Friday, December 04, 2009
The contrast with the original venue is pretty dramatic. It was originally on a website that I was required to have for graduation purposes--which no one visited. The video may now go viral (feel free to repost or link to it) and reach an entirely new audience of readers.
It's amazing to see how rapidly the dissemination of information has changed in the past few years. I consider it a great opportunity for independent animators; distributors are a thing of the past. You have only to upload your film to a website to reach a potential audience of millions of people.
The blog hasn't been updated for a while, due to a few forseen and a few unforseen developments. Gizmo had major surgery in mid November for her teeth and is doing well. I developed a laryngeal infection about the same time. Now that won't stop me from typing (it's not as if I have to dictate this) but it will make me rest up and not spend as much time online as I usually do.
There was also a last minute of legal flurries as I received and forwarded the contract for the Disney illustrations to my publisher in England. This had to be done in hard copy; legal documents have not yet reached the digital world, though they may do so eventually.
At any rate, ANIMATED PERFORMANCE will contain thumbnail drawings by myself and Ellen Woodbury that were done for three feature films. I thank Don Hahn and Maggie Gisel, his assistant, for valuable assistance facilitating the contact with Disney Publications. The artwork should look good since the book will be a larger format than PREPARE TO BOARD.
We are on track and on schedule--I'm awaiting the layouts.
At work, we are near the end of the fall semester, which went pretty smoothly I think.
I'll try to post more regularly and put up a few more images from the book. Who knows, I might make another commercial.
Tuesday, October 13, 2009
Enter some wonderful friends I met on Facebook, though I'd met one of them previously, and another was familiar through his films. Elliot Cowan, who created The Stressful Adventures of Boxhead and Roundhead, kindly offered to do some drawings, and there are five of his funny sketches in the book as a result. Elliot is what we would call a mensch, and his animation is actually hand drawn and finished in After Effects--the Boxhead Roundhead series shows that you can get some great effects with simpler programs than Maya if you have imagination and talent. Other folk from Facebook either donated artwork or recommended someone whose work would suit (there are some fine surprises in the illustration.)
So I am waiting for two things: the legal paperwork from a well known studio (which is being reviewed at this time, I am informed...cross fingers...) and the layout for the cover so that I can slot my artwork into it.
And the layouts for the book of course. I am really crossing fingers, holding thumbs, and breath as well for this last one. Nuff said for now.
But anyway, the knee injury, though better, will only relapse if I cannot exercise. Winter is rapidly approaching here. I have been okayed for aquatic exercise and bicycling. These aren't easy to do in the dead of the Canadian winter.
The Oakville Club's pool is outdoor, and closed for the season; and the club itself is down a steep hill that is very dangerous for me to attempt in the dead of winter; since the sidewalks can be very icy here. (There are no problems with cars. They shovel the roads but do not take as much care with the sidewalks.)
So regretfully I have had to resign from the club and join the local Y, which is accessible by bus, which has two lovely pools and the finest workout room I've ever seen. There is also a cute little cafe and a bright, cheery design to the entire building. It's cheaper, but not THAT much cheaper than the club. The main advantage is: I can actually use the facilities. And I intend to do so. I want the knee to get better and I want to keep my health up...I will be less likely to get sick in winter if I exercise.
Or maybe this will all turn into another sick joke like my first exercise experience did. I was doing really well til that damn knee went out in the middle of Union Station.
The good news is that I have two years to come back to the Oakville Club without penalty. Lots can happen between now and then, but it's nice to know. I enjoyed being there, but really I couldn't do anything after the accident.
Knee injuries are the worst. I want to get this over with, for once and for all.
Wish me luck.
The school year has of course begun, and I've been pretty busy with that.
I invited Don Hahn of Disney to the Sheridan campus and he graciously lectured for nearly two and a half hours, screened the rare short LORENZO, and provided the Sheridan students with a wonderful glimpse of how the legendary teacher Walt Stanchfield conducted his classes-at one time Stanchfield modeled for a 'leggy' woman to show her the pose he wanted!
In that same week (the second week of term), Mark Mayerson invited two other animators to lecture the same students. One was my former Disney colleague Joe Haidar, who had produced a short film of his own (the Animated American). The other was independent animator Paul Fierlinger, who described how he managed to work in his own style for fifty years. A regular smorgasbord of techniques, everything from major studios to one man (and woman) operations, was discussed during that time. I know this did the students a world of good and we hope to have more speakers in future.
Now we're nearly at midterm already (where did the time go?) and just past Canadian thanksgiving, which was a lot of fun. I invited Rose Keefe, writer of THE STARKER, the biography of Big Jack Zelig. This "Jewish Robin Hood" was the terror of the lower East Side of Manhattan in 1912. Rose is a near neighbour and she was great company. Gizmo the cat fell in love with her (possibly because Rose also owns ferrets--Gizmo likes people who have other pets). And we discussed famous early Twentieth Century murders at the dinner table...which I find a whole lot more interesting than football.
