Saturday, October 31, 2009

Trick or Treat

Here's what little Canadian boys are girls might find in their sacks tonight.

The Northern version of Popeye candy is a little sharper packages than our Janqui brand: as noted here, although I think I prefer the weird drawing of the U. S. brand.

Friday, October 30, 2009

Dear James

R. O. Blechman's "The Juggler of Our Lady" is a well written book.

The art, on the other hand, is serviceable at best. It's stiff. Unexpressive.

In his later books, "The Life of Saint Nicholas" and especially "The Book of Jonah" it's just the opposite -the art if fluid, precise and beautiful. The writing, not so much.

His eagle eye became more and more developed over time (even if sometimes it was more like a hurricane's eye), I figure the trade off was a gradual tinning of the ear.

Simon and Schuster has just published "Dear James: Letters to a Young Illustrator".

And, wow, is it a good little book. And well written.

Since Halloween is upon us, we can say it's written in "Dracula" format, all these letters from Blechman's hand to a fictional young illustrator.

Having worked closely with Blechman for many years, I was familiar with most of the anecdotes shared. I've also recounted several of them on many occasions -his presumptive fan letter to Steinberg and its response, his immediately wastebasketing of handpainted Warhol postcards from the 50s, a mutual friend by the aforementioned artist his first camera.

Particularly pleasing to me is how he refutes Rilke's remark to an aspiring poet: "Ask yourself in the most silent of the night: Must I write?" His reply is inspiring (Rilke's position is deflating).

Most impressive is the easy range of literary he shows in this book. It should be handed out to aspiring artists and illustrators the moment they send in their first art school application.

Blechman can cite nearly any illustrator from Hogarth to John Hersey (illustrator) and he makes easy reference to Horace as well as Phillip Roth (with a little John Hersey, novelist, too, I'm sure).

He's not as fluent in animation literature. Film, I think, was always thrilling fling more than deep burning passion for him. His approach to animation was more like an illicit hot trot whereas illustration -that was his wife. Maybe that's why this terrific volume looks like it will be roundly and unjustly ignored by "animation people".

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Today's Tom Sawyer

We just did a quick "talking storybook" which will have limited use -direct to teachers, apparently.

It was done as a favor, essentially, to Steve Brodner's print agent. We have a little over a week to make it (discounting my time in Ottawa) and had to cut the "script" down from seven minutes to three.

I recorded a scratch track -we were adamant they would handle audio. They wound up "liking" my track and using it anyway.

We asked ZEES to work up some art based on some extraordinarily crappy sketches that I did. Something a little 19th Century was the direction.

Jonny A put the motion graphics work together in a day or two, based solely on an annotated script and the voice track.

He then went home and recorded banjo track for the music. I knew the client wouldn't do anything and a piece like this can come to life with music. Listen here.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Fall Classic

Time in the baseball world is unlike time at any other place in the universe.

In fact, the only thing regulated by the clock -the period between half innings -is really only done for broadcasting sake and regularly ignored by pitchers and batters who saunter onto the playing field at their leisure.

And so, the mechanics of a pitch which may take a four to five seconds, can feel like a single tick of the clock if the pitcher is on top of his game.

Likewise, if a hitter is keyed in -those few seconds can seem like twenty or thirty as the ball approached the bat in an apparent slow motion.

Time is perception.

The game links us under a common veil with those who have shared these moments in the past "real time" -Hall of Famers, role players, the unlikely heroes, our fellow observers and the souls of friends and family who may be gone in "real time" but still sit with us as we tune distant broadcasts or shout unheard at miscalled balls and strikes.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Yellow Submarine - 2 of 2

Thanks to Carolyn Green for scanning these pages.

This is the best page in the book. Early storyboard/concept sketches? The way the text is blocked in, they appear to be layout roughs for merchandise.

Still, "Send Me My Glove!" in the upper right is a great little drawing.

Read the fine print of these bubble gum wrappers. It tells you how to avoid disappointment.

Although the packaging is "off model" its still striking design.

Trading Cards.
Yellow Submarine candy cigarettes.

Trying to outdo Popeye.

Even professional photographers have a hard time with focus.

End pages of greeting cards.

Monday, October 26, 2009

The Kiss of Death -Michael O'Donoghue and Peter Bramley

Comedy writers today all owe a debt to Michael O'Donoghue.

A founding writer of "The National Lampoon" and original head writer for "Saturday Night Live" his smart, acerbic humor led the way to today's "The Onion" and "The Daily Show".

