Total Pageviews

Monday, November 19, 2007

Academy Screeners

I've just returned from a short trip to New York City to see Academy Award short animated film screenings. Ten of the 36 films shown will be screened again in January to determine the nominees for this year's short animation Oscar.
Greg Ford was kind enough to offer overnight accomodation in his studio's extra room. It's not the first time I have slept overnight in an animation studio, though this time I did not have to sleep under the desk.

I arrived on Friday afternoon in time to take in the terrific Ronald Searle exhibit at the Forbes Gallery (thanks, Amid Amidi, for the heads-up)--the show is there til March. The exhibit is in two hallways and also in rooms that once housed the Forbes' collection of 13 Faberge eggs., which have been returned to Russia. Turns out the millionaire who bought them bought EVERYTHING--all the Faberge tchotchkes, not just the eggs. I'm glad I saw them when I could.

The Searle exhibit has original drawings, ceramics, books, and even some movie footage, though no mention is made of DICK DEADEYE, the one feature film to be based on Searle's style.
Ronald Searle has influenced animators since his first book was published; Chuck Jones cartoons, Bill Peet's designs for 101 DALMATIANS, and most British animation would look very different without him.

Do not miss this show if you are in New York. The museum is open during business hours and is absolutely free.
It is amazing to see just how different the original Searle drawingss look from the often poorly printed early books. And the rest of the Forbes gallery is also delightful.

Now to the Academy screeners:

I thought this would be a good year for short films and was frankly disappointed. There were a number of loud, overproduced films with poor concepts or stories. For a wonder not all of the overproduced ones were CGI; there were some really weak stop motion film as well.

Some of the films had no excuse for being there. They were poorly made. Even a sophomore in college could do better (and yes, I can prove this.) I suppose they managed to get a two day screening in Los Angeles. One horror was so very bad I saw people nearly flying out of the room seconds after it started. Surprise. This thing is going to be 'adapted' into a feature. Why do people waste money on things like this when they could back competent artists who need money to complete films (Youri Nourstein comes to mind?)

I was shocked NOT to see many excellent films that obviously did not get the L.A. screening. Where was MY HAPPY END, the outstanding paper-cutout-and-hand drawn film from Hamburg? Or A DOG'S LIFE?

I've already started talking with someone about possibly hiring a theatre to show a Student Film Showcase in L.A. during the season. Good independent and student films could be shown there for the qualifying period--longer, if people were interested in seeing it--and the theatre rental expense split between several institutions. It would materially improve the quality of the submissions.

Now I might as well mention the good stuff. Yes, there were some good films there.

The most outstanding entry, IMHO, was JEU by Georges Schwizgebel. This was an amazing abstract piece scored impeccably and wittily to Prokofiev's music. It's so rare to see actual wit in an abstract film--Schwizgebel offers commentary on the music rather than just illustrating it literally or moving stuff around on the screen. The hand painted look was very interesting as well, though obviously used with computer graphics program. Four stars for this one.

THE CHESTNUT TREE looked even better compared to most of the 'professional' entries since it was subtle, well timed and acted, and simple. Four stars again.

Three stars:
MADAME TUTLI-PUTLI was lovely to look at and a little light on story.
HOW TO HOOK UP YOUR HOME THEATRE from Disney was a welcome return to the full animated, hand drawn days of short film production. It's not that it was something new--it was just nice to see something old there.
MY LOVE from Alexander Petrov had his usual incredible technique but was a little hard to follow if you haven't read the story it was based on.
I was delighted with I MET THE WALRUS, a witty, well timed and directed animated tribute to John Lennon (who provides the soundtrack.)
Bill Plympton's SHUTEYE HOTEL was 'arrestingly' designed, and well timed.
A real surprise was MEME LES PIGEONS VONT AU PARADIS, an hilarious French film about a priest who tries to scare an old man into repenting his sins with the aid of a 'heaven machine'. It's witty, well timed, and has an unusual story.

Two stars: Disappointments, although well made: THE PEARCE SISTERS from Aardman, which was unattractive to look at and had an obvious story, though it was extremely well directed and animated; PETER AND THE WOLF, an overproduced stop motion version of the Prokofiev piece that featured an excellent duck, but poor use of the music, weak story 'adaptation'--(what's with that beginning and ending, anyhow?) and overly-realistic character design; and PRINTED RAINBOW, which would have been great had it been shortened by approximately 50% of its running time.

Weak films outnumbered the good-to-fair ones by a factor of three. I won't write about the ones I would call 'pretentious crap'. There were a fair few of these.
We are only allowed to rate films from 5 to 10 if they have gotten this far in the screening process. I think some of the others must have given 1's or 0's to at least one of the screeners.

There was a notable 'thanatopsical' bent to many films. So many seemed to feature views of mortality and dissolution that Greg Ford confided during a break that "There's a real pattern here...I can hardly wait to die."

It's just the Zeitgeist, I replied.

Note to Academy: Please reinstate the system where we can raise our hands to have the film stopped. Ten hands used to mean that we didn't have to sit through interminable films. For some reason, we had to sit through them all. This is a bit much, even with the nice lunch provided.

Monday, November 12, 2007

The Singapore Schedule

Well, here it is...
I'm a 'legend in my own lunchtime'. Here's the schedule for my talk and masterclass for those of you who are in Singapore in a week's time!

Saturday, November 10, 2007

LaVerne Harding

Here is a link to Asifa's short biography of LaVerne Harding.

She started at the Walter Lantz studio in 1934, one year after Lillian Friedman started animating at Fleischer's. Harding died in 1984 and received an Annie award for her work in 1980, so she wasn't completely unrecognized in her lifetime.

Selby Kelly's story that Harding was promoted to animator on the spot during a strike at Lantz's is impossible to substantiate.

Lantz is quoted on the site, saying "They thought that women could only draw birds and flowers. They were wrong, of course."

Harding apparently redesigned Woody Woodpecker in 1950, and it is her model sheets that are used for later cartoons.


Friday, November 09, 2007

Girls Rule at Film Fest

2D OR NOT 2D festival 2007

This year’s theme of the 2D or not 2D festival was GIRLS NIGHT IN: WOMEN IN ANIMATION. It was appropriate that many of the top festival awards were won by female animators this year.

I was one of the opening night speakers along with Microsoft producer Kathie Flood and Pixar animator Kureha Yokoo. My presentation consisted of character design and storyboard sketches I drew when at Disney’s that had never been publicly shown, together with some clips from HERCULES and TREASURE PLANET. I had particular fun describing why some designs were not used, including a rare ‘censored’ scene I did in one film.

In my opening remarks I made sure to mention those who had gone before us: Lillian Friedman Astor, Retta Scott, LaVerne Harding, Selby Kelly, and Tissa David—you would know them better by their performances as Betty Boop, Bambi’s hunting dogs, Woody Woodpecker, Pogo Possum, and Raggedy Ann. Tissa David is still with us and still working. The others never received recognition in their lifetimes, and frequently did not receive credit (Harding being an exception to the rule—she was often credited as Verne Harding to make her sound more masculine, but she was always credited. Thank you, Walter Lantz!)

The difference between the hand drawn and computer animation presentation was interesting to note: a computer animator has the scene’s acting blocked and timed by the layout artist before they receive the shot. The performance is still theirs, but the staging is pretty set—there’s no tweaking, as frequently occurs in hand drawn films.

Ms. Yokoo’s shots from RATATOUILLE showed her to be an excellent actress. She also showed a hilarious and telling juxtaposition of two photos: the “Nine Old Men” of Disney and the “Nine Young Ladies” of Pixar’s animation staff. There are 92 animators at Pixar, but it’s a start.

