Book Review: ‘Stray Dog of Anime: The Films of Mamoru Oshii’

Stray Dog of Anime: The Films of Mamoru Oshii
By Brian Ruh.
(Palgrave Macmillan, 332 pages, $30)
Order: $28.50 on Amazon / £16.99 on Amazon UK

I can remember looking at anime titles in British video catalogs back in the Nineties; as the pastoral fantasies of Hayao Miyazaki would not reach prominence in this country until the new millennium, UK distributors placed a strong emphasis on futuristic thrillers. The films of Mamoru Oshii certainly fit that bill.

It is fitting to consider, then, that Miyazaki and Oshii have something of a friendly rivalry. Oshii jokingly compared Studio Ghibli to the Kremlin, while Miyazaki later told an interviewer that, “Oshii and I are friends, so we always dis each other.” There are many ways in which they can be contrasted: Miyazaki’s films celebrate nature, while Oshii’s explore high-tech urban landscapes. Miyazaki looks back towards a bygone childhood, while Oshii imagines the future. Miyazaki expresses regret that computers are encroaching upon real life experience, while Oshii is fascinated by the interplay between cyberspace and psyche.

They even have competing tastes in animals. Miyazaki is famously fond of pigs; Oshii, meanwhile, likes to include dogs in his films – and has identified himself as anime’s “stray dog.”

Originally published in 2004 and now available as a revised and updated edition, Brian Ruh’s Stray Dog of Anime: The Films of Mamoru Oshii is an attempt to give the director the recognition amongst English-speaking viewers that he deserves. Ruh wants to make it clear that Oshii is not merely the man behind the Ghost in the Shell films, but an accomplished auteur with a varied filmography.

Each chapter in the book is dedicated to an Oshii film, ranging from his early work on the Urusei Yatsura anime to his 2009 film Assault Girls. In the process, Ruh underlines Oshii’s recurring themes: dreams and reality, Christian theology (the book contrasts anime such as Neon Genesis Evangelion, which use Biblical iconography as a fetching motif, with Oshii’s deeper treatments of the matter) and anti-authoritarian representations of the police and military.

It is also interesting to see how Oshii engages with developments in anime and its culture. His series Dallos was the first OVA anime, while the international success of Ghost in the Shell allows Ruh to discuss the topic of techno-orientalism. Oshii’s work eventually begins to take on a self-reflexive element: he clearly has an interest in making anime that is about anime.

“Ghost in the Shell.”

Above all, the general picture is of a filmmaker who drifts between acting as a journeyman director knocking out solid work in popular genres, and moonlighting as a more cerebral and innovative artist. Oshii comes across as someone who likes to take his previous films and slice them open, reading their entrails and using his findings as the basis of subsequent, more intertextual works.

Admittedly, Ruh makes a few questionable decisions in terms of structure. Each chapter contains a lengthy plot synopsis and capsule character biographies; as these dry stretches serve only to repeat information available online, the space could have been out to better use. The one-film-per-chapter format means that Oshii’s lesser-known works fall by the wayside: there would have been much to analyze in Talking Head, a quirky 1993 live action film about a series of murders in an anime studio, but Ruh gives it a single paragraph and a brief mention later on. Meanwhile, Blood: The Last Vampire—a film on which Oshii served only as supervisor—is discussed at length.

Still, the occasional flaw is not enough to hamper the book. Stray Dog of Anime: The Films of Mamoru Oshii is a solid and wide-ranging look at a director who deserves to be recognized for more than just scantily-clad cyborg women.

Order Stray Dog of Anime: The Films of Mamoru Oshii on Amazon.com or Amazon UK.

Preview: Masaaki Yuasa-Directed ‘Adventure Time’ Episode

The most fascinating bit of news out of WonderCon last weekend? Japanese director Masaaki Yuasa (Mind Game, Kaiba) has storyboarded and directed an upcoming episode of Adventure Time. According to Wondercon reports, Yuasa was given free reign to make a self-contained episode and didn’t receive any oversight from Adventure Time’s regular Burbank crew. This is the synopsis for Yuasa’s episode, entitled “Food Chain”:

On a field trip to the Candy Kingdom Museum of Natural History, Finn and Jake learn about the Food Chain by becoming the food chain!

A 3-minute preview of the episode is below. Here on Cartoon Brew, we are recapping Yuasa’s new TV series Ping Pong, too.

‘Ping Pong’ Recap: ‘Smile is a Robot’

“Let’s Spokon.” – Mr. Koizumi

Determined to unleash Smile’s potential, Coach Koizumi devises a relentless schedule of training that culminates in a death match pitting old veteran versus young hopeful. Smile’s resistance finally cracks under the pressure, and he begins to get serious. Meanwhile, the appearance of a new rival – the tough-looking Ryuichi Kazama – sets the stage for a later showdown.

Masaaki Yuasa productions tend to vary dramatically in terms of visuals and directing style from episode to episode due to the freedom granted episode directors, but this episode was again handled by Yuasa, so it maintains the tone and quality of the first episode. The same was the case in Kemonozume – the first two episodes were handled by Yuasa and hence were comparable in style, but from there on out the show was a stylistic rollercoaster ride. If the pattern remains the same, we’ll see some different staffing and different styles start to come into play in the next episode. But the constraints of the source material will likely keep things more uniform.

In terms of visuals and directing style, we get the same unevenness in the drawings presumable partly borne of short schedule, and the same deft pacing filled with those dizzying multi-perspective cross-cuts. Masaaki Yuasa storyboarded the episode again. The arrow pointing to the broom is a stylistic hallmark of Yuasa dating back at least to Mind Game, and Yuasa’s style comes out particularly in the more freewheeling animation of the winged hero at the beginning. While Yuasa has storyboarded the first couple episodes, the directing has been handled by other individuals. In episode 1 it was Takehiro Kubota. In episode 2 it’s Hideki Ito, who is also the show’s animation director and lead animator.

