Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Bill Waterson interview..

I can't believe I almost missed this one. Thanks Fran Krause! Bill Waterson's gotta be everyone's favorite cartoonist.. and master of retiring with style. He personifies the idea of not selling out. He's the man.. Enjoy this interview from Cleveland.com! There are so many nuggets of brilliance in this way too short interview, it's hard to cite anything in particular! But this quote may be my favorite.."It's always better to leave the party early. If I had rolled along with the strip's popularity and repeated myself for another five, 10 or 20 years, the people now "grieving" for "Calvin and Hobbes" would be wishing me dead and cursing newspapers for running tedious, ancient strips like mine instead of acquiring fresher, livelier talent. And I'd be agreeing with them".

Trip to Animated Exeter

My feature film “Idiots and Angels” is doing moderately well all over the world, selling in around ten territories. But there are two countries that I find almost impossible to sell- Japan and the U.K. I don’t know why that is. I know they both love animation but I always have a hell of a time trying to sell my films there. Perhaps my films are too adult? I don’t know.

So I decided to visit “ole Blighty” to try and make a connection with the U.K. I took off one day after a 10” inch snowfall blizzard and worried that my flight would be cancelled because of the snow on the runway. So I invented a solution to clear off the snow (see sketch).

Well the plane took off on time and I landed in Bristol and got a ride to Animated Exeter, which takes place in the Exeter Phoenix (an arts community center).

Susannah Shaw and her wonderful staff were very helpful in helping me with my shows. I started as Simon Cowell in an event called “One minute pitch” where students presented their projects in hopes of getting funding. I tried to be fair and helpful and not too mean. There were some fun projects.

Then I did a presentation of “Idiots and Angels” that the audience seemed to like a lot. The next day I did my masterclass, which are always fun, lots of students.

The next day, Claire Violet was kind enough to drive me down to the village of Plympton where my ancestors came from. It’s a typically quaint little town and we visited my Plympton castle, which my folks always claimed as theirs. Except it’s basically a pile of rubble on a hill with two to six foot high mounds of rock and plaster. I guess I won’t be moving in soon.

I then traveled to Bournemouth by the sea- a lovely town. I took a tour of Bournemouth University with Peter and Astor Parr, old friends from Annecy. I did my masterclass there to a full audience and they seemed to like the new stuff, “The Cow Who Wanted to Be a Hamburger” and “Cheatin’”.

I stayed in a very posh Sea Cliff hotel by the beach, it reminded me of Santa Monica- but very cold water (I had to go in!).

But unfortunately I couldn’t get distribution for the U.K. if anyone can help me out, I’ll give them a free drawing. By the way, what does “blighty” mean?

Chomet's "Illusionist" looks pretty damn good...

I only speak a few phrases of french.. (don't want to after the drama of a few months ago) but the bits of animation in this interview for Chomet's "Illusionist" looks epic. Seriously.. this film has a shot at legend. The backgrounds alone are worth checking this one out..

Here's the youtube clip above.. enjoy! What ya think? Anybody out there get a chance to see it yet?

Monday, February 22, 2010

My new short, "The Cow Who Wanted to Be a Hamburger"

I’m very excited because I’m just finishing a new short film called “The Cow Who Wanted to Be a Hamburger”. It’s a very different film from my usual shorts for a number of reasons.

1.It’s a children’s fable
2.Its has a very different look
3.It has no dialogue or sound effects

It’s probably best to discuss its origins to help explain why it’s so different. The idea sprang from a drive through the Oregon countryside I made a few years ago. I noticed a herd of cows grazing on the grass. One cow was particularly intent on some serious grazing. It was like he actually wanted to make himself the perfect steak or the perfect hamburger. Voila! I had the idea for my next short film.

I visualized it as a sort of a fairy tale gone bad, almost like “Ferdinand the Bull”. I wanted to use a more child like design and colors. So I went to the Vasily Kandinsky show at the Guggenheim and was amazed by the brilliant colors with bold black outlines of some of his earlier children illustrations.

So I ripped off Kandinsky! So what! I’m always ripping off artists I admire. I admit it. I then thought I might use a farmer Jones type voice over for the storyteller. But the more I got into the storyboard, the more I realized that a voiceover would be superfluous and then when I began to think about the sound and I had the idea of using musical instruments for the animal sounds and even the sound effects.

As a kid I loved the Disney film “Peter and the Wolf” and the way they used different instruments for the different animals. So I challenged my music team of Corey and Sharon Jackson to use their musical repertoire for all of the sound effects.