Other guests included a fellow professor from Sheridan (she and her family were originally from China); one Chinese graduate from Sheridan, and one Russian friend who arrived a bit later. So all of us, other than Rose, were immigrants.
Gizmo was so excited she kept inviting herself to sit at the table and had to be removed four times. She really just wants to sit and be part of the conversation (made no motion toward the food) but since I refuse to be a Crazy Cat Lady, she gets to eat on the floor out of a cat food bowl. Really.
So anyway that brings me sort of up to date except that I plan to take a little trip during our midterm break. More about that later, if anyone is still reading.
again, my apologies for the long hiatus. Check me out on Facebook...I'm there pretty often, throwing pies.
Sunday, August 23, 2009
The group I went with were friendly and welcoming and it was a generally nice day for me. Gizmo was eager to play with her mouse when I returned, and I'm getting ready for some meetings on Tuesday...but Monday brings more cartoon drawings for the book.
I met several contributors on Facebook, and so this is truly a twenty first century collaboration. The home stretch appears vaguely in the distance...I want to get all the illustrations done before classes start on the 8th. This can be done, but I also want to do them well...a few may be reworked before they are all mailed off to the editor in England.
Thursday, August 20, 2009
Saturday, June 20, 2009
“Isn’t that hard work?” the interviewer said.
“No,” said Bill Plympton. “It’s a pleasure”.
So began the Bill Plympton Masterclass at the Royal Ontario Museum that was held as part of the Worldwide Short Film Festival. I’d actually heard that Bill was coming to Toronto at the very last minute, courtesy of that new social calendar-cum-bush telegraph known as Facebook. Bill courteously invited me to attend his masterclass and so here we were in the bowels of the ROM building, surrounded by neatly mounted animal skeletons. It seemed appropriate to have permanently grinning skulls as part of the audience. Bill’s humour is not soft and fuzzy and there is a cheerfully macabre tone to his work.
“Cartoons have power. They can change the way people think. I like sex and violence in my animation; I don’t really think about children’s topics. I think about adult ones: jealousy, ambition, sex, and love.”
“HAIR HIGH I thought would be a hit. We had David Carradine and all these famous voice actors. It did not take off like I thought it would. After that I said, F**k it, I’m making one for myself—really LOW tech, all in pencil.”
“IDIOTS AND ANGELS (his latest feature) was a huge success. I did about 25,000 drawings for it. I did the color for the (short film) GUARD DOG on paper, but IDIOTS was colored on computer. I spent a year on storyboards and character designs and one year on the animation, drawing 100 drawings a day. We spent 6 to nine months in post (the sound, color, music, and editing.) The fact that it had no dialogue made it easier. All age groups love this movie. My mother likes it! It has a mystical, religious quality, a feeling of transcendence. Maybe that explains its popularity.”
“If you do music for your film be sure to get the rights first.”
“I’m not out to get rich. I like making films I like to make, and doing good work.”
“My short films have an average production time of 2 to 3 months.”
People think that short films are only an entrée. You can make a living at it.
Here is PLYMPTON’S DOGMA, three points for successful short film productions:
· SHORT. The film should be five minutes long at the maximum. It’s harder to sell a 15 or 20 minute film.
· CHEAP. Digital production and Flash make production costs reasonable. My average is $1000.00 per minute; HOT DOG cost $5,000.00 per minute.”
· FUNNY. Audiences want a laugh. It’s easier to sell. Here’s my idea of the perfect animated film….BAMBI MEETS GODZILLA. (a film by Marv Newland.) This film took one weekend to make. It has only 12 drawings and is one and a half minutes long. To date it has earned $100,000.00. It’s the DEEP THROAT of animation.”
SELLING YOUR FILM
“Now after you’ve made a short film, what do you do with it? I do the festival circuit. Nickelodeon gets too much stuff. They go to film festivals so that they can see the good stuff with the crappy stuff screened out. I first realized that you could make it in short films at the Annecy festival. Distributors heard the audience applause for YOUR FACE (1987). I made another short film with the profits from the sales.”
“Sell your films to:
1. THEATRICAL. (Tournee of animation, the Animation Show)
2. NON THEATRICAL (Libraries, museums, airlines, corporations and schools. This is a shrinking market.)
3. THE INTERNET (Itoons, Atomfilms, Ipods.) My new film was immediately sold to Ipod…I make a lot of money on the Internet. It is a growing market and becoming more important. But I can’t sell a film to others if it is free on the Net. I take it down if someone rips me off. Possibly the exposure pays—it’s a lot of publicity.”
4. MERCHANDISE. I sell drawings, sketches, DVDS, books, and posters. There’s nothing new about this; Disney’s been doing it for 80 years.
5. COMMISSIONED WORK: Trailers, commercials, and films—but it’s another shrinking market.
6. APPEARANCES: I appear at schools and festivals.
So there are many ways to make money with short films.”
