Watch This New Mini-Doc About Joy Batchelor on Her 100th Birthday

Today is the 100th birthday anniversary of one of the most important women who ever worked in animation: Joy Batchelor. With her husband, she ran the studio Halas & Batchelor, which was the largest English animation outfit for a good part of the 20th century and made that country’s first feature-length animated film, Animal Farm. But even though I’ve heard her name countless times, Joy Batchelor has always been just that: a name. Little has ever been written about her art or her role at the studio that bore her name. Thankfully that’s changed now with the terrific mini-doc called Ode to Joy directed by Martin Pickles and produced by Joy’s daughter, Vivien Halas:

Martin tells us:

Today is the centenary of the birth of Joy Batchelor, director, animator, designer and producer. Although a crucial figure in British animation, she has for years been unfairly passed over for recognition. Joy’s daughter, Vivien, and I have made a new short film about her, which seeks to redress that balance and to introduce Joy’s work to a wider audience. The film was made for the Joy Batchelor event at the Barbican on 13th April and re-shown at London Animation Club on 6th May.

CREDITS
Narrated by Zoe Wanamaker
Sound Recordist: Mike Wyeld
Sound design by Tom Lowe
Picture grade by Graham Skene
Original music by Tanera Dawkins
Directed and edited by Martin Pickles
Produced by Vivien Halas
A Halas & Batchelor Production 2014

The Akira Project Crowdfunds Fanboy-Approved ‘Akira’ Trailer

Hell hath no fury like a fanboy spurned, but that usually doesn’t occur until after the film in question has been released to theaters. Tired of having their expectations dashed by disappointing news of the long anticipated live-action Akira adaptation, fans completed their own live version of a trailer for the popular manga-turned-anime, one that attempts to “do Akira justice” by following the source material as closely as possible.

The production, which was titled The Akira Project, was led by Nguyen-Anh Nguyen through his Montreal-based production company Cineground and funded through online donations and a crowdfunding campaign launched on Indiegogo in 2012. Its conception was the result of reports that Warner Brothers’ live-action Akira, which has been in and out of development since they purchased the rights in 2002, was shortlisting non-Asian actors and changing the film’s setting from Tokyo to Manhattan.

“As fans, it always pains us to see old school masterpieces being destroyed by the corporate nature of Hollywood; where numbers often prevail over originality,” said Nguyen-Anh Nguyen in his crowdfunding pitch. “We want to do this because we want to see the vision of Akira come to life in the most realistic way possible and show that there is a public out there for honest, original manga adaptations.”

Learn more about the Akira Project production through their official Facebook page

How Will Vinton Lost His Studio to a Rapper Named Chilly Tee

Laika does amazing work as a stop motion animation studio, no doubt about it, but its history is mired in controversy. The company was built on top of Will Vinton’s eponymous Portland studio in a shrewd corporate takeover by multi-billionaire Nike co-founder Phil Knight. After Knight took control of the company in 2002, he placed a failed rapper named Chilly Tee with slight experience in animation, who also happened to be his son Travis Knight, in charge of the entire company.

The story of how Vinton Studios became Laika has rarely been told, or if it has, it’s been told from the glossy perspective of Laika. Now, we have a 5,000-word piece, “How the Father of Claymation Lost His Company” by Zachary Crockett, that tells the sordid tale from Will Vinton’s perspective.

My sense is that Vinton isn’t the naif that the story makes him out to be. He was the one, after all, who allowed Knight to invest millions in the company in the first place, and then continued to run a money-losing operation. The piece is nonetheless quite informative and fills in a lot of the gaps in the Will Vinton/Laika story. It’s also a valuable cautionary tale for any animation studio owner who has ever dreamt of having a rich businessman invest capital into their company:

On a rainy autumn afternoon in 2002, Will Vinton sat alone in a board room, reviewing his severance package.

His desk, now barren, had once displayed the emblems of a storied career: an Oscar, six prime-time Emmys, a slew of Clios and innumerable other honors. He had brought clay animation back to life. But his creations, once animated on silver screens, were now housed in cardboard boxes, frozen in various states of bewilderment.

Over thirty years, Vinton had built his firm, Vinton Studios, into a $28-million-a-year enterprise. He’d produced, directed, and brought to life the most memorable characters of the 80s and 90s — the California Raisin, Thurgood Stubbs, the “Red and Yellow M&Ms.” He not only coined the term “claymation,” but was its unheralded king.

And now he was in the board room, tracing over the language that seized his kingdom. Hours earlier, he’d handed over his company and all of its trademarks to Nike co-founder Phil Knight. The billionaire’s son, an animation intern and ex-rapper with no management experience, would be assuming his place.

Takashi Murakami’s Feature Film Debut “Jellyfish Eyes” Arrives in the U.S.

Jellyfish Eyes marks the feature film directing debut of Japanese superstar artist Takashi Murakami. Described as a post-Fukushima sci-fi fantasy, the $7 million live-action/CGI hybrid film incorporates Murakami’s goofily-styled creatures throughout, as well as an appearance by his fine art character Miss Ko2.

Murakami had intended the film to be the first in a trilogy, but he pissed off his animation crew so much that they refused to work on the follow-up films with him. According to the Wall Street Journal:

Mr. Murakami came up with an encyclopedia of animated characters—a froggy fighter that uses its long tongue like a weapon, a red-eyed monkey with a mean streak, a critter with a tin-can head and rocket thrusters—and sketched each one. He told his animators how the characters should move and then waited a month to see the results, which he rejected—again and again, over a year. “It’s not a really amicable process,” he said through a translator. “By the end of the film, the team was so fed up they didn’t want to work on the second film.”

Later in the same interview, Murakami alludes to a sequel, so perhaps additional films are still being planned. What we know for certain is that Jellyfish Eyes flopped when it opened in Japan last spring. The film is currently on an 8-city musuem tour in the U.S. with Murakami appearing in person at a number of the events:

Dallas, TX – May 1 (Dallas Museum of Art)
Boston, MA – May 1, 10, 11, 12, 25, and 26 (Institute of Contemporary Art)
Seattle, WA – May 2, 3, 4 (Henry Art Gallery)
Washington, DC – May 22 (Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden)
Chicago, IL – May 25 (Museum of Contemporary Art)
Los Angeles, CA – May 30 (The Theatre at Ace Hotel)
New York, NY – June 1 (Film Society of Lincoln Center)
San Francisco, CA – June 5 (Asian Art Museum)

Visit the film’s website for ticket details.

DreamWorks Animation 20th Anniversary Exhibit Debuts in Melbourne

DreamWorks Animation: The Exhibition” opened last month at the Australian Centre for the Moving Image (ACMI). Clearly inspired by “Pixar: 20 Years of Animation,” which was shown at the Museum of Modern Art in New York back in 2005, the DreamWorks show includes over 400 items, and covers the studio’s twenty-year history right up to the present—there are displays about Mr. Peabody & Sherman and How to Train Your Dragon 2, which will be released next month. It is the largest exhibition in the twelve-year history of the ACMI.

How to Train Your Dragon concept art by Nico Marlet.

The show, organized by the ACMI and DreamWorks Animation, came about when Bill Damaschke, DreamWorks’ chief creative officer, visited the ACMI in 2010. Discussions followed and an exhibition took shape. In addition to standard gallery fare, the show includes installations such as a filmed recreation of a story pitch by writer/director Conrad Vernon (Shrek 2, Monsters vs. Aliens) and “Dragon Flight: A Dragon’s-Eye View of Berk,” which is described as an “exhilarating panoramic dragon ride on the back of Toothless, as the Isle of Berk builds around them.”