Ms. Flood ran some interesting X box footage from Microsoft games that she produced. The scenery in the racing games featured actual cityscapes (Race you to St. Petersburg, Russia, anyone?) and was extremely realistic. Ms. Flood took many questions from the audience.

This year’s entries were from a wider range of animation schools than the first year’s show; Tony White thought that it might be a good idea to emphasize the student films more than ‘professional’ ones in future shows. Two schools, Tony’s own Digipen Institute of Technology in Redmond, Washington and the Van Arts college in Vancouver, B. C., gave presentations to local students the day before the festival opened. The two schools also were co-sponsors of the program.

The opening night films were all by female animators. Most were student films produced in a wide variety of media. THE CHESTNUT TREE by Hyun-Min Lee (Cal Arts) was the outstanding film of the evening, and of the festival. Producers Bert Klein and Don Hahn were present on the following evening, along with the filmmaker. THE CHESTNUT TREE, a lyrical tribute to the spirit of a girl’s deceased mother, has won many awards and will be a strong contender for this year’s Oscar. Since it was a student film that was finished professionally, it is not competing in the Student category.

Other opening night films that I enjoyed were ART’S DESIRE from NYU’s Sarah Wickliffe, an amusing story about the Guernica painting’s subjects attempting to get into a less violent painting; GEIRALD THE 5 LEGGED SPIDER by Sheridan College’s Sam(antha) Rusztyn, a cautionary tale about love in the world of arachnids; and Tristyn Pease’s INVADERS FROM INNER SPACE from RIT, featuring space tourists that ruin an alien’s life.

Kathy Rose’s THE INN OF FLOATING IMAGERY was intended to be part of a performance piece; I wish Kathy had been there to act along with the film.

A screening of THE SNOWMAN, directed by the late Dianne Jackson, was the ‘late night surprise’ after the screenings and presentations. Jackson was a brilliant talent who left us much too soon. THE SNOWMAN is a classic film that beautifully captures the style of cartoonist Raymond Briggs.

Saturday morning’s surprise film was lost somewhere in the mail, so they re-ran the previous year’s winners, including many films from RIT students who are all are currently working in animation. The lovely THE MAN WHO WALKED BETWEEN THE TOWERS was also screened; much of the animation for this Michael Sporn production was done by Tissa David, affording her a virtual presence at the ‘women’s festival.’

The second round of competition films had a lot of films about dogs and aliens, though not together. I enjoyed MY HAPPY END from Milen Vitanov (Hamburg Film School) a stunning, imaginative, and very funny combination of hand drawn and cutout animation about very unusual dog/dogs. A DOG’S LIFE from Adam Comiskey was a hilarious depiction of a dog’s daily routine after his foolish master leaves the house for work. I particularly liked THE LIBRARIAN FROM THE BLACK LAGOON by Galen Fott, which is based on a successful children’s book, and ALIEN FOR CHRISTMAS by Dave Pryor, which featured a catchy song that I still can’t get out of my head.

Presentations by Michel Gagne, Tony White, and Don Hahn followed the screenings. Gagne has a wide range of talents; his latest project is a series of short films that update Len Lye and Oskar Fischinger’s ‘visual music’, called SENSOLOGY. He had a fine range of his books and sculptures of ‘twisted rabbits’ on display in the theatre’s foyer.

Tony White’s presentation included the premiere of the excellent FIRE GODS animated documentary, produced with the aid of student animators at the Digipen Institute of Technology. The film is a combination of hand drawn, computer, and Flash animation and tells the story of the invention and production of glass from Roman times to the present day. Tony is now head of the animation department at Digipen and the school should have some fine films in the next year’s show.

Don Hahn gave a very enjoyable talk about creativity and development of stories. The visuals included some preproduction art from classic Disney films that had not been seen for sixty years. He was one of the producers of THE CHESTNUT TREE, which closed his presentation. Hahn was awarded the second Roy E. Disney Award for his outstanding work as a producer and assistant director at the Walt Disney Studio.

Here is a list of the films that won Merit Awards and “Golden Pencils” this year: (I list the colleges when I know them—many of the top films were, as I mentioned earlier, made by students.)

Merit awards certificates were awarded to:

“Fish” by HyunJeen Lee. (Student film, SVA)
“Alien for Christmas” by Dave Pryor.
“The Chestnut Tree” by Hyun-min Lee. (Student film, Cal Arts)
“The Librarian from the Black Lagoon” by Galen Fott.
“Geirald The 5 Legged Spider” by Sam Rusztyn. (Student Film, Sheridan College)
“2” by Kim Anderson.
“The Intruder” by Alessandro Ceglia.
“Lost Utopia” by Mirai Mizue.
“My Happy End” by Milen Vitano. (Student Film, Hamburg Film School)
“For the Love of God” by Joe Tucker.
“The Space Burger” by Sookyoung Choi. (Student Film, SVA)
“I Am PillowCat” by Elaine Lee. (Student Film, RISD)
“t.o.m.” by Tom Brown.
“Bai Ri Meng (Daydream)” by Jennifer Tippins. (Student film, NYU)
“The Tree With The Lights In It” by Jason Harrington.
“Movement and Stillness” by Yi-Hsuan Kent Chiu.
“everything will be ok” by Don Hertzfeldt.

The “Golden Pencils” were awarded to:

2D Animation/Best Film: “Lost Utopia.” By Miral Mizue (this was a really stunning After Effects production, with over 1500 drawings manipulated into a series of interlocking patterns)
2D Animation/Best Animation in a Film: “The Chestnut Tree.”
Student Film/ Best Film: “Geirald the 5-Legged Spider.”
Student Film/ Best Animation in a Film: “I am Pillow Cat” by Elaine Lee (hand drawn pillow has a fight with dustbunnies)
Digital Media/Best Film: “Fish.” By HyunJean Lee (a boy has a CGI animated fish for a roommate in a typical apartment)
Digital Media/ Best Animation in a Film: “Movement and Stillness.” By Yi-Hsuan Kent Chu (Chinese brush painting, animated)
All-style Animation/ Best Film: “Alien for Christmas.”
All-style Animation/ Best Animation in a Film: “My Happy End.”

We ended the festival with a get together upstairs at the New Everett Theatre. All were delighted with the increased participation of many fine animation schools. Next year’s show should be equally impressive.
Congratulations to the Animaticus Foundation for another splendid display of animation (not all ‘2D’ but all different.)
You can read Tony White’s comprehensive write-up of the festival here:

Monday, October 08, 2007


It's that time of year again...Tony White has just invited me to make a second presentation at the second 2D OR NOT 2D FESTIVAL in Everett, Washington.

Tony has done more to help the practitioners of this ancient and beautiful artform than most people, and this festival should be on everyone's 'must see' list.

The lovely Everett Theatre hosts rare films and (uncommon, if not rare) speakers from November 1st through 3rd. The town of Everett is a charming suburb of Seattle. Best of all, the festival has a successful networking fair at the end that, last year, led to a wonderful job offer for one of my RIT students who wasn't even able to attend the show.

Tony has the most unusual awards ceremony that I know of--he awards for best animation in a film AND best film, since we all know these are not always found together. The festival is sponsored by the Digipen Institute of Technology, where Tony is now the Chair and Program Director, so it emphasizes the work of student animators. Digipen and Vancouver's Van Arts Institute will present student showcases as part of the festival.
We need to support this festival. It's heartening to see so many young animators working in drawn animation and they need the encouragement.

I'm going to present a selection of character designs that I did on various jobs, together with a few clips of the animation that resulted. None of the design sketches have been seen in public before, and some of them (like the 'censored horse' in HERCULES) have a funny story associated with them.

