Sony Pictures Animation Will No Longer Animate Its Films in the US

Animation and visual effects studio Sony Pictures Imageworks has confirmed what many in the industry had suspected for a long while: the studio is moving its headquarters from Los Angeles to Vancouver, Canada to take advantage of generous tax credits provided by the Canadian government. This move, combined with Digital Domain’s jump to Vancouver and Rhythm & Hues’ bankruptcy, prompted Variety’s VFX chronicler David S. Cohen to say that the Los Angeles feature film visual effects industry is “in full collapse.”

Imageworks is the studio that produces the animation for Sony Pictures Animation (SPA) films, including the upcoming Hotel Transylvania 2 and the all-CG Smurfs movie. They also make non-SPA animated films like Rovio’s Angry Birds, and provide vfx on live-action films such as the recent Amazing Spider-Man 2, and the forthcoming pics Guardians of the Galaxy (Disney/Marvel) and Pixels (Columbia).

The new Vancouver studio will be located in the Pacific Centre shopping mall, directly above a Nordstrom department store. Expected to be fully operational by 2015, the studio will have the capacity to house 700 employees. There is no word on what’ll happen to the approximately 270 Imageworks employees who currently work in Los Angeles, or whether they will be invited to relocate to Canada. Sony Pictures Animation’s development and pre-production teams, which number well over 100 employees, will remain in Los Angeles.

(Sources: Vancity Buzz/Hollywood Reporter)

‘Book of Life’ Trailer Looks Unlike Any CG Feature You’ve Seen

The first trailer is out today for The Book of Life directed by Jorge Gutierrez (El Tigre) and produced at Reel FX.

Watch the trailer on iTunes.

The film’s visual style looks completely unique: a joyous assault of color, texture, and pattern—drenched in Mexican mythology and culture—and as close to an uncompromised personal vision as you’ll see in mainstream CG filmmaking.

It’ll be released by Fox in the U.S. on October 17th, 2014:

The Book of Life is the journey of Manolo, a young man who is torn between fulfilling the expectations of his family and following his heart. Before choosing which path to follow, he embarks on an incredible adventure that spans three fantastical worlds where he must face his greatest fears. Rich with a fresh take on pop music favorites, The Book of Life, encourages us to celebrate the past while looking forward to the future.

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Final Trailer for Ari Folman’s ‘The Congress’

Drafthouse Films released the final U.S. trailer today for The Congress, the 2013 live-action/animation hybrid directed by Ari Folman (Waltz with Bashir). In a sign of the times, the film will first be released onto iTunes/On Demand on July 24, followed by a limited theatrical release on August 29, and a New York release on September 5.

Not only does the film contain animation, its story, which tackles the ethical and philosphical dilemmas surrounding the use of digital actors, is also relevant to the animation community. The idea was inspired by Stanislaw Lem’s 1970s novel The Futurological Congress:

More than two decades after catapulting to stardom with The Princess Bride, an aging actress (Robin Wright, playing a version of herself) decides to take her final job: preserving her digital likeness for a future Hollywood. Through a deal brokered by her loyal, longtime agent (Harvey Keitel) and the head of Miramount Studios (Danny Huston), her alias will be controlled by the studio, and will star in any film they want with no restrictions. In return, she receives healthy compensation so she can care for her ailing son and her digitized character will stay forever young. Twenty years later, under the creative vision of the studio’s head animator (Jon Hamm), Wright’s digital double rises to immortal stardom. With her contract expiring, she is invited to take part in “The Congress” convention as she makes her comeback straight into the world of future fantasy cinema.

‘Mouse in Transition’: Larry Clemmons (Chapter 2)

Larry Clemmons standing in front of a mural he painted, 1935. Click for larger version.

New chapters of Mouse in Transition will be published every Wednesday on Cartoon Brew. It is the story of Disney Feature Animation—from the Nine Old Men to the coming of Jeffrey Katzenberg. Ten lost years of Walt Disney Production’s animation studio, through the eyes of a green animation writer. Steve Hulett spent a decade in Disney Feature Animation’s story department writing animated features, first under the tutelage and supervision of Disney veterans Woolie Reitherman and Larry Clemmons, then under the watchful eye of young Jeffrey Katzenberg. Since 1989, Hulett has served as the business representative of the Animation Guild, Local 839 IATSE, a labor organization which represents Los Angeles-based animation artists, writers and technicians.

Read Chapter 1: Disney’s Newest Hire

Chapter 2: Larry Clemmons

Disney’s head animation writer in 1977 was cartoon veteran Larry Clemmons, who had first been hired at the studio in 1930. At the time of his hiring, he was a Yale graduate with a degree in architecture, but an Ivy League education was of little value in 1930 when the economy was collapsing…and few buildings were being erected.

So Larry took the job he could get: work as an in-betweener at Walter Elias Disney’s Hyperion Studio. He soon climbed his way up to assistant on Mickey shorts, and later moved to Ward Kimball’s unit and the Disney story department. When World War II happened, Larry left the studio and decamped to the Midwest, where he wrote technical manuals for wartime manufacturing plants.

But Mr. Clemmons hadn’t given up on show biz. He free-lanced in radio, and at the end of the war, landed a job on Bing Crosby’s prime-time network radio show, where he spent nine happy years writing weekly scripts for Bing and assorted guest stars. When the radio gig ended, he returned to Walt Disney Productions as a writer and segment producer on The Mickey Mouse Club. And when that assignment wrapped up, he wrote Walt’s spoken intros for the television show entitled Walt Disney’s Wonderful World of Color.

