Friday, December 31, 2010

2010 In Review (for us)

Not much for calendar turning, as things still progress regardless of the last digit of the date.  The end of the year means one thing to me -time to prepare taxes and send out all the 1040s and W2s and spend hours doing what should've been done months ago.

So it gives opportunity to reflect on business.

We're still here, that's a start.  We did about half the business we wanted to in 2010 but I've always had great expectations.

We only logged 15 jobs in the calender year (we'd like to engage a new contract every two weeks).  That's a bit misleading, since one contract was for 6 films and another for 4.  The shortest was for :02 (commercial -good budget!), the longest single film was a 6 minute motion graphics piece.   All told, about an hour's worth of material was contracted with Asterisk this year.  Screentime-wise, about 10 minutes was actual animation, 30 minutes live action/editorial and about 20 minute worth of motion graphics.

Most people would call "animation" what we consider to be motion graphics.

Our work for David Grubin's "The Buddha" broadcast in March.  This was completed in 2009.

We also finished 5 productions which contracted in 2009 (two are still lingering -we'll finish I promise!  Actually 3 are still out there, I forgot about the series of ads for Infor which still have some spots left on the initial deal).

Three contracts will finish the first week of January.
We've had one full time employee.  Four temporary employees.  One independent contractor and two school aged interns (one unpaid High School student).

And one big cat.

66% (10) of our contracts have been for non-fiction films.  Of these, two are theatrical, one web, one international broadcast, one US cable, the rest US Public Television.

No particularly weird projects this year, the rest have been fairly typical commercial or industrial contracts.

33% (5) contracts were repeat customers.  33% (5) were on recommendation from past clients.  1 was an old contact of Brian's and the remaining four were brand new calls.

I don't have a record of how many bids we've sent out.  I'll estimate about 10 that we didn't land the job.  Only one gets in my craw -I worked for several weeks figuring it out, was verbally guaranteed the project once the client approved, was in constant contact with the agency producer -then she never called back.  The others, most didn't happen.  The others I never heard back from.

We'd like to be doing a bid per week.  Counting awards plus bids, that puts at about 50% of where we'd like to be.

Something to aim for.

Thursday, December 30, 2010

Perines, 2/87 - Fred Mogubgub

Here's another late painting by Fred Mogubgub.

Titled "Perines" and dated 2/7/87, this is the latest painting I've so far seen.  Don't know what the title means.  Maybe it's the name of the sitter.

The style follows from the early 80s portraiture, the color is a little more sophisticated.

The costuming is particularly great.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Double Feature

I'm no longer surprised when I don't recognize faces from the "animation community" at special screenings of animated films.

Even without representatives from that crowd, the in memorium screenings of Satoshi Kon's "Perfect Blue" and "Paprika" last Wednesday at the Walter Reade Theater were fairly well attended.  Not the sellouts they should have been, but respectable houses.

This postcard which was distributed at a memorial service in Japan was given to the audience.

"Perfect Blue" remains a far from perfect film.  It suffers from poor animation and rookie pacing.  The opening sequence, for instance, is cut languidly when it wants to be upbeat.   The dialogue (mostly overheard phrases) should overlap and construct a more frenetic scene.

Even so, it's a good film.  Exciting mostly for its heady script and general smarts.

"Paprika", though, here is a masterpiece.  It's absolutely heartbreaking that Satoshi Kon was unable to complete another film after this.

There's a remarkably human scene towards the end which stands as one of my favorite moments on film.  The sequence cuts from the "current" with the giants and the robot to the "past" in the elevator/lobby.

Sitting on the floor in the dark, it's a remarkably human moment (recalling the Billy Bragg lyric: "Most important decisions in life are made between two people in bed") and an honest "real" conversation.  The dialogue is direct -"You're fat, slow and sloppy" but at the same time talking around the subject.