“I like getting up in the morning and making my own crazy films the way I want to make them. I do a feature every 3 years. I’m working on a new feature with a more exaggerated style of animation—taking reality just that little bit further.
Once a year I’ll do a short…I did three this year.. SANTA, THE FASCIST YEARS was done in a week (the animation was completed over the Thanksgiving long holiday weekend), HORN DOG was done in two weeks. MEXICAN STANDOFF took 3 weeks.”
“I do 3 key poses on the dog and put slobber in between them. Disney films use 20, 24 drawings per second. I don’t have the time, the money, or the patience, to do this so I cheat. I use pans, zooms, and only a few drawings, sometimes animating on 4’s. The audience doesn’t care; they only want to see the humour. I do garage-band animation.”
“The Dog is simple—a box with legs. Design a character and keep it SIMPLE! You have to draw it thousands of times.”
“I saw a dog in Madison Square Park barking at a bird…I wondered why? I went inside his brain and imagined that the dog thought he was protecting his master from harmless animals that were really vicious assassins. I did 15 ideas for this film and tested them (I believe in testing!) and narrowed it down to 8 ideas.
In France they thought the Dog was a parody of George Bush because everything he did turned out so badly. But he’s just a funny dog, looking for love…and he fails.”
“I do all the drawings. It’s faster than hiring someone. My producer scans them in and colors them. I love drawing. I use straight ahead animation and spend 5 to 10 minutes on each drawing for the final tie-downs. I get in a ‘zone’ like a writer where it just flows…it feels like I’m on autopilot. It just happens. And the more mistakes in the drawing, the better. Finger marks and erasures add texture and substance that you can’t get in digital media. I don’t throw out drawings; I fix them and make them better. Cintiqs may be okay for some people but they’re not for me. I am old-fashioned; I prefer paper.”
“I used to be a political cartoonist, but they date. Animation is timeless. I choose films about romance.”
“I’m only confident when I hear audience applause. Then I know it is a success.
You have to believe that what you’re making is the best film ever made. It rarely is, but you need the strength and courage to commit all this time and money to it. Don’t do animation to get rich and famous. Do it because it makes you happy.
The process is what is fun. DRAW all the time. That’s the way to be an artist.”
Monday, June 15, 2009
Here are some shots from the sailboat race to FIFTY POINT, a former 'malarial swamp' and current nature preserve/boat marina. My hosts, Jim and Rolly, were sailing the catboat BOO KNOWS whose sail and 'wishbone' you see here. Catboats allow the skipper to sit in the rear of the boat and control the sail with ropes, rather like a marionette string but not exactly. My function was to stay out of the way and avoid falling overboard.
Friday, May 22, 2009
to amuse the readers since I've been a little lax in updating the blog recently. This is due to the combined duties at the college (TLA, or Teaching and Learning Academy, is required for probational faculty for two years. This is the second session and so far, so good.)
I've been working hard on writing the book, which I want to have largely finished by the end of summer. In retrospect it does seem a bit daft to be writing a new book, but I wanted to get the animation methods I learned from my teachers and my own experiences (both in industry and in teaching) down on paper while I still had the time and ability to do so. It's hard to see the forest for the trees when you are writing a textbook so professional critiques are required by the publisher. PREPARE TO BOARD! benefited from Mark Mayerson's input. The new one has Yvette Kaplan's critiques, which have hugely improved ANIMATED PERFORMANCE. (Thanks, Yvette!) I'm a little apprehensive about some of the illustrations since the copyright holders must be contacted. AVA is doing that this time around. Most of the illustrations are mine but there will be some input from Sheridan students and also from my former RIT students including Brittney Lee, whose storyboard were prominently featured in PREPARE TO BOARD! and Ignacio Barrios, who is currently rigging and animating characters at Blue Sky. Ignacio kindly allowed me to use his CGI character developed for his RIT MFA film under my supervision, and so ANIMATED PERFORMANCE will have some examples of CGI animation based on hand drawn thumbnails. I think that this may make it unique, but Ignacio is a busy man so I'm not leaning on him too hard for illustrations.
Several other artists including Nina Haley and Simon Ward-Horner have also given me permission to use their sketches. As a matter of fact, I'm currently working on Chapter Four, where Nina's will be used (Animal Acts, or animating mammalian, avian, and reptilian characters). Simon's work will appear in that chapter and the one on human/animal combinations.
Chapter Three went like greased lightning mainly because of a marvelous interview with Art Babbitt that I got in 1979 when I was still a student at Cal Arts. I was in Hollywood getting some color film developed and my friend Enrique May dared me to go up to Dick Williams' studio. I called them, and (this being a long time before the age of security checks and lockdowns) they readily agreed to let me visit. After viewing my reel, Dick pointed out that Art Babbitt was in the room and that both he and Mr. B. liked my work. My immediate reaction was to invite Art to Cal Arts as a lecturer, but the political situation at the time made this impossible. So he and Dick agreed to let me do an interview at the Williams studio a week later, which I did. And I thank my younger self for asking the right questions. Babbitt was a marvelous teacher. Nothing in the interview duplicates anything in Richard Williams' book and I think that chapter 3 is going to be hard to top.
