Sunday, October 30, 2011

Upcoming Toronto Events

On November 4 at the NFB (150 John Street), the Toronto Student Animation Festival will screen. The doors open at 6:00 and the screening runs from 6:30 to 8:30. Admission is $10. John Bissylas, a local high school teacher, created a festival several years ago to showcase the animation of high school students. This screening, however, will feature work from older students from around the world.

On November 10, there will be an industry event to raise funds and awareness for the Toronto Animated Arts Festival International. It's an animation festival that will take place next June at the Bell Lightbox downtown. Admission to the fundraiser is $15 in advance and $20 at the door and the event takes place at the Vogue Supperclub, 42 Mowat Avenue in Liberty Village.

You Can't Go Home Again

Børge Ring called the above to my attention. It's a 2005 Tom and Jerry, co-directed by Joe Barbera. In some ways, it does a remarkably good job of duplicating the look and feel of the Hanna-Barbera Tom and Jerry cartoons of the 1940s and '50s. However, in other ways, it doesn't, and surrounded by those things that work, the lapses stand out even more.

Børge pointed out that Bill Hanna's timing just isn't there and that this cartoon inadvertently shows the importance of Hanna's contribution. He's right. For instance, the gag at 3:05 where Tom hurtles into the garbage truck is timed too slowly. Hanna never would have had the extended pause between Tom landing and the jaws closing. Furthermore, the jaws would have closed faster. That wouldn't have been true to life, but it would have been funnier.

Like the opening titles, a collision of Warner Bros. and MGM fonts, some of the character poses look to be from Warner Bros. rather than MGM. Jerry's look to the audience at 2:36 smacks of Chuck Jones. Jerry's pose at 1:36 has the look of a Robert McKimson cartoon. Tom's look to the camera at 3:26, with his eyes merging, is also more reminiscent of Warners.

The music can't compare to the exuberance of Scott Bradley's scores.

There are good things here. The characters stay on model. The animators have captured the way Tom scrambles off screen, including the subtle stretch in his mid-section, and have also captured the way Hanna and Barbera had characters shooting and rebounding into holds. As I said above, because so much of this is right, what's wrong stand out and that is why you can't go home again.

Revivals work in the theatre because the originals only exist in memory. There is no expectation that a revival will duplicate the look and feel of the original because the original is not there for comparison. In film and TV, though, the originals are not only there, they are often front and center, showing right next to attempts at a revival. The comparisons are inescapable.

Creative works are not only the product of people, they're also the products of a time and place. As the world keeps changing, it is impossible to recreate something from the past. While artists often wish to duplicate what they love, they can only approximate it. Paradoxically, the closer they get to it, the more they've succeeded in doing nothing more than an good imitation. And since the originals are everywhere to begin with, is an imitation necessary?

From a corporate standpoint, it's another cartoon to add to the library. From an artistic standpoint, it's a dead end. What could this budget and these creators, including 94 year old Joe Barbera, have come up with if they tried something new?

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Chuck Jones' Comic Strip

Comic Book Resources has an interview with Dean Mullaney and Kurtis Findlay, who have edited Chuck Jones: The Dream that Never Was, a collection of the comic strip Crawford that Jones did in the late 1970s. The book will be available in December.

I remember reading the strip and clipped a few of them before I lost interest. One of the ironies of Jones' career is that he received more attention and opportunity when his work was in decline than he did when he was at his peak. Crawford suffers from the cuteness that infected much of his post-Warner Bros. work and the coarsening of his drawing that also occurred then.

I will definitely look this book over when it is published for the opportunity to see unpublished work and to compare my current impression with my memories of the strip, but I don't believe that Crawford is a hidden treasure that will add anything to Jones' reputation. This is not Peanuts or Calvin and Hobbes. If it was, the strip never would have been cancelled and would be better known today.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Another Loomis Reprint

The second volume of the reprinting Andew Loomis's art instruction books is now available. I've seen copies in stores, though Amazon won't release it until Oct. 25.

Loomis was a commercial illustrator in the days when mass circulation magazines were full of painted illustrations accompanying fiction. He also authored a series of art instruction books that are still much sought after, even 6 decades after first being published. The books were out of print for years and copies commanded over $100 apiece on used book sites. Titan Books (who are also publishing The Simon and Kirby Library; the next volume is of their crime comics and due out momentarily) have undertaken to reprint Loomis. This volume follows Figure Drawing for All It's Worth. While art styles have changed since Loomis's day, the fundamentals don't change. Anyone interested in learning to draw will benefit from Loomis's books.