Conrad Vernon pitches the Gingerbread Man sequence from Shrek. Photo: Andrew Morley

In the Brisbane Times, critic Robert Nelson was generally positive about the show, though he lamented the lost opportunity for a “big curatorial statement.” Said Nelson, “The one pity is that the show seems to have been handed over to DreamWorks Animation without an independent curatorial synthesis.” This is a common pitfall when working with a company on its own works, one that the Pixar retrospective largely avoided.

“DreamWorks Animation: The Exhibition” will be on display at the Australian Centre for the Moving Image through October 5. Photos from the exhibit can be seen here. The exhibit is scheduled to travel to other cities after its Melbourne stint.

This Week on Cartoon Brew-ED

Cartoon Brew-ED is our new educational initiative that is edited by veteran animator and teacher Colin Giles. This new forum offers helpful animation tips, links to learning resources, and original educational content, like the draw-over video above. You can follow Cartoon Brew-ED at:

cartoonbrew.tumblr.com

or

facebook.com/cartoonbrewed

Here are some of the topics we’ve covered recently on Cartoon Brew-ED:

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

Andy Serkis.

In his never-ending quest to be recognized as a serious thespian, character actor Andy Serkis continues to minimize the role of the animators who make his performances possible. With each interview he gives, Serkis seems to do more and more of the work, and the digital artists less and less. According to Serkis, just about the only things he doesn’t do at this point is build his own motion capture rigs and provide his own craft services.

RELATED: Lord of the Rings Animation Supervisor Randall William Cook Speaks Out on Andy Serkis

Now that he’s set to direct an entirely motion capture version of The Jungle Book for Warner Bros., Serkis is even more dead set on diminishing the animators in the filmmaking process—at least in the interviews that he gives to the media, if not necessarily in reality. In an interview that Serkis did recently, he made one of his most preposterous statements yet: that he ‘authors’ his performances entirely himself, without the creative input of any other artist. According to Serkis, the only thing that the digital artists at Weta do is paint ‘digital makeup’ over his immaculate acting. Says one-man-band Serkis:

The technology has evolved in the sense that it’s become more transparent. You don’t really realize that it’s there at all anymore. And even more importantly, the perception has changed — the use of the authored performance is much more respected.

The technology is one thing, but basically one has to remember that it is only technology. Performance capture is another bunch of cameras. It’s 360 degree cameras filming an actor, and I think it’s the understanding of that has changed, and that’s happened because we’ve gone from a single character like Gollum to multiple characters in films like Avatar. It suddenly went from being an outside, peripheral activity and a singular activity to virtual production. Avatar was a groundbreaking movie. And [in terms of] performance capture live on set, Rise of the Planet of the Apes was a game changer there because it enabled you to be actually out on location shooting the movie. And then this movie, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, is the biggest ever. In Rise we were shooting on sets for the first time. And with this, it’s the biggest on-location shoot with performance capture and multiple characters. There’s been a significant change.

But also the way that Weta digital, whom I’ve worked with on oct of those projects, that they have now schooled their animators to honor the performances that are given by the actors on set. And the teams of people who understand that way of working now are established. And that’s something that has really changed. It’s a given that they absolutely copy [the performance] to the letter, to the point in effect what they are doing is painting digital makeup onto actors’ performances. It’s that understanding which has changed as much as anything.

Reportedly, Serkis used the same “animators only apply digital makeup” line at the FMX conference in Stuttgart, Germany a few weeks ago. His latest comments haven’t drawn much attention, although a handful of animators have noticed the io9 interview that is excerpted above. The scariest observation was made by veteran CG animator Keith Lango who astutely noted on Twitter [see below] that though Serkis may not have any clue what he’s talking about, his comments accurately reflect the underlying desire of mainstream Hollywood. Certainly, James Cameron would approve.

Can Will Ferrell and Adam McKay Deliver A Funny CGI ‘Flintstones’?

Will Ferrell photo via Featureflash / Shutterstock

Will Ferrell and Anchorman director/writer Adam McKay are developing a CGI-animated Flintstones pic, according to the Hollywood Reporter. Chris Henchy (The Campaign) will write the script.

The Flintstones, which no longer have the cachet that they once did, are considered a cultural relic to anyone under the age of 20—if the characters are even recognized. They are in desperate need of a fresh take. Who knows if Ferrell and McKay are capable of delivering a good reboot, but I have more faith in them than Seth MacFarlane, who unsuccessfully attempted to reboot the property with his predictable sense of humor.

At this point it’s unknown if this film is of the two unannounced animated pics that Warner Bros. will release in 2017-’18, but it’s unlikely since this project is still in the early stages of development and not greenlit.

Q&A: ‘Oh Willy…’ Directors Marc James Roels and Emma De Swaef On Being Indie Filmmakers

Marc James Roels and Emma De Swaef are an animation duo from Ghent, Belgium. Their work has gained extensive notoriety in the past few years, after their 17-minute wool-animated short Oh Willy… swept the festival circuit and charmed the hearts of audiences across the globe, while launching a mini-trend of animating with wool. During my JAPIC Animation Artist-in-Residence tour in Tokyo, I was able to witness their filmmaking process in its early stages. They approach their narratives seriously, honestly, and with light hearts. The bonds they form with their creations are very real, and terribly charming. Marc (and Emma) were kind enough to share some of their thoughts about working as both commercial and independent artists, the unique challenges of working with unconventional materials, and the importance of storytelling.

CARTOON BREW: So, you two are living the life of an animation couple. Who does what, in terms of filmmaking dynamics?

Marc James Roels: Yes, we’re living the dream! We’ve never really discussed it specifically in terms of who does what. Our working dynamic seems to naturally follow through from our personal relationship. Emma gets right down to the business of actually making and producing stuff; she’s very pragmatic that way. I, on the other hand, am so cack-handed and dumb that I wouldn’t trust myself with a pair of child-safe scissors so I mostly stick to writing and storyboarding. On set we delegate the animation to a small team while Emma and I take care of setting up and lighting the sets. I try to make up for all my complaining and anxiety during pre-production by doing most of the grunt work in post-production.

CARTOON BREW: How do you survive as filmmakers? What’s your balance between personal and commercial work?

Marc James Roels: For commercials we’re represented by a few production companies worldwide, so up until now we’ve usually done one or two ads a year, although we’re not too sure how long that will last. Ad agency meetings are usually intensely awkward affairs and we’re really not very good at feigning enthusiasm. There are very few agencies we feel comfortable working with so we can’t rely too heavily on doing ads to survive. We’ve done some art direction and prop-making on a couple of commercials for other directors who we know and trust, but we’ve generally found that our personal work has opened up many more doors to new opportunities than having regular commercial work. On the other hand working on commercials has helped us discover new techniques and means that we end up using in our personal films so we do try to strike that balance. 

CARTOON BREW: You’ve done amazing things with wool as a medium for animation. How did you end up appropriating it into your films? Can you share some knowledge of what you’ve learned while working with the soft material, both struggles and triumphs?

Marc James Roels: Well, unlike most people Emma grew up on a farm surrounded by sheep. She was knitting, sewing and making dolls and puppets from a very young age. So in terms of using wool and textiles in our films, it wasn’t an idea we suddenly hit upon out of the blue as something unique and different from the traditional materials used in stop-motion. We saw it more as a readily available material that Emma had experience working with. 

We started using wool as a material while Emma was studying documentary filmmaking. She came up with the idea of integrating animated portions into her documentaries using knitted puppets with the idea of creating a tension between the narrative and the style. Emma had little experience making armatures so these first characters were very crude. But we liked the way light reacted to wool and we found we could create a consistency in the style so we just kept coming back to it. 

