Thursday, December 31, 2009

It's Still Christmas Somewhere

Last of the holiday themed posts for a while (probably).

The studio is empty this week so it seems like the world's still on holiday.

We made this with The Ink Tank in 2000. Cote Zellers did the animation at his Brooklyn studio. I worked up the concept with Gina Garan. Alex Reshanov did the snow and compositing.

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

More Wrapping

I meant to post this last week, but forgot.

Wrapping paper designed by Robert Crumb.

There were a few other patterns in the set, Mr. Natural was one.  Even Fritz the Cat, believe it or not.  This was my favorite so it's gone unused for over ten years.

In the "Brush Room" at The Ink Tank (short for "airbrush room") there was a sink and a little kitchenette  area.  Posted here was a drawing of a man pointing skyward in exclamation, a word balloon saying "Keep This Place Clean!"

Washing dishes with R. O. Blechman, I once said "That looks like a Crumb drawing."  "It is," he replied.

He then told me how he had long admired his work and befriending the cartoonist in the early 60s -well before "Weirdo" and the Underground Comix movement.

After Crumb moved to San Francisco, he even hosted Blechman for a few days on a visit.  A pairing I find ceaselessly comical.

In any event, R. O. repaid the favor having the Crumbs to dinner in New York.   Just before dining, R. O. stepped into the dining room, lifted his finger and proclaimed "Dinner is served."  A few days later he received the drawing, a portrait of sorts, as thanks for his hospitality.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009


I don't know if anyone else does this.

Another habit I picked up at The Ink Tank. Upon completion of a project, the artwork would get packaged in brown craft paper and put into storage -rarely, if ever, to be retrieved.

These packs represent nearly 25 minutes of screen time for "The Buddha". Some of the segments are digitally created, its all digitally painted and some of the screen time is made up of reused footage.

Obviously, there would be no way to have produced a project like this in the timeframe and budget using a film process of animation. If there was, would there be any way to store all the art? Four boxes could easily multiply to 16. There's a depression on, who can afford to use up valuable cardboard?

Monday, December 28, 2009

Olga Picasso

Here's a painting by Fred Mogubgub I picked up several years ago.

It's title is Olga Picasso #3 and dated 1984.

The treatment is strange. A sort of "upskirt" angle of a woman on a bench -possibly a sidewalk -most likely a subway seat, a volume of Picasso by her side. The subject is sort of slumped in recline and the image is obscured within itself with a dark frame to the lower right hand side and a kind of floating screen off center.

Streaks ending in yellow fall down the frame.

All of the layering obscures a nicely formed painting of a woman.

These paintings tell unspoken stories. I like to think this Olga is a Russian commuter, (the title a play on Pablo's wife) maybe taking night classes at the Art Student's League, on her way home to Brighton Beach. This was 25 years ago. Today Olga is 50 or 60 at least. Maybe a grandmother a few times over. Maybe a great painted in her own right.

Sunday, December 27, 2009


Keeping in "spirit of the season", here's an unproduced storyboard Maciek Albrecht created for the HBO special "How Do You Spell God?"

This was our first collaboration with HBO at The Ink Tank. The project came to us based on the recommendation of the late Nina Elias Bamberger to her colleague Ellen Goosenberg Kent. We had worked with Nina on CTW's "Big Bag" (we produced the "Troubles The Cat" segments). She turned HBO on to our team.

Initially we contracted for three films. Santiago Cohen would animate one ("Thank You, Lord" with narration by Maya Angelou"), Maciek Albrecht would make "Menashah's Dream" (which remains my favorite of his films). Maciek was also supposed to create this "Prayer Medley", but the segment was cut before production got any further.

We only got as far as the storyboard. I also made a whole bunch of phone calls to various religious institutions to arrange for Maciek to discuss their iconography.

Note The Buddha's relationship to the tree.


Saturday, December 26, 2009


Christmas. That means one thing: "Animagic".

