Thursday, December 25, 2008
The source: Neiman-Marcus' Christmas Book. Not the new one, which still features wretched excess, if this article from the Telegraph can be believed (and I feel that it can). The page featured here is from the 1974 catalogue, a spectacularly rare, mint-conditioned piece of ephemera that I picked up from the fine Rochester shop Utter Clutter--Dames Don't Care, one of the best secondhand stores in Western New York.
Here's the craziest part. I remember receiving this catalogue when it was new. We moved into our Cranford, N. J. house in 1968, and the Neiman Marcus catalogues, which were addressed to the previous owners of the house, kept coming every Christmas even though my family wasn't remotely capable of affording the cheapest gift in its pages let alone the Faberge Egg (a real one, not a copy) that it advertised for a bargain price of 25 thousand bucks ($116,500.00 in today's money, a relatively stable price for the object when inflation is taken into account ...a "world time computer" advertised in the same catalogue that gave you "readout of any time in the world, plus consistent monitoring of your time...at the touch of a button" would, by contrast, set you back by $4,750.00 in 1974 dollars or $19,965.00 in 2008 dollars, and the PONG computer game for your home would cost $2,311.74 in today's dollars). We also got yearly packages of lovely oranges and apples intended for the same family from Harry and David's fruit company for many years after they had moved...my father innocently and honestly, and perhaps stupidly, returned the first package and the Post Office guys just ate the fruit. In the following year we came to our senses and ate the oranges and apples ourselves--(thank you, Mr. And Mrs. Wolfram!)
But to return to the catalogue. Every year the Neiman Marcus Christmas Book would feature a one off gift idea that gave rich people something that the rest of us couldn't afford if we wanted to and wouldn't buy if we could.
But there was a recession in 1974, and conspicuous consumption was...slightly out of style. So they scaled down from the solid gold diamondstudded electric swizzle sticks that i remember from another Christmas catalogue...to this.
It's a mouse ranch.
Yes, I am not making this up.
The text is so stupid that it could only have been written by someone who thought they were being clever. "Imagine the thrill of sitting around the campfire (or fireplace) singing songs of the prairie under the full moon (or lamp) with your own herd lowing softly (squeaking gently?) beyond the light of the fire. Picture the thrill of rodeo time: roping, dogging, barrel racing, prize stock exhibitions and sales. The N-bar M ranch is a controlled and utopian environment created in clear acrylic." (The italics are mine.)
What I want to know, all these years later, is this:
Did anyone actually buy this idiotic thing? For crying out loud, it cost over $3500.00, or about $15,000.00 in today's dollars! All for a few pieces of Plexiglas.
Somehow, I can picture George W. Bush doing it.
Addendum: Here is excess that makes the Neiman Marcus excess look restrained. Some people just have too much money.
Merry Christmas all.
Thursday, December 18, 2008
This is a trailer from THE TALE OF FEDOT THE STRELETS, a new Russian animated feature based on the 1985 book by the Russian playwright and actor Leonid Feotov.
The feature film is being released in Russia today, and this trailer was sent to me by my Moscow-based animation friend Alexey Kobelev. An English translation of the poem can be found here.
I'm extremely impressed with the animation, which is done with cut-paper stop motion technique (possibly in After Effects?)
Deniseletter, a regular reader, directed me to the main website for this film. It's worth a visit just to see the incredible face of the actor who does Baba Yaga's voice! There is a high resolution version of the trailer available there, also some wonderful stills from the film. I really want to see this movie!
The art direction is based on Russian folk characters; I recognized Baba Yaga the witch even without the notes in the wikipedia article.
I am very interested in seeing the entire film and finding out how well it does in theatrical release. One thing for sure, it isn't really a kiddie movie!
Tuesday, December 16, 2008
Monday, December 15, 2008
STORY is just that. There is no 'finished' artwork here. What you see are the bare bones of storyboard. The artwork has no captions except for the names of the films. The storyboards are the main attraction here, and the artwork is presented exactly the way it survived...punch holes, erasures, and all. Story is the most dyamic and interesting part of animation in my estimation.
So it is very instructive to see how the drawing style on the Disney boards changes over the years. The early drawings from the Thirties shorts are well staged but the character designs sometimes are a bit primitive. Check out the drawings of Claribelle Cow and Clara Cluck from MICKEY'S AMATEURS (1936) to see how the art lessons at Disney started to affect the artists. The drawings of Clara are solid, with an excellent line, but the character is distinctly dated.
Similarly the boards for some of the Goofy shorts look like they might have come from a different studio than the one producing the exquisite Bambi and Pinocchio storyboards done at the same time period. Disney's studio had different expectations from the short and feature film units, and it shows.
My one complaint about this book is that the artists' names are printed in an appendix at the back of the book, rather than on the same page as their illustrations. The book is huge and heavy, and if you want to find out who did what, you have to flip from the front to the back. Perhaps this can be remedied in future editions--there is more than enough room on each page for the artists' credits.
I was genuinely surprised that the CLOCK CLEANERS layouts were listed as 'artist unknown'--they were done by Ken O'Connor, and he mentioned this in the interview I got with him that is printed in the appendix of PREPARE TO BOARD!
Much of this material has not been printed before, although some of it was on DVD releases of the films.
