Wednesday, September 30, 2009


Here's a running horse from the Buddha documentary we're working on.

Doug Compton did the animation, Christina Riley did all the assistant work -inbetweening and clean up.

There's another cel level. The ground line is animating, it's a beach. And the waves crest and roll back.

The gallop is an eight drawing cycle. The camera then moves around the horse and we're straight ahead on twos until the end of the shot.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009


A few months back Michael Sporn wrote a post on Goldsholl Associates, a successful and innovative commercial studio from the 1960s Chicago.

I had seen the name, and some images but not too much.

Since there's not too much online, I thought I post some stills.

These are from John Halas and Roger Manvell's "Art in Movement: New Directions in Animation". The book is a great look at late 60s styles of animation. Earlier I posted an excerpt on Fred Mogubgub
Commercial studios tend to be innovators of style and technique. They (we?) aren't solely restricted to advertising and often take on projects that have constricted budgets or unusual creative specifications.

The work of these smaller outfits has gone largely unsung and unrecorded in favor of bigger cartoon factory operations. These larger studios may have had a more noticeable impact on popular culture, but there's no denying the graphic and technical advances made by commercial facilities.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Animal Walk (walk... walk...)

10/29/87 notes from Tissa David's lecture on animal walks.

The noted drawings are some jaunty dogs (?). A lot of bend in the "knees".

Also a photocopy of Tissa's horse cycle. We've been doing a lot of horses for The Buddha. Doug Compton's animated a dynamic run (I'll post drawings from this later in the week). And Christina Riley has animated two particular nice scenes.

The nicest horse drawings I've seen have been Ed Smith's in the Blechman style for CTW's "A Foot Is A Foot" which was part of, I believe, Square One.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

The Highest Point In Manhattan

Didn't do any work yesterday for the first time in ages.

Not that there isn't infinite work to be done.

Instead took a day trip up to the Cloisters.

The Cloisters, best known perhaps for its Unicorn Tapestries, would also make a great stronghold in the case of mass zombification.

The tapestries, medieval art in general, relate to animation and -moreso- comics in that they happen over a span of time. The triptych is the most obvious example.

21st Century fine art has lost this relationship to time. It's meant for quick intake, immediate consumption. In turn, technology and sociology have conspired to remove the "Kairos" used to understand work like the Unicorn Tapestries from the public life.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Two Things

Finished David Levy's new book, Animation Development from Pitch to Production earlier this week.

Seems so long ago, earlier this week, when there was time to read whilst now there is hardly time to sleep...

Back to the topic at hand.

The book is enjoyable.

Dave pulls off a casual, conversation tone in his writing. This is a rare skill, and he applies it well. I don't think his tone always works on a public platform, but in this book its pitch perfect.

The tone reinforces his overarching point -pitching an animated property is about building relationships on a personal level and developing your own distinct voice. He reinforces this argument (and most of his other points) from three positions; examples from well-known creators, opinions of network executives, and his own personal experience. Its a good formula.

Of course the book never addresses "why does everybody want to have their own TV show?" But it shouldn't. That's different book. But its a great question.

We would like a longer format series for business reasons. A series represents a long term contract. We've been fortunate to have had several medium-term contracts; 4 months, 8 months, 1 year. Those are enough to keep going and expand in fits and starts. A series, that represents a growth explosion.

Creatively, there are a few things we'd like try that require long term narrative lines or the development of complex characters.

I can't say Animation Development from Pitch to Production is particular helpful to me (beyond a codification of our own experiences and shared ideas on the process) -but for someone who's developing their first idea, or is interested in a "behind the scenes" look, or a student intent on being one day behind the scenes themselves it's a goldmine.

Importantly, it is interesting reading.


On another note, Igor Mitrovic called the other day to tell us about his new site:

He's described it as "an animation-only YouTube".

We've seen several of these sites, and I've never really cottoned to them. But Igor is a terrific animator, an extraordinarily talented guy. He was the only person (in my experience, anyhow) that Tissa David would let inbetween her animation. That's not entirely accurate. He's the only artist she wanted to work with.

We're going to start uploading some of our films there.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Something Old

Saw R. O. Blechman last night at The Strand.

I don't have too much his animated illustration handy, but I thought I'd post one of the last commercials Brian and I did at The Ink Tank.

It's a pseudo-Blechman.