The first episode set the stage and introduced us to the players. Its followup focuses squarely on Smile’s psychological predicament and breakthrough. On the threshold of adulthood, Smile clings to his solitary, sheltered childhood. Sensitive and lacking social skills, he keeps a low profile to avoid conflict. He liked ping pong when it was a simple outlet devoid of meaning like his LCD handheld game, not a competitive sport. He fears the complicated relationships and competition that signify adulthood.

The episode’s standout visual sequence depicts his predicament metaphorically: A younger Smile has been locked in a locker by bullies, and someone, possibly Peco, comes to free him. However, the hero-like silhouette of the mysterious figure hints that the scene as more than pure reminiscence. It seems to be a blend of reminiscence and metaphor: Like a bullied kid stuck in a locker, awaiting a hero to come save him, Smile has grown used to passively avoiding conflict. His only friend has been Peco, who is presumably the one who let him out of the locker and introduced him to ping pong. He rode along on Peco’s coattails throughout childhood, but to become his own man he has to stop losing on purpose to Peco. He takes this first step by acknowledging that no hero will come, and embracing the robot insult hurled at him by his peers. He becomes no Roomba but an empowered robot who can muster the confidence to defeat his opponent.

The series is obviously being produced on a tight schedule, which makes me willing to overlook the crudeness of a lot of the drawings. This is most obvious from the fact that the opening hasn’t been completed yet, so they’re having to use clips from the episodes. Also, the scene where Smile is cornered by his teammates is a corner-cutting copy from episode 1, but a clever one that makes it seem like a gag about their unimaginatively repetitive bullying. Staff struggling valiantly within short schedules have been the norm in anime, and ad-hoc shortcuts have become stylistic hallmarks. Not all of the animation will work in cases like this, but it’s enjoyable seeing how much they can achieve. I prefer seeing animation that is unpolished but has vitality and personality than animation that is highly polished but lifeless. The style of Yoshinori Kanada, arguably one of the most influential and beloved animators in Japan, grew out of the limitations of TV anime.

For the most part, even the crudest drawings seem stylistically a fit with the indie style of Taiyo Matsumoto’s manga, even if not an assiduous copy. Masaaki Yuasa is one of the few people who could manage to put together a show on such short notice in such a way that the crudeness actually works somewhat with the rough style of the show rather than simply coming across as bad animation. You could sense the same tactic at work in Kemonozume.

I mentioned that the show was part of the ‘spokon’ genre. Coach Koizumi actually uses the word spokon in this episode, making this a self-aware spokon anime. With its artistic flourishes and stylish directing, Masaaki Yuasa’s Ping Pong is closest in spirit to Osamu Dezaki’s 1973 TV show Aim for the Ace!, a spokon landmark about high-school girl’s tennis:

Dezaki was the pioneering auteur in anime, and Aim for the Ace! was notable for heightening the drama with wild color palettes and experimental directing techniques like triple-takes. From the crude means of industrial animation, he created a unique visual ethos. Yuasa doesn’t overtly imitate Dezaki in any way. He merely follows his example of creating a highly artistic show about adolescent sports with very limited means, largely through clever directing rather than lavish animation. Fast-paced cross-cuts and rapid-fire animation alternate with slow pans, creating a thrilling ride that slows down and speeds up and switches perspectives constantly to get you into the mindset and eyes of the players.

Like episode 1, this episode culminated in a match that featured some nice animation and idiosyncratic drawings. According to director Hideki Ito, this scene was animated by Izumi Murakami and Tatsuro Kawano. The section right before where Smile is practicing with the coach and falls also had some nice movement, but I’m not sure who drew it.

Character designer Nobutake Ito was present with some animation, I’m guessing of the first scene in the locker. Masaaki Yuasa regular Eunyoung Choi reportedly headed the unique Flash animation in the imaginary robot scene, which was produced by a team of foreign animators.

Aya Suzuki is an animator with a short but remarkable CV: she has worked on Sylvain Chomet’s The Illusionist, Satoshi Kon’s The Dream Robot, Mamoru Hosoda’s Wolf Children and Hayao Miyazaki’s The Wind Rises. Betsujin Shishido is obviously a pen name. Pen names are used surprisingly regularly in anime. Hiromi Hata is a talented animator who worked on Kaiba as well as a bonus episode of the French show Wakfu directed by Choi Eunyoung.

Ping Pong Episode 2: Smile is a Robot

Storyboard:
Script:
Series Structure:
Masaaki Yuasa
Episode Director: Hideki Ito
Animation Director: Hideki Ito
Key Animation: Hideki Ito Aya Suzuki
Tomomi Kawazuma Kanchi Suzuki
Hiromi Hata Izumi Murakami
Noriyuki Imaoka Betsujin Shishido
Tatsuro Kawano Nobutake Ito
Eun Young Choi
Flash Animation: Science SARU
Juan Manuel Laguna Abel Gongora
Thomas Hudson

A Major Stop Motion Exhibit in Barcelona Explores Starewitch, Švankmajer and Brothers Quay

“Darkness Light Darkness” by Jan Svankmajer.

“Animated cinema is the demiurgic art par excellence: matter comes to life and is transformed in the hands and imaginations of the creators. They, more than anybody, know about the secret life of objects.” This description, comes from the exhibition “Metamorphosis: Fantasy Visions in Starewitch, Švankmajer and the Quay Brothers,” now playing at the Centre de Cultura Contemporanea (CCCB) in Barcelona, Spain, and it’s a good summary of the work of these four visionary animators.

