Watch John Lasseter’s Raucous CalArts Commencement Speech

John Lasseter address CalArts class of 2014.

Pixar and Disney chief creative officer John Lasseter, who
became a doctor for the second time
last week, delivered the commencement speech to this year’s graduating CalArts class. Lasseter’s speech is a cross between a revival meeting and a rock concert, complete with rowdy audience members chiming in, like in this exchange:

John Lasseter: Even when we reached Disney, the one place we thought we would fit in, we were shut down by the people who took over the studio after Disney’s famous Nine Old Men had retired. They just wanted to maintain the status quo.

Unidentified audience member: FUCK’EM!

John Lasseter: Amen brother, amen! Let me go on because revenge is really sweet here.

Below is the complete 24-minute talk. If you don’t have the time to watch it, here’s a summary of the two most important things Lassseter learned during his four years at CalArts:

1.) Have faith in your own voice.
2.) You need others.

There, you just saved $200,000.

The ASIFA-East Animation Awards Were Classier This Year

The 45th annual ASIFA-East Animation Festival Awards took place last Sunday in Manhattan. The long-running ceremony, which celebrates achievements in East Coast animation, is making an effort to gradually transform its annual ceremony into a more upscale affair.

The ceremony this year took place in the New School’s brand-new Tishman Auditorium, featured a professional comic host (Liz Miele), and introduced a new trophy called the Peggy, which is a twisty sculpture of a pegbar [see below]. Even so, the awards retained a casual artist-friendly vibe, especially in contrast to its overly serious Los Angeles counterpart, ASIFA-Hollywood’s Annie Awards.

The top prize, Best in Show, was awarded to Arthur Metcalf’s In the Beginning. Metcalf also won ASIFA-East’s Best in Show prize in 2008 for his debut film Fantaisie in Bubblewrap. The complete list of winners is below:

In the Beginning by Arthur Metcalf.

In the Beginning (Arthur Metcalf)

1st prize: Eye in Tuna Care (John Walter Lustig)
2nd prize: Monkey Rag (Joanna Davidovich)
3rd prize: My Kingdom (Debra Solomon)

Excellence in Writing: A Life with Asperger’s (Jaime Ekkens)
Excellence in Design: Helium Harvey (Daniel Savage)
Excellence in Animation: Lego Superman (David Pagano)
Excellence in Education: Why Is Yawning Contagious? (Biljana Labovic)

1st prize: Retreat! (Lizzi Akana/Slanted Studios)

1st prize: Five Steps to Slam Poetry (Jeremiah Dickey)
2nd prize: Imagine (Richard O’Connor/Ace & Son Moving Picture Co.)

1st prize: Breadheads (Cody Walzel, Pratt Institute)
2nd prize: Why Do I Study Physics? (Xiangjun Shi, RISD)
3rd Prize: Medical Adventure Power!! (Josh Weisbrod, University of Southern California)
3rd Prize: Two Ghosts (Amy Lee Ketchum, University of Southern California)
Honorable Mention: Fakie (Ricardo Manlapig, Pratt Institute)
Honorable Mention: Owl & Mouse (Emma Noble, NYU Tisch)
Honorable Mention: Bears (Daniel Costales, NYU Tisch)

DreamWorks Pushes Back ‘Home’ to 2015

Six months before its scheduled release, DreamWorks Animation has pushed back the release date of Home from November 26, 2014, to March 27, 2015. The big-screen adaptation of the TV series The Penguins of Madagascar, which originally had the March date, will now be released on November 26th.

Home, directed by Tim Johnson and based on the children’s book The True Meaning of Smekday, tells the story of a race of aliens named Boov who hide out on Earth.

First Stills from Disney’s ‘Big Hero 6′ Released

Click for larger version.

Released today: the first images from Disney’s next animated feature, the Marvel Comics-based Big Hero 6, directed by Don Hall (Winnie the Pooh) and Chris Williams (Bolt). The teaser will be released on Thursday.

If you want to take a stroll down memory lane, here are the comments from the first Frozen stills released last June.

Click for larger version.

Click for larger version.

McDonald’s Introduces New Mascot Called Happy [UPDATED]

If Ronald McDonald wasn’t disturbing enough, McDonald’s has unveiled a creepy-looking animated mascot in the United States called Happy. The Happy Meal box-shaped creature has rubber-hose arms, a huge set of realistic chompers, bulging eyballs, and the McDonald’s arches as eyebrows. He was introduced in France in 2009, and has since made his way to Latin American countries. In the U.S., Happy will be used as a “Happy Meal brand ambassador” who will encourage “balanced and wholesome eating.” A good first step toward that goal might be to not take your kids to McDonald’s, though Happy probably won’t tell you that.

Here are some of the French commercials with Happy:

UPDATE: For everyone who’s been saying that Happy reminds them of the Minions, it should be stated that the same French animation studio, Mac Guff, does both. And Happy and the Minions have also appeared together, like in this spot directed by Laurent Nicolas at Passion Paris:

And here’s the My Little Pony/Pokémon McDonald’s mashup:

‘Ping Pong’ Recap: ‘You Love This Sport More Than Anyone’ (Ep. 6)

Half a year on from the events of the previous episode, it’s a winter of the soul for the various protagonists. We see just how much has changed in the intervening months through the kaleidoscopic lens of one Christmas Eve.

Time shifts can be abrupt and extreme in Ping Pong, none more so than that between this and the previous episode. This time we jump straight from summer to winter. This is just another example of Masaaki Yuasa’s compressed and dense storytelling style. Rather than being linear and systematic, it’s almost literary in how it jumps around time and space, and how much it evokes in just a few passing shots. The climactic scene of Peco drowning in the ocean was the highlight in this regard: As consciousness fades, memories of past and present swirl, and Peco symbolically embraces a dolphin as he longs to be taken far, far away from everything.

The previous episode focused on Sakuma’s victory over Peco and subsequent defeat by Smile. This episode builds on this and focuses on the deflated Peco, who is now squandering his innate talent for the sport. For all his bluster, deep down he was coddled and easily discouraged by the realization that he wasn’t the best player out there. If Sakuma made effort but had no talent, Peco has the talent but lacks the motivation to make effort. Defeat freed Sakuma from the competitive mindset that blinded him to this obvious truth.