The agency wanted him to illustrate. He didn't want to. So we ask Nurit Karlin to do it. Fifteen "creative" revisions later, it was mostly drawn by (if I recall correctly) Valerie Cardon.

Also interesting to note that this commercial was made during the actor's strike. The agency couldn't shoot any live action, but AOL had a slate of like 400 commercials a year (most editorial variations and versions) so they gave old footage to hand rotoscope -you can see how tenuous the mattes are -and make a new spot with animation.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Tonight Only!

This evening R. O. Blechman and R. Sikoryak will be discussing their new books at The Strand.

I haven't seen R. O.'s yet, but its been in the works for a long time and I'm greatly looking forward to it. ORDER HERE We spoke briefly on Wednesday, he's still fiddling with the presentation -although this time his publisher hasn't yet shown him the slides.

As he told me this, I was reminded of his retrospective in Ottawa in 2002. We had planned it out weeks ahead -I had lobbied to include more "classic" work: Sesame Street films, "Abraham & Isaac" (with a great soundtrack by Pete Seeger), "The Emperor's New Armor", etc. R. O. did concede a few, ultimately showing "The Medical Dilemma" a 4:00 film for CBS which showcased some top notch Ed Smith animation and agreeing to show his 4:00 opening to the never produced "Golden Ass" (also featuring incredible work INCREDIBLE work by Ed Smith). I don't remember how the program finally played out, I do remember sitting in the back of the theater when Chris Robinson approached incredulous that R. O. was in the projection booth re-arranging the show moments before curtain.

The talk begins at 7:00 PM. The Strand is on Broadway at 12th Street.

I'll post some of the stuff Sikoryak has helped us out on in the next few days.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Dog Has Elbow

Don't know who left these notes behind at The Ink Tank, but they lost a treasure. Odd, too, since they were so well kept.

Maybe they were J. J.'s. I found them in the big room where he would have kept a desk and I do recall reading some of his job notes that were in an all caps hand.

Today's notes have one of animation's eternal truisms that we often break -"Mass should retain same area: even in distortion". In "illusion of life" animation, this is always true. But not all animation is about that.

Also a good note I had never thought of. When testing a run (or a walk, for that matter) -shoot it on 6s or 4s. The action slows down and you see if the movement is correct.

Funny contraposition: Woman should on 16 frames (8-)
Dog shouldn't walk in beat, eg 6 or 10 frames.

I assume this was for a woman walking a dog. Enlarge the scan for the sketches and more on the dog.

Monday, September 21, 2009


The first thing I consider when discuss film and other arts: do I like it?

That's the starting point. Plenty of questions follow, leading with "why?" or "why not?"

On "Cloudy With A Chance Of Meatballs", the immediate answer to "why?" is because I have a personal connection. The book was an important part of my early development, shared time with my father and mother. Further, I've had the great fortune of working with Ron Barrett, the illustrator, and know him as a generous and gifted person who deserves enormous success.

So I want the movie to do well. That's a start.

Past that personal connection, there's the material itself. Art resonates either intellectually or emotionally. Emotionally is easier. Intellectually is more rewarding. For me, the picture appeals to both.

Without going into the character development which makes "Cloudy With A Chance Of Meatballs", the film, connect on an emotional level -I'd like to make a note on the character design and animation.

Pixar is the gold standard for 3D character animation, yet I've always felt their films lacked something in the animation department. Like "the illusion of life" transformed from one lesson amongst many to a universal obsession. The animation in "Cloudy With A Chance Of Meatballs" may not have the sheen of "Toy Story 2" or "Up" but it has something greater -character.

There's a great shot of the main character running down a hallway. His limbs flail and barely touch the ground. He moves like a muppet, like a well controlled marionette. To me, it's very satisfying animation. Without mimicking reality, without aping the broad stage acting of later Disney productions -the animation team did something interesting and original that works.

The design (like all big budget design these days) is 1950s inspired. It's become a thoroughly tired cliché in animation. The puppet-like nature of the characters and the richness of the background design make them work. They become cartoons, in a good sense.

The end titles illustrate the visual bankruptcy that "neo-retro" has become. The deftness and light of the CG creations is vulgar and cheap in the 2D end sequence. One less "D" but completely overwrought.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Test, Grrrrr.

Here's a "test" that I didn't want to do.

