2006 at Bob’s Acme Studio in South East London.

Says Godfrey:

“Well animation is not live action, I think that says it. Anything that is not live action which is actuality but is drawn is animation. And the thing about animation is that there are absolutely no rules. I mean these schools that are springing up all over the place ‘How to Walk, ‘How to Run,’ based on live action. How a live action man runs, how a live action person walks, you know, people in animation don’t have to walk, I mean they don’t even have to have legs, they can go up in the air.

“In animation you can do absolutely everything and I said I think that the only two restrictions are your bank balance and your mind. And, well, your imagination that you can grow, you know, providing the budget will allow you to. And when people are confronted with this absolute freedom they tend to freak out, they tend to say ‘We want limitations, we want gravity.’ Basically, there is no gravity in animation, animation is free, it can fly, it can go anywhere. And I don’t think enough people realize this, they’re too earth bound. It’s not earth bound, it’s fantasy.”

You can read the rest of the interview here.

CREDITS
Film by Martin Pickles
Voice: Bob Godfrey
Transcript: Jules Shevlin
Script editor: Anna Minton
Music: Tanera Dawkins
Sound design: Tom Lowe

“Steven Universe” Recap: “Arcade Mania”

“Arcade Mania”
Written and storyboard by Lamar Abrams, Aleth Romanillos, Luke Weber.

Admiration was the theme this week and it was only coming from Steven and heading towards Garnet. She can do no wrong – a point on which I think we can all pretty much agree. For weeks we’ve seen the Gems develop this family dynamic where Steven and Amethyst are the dueling brother and sister, leaving Pearl to be the hovering mother and Garnet, the stern but inspiring father figure. With Steven’s dad being a distant memory at this point, Garnet is the closest thing Steven has to a dominant role model. It shows that no matter who your parents are, you need that balance of nurturing and sturdy.

“Arcade Mania” doesn’t start in a video game-filled haven but on a mission as usual. After the gang disposes of the creatures-of-the-week, the five-legged “little guys,” Steven suggests celebrating at the local arcade, Funland. It’s clear the three Gems have never been to an arcade before, which makes sense because they’re adult superbeings. At this point, the Gems personalities are set, and that is reflected in how they play games. Pearl was a careful Cathy playing “Road Killer” with the appropriate line, “Which one of these buttons is my turn signal?” Amethyst didn’t disappoint by cheating at skee-ball, and Garnet punched out two games before starting an obsession with Meat Beat Mania.

Let’s talk about the overt sexual innuendo…Meat Beat Mania is a game much like your typical dance game for the Wii, but instead of holding a traditional controller you hold two pieces of ham and then “shake the meat” to earn points. I thought this show was a little more family friendly than say Regular Show or Adventure Time, but then again, this is a coming-of-age cartoon about a young boy and shaking the meat makes perfect sense.

The owner, a Terry Crews-like man starts to have a spasm over Garnet’s trail of broken games. Steven, Amethyst, and Pearl flee, while their strong leader stays behind to shake her meat. It was clear Garnet was addicted when she not only didn’t come home, but didn’t care one bit when the previously-disposed “little guys” came back for revenge.
 
Steven did everything he could to get her attention, even removing her shades.  When all of a sudden – OH MY GOD…SHE HAS THREE EYES?! What’s that all about, right? Is this what Pearl meant when she said Garnet has “heightened perception”? We learn two things in this scene—that Garnet isn’t as strongwilled as we once thought due to the realization that she has a weak spot: gaming. We also learn that she’s physically different than the others with her third eye. How do you think this will play out for the rest of the show? Give me your predictions.

Steven finds his inner strength to destroy the Meat Beat Mania machine, and Garnet, returned to her senses, heads out to fight the “little guys.” The episode ends mid-battle; it was the first time we didn’t actually see the Gems finish the job. That felt a little odd. Next week has big—I mean giant—things in store when Steven gets involved with some rather large things.

Artist of the Day: Jim Pluk

Jim Pluk

Colombia-based artist Jim Pluk illustrates comics and books and generally creates piles of cartoon drawings full of quirky, strange characters. Pluk shoots photographs, creates collage artwork, publishes art zines and contributes his work to gallery shows.