During their exchange on the bridge, Sakuma verges on telling Peco that he was everyone’s … something … but he doesn’t finish his sentence. The word he was about to say is obviously: Hero. This confirms my running suspicion that the hero who always seems to come save Smile in the recurring imaginary scenes is none other than his friend Peco.

This is echoed by a comic book entitled Attack on Robo being read by some children in the subway, which seems to be a parody of the currently popular Attack on Titan. Peco’s enthusiasm and confidence inspired his classmates with the positive attitude they needed to strive to achieve something. Sakuma pays his friend the ultimate respect of trying to shake him out of his stupor, including pulling the cigarettes out of his mouth and throwing them into the water. What the cold-hearted Smile most needs now, it seems, is for his friend Peco to regain his self-confidence.

This was one of the more densely packed episodes so far. Directing and style were pretty much exactly on par with previous episodes. Despite being fragmented in its story, which is somewhat Magnolia-esque with its intertwining stories, the episode felt more tight and satisfying than previous episodes.

The episode reminded more than ever of Mind Game with its numerous intertwining stories. The layouts of the shots were also typical of Yuasa: wide angle with slight bowing becoming pronounced as the characters get close to the “camera”.

The Christmas Eve celebrations showed the various characters in contrasting situations. Peco got drunk on chocolate liqueurs. Kong sang “All Alone on Christmas” even though he was surrounded by friends and his mother. Smile, in actual fact alone, sat in his room in the dark and blew out the candles on the cake given him by his coach. The enigmatic Egami made another wordless appearance, this time arriving at the mountain only to long to go overseas. Sakuma, now a construction worker, shoveled concrete, near where Yurie fruitlessly awaits Ryuichi for a date, while playing out a fantasy in her head.

Ryuichi, meanwhile, lies in bed back home, and judging by the pile of crumpled kleenex by his side, appears to have been using the poster of Yurie on the ceiling above his bed as a “visual aid.” Is it a case of forbidden love? The show has been ambiguous about the nature of their relationship. She walks in on him naked in the bath as if it were nothing, yet the two don’t seem to have done anything. It seems the feelings are there, but Ryuichi suppresses them – seemingly less because of the cousin stigma than because their relationship would get in the way of his ambitions. Rather than explaining each of these threads in detail, the show does a good job of getting your brain spinning in a frenzy trying to piece together the visual clues. Things are briefly hinted at through carefully staged moments that hint at the larger emotional picture.

The drawings were spot on most of the time and didn’t seem to be struggling as much as the last few episodes. There were no particularly impressive pieces of animation, but there were some nice moments here and there. Yasunori Miyazawa was again present, but he didn’t have a really obvious scene like last time. He is actually a versatile animator and can often be found animating everyday acting scenes, which is presumably what he did here.

The standout name this time is Naoyuki Asano, who was one of the episode’s animation directors. I’m not positive what he did, but he’s a very talented animator in his own right and it’s great seeing him here. He no doubt helped a lot in maintaining this episode’s quality. It’s too bad the schedule didn’t allow for an entire episode handled by him so that his touch could be more visible. He’s primarily known as an animation director on Doraemon, but he’s done lots of side-projects that show off his versatility, including a crazy music video for Gen Hoshino that showcases his off-kilter imagination and visual exuberance. It seems to take place within a dream of Nobita, the protagonist of Doraemon. (Skip to the 4-minute mark when the live-action kicks in.)

His best piece so far, though, is a 2012 short film entitled Minding My Own Business on the subject of bullying in Japanese schools. Made with simple, pared-down visuals and sprightly hand-drawn animation, it’s a lighthearted but delicately moving short film that’s another great showcase of his talent.

Ping Pong Episode 6: You love this sport more than anyone

Series Structure:
Masaaki Yuasa
Episode Director: Takehiro Kubota
Chief Animation Director: Nobutake Ito
Animation Director: Naoyuki Asano Sayaka Toda
Nobutake Ito
Key Animation: Satoshi? Nakazawa Toru Hamasaki
Sakiyu Saito Kaori Takadono?
Hideyuki Sugiura Betsujin Shishido
Takashi Nakamichi Ryosuke Nishii
Tetsuro Kaku Maki Kawake
Sadao Oshima Kanako Maru
Tomomi Kawazuma Fumiyuki Uehara
Makoto Ogasawara Kei Shimada
Washio Saori Koike
Kanchi Suzuki Yasunori Miyazawa

Canada Post Releases Stamps to Celebrate NFB’s 75th Anniversary

To commemorate the National Film Board of Canada’s 75th anniversary, Canada Post released a set of five stamps this month that celebrate the government-run studio’s films. Two of the five stamps are related to animated films: John Weldon’s Log Driver’s Waltz (1979) and Norman McLaren’s Neighbors (1962). A third stamp features animator Gerald Potterton’s live-action short The Railrodder (1965), which starred Buster Keaton in one of his last leading roles. Watch all of the films on the NFB website or order the stamps on the Canada Post website.

(Thanks, Sterling Sheehy)

‘A Dangerous Journey’ by Ruth Beni

A Dangerous Journey (part funded by Comic Relief) warns young African women of the dangers of being coerced and tricked into prostitution by traffickers who use scare tactics perpetrated by native doctors and false promises. Narrated by two survivors of sex trafficking, the film depicts these harrowing human experiences with compelling accuracy, and describes the various techniques of coercion used by traffickers, which include Juju scare tactics perpetrated by Native Doctors.

Written, directed and produced by Ruth Beni
Character design and animation: Nicolette van Gendt
Background design: Luke Mandie
Music: Evelyn Glennie and Philip Sheppard
Narrated by Kevin Howarth
Development and Storyboard: Richard Burdett
Editor: Haim Litani
Animation storyboard: Brendan Houghton
Animation compositor: Lorenzo Cenci De Bello
Animation coloring: Oliver Gwyther
Effects assistant: Rachel Glodowski
Assistant animator: Dave McFall
Sound design: Phil Evans, Side Studios
Produced by Animage Films, Hibiscus, Be Animation Production

‘Legends of Oz’ Investors, Who Each Paid $100,000, Believe Hollywood Conspiracy Destroyed Film [UPDATED]

Although Greg Centineo, the producer and chief fundraiser of Summertime Entertainment’s Legends of Oz: Dorothy’s Return, had hoped for a big second weekend, the film plummeted 48% and ended its sophomore frame with $1.9 million. The movie has struggled to find a fan following, except for the film’s Facebook page which is filled with a curiously large number of middle-aged and elderly people who absolutely adore the film.