As far as struggling with the material, it’s true, wool really isn’t the easiest material to work with. It constantly moves, it fluctuates with temperature changes and having characters covered in felt makes them very inflexible so we’ve had to continually plan and write our films in function of their inflexibilities. The restraint in the mise-en-scene is largely due to that. Even the simplest actions end up being nightmarish to animate so we’ve constantly had to rethink and rewrite our films which in the end always seems to be a good thing.

CARTOON BREW: The photography in Oh Willy… was really refreshing to see in a stop motion film. The lighting and cinematography was very well executed. What were some of the processes behind designing the shots?

Marc James Roels: Our only experience with cinematography up until making animated films had been on live-action sets directing short films, so we never felt we were trying to do anything stylistically different. Perhaps we’re ignorant of the possibilities afforded in animation, but we basically just try to make things look as naturalistic and immersive as possible. The camera is never going to do anything zany or physically impossible; the lighting is only ever going to be either a stand-in for the sun or a practical lighting source within the scene.

We design each shot almost as if we’re a miniature crew on the set filming a documentary, keeping in mind that there could be elements on the set that would get in the way like walls, furniture, and trees, and using these to shape a scene. We’re actually not doing anything different from, say, what Ray Harryhausen was doing back in the day. Likewise we tend to avoid using computer-generated imagery. For instance, the fog towards the end of Oh Willy… was created by strapping wool over the lens. We also didn’t use any greenscreen compositing so everything in frame is actually present during the animation, and I could light everything accordingly. People are usually disappointed to hear that the lighting didn’t involve much more than taking a lamp or two and moving them around until things started looking good, which isn’t to say that it was easy, just that there are no secrets really. 


 
CARTOON BREW: There’s a strong sense of realism behind the movements and personalities of your puppet characters. Even though the situations they find themselves in may be out of the ordinary, and at times fantastical, they react in a way that allows an audience to emotionally relate. Can you elaborate on what goes into designing your puppets, and figuring out their identities?

“No matter how bad a film looks or is ‘badly’ animated, the writing can turn that all around…An audience seems to respond much more deeply to a compelling idea or story than to spectacular, attractive-looking visuals.”

Marc James Roels: In terms of character design, the experience of making documentaries led us to come across many fascinating people so a lot of the characters, and especially the character of Willy in Oh Willy…, can be traced back to an actual person. Most of our character ideas now are based on stuff we come across doing research—characters from books, illustrations, photos, paintings, that kind of thing. We tend to steer clear of wacky, cartoonish characters and situations so when something out of the ordinary does occur it has more of an impact. We find the banal details of life rendered in a miniaturized stop motion setting to be far more affecting than the weird, fantastical elements in our films. 

CARTOON BREW: I know that writing is a really important step in your filmmaking process. Can you verbalize why?

Marc James Roels: It’s not an original notion, but no matter how bad a film looks or is ‘badly’ animated, the writing can turn that all around. An audience seems to respond much more deeply to a compelling idea or story than to spectacular, attractive-looking visuals. We spend far more time writing than we do animating or constructing, and we constantly keep rethinking all the sequences while we are shooting, based on what the sets really look like and what the puppets can do.

CARTOON BREW: The funding rout you took with Oh Willy… seems pretty complicated, with production taking place in several different countries. Do you mind sharing a little bit on how that was executed?

Marc James Roels: We split the film production of Oh Willy… over three countries: France, Belgium and the Netherlands for pre-production, production, and post-production, respectively, with the main production being handled by Beast Animation in Belgium. Many European countries offer grants to filmmakers that they can apply for through a production company. The amounts vary, and obviously each government wants a certain amount of the work to be carried out by people from their respective country. To make up a total budget for a film, we need to approach various organizations and production companies from different countries, and for this reason production needs to move from country to country. It is complicated, but then I can’t think of many means of getting money to do a film that aren’t complicated. It affords filmmakers the opportunity to make films outside of a commercial field and to really forge their own personalities and identities as artists. We’re actually very fortunate to have such a system in place.

CARTOON BREW: What was the inspiration behind the short festival intro film Fight!?

Marc James Roels: During our artist residency in Tokyo we found ourselves (as you well know Caleb) fascinated by the Sumo wrestling on the local TV. Emma started sketching these matches. We then had the chance to see a wrestling match live at a stadium, which went beyond all expectation. At one point, two of the wrestlers, sworn enemies, still drenched in blood, embraced each other and announced their undying friendship and that they would be forming a team together. We thought this was such a weird and hilarious scene that it stuck with us, and the festival intro seemed like a good opportunity to do something with it.

CARTOON BREW: It’s been about a year since we last saw each other in Japan. Are there any big developments that you two would like to share about what you were working on during the JAPIC residency?

Marc James Roels: We finally managed to finish a short one-minute film that we were commissioned to make as part of a group of films commemorating World War I, which I believe will be doing the rounds at a few festivals this year. Right now we’re in the midst of the complicated procedure of financing our next film. We can’t say too much now, but we’re pretty excited about it. 

CARTOON BREW: Before we end, can you both share some of your top influences within animation?

Marc James Roels: Suzie Templeton especially Dog, Igor Kovalyov’s short films, Johannes Nyholm’s Dockpojken, Wes Anderson’s Fantastic Mr. Fox, Stéphane Aubier & Vincent Patar’s A Town called Panic, David OReilly’s wit, charisma and oeuvre.

Warner Bros. Will Release 3 Animated Features in 2017-’18

Following the success of the LEGO Movie—$457 million to date—Warner Bros. is getting back into feature animation in a big way. They’ve already announced a sequel to the LEGO Movie, to be directed by Chris McKay and released on May 26, 2017. Now, they’ve set dates for two more animated features—both in 3D—for February 10, 2017 and February 9, 2018.

The names of the titles have not been released, though the new Warner Animation Group had previously announced two feature titles called Storks and Smallfoot, the latter of which is definitely still in active development.

With the exception of Happy Feet, almost all of Warner Bros.’ animated efforts in the past decade have been duds, including Looney Tunes: Back in Action, Yogi Bear, Legend of the Guardians: The Owls of Ga’Hoole, The Ant Bully, and the Happy Feet sequel. The studio admitted their total cluelessness last year when they launched a poor man’s version of Pixar’s “brain trust” which they dubbed a think tank”. The goal of that group is to release “one high-end animated motion picture per year.” It looks like audiences will have to wait until 2017 to see how well that tank thinks.

(source: Variety)

Submit to Cartoon Brew’s 5th Student Animation Festival

Image via Shutterstock.

For the fifth year in a row, we are pleased to announce our annual Cartoon Brew Student Film Festival. The mission for the festival is simple: to honor student-produced animated shorts and share them with the widest possible community of industry decision-makers, fellow students, and animation enthusiasts from around the world.

As the animation industry expands and evolves at an unprecedented pace, we are on a quest to identify and honor the next generation of boundary-breaking filmmakers. We’re not looking for just any student film, but films of the highest caliber…the most original, the most thought-provoking, the ones that make us laugh hardest and engage us emotionally. In other words, the student films that show a willingness to explore new directions and strive to elevate the standards of student filmmaking—and to do so with personal flair. You can see the past showcased films here.

The selections in our 2013 Student Animation festival.

Every filmmaker whose work is selected to screen in Cartoon Brew’s Student Animation Festival will receive a $700 US prize. In addition, a grand prize winner will receive a Microsoft Surface Pro 2 tablet.

Cartoon Brew’s Student Animation Festival is made possible by the generous support of our Presenting Sponsor JibJab, a company that has shown consistent commitment to supporting young and emerging talent. This year, we are also pleased to welcome Microsoft as an Award Sponsor.