I've had a lot of fun drawing the illustrations. Most of them are thumbnails, which I think are underutilized in some animation books. Thumbnails are necessary to clarify your thought processes and get your acting strategies straight so that you don't later have to redo hundreds of drawings when animating a scene. But I also have a fair share of illustrations that are still pictures conveying a type of character. There are even a few caricatures. I love drawing caricatures and once wanted to be a theatrical cartoonist. A book is a bully pulpit for putting your fond fancies in print, as long as your editor agrees that the illustrations are appropriate. So I have drawn two caricatures so far and will probably do more before this is over. Editor Georgia Kennedy is a pleasure to work with and the rather odd delivery system--I write in Ontario, send it to Yvette in L.A. via email for proofing and suggestions, she sends it back to me, I rewrite, then send it to Georgia with the illustrations to the FTP server in Brighton, England--is a very Twenty First Century way of working. Yvette and Georgia have never met. I have never met Georgia. Yet we are able to work together on this project through the miracle of fast Internet connections. Curiously enough I've learned that Canadian copyright law is quite different than American copyright law...I wonder whose law applies when I'm publishing a book in Europe that will have editions in other parts of the world?
Monday, May 11, 2009
On the panel is R. Stevens, the creator of the webcomic Diesel Sweeties. He
entered into a deal with United Features Syndicate to distribute his comic in
newspapers, and ultimately left that deal to concentrate on his web efforts.
Joining him will be: Scott McCloud, author of Understanding Comics and the
controversial futurist text Reinventing Comics; Stuart Immonen, an accomplished
“mainstream” comics artist on Marvel’s Ultimate Spider-Man, and also a
self-publisher who prints his own books and comics, and serializes work online;
Brendan Buford, Comics Editor for King Features Syndicate, and a cartoonist,
publisher, and someone who works with mainstream book publishers; and John
Martz, co-creator of Drawn.ca and Chair of the Canadian Chapter of The National
Cartoonist Society. The panel will be moderated by Steven Murray, writer,
illustrator, self-publisher, webcomics artist, and cartoonist and journalist for
Canada’s National Post newspaper.
Saturday, May 09, 2009
The book is coming along pretty well; about 1/3 of it is finished, complete with illustrations. It's quite amazing to think that I've never actually met my editor Georgia Kennedy. I send all the materials to her in Brighton, England via FTP after Yvette Kaplan gives the 'professional critique' on the writing in L.A. The Internet is little short of miraculous...we can literally turn around changes in a day, while working in three different regions of the planet.
Yvette and I have known each other for years, and she's a very direct and straightforward critic. That's good for me since I need another pair of eyes to tell me if this is working or not.
And I wanted someone who would tell me. The worst reviewer never tells you what can be improved as well as what works.
Luckily since I don't really have any issues about corrections to the writing, I have used all of Yvette's suggestions and the book has become much better as a result. I made a few other tweaks after her changes were implemented....then fixed an illustration or two...
Of course I have to eventually kiss it goodbye and get it into production. I was tweaking some of the paragraphs and reworked one illustration and finally had to say, Enough. Chapter's due in Brighton. Deadlines matter in publishing as well as in animation. So I'll get it as good as I can get it in the time that I have, and get it finished on time. This is the same instruction I give to my students for their assignments. Time management is a useful skill.
Artists who work for themselves can take as long as they like, but if you work for someone else, they will want the material by a certain date, and that's why we are called 'commercial' rather than 'fine' artists. Our skills may be the same, but our clients aren't.
In other developments, the Sheridan Industry Day was a week or so ago, and Mark Mayerson wrote it up on his blog and since I could not attend the whole thing I won't duplicate things here. The animation department puts on a very fine show for the visiting studios; it's very impressive to see each student's display on their own individual monitor in a huge library space, with print samples of their work and sometimes even copies of the animation reel available.
There is a comic art show in Toronto today and tomorrow. I'll head in on Sunday and write it up for the next entry, possibly with some photos. The new camera is working very well.
Sunday, May 03, 2009
These tugboats are in Oakville harbour putting masts on the small sailing boats that didn't get their masts last week (more on that later.)
I am a member of the Oakville Club, which is located just near my apartment building. This wonderful building in the top photo dates from 1908 (though the largest wing was added later.) The badminton court features a remarkable roof that was originally an airplane hanger for Sopwith Camels (it dates from the First World War.) The dining room is in an 1848 building that was once a grain warehouse. The Lumix camera takes a great flash photo!