I was puzzled at some of the choices of illustration: the surviving ROUSTABOUTS sequence boards from DUMBO include a splendid scene of lightning illuminating a camel that is represented with two alternating boards on the DUMBO disc, yet only one of the two boards has been published here, eliminating the illusion and feeling of motion. Some Disney pictures are not included in the book or are underrepresented. THE JUNGLE BOOK has relatively little artwork, there is nothing from THE RESCUERS, ROBIN HOOD, THE ARISTOCATS, THE SWORD IN THE STONE, HERCULES, or TREASURE PLANET; and some of the selections are open to question. I'd far rather see Eric Goldberg's boards for the flamingo ballet in FANTASIA 2000 than the FIREBIRD drawings.
But this is an important and beautiful book that would be of interest to anyone who wants to work in animation story.
Saturday, December 06, 2008
The holiday season has started! and the semester is ending! so I'll be posting far more regularly.
I am pleased with how the first semester 'shook down' and will duplicate the timetable for assignments in the second one. I like the fact that my colleagues and I schedule our assignments so that they are not all due at the same time. We're also working 'cross platform' as it were. For example, students use the storyboards drawn in my course in Layout class when they do workbook and layouts. This is precisely the way things happen on a professional production. I'll be working closely on converging assignments with Peter Emslie (character design) and Mark Mayerson (animation) in the coming semester.
And I'm currently waiting for some news on the second book proposal, so watch this space...there should be an update sometime next week.
Now to the meat of the matter: there's a great new scholarship out there from the NATIONAL CARTOONISTS SOCIETY that is open to any college student in the USA, Canada or Mexico who will be a Junior or Senior in the 2009-2010 school year.
(I had to rephrase this as 'third or fourth year' to translate this into Canadian English) The student does not have to be an art major, though it certainly helps.
The NCS is a great group. I've been a member since 1980 and was once the general membership chairman. Al Jaffee of MAD magazine nominated me for the post when I was only 25 years old. As I was basking in the glory, he said, "Don't get a swelled head. I only nominated you because you show up to all the meetings!" Despite this I think I managed to do a good job.
The NCS was once only a New York phenomenon but it is now really an international organization; they even once had a foreign President (Lynn Johnston moved the cartoon 'capitol' to Toronto during her Presidency and was the first female President as well.)
The Milt Gross Fund was originally established as an emergency fund for cartoonists' widows. It has changed over the years to become a last-resort fund for cartoonists in economic difficulty. For years I and the rest of the New York chapter drew caricatures at the Bank of New York (long gone) and the telephone company offices on 42nd street (still there) in exchange for donations to the Fund.
The Fund was named for the famous cartoonist, who was also one of the earliest members of the NCS.
Well, the Milt Gross Fund received very generous grants from King Features in memory of the late syndicate editor Jay Kennedy and donations from prominent cartoonists that you can read about here; The Jay Kennedy Award college scholarship was awarded for the first time in 2008 and won by this student from the Rhode Island School of Design.
The current contest closes in February, 2009 so I have notified all of my Second Year Storyboard students about it, and I'm now posting the information here. Try your luck, you won't regret it. The winner gets to go to the Reuben Awards Ceremony (The cartoon Oscars), which will be held this year in Los Angeles; and there is a financial component too. Best of all, the NCS judges may award more than one scholarship at their discretion, so it's definitely worth trying for.
Monday, December 01, 2008
On Saturday I went to the Canadian Aboriginal Festival, one of the best powwows I've ever attended. Some of the dancers looked like, and probably were, royalty. Their regalia was stunning. (This photo was taken last year; most of the dancers were even more splendidly turned out than this woman.) These photos give an idea of the scale of the Rogers Centre, the big sports arena. The roof was closed for the event, of course, though one speaker mentioned that once, it was opened by mistake during the event, which must have been something to see.
The best part of the Grand Entry was seeing Canadian Mounties, with hair in braids, doing the Grass Dance with the others in full regalia. One young petty officer carried the Eagle Staff Flag and also did the dance, in full uniform. (Again, this photo is from last year.) I was charmed by the Northwest Coast dancers who opened the show with a Wolf Dance.
Buffy Sainte-Marie was a special guest of honor (she was awarded a Lifetime Achievement awards in the music festival held on Friday night) and performed two songs, then signed her new album, RUNNING FOR THE DRUM, at her own booth. She is a tiny woman, but her energy projected all the way across that huge floor and up into the highest seats in the bleachers.
So all in all, I had a wonderful weekend.
Sunday, November 23, 2008
Saturday, November 22, 2008
I walked home (can you imagine a six year old girl walking eight or so blocks to her home, all alone, from school? This was indeed a long time ago.) Some teenagers I met en route were crying. They told me that I should put my head down and cry too, so I did. I did not know what was going on.
As I reached the front steps of the house my mother yanked me in by the arm and slammed the door behind me as if the outside world was no longer a safe place for me. She was probably right.
The television stayed on for the next four days, and we stayed in front of it for most of that time. I don't remember sleeping or eating though I suppose we must have done both.
We did go out once. We had to get our best clothing on for Saturday for a special service at the synagogue where the rabbi led us in the prayer for the dead (Kaddish) for the soul of John Fitzgerald Kennedy. My spring coat was too small. I can still feel the scratchy crinoline and too-tight gloves. I scuffed my feet in the dead leaves as we walked home and back to the television.
YouTube has riveting, uncut footage of several hours of CBS News' coverage of the assassination. It starts with a soap opera, and several commercials actually air after the first announcement of shots is made. Then it switches entirely to the CBS newsroom alternating with shots of the Market Hall in Dallas, where a black waiter is seen crying and wiping his eyes with a table napkin. Few other people in that crowd appear to be affected as strongly. It is amazing to watch Walter Cronkite's reaction to the news as it develops--he is a consummate newsman, but there is a catch in his voice well before the official announcement comes (Dan Rather breaks the news of Kennedy's death ten minutes before official confirmation arrives). Cronkite repeatedly takes his glasses off and puts them on again and there are beads of sweat on his forehead.