The problems of pacing, design and animation evident in "Perfect Blue" are long corrected.  It's really very sad we won't hear more of his voice.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Top Cel Vol 1, #18: 9/25/44. Another Week At The Office.

In order to consider the denial of the WLB to our proposed Bonus Plan and possible new arrangement the EXECUTIVE BOARD will meet MONDAY, Sept. 25 at the Capital Hotel and GENERAL MEMBER will meet THURSDAY, Sept. 28 at the same place, Eighth Ave. and 50th. the time 7:30 PM


Last week the National War Labor Board denied the application for approval of our incentive plan worked out with Famous Studio.

Since the plan was accepted, two groups, the Assistants and Animators, have declined to accept the Bonus Plan. The member recently laid off at Terry's due to the fact that the company was over a year ahead of production, has been the most important consideration in discouraging any incentive system that may directly start a speed up.

Here is the letter of the Board:

"With reference to the above numbered application for Board approval of a proposed incentive system, the request is denied.

For the consideration of incentive systems Board criteria requires that proposed production standards be substantiated by past performance data covering a recent and representative period prior to the proposed retroactive date. If information requested by Item 16 in Form 146 is inapplicable, material should still be submitted showing (1) that the proposed incentive treatment is applicable to the current productive technique in the subject plan (2) that the period of past performance used to determine standards is one of stabilized and standard manhour productivity and (3) that the ratios of established average past performance to proposed standards conform with Board criteria.

For the Story and Camera groups no data on past performance is submitted data is inadequate to enable the determination of the above the criterias."

A request is being sent to the Board trying to secure the payment of the Bonuses owed by the company.


In our last General Membership meeting, in spite of the heavy rain and the distance, a fairly good number of members attended and discussed the different recommendations of the Board.

The members voted upon the following stagger system of dues payment.

Those making up to $30..............2.50 per month
from 30.01 to 35....................3.00 p.m.
from 35.01 to 50....................3.50 p.m.
from 50.01 to 70....................4.00 p.m.
over 70.01..........................4.50 p.m.

Those working under a Work Permit will have to pay the same dues but in weekly payments.

It was decided also to retain our lawyer at $50 per month fee.

The salary of the Business Agent was increased to $60 per week.

Also the proposal of Local 637 of Chicago calling for a reduction of the per capita tax from 80 cents to 60 cents per member was endorsed.

Some persons still owe the Union Attorney sums of money. The shop stewards are attempting to collect this week. Any sums owed after this week will be deducted from dues payments as provided in the constitution.

Fletcher Smith is looking for talented Animators, Assistants, Inbetween, Inkers and Painters. The studio pays the regular union minimums, in fact, in some classifications is above it.

Two more "promoters" have approached our BA inquiring about the possibilities of securing talent. As we put it, it is a question of supply and demand. It is a question of offering more money.

If interested in any change, see the Business Agent.


Helen Fletcher back from... Molly Warren leaving Famous for Conty Nast.... Ralph Sancier back at Terry... Joe Voght a new Father, and for many years at Metro, now at Harman's.... The atmosphere at A. A. F. Animation Unit at Culver City is a bit strained at the moment, because the TO came out and there were not enough striped to go around... Rub Grossman very busy during the holidays... Marine Corp. Don Roman of Disney's and Screen Gems in town.... Ozzie Evans, of Culver City, now a Sgt... Nancy Massie back at the Animation Dept. at the Signal Corp... Lots of new names at Fletcher Smith Studio... Judy Wiener honeymooning.... "New Gulliver" Russian puppet film to open soon at the Stanley Theatre.  George Canata going back to Hollywood... Nesta Thomas in Miami.... Vip Partch going into the Army "or something"... Cecil Beard has a new little girl... Dan Danglo working on a paper which is being distributed throughout the West Coast... Alice Rinaldi flying back to Hollywood as Joe is asking for overseas duty... From the Animator: "Bob McKimson now Unit Director at Warners; Phil Monroe sports new Sgt. Stripes; the second annual cartoonists golf tournament was won by Mike Lah (78) Jerry Nevius Father of a baby girl; Corp. Robert Doerfler on furlough, after 2 years overseas with a Purple Heart... To her many friends in New York we are glad to say that Celine Miles is doing very well at Scientific Films...