Walt must have liked Larry’s work, because a few years later, when the Writers Guild went on strike, he saved Larry from walking a picket line by switching him to animated features…and another union’s jurisdiction. (Or maybe he just didn’t want Mr. Clemmons outside the studio gates with a sign saying “On Strike!”)

Larry Clemmons as he looked during the time Hulett worked with him. Caricature by Ward Kimball.

Don Duckwall introduced me to Larry halfway through my first week of “permanent” employment. He had gray hair, a generous nose, and a wry sense of humor lightly seasoned with cynicism. After a year of working together, he provided an example of where the cynicism came from: “All this crap about the Golden Age of animation? Back in the thirties? It wasn’t MY Golden Age. It was the middle of the damn depression. There weren’t any damn jobs. And there I was, doing breakdowns on a damn Donald Duck short. And then the production manager would walk in and say, ‘We gotta get this picture out! Who wants to come in Saturday and work?’ If you wanted to keep your job you raised your hand and shouted how much you wanted to spend your Saturday there. For no pay. Like I say, it wasn’t MY Golden Age.”

Larry also regaled me with tales from his radio days, about doing live remotes at March Air Force Base with his boss and Bob Hope, where he scrambled through the audience retrieving script pages when Bob didn’t like Crosby’s witty ad libs and threw Bing’s entire script out into the front-row seats.

But all that was later. At our first meeting, he greeted me cordially and said that Woolie Reitherman, leader of the animation department and director on every animated feature since Sleeping Beauty, was holding a meeting in a downstairs story room and wanted the whole story crew there.

So down we went. Wolfgang Reitherman, tall, weathered, and more rugged-looking than John Wayne, was holding forth in a big story room in D wing, with a dozen story artists arrayed around him in swoopy, leather-and-wood chairs. He shook his head.

“Guys, The Rescuers is done now, but it cost seven and a half million dollars. Seven and a half MILLION dollars. We can’t go on spending that kind of money on these things, we just can’t. We gotta find ways to do them cheaper.”

Everyone bobbed their heads in solemn agreement. I was new, and had no freaking idea what an eighty-five minute cartoon feature was supposed to cost, but I nodded my head, too. When in a movie studio, the safest approach is to follow the behavior modeled by the locals.

In retrospect, of course, the seven and a half million dollars was a bargain. Every Disney animation feature since has cost more, way more. But who the hell knew THAT was the budget trajectory in 1977?

A Robin Hood story meeting with, from l. to r., Woolie Reitherman, Milt Kahl, Ken Anderson, Dave Michener, Frank Thomas, Ollie Johnston and Larry Clemmons. Photo via Andreas Deja.

The story department had a half-dozen storyboard artists working on the next Disney feature, a tale about a fox and a hunting dog called, naturally enough, The Fox and the Hound, and Woolie had already assigned artists to different sequences, even though there was little more than a sketchy story outline. Frank Thomas and Ollie Johnston, the last of Walt’s original supervising animators, were busy in their first-floor offices designing characters and doing “experimental animation,” figuring out how the lead characters might act and move.

Meanwhile up on the third floor, Larry was turning out script pages and test dialogue, running them by Woolie, then recording the dialogue across Dopey Drive on a small soundstage next to the studio theater. Larry’s pages were formatted like a radio script, with characters’ names off to the side and dialogue arrayed in large blocks of type. At the time, I thought this was the way all scripts looked. Only later did I realize that Larry had brought his format from a decade of radio comedy-writing back with him to Disney.

Larry’s scripts didn’t contain much narrative description because Larry focused on dialogue. He knew how to set lines up and pay them off, knew how to make the words “ping” against one another. Just then he was writing “wild lines” for Tod the fox and Copper the hound dog — as puppies. Woolie was testing lots of kid actors, searching for the right mix of voices for the new animated feature.

Since Larry was now my immediate supervisor, I showed him everything I wrote, and also tagged along with him to the recording stage when the kid actors showed up to read his dialogue. Woolie was always in the booth with the engineer; Larry stayed down on the stage floor with the seven and eight-year-old actors, prompting them with line readings and doing a lot of the heavy directorial lifting.

Larry Clemmons was a solid voice director. If a kid was listless and flat, Larry demonstrated how to goose the line: “John? Try it this way: ‘I’m a hooouund dog.’” Or if one of the young actors was over the top, Larry knew how to reel him back in. Instructions, followed by the modeled line (Mr. Clemmons knew what he wanted), then a bit of praise. Worked like a charm.

Various children paraded through the recording stage, agents and mothers in tow. Larry and Woolie honed in on two boys with quirky but oddly magnetic voices. Larry wrote more lines, and the pair was brought back for additional readings. The results weren’t part of an existing sequence, but Frank Thomas heard the wild lines, got inspired, and commenced thumbnailing a long stretch of the young dog and fox meeting for the first time, getting in trouble together. Within a couple of months, Frank animated action and business containing so much personality and life, that every foot of Frank’s test animation…and Larry’s dialogue…ended up in the feature. A year later, Frank and Larry had both retired.

Watch Larry Clemmons pitch a scene from The Rescuers. Clip via Andreas Deja.