Saturday, May 02, 2009
Wednesday, April 29, 2009
Disney animator and story woman Carole Holliday has made her first live action short film,
Now, while a forty minute live action short film may sound like a big jump for someone who designed Roxanne for A GOOFY MOVIE (and animated in my unit in Paris), storyboarded on DreamWorks' PRINCE OF EGYPT and did character designs for JOHN HENRY (Disney) it really isn't that different. Live action has been using storyboards ever since Alfred Hitchcock's time (Hitch drew his own boards and also worked with animator Saul Bass on the shower scene for PSYCHO). The new movie and editing software and high powered computers means that you really can edit and mix an entire film on a Mac or PC yourself and achieve professional results if you know what you are doing.
Carole wrote the screenplay, produced, directed, designed the costumes, and did the sound editing. She had a large crew working in other capacities, and Alia Margaret, a truly amazing little four year old star of the show.
Here's a blog Carole made about the process. You can see her laughing and joking with the crew in one of the clips.
WITT'S DAUGHTER is the tale of Witt Stringfield, a Korean War veteran who returns home to his family after three years overseas to find that his four year old daughter does not remember him. She also does not care to know him. She is afraid of him. Instead, little Catherine is friendly with all the other male characters who obviously have come to her home during Dad's absence... her rakish Uncle Gus and his poker playing buddies all receive the attention that Dad desperately craves.
The film's atmosphere is well researched, which is what I expect from a writer/director who is also an experienced story and development artist. You feel that you are in the period from the first frame. Even the actress playing Mama (Mandy Henderson) has a period look to her face; she's not fashionably emaciated. The camerawork has a golden look to it that tells us that this is 'a past time'. We are, and yet are not, there with the characters since manners have changed as much as the cars, clothing, and home furnishings. The past literally is another country.
The film takes place in a time when people did not talk about sex in public (my father insists that no one talked about it anywhere) but there is an undercurrent there just the same. Witt and May rush into one another's arms but not right into the bedroom. (Catherine is present; they must behave.) Every other family in the film has five or six children. May has agreed to babysit a friend's brood of five when Child Number Six falls seriously ill. Witt demands that he is more important, that the wife's place is home with him. This, too is 'period' (depressingly so.) But the urgency of the friend's need (and Witt's selfishly not informing May that he was returning home) takes precedence.
Witt not only connects with his daughter, he learns that his own wishes are not necessarily the most important.
Witt's Daughter is an enjoyable, nice film about a father reconnecting not only with his daughter, but with his family and himself. It is a positive, optimistic film. Carole plans to make more. Good on ya!
Here is some more information about the film.
I bought my first digital camera today. It's a Panasonic Lumix, with a touch screen. Quite futuristic really.
Ironically enough I had to use my 1958 Contarex this morning to shoot the boats being lowered into the water at the Oakville marina by a huge crane. I'd promised Larry the harbourmaster that I'd do this, and the Contarex was not only the only camera I had available...it was the only camera there, period. The crane swung each boat out in a sling, for all the world like a giant playing in the bath with some very expensive toys. Everyone else was told that the crane crew would start at nine...I was told they started at seven, and so I was the only one there at the proper time.
I shot three rolls of film with the gorgeous (still functional, and extremely heavy) old German camera, then took them to the local camera store and bought the Lumix.
I'm about to try the new one out. It also takes movies, so let's see if I can get it to work!
Wednesday, March 25, 2009
(First Nations is the Canadian equivalent of "Native American")
My friend Jean Pilotte is animation supervisor of an animated series called BY THE RAPIDS. The show was created and written by Joseph Tekaroniake Lazare, who also directs the show. Lazare based the town of "By the Rapids" on his hometown of Kahnawake, Quebec, and the characters on people who lived there. The main character, Cory Littlehorn, is a modern teenager whose parents are successful lawyers. The Littlehorn family return to the parents' community in By The Rapids to live, and each episode deals with...well, highly unexpected things. I won't describe the plot of the episode Jean showed us here, but the writing was really outstanding and nothing about the program's plot was predictable. The gags were funny, if sometimes highly unconventional (all right, I'll tell you about one of them: all the dogs in the town smoke cigarettes.) The show is highly original and entertaining. The animation is limited but the characters still worked.
The show is produced in English and Mohawk languages and airs on APTN , the Aboriginal People's Television Network. This network covers all of Canada but I am not sure whether it reaches the USA.
Perhaps some American network would air this interesting show.
Big Soul Productions is located in a wonderful arts building just off Spadina Street in Toronto. I amused myself by looking at the bookstore (where I didn't buy anything) and the musical 'museum' store (where I bought a small rattle that reminded me a little bit of a cartoon mouse.) Afterward, a friend took me to a well known Polish/Eastern European supermarket where I amused myself by recognizing the Frosch (frog) brand cleaners that I used to use in Germany.
So I'd call this a nice, multicultural day out!
Oh, and we had a nice Sheridan senior student with us on the tour. I thought that since Bernice's film involved Raven and the Moon (a Northwest Coast legend) she might be interested in hearing about By the Rapids. Not only was the young lady overjoyed to be there, she obviously made an impression on some of the staffers, and a copy of her film will be shown to the producers when they return from a trip to New York.