I find the idea of "testing" for a job insulting. Look at our reel, look at our website. Doesn't that make it clear that we're professionals with a track record of delivering a variety of work.

In few instances we've been paid to produce these tests. I still don't like it, but at least its not insulting.

Just to be clear, I don't like testing for jobs because we're in the business of making films -or at least contributing to them. These films require certain work flows, time and resources that are completely out of the range of these "tests". The "test" isn't demonstrating the production methodology or thinking behind the creation of the film -it's a flashy sales gimmick.

When we did the test for The Buddha which I wrote about yesterday, we actually were exploring and testing how we'd make the thing -at least in a microcosmic way.

In this test here, which Christina animated, we were being asked to jump through a hoop for a project which I KNEW WASN'T EVEN GOING TO HAPPEN. We assented because we liked the guys who asked us to do it. It was sort of a personal favor to help them seal the deal.

How did I know it wasn't going to happen, you ask. The "producer" told us the financiers were set to go to series on something like 26 once they OK a test. No network backer, no scripts even. Nothing. Of course, they're not serious. Nobody would dump 10 million dollars on a TV show without any discernible plan to recoup that expense.

But we did it anyway. I think Christina did a good job. I'm embarrassed to admit I can remember who else worked on it. I know one or two other people were around the studio, but I can get kind of petulant when I feel coerced into a project.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Buddha Born

After honing in on the drawing style David Grubin wanted for his Buddha film, we decided to do a little animation test.

Marina Dominis helped us come up with this style and Brian animated this little test. As I said we were very attracted to the project, so we did everything we could to secure it.

This idea is still in the film, but the execution is very different. And I think this test is pretty good for two days work. It's a simple example of the approach we would take to the animation.

On occasion we'll create a little piece of animation for a commercial pitch (I'm referring to all work-for-hire as "commercial"). I don't like to do it, because it's an expensive time consuming process to do properly. In this case, we felt that these 40 or so drawings would ultimately be more economical than not doing them.

Tomorrow I'll post a pitch test which I wasn't keen on doing.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Netflix This!

The discount DVD store on 6th Avenue had a bunch films and TV shows we've worked on -some from the olden days at The Ink Tank, some from within the past five years that Brian and I have produced under our own banner.

The discount stores in Portland must have this one too. I got an email from Dame Darcy saying she heard us get mentioned on the commentary track while watching with her mom.

We only worked on segment of this, the last of these shows we worked on for HBO while at The Ink Tank. The first was "How Do You Spell God?", "Kids Are Punny", then "Goodnight Moon". After that they contracted Maciek Albrecht directly for his segments and we continued to produce "Winter Wonderland" with Santiago Cohen for this.

I even did some animation on it. Like all of Santiago's work -it's very good looking.

Maciek Albrecht produced all of the animation for this. He asked us to help out on a segment. He had already designed and boarded it, all we had to do was execute.

This was a very difficult stop motion series we worked on at The Ink Tank. It was conceptually flawed and budgetarily constrictive. The project unraveled for The Ink Tank after the client attempted to address the flawed concept after 13 episodes were boarded and several were into animation and we told them the costs these extraordinary changes would incur.

Bad Blood. Even worse, bad scripts.

The animation team led by Cote Zellers at Luna Vox did a great job, especially under the circumstances.

It's funny seeing these things on the shelves (even funnier when the guy with the table on Seventh Avenue has them).

Thursday, September 17, 2009

That's The Way The Paper Tears

We had to travel to Boston yesterday for little stop motion shoot.

Too busy at the studio, so neither Brian nor I could go up. Liesje, our animator, went up instead.

As always with animation, we figured it out (apart from simple rigging concerns) before we did it.

In this case Kristin Collins worked up a quick little pencil animation and set up some basic lights in After Effects to approximate what we needed to do.

This is what we brought to the shoot for reference.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

New Book, New Panel

Panel last night at SVA in conjunction with David Levy's new book ANIMATION DEVELOPMENT: FROM PITCH TO PRODUCTION.

I started reading on the subway afterwards.  So far, its pretty good.  When I finish, maybe I'll post some thoughts.

Interesting enough panel featuring, David, Carl W. Adams from Clambake Animation, Janice Burgess who created "The Backyardigans", the preternaturally talented Fran Krause, and supremely opinionated Amid Amidi.

