Friday, April 30, 2010


Last month Steve Brodner organized and hosted "Illustration Next" a one night symposium at SVA to highlight the work of some younger professionals as well as showing how established illustrators have been making their way in emerging media.

How's that for a run-on sentence?

We helped him out a little on the business side (indemnification may or may not have been involved) as well as with post production on the video.  Ben Shapiro videotaped the evening.

We've begun to put the night up online in segments.

1. Illustration Next: Marshall Arisman introduction 3/23/10 at SVA from Illustration Next on Vimeo.

(above) Marshall Arisman kicks off the evening with a great story about his mother.

2. Illustration Next: James Blagden 3/23/10 at SVA from Illustration Next on Vimeo.

(above) James Blagden discusses his work and his popular film "Dock Ellis and the LSD No-No."

3. Illustration Next: Chris Buzelli 3/23/10 at SVA from Illustration Next on Vimeo.

(above) Chris Buzelli discusses his work.

4. Illustration Next: Alex Juhasz 3/23/10 at SVA from Illustration Next on Vimeo.

(above) Alex Juhasz discusses his work including the opening sequence to "The United States of Tara".

The evening ran about three hours. The whole night will be posted sequentially at this page.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

As the World Turns

We spent much of the week before last making a 4:00 corporate film with Rick Kaplan of Sherpa Productions.

It was a hectic timeframe -about a week turnaround including shoot and edit.

We can't show the whole thing but this clip will give an idea.

There was a lot of evolution as the project moved. Interestingly, all the original stuff which made it to the end is the most compelling.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

From Word To Image

Last week a copy Marcie Begleiter's "From Word to Image: Storyboarding and the Filmmaking Process", 2nd Edition came in the mail.

I like it enough to recommend to all you, dear readers, who are interested in making moving picture.

This is not really a "how to make a storyboard" book, it is a book on film making from the perspective of storyboarding.

As such, the discussion focuses almost entirely on live action production and how preproduction visuals are created and used for that process.

The live action board tends to be very different from most animation boards.  The dynamic differs according to the media.  Even so, the language is essentially the same and this book is clear and specific in defining terms (moreso even than the also excellent "Shot by Shot" by Steve Katz).  It also describes many techniques useful for animation boards: creating overhead "shooting plans", formal consideration in the construction of the frame and it includes a lengthy interview with Blue Sky Studios director Steve Martino.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Do Your Job

Everybody likes to complain clients -Al Bundy at the shoestore, the backroom Congress, heck, even  clients complain about their own clients.   This is human nature.

A little while back we worked on project where our client made all the wrong decisions and allowed their client to make even worse ones.  At every point we offered our recommendation, sometimes they were taken, sometimes ignored.  While we may have thought they were "stupid" or "making the film worse" we executed the project cheerfully and to the best of our ability.

Why?  When you know everyone is wrong and you are right?  When you're the animator/designer/layout artist/compositor/whatever and the director is an imbecile?  Why put up with it?

There's an easier answer to that.  It's the answer to another question:  What is my job?

If your job is to complain then, by all means, gripe away!

We see our job as making films.  The only thing we can control is getting the piece completed.  If the client has dumb ideas, if they're constantly un-approving or changing things, if they have no clue what their own job is -that's out our purview as producers.

Focus on your job, what you're supposed to do.  Anything else should fall into the very large "not my problem" category.

Monday, April 26, 2010


Our friend Abbey Luck just posted this contest entry.

While we don't condone such competitions thrown to professionals, we do appreciate her work.

Watch more cool animation and creative cartoons at Aniboom

Here's the original.

A Trip to the Barnes Collection

In, let's see -1989, 1990 maybe -I trekked out to Merion Mercy Academy to perform some "male" roles in a few plays at the all girl school.

I wound up staying over with some school friends pretty frequently, one of whom was a neighbor to the Barnes Foundation.  His mom took us once.  It was probably the first art gallery I stepped in (excepting one or two school trips to the Philadelphia Art Museum).  Of course, it didn't seem special at all -having no context and zero knowledge of art history.  I guess I just assumed that every museum had a few dozen Picassos.  In any event, I barely remember anything of that brief trip.

