Tuesday, August 31, 2010


Experimentation is a fundamental element of film production.  You're either experimenting (trying something you've never done before) or repeating yourself.

That's a big reason why I don't like the term "experimental film".  Many of the artists who are called "experimental" are refining techniques and ideas they've previously used.

Part of the process of film -animation in particular -is figuring out what you're going to do.

This is a little experiment for a project we're working on for the NEH.

It's unlikely the film will have anything like this in it, but the act of putting it together helps figure out what will make the cut and offers ideas that otherwise would've laid dormant.

Monday, August 30, 2010

March 15, 1990 -Final Notes, Lip Synch and More

These are the last of the notes from the Tissa David lectures.  We'll have to get the tags straight so they're easy to find.  It'll be "notes".


should have good soundtrack and story.
1) create environment (e.g. behind the couch, tiny space restricted to intricate perspective)
2) passing of time -window light coming in will establish time.
area being restricted (2 characters start at end where second character enters) this way you will avoid trap if not enough room.

From back of couch to outside atmosphere.  Should be planned so everything will be natural.

Horse: horse running has a stretch and a reach.  Stretch higher up and reach is lower.

Be original in your approach and don't be afraid to be inventive.  Don't be timid but be interesting and adventurous.  Exagerate.

Every action takes place on an arc.  Except when it is a zig zag very rarely.


Spacing should have an order.  It's almost as important as timing some sort of rhythm.

Mouth is part of face.

Skull stationary -the rest is movable.

Hand speaks as gestures, head must move when talking (tilt, up and down movements)

Consonant- must have 2 frames
always closed mouth

Try to animate lip synch with only the shape of the mouth.  Avoid teeth (only use if ferocious)

Mouth should look like the sound and the contrasts will make it work.  You can exaggerate but don't over animate.

Simple lip synch and simple action.

When you have important dialogue the action can be ahead of the word.  Gesture can precede or proceed the word for...

effect and impact.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

How Does He Do It?

Famous Original Patrick Smith (not to be confused with Original Famous Patrick "Guys Coming Out of Guys Coming out of Other Guys" Smith) has just added a new piece to his site VectorPark.com.

I'm not embarrassed to say I don't fully understand VectorPark-  not in the sense a film or painting or even a video game can be understood.

Using a Flash interface, VectorPark is mildly interactive like a game, it's somewhat cinematic and it's more design pretty than painting profound.  It all comes together as something inexplicable -Art.

In the new story, "Thomas: Seasons" the user follows and controls a unicycling egg through landscapes.  Each turn off course reveals something fantastic.

Saturday, August 28, 2010

The Things We Fight Over

Stupid things -lines on the ground, what buildings get renovated into.

Harcourt, Brace, Jovanovich published an adaptation of Hubley's The Hat in 1974.

The film rates amongst his best (and that's saying something).  Dudley Moore and Dizzy Gillespie give outstanding voice performances.  Their dialogue is like music.  They're characters' stupid -torn from the headlines.

The production of the is exceptionally smart.

These days everything gets printed overseas on the cheap, so designers don't need to work out economies like single color printing.  The book is a monochrome sepia from art reused from the film.

Friday, August 27, 2010

Good Morning Saudi Arabia

This is a little profile on the studio that was produced by Shruti Mathur for Good Morning KSA TV in Saudi Arabia.  It's an English language network.

She did a great job with it.  (Meaning: I'm not incredibly embarrassed like these things usually make me).

And it reminds me that I need a haircut.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Nothing But Good News -Top Cel, 12/17/43, vol. 1 issue 1

Here's the first issue of "Top Cel" the New York Screen Cartoonists Local newsletter.

December 17, 1943.

We have a full run and these are in much better shape than the West Coast guild's, so we'll be uploading them in sequence once or twice a week for the next few years.

Prexy McKee must be offered reinstatement as must Sam Singer.

