Saturday, June 28, 2008

Buenos Noches, Baron.

The Baron has been deposed.

The olfactory assault that was Ranch One on the corner of 7th Avenue and 28th Street was suprisingly gone this morning.

In its place, a piece of urban archeology.

The Baron of Grill is so parsimonious he didn't even remove the previous signage before putting up his own.

If this were shiny box new, I probably wouldn't look at it twice. Now, the beaten-up-smog-stained type has appeal. It has life, ironically, even though its been mummified for years and will soon be torn down.

And speaking of signage -what's the deal with The Baron of Grill?

Here's what the sign used to look like at 7th and 28th (amazingly this was on this guy's Flickr account)

Remember the first time you saw The Baron? I sure do. He was a four foot stand-up cut out beckoning hungry office workers in for lunch on the 49th Street end of Rockefeller Center.

A hilarious mash of blotchy black lines, ill-defined shapes, nonsensical shadows, poor typography -oh, and most importantly shades. You can't have a good animal mascot without sunglasses. Especially magical sunglasses that have no visible means of support.

Sun pince-nez.

In color, it looks like he's wearing a yellow letterman's sweater -like he's the captain of a 1930s Ivy League football squad.

He's a baron, so he's got culottes. Goes with the pince-nez.

And he holding some sort of tricorner hat. Maybe he should be the Marquis of Grill.

Most importantly, the Baron is ushering people into Ranch 1. Ranch 1 specializes in chicken. Feeding chicken to people.

So here is this rooster selling his sisters, wife, and daughters as mass marketed fast food.

I'll miss you a little, Baron. Even though I wouldn't even consider your store as a place where I could get food. Even though I gagged a little at the stench when the door opened. You were a reminder of the perverse genius of marketing -how something which looks so wrong can actually be so wrong.

Friday, June 27, 2008

The Big Bad Wolf

Here's one for all the rodent fetishists and coaster enthusiasts out there.

A twelve-page article on The Walt Disney studio from November 1934 "Fortune Magazine".

It includes cost breakdowns of Silly Symphonies and talks about Disney's exclusive contract with Technicolor for their 3 color process.

It also points out that cel painting is "woman's work" and compares Walt to Hitler.

With a several "behind the scenes" photos like this.

I'll admit that given the choice between watching these Disney shorts and just about anything else -I'll choose the latter 99 times out of 100. Disney's machinations, on the other hand, are endlessly intriguing. Their ceaseless dedication to perpetrating their own mythology goes right back to the beginning as evidenced in this Depression-era article.

And the craft, of course, goes without saying. But to be honest, even the most ideal and intricate plumbing or carpentry can only hold my interest for a minute or two.

To download the whole pdf: click here.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Demons and Dummies

Last month I was waiting for a friend outside of a restaurant on West 4th Street on a Friday night.

Waiting for a table was one of those couples -probably not a romantic couple, more like the type that religiously watched Seinfeld then moved to New York and now try to be just like Jerry and Elaine but without the millionaire scriptwriters. On the sidewalks and subways of New York, unfortunately, there is no "mute" button.

Wannabe Jerry was talking about the TriBeCa Film Festival and how he really, really, really wanted to see this one movie. What was it called? It's a cartoon. (Elaine didn't like the sounds of that- really who can blame her?) No, really, it looks good... Demons and Dummies, its called.

Last night I had the fortune to screen Demons and Dummies, or as we'll be calling it Idiots and Angels.

Bill Plympton, the author, dropped a comparison of the film to opera. I reflexively roll my eyes whenever I hear this analogy. For one, its inaccurate. Secondly, its code language for "art as vegetables that have to be eaten before dessert is served".

In this case, there's something legitimate in the comparison. Opera isn't simply distinguished by being sung all the way through -that's secondary (in fact, the performance location of an opera house is more important in defining the art form than the amount of singing). In the world of Wagner and Mozart and Puccini time behaves in a matter distinct from other places. A "real time" moment becomes a ten minute aria, a single thought plays out for an hour long act.