We are a good deal more cynical and distrustful of politicians now than we were then, but the Kennedy assassination was mourned in heartfelt fashion by men and women of all races and creeds, all over the world. The miracle of the Internet brings the horror of that day back in black and white--and also in uncensored film of the horrific assassination. It is riveting and sickening stuff.
Tuesday, November 18, 2008
They were nice about it, and said they would like to hear about different book ideas I can come up with.
The thing is this. This is the book I want to write. I am confident that it handles the subject in a completely different fashion from the one they plan to publish. I am sure that it will be useful to a variety of artists, and can be a better 'seller' than PREPARE TO BOARD. It's all business, of course, and I shouldn't take it personally, but I am not happy that this is happening. I liked working with Focal.
And since I want to write this book, and not some other, I'm looking for another publisher, much against my preferences...but it's like working for a different studio; there are other ones out there. The trick is to find a nice one.
Monday, November 17, 2008
As in previous years we at Anadolu University and Maltepe University are observing Nov. 18th, anniversary of the release of Steamboat Willie, as a day to celebrate traditional hand-drawn animation.This year our
special theme will be Frank and Ollie, since Ollie johnston passed away since our last celebration.
Please join us in our celebration.
Tahsin ("Tash") and Lale Ozgur
Friday, November 14, 2008
In the meantime, I have just received the Chinese edition of PREPARE TO BOARD!; and the edition appears to be sold in China only.
They took great liberties with the layout, and some of the artwork is now really too small to see; but by and large it appears to be the same book. I'll ask a Chinese student to read a bit and let me know if it is a fair translation.
Sunday, November 09, 2008
He's not polite.
Political cartooning, particularly in Britain, has never been pretty, polite, or respectful of politicians, and this is a refreshing contrast to the 'funny' school of American political cartooning that started during the Reagan administration.
Here is one of his best recent caricatures:
Bell also has a highly original caricature of Barack Obama here, though I think he missed on John McCain:
I wonder what sort of caricatures people will be doing of President Obama in six month's time? Right now, the cartoonists are definitely giving him a 'honeymoon period'
"If you can't stand the heat, get out of the kitchen." --President Harry S. Truman
Friday, November 07, 2008
In the first edition, I inadvertently credited Bruce Block's book to his brother Dave. This error has been remedied.
There are new illustrations from SITA SINGS THE BLUES to replace the very low-resolution images that were in the first edition; and a better one of Bill Robinson's "Suzette" character.
So you don't have to run out and buy this...unless you absolutely HAVE to, of course.
Now this is a bit nutty, but I've got a new proposal in with Focal right now, and should hear from the editors in the coming weeks whether it's something they would like to consider publishing.
Since PREPARE TO BOARD is doing very well (thank you all!) it may have a chance. Watch this space and you may see...
of course, it also means I go into serious work overdrive for the next year, but I think I can write it during the winter and summer break here. The new book will be much different in that most of the illustrations will be animation drawings done by me. Oddly enough that makes it easier to do, since I won't have to track down different styles, etc. though a few friends might contribute a few.
The topic is one that has been lightly covered in the literature, although it's crucial to the creation of good animation.
Thursday, November 06, 2008
Monday, October 27, 2008
It's a small token of our appreciation.
I read a snide comment on another blog that Corny 'didn't deserve any more consideration than anyone else who lost houses in that fire.'
Well, he's an animator--and animators take care of their own. It's no surprise that they're the only cartoonists with a union. We don't work alone, we network and we have a strong sense of community. That community is worldwide, not just regional. It also extends through time and space; animators send messages to the future in the films that sometimes survive the makers. More about that later.
Another commenter on that same blog mentioned that Corny had thousands of 'brothers and sisters' in animation. Couldn't have said it better myself.
Saturday, October 25, 2008
The power boats are now out of the harbour, sitting on the bank for all the world like a child's toys newly removed from the bath. A huge crane with bands like the ones they use to lift horses, got the boats there. I hope to get a picture.
The sailboats are often winterized in Bronte harbour, but some are still here in the water. It remains to be seen how many will winter in the club's parking lot. I saw the huge crane nearby so the decision must be taken soon.
I've gotten a fitness assessment at the club and will be exercising there this winter to try to keep some sort of activity going when there is no chance of riding a bike or walking around--the bad weather is just around the corner. There was snow a bit to the north of us and I even saw some flurries on campus.
Winter preps are nearly done; I've got the right coat, hat and hopefully boots for the year and all the summer clothing has been mothballed, and winter clothes taken out.
Two interesting books have arrived: THE ALCHEMY OF ANIMATION: Making an Animated Film in the Modern Age by Don Hahn and DIRECTING THE STORY by Francis Glebas.
Don Hahn's book is a very reasonably priced, easy-to-read guide to how feature animation is produced. It's beautifully illustrated too. Hahn explains the differences between the production of stopmotion, hand drawn, and CGI feature films with succinct and well written text and illustrates it with preproduction artwork that in many cases has not been published before. The layout is generally good (some pictures might have been larger but all are clear and printing quality is high.) This book is highly recommended for students considering animation studies who might want to know more about the different techniques.
Here's a heads-up: I helped get Francis Glebas' DIRECTING THE STORY published and worked as a copy editor on the text. So I'm pleased to see such a handsome book resulting; but I haven't had time to read the finished version as of this writing.But, as Boss Tweed said, I can look at the pictures.