Other female artists are also featured, since the show's theme is female animators. I think Tony has an interesting lineup of younger women on the same night as my presentation--I'm the only a.k. there-- so it should be fun.

Michael Gagne will also make a presentation and there are many surprises planned.

Do come if you can.

Friday, August 31, 2007

The Laugh Out Loud Cats Comic

"Ape Lad" is publishing a brilliant comic strip originally drawn by his grandfather in 1913.
THE LAUGH OUT LOUD CATS can be viewed on this link here.
And originals are available too. I just wish I had thought of this first!

Thursday, August 09, 2007

Another Great Art Direction Book

Go order this book now.
It's the first in-depth study of the work of one of the great animation art directors, MAURICE NOBLE.
It'll be out in February 2008, which is a bit long to wait, and it's a bit pricey, but it will be worth every minute and dollar.

With this book and Hans Bacher's DREAMWORLDS available in the same year, animated films can't help but look better!

Monday, August 06, 2007

Another Bob

This just goes to show you how unreliable photos are for caricaturs. This is another shot of Bob Clampett, and his facial structure and even the thickness of his eyebrows appear very different than the photo printed just below. I used this one for my caricature.

Part Two Warner Brothers Caricature...

This is Part Two of the caricature entry, so you'll have to read backwards.
So now that I had the pictures of all four of them, I started working up rough sketches, starting with Clampett.
Tough man to draw. He photographed differently each time. A shot taken from his famous 'home movies' at Warners shows the little-kid Chuck, and Bob with a very long face and lantern jaw--exactly like his caricatures. But this photo shows him with a square jaw and strong chin, but no lantern jaw.
Why he photographed that way in stills is a mystery, but perhaps the photographer got him from a good angle.

This is why it is never a good idea to draw from photographs; life is always better, and if your subject is not alive, a motion picture will do just as well. It is very important to see the muscles of the face working, expressions, and so on. For example, Bob Clampett had dimples. They only showed in one of the photos--clearly not this one. Friz Freleng's freckles also did not photograph. Chuck has a boyish quality that does not come across in my caricature, but I knew him better than the others and know that he had a mischievous streak in him. If he looks a little manic here, that's his inner Coyote showing through.
Well anyway I got the whole thing done this morning, and once Didier's designer puts the type and title on the page, it will be done.

That Warner Brothers Mob

My old friend Didier Ghez has published a number of interviews with Disney artists in five books called WALT'S PEOPLE.

Each book boasts black and white cover caricatures of the interviewees by Peter Emslie.

Didier asked me to work up some caricatures of some of the Warner directors for the cover of his newest book, BUGS' BUDDIES, which will be published in 2008.

Chuck Jones, Bob Clampett, Tex Avery, and Friz Freleng's work is well known to everyone; but their faces are not. They are far less well known than most of the Disney people--although to most people outside the animation world, Disney artists also have no faces.

To make matters even more difficult for myself I decided I wanted to draw each of these men in their prime, as young men.

I'd known Chuck Jones pretty well, when he was already rather old, and met each of the other three only once.

The first thing I decided to do was use characters associated with each director as his 'shadow'. I also had the quaint conceit that the characters would be in color, and the men's faces would be black and white artwork. The characters came to life through their imaginations, and have survived them. That was sort of the idea, at any rate. Maybe I really did it because it sort of looked cool.

Didier was enthusiastic about the idea. Now came the fun part. Where did I find pictures of some of these guys as young men?

Some were in the Warner books, but the difficulty of working from photos is: the face can look different from different angles, and at different ages in a person's life. Chuck Jones looked about seven years old in one picture that Greg Ford kindly sent to me.

Caricatures the guys did of themselves were no help at all. The WArner crew was vicious--toward themselves--. Bob Clampett drew himself as a turkey necked longfaced geek with a beaky nose, receding chin, and a huge head of hair. Photos reveal him to have resembled a young Elvis--classic features, small nose, dark eyes, strong chin, square jaw and face. If he'd been born twenty years later he could have been a matinee idol. At least the dark pompadour was accurate in his caricatures.

Chuck Jones was even less kind to himself. He's frequently caricatured in the Warner cartoons as an overweight, blubberlipped straw-haired pinhead. And Chuck designed all of his own characters!

I could not believe it, but Little John in the hilarious RABBIT HOOD ("Da-a-a-a-a-h, Don't you worry, never fear! Robin Hood will soon be here!") was a caricature of Chuck, by Chuck.

Friz Freleng was usually drawn as a sort of chameleon lizard, with a tremendous snozz and receding forehead.

Tex Avery looked elfin; his caricatures came closest to suggesting what he actually looked like. Some good shots of him appear at the top of this post.

So what to do?

Well, some of the photos of the fellows had better angles than others. I was lucky enough to find a shot of Chuck and Friz in a turnover session, together. Chuck is revealed to have had a strong chin, a round face, and fine straight hair. He also had remarkable eyebrows that were shaped like upside down V's. You can see everything but the 'eyebrows' in the pasteup at the head of this post. They were too light to photograph.
Friz wasn't lizardlike at all, though he does appear to have a slightly sloping forehead. The receding hairline is probably his most prominent feature. He does not have a large nose. (he was always drawn with one!)
Part Two of this article continues above: the finished illustration is shown below. You'll figure it out, which is more than I did when publishing this stuff.

Friday, August 03, 2007

A couplea Books

Book cover design and caricature by Nancy Beiman
Caricatures (L To R, top ) Tex Avery, Friz Freleng
Bottom: Bob Clampett, Chuck Jones
Editor: Didier Ghez
Publication date: 2008

Hans Bacher's DREAMWORLDS will be published in English by Focal Press on December 7.

The book was copyedited by yours truly, but Hans did the real work assembling treasure trove of artwork from dozens of films. His color sketches from BALTO, LION KING, MULAN and other well known animated films are here, and there are some splendidly restored multiplane backgrounds from BAMBI under a section called 'Masters". This is the first book of its kind written by a working art director. It's not a history book--it shows you how to think out color and design when creating an animated world.

You can see the preorder form here:

Hans has had several blogs that show excerpts from the book, but I think his latest blog is the best. It's called animation-treasures 1 and can be viewed here. Hans showcases the work of many art directors and reconstructs pan backgrounds from everything from a Fleischer tabletop setup to a Zagreb short.This gets my vote for one of the most marvelous sites on the Web--the analysis of the color scripting in WHAT'S OPERA DOC is priceless.

Read. Learn. And marvel at how many wonderful artists worked in animation. It's a great medium when people are allowed to be creative!

Wednesday, August 01, 2007

Funny Stuff

My friend Gizmo the cat has introduced me to the very funny, crazy feline world. I had always thought cats were dignified, aloof creatures, not dependent like dogs--

Well, cats can't be generalized as a species; the personality of the animal, like that of a human, is pretty much is determined by its family upbringing and genetics. In other words,cats must be judged as individuals, not en masse. And some cats, such as Gizmo and a few others that I have met, love to play, look silly, cuddle, and generally act like a dog. Gizmo even runs to greet me whenever I come home. This is a nice treat and I'm grateful for it.

There is a very funny website called I Can Has Cheezburger? featuring ridiculous captions to photos of cats. Some vary in cleverness. Some are hilarious, some just rude or stupid, but most are a very entertaining way to start the day.

Curiously enough other animals besides cats are sometimes featured, including the "Lolrus" and various rodents with corms. My fave was the bunny eating cookies. If you visit the site, look under 'foodz' or 'cookie' at the bottom of the page to see the cookie thief.

Cookies are a major theme on the site.