Jim Pluk

Jim Pluk

You can see more work from Jim Pluk on his Tumblr, Flickr, and blog, the latter of which has his work neatly cataloged.

Jim Pluk

Jim Pluk

Jim Pluk

Jim Pluk

Jim Pluk

Jim Pluk

Jim Pluk

The Use of the Dolly Zoom in “Ratatouille”

Todd Vaziri, a compositing supervisor at ILM, has written an enlightening piece about the subtle use of the dolly zoom in a shot during Pixar’s Ratatouille. He highlights director Brad Bird’s application of the dolly zoom as “one of my favorite uses of the technique in the last decade”:

The effect is used in Ratatouille with confidence and elegant subtlety; like previously stated, most viewers do not even realize the perspective is flattening out, which is antithetical to the modern, in-your-face cliche use of the dolly zoom. The technique is generally used as punctuation (usually an exclamation point), screaming “The characters are going through something significant RIGHT NOW!” In this scene from Ratatouille, the dolly zoom is simply part of the mise-en-scène and not the focus of the shot. Like the editing, costumes, and the lighting, the dolly zoom is not meant to be seen, but felt.

An annotated video of the zoom accompanies the write-up:

As a side note, Vaziri mentions that before writing the post, he could not find a single reference posted online about the dolly zoom in Ratatouille. That observation speaks to a broader point about the virtual absence of critical discourse about the cinematic qualities of animation. From the standpoint of filmmaking, what sets apart one animated feature from the other? We’re not talking about story or characters or design, but the creative choices that were made by the director about how to tell the story. Animation directors like Bird are keenly aware of cinematic language and how to use a specific technique to achieve a desired emotional effect. Vaziri’s post serves as a reminder that a great deal of thought and effort is invested into every shot of certain animated films, and a rich viewing experience awaits those of us who pay close attention.

Artist of the Day: Nadine Redlich

Nadine Redlich

Düsseldorf-based artist Nadine Redlich specializes in funny googly-eyed character drawings and animated bits. Redlich also enjoys drawing little faces on little tufts of moss, wigs, trees, and a pear that looks like it has a butt.

Nadine Redlich

Nadine Redlich

Redlich’s character art seems to be filtered through a childhood full of muppets and other colorful beings, perhaps things like the Mister Men and Little Miss books, but distilled through her distinctly individual perspective. See more on Redlich’s Flickr and Tumblr accounts.

Nadine Redlich

Nadine Redlich

Nadine Redlich

Nadine Redlich

Nadine Redlich

Nadine Redlich

“I Am Tom Moody” by Ainslie Henderson

A surreal trip through the subconscious of a stifled musician as he struggles to sing.

CREDITS
Written, directed and animated by Ainslie Henderson
Voice of older Tom: Mackenzie Crook
Voice of younger Tom: Jude Crook
Introduction voice: Rick Webster
Music: Peter Deane and Ainslie Henderson
Compositing: Will Anderson
Sound design: Ainslie Henderson and Joe Acheson
Costumes: Alice Bodgener
Props: Tobias Feltus, Sophie Gackowski, Ruoxi Lin
Made at Edinburgh College of Art, 2012.

“Steamboat Willie” Has Been Updated for the 21st Century

The YouTube channel Really 3D makes a convincing argument that everything is more hilarious when it’s remade using computer animation. Their latest effort is a remake of Disney’s Steamboat Willie:

They’ve also made improvements to The Simpsons intro:

…and Breaking Bad

Amazingly, even CGI animation is improved when it’s remade in CGI:

“Frozen” Scores Yet Another Win with BAFTA Award

The winners of the 2014 BAFTA film awards, the British equivalent of the Oscars, were announced today. Disney’s Frozen beat out Illumination Entertainment’s Despicable Me 2 and Pixar’s Monsters University in the animated feature category; and Sleeping With The Fishes by Yousif Al-Khalifa, James Walker, and Sarah Woolner was named best British short animation ahead of I Am Tom Moody by Ainslie Henderson and Everything I Can See From Here by Bjorn-Erik Aschim, Sam Taylor, and Friederike Nicolaus.