And guess what? They are all rough boards! Yes, that's the way story artists do it--and DIRECTING THE STORY will be an eye opener to people who try to do presentation boards on the first pass. Glebas' illustrations are rough, but they tell the story--and since boards are reworked, and reworked, and changed again and again...it makes sense to keep it rough until the story is straight.
Francis has mucho story experience on a raft of Disney features and has directed one feature for Disney and a sequence from another, so he knows what he is talking about. This book is best suited for a more advanced student (and it probably helps to read my book first, since the two volumes complement each other. End of commercial plug.)
For it makes no difference if you work in CGI, stop mo, or hand drawn animation...the storyboard is always the starting point. If you do not have the story set when you start animation production, the picture can flounder, run over budget, and join all the animated feature shipwrecks that have struck the reefs of poor planning.
Check out the chart on Page 38 of THE ALCHEMY OF ANIMATION to see how long storyboard changes go on (hint: they run from the near-beginning to the near-end of the picture, longer than any other department's input)
Also received: Volume 6 of the Looney Tunes GOLDEN COLLECTION. This one is more for collectors than the casual animation fan (who else but an animation collector would know, or care, about BOSKO and FOXY, the original Warner Brothers animated 'stars'?)
The Warner shorts were the birth of the music video, since they were created solely to plug music that played in the feature films that these shorts originally preceded. SHUFFLE OFF TO BUFFALO, SMILE DARN YA SMILE, are the titles of the music and the cartoons themselves; they consist of vignettes, characters singing the lyrics, rather than solid stories.
But collectors will have a field day. Hear the original 'trombone gobble' in YOU DON'T KNOW WHAT YOU'RE DOIN'! And I just hope they put in the 1931 cartoon that features--I kid you not--a chorus line of Donald Ducks rowing boats across a stage! Yep, I got the date right at least, and this cartoon is three years older than THE WISE LITTLE HEN. Now I just have to find out if a fellow named Freddy Spencer worked at Warners in 1931. (Ken O'Connor told me that this was the man who designed the Duck at Disney's.)
Some very rare cartoons are on this disc, including the disturbing FRESH AIREDALE. Listen to Greg Ford's commentary to find out why Chuck Jones made such a bitter cartoon.
But the biggest treat on Volume Six is the Leon Schlesinger Christmas Party, with 'sole survivor' Martha Sigall telling us who those people all are! Meet the Warner Nuts and see how they were just as crazy as their cartoons...the spirit of that long gone studio is beautifully caught in this ridiculous footage, in which management actually gets into the act satirizing themselves!
(I can't imagine that sort of thing happening now, at any studio, anywhere. Tell me if I am wrong.)
RUSSIAN RHAPSODY and HERR MEETS HARE, two wartime cartoons that at one time were relegated to the 'do not show' bin, are also included along with one of my favorites, Bob Clampett's HORTON HATCHES THE EGG and the first Tex Avery Warner cartoon, PAGE MISS GLORY. (the only period cartoon designed in the then-contemporary Art Deco style).
But I will wait in vain for the wonderful Road Runner/Coyote cartoon WILD ABOUT HURRY. It is not included here, and there will be no more compilations. But at least we have the six sets to play with. Thank you, all who made the sets available to all of us who love the Warner cartoons.
I'll have an update on the Corny Cole fundraiser sometime soon...the Creative Talent Network's fundraiser ended on Friday. Thank you to all who helped spread the news and to those who contributed to the fund. May we all be there for each other in times of trouble.
It's raining here today so the planned trip to Niagara on the Lake will keep til next week.
Thursday, October 16, 2008
Corny's entire life work was burned beyond recognition. He also lost all of his feline and canine friends, who apparently could not be evacuated with him. This, to Corny, was the greatest tragedy.
The CREATIVE TALENT NETWORK is running a fundraiser for Corny. His entire earthly posessions are now contained within his office at Cal Arts. Please give what you can, here:
Thank you for helping a brother animator in his hour of need. My sympathies go out to Corny for the loss of his home, possessions, and friends.
Saturday, October 11, 2008
Sunday, October 05, 2008
The sail had been arranged by the Oakville Club's dockmaster, who is very kind.
(Yes, I'm going to join the club within a week or so. It's worth it.)
Once we motored out a bit further from the shore the wind came up, actually rather briskly. I'd wondered whether the heavy leather jacket and hat I was wearing would be necessary. They were. The chill was palpable, but not intolerable. "This is the last sail of the season," Mr. Macrae said. Winter comes early here and the boats have to go into dry dock very soon. They will spend the winter in the club's storage lot. A wooden boat has to 'breathe' and have air around it when in dry dock, but THE DUCHESS was fiberglass unlike its sister ship the ANITRA, so she'll be bundled up like a silkworm to shield her from the snow and wind.
Once we were on the lake the view of the Oakville waterfront became much clearer. Immense mansions line the shore of the lake. The hoi polloi (that's me) can walk along the lakefront with frequent detours to the street, to avoid the estates. Others have large walls divorcing their property from the public way below, rendering them invisible or (apparently) smaller than their actual size. From the water their true dimensions were obvious. The sheer scale of some of these places boggled the mind. At least one of them had a small outbuilding which Mr. Macrae said was a chapel. (They get tax breaks for having a church on their property. One of the mansions has a statue of Buddha). One monster mansion, built by the CEO of a famous brewing company, in the Dutch style, was nearly the size of Buckingham Palace (I am not exaggerating here.) The minute it was finished, the company terminated the man's contract since they thought the house a bit on the ostentatious side.