‘House Wanders, Bird Water Full’ by Veronika Samartseva

Veronika Samartseva is an animation director from Germany, who specializes in analog animation techniques. Her award-winning films have been shown at international festivals worldwide. After her graduation from HFF Konrad Wolf Babelsberg, Veronika joined the Berlin-based animation collective Talking Animals. Recently she started teaching animation at the BTK University of Design.

Veronika’s graduation film, House Wanders, Bird Water Full, is described as “a journey into the inner world of woman, who descends into her own depths to finally emerge from a discord with her lover.” Samartseva displays a wonderful collection of intuitive stop motion techniques, utilizing a multi-plane setup and cut-out puppetry. The world of the film is full of vibrant visuals, emotional depth, and excellent sound. The approach to the narrative is honest and abstract, using transformative spaces as a vehicle to travel deeper into the source of a changing feeling.

Take a look at some documentation of the filmmaking process below, as well as a time-lapse showing the setup work for creating the interior house scene:

CREDITS
Director and animator: Veronika Samartseva
Sound and mixing: Michał Krajczok
Music: Marian Mentrup
Additional editing: Rudi Zieglmeier
Producer: HFF “Konrad Wolf”

This Sunday in London: Spend The Afternoon with Richard Williams

This Sunday at the BFI Southbank in London, the British Film Institute, in association with the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences, will present the UK/European premiere of the reconstructed work print of Richard Williams’ The Thief and the Cobbler. Williams will discuss the film afterward with film critic David Robinson.

The screening is unfortunately sold out, but earlier that afternoon, the BFI will also screen Who Framed Roger Rabbit. Williams will be present for a Q&A following that screening as well, and there are still tickets available.

Artist of the Day: Jeff Turley

Jeff Turley

Jeff Turley

Location:
Los Angeles, CA, USA
Primary media:
Digital, ink, acrylic
Education:
Art Center College of Design
Major projects:
Art Director on Paperman [Walt Disney Animation Studios]
Production designer on short film Feast [Walt Disney Animation Studios]
An upcoming illustrated book about camping, called Camp
More:
Tumblr/Twitter

Jeff Turley

Jeff Turley

Jeff Turley

Jeff Turley

Jeff Turley

Jeff Turley

Jeff Turley

Jeff Turley

Jeff Turley

KLIK! Animation Festival Arrives in San Francisco and Portland

Junkyard by Hisko Hulsing screens in the “Best of KLIK!” program.

West Coast residents are in luck: if you can’t make it to an international animation film festival, the festival is coming to you. Last week, the Amsterdam-based animation festival KLIK! presented multiple screenings in Los Angeles. This week, they’re taking the show to San Francisco, followed by a stop in Portland.

They will present multiple programs in each city: “Dutch Delights,” which presents recent work from the Netherlands; “Midnight Madness,” a collection of strange international shorts; and “Best of KLIK!” highlighting shorts that have been presented at the festival since its inception in 2007.

Screenings will take place in San Francisco between May 28-30, and in Portland between June 1-3. Dutch filmmakers Joost Lieuwma (director of Leaving Home, Things You’d Better Not Mix Up), Mathijs Stegink (animator and Midnight Madness host) and Tünde Vollenbroek (producer and KLIK!s programming director) will appear at every screening. A full list of film titles, screening dates and locations can be found on the KLIK! website.

Japanese People Can’t Let Go of ‘Frozen’

Every time you want to stop writing about Frozen, it breaks another record. This weekend, the Disney smash hit remained in first place at the Japanese box office for an incomprehensible eleventh weekend in a row. Its $193.7 million gross pushed ahead of Hayao Miyazaki’s Howl’s Moving Castle to become the 3rd highest-grossing movie ever in Japan. In that country, Frozen trails only Titanic ($201.4 million) and Spirited Away ($229.6M) on the all-time list. Worldwide, Frozen surpasssed Iron Man 3 this week to become the 5th highest-grossing movie of all time with $1.22 billion.

In other box office news, Rio 2 earned an estimated $2.5 million in its 7th weekend for a U.S. total of $121.6M. Global gross is $448.2M, which is still short of the original’s $484.6M.

Thanks to a sinister Hollywood conspiracy to destroy the otherwise perfect Legends of Oz: Dorothy’s Return, the film grossed a pitiful $432,000 in its 3rd weekend. It has earned $7.7M to date in the United States.

This Week in Animation History: Disney’s Day of the Dead Problem, Wayne Allwine and ‘Shrek 2′

One year ago this week
Digging into Disney’s “Day of the Dead” Problem: Last week after word got out that Disney was seeking to trademark “Día de los Muertos” in preparation for its 2015 release of a Pixar animated feature inspired by the traditional Mexican holiday, several online communities were outraged. The backlash kicked into high gear when cartoonist and illustrator Lalo Alcaraz shared a poster of a Godzilla-like Mickey Mouse under the words, “It’s coming to trademark your cultura.”

Five years ago this week
Wayne Allwine (1947-2009): Wayne Allwine, the official voice of Mickey Mouse, the third person in history to play the character in various movies and TV shows, has passed away. According to Wikipedia, Allwine’s first appearance as Mickey was voicing the animated lead-ins for The New Mickey Mouse Club in 1977. His first appearance as Mickey for a theatrical release was in the 1983 featurette Mickey’s Christmas Carol and he has provided the voice for Mickey Mouse ever since.