It should also be noted that one of the biggest winners of the night was a film that consisted largely of animation. Gravity took the prizes for best British film, best director (Alfonso Cuarón), best cinematography (Emmanuel Lubezki), best sound (Glenn Freemantle, Skip Lievsay, Christopher Benstead, Niv Adiri and Chris Munro), best original music (Steven Price) and best special visual effects (Tim Webber, Chris Lawrence, David Shirk, Neil Corbould and Nikki Penny).

A full list of winners can be found here.

“LEGO Movie” Destroys Competition In It Second Weekend

Remember last year when the mainstream media started writing about the glut of animated features and questioning whether the industry was producing too much animation? As usual, they underestimated the animation medium and the connection that audiences have with the art form. The continuing dominance of animation at the American box office suggests that if anything audiences want more, not less, animation. This weekend The LEGO Movie handily won the top spot with an estimated $48.8 million weekend total. Its closest competitor, About Last Night, earned $27M.

The LEGO Movie declined an astonishingly slim 29.3% from its debut weekend. By comparison, megahits like Despicable Me 2 and Frozen declined 47.4% and 53.1% respectively in their second frames. It’s a four-day weekend in the United States so LEGO Movie may hit a $60M four-day total by the end of Monday. Its domestic box office total is currently $129.1M.

Disney’s Frozen earned $5.9M (est), slipping to eighth place in its 12th weekend of wide release. The decline in gross was only due to a smaller theater count (2,100 screens versus the previous week’s 2,460) because this weekend’s per-theater average of $2,787 remained virtually identical to last week’s $2,794 per-theater gross. Frozen has grossed $376M to date. The Nut Job tacked on an extra $1.8M expanding its overall total to $57.5M.

Overseas, LEGO Movie grossed $27.7M, the second highest total behind RoboCop. The film’s overseas total stands at $51.2M and global total (with American figures added) is $180.3M. Frozen added $18.2M internationally, raising its foreign cume to $579.7M. Its global total, currently at $955.7M, is now guaranteed to surpass the $1 billion mark, making it the second biggest film of 2013 behind only Iron Man 3.

“When the Wind Blows” Director Jimmy Murakami, RIP

Japanese-American animation legend Jimmy Murakami, who played an important role in the development of Ireland’s animation industry, has died at the age of 80, reported the organization Animation Ireland. The cause of death is unknown.

A restless creative soul who directed numerous award-winning shorts and the much-admired feature When the Wind Blows (1986), Murakami hopscotched the globe as few other artists. In the span of a few years during the late-1950s, he worked at United Productions of America in Los Angeles, Pintoff Productions in New York, Toei Animation in Japan, and TVC Studio in London, and then followed that with stints in Italy, France and The Netherlands.

Murakami was born on June 5, 1933 in San Jose, California. At the age of nine, he became a victim of America’s World War II concentration camps in which tens of thousands of West Coast-based Japanese-Americans were imprisoned for years. It was a life-altering experience that would scar him for years afterward. “I was very, very bitter, to be an American citizen treated this way,” he later said. “My older sister died in the camp and the rest of us came out pretty bad.” A documentary was produced recently about this period in his life entitled Jimmy Murakami— Non-Alien:

Murakami’s family considered moving back to Japan after the war, but their family’s home had been bombed to rubble, so they settled in Los Angeles. Murakami attended Chouinard Art Institute in the 1950s, where his teachers included Don Graham and Disney animator Marc Davis—and his night-class drawing classmate was WB animation director Chuck Jones. He was hired by UPA in 1955 to work on the studio’s groundbreaking TV series The Boing Boing Show. Murakami also worked on the “Ham & Hattie” theatrical series with Fred Crippen; he designed the big-nosed islanders in the “Jamaica Daddy” sequence of the Oscar-nominated Trees and Jamaica Daddy (1957):

He moved to New York in 1958 to work at Pintoff Productions, which was run by his former UPA colleague Ernie Pintoff. Working with Pintoff, Murakami designed the Oscar-nominated short The Violinist (1959):

Murakami moved to Tokyo in 1959 to work at Toei Animation, an experience that he described in this interview:

“I was basically cracking up, to be honest. I was drinking too much, my health was suffering with late nights in New York. I thought I was going insane. I wanted to find my roots as a Japanese. I was brought up Japanese, speaking Japanese at home as a kid. So I thought, I better go to Japan. No-one was guiding me… I didn’t tell my parents anything, I didn’t want them to worry. So I took a boat to Japan, not knowing if I would stay there the rest of my life or what; just made a decision to leave America.

