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Thursday, December 25, 2008

The Rich are Different from You and Me...

This is a stupid Christmas present for all of you who, like me, are piddling around on the Internet on Christmas day instead of doing something more constructive with your time.
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 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 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 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

Incredible Russian Animation

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

Oh Noels

This is my ridiculous card for the year. Normally I try to do a funny New Year's card. 2009 is looking so dire from the perspective of the scary 2008 that it took me a long time to get a theme this year, and even though I love the Lolcats at I can has Cheezburger? even they couldn't get me in a cheery enough mood. The faces on the cats, particularly the one on the right, were very critical. I redrew Tiger Cat twice and still am not happy with the drawing.
2008 was a memorable year for me in many respects: I got to move to Canada, get a new job at Sheridan that is a much better fit for me than the last one, and had my book published in Chinese. The second year student Leicas were in many cases of very high quality and the students were kind enough to inform me of this. The only thing that would top this news is getting my second book accepted by a publisher, or getting hitched, and I'm working on the first one. That one at least has a chance.
So that's the good news. You know the rest of the news, it's on every major news source. Might as well draw cartoons and have a few laughs.
Happy Holidays.

Monday, December 15, 2008

STORY by Disney

I've just received a copy of STORY the first new edition in the Walt Disney Studio Archives Series. This is a heavy, impressive looking book. It was so heavy, in fact, that copies that reached a noted Canadian fantasy and comic bookstore were damaged in shipment--so my copy is a bit bumped in the corners. Since I don't mind a little cosmetic damage, I got it a bit cheaper and well in advance of the web bookstores that appear to have it on backorder.

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


Hello all,

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

A Festive Weekend

I spent Friday night in Toronto after visiting the One of a Kind Festival with Lynn Johnston, who drove down with a friend to visit that show and another involving diamonds at a museum. There was so much to do in the city that weekend that I wished I were twins...we missed the National Cartoonists Society Christmas party on Friday evening. Never rains but it pours.

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.