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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

Learning Something New

Sheridan College hosted a group of First Nations artists, storytellers, and elders for its first-ever outreach to the Native people of Canada.

I only wish that I could have attended more events; I was at the opening dedication and then, after class, went to hear a Meti woman speak about her culture.

The Metis are the descendants of Native women and French trappers. They have been in Canada for several hundred years, but were generally 'neither fish nor fowl' in census. The culture remained undocumented, the speaker said.

For it was a separate culture. The Metis wore specially woven sashes, played spoons and special fiddles (made partially of birchbark) and danced to an unusual asymmetrical beat.

"Have you any time after your talk? I think that there is an animated film that is about your people," I said. The lady acquiesced and we walked to the library, where a print of Frederic Back's CRAC! was easily obtained.

Sure enough, the film is about the Metis. "He's got the Hudson's Bay blanket right! and there is the sash! and there is the whiskey jug next to the musicians!" the lady exclaimed joyously, while wondering at the work that went into Back's beautiful Oscar winning film.

So, the film that I thought was about French Canadians, was in fact about a particular kind of Canadian--most of whom lived in Ontario; though a few went West.

I wondered if Back himself was a Meti. No, it turns out he is not. He was a European immigrant to Canada. In which case CRAC! is a meticulously researched film.

It is about a culture that is forgotten and relegated to a museum, or so I thought.

Not so, my guest said. It is about the disappearance of the family.

I think that we are both right.

Another Environmental Film

Here's a film from the excellent Steve Whitehouse, link courtesy of Dermot O'Connor (whose site features some of the best flash gaming around as well as trenchant commentary on Things as they Are)

Thursday, September 25, 2008

All Better Now

Hello all you well wishers,
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

Ottawa Animation Festival or part of it anyway.

Well, folks, since I was only at Ottawa for the weekend, I really can't report on the entire festval. I can only report on what, and who, I saw. So here goes. And it's a bit of a stretch since the humungus traffic jam that closed off the entire highway just outside of nowhere, kept us sitting in the traffic for three hours. I got in at 1:30 this morning and taught two classes today without falling asleep once. (snore) But now i'm awake. I have never loved trains more than I did this morning...but if I'd taken my train back, I'd have not been able to attend Eric Goldberg's seminar on characters on Sunday afternoon. And that would have been a bad thing.

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

Ottawa Trip

I'm leaving tomorrow for a weekend in Ottawa. This will be my first time at the famous Film Festival there; I have never attended, not even when YOUR FEET'S TOO BIG played there about 25 years ago. Freelancing meant you could never take time off, ever!
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 Celsi's Blog

David Celsi (also known as David Chelsea) has just started a wonderful new blog that can be viewed here.

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


I've just been reading the posts of my new colleague Peter Emslie on his blog,
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

Hans Bacher's Back!

If you look at the top link to the right, you'll see Hans Bacher's new art direction blog, ANIMATION TREASURES, at ONE1MORE2TIME3, !

Welcome back, Hans! This new blog is a must-see for all students of animation art direction.

Monday, September 08, 2008

A Beaver on the North Bay Carousel

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.


I makes a Lolcat

It r silly.