Ladislas Starewitch (1882-1965), Jan Svankmajer (b. 1934), and the Quay Brothers (b. 1947) are arguably the foremost names in puppet animation. The exhibition does not limit itself to the quartet of animators, but also highlights a dizzying variety of artists, filmmakers, and writers who were direct and indirect influences on them, including Arnold Böcklin, Walerian Borowczyk, Charles Bowers, Luis Buñuel, Émile Cohl, Gustave Courbet, Segundo de Chomón, Salvador Dalí, Monsu Desiderio, James Ensor, Max Ernst, Francisco de Goya, Jean Grandville, Emma Hauck, Max Klinger, Georges Méliès, Lotte Reiniger, Bruno Schulz, and Robert Walser among others. Svankmajer and the Quays have appeared at events related to the show, and the Quays produced a special installation for it.

Here is a photoset from the show and below is an interview (in Spanish) with Carolina López, director of the CCCB’s cinema center Xcèntric and curator of the exhibition:

“Metamorphosis” is a coproduction of the Centre de Cultura Contemporània de Barcelona and La Casa Encendida (Madrid). After it closes at the CCCB on September 7, the show moves to Madrid, where it will be on view from October 2, 2014 through January 11, 2015. A companion book to the exhibition is also available.

Can You Identify These Legendary Animators?

Tonight, just for fun, I posted a series of photos of legendary animators from the Golden Age of theatrical animation. We owe them a great deal. Without the pioneering efforts of these artists (and hundreds of others like them), animation would not be nearly so advanced as it is today.

How many of these animators can you identify? You can click through to Instagram for the identifications.

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Artist of the Day: Joan Casaramona

Joan Casaramona

Barcelona, Spain-based Joan Casaramona draws and sketches with pencil, applies digital techniques to animated stamped images, designs graphics, and generally produces all kinds of visual work. Casaramona shares his sketches and free form sketchbook pages. Below is one of Casaramona’s animated experiments, and after that is two sketchbook pages that were multiplied together in different colors to create a chaotic effect.

Joan Casaramona

Joan Casaramona

Some of the themes of Casaramona’s illustration projects include Picasso and Napoleon.
See more work from Joan Casaramona on his blog, Flickr, and Tumblr, which has a lot of work categorized for browsing by type.

Joan Casaramona

Joan Casaramona

Joan Casaramona

Joan Casaramona

Joan Casaramona

This Week in Animation History: Milt Kahl, Porky Pig & Michael Eisner

One year ago this week
The Milt Kahl Head Swaggle: “Like a signature, each animator has their own little quirks or trademarks that distinguish their animation from others. Some draw character’s features in a unique way (eyes, hands, etc.), some lean heavily on certain principles or include abstract imagery or gimmicks into their scenes, and some fall back on specific poses or gestures. The “Milt Kahl Head Swaggle” is an example of the latter, and it both intrigues and aggravates me at the same time.”

Five years ago this week
Porky Pig Statue Found!: Aside from production cels, how many physical props are still in existence from classic Looney Tunes? Van Eaton Galleries just acquired this piece from the estate of a Termite Terrace animator: It’s the Porky statue seen in the opening titles of Porky’s Hero Agency (1937). Apparently Bob Clampett made several of these and gave them to his top staff.

Ten years ago this week
More Bad News For Michael Eisner: Michael Eisner received a 72.5% no confidence vote from Disney employee 401K plan participants. SaveDisney.com has come up with some new figures that don’t bode well for Michael.

DreamWorks Is Developing ‘Hot Stuff’

Image created by Fungasm.

DreamWorks Animation is developing Hot Stuff, starring the diaper-wearing demon-baby Hot Stuff the Little Devil, who originally appeared in Harvey Comics. The film may be DreamWorks’ first live-action/CGI hybrid, according to anonymous sources in the Hollywood Reporter.

Siblings Wendy and Lizzie Molyneux (Bob’s Burgers) will pen the script. With Mr. Peabody & Sherman now out, Hot Stuff would become the second feature starring characters from the Classic Media library, which DreamWorks acquired in 2012 and renamed DreamWorks Classics.

The image at top was created by Twitter user Fungasm who edited a CG Smurf into a CG Hot Stuff. Now all DreamWorks needs to do is find a few Twitter users to animate the film.

Why Did CG Hub Shut Down Without Warning Its Users?

It’s been one week now since CG Hub, the popular portfolio site and social network for digital artists, shut down without warning, leaving its users angry and confused. In an instant, thousands of artists who relied on CG Hub’s free and paid services lost their online portfolios, networking contacts, and years’ worth of bookmarks.

The website, which had been in operation since 2007, began redirecting users last Thursday to a placeholder site called CGHug.com. The site simultaneously shuttered its Facebook and LinkedIn accounts. Many users assumed at first that the site had been hacked or was experiencing technical problems, but after three days of silence from its unknown owners, the website’s Ukranian web developer Shakuro felt compelled to post a message on their Facebook page:

No more CGHUB.

Sad day. Project CGHUB is officially closed.

The reason behind this extremely tough decision is personal and will remain private. It’s absolutely not connected with business or any kind of technical difficulties.

On behalf of development team I would like to apologize to CGHUB users and fans for abrupt project closure and delay with its announcement.

If you have any kind of questions please send them to [email protected] . Can’t promise replies to everyone though.

CGHUB wasn’t ideal, but we loved it SO MUCH! :*(

Shakuro issued a follow-up statement explaining that they didn’t actually operate the site and were only responsible for its development. In this lengthier message, they expressed their own frustration for being mislabeled as the people who were responsible for shutting down the site:

The site’s sudden disappearance has left many artists in the online community wondering who had operated the site for all these years. In their second Facebook post, Shakuro identified an American company called Full Spectrum Digital. Full Spectrum was registered as a Nevada limited liability company (LLC) in 2007 by an individual named Ryan Duncan. Last January, just a few months before the shutdown, Full Spectrum re-registered as a California LLC based out of Toluca Lake, which is a neighborhood near Burbank, California.