Another mansion is so large that a seven year old girl and her servants live in one side of it, and her parents have a separate wing, like royalty. I asked how normal the child could be with this sort of upbringing. No one really knows. The parents have willed the house to the state in the coming time, to keep their taxes down.
There were a few older, smaller houses there as well, but they will probably be bought up and knocked down (if the Canadian market doesn't follow the American one) for more mansions. One of the mansions that is less than a decade old is going to be razed for a larger one.
The DUCHESS had two red and two green ribbons on opposite sides of her mainsail to indicate starboard and port and to keep her into the wind. You handled the wheel so that all four ribbons lay in a straight line, and that meant you were sailing properly. I'd never seen anything so simple yet practical. The younger Macrae told me that night sailing was much better than in the day. I asked how he saw the ribbons then; it appears that there are lights, and moonlight would also give them some indication of a view.
I took the wheel for a short while but since the wind was shifting rapidly, I thought it was better that the pros handled it. Gusts kept springing up from all quarters and we even saw a probable waterspout off the starboard bow --at a safe distance, thankfully.
A 'turkey race' was in progress on the lake. Numerous sailboats were cruising for the reward of a large Thanksgiving turkey. I don't know who won.
The sail lasted a little over two hours. It was very generous of these kind people to take a total stranger out, and we parted friends.
Afterward, I went to Toronto to the NUIT BLANCHE, but did not get very far. The turnout for this event, where hundreds of artists had projects viewed for free, was immense. Toronto was jammed and every venue had lines going around the block.
I got to one large artists' loft in the Queen West district, but couldn't see any of the shows. (all right, so I don't like crowds.) I bought a handmade hat by a well known hatmaker. It's shearling, very well designed and warm, covers my ears and neck, and looks very feminine. At first I balked at the price but when I consider that one of my colleagues at work is already coughing, and that other folk are suffering from flu (and it's only early October!) I considered this money very well spent.
So now I'm set for the winter with warm coat and hat. I think the boots will last for another year and the gloves and winter clothes are fine.
Friday, October 03, 2008
Last week the Greater Toronto Area (which includes Oakville at the extreme west) had an Open Door celebration where various historic buildings allowed people in for free tours.
I'd been busy in the morning and --after nearly deciding not to go--I decided that well, I'd take in a few of the Oakville attractions.
I began at the home of Oakville's first mayor; it's now Canadian Sound Systems. No, they don't work in film. They design home sound systems. And the inside of the house wasn't open at all, negating the promise of the Open Door. O well. I looked at the map and was pleased to see that the next nearest tour location wasn't a house at all. It was a boat called the ANITRA, quite naturally docked in the harbour nearby. So I walked down to it and sat in the back with a group of good natured people, listening to the story of the ship. She was built in the Twenties for the wonderfully named Montye Macrae, who had already built two other ships called ADANAC (Canada spelled backwards.) Someone suggested that he name the new ship ANITRA after the Egyptian dancing girl character in PEER GYNT, since "she had lines like an Egyptian dancer and was very exotic." So he did.
The ship has been in the Macrae family ever since. She has won racing prizes and also was clearly designed as a party boat--a trip below decks showed brilliantly designed spaces (there are eight berths down there, a kitchen, a head, a closet, and an icebox, all neatly framed in teak.)
I walked over to a small dock to see the ANITRA from the water. Some of the ladies who had been on the ANITRA with me were getting into a small launch. "Do you want to go over to the club?" the man at the helm asked, indicating the Oakville Club across the way. I assumed that it was also open for the Open House Day. I said I did not want to be any trouble, but he replied that it would be a very long walk for me up to the bridge and over, so I might just come along with them. So I got into the little motor launch.
The man, whose name was Larry, asked us if we were in a hurry to get over. "Does anyone want to take a trip up the creek?" he asked."There are hawks and herons there in the water."
No one objected, and so up the creek we went.
What a change. My apartment building, which was about 100 feet from the creek, was invisible. A few townhouses associated with the building across the street were barely visible. A whole new world opened up on that creek: reeds, weeping willows, pristine water (they caught a 5 pound pike there the other day, Larry told us) and best of all, wonderful little private patios and ladders from the big houses on the other side of the creek. Yachts were also parked along the eastern side.
The western side did not reveal herons, but the family of hawks was out hunting. "The water is two feet lower than usual," Larry said. "The Quebecers take it."
He took the launch up the creek for what seemed like a mile, then headed back, saying he'd better go since he'd be missed. He is the Dockmaster for the Oakville club.
Well, what can I say about the club itself? We had the tour, and I am determined to join. It won't be immediately since my finances at this stage are not yet recovered from the move, but it will be this year. They have a gym, a restaurant, social events, and best of all a feeling of community. I certainly could use a bit of that right now.
Larry was generous enough to arrange for me to go out on a boat with one of the club members; it turns out that the gentleman is a relative of the man who owns the ANITRA. So tomorrow I am going to go out on Lake Ontario with some very kind people who will--so I'm told--put me to work doing something on the boat.
And there is a Nuit Blanche in Toronto that same evening, with hundreds of artists showing projects for free all over downtown. I also get together with a new friend on Sunday. It should be a fun weekend.
So I'll stop writing now and come back when I have something to say about these events.
Happy weekend, all.
Saturday, September 27, 2008
I drew this caricature of the
infamous Jewish gangster, BIG JACK ZELIG, for author Rose Keefe. Her new book THE STARKER is the biography of this very unusual gangster--and it conclusively solves a famous early 20th century murder case. (The Rosenthal-Becker case was the second biggest news story of 1912.) Ms. Keefe was kind enough to send me a signed copy of THE STARKER, and this is my way of paying her back...