Despite that memory gap, the visit imparted a subconscious approach to art.  Or Art, I guess.

Dr. Barnes "had a lot of opinions" (to pull an often leveled quote from the era of my forgotten visit to his galleries).  Two stick out.

As a 19th Century Man of Science, Dr. Barnes believed that understanding art could be learned by method and every citizen could be a connoisseur.   Further to this, as his assemblages are accented with assorted keys and spoons and bits of metal, art already is part of our everyday world.  In the drawing gallery, its four walls filled floor to ceiling with Picassos and Matisses, there's a peculiar drawing in the corner.  It's in crayon, noticeably unpolished with a "thank you" note to Dr. Barnes written on it, signed only "Elaine".  It's attribution, like all the other hung works, is a simple name plaque affixed to the frame: Bailey.

I could very well be wrong -but I hope I'm not -because I like to believe that Dr. Barnes placed this unknown woman's drawing amidst the Renoirs and Cezannes.

Second, but equally important, is the how the collection asks the visitor to experience the art.   Each room is an intimate encounter.  Each room invites you to have a personal relationship to the work.  Even though the galleries were pretty crowded yesterday, it still offers a one on one conversation with the painting.  Everything hung is in conversation with each other, and the visitor joins.

The museum experience is exhausting.  After twenty minutes at the Metropolitan or MoMA, I'm ready to go home.  With their billion dollar architecture, their heavily guarded whitewashed rooms and their ceaseless chattering parade of bag toting tourists museums impose their collections on you. 

The Barnes Collection is exhausting too.  Every room exhausts you.  Yet every room exhilarates twice over.

I'm having a difficult time reflecting on the visit because it was so moving.  These paintings (and sculptures and tools and pottery, et cetera) not only speak volumes -they are masterpiece after masterpiece.   The collection's handful of Monet paintings show why he's considered a master.   Any of dozen or so Soutine paintings would be signature works in another gallery.

Art is indescribable -it's form is it's definition -a new thing brought into the universe.  The Barnes Collection is indescribable.   

The grounds also include a manufactured pond and gardens.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

You're The Goat (Unless You Vote) -Animator #79

The previous few issues of the Screen Cartoonists Guild newsletter having been devoted to civics reading set the groundwork for their "Primary Election" issue.

As is the case in primary documents like this, the unsaid speaks as loudly as the said. I assume the California primaries in 1944 run the same as primaries today -they're "closed" (meaning you only vote for a candidate in the party in which you are registered). All of the endorsed national candidates went on to win their Democratic primaries -one unseating an incumbent. All but one, Archibald Young, won in the general election.

This, of course, would be the last election Franklin Roosevelt would participate in.
A rare piece of art in the Animator and a checklist so loyal members won't forget who the guild wanted them to pull the lever for.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Do's and Don'ts

More from Harry Wayne McMahan's 1957 book "The Television Commercial".

A series of "Do and Don't" pages for advertising.

Do: Research (and find out animated cats will sell you hair tonic)

Don't: Assume (foxy broads will best shill coffee makers)

Do: expect longevity from variety (animate seals and Eskimos)

Don't: expect long life from a single heavily saturated ad (so you should make lots of them).

Also note the "Snap Crackle and Pop" characters -not the perfect draughtmanship we all remember.

Do: Repeat a jingle many times.

Don't: Repeat live action ads too often (make them animated!)

Now, on to "Cartoon or Live Action"

The animation was more appealing.  It best conveyed the fun and levity of the jingle.

Do: Use animation for comedy, exaggeration and fantasy.  (like a milk man boy head with a Pet Brand Dry Milk bottle body)

Don't: use animation for normal people doing normal things (in crazy Toon Land we call them "Normies").

Do: Use live action to stir emotions (like, ack!  a crying baby!)

Don't: Use cartoons for human interest

Friday, April 23, 2010

Indemnification Dog

Before my stint at The Ink Tank, Brian produced a few animated scenes for a national commercial.

These were quick, 3 to 4 second shots.  One feature a "Warner Bros." style dog.   It was more of classic MGM dog, but that was fine -it was what the agency wanted.  After the usual back and forth the design was approved.