In an Intermediate Report to the National Labor Relations Board dated Dec. 6, 1943, Howard Myers, Trial Examiner, stated conclusions of law to the effect that "by discriminating in regard to the hire and tenure of employment of Robinson McKee and Samuel Singer thereby discouraging membership in Screen Cartoonists Local 1431m the respondent has engaged in as is engaging in unfair labor practices, within the meaning of Section 8 (3) of the Act." and that

"By interfering with, restraining, and coercing its employees in the exercise of the rights guaranteed in Section 7 of the Ace, the respondent has engaged in and is engaging in unfair labor practices within the meaning of Section 8 (1) of the Act."

On the basis of these conclusions of law the Trial Examiner recommended that: 1. Cease and desist from:

(a) Discouraging membership in Screen Cartoonists Local 1461, or any other labor organization of its employees, by discharging, or refusing to reinstate any of its employees, or in any other manner discriminating in regard to the hire and tenure of employment or any terms or conditions of their employment;

9b) In any other manner interfering with, restraining, or coercing its employees in the exercise of their right to self-organization, to form, join, or assist labor organizations, to bargain collectively through representatives of their own choosing, and to engage in concerted activities for the purpose of collective bargaining or other mutual aid or protection as guaranteed in Section 7 of the Act.

2. Take the following affirmative action which the undersigned finds will effectuate the policies of the Act:

(a) Offer to Robinson Mckee and Samuel Singer immediate and full reinstatement to their former or substantially equivalent positions, without prejudice to their seniority or other rights and privileges;

(b) Make whole Robinson McKee and Samuel Singer...... for any loss of pay they may have suffered;

(c) Post immediately in conspicuous places in its New Rochelle, New York, plant, and maintain for a period of at least sixty (60) consecutive days from the date of posting, notices to its employees stating; (1) that the respondent will not engage in the conduct from which it is recommended that it cease and desist in paragraphs 1; (2) that the respondent will take the affirmative action set forth in paragraphs 2 (a) and (b) of these recommendations and (3) that the respondent's employees are free to become or remain members of Screen Cartoonists Local 1461......and that the respondent will not discriminate against any employee because of membership in or activities of that organization;

(d) Notify the Regional Director of the Second Region in writing within ten (10) days from the date of the receipt of this Intermediate Report, what steps the respondent has taken to comply herewith.

Those conclusions and recommendations resulted from a lengthy hearing during the week of November 8th., which was brought about by charges filed with the NLRB by the Local.  We charged the Terrytoons, Inc. was engaging in unfair labor practices and that McKee and Singer had been discharged for union activities.

In discussing his proceedings in his report to the NLRB the Examiner said: "The undersigned finds McKee's version of what transpired at this interview (when McKee was discharged) to be substantially in accord with the facts and that Terry made the statements attributed to him by McKee.  The latter was a credible witness,  Terry was not."

This is the first time in the history of the cartoon industry that an employer has been convicted of unfair labor practices.  We sincerely hope that such a need never again arises and that our relationship with all Employers can be as amicable and fruitful as they are with most.


Future meetings: Subject to the approval of the Famous unit, it was voted to hole the monthly meetings in New York one month and in New Rochelle the next..  The next meeting of the Local will be held early in January in New York City, the exact time and place to be decided later and the information given in a subsequent issue of "Top Cel".

On Famous  Unit: At that plant negotiations are continuing.  After a rather hectic week for the Committee during which time they met with Sam Buckwald, a unit meeting was held at the Capitol Hotel on Monday Dec. 6th. While some minor concessions has been made by the management of the Studio, the issues involving salary increases still remained 'status quo'.

As a result, the membership voted to reject those concessions already made and directed the Committee to notify Mr. Buckwald of that decision along with our intention of applying to the Mediation Board.  The Negotiation Committee consists of Tom Golden, Woody Gelman and Jury Weiner with the Attorney Mervin Cristenfeld and Pepe Ruiz.

On Terry Unit At a conference before the New York State Mediation Board on November 24, the company agreed to sign a contract on all points but wages and a few minor items that were to be certified to the War Labor Board.  However, the company reneged on its agreement and refused to sign unless we accepted their wage proposals.  After having the Local's attorney clear up a number of inaccurate statements that the company had made on War Labor Board policies and procedure, the members again voted to stand by our original demands and let the WLB decide what we were entitled to.  The case was certified to the War Labor Board on Dec. 14.