RULES

  1. Your film has to be animated. (Obviously.)
  2. 
 Your film has to be a student work. (Even more obvious.)
  3. Must have been completed after May 1, 2013.

  4. Entry is FREE.
  5. Must be an online premiere. (Films that are accessible online to the public will not be considered.)

  6. Submissions due by Friday, June 6, 2014.

HOW TO SUBMIT


To submit, send an email to studentfest (at) cartoonbrew (dot) com with the following info:

  • Your name, school and country

  • Film title and synopsis

  • Private link & password (ex: Password-Protected Vimeo/Unlisted YouTube link).

WHAT HAPPENS IF I’M SELECTED


Up to 10 films will be selected for this year’s festival. We will announce the festival selections in mid-June. Screenings will begin weekly on Cartoon Brew on July 7th. Every film that is selected to screen as part of the Cartoon Brew Student Film Festival will be awarded a screening fee of $700(US). One of the selected films will be awarded the additional Grand Prize of a Microsoft Surface Pro 2. Outside of the exclusive online debut period, we don’t assume any exclusivity or ownership of your film. In other words, you can submit to festivals, sell it to distributors, and post it anywhere else on the Internet shortly after it debuts online in our festival.

‘Cruising’ by Zachary Zezima

Based on a true story, Cruising follows a young man through an extrovert’s dream and an introvert’s nightmare—the chaotic and cacophonous world of forced-fun aboard an insular cruise ship. His initial inability to accept his environment drives him to suicidal fantasy, where he learns to cope with his stressors, discomfort and anxieties.

CREDITS
Directed by Zachary Zezima
Sound and music by Michael Goldman
Mix by Jerry Summers

Interview: Ralph Bakshi on the Animation Industry, Then & Now

BAM Cinématek’s film retrospective Cool Worlds: The Animation of Ralph Bakshi begins this Friday in Brooklyn, New York. The tribute will run from May 9-20, screening a selection of Bakshi’s cult animated classics including the slacker sex comedy Fritz the Cat, the blaxploitative Coonskin and the autobiographical Heavy Traffic. In addition, Q&As will follow showings of Traffic and Coonskin on Friday and Saturday, May 9th and 10th, in which Bakshi will be in attendance.

Mr. Bakshi pulled himself away from his drawing desk in New Mexico to chat with Cartoon Brew about his legacy, his latest project The Last Days of Coney Island, which he recently funded on Kickstarter, and what he really thinks about the computer’s role in animation these days.

CARTOON BREW: I read somewhere recently that The Last Days of Coney Island will end a 20-year retirement for you. But does someone in your line of work ever really stop creating? Is there really such a thing as retiring?

RALPH BAKSHI: [Retiring] never happened to me, I have never stopped drawing a minute since I went into the High School of the Industrial Arts in the ’50s. I don’t really care whether I’m drawing cartoons for myself, or painting a picture or doing some big-ass animated feature for Warner Bros., it’s all the same to me. The thing that’s most important is drawing and learning how to draw better, or painting and learning how to paint better. So, how could an artist retire? I go to museums and I study a lot of art, it’s the only thing I know how to do. So, that’s what gets me up every morning and that’s why I’m still alive.

“This thing about creating and being an artist and being a cartoonist is the most important thing we have…Everything else is hype and ego.”

This thing about creating and being an artist and being a cartoonist is the most important thing we have: you, me, anyone else. There are other things more important, but that’s what we love. Now, how much money we make at it and how much we suffer is different for everybody, regardless of talent and that’s the way life is, it’s not fair. But if you [ever] give up drawing or painting or learning more about the arts, you’re hurting yourself because that’s all we really are.

Everything else is hype and ego; I could be famous or not famous. What’s most important for me is that the films that I bled for and fought everybody for are still playing, these films that are playing at BAM are 35-40 years old, and who is watching [them]? Young guys. Now when I made these films there were all these other features being made in the ’70s, by Disney and everyone else – they’re not playing anywhere. So, all these battles that I had to say an artist has a right to do whatever he wants seems to be coming out okay for me.

There is no retirement; you retire only if people have a hold on you, you know, studios. If you feel worthless because a studio hasn’t hired you then you’re kicking yourself in the ass as an artist. Studios hire you and you laugh and they pay you a lot of money, and if they don’t hire you, you’re still laughing but you’re drawing everyday and trying to get better. That’s not hype, that’s how I’ve lived.

CARTOON BREW: After all these years of young people discovering your films, have you ever been surprised by their reactions?

RALPH BAKSHI: I have thousands and thousands of emails from every country in the world from young people who have run into my films and send me the most laudatory stuff. And they all virtually say the same thing, that the films are still relevant, that they’re still saying stuff. Generation after generation, I’ve heard from hundreds of thousands of people worldwide, they find it by accident, they find it on Youtube, they find it because somebody told them, and then they have to react to it.

No one’s ever said, like in the old days: “We want you to quit animation. We hate you. You’re terrible for the business,” no one’s ever said that. I’m sure there’s some people who hate it, but what I’m saying is the reaction I get from young people has allowed me to work as hard as I’m working now. Those things give you courage; they give you a feeling of you didn’t fail. I left the business pretty beat up, I left the business exhausted and tired. Those films were exhaustingly hard to make with low budgets. The studio fights were very difficult, the cutting down my films [was] very difficult. I left pretty much a basket case. But this is why I left, I couldn’t go on anymore. But slowly from my own place at home, I recouped.

     Jim Tyer.

CARTOON BREW: I don’t think a lot of people realize how much more difficult it was to make an animated feature forty years ago than it is today…

RALPH BAKSHI: I was Jim Tyer’s assistant, and before I was his assistant, I was his inker. I had to ink his scenes with crow quill pens on cels, and he did every drawing. Well, Jim [was] a brilliant, brilliant, wonderful cartoonist. He used to tell me, “Hey Ralph, everything moves. Don’t worry about it.” And I carried that my whole life. If it wasn’t for Jim, I wouldn’t have been able to make Fritz the Cat. I didn’t have any money, I had under a million dollars and in those days, you needed fifteen to make a feature. [If] you didn’t have fifteen million dollars, don’t even start, it’s impossible. But I started because Jim told me, “Everything Moves, don’t worry about it. Everything moves”.

At Terrytoons, we couldn’t even afford to animate with pencil tests. I grew up learning how to animate by just animating and then looking at it when we saw the finish. Now that’s unheard of, but that’s how we did it, every one of us did it. So, we didn’t have any pencil tests on Fritz and Traffic and Coonskin, I storyboarded, timed it with a stopwatch and wasn’t too concerned about pencil tests, you kind of get a feeling if it’s working or not from flipping [scenes] and then you pass it to ink and paint. Every animator I worked with [on Fritz the Cat] was so professional—Johnnie Gent, Rod Scribner, Virgil Ross, Manny Perez, Jim Tyer—well, I’m not going to worry about them knowing how to animate. Sure I would have liked to have done some stuff over, but I hate if you get too polished with a scene. Art, to me, [is] about looseness, bad voice tracks, fuzzy photographs, bad color, I have this whole thing about loving the underbelly of animation, and that’s what I keep pushing. I mean, The Last Days of Coney Island, I don’t have a slick line around the characters. I’m just continuing to push the way I see animation and that’s not because everyone else is doing it wrong, that’s not because everyone else isn’t great. I’ve never seen so much great art and designers and computer work in my whole life. It’s amazing what the kids today are doing.

CARTOON BREW: With all the access to animation resources today, do you feel that maybe younger animators are focusing more on studying the resources, but not necessarily applying the information to their work?