In the West Coast the Cartoonists are appearing before the WLB submitting their proposed contract with Disney, as they were unable to reach an agreement with the Company... At George Pal only 6 of the workers of that plant remain at work, refusing to work with a non-union employee whose permit has expired... Walt Disney announces that the company contemplates expansion of its plant facilities at a projected investment of $100,000....


Occasionally we are asked "Why do Unions mix into politics?"  "Why don't that just attend to union affairs and lay off political matters?"  This question is especially important at this time when our Executive Board has recommended that the membership endorse the CIO Political Action Committee.

The answer to this question is a simple one.  The advancement of labor depends, to a tremendous degree upon what laws are passed by Congress.  If anyone doubts that, let him consider what the state of our Union would be without the Interstate Commerce Act which guarantees us the 40 hour work or the Wagner Act which safeguards the worker his rights to organize.  On the other hand consider the plight of workers in totalitarian countries, where unions do not exist or are unable to participate in political action.

"Well, then" we are asked, "What participate as a Union?  Everyone has the individual right to vote."  The is the same argument that has always been used when labor has tried to organize.  "Why form a Union? You have the right to bargain individually with the Employer."  Very few union members don't know the answer to that one... and, the same answer applies to labor's position in politics.  Together we can effectively fight for the laws and the men we feel have our interests at heart.

This all leads to the question of the Political Action Committee.  Despite all the partisan spouting, the PAC has only three aims.

1) To bring the issues at stake to the attention of the people.

2) To secure the largest possible number of people to vote.

3) To bring the records of the candidates to light.

As members of a union we must not fail to endorse these principles in this important year of decision.

There have been only 23 requests returned to run the animated cartoon "Hell Bent for Election".  Since the number is too small, the idea must be shelved unless more people request the showing.

Once again the Amalfi Agency, 15 E 40th Street had an ad in the New York Times looking for Inkers and Animators.

Burned as we were last time, we called our BA to investigate it was all about.  The Agency was not interested in cooperating with us, as they "had trouble with you before" (when we didn't let our members sign 10% of their salaries to them.) We hope that with a Union representing us, we will instruct those responsible to find out things for us and we will ignore the sweet calls from Amalfi Agency.

It is advantageous to all those who work in the cartoon industry here or the West Coast to remind theatre managers or ushers that they desire to see cartoons shown in the neighborhood theatres and to occasionally encourage these managers to run cartoons if they do not already do so.


A War Labor Board announcement says employers may pay Xmas or year-end bonuses of $25 or less to each employee without prior WLB approval.

Monday, December 27, 2010

Last of Xmas

So this is the last of the Christmas related posts.

I'm not really into Christmas, honestly. So it was a great pleasure to get the call from Morgan Spurlock's production company a few years back to create some graphics for Rob VanAlkemede's "What Would Jesus Buy?"

The structure of the film changed towards the end of production and our sequences were cut, but it was still a great experience.

We don't do too much in the way of 3D graphics -maybe one or two projects a year. This was animated by Phil McNagny.

Sunday, December 26, 2010

The Miracle of the Fur Lined Coat

In 1996 Stewart, Tabori and Chang published "The Life of Saint Nicholas" by R. O. Blechman.

It went on to be criminally underappreciated by critics, cartoonists and the book buying public in general.

It's hard to say why.  Poor marketing?  High price point?  Or maybe the style and tone were just out of fashion -although Sarah Boxer did very well a few years later with "In the Floyd Archives," similarly smart and deceptively simple.

Here is one story from the book "The Miracle of the Fur-Lined Coat".

The "chapter page" is more of a title card, interrupting the beginning of the story (which will end two pages before the next "chapter page").

