Monthly ArchiveFebruary 2006

Commentary &Hubley &UPA 28 Feb 2006 08:51 am


A couple of things yesterday turned me toward the past.

- Three celebrities died over the weekend. I only had an actual communication with one of them. ABEL’S ISLAND was in the throes of new production. Tim Curry had been recorded and edited in London, and I was riding the high of his voice. We were about to record Heidi Stallings as Amanda, Abel’s wife and had one principal voice left to cast and record.

Darren McGavin was performing in a local off-Broadway production. His voice would be perfect for Gower, the frog, the only one to see Abel during his castaway year.

I searched high and low for an agent. I looked through all the guides. I called Actor’s Equity, SAG, NABET. No one had any link to him. Finally, in desperation I called the theater management and explained my position asking if they could kindly relay the message to Mr. McGavin’s agent or manager. It took a couple of days, and I received a call from Darren McGavin, himself. He was furious with me and took out his anger on the phone. The tone of the call was to ask how dare I go through the back door and insult him like this! I tried to be positive, I tried to be courteous, I tried to explain my low position. Eventually, he asked me to send him the script and he would consider it.

However, the bad footing I’d made could not be repaired, and I wanted no bad vibes to enter my film. Gower could have not a tad of anger in his existence. Lionel Jeffries, a brilliant character actor and director, was playing on Broadway opposite Peter O’Toole’s Henry Higgins. Lionel Jeffries voiced Gower brilliantly.

I’m truly sorry I did not get to work with Darren McGavin; I thought him a brilliant actor and a part of my mind’s ether. I’m sorry to see him gone.

- T. Bosustow visited yesterday and I reviewed any thoughts or comments I had about UPA’s films and personalities with him. The session remained with me, and thoughts of UPA were present all day. Rooty Toot Toot kept replaying in my mind to the point where I have to search it out and watch it today.

That film was an enormous influence on me.
I think it’s one of the top five animated films of all time and should be seen over and over by animators as a reminder of what their goals should be while working in this business.

If John Hubley had not had his company, Storyboard Productions, he still would have entered the animation pantheon because of this film.

Fortunately, those in LA will have an opportunity to see it projected on a big screen on March 26th at the Egyptian Theater.

My favorite photo of John Hubley.
(Click on images to enlarge.)

- To GOOGLE Rooty Toot Toot brings you to a small chatty comment on political radio broadcaster Wendy Wilde’s blog. There’s a short poem by Walt Kelly quoted there. It relates to the Blacklist permeating the entertainment business at the time of writing. (Maybe the film relates to this as well. Maybe both relate to what’s going on in the political air today.)

The rooty toot toot of the very minute,
The booty boot boot of the band,
The cutey cute cute of the less than astute,
Shivers and shudders the land.

I thank Kathryn Eagan for posting this poem on that site so I would get to see it.

Animation 27 Feb 2006 08:35 am

more MOMA

-The Museum of Modern Art completes their tribute to current French animation this week. The schedule for the remainder of their film program is as follows:

Wednesday, March 1
6:00 The Dog, the General, and the Birds. 2003. France/Italy. Nielsen. 75 min. T1
2003. France/Italy. Directed by Francis Nielsen. Screenplay by Tonino Guerra, based on his book. With the voice of Philippe Noiret. Legendary Italian screenwriter Guerra—the author of films by Federico Fellini, Theo Angelopoulos, Vittorio De Sica, and Michelangelo Antonioni—tells the fantastic and brooding story of a Russian general who tries to thwart the advance of the Napoleonic forces on Moscow by using flocks of inflamed birds. As he lives out his last years in St. Petersburg, he is haunted by the memory of his barbarism toward the birds; aided by his faithful dog Napoleon, he tries to make peace with their brethren. 75 min.

also shown Sunday, March 5
1:00 The Dog, the General, and the Birds. 2003. France/Italy. Nielsen. 75 min. T1

Thursday, March 2
8:15 The Triplets of Belleville. 2003. France/Belgium/Canada/Great Britain. Chomet. 80 min. T1

Saturday, March 4
2:00 The King and the Mockingbird. 1980. France. Grimault. 85 min. T2
1979. France. Directed by Paul Grimault. Screenplay by Jacques Prévert, Grimault. Grimault was a major influence on Hayao Miyazaki and other contemporary Japanese animators, and his masterpiece is this adaptation of Hans Christian Andersen’s short story “The Shepherdess and the Chimney Sweep.” With dialogue by the celebrated poet Jacques Prévert, the film is a true marvel with all the requisite fairy tale tropes: a despotic king, a taunting bird, a beautiful shepherdess and a lowly chimney sweep, paintings come to life, and a retro-futurist underworld of sparkling caverns, Venetian canals, and roving bat-police. New 35mm print. 85 min.

4:00 La Table tournante. 1988. France. Demy, Grimault. 80 min. T2
1988. France. Directed by Jacques Demy and Paul Grimault. With the voices of Grimault, Anouk Aimée, Mathieu Demy. Inspired by the success of his 1980 feature The King and the Mockingbird, veteran animator Grimault reedited some of his short films from the 1930s to the 1970s into this feature. Jacques Demy, the director of wonderfully fanciful live-action films like Donkey Skin and The Umbrellas of Cherbourg, portrays a true poet at work: Grimault at his editing table, magically transforming paper and ink into flora and fauna. 78 min.

