Thursday, December 28, 2006
I immediately thought that her husband, a young lawyer, had had a serious accident, or that her malaria (contracted in Uganda last summer) had flared up.
It seemed that the fine and unseasonable weather in Ohio this past month led the keepers of the rare bonobo chimpanzees in the Columbus Zoo to let the animals out of their winter enclosure for a bit of an airing. Zoo policy is to give the chimps as much sunlight as possible for their mental and physical health.
But this is Ohio in December, and the weather took a damp and chilly turn. All of the bonobos fell ill with colds. This rapidly progressed to pneumonia, and Monique feared that the entire troop was infected.
One bonobo, Mambo--a 26 year old male in the prime of life, and a great favorite of Monique's--he knew sign language and could talk to his trainers----died on Christmas Eve. Another chimp, a baby named Jo/T, was near death in the hospital from the same disease.
My neighbour studies bonobo chimpanzees (working with this troop and also in Africa) and has an impressive list of credits that would shame even the most well travelled animator. Monique displays pictures of famous chimps on her walls the way other people would display family portraits. For Monique, bonobos are family.
They are close family to all of us actually. The bonobo is the closest relative to the human being; far more human like in proportion and facial expression than the common chimp, pan paniscus.
And Mambo could talk to humans.
I did not know what else to do so I grabbed a yahrzeit candle from the cupboard. This simply means 'year's time' in German. The candle burns for 24 hours and is used on the anniversary of a death, starting at the first year. I didn't know the rule for nonhumans but decided that the psychological advantages outweighed the religious ones.
So I brought the yahrzeit candle to Monique's apartment. Her husband Eric answered the door gravely. At least he was all right. Monique was sobbing into a phone while sitting on the sofa.
The candle was set to burning and I invited the pair to dinner that evening to cheer them up and also to hear more about the matter.
When I got back downstairs I gave Gizmo a treat--some turkey and potato wet canned food. She ate it with avidity since it had the high smell that resembled tuna--and Gizmo is a tuna junkie.
To my horror I then heard the familiar and dreaded whee--gasp--whee--gasp sound that means Gizmo is having an asthma attack.
I was absolutely frantic when I saw her, in what is known as the 'meatloaf position' with her tongue sticking out of her open mouth.
This meant it was a very serious attack and could be fatal. I ran for the phone to call Monique to get us to the emergency hospital, but Gizmo would not survive in this condition for the time it took to get there.
Fortunately she recovered and immediately asked to play. I said No. I also said no more poultry, ever. It's an allergen, and I've learned my lesson. The treat nearly did the poor cat in. She will eat rabbit for the rest of her life.
Monique and Eric arrived for homemade Chinese food that turned out pretty well, considering. She was a bit more composed since one of her pupils had travelled to the zoo to see the chimps. Only Mambo had succumbed. The other chimps, save for Jo/T, had not developed pneumonia and were being treated. Jo/T was in hospital and very near death.
Now, Jo/T is only a baby. She is about four years old, and the love of life this little creature showed in the movies Monique ran on the computer would shame a human child. Jo/T loves to spin round and round til she is dizzy and do somersaults over her mama.
She, too, was a great favorite of Monique's but was too young to talk.
I did the only other thing I could do; get out my one remaining bayberry candle from Georgia and light it in one of the Roycroft candle holders. I explained that a bayberry candle was traditionally burnt on Christmas Eve but we'd make exceptions here. The saying was that ' a bayberry candle burnt to its socket puts luck in your life and cash in your pocket'.
It couldn't hurt.
So we toasted poor Mambo's life in some good French wine and wished for Jo/T's recovery. If you and I can think good thoughts about a young and very rare chimpanzee at this festive season, it could not hurt as much as the treats that the keepers --and I--thought we were giving our beloved friends.
Saturday, December 23, 2006
Normally one does this in an attempt to better oneself. That is why there are New Year resolutions. But 2006 was a seminal year for the world of animation. Industries do not make resolutions, but studios do, and did.
A major studio made a major resolution--and like its human constituents, it made it at the end of the year. Most humans do not take the year's end ritual seriously and their resolutions, if they are observed at all, generally affect only a small coterie of friends . The resolution made by the studio will affect all of us in the animation field for a considerable time to come.
The animation community has rumoured that the Walt Disney Feature Animation Studio will now, once again, exclusively produce hand drawn animated films, while newly acquired Pixar (actually the dominant partner in the equation) would continue to produce computer generated films exclusively. This, if it is true, is the logical outcome to the merger of the two studios earlier this year.
Like most simple solutions, it is anything but. Projects already in development at Disney in CGI (by decree of the previous Chair, Michael Eisner, who recently declared '2D dead') would go into turnaround. LIFE WITH WILBUR ROBINSON, which will be released in March 2007, will be the last Disney Feature CGI film. Inevitably that means layoffs and downsizing until they get their headway again.
Some animators have reminded me of the Frogs who Wanted a King from Aesop's fable--they yearned for a strong hand, another Walt, and if only their leader would arrive, all would be blissful with steady jobs and interesting work for all, forevermore. They were unaware that a strong leader might want different followers.
Animators who came of age during the fat times of the Nineties have a harder time adjusting to the shifts and swings of employment than older artists who remember the seasonal and projects-end layoffs that were standard before.
Humans have a tendency to believe that good times will go on forever. It's as true in animation as in economics.
Disney 'Old Man' Frank Thomas was having none of that. Once, during one of the earliest layoffs, I wrote him to say that many people were worried about their job security.
"We never had any!" Frank said crisply. "My goodness, when a feature ended you had to call the Shorts department and ask if they had anything on a Goofy film or something so you wouldn't get laid off! I made myself 'indispensable' so they wouldn't fire me, but there was never any guarantee!"
The changes in the Disney studio's philosophy in the past few years remind me of the constant religious shifts in the court of Henry VIII as he courted a European sovereign or a wife. It is dangerous to be of the wrong persuasion when the king's mind has already been made up.
The king in this anecdote is John Lasseter, who is the most powerful man in animation right now. He is also the most powerful man who has ever been in animation. I wonder if anyone else has studied the deeper implications of the Disney-Pixar merger.
Lasseter is now head of Pixar, Disney Feature Animation, Disney Television Animation, and the animation board of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. Even Walt Disney never ran two studios simultaneously.
The changes are just beginning at the older studio. Pixar remains more or less unchanged, since it is the one literally calling the shots.
Thirteen years ago it was Pixar who was the junior partner, the dubious spinoff with an untested product. Disney, the grand old lady of animation, now has to re-establish its reputation with new, hand drawn films that will bring back the old magic.
But, no matter how many 'd's' it has, animation is only motion on a screen if there is no intelligence directing it, no meaning to the movement---in other words, no story.
Pixar's people all trained with Disney veterans and they use storytelling methods that were originally developed at Disney in the 1930s. Artists are the kings there, but no one rules save one. Management keeps their distance and lets the artists make the movies.
Disney Features became a victim of corporatitis in the past few years. Artists were subordinate to executives who sometimes had no background in art, and who were sometimes Hollywood players.