Sometimes I think about how cool it would be to trademark a word like Vinton's "Claymation" or Rankin/Bass' "Animagic". What has the appropriate ring? "Rocimation"? "Anirisk"? "Murraytoons"?

Rankin/Bass' films -evidenced by their ubiquitous Yuletime parody in advertising -are indelible trademarks of the season.

They also represent most American's youngest exposure to some great artists, most notably Paul Coker, Jr. and Jack Davis (both of "Mad Magazine" fame).

Paul Coker Jr. designed the characters for "Year Without A Santa Claus". These drawings would be built into puppets to be animated in stop motion.

We're finishing up our Mad Magazine project for Sundance. It's primarily an editing project, making footage of two year old interviews work. I hope they expand the series from Aragones and Jaffee to include Coker and Davis. I'd love to speak with them about their processes for developing these iconic characters.

Friday, December 25, 2009

Winter Wonderland

This is the last film we did for HBO at The Ink Tank.

Santiago Cohen is responsible this. As always his designs are stellar, this time matched by a loving soundtrack by Macy Gray.

Santiago also did a lot of the animation. I was in a foul mood the whole production because I felt HBO was screwing the studio. Funny, today, if the situation were the same at my own company I wouldn't mind. I also like to think that such a situation wouldn't arise.

In addition to El San, I did several scenes and a lot of inbetweening although I can't remember exactly what -none of it looks the right kind of amateur to be me work. I'm pretty sure Scott Dodson helped on this animation, and I think Casey Saffron was an assistant at the studio around this time. I'm certain that Alex Reshanov did the compositing and a lot of the art production. I also suspect Valerie Cardon did the inking, it looks good.

Amy Schatz produced and directed the show, "Twas the Night" for HBO. Michael Sporn, Jeff Scher, Nadia Rosen, and Maciek Albrecht also contributed segments.

Thursday, December 24, 2009


A while back I contacted a guy who was selling a bunch of East Village Others.

I wanted to know what artists were in each issue, essentially asking for the masthead contributers.

Never heard back.

Some of our favorites -like Kim Deitch -were regulars.

This is a cover Fred Mogubgub did in October 1970.

Steven Heller wrote a little piece about his time at the underground paper earlier this year. In context of the article, he talks about the "Dada" element to Mogubgub's work. I don't necessarily see it as an extension of Dada -any more than Pop Art in general was. Mr. Heller is an insightful thinker, and he worked at the paper so his thoughts on the matter are particularly interesting.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Arnold Stang As A Bug

Many, many years ago we did a sex education video with Whoopi Goldberg for Linda Ellerbee's Lucky Duck Productions.

It was a 30 minute film, very straightforward and explicit.

Phil Marden designed and storyboarded the whole thing. It was animated in Poland by Lukafilm. I was opposed to sending it overseas, and though the animators did a good job the film clearly suffered. The acting doesn't work in many places.

That shortcoming was tempered by Phil's terrific styling as well as a strong voice track.

This part was actually written with Arnold Stang in mind. One great thing about animated films -it's surprisingly easy to get the actors you want to voice the parts. Mr. Stang just took two phone calls. One to SAG to get his number, and one to him (if I remember correctly he did not use an agent).

As expected he was perfect. A great professional and a great pleasure to work with.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Finishing The Panda

As the year wraps, we're wrapping up a few larger projects.

In addition to 25 minutes for "The Buddha" we just completed 42 x :30 - :45 segments for the second batch of "Little Pim" language DVDs for children.

In The Buddha, we were constantly trying to loosen the artwork with "Little Pim" we were forced to give the characters a very narrow range of movement and expression.