Various online forums have identified Duncan as a Ringling College of Art and Design graduate who has most recently worked at Disney Feature Animation on films like Frozen and Tangled. Duncan is also listed as the domain owner of other CG Hub-related domains.

Two other names have been associated with the site in the past. Jennifer Yu listed herself as a founder on this website last year, and Jeff Fowler is listed on Shakuro’s portfolio page as the commissioning client for CG Hub. Fowler, a director at Blur Studio, co-directed the Oscar-nominated short Gopher Broke. He was a classmate of Duncan’s at Ringling, and they both graduated in 2002. It should be stressed that we do not know whether Fowler, Yu, or Duncan were the parties who ran the site at the time of its closure.

CG Hub’s unannounced shutdown leads one to believe that something tragically unexpected (or unexpectedly tragic) occurred in the lives of the site operators. Those issues, personal as they may be, do not excuse the site’s unprofessional shutdown which showed a callous disregard for its community, many of whom relied on the site for professional reasons. If the shutdown was indeed for truly personal reasons, then the people who run the site, whoever they may be, should have made the announcement themselves instead of going into hiding and letting their web developer take the blame.

The website Concept Art World has posted a lengthy list of similar online communities for hosting online portfolios, but the real takeaway from the CG Hub fiasco is for artists to think twice about using such third-party sites as the primary home for their online portfolio. When a long-established forum like CG Hub can disappear overnight without leaving a trace, it’s a wake-up call that the best investment for any artist is a personal web domain.

UPDATE: Matt Kohr writes on Ctrl+Paint about the impact that CG Hub’s abrupt shutdown had on the community:

Some lost their contacts, others lost artwork, but nearly everyone lost something. And from the artists I talked to, no one saw it coming…Some of my peers lost their artwork when CGHUB dissapeared. As in literally didn’t have backed up copies of their paintings. You may be rolling your eyes at this, but I’m willing to bet you have some documents that only exist in “the cloud.”…The worst CGHUB assets I lost were my “favorites”. As a great convenience, the site allowed me to collect a list of my favorite paintings and artists. This list slowly grew over the years I enjoyed the site, eventually serving as my primary directory of concept art inspiration. Now it’s lost forever.

‘A Girl Named Elastika’ by Guillaume Blanchet

She’s young, dreamy and fearless, she drives cars way too fast, she’s also a yamakasi. She likes adventure, fireworks and unrelenting seas. From the day I conceived her, I’ve been a worried father. And a proud one too.

CREDITS
Directed by Guillaume Blanchet
Sound design by Sonart
Colored by Minh
Music from the BamProd Music Library

See the Brothers Quay For Free in Chicago Tonight

The Brothers Quay, the legendary team of identical twin stop motion animators, will be appearing tonight in Chicago at DePaul University for a screening and conversation about their work. The event, which begins at 7pm, is FREE and open to the public. For more information, visit the event’s Facebook page.

The Quays will screen the “Hopscotch” retrospective that was part of their recent MoMA retrospective and sneak peek their latest animated short based on the life and work of Felisberto Hernández. They will also be presented with the DePaul Humanities Center’s 2013-14 Humanities Laureate Award.

The ‘New Yorker’ Discovers ‘Adventure Time’ After Five Seasons

This week’s issue of The New Yorker does something that they rarely ever do: review an animated TV series. The show they elected to discuss is Adventure Time. With 156 episodes already aired, the magazine’s TV critic Emily Nussbaum had her work cut out for her. Here are the different ways that she attempted to explain the show to the magazine’s crusty non-animation viewing crowd:

  • “It’s a post-apocalyptic allegory full of helpful dating tips for teen-agers, or like World of Warcraft as recapped by Carl Jung.”

  • “[It's] a cartoon about a hero who fights villains, with fun violence, the occasional fart joke, and a slight edge of Bushwick cool-kid hipness.”

  • “There are moments when Finn’s story feels suspiciously like a compensatory fantasy, invented to disguise a trauma that can’t be faced head on—as if it were the Mulholland Drive of children’s television.”

  • “[It's] one of the most philosophically risky and, often, emotionally affecting shows on TV. It’s beautiful and funny and stupid and smart, in about equal parts, as well as willing to explore uneasy existential questions, like what it means to go on when the story you’re in has ended.”

Unfortunately, Nussbaum falls into the usual trap of cartoon viewers who resort to drug comparisons and analogies to describe animation. She does it twice, first saying that, “It’s also the type of show that’s easy to write off as ‘stoner humor,’” and later on, referring to Pen Ward’s creation as ‘a druglike experience.’

If Adventure Time is a druglike experience, what would the New Yorker make of the average Fleischer, Harman-Ising, or Iwerks theatrical short from the 1930s? These reductive statements, which are almost never used to describe fine art, do a disservice to the creativity of the artwork by suggesting that animation is an indescribable art form akin to being in an altered mental state. They fail to acknowledge that the animation art form’s uniqueness stems, in large part, from its ability to transcend reality and indulge in the realm of the fantastic and the impossible.

By the last paragraph of the piece, Nussbaum assumes an almost apologetic tone, acknowledging that her description “may leave you cold,” because “like any trip, Adventure Time has a definite ‘you had to be there’ quality.” Admirably, she refuses to give up and concludes with an exhortation to her readers to give the show a chance:

But that’s part of the show’s most freeing quality: childlike, nonlinear, poetic, and just outside all the categories that the world considers serious, it’s television that you can respond to fully, without needing to make a case for why. Here. Have a taste.