Friday, September 26, 2008
Thursday, September 25, 2008
My film THE OTHER EDEN is now on Channel 4 and Aardman's new beta-site, 4mations.
I have watched a few of the films and while they are a mixed bag there is great potential here: a Youtube type site aimed solely at animators.
I wish them well, after the early fracas... and the film is getting some good reviews. This is really an interesting development. I've always thought that the internet was the animators' best friend since it enables us to get our films out before the public without dealing with predatory distributors (as I and some other animators have had to in the past) or dismissive festival programmers. We can put up the film, people can watch it, and the middleman is eliminated. I'm all for that.
So try 4mations. See what you get.
Tuesday, September 23, 2008
I made this film at RIT to gain the last six credits I needed to graduate.
Since I had only ten weeks to complete it, I used after effects. THE OTHER EDEN is my first paperless movie; and I thank Professor Chris Jackson for helping me learn this excellent program.
I wanted to do something like Frederic Back's CRAC! which was rendered beautifully in pencil, and I think that the shot with the polar bears comes closest to the look. I can only wish that I could do a film that is as amazing as Back's work, but this is sufficient for what turned out to be eight weeks' work. The "pencil" rendering was actually done with the program's 'hair' filters, put in 3D, rotating at high speed in different directions. And I used Photoshop to create all the original artwork. Though it is flat artwork most of it is actually working in the third dimension.
Chris Jackson said that I was using the program in a manner that hadn't been originally intended, and that this was a good thing.
So here it is.
Monday, September 22, 2008
So on to the show...
I got to Ottawa by train on Friday the 19th with no trouble, met a nice lady on the way going to a writer's convention in the same city, and chatted for most of the trip. We shared a taxi to our respective hotels, and I had my passport waiting on the dresser, so I dropped the baggage off and attended Skip Battaglia's reception first. There I met Tom Gasek, Jeremy Galante, and a few RIT students who'd made the trip. Nice times.
The reception at the local Ami Cafe later on featured animator chow (heavy on the convenience food) and some good hummus, and better art. There were original drawings by Brian Larkin and some interesting robots made of metal found objects (I love stuff made of found objects.) After a while I wilted and went to bed.
There in the hotel were my roommates Marion Kulyk, an assistant director at Nelvana Studios, and a young animator named Nelson, who is designing a video game. Marion had brought cheese and berries and enough food for a small army, from a trip to nearby Quebec. And they found a balloon that said "Happy Birthday" floating in the parking lot, so they tied it to my bedroom door. Thoughtful and fun, and very pleasant roommates. We hit it off very well at once.
We were in a centrally located hotel that had a small cafe, but for my birthday on the 20th I went over to the Chateau Laurier, a fantastic French confection built in 1912 by Charles M. Hayes, president of the Canadian National Railroad and one of the more prominent victims of the Titanic sinking --he did not live to see this fine hotel open. I ordered French toast for breakfast and the hotel gave me a lovely mess of seasonal berries as a birthday present.
I heard people talking animation nearby and was recognized after a bit by Chuck Gammage, owner of the eponymous studio that turns out a very nice reel (go to the site and view the reel to see what I mean.)
After breakfast I went out to the Teletoons Animation Scholarships to see how the Sheridan reels competed with the other student films from Canadian schools. Well, it was really obvious that the Sheridan animators were doing some wonderful films. I thought some of the ones that did not win, place or show, were worthy of attention, but I don't think the Teletoons people wanted to give all the awards to one school! I was particularly impressed with Vladimir Kooperman's C BLOCK, but I also liked the very nice and understated ROMANCE IN GRAPHITE by Melissa Maduro.
Jeremy Galante, formerly of RIT and now teaching at Edinboro, took me out to lunch for my birthday, and I then went to what Lily Tomlin used to call the 'piece of resistance'- IDIOTS AND ANGELS, by Bill Plympton. Dang, this guy just keeps getting better and better. A subtitle to this film could have been BAD LUCK WHITEY...there's actually a reference to Tex Avery's BAD LUCK BLACKIE short brilliantly woven into this animated noir story about a horrible man who learns to be a mensch, courtesy of a pair of beautiful white wings that inexplicably grow out of his back. Watch the Avery cartoon and then the Plympton and see if you can catch the reference: to me it was loud and clear. Hint: It involves paint.
Charlie Chaplin was working on a film called THE FREAK toward the end of his life. It, too, was a story of a human who grows wings and is not understood by other humans. But the nameless protagonist of IDIOTS AND ANGELS not only isn't understood by others...he doesn't understand his own metamorphosis and is ridiculed by the grubby inhabitants of the sordid, grey and brown bar he seems to spend nearly all his free time in. (The art direction of this film is unlike that of any other Plympton picture: it seems marinated in cigarette smoke and auto exhaust.) Even the pretty butterfly that evolves, significantly, from a worm that lands on the man's head, is only a pale yellow and not a brilliant burst of color. The symbolism is there, but the man is dead to all beauty and finer things, and soon after that, so is the butterfly.
The subject matter is not the stuff of the usual American animated film--a man dueling with his own soul --but Plympton gets his message across with a few dashes of his trademark sexual humor. It's all in full service to the story, which is told entirely without dialogue.
Charlie Chaplin would have loved this.
I went to Barrymore's for the allegedly famous party. Got there after traversing a minefield of a street, to be hailed by Mike Sporn, who was here for a retrospective of his work, and Candy Kugel, up visiting the festival after winning an Emmy for writing PBS's BETWEEN THE LIONS. Congratulations to both!