“I worked in Toei Animation for a time as a consultant, and all they did was give me grief because they wanted me to do everything their way, including using paper-clips for registration instead of pegs, so the picture would be ‘jittery.’ I had disagreements and left. Then I painted watercolors, made woodcuts and taught conversational English to university students and prostitutes and bar-girls. I sold some paintings, but for negligible money.”

After that experience, Murakami worked for a time in London at George Dunning’s TVC studio, where he wrote and directed the BAFTA-winning short Insects (1961). Afer working around Europe, he returned to Los Angeles to launch Murakami-Wolf Productions in 1965 with business partner Fred Wolf. At the studio, which was among the busiest LA commercial houses during the late-Sixties, Murakami directed mostly commercials, titles, and industrial projects, but he continued to make personal films on the side, include the Oscar-nominated Magic Pear Tree and the Annecy Grand Prix-winning Breath, a (poor) copy which can be viewed below:

Murakami settled in Europe permanently in 1971 when he traveled to Ireland to become a second-unit aerial director on Roger Corman’s The Red Baron. Murakami would later direct the Corman movies Battle Beyond the Stars and Humanoids from the Deep. (In the photo at right, he is on the set of Battle Beyond the Stars with actor Richard Thomas.) In Ireland, Murakami set up the commercial studio Quateru Film to work on freelance projects. Among the memorable works he made was the opening sequence of Hevy Metal (1981):

He served as the supervising director of the British TV special (and now a holiday classic) The Snowman (1982) based on a children’s book by Raymond Briggs. This led to a second collaboration with Briggs that would become one of Murakami’s most well received projects: the 1986 feature When the Wind Blows, a hand-drawn/stop motion film depicting an impending nuclear attack through the eyes of a retired British couple. Murakami talks about the film (as well as other parts of his career) in this interview:

After his studio Quateru closed, he opened Murakami Films in Dublin. The studio worked on the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (1989), which was produced by his old business partner Fred Wolf, and Murakami also directed the TV series Storykeepers (1995) and Christmas Carol: The Movie (2001). Murakami’s long experience in animation made him a valued figure in the Irish animation community at a critical time in the development of their modern industry. On Twitter this morning, Cathal Gaffney, a co-founder of the Irish animation studio Brown Bag Films, called Murakami “a founding father of Irish Animation,” suggesting the importance of his presence in the country.

Murakami’s career is remarkable for its breadth and variety, as well as for his fiercely independent streak that led him to carve out his own creative path. It’s not an easy life to sum up, but historian Giannalberto Bendazzi put it nicely when he wrote:

[Murakami] belongs to the generation of specialists who were trained or inspired by UPA, and is among the first of the American intellectuals who found their social awareness during the difficult 1950s—educated, sensitive artists devoted not so much to finding absolutes in art as to creating intelligently tasteful, ethical films for large audiences.

“Angry Birds” Feature Will Be Produced at Sony Imageworks Vancouver

The Angry Birds feature film that was announced last October will be animated at Sony Pictures Imageworks in Vancouver, Canada. At least one of the film’s directors, Clay Kaytis, has confirmed on Twitter that he will move to Vancouver to direct the project.

Sony Imageworks’ Vancouver facility was established in 2010 in the city’s Yaletown district and has been growing as a result of British Columbia’s 17.5% tax credit on labor expenses for digital productions. Sony has been attempting to shift personnel from its main Imageworks facility in Los Angeles to Vancouver; last month they made an offer to approximately three dozen LA-based employees: move to Vancouver or lose your job. Also reported in a press release yesterday, the British Columbia Ministry of International Trade helped Rovio, the Finnish maker of Angry Birds, establish a Canadian studio, Rovio Animation, to qualify for tax credits.