Blue Sky’s ‘Rio 2′ Opens In Second Place in the U.S.

Blue Sky’s Rio 2 failed to unseat Captain America 2 at the box office last weekend and settled for a second-place opening of $39.3 million. The opening was virtually identical to the original Rio’s $39.2 million opening in 2011.

As far as 2014 children’s animated films go, Rio 2 topped The Nut Job’‘s $19.4M debut and Mr. Peabody & Sherman’s $32.2M opening, though it didn’t come anywhere near The LEGO Movie’s debut of $69.1M.

Whether Rio 2 achieved the number one spot is irrelevant in this case. The Carlos Saldanha-directed film performed close to expectations for the U.S. market, which isn’t as important for Blue Sky franchises as other studios. In fact, none of the Ice Age sequels or the original Rio made more than 30% of their global gross in the United States. True to that trend, Rio 2 will end up performing disproportionately stronger in overseas markets than in the United States. Last weekend, the film pulled in $62.3M from foreign territories, boosting its international total to $125.2M.

Meanwhile, Disney’s Frozen scored an additional $8.4M from global audiences, mostly from Japan where it has been the number one film for five weeks in a row. Its global total of $1.11 billion has now surpassed Skyfall to reach 8th place on the highest-grossing films of all-time list.

Ernest & Celestine grosses are typically released mid-week. Visit back for final numbers.

This Bear Animation Is Not Computer Animated

This short animated experiment of a seemingly CG bear climbing stairs is garnering a lot of attention on the Internet because it’s actually a CG bear printed as 50 separate 3-D models and then animated in stop motion. The bear was produced as a collaboration between two London-based companies: design firm DBLG and animation studio Blue Zoo. It’s a clever piece, but not quite as revolutionary as some Internet commenters seem to think. Laika has been the the innovation leader on 3D printing in animation, and has pushed the process much further in their films Coraline, ParaNorman and the upcoming Boxtrolls.

While not a technological breakthrough, the experiment is interesting from a stylistic standpoint. Rather than using 3-D printing to create organic-looking models a la Laika, DBLG and Blue Zoo printed models that retain their low-poly CG appearance. The slight imperfections in the 3D printing and filming processes give the animation an indescribable warmth that can be felt by the viewer while still retaining the mathematical accuracy of CG animation.

click on images for a closer view

(via Boing Boing)

‘Johnny Bravo’ Creator Van Partible Talks About New Dance-Combat Game

Van Partible, the creator of Cartoon Network’s Nineties series Johnny Bravo, is making the rounds with a new third-person video game concept called Dancers of War. In the game, Marine Sgt. Jack Dancer is out to save the world from a maniacal pop star by strapping on an exoskeleton/leotard called “The Exo-Tard 3000.”

A co-creation with videogame weapons specialist Scott Eaton (Call of Duty, Medal of Honor) and Vince Clarke, the founder of Depeche Mode, Yaz and Erasure, the trio has turned to Kickstarter to help fund the project, where they provide a peek at the game’s development and showcase a team of voice-over talent that includes the voice of Johnny Bravo himself, Jeff Bennett.

“I’ve always been a fan of Michael Jackson’s Captain EO and thought it was humorous that there was this intergalactic messenger who used music and dance as a weapon,” Partible tells Cartoon Brew. “I also love mash ups, so I took the fun of the dance genre and partnered it with the seriousness of combat games.”

To accompany the lighter tone, Van Partible is pushing a different look than the familiar battle-game visual style. “I’m friends with some of the most amazingly talented people in animation, but I rarely see their work in video games. I would love to see more of a crossover between the two genres because a lot of my animation friends play games and a lot of my gaming friends watch animation.

“A big part of what made me jump into video game development was the market saturation of games that were overly serious and realistic. Games like Medal Of Honor and Call Of Duty were great, but like the animation industry in the nineties, AAA video games became so consumed with realism that everything began to look and feel the same.”

At first thought, Irish stepdancing, Fosse-inspired jazz hands, and Saturday Night Fever-style disco poses may not seem as threatening as say, an AK-47, but for some individuals, like Partible himself, challenging dance moves create their own form of danger. “Personally, my deadliest dance move is “The Monkey!” It’s hard to dip it low when you have a bad back!”

How The Producer of ‘Green Lantern’ Learned That Animation Focus Groups Are Nonsense

Green Lantern: The Animated Series showrunner Giancarlo Volpe drew a mini-comic about his first experience attending a focus group for his series. His story has a happy ending after he receives some hard-won wisdom from Bruce Timm.

Volpe elaborated on the focus grouping process on his Twitter account:

RELATED: John Kricfalusi’s description of the focus group testing for Ren & Stimpy has similarities to Volpe’s experience. He talks about it beginning at the 13-minute mark of the video.

John Kricfalusi Accepts Texas Avery Award in Dallas [Video]

Ren & Stimpy creator John Kricfalusi attended the Dallas International Film Festival this weekend to accept the Texas Avery Award. The award, which honors career achievement for animation artists, was started by the Dallas-based animation studio ReelFX and has been handed out annually since 2007. Previous winners are Brad Bird, Chris Wedge, Henry Selick, Pete Docter, Dean Deblois, Chris Sanders, Glen Keane, and June Foray.

While in Dallas, John spoke to Mark Walters of Big Fanboy about some memorable moments from his early career. It’s fun to hear John tell them in person, especially since you can’t read them in a book.

