Thursday, April 30, 2009
Jonathan Rosen's work may first catch your eye for its gritty line work and dystopian appendages -men and women bound and tethered, limbs exchanged for mechanical parts.
Jesse Gordon once asked the mild manner artist why he drew so many characters with things sticking out of them. The response: it came from when he first saw someone using a Walkman.
Now that we've changed seasons, here's a little motion graphics loop, "Springtime For Igor" Jonathan created from a day in the Brooklyn Botanical Gardens.
Wednesday, April 29, 2009
Here's a segment on the actress' sessions with Milton Greene
Just before the two minute mark we're shown photos from the "Black Velvet" sitting.
Ordinarily, this would be motion graphics -panning and scanning over photos. Not here. The photos were tacked onto a wall and filmed with a handheld Super 8 camera.
The result is loose and sensuous. The camera moves over the images just as your eye might, going in and out of focus- staring, moving with fits and starts.
Tuesday, April 28, 2009
Early in the Clinton Administration (or was it late in the first Bush Administration?) I stopped eating animals. One Christmas party a few years later, Tissa David was surprised to learn this.
She had been vegitarian for many years, I guess it was a rare diet at one point. She asked me why, and I didn't have a good answer so I made something up. She didn't have a reason, either.
After working with her for sometime -most specifically after she told me all about the shark after PBS shark documentary -I understood why she didn't eat critters, even if she didn't. In talking about the shark, she constantly called the fish "him" as though sharks were a street gang. She had a personal intimacy with the shark ("he is so mean"), over a lifetime of animating chickens and cows and penguins and drum-playing-rabbits I suspect it became difficult to eat the same creatures who she was responsible for bringing to life.
Now it surprises me to see animators lustily consume steaks and burgers and hear them cavalierly discuss grilling the cousins of the cows they animated the week before.
Above: One of a few dozen brief clips from the film
In other news: "Nursery University" was the top per-theater gross film in the country this weekend!
Monday, April 27, 2009
Sunday, April 26, 2009
No pictures yet.
It was frustrating. Let's put it this way, in the words of Tissa David: "In Hungary, being late -it is like spitting in someone's face."
Lateness spirals, like in a production, ultimately causing us to be late for The Handsome Family concert at the Highline Ballroom.
We only missed two songs, though.
Their latest "LP", "Honey Moon", was released this week.
When an artist creates an album like their 2000 recording "In The Air", everything else has a hard time measuring up but their subsequent work has never fallen short. 2006's "Last Days of Wonder", for example, is a moving meditation. Exquisite even.
The problem with being brilliant, is that people come to expect it.
Saturday, April 25, 2009
We're moving today, so I'm offering a lazy entry.
Our friend Abbey Luck informs she's nominated for a "Webby", I guess that's a bug-related award. Here's the piece:
You can vote for these awards: here.
The 50 Top Selling DVD's Of 2008
Rank Movie Title Units Sold Total Revenue Release Date
1 Dark Knight, The 10,300,870 $215,715,802 12/9/2008
2 WALL-E 10,153,664 $175,451,924 11/18/2008
3 Iron Man 9,408,533 $174,955,826 9/30/2008
4 Kung Fu Panda 8,431,318 $139,126,669 11/9/2008
5 I am Legend 6,444,666 $116,519,064 3/18/2008
6 Alvin and the Chipmunks 5,972,091 $100,468,536 4/1/2008
7 Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull 5,964,704 $124,625,475 10/14/2008
8 National Treasure - Book of Secrets 5,900,779 $94,069,136 5/20/2008
9 Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian, The 5,015,199 $82,746,127 12/2/2008
10 Hancock 5,012,362 $100,367,749 11/25/2008
11 Enchanted 4,964,380 $79,510,141 3/18/2008
12 Bee Movie 4,594,120 $73,808,995 3/11/2008
13 American Gangster 4,476,418 $75,033,673 2/19/2008
14 Sex and the City - The Movie 4,287,264 $88,766,856 9/23/2008
15 Tinker Bell 4,078,040 $64,081,876 10/28/2008
16 Incredible Hulk, The 3,960,331 $84,043,274 10/21/2008
17 Mamma Mia! 3,577,246 $74,782,328 12/16/2008
18 Wanted 3,435,979 $71,243,816 12/2/2008
19 Horton Hears a Who! 3,108,453 $54,420,779 12/9/2008
20 Juno 2,988,963 $51,029,656 4/15/2008
21 Sleeping Beauty 2,890,542 $46,368,005 9/9/2003
22 Game Plan, The 2,852,284 $48,825,015 1/22/2008
23 Tropic Thunder 2,840,556 $57,058,767 11/18/2008
24 101 Dalmatians 2,827,132 $44,948,992 11/9/1999
25 3:10 to Yuma 2,808,537 $54,522,425 1/8/2008
Seven of the top 25 DVD sellers last year were fully animated. Three more ("Enchanted", "Alvin and the Chipmunks" and "I Am Legend") featured heavy character animation.