RALPH BAKSHI: Don’t forget I’m coming back to what I think art should be. That’s why I love Jackson Pollock, who’s so expressionistic; Chaim Soutine, who was extraordinarily twisted and who was killed by the Nazis; and Francis Bacon, the great English painter. You look at these guys; they’re not looking at books on the art of anatomy, and all this stuff, they’re coming from their gut and their heart.

“If you go pose-to-pose and you do perfect posing and you’re really telling the characters where to go…it gets too tight, too manneristic. I love straight ahead animation; I love accidents.”

Now, if you try too hard, if you go pose-to-pose – here’s where I get into real trouble – if you go pose-to-pose and you do perfect posing and you’re really telling the characters where to go and this is what you do, “This is how the foot lifts on the crossover,” it gets too tight, too manneristic. I love straight ahead animation; I love accidents. I learned as much as I could as a kid and then when I started to do it as a young man, I found myself tripping over myself. I kept running over to a 16mm and running it down by hand to see how many drawings Chuck Jones used in a Road Runner cartoon, but that’s what the books told me to do, and though I looked at all those Disney books on animation and all those guys… you see how hard they worked to get a pose, how many thoughts they had about attitudes and silhouettes and all this stuff and my work started to drain; it was all someone else’s work, or someone else’s thoughts. I never was able to produce an action that didn’t look fucking ridiculous!

Ralph Bakshi at Terrytoons, ca. 1950s.

Jim Tyer broke me out of all that garbage; he had the most fun I had ever seen in my life for an artist. Because we had no air conditioner at Terrytoons, he’d sit there animating in his underwear; he’d have this stack of drawings on his desk. Blank. Next to him was an exposure sheet, everything was exposed on 2’s, nothing was drawn, but he’d start at the top: 1, 2, 3, everything on 2’s right down to the 10 feet he was animating. I said, “Jim, how could you be exposing if you’ve got no drawings?” He’d laugh, he’d smoke a cigar and he started to draw. I’m sitting there on a wastebasket watching him, okay. He’d draw a nose on one page, with an eye. One. He’d turn back a page and he’d draw another nose, same nose, same character, with an eye. Flip it. He works on the entire fifteen or twenty pages. Drawing one eye at a time. Flipping them. And the magic started. It started to wiggle, it started to shake, started to bend – and he’s laughing. He’s enjoying himself while the other guys are sitting there cursing and sweating trying to make the perfect Milt Kahl pose!

I learned what animation was on a whole other level. I learned that you just do what you feel and you have a ball because you’re a cartoonist, you’re not Norman Rockwell. Jim taught me not to be afraid, Jim taught me that mistakes were okay. “You’re just doing a fucking animated scene, it ain’t the end of the world. I’m working for Terrytoons, that ain’t the end of the world.” All this I carried with me, so when it came to making animated features for under a million that weren’t perfect in animation, I shrugged. You know, a guy used to scream at me at using rotoscope on Lord of the Rings and along came the computer and everything is motion control. [Motion control] has made a lot of companies very happy and Ralph Bakshi caught all kinds of hell for rotoscoping. Because I got so goddamned tired of animating for under a million dollars, I was just burnt out.

CARTOON BREW: What do you think of modern animation with low budgets and low production values? Like on Adult Swim?

RALPH BAKSHI: I’m out of touch, I don’t watch television anymore. I can’t really answer to what the kids are doing. I know that what I’ve seen, here and there and especially from computer animation feature films. It’s mind boggling! I’ve seen effects that you couldn’t even dream about doing it in my day.

Now, I have a belief that every artist has a sense to what makes his animation work. There are all kinds of artistic sensibilities in my studies that went into [my work], I might not care, but I’m making choices off of a lot of knowledge. I’m not making choices as some naïve idiot. I’ve studied painting, I’ve studied photography, I studied all the old Warners, I studied all of the old Terrys, I loved Max Fleischer – the black and white Popeyes. There is a lot of information that I’m making these decisions with and don’t think I don’t change stuff and don’t think I don’t reanimate stuff and don’t think I don’t throw animation that I’ve done out. If it don’t work for me, it goes in the garbage. So all I’m going to say is that none of this stuff that I talk brazenly about, none of it just happens without tremendous amount of studying.

But you have to understand, my theories came out when animation was dying, everyone is part of their time, you can’t get out of it. All of my moves and all my theories came out when animation was dying. Falling dead. No one cared. That’s where all these things started with me, that’s my life. I don’t know what would have happened to me if I came into the business today and Pixar only gave me five grand to sit there doing dumb storyboards. I came from Terrytoons collapsing, Paramount closing, Warners closing. I came from a different mindset.

So… I don’t know what the guys are doing, what I’ve seen in glimpses is the most amazing artwork I’ve ever seen in my life. Films and drawings and effects and the industry’s making a fortune, so I guess things are fine.

CARTOON BREW: Your work has always had a strong racial component. It’s different climate now, black President, black Disney princess, etc. But for a long time, if you saw a black animated character, chances were it was in one of your films. What was the responsibility you felt to explore racial politics in your stories?

RALPH BAKSHI: I’ve always felt a responsibility to finding out how I felt about certain issues. I felt a responsibility to discuss issues with myself as a writer on things that I was unsure about. On Coonskin, I read every Uncle Remus tale I could find, I read every black history book I could find, I read [about] black music and black culture. I wanted to find out everything I could about these people I was animating, and I had certain opinions. You know there were black revolutionaries in the ’60s and ’70s when I was growing up, some were very much for Martin Luther King and what he was trying to do with integration, and a whole bunch of others were just making money. One guy said to me, he worked in animation, he was a cameraman, and he would say to me, “Hey Ralph, I went to Harlem and I opened up a revolutionary church and they just packing me in with money and the government is giving me all this money to support, y’know” and of course, it’s going in his pocket, and that turned into Simple Savior in Coonskin.

What I’m saying is, a writer should write about what he knows and what he understands, and I grew up in a very integrated neighborhood, Brownsville, Brooklyn, it’s Jewish, Puerto Rican, Black, Italian. I grew up with people that were amazingly interesting to me, and that’s what I knew and that’s what I love so, I started to write animation about these people and their lives. That’s where it all started.

Did I have a responsibility to discuss issues? Absolutely. Bobby Dylan was discussing issues – Disney wasn’t. And look at Coonskin, all the issues I’m discussing, Miss America lynching people, et cetera. Those were all out of issues that were happening at the time, without trying to make fun of that stuff.

So yeah, I always felt a responsibility to discuss life. Why animate otherwise? It’s too much work to just entertain somebody, it’s ridiculous! I mean, if you want to entertain people, well there’s lots of ways to entertain, sometimes you got to yell at them.

CARTOON BREW: One of the most memorable things, for me, in the book Unfiltered: The Complete Ralph Bakshi, was its mentioning of how much you influenced and supported John Kricfalusi. I’ve always been fascinated when an artist is influenced by other artists, because they can create something entirely new through their admiration of someone else’s work.

RALPH BAKSHI: Absolutely! I built on Fleischer and Jim Tyer, and, like I said earlier, everything I did was coming out of a lot of knowledge. What you got to be careful about is not to build it exactly on top of those people, [because] then you look like those people. That kills you, so use that knowledge and then create something new. So much of this stuff looks alike because of that, but those are fine lines – art is such a tricky thing – those are fine lines, those are choices.

What I’m not trying to do is copy anyone else, what I’m not trying to do is be Bob Clampett, I’m not trying to be Max Fleischer, or Jim Tyer, or Milt Kahl or Ollie Johnston. I’m just trying to be me with all of the knowledge those guys taught me, that’s what’s important to me: being yourself.