True, this happens in live action as well, but animation IS the artists' work. It can't be saved with the voices or caricatures of big stars, or the latest rock music. It stands and falls on the performances of its artists--especially the story artists.
So Disney's resolution is to somehow resurrect their old spirit along with the older medium and get back to making fun, wholesome entertainment for a mass audience (no more 'targets' of fourteen year old boys, thankfully.)
I believe that they will keep this resolution, though there will be some rough patches at first. It is painful to read of old friends who are no longer there, or who are worried that they may no longer be there. Time will heal the wounds. After all, it is not the only studio in the world. But it is true that when Disney sneezes, the animation industry catches cold. The resolution will have a knock on effect with other studios if one condition is met.
All they need is a hit picture with a good story.
Saturday, December 09, 2006
Here's the poster for the show I'm curating early next year. I'll not be the main speaker--one of my Senior advisees will be doing the talking--but it will be fun showing some of the prizewinning films from past years.
One of them won an Oscar.
The Museum wants mainly cartoon art, so I'll ask some of the illustration students if they have any comic drawings that might be suitable for framing and exhibiting on the walls.
The animation and the speech will take about an hour, and it's free! So if anyone is reading this, and anyone is in New York City in January, come on by and see the films and say hello!
Wednesday, November 22, 2006
Tony White proved to be a gracious host and a really fun guy to meet. His labor of love, the 2D OR NOT 2D ANIMATION FESTIVAL, was a great success.
There were some rough spots at the start, most of them having to do with cars. Seattle has weak public transit and some of the most impressive jams I've seen since leaving Los Angeles. One of Tony's cars broke down and there was a hasty reshuffle to get me from the airport to Everett, a distance of thirty miles. There was a wee bit of time to get out to Fremont to see the cement troll under the bridge. It holds a real Volkswagen. (The bridge is over an actual Troll Lane. I don't know if the name preceded the troll or vice versa.)
There is also a 20 foot high bronze statue of Vladimir Lenin standing on a Fremont street corner. A local man went to the Czech republic after the fall of the Soviet Union, saw the statue lying there, mortgaged his house to bring it to the USA, and then died. The heirs are looking for a buyer and put Lenin on a street corner in the meantime since he obviously did not fit in the house. Tony joked that the statue could possibly be presented as an award at the festival. How , or why, it got from the Czech republic to Fremont is anyone's guess.
RIT's character animators took all but one of the top prizes for student films at the 2D or Not 2D Animation Festival held in Everett, Washington from November 17-19.
Tony White originated the idea of giving awards to animation in a film as well as for the film itself, so that good animation could be judged independently of the story.
Most of the work I showed for my own presentation was from Cal Arts, Jack Zander's, and the Berlin studio--in other words, really really rare stuff. I did not show anything from Disney, Warners, or Amblin'.
I also did a powerpoint presentation on my book that got a good response. The old Everett theatre is a former vaudeville house, with a small intimate stage and good acoustics. I joked about being 'first on the bill'--in vaude days, that was reserved for a low ranking act since audiences were still sitting down while it was on.
The audience here was attentive and seemed to really enjoy all of the shows.
The festival featured screenings of restored prints of ANIMAL FARM, retrospectives of Tony White's work, a tribute to Halas and Batchelor, and many other surprises.
Keynote speaker Roy Disney stated that he wished to 'refute that ridiculous statement of Michael Eisner's that 2D was dead. It is not dead, and the statement is not true."
Mr. Disney presented a wonderful series of Disney short films inlcuding LORENZO, the last film designed by Joe Grant, and the Salvador Dali-Walt Disney coproduction DESTINO. Disney also generously paid for the audiovisual equipment used to screen the rest of the festival entries.
Roy was awarded the very first Roy Disney Award, a bronze three fingered hand holding a pencil. They decided not to go with the Lenin statue after all.
Eric Goldberg's animation for a Buddhist theme park, featuring greedy monkeys, was another high point of the festival.
Films in competition were sent from as far afield as Germany (Harald Siepermann was the advisor) and Wales, with East and West Coast animation schools well represented though Cal Arts and Ringling were surprisingly absent--we'll get them to participate next year!
Michael Sporn's lovely tribute to Philippe Petit, THE MAN WHO WALKED BETWEEN THE TOWERS won for Best Film (professional category.) There was also an hilarious film from Wales about a man who owned a huge dog and a huge car--but a normal sized house. The entries were generally of a very high quality.
"Golden Pencils" were won in the student category by RIT seniors Brittney Lee, Joseph Daniels, and Jedidiah Mitchell, with Merit Awards given to graduate student Adam Fisher and sophomore Wesley Storhoff. Lee, Daniels, and Mitchell were all my senior project advisees, and Storhoff completed his project in one of my classes.
Some of the prizewinning RIT films from the 2D or not 2D festival are available online.
Brittney Lee's THE MUSICAL GENIUS OF MOZART MCFIDDLE is available online at http://britsketch.blogspot.com/
(Winner, Best Animation in a Student Film with Special Merit for Art direction)
Brittney Lee and her boyfriend Dave are both employed--she's already working as a designer at a games company, and he's a rigger at another.
Merit Award winner THE BALLAD OF THE PURPLE CLAM, is (partly) here: Adam Fisher's advisor was Tom Gasek (of Aardman, now of RIT)
Joe Daniels and Jed Mitchell won the Best Student Film award for THE WAY OF THE MANTIS, tied with A MANO (from VanArts) Even though MANTIS appears to be hand drawn, it is in fact a CGI film that is rendered to look like paintbrush work--the students designed the plug-in for Maya themselves. The art direction was inspired by the films of Chinese animator Te Wei.
Merit Award winner Wes Storhoff's hilarious THE INFINITE MONKEY THEOREM is not available online. A chimp in a lab sits at a computer and tries to write HAMLET while continuously being interrupted by Microsoft's Mr. Paperclip Office Assistant. It was particularly amusing to see this film win an award in Microsoft's home town.
Mr. Storhoff produced the film in Nancy Beiman's 'one quarter project' class, which lasted ten weeks.
One student sadly did not enter his film, but it's gorgeous. Here's Nathaniel's website. http://www.rit.edu/~nhh0365/ I brought a print along to the show and ran it for Tony White, who expressed regret that it was not in the competition. Then again, we had to leave some room for other schools to win...
Nathaniel also made a strange little film called DINNER (both it and PYGMALION DREAMS were made under my supervision)
All of these students save Adam Fisher have allowed me to use their preproduction artwork to illustrate sections of my book, which is now available for preorder on amazon.com.
A special Golden Pencil Award was also awarded to me, for training these kids. I was certainly not expecting that! Neither was airport checkin, who looked at the giant functioning pencil with appropriate awe when I checked in the next day.
The festival was well attended and we hope that it will be even 'bigger' next year.
So I'm getting ready for Turkey Day, which I'm spending with my upstairs neighbours and with several students from another country who had nowhere else to go for the day. I'm on break til December 4. I like teaching holidays; you get about four months vacation each year. Not that I had any this year or last winter; I was working sixteen hours a day on this book!
Saturday, November 04, 2006
Nice reviews from the blurb writers are included. Now all I have to do is see the thing actually on here...and realize that all that work actually LED to something.