Perhaps BY THE RAPIDS will air on PBS. That would be nice.
Tuesday, March 17, 2009
Apparently new, raw footage has been found and this, along with some animation from SALUDOS AMIGOS, is used in the film.
I'll write more when I hear about the distribution and release dates.
Work continues on the book, which is dedicated to Frank Thomas, Ollie Johnston, and Shamus Culhane. I chose these three dedicatees because of their writing--not their animation! Frank and Ollie's book THE ILLUSION OF LIFE is the first important study of character animation, and Shamus Culhane's ANIMATION FROM SCRIPT TO SCREEN was the first important animation textbook. All three men were my friends, and I hope the new book won't be too shabby. Lynn Johnston has agreed to write the Foreword, or Backward as it will probably turn out.
Speaking of books, I've just provided a blurb for the updated TIMING FOR ANIMATION by John Halas; Tom Sito wrote some excellent additions bringing the book into the digital age. (Hey, we still time the same way; a second is a second, whatever program or technique you use to measure it!) There will also be illustrations from some CGI and Flash sources in addition to the originals, which may be difficult to view today. This update is one that everyone should get...I recommend it highly.
I've ordered the two Walt Stanchfield drawing books and will write a review when they arrive. I studied with Stanchfield and Glen Vilppu at Disney's and actually preferred Stanchfield as a teacher, though both were of course excellent.
So that's all the news that I'm allowed to print. I have more, but can't print it!
Saturday, March 14, 2009
There is some interesting news on the animation front: the Russian feature THE TALE OF THE SOLDIER FEDOT (Fedot Strelets) made by the Melnitsa Animation Studio was posted on YouTube for a few days. Note: someone took it down, which is probably what I would have done in their place. I did get to see it beforehand. I hope that it is made available on dvd; in the meantime, the website for the film is still up, and the trailer can be viewed there. I am told that the film did make a respectable amount of money by Russian standards, and it was either loved or disliked in equal measure by the audiences.
The film is beautifully art directed; the artwork resembles lacquer paintings on Russian boxes. It is done in digital cutout animation, apparently the first Russian feature to use this technique (though short films have done this for some time). Some characters' heads turn; others are flat.
The animation is stylized and never boring.
The poem it is based on probably sounds better in Russian. My friend Alexey Kobelev sent me a link to an English translation last year, and it is this translation that is used in the film's subtitles.
I was surprised and a little repulsed by one episode near the end, which contains a grotesque racist caricature. The character is described in repulsive terms in the original poem, but the visuals take the stereotyping to the limit. The episode could be edited out of the film if anyone wanted to show it in the West. (The Tsar is trying to marry his daughter off to just about anyone...and there were many more candidates in the original poem.)
Take a look. It's worth it. I wish Studio Melnitsa luck in their future productions.
Sunday, March 01, 2009
But while researching the Polish feature ADAM 2 that Mike mentions (which is unavailable on YouTube) I found two films that I saw in junior high school that I have (a) had nightmares about and (b) been searching for ever since. I'm serious. I haven't forgotten the first film in forty years, though I thought it was French because its title is French....RENAISSANCE by Walerian Borowczyk is a stunning allegory of war. I remember being fascinated by the stop motion animation, which has never, in my opinion, been used to greater horrific effect than it is here.
LES JEUX DE ANGES, also by Borowczyk, is an even more harrowing depiction of life--if you can call it that-- in a death camp. Stay with it. The slowness is part of the horror. I remember that I and one other Jewish student were the only ones to understand this film in the entire class. Perhaps it was better for the other students that they did not understand it. Borowczyk ended his career making porn movies and I can't say I blame him for seeking some kind of escape, any kind of life affirmation, as the antidote to these memories.
So thanks, Mike, for inadvertently getting me on the right track to find these two films. Maybe I should have just asked Jules Engel about them at Cal Arts. It never occurred to me to do so so it's taken me a bit longer to find these films than I had hoped...but they are worth the wait.
Saturday, February 28, 2009
SITA SINGS THE BLUES was held up from release by copyright issues that have now been resolved.
The entire feature can be viewed here.
Friday, February 27, 2009
I'm of course delighted, but it helps to put things in perspective; the second edition was less than half the size of the first edition, and the third edition will be about the same size as the second.
The only difference between the second and third editions is that the rear cover will now state that I teach at Sheridan College rather than at RIT.
Monday, February 23, 2009
Not only did SLUMDOG MILLIONAIRE win in all categories in which it was nominated--beating 'sure things' like THE CURIOUS CASE OF BENJAMIN BUTTON--but the beautiful Japanese hand drawn film LA MAISON EN PETIT CUBES won the Best Animated Short Film award, rather than CGI entries PRESTO and OKTAPODI.
Sean Penn won a well-deserved Oscar for his portrayal of Harvey Milk in MILK. I voted for him but didn't think he'd make it. Good job.