Friday, October 21, 2011

Those Animated Lectures

By now, I assume everybody has experienced at least one of the lectures illustrated/animated by cartoon drawings on a whiteboard. They are done by Andrew Park, a British artist who listens to each audio entry 50 times before completing his art.

Here's an article on Park, detailing his approach to making these pieces.

Screen Captures

From Galloping Gaucho

From Peter Pan features thousands of screen captures from shorts, features, and made for DVD films. It also includes work from Pixar and Dreamworks.

I don't know if there's any rhyme or reason for the particular captures. It doesn't appear that they were selected by an animator. For all I know, the captures were done by an automated process. In any case, if you're looking for a handy visual reference from any of the films they've covered, it may be quicker than hauling out the DVD.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Walt's People Volume 11

You would think that by volume 11 of Walt's People, a series of books composed of interviews with people who worked with and for Walt Disney, that editor Didier Ghez would be down to interviewing the grandson of the janitor who emptied the wastebasket of Milt Kahl's inbetweener. Nothing could be farther from the truth. Editor Ghez continues to come up with interviews of historical importance filled with fascinating anecdotes and production details.

The contents of volume 11 are:

Foreword: John Canemaker
Didier Ghez: Ruthie Tompson
Christopher Finch & Linda Rosenkrantz: Walt Pfeiffer
John Culhane: Shirley Temple
John Culhane: I. Klein
Peter Hansen: Basil Reynolds
Christopher Finch & Linda Rosenkrantz: Eric Larson
John Culhane: John Hubley
Robin Allan: Jules Engel
Darrell Van Citters: Ed Love
Darrell Van Citters: Mike Lah
JB Kaufman: Frank Thomas
Dave Smith: Carl Nater
John Culhane: John Hench
John Canemaker: Ward Kimball
Dave Smith: Ward Kimball
Didier Ghez: Frank Armitage
Robin Allan: Ray Aragon
Didier Ghez: Ray Aragon
Gord Wilson: Jacques Rupp
David Tietyen: George Bruns
John Canemaker: Dale Oliver
John Canemaker: Iwao Takamoto
John Canemaker: Richard Williams
Charles Solomon: Brad Bird
Alberto Becattini: Don R. Christensen
Jim Korkis: Tom Nabbe
Dave Smith: Roger Broggie
Didier Ghez: David Snyder
Didier Ghez: Carl Bongirno
John Culhane: Daniel MacManus
John Culhane: Ted Kierscey
John Canemaker: Glen Keane
Didier Ghez: Joe Hale
Jérémie Noyer: Mark Henn
Christian Ziebarth: Andreas Deja and Mark Henn
Didier Ghez: Ed Catmull

This is yet another book I've got to add to my overburdened shelf. Copies can be ordered from Xlibris for those living in the U.S. and from Amazon for those living in the U.S. and elsewhere.

Guess Whose Eyes

Go here, for an interactive version of the above. And go here if you want a print.

(Link via Boing Boing)

Monday, October 10, 2011

Warner Bros. Animated Coming Attractions

In addition to voicing the Loony Tunes characters for animated cartoons, Mel Blanc also voiced them on records for children. Warner Bros. has now created new cgi animation to go with one of those records.

I previously mentioned Sam Register's address to Mipcom Jr, a TV market in Europe. Above is the video of that address and at 27:03, you can see a clip of the Daffy Duck animation done to the Mel Blanc record. You can also see a clip of Thundercats at 19:33 and the cgi Green Lantern at 23:39.

Disney Live Action Reference

Someone known as lostvocals4 has taken live action footage from Operation Wonderland, a live action promotional piece that Disney made for Alice in Wonderland, and synched it up with the finished film.

Disney was shooting live action reference footage at least as early as Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. That procedure continued in the 1950s, especially because the budgets were tighter and the films had to be made more efficiently. Ed Wynn was filmed as the Mad Hatter and Jerry Colonna was filmed as the March Hare, with Kathryn Beaumont as Alice. What's interesting is that the audio from the reference footage was used as the final audio in the film.

The artists on screen, in order of their first appearance, are Les Clark, Fred Moore (at left) with John Lounsbery, and Ward Kimball.

If you want to see the entire Operation in Wonderland, which contains additional live action reference for the Walrus's dance and the march of the playing cards, you can see it here and here. Look for Walt Disney manning the animation camera. I doubt that he did that much after the 1920s.

(Link via Drawn.)