Tony White has moved me from the Sunday Afternoon closer at the 2D festival to the Friday night opening act. I've got to DO something.
Walt Disney has become a legendary character of the twentieth century. So much was written about him, and so much was inaccurate, that the legends often attained a currency that was not deserved. How many times have we heard that he was frozen? Gabler (who was the first of Walt's biographers to work with rare Disney family records) opens the book with this statement (it's not true.) The truth is much more interesting than that.Disney was an optimistic, hardworking go-getter with an astounding capacity for concentration who fell in love with the early twentieth century's high technology--motion pictures. Motion pictures drawn by hand.He had the perseverance to start over again every time he failed artistically and financially. And fail he did. This is one of the most unlikely success stories ever told, since the Disney Brothers studio was working in a marginal field (animation) in a minor city (Kansas, then Hollywood, when the animation studios were all in New York), and attempting to make it as an independent producer just as the big studios were forming, eliminating independent competition in all but a few areas by 1928.He made it because he had the unfashionable idea that quality would out, he had a tremendous amount of luck and he knew how to make appealing entertainment(Mickey Mouse was NOT the first successful character he created). Disney also had a real genius for hiring talented people. A surprising number of remarkable artists started with him in Kansas City, others were trained right on the studio lot.Mr. Gabler's book is readable and contains much new information. Who would have thought that Charlie Chaplin was, at one time, Snow White's Prince? Chaplin, one of the few independent producers left by 1936, loaned his books for MODERN TIMES to the Disneys to help them ask fair prices for their landmark feature. For Disney's weak spot was running the business--he once actually forgot to add on the profit to the budget for a job in Kansas City, and was forced to work for cost of materials, with no salary for him or his animators! The 1941 strike by his artists was seen as a personal betrayal--but this strike can be predicted when you read about that early project. The Dream was the goal but (as an old cartoon states) coal is still somewhat important. Disney had his head in the clouds, and his brother Roy, who played the father's role to his sibling since childhood, was a major reason why Walt's feet were kept on the ground. It was a fine parntership and this is really a dual biography.The truth about Disney is not sensational or scandalous--just refreshing after decades of inaccuracy and outright fabrication that somehow passed for fact.The weakest part of the book is Gabler's attempts to psychoanalyze Walt's obsession with animation production as a desire to control his world. Of course he controlled his world. This is what all artists do. We animators love creating characters that APPEAR to think and move for themselves. They are really just an expression of our own sentiments and desires; we create life. That's what animation means. It's wonderful being able to control every aspect of the film's production-to be leading man, leading woman, and sets as well! Disney is hardly exceptional in this respect and the psychological insights don't ring true for me.As one other animator told me, Disney was remarkable because 'he was the only man in the world who ever got 500 artists to work together in one building without KILLING each other!"Buy this book.
"Look, Auntie! They're paying me to draw pictures! They're paying me to draw pictures!" --Walt Disney, 1922
Saturday, October 28, 2006
Somehow this dead account still retained emails sent by friends three or four years ago, including this marvelous piece of writing by John McCartney. Those of you who did not work with him or know him can get some idea of his really superior writing skills and brilliant mind from this short piece.
I only wish I'd thought of this obsolete account's 'saved' folder a few months ago when John asked me if I still retained a copy of this essay. Since I'd changed addresses the old files were quite naturally not there. My forgetfulness, in this case, was inexcusable.
The tale of the rat poison was located this morning. Here it is, in John's original English (far superior to the American). Enjoy.
Here's a short story, my first essay in about 40 years, and it concerns an incident that occured in another time; during my first marriage.
For about 3 years my wife Brenda & my 31/2 year old son James had lived in our fine Victorian semi in West London; she, a highly-qualified catering manager, and I, a musician, endured moderate prosperity.
Working mostly at night, it seemed common sense for me to look after our son, James, during the day.
Now, there are advantages to role reversal; e.g. most dads don't have the chance to spend that much time with their kids, pity, because you get to wear out the blade of a key-ring pen-knife digging up stones, chase seagulls across sodden fields, & convert a regular 10 minute round-trip for groceries into a 2 hour exercise in orientation... and here's the plus... your kids get out of coffee mornings.
Numbers 33 & 34, the semi-detached houses had been built for his family by our next door neighbour's grandfather, and he, when he married in 1927, had emigrated from our house to the one next door, where he had remained.
Solitary, tough old buzzard, that World War 1 infantry captain, had lived with his grey muzzled mutt pretty much alone since his wife had died a couple of years before we arrived.
Stone deaf. We knew what was on one of the other TV stations, because of the huge volume on his set thundering through the adjoining wall. When his grand-daughter came to collect him , the dog howled until he returned; the old man couldn't see... this duo was ill-equipped to deal with what was to come.
...mice; all that sound & fury wasn't going to put off these guys.
Across the vast waters of Fray's* river they had come in their thousands to pick clean the lean pantry that was our Rosecrucian neighbour's storehouse.
Once the mice had found that there was little to feed on; I suppose the old boy had been living out of tins & his dozy old dog couldn't waddle them away (the mice were safe but starving), their attention turned to our easy-access vegetable rack, and the battle was joined.
Impressive in its simplicity, their plan was to pilfer the supplies & relieve themselves in our house, whilst consuming the stuff in his. Soon at night we were to hear the shifting shale of their mass scamperings under the floorboards.
They're unhygenic, leaving their droppings all over the place & urinating at will, & when their activity naturally increased as Winter set in, I decided to wait up for the little bastards.
Rewards come to the patient it is said, & so it happened one night, mid-February, there I stood in the shadows of the kitchen, slightly pissed, small cylindrical waste-paper bin poised on my right hand, & the backing cardboard from an A3 sketch pad in the other.
With one deft & dare I say, rather elegant inversion of the bin, I nabbed one cheeky miscreant, as it dashed across the kitchen floor, & I slid the cardboard underneath to secure the fellow, then strode off, purposefully, to the local playing field through the snow.
....some quietetude comes to you from the gentle creak of your steps in freshly settled snow, especially in the early hours, the sound cannot escape & no other noise permeates the perfect acoustic to inerrupt the half-remembered sensations of childhood. Especially when you've just captured a small furry animal that you intend to dump into a totally hostile environment, in this case, the concrete base of a demolished changing room.
Mousey looked at me & shivered, I looked back & offered the cardboard, onto which the mite meakly climbed, and stayed until I had found it some suitable alternative accommodation. Soft as shit...these characters are threatening to destroy my family with cholera & Christ knows what else, & here I am, with one of them at my mercy, striking up some drunken understanding with the damned thing in the dead of night & the depths of Winter.
When I chucked the next one into the river, I had to remark on how aerodynamic they are, & how well they can swim.
Returning from a particularly late gig, alone on the sofa in the front room; a comfortable & wonderfully un- cluttered place, glass of Fleurie in one hand, bag of chips in the other, I became aware of the presence. Like mounds of small shingle being swept about under the floor they scuttled in concert. As I mellowed it occured that leaving the bag of chips in the middle of the carpet might be a jape, so I lowered the lights & waited. Not for long. Three of the little beggars put in an appearance within about 5 minutes & shot into the open bag, filling it with squabbling & snaffling. What a hoot, in the half-light the bag agitated, crinckled & rolled round the floor, tails flailing as these lumps machined their way through the contents. Yes, still chuckling, I realised that they had worked their way into my affections. It was at this point that I vowed to kill them all.