Someone asked if the panel envisoned an animated version of "The Sopranos" or "Mad Men" (*note: I've never seen either, but I get the point).  The panel didn't really.

What makes those shows -or "The X-Files", "Rome", "Six Feet Under" and others of pedigree -special?  They tell sophisticated stories which happen over course of months and years.

The American TV system doesn't have a place for this.  You can be either a ribald comedy or a kiddie show.  There's a small niche for action, but not much.

Japanese animation has had more sophisticated narrative structures since the 70s.  "Star Blazers" being a classic example.

Carl W. Adams and Janice Burgess

Janice Burgess: I'm not an artist, I work for a living.


Carl W. Adams: You wouldn't get a great writer then somebody who can't animate or draw very well...

Oh, really?

I don't make it too many ASIFA events.  It's interesting to see the turnout and hear the questions that students have.
It seems like they have a great concern for business, and were able to articulate some pretty good questions.  

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

The Road To Enlightenment

For the past few months we’ve been working with David Grubin on his upcoming film “The Buddha”.

The genesis came after the Emmy Award ceremony when we went out with this WNET folks (we were nominated for our work on the science mini-series “Curious”). I excused myself early, having flown in from the Ottawa Animation Festival that afternoon. During the evening, Brian asked David (who had won that night) if he ever used animation.

Turns out, he was thinking of having a significant portion of his upcoming film animated.

There’s a little Glengarry Glenn Ross in there, always in sales mode. That what it takes to survive in animation. In all film production, actually.

We thought the idea was great. I went to my Junior Prom with a Buddhist, I went to hers with a broken leg and elbow. If that’s not a deep, personal connection to the subject matter…

Over the course of a few weeks we did some design experimentation. We looked to Matisse and Picasso’s later drawings (in particular his illustrations for Aime Cesaire’s “Lost Body”) as inspiration.

The final designs have evolved from here. In the upcoming weeks, we plan on making a few posts to give some insight into the production process. We’re still in throes of this film, so far we’re pretty happy with it.

Hopefully, you’ll all find these posts enlightening.

Monday, September 14, 2009

End of the Hill

Mike Judge created a remarkable piece of television.

In some ways, "King of the Hill"'s success comes from the process of animation.

The television "sitcom" has devolved into a lowly, despicable form. Cliché writing and a glorification of crassness as evidenced in the proliferation of the "vulgaratti" on the airwaves and in the newspapers. Impossibly good looking women suffering the foibles of oafish husbands who can't fight back the laughter from their own jokes.

The voice performances of "King of the Hill" were pitch-perfect. The acting, instead of being handicapped by low quality Korean contractors, became more alive through their understatement.

Beyond that, this was a show written with care. While it may have begun as a sort of lampoon of suburban Texas everyman Hank Hill the stories quickly evolved into a sympathetic well rounded character. His wife Peggy displayed the faults and peculiarities of a flesh and bones mother.

Fittingly, last night's final two episodes focused on the father/son relationship between Hank and Bobby. Being human, at its core, is about connecting with others. "King of the Hill" created cartoon characters that were more real, more human than just about any other comedy on television.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Body Goes Forward Before The Leg Picks Up

Our well-laid plan of publishing the notes from Tissa's class in sequence has already run afoul.

I've just learned that May 28 occurs prior to June 18, so there was at least one set of notes that should have preceded our last post.

Step 1 of a walk. Work with a spacing map. Of course! Something they never teach in school -figure it out before you draw it.

Which brings me to my next rant as well as the next set of notes -the exposure sheet.

Maybe we do things strangely, so maybe it's just us. We've worked with young graduates from just about every major art/animation school on the East Coast. To a person we've always had to train them in basic animation practice and nomenclature.

Like zooming on a match cut -as shown in these notes. Or how to mark a cross dissolve. Or a cut. Or even how to use exposure sheets.

Of course, I learned all of this on the job too. But I studied history and theater- still I could tell the difference between a Black Jacobin and The Emperor Jones.

Maybe this is all esoteric nomenclature, and the fact that I learned it this way makes me the one who's crazy.

Saturday, September 12, 2009


We lose people and we build new connections, lose again then find other companions who understand us in wholly novel ways.

Two years ago today my father died after a 10 month descent through cancer. That is a sort compassion that can never be replaced.

Photo taken by Abby Denson in December 2002.