After a while we realized that we seemed to be the only people in the line who were over the age of twenty (ahem, I was celebrating my twenty-first birthday), and so Candy announced that she was heading back to the hotel. I walked with her, and we had an interesting hike down and up a mess of stairs, past the fortresslike American Embassy that people kept teasing me about all weekend, and eventually I got to the Ami Cafe again (Candy stopping at her hotel.) There I met some of the Sheridan third year students and talked their ears off. But they did not seem to mind.
I got lost getting back to the hotel, which was actually around the corner... and after a one hour walk through the very safe and clean streets I got back to more or less where I started.
On Sunday I had some of the excellent cheese Marion brought, and went to the National Gallery where Eric Goldberg was doing a seminar on Putting Life Into Your Characters.
Eric showed some early tests from ALADDIN and a surprising amount of work on Phil from HERCULES in his very entertaining lecture. The book is very good--I think he's replaced Preston Blair's, and also John Halas' TIMING FOR ANIMATION. Not bad.
There was no time to do any book signings, so all of us left around then. I did meet up with Luc Chamberland, whom I hadn't seen since 1988, and whom I reminded of a famous incident with the story reels for a film called WE'RE BACK. You know what I mean, Luc. It's funny but I won't write it here!
And so now I'm back at Sheridan, with a good presentation today and more tomorrow and the rest of the week.
I had a good time. I'd like to see more but I always believe you should leave your audience 'wanting more'. It was a nice birthday weekend, filled with new and old friends and good films and the pretty city of Ottawa--pretty, until it snows, that is!
Thursday, September 18, 2008
There will be lots of people there whom I know, and I'll have a report when I get back on Sunday night.
I literally have to run out the door at the end of tomorrow's class to catch a bus to the station, then transfer from the GO train to the "Via Rail" that should take a few hours to get there. I look forward to the trip; Via Rail is a very civilized railroad, as I know from past experience.
The super and his wife will look after Gizmo, so that is one less thing to worry about.
So stay tooned, as the cliche goes: more anon.
Monday, September 15, 2008
David's book, PERSPECTIVE! FOR COMIC BOOK ARTISTS, is the last word on the subject. Hey, the man draws like Winsor McCay!
I look forward to frequently visiting David's blog and can recommend it to all animators and cartoonists who appreciate good drawing.
Sunday, September 14, 2008
The Cartoon Cave. One recent post discussed a Cartoon Network show based on a short film called ADVENTURE TIME, which some other blogs have praised and which Peter dislikes.
At first I couldn't watch this for more than ten seconds...the style was unappealing in the extreme. Then I remembered what my dear teacher and friend Ken O'Connor (a 50-year veteran of the Disney Studio) thought about THE SIMPSONS...Ken was hostile to the show because of its style, even when I argued that a more conventional cartoon style would be detrimental to the writing and absurd characters that made the show well worth watching.
So I tried to give ADVENTURE TIME another chance. I still couldn't watch more than three minutes. I lost interest almost immediately in the characters and their inexplicable transformations. And it wasn't because it was a 'non Disney' design. (I dislike imitation "Milt Kahl" style as much as poorly designed shows like this one.) No, there was a basic problem: ADVENTURE TIME was simply not appealing to me in any way--design, animation, and especially story.
I'm discussing linear and nonlinear storytelling in my lectures, and I'll be showing examples of both types of films for the remainder of term. I have always taught that there is no 'one way' to animate, design characters, or (certainly) to tell a story. But this film fails me on a very basic level: it does not entertain me, or make me interested in what any of the characters are doing. That, in the end, is all that a story should do: keep viewers interested in seeing what happens next.
ADVENTURE TIME is all over the place. It doesn't have the unifying elements that are found in the very first Terry Gilliam short film, STORY TIME; in "Doug the Cockroach" Gilliam parodies a linear story and has secondary characters run away with the film when the hero proves to be completely uninteresting, with no conflicts in his story. The second half of the film, "THE ALBERT EINSTEIN STORY" does have a structure to its nonlinear madness. The words 'Hands', 'Foot' and 'Dance' lead the action in an unconventional, but weirdly logical, direction.
The Christmas cards at the end are unified by subject (Christmas) and develop their own logic from the shapes and characters found in the standard card designs. A church steeple looks a little bit like a missile, therefore it becomes one. The Wise Men follow the star, so the star 'leads'--though not very well. A chickadee killed in one card falls into another card's scene, where it is suddenly violently out of scale. There is a highly entertaining logic in these unexpected developments that puts Terry Gilliam's work head and shoulders above ADVENTURE TIME, even though it may be no better animated in the 'classical' sense.
All films have structure, even the so-called 'experimental' ones. There is a development and variation, whether in color, music, or pacing, that serves to unify the film.
And I agree that Simon's Cat (which has a new example up, in addition to the two older, even more hilarious films) would be a far more appealing cartoon series than ADVENTURE TIME. I love these simple, well made little shorts and find them hugely entertaining.
But that's just me. And a few million others, from the number of hits on SIMON'S CAT'S videos.
De gustibus est non disputandum, but some things just are intrinsically better than other things. The artist 'becomes' an artist by learning the difference between mediocrity and quality. It's a good thing to aspire to in other aspects of life, as well. And no, it has nothing to do with budget, the number of drawings, or the number of big stars (animated or live) attached to the project. There are all sorts of big budget animated turkeys that don't have the charm and appeal of SIMON'S CAT.