RELATED: Legends of Oz Producer Greg Centineo Knows Why The Film Flopped

It’s increasingly becoming clear that these Facebook fans are among the film’s investors, some of whom can also be seen in this photo album of the film’s investor events. These are the people who gave Centineo a reported $60-70 million to produce Legends of Oz. If that figure holds accurate, it would be the most expensive CGI film ever produced at India’s Prana Studios.

According to one of the investors, Joe Occhiogrosso, the minimum required investment in the film was $100,000 per person. Here’s what he wrote on Facebook last February:

With an estimated one thousand investors in the project, that means that Centineo raised over $100 million to produce the film and its followups. And now that the film has tanked at the box office, the disappointed investors are pushing a new theory: that there was a conspiracy in Hollywood to destroy the film. If you recall, Centineo has subtly suggested the same scenario in interviews.

David Yancey, one of the film’s investors, wrote a rant on Facebook that he encouraged people to reprint. It spells out how the investors of the film believe that there was a concerted smear campaign coordinated between Hollywood studios and movie critics to bury their film’s chances. Here’s Yancey’s take:

The new animated movie Legends of Oz (NOW in theaters) is not owned by one of the big Hollywood studios, and the film needs your support. When you go to see this film, you are supporting over 1000 regular people just like you and me, who worked together for over a decade, through some of the worst economic times in history, to bring this project to the big screen for your enjoyment. Over 1000 regular people worked together on this massive project because they love and believe in the story of Oz — the original American fairytale. When everyone in Hollywood said it could never be done, it took a while but we all made it happen.

The big Hollywood studios do not want this effort to succeed because they don’t want any serious new competition. Maybe we got their attention because they amassed their army of top paid critics who wielded their poison pens in a smear campaign against this wonderful family picture. These seemingly aren’t just reviews of an average film not liked by critics, they are propaganda written expressly to dissuade everyone from seeing the film.

And yet over 90 percent of viewers (young and old) absolutely love the film. It looks like over 1000 regular folks just like us are in the classic battle of David and Goliath against the gigantic power of the Hollywood mega-studios.

Please see and support this film today. Tell your friends about #legendsofoz Share this post publically on Facebook to help spread the word about a good thing — about a film with love, adventure, teamwork and family values.

The following interview offers a good idea of Centineo’s future plans for the franchise, and presumably the pitch that was heard by the investors of the film. It’s a convincing story if you don’t know anything about how the film business works:

If you are an investor in Legends of Oz and have more details about how the investment was structured, please contact Cartoon Brew.

UPDATE: A Cartoon Brew commenter “R.I.” posted a link in one of our earlier posts to this massive 17-page comment thread in which people are discussing the histories of the people involved in the fundraising, providing links to SEC filings, and alleging deceptive practices in how the money was raised and spent.

First Look at John Canemaker’s Amazing Disney History ‘The Lost Notebook’

Yesterday on Cartoon Brew’s Instagram, we offered a small taste of John Canemaker’s new book The Lost Notebook: Herman Schultheis & the Secrets of Walt Disney’s Movie Magic, which will be released on May 27.

It’s no secret that I’m an unabashed fan of the book, as evidenced by the embarrassingly prominent blurb from me on the book’s back cover. But even though I’d already seen the book’s contents, I was unprepared for the sheer magnificence of the final object when it arrived in the mail yesterday. It’s a humongous tome (12″x12″, 288 pages), with every image reprinted beautifully, and a striking use of silver ink throughout. And then there’s the treasure trove of knowledge contained within both the facsimile of Schultheis’s notebooks and Canemaker’s impeccable research and writing. This book is a great argument for why art books, when done right, still deserve to be printed on paper in this digital age.

The Lost Notebook is available to pre-order on Amazon. It’s not cheap, but if you are an admirer of the artistry and technical innovations of the early Disney features, this book is a must-have.

We’ll have more about the book on Cartoon Brew in the coming weeks.

John Lasseter Becomes A Doctor…Again

John Lasseter accepting his honorary doctorate at CalArts. (Photo by Sean Buckelew.)

This evening John Lasseter received an honorary doctorate from his alma mater California Institute of the Arts. He also delivered the commencement address to the graduating class. Five years ago, Lasseter received his first honorary doctorate from Pepperdine University, the school that he dropped out of to attend CalArts. So, does this mean we have to call him Dr.² Lasseter now?

‘Legends of Oz’ Producer Greg Centineo Knows Why The Film Flopped

Greg Centineo.

Last weekend, The Legends of Oz: Dorothy’s Return recorded the worst opening ever for an animated film in more than 2,500 theaters. The film’s exec producer, Greg Centineo, a former Florida coffee shop owner who raised over $100 million from investors to produce this film and its followups, thinks he knows what went wrong.

In an inteview with Animated Views, Centineo, who lists one of his job titles as “seeker of meaning,” suggests that movie critics conspired to crush his film:

“The project is not owned by a studio. It’s owned by individuals. Hundreds of people around the country and the world literally invested in this project. We’re nobodies in this industry. And we stepped into a deep, deep ocean, with some very, very big sharks. Some of those mainstream critics have not just trashed the movie, but literally tried to crush it. When you read how belligerent they are against the project – against the film – compared to the audience reviews, it speaks for itself. You don’t have to be a rocket scientist to figure out something is wrong there.”

RELATED: Legends of Oz Investors, Who Each Paid $100,000, Believe Hollywood Conspiracy Destroyed Film

Later in the inteview, Centineo attacks his film’s distributor, Clarius Entertainment for not doing their job:

“If you want me to be frank with you, I think the marketing of the project was anemic. It was done by Clarius – I’m sure you’ve read the article today about them. They have a potential flop with this. They definitely dropped the ball on promoting what seems to be a very loved film by people.”

Centineo is nothing if not an optimist and he believes that the film’s opening weekend was simply a “false opening.” Grosses will pick up this weekend, he says:

“So, now it’s about getting more awareness for the project. We’re doing that through a lot of viral sources and social media. I think the movie had an awareness problem in its opening weekend. We’re almost treating that like a false start or a false opening, in working toward this weekend. Hopefully, we’ll do better this weekend. I believe we can. I believe the movie can increase its box office as word of mouth gets around. As long as that happens, I think we can see this thing be respectable at the box office.”