Ten years ago this week
Shrek 2 Opens Huge: DreamWorks Animation’s Shrek 2 had an estimated U.S. box office gross of over $125 million for its first five days of release.

‘Ping Pong’ Recap: ‘Yes, My Coach’ (Ep. 7)

Kaio finally tries to poach Smile, Peco gets into the National Training Center with a little help from the old lady, and we learn about coach Koizumi’s storied past.

This episode was largely devoted to character development, and finally brought into focus just what a complicated web of character interrelations Yuasa has woven out of the original source material, much as he did in Mind Game. There was no single major driving plot element, but rather various themes and plotlines gradually converging. By this point it feels like what we are seeing is more Yuasa than Matsumoto.

So much occurs that it is somewhat overwhelming, if an impressive show. Sensory overload is the order of the day. It took a few viewings to piece together the relationships between the characters, and I still don’t think I have everything down.

After the doldrums of the previous episode, the characters are each in the ascendant again, pursuing the sport with renewed motivation borne of maturity. In the previous episode, Peco decided to get serious again. He now takes a first step towards this by moving from the old lady’s dojo to the National Training Center run by her son, where training is more structured. Smile meanwhile shows his maturity by ignoring his Coach’s recommendation and turning down Kaio’s offer to move there. No doubt the coach really did have his future in mind, but the coach should have known that such a phrase would only incite Smile to run the other way. I like Smile for being a dropout on the road of life who despite talent chooses not the elite academy of glory but the old coach of anonymous self-respect.

It seems coach Koizumi was himself once a rising ping pong star nicknamed Butterfly Joe due to the elegance of his movements. During one key match against a longtime friend, he refused to take advantage of his opponent’s injury. His career was ruined, but his friend’s career took off, and he became the president of Kaio: Ryu Kazama. The coach must have seen a little bit of himself in Smile when Smile refused to take down Kong earlier in the series. Ryuichi and Smile, then, inherit their respective mentors’ approaches to the sport: the one about winning, the one for the love of the sport.

Yurie begins to take on personality, punching the chocolate racket intended as a Valentine’s day gift to Ryuichi. A punch no doubt signifying frustration at her family’s control over Ryuichi, which she blames for his unresponsiveness. The final shot of Yurie returning to an empty home and glancing at the pot of Casablancas on the floor is quietly revealing of her conflicted heart.

Kong also still has some life in him. Languishing among ants, he takes to training on a robot arm that harbors the ghost of Ryuichi. I’m glad to see that his role in the story isn’t finished yet.

The meatiest part of the story, though, concerns the complicated family history of the Kazamas.

A brief flashback reveals much but passes so quickly and is so terse that critical information might be missed. If I understood correctly, Ryuichi’s mother married into the Kazamas, but when her husband died, it left her and her son in ill favor with her stepbrother Ryu Kazama’s side of the family. Ryuichi went on to become as ruthlessly competitive as his uncle Ryu, partly to erase the humiliation, but deep down perhaps he is just denying having the same nature as his father.

Flower symbolism continues to play a big part. The Casablanca lily specifically recurs several times, and seems to represent both Yurie as well as Ryuichi’s side of the family. When Ryuichi sees budding Casablancas after being asked by his coach whether he’s playing the kind of table tennis he truly believes in, it sets off a flashback in which the Casablanca adorns the funeral of his father, presumably a flower seller, where an angry in-law, presumably Ryu, berates the deceased in front of the mourning family. A rival appears and attempts to woo Yurie away from Ryuichi with a bouquet of Casablancas, obviously her favorite because of their association with Ryuichi.

We’re also finally privy to a blurb about Smile’s parents that is revealing of his character. His parents split and he lives with his mom, but he sees her only rarely because she’s working most of the time. Both he and Ryuichi are the product of a broken family. Peco, on the other hand, suffers the burden of an all-too-loving family, as evidenced by their show of support at the National Training Center.

Technically, the quality was spot-on without too much faltering. It seems as if the quality has gradually improved over the course of the show because they’ve had more time to work on the later episodes. Gainax regular Shoko Nishigaki was the lead animation director, and she no doubt helps to maintain the quality of the episode. Although known primarily for her work on Gainax shows, she has been involved in previous Yuasa productions and, unlike many Gainax animators, clearly has the versatility to adapt herself well to different kinds of material.

As is usual with this show, I didn’t recognize many names in the credits. Nothing stood out as particularly outstanding in terms of the animation. It’s not necessary to have an animation highlight in a different style, but I find an episode feels a little flat without one. Maybe the problem is I’ve gotten used to something that’s more the exception to the rule.

Ping Pong Episode 7: Yes, my coach

Storyboard:
Script:
Series Structure:
Masaaki Yuasa
Episode Director: Ryota Ito
Chief Animation Director: Nobutake Ito
Animation Director: Shoko Nishigaki Kenji Shibata
Key Animation: Hideyuki Sugiura Hayao Enomoto
Hiromi Hata Kyohei Sawada
Yuki Nakano Yuta Yokota
Aiko Naikai Yuichiro Omuro
Tatsuhiko Komatsu Takahito Sakazume
Hiroshi Tanabe Yukie Yamamoto
Kozue Tanaami Takeshi Iida
Mirai Omuro Mayu Saito
Natsuko Shimizu Takuya Saito
Toshiro Fujii Maiko Kobayashi
Tetsuro Kaku Shoko Nishigaki