I've always been little put off by his notorious refusal to write for the Muppets on SNL (better performers than Dan Akroyd, to be sure), so I was surprised to come across this illustrated story he did with Peter Bramley for the December 1969 issue of Evergreen (a leftist literary monthly).

I was first drawn in by the illustrations -in the vein of Roth with traces of underground comix, S. Clay Wilson, and maybe a little Beardsley who was in fashion at the time (although that may just be the yellow backgrounds).

Apollinaire's "Breasts of Tiresias" holds a special place in my heart.

It'd be great if Cartoon Network would allow this level of literacy to at least one of their shows.
"It's... nothing...Only...a...flash...wound" Rings of future Python.
Great graphic construction on the bottom two panels of page 36.

Written in the height of the Vietnam War, this is undeniable political -a domain of humor now relegated to a one-hour time slot on Comedy Central.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

November 12, 1987 - Man Should Have Reaction

These notes from Tissa's lecture of 11/12/87 are a little more scattered than previous sets.

They refer to a specific exercise of which we don't have a copy.

Here's on clear note: Extreme perspective should take long so that characters just don't GROW. Don't exaggerate size change.

Action should be purposeful and direct. You can smooth later.

Remember the table is an inanimate object when doing animated zoom.

When you want something to be important (HOLD)

What you do before your action is very important.

Movement (of animal) is more important than whether the legs are correct in action. [my note: I assume this is animating in passes]

Then notes on wheels turning and rain.

And reflecting on a lake (in cel, on a budget).

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Yellow Submarine - #1

Nina Paley put out a call looking for an "Art of the Yellow Submarine" book.

We have a slim volume I picked up for a dollar several years ago. It's mostly photos of the Fab Four hanging around life sized cuts off themselves and a full scale Blue Meanie doll, but there are a few photos of production artists, a shot or two of pre-production art and a fun little section of merchandise using art from (and inspired by) the film.

For academics sake, we'll post a few of these images. Some today, then a second batch later in the week.

None of the photos are credited (the photographer is: Tony Gale). Maybe this is Hans Eidelmann. Was he left handed? Could he draw, look pensively at the camera and operate a Nagra all at the same time?

Could this be Al Broadax? Or just another big wig? What could he be commenting on -its a pan cel, its already painted. He's obviously not the checker -no exposure sheets in sight and more importantly NO GLOVES. Any smudgey fingerprints are your fault, pal!

I tried to speak with Mr. Broadax several years ago while writing about Fred Mogubgub for ASIFA. His wife answered the phone and was very cold. He never called back.

Left handed cel painter working without gloves.

I'd be pissed if I were the production coordinator. I'd turn down the heat.

Film artfully hung in the opaquing department.

Paint jars with no lids.
Pencilling on a cel.

They did things a little different on this picture.

This lady is a better actor, with the fingers cut of the glove and all.

Although it looks like the cel is face up. Maybe she's top painting John's moustache.
Cel set ups and the author's description of his relationship with the rock band.
R. O. Blechman told me a story about Al Broadax visiting him in his studio in 1967. The producer had been recommended to Bob as a possible designer for the film.

Bob begged off, saying he was not the guy for the job but he knew who was -and a gave him a stack of Pushpin Graphics and Seymour Chwast's phone number.

Who knows if that influenced the direction of the film, but the great Hans Eidelman's visual kinship to the seminal design group is irrefutable.

Friday, October 23, 2009

More Interesting Things By Others

Our friend and neighbor Bill Plympton has posted an animatic of his new short film.

He's open to suggestions for a title.


Almost forgot this one.

Laurent Cilluffo started work on this in 1999 and finished it seven years later. It just made it online two weeks ago.

He writes that there are a few things he would do differently, but to me the singular design overcomes any animation shortcomings.

We worked with Laurent and his wife Valerie for several years at The Ink Tank.


Pete Sluszka, who worked as an animator on "I Spy" produced by The Ink Tank, was one of four directors to make animation for The Decemberists "The Hazards of Love" "rock opera".

Foremost, it's not an opera. You know what makes something an opera? It's performed in an opera house or an opera company. That simple.

Porgy and Bess at the Met? Opera.
Tommy at the Meadowlands? Not an opera.

Sure there's gray area. Skiffle musicians in smokey club; not within the gray area.

In any event, it looks like an interesting project.

Here's a link to some video.

And an article with some more visuals and full credits.