John happened to be a very incredible talent, tremendous sense of humor, and tremendous drawing ability. He was very rare. I made him a director because I thought he was that talented, because he was, and still is. But I’ve never seen so many people copy [anyone] in my whole life. I love John K because he’s an original, but I don’t want to see a watered down John K. I think those guys are very great talents, but I’m not a great fan of artists getting lost in someone else’s style because they think it’s commercial. It’s a hard choice, you’ve got to learn from the masters and work just as hard to go the other direction. We have to move on, hopefully I’ve moved on in Last Days.

CARTOON BREW: How far along is Last Days?

RALPH BAKSHI: Well, we’re getting there, I would say I’m 70% finished with the film. First, we went up on Kickstarter for a six minute budget, right? I got it. My picture is now eighteen minutes long, with the same six-minute budget, but [I’m animating] everything myself and not paying myself, so the eighteen minutes don’t bother me. I’m also doing all of the backgrounds. I’m painting them and collaging them. You can see them on Facebook. This is going to look different so I’m happy. I’d like to finish it as a feature. The eighteen minutes that we do is certainly a pilot and people can judge if this picture has any legs or not. Now, I’m trying to con people into painting the cels very cheaply.

CARTOON BREW: And is that working for you?

RALPH BAKSHI: Yeah, it’s working for me. Because they make decent money, because they go so fast on the computer. Everyone’s doing fine.

CARTOON BREW: Isn’t it amazing how much can be done these days with one good computer?

“The computer is the greatest single instrument that ever happened to an animator. The computer is God.”

RALPH BAKSHI: The computer is the greatest single instrument that ever happened to an animator. The computer is such a magical thing. Yeah, I’m animating again, and I’m calling for shadows under the characters feet and I’m calling for different colored ink lines and having some machine ink it so fucking fast you can’t believe. I’m adding live action; I’m doing all the things in my library with one editor that used to cost me hundreds of thousands of dollars in my studio. And I’m pencil testing everything I do for the first time in my life. I can’t tell you how stunning the whole situation is for animators. Let me say something, if Heavy Traffic cost a million dollars in its day, which it did, I could do Heavy Traffic today on the computer, for two hundred thousand dollars. The computer is god. [Laughs]

For more information on Ralph Bakshi and The Last Days of Coney Island visit his official Facebook and Vimeo pages.

‘Chuck Jones: Doodles of a Genius’ Is Now On Display (Picture Gallery)

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The exhibit “Chuck Jones: Doodles of a Genius” has opened at the Bowers Museum in Santa Ana, California. We’ve previously written about the show, which features non-production doodles by the great Golden Age theatrical short director, and now we have a preview of some of those doodles thanks to the official Chuck Jones Tumblr. Have any Brew readers seen the show yet?

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2014 Student Academy Awards Finalists

The Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences has announced the finalists for the 41st Student Academy Awards. The awards ceremony will take place on Saturday, June 7, at the DGA Theater in Hollywood. Among the five categories, one of them is dedicated entirely to animation, and another category—Alternative—includes animated films in it, too.

Here are the nominees in those two categories:

Animation
Baxter, Ty Coyle, Savannah College of Art and Design, Georgia
Goodnight Boon, Jeremy Jensen, New York University
Higher Sky, Teng Cheng, University of Southern California
Marcel, Eric Cunha and Seung Sung, School of Visual Arts, New York
Owned, Daniel Clark and Wesley Tippetts, Brigham Young University, Utah
Roadkill Redemption, Karl Hadrika, Ringling College of Art and Design, Florida
Two Ghosts, Amy Lee Ketchum, University of Southern California
Umbra, Pedro Jesus Atienzar Godoy, Pratt Institute, New York
Yamashita, Hayley Foster, Loyola Marymount University, California

Alternative
Dreamers, Joseph Dwyer, Boston University
Entropic Apogee, Bill Manolios, Art Institute of California – San Francisco
Jaspa’ Jenkins, Robert Carnilius, Columbia College Chicago
Oscillate, Daniel Sierra, School of Visual Arts, New York
Passer Passer, Louis Morton, University of Southern California
Person, Drew Brown and Ramona Ramdeen, The Art Institute of Jacksonville, Florida
The Private Life of Fenfen, Leslie Tai, Stanford University
Staircases, Steinar Bergoy Nedrebo, School of Visual Arts, New York

According to the Academy:

Academy members will now vote to determine up to three winning films in each category. The winners, but not their medal placements, will be announced later this month. The winning students will be brought to Los Angeles for a week of industry activities and social events that will culminate in the awards ceremony on Saturday, June 7, at 6 p.m., at the DGA Theater in Hollywood (7920 Sunset Boulevard), at which time the gold, silver and bronze medalists will be revealed. The awards ceremony on June 7 is free and open to the public, but advance tickets are required. Tickets may be obtained online at Oscars.org or by mail. For more information, call (310) 247-2677.

Congratulations to all the nominees, and an extra-special congrats to Louis Morton, whose nominated film Passer Passer was also a selection in Cartoon Brew’s 2013 Student Animation Festival.

Marc Davis Exhibit Opens at Walt Disney Family Museum

The Walt Disney Family Museum has opened a new exhibit focused on one of the studio’s legendary Nine Old Men: “Leading Ladies and Femmes Fatales: The Art of Marc Davis.” The show will be up through November 3. Unlike the museum’s current Mary Blair exhibition, the Davis show is much smaller, with around 70 pieces on display.

Organized by the museum’s director of collections and exhibitions, Michael Labrie, and animator Andreas Deja, the exhibit includes original pencil animation drawings, conceptual artwork, paintings, cels, and photographs:

Although his work and accomplishments could fill a much larger gallery, selected artworks mainly from Davis’ personal collection, Walt Disney Imagineering, several private collectors, and the Walt Disney Family Foundation’s collection, intend to focus on a part of Davis’ life and career with his mastery of the human form. Leading Ladies and Femmes Fatales highlights Davis’ female characters in film—such as Peter Pan’s Tinker Bell, Sleeping Beauty’s title heroine Aurora, its villain Maleficent, and One Hundred and One Dalmatians’ Cruella de Vil—as well as in live entertainment, his fine art, and through his beloved wife Alice Davis.

The Walt Disney Family Museum is located in The Presidio of San Francisco (104 Montgomery Street, San Francisco, CA 94129). Admission is $20 (adults), $15 (seniors and students), and $12 (children ages 6-17). The museum is open from Wednesdays through Monday (10am-6pm).

‘Ping Pong’ Recap: ‘The Only Way to Be Sure You Won’t Lose is to Not Fight’ (Ep. 4)

The championship grinds on. After Smile’s defeat at the hands of Kong, the tables are turned and the elite players of Kaio Academy come out on top against both Kong and Peco.

This episode was enjoyable if somewhat less tight feeling and less frantically paced than the previous episode. The quality was decent but for the most part on par with previous episodes, with only one standout animation scene.

The episode’s animation, though not egregiously bad by any stretch, felt a little more rushed than usual. Like the last episode, the credits list 17 key animators. A long list of key animators is often symptomatic of deadline crunch rather than more and better animation, and that seems to be the case here. The same goes for the animation directors—they bring on more directors because an episode needs help getting finished on time.

Where episode four satisfied was in the quality of the matches. Even when the animation wasn’t particularly outstanding, the matches were more deliberately directed than usual, which made them enjoyable to watch. Previous episodes showed the matches largely through virtuosic camera tricks that are Yuasa’s forte, and it made it hard to see the details of each player’s actions. Table tennis is such a quick and precise sport that without methodically depicting each player’s moves you lose its essence. This episode seemed to slow things down and let the player’s moves do the talking. For the first time in the show, it felt like you were actually watching a table tennis match.