One of us bought some rodent poison, a sort of impregnated barley, dyed blue as a warning, which we left about the house in small trays on their most regular routes; my part was to prevent any of this ending up in the James.
We never saw or heard the mice again. We cleared up the poison, & thought no more about it, that is until just a few days later.
Shopping with James was always an exercise in patience; I must say that I found it therapeutic. Being an artist & musician, I'd always been an impatient, solipsistic sod & I found this business of constantly giving over to someone else an unexpectedly refreshing, if knackering, experience.
So it was that hot & hungry, we returned from Tesco. I went straight into the kitchen, filled the Le Creuset with tagliatelle, & began to unload the bags. Perhaps I should explain that the 'fridge-freezer stood alongside the gas cooker & that the top of it was a mass of clutter; there was a world of stuff up there, all above head height. Placed one of the two bottles of wine, together with a plastic bottle of oil on it with safety, but when I put the second wine bottle up there...I found the only remaining tray of rat poison. Of course as the mice had been climbing up the back of the freezer to get at the crisps on top, my wife had put a tray up there & we'd forgotten it. Wine bottle no. 2 was too much, pushing the tray of blue pellets off at the back towards the cooker.
It was perfect, showering the lunch, the cooker & the back of the 'fridge. This was an ideal time to panic, so I siezed the moment; first thing...throw away the pasta, where? how? this stuff is lethal, suppose James gets hold of any. No, get James into the back garden, then throw the lunch, damn, I was looking forward to that. What about that poison behind the freezer?
This is where mastermind here decides to waste no time & move the 'fridge/freezer away from the wall...with all the bottles still in place. The 'fridge, because the floor was eneven, stood on a thin wooden plank wedged underneath at the front to stop it tilting forward & to keep the doors closed. In moving, it came off the plank. The first bottle of wine fell & broke in half on the edge of the hob, spilling wine & broken glass into the well of the gas cooker, the bottom half continuing to the ground, where it sat with sharp pointy bits facing upwards, waiting for the bottle of oil which obligingly landed, sideways, on top of it shortly after. Two litres of sunflower oil now mixed freely with the wine & shards on the floor, soon to be joined by 75cl of a not indifferent Sainsbury's claret. The soup was coming together nicely; the poison now floated merrily from behind the 'fridge, around the cooker hob, while my jaw froze in disbelief. Leaning forward, the 'fridge door gently swung open as a full pint of milk slid out & crashed to floor, followed by an open pot of cole slaw, which inverted it's contents into the moat with a little plop. In the brief silence, as I paused for breath, I heard my son in the back garden telling old Charlie on the other side of the fence, 'my daddy's shouting'.
* In the early Georgian period, A man called Fray cut a spur from the ancient river Colne; no-one knows how old that name is, it preceeds the Romans, to power water mills, long since gone...
Thursday, October 26, 2006
This is Barf.
Barf is a Turkey Vulture. He resides at the WILD WINGS raptor rescue center near Rochester, New York, along with eagles, hawks, owls, and one lone, declawed bobcat.
Barf was also a model in my Gesture Drawing for Animators class. This is more of a comparative anatomy course, and we've had human, greyhound, ferret, cat, and now avian models moving around the room as students draw them in action.
Our administrative assistant at the Film and Animation department suggested that I book Wild Wings since they visited schools, and our Chair okayed the funds (pretty reasonable) and so I and a couple of strong male students met our presenter Terry Kozakiewicz and one barn owl, one sparrowhawk, and Barf the turkey buzzard at the campus entrance and carried the birds' cases to the classroom.
I was worried that Barf would live up to his name. Turkey buzzards show that they are stressed by...barfing. A vulture defends itself with its lunch, which is in a condition that would repel most other buzzards let alone predators.
There was nothing to worry about. Barf was a perfect gentleman. He was actually a most endearing bird; he was curious about his surroundings, interested in the movement of the pencils and the sound of my camera's shutter, and showed off for the video camera by displaying his very handsome wings. There was no sign of a round trip meal ticket.
"He's enjoying himself", we were told. Barf was raised as a pet by someone who then probably saw him barf...and who simply released him into the wild. In this case the 'wild' was downtown Rochester, and Barf was apprehended while stealing french fries from outdoor tables at McDonald's. Thankfully no one shot the poor bird, who was unable to locate food that wasn't associated with people. He is so firmly imprinted on humans that he thought Ms. Kozakiewicz is his girlfriend.
He played with her and apparently has a lot of toys to amuse himself at home. Vultures are much maligned birds that perform a useful service. They are neat (for birds), and have very pretty feathers when seen close up. They also do not eat living animals.; they do not kill. The Cherokee apparently called them the 'peace eagle' for this reason.
A six foot wingspan is also very impressive. Despite his size and appearance (equivalent to a large turkey) Barf only weighs four pounds.
Melinda the barn owl was beautiful but dangerous. She was bred for a captive breeding program but showed no interest in other owls, or people, and prefers to remain alone. Maybe they should have named her Greta Garbo.
The third bird, Quiver the American Kestrel or Sparrowhawk, was a bit of a dirty birdie. I figured that the vulture would be best-behaved since I'd had visions of vulture lunch all over the classroom floor ever since booking the birds for the class.
The students' drawings were very good. They have to create their own 'creature' as a final project (all 'furries' and pre existing mythological beasts receive an automatic failing grade) and I suspect that a number of them may have wings. But then we also had a ferret, two greyhounds, and an Irish Setter modeling this term so there are lots to choose from.
It's going to be difficult to top this term but fortunately the Wild Wings birds are not averse to traveling in snowy weather, as Barf's picture proves.
Saturday, October 21, 2006
The desks, constructed of finest Ikea Ivar modular parts, resembled small horse boxes. Occupants were known to neigh when in high spirits.
John was more nay than neigh—he was a 25-year veteran of the Richard Williams studio who had just quit the Disney London studio and come over to our show because ‘the other studio was a mess’. Little did he know that he was about to get into a much bigger one!
The animators, all young and in need of a stress release, had developed a taste for cheap, easily assembled toys from the Kinder Egg candy line. John’s lead, animator Roy Meurin, had purchased forty pounds’ worth with animators Uli Meyer and Rob Stevenhagen. You could get a LOT of Kinder Eggs for forty pounds in 1988. They got sick on the candy, assembled the toys, and created a triumphal arch in their area using the plastic eggshells—and every spare pushpin in the studio. John had to walk beneath this cluster of yellow globes (the end of which I adorned with a rubber frog) every time he picked up an assignment. He let us all know that this was a singularly demeaning aspect of his job.
Then he noticed the small animating plastic skeleton on my desk. This toy hung from a small bar and would perform gyrations and flips when you pushed two buttons on the side of the base. I called it an illustration of the Chaos Theory. John called it something else – in a notable Scottish burr.
“I can’t understand why a supposedly-intelligent woman such as yourself has all this crrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrap on her desk.”