Most interesting is number 15, "Tinker Bell", pulling in $64million for a production that cost maybe one or two million.
These are kiddie titles, and it's no surprise that selling junk to children is a easy way to get rich -it is surprising just how much money is pulled in.
Friday, April 24, 2009
Kin with the zinesters were the punk cartoonists who brought design style to self-publishing.
Many wonders uncovered as we pack up to move two blocks south.
These from the "Comics" section of the library.
Every drawing is filthy. In fact the two below are the "cleanest" ones.
"That looks just like a Crumb drawing," I said to R. O. Blechman while we washed dishes after a birthday party.
"It is," he quickly replied and told me about the time Crumb came to dinner at his home (R. O. had spent a week with Crumb in San Francisco in the early 60s and they mutual admirers). As the food was about to hit the table, R. O. entered the drawing room, finger upward and exclaimed "Dinner is served!" A week later he recieved a thank you note and the portrait which he photocopied and re-titled as a daily reminder for cleanliness.
That same room held boxes and boxes of these:
Each issue is different in theme and format. The content is political but the experience is always visual, while much of the work is heavily polemic it's even more "revolutionary" in design terms.
One regular contributor Nicholas' books was David Mazzuchelli. We're fortunate to have all three of his "Rubber Blanket" issues.
Mark Newgarden and Paul Karasik published "Bad News" in 1984.
But the coolest part for me is an ad for the bygone Venus Records, where I wasted many hours in college when I should have been chasing girls.
The first few pages are a newspaper. On the overleaf, you can't tell if the stories are real or fiction.
There's a gatefold by Joe Coleman.
And for you cartoon fans, a comic drawn by "Rugrats" composer Mark Mothersbaugh.
Thursday, April 23, 2009
Favorite former student (and until some of you other whippersnappers step up it's gonna stay that way!) Hanne Berkaak just finished up this lovely little film.
It's for an educational website. The imagery and production value are full of charm.
Technique-wise -it mixes stop motion, live action and special effects but retains a homemade warmth as well as a professional sheen.
Wednesday, April 22, 2009
Tuesday, April 21, 2009
Shortly after that he began working with Al Brodax, producer of Yellow Submarine, at Folio One Productions. There they worked on a few short films (like "American Pie") and the ABC kids' show "Make A Wish".
At 1:20 the animated titles come in.
I've only seen a couple episodes from a black and white 3/4 inch tape. The format is pretty clear. There's a subject like "cats" or "flying" and Tom Chapin sings about them for 22 minutes while we're treated to intense montages of "cats" or "flying".
Here's an animated segment.
This work lacks the polish of "Wonder Pets!" or "Blues Clues!". While it may be rough, it doesn't lack for that intangible quality called "soul".
Voice actor Billy West was interviewed on the radio by Ian Punnett on Saturday.
It's an insightful discussion. Mr. West dishes a little dirt on John Kricfalusi. Calling him "yellow" after John K. got fired by Nickelodeon. According to Mr. West, the animator tried instigating the actor to quit in an effort to scuttle the network from continuing the show.
Other than that, he's very studied in his craft and gives credit and observations on the work many peers and other voice talent, Mel Blanc, San Freberg, Harry Shearer.
Don't tell anyone (clip).
Monday, April 20, 2009
The Simpsons achieved success because audiences connected with the characters. Especially in the early years, the writers focused on developing a small core corps. This holds true for The Family Guy and Fox's other enormous animated success King of the Hill (which, in my opinion is the best television of them all).
Many animated sitcoms, such as The Oblongs or The PJs, have tried to emulate The Simpsons of today. While that series continues to center on the family, the town of Springfield has developed dozens of distinct characters who populate and propel the stories. Milhouse, Lenny and Carl, Apu, Mr. Burns, Krusty the Clown, The Cat Lady -these characters didn't hatch fully formed in episode one. They developed as necessary to propel the stories of the main characters.