Every now and then people remember that story is what brings us in to the theatre, not special effects and explosions. Well, some of us anyway.
Wednesday, February 11, 2009
“The labyrinth is a very, very powerful sign,”
explained del Toro. “It’s a primordial, almost iconic symbol. It can mean so
many things, culturally, depending on where you do it. But the main thing for me
is that, unlike a maze, a labyrinth is actually a constant transit of finding,
not getting lost. It’s about finding, not losing, your way...
...I can ascribe two concrete meanings of the labyrinth in the movie. One is
the transit of the girl towards her own center, and towards her own, inside
reality, which is real. I think that Western cultures make a difference about
inner and outer reality, with one having more weight than the other...The other transit I can say is the transit that Spain goes
through, from a princess that forgot who she was and where she came from, to a
generation that will never know the name of the fascist. And, the other one is
the Captain being dropped in his own historical labyrinth. Those are things I
put in. But then, as I said, the labyrinth is something else. Each culture will
ascribe a different weight to it.”
Guillermo del Toro on Fairy Tales and Inspiration: ...Even
when I was a kid, funny enough, I used to be able to find those fairy tales that
felt preachy and pro-establishment, and I hated them. I hated the ones that were
about, ‘Don’t go out at night.’ There are fairy tales that are created to
instill fear in children, and there are fairy tales that are created to instill
hope and magic in children. I like those. I like the anarchic ones. I like the
crazy ones. And, I think that all of them have a huge quotient of
darkness because the one thing that alchemy understands, and fairy tale lore understands, is that you need the vile matter for magic to flourish. You need lead to turn it into gold. You need the two things for the process. So when people sanitize fairy tales and homogenize them, they become completely uninteresting for me."
Other Miyazaki films such as PRINCESS MONONOKE are grounded in what could be cultural memory or traditional fairy tale, but is in fact original 'myth' created for the film.
Both SPIRITED AWAY and PAN'S LABYRINTH are picaresque adventures unified by 'original' -mythic structure. Both of these are far better films than CORALINE. The latter film is a collection of technical marvels with no underlying mythic theme to unify them. The characters have no real resonance in either of the film's two worlds.
Monday, February 09, 2009
Many years ago my sister made her first cake. My father was so happy about his daughter's first baking effort that he decided to make genuine homemade whipped cream, the kind his father put on top of the five cent banana splits sold in the family restaurant during the Depression, in my sister's cake's honor.
Dad bought a pint of whipping cream and some caster sugar and whipped it up until there was nearly four inches of the stuff...but my poor sister's poor cake was a lamentable effort, only about an inch high. Nevertheless, Dad insisted on putting ALL the whipped cream on the thing.
The frosting completely swamped and drowned the main event. "Where's the cake?" I exclaimed as I went prospecting through the gargantuan whipped cream topping.
We ate it and all got sick afterward from the superabundance of fat and cholesterol.
This deadly dessert is, to me, symbolic ofModern animated features, where technique is the whipped cream and story is the cake.
I was going to write some criticism of two animated features I saw recently, but found that someone else wrote a much better one years before feature animation was a glimmer in Lotte Reiniger's or Walt Disney's eye.
So here are some wonderful excerpts from Mark Twain's essay, FENIMORE COOPER'S LITERARY OFFENSES, written in 1895 (the official birth year of motion pictures!) It is amazing how much these arguments apply to film stories. I am editing the word "Deerslayer" and a few points out so that Twain's argument may be applied to animation in particular. Here goes:
1. The rules (of literary construction state that)...A tale shall accomplish something and arrive somewhere. But the "_________" tale accomplishes nothing and arrives in air.
2. They require that the episodes in a tale shall be necessary parts of the tale, and shall help to develop it. But as the "__________" tale is not a tale, and accomplishes nothing and arrives nowhere, the episodes have no rightful place in the work, since there was nothing for them to develop.
3. They require that the personages in a tale shall be alive, except in the case of corpses, and that always the reader shall be able to tell the corpses from the others. But this detail has often been overlooked in the "__________" tale.
4. They require that the personages in a tale, both dead and alive, shall exhibit a sufficient excuse for being there. But this detail also has been overlooked in the "___________" tale.
5. The require that when the personages of a tale deal in conversation, the talk shall sound like human talk, and be talk such as human beings would be likely to talk in the given circumstances, and have a discoverable meaning, also a discoverable purpose, and a show of relevancy, and remain in the neighborhood of the subject at hand, and be interesting to the reader, and help out the tale, and stop when the people cannot think of anything more to say. But this requirement has been ignored from the beginning of the "_________" tale to the end of it.
6. They require that when the author describes the character of a personage in the tale, the conduct and conversation of that personage shall justify said description. But this law gets little or no attention in the "___________" tale, as ____________'s case will amply prove.