I’d made friends with another prank-and-toy-loving artist, Nina Haley, by that time. We agreed that if John was going to complain about the toys, it was only reasonable that he lament the condition of his OWN desk.
Since both of us arrived at work at the crack of dawn our plan was easy to implement. The next few months brought John a daily onslaught of “Find Mr. Smurf”. This most annoying articulated Kinder Egg toy could now be found on a daily basis hiding on his desk in a variety of interesting poses, whether committing suicide with its head in John’s pencil sharpener or hanging by the neck from the top of the desk-stall or (once) bouncing off John’s head. Animator Raul Garcia managed to make a ‘flasher’ Smurf by rotating the body and adding a tiny paper raincoat. This was the only addition John approved of.
At this time Nina and I decided to throw John a birthday party.
“You can’t. My birthday is in February.”
“You will have a birthday when we TELL you to have one, John.”
For the first time, he looked worried.
This operation required special assistance from Roy Meurin and the guys in the Kinder Egg crew. Three hundred toys (the spoils of the forty-pound splurge) and the arch of eggs including the rubber frog were relocated to John’s desk sometime around Halloween 1988.
We also ran a small and disreputable contest to find (a) the most wretchedly tacky card and (b) the most tasteless ‘birthday present’ for John. The gift competition, open to the entire studio, received a number of entries that were easy to come by in the tacky Acton stores. It was won by Cathy Kiss who somehow located a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Advent Calendar. I created a poorly designed card on a computer located in the off-license down the street featuring a rude inscription actually written by the computer. Other presents included elephant-diaper shaped marshmallows and some horrible stuffed toys.
Naturally the news of the prank spread throughout the studio. Our production manager took a look at the resulting mess. “I feel sorry for the poor bastard!” was his only reply. I am sorry to say we never photographed it.
John’s reaction was of stupefied silence, hilarious laughter at the Advent calendar, and extremely literate abuse chiding us for time wasted creating this ridiculous thing. But he did enjoy the attention.
Many other ‘birthday presents’ were left on John’s desk afterward on a near-weekly basis. All were British made and purchased locally by the usual suspects; the worst being a toilet paper roll insert that played God Save the Queen. John reacted with his usual acerbic appreciation.
I left Amblimation to work at Warner Brothers in New York City as a director in 1991. Shortly after I started there I received a long-distance phone call from John.
Here is the conversation in its entirety:
“It’s the GOOSE!”
“ The electric, ROTATING goose.”
“John, I….are you on something? What do you…”
“It’s ELECTRIC, it ROTATES, it plays MUSIC, and my children won’t let me turn it off!”
After some confusion it was discovered that Nina Haley had been saving all the American stamps from the letters I sent her, and pasting them on the ‘presents’ that she wrapped in brown paper and left on John’s desk, implying that they had been sent all the way from New York. This goose in fact originated in London. Nina owes me big time.
John never forgot that particular ‘present’.
Nina and I gifted John with a Californian ‘cup holder’ consisting of a headless female torso in 1999 when we visited London.
I last saw John in Paris in 2003, when I treated him and his family to lunch at Café Angelica on the Right Bank. He was his old acerbic self and we continued to correspond by email and phone until shortly before his passing.
A few of his lovely character designs grace my upcoming book. I was delighted to get them and John was, I hear, pleased to know that they would be published in something a bit more permanent than an e-message.
John McCartney was a man whose command of the English language (especially the invective) proved the inadequacy of an American education. I was pleased to have him as a friend and will miss him.
Tuesday, August 29, 2006
I got interested in her when I read this quote in a book of Quotes by Women:
"When you see what some girls marry, you realize how they must hate to work for a living."
It took me a while to remember who said that, but luckily the quote turned up in a cheap anthology and through the miracle of the Internet I was able to track down a great many of Ms. Rowland's books. I am sure she would delight to be called Ms. although it is apparent from her notes that she was married--and probably divorced--at least once in her life.
Here are some more gems:
"Once a fool, twice married."
"One advantage of a bull-dog over a baby is that you are not haunted by the fear that he will grow up to be just like his father."
"Choosing a husband is like picking out the combination on a lottery ticket; your first guess is apt to be as good as your last."
"Variety is the spice of love."
"Home is any four walls that enclose the right person."
"The saddest thing about married live is the opportunity it gives two otherwise agreeable people for telling one another the disagreeable truth."
These epigrams date from 1909.
Rowland died in 1950, but otherwise I have been unable to find out anything about her. She may have written for newspapers in New York but other references state the Middle West.
Ebay is auctioning a glass slide advertising her newspaper column and I hope that I win it. Then I might be able to trace something about this remarkable woman.
The best tour of the building is the evening 'special tour' which features a nice dinner on the Barton house porch and tours of the interior of the Martin compound. No two will be alike since the building is going so quickly; and a special Grand Opening is planned for November. I'd love to be there for it; it will feature period autos and an official dedication. The original Carriage House was designed for three automobiles and two horses.
My second trip enabled me to take a special nighttime tour of an early Wright masterpiece, the Darwin-Martin compound.
Darwin Martin was an executive at the Larkin Soap corporation, and strange as this may seem to this century's ears, he made a considerable fortune selling soap mail-order. The concept of the coupon, the premium, and the 'sampler' were all invented by Martin's brilliant colleague Elbert Hubbard. When Hubbard quit Larkin to create the Roycroft, his friend Darwin Martin inherited his job and as mentioned before, made a killing in soap.
Wright was recommended to Martin and they tried him out first by having him design the Barton House for Martin's sister and brother in law. Before it was done Wright was building a mansion, a carriage house, a pergola, a gardener's house, and a conservatory for Darwin Martin. The whole compound connected to the Barton House via the pergola but words don't do it justice. The place was a true palace, built for a merchant prince, and it looked it.
Now I've never been a fan of Wright's Guggenheim Museum design. It's impractical, doesn't allow the art to be seen, doesn't allow most of it to be displayed, and is difficult to walk around. But his Prairie Style houses are divine.
Darwin Martin lost his fortune in the Depression and his widow abandoned the place just like that during the Depression. It was purchased by another architecht in the 1950s which probably saved most of it, but many of the buildings came down.
The Martin House is being restored in a unique fashion; since the Pergola and carriage house and other buildings are now being reconstructed from Wright's original plans. And they have gone a long way in a short period of time.
The Carriage House and Pergola are already rebuilt though the interiors are being worked on. After the structures are up, the next stage in the restoration is the interior of the old house. New foundations were put in in 2003.
Wright was asked to give the house 'a basement'. He created a ballroom with an amazing sunburst fireplace that originally had bronze dust in the grout to make the 'sun' flicker as the fire burned. I put my hand on this fireplace (not restored yet.)
The details in the house are also terrific--Wright built special birdhouses for 'marten's as a pun on his client's name. These were moved in the Fifties when the back buildings were demolished and at present they stand in front of the house--but not for long. Soon they will be put back where they belong.
The irony is that no martens or bird of any kind appear to have lived in the houses, which would be too warm for them. But what a design!