In Sit Down, Shut Up we have another show with a dozen characters and no central focus.
I'll start by saying the character problem is slightly alleviated by unhorrible design. (I just made up "unhorrible") The photographic backgrounds work very well and the characters, while not "good" or "pleasing" are not the atrocities that have come to populate the airwaves.
Whatever non-negatives the design brings are squandered by the non-unhorrible script. I understand that kids like The Golden Girls, but I've seen a couple -it's extremely non-unhorrible.
Animation is naturally self-conscious. King of the Hill, South Park, Aqua Teen Hunger Force all take advantage of this in their own ways.
Sit Down, Shut Up compounds the essential nature of the process by delivering a script which is supremely self-conscious. Characters make note of their own "catch phrases" and use of "air quotes". They call for unreceived flashbacks from the director.
This self-consciousness is in dramatic contradiction to the producer's previous show. Arrested Development took the single camera comedy developed by Malcolm in the Middle and turned the viewer into a fly on the wall creating one of the most spontaneous feeling American comedies.
But Arrested Development, featuring a strong ensemble cast, was never self-conscious -even with the running commentary from a narrator. It was self-referential in witty and unexpected ways, but never had that "Hey, ain't we funny?" grin that that the characters of Sit Down, Shut Up wear.
Many people in our business (animation production) feel that rising tides lift all boats That if a show or film does well, then it trickles down to everyone. It's not that simple. The success of The Simpsons has not effected me personally. But it has caused Fox to develop a few dozen other animated shows and put several of them into their line up.
We can only hope that abject failures don't pull us all down.
Sunday, April 19, 2009
Saturday, April 18, 2009
There's a long story to go with it.
This was back at The Ink Tank. The 20th Century, even.
R. O. Blechman had a closet full of feature film proposals. During his quest for financing he crossed paths with a producer who had acquired the rights to a "German children's book" (which we could never find) and a very popular classic rawk song. He also secured development financing from a big Asian conglomerate.
The first step was to write a treatment.
Without going into the gory details, we didn't do a treatment. The big Asian conglomerate was coming to town and we needed a presentation. The plan was to make some artwork.
We decided to work with Santiago Cohen to stylize the story and Maciek Albrecht would direct the animation.
At one point there was a notion to create the animation for Imax in 3D (talk about cutting edge!). This spawned the idea to make dioramas of the design. So we created about a dozen scenes and presented them to the big guys one at a time while Maciek walked them through the story (which, for some reason, was not allowed to be written down). The ultimate scene was -ugh- a battle of the bands. After this was placed on the table, a lighting bolt on the set was pressed activating a CD blasting the popular classic rawk song.
The men from the big Asian conglomerate stood up and applauded.
Of course, we didn't deliver what they needed to sign off on. They were excited and did commission a script.
For some reason such a thing was anathema. A script? Pish! "What's a script gonna tell you?" (Please note my vocal dissent.) So it was decided we would make a film.
In three weeks.
As a concession, it was agreed we would write a treatment. That alone is a side story full of grief.
Anyhow, the little "pilot" was produced -stem to stern -in three weeks.
Tissa David animated the entire thing. Mostly. Igor Mitrovic did the musical note morphs and some inbetweening. The small blimp and the globe (obviously) were animated by Dave Courter in Lightwave.
Making things even harder, this was shot on film. Ugh x2.
To deliver for camera I stayed up 86 hours straight. Not quite, I did take a brief nap under the pencil test camera at about 4 am before the day the cameraman, Daniel Esterman, came to shoot.
I'll post grabs of some specific shots next week.
After going over the sheets and artwork with Daniel, Megan Whitmarsh (one of our production artists) asked if I wanted to see Nights of Cabiria at the Quad. Never able to turn down Fellini, I extended my awake period by another 2 hours.
Friday, April 17, 2009
So the "Garden District" will no longer be our home. But we will have this one week of Spring.
One of my first New York memories was walking up Sixth Avenue and feeling lost. Lost in a jungle. Not the urban jungle, but an actual tropical forest. The foliage was so thick then, you needed machete to get a cab.
The ensuing two decades has seen the neighborhood shrink to little more than a block. A block under siege with construction (hotels and condominiums).
For now, Spring is still alive on 28th Street.
Thursday, April 16, 2009
Let the Right One In, for instance, has more in common with Marty than it does with The Lost Boys. That similarity brings out a deeper meaning to both films.