The picture in this post appeared on the site recently and I thought it was a hoot. It's captioned in proper English, which is unusual for the lolcats: usually they speak a weird lingo distantly related to Krazy Kat's Yiddish-influenced prattle...the Lolcat language fuses Southern slang, text messaging, and onomatopoeia. Some terms are already becoming 'standard'--at least within a small group.

Do not want!


I has a....

I'm in yr....

Nom Nom Nom (sound of cat eating) This one is my favorite.

Anyway, here's a famous image from the site. The lolcats are guaranteed to raise a smile.

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Down near the main road is one of the 'chicken houses'. I liked the sign.

The lowest picture is a view of a storeroom and a bicycle cart. Twin Oaks has an amazing stable of superannuated bicycles, most of which are communal. After two weeks I was tooling around on a once-red, now rust-red model that ran okay as long as you stayed on the farm.
The second shot is the view I saw every morning from near Aurora cabin. The 'garden' or farm, is seen here. That's a greenhouse in the distance with some of the most amazing heirloom tomatoes I ever saw--one weighed four pounds, was yellow and red and orange stripes, and fed around forty people. The top shot is what you saw when you turned off the main road onto Twin Oaks. This is the barn where a lot of chickens live, and it's also the last thing some of the cows ever see.

Twin Oaks Images

This is the hammock shop. People have private rooms over the shop. It's in the courtyard, which is the original center of the community. The Twin Oakers built this building and named it after a Chinese commune.
Note the flower garden. That is a hammock 'jig' off to the right.

TWIN OAKS: A Hippie Corporation

I decided to get as far away from academe and animation as possible and do something I have wanted to do for several decades.I spent three weeks as a visitor at Twin Oaks Egalitarian Community near Louisa, Virginia from June 22nd to July 12. Twin Oaks is a communal and 'egalitarian' society that was founded forty years ago by far seeing people who wanted an alternative to the modern way of life without sacrificing a reasonable standard of living. Hence its income-sharing, communal philosophy.

Oddly enough the original attitude is schizophrenically combined with a very successful pair of businesses that have to work within the outer capitalist economy. Twin Oaks makes very good hammocks and tofu products. They also do book indexing on the side. This means that like it or not, they are a corporation that keeps business hours. I heard a lot of talk about 'budget'. When I expressed bewilderment (since no money ever changes hands on the farm, it is all done with hourly labor on the trust system) it was explained that the 'labor budget' was still something that the managers had to work within. In that respect Twin Oaks was little different from a large animation studio which also has timesheets with hourly segments where you have to write down which project you were on, and balance the quotas by the end of the week. I had no trouble understanding this system. Some of the 'cos', as the members are called, were gobsmacked that they had something in common with a cartoon studio!

They have the problem of modern civilization mostly licked here. MOSTLY, because they can't give up certain things. I did not expect a Luddite community but was surprised to find DVD and video players, washers that mostly worked (I expected hand operated ones along with the electric, and greywater recycling--the latter is being discussed, apparently). There was chocolate cake nearly every night. They had austerity for a few years and coffee was rationed and is still hard to come by on the farm; but chocolate is considered essential. I have no problem with that.
The diet was largely vegetarian; meat was a hard product to come by. Chicken was a rarity since the foxes appear to get most of the pullets. Occasionally a 'beefy' was available for steak or pot roast. I didn't say no. Though I'm nominally a vegetarian, I gave some consideration: which is more environmentally sound--a cow raised on grass about a hundred feet from where I was living, or a tofu product that took a tremendous amount of electricity (which is largely supplied by a nearby nuclear plant!)? And the soybeans have to be purchased from another farm. Their soy products are superior to anything else I have tried, but they are not sold nationally.

Twin Oaks has some solar panels on all buildings, but only one part of one building is completely solar powered and thus off the grid.

Since they run the hammock and tofu business as their main income producers and deal with bulk orders, they have to make some concession to modernity so a high speed Internet connection is also a necessity. Twin Oaks is a 502 corporation. I am told they have the same tax classification as monasteries. Each full member is a sort of corporate board member with a full share in the community. There is no real seniority system after you have been there six months; you are a full member and have the same rights as someone who has been there for six years. There is no Chairman or board of directors, though there are Planners and managers.

They have a lot of problems keeping the managers in place due to high turnover (eighty per cent of the inhabitants are under the age of 30 and some of them like to travel to other communes after a year or so in place, due to itchy feet. There are two smaller communities within shouting distance and there is a lot of to-ing and fro-ing and labor tradeoffs. It's good that this is in place, for if you have a quarrel with someone, you can go to Acorn and work sorting seeds until things have quieted down.)

I was the only visitor over the age of twenty in the visitor group We had six visitors in the Aurora Cabin. (Each house at Twin Oaks is named after an earlier commune, and it was appopriate that I would be in one that was named for Roycroft). The other visitors were all very young people, some away from home for the first time. They apparently don't get too many people my age. I shouldn't wonder that the residents were playing Survivor and betting that I would be the first person 'off the island'. As it turns out, one of the young boys caught a chill and panicked and went home after a week, despite my assurances (and his doctor father's) that he would be all right. Personally I think that he overreacted to a stomach bug; it was not as if we were in the Australian Outback, after all. And I have been in the Australian Outback so I should know.

In the event of a serious problem there is a former member who is a doctor nearby. In the event of a REALLY serious problem the local authorities have the coordinates of Twin Oaks on a map and send in a chopper to lift you out.
But the young man disappeared the next morning.

Two other visitors elected to go to Acorn after two weeks. This left me and a young man with one wing each of the Aurora cabin, since the third visitor was living in one of the main houses with his girlfriend, who was a guest of one of the members and therefore a bit higher in the hierarchy.

Twin Oaks has great relations with the local community. There are tours all the time from high schools and social groups and outsiders in general. (The commune has a 'no nudity' law until after seven p.m., when the visitors can be expected to have left.) The swimming hole was presumably not one of the stops on the tour.

The local representative is a former 'co'! Now how nice is that.
A large black dog named Bob is a frequent visitor (he belongs to the rep) and has a sort of canine ministry without portfolio, or much else either.

I could not 'garden', as farming is called here, because of my bad knees. After a week I found stuff I could do. I cooked a lot of meals. It is no harder to cook for a hundred people than for one; all you need is the right equipment and materials. The kitchen tools looked like what Buster Keaton used in THE NAVIGATOR (and some were probably the same vintage.) They had industrial stoves in the kitchen and some really great equipment, including a 'buffalo chopper' that I believe COULD chop the entire buffalo without breaking a sweat. I was scared of this thing at first until it was demonstrated that it was a lot safer than a home Cuisinart. I also did some light gardening on a seed patch that grew stock for the Acorn commune (this had to be kept separate from the farm, since they were 'heirloom seeds' that could not cross pollinate with others.) And I helped make a lot of hammocks. Over a hundred tied off, by my own count (with a 'bowline knot'--useful skill to know.)

I also saw chicks hatch, innumerable butterflies and bees in the gorgeous herb gardens and the smaller gardens that decorated the entire community, thanks to the loving efforts of some expert herbalists and gardeners. There have been no fertilizers other than natural compost or pesticide sprays used on this land for forty years and it made me wonder why anyone would bother with them when things were obviously going so well without chemicals.
Pest control was mostly done with squashing 'em. I soaked broccoli well to eliminate potato bugs, and got one mosquito bite per day. Worth it though. There were marvels to see. The hummingbird moth was called a 'lobster tail moth' down there. It's only the second one I have seen in my life.