And should it not do any better this weekend, Centineo has still got leftover money from his investors that he’s going to use to make two more Oz sequels and a TV series. (He claims that he raised over $100 million and that the film cost $70 million to produce.)

Watch the Banned Danish Election Cartoon ‘Voteman’ (NSFW)

What’s the best way to encourage young people to vote? The Danish parliament (or Folketinget) decided that the answer was an ultra-violent, sex-filled Adult Swim-style cartoon. To encourage young Danes to vote in the upcoming European elections, the Folketinget commissioned a 90-second piece of animation starring a leather-clad dolphin-riding muscleman named Voteman who receives blowjobs from an army of women when he’s not busy decapitating Danish people who don’t vote. The reported budget for the piece was $30,000.

The ill-conceived cartoon, which was posted on the Folketinget’s YouTube and Facebook channels, was removed on Tuesday, just one day after it was posted, following a backlash over its indiscriminate use of sex and violence. “Many people whose opinions I deeply respect have perceived the cartoon from the EU Information Center as far more serious and offensive than it was intended, and believe it talks down to young people,” said Mogens Lykketoft, the speaker of the Folketinget. “I acknowledge that in the future Folketinget as an institution has to show more caution in terms of what we put our name to.”

The best thing about the video though: I learned that the amount of cinnamon in baked goods is a serious political issue in Denmark.

Watch the banned cartoon below:

(Thanks, John Dilworth)

Watch 2 New CN Pilots By ‘Regular Show’ Staffers

AJ’s Infinite Summer by Toby Jones.

Tonight, Cartoon Network quietly released two new pilots that were produced in 2013: AJ’s Infinite Summer created by Toby Jones and Long Live the Royals by Sean Szeles. Both Jones and Szeles work on Regular Show—Jones is a writer/storyboard artist, and Szeles is a supervising director/writer/storyboard artist.

Long Live the Royals created by Sean Szeles.

Before Toby Jones created AJ’s Infinite Summer, which revolves around three teenage friends goofing around, he had co-directed a 60-minute indie live-action film called AJ Goes to France (2006). While there’s probably not a lot of continuity between that earlier film and this short, the lead actor in both projects is the same person, AJ Thompson.

Szeles’ short Long Live the Royals also follows three kids, but in this case, the kids are modern-age royal siblings who live with their parents, the King and Queen.

Both shorts are currently available to view online in the U.S., but may be geo-blocked in other regions.

‘Steven Universe’ Recap: ‘Rose’s Room’

“Rose’s Room”
Written and storyboarded by Joe Johnston and Jeff Liu.

Reading beforehand what this episode was supposed to be about, my mind completely went somewhere else. Steven’s at that age when boys want alone time for a very specific reason and while I was 99.9% sure Cartoon Network wasn’t going to go that far, I thought they’d at least allude to that idea of adolescence and growing up. Instead we dived into the real reason (sort of) that Steven wanted to be left alone, and dug a little deeper into the idea of his parental units via a room and the weird, strange world created by said room.

“Rose’s Room” starts out with Steven eating an insane amount of creamed corn so that he can collect the $5 coupons for mini golf. Excited to complete his task (did he actually need the physical can…), he was quickly shot down by the Gems who said they didn’t have time to play golf with him. Instead, Steven becomes unhealthily engaged in a golfing/fantasy-video game centered around golf, and is just about to experience the end of the game when the Gems return and interrupt the game. After he wishes for a place of his own, his gem lights up and opens the door to his mother’s room. Not listening to the warnings of the Gems, Steven enters anyways and is met with a rose-tinted, cloud-packed room where one’s every wish is granted from quadruple bunk beds to all the donuts you can never eat because they go poof as soon as you try to pop them into your mouth.

It was all fun and odd games until things took a turn. Much like “Steven the Sword Fighter,” this episode was a bit dark. The room created a freaky world where Beach City was in an altered state: Sadie and Lars were robotic, the Gems were nowhere to be found, Onion remained pretty much the same little mute, and Greg was actually better than usual – more on that later on. It was as if Steven had fallen through the rabbit’s hole and landed in a place that was no place like home…at all. Luckily, he wished to be back with the Gems and all was well again, especially since he finally got that round of mini golf.

There were three things that caught my eye this week: the idea of alone time, the idea of father figures in Steven’s life (both dad and Garnet), and the idea behind Rose’s room.

Here’s my problem with the alone time, other than it not being a symbol about the obvious need to be alone when a young boy is transitioning into a man…Steven was so against being alone at the start. He freaked out because the Gems were too busy, but as soon as they had free time, he freaked out again because they’d interrupted a game. That was a pretty quick change of heart. He went from needing companionship to not wanting it at all, and then back to where he started. I just wish he’d wanted that time to himself from the start. I think that would’ve made the idea of wanting the Gems around a lot stronger in the end BUT then they would’ve had to rewrite that whole mini-golf beginning.

Then there was Greg. I’m not a fan of that guy because we haven’t really gotten to know him. He’s either a great dad who’s letting his son live out his destiny in a better environment, or he’s a lazy dad who only comes around when completely necessary. In any case, Greg was the only character in the bizarro-Beach City that made actual sense when Steven approached. At first his words were filled with insight, but then he started spitting out clichés about honesty and even his son called him out on it. What’s that say that in a made-up world where everything is opposite, and you’re suddenly this great father figure? Maybe that you suck in reality? Even at almost 20 episodes into the series, not a fan of Greg.

Speaking of father figures, did anyone catch when Steven said that Garnett could fit into Greg’s old golf pants? Like I’ve said for weeks, she’s the dad of their modern family and they really drove that home with her actually wearing them when they finally made it to the course.

And then, Rose’s room. Of course Steven’s gem would be the one to unlock it, that was no surprise, but did the Gems really know what was beyond those doors? A place where dreams come true, but are often nightmares–a lesson in be careful what you wish for. Was that always the case for Rose’s quarters or was this some type of lesson that an absent mother was sending her son? I want to lean toward the Gems not knowing what was in that room, and their fear of Steven going in was based on the fact that they didn’t know what to expect or the harm he could’ve faced.

The idea that Rose’s room was this place where things appear perfect but aren’t says something about her character. Look at the Gems’ rooms from “Together Breakfast,” they each represented the Gem perfectly. Pearl’s was clean and sharp, Amethyst’s was chaotic, and Garnet’s a mystery. This makes me think there’s a big secret waiting in the wings about Steven’s mom. She’s always painted as this great Gem, but could the reality be that she isn’t?