Remarkably, series director Masaaki Yuasa storyboarded again. It seems that he will be storyboarding every episode of the show (and delegating directing to another person) in order to maintain an even tone over the entire show and achieve exactly the effect he wants. This is a new approach for Yuasa, but I can see its appeal, and it seems something of a natural evolution in his approach. Kemonozume varied dramatically in directing style from episode to episode because Yuasa didn’t storyboard everything and granted his episode storyboarders/directors relative freedom to do their thing, but Kaiba and Tatami Galaxy both seemed incrementally more unified in tone.

I find it hard to believe it’s a first, but off the top of my head I can’t think of a single other instance of an anime TV show storyboarded entirely by a single person. Even Future Boy Conan was co-storyboarded by Keiji Hayakawa. It is obviously a huge challenge for one person to storyboard every episode of a show on such a short schedule, and Yuasa is reportedly not the fastest of storyboarders to begin with, so I hope he manages to complete this challenge.

The episode was neatly divided into two big matches: the first half between old schoolmates Sakuma and Peco and the second half between Kong and Ryuichi. This was followed by some scenes providing insight into the personal lives of Kong and Ryuichi that began to humanize them a bit.

The first match was pleasing for its straight presentation and detailed depiction of movement, even though the movement wasn’t particularly dynamic. Sakuma’s string of increasing long lobs was amusing because it went on and on and on, reminding of the old adage—the more times you tell a joke, the funnier it gets. It was also revealing of his attitude towards the sport. Eclipsed as a kid by the charismatic Peco, Sakuma chose the scholarly path to patiently accrue the technical know-how to defeat his old rival. A humbled Peco cries on the steps of the stadium in the episode’s most heartbreaking moment.

Incidentally, perhaps not coincidentally, the World Table Tennis Championships are currently underway in Tokyo. A recent listicle of athletes staring directly at ping pong balls was amusing but highlights the intense concentration required. I like how the close-up slo-mo shot of Sakuma serving in the first match captures exactly the same moment of intensely staring at the ball.

The second match was quite different in style and tone. Obviously animated by the ever-amazing Yasunori Miyazawa in his patented eccentric style, it was possibly the show’s most delightful piece of animation yet. Right from the start you know Miyazawa is in the house, with that strange close-up of Ryuichi’s eye as he returns Kong’s serve. The ferocious Ryuichi is visually embodied by his namesake, a dragon hurling flaming dragon balls that shoot down Kong’s dreams of flying home victorious. Shots such as Ryuichi swelling into a giant, and his serve transforming first into lighting and then into a dragon, are classic Miyazawa.

It’s great to see that Yasunori Miyazawa will be a regular in the show. Judging by the frequency of his appearances, he seems to be one of those animators who has the rare ability to produce his animation quickly while still making it interesting and full of personality. Animators like him must be a real asset in a situation such as this. Miyazawa’s shot in the opening is obviously the last shot of Peco chewing bubble-gum. His name was misspelled in the credits, in yet another indication of the rushed schedule.

After the matches, the players go their separate ways. Kong talks with his coach on a bench outside in one of the series’ most touching scenes yet, while Ryuichi gets in the red sportscar of his beautiful cousin Yurie and drives off while his jealous teammates look on. This brings a close to the show’s first major dramatic set piece and leaves the young characters at different turning points in their table tennis careers.

When Masaaki Yuasa adapted Robin Nishi’s Mind Game a decade ago, he opted to fill out the past of the various characters to give the story more heft. He has adopted a similar tactic here. I haven’t read the manga to be able to tell what is interpolated and what comes from the original, but the episode fills us in on personal details about Kong and Ryuichi in a style that is very reminiscent to the way we were cued in to the past of the Yakuza and gang in Mind Game. The part about Kong’s mother was particularly nice. Its tone cleaved from the rest of the show in a good way. Little details like the locket with a picture of his mother and the memory of her wontons make the scene real and poignant. The series has lacked somewhat in three-dimensionality thus far because characters didn’t seem to have fully developed lives outside of table tennis, and this episode began to fill in that gap, while still delivering thrilling ping pong action.

Ping Pong Episode 4: The only way to be sure you won’t lose is not to fight

Storyboard:
Script:
Series Structure:
Masaaki Yuasa
Episode Director: Fumihiro Ueno
Chief Animation Director: Nobutake Ito
Animation Director: Hiroki Abe Norikazu Hattori
Key Animation: Yoko Iizuka Setsuko Umino
Yugo Ohashi Miyu Kaneko
Rika Kanetaka Yutaka Kawasuji
Tomoki Koda Megumi? Komatsu
Rui Kondo Haruka? Sakuramoto
Atsuko Sugawara Nagisa Takahashi
Hironori Nakano Shoichi Funaki
Izumi Murakami Yasunori Miyazawa
Hiroki Abe

Watch Walt Disney Botch The Oscar Acceptance Speech for ‘Toot Whistle Plunk and Boom’

Walt Disney won four Oscars on March 25, 1954, including one for “Toot, Whistle, Plunk and Boom.”

Believe it or not, one of the best online sources for animation history buffs is YouTube. Amazing and rare materials, often digitized from private film collections, are posted regularly on the streaming site. You just have to know where to look.

The Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences has been contributing rare material of its own in recent months. Among the highlights is the following excerpt from the 1954 Academy Awards ceremony in which Walt Disney accepted the award for Ward Kimball’s short Toot Whistle Plunk and Boom. In Walt’s acceptance speech, he’s confused about which award he’s accepting and thanks the “naturalist photographers who have played such a great part in making the nature films.”

A few moments later, in the same video, Disney wins again for Bear Country. That was his fourth win that evening, which is why the presenters were giggling as they read the list of nominees.

Ward Kimball, the director of Toot Whistle Plunk & Boom, was in attendance at the ceremony, but during that era, producers (and not directors) accepted the animated short Oscar. It must have been disappointing for Ward to not only be unable to accept the Oscar (which he shared with co-director Charles Nichols), but to also be unacknowledged during the acceptance speech. Disney did make up it to him after the ceremony though. A few weeks after the ceremony, Disney promoted Kimball to the position of producer/director/writer, and for the next five years, he gave Ward more creative control than any director had ever had at the studio. Not a bad trade-off.

The Academy also recently posted Kimball’s second Oscar win in 1970 for the featurette It’s Tough to Be a Bird.

Because Walt Disney died in 1966, Ward got to accept and keep the Oscar the second time around. The film had a strong conservation/environmental theme, and Ward continued that in his acceptance speech when he said, “I also want to extend my condolences to the unfortunate seagulls in Santa Barbara.” Those comments referred to a 1969 oil spill off the coast of California, which at the time was the largest oil spill in the history of the United States.

Ward’s comments caused an uproar at Disney since Gulf Oil Corporation, which had been among the parties responsible for the spill, was a major corporate sponsor of the Disney Company. Ultimately, Ward’s comment had no impact on the relationship between Disney and Gulf, but his willingness to speak his mind reflects his independent spirit even after working at the studio for 36 years.

A few days ago, Ward’s grandson-in-law Geefwee Boedoe posted a photo of the It’s Tough to Be a Bird Oscar complete with custom-made “Ward glasses.”

This Week in Animation History: ‘Princess and the Frog,’ Mouse Couture & ‘Ryan’

One year ago this week
Mouse Couture: The Fashion Industry’s Mickey and Minnie Obsession: The fashion sphere can’t seem to get enough of Mickey and Minnie these days, and not just the expected corporate collabs like OPI cosmetics or Barney’s Electric Holiday, but actual couture showstoppers stomping the runways in fashion capitals and captured in the pages of high fashion editorials.