Below are a couple posters for the event created by ReelFX visual development artist Yashar Kassai:

(Thanks, Julian DiLorenzo‎, via Cartoon Brew’s Facebook Group)

Artist of the Day: Arik Roper

Arik Roper

New York City-based artist Arik Moonhawk Roper illustrates fantasy art in full washes of color or in limited colors for black light posters, books, and shirts. He has illustrated a handful of covers and articles for Arthur magazine, and he also frequently gets commissions from musicians that find his art to evoke exactly the right visual mood for their music.

Arik Roper

Arik Roper

Below is a motion graphics exercise that Roper created in After Effects using his own artwork and music by Steve Moore. It’s the opening credit sequence of a fictional film, A Maze of Death. In the opening seconds, you get the sense of how Roper’s atmospheric, dark artwork could work perfectly in an animated setting. Just seeing it slide around a little set to music clearly establishes a specific tone, and although it runs a bit long for something that doesn’t have a pay off, it remains an interesting experiment. Maybe there is hope for the film being produced so we can watch it; after all, Hollywood studios have built films off of flimsier concepts before.

Arik Roper

See more work from Roper on his website and blog.

Arik Roper

Arik Roper

Arik Roper

Arik Roper

Masaaki Yuasa’s ‘Ping Pong’ Will Be Recapped on Cartoon Brew

When we started offering recaps of Steven Universe last November, we were uncertain how readers would respond. Your feedback turned out to be overwhelmingly positive, and in fact, the most common request over the past few months has been to provide more recaps. But what show to choose for our sophomore recapping effort? After I saw the trailer a few weeks ago for Masaaki Yuasa’s new series Ping Pong, the choice became clear. So yesterday we recapped the show’s premiere and will continue to provide recaps throughout the show’s full run.

The decision to recap a show by Yuasa wasn’t difficult because he pushes the cinematic language in animation more expertly than arguably any director—TV or feature—working in animation today. Watching the premiere episode of Ping Pong, I was continually challenged and rewarded as a viewer by a filmmaker who understands how to manipulate the frame for narrative and psychological effect and explores the expressive potential of the animation medium to its fullest.

To do Yuasa’s work justice, I have turned to anime scholar Ben Ettinger, who is the foremost English-language expert on Yuasa’s work. It’s only fitting to ask Ben to write these recaps since it was through his unrivaled anime website, Anipages, that I first learned about Yuasa’s remarkable feature debut Mind Game way back in 2004.

Since Mind Game, Ben (pictured right) has kept atop Yuasa’s work as few others, and has cataloged his output including Kemonozume, Kaiba, and Tatami Galaxy. Not only are Ben’s insights on anime art unparalleled, he is also a professional Japanese translator, which means that he will be reviewing these episodes based on their original Japanese-language versions. If you’re looking for the subtitled versions, Funimation is simulcasting the episodes for American audiences, and Crunchyroll is simulcasting the episodes for many European and Middle Eastern countries.

See ‘Ernest & Celestine’ This Weekend In These U.S. Cities

It’s not too late to see the Oscar-nominated French animated feature Ernest & Celestine. Below is a list of theaters that are screening the film this weekend. If your city isn’t listed below, check out the complete list of screening dates on the official website.

  • New York, NY – IFC Center
  • Austin, TX – Regal Arbor Cinemas
  • Portland, OR – Regal Fox Tower
  • Salt Lake City, UT – Broadway Theatre
  • Chicago, IL – Music Box Theatre
  • Scottsdale, AZ – Harkins Shea
  • Baltimore, MD – The Charles Theatre
  • Houston, TX – Landmark River Oaks Theatre
  • Atlanta, GA – Landmark Midtown Art
  • Denver, CO – Landmark Mayan
  • Forest Hills, NY – Cinemart Cinemas
  • Berkeley, CA – Rialto Cinemas Elmwood 
  • Washington, DC – West End Cinema
  • Ogden, UT – Art House Cinema 502
  • Juneau, AK – Gold Town Nickelodeon
  • San Francisco, CA – Landmark Opera Plaza Cinema
  • Minneapolis, MN – Landmark Lagoon Cinema
  • Northbrook, IL – AMC Northbrook
  • Skokie, IL – AMC Village Crossing
  • Las Vegas, NV – Regal Village Square
  • Tucson, AZ – The Loft Cinema
  • Salem, OR – Salem Cinema
  • Honolulu, HI – Kahala Theatres 8
  • Charlotte, NC – Regal Manor Twin
  • Knoxville, TN – Regal Downtown West
  • Santa Fe, NM – CCA Santa Fe
  • Columbus, OH – Gateway Film Center
  • St. Louis, MO – Landmark Plaza Frontenac
  • Indianapolis, IN – Landmark Keystone Art
  • Durango, CO – Animas Theatre
  • Lincolnshire, IL – Regal Lincolnshire
  • Coral Gables, FL – Coral Gables Art Cinema
  • Pittsfield, MA – Berkshire Museum Little Cinema
  • San Luis Obispo, CA – Palm Theatre
  • Ithaca, NY – Cinemapolis
  • Santa Cruz, CA – Del Mar
  • Boulder, CO – Boedecker Theater (begins 4/12)
  • Sarasota, FL – Sarasota Film Festival (4/12 – 4/13)
  • Omaha, NE – Film Streams Omaha (begins 4/12)
  • Three Rivers, MI – Riviera Theatre (begins 4/12) 
  • Huntington, NY – Cinema Arts Centre (4/12 – 4/13)
  • Santa Barbara, CA – Plaza de Oro (4/16)

    *This post is sponsored by GKIDS.*

  • ‘Steven Universe’ Recap: ‘Steven the Sword Fighter’

    “Steven the Sword Fighter”
    Storyboarded by Joe Johnston and Jeff Liu.

    It’s been a few weeks but the last few times in Beach City we witnessed a lot of growth in the series. Steven had an anger revelation after he hung with the cool kids and really showcased the father-son relationship thanks to little Onion. Now we’re back and Steven Universe went and explored the maternal dynamic within their group after Pearl took a blade through the chest.