The Rauch Brothers Interviewed

Left to right: Mike and Tim Rauch.
"The key is to try and be as honest and true to the story as possible."
- Mike Rauch
I admire the work of the Rauch brothers enormously as their work, based on documentary audio recordings done by Storycorps, is built on emotional truth. That's something too often lacking in modern animation.

The brothers are interviewed by Jeremy Helton, talking about their history, their influences and their process. There are also photo comparisons between real people and settings and the designs that the brothers have created from them.

You can see four video interviews with the brothers here and a selection of their work here.

Friday, October 07, 2011

Steve Jobs as Walt Disney

Left to right: Ed Catmull, Steve Jobs, John Lasseter. Image lifted from the Pixar website.

It's been a few days since Steve Jobs passed away and I've had some time to gather my thoughts. It occurs to me that Jobs was like Walt Disney in that they shared traits common to visionary entrepreneurs.

Walt Disney didn't create animation. He wasn't responsible for every advance that came from his studio. And while there were others in animation who broke ground, the public identified the animation medium with Walt Disney. Disney went through a bankruptcy and several setbacks (the loss of Oswald the Rabbit and the defection of staff), but still managed to overcome the problems and continue to pursue his goals.

Steve Jobs didn't create personal computers. He wasn't responsible for every advance that came from Apple. Certainly there are others who broke ground in computing, but Jobs was the very public face of computers as lifestyle enhancers. Jobs was tossed out of the company he co-founded with Steve Wozniak, but during that period, he bought Pixar from George Lucas and created a second success before returning to Apple, where his second stint may have been more influential than his first.

I don't doubt that somebody would have made a cgi feature had Pixar not existed, but as we can see from films like Beowulf, cgi films might have been extensions of the visual effects world more than the animation world. As there have been animated films in every medium that were duds, who knows if that first cgi feature would have had the impact on audiences and on the marketplace if the film hadn't been Toy Story?

Pixar was not a sure thing. There were many technical problems to be solved and it was uncertain how an audience would react to an hour and a half of computer graphics. Jobs supported Catmull and Lasseter's goals, resulting in one of the most successful animation companies in history. Jobs' importance to animation history is secure for that alone.

So Jobs, like Disney, pursued his goals though they were risky. They both overcame setbacks to innovate in several fields. They both enhanced the lives of their audiences and were feted for it. That last item is a key point. Business schools may one day examine the careers of Michael Eisner or Robert Iger and take lessons from them, but the public won't. Jobs, like Disney, worked on a public stage, combining vision with showmanship. There are many successful business people, but few have the vision of these two men and fewer still have a vision that the public willingly embraces.

Animation is lucky to have crossed paths with both men.

(One of the best summations of Jobs' career I've read is an obituary written by animation fan and technology writer Harry McCracken for Time magazine.)

Wednesday, October 05, 2011

Steve Jobs R.I.P.

Steve Jobs, founder of Apple and savior of Pixar, has lost his battle with pancreatic cancer. The official announcement is here.

Jobs was also a major shareholder in Disney after he sold Pixar to Disney. While he clearly prepared Apple to continue without him, we'll have to see who inherits his Disney shares. In any case, John Lasseter and Ed Catmull have lost an ally and Robert Iger's hand is no doubt strengthened.

Men like Jobs are rare and he will be missed. There was no one in the computer or electronics field to compare with him.

Sunday, October 02, 2011

A Clay Animated Batman?

Those of you interested in what's happening with the Looney Tunes characters, Thundercats and the animated version of Green Lantern should read coverage of Sam Register's keynote speech to MIP Jr, a European TV market for children's programming.

One of the revelations in the article is that Warner Bros. is teaming up with Aardman Animation to make clay animated Batman shorts. There's also a cgi Batman series coming in 2013.

Some Ottawa Festival Thoughts

Everyone who attends the Ottawa Festival (or any other large event for that matter) is going to have an individual opinion. It's impossible at Ottawa to see every screening and attend every presentation, so opinions will vary based on what a person experienced. What follows are my thoughts, based on being there for just the weekend and the programs I chose to attend.

It's a shame that the animator picnic is not included in the weekend pass, as it is now the only venue at the festival where everyone is together. When the festival used the National Arts Centre, it was a central place for everyone to meet. This is my second year attending since the National Arts Centre is no longer used, and my feeling that the festival is spread over too great a distance remains. The individual venues are nice, but the lack of a real hub makes it tougher to find people and lessens word of mouth for any hot films.

I saw The Bug Trainer, a European documentary on Ladislas Starewitch, the stop motion animator. I didn't know much about him personally, so I was grateful to the film for filling me in, but I wish that the film, which only ran an hour and was most likely made for TV, had showcased more of his animation. Perhaps Europeans are more familiar with his films and didn't need to be reminded, but I've seen only a few Starewitch works and would have liked to see more.