This Sunday in NYC: 45th Annual ASIFA-East Animation Festival Awards Ceremony

Artwork by Debra Solomon.

There is just one annual animation award in the United States that is older than the Oscars and that’s the ASIFA-East Animation Festival. This year’s ceremony will mark the 45th year in a row that the festival has been presented. It takes place this Sunday, May 18th, at the New School’s newly built Tishman Auditorium (63 5th Avenue in Manhattan). The awards ceremony begins at 6pm, followed by a screening of the award-winning films. ‘Festive attire’ is encouraged. The ceremony and awards reception are free and open to the public, but a $5 donation is requested from non-members.

To liven up the ceremony this year, the evening will be hosted by stand-up comic Liz Miele, who was previously interviewed on Cartoon Brew about her animated webseries Damaged. For more details on the event, visit the ASIFA-East website.

Artist of the Day: Jun Cen

Jun Cen

Jun Cen

New York, NY
Primary media:
Pencil, gouache, color pencil, digital
BA, Guangzhou Academy of Fine Arts
MFA, Maryland Institute College of Art
Major projects:
Mutual Tunnels (hand-drawn 2d animated short film)
Entrance/Exit (self-published graphic novel)
Hermaphrodite (self-released visual and music collaborative project)

Jun Cen

Jun Cen

Jun Cen

Jun Cen

Jun Cen

‘The Begun of Tigtone’ by Andrew Koehler

The Begun of Tigtone is a parody of every fantasy convention there is, from movies to games. And the star character of this story is Tigtone, a man whose personality is intentionally modeled after a two-dimnesional, anti-hero cliche. Along his journey, he is challenged by pointless puzzles, preposterously clad goddesses, and generic quest goals. Not even the dialog is safe from skewering, as the fantasy convention of convoluted language is parodied right down to the very title of the story.

Produced and Directed by Andrew Koehler

Written by Andrew Koehler, Benjamin Martin, Zack Wallenfang, Cody Larson

Nils Frykdahl as Tigtone
Bill Corbett as the Ghost Wizard
Lucy Davis as the Captive Sun
Mike Stoklasa as Beefankle the Blacksmith
Melora Creager as the Queen Princess of the Geodon Serpents
Stephen Lea Sheppard as the Wood Elf
Joseph Scrimshaw as the Newborn Cyclops
Hannibal Buress as Seed Steed
Gregg Turkington as the Cave Demon

Additional Voices:
Jay Bauman
Rich Evans
Dan Schlissel
Dawn McCarthy
Larry DiTillio
Rowby Goren


Did Jeff Koons Just Make $28 Million By Plagiarizing A Dark Horse Popeye Toy? [Update: No, He Had Permission To Copy]

Left: Dark Horse Popeye Toy (photo via). Right: Popeye sculpture by Jeff Koons

Last night Jeff Koons sold a sculpture of Popeye for over $28 million. Today, evidence has emerged that Koons may not have designed the sculpture. In the comments of our previous post about the Popeye sculpture, Brew reader Alex Kirwan pointed out that Koons’s sculpture bears a substantial similarity to a Dark Horse-produced Popeye PVC figure released in 2002.

Without seeing the Popeye sculpture and figurine in person, it’s hard to speak with definitiveness, but after closely examining the available photos of each, Koons’s sculpture looks like an exact 1:1 replica of the Dark Horse toy. Just take a look at the opened can top—it is copied down to the last detail in a way that could not be mere coincidence.

Now, before Koons made this Popeye sculpture, he also created an oil painting in 2008 called “Triple Popeye.”

“Triple Popeye” (2008) by Jeff Koons.

The painting is a dead giveaway that it’s based on a photo of the toy. The most obvious giveaway that Koons used the toy as the basis for his painting and sculpture is the tank tattoo on Popeye’s left arm. While Popeye will occasionally sport a tattoo on his upper arm, it is not a specific design, and I have never seen that tank design used on anywhere but this toy.

I don’t know who designed the toy—Leslie Cabarga? Stephen DeStefano?—but perhaps they could confirm whether their design of Popeye was an original pose that was unique to that PVC figure line or if it was an existing pose and design?

So what does all this mean? The sculpture that Koons sold at Sotheby’s last night does not appear to have been done in collaboration with Popeye’s owner, King Features. [See update #2 below: King Features DID give permission for Koons to copy the toy.] The clearest evidence of that was that the Sotheby’s promo video used only public domain shorts and none of the copyrighted films. It would stand to reason then that Koons also didn’t work with Dark Horse to license their Popeye toy as the basis for his sculpture and painting.

Is this legally actionable? That’s a question for lawyers. Koons could, of course, claim fair use, and that is certainly arguable in the case of the painting. The sculpture is another question though. Fair use gives a lot of leeway to artists, but the four factors used to determine fair use don’t necessarily give an artist the right to exactly reproduce an original object for commercial resale. Shepard Fairey, whose Obama “Hope” poster was an even more transformative use of its original source photo than this Popeye sculpture is of its source, still ended up in legal trouble. Fairey ended up settling out of court with the Associated Press news agency after a judge told him he would lose the case.

UPDATE #2: According to this 2012 article in Art Newspaper about Koon’s numerous lawsuits over copyright infringement, Koons received permission from King Features to use Popeye for this sculpture. So, no infringement here. One now wonders if the work-for-hire artist who got paid to design a plastic toy, and instead wound up designing a $28 million sculpture, received any additional compensation? (Thanks to the commenter “byarhouse” for pointing this article out.)

UPDATE #1: In 1992, Jeff Koons was involved in a lawsuit, Rogers v. Koons, in which he made a sculpture based on a photograph of a man and a woman holding puppies. He argued that it was a fair use parody and lost the case. According to Wikipedia:

The Court found both “substantial similarity” and that Koons had access to the picture. The similarity was so close that the average lay person would recognize the copying, a measure for evaluation. Thus the sculpture was found to be a copy of the work by Rogers.

On the issue of fair use, the court rejected the parody argument, as Koons could have constructed his parody of that general type of art without copying Rogers’ specific work. That is, Koons was not commenting on Rogers’ work specifically, and so his copying of that work did not fall under the fair use exception.