Friday, September 12, 2008
Monday, September 08, 2008
As promised, I am printing a picture of one of the charming Canadian animals on the North Bay Carousel, taken during my recent trip to the area. The other animals (moose, lynx, loon, deer) are also charming, and I really loved the gorgeous gondola framed by two carved loons, done in finest Art Nouveau style. This is the less publicized of the two carousels on the North Bay waterfront.
I'm now into the second week of classes, and it's been a very interesting experience. My slide shows--a new feature of my lectures-- have to be shoehorned a bit to fit precisely in the 45-minute class time slot. The lecture is one hour on Mondays, and I have five two-hour studio storyboard classes during the rest of the week with the five sections of students in the second year.
In two weeks' time I will be visiting the Ottawa animation festival for the weekend. I've never been able to go before, and hope that I can manage it now without getting too overloaded! Fortunately there are cat sitters available, I can grade assignments on the following day, and there is a room to share in the city that isn't too dear. So the adventures continue.
I'll have a complete writeup on what I saw in Ottawa after I get back. Postings will be a little slow til then, due to the time spent on classwork and presentations.
Tuesday, August 26, 2008
Yesterday I went on a pleasant walking tour of parts of downtown Toronto with NCS member and fellow cartoonist Patricia Storms, whom I met at the Doug Wright awards a while back. We found a good used bookstore right on Spadina avenue that had some unusual and rare Canadian cartoon books. "Mine!" Patricia said, rushing for one small book and then explaining to me that the interesting cartoons featuring a bear character were very well known in Canada. I'd never seen it so I'm afraid I can't remember the artist's name or the title of the panel cartoon. (Thanks to the readers of the blog, of whom I have at least two, for informing me about J. M. Simpkins' JASPER THE BEAR. Is this the first cartoon character to have a public park named after him? Take that, Yogi.) Not much else to say except that I'll be spending the rest of the week on my first presentation, which will be done in-class rather than in the lecture hall due to the cancellation of Monday's class for Labor Day. The big classroom goes into operation in Week 2. I was able to plan the remaining lectures around Canadian Thanksgiving, which also falls on a Monday; (October 13). It's a lot easier to do this midway through the course.
The weather has turned sharply cooler and this is in some ways a Good Thing; but I'll probably be forced to take the herb garden indoors within a week or so.
Friday, August 22, 2008
A word about Cottages: These correspond to the USA's "cabins in the country". Everyone here in Oakville seems to 'go to the Cottage' on a weekend. So I was thrilled to be able to go to one, myself.
Lynn actually doesn't live in a cottage; it's a full sized, very nicely laid-out house on a pretty lake. Other small houses nearby correspond more to the 'cottage' description than her very comfortable home. Many are located on nearby Lake Nipissing, (pronounced with the accent on the first syllable, thankyouverymuch.) Lynn's friend went into hysterics when I got it wrong.
She kindly drove me up to Lynn's house; and we toured the city of North Bay after the party.
The area is lovely in summer, but in the spring a lot of the dreaded Black Fly and No-See-Ums are about. These legendarily bloodthirsty things bite and generally make life extremely unpleasant in May and June. There's always a catch to a beautiful area...
The North Bay waterfront had two wonderful carousels that Lynn and her husband helped create. This one,
is a loving recreation of the great turn of the 20th century carousels; each handcarved horse is sponsored by a local business or resident. Many artists contributed to this gorgeous work of kinetic art. Lynn's characters are painted on two of the central panels and she sponsored one horse as well. (I wasn't able to ride on it but sat next to it on a horse named "Pearl". All the horses can be seen on the carousel's website.)
Next to this fine carousel was an extremely amusing one that featured Canadian animals. I rode on one of the carriages and photographed the beavers, moose, and other folk-art styled carvings and will try to post some of them in the next blog entry when the pictures are back. It takes a while to get film developed nowadays! but it will be worth the wait.
On Wednesday I went to the Canadian National Exhibition. Blog regulars might remember the ghastly 'cookbook' illustrations I printed from a 1956 CNE handout a while back. Well, the CNE had many more wholesome historical items on display in a special show, right next to the "Quilt of Belonging", which has a square representing every nation on the planet (as of 2003, when the quilt was finished). *Most remarkably, the quilt also has squares representing the First Nations of Canada (called Native Americans in the USA.) The work is superb and the quilt is a very pretty sight.
I took in a Gypsy Horse show performance at the Ricoh Stadium that featured trick riding by a young pair of pigtailed, blonde sisters in addition to some excellent acrobatic work by their elders.
There was also a Farm complete with live pigs, cows, ostriches, horses and chickens; the wonderfully named "Horse Palace", an artist' display, a surprisingly neat midway (Canada seems to have very little litter, which is a good thing) and guest performers including, of all people, Mickey Rooney.
I didn't stay long enough to catch his show but admire his spirit.
My one criticism of the event was that the "Sitting Pretty" exhibit on the history of the toilet was a bit too subdued. If you are going to do a history of the toilet, hyperbole should be the order of the day, not modest, half-hidden little cubicles. Something like the Mr. Rooter Marching Toilets...or the infamous marching toilets complete with the Toilet Bowl Queen from Pasadena's 1998 DOO DAH PARADE, which I had the honor of participating in. But I was marching that year with the Howl-a Lujah Chorus of bassett hounds, walking two of Ron Clements' pets on red ribbons--I was certainly not elected Toilet Bowl Queen!
I will post pictures of the carousel, etc. when I have them back. Meanwhile, another trip is planned for tomorrow...more anon!