Friday, September 11, 2009


A couple years ago a client was planning a series of shorts with Harry Shearer.

We had lots of conversations with Harry's producer and our client.

Brian drew a whole bunch of New York inspired caricatures following our talks.

Then ...nothing...

Not even a "Sorry, small fry, these stink. We're getting us some kid to draw kidney bean headed girls."

We wanted to show a range from "realistic" to "simplistic". The style was honed to the one up top. Then ...nothing...

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Smurfy Smurf Smurf

Last year I pitched a whole bunch of Smurf related activities to the Ottawa International Animation Festival.

Everybody loves Smurfs. Except Canadians. Not one of my great ideas was implemented.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Labor Practices

You are probably not a freelancer.

Maybe you think you are because your employer doesn't withhold taxes and doesn't offer any benefits, but you probably aren't.

I've recently been told by several artists that they've been treated like independent contractors by several studios.

"But Richard," you say, "what do you care?  You, too, can benefit from this practice!"

True, we could scoff at the law in order to save money.  We don't, though.

It varies from state to state, but in New York the rules are clear.  The classification is always at the discretion of the state, but here are the guidelines they go by.

I'll put the correct answer for Independent Contractors in parenthesis.

• Are you working under direct supervision?  If you are on premises, the answer is always "Yes".  (no)
• Do you set your own hours? (yes)
• Do you provide your own tools? (yes)
• Are you reimbursed expenses? (no)
• Is your rate fixed per project? (yes)
• Do you run the risk of profit and loss? (yes)
• Does your studio levy fines or penalties? (no)
• Are you permitted to take on other work? (yes)

And most importantly: Do you provide your own Worker's Compensation insurance? (yes)

On top of all this, you must sign an Independent Contractor agreement which sets all of this out.

Now why would a company want to skirt the law?  And isn't it better for the artist to be freelance?

A studio gains price advantage by avoiding payroll tax, payroll service, Worker's Comp and Unemployment Insurances as well as the possibility of other benefit packages. For a staff of ten, this could be anywhere from $10000 to $50000 a year.  That's 24 months of that and you've got a sweet boat.

Is it better for the artist?  Ask your tax attorney.

Typically drawn animators can easily fit the Independent Contractor scenario. They get paid by the foot, usually work at home and can do it in their underwear at 2 am while taking on seven other jobs.  Assistants, production artists, digital animators -unless they're incorporated -are unlikely to meet the legal requirements.

One other thing.  By Federal law, unless you're "management" , more than 40 hours per week requires overtime pay.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Discipline Is Necessary Before One Can Really Be Loose

For several years in the 1980s and early 90s, Tissa David gave regular classes at The Ink Tank.

Sometime around 1999 I uncovered someone's notes from these sessions. From the looks of it, each class was dedicated to a specific task, like the 4 frame run shown below.

Click on the image for the lesson of June 18, 1987.

I've been told by a few people that artists would often take these classes more seriously than their paying jobs. An animator might be a little late or sloppy or even turn down freelance work to ensure that Tissa's homework was done properly.

R. O. Blechman told me he was inspired to needle Tissa into giving the classes after visiting the Richard Williams' studio in London and seeing Art Babbit and Ken Harris give talks. (On the flip side, Richard Williams told me they nearly came to blows -respectfully -over Tissa's services.)

Tissa's ability to "dance" is unparalleled. "Dance is always a walk. Body is always in balance even when its falling.

Notes from June 25, 1987 on balance and exaggeration. And "Personality of the character will come with drawing."

Here's the backside of those notes.

Homework: a beach ball moves half its size.

I have a few dozen of these note pages. We'll be posting them sporadically in the upcoming weeks.

Monday, September 7, 2009

Labor Day

In honor of Labor Day, here's a union newsletter from January 1966.

Can you imagine the outcry. "What does that cover have to do with animation?" "It looks a high school art project!" "Union? Smells more like 'onion'!"

Upon taking over editing the Screen Cartoonists Local 841 newsletter in the early 60s, Ed Smith changed the format from the simple 8 1/2 x 13 mimeograph to something a little "designy", with far more accessible content.

Amongst the announcements, the completion of Halas and Batchelor's feature "Ruddigore", MGM planning "The Phantom Tollbooth" and "The Jungle Book" to be completed in a year and a half.