Animation’s Domination Slips on Fox Sundays

While Fox’s Sunday night lineup was dubbed Animation Domination in May 2005, it did not officially become all-animated until 2010. Now, the announcement of their fall 2014 schedule reveals that the cartoons will be ceding some of their Sunday night territory to live-action comedies Brooklyn Nine-Nine and Mulaney, which will be taking over the 8:30 and 9:30 time slots, respectively.

With American Dad! moving to TBS later this year, this leaves The Simpsons, Family Guy and Bob’s Burgers to fend for themselves until 2015, when Bordertown, the Seth MacFarlane-produced animated comedy is set to premiere.

Also debuting on Fox in 2015, The Last Man on Earth, a live-action comedy by SNL alum Will Forte (MacGruber, Nebraska) and animation directors Phil Lord and Chris Miller (Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs, The LEGO Movie). The show follows Phil Miller (Forte) who, after “an unlikely event,” discovers that he may be the last person left on the planet.

Some Lucky Person Will Pay $25 Million Tonight For Jeff Koons’s Popeye [UPDATED]

Tonight in New York City, Sotheby’s will auction a stainless steel, 2000-pound, six-and-a-half-foot-tall Popeye sculpture by Jeff Koons that is estimated to sell for between $25-35 million. Koons, who is already among the top three richest living American artists not to mention an avowed lover of Croods, made three of these Popeye sculptures, which probably represents the number of people who he thinks are dumb enough to pay between $25-35 million for a Popeye sculpture.

RELATED: Did Jeff Koons Just Make $28 Million By Plagiarizing A Dark Horse Popeye Toy?

Here’s what Sotheby’s has to say about the piece:

Alex Rotter, Co-Head of Sotheby’s Worldwide Contemporary Art Department, commented: “The history of Pop Art begins and ends with Popeye. From his first representations by Roy Lichtenstein and Andy Warhol in the 1960s, to the present three-dimensional crescendo by Jeff Koons a half century later, this ultimate American hero and self-made man has remained a true icon of both art history and popular culture.”

Originally conceived in 1929 as part of a newspaper comic-strip, Popeye grew to the status of cultural phenomenon amidst the adversities of the Great Depression. Resolutely ordinary, yet tough, resilient, confident and super-strong, Popeye personified the American dream in a time of worldwide hardship, which helped propel the character to national fame and popularity. Though now over 80 years old, the all-American cartoon hero remains universally famous across the globe.

While Koons began referencing Popeye in his work in the early 2000s, it was not until 2009 – amidst a new financial crisis nearly a century following the Great Depression – that Koons would re-appropriate this American champion in heroic sculptural form, as an icon for the new millennium. Herculean in stance, with outrageously proportioned muscles and a proud cleft-chin, the resulting Popeye is three-dimensional and over-life-size, incarnated in Koons’s signature material: stainless steel.

Click for larger version.

Note that the subtitles on the auction video above are in Chinese. Sotheby’s and Koons, who is a celebrity in China, are targeting nouveau riche Chinese as buyers for the piece. Everything from the incongruous Dixieland music at the end of the video to the curator’s comments trumps up the notion that Popeye is a 100% American symbol:

“He’s the David that challenges Goliath so it was very easy to associate yourself with the little guy that becomes very powerful and beats up the big guy and saves the girl. He’s the ultimate American hero; it’s the ultimate American dream.”

The underlying subtext is, of course, highly anti-American. To a potential Chinese buyer who views himself as the David of the world, he sees Popeye ephemera as the opportunity to take symbolic ownership of the American dream. A cartoon hunting trophy, if you will. When you think of it that way, the price of the sculpture is actually quite reasonable; Koons is selling off the American dream for a mere $25 million.

Let’s just hope the buyer doesn’t find out that Popeye hates Asians.

Here’s a few more close-up views of the piece:

Click for larger version.

Click for larger version.

UPDATE #1: Popeye was kept out of Chinese hands by casino owner and art destroyer Steve Wynn who paid $28.2 million for the Koons sculpture. He was the sole bidder and plans to display the piece at one of his Las Vegas hotels.

‘Lord of the Rings’ Animation Supervisor Randall William Cook Speaks Out On Andy Serkis

Randall William Cook and Andy Serkis.

Our post on Andy Serkis’s inflammatory rhetoric about the limited role of animators on his motion capture performances generated a robust, often heated, discussion in the comments. By far, the most informative comment was provided by 3-time Oscar winner Randall William Cook, who was the animation supervisor/designer at WETA on the Lord of the Rings trilogy that was released between 2001 and 2003.

Cook’s description of the process of working on the character of Gollum is even-handed, specific, and, to my knowledge, the only first-hand account I’ve read from an animator who has worked with Serkis. Cook makes clear that the technology has evolved since he worked on those films and that the process may be different today. And while it’s true that Serkis was not using the term ‘digital make-up’ during those films, he was already downplaying the role of his animation co-workers and, intentionally or not, misrepresenting the collaborative nature of the process. Take this interview from 2003:

[The animators] either basically roto-scoped over my exact movements – if Peter [Jackson] liked a particular take, he’d get the animators to literally paint frame by frame over my exact moves and my facial expressions and everything – or, using the second take with them acting to the void where I once was, I’d then go back in post-production, which is basically all of 2002, to do motion-capture… [T]he whole thing about motion-capture is it is highly sensitive to breath… to any kind of incidental movement. That’s what kind of gives motion capture, in a way, a very strong spatial relationship, really, because all those incidental moves – slightly kind of tripping or falling, or things an animator wouldn’t necessarily think to put in – that’s what motion-capture’s fantastic for. It just gives it an extra feel of reality.

So, after hearing for years from Serkis about the process, let’s turn it over to the other side: the animators. Here is Randall William Cook:

Andy Serkis has been throwing the term “Digital Makeup” around again, and causing some pretty fervid reactions as a result. He has his detractors and defenders, among them animators and motion capture editors, people who have met Andy and found him a nice bloke, people who are interested in the art of animation or the in art of acting or in both. But so far I have seen nothing from anybody who was in the trenches and actually worked on Gollum, so I suppose it’s time I weighed in on the matter.

My name’s Randall William Cook, and I was the Director of Animation on the LORD OF THE RINGS trilogy.