In the past, I would bring up animation. "Animation" must be a genre, right. Like Westerns it gets its own tiny section in the video store. That's fair enough, as much as "Cinemascope", "3D", or "Odorama" can also be group together.
And that grouping hints at what animation "is" what distinguishes animation and sets it apart.
Tissa David tells of when she came to New York in 1957 (I've forgotten the exact year, it could have been '58, not earlier, not later). She had seen the animated sections of The Four Poster while living in Paris (after escaping Budapest on foot shortly before the Uprising). From these clips she decided that she would go to New York to animate for UPA.
Two issues with that plan: she didn't speak English, and women were not hired as animators in 1957.
She shows up at the 666 Fifth Avenue studio with her portfolio, and they're ready to usher her out when someone says "Grim Natwick just fired another kid, so he needs an assistant." They are introduced, and as Tissa said, Grim must have taken pity on her and said that he could speak a little German, and she could speak a little German so they could communicate that way (although neither knew more than 100 words) he'd give a shot on one condition.
Grim said she had to answer one question: "What is animation?". Stumbling in pidgeon English, Tissa replied, "Animation is, is animation."
He took a step back, laughed, and said "I've been asking people that question for the past 30 years and that's the best answer I've gotten yet".
An indisputably true answer, but a little vague for definition purpose. The "Animation" section is like a "Silent Film" section. The pictures are grouped by technical similarities.
Animation, like 3D or Cinemascope, is a process. That's what defines it -not happy-go-lucky mice or singing princesses or wacky buddy journeys. This definition comes even clearer when the other section of cartoons films in the video store is discovered -"Anime". These are films which, for the most part, share stylistic and narrative tendencies. Grouping these together, and in their subsets, gives a deeper understanding of the individual films.
Wednesday, April 15, 2009
So things like last night's talk at the Strand with Al Jaffee and Arnold Roth actually counts as "work" and not just entertainment.
They were promoting the Fantagraphics "Humbug" collection. They should go barnstorming with act.
In a conversation moderated by Gary Groth, Roth compared "Humbug" to "Punch" where he did work after the former magazine shut down.
"It was pretty much the same a 'Punch', except everyone there was drunk." He then recounted how the editor there had to spend the morning reiterating all the assignments given out at lunch the day before.
He also discussed a Kurtzman idea for an issue of "Humbug"- a parody of "The New Yorker". He assigned everyone the task of coming up with "unfunny cartoons, the least funny cartoons you can do."
The issue had to be scrapped because no one could come up with anything that wasn't funny.
Tuesday, April 14, 2009
For away games, it was mostly the radio.
The radio is my favorite artform. It's the most intimate communication. Nothing but a voice, sounds waving through the air and the images that they form in distant minds.
The passing of Phillies color announcer Harry Kalas reminds me of the twin powers of baseball and broadcasting. The distinctive cadences of the game extend to other fields -especially animation. The distinctive cadences of a man, they are unrepeatable but as echoes in our hearts and mind.
"Casey at the Bat" from Disney's 1946 Make Mine Music.
These characters move in a weird way (very unbaseball-like). John Sibley's hand is clearly evident. The ball players have a snappy elastic movement. This style is interesting. It makes things move in fluid, yet unrealistic manner.
It's appropriate for cartoons, like Goofy. I'm not sure it was the right choice for "Casey at the Bat".
Baseball is about precise and orderly timing and placement.
And so it tragedy.
Monday, April 13, 2009
Sunday, April 12, 2009
Saturday, April 11, 2009
He created a few dozen of these full page stories when we worked together. Most were for The New York Times Sunday Book Review. Those had spots of color which really tied them together visually. Initially, that was applied in airbrush by Tom Hachtman. Eventually we would do it in Photoshop. The color work was fairly simple, so it was really about the masking -ultimately the reproductions in the newspaper would be terrible anyway.
Friday, April 10, 2009
Animators' greatest concern - Faustian bargains.
There's a promotional piece from the time of the film's release that credits Anne Marie Bardwell with the lion's share of "Angel's" animation. There's a softness to the character and Broadway feel that, in light of her credits with Don Bluth, suggest she handled the part in this sequence.
I suspect "Mok" was animated by another hand. He's snappier. Not just in his posing, but his linework is harder, more angular.
From right around the same time, R. O. Blechman's "L'Histoire du Soldat." Tissa David up until the silhouette which is Fred Mogubgub's work:
to here ("Where'd he go!")
a cut, then here. ("OMG! There he is!")
which animates right into this