A vote of thanks was given to the negotiating committee of the Terrytoon Unit for the splendid job they had done in the face the most trying of circumstances.

The Membership voted to instruct the Terrytoon Negotiating Committee not to meet with the company for purposes of collective bargaining unless they were accompanied by their legal adviser.

Initiation Fees and Dues: As the Local is now well organized, it was decided that after Jan. 1st., the initiation fee will be increased.  Since most of our members are paid up in dues for the months of Nov and Dec. the members decided that all new members must be paid up for those two months to be considered in good standing.  Beginning with January 1944, all dues must be paid on the first of each month.  It is of utmost importance that dues are kept up to date.  This is the very least we can do to show our solidarity.

It was voted, subject to the approval of the Famous Unit to accept the system of initiation fees now being followed on the West Coast:

When earning up to $35.00 per week................$25.00
When earning $35.01 to $64.00 p.w..................$50.00

Flippings: The Bill Hudsons off for Miami for a three week holida.... Lou Zukor from the Coast, with Famous again......Lest we forget: Steve Muffatti (Deep in the heart of Texas) PFC/1297th. M. P. Co. Camp Barkley, Texas.. Howard Smith (enjoying his Lil Almer shoes) Fort Dix, NJ.  Geo. Germanetti (Just moving along), Fort Lewis, WA.......Gordon Whittier back at Famous after serving 60 days ....Joe Oriolo and family heading sunshine way (Florida)..... Phyllis, our Financial Secretary in bed with grippe.... Lee Donahue came to work Monday with his scotty dog.  It was a study in black and white......Vinci Guerra a proud Father..... Last general membership meeting place was a new one.  Unfortunately the janitor was sick and unable to heat the place, so we furnish heat with our arguements.....

From the Motion Picture Daily. Dec. 8/43: "31% Increase in Paramount Deals: Agnew. Sales of first two groups of Paramount 1843-44 features are running 31 per cent ahead of similar numerical groups last year, Neil Agnew, Vice President and General Sales Manager revealed here yesterday.  This is a record increase since the start of decree selling by Paramount, Agnew added.  He stated ....that sales of short subject are running 33 per cent ahead of last year......Sales of short subjects are placed at 6,108 independent contracts, compared to 4,592 for a similar period last year, Agnew revealed, representing an increase of 33 per cent over last year."

In journalistic circles, 'putting a paper to bed' is the vernacular for the final collecting and editing of the various items before the presses begin rolling.  We use that expression in the instance with our tongue in our cheek.
We set about the task in this, the first issue of 'Top Cel' with the entirely optimisitic feeling that it shall be the first of many to follow.  It shall be our trust and our endeavor to present all of the news concerning the mighty masters of the pen, pencil and brush not only accurately and efficiently, but  also as regularly as possible.
 We go to our first 'press' with the sincerest hoe that it will be our please to bring you nothing but good news.


Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Burchfield, John and Mary

John Canemaker wrote a typically excellent piece on Charles Burchfield for Print.  On his recommendation, after being stopped in my tracks by the bus kiosk ad, I visited the Whitney for “Heat Waves in a Swamp: The Paintings of Charles Burchfield.”

It's an exhaustive exhibition, de rigueur for today's blockbuster art economy, that leads you from interest to apathy to excitement.

While Canemaker discusses Burchfield's relationship to animation his article stops short of going into animation's relationship to Burchfield.

John's affinity for the painter is clear.

(above) Bridgehampton by John Canemaker

(above) Untitled (Landscape with Trees and Birds), 1925.  
Currently on exhibit at the Alexandre Gallery, 41 E. 57th Street.

Burchfield's loose, almost abstract, landscapes are more of graphic recreation of a feeling than the fastidious landscapes of 19th Century.  This is a style which is very "animate-able".  It's visually appealing, quick to draw, and repeatable.

Traces of his work can be found in Mary Blair's work for Disney.
(above) By Mary Blair from Peter Pan  (linked from Michael Sporn, scanned 

(above) "Fireflies and Lightening" by Burchfield, in the Whitney Exhibit.

I know it heretical in animation, but I've always found Mary Blair's work teetering on kitsch.  And this comparison helps explain that impulse.