They have cows and chickens but no other farm animals. I learned a lot about both creatures--they have more complex lives than most of us give them credit for.
It is something to hold a newhatched baby chick in your hands. They are way cute--and come in the most amazing colors. Some were striped, some were pure black, all were up and running within hours of coming out of the egg. But cute or not, they were someone's chicken dinner in a few month's time. It's the way things are on a farm.
Cows had a slightly better time of it, but the 'beefies', or young steers, had three years to play around before they were taken behind the barn and shot, then processed. Their mothers were treated similarly after they ceased giving milk.
No one really got acquainted with the 'beefies', and so there were no emotional ties to sever when it came time for them to go, but it was harder when one had to kill a cow that had a name, that one had probably milked for years. It's what is done on a farm. Life and death are both daily occurrences there. You learn to respect both.
An injured goose that one co had tried to nurse back to health for three weeks was eventually put out of her misery and used to bait a trap to catch the fox or coyote that had given her the original injuries.

A tiny stray kitten named Olive loved to swing in the hammocks and swear at passers by. She eventually let me scratch her head and was generally becoming more domesticated. Probably the rest of her family was eaten by raccoons or foxes, since she was defensive toward anything canid. This tiny cat, who could not have weighed more than five pounds, attacked three of the much larger four dogs on sight, except for the 18 year old nearly-blind bitch who looked great but did not have much of her sprightly personality any more. Good diet means the dogs and cats live a long time. There is a long waiting list for pet owners to bring a furball down with them.

I missed my Gizmo girl. The neighbours took good care of her, but I still missed not having the furball in bed every night, purring. You get used to things like that.

It is ironic that Twin Oaks makes its living on a highly processed food (tofu) and a luxury item (hammocks) sold to the same leisure society they left. They are completely bound to the timing and rules of the capitalist system, which means you really CAN'T pick your working hours there. Twin Oaks is in a symbiotic relationship with it though certainly not on a horrible scale. Here, an overdrawn account is a Labor Hole (not enough work put into the communal business.)

Will Twin Oaks survive if the market for this luxury item drops out with an economic downturn? Of course. They survived losing sixty per cent of their outside income when Pier One Imports dropped them two years ago. They grow sixty per cent of their food, including raising beef and dairy cattle, have their own water source onsite, and with some economies they can get by. "At least," one co said to me "until the neighbours show up with guns."

Another long time resident told me that they only reason Twin Oaks survived for forty years was that they had Pier One underwriting their enterprise. They are just only getting back on their feet after being dropped as a supplier...and Pier One is apparently trying to talk to them again. Developments may be coming up in a few months' time.

On the whole they have a good life at Twin Oaks. They eat like kings and live on a higher standard than about 90 per cent of the planet. Quite a few people there did not find regular employment in the outside world or did not want to climb the ladders in their current jobs. As for the social scene, that's for another letter.

I enjoyed waking up to birdsong, listening to the sounds of birds and the rain (when it came,) and seeing marvels like a black snake climbing a tree as easy as water flowing, if water flowed uphill.
It was a good exercise in simple living. "The earth is trying to rid it self, by all available means, from the cancer that is humanity!" one Co said to a group of younger people. "I have always attempted to be a benign tumour," I replied.

And I got a totally undeserved rapturous welcome from Gizmo when I finally did get home. Cats, like cows and chickens, have a deeper interior life than we give them credit for.

Friday, June 15, 2007

Going to the Movies

I've entered THE OTHER EDEN in eight film festivals. In this case, eight is enough. Only one of them was free of an admission charge, and I want to see if it does well in any of them before venturing into others. The festivals are evenly spaced throughout the year.

Some of the names of the other festivals are pretty entertaining. They might conceivably be more entertaining than some of their entries; imagine a resume that included festivals like





and last but certainly not least,
SMOGDANCE FILM FEST (in sunny Pasadena, no less.)

Sunday, May 27, 2007


Graduation went well. We were ushered into a rather hot parking lot on Friday to hear Bill Clinton give the commencement address. It was such a pleasure to hear a (former) President using words of three syllables, speaking in coherent sentences, and pronouncing ‘genome’ and ‘geneticist’ without stumbling.

I sat next to a professor who sniffed loudly and muttered sotto voce like Popeye for most of the speech. He may have been a Republican but he was also very rude. Fortunately he wasn’t loud enough to make much of a difference. I found him comic rather than otherwise. Why did he show up at all if he did not like the speaker?

The other honoree was a Mr. Sasakawa who runs leprosy clinics around the world and has helped save 15 million lives. This gentleman did not speak English but had a commanding presence on the stage.

I literally wore two hats during the ceremony. Faculty robes were reserved for me, but since I was graduating I stood in line with the Design students rather than with the Film and Animation faculty. More than one person came over to ask why I was in the wrong line; I explained the situation and received their applause (along with that of most of the students) when I finally did ‘the walk’ as the second grad student in the department.
The actual sheepskin will arrive in a few weeks but I am told that it is official. It must be official; I am wearing a school ring…

Friday, May 25, 2007

YOUR FEETS TOO BIG (Legal edition)

Heigh ho there,

So I's a second post for today.

All of you who would like to get a legal copy of YOUR FEETS TOO BIG can do so by getting this record on

My film is on the DVD insert. Color timing is bad but it's complete.
And no, I don't get royalties. The tradeoff was: the film was put on the disc without MY having to pay them, since RCA released the compilation.

That is why I will never again work with a track that I do not have full rights to.

Monday, May 07, 2007

YouTube and MyTube

I have mixed feelings about YouTube. On the one hand I value it as a teaching aid--there is amazing nature footage that is either completely out of print or never released in this country. On the other hand they post a lot of material that is copyrighted, usually without notifying the owner. I've just had this happen to one of my own films.
I'm fond of honoring copyrights since I'm the one who, in this case, made a film and paid a very high price for music rights that did not include new media or home video rights. Someone else posted YOUR FEETS TOO BIG on YouTube, but I'm the one who will be contacted by RCA Records for copyright violation if it stays up.
So I did what I had to to and asked YouTube to immediately take the film down.
I then contacted CartoonBrew and told them that the problem was with the soundtrack; I don't care if the animation is posted online as long as I am credited with making the film, but any online posts cannot include the track.
My new film THE OTHER EDEN has a track with rights that are free and clear, but since I am entering it in several festivals that state that it should not appear online until after the festival judging is completed, it will not be available for viewing except on DVDS for now. Certain people have received prints and they will be asked to forbear from sharing it for the time being.
I do not enjoy using bootleg 0nline prints for teaching and would rather buy nice clean copies on DVD, but until some distributors see fit to release material that is now only available in other countries, I'll still view YouTube for the duration. But you will not catch me posting anything except comments.

Sunday, May 06, 2007


Here are some stills from my new film, THE OTHER EDEN. All artwork for this film was created and modified in Photoshop and After Effects 7. (all right, I lied. One drawing was scanned in, but it is not in any of the stills here.)

I wanted a pastel and pencil look but also wanted to finish the film in ten weeks, since it was required for an independent study. The result turned out well enough for me to enter it in a couple three film festivals. I don't expect it to win anything, but it would be nice to see it screened.

The film was based on a nightmare I had last December about the disappearing wildlife on planet Earth. Sadly, the nightmare is become reality.

The original title was THE LAST but since my dad hated the title I decided to go to Shakespeare since over 1,500 other authors have done so for titles over the last four centuries. So a misquote from RICHARD II serves as an ironic title to this two minute animated film.

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

I Sell Out in L.A.