Animation Artifacts &Commentary 26 Feb 2006 08:46 am

Chkn Li’l

It’s wonderful how things have grown with the internet age. Of course, there’s also more than a fair share of nonsense out there. Lots of misinformation, so one has to move cautiously in accepting much of it as gospel. Know your sources.

- Hans Perk has posted some excellent comments on my “Bookkeeping” page. He responds to a good question by Galen Fott about changes during the course of a production and the reflection of that on the charts. Hans also provides a link to a chart which calculates the variations from Acme to Disney field guides and back.
If you’re interested in the studio’s production charts I posted last week (with more to follow soon), I encourage you to read more.

-I also encourage you to go to Thad Komorowski’s website: Golden Age Cartoons. It’s a site I visit often; there’s plenty of history there.

- Here’s a reprint ripped (literally) from the pages of LIFE Magazine, circa 1943. It represents a few of the storyboard(?) panels from Chicken Little, the Disney propaganda film. No it’s not the one with aliens – at least not aliens from outer space.

It was a wartime short warning us of the evil of the Nazis or at least of reading Mein Kampf. I didn’t realize these films needed publicity, too.

(Click on image to enlarge to a readable size.)

Books 25 Feb 2006 08:34 am

More Hoppity

– Here are four more pages of the Mr. Bug book. This is one those books where they don’t seem to have enough room to fit in all the words. The film’s story is not one that would’ve made it past the Hollywood execs. One can’t easily encapsulate it into a short, catchy, exciting sentence.

A colony of bugs tries to escape the vacant lot and their human enemies by searching for the “Castle In The Sky,” a penthouse garden. Hoppity leads the way until he’s outwitted by Mr. Beetle in his attempt to woo . . .

Maybe I’m getting off the track. Let’s see, a good snappy phrase:
A bug version of “The Grapes of Wrath” meets “Mr. Smith Goes To Washington” . . .
(Click either image to enlarge to a readable size.)

It really is a simple story, but the world today has gotten, in some ways, even simpler. If it doesn’t mock everything we, as adults, knew and believed in as children, it couldn’t make a good children’s film today. As producers/writers/directors/animators today, we have to satirize or tear down all we enjoyed when we were young.

The Emperor’s New Groove isn’t able to just tell the story of a fallen Ancient Peruvian king, it has to soup up the works with sarcasm and David Spade nastiness. (Is that the “groove”?)
Treasure Planet isn’t satisfied telling one of the most lasting stories of all time, it has to set it in space with flying galleons?!?
The Incredibles gives us even more vulnerable superheroes.
Shrek goes after fairy tales and Disney films.
Hoodwinked goes after Shrek.

I don’t necessarily dislike these films – particularly The Incredibles – but I do have to wonder why they are slanted the way they are. Have animators lost all ability to tell a story innocently? Do they honestly believe that children don’t deserve a good, simple, well told story? Is there no way to give the youngsters of America something we had as children? And I don’t mean the soupy sapiness of Doogal! I mean a good, quiet, intelligent story children and adults can enjoy together! (Maybe I should hope Cars will save the day, but somehow I’m not sure the Indianapolis 500 is what I’m hoping for.) Even a couple of years ago we had magnificent live-action versions of The Secret Garden and A Little Princess. Fly Away Home was also brilliant. (Three enormously talented creative directors: Agnieszka Holland, Alfonso Cuaron, Carroll Ballard.)

I’m just wondering. Having seen a good, quiet children’s film in Kirikou, I wonder what’s gone wrong here. The film capital of the world searches for the edge in every story it tries to tell, and the stories end up suffering.

Animation 24 Feb 2006 08:51 am


- Making good children’s films is difficult business – especially in feature films.

I’m not talking about the typically American way of doing business – all activity and loud, screaming nonsense for what feels like hours. It’s easy to take a children’s book classic that’s been treasured by generations of children; update and alter the artwork so it looks brighter and more in-your-face, get celebrity voices to ensure the cache of their names, then add a couple of fart jokes. It’s hard to make a good, intelligent children’s film.

Dumbo is a great children’s film; Spirited Away is a great children’s film. Bambi, Toy Story and My Life As A Dog are all exceptionally good children’s films.

Last night, I got to see Michel Ocelot’s Kirikou and the Wild Beasts. Michel’s first Kirikou feature, Kirikou and the Sorceress, was exceptionally well received in France. It has played continuously in France for the past seven years.

Michel was pushed into this sequel, which plays like an original. The film tells four stories of tiny Kirikou, an African child living in a small village and the difficulties he overcomes in the ever present struggle with a sorceress who tries to destroy his village. She represents natural disasters, and Kirikou, using his intelligence, fights back with things available to him. No loud violence, no screaming noises, no guns, no farts. Just humanity and intelligence.