Annie Simpson used to work the front desk at The Ink Tank. Everyone had a crush on her.

She's just launched her website. You can see some of paintings and films there.


And another old friend from The Ink Tank, Santiago Cohen, sent this postcard the other day.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Oh Oh Oh (It's Magic)

It's not difficult for me to write about or criticize the work of friends.

Unless there's nothing negative to point, then it's hard. I wonder, "Am I myopic because I like them, or is it really that good?"

In that regard its very difficult to write about Joseph Gilland's "Element Magic: The Art of Special Effects Animation". Not only is he a great guy- this volume fills gaping hole in the animation library.

I admit, upon first flipping through the volume I was a little disappointed. Where are the step by step drawings? The Halas & Whittaker/Preston Blair style schematics we've grown accustomed to?

For forty dollars you better show us how to do it!

More impressively, more importantly this book gives the reasons effects are animated in a certain way. It advises the reader how to observe and reproduce these motions and expounds the philosophy behind dynamics animation.

There are several drawing by drawing examples, but you can't just trace them and get how they work. Unlike character animation primers, the text is critical to understanding what makes the drawing work.

Even in the examples, Joe is adamant in saying that the manner shown is simply one way of doing it. There are countless ways to make a raindrop splash -understand the principles, application easily follows.

We've been doing a lot of dynamics animation in The Buddha film. I wish I had read this before we started, it would have made the job a lot easier.

There's also a blog that supplements the book.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Ottawa Odds and Ends

Upon return I found that Murray the Cat had taken charge.

On the way up, I made my first stop into a Wal-Mart. They have their own Australian section in the DVDs.

TAC (Television Animation Conference). Lots of people listening. I was both listening and admiring the detailing.

They were led to believe there would be coffee.

People are interested in pumpkins.

Heather, do you know what that means in Canada?
Giant pumpkin. Out to get you.

Another line. Guy says, "Yeah, people are just calling me 'kilt-guy'". Me, "When you go around wearing a kilt you'll get that. Unless you're Robert the Bruce."


OK. So these bugs were in Upstate New York. We'd get them in my neighborhood growing up as well. We'd call them Halloween Bugs and they would swarm the back of their house. I think they're disgusting. They seem really mean spirited. Anybody know what they're called?

Here's the middle of the Thousand Islands Bridge. Right on the US - Canada border.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Mobile Studio

On the way back from Ottawa we got a call to fix a render error on a project.

We saw the sign for "Hi-Speed Internet" and pulled in.

Their office, our office.
We stayed in the car, mooched their wifi and uploaded the final.

What a world.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Ottawa International Animation Festival - Day Five

Sunset over the River Ottawa.


The show was held in Quebec's Museum of Civilization.

The NFB was almost shut out. If not for their co-production with Global Mechanic on Bruce Alcock's "Vive La Rose" the Film Board wouldn't have even gotten mention in the Canada-only section of the awards.

A little surprising. I would have taken the safe bet that Cordell Barker's clever "Runaway" would have taken the audience award. After all, the very unclever "Sleeping Betty" mined the shallow area of the same pool and came with awards. It's only the way of the world that better material goes unrewarded.

The best film in the festival, David O'Reilly's "Please Say Something" came away with the Best Narrative Film prize.

The Best in Show, quizzically, was given to "Inherent Obligations" by Rao Heidmets from Estonia. Its an OK exercise in Eastern European existential hijynx but I didn't even remember it existed.

I had been mentally preparing my reasoning as to why "Please Say Something" should've won over something like "Runaway" or "Madagascar" (a beautiful travelogue. Nice, but cold). "Madagascar" wound up with three prizes including the audience award.

I'm glad that "Please Say Something" was recognized. It's a terrific piece and this sort of work needs to be encouraged. David O'Reilly is a young filmmaker with all the promise in the world. His work is unorthodox and visually confrontational. If professionals in the animation world do not support the constant boundary pushing and expansion of the art form, the process will atrophy. Cordell Barker will continue to make terrific films regardless of acclaim, films like "Madagascar" will continue to be produced.

New York City was well represented within competition this year. Martha Colburn received an honorable mention for "Myth Labs". I think its amongst her weaker works. Her strength is in the explosive nature of her visions. This piece is sprawling and effort-laden. Stieg Retlin picked up the Best Music Video for his 8-bit inspired Nullsleep "Dirty ROM Dance Mix" and Jake Armstrongs "Terrible Thing From Alpha 9" took top undergraduate prize.