PREPARE TO BOARD! sold out at the Van Eaton Gallery signing. And yes, there were more than two people there buying books...more like two hundred!
35 copies of my book sold well before the end of the event and I was therefore able to do a little socializing, or would have been able to if I wasn't horribly jetlagged and looking rather zombielike. Several people asked me if I was okay, which means I wasn't.
But it was fun. And I got some fine books, shipped 'em home and found them here waiting for me along with the cat. Thanks, Post Office, for preventing me from carrying them!
I and my friend Dean Yeagle were also invited to visit the Film Roman and Walt Disney Feature Animation studios, where we saw fun things that cannot be talked about here. I won't discuss pots and pans this time, but will only state that it was a whirlwind trip...and included meeting a client who is about to produce his first series. I got back late yesterday night and am adjusting to the time, but the Kitty Alarm Clock had me up right when I wanted to be, this morning. Poor Gizmo was 'starved for attention' even though she was petted by the she'll get some extra pats and cuddles to thank her for being a good girl. And since she is also the cover girl on PREPARE TO BOARD, she probably should be getting royalties (this translates to: a new fuzzy mouse.)

More later...still pooped...but PTB is below 10,000 on the list, which I guess means that it is doing well. More importantly, people seem to like it.
The proof will come with the students who are taking the character design class and using it; the assignments, I note, have been working out better and have a shorter learning curve than in previous classes.

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

A Book Review

PREPARE TO BOARD! was just favorably reviewed on the Animation World Network's website. You can read the review here:

Busy, Busy, Busy

I had the sort of weekend that I thought I'd said goodbye to when I left New York City. (it's usually a lot quieter here on weekends.) Mike Genz visited from Edinboro University, we saw the ANIMATION SHOW at the Little Theatre, and I got a large quantity of work done on my new film.
What, you did not know I was making a new film? Well, every 25 years I drop whatever I am doing and make one. And the number was up so I had to do it.
Actually, I did make some other short films since YOUR FEETS' TOO BIG but they are no longer viewable on modern media since they were made for CD-I projects at Phillips Sidewalk Studio in the early nineties. Too bad. HELP ME RHONDA was rather good; it only survives now as a pencil test on my reel.
Now the new one had to be made for a class, so I figured that a horrible nightmare that I had last December would do nicely because I could not think of anything else that I could do that interested me as much. The title fluctuated a bit but after some discussions with my father, who thought the original title noisome, I decided I'd go to Shakespeare (whom I'm also studying) and get an idea from him since so many other folks have.
So the film is now called THE OTHER EDEN.
And there is not a single piece of paper in it. All artwork was drawn and modified on the computer.
This is not to say that it looks like it was done there; I dislike the 'computery' look of most Flash animation and wanted a more organic feel. AE7 (after effects to you non geeks out there) gave me some remarkable effects that, when combined, actually resemble colored pencil renderings and pastel sketches. At times I'm using up to seven modifications of the original artwork, and the result is sort of pleasing. I say sort of since I do not yet know if the entire idea is off kilter or not. For one thing it is not funny. It was not meant to be. After all it was based on a nightmare. This nightmare was remarkably precise; I actually saw the shots and cuts that I use in the film. But some things were added after I woke up.
So anyway THE OTHER EDEN will wrap in a few weeks. It's fun being able to turn out 14 feet a day, I can tell you. But it is not character animation and was not meant to be.

Mike Genz liked the look of it so that was one impartial judge. A few students have also seen it and they seem to be impressed. The Upstairs Neighbours also thought it was working. So I reckon that I will enter it in some film festivals afterward. Couldn't hurt.

Speaking of festivals the ANIMATION SHOW played at the Little. I was disappointed with some offerings but pleased with others; my favorites being Joanna Quinn's DREAMS AND DESIRES, which should have won the Oscar this year, and Bill Plympton's THE GUIDE DOG, and a very funny film from France about two idiotic Samurai armies fighting over nothing called VERSUS.
NINE was well made but lacking in story and, I felt, overrated. The others in the show did not register much with me. It was good to see many of our students and some faculty in the audience.

The weather has been sneeting (snow, sleet) and slaining (snowrain) for days now. It's just becoming tiresome, and L.A has never looked so good to me as now. Amusingly enough they are over cast and rainy, too.
Well, we'll be in a bookstore so don't need the sun much.
I'm off to L.A. tomorrow for the book signing, and so will be posting in a few days when I'm back.
Cheers til then.

Monday, April 09, 2007


Johnny Hart, the creator of B.C. and cocreator of THE WIZARD OF ID, died at his drawing board on April 7, 2007.

Hart was one of the funniest cartoonists in the country. He was also absolutely original. Nothing quite like B.C. had ever come down the pike before. Hart based his sardonic cavemen on his friends. It was a pleasure to recognize him as "B.C." when I finally met him at the Reuben Awards. He looked like he'd drawn himself.

The strip was always one of my favorites. "CLAMS GOT LEGS!" "Beware of the Trund", the piano that one played by blowing through a hole in the back, Thor's crazy inventions such as a stone kite, and the hilarious "Dip in Road" will always bring fond memories. And there's also that snake wearing shoes, one on its head, one on its tail.

I didn't even mind that one of his characters was named "The Fat Broad". She WAS.
A very funny Thanksgiving special was animated some years ago. Sadly, we lost the bid to animate the B.C. characters in our animation company. I'd have been delighted to do so.

Johnny Hart was a generous man who donated his time and artwork to many local projects in his hometown of Endicott, New York. He also found time for a while to publish THE FLAMING COCKROACH CLUB, a newsletter just for cartoonists featuring the Fat Broad about to whack a defenseless bug with a flaming club. Hart claimed he originally wanted to open a restaurant with that name; when he was informed that it would be a catastrophe, he made a newsletter instead. If you ever wondered why so many comics, once upon a time, used to feature the same storylines or items (such as a piggy bank) on the same day--well, that was the Club in action.

Hart put his religious convictions in some of the later B.C. strips, which led to some controversies. He was in top form at the end though.
And going at the drawing board is the way all of us would like to go.

Here is a link to a fine article about Mr. Hart at the New York TIMES.

"Do your frogs croak at night?" "No, some of them pass away right here in the sun."
Bye, Johnny. Thanks for the laughs.

Sunday, April 08, 2007

Happy Easter!

Hello all ! I wish you a healthy, happy and safe Holiday weekend. All the Easter eggs are frozen today in Upstate New York, but we'll have 'em boiled instead.

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Noble Boy

The link above goes to NOBLE BOY, a board book by animation artist Scott Morse. I posted it on the page since I couldn't fit it into the little link button here on site.
NOBLE BOY is a 'board book' about animation art director Maurice Noble.

Maurice Noble is one of the great art directors of all time, animation or live. He designed the lovely outer space 'Martian" cartoons for Chuck Jones, the hilarious parody-UPA house for Witch Hazel, and the pseudo-Seussian backgrounds of HOW THE GRINCH STOLE CHRISTMAS, among other things. Noble suggested that Disney's SNOW WHITE AND THE SEVEN DWARFS feature colored ink lines instead of standard black. He was the first art director to have the backgrounds reveal the character's mental state (in THE ARISTO-CAT, wallpaper animates and twists madly as the titular cat yells for butler Meadows. This landmark film was just released on Volume 4 of the Warner compliation discs.)

But to return to the Noble book. The title refers to the nickname by which Noble's students were known: Noble Boys (and Girls.) I shall always regret not having been one of them; I only met Mr. Noble twice, but he was a fine gentleman who loved this art form dearly. He deserves a tribute. Thing is, I'm not sure about whether this one is aimed at kids or at adults. It looks like a kids' book but the content is really a short biography of Noble. I'd like to see a long biography of him. But this is a tribute to a wonderful artist from one of his students. Check it out and see--it is a bargain.