John Canemaker

John Canemaker's presentation on Joe Ranft and Joe Grant was a highlight for me. Canemaker knew both men, so there was a personal dimension to the talk, which included artwork that isn't in his book Two Guys Named Joe. The Joe's emphasis on entertainment value was a contrast to much of what is screened at Ottawa. Canemaker mentioned that his next book was on Herman Schultheiss, an effects animator at Disney, who kept an extensive notebook about how the effects of the time were achieved, such as the snowflakes in "The Nutcracker Suite" section of Fantasia.

I always attend the screenings of children's films as I find them to be more satisfying than the films in competition. This year, my favorite was Princess' Painting, a German short by Johannes Weiland and Klaus Morschheuser about a Princess who receives automatic praise for superficial work and how she discovers that her priorities are wrong.

Saturday had several panel discussions set up by Tom Knott to give guidance to aspiring animation artists. I was on a panel about web portfolios chaired by Richard O'Connor of Ace and Son Moving Picture Company that also featured Knott, Brooke Keesling of The Cartoon Network, and Cal Arts instructor Fran Krause. Some solid information was passed along during this panel. The following panel, which I stayed for, was a collection of directors including Jan Pinkava, Marv Newland, Joanna Priestly, Isaac King and Jessica Borutski.

Left to right: Marv Newland, Jan Pinkava

Saturday night, I attended two competition screenings. The only film that I'd like to see again is Joost Lieuwma's Things You'd Better Not Mix Up from the Netherlands. The film was funny, something you'd think wouldn't be in short supply at an animation festival, but you'd be wrong.

Sunday, I saw two presentations from Disney-Pixar. The first was Enrico Casarosa screening the Pixar short La Luna, which will be released next year with Brave. The film is charming and clearly comes from a personal place for Casarosa. That personal connection is what separates the film from some other Pixar shorts and too much Disney these days.

The second presentation was of the Winnie the Pooh feature and the short The Ballad of Nessie. Pooh directors Steve Anderson and Don Hall were there to talk about the film after the screening. While they made it a point to go back to the original shorts for the design of the film, they talked about reworking the characters of Owl and Rabbit to make them carry more of the comedy. Personally, I felt that those characters were pushed too much, to the detriment of Tigger. Originally, Tigger's hyperactivity and wackiness was a strong contrast to the staid nature of the other characters. Now Tigger is only one of many broad characters. I also thought that the animators on Tigger (Andreas Deja) and Rabbit (Eric Goldberg) were miscast. Goldberg should have been given Tigger and Deja Rabbit.

Nessie also looked backwards to the Disney design of the 1940s and '50s. Johnny Appleseed was referenced for design.

Both the feature and short lacked the personal connection of La Luna. They were well crafted, but seemed to me to be imitation Disney rather than stories that needed to be told. By coincidence, the day after I returned from the festival, I was reading Art and Fear by David Bayles and Ted Orland and came across this quote:
In the first third of [the twentieth] century, Edward Weston, Ansel Adams and a few fellow travelers turned the then-prevailing world of soft focus photographic art upside down. They did so by developing a visual philosophy that justified sharply-focused images, and introduced the natural landscape as a subject for photographic art. It took decades for their viewpoint to filter into the public consciousness, but it sure has now: pictures appearing in anything from cigarette ads to Sierra Club books owe their current acceptance to those once-controversial images. Indeed, that vision has so pervasively become ours that people photographic vacation scenery today often do so with the hope that if everything turns out just right, the result will not simply look like a landscape, it will look like an Ansel Adams photograph of the landscape.

This too will pass, of course. In face, artistically speaking, it has passed. The unfolding over time of a great idea is like the growth of a fractal crystal, allowing details and refinements to multiply endlessly -- but only in ever-decreasing scale. Eventually (perhaps by the early 1960's) those who stepped forward to carry the West Coast Landscape Photography banner were not producing art, so much as re-producing the history of art. Separated two or three generations from the forces that spawned the vision they championed, they were left making images of experiences they never quite had. If you find yourself caught in similar circumstances, we modestly offer this bit of cowboy wisdom: When your horse dies, get off.
If drawn Disney animation is to survive, the artists are going to have to find their own voices, not "making images of experiences they never quite had." Time to find another mount.

As I said above, this is only my experience of the festival. For other viewpoints, see Jerry Beck, Richard O'Connor (1, 2, 3 and 4) and Michael Valiquette.