Another interesting quality about the film is the use of a sharpie for the finished art. In fact the field was quite small, a 3 to 4 field. Thus the sharpie line is very bold and kinetic. And of course my production team of Biljana Labovic and Kerri Allegretta did a masterful job with color and design.

Our plan is to have the world premier of the film on March 2nd at the Hill Country Barbeque Market at 30 W26th St. in NYC. There will be live music from Maureen McElheron and Nicole Renaud. So put on your cowboy duds and come join us from 6-8 and have a burger and be at the premier of “The Cow Who Wanted to Be a Hamburger”.

Oh I forgot everyone who comes gets a free cow drawing. You don’t see Tim Burton Burton doing that!

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Preston Blair Book "Animation"

My Scribble Junkie partner Pat Smith made fun of me because I was such a fan of Preston Blair's book "Animation". Again, he's WRONG!!! Pats a cool guy, very handsome and a great animator but he's been hanging out in "Raffles" too long drinking those Singapore slings. Come on Pat break out of your tropical stupor!!

That classic yellow oversized book, as been my bible since I was 12! First of all Preston Blair is one of the all time great animators from the Golden Age. His work on Fantasia's "Dance of the Hours" is classic. But to me his creating of the dance scenes for all of the Red Hot Riding Hood shorts puts him in the Animation Hall of Fame. Creating dancing in animation is one of the hardest subjects to draw because the body goes through so many changes and contortions one really has to be great at anatomy. But Preston Blair totally nailed it. The dancing sequence in Red Hot Riding Hood is one of the all time great pieces of animation. His animation book breaks down the dancing girls frame by frame and also the dancing alligator from Fantasia.

Plus I learned how to do lip sync, character design, facial expressions, hand design (which I'm still trying to learn) and most importantly line of action. It seems so basic now how animated characters should have great designs but I look at a lot of student films and the characters have no dynamic personality or design because they lack the line of action.

Around 1987 I was visiting a friend in Monterrey, California and I called Mr. Blair up out of the blue and he invited me over to his Carmel home. He was very nice to me although he's never heard of me even though I had an Oscar nomination. He showed me his boxes of art from the Tex Avery cartoons. I was drooling like a madman. I asked him how he was able to do such great dancing women. He said he didn't use models, no rotoscope, it was all in his head. Now that's genius!!And to top it off I made my lightbox using his instructions on the last page of the book. I still use the lightbox and book today.

with Preston Blair

Preston Blair Book Causes Problems...

My brother, Tom, was the artist in the family. He was truly gifted, and was supplied with many great books about art. Nobody noticed when I stole them. One of these books was my introduction to animation, a tabloid sized paperback by Preston Blair that I read over and over until the cover fell off and it became a series of loose pieces of pulp (see book above).

Preston blair is the source of multiple bad habits with young animators and students, bad habits that personally took me years to shake. The book is filled with "how to" duplicate, but impossible to understand artwork. The candy like walk and run cycles I still see students tracing today, without a clue to what they are tracing or how those drawings "feel" timed or sculpted within space. Every page is filled with wonderfully alluring classical hollywood designs that completely lack any type of foundational edge or instruction of how to arrive there. Matter of fact, the walk cycle page doesn't even make any sense.(please click below to enlarge and see my revision, I explain why there's always a "jump" when students duplicate these walks)Was Preston Blair a great animator? YES. Great book? Not so sure. The book seems to be focused on creating simple cartoons based on soulless flat shapes, and providing you with breakdowns that would only work if you understood HOW to make them work. Furthermore, the only truly amazing drawings are left with no comment or explanation how the drawings were achieved or timed out (ie the dancing croc.. amazing). I think it is a great piece of animation nostalgia, and NOT a good place to learn about motion or drawing.The great books by Richard Williams(Animators Toolkit) or Eric Goldberg(Animation Crash Course do a much better job, leaving under explained techniques and stylistic distractions aside. I'm currently obsessed with Eric's book.. there is just so many good bits in there! he's amazing. (despite his love for the over-cartoony style) it goes a lot further to explain the HOW and it doesn't limit itself to ill-defined examples with little, false, or no helpful instruction or direction. Eric's book very well could be the best instructional book yet, right next to Glen Keanes very short and to the point notes..Glen's packet includes a vital explanation of the sculptural quality that good drawings have. Blair's guide to constructing characters completely leaves out this sculptural element that is so vital to understand in the early stages of drawing in motion. Keane blows away Blairs shape breakdowns with four easy words and a thumbnail sketch.. (See below, blair art in the background, keane sketch on top)
My personal opinion is that Cartoony-design in general is such an overwhelmingly limited stylistic choice... by using it you are committing to a very short sighted genre where there are few chances to do something original or something based on keen observation that hasn't been exploited a million times in the last century. I think that a majority of contemporary animation is based on this "flat" aesthetic and design that by it's very nature limits the potential of the medium to capture and express the natural world around us.