Burchfield was one of America's best known artists in the first half of the century.  He was the star of the MoMA's first one man exhibit, he had a very successful line of Christmas cards and feature articles in "Fortune", "Life" and other national magazines.  It would be hard to believe that the Mary Blair wasn't aware of his work.

Many of the ideas in his paintings are evident in the Disney work.  The contrast of dark foreground with open skies.  Depth built through a chiaroscuro of color fading from saturation to white.  Natural forms indicated through shape.  The repeat of figures.

The Disney work polishes it until the shine is obvious.  Again, the comparison to Bridgehampton is telling.  Canemaker, like Burchfield, trusts the audience to commune with the artist.  The Mary Blair designs, one cog in a mechanical assembly, never take that leap.

The show at the Whitney runs eight galleries.  In the first, we're introduced to sketches.  Mostly nightmarish stuff with sinister titles.

This opens into a room containing the work shown in his 1930 MoMA exhibition (much from his 1918 of his annus mirabilis).  These are nice -some are particularly Mary Blair -but altogether not so impressive.  It's clear the artist isn't a master of his trade, there's a lot of "fix ups" in the watercolor and he either doesn't  trust negative space or can't control the pigment well enough to create it.  You get the impression of stumbling on some great yard sale find, not an American master.

The next few galleries (with the exception of his very cool work as a wallpaper designer) cement this opinion.

But then


In his notes the artist writes how he abandoned a version of this (above) painting, The Coming of Spring, years earlier because he didn't have the tools to complete it.

After working up the masterpiece, he revisited the old in the style of his younger self.

The final gallery is full of paintings from this period from the 1950s through his death.

Walk quickly through the rest of the show to have the time and energy to spend here.  The promise shown in those WWI era watercolors fully blooms in the final two decades of the artist's life.  And, unfortunately there's very little animation like it.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Satoshi Kon, Dead at 47

The passing of Satoshi Kon is a terrible blow.

He was a film maker and an artist who respected the audiences, respected the technique of animation and pushed what was expected from both.

After 47 years on earth, he's left us with a legacy of engaging, intelligent, and adult films -fulfilling the promise that frame by frame drawing can indeed create transcendent stories.

Here are some past brief thoughts on the passed great.

In Stores Near You

Coming soon (probably tomorrow), a little write up on the extensive Charles Burchfield show at The Whitney.

In the meantime, one of favorite regularly recurring features: Our Work in the Real World.

Not only did we do a bunch of graphics for Christopher Noey's documentary "All About Prints", we designed the packaging.

I didn't even "face" the DVDs.  They were already like this.

Note: Our friend Martha Colburn did a blast of animation for the neighboring "The Devil and Daniel Johnston".  If I'm not mistaken Greg Ford produced some animation too which is only available on the DVD.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Animator 1950

So this is really the last of the Screen Cartoonists Local 852 newsletters in our collection.

From here we'll be moving on to a full run of the East Coast Union's "Top Cel".

This is from May 1950.

The front page notified the members of a non-work action against Jerry Fairbanks Studio for a year old issue of severance and vacation.

A list of nominees for union offices appears.  Bill Scott is on the ballot to edit the newsletter.  I wonder if it suddenly became funny.

Page two is a letter from Bill Littlejohn (not only a great animator, but the guild Business Agent) address the possibility of a strike.

Finally from "Variety" May 18, 1950

"Disney in Black; 75G 6-Mo. Net ...In a report to stockholders, Paul L. Pease, treasurer, said the 'outlook for the fiscal year, ending Sept 30 1950 has been materially improved by the boxoffice showing of 'Cinderella'.  The prospect now is for modest net profit for 1950, compared with the net loss of $93,899 in 1949..."

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Nhek Dim Watercolors

A couple days ago we posted some political cartoons by Nhek Dim, a Cambodian artist who was murdered by Khmer Rouge in the late 70s.

Here are some of his paintings.

A village from 1975.  Love the trees.

More of those trees, and some people.

That, I believe, is a cyclo.  Romance in the park.