This production was done entirely in Flash.  Animators were Joe Andriola, Christina Riley, Amanda Latrell, Chris McMurray, Elliot Cowan and Justin Simonich.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Finishing The Buddha

If not for a last minute scene change (a different way of morphing from a rope to a river) we would've been finished with production on The Buddha yesterday.

still from the sequence depicting the Buddha's death

That new bit is basically complete, just need to pretty up the art production.   Ten years ago it may have taken 4 or 5 days to do a change like that.  Today, using Flash instead of paper (the rest of this sequence was hand drawn) and cleaning up and painting Photoshop -you can make the film significantly better in a short amount of time.

This week the film goes into post-production and I'm hoping everything is smooth.  We've done several tests with Goldcrest, the post facility and everything should go well.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Hailing Cab

We cleared out a wall of the studio yesterday for a little shoot.

Gail Levin is making a documentary on Cab Calloway. Steve Brodner is doing some illustration for it (which we'll be animating).

I like the strong brush strokes. Different from the his usual controlled chaos and should be very fluid for animation.

Dewald Aukema, in from London, is shooting the piece with his RED camera.  It's an impressive piece of equipment.  The "SCARLET" will be released soon, it is supposed to have a very affordable price point.  We'll be investigating this more.

Saturday, December 19, 2009


It's been almost a year since I began daily postings on this site.  Actually, I thought it was a year from today -but a few days were skipped in late December.

In any event, I wanted to celebrate with a post seemingly unrelated to animation.

This week, my friend Kristin Worrell (who's done some audio for us in the past) invited me to her theater company's show at The Kitchen.

After many years, I've grown a distrust of theater.  The form was the first art that I loved, before movies or music or radio or anything else.  Seeing so much bad, bad work, though, would make any person reticent to spend 90 minutes squirming on an uncomfortable chair in the dark.

I've also learned to trust bright people.  Generally, (the massive shortcomings of the current administration's first year notwithstanding) they won't give you a bum steer.

Sometimes they'll give you a Golden Calf.

The Nature Theater of Oklahoma's "Romeo & Juliet" at The Kitchen is, at the very least, some Blue Ribbon Bull.

Those who've been fortunate enough to see "Sita Sings the Blues" (New Yorkers will again have the opportunity during its upcoming run at IFC) will recall the three characters trying to recount the story of Rama and Sita as they remember it. 

This production jumps from a similar conceit.  The director built monologues from phone calls of people recounting from memory Shakespeare's story.  The confessional phone call being a staple of another of America's great artists, Joe Frank.

There's comedy -like in "Sita Sings the Blues" -but the production quickly transcends comedy.  We're rooting for the person to get the story right, wanting to help them out.  This creates a profound, and wholly theatrical, intellectual engagement with the audience.  We follow their trains of thought into personal, illuminating, and sometimes frightening places.

The stylized performance of the actors, their self-consciously "Shakespearean" presentations set in Summer Stock stylized mock proscenium simultaneously obscure and explicate the original script.  The result is akin to what good animation does, it references the way something behaves and then shows it to you in strange way that seems perfectly natural.

Personal stories, layers of literary irony, comedy, romance.  This is a moving and magical production.  Each moment is beautifully orchestrated, although I thought the third act was a little too long even that was saved by the perfect little music cue (once you learn the source of the music, the brilliance is eye popping).  The epilogue, after an evening of tangents and botched recollections can bring you to tears.

It's reminder of why I loved theater, and a prod at what the technique of animation can do with the right creative intent.

The show runs until January 16th.

Friday, December 18, 2009


Now our holiday card.  End of the year card, really.  That's how I have always thought about them.

A change of the calender, future possibilities.

It's a simple card this year, a single color lithograph, thick with irony which pays off with a "gift" -each card has an original drawing from one of our studio artists. 

On the surface it may seem "BAH HUMBUG!", in essence its a handmade present.

I won't go into to over explaining, but I am proud of the "form" of the card.  In this case, form is content.

We did an animated version of the cover for our main website.  CLICK HERE.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Ho Ho

I admit, I don't like Christmas. There are lots of reasons which I won't go into here.

I do, however, like Christmas cards. Maybe because of a strange attachment to the postal service.