Preston Blair was truly a great animator. My gripe ends with his book, I have all the respect in the world for the man.

Monday, February 15, 2010

ANNIES Trip Part 3

So it's Annies night and I'm all excited, mostly because I get to meet all the great artists and animators from the Mecca of Animation L.A, Often referred to as the "Oscars of Animation", the Annies are my one chance to see all the greats of animation in one night.

My short film, "Santa, The Fascist Years" was nominated for best short film. So I had an excuse to the Mecca of Animation. I like to get there early because there are so many people to talk to.
First I did the red carpet, which is fun but a little embarrassing because nobody wants to talk to a New Yorker with only a short in competition. Then on to the cocktail party where I got to meet the famous man behind Pixar's success, Ed Catmull, and Tom Moore the director of "The Secret of the Kells". That is a fabulous movie that scored an Oscar nomination without a theatrical release. I figure next year "Idiots and Angels"can slip in like "Kells". He's a nice guy and very talented. We all filed into the Royce Hall (on UCLA campus) for the awards. "Up" won best film and "Coraline" won four awards. "Santa, The Fascist Years" lost to "Robot Chicken" by Seth

with Tom Moore and his producer

with Bill Kroyer and Ed Catmull

I discover that I'm sitting in front of Chris Miller and Phil Lord the two geniuses behind "Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs". Ironically Chris Miller interned with me 12 years ago. Even then he was a very clever kid except, when he was sent to my tax lawyer and lost my important documents. He's come a long way and has a big career ahead of him. We chatted awhile then his entourage carried him away. Another highlight was hanging out with the "Coraline" gang. Since I'm from Portland, I knew a lot of them from before, Henry Selick, Mary Sandell, Claire Jennings, Mark Gustafson ("The Fantastic Mr. Fox") and Travis Knight.

with Mark Gustafson

Travis who was nominated for best animation is a super guy and he introduced me to him famous dad, Phil Knight. He's a great guy with no pretensions. He told me a story of the creation of the Nike Swoosh. Apparently he was teaching at Portland State (my alma mater) and walked past a girl in the art department and overheard her talking about needing money for her rent. So Phil offered her the design job for a logo for his start up company Nike shoes. She got paid $70 to turn his rough sketches into the world famous trademark.

Now you may think that she got ripped off but when the company went public she was paid on a truckload of stock, which apparently she still hasn't cashed in. I think he said she's designing wallpaper now.

I recommend the Annies it's a wonderful function and totally relaxed unlike the Oscars.

ANNIES Trip Part 2

To continue my Odyssey in the Mecca of animation L.A. where I was to attend the Annies. I tried to make a few bucks by doing some masterclasses. I started Friday by doing a show at Nickelodeon Studio- good crowd and great breakfast. Then I zipped over to nearby Dreamworks Studios. They have a lovely hacienda/campus- like environment. I had a packed house and they seemed to like my show. I made some drawings, showed "Hot Dog", "Idiots and Angels" (5 minute excerpt), Cheatin' pencil test (5 minute excerpt) and my new short "The Cow Who Wanted to Be a Hamburger" and as usual I gave everyone a sketch. Then they invited me to a fabulous lunch where I got to visit with old friends Ennio Torresan ("El Macho") and Sharon Coleman (Oscar nominated "Badgered").

Finally I shuttled over to the Disney Studios where I repeated my show. However, I did do a large drawing of the "hubby" from my new film "Cheatin'" and it was really great, I hated to part with it. But they wanted to raffle it off to an animator at the studio.

Also while I was out there I did a long interview with Tom Sito and Ron Diamond for a book their putting out about animated feature film directors.

I was also able to talk to a few people about the theatrical release of "Idiots and Angels". Finally it looks like my film will be able to be shown all over the country. It's done pretty well overseas but I've yet to get a satisfactory deal domestically. Keep your fingers crossed and keep watching Scribble Junkies for new updates!

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Just DRAW!!.. wussies..

