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Friday, August 01, 2008

A Preston Blair Moment

Hello again everyone; it's been a while since I've posted, and since a lot has been going on I really have no excuse not to write.
I have pictures too; and will post a few, I promise.
Thing is, I've been working very hard on a special project for Sheridan and have spent additional time getting my course outlines ready. This was a tall order since it involved working within a planned program; my storyboard classes have to provide a foundation for layout and character design and animation, just as they do in actual productions. Assignments had to synchronize with the ones in the other classes, and this was a bit of a tall order since I'm not familiar with how and when they are given out. Mark Mayerson gave me a rough outline which helped greatly. So it took a bit of rewriting and conferring with colleagues before my course outlines were in a shape that looked reasonable. Naturally they will be subject to change as soon as actual students test drive the assignments; but I'm reasonably certain that the workload is reasonable for them as well as me.
So....I've been doing some more exploration of Toronto, but not too often. The weather has been crazy, with very heavy thunderstorms alternating with bits of sunshine, which kind of discourages me from walking in the forest.
Now yesterday was balmy, lovely and so on; the perfect day for a bicycle ride. Naturally that was also the day that the forty year old plumbing in this apartment jammed so amazingly well that it was necessary to get someone with a fifty foot 'snake' to dislodge the accumulated detritus so that I and my neighbour could use our sinks. It took all day to get a plumber out here, which is good actually, since it's a holiday weekend and no one at all will be available during that time.
As if that wasn't exciting enough, Focal Press's new animation book editors informed me last week that my book PREPARE TO BOARD! was to have a second American edition. Unfortunately they informed me too late for me to have time to get permission from Disney to use four pieces of copyrighted artwork that appear in the first edition. Disney have never denied me permission when asked, but it is an absolute necessity for me to notify them by mail and receive permission for the use of the artwork in any new editions well in advance of publication; *update: Focal have informed me that they will hold the printing until the end of the month so that I can get the letter from Disney. It usually takes about 30 days. So there's a chance that the second edition will contain the four copyrighted illustrations. I don't mind replacing my own work so much--I have adequate substitutions; but I was very sad to note that Ken O'Connor's illustrations for FANTASIA that appeared in the first edition cannot appear in the second one. I have no non-Disney artwork by Ken, and so his interview will have only the portrait with the "Gluteus Maximus" statue illustrating it.
I repeat that this is not Disney's fault. They allowed me to use their illustrations in the upcoming Chinese edition of the book, since I had adequate lead time to get written permission from them. They do not do business over the phone or on email; my request must be in writing. Therefore I need about a month's lead time to get the legal matters settled. There are other changes to the book that are actually for the better. Nina Paley allowed me to get much higher-resolution images off her SITA website, so the color illustrations from this film are much better in the second edition. It makes a difference and keeps a generous art donor happy. I also replaced a very pixelated image from Bill Robinson's senior film with a much better render of his character that was in his project files all this time. And I replaced a typo in the back of the book where Dave Block was credited for a book instead of his brother Bruce. I even asked if they could put in a recommendation for Francis Glebas' upcoming book for them, DIRECTING THE STORY. I helped Francis get this book published and worked as a sort of unofficial copy editor, so I can assure you all that it's worth getting and doesn't duplicate materials in PTB.
You animation geeks out there might be aware that this gives PTB a sort of Preston Blair moment. Blair wrote the first good book on animation technique in 1942. He used a lot of copyrighted characters from MGM, Disney, and Warner short cartoons. The studios made him change the artwork, and while some (like the dancer RED HOT RIDING HOOD) survive in subsequent editions with a new hairdo, and the Owl from BAMBI is intact, more famous icons such as Bugs Bunny, Tom and Jerry, and his own Wolf had to be redesigned and redrawn. The first edition of Blair's book (originally called ADVANCED ANIMATION) is fabulously rare and can be viewed here. Click on the links to see Part Two.
What I don't understand is this: Blair not only removed the famous characters, he also redrew the ones that were one-shot character types that appear in any number of studios' cartoons. Perhaps MGM was hoping that Meathead the Dog would become a star and Warners had plans for Beaky Buzzard, who knows.
I have no idea if PREPARE TO BOARD!'s first edition will become as rare as the Blair. It's unlikely, since the press run of the second edition is half the size of the first. If anything, the second edition will become the rarer of the two.
So the reprint of the book is a bittersweet moment for me. I was really delighted to be able to give Ken O'Connor his much-overdue 'due' as a storyboard artist. Perhaps PTB will have another edition and I'll be able to put them back. Time will tell. Meanwhile, to paraphrase Yogi Berra, I'd like to thank all the people who made this day necessary.


Ani Levi said...

Hi Nancy,
Not sure if it would be any help for the second edition of the book, but John had two old drawings - one of Betty Boop by Grimm Natwick and a Wile E Coyote by Ken Harris. Pretty sure they wouldn't have any copyright issues, as they were given to him personally. Give me a shout if you're interested.

Nancy said...

Thank you kindly, Ani, but since both Betty and Wile E. are copyrighted by Fleischer and Warners, respectively, they could not appear as illustrations in my book. It's not the drawing that has the copyright, but the character.
Thank you again for your generous offer.

Nancy said...

Disney gave us permission to use the artwork in the second edition, so we're good to go in October!