That same attachment may be why I dismiss digital "cards".

This one, though, is not only the nicest digital "card" we've gotten -it may top all of our dwindling number of physical cards as well.

Lisa Crafts made it for the New York Foundation for the Arts.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

At Least It's Not On Nitrate

A few years back I helped to convince a friend to move back the States from Europe.

"You're an artist. There may be easy grant money in the EU, but in 100 years, 50 years, will anybody care about the art that was made there?" Specialists maybe. But history only cares about the winners. Right now the United States is on top. Even if the cultural paradigm shifts, the children of the future will study writers from "The New Yorker" and catalogs from the Whitney Biennial in the same way we look at Sophocles and the Venus de Milo.

Even in our own little subculture of animation, work goes forgotten just a few decades later. The marquee names of the dominant hegemony linger (many NFB animators, Hubley, Williams, Bakshi) whilst "provincial" artists without press agents fade away.

Two pages of stills from 1980's animafilm issue 7 (the quarterly journal of ASIFA, then published in a Babelesque four tongues) caught my attention while I was waiting out a render.

These are stills from the Slovenian "Motchvirie" by Koni Steinbaher and Janez Marinsek.

Here's the brief paragraph, written by Ranko Munitic, on their work.

Koni Steinbaher and Janez Marinsek first won their fame as amateur film makers, the authors of "The Speaker" (1970), "The Fig Leaf" (Figovlist, 1971); Superman (1972), "Coexistence" and "Macvirje" (Koesistenca i Mocvirje, 1973). Those presented interesting experiments with various animating techniques and material, those were also works meaningful for Yugoslav cinematography as a whole. Since 1973, Steinbaher and Marinsek have been doing professional work for Viba-Film. Yet "Telematter" (Telematerija, 1973), "Student" (Student, 1974), "Overtaking" (Preticanje, 1975) and "Mocvirje" (1976) did not equal their amateur films, either from the viewpoint of originality or structural harmony.

Of all non-AngloAmerican animation movements, Zagreb is probably the best known. In large part due to the strong influence of American graphics on their animation. Still, many artists with several works to their name go unknown. A fate the ultimately waits for us all.

I suppose I could blame ASIFA International for failing to uphold the legacy of its past members, or the animation writers who would rather prattle about well-trod subjects like "The Nine Old Men" or investigate the many phases Walt Disney's moustache, or even the artists themselves for neglecting to keep their flame burning.

But really, animators don't care.   They'd rather pass on the memories of public figures, whether that's Viacom's Nickelodeon Studios or Ralph Bakshi or Blue Sky than connect with the work of artists hardly a generation removed.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009


Researching a project on Thomas Eakins.

He was one of the great draftsmen of his time.  His figures have weight, fluidity and emotion.

One thing that's not evident is the amount of preparation he put into his painting.  I don't simply mean his then-controversial experimentation with photography and use of nude models for figure study (can you imagine that as controversial in art study?).

He planned out his work thoroughly beforehand.

 Perspective study, including vanishing point.

Separate perspective study for wall.


In the painting we're working with ("John Biglin in a Single Scull" -not the one pictured here) he went so far as to do a study of the piece -in oils -before executing his "final" watercolor.

"The Oarsmen" painted in 1874.

Great work comes from hard work.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Guinness Would Have Called This

The gayest cartoon on Earth.  And we wanted to make it.

I've written before about Maurice Vellekoop and how we love his illustration.  We've developed a few projects with him, nothing has materialized yet.

A few years ago Logo (the gay oriented cable network) invited us to pitch show ideas.  We began by reworking a great concept we had developed for a general audience.

Maurice had some new characters and created some -as usual -beautiful pieces of art for it.


After a lot of initial excited from the network, they claimed poverty.  While we felt this was the sort of production a channel could build its identity around (much like Comedy Central did with South Park, then briefly Chappelle and now The Daily Show) it may have been a little too out of the ordinary.