“The Angry Birds movie will allow Sony Pictures Imageworks to employ more artists in Vancouver on a single film than we’ve had on any of our previous CG features,” said Randy Lake, Imageworks executive vice president and general manager, digital production services. “British Columbia is rich with animation and effects talent, and we look forward to further enhancing the production staff in our Vancouver facility.”

Angry Birds, directed by Clay Kaytis and Fergal Reilly, is slated for a July 1, 2016 release by Sony Pictures.

Everything You’ve Learned in Animation School (In Song Form)

This song gives a pretty good description of everything you’ll know (or think you know) when you graduate from animation school:

“I am the Very Model of an Animation Graduate” was written by Rosa Hughes and sung by Mark Tweedale, with backing by the Queensland College of Art’s 2005 graduating animation class.

Sing along:

I am the very model of an animation graduate
My timing and my silhouettes and movement is immaculate
My keys and all my inbetweens and clean-up are impeccable
My characters have weight, anticipation – all exceptional

My pencil line it moves with absolute precise refinery
The form you can’t deny is yet prolific with such subtlety
And I can paint both sweeping plains and jagged mountain rockeries
The detail of my layouts make you weep in anguish pitifully

(The detail of his layouts make you weep in anguish pitifully
The detail of his layouts make you weep in anguish pitifully
The detail of his layouts make you weep in anguish oh-so-pitifully)

And you could pick three creatures – I’d take parts of their anatomy
And make them move and think and feel with utmost reasonibility
In short in all I’ve said of late, I really must expostulate
I am the very model of an animation graduate

(In short in all he’s said of late, we really must expostulate
he is the very model of an animation graduate)

My stories are engaging and they’re filled with creativity
I don’t rely on pity or explosions for prolifery
My plots are entertaining and they’re round-the-world relatable
My jokes are gelogenic for an audience insatiable

My characters have journeys with identity and histories
With constantly self-changing and evolving personalities
They’ll sweep you off your feet and make you pine in utter empathy
Their dialogue is witty and will make you laugh dementedly

(His dialogue is witty and will make you laugh dementedly
His dialogue is witty and will make you laugh dementedly
His dialogue is witty and will make you laugh duh-duh-dementedly)

Although it was insipid I have done the art theoretical
I deconstruct the image even though it’s unintentional
In short in all I’ve said of late, I really must expostulate
I am the very model of an animation graduate

(In short in all I’ve said of late, I really must expostulate
I am the very model of an animation graduate)

In retrospect I must confess I have been half a fabulist
For though my talent’s grand I have a pretty price to pay for this
For I suspect its from all this that I get over-worked and stressed
And sometimes I get maddened by a hacky sack that’s thrown in jest

And so I have the answer; I don’t want your job so tedious!
I’ll open my own studio with my direction genius
I’ll make a film unrivalled in its splendour, wit and poetry
And I will be the one to revolutionize the industry

(And he will be the one to revolutionize the industry
And he will be the one to revolutionize the industry
And he will be the one to revolutionize this lucky industry)

For I could draw in any style but mine is just the best you see
You’ve never seen such perfect drawings move with such fluidity
In short I am the God of drawing, bow before me, supplicate,
I am the very best of all you animation graduates.

(In short he is the God of drawing, bow before him, supplicate,
He is the very best of all you animation graduates.)

(via Mayerson on Animation)

Production is Over On “Phineas and Ferb,” Future of Show Up in the Air [UPDATED]

The Animation Guild’s TAG blog has confirmed that Disney will no longer produce new episodes of Phineas and Ferb. They quoted an anonymous Disney staffer who had worked on the series:

Most the Phineas and Ferb board artists are gone. It was a nice, five-year run but the series and the specials have wrapped and people are off to other jobs, looking for other jobs. A few artists are swinging to other Disney shows here, but others not…

UPDATE: On Twitter, Phineas and Ferb co-creator Jeff “Swampy” Marsh denies that the show is over in an aggressively worded series of tweets directed toward the Animation Guild’s business rep Steve Hulett, who reported the news. We have reached out to the Animation Guild for comment.