A couple weeks later, the pencil test long approved, the film goes to camera and transfer.  The next day, Brian gets called into the agency.  There's a problem.

A big problem.

The dog is off model, in a bad way.  Seems a production artist felt the design could be improved by adding gold spikes to the dog's collar.

Of course, it had been long decided that would be too close to Tom & Jerry dog.

The agency screamed that the studio must "indemnify" the client against any possible infringement.  Dictionaries were consulted and the character was rechristened "Indemnification Dog".

I saw the clip a few years later and would never confuse the two.  The commercial dog was a completely different color, for one.  The line work and shapes were all different too.

There are several lessons to be learned here. 1)  Check all your art -don't trust production artists. 2) If you are the production artist -stick with the model book.  Chances are there are decisions made beyond the scope of your knowledge. 3) Get indemnified.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Keeping the Dogs at Bay

Long day (too long) shooting a segment for PBS.

The piece needs to be delivered for presentation on Friday (tomorrow).  Three hours of footage at 7:00 is two hours too many and five hours too late.

But we're in the business of making pictures, not complaining.  So we'll grind this out in the next few hours and hopefully come up with something decent.

It's essentially editorial illustration as short film.  The deadlines are similar, and the obstacles are the same.

Madison from down the thought something interesting was happening, so she came to visit.  She was mostly interested in smelling the floor.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Disney-ish Music

"Stay Awake" recently came up on the shuffling iPod and it hit right to play the album all the way through.

Produced and created in 1988 by Hal Wilner (who's 1985 "Lost in the Stars" was my introduction to Kurt Weill which quickly to Brecht who pulled me down the rabbit hole I find myself today) the album doesn't sound dated, necessarily, but the excitement it stirred 20 (gah -20!) years ago is gone. "Lost in the Stars", on the other is still rousing -from Andrea Parkins' first accordion pull though Van Dyke Parks' singular interpretation of music from the Broadway play "Johnny Johnson".

Growing up in the 80s, the Disney product had little to offer a boy.  Most of the classic films weren't available and the big re-releases;Cinderella, Alice in Wonderland, etc. were aimed at girls.

Sure, The Black Cauldron and Tron had macho appeal but not enough to impart any special feelings towards the name "Disney".  That's deadly to nostalgia business -which is the Disney Co's main vein of revenue.

"Stay Awake" may still sway a listener with that childhood connection to Disney films, not for everyone.

Oddly, my childhood had a different Disney influence -courtesy of K-Tel records most likely.

Disneyland Records produced a two volume "Disney's Children's Favorites".  These disks collected traditional and public domain songs.

The artwork isn't horribly offensive  -although I didn't like it as a child and I still don't care for it much.  Of course, it's uncredited.

This is how I learned at an early age that "Sidewalks of New York" is the same melody as "Bicycle Built for Two". (I prefer the former a.k.a. "East Side, West Side").

You'll sometimes hear an artist or writer say "I'm influenced by everything I see, hear, touch and smell."  And you'll think, "That's an evasive answer to a stupid question."  When you really think about it, it's not all that crazy of a statement.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Provacative For A Reason

Last night Brian gave a talk to Michael Kantor's class at SVA's documentary film program.

Meanwhile, I was getting some education.  Gail Levin invited me to see Bill Plympton give a talk at the Writer's Guild.

Many of us in New York have seen him talk a number of times, but somehow he always manages to be fresh and entertaining even if he's preaching the same gospel about independent production.

Here told a very funny story of drawing Marilyn Monroe for his friend's high school student council campaign.  Over the loudspeaker the next day he was called to the principal's office as "The pornographer Bill Plympton."  When he returned to his classmates, he was suddenly transformed in their eyes -an "artist".

I mentioned to him that Gail did a documentary on Marilyn Monroe and he -gracious as always -gave her the drawing.

Here's a brief clip from his talk:

Monday, April 19, 2010

Animator - #77 and #78

Here are the next two "ANIMATOR" newsletters from the Screen Cartoonists, Local 852.

Numbers 77 & 78 from April 28 and May 4, 1945.