Sunday, March 25, 2007

news of HAIR HIGH screenings

HAIR HIGH will be screening in New York and L.A! Here is the latest from Bill Plympton's website, Plymptoons:

The Plympton screenings at the IFC Center culminate in a special engagement
of "Hair High" on April 6-7. These are midnight shows, so there will be lots of
late-night fun! Bill will be there to present the film, along with special
surprise guests!
The following week, "Hair High" will be opening in Los
Angeles, at the Laemmle Sunset 5 Theatre, 8000 Sunset Blvd. in West Hollywood.
Scheduled to screen from April 13-19,
for more information contact the box
office at 323-848-3500. This is the L.A. premiere, so Bill will be at the
evening screenings on April 13-14. And since it's Hollywood, you never know
which cast members may make surprise appearances! Tell all your friends in L.A.
to come out and support independent animation! And yes, the film opens on Friday
the 13th!

I'm arriving in LA on the 19th, so maybe my friend Dean and I can take in a screening of HAIR HIGH in the afternoon before heading to the book signing that evening. And thankfully the ANIMATION SHOW, which includes Bill's newest short GUIDE DOG, is playing in Rochester on April 16. They're still working on bringing HAIR HIGH here.

Good animation does not have to come from the big studios!

Thursday, March 22, 2007

HAIR HIGH is finally available on DVD!

I'm a Bill Plympton fan (and most of my friends are too.) Bill's the first person since Lotte Reiniger to animate feature films singlehandedly--and they have just gotten better and better over the years.
HAIR HIGH is a wonderful evocation of the 'mythological' America of the late Fifties and early Sixties. The design, animation, story, and characters are the best that Plympton's done to date.
So where can you see this movie?
Well, it's playing in New York City on April 4, but otherwise, there is no US distributor for this excellent film.
I had to buy a DVD and have it sent over from France. If you look up HAIR HIGH on, there is a listing, and the disc won't cost that much when compared to much more highly publicized releases.
You can get a preview of the look of the film here.
Pictures speak louder than words. So go meet Cherri, Spud, and the other members of the cast, and marvel at the original and appealing design.
No, I would not run this for kids. But it's something that everyone over the age of 13 who's interested in animation should have a look at.
Here's hoping that it is either in theatres or on a Zone One NTSC disc sometime soon.

Friday, March 16, 2007

Not So Sweet 16

This is a follow-up to yesterday's post. A recently concluded survey of the animation industry found that just 16% of the 'creative' positions were held by women.

They stretched the definition to include modelers and other folk in the computer animation categories who are doing 'artistic' work but who might not actually be in charge of the decision making process. If you look to see how many women actually influence the story content of the films--the percentage would be a good deal lower. It's probably better than live action, though that is damning with faint praise.

Quick! Name a female director or studio head.
It's easier to find them when you are outside the USA, but here they may be counted on the fingers of one hand.
So 16% of the population will not be responsible for 100% of the bad decisions in filmmaking.

As it stands there have been many wonderful directors who happen to be female; Joanna Quinn's name is the first that comes to mind, but there are others, particularly in Eastern Europe, where the 'equal rights of women' appears to have been taken seriously for the duration of the old system.

Thursday, March 15, 2007


A friend directed me to a website that featured an anonymous animator blogging about what he (I am sure it was a he) thought was wrong with the American animation industry.
The problem could be summed up in one word ~~women.
Entire columns lambasted the alleged deficiencies of 'feminists' or 'revisionists' or female producers and animators. Women--oh, excuse me, 'girls'~ as everyone knows, don't watch animation, don't create animation, and are responsible for all the bad animation ideas out there. This sentiment was enthusiastically seconded in many responses. Now, the blogosphere is open and anyone may post as they like. But this kind of stuff just makes my ass hurt. Why? Well, the majority of people complain about the situation in the field but don't do anything to change it. The problems are someone else's responsibility, or fault, never their own.
There is a humorless kind of animator who follows a Leader, or waits for him ('tis always a him) to lead him (it's always another him) and likeminded friends back to an alleged Golden Age of bliss and steady work and no girls allowed. The fact is that this Golden Age never really existed in the first place. I assure you that people complained about Walt (especially Walt,) and Chuck, and Shamus, and Friz, and Max, and all the people who ran studios or produced animated films in the Golden Age. The difference was,there WAS a lot more studio work then. There were women animators then too, though very few and far between. But they did work in the big studios, even in the Big D itself. There is, generally speaking, much more animation being done now. It's just not being done the same way or in the same places or by the same people. And in many ways that is a good thing.
Women like to do amusing cartoon characters just as the boys do. Some of us might like to do other types of acting, but we definitely don't like being called girls, or treated like second class humans at work, or denied jobs or promotions because of our sex, or blamed for faults in the industry that have nothing to do with gender. That goes for female producers, too--I've worked with some excellent ones.
We have to discriminate.
There's discrimination in our job searches--we must find studios and producers that will hire us as artists, not as women. We move to other jobs if we have to. I know men who have to move around when a job becomes tiresome, too. And believe me, it's even more interesting for the Black animators out there. We can all tell some stories. But there is an upside.
It's now possible to produce your own work and get it shown entirely outside of the studio system. So if one doesn't like one's day job, one can make a film for little cost and get it out there to a real audience. Amazing! And yet there are complaints.
There are a number of female students in my classes and while I won't generalize and say that one sex is superior to another (because it isn't), the female students often do have a very offbeat sense of humor. It's good to see that if they do incorporate traditionally 'feminine' subject matter such as children and fairies into their films, the characters are given a highly sardonic interpretation.
And these students are all very excited to be working in animation. All of the student contributors to PREPARE TO BOARD are in their first real studio jobs now and loving every minute of it.
I made damn sure that my new book contained work that was 50% produced by female artists since I am so fed up with the endless guy-centeredness of this industry. If you didn't look at the captions, you'd never know which sex did what. Some lyrical animation of a lovestruck woman was done by a male student; a female animator produced an excellent slapstick comedy with a tired man and his dog.
The whole point of animation is: no one sees you on screen, only your characters. You are not restricted by the limits of your own body, or gender, or species. That's the good news. And if your day job offends you, make something better in your own time. Then see if it will fly. The Internet and the abundant film festival circuit makes it easier to distribute an independent short now than ever before.
So put your pencil, or lightpen, where your mouth is. Don't like what's out there? Make a better movie.
But don't call me, or female artists and animators, Girl, or blame us for what's out there now.

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

West and Wewaxation

Tired, but excited....the tickets are ordered, and lots of friends plan to show up to the book signing next month. I'm going to design a suggestion for a flyer.
Here's the skinny:

Time: 6 PM to 10 PM on Thursday, April 19

VAN EATON galleries
13613 Ventura Blvd.Sherman Oaks, CA 91423

If any of you readers are in the L.A. area, I hope you can attend. I'll stay over the weekend, crashing on Dean Yeagle's Stickley sofa. He even promises to provide a cat to make me feel right at home.

Friday, March 09, 2007

Artists Helping Artists--Book Signing in L.A.

The multitalented Tina Price (formerly one of the top artists at Disney, now a line producer at JibJab!) organized a marvellous animation artists' cooperative last year.
The Creative Talent Network features animators, art directors, storyboard artists, and concept artists from many studios. Portfolio samples and biographies for over a hundred artists are posted on this beautiful site.
Tina also organizes book signings for Creative Talent members at the Van Eaton Galleries in Sherman Oaks, California (which specializes in animation art.)
The next one is scheduled for Thursday, April 19th, and I've agreed to attend to sign PREPARE TO BOARD! The gallery will apparently also have some copies available for me to sign for out-of-towners as well if you order it through their auspices.
If any readers of this blog are in the L.A. area, I look forward to meeting you there.

Monday, March 05, 2007


I got a copy of Hans Bacher's DREAMWORLDS today.
It's in Japanese.
I don't care. This is a gorgeous and brilliant book.