Artist of the Day: INSA

INSA

INSA

Location:
London, UK
Primary media:
Spray-paint
Education:
“Mainly self-taught but went to Goldsmiths University as an excuse to move to London.”
Major projects:
Creator of “GIF-ITI” technique
Exhibition: Pieces for “Chris Ofili retrospective at TATE Britain,” Mar. 2010
“Girls on Bikes” public installation project
Product collections for Kangol, Kid Robot and Oki-Ni
More:
Tumblr/Blog/Instagram/Twitter

INSA

INSA

INSA

INSA

INSA

INSA

INSA

Joanna Davidovich Premieres ‘Monkey Rag’ Online

Joanna Davidovich is a freelance animator based in Atlanta, Georgia. A graduate of the Savannah College of Art and Design, she has been working as an animator, designer, and storyboard artist on commercials, on-air content, and TV shows since 2005.

Her animated short film Monkey Rag, which debuts online this afternoon, has been making the festival rounds since it was completed last July. Last weekend, the film won the second place prize for Independent Film at the 45th ASIFA-EAST Animation Awards.

The film—one-part short film and one-part music video—is buoyantly animated to the song of the same name by the now defunct folk band, The Asylum Street Spankers. Though Davidovich animates in digital programs at her day jobs, she hand-animated and hand-inked Monkey Rag entirely on paper, using Toon Boom Animate Pro only to composite the film. Her original pencil test is below:

“I knew I wanted to make a short and of all the ideas I had, this was the one that was the most fleshed out,” Davidovich tells Cartoon Brew. “So, I did a really rough board-o-matic and sent it to the band and said it’s most likely not going to make money, it’s just going to go to festivals and online, and they let me use it for free, which was really cool of them.”

Click for larger version.

The project, which Davidovich worked on between freelance jobs and on nights and weekends, took four years to complete. “There were times that I didn’t think I would finish it because I never really thought ahead. Anybody would say, ‘You want almost 4 minutes of full animation? That’s going to take you forever!’ But, I didn’t think about that.” Another detail that wasn’t taken into consideration at the outset was how she would get the completed artwork into the computer for compositing, considering that animation compositing software isn’t really designed for paper productions anymore.

With the aid of Nate Foster, who did the visual effects compositing for the film, she set out looking for a solution. First trying Flipbook Pro, which was unsuccessful, she eventually settled on a mix of Toon Boom Animate Pro and After Effects. When it’s optical registration and batch scanner functions didn’t meet their expectations and they were getting nowhere with customer service, they heard about a Toon Boom representative doing workshops at one of the local studios.

“We lured the guy over with a bottle of Scotch and he sat down and took us through the whole program. Even though it didn’t fix all of what we needed to be fixed, he explained to us what the program was not capable of doing and just knowing that there was no trick to be found [to certain issues] helped. We knew we had to find a work around.” Once they found a solution that most closely met their criteria, she was able to begin sending files to Darren Tate, a London-based animator who volunteered to help with the coloring process for the film. The final film was composited in After Effects, as explained in this multi-part tutorial.

While she is pleased with the final product, Davidovich is still on the lookout for a production system that she can use for post-production on her future projects. “I’ve got a huge list of cartoons to make before I die,” she asserts. But for the actual animation, she’s sticking to hand-drawn for the time being. “I love being able to work these things on paper; I like that when I erase something, it doesn’t go away completely, I can still see my first idea and it’s just not the same when you adjust layer opacity and things like that. [Digital] is better than it used to be; I’ve downloaded some really great custom brushes that make drawing much more pleasurable, but it’s still not the same.”

Click for larger version.

Click for larger version.

25 Beautiful Stills From the New Anthology Feature ‘The Prophet’ (Gallery)

The producer of this year’s most intriguing and visually eclectic animated feature may well end up being the Mexican/Arabic actress Salma Hayek, who screened a work-in-progress version of her pet project, The Prophet, last week in Cannes. Based on the prose poetry of beloved early-20th century Lebanese writer Kahlil Gibran, the $12-million feature was supervised by director Roger Allers (The Lion King, Open Season).

Not only did Hayek make the novel decision to produce a philosophically-driven animated feature with religious undertones, she also decided to make it hand-drawn. It’s almost as if she wanted no one to see it. I kid, I kid. But seriously, the film doesn’t have a distributor in the United States yet, and that’s telling of the irrationally hostile environment for hand-drawn feature animation in this country. It’s certainly not for a lack of quality; the stills gallery below and the names of the artists involved should leave little doubt that this will be a gorgeous-looking film. [UPDATE: The film isn’t entirely hand-drawn. Parts of the film are toon-shaded CG.]

Hayek recruited nine filmmakers to create different parts of the film in their own unique styles. “The more different they are, the better, because it’s a surprise,” she told Variety. “You don’t know where you’re going to go next. There’s such a freedom with the film.”

The filmmakers who participated were Michal Socha (Chick, plus that amazing Simpsons opening), Joan Gratz (Mona Lisa Descending a Staircase), Nina Paley (Sita Sings the Blues), Joann Sfar (The Rabbi’s Cat), Tomm Moore (Secret of Kells), Bill Plympton (Guard Dog, Cheatin’), Mohammed Saeed Harib (Freej), and Paul and Gaetan Brizzi (“Firebird Suite” in Fantasia 2000). Allers handled the overarching narrative which concerns the friendship between a young girl and an imprisoned poet.