And stunningly beautiful graphics remniscent of Matisse’s Ethiopian paintings. in other words, the art is inspired by the art of the film’s subject – African painting. The excellent musical tracks by Manu Dibango and songs by Youssou N’Dour are also inspired by African music.

Michel Ocelot has delivered a film that should be seen. Because of the nudity in the film, breasts in particular, it is doubtful that the film will receive proper distribution in America. It has played in every other country, though, and will undoubtedly be on dvd here. Please look for it. If you can see it on a big screen so much the better. It’s a beautiful children’s film, and that’s saying a lot for me.

– In a move aimed at nurturing their local animators, China has banned the import of foreign cartoons that combine live action and animation. Blue’s Clues and Roger Rabbit are out! China would like their animators to develop their own product rather than do only outsource work. Read full news article here.

- The NYTimes today has a review of the Oscar nominee showcase from Magnolia Pictures. John Canemaker wins this review hands down; sorry PIXAR.

- No reviews for Doogal yet. I guess they avoided giving a copy to reviewers; I wonder why.

Animation Artifacts 23 Feb 2006 07:50 am


I noticed one of these production forms on Blackwing Diaries, and thought someone out there might not have seen any of those for any of the features. So, I’m posting the first couple of pages from Pinocchio, Jiminy opening the movie.

(Click on the images to enlarge to a readable size.)

It fascinates me to see the detail in the production that Disney had organized. It gives a glimpse into the structure within that studio, at least during the old days. The most recent sheets I have like this are for Robin Hood. The information doesn’t seem quite as picayune on those pages, but I suspect it still was as organized.

The field guides indicated on these sheets are different than the field guides which we have today. Each field was indicated by 35mm not inches. Each field represented 35mm in height & width. Hence, it seems like they have all small fields indicated, but they’re not.

Today with computer animation, I’m not sure of the organization of the studios like Pixar or Dreamworks – or, for that matter, Disney. I suspect there has to be something similar, though I would expect it to be all computerized.

Animation Artifacts 22 Feb 2006 07:56 am


– This is a storyboard drawing/layout I. Klein gave me back in 1980 (that’s when he signed it). Klein was a good solid animator through a very long and ripe career.

He started in animation in NY, moved on to Disney where he was a journeyman animator in a world of stars. (He never worked on a feature while the “A” team did.) He eventually came back to NY to be a star, himself.
(Click image to enlarge it.)

His best work, for me, was the animation he did on a couple of the Disney shorts in the late thirties. He was a principal animator on the Silly Symphony, The Moth and The Flame.

Izzy liked to take credit for creating Casper the Ghost, as did many people, and was certainly part of the team that did the first work on Casper. He was a very nice guy, and it was a pleasure to have met him the few times I did.

My nightmare when I was a kid was that I would end up drawing Popeye or Casper for the rest of my life. No wonder I fell in love with Hubley’s work when I came upon it at the ripe old age of 15. That’s when I made it my goal to seek them out and work for them – damn the torpedoes.

- Happy Birthday, George Washington. Time to check Tom Sito‘s blog to see what he has to say about it. As I expected, there’s a lot of entertaining reading about it.

Animation Artifacts 21 Feb 2006 06:51 am

Bambi bits

- Yesterday I came across a chat room discussion about the original Bambi (as opposed to the newer one about to be released). Once I hit this sentence, I had to stop reading: “But the new Bambi sequel is much easier on the eyes than the old Bambi, and from what I saw from that 10 minute clip, I think I’m going to enjoy the sequel a lot more.”

It depressed me too much to continue reading, and I was reminded why I should stay away from animation forums and chat rooms.

To that writer, I devote this posting of some bits and pieces of a Life Magazine article published at the time of Bambi’s original release.

(Click on any of the above images to enlarge to a readable size.)

This material was originally given to me by Jim Logan. I owe the memory of him a long column or twenty, and I will post it eventually.

- Marc Hairston has an interesting posting about Miyazaki, the Oscars and Howl’s Moving Castle at FPS.

- Newsday has an entertaining interview with Tim Burton regarding his Oscar nomination for The Corpse Bride.

Commentary &Festivals 20 Feb 2006 08:05 am


- As posted yesterday, the winners of the BAFTA Award for excellence in film were announced yesterday. Wallace and Gromit: The Curse of the Wererabbit was given the Michael Korda Award for Best British Film. It was an important award considering the competition, all excellent live action films. Congratulations to all of those involved at Aardman. Oscar’s next.

- Edited out of the show on BBC America was the award for Best Animated Short. The nominees were:
FALLEN ART – Jarek Sawko/Piotr Sikora/Tomek Baginski
FILM NOIR – Osbert Parker
RABBIT – Run Wrake

The winner was FALLEN ART, a Polish CG animated film.
An interview with the film makers can be found here.

A summary of all the nominees, including the live-action shorts, can be found here.

Commentary &Festivals 19 Feb 2006 06:52 pm


If you’re into awards shows, tonight at 8pm (repeated at 11pm), you can watch the BAFTA Awards live on tape. Handed out earlier today, Wallace & Gromit: Curse of the Wererabbit won as the Best British Film. Brokeback Mountain won many of the other awards.

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