Thursday, April 30, 2009

Springtime For Igor

Some people are so extraordinary that anything they do will amaze in an unexpected way.

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

Motion Pictures

Gail Levin, with whom we regularly collaborate, made "Marilyn: A Still Life" for American Masters a few years back.

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

You Are What You Animate

We're working on a documentary about veganism.

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


10 AM

10 PM

Not pictured: all the schlepping and configuring and computerizate and whatnot.

Today: Two long meetings and dealing with Verizon who, shockingly (he writes with sarcasm), has screwed up our service change.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Saturday, Saturday, Saturday, Saturday

Moved yesterday.

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.

The live performances exceeded the record.  I usually prefer the record.

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

Two Ways of Getting Money

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.


Interesting business note:

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

Boxing the Books

Back before these internets, dear reader, young punks would rail at the stars with 'zines. These sprung from the hippy underground and the sci-fi fan world of the 1960s and proliferated with cheap photocopies in the 80's and 90's.

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.

Brian's personal "Snatch"

This is a digest-sized R. Crumb comic from 1969.

Every drawing is filthy. In fact the two below are the "cleanest" ones.

inside cover

In the kitchen at The Ink Tank was a laminated drawing of a man finger pointed skyward with a speech balloon exclaiming: "Keep this place clean!"

"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:

Nozone: Joost Swarte cover

Nicholas Blechman began publishing this 'zine of political comics while doing freelance out of the studio.

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.

cover by Kaz

Contributors included Gary Panter, Glenn Head, Milt Gross, and Peter Bagge amongst others (including an "Homage to Chuck Jones" by Bruno Richard).

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.

Good Golly, Miss Molly!

And there's this title, which I never heard of:

Exit, edited by Adam Parfrey

I didn't know who the editor was (he's not in the New York cartoonist circles these days). Turns out he's publishing interesting and esoteric authors with his own press Feral House .

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

What Are They Saying?

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

Pressing Matters

Steve Kerper sent me this the other day:

Just shows, you've got to spend money to make money -especially in something as time and skill intensive as animation.
Here's a behind the scenes on Bob Staake's New Yorker cover.
Bob has worked in animation on some big ticket productions.  His New Yorker covers are just getting better and better, combining great design, illustration, wit and insightful concepts.
inauguration cover was downright moving.

I haven't looked into what this is about, but a very cool video at The New York Times involving the very great William Kentridge.
And speaking of very cool, my lovely and talented friend Kristin Worrell has launched her website.   She's a  sound designer (and musician) and is invited to travel the world doing  groovy and spooky noises for theater.
And no post is complete without some self-promotion.
Nursery University will be starting a run this weekend.  Some shows are already sold out.
Here's some press:  Director Marc Simon in the Huffington Post.
Here's the trailer:

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Make A Wish

Fred Mogubgub made a film called "Unknown Reason" in the early 1970s (the tape is boxed up, so I don't have the date handy). A title card claimed it was his "second to last short film". It's manically somber.

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

TV (ugh) Review

Instead of the more interesting entry I had planned for today, I'll opt for the more topical. Tune in tomorrow for the interesting story.

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

Wocka Wocka

Have you ever walked around town in costume?  Not on Halloween, or as a "sexy businessman" -but as a man-sized plush toy; Clifford the Big Red Dog, the Gold Knight or Grippit the coozy Frog.
The world treats you differently.  In costume you're from another world, the rules are the laws from another universe.
French, they understand.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Try To Put Us Down

Going through the dark recesses of our FTP site, I uncovered this little piece.

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


We're moving next week (two blocks South).

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

Animation is...

Tuesday's class focused on genre. Since the thrust of the class is on narrative concepts, the categorization of stories by similar traits or tropes particularly illuminating (I hope -it is for me anyway).

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

More Humbug

We're contracting with a cable network to do some pieces about a certain publication.

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

Outta Here

My Mother's Aunt Betty was a season ticket holder. My understanding of gesture, of time, of drama was formed by her side during hundreds of ballgames in section 210 of Veterans' Stadium.

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

Non-Naked Campaign

We made this clip on Thursday last week for CBS Sunday Morning.

I'm not sure they ever intended on airing it.  They publish their schedule online the week before, and this segment was never in the line up.

It may not be as strong as our work for The New Yorker, but it has some merit.  The motion graphic "animation" Christina did is pretty good and the art, as always, is strong.

These are some note Brodner did before the shoot.

Saturday, April 11, 2009


1. Programming Alert.

A segment we did with Steve Brodner is scheduled to broadcast on CBS Sunday Morning tomorrow.

It's on 100 Days of Obama.

Speaking of R. O. Blechman, Earlier this week The New York Times ran an Op Art he created .

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.

One of his most interesting applications of color was in this limited edition screen print he did in conjunction with the publication of The Life of St. Nicholas.

Here the color is both descriptive (on Nicholas) and environmental.  It is practical and graphic.  Blechman is known for his line and his use of negative space -this is an example of his visual principles applied to color.

Friday, April 10, 2009

Stravinsky Rock


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.

This is probably the strongest sequence from "Rock and Rule". The effects are pretty nice.

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:




When I talk about "Broadway posing" this is what I mean:

to here ("Where'd he go!")

a cut, then here. ("OMG! There he is!")

which animates right into this

It's all very skillfully done, I just don't know what it means.  Then again, I don't know what her conflict is.  She's only being asked to give up her current rock band -including and egomaniacal lead singer who abuses her -for the one thing rockers want: stardom.  In effect, she's not losing anything but still gaining her ultimate desire.

The viewer knows this also means Mok will gain some super power, but she doesn't.  And really, their world is pretty grim as it is, so whatever this guy does to it can't be much worse.

Here are some parallel drawings from "L'Histoire du Soldat":

The drawing reminds me of the point in "Waltz with Bashir" when I realized we would be watching uninspired animation.  In that film wild dogs run through the street.  They run past a woman holding her child.  She clutches the baby facing the dogs.  Tsk. Tsk.  How much more powerful, more real if she were to sacrifice her body to protect the child.

And look at what Vertov is doing here.  Cradling the violin, protecting it from the Devil.  

That look!  Like a boy with his puppy.

In this shot he goes from frightened and protective to defiant and proud.  The change goes through the "look" at the violin.  There you have.  Hegel in action -thesis: poses 1 & 2, antithesis: pose 4, synthesis (the relationship/catalyst of the two):  pose 3.

It's not just philosophy executed in animation- it's humanity.  Emotional realism.

If there's a modicum of interest in this post, I'll continue with a comparison of the Devil and Mok.  Both characters in "L'Histoire du Soldat" have near perfect voice acting.  The Devil performed by Max von Sydow.  The voice performances in "Rock and Rule" are fine, but really, starting with two strong voice records like the Soldier (Yugoslav director Dusan Makavejev, after surgery for throat cancer) and The Devil gives an animator a leg up.