Voice cast includes Liam Neeson, John Krasinski, Quvenzhane Wallis, and Hayek. Funding for the film was provided by Doha Film Institute, Participant Media, MyGroup Lebanon, FFA Private Bank, Financiere Pinault and Code Red Prods. The film’s official website is GibransProphetMovie.com. Here’s a good LA Times piece about the challenges of producing such an unconventional animated feature.

(Images via Variety Latino; h/t, Matt Jones)

Introducing Cartoon Brew’s Untold Tales

As long as I’ve loved animation, I’ve been fascinated with the personal stories of people who work in the animation business. Not simply, “What character did you make?,” but WHY and HOW did you make it? I became actively involved in documenting those stories when I published the print ‘zine Animation Blast, and it’s something I’ve never stopped doing. For me, it wasn’t just about talking to a handful of familiar directors and animators, but to talk with everyone, especially those who had worked quietly in the trenches and whose stories hadn’t yet been told.

Today, on Cartoon Brew, we are proud to launch Untold Tales, a new regular section dedicated to long-form storytelling about life in the animation industry. The idea is simple: the stories that’ll be shared here are by individuals whose perspective hasn’t been documented elsewhere. The stories are unfiltered, the perspectives are personal, and the narrative belongs entirely to the person telling it—unedited by any studio.

Our first author is Steve Hulett whose memoir Mouse in Transition will be published over the next few months. Steve worked as a writer at Disney during a key transitional period in the studio’s history when the legendary Nine Old Men were retiring and a new group, Steve among them, was entering the company. His credits include The Fox and the Hound, The Black Cauldron, The Great Mouse Detective and Oliver & Company, and his stories capture both the turmoil and triumphs of Eighties Disney, shortly before the studio’s resurgence that began with The Little Mermaid. It’s a fascinating read that we are excited to present as Cartoon Brew’s first untold tale.

You can currently read the first chapter of Mouse in Transition“Disney’s Newest Hire”. New chapters will be published every Wednesday until the book is complete.

(Book background photo via Shutterstock.)

‘Mouse in Transition’: ‘Disney’s Newest Hire’ (Chapter 1)

Mouse in Transition is the story of Disney Feature Animation—from the Nine Old Men to the coming of Jeffrey Katzenberg. Ten lost years of Walt Disney Production’s animation studio, through the eyes of a green animation writer. Steve Hulett spent a decade in Disney Feature Animation’s story department writing animated features, first under the tutelage and supervision of Disney veterans Woolie Reitherman and Larry Clemmons, then under the watchful eye of young Jeffrey Katzenberg. Since 1989, Hulett has served as the business representative of the Animation Guild, Local 839 IATSE, a labor organization which represents Los Angeles-based animation artists, writers and technicians.

New chapters of Mouse in Transition will be published every Wednesday exclusively on Cartoon Brew.

Chapter 1: Disney’s Newest Hire

On a warm October afternoon in 1976 I was sitting in a third-floor animation office of Walt Disney Productions. A gray-haired man with wire-frame glasses sat behind a neat desk, smiling tightly at me. He looked like a Topeka pharmacist.

His name was Don Duckwall, administrative director for Disney Feature Animation, and I sat across from him thinking: Don Duckwall? Seriously? Does Disney have an executive someplace named Mick Mousewall?

Duckwall shuffled papers. “Steve? We’ve decided to hire you as a story trainee. You’ll have three months to develop some practice projects and, uh, show us what you can do. Then the department review committee will evaluate your work and decide if we hire you full time. You start Monday.”

And the following Monday I showed up for work skittish as a caffeinated schnauzer. I needed a job badly, but would I make the three-month cut? Would I fit in? I had not a clue.

     Steve Hulett and sons.

In the mid-seventies, Walt Disney Productions was pretty much as it was when Walt died in the mid-sixties. The place still a small, sleepy movie studio that turned out a handful of live-action comedies, the occasional animated feature, and a once-a-week TV anthology. There were manicured flower beds and lawns surrounding art deco buildings that had been constructed on the eve of World War II. There was the sprawling animation building in the center of the lot, still housing executives, producers and animators. But, except for the amusement parks, Disney remained a relatively small player in Hollywood. There were no Clint Eastwoods or Paul Newmans working on the lot. The studio was beneath the big stars’ notice.

Mr. Duckwall showed me to a third-floor office the size of a walk-in closet that contained a small desk, two chairs, and a Selectric typewriter. My job was to find kids’ books in the studio library and mold them into treatments and scripts that would be reviewed by a training panel. If they liked what they saw, I would be retained. If not, I would be terminated after three months.

I was next introduced to my official “mentor,” a blonde-haired man named Don Bluth. Don was a directing animator who looked like a grad student, dressed in a button-down shirt and corduroy Levis. He seemed super busy, but he stopped drawing long enough to shake my hand and tell me to believe in what I was working on and commit to it “with passion.”

I tried too hard to follow Mr. Bluth’s instructions, but I was uptight. I had found out there was another writer-trainee on the third floor, a woman named Jan Norbert. I convinced myself that she would get the long-term gig and I would be back on the street, looking for work.