As I finish up my next hand drawn film, a popular comment I get when people visit my office at NYU is.. "wow.. I didn't know anyone did that anymore".. the comment gives me mixed feelings. As I draw, I'm well aware that I'm practicing a method that not many do anymore.. but.. allow me to submit that we will see more and more of it. I had several students comment the other day that they wished the school had more hand drawn curriculum. (below: the beast from my personal animation art collection.. rad)The reason it resonates is because people are yearning for something REAL in animation.. How many regurgitated formulas and polished digital techno puppets can people take? This is why Coraline rocked.. it looked real! it had living texture. "Princess and the Frog" looks like crap because Disney refuses to embrace the hand drawn medium, like they did with their older films, especially the xerography films like Jungle book and 101 Dalmatians. Those master works were un-apologetically DRAWN. "Princess and the Frog" may as well be Computer Generated! I feel like it's trying to compete with CG.. when in reality, drawn animation is an entirely different medium!! Why would they polish good drawings to the point where all the soul is removed from the line?? At the end of the day, drawings look cool.. and they're even cooler if you know that they actually exist as drawings. (Below: Drawing of a masked man still on the pegs, light on)
The simple fact: A drawing is REAL. It exists. You can pick it up and handle it. It is a one of a kind artifact. A digital drawing can be reproduced to infinity, thereby decreasing it's value. It lacks true texture and real touch. When the power is off, a digital piece of artwork literally ceases to exist. A film that depends on digital images is built on something weak, no matter how good the result is (just look at how much the Pixar books tout the hand drawn development art). Everybody knows the value of hand drawn, but everybody is also intimidated by drawing.. so most love the fact that computers have put their imprint onto something they couldn't comprehend anyway. (Below: Drawing from "The Wall")In the immortal words of Danny Antonucci (tattooed on his arm) "F--- DIGITAL, DRAW!"

Thursday, February 11, 2010

ANNIES Trip Part 1

My short film “Santa, The Fascist Years” got nominated at the Annies, which is one of my favorite events because I can see everyone who’s anyone in the animation industry in one glamorous night. So I decided to do some meetings and some appearances at the same time. Maybe make a few bucks.

My first stop was Sony pictures where I pitched a couple of feature film ideas “The Jester” and “Underearth” to Hannah Minghella. Fred Siebert helped set up the meeting and I think it went pretty well.

The next stop was the Woodbury College; a lovely campus nestled in the San Gabriel hills. The legendary Ric Heitzman met me. He’s famous for designing all of the sets for Peewee Herman’s show. He’s now an instructor at the well-known art college. I also did a quick masterclass at UCLA. Then in the evening I had a special screening of “Idiots and Angels” at the USC animation theater.

with Ric Heitzman

It was strange because right across the hall from me was the celebrated Russian animator Yuri Norstein. It was the battle of the indie animators. My show was packed.

with Yuri Norstein

Then later that night my commercial agent Ron Diamond invited me for a special dinner in Yuri’s honor. All of the animation greats turned out, my producer Biljana Labovic, Bill Kroyer, Igor Kovalyov and Matt Groening. I get to sit nest to Shane Acker ("9") and Mark Osborne ("Kung Fu Panda") and what's interesting is they both complained about their troubles getting another project off the ground- what!!! "Kung Fu Panda" was the most successful animated film of the year and he can't get another project. Weird!! We ended up drinking vodka pretty late. I walked Matt Groening to his Prius and we reminisced about our younger days in Oregon.

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Leave it to Sporn/Canemaker...

More on Pink Elephants.. I'm almost ashamed of how lame me and Bill's posts were when I came across Michael Sporns gem of a blog post from a while back. Michael credits fellow NYU professor John Canemaker for the images. Bill we gotta step it up!

Friday, February 5, 2010

Rockwell's "Gossip"..

I'm a huge Norman Rockwell fan. I stumbled on this gem the other day, and quickly remembered it when I was a kid, flipping through the pages my parents big ol' coffee table book of Rockwell's paintings. But this time, as though I've never noticed it before, I related this piece to animation. It must be the most animated painting he ever did! And, in wonderful Rockwell style, it's completely character driven, leading the viewer on this trip from person to person, and ending up right back at the original girl, the source of the gossip. Pure gold.

Rockwell represents for me, a purity in characterization and an excellence in technical skill. Just like Leyendecker, I love to study the poses, facial expressions, compositions, and virtually everything else about his work. I feel Leyendecker had more of an older school elegance and edge to his paintings, capturing a maturity that Rockwell didn't seem all that interested in portraying. (below: Leyendeckers study)His paintings are also is representative of an interesting time in American history, filled with amazing idealism as well as ludicrous hypocrisy, intriguing contrasts, politics, controversy.. illustrating a to a key, an idealized human spirit. btw.. for some reason I always get crap for praising Rockwell.. let's see.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

America’s greatest caricature artist, David Levine

Last week I learned of the sad news of the death of America’s greatest caricature artist, David Levine.