Yes, that is Liza Minnelli.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

They Call Me Energy

One of our favorite projects to date remains WNET/Thirteen's "Curious".

Gail Levin introduced us to Mark Mannucci while we were working together on the pilot for Little Pim.  A few months later his producer, Tara Thomas, sent us an email to see if we were interested in working on their science show.

The first assignment was to design an "artificial leaf", or the graphic explanation of it anyway.

The trick with science pieces is to be both accurately informative and at the same time clear enough that a layperson can understand.  I'll mention that beautiful design is paramount, but feel as though that should go without saying.

Here is one of our initial design studies with a variation.

See the final segment here.  It ultimately turned out very differently, but the tactile look of the graphics remains intact.

Saturday, December 12, 2009


We've been fortunate to have some terrific artists in the studio recently -most working on the Buddha.

As that project wraps up we would like to share some of their websites.

Doug Compton has done a lot of the animation.  While he hasn't been "in the studio" per se, he has done a few thousand drawings.

Larry Ruppel also animated a sequence.

As did Fran Krause.

And Elliot Cowan.

Ed Smith doesn't have a website, but he did a terrific job on one segment.

Carolyn Green has worked with us on and off for the past few years.  She's done a lot of assistant work on this.

Liesje Kraai has been helping on this and several other projects.  For the Buddha she's done mostly compositing and art production with some assistant animation.

I liked Kelly Gallagher films a lot.  I was surprised to find out she did them all the old-fashioned way.  She's been helping with with art production.

And few without websites: Kristen Collins and Jessica Ng both worked in the studio for the past two summers, Kristen has stayed on part time through the school year.  Jonny A has done art production three days a week for the past few months.

Marina Dominis has been responsible for the lion's share of the design. 

"Most Valuable Player" award goes to Christina Riley who did a little (well, a lot really) of just about everything.  Animation, assistant work, compositing, art production and good deal of figuring out.  Without her, there's no way a complex and diverse project like this could get done.

And the biggest credit of all goes to David Grubin who concocted the crazy notion of using animated segments to personalize the story of the Buddha. 

Friday, December 11, 2009

Lower Thirds

Doing a lot of documentary work -graphics, animation, editorial -means we've had to deal with "lower thirds" more than any sane would care to.

Wednesday I spent most of the day dealing with this on three projects.

One was a one-day job.

Elliot Cowan did the design on this. I just knocked out the versions (right/left, different names).

That's not actually the Health Secretary.

That was fairly straightforward.  News broadcast, tight deadline.

The lower thirds for The Buddha are more complicated.

First we're designing and drawing the lettering.  There are about a dozen total.

The bigger issue is the "cut off".

The film is produced in High Definition, 16x9.  The above layout fits the safeties.

The distributors want the titling to ALSO fit within NTSC 4:3 title safety since some broadcast affiliates might just "center crop" instead of letterboxing.  Needless to say... "ugh" (on so many levels).

Here's the difference:

The white is the full HD broadcast.  The light pink is full NTSC raster, medium pink is "action" safety, dark pink is title safety.

So when the lower third is placed into NTSC title safety, this is what we get (and keep in mind, this is the most visually pleasing example).

Thursday, December 10, 2009


Sometime in the late 1950s Ed Smith took over editing the NY Animation Union Newsletter.

The most obvious change was his introduction of design and illustration to the monthly paper.

Animators like to think that UPA represented cutting edge art and graphics from the era, even the most avant garde of their productions (whether James Thurber, Saul Steinberg, or John Hubley's designs) were still a decade or so behind the young design lions of the day.  UPA was exploring ground tilled by Ben Shahn and Works Progress Artists years prior.

Until about 10 years ago, print has always predicted trends in motion pictures.  This newsletter cover from January 1964 anticipates where commercial animation was heading.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Cut Arrow

Here's an unproduced storyboard from The Buddha.

We're finishing up this week and next.  Things are on schedule, but hectic.