    Before we get into the meat of the episode, let’s touch on the side dish—the anime and the horror. It’s not news to viewers that Steven is your typical kid who likes toys, arcades, and sweet treats. So it wasn’t surprising to learn that he was a Kung-Fu fan, which done in a cartoon makes it look like anime. The Gems and Steven watch Lonely Blade as a little family, and you can tell in an instant what kind of movie they were watching. While the Universe team didn’t overdo the animation on the anime, you could tell what they were going for without hearing the accents. Also, it seemed like they played around with a little manga throughout when Steven would make these faces that resembled Shin-chan, in which your lower chin takes over. You know the one.

    The horror elements came in small spurts toward the end when hologram Pearl was draped in a sheet, clearly a ghostlike figure. There was also the eerie tone of the rainy night matched with the sword-wielding psychopath hologram. So was it too much for one episode—anime and horror?

    While you stir over that, we’ll move on to the main course. It was established early on that Pearl’s place in their modern family was as the mother figure. So it was weird to see Steven trying to not replace her, but use that hologram in her place while she regenerated. Of course that didn’t last long, and Steven then reiterated Pearl’s most appealing characteristics in a fit of rage. Traits like being smart and always making sure he was safe, traits that we’ve already seen displayed in earlier episodes.

    Other than Steven’s strong feeling of guilt after he distracted her and got her stabbed, Pearl’s role as the mother was driven home even more implicitly when she returned after her two-week regeneration period. The house was a mess, her youngest was acting like she’d been gone a lifetime, and the other two were acting like they hadn’t been up to no good—pretty much typical to any scene in any household when a mom comes home.

    Speaking of those other two, Amethyst and Garnet didn’t have a whole lot going on this week, but they managed to sneak in some sitcom comedy with their subplot of Amethyst eating a cloud and ballooning into the sky. Not much characterization, but really the source of laughter this time around for Universe.

    A Behind-The-Scenes Look At Sylvain Chomet’s ‘Simpsons’ Opening

    The elaborate Simpsons couch gag directed by Sylvain Chomet (Triplets of Belleville, The Illusionist) now has a making-of video courtesy of the production company that produced the opening, London-based th1ng. Th1ng founder Dominic Buttimore and animator Neil Boyle appear with Chomet in the video.

    Chomet also explained recently to the British trade publication Beak Street Bugle why the entire Simpsons clan wears glasses in the opening:

    The only problem Sylvain recalls was to do with reconciling his style with that of Matt and The Simpsons’ animators. Sylvain’s characters don’t have round eyes like the Simpsons, so he had trouble making them recognisable while retaining his aesthetic. His solution was to give them all glasses – a bit of lateral thinking that makes a big difference.

    (Thanks, Kirk Hendry)

    ‘Ping Pong’ Recap: ‘The Wind Makes It Too Hard to Hear’

    “No man so good, but another may be as good as he.” -Thomas Fuller

    Anime wunderkind Masaaki Yuasa returns to the small screen for a fourth time in this adaptation of indie manga artist Taiyo Matsumoto’s underground comic hit Ping Pong (1996-1997).

    Studio 4°C’s feature Mind Game (2004) introduced the world to a new anime director with a vision unlike any other: gleefully hand-drawn, exploding with colors, viscerally thrilling. His characters twisted like rubber, ballooned in odd perspectives, and exploded off the screen in an animated frenzy. But behind the visual orgy was a gritty, deep-felt story about violence, pathos, humiliation, lust, and redemption. Nowhere in sight were giant robots, magical girls, or tentacles. Even compared with illustrious predecessors like Yoshinori Kanada, Masaaki Yuasa’s unique and original talent stood its ground.

    Masaaki Yuasa’s example belies the notion of anime as a monolithic blob of sparkly-eyed cliches. As it turns out, Masaaki Yuasa is but one in a coterie of talented anime creators laboring in the shadow of the colossus of the anime industry and its lock-step of design ethos and tropes. You have to dig, but there are pearls in the slop. Anime is in fact best when it doesn’t look the part.

    The reward of following Masaaki Yuasa’s output since then has been to watch a director as unpredictable as he is imaginative. Despite having a unique drawing style he could exploit, he is unwilling to rest on his laurels. He re-invents himself in each new production. The expressionistic, brutal realism of his Romeo & Juliet body horror comedy Kemonozume (2006) gave way to the sleek abstraction of his retro-stylized science fiction epic Kaiba (2008) and then the Borgesian theatricality of his cerebral high school drama Tatami Galaxy (2010).

    Ping Pong returns to something close to the sketchbook realism of Kemonozume, but through the lens of the peculiar and unmistakable style of Taiyo Matsumoto. Just as Katsuhiro Otomo did years before, Taiyo Matsumoto invented his own novel form of realistic caricature that was distinct from any other manga artist, but laden with creative bizarro ideas in the spirit of Moebius and drawn with a wobbly, meandering line reminiscent of Egon Schiele. His Ping Pong elevated a whimsical sport few take seriously to the level of dynamic, furious Olympian death matches.

    Masaaki Yuasa translates all of this into animation. The character drawings have the same dynamism and wobbliness that makes Taiyo Matsumoto’s manga so delicious to behold. There is some variation in style in the first episode, but overall the episode renders beautiful homage to Taiyo Matsumoto’s style.