I came across a couple of children’s books in the second-floor library that I thought could be turned into short scripts and commenced writing them up. Every few days I trotted down to Don Bluth’s office for pointers and feedback. Don kept emphasizing that I should “believe in” and “get excited about” the projects I worked on. I liked the books I had found for my training exercises well enough, but I wasn’t going to be picking my own material when I was assigned to a studio production. What if I was attached to some stinker like Willie the Wacky Wombat? What would I do then? Say, “Thanks, but I can’t get excited about this, give me something else”? I didn’t think Don’s advice about “believing in” each and every feature was entirely practical, but I kept the thought to myself. Better to be a hard-working professional, and leave it at that.

In truth, Don didn’t have much time for me. He was the animation director on a live-action and animated extravaganza entitled Pete’s Dragon, which was the studio’s multi-million dollar effort at a second Mary Poppins, and that consumed nearly all his attention. One morning I was in his office with animator John Pomeroy. John and Don were talking over a scene about Elliot the dragon, and I was in the corner, waiting my turn for an audience.

Ken Anderson working on Pete’s Dragon. (photo via)

Suddenly there was a knock on the door and Ken Anderson, Disney Animation veteran and the designer of the animated dragon named Elliot, stepped into the room. He had a neat brown beard, bright blue eyes, and three drawings of the cartoon dragon in his hand. He held them out to Don Bluth.

“Hey, I’ve got a great improvement for Elliot. Purple tassels.”

“Purple tassels?,” Don said.

“On the end of Elliot’s ears,” Ken rejoined.

Don looked at the drawing and smiled broadly. “Purple tassels. That’s great, Ken. Really great.”

Ken smiled back. Pointed at the new colored lines on the ends of the dragon’s ears. “They really make a difference, don’t you think?”

“They’re terrific, Ken. Absolutely. I’ll show the guys.”

Ken nodded, blue eyes brighter than before, and exited. The door snicked shut and his footsteps clacked off down the hall. Don dropped his smile and heaved an exasperated sigh.

“What is Ken thinking about? We can’t add tassels to the ends of the ears. We’re in production. Scenes are in color already. This won’t work.”

The simple, direct route wasn’t the way things were done at Disney. It meant ruffling too many feathers that were best left smooth and undisturbed.

John Pomeroy, sitting six feet away, heartily agreed. He and Don bantered back and forth about how unrealistic Ken was being about the revised designs. I had the good sense to keep my trainee mouth shut, but it dawned on me that it might have been simpler to tell Mr. Anderson to his face that the purple tassels were a bad idea and non-starter. It also dawned on me that the simple, direct route wasn’t the way things were done at Disney. It meant ruffling too many feathers that were best left smooth and undisturbed.

Back in my third-floor office, I went on writing my adaptations of the kids’ books, revising them multiple times under Don’s direction. Don was generally vague and noncommittal about my work, and I didn’t think I was getting much of anywhere. And one day at lunch I let my frustration show by blurting that Don Bluth didn’t seem to know much about story. The young animator I was sitting with on the commissary patio went white and pointed at a nearby table.

Andy Gaskill, Don Bluth, John Pomeroy and Gary Goldman review tests on the Moviola at Disney during Pete’s Dragon. (photo via)

Where Don Bluth sat eating with John Pomeroy and another animator named Gary Goldman.

Game. Set. Match.

Whatever blood I still had pumping through my heart drained into my feet. Don must have overheard. I was sure my Disney career was over before it began. Shaking with fear and anxiety, I returned to my tiny office and waited for the inevitable phone call:

“Sorry it didn’t work out, Steve. Pick up your last check from Human Resources, turn in your gate pass, and drive safely.”

But nothing happened. Either Don hadn’t noticed my snotty remark, or had chosen to ignore it.

More pages, more reviews, and my ninety-day “trainee” period wound to its end. I turned in the final drafts of my treatments and scripts, and waited for the review committee’s verdict. Don Duckwall told me he would let me know if I was being hired permanently “no later than Thursday.” But Thursday came and went, and then half of Friday rolled by.

Still nothing.

On Friday afternoon, as I sat brooding in my little office, digesting the fragment of chicken pot pie I had managed to consume in the studio commissary, Don stuck his head through my door.

“We’ve decided to keep you. We’re letting the other trainee go.” Long pause. “So now I guess it’s up to us to find something for you to do.”

Find something for you to do. Those words didn’t sound too encouraging, but I was happy enough with the rest of them. Duckwall pulled his head from my half-open door, and I stared numbly out the office window, gazing at the Disney employees hurrying back and forth on Dopey Drive.

So where was I going from here?

‘Big Hero 6′ Teaser Uses Comedy to Sell Superhero Film [UPDATED]

Here’s the teaser for the Marvel-derived Big Hero 6, the Walt Disney Animation Studios film that will be out in November. The 90-second spot introduces the film’s teenage protagonist, Hiro Hamada, and his homemade robot Baymax. The teaser emphasizes humor and personality over action, and Disney over Marvel, the latter of whom is curiously not named in the teaser. It’s also nice to see a nod to the DIY/maker culture, with Hamada using both a Maya-like software and 3-D printing to create Baymax.

UPDATE: As numerous commenters have already pointed out, the teaser is quite similar to Brad Bird’s teaser for The Incredibles:

‘Food’ by Siqi Song

This is an animated documentary short film about FOOOOOOOOOOOD! I interviewed people their opinions about food, and animate real food based on the soundtracks with stop-motion technique.

CREDITS
A film by Siqi Song
Voice by Joe Swanson, Brooke Regalado, Zachary Zezima, Sian Bliss, Richie Fruitbat, Rachel O’Connor and Chrysanthe Tan.
Made at CalArts, 2014.