There is "real time" and there's "opera time". Opera time, to me, is close to "baseball time". Baseball centers on the moment of conflict between pitcher and batter. This moment can take anywhere from ten seconds to ten minutes with enough throws to first, foul balls, and steps away from the batter's box.

We are accustomed to seeing "gross-out" humor from Bill. Simple actions like eating with a fork become amplified and dissected centimeter by centimeter. Amplified and dissected in much the same way in takes Erda seven minutes to enter and tell Wotan to forget about the ring in Das Reingold.

Idiots and Angels avoids the grotesquerie that we've come to expect from Plympton. Many of those moments previously glorified- the hair plucking from the skin as it peels from the bone- are half-shown: silhouettes or obscured framings. Which leaves us with long (real time) meditations on what, exactly?

Bill says much of this film came from the disappointment at his last film's lack of commercial success. Here he just did what he wanted.

Wannabe Jerry and Elaine wouldn't trek up to Tanglewood for the latest offerings in American opera. They wouldn't even go to the Metropolitan for the dusting off of a Zefferelli Turandot. It's not the content that keeps them away (Dead Man Walking was a great opera that had pallid box office compared to the film) or the spectacle.

When we step into the opera house it's a time outside of time (Kairos and not Chronos). To Americans time is money and cash is king- the film asks us to ignore crown and currency.

Also note: I like how Bill's guys always wear ties. Bill never wears a tie. I think it's his fantasy to someday wear a tie.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

All About Prints

At the screening party for Curious, a PBS science mini-series for which we did the graphics I met Lizzy McGlynn. Lizzy had worked at Channel 13 and was now working with another Thirteen mainstay Christopher Noey on a documentary about printmaking in America.

She loved the graphics for Curious that she thought their film could use some single frame magic. I tried to convince it was a bad idea, that the devil is in the details and animation is all about detail. Did she really want to deal with people whose livelihood rests upon staring into the heart of evil?

I was unconvincing. Fortunate for us because Chris and Lizzy are absolutely great people and both a pleasure and an honor to work with.

This morning I started wrapping the art work from the project.

We made around 12 shots totaling maybe 4 minutes of screen time.

Back in the day, four minutes of worth of art would take up 2 "bankers boxes" of storage. We wrap all the art in brown craft paper (another habit picked up at The Ink Tank) before hoisting it as far from reach as possible. The art for this takes up one thin package (and a couple DVDs).

We used different media to get different looks. For the woodblock process animation, Jordan Bruner (who was the lead artist on this project) did a linocut of a hand. It was the simplest way to achieve the right look. We use letterpress type as a basis for the "Printmaking Techniques" title. For some of the other clips Jordan did charcoal patterns or made great big bubbles out of ink and soapy water to create a sponge-like texture.

The film (in all its High Definition glory) hasn't aired yet, so we'll only give a taste of what we've done.

Some rough idea boards:

above One of about 6 ideas we came up with for this title.

above another approach

above The simple approach

above Final-ish board

design sketch

aboveJordan's notes

aboveFinal Graphic (the real thing is 16x9)

aboveRough sketch for Printmaking in the 1920s and 30s

aboveFinal graphic (same deal with aspect ratio)

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Naked Campaign - Episode 21: Mapquest

In January of 2007 together with Gail Levin and Steve Brodner we came up with idea for The Naked Campaign -a sort of running diary (there it is again) of the 2008 Election from the perspective of one of America's great political caricaturists.

Initially we did a little film to Obama's 2004 Convention speech. Nothing too profound, just testing waters. Note, however, our team's collective prescience and keen interpretation of the national psyche a full year before Iowa.

We followed with a profile of Bill Richardson (hey, if we were right 100% of time we wouldn't be in film). This sparked the interest of lots of people.

Interest that we had been producing this work on own on dime, on the cheap and hey, "wouldn't like for us to show your work for nothing, too?!?". At some point in the future I'll answer this question.

That's when The New Yorker asked us to do a similar piece on Giuliani.