I worked very closely with Andy. We met on the Mt. Ruapehu location in 1999 and began theorizing about what Gollum was all about (while Gollum was described as “schizophrenic”, I viewed the character as a drug addict trying to re-connect with his supply, a tack which Andy endorsed). We hung out on and off set, rafted together through the Waitomo Glowworm Caves, worked together on set during the live action filming (occasionally with me directing scenes Peter Jackson and I had prepared together), all the while on the trail of the elusive Gollum.

The discussion on this page seems to be focusing upon several points. Is Andy a good actor? I think so. He’s certainly versatile (I had the pleasure of directing him, in his on-camera incarnation, when he played his death scene in Peter’s KING KONG remake). Is he a nice bloke? Well, we have been guests in each other’s homes, attended countless social functions together and generally enjoyed each other’s company and respected each other’s talent. I don’t like hearing him called names, though I can understand the high emotions which lead some to do so. But all that is irrelevant to the real issue. When Andy uses the term “Digital Makeup”, he asserts that the on-screen depiction of Gollum is a 100% faithful representation of an Andy Serkis acting performance. This is, frankly, a misrepresentation of the facts.

As I have no personal experience of the “performance capture” particulars of any of Andy’s work post-RINGS, I cannot offer an opinion on what he has been up to since RETURN OF THE KING. But let me swear to you here that Gollum was not solely an Andy Serkis performance, with Andy’s every move, gesture and tic scrupulously reproduced in a new, digital character. Rather, Gollum was a synthesis, a collaborative performance delivered by both Andy and a team of highly-skilled animation artists.

Please permit me to cite a few examples, in defense of my heretical assertions.

THE FELLOWSHIP OF THE RING carried a single card credit, which declared “Andy Serkis as GOLLUM”. This was a bit of contractually-dictated press puffery which didn’t accurately reflect Andy’s participation in that first film. Fact is, Andy’s physical participation in the first film was nonexistent. The first shot, Gollum alone in his cave, was my idea: Peter needed a shot of Gollum to play under the narration, and several ideas were posited. I thought that we needed a book illustration image, something that captured Gollum in a simple image. I acted out Gollum, crouched on a rock in a subterranean lake, obsessing over his Precious, looking around in paranoia for enemies who weren’t there, and Peter bought that approach. I directed Weta Workshop’s Ben Hawker in a mocap session, then animated on top of that (our 12-animator team was pretty busy, so I actually animated a bit on that show, myself). The next shot was a roto-mation job of Gollum’s hands as he was being tortured; a nice makeup job, shot live action (Sasha Lees’ hands made up, I believe), was compromised by jiggly rubber fingers, so the animation department copied the actor’s movements. Mike Stevens animated the shot of Gollum following the Fellowship in Moria, then I animated the two close shots of Gollum, his fingers nervously twitching as he watches the Fellowship through a grate. One mo-cap shot, one roto-mation shot, and three keyframe shots. Andy’s only participation: muttering the word “precious” over one of the shots I’d already animated.

The first Gollum scene filmed, in fact, was made as “weather cover” (an interior shot on a stand-by set, kept ready for when the weather turns foul, forbidding exterior filming). Though the first shot up, it was for the third film: a mountain top was built inside a nearby hotel’s tennis court, and scenes were filmed with Frodo and Sam and Gollum. Frodo pulls Gollum up on a ledge, Gollum frames Sam with Lembas crumbs, Gollum and Sam fight. As Andy was not yet in New Zealand, I was elected to put on a leotard and stand in for Gollum. No photos exist of me in the getup, but let me assure you I looked a fine example of masculine grace and beauty. Really. A year or so later, Andy did a mo-cap session, basically reproducing my choreography. And Steven Hornby and others keyframed some of the shots from scratch as well.

TWO TOWERS saw much more involvement from Andy. Several examples from that film. Gollum, after he has been tamed and led along on a rope, is released and scampers up onto a rock, showing the hobbits where they must go. This was filmed with Andy squatting on a rock. Sam and Frodo come up to him, Sam and Gollum have a staring contest, and Sam backs down. It bothered me that Sam was turning his back on Gollum, which seemed out of character, so back in Wellington I directed animator Atsushi Sato to have Gollum break his look, and precede Sam out of the shot. This isn’t Digital Makeup, this isn’t a “technical” chore, this is an acting choice. And it wasn’t Andy’s idea, but mine. And it was Atsushi Sato who “played” that moment, not Andy. It was a decision within my purview as Animation Director and Peter signed off on it.

Gollum hears the name Smeagol for the first time in 500 years. We used Andy’s body mocap, but I didn’t care for what I thought was Andy’s too-busy facial performance, so I told Adam Valdez to ignore it and animate something subtler. He animated two shots and Linda Johnson animated the third, and they created a memorable acting moment which did not “honor” Andy’s performance in the slightest. There were many times where we honored Andy’s performance to the letter, but this wasn’t one of ’em.

That film ends with a long mo-cap take of Gollum soliloquizing. Jason Schleifer, Adam Valdez and Mike Stevens had much to do with the acting of this scene, as the animation task was split among them. We also changed the choreography on that one, having Gollum advance emphatically toward the camera, having him wrap his hands around a branch and twist, as he throttles a hobbit in his imagination. Again, acting choices courtesy of the Weta Animation Department.

We stuck closer to Andy’s performance in the third film, and as the mo-cap was refined a good deal it was used more. There was never what we know as performance capture, however, in any of the films. Ditto facial capture, for Gollum; it was all keyframed. And even when we did reproduce Andy’s expressions with perfect fidelity, Peter or Fran would direct the animators through two, three, twelve or more iterations, with the animators working directly for the director, refining a performance in Andy’s absence. Collaborating on that performance, in fact.

I was honored to work on those films. Our Animation team was first rate, and I was proud to be associated with them (as well as the ones I mentioned, Melanie Cordan and Mary Victoria and many others brought their fine talents to bear in making Gollum act, through a superb facial system devised by Bay Raitt). They are artists, they can act, and they did all “perform” as Gollum to a greater or lesser degree. I don’t see the difference between a performance delivered by a great actor or a great animator (I refer you to Brad Bird’s films, or to TANGLED, if you think that an animator needs to lean on or be supplanted by an actor to give a moving performance).