Contrary to Marsh’s claim, I have never known the Guild to be inaccurate on a cancellation notice. They represent the artists who work on the show, and if there’s anybody who would know if a show is finished, it’s the Animation Guild. There may, in fact, be new unaired Phineas and Ferb episodes/specials already in the can. What the Guild is reporting however—and which Marsh doesn’t deny—is that the new content has already been produced, and thus why the show’s crew was laid off.

UPDATE 2: We’ve updated the title of the post to more accurately reflect that new episodes are no longer being produced and that the show’s future is unknown. P&F writer and storyboard artist Aliki Theofilopoulos wrote on Twitter that the show is on ‘indefinite hiatus.’

UPDATE 3 (2/21/14): The Animation Guild’s business rep Steve Hulett posted a follow-up to address Phineas and Ferb co-creator Jeff “Swampy” Marsh’s Twitter comments about him. In it, Hulett reiterated:

Over the past few months, the Phineas and Ferb crew has told me the show is wrapping up and they’ve gotten their end dates, that the series doesn’t have a pickup or green light for more episodes. And every time I’ve been over to Disney Sonora, there are more and more of the P & F artists gone from their spaces. And the few left say to me (again) that the show is wrapping.

As artists on the show have said [see update 2 above], the series is currently on ‘indefinite hiatus,’ which means that Disney is not planning any new production at this time. However, it is also clear that new content has already been produced which has not premiered yet. In other words, fans of the show still have more to look forward to, even though Disney has ended production on the current series.

First Image and Synopsis from Michael Dudok de Wit’s “The Red Turtle”

A synopsis and the first piece of artwork has emerged from The Red Turtle, the feature directorial debut of celebrated Dutch animator Michael Dudok de Wit (The Monk and the Fish and the Oscar-winning Father and Daughter). Co-written by French director and screenwriter Pascale Ferran, the dialogue-less film follows the major life stages of a castaway on a deserted tropical island populated by turtles, crabs and birds.

Dudok de Wit, who is using the charcoal drawing and watercolor wash techniques that he used on Father and Daughter, has said that the film “shows a deep respect for nature, including human nature, and conveys a sense of peace and awe at the immensity of life.” His name alone should be reason enough to get any animation fan excited, but if you’re not convinced yet that this will be a special film, you may be interested to know that Studio Ghibli has signed on as a co-producer, marking the first time that the famed Japanese studio has attached their name to a Western film project.

Animation production is being handled by French animation studio Prima Linea, which has produced animation on films like Fear(s) of the Dark, Loulou l’Incroyable Secret, and Zarafa. The other co-producers are Why Not Productions, Wild Bunch, and Arte. Red Turtle is expected to be completed by 2015. In the meantime, let’s revisit Dudok de Wit’s Father and Daughter:

(via Catsuka)

Hand-Drawn Feature “Aunt Hilda!” Has Opened in France

2014 is shaping up to be one of the strongest years in recent memory for quirky and original animated features. True, there’s the usual spate of sequels—Rio 2, How to Train Your Dragon 2 and Planes: Fire and Rescue—but looking beyond those films, there are some genuinely fresh ideas on the horizon, most notably Laika’s The Boxtrolls, Reel FX’s Book of Life, and Cartoon Saloon’s Song of the Sea. Along with those titles, Disney is putting out one of their most un-Disney-like films ever, the Marvel-derived Big Hero 6, and of course, we’ve already had Warner Bros.’ surprisingly offbeat The LEGO Movie.

Add to the list above the hand-drawn feature Tante Hilda! (Aunt Hilda!) which opened in France a couple days ago. The Folimage film is co-directed by Benoît Chieux and Jacques-Remy Girerd, the latter of whom has directed features such as Mia and the Migoo and Raining Cats and Frogs. Girerd, who founded the studio Folimage, has publicly said that this will be the last feature he directs so that he can devote his time to producing the works of other filmmakers at his studio.