Saturday, August 19, 2006
It got hairy here for a few days in a very literal sense; Gizmo developed mysterious bare patches on her head and feline acne on her chin. A few days later, Gizzy's health records are much improved; she's lost a pound, her fur is like velvet, her heartbeat is normal, and the mysterious patches are responding to topical medication. I wish I could say the same for myself but now that I'm able to keep a more regular schedule I'm cooking more.
And my neighbour has promised to take me to Buffalo on Monday to show me that the city is in fact vibrant and alive, not the sad shell I saw when travelling from the central area to East Aurora where Roycroft is. And I hope to also get to Roycroft before summer ends.
Monday, August 14, 2006
Sunday, August 13, 2006
Gizmo has been her usual sweet self while I worked up to fifteen hours a day at this computer. Focal Press loved the presentation (the other authors at that firm may be upset that I got it in eight weeks early, but them's the breaks.) A DVD insert has been nixed for this edition but I took the precaution of asking three RIT students whose work appears in the book whether I might also use their Leica reels, animatics, and previz with scratch track for a later edition. All three kindly agreed and so I have the paperwork and the film for the eventual update.
It's very hard to write about story reel and editing to scratch track and animatics and previz without showing it, so these chapters are necessarily a bit short. I have instead directed readers to specific DVDS that contain excellent examples, notably SHREK and THE INCREDIBLES.
Anyway, the publisher explained that new editions must legally have 25% new material in them; so the disc would be a good example of 'new' and chapter 19 will be expanded.
I just wish that something had been worked out earlier, but the deal for this book was: no DVD enclosure. They are already confident that there will be a second edition.
Tony White's ANIMATION FROM PENCILS TO PIXELS arrived last week and now I finally have time to read it. It's from the same publisher and I mentioned that it's one of the few books I've seen that had the artwork printed at a workable size. Focal is actually hiring the same design firm and production manager (yes, they have them in publishing too) so they obviously want to give me a first class sendoff.. This is very nice to know.
Of course I can lie awake at night wondering if I covered everything I needed to cover but I'm told that it is normal for authors to fuss and worry, and the book is really 'done' at least til I see some proofs. Sample pages should be forthcoming shortly and we're on track for the January publication date.
Speaking of Tony White, he is setting up a nonprofit called the Animaticus Institute which will help further the art of hand drawn animation. He plans a '2D or Not 2D' film festival that sounds really nice--I'll be announcing it in the blog and will also notify the RIT seniors of last year and those who are still in the college.
The Animaticus Institute is just a placeholder website now but things should be getting interesting now that Tony is at his new job at the Digipen Institute in Seattle.
In an unrelated incident I got Gizmo a nice new kitty palace for her unbirthday. Actually she was probably born around this time in 2001 since it's what is called 'kitten season' now--I had no idea there was such a thing but knowledgeable people say that this is so. Anyway, I got her a new perch since she was not happy that I gave away the second office chair that formely served in this capacity. Think of it as payment for her excellent editorial services on the book project. She had a very important job: keeping my head from exploding and reminding me that it was important to get up and play with mice every two hours. She also gets a thankyou in the book even if that sounds a little twee. I figured, hell, she worked on this nearly as hard as I did AND modeled for the cover.
Here she is enjoying her present.
Tuesday, August 08, 2006
Wednesday, August 02, 2006
I always wanted to be a political cartoonist. Unfortunately politics during my lifetime got so foul, I'd be sicker of it than I am already if I had to face it every day.
Of course we ALL have to face the consequences of other people's actions every day, whether elected by us or not.
Ed Murrow was one of my heroes. Still is. He'd have a lot to say on the state of reporting nowadays, much of it unprintable.
Which was a great excuse to stay indoors and work on some illustrations for the other book I got to work on this summer.
Gizmo is taking the heat rather well, but I made sure to have a second water dish for her in the studio, and encouraged her not to play Mouse Chase so violently in the hallway. She's wearing a fur coat, for goodness' sake.
Dean Yeagle put me wise to a couple of hot books by Miguel Covarrubias on Bud Plant's art book website. Now, Plant's is the sort of site I avoid like the plague...since I can see a week's salary disappearing in one book order. The "Oooh! OOhh!" factor is too great. (that's the sound a collector makes when something amazing shows up. Of course if you are an experienced one you restrict the 'takes' to a raised eyebrow. I managed to do this when finding a Felix the Cat original by Otto Messmer in a New York junk store. An "Ooh! Ooh" there would have doubled the ten dollar price.)
Anyway, if you love good caricature and painting, the two Covarrubias books will set you back a hundred and fifty smackers but they are well worth it to me.
And if you linger longer at Plant's, there's lots more where that came from. Caveat emptor. (If I knew more Latin I'd say 'let your WALLET beware.")
And Dean's on the 'pulldown list' of favorite artists. How neat is that?
There are so many animation books coming out this year it's amazing. Some are written by old friends, so they will be well informed (for a change. There are more BAD animation books than you can shake a stick at.)
Tony White's ANIMATION FROM PENCILS TO PIXELS is currently available at Amazon.com. I've just gotten my copy and haven't had a chance to read it yet, but it's a real heavyweight at six hundred pages. A cd of Tony's new picture, ENDANGERED SPECIES, is enclosed. First editions have the work picture; later editions will have the final print. Get that first edition now and see how the film is made! Tony takes you through the production of the film and each chapter discusses another aspect of the actual film, so this is an important book for that reason alone. I'll review it here later.
Tom Sito (currently directing a film in Taiwan) has DRAWING THE LINE, a history of the animation union, coming out from Tennessee University Press in October. This book can also be preordered on amazon.com
I'm quoted in it on the '82 strike, but this book is most valuable for FINALLY telling the story of the 1941 Disney strike. Some of the pictures Tom got from the families of participants (notably Chuck Jones' daughter Linda) are amazing. The cover is a caricature by our brilliant French caricaturist/designer friend Patric Mate, with an accent that I don't know how to format here...
Maureen Furniss has a book on independent film production IN production. I'm reading a few chapters pre-publication to see how they scan. Mark Mayerson and Brian McEntee did the same for my opus, which arrived at the publishers' yesterday.
Maureen's book is coming out later in 2007.
So here's the chronology:
Tony White's ANIMATION FROM PENCILS TO PIXELS: Currently available
Tom Sito's DRAWING THE LINE October, 2006
Nancy Beiman's PREPARE TO BOARD! January, 2007
Maureen Furniss' new book: Fall 2007.
Looks like a lot of reading ahead.
Sunday, July 30, 2006
Baluku is a handsome young chimpanzee who loves to play.
He lives on Ngamba Island Chimpanzee Sanctuary on Lake Victoria in Uganda. Baluku is an orphan; his entire family may have been killed for bushmeat or so that a rich foreigner could obtain an exotic pet. But he is not alone. There are 99 other chimps currently with him, all taken from traders, circuses, and even an army unit that used one as a mascot. Only one baby was born there: the aptly named "Surprise". (The chimps are on birth control since space ag Ngamba is limited, but the mama pulled the implant out of her arm.)
Ngamba Island gives these orphaned chimps a safe place to live. They have formed their own natural community and live semi-wild lives, but they cannot be returned to the actual wild since territorial chimps would kill them on sight.