Five years ago this week
New footage from Disney’s The Princess and the Frog: Yesterday we posted about Miyazaki’s Ponyo, and today we have some new clips—via the local ABC movie talk show Backlot Buzz—from the other exciting Disney 2D release of the year.

Ten years ago this week
A Review of Chris Landreth’s Ryan: Visually, Landreth described the film as “psycho-realism.” Aspects of the visuals are photo-real. Skin textures, in particular, are photographic and reveal pores and blemishes. However Landreth’s goal isn’t realism. He freely distorts characters, props and sets to express the inner states of the characters or to comment on them. In this way, the film is a descendant of German Expressionist films like The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (1919) or The Last Laugh (1924). Because Landreth is creating everything on screen with software, he has the advantage of a visual continuity and flexibility that directors Wiene and Murnau couldn’t take advantage of.

‘Steven Universe’ Recap: ‘Beach Party’

“Beach Party”
Written and storyboarded by Lamar Abrams.

While this week’s Steven Universe opened a lot of doors as far as characterization and parallels, it was simply okay. Mr. Pizza was comical relief but other than that you had to dig for the entertainment.

We’d met some of the Pizza family before when Steven and Lars were trying to impress the cool kids, but this week we met the rest of the clan, and like the Gems, they’re a modern family in their own right. No mother in sight, it’s just a single dad with two daughters and his own mother in tow. It’s interesting how many of the characters on this show only deal with their fathers—Steven’s mom is gone, we’ve met Onion’s dad and Connie’s mentioned hers. It’s like classic Disney tales…void of moms.

Only Steven sees that the families aren’t that different from one another, and that’s why he pushes so hard for them to get along after the Gems are banned from Fish Stew Pizza. That, and one of Steven’s most humanistic qualities shined this week—his inability to not be accepted. He was really distraught about the Gems being banned, while they couldn’t care less, and by the end of the episode, had even forgotten about why Steven forced them to attend the beach party.

The biggest surprise came with the Gems. We’ve touched on their similarity to the Pizzas and the fact that they didn’t care about what others thought after they were banned from Fish Stew Pizza. On top of that, we saw them flip just a little. At the start of the episode, and most of the time, they were very mission oriented, but they softened for Steven and even changed from their usual uniforms. I actually liked the switch, although we aren’t likely to see it again. Amethyst with her Kelly Bundy ensemble, Garnet looking like Serena Williams in her almost-too-sexy wrap, and then Pearl in a demure outfit.

While the Gems and Mr. Pizza seemed to be on the fence about the party, it was nice to see them realize they weren’t so different after all once they got into that volleyball game. It was interesting that Steven was paired with the grandma, but the others went hand in hand. How many times have we said Garnet is definitely the father figure of the bunch…and then she was paired up with Mr. Pizza? Coincidence, I think not. It was a parallel that they pushed in this episode.

DreamWorks Launching YouTube Kids Channel Called DreamWorksTV

During YouTube’s splashy Brandcast upfront event on Wednesday, DreamWorks announced the launch of DreamWorksTV, a new streaming children’s channel that will offer original animated and live-action programming, as well as vintage animation content.

Brian Robbins, the founder of AwesomenessTV, which DreamWorks acquired last year, is leading the DreamWorksTV initiative, and Birk Rawlings, former Nick v-p of animation development, is the channel’s head of animation.

DreamWorks will generate revenue by selling advertising on the channel, and could earn additional revenue by licensing the content to other streaming services and TV channels. DreamWorks’ Awesomeneness channel generated $4.1 million of revenue during the first 3 months of 2014, which amounts to only a tiny portion of the company’s overall first quarter revenue of $147.2 million. DreamWorks, however, clearly feels that there is a greater amount to be made, and the studio is investing in online video more aggressively than other animation studios. Further, with three of its last four features underperforming—the studio just reported a $57 million write-down on its latest weakling Mr. Peabody & Sherman—the studio needs to diversify beyond its core film business and establish other low-risk revenue streams.

The following video introduces the channel:

Below is the first episode in one of their original animated series called Jimmy Blue Shorts created by Zachary Aufdemberg:

Other series include Fifi: Cat Therapist created by Mike Blum:

Gorillaville created by Ron Yavnieli:

Public Pool created by David Fremont:

The channel will also feature live-action shows, brief daily snippets with characters from films like Puss in Boots and Kung Fu Panda, and “retro-toons” from the DreamWorks Classics (formerly Classic Media) library, including He-Man, Rocky & Bullwinkle, Roger Ramjet, and Casper. They created an additional trailer to announce the older cartoons:

Artist of the Day: Romain Barriaux

Romain Barriaux

Romain Barriaux

Location:
Lille, France
Primary media:
Pencil, ink, digital
Education:
Ecole des Métiers du Cinéma d’Animation
Major projects:
Visual development intern [Walt Disney Animation Studios, Burbank, CA, USA]
Layout [Basquash! produced at Satelight Inc., Tokyo, Japan]
Story, layout, animation director, animator [Le Vagabond de St Marcel]
Assistant director [on the OVA 1 and OVA 3 follow-ups to the Wakfu animated series, Ankama]
More:
Blog/Vimeo

Romain Barriaux

Romain Barriaux

Romain Barriaux

Romain Barriaux

Romain Barriaux

Romain Barriaux

Romain Barriaux

Kelly Asbury’s All-CG ‘Smurfs’ Feature Pushed Back To 2016

Sony announced today that their all-CGI Smurfs pic, directed by animation veteran Kelly Asbury (Shrek 2, Gnomeo & Juliet), will be pushed back from its original 2015 release date to 2016. Asbury wrote about the date change on the film’s new production blog, while doing his best to remind people once again that this film won’t be anything like the first two live-action/CG hybrids:

I’m happy to report that I’ve gotten confirmation from Sony Pictures Entertainment that my UNTITLED SMURFS MOVIE has a new release date: it will be coming out internationally in July 2016 and in the USA on August 5, 2016, one year later than originally planned when this project was initially conceived as a live action / animation hybrid SMURFS 3. This is a great thing for my team and me, since we are performing such a major re-imagining of the Smurf universe into a more Peyo look. We have lots of story, visual development, character designs and rigs, environments, assets, props…everything…and we need this added new production time to “get all our Smurfs in a row” and make the best movie possible.

Remember, this is not a sequel nor a prequel. It’s a whole NEW Smurf adventure! As a director, I’m very grateful to be given the proper time to make the movie I want to make and not have to compromise the quality on any front. Most all animated features, especially those from major studios, require at least 3 – 4 years to make (some far longer), and while this Smurfs movie will still be on a faster track than most, I’m really happy Sony has made this important decision. Quality is a huge priority and it is no small task to achieve, especially on an animated feature.

This all new Smurfs movie deserves the best, and Sony obviously knows and respects that.

Japan Will Hold A 4-Day Animation Festival Entirely in An Airport

This fall, the city of Hokkaido, Japan will present the first-ever animation festival to take place entirely in an airport. The New Chitose Airport International Animation Festival will make use of the Hokkaido airport’s well-equipped facilities, including its 377-seat movie theater with 3D capabilities. Other events will take place at the airport assembly hall, hotel, and open-air spa. New Chitose ranks as Japan’s third-busiest airport so expect a few weary travelers to join in the fun too.

The New Chitose Airport festival takes place between October 31 and November 3. The festival’s honorary chairman is legendary Japanese indie filmmaker Taku Furukawa, and the chief of the international jury is Chris Robinson, who is the artistic director of the Ottawa International Animation Festival. The deadline to submit a film is June 23. For details on how to submit, visit the festival website.