Let me state that Andy really should be considered the principal author of Gollum’s performance, but there’s a hell of a difference between principal author and sole author. The Animators who helped shape Gollum’s performance are actors of a very special type, working at a high level of achievement. They’re not like Marni Nixon singing for Natalie Wood in WEST SIDE STORY, doing only the things that Andy couldn’t do: they were doing the same things Andy did, in concert with him, and significantly contributing to the realization of a memorable performance.

I can’t speak to the recent performances in Andy’s “performance-capture” career, but the animators on THE LORD OF THE RINGS were most certainly not “digital makeup artists”, and nobody has any business saying that they were.

‘Ping Pong’ Recap: ‘Where Did I Go Wrong?’ (Ep. 5)

Ryuichi Kazama continues his victorious streak with a singles win at the Youth Olympics, while Sakuma and Peco realize they aren’t cut out for the sport after witnessing Smile’s continued improvement.

At the halfway point in the story, we seem to be in a transitional stage in which the relationships of the players to one another and their attitude towards the sport are changing. The episode didn’t have much tension to it partly as a result of that. There was no strong driving narrative force. That made it one of the less memorable episodes so far.

Each episode can be said to focus on one of the characters, and the focus of this episode was on Sakuma. A less than sympathetic character up until now, Sakuma’s defeat and subsequent angry outburst betrays him as in fact the most vulnerable character of the lot: a bootstraps kind of guy who struggled valiantly to achieve, but still came up short. His frustration was palpable and understandable during the climactic match.

Seeking to regain the favor of his idol Ryuichi, Sakuma challenges Smile to a do-or-die match. Defeat means expulsion from Kaio. Smile proceeds to crush Sakuma and, for good measure, tell him the harsh truth: It’s not just about effort. You don’t have the talent for table tennis.

Change, if anything, was the theme of the episode. Watching the characters grow and change has been the most satisfying aspect of the series for me at this point. Victory can be exhilarating, but the moments of defeat are the most humanizing. Ryuichi Kazama seems opaque and one-dimensional, whereas Kong, Peco and Sakuma seem to take on more personality in their defeat.

I like how the episode showed several of the characters at their most vulnerable and unsure. Peco losing sight of his purpose and wallowing in the pure aimlessness of summer makes for a more believable adolescent than the disciplined and soldierly students of Kaio Academy.

Peco and Smile were good friends, but suddenly a rift seems to have formed as Peco becomes aware that his friend is the one blessed with talent. They seem to be at that awkward stage where childhood friends begin to mature in different directions and grow apart. Yuasa is good at depicting these subtle flutterings of the heart in an understated way, as we get all this without having to have it bludgeoned over our heads with wordy dialogue.

Yurie got a little more screen time, but she still seems a little underdeveloped and tacked on. It’s not clear yet why she’s there. Egami, the guy who lost to Smile early in the championships and went to the ocean, makes a brief appearance, but he’s also a mysterious character whose sporadic presence doesn’t add anything for the moment.

On the technical side, the animation of episode 5 was somewhat underwhelming, if basically similar to previous episodes. There weren’t any animation highlights, although there were a handful of dynamic shots at the beginning of the climactic match when Smile serves. The scene that stood out most was the beach scene, but as much as I like rough and idiosyncratic animation that is full of personality, I found the movement there simply messy and incomprehensible. Tamotsu Ogawa is known for this kind of weird, loose animation, so maybe this part was by him.

The directing of the episode was also somewhat slack and lacking in tension, although basically in the same style due to the fact that Yuasa is storyboarding every episode. The cross-cutting has lost a bit of its novelty and become somewhat rote. I also don’t quite see the point of continuing to flash the name blurbs on the screen.

Yuasa’s previous shows had, by their fifth episode, each produced quite a bit of standout work in either the directing or animation. Ping Pong, in comparison, feels like it has been treading water the whole time, more often than not feeling like it could have been done a bit better if they had had a reasonable schedule. There’s nowhere near the schedule to permit someone like Michio Mihara to spend months animating an episode the way he did in all of Yuasa’s previous shows, so we probably won’t be seeing a Mihara episode this time around. Luckily we were treated to one in Space Dandy recently.

The “key animation animation director assistance” credit is one I’ve never seen before. I take it to mean this person corrected the key animation while the main animation director corrected the layouts. In anime, a key animator draws the layouts, which are checked by the episode director and animation director before the key animator can proceed to draw the actual key animation.

Ping Pong Episode 5: Where Did I Go Wrong?

Series Structure:
Masaaki Yuasa
Episode Director: Masaki Utsunomiya
Chief Animation Director: Nobutake Ito
Animation Director: Kenichi Ishimaru
Key Animation A.D. Assistance: Izumi Yamanaka
Key Animation: Maki Fujita Hiroyoshi Iida
Shigeru Uchihara Yumiko Ishii
Tamotsu Ogawa Izumi Yamanaka
Hiroshi Suzuki Katsuji Matsumoto
Shigemi Aoyagi Hong Seunghyun?
Kaoru? Nagakawa Nobuyuki Kitajima
Kenichi Ishimaru

‘Legends of Oz: Dorothy’s Return’ Has Record-Breaking Bad Debut

If you didn’t hear about last weekend’s opening of Legends of Oz: Dorothy’s Return, don’t worry because no one else in America did either. Launching in 2,575 theaters, the film eked out $3.7 million, which is the worst opening ever for an animated feature in saturated release (over 2,500 theaters). The previous animation record holder in this dubious category was the 2011 Weinstein Company release Hoodwinked Too! Hood vs. Evil, which grossed $4.1M from 2,505 theaters.

Directed by industry veterans Will Finn and Dan St. Pierre, the L. Frank Baum-inspired Legends of Oz was the first-ever film distributed by two-year-old marketing and distribution company Clarius Entertainment. According to media reports, they had anticipated a low-teen millions opening. The film was produced by Summertime Entertainment, which claims that it spent $70 million on the production, although smaller production companies often inflate budgets to make a production appear more legitimate.

In other box office news, Rio 2 grossed $5M in its fifth weekend. Its U.S. total stands at $113.1M, which will fall short of the original film’s $143.6M total. But that’s not the whole story. The film also pulled in $14.1M from international territories, pushing its foreign total to $312M, and its global gross to $425.1M. With Japanese and Australian releases still ahead, Rio 2 will surpass the original film’s global gross of $484.6M. But even with that modest increase in revenue, the performance of Rio’s sequel suggests that the franchise doesn’t have the long-term sustainability of Blue Sky Studio’s signature Ice Age franchise.