How did I make Baluku's acquaintance? It was naturally second-hand but thereby hangs a tale.
My upstairs neighbour, Monique, is a primatologist who has recently returned from a three week long trip to Uganda. Her husband Eric, a trial lawyer, came along. Who wouldn't?
They got to see the wild mountain gorillas in Uganda but sadly, very few of them are left and this species will almost certainly go extinct within the next few years.
Monique and Eric visited Ngamba and did the 'jungle walk' with the chimps. (" Ngamba Island: A unique experience: Take a forest walk with chimpanzees early in the morning where you will join a group of young chimpanzees in their habitat. Observe their morning or afternoon feeding and bedtime routines. Optionally, you may prefer to go to a local fishing village. Come back to Entebbe for overnight."--BROCHURE.)
Lake Victoria was beautiful and the people, though poor in material possessions, seem to have a nice living fishing and living on the water.
Their guide was one of the resident managers of Ngamba, a man whom I and they know only as Stany.
Monique came back with some amusing Ngamba souvenirs including a very funny T shirt that read "98.7% Chimp." This was a shirt I simply had to have. Monique suggested that it could be a birthday present and tried looking online and contacting primatologist friends to see if these shirts could be shipped to the USA.
Lo and behold, they were available in America, and the man who had them was....in Rochester. Of all places. He suggested that Monique and Eric and I come to a fundraising dinner for the Ngamba sanctuary that was being held in nearby, well-heeled Pittsford. This was a private party in a new city park but the man assured Monique that she and Eric would be admitted. I would be too, if I paid the admissions fee. I not only did that, but got my 98.7% Chimp T Shirt and some lovely pictures of the chimps on postcards. So that is how I met Baluku.
"And we would never have heard of this if you had not kept insisting you wanted that shirt!" Monique told me.
Here's where things get really weird: The main speaker at the event was none other than....Stany.
Now, the long arm of coincidence is really twisting when you meet someone in your hometown who you last saw in the Ugandan bush. But it got better.
Stany's trip to America was funded by...the Walt Disney Company. He is now in Florida spending a few weeks at their safari park. It is his first trip to America. He said it was hotter here than in Uganda!
You had to see the look on Stany's face when Monique and Eric went to speak to him at the function and he recognized them. Stany's English is good and he speaks four other African languages. Luganda was the only name I remembered.
Remarkably enough several other people in the party had also been to Uganda and one or two had even visited Ngamba. One woman reportedly did nothing but travel to 'look at apes'; she saved up and then went to Africa or Asia or wherever.
The Ngamba sanctuary was partially underwritten by the Jane Goodall foundation but since there are so many ape-related extinction fires to put out and Ngamba is bringing in a lot of ecotourists to Uganda, they are about to go solo so that Goodall and some of the other preservation organizations may spend funds where they are desperately needed. They even had to build a new office in Kampala so that they did not share quarters with Goodall's foundation.
We saw a short video about the Island and Stany bravely spoke in English for an hour. The worst news was that the trade in bushmeat was increasing. Two tons of 'bushmeat' (antelope but also ape) was confiscated in Dubai, and US officials have found coolers full of dead endangered animals in New York, Los Angeles, and Miami. Stany said that Europeans were also demanding this food.
Eating a chimp is like eating your auntie. The Ugandans, Stany said, feel the same way, and there is no real bushmeat trade in that country. But the export market drives the hunters. As a result we will almost certainly lose the mountain gorillas within a few years' time. There are only 380 of these gentle, inoffensive animals left in the wild.
I wish that another ape species could learn to control their...OUR depraved appetites.
Thursday, July 27, 2006
All I need is one more permissions slip and it's off to the printers we go.
There were some typos to correct; all Disney films have to have their titles spelled out in their entirety, (SNOW WHITE AND THE SEVEN DWARFS instead of just SNOW WHITE--this was a reasonable request from Disney, and when proofing the book I found a few mistakes at the very last minute. Fortunately computer editing makes them easy to remove and correct.)
I was working on the dining room table. It has always provided the best workspace for me since the animation desk really can't handle two large binders simultaneously.
The windows were open. This is one of the few parts of the USA not baking in triple digit temperatures. Some discarded pages were blown onto the floor. I then heard a familiar fluttering paper sound that didn't come from the wind.
Gizmo the cat was standing on two pieces of paper and lifting and lowering the top one with her paw. Repeatedly.
So this is no ordinary cat.
This is a cat who chews on animation pencils, is fascinated by the desk, pats the animation disc with her paw, and now flips 'drawings'. She's obviously the reincarnation of a female animator. And it is clear that she has been misnamed. What should I call her? Mary Blair? Retta Scott? Lillian Astor? LaVerne Harding? Casey Kissane? Faith Hubley? Lotte Reiniger?
I'll stick with Gizmo for now but I'm open to suggestions for a name change.
My illustration job continues and I'm pleased with the color work. The client is too, which is always a nice coincidence.
I went with a friend to the Margaret Woodbury Strong Museum of Play, which has just added a butterfly conservatory to its acres of kid-friendly stuff. It made me long to be three feet high again.
The conservatory only allows you in for a twenty minute walkabout with the butterflies. Most of the loveliest ones had 'common' in their names. I hope that this is true since so many are going extinct.
Then it was back to the house and the crazy cat.
Saturday, July 22, 2006
We came in at Number Two. That sounds about right.
2. "Animator: While basic animation has been around for a century, in recent years the medium has virtually exploded, and employment opportunities abound. Modern-day animators don't just work with stop-motion clay animation (A Claymation Christmas, Wallace & Gromit), but also with photographs of drawn or painted images (The Lion King) and computer-generated images (Finding Nemo). In fact, computer-generated imagery (CGI) animation is fast becoming one of the hottest fields in the industry.
The award-winning animators at Pixar (The Incredibles) have raised the profile of animation, and they've also pioneered 3-D computer graphics technology. With the public's insatiable appetite for animated sitcoms (The Simpsons) and films (A Bug's Life), the growth and glamour potential of this career promise to keep skyrocketing. At the moment, there are only about 94,000 multimedia artists and animators in the country--and demand for industry professionals is on the rise, expected to increase by 40 percent in the next decade. Oh, and did we mention that a good animator can earn a salary in the six-figure range?"
And did we mention that a great many animation jobs are going to Asia because studios don't want to pay artists six-figure salaries?
I never knew that I worked with 'photographs of drawn or painted images'. I just drew 'em.
Thursday, July 20, 2006
[Sung by Little Nemo.]
"Won't You Be My Valentine" (1908)
Words by Harry B. Smith, 1860-1936
Music Victor August Herbert, 1859-1924
Just before the sun of Springtime,
Drives old Winter's snow away,
Comes the wedding bell and ringtime,
Time when lovers' hearts are gay.
It is then you send your greeting,
Pictured verse that says, "Be mine."
On the day of lovers' meeting,
Day of good Saint Valentine.
Won't you be my Valentine,
Sweet heart mine,
If you look for love sincere,
I am here,
Darling take me,
Don't forsake me.
Be my Valentine.
I am lonely,
Want you only,
Be my Valentine.