‘Entertainment Weekly’ Caves In To Andy Serkis, Replaces the Term ‘Animation’ With ‘Digital Makeup’

Entertainment Weekly has published a piece on the upcoming Dawn of the Planet of the Apes without once mentioning the terms ‘animation,’ ‘motion capture,’ or ‘performance capture.’ Though not a bastion of film criticism, Entertainment Weekly remains an important barometer for mainstream entertainment reporting, and it’s extremely disappointing that they’ve allowed Andy Serkis to co-opt the animation narrative for his own ends.

RELATED: Andy Serkis Does Everything, Animators Do Nothing, Says Andy Serkis

Here’s how EW explained the animation process (or ‘work’ as Serkis calls it) in Dawn of the Planet of the Apes:

Rather than going for flesh-and-blood primates, the filmmakers once again opted for zeroes and ones. The digital makeup is being sculpted in three-dimensions by the wizards of Weta Digital and overlaid onto performances by Velcro/spandex-suited actors like Andy Serkis and Toby Kebbell. “I’ve seen an entire cut of the movie without any ­special ­effects whatsoever,” says Serkis, who once again plays the apes’ leader, Caesar. “It’s amazing to watch as Weta’s work comes in and we’re transformed.”

With Dawn of the Planet of the Apes still a couple of months out, the hype machine is already well under way to obfuscate the role of the animators who played a key part in making the film. It’s going to be a long summer.

Microsoft Aims To Please Artists and Creators with Surface Pro 3 Tablet/PC

Yesterday in New York City, Microsoft unveiled the Surface Pro 3, the latest iteration of its fully-featured PC/tablet with pressure-sensitivity and an ability to run any PC-based creative software from Adobe’s Creative Cloud suite to Toon Boom, Maya, and ZBrush, to post-production filmmaker tools like Assimilate’s SCRATCH and RED’s CineX.

It’s ironic that Microsoft would be the company to step into the space of creator-friendly tablets after Apple abandoned artists for its consumer-driven iPad. But if you’re looking for a Cintiq-like device that is portable, affordable, and user-friendly, you’d be hard-pressed to find a better device than the Surface.

The Surface Pro 3 will begin shipping next month. Superjail! creator Christy Karacas reviewed the original Surface for Cartoon Brew and discussed how it fit into his workflow. To see the Surface Pro 3 in action, watch a video of the product launch/demo. Here’s more from Microsoft:

Wrapped in magnesium and loaded with a 12-inch ClearType Full HD display, 4th-generation Intel Core processor and up to 8 GB of RAM in a sleek frame — just 0.36 inches thin and 1.76 pounds — with up to nine hours of Web-browsing battery life, Surface Pro 3 has all the power, performance and mobility of a laptop in an incredibly lightweight, versatile form.

The thinnest and lightest member of the Surface Pro family, Surface Pro 3 features a large and beautiful 2160×1440 2K color-calibrated screen and 3:2 aspect ratio with multitouch input, so you can swipe, pinch and drag whenever you need. The improved Surface Pro Type Cover and more adjustable, continuous kickstand will transform your device experience from tablet to laptop in a snap. Surface Pro Type Cover features a double-fold hinge enabling you to magnetically lock it to the display’s lower bezel, keeping everything steady so you can work just as comfortably on your lap as you do at your desk. With a full-size USB 3.0 port, microSD card reader and Mini DisplayPort, you can quickly transfer files and easily connect peripherals like external displays. And with the Surface Ethernet Adapter, you can instantly connect your Surface to a wired Ethernet network with transfer rates of up to 1 Gbps.

The custom Surface Pen, crafted with a solid, polished aluminum finish, was designed to look and feel like an actual fountain pen to give you a natural writing experience. Use Surface Pen to organically mark presentations, sign documents or create art in apps like Fresh Paint. A click of Surface Pen opens OneNote, so you can capture your thoughts instantaneously — and your work is automatically saved. Double-click the back of Surface Pen to instantly capture a screenshot of whatever’s on your screen. And with our sophisticated Palm Block technology, you can rest your hand as you write without unintended inputs and marks.

  • Intel Core i3, 64 GB storage and 4 GB of RAM—$799
  • Intel Core i5, 128 GB storage and 4 GB of RAM—$999
  • Intel Core i5, 256 GB storage and 8 GB of RAM—$1,299
  • Intel Core i7, 256 GB storage and 8 GB of RAM—$1,549
  • Intel Core i7, 512 GB storage and 8 GB of RAM—$1,949

Artist of the Day: Marcelo Lelis

Marcelo Lelis

Marcelo Lelis

Location:
Lagoa Santa, Brazil
Primary media:
Pencil, ink, watercolor
Major projects:
Illustrator of over 60 children’s books.
Editorial illustrator [Folha de São Paulo and Estado de Minas newspaper]
Comics writer/artist [France: Publisher Casterman and Webtrip Lyon comics festival. Canada: Anthology Project 2.]
Animation concept artist [Germany: Studio Soi]
More:
Blog

(English closed captions available on this video, click CC:)

Marcelo Lelis

Marcelo Lelis

Marcelo Lelis

Marcelo Lelis

Marcelo Lelis

Marcelo Lelis

Marcelo Lelis

Marcelo Lelis

Marcelo Lelis

Marcelo Lelis

Marcelo Lelis

Marcelo Lelis