9. They require that the personages of a tale shall confine themselves to possibilities and let miracles alone; or, if they venture a miracle, the author must so plausibly set it forth as to make it look possible and reasonable. But these rules are not respected in the "___________" tale.
10. They require that the author shall make the reader feel a deep interest in the personages of his tale and in their fate; and that he shall make the reader love the good people in the tale and hate the bad ones. But the (viewer) of the "___________" tale dislikes the good people in it, is indifferent to the others, and wishes they would all get drowned together.
11. They require that the characters in a tale shall be so clearly defined that the reader can tell beforehand what each will do in a given emergency. But in the "_______" tale, this rule is vacated.
I will venture to add one point to Twain's wonderful list. Characters in an animated film should have some discernable design relationship to one another and be from the same design universe unless the story calls for it. If a film (CORALINE) has grotesques for neighbours in both the 'real world' and 'other world' while she and her parents and one friend are designed and animated in a completely different style, how do you differentiate the Other World from the Real World? You are piling frosting on top of frosting until you have completely hidden the cake.
THE TALE OF DESPEREAUX is three or four cakes...I waited an hour for the story to start. Was it about a mouse, a rat, or soup? (I didn't wait long enough to find out if it was about a princess.)
CORALINE'S cake makes little sense and collapses like a fallen souffle the minute you try to puzzle out character relationships, motivation, or meaning.
But the frosting is little short of miraculous.
That may be enough for some people, but I somehow doubt that either film is going to do very well. Story remains undeveloped in these features while technique soars to magical levels. But it's all just putting more whipped cream on top of the same sad cake.
All the audience really wants is a good, understandable story, with characters that we are interested in, that is well told. Walt Disney knew that, and his heirs at Pixar know that. Give us more cake and less topping.
I'll let Mr. Twain have the last word.
A work of art? ______ has no invention; it has no order, system, sequence, or result; it has no lifelikeness, no thrill, no stir, no seeming of reality; its characters are confusedly drawn, and by their acts and words they prove that they are not the sort of people the author claims that they are...Counting these out, what is left is Art. I think we must all admit that.
Monday, February 02, 2009
Wednesday, January 14, 2009
I had the pleasure of working with Mr. McGoohan on TREASURE PLANET. He was the voice of Billy Bones, the dying, pathetic alien character I'd been assigned.
As was usual with Disney recording sessions, the supervising animator was invited to hear the actor record the lines.
I'd last seen Mr. McGoohan as King Edward Longshanks in BRAVEHEART, but also recalled his scary television show THE PRISONER whose simple, yet terrifying, balloonlike Rovers frightened and fascinated me as a child.
I was apprehensive about meeting Mr. McGoohan since I'd heard he could be 'difficult' to work with. Actors are sometimes temperamental, or so I was told.
It turned out that Mr. McGoohan and I were the first people to arrive at the studio. I could think of nothing else to do but show him some of the sketches of Billy Bones-- a twisted, tortoiselike creature in high cocked hat and cloak with glowing eyes that I carefully designed to 'read' even in black and white sketches.
No, it wasn't a caricature of Mr. McGoohan, nor did I use any pictures of him as reference for the design. But it occurred to me that he might think that I had. He definitely had aged quite a bit since his PRISONER days. Would he be insulted by the drawings?
I needn't have worried.
"But these are excellent!" Mr. McGoohan said. "And", he added, scrutinizing me carefully, "I've seen you before."
I explained that other than a few documentaries on Disney DVDs, it was unlikely that Mr. McGoohan could have seen me on film since I was usually behind the camera; there was a slight possibility that he could have seen me visiting my friend who lived in Pacific Palisades, where his home was. He continued to insist that he'd seen me. I didn't contest the point. In Hollywood, actors go everywhere, possibly even where animators go.
We then had a very friendly conversation that I have to paraphrase, though I have never forgotten the main points Mr. McGoohan made.
"I am a journalist," he said. "I wrote for Irish papers...acting was not my main interest. The best thing acting ever did for me was to introduce me to my wife."
"I got tired of the 5 a.m. shoots and decided to concentrate on producing rather than acting." (His performance as Longshanks in BRAVEHEART was done as a favor to filmmaker Mel Gibson.)
"I was also offered the part of James Bond, I was the first actor they asked. I turned it down. It would have destroyed me."
He had no regrets for doing this. How many people would have done the same thing?
We met again for pickup sessions on Bones in early 2000, which was after my auto accident. While Mr. McGoohan had been on a cane for the first session, I was using one for the second, and he was horrified.
I would like to offer my small tribute to this kindhearted and highly intelligent actor.
He was quite the looker as a young man but there was a brain behind the good looks. Apparently Mr. McGoohan wrote and produced many COLUMBO shows for his friend Peter Falk, and he also created THE PRISONER and wrote some of the more disturbing episodes of that series.
Patrick McGoohan was also one of the few successful actors who remained faithful to their first wives for their entire working lives!
Farewell, Mr. McGoohan, and thank you for your kindness and your wonderful acting.