    That’s something not easy in commercial animation. Even if your key animator gets the line right, it requires special effort to make sure the inbetweening stage doesn’t kill the line, which is essential to getting across Taiyo Matsumoto’s unique feeling. Even if they’d gotten the designs right but killed the line, something would have been missing. It’s not surprising coming from Yuasa & co., who did Robin Nishi’s indie comic Mind Game justice, but it’s a relief. It’s rare that animation captures the idiosyncrasies of a comic artist’s genius due to the inevitable flattening-out effect of the various steps in animation. Shigeru Mizuki’s Gegege no Kitaro has been adapted numerous times, none in a way that remotely resembles the art in the original manga.

    Ping Pong is being produced at one of Japan’s biggest and most venerable studios – Tatsunoko – and perhaps it’s in managing to achieve this on a short schedule that the big-studio expertise of Tatsunoko comes in. This is Masaaki Yuasa’s first involvement with the studio, so it will be interesting to see what new faces are brought in. His first three series were all produced at Madhouse, which has seen a brain drain since the studio’s sale to Nippon Television in 2011.

    Masaaki Yuasa’s right-hand man as character designer and chief animation director remains, as in all previous efforts, Nobutake Ito, the animator who brought to life the climax of Mind Game: Nobutake Ito is not only versatile enough to be the designer of characters as distinct as those in Kemonozume and Kaiba, but also has the stamina and speed to bring them alive in dynamic and nuanced animation in the short schedules of TV production. He is always in the fray on the animation floor, unlike many designers who take no part in bringing their designs to life.

    The animator team fairly clearly falls into two categories: Yuasa associates and Tatsunoko animators. I’ll be providing a list of the key animators for each episode at the end of each post. Yasunori Miyazawa has been a regular presence in Masaaki Yuasa’s productions (Kemonozume 8, 13; Kaiba design assistance; Tatami Galaxy 1, 5, 7). He has a loose drawing style, disjointed sense of timing, and creative but decidedly odd visual tendency that makes his work easy to distinguish and a good match with Masaaki Yuasa’s work. (clip)

    Maru Kanako is a talented animator active since 1996 who has also been a regular in Masaaki Yuasa shows (Kemonozume 11, 13; Tatami Galaxy 9, 11). She notably singlehandedly animated episode 18 of Casshern Sins. Izumi Murakami is a new animator who drew her first key animation in Madhouse’s Death Billiards short last year. She presumably hails from Yuasa’s Madhouse connection.

    The other four key animators listed for this episode presumably hail from the show’s Tatsunoko side. Tatsuro Kawano created the short Loud House in 2011 while a student at Kyoto Seika University before entering the industry at Gainax and then moving to Tatsunoko:

    Kei Masaki was the lone animator of Sonny Boy & Dewdrop Girl, the latest short by Hiroyasu Ishida:

    Tomomi Kawazuma is also a new face and has previously worked on Tatsunoko’s Gatchaman Crowds.

    Masaaki Yuasa storyboarded the first episode, and though he’s credited with script it must be assumed he boarded directly from the manga. He brings the 2D world of the manga to life through tricky three-dimensional simulated camera movements like the one following the ball during the duel between Peco and Kong. The camera tracks the ball as Peco serves, and seems halt in mid air, change direction, and zoom back towards Peco after Kong’s racket hits home. It makes for magically disorienting and exhilarating viewing. The cross-hatched screens are a tactic that hark back to the manga. The beauty is that Yuasa disappears into Taiyo Matsumoto. Rather than grandstanding with out-of-place flourishes, he is subservient to the material.

    Masaaki Yuasa’s storyboards have been released in book form on previous occasions and are a marvel to behold. Although extremely roughly drawn, they’re detailed in the directions and full of vitality that makes them works of art in their own right.

    The characters’ various movements during the ping pong training sessions in episode 1 are depicted meticulously in a convincing way despite the roughness of the drawings. Ping pong is a fast sport and the action happens in a split second. Moves are subtle and games are decided in the blink of an eye. The anime does an impressive job of capturing the nuances of this and the momentum of the players’ bodies.

    Anime is known for chasing short-cuts, but fans of animation in anime have long known to look to sports anime for some nice animation, as the material inherently demands more movement and tends to bring out the fire in animators. Keiichiro Kimura’s animation in Tiger Mask (1969) is a classic such example and was notably the inspiration for Masaaki Yuasa’s previous effort, the Kickstarter short Kick Heart:

    Ping Pong’s great ancestor in the sports anime genre is Star of the Giants, the seminal 1968 TV show produced by Tokyo Movie that established the spokon genre as we know it, with its tropes of macho angst, noble rivalry, and dramatically exaggerated calisthenics. True to the genre, we’re regaled with obscure terms like “right penhold grip” and “pips-out hitter” that educate us about the minutiae of the sport. But at the heart of every sports anime, as with sports, is human striving and rivalry. So it is with Ping Pong: Episode 1 introduces us to the outward rival, Chinese visitor Kong, and the buddies Peco and Smile who may eventually bud into spiritual rivals.

    As with Tekkonkinkreet’s White and Black, the show’s star is an elegant yin-yang dual protagonist: Smile, the emotionally underdeveloped and unsmiling straight man to buddy Peco’s hubristic self-confidence and initiative. The beauty will be in seeing how their personalities intertwine and develop as high school ping pong provides the substrate of their emotional growth into mature adults. The quote at top from Thomas Fuller sums up the human conflict at the heart of Ping Pong as well as every antecedent in the genre of sports anime.

    Note: This recap is based on the original Japanese language version of the episode.

    Ping Pong Episode 1: The Wind Makes it Too Hard to Hear

    Storyboard:
    Script:
    Series Structure:
    Masaaki Yuasa
    Episode Director: Takehiro Kubota
    Animation Director: Nobutake Ito
    Key Animation: Nobutake Ito Yasunori Miyazawa
    Kanako Maru Tatsuro Kawano
    Izumi Murakami Tomomi Kawazuma
    Kei Masaki