I love that it's a comic book without a grid pattern.  The drawings live on the open page -a technique that allows for the design of the whole page to pace the story.

The coloring was done with airbrush (this was produced just after the introduction of "layers" in Photoshop).  Tom Hachtman did the painting.

While I sometimes find the copy a little precious, the art and design always carry the story.

There's a cinematic quality to layout that wasn't even evident in "No Room at the Inn" (which happened to be based on a book).

Even though the art is flat, there depth is created through scale, color and layout.

The book is long out of print but copies pop up with regularity.  Prices vary from $1 to $100.  There was only one printing, so they're all first editions.

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Simple Gifts - No Room At The Inn

For years this was the artwork on the ASIFA-East membership form.

While I understand the urge to update after 30 years, I do feel the organization lost a little something going with a more generic "contemporary" design.

Again, the drawing is classic Ed Smith. Great expression.  But look at the posing.  It's not a stage-y silhouette.  The action is clear but the gesture isn't telegraphing it.  That happens in the animation.

Also, look at the line.  Similar illustrators will concentrate on the "squiggly" line.  The Blechman line isn't really squiggly.  It's broken.  It has no contour.  It's even a little misshapen.  The line starts and stops because every stroke is belabored.

These are qualities Ed captures without parallel.

In most films he'll animate every drawing himself -no inbetweener.  He'll generally draw directly in ink.  Almost always, actually.

I once asked him what he does when he's in the middle of drawing and makes a mistake.  His response, "I'll let you know when it happens."

Here's the piece in it's entirety.  It's a capture from an ancient VHS, so the quality is questionable.

It should also be noted with strong underscoring, that the music was composed by Arnold Black. He was a terrific guy who's delicate ear matched Ed Smith's touch on Blechman illustrations.

Friday, December 24, 2010

Simple Gifts - No Room At The Inn, Animals

"No Room At The Inn" may be the crowning segment of "Simple Gifts" -no mean feat considering the strength of the others.

At the very least it represents the apex of the simple line Blechman style.  After this, his long form work took a tilt towards the fantastic with "The Soldier's Tale" and a curve towards a fuller style with the stillborn films like "Bird", "The Golden Ass" and "Candide".

Before posting the full segment and further thoughts tomorrow, I wanted to highlight my favorite scene.

This film is very stage-y.  It all happens along the same flat plain with some variation on shot length, but almost always playing as through a proscenium.

Ed Smith animated most of this film.  Those are Ed Smith animals right there.   They have an unmistakable humor to them.  They're cute without being cloying.  Expressive but not telegraphic.  Really just great animation.

Also take note of the wind blowing.  Phenomenal really.

When the schedule started to draw to a close, Ed needed some help finishing up.   Tissa David took care of several scenes towards the end.  I may be mistaken, but I believe this was her first time animating in the Blechman style.  I can only imagine how nervous Bob must have been, he had long been unhappy with the way animators approached his art and finally found the perfect guy in Ed.  Of course, any trepidation would prove groundless.

Still, the differences in their line is visible.

Above, an Ed Smith donkey.

Tissa David donkey (and sheep).

Also amazing is Ed's draughtmanship of horses.  Here's an 11 drawing cycle.












Thursday, December 23, 2010

Bright Lights

Took a trip to Dyker Heights, Brooklyn for their world famous Christmas displays.

World famous, I say, based on the large number of Asian tourists who also made the trek.

Some helped Elmo find his way home.

It's mostly lights, but some traditional manger scenes too.

Some lit up mangers.

Some lit up, Santa free mangers.

Some in the center of lots of lights.

Some simply waiting for their centerpiece.

But it's mostly lights.

Or giant statues.

Or a combination of both.

These folks really like Christmas.

Deer were a common theme.

A few houses did it up with inflatables.

A few just did it up.

 Sometimes it was the details in the design.

I like when they get out of focus.

Or just designy.

And don't overdo it.

But the best are simply clever.