The previous newsletter reprinted the Declaration of Independence, these publish the US Constitution and Bill of Rights.  The Constitution takes of seven pages.

Looking back, it would be interesting to know what exactly brought on this triple play of civics.  As it stands, a lot is left to our imagination.  WWII was wrapping up, a new Red Scare was on the rise, and tensions between the Hollywood studios and the guild were once again mounting.

Or maybe there just wasn't any news worth reporting.

Again, thanks to the great Ed Smith who gave us these West Coast newsletters and an even more interesting stack of Top Cel from the NY Guild.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Joost Swarte: Ba Ba Ba Ba Ba

Joost Swarte is best known as a descendant of HergĂ©'s clear line school of cartooning.  He's probably second best known as an industrial designer.

In animation, however, he's probably best known as the designer of the Holland Animation Festival logo.

He's third best known for playing olde tyme music with R.  Crumb and other cartoonists.

Sometime in the 20th Century I came across a CD of non-old tyme music with his name on it.

"Sound Shopping" is listed as a collaboration of Dutch electronic musicians Arling & Cameron with Joost Swarte.  Swarte is only listed as a co-writer on three tracks.

The music is, to me, an accurate representation of the illustrator's work.

Here's an example.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Some 1950s Advertisments

These are scans from Harry Wayne McMahan's 1957 book "The Television Commercial".

Most of the images are uncredited.  Above is from the Saul Steinberg designed commercial for Jello.  It was animated by UPA for Young & Rubicam Advertising.

Don't assume a captive audience.

Images are used from commercials as illustrations, although the ones above and below look like they could've been originals.

There was little passing game in the 1950.  Four men in the back field and two tight ends.  Thats what we call the Jumbo package.

All of the John Hubley work is credited.  Above, Storyboard, Inc's spot for Heinz Worchester sauce.

Jazz hands?

There was more to 1950s design than UPA, Hubley and the clean graphic style.

Traces of the Tex Avery look in Bug-Geta.

More to follow.

Friday, April 16, 2010

Building a Film (quickly) - 2

It took less time to produce this film than has to make a series of posts about it.

Here's the second part of a quickly drawn storyboard for a corporate film.  First part is here.
Brian worked up the board in a little over a week.

By the time we got to animating, we had under two weeks.  Like 7 week days or something, it's all a blur.

The key, then, is to figure out all of the narrative details in the board and to keep it all simple.

Even is a style is intentionally crude, like this.  You still have to keep in mind that animation is time consuming.  On the other hand, motion is interesting.

Coming up with means of motion without having to animate will make a quick turnaround feasible.

The wrecking ball in the above board is an example.

Note the cut between 7.7 and 8.1.  Cutting on the action.

The guy flies off.  Cut to full shot of him about to land.

Graphics can also be a time saving device.

Here we let the voice over do the work and slightly reinforce it with visual shapes.

Shapes can be "animated" with AfterEffects (or Flash, as crappy as that application is for filmmaking) trickery.  Turning geometry into dollar signs takes only a few minutes.

Its motion graphic that pretends to be animation.

And the logo.  Its usually a good idea to graphically connect the product to the selling point.

Here saving money is the pitch.  Dollars -> logo.

Guys sitting at a desk is almost as bad as shots of a computer screen.  But sometimes you've got to do it.

This sequence turned out pretty funny.  Since the characters don't have real articulation, they maniacally waved their arms to "type" while a typewriter sound effect telegraphed the action.

A lot of copy to cover.  Using a simple action in multiple repeats can turn a mundane shot into something graphically interesting.

Transitions can also add an element of action.

Still more of this board to come.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Ballpark Statuary

One week into the baseball season.

Last Monday, went down to Washington D.C. for the Phillies' first game.

Most ballparks have statues of their team's legends.  Nationals Park, bereft of legends, has a series of "Washington D.C." baseball heroes.

Sculpted by Omri Amrany, they attempt to capture motion in a still three dimension space.

Their initial impact is kind of monstrous.

Quickly, they become highly rewarding.  Although the Nationals will be cursed as long as they keep Teddy Roosevelt from winning the President's race -the fans are at least rewarded with these statues to greet them.