I can’t remember when I first met him. Perhaps 25 years ago when I was making a living as a political cartoonist and caricaturist. I was one of many young artists influenced by his great style and humor - so I probably met him at some political or artist gathering, and he was always very friendly to me.

Apparently at one time he had ambitions to be an animator - in fact he once did an impromptu drawing of Goofy for me - (it wasn’t bad!) - So we bonded over animation.

I remember back in the early ‘90s going to a Guernsey auction of all of Preston Blair’s animation. (He is another of my personal gods), and I bumped into David and the brilliant Peter DeSeve - and we decided to pool our money and purchase a whole sequence of the alligator dancing from Fantasia (“The Dance of the Hours”). I believe it was about 30 drawings. Then we decided to meet at his place in Brooklyn Heights and divvy up the drawings so we all had a continuous set. It was great fun because he got very personal about his art and creativity - he even opened up his caricature drawer and offered me a pick of any of the drawings. It was a tough choice, but I took the Jimmy Stewart.

I’ve just returned from a memorial of the great artist - and there I got to chat with Steve Brodner, Victor Juhascz, Arnold Roth and Jules Feiffer, and so many people referred to him as the greatest caricature artist of his generation, which I strongly disagree with. To me he’s the greatest American caricaturist ever - no one will ever surpass him. He’s one reason I gave up caricaturing and moved into animation.

with Victor Juhascz and Steve Brodner

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Bill's so wrong..Pink Elephants is AMAZING!

One of the most baffling things about Plympton is his reluctance to appreciate the Hallucination Sequence in Disney's 1941 masterpiece "Dumbo". It's probably the single most influential piece of animation to my own work that I can think of, right up there with Pink Floyd "The Wall" and several segments within "Fantasia." This is a reoccurring argument with us. I can't imagine why he doesn't like it... Maybe because it wasn't animated in 6's???

It's quite a scary piece, something I truly appreciate. Especially since it was animated 70 years ago! The black eyes of the elephants, the conformist marching, the demented music, the experimental color and line work.. pure gold. I posted a HIGH RES of the entire movie here. The sequence managed to convey a spooky interlude that fits the intoxicated state of Dumbo and the mouse, also, acting as a segue to the realization that Dumbo can fly. The sync with the score in this twisted segment is flawless, those animators utilized musical rhythm to perfection. The segment was directed by Norman Ferguson and animated by Hicks Lokey, Frank Thomas and Howard Swift... yeah Bill.. those guys suck.

Interestingly, Pink Elephants has a New York City connection.. this article by Mark Langer includes this segment as an example of Disney's "Regionalism" at the time. The article is over analyzing a bit, but interesting.Above: Pink Elephants clearly influenced my work on "Moving Along". I recently did a lecture about the movie Dumbo at New York University, and a large part of the discussion was focused on "Pink Elephants".. some of those who attended were seeing it for the first time, and judging by their reaction the segment holds up 70 years later, and they didn't have a problem with the way the elephants were drawn. after all.. it's not about how it's drawn here,.. it's about how it MOVES and how it's working with the MUSIC! epic.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Bill on Dumbo...

Whenever people ask me what my favorite animated film is, Dumbo usually pops up with great characters, wonderful songs, terrific animation and very touching emotions. Then someone says "and the pink elephant scene is the best"!

What? For some crazy reason, animation aficionados love the"Pink Elephants on Parade" sequence. I must have seen the film 8 or 9 times and I still marvel at how bad that sequence is for me.

You've got to realize all the Disney animation were terrific draughtsmen and were expert at drawing animals. So why do these elephants look like they were drawn by high school kids? And just cause they used bright colors and superimpositions, it's supposed to be "psychedelic". Maybe my esteemed partner in this blog saw the film while stoned on mushroom and that's why he likes the scene. But for me there's no originality. They could have taken the nightmarish visuals a lot further, have a lot more surrealism rather than just brightly colored, badly drawn elephants walking in unison.

Look at the Busby Berkeley film, there's some real imagination and style! Also, look at Winsor McCay or Heinrich Kley, if you want to see how to draw an elephant. For me , the pink elephants is the weakest point in Dumbo. What do you think?

Busby Berkeley's "Gold Diggers of 1933"

Winsor McCay's elephant.

Heinrich Kley's elephant.