'Tis my fondest recollection,
That bright day so long gone by,
When with boy and girl affection,
We were schoolmates, you and I.
But my love was all unspoken,
I was bashful, did not dare,
Till I sent you Cupid's token,
With its verse and pictures fair.
(CHORUS 2 times)
He was a phenomenal draftsman and a memorable showman. GERTIE THE DINOSAUR was the first animated character with a personality.
She was also part of the first interactive entertainment show: doing (or not doing) tricks as McCay gave orders and cracked a whip. The spectacular finale had McCay riding out of the theatre on Gertie's back.
A drawing from GERTIE THE DINOSAUR with cartoon drawing of McCay entering the shot is being auctioned on ebay at this time for about three thousand dollars. It is worth it, and if I had the money, I'd buy it.
But Gertie wasn't McCay's main claim to fame. He was also the author of a fantastic comic strip, LITTLE NEMO IN SLUMBERLAND.
John Canemaker, the author of the splendid McCay biography, told me that McCay literally drew his dreams. He worked in a stream-of-conscious fashion, laying out his speech balloons before lettering them (a serious error in modern cartoons.) He also would letter the words "Hem" and "Um" as characters looked for something to say.
I won't go into the story of LITTLE NEMO here since you can find out much more about the man at sites like this, and I want to get to the point of the article.
Winsor McCay was also the first cartoonist to ever have his creations staged in a show on Broadway.
LITTLE NEMO IN SLUMBERLAND was produced in 1907 by the vaudeville producers Klaw and Erlanger. It was a popular show that played for three years before closing because of the unweildy sets. The show featured a cast of hundreds, many exotic locations, and had too much scenery to tour with.
It had something else: a score by Victor Herbert.
That is to say, it had a score by the first successful Broadway musical composer. Even a hundred years later we are familiar with Herbert's MARCH OF THE WOODEN SOLDIERS. I always thought he was Viennese but he was pure American Irish.
And some nice people in Michigan were recording all of his work.
And yes, their recording schedule included LITTLE NEMO IN SLUMBERLAND. This music was being performed for the first time in over ninety years.
So I purchased a double CD of the recording and tried it out yesterday.
A musical of 1907 is not the musical of today, but the plot of NEMO may be charitably described as incoherent. It's just as riddled with dreams and non sequiturs as the original comic--and if you are not familiar with the comic (as the organizer of the Comic Opera Guild proved to be) it's hard to see what all the fuss was about.
This is the sort of show that needs sets and probably they were pretty spectacular. NEMO cost three times as much as a typical show of the period.
The music is pleasant. One or two numbers might have been hits. ("Won't You Be My Playmate" and "The Valentine Song" stick in the ear long after the record is over.) And some of the comic interpolations by Doctor Pill are still amusing.
There are topical references and a strange fascination with money. The Princess constantly tells her friends she has lots; songs frequently refer to money, women on shopping sprees, and how you have the right to shoot on sight if anyone makes a loud noise in Slumberland. There are several martial tunes in the jingoistic spirit of the time and even a song about the Old Continentals sung by none other than Lady Liberty (not the statue, but the allegorical figure.) The scenes shift from Nemo's palace to the Cannibal Isles to a pirate ship to Morpheus' court and then to the land of the Weather. One of the more amusing songs occurs here, sounding very like something from the Gershwin's STRIKE UP THE BAND. Dr. Pill's patter songs are heavily influenced by Gilbert and Sullivan but they are good in their own right.
The showstopper must have been the Central Park scene, done entirely with music. Actors enter the set, their numbers growing as the music builds--nursemaids, policemen, strolling beaux, and one small child who brings the whole thing crashing down by picking a flower and getting arrested by the cop. It is impressive enough on two pianos; it must have been devastating with a full theatre orchestra.
The performances on the disc are often more enthusiastic than anything else though one woman has a sweet soprano voice and a few other singers acquit themselves well. I wish they'd miked the show a little better since some players are off mike for nearly the whole show.
Two pianos handle the score. I could but wish that they'd gotten a full orchestra to perform WON'T YOU BE MY PLAYMATE.
The records may be purchased here.
Could NEMO be staged today? What did I make of it, finally?
It's the first of the 'children's spectacular' shows. One pirate character even complains that he can't swear because 'this is a kiddie dream and I am a kids' pirate."
Like the comic strip it was based on, it was glittering eye candy with a very confusing message--a literal message from the land of dreams.
Winsor McCay ended his career drawing pointless editorial cartoons for the Hearst papers. He was too shy and frightened to cut off from his big boss and go out on his own (he may have been right, since animation changed rapidly during the Twenties and McCay's gentle fantasies were increasingly out of date.)
We are left with a few wonderful animated films and the gorgeous Nemo comics.
And thanks to the Comic Opera Guild's Victor Herbert festival, it is possible to hear a pale reflection of the magnificent show that NEMO must have made on Broadway 99 years ago.
If anyone ever researches the extinct American culture in the millennia to come, it's difficult to know what they'd make of this. Actually, there's no need to wait that long; quite a bit of the country already appears to be in ruins.
For many years I collected postcards as cheap and portable souvenirs of my travels. I may post a few amusing foreign ones if I feel like it, but right now I'll concentrate on two horrors I found in my grandmother's button box this morning.
I used to send horrid things like this to friends in England and California. The joke was to send the ugliest and most pointless postcard. The Californian was able to come up with stuff that was just about as bad as this; my English friend invariably sent a postcard of HRH Queen Elizabeth II.
I didn't comment on his choice of subject matter.
These two never got mailed out for some reason or other. Both are at least ten years old. The abomination at the top is, or hopefully was, on the campus of the State Univeristy College at Fredonia, New York. The text on the reverse of the card reads," "The elevated walkway on the Fredonia campus stretches out toward Reed Library, one of the most modern collegiate library facilities in the nation. The flowing and classic design of the Academic Center of the college attracts many vistors each year."
Now, I've been to the college website, and there are pictures of the campus, and it looks a good deal more inviting than this horrible photograph. The wonder is that anyone ever found this style of architecture desirable. It might have been mitigated by the judicious application of plants; but there's not a sign of them. The 'walkway' looks about as inviting as a factory loading dock, only without the local color.
The 1970s were indeed the Decade that Taste Forgot: and the architecture of the time was probably the worst feature of a very ugly decade.
RIT was, my Chair joked, designed in 'American Brutalism" style, with tons of brick buildings and not much else when the campus opened in 1967. Say what you will, brick is more inviting than concrete, and I can only be thankful that the architecht(whom I curse daily for minimizing elevators and climbable stairs and including Arizona-style BREEZEWAYS in buildings that regularly suffer high winds and the deep snows of an upstate winter) did not choose to use poured concrete instead of the bricks. That's his one saving grace.
RIT has very pleasant squares and landscaped grounds around the brick buildings that were added over the years which soften the 'factory' look considerably. I'm also glad that our building has flags on the front so people can identify where it is.
Anyway, the second photo was picked up at a truck stop near Sacramento. I really did stop here, and it is really as ugly as you see here.
Actually I thought most of California must have been lovely at one time, but people had been working overtime to correct that condition.