Both the Giuliani and Richardson segments demonstrate what is vital about this project. An illustrator has special skills for seeing people -in the same way a cook has special skills with taste, or a veterinarian develops understanding of animals. These observational talents can provide profound little insights into public figures. Look at how Giuliani interacts with people around him, how people react to him and how that informs the way they think about their elected officials.

This latest, MapQuest, was kind of a slog, to be honest.

We shot it Monday afternoon. An hour and thirty minutes of footage.

Typically we shoot directly into the Final Cut system through the Aja IO box, but there's been some problem with the audio -probably a loose wire somewhere that will find me in a Laocoonian tangle of RCA connections in a futile effort to fix it -so the tape has to be digitized.

The idea is to shoot in the morning, cut in the afternoon, deliver by sundown. That wasn't about to happen on this one.

So Gail and I roughed it out by the end of day and it was practically 5 minutes. I'd like these things to be about thirty seconds, personally, but a 5 minute cut from 90 minutes of footage after two hours of editing is sometimes a fair compromise.

The other component is the "animation". We like to have one or two little bits per story, whatever we can do in the two or three hours we have to make the pieces.

Christina Capozzi (although I guess it's Christina Riley now) using does the animation/motion graphics while I'm fine tuning the edit.

This morning we managed to knock another two minutes off the segment bring it to a Top Forty friendly 3:09.

It turned out OK. I especially like the Mitt Romney Michigan.

These are some concept sketches by Brodner.

The second Iowa one was never realized -I'd like to know what the thinking behind that one is.

Nice maps.

You can see all of The New Yorker segments on their website.

Or YouTube if adult content is blocked at your office.

You can also see outtakes, behind the scenes photos, a become an e-pal HERE.

Friday, June 13, 2008


Web posters, they're like disk jockeys, fetishizing their "stuff". Instead of "listen to this fab Dino, Desi and Billy B-Side!", you read "look at this cool new secret thing I know about!"

In this new tradition of sharing stuff, I'd like to inaugurate this little diary by sharing some work from one of my few animation idols, the late Fred Mogubgub.

We don't hang much art on the walls of the studio -mostly books, and shelves of production materials. One day when we move into a bigger space we'll have gallery upon gallery of modern masters.

This one of the few pieces we have hanging.

"Day of the F.B.I." published in The East Village Other, dated November 1970.

Swastikas, Tropicana girls, cats, American flags, eyeballs of all shapes and sizes.

Mogubgub's illustration is similar to his films. There's the feeling that the frame can't contain all the imagery. There's the loose 1970s draughtsmanship.

Visitors generally gravitate towards this piece. Maybe they feel like they're getting stared down.

At home, there's a different stare down.

This lady was painted by Mogubgub in the the late 1970s. She's one of a series of "Spirit Paintings" he did. These are portraits of visitations he experienced.

This woman spirit is lovely and mysterious (and about 4 feet tall). I've had the fortune to see several more at Fred Jr.'s apartment, they're a diverse and interesting crowd. (Fred, if you come across this, get in touch.)

The paintings are different from the films -equally intricate, but somehow calmer -the difference between this illustration and the painting.

Some of his painting moves into color play and shape dynamics -relating to the animation work he did on R. O. Blechman's "L'Histoire du Soldat". This film was my introduction to Mogubgub's work. I had worked very closely with R. O. at The Ink Tank in the late 90's and early Aughts, he had the deepest affection and admiration for Freddie. Something he's passed on to me.

I hope you enjoy these two little gifts of sharing to the internet universe. We've posted a few of his films on youtube. They're in our account somewheres:

If anyone would like to share their experiences with Freddie, please post them or e-mail me. I have a small collection of personal anecdotes. By the same token if anyone has any questions, throw 'em at me -I'm no expert but I can sound convincing.

Well, I hope this diary works O. K. We'll be posting all sorts of stuff -works in progress, final projects, failed proposals, rambling theories and philosophies, and most importantly COOL STUFF!

And I haven't told Brian here at the studio that I'm doing this. If he doesn't kill me, and if we figure out how, maybe he and other folks here will post too.