In Tante Hilda!, a hippie botanist named Hilda battles against a food-agriculture conglomerate that has invented a miraculous easy-to-grow cereal with unintended side effects. Its ecological message, a hallmark of Folimage productions, has generated controversy in French media with some critics accusing the filmmakers of indoctrinating children with an anti-GMO, anti-industrial farming agenda. Director Girerd has a more nuanced view of the film’s meaning and explains some of the story’s underpinning ideas in this Variety interview.

Message aside, the film has an exquisite hand-drawn look with loose, energetic linework, and warm, evocative watercolor backgrounds. The character designs also merit recognition: how delightfully rare it is to have a female lead in an animated feature who looks like an actual woman—pretty young girls and Barbie doll-proportioned princesses need not apply.

It doesn’t appear that Aunt Hilda! has been picked up for American distribution yet, but the film will have its North American premiere next month at the New York International Children’s Film Festival.

South Korea’s Dystopic Pooping Film “Aachi & Ssipak” Is Available in English

It took seven years, but the bonkers South Korean animated feature Aachi & Ssipak has finally been made available for American audiences. The English language dub was re-written and voiced by Ed Skudder and Zach Keller, creators of the popular Mondo Media online series Dick Figures.

Produced for under $4 million (US), the Jo Beom-jin-directed film was a flop when it was released into South Korean theaters in 2006, but has built a cult following owing to its well executed action seqeunces and bizarro scatalogical story. Set in a dystopian future in which the only usable fuel is human excrement, the government controls its citizens’ anuses by distributing addictive bowel movement-inducing popsicles called Juicybars. The two main characters, Aachi and Ssipak, are hoodlums who scrape by stealing and selling Juicybars, and end up being pursued by the Diaper Gang, an army of blue mutants led by the Diaper King.

The new dub, which was produced by Mondo Media, will be released by Cinedigm onto DVD and Blu-ray on March 11. Mondo is also using their ‘streamium’ online release strategy in which the feature-length film is distributed in weekly ad-supported chapters on YouTube while simultaneously released in its entirety on paid/rental services. You can currently view the first two ‘chapters’ of the film below, or purchase the whole uncensored film on iTunes, Google Play and MondoMedia.com.

“Lisa Limone and Maroc Orange: A Rapid Love Story,” A Unique Estonian Feature

Estonians have a rich history of animated filmmaking, but they haven’t produced too many feature-length projects. When they do though, you can be assured that it won’t look or feel like anything else out there.

Lisa Limone and Maroc Orange: A Rapid Love Story is a 72-minute stop motion opera directed by Mait Laas. The film’s expressive visual style fuses animated fantasy and gritty realistic detail in unconventional fashion. It’s a children’s film that addresses some very adult themes about refugees, immigration, and social order:

Main hero is a singing boat refugee—orange boy Maroc. He dreams about freedom. Lemon girl Lisa collects singing seashells and dreams about love. Lisa’s father is a businessman, owner of a ketchup factory and tomato plantation. He loves money.

Poor Maroc escapes from his homeland and defying stormy waters take a boat across the sea to the “promised land.” Upon arrival he is forced being a slave worker in a tomato plantation instead of freedom, democracy, wealth and parties he had hoped for. Despite an initial let down, our orange boy is destined to gain happiness—selfish Lisa falls in love with him and sets him free. We see orange revolution—houses are blown up and tomatoes are made from ketchup, all in the name of democracy!

Lisa Limone and Maroc Orange is one of eleven features in competition at the upcoming Holland Animation Film Festival. A two-and-a-half-minute trailer is below. You can also view an extended trailer with English subtitles HERE.

Artist of the Day: Maarten Donders

Maarten Donders

Netherlands-based artist Maarten Donders creates, in his own words, “cosmic illustrations,” a description that nicely captures the visual texture of his artwork. Donders’ art feels connected thematically because of his process in which he places utmost importance on the authenticity of the work–the part of each piece that appeals to him personally no matter what the subject.

Maarten Donders

Maarten Donders

The dreamy, dark, psychedelic qualities in Donders’ visuals combined with his musical interests have lead to frquent collaborations with musicians and bands. See more work from Donders on his portfolio website and Flickr.

Maarten Donders

Maarten Donders

Maarten Donders

Maarten Donders

Maarten Donders

Maarten Donders

Maarten Donders

Maarten Donders