Total Pageviews

Friday, April 04, 2008

The Uncertain Art

I've been teaching for eight years now. It's hard to imagine that one quarter of my career would be spent outside studios (though I still work in the industry, it's not the main 'bread and butter' job any more.)
During that time there have been more animation books published than, I believe, were published in the previous twenty. Some of the books are long overdue, particularly UNFILTERED, the new book on Ralph Bakshi, and STEPPING INTO THE PICTURE . THE ART AND FLAIR OF MARY BLAIR, which profile Maurice Noble and Mary Blair respectively, and DREAM WORLDS, a wonderful book on animation art direction by Hans Bacher. I've ordered them all even though I know books weigh a ton that will be duly added to my already-topheavy shipment to Canada. These are important works on subjects that weren't covered in most early animation books.

There are great books on the art of animation, but only a few on the history, and these still tend to be studio-specific. The Walt Disney studio is of course the best documented, with Warner Brothers catching up fast.

The books that deal with general animation history are generally flawed. Some are America-centric, some have historical errors, and all of them are out of date. This field changes so rapidly that the best source for animation history turns out to be the Internet. Wonderful things turn up on YouTube--who'd have thought I'd be actually able to show SORA NO MOMOTARO in a history class that dealt with propaganda animation, or this charming early sound cartoon (KURO NYAGO) from Japan? (Warning: This tune will stick in your head all day!) These cartoons were only names in a book before. Thanks to the Web, they can be shown and analyzed and compared with contemporary work. KURO NYAGO was made the same year as SKELETON DANCE!.

New animation DVDS are also full of good things. The Disney and Warner studios have put some great artwork from their productions on as 'extras'--this is even more remarkable when you realize that their main market is a family audience, not educators or historians. There's a little something for everyone.
So I don't want to kvetch or bite the hand that is feeding us such wonderful goodies, but I do want to bring up one thing: the history in some of the recent reissues is highly skewed. The most surprising was on a recent release: one animator was the subject of the 'extra' but most of the clip was spent discussing another animator and another picture!

Now, the opinions of the artists on these discs are to be respected, but are they to be considered the last word, the official history, of the subject? Until a better source comes along, these will be seen as the 'accurate' version of events. And some, as I mentioned before, are skewed. There is no definitive history of animation and this book may never be written. Animation is a young artform, but it blossomed into gorgeous variations on the themes before it was ten years old. It needs an encyclopedia, not a single volume, and much of it would have to appear on disc rather than in print.

Or maybe a website with the right links would handle this ever-expanding art in the most up-to-date fashion? Has someone already done this?


jesus chambrot said...

I just got my copy of Ralph Bakshi Unfiltered and am blown away by the quality of artwork it holds.

Nancy said...

He was and is a fine cartoonist. His character design comes from a totally 'non Disney' perspective--I'd say his major influences are the strip cartoonists of the Teens and Twenties, some of whom did some pretty wild stuff. Check out the link to Smokey Stover on this site!

Floyd Norman said...

We're just wrapping up a new Charles Solomon book here at Disney on "Visions Lost and Found." Disney Films that never made it to completion.

Another animation treasure to add to your list.

Nancy said...

Hey Floyd, that sounds wonderful. I wonder how many films it will discuss? Are you working on it in any way?
And will it duplicate anything in "THE DISNEY THAT NEVER WAS?"

Floyd Norman said...

The new book will probably discuss a half dozen Disney projects that never made it to completion.

Two film projects of interest will be "My Peoples," the ill fated Disney Florida studio movie that was being directed by Barry Cook. Also included will be wonderful art and design for "WildLife," the second digital movie from Feature Animation. That film met its untimely demise in 2000.

Dead Disney projects find new life in this exciting new book.

jesus chambrot said...

FLOYD-I guess thats another ART OF book I will soon be buying!

I also have a suggestion for another book, probably not too many interested though but I would love to see a book on animators and designers
from Disneys past and present, that shows their personal work while at Disneys. It would be great to see caricatures, figure drawings and such. That would be another cool book!

Nancy said...

Actually Jesus, many animatora are now self-publishing their own work. If you can't make it to the Comic Con, check out this site:

Over 250 Disney and DreamWorks and Warner artists are here, together with a generous number of illustrators. You can link to their sites and purchase their books.

There's also a bookshop in Hollywood that sells a lot of these, and the Comic Cons of course...possibly Angouleme would carry some as well.

It's easier to see some of this work than ever before. I don't know if anyone would ever publish Fred Moore's girlie sketches in a book, or other 'gag' drawings from the old days. Many may no longer exist, but one never knows!

How about calling it the Animators' Scrap Book?