Luscious sky over a river village, 1973.  I wonder how true the reproduction is to the original color.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Great Fish

I was recently reminded of R. O. Blechman's "Book of Jonah".

Published in 1997 by Stewart Tabori and Chang as part of three book deal which included a reissue of "The Juggler of Our Lady" and the new title "The Life of Saint Nicholas", "Jonah" was sadly neglected.

In my opinion, it's not only Blechman's greatest work -it's amongst the top illustrated books of all time: comic books, graphic novels, or children's books.

You see his timing and perception of space in these few pages.

The images tell the story.  It's practically Ernie Bushmiller in it's graphic essence.  The words are punctuation.

The above sequence harkens back to "The Juggler of Our Lady".  The drawings here are better, of course, beyond that the progression of the images -full scale to single line evokes fear and abandonment better than 1000 words could. 

Timing, the space between the drawings, is finely tuned here.  The differences in Jonah's poses are weighted by the space around him and the progression through the pages.

At times the scale transforms and images devour entire spreads.

The color is as precise as the line is tenuous.  Tom Hachtman did the airbrushing on the original artwork.  R. O. is specific on the tones and application of the color.  Just like the line, it's deceptive simplicity belies a rewarding sophistication.

A book of beautiful images.

And solid storytelling.

And inventive graphic layouts.

Friday, August 20, 2010

Book Report: Animated Performance

Every animator should write a book.

We'd have hundreds of perspectives on the process. Maybe a supercomputer could process them all and come up with the elusive answer to how it's done. I remember reading a similar thing was done to films resulting in the determination that Eastwood's "Unforgiven" was the best screenplay written.

Nancy Beiman's "Animated Performance" is a personal, professional and historical introduction to the animation process.

Unlike other books by animators (Richard Williams, Tony White, Eric Goldberg, Halas & Whittaker, Preston Blair) this one isn't overloaded with drawing by drawing exercises that show exactly how to draw a scene.

The book explains why before it shows you how. Along with Joseph Gilland's "Elemental Magic" this represents a pedagogic shift in animation instruction -a shift I find welcome. Interesting that both authors were staffers at Disney in the late 1990s. These two books make good companions.

"Animated Performance" doesn't sidetrack itself with too much on techniques outside the author's strength. She's a pencil animator, the book is about pencil animation with passing nods to other media. That's a great strength. Books that try to cover too much ground wind up apologizing for the conflation and doing justice to none.

In the tradition of Thomas & Johnson, Beiman relies on personal connections to films to illustrate points. Like them, she acknowledges the ideas of other artists. Interviews and anecdotes with other artists are woven throughout the book and there's no restraint in letting these artists speak for themselves.

It's top notch primer. In fact, I would recommend first time animation students begin with this text (and Miyazaki's "Starting Point") before proceeding to Tony White or Halas & Whittaker and then Williams. Right there you'd have a solid three year course of study.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Here Comes Another

We've done a couple book promos, but nothing as good as this.

Martha Colburn made this for Simon and Schuster's "Here Comes Another Lesson" by Stephen O'Connor (no relation).

I like the music a lot. Nick de Witt is responsible for that.

As TV advertising dies and the reading experience merges more and more closely with the internet, it's a good sign that publishers are putting these types of ads out on the tubes.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Animation Notes 3/1/90 - Sports, Dance

Here are notes from Tissa David's lecture of 3/1/1990

Above: animating a bicycle

Above: animating an oarsman rowing

Above: Clouds.  Heaviest part of the mass can lead the transformation of the action.

Swimmer: utilize water
action under water

In a walk never have your character at a 90 degree angle.  Your character must lean otherwise he'll look rigid and stiff.

In a dance [illustration]

Animate dance straight ahead.  Have character always leaning.  Every action is like a string in a bow (the stretching and bending when your foot is stretched that is your hit  -accent).
Twisting and leaning  will make your dance more dynamic.
You must have music to get your beat.  Every fourth or eighth beat your character will dance.

Above: notes on horses and animated backgrounds

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Saturday in the Park

Shot on Saturday for a "sketch" we're contracted to produce.

Above: me looking pudgy like Michael Moore.