Here's hoping that there is an English edition soon!

Friday, March 02, 2007

Books In Print

Today is my book's birthday. Funny, I don't FEEL any different. But there's been a change on the page for it; it's now shipping.
I've been working so hard for this day that it is difficult to know how I feel about the whole experience. Guess I'll find out when people start reviewing it.

Now here's a book I can really get excited about. Hans Bacher's DREAMWORLDS is probably the most important animation book published since THE ILLUSION OF LIFE. I am not kidding, either. No one, and I mean NO ONE, working in animation art direction has ever written a book on how it is done! This is a first!

John Canemaker's books (THE DISNEY THAT NEVER WAS, PAPER DREAMS, THE ART AND FLAIR OF MARY BLAIR) are superb histories of Disney studio methods.
Bacher was and is one of the top art directors in the industry; he and his work are well known in the USA, Europe and Asia. He's worked for Disney but also for Dreamworks and a number of other studios, including his own; and he's equally at home on paper or on computer (the box is an important new tool for the story artist.)
Hans even designed a set of brushes for Japanese Photoshop. (You can get it on Japanese

Oddly enough DREAMWORLDS was originally published in Japanese only. I suggested that my own publisher might be interested in putting out an English version; after all, it's all ready to go!
and so...
as the South Africans say, "hold your thumbs".

And before I go back to what I was doing (a film, for crying out about a busman's holiday!) I want to post a link to an interview with Joanna Quinn, a woman who is LONG overdue for an Oscar. Her work is simply brilliant.
The ANIMATION SHOW is one of the better shows of its kind (it's not out simply for 'shock value') and so, if it plays in your town, go and see it. DREAMS AND DESIRES looks like one of the high points of an excellent compilation.

Saturday, February 03, 2007

Show and Tell in New York City

I visited the Museum of Comic and Cartoon Art in New York City, in May, 2006, while I was attending a screening of one of my Cal Arts projects at the Museum of Modern Art.

The Museum is a very neat and well designed little space in a landmark building in SoHo. So landmark, in fact, that it was impossible to find the Museum. They were not allowed to put a 'shingle' or flag, or sign out front to advertise their presence since it would mar the Landmark quality of the building.
After some fumbling around I got to the fourth floor and met director Matt Murray.

I had edited together an informal reel of senior projects produced by my 2006 advisees and asked if Mr. Murray would like to see some of it. Since it was a slow day, he agreed. Mr. Murray was duly impressed and readily agreed to my suggestion that a program of R.I.T. character animation be featured at the Museum at some time in the future. He decided to schedule a one-day event dedicated to the Rochester animators as part of their MOCCA MONDAY lecture series--a free lecture by visiting artists. Mr. Murray decided that January 29, 2007 would be the most appropriate date since an exhibition of television animation artwork would coincide with the animation show. (It was great seeing a cel of Wilma Flintstone smoking, from that infamous 1960 commercial; even more amazing to see that it was in color.)

I called the show 'THE R.I.T. STUFF" since I thought it had a nice ring to it. It was also easy to draw up a tiger logo featuring the mouse ears (see previous entry for the design.)

Mr. Murray requested that a student speaker be scheduled for the event, and that original framed artwork be included in the exhibition. At first he was averse to including any CGI artwork at all, since the museum features drawn cartoons; I assured him that that only films with a 'cartoon' quality in their story, design, and animation would be included.

Planning began in September, 2006. I requested Senior student Rebecca Haushalter as the speaker since she was articulate, available, and drew and designed excellent caricatures of past celebrities for her CGI films. Rebecca readily agreed.
Since little of the artwork for the student films remained at the school, and it would be impractical and expensive to frame Rebecca's rough drawings, I contacted Professor Skip Battaglia and asked if he would consent to have some of his original animation drawings displayed at the museum. Skip framed four drawings from one of his 'cartoon' shorts and these fulfilled Mr. Murray's request for original artwork.

I booked the hotel and plane tickets as soon as Mr. Murray confirmed the date for the show in December. The hotel (the Herald Square on 31st street) was once the headquarters of the humorous LIFE magazine, and was partly financed by Charles Dana Gibson. What an appropriate location for a cartoon lecturer to stay in. The rates were also reasonable and the rooms neat and well furnished, although much too hot in winter. And don't under any circumstances book the 'van' at the desk, since the service (from the van driver) was way too early and way too rude. Cabs to the airport actually cost the same amount and can be easily obtained by walking a few blocks to Sixth Avenue. We found this out the hard way.

The less said about the flight in the better. Delta Airlines was going through a takeover bid and was making sure that their clients knew all about it. I will take the train to Manhattan in future, at all times. Even if it is slow, it eventually gets there, and the scenery is gorgeous.

anyway, we eventually got to Manhattan in spite of everything Delta could do, and just in time for the show.

The program opened with the 2003 Oscar-winning PERPETUAL MOTION by Kim Miner--a freshman film! and proceed through one-quarter, two-quarter, and senior projects. Two graduate films were also included. The oldest film was from 2003; the most recent from early 2007. I arranged the titles so that 'drama' alternated with comedy. The show ran for approximately one hour.
One story reel for a senior project (Tristyn Pease's INVADERS FROM INNER SPACE) was included so that the audience could see how the films were produced. This particular reel reads extremely well even in storyboard and features amusing character design and voicework.

I hired grad student Jared Su to assemble the materials into an easily navigable disc, and designed and printed a program for the event.

My publicity poster was exhibited on the Internet and forwarded to the National Cartoonists Society, ASIFA East, and several New York based cartoonists and animators including filmmaker John Canemaker and Arnold Roth of the New York chapter of NCS.
Mr. Murray advertised the event in the local free weeklies and also on the museum's MySpace page.

Turnout was excellent. Arnold and Caroline Roth brought cartoonist Robert Grossman as their guest; John Canemaker made an appearance (but could not stay for the show; I gave him a copy of the reel to view at his leisure.) There were perhaps forty people in the audience, the maximum amount that the museum could accomodate. One film reviewer from VARIETY was present.

I introduced each film with a short preface. Rebecca Haushalter spoke about her project at the end of the Two Quarter section of the program. She brought some of the original caricature drawings for IT OCCURRED ONE EVENING, her two quarter film featuring Katherine Hepburn, Clark Gable, and Danny Kaye in CGI.
The audience was particularly interested in Rebecca's current caricatures of Judy Garland and Fred Astaire. This film is hilarious and features me as the voice of a ghost who makes really, really bad puns about automobile accidents. This was curiously appropriate.

2006 Graduate Jedidiah Mitchell was working at a studio near the museum. I contacted him just before we arrived in New York and asked him to attend as a special guest speaker. Jed was happy to help and ended the program splendidly with an exhibition of DANCE OF THE SEASONS, the hand-drawn 24-hour project he completed with co-director Joseph Daniels in 2006.

Feedback was extremely positive and there was a long question and answer session afterward.
The trip back was not quite as eventful though the plane was still late.

Sadly we did not get to see much of New York due to Delta's wretched service, but we did manage to see Grand Central, the Chrysler Building Lobby, and the Graybar building (the one with the stainless steel rats in front.) Rebecca had only been to New York once before in her life and had never seen these beautiful landmarks.

Anyway I was back teaching my heaviest class, History, that same afternoon and managed not t make too many mistakes due to tiredness.

Unfortunately the pictures taken of the event were very poor so there are none available here.

Do I Miss New York? Constantly. But the city has changed. I was surprised to get a copy of NEW YORK magazine and find that every article therein was a catalog of neuroses. The city did not used to be so full of insecure whingers. Maybe it's just that particular issue.

Saturday, January 27, 2007