Above: That's a racing trophy which Brian's father won standing in as The World Cup.  Irene Sherman lent us her children, Zack and Maya, for the morning.  They were great.

Zack's friend Jeremy helped out too.  He and his dad were a lot of fun to watch just throwing the ball around.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Big Throw

I'm an Eagles fan.

While I concede the negative connotations that go along with that -throwing snowballs at Santa, et cetera -I can also admit when another team (even the hated Giants) do something great.

This is something we're looking at for a project.  Eli Manning's improbable pass to David Tyree in the Super Bowl.

It's one camera shot (plus a close), and makes for a great dynamic scene.  An excellent storyboard study.

In the first panel we have the quarterback in a long shot, a crowd scene.    The Patriots defender crosses frame large in the second panel.  In panel three Manning escapes the crowd an drops back, giving a clear silhouette in the frame, this continues in panel 4.

Panel 5 is the ball in the air.

Panel 6 see the ball land in wide shot, in traffic.  We're not sure what happened as we zoom in to the scuffle.

The last three panels are another camera.  They could easily cut in after panel 6 for a continuous narrative action sequence.

This sequence, as true with most sports, follow the natural eye of the viewer.  It's how we track events.  Naturalistic storytelling benefits from utilizing the same patterns.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

More News - Animator Vol III #2

I guess we have a couple more Animator newsletters.

This is Volume III.  They're in much better shape and have significantly higher production value.

Page one features a touching remembrance penned by Chuck Jones in honor of Franklin Roosevelt.  Jones, of course, was an ardent FDR supporter and his tribute is personal and heartfelt.

Page two has a note opposed to the California Conference of Painters (AF of L) move to outlaw spray equipment by union painters and a letter to the editor from Chris Ishii.


"We are waiting for the Disney decision which is due any day now.  A meeting of inkers and painters at Disneys is scheduled to discuss what to do with the incentive plan.

At Palls the panel of the War Labor Board is studying briefs and evidence prior to rendering their decision.  We are hoping for a substantial increase that will bring the rates in this studio up to somewhere near the levels paid elsewhere.

The Plastic dispute over wages has been referred to the War Labor Board for hearing.  At Graphic a contract has been negotiated that is satisfactory to the employees.  It provides for classifications and wage rates comparable to the other studios with the addition of a classification known as Technical Designer.

At Screen Gems, ten employees are up for wage increases on a Form 10.  The increases are for five and ten dollars weekly raises.

The Union has opened up the contract at all studios for the coming year.  The specific proposals will be presented later. Wages, earned vacations, cumulative sick leave and screen credit are some of the clauses we will open up for collective bargaining.

Page three

Headlines: A. C. T. Inaugurates Lecture Series
Service Ribbon
April Initiations
The Home Front

War Dept. Releases Lantz Short:
The War Dept. has released for mass public showing a cartoon produced by Waltz Lantz entitled "Two Way Street," explaining how lend lease operates.

The film, directed by Jim Culhane, will be shown at 14,000 movie houses.

Page 4

A few letters from members in the armed forces and a photo Air Corp Animation Unit.

Some names that pop out (I'm too young to remember faces): Norman McCabe, Jack Schnerk, Willis Pyle (who animated Blechman's Alka Seltzer Stomach), Major Rudolf Ising, Sgt Julius Engel, S/Sgt. John K. Hubley, Rudy Larriva, William T. Hurtz and Phil Monroe.

Page five reports a new production manager at Screen Gems.

Old Masters

Donald Duck as the old masters might have painted him (given a prominent spread in a recent issue of "Life") was a gag that just grew.  They were done in colored pencils to simulate oils and pastels.  The perpetrators and artists were John Dunn, Ray Patin, and Phil Klein.

[note to duck lovers: keep your eyes peeled for Life magazine from the first half of 1945.]

A sports column recounting inter-animator matches (Ken Harris downed Bob Gribbroek 6-2 6-2; Bill Justice dropped Ham Lusk 6-1 6-0).

Everyone is invited to attend the Girl's Softball games held at Disney's almost every noon.  (Boys, it is rumored that the girls are attired in those very brief playsuits).

Page six "inbetweens" gives a full accounting of gossip and goings on in the represented studios.