Monthly ArchiveJune 2007

Commentary 30 Jun 2007 09:34 am

I’m a Curmudgeon

- What can I say? I’m a curmudgeon. I didn’t totally love it.
Ratatouille (“rat-a-too-ee”), I mean. I had some predictable problems with the film.


They fought the dogs and bit the cats. They ate the cheeses out of vats. Rats.

It’s hard to watch a movie, any movie that shows hundreds of realistic looking rats with realistic looking hair running across a restaurant kitchen. Or covering a small car. Or falling from a ceiling in a smallish house. It’s unpleasant. Is this the stuff of family film?

I wanted to give it four out of four stars, but I can’t – maybe three and a half. Pushing it. All those rats; they were just too realistic when you put a lot of them together. They got the look of wet fur just about perfect. The animation was almost realistic. (Some of it was actually nice character animation.)

The kids in the theater. I heard all three of them – it was a private screening – ask what was happening. They seemed to have a bit of trouble following it. Maybe kids aren’t supposed to enjoy every “family” film. I don’t know.

Then about 3/4 of the way through the film, there’s a real slowdown, and I had to look at my watch to see what time it was. Like every other Pixar film, it was five or ten minutes too long.

I’m sorry. I’m a curmudgeon. Maybe I should tell you what I liked about the film.
Let’s try to forget that we’re talking about RATS RUNNING AROUND KITCHENS!

The craft in constructing the film was top notch excellent. I mean some of the character animation was exactly that – excellent. Not all of it, but enough of it. All of it was, at least very good. Peter O’Toole gave them the one great voice in the film, and the animators responded brilliantly. His character seems a refugee from a Tim Burton film.

The Backgrounds were stylized and looked illustrated. In fact, they were often very attractive. I wish they were a bit more stylized, but that’s just my own personal bias kicking in. In CARS you had an attempt to imitate real, and I didn’t get the point.

Ratatouille had an intelligent approach to the audience. None of those media references animated features always throw at us to tell us how with it they are. (This has been part of the landscape ever since Aladdin, and Jeffrey Katzenberg seems to encourage it.) That’s an enormous plus – treating an animated film with some dignity.

So there you have it. The body of a really good film with a lot of RATS RUNNING AROUND KITCHENS! Sorry, I can’t get over it, and I don’t think I should.

The end credits featured 2D animated rats in kitchens, and there was more of a remove. These didn’t look like real rats, and I realized that probably would have been the way to save the day – 2D animation. Rats are just such a bad idea for lovable animated characters, and there’s such a penchant for animators – cg animators – to feature them these days.
Walt Disney never would have allowed it during his life. He had a MOUSE, and he stood him up, put him in shorts and treated him as if he were human. Even the mice in Cinderella wore clothes – for a reason. They were mice – these are RATS.

I debated keeping this opinion to myself, since I know you’re all going to hate me now, but what can I say. It’s what I felt while watching the film; it’s what I think a lot of adults are going to feel while watching it. I hope Pixar makes a ton of money with it, but in the end I don’t expect it to go through the roof – after the first weekend. I hope I’m wrong. I think Brad Bird is brilliant, but there were rats running around kitchens here.

- Some articles about the potential box office are worth viewing.
#1 here, #2 here. Of course, all predictions are already probably moot since the opening box office is already in (around $16.5 million for Friday) and predicted to be a close #1 against the new Die Hard film. Fun to speculate though.

Animation Artifacts &Story & Storyboards 29 Jun 2007 08:03 am

Fantasia Leica Reel IV

- Here’s the fourth part of the Fantasia Leica Reel posted courtesy of John Canemaker‘s loan. Here we have the “Milkweed Ballet” an appearance by the “Frost Fairies” and the “Snowflake Fairies.”

(As always, click any image to enlarge.)
1 2

3 4

5 6

There’s one more post to this series. I have a couple of pages of scraps and bits and pieces which I’ll put all together in the next and last one.

Commentary &SpornFilms 28 Jun 2007 08:01 am

Monthly Abstractions

- Jeff Scher is back in the opinion pages of the New York Times with his monthly animated contribution. The piece, this month, celebrates the Fourth of July with a confetti confection of fireworks. The short film takes its cue from Oskar Fischinger.

The piece is designed for the TimeSelect subscribers, so it may be hard for some of you to receive it. Give it a try.

It’s an interesting gig to have to deliver an animated piece each month for the internet. Jeff’s last and initial piece is still available on line, as well. Here’s L’Eau Life. If you haven’t seen that film, check it out.


Speaking of Oskar Fischinger, I’ve linked to the Fischinger Archives. Oskar, you should know, was an important abstract animator whose most famous piece was the Toccata and Fugue in Fantasia. The archives have galleries of some of Oskar Fischinger‘s animation drawings: 2, or 3.


Above is an Oskar Fischinger silent film, “Seelische Konstruktionen,” which was set and reworked to a musical number, Cavern, by the rock group Liquid Liquid.

Richard McGuire was the bass player of the group; he’s now directing animation at Prima Linea Productions in France. He’s done a lot of work for the NYTimes Sunday Book Review and the New Yorker magazine. He’s credited for reworking Fischinger’s film to tie into the group’s song.

I did an animated video of the song in 1983, just as the group broke up. I got it onto ABC’s late night music video program at the time and a couple of local shows. The record company, 99 Records owned and operated by Ed Bahlman, went out of business not too much later. The film was screened in competition in Ottawa.

Here are some frame grabs from the video I animated. I used multiple split screens and violent cutting to make a short about the small everyday bits of violence we saw on city streets.


- By the way, on a completely different topic, I love the temporary logo on at Animated News. It reads, under the title banner: (an-uh-may-ted nooz). Hilarious stuff.

The logo links to the Pixar Ratatouille site.

Books &Commentary 27 Jun 2007 07:49 am

NIMH, Bart, Ghibli & other feature thoughts

- First up, in case you haven’t seen this letter, I suggest you check it out. A rejection letter from the Disney studios, 1938.


– Monday night The Secret of NIMH aired on cable television. Somehow, even though I own copies of this film on dvd and video, I hadn’t seen it since it opened in theaters. Watching it again, after all these years, I found that not much had changed. 25 years didn’t hurt or help.

I have to admit that I was kinder to it for the nostalgia of the piece. The wave of enthusiasm I felt for the “renegades,” who pulled the film together despite the odds of the period working against them, was high.

The film still has that mediocre ending. It’s such a romantic conclusion that it’s almost difficult to watch; magic overcomes everything in this world of Bluth.

Also, I’ve never quite understood the eyes of anyone in the film who’s supposed to be old (and I guess wise) – they just glow so there’re really no eyes there. Somehow the gimmick is corny.

At times the film is so densely colored, but then at other times it’s flat. This flips back and forth from scene to scene. However, this I forgive for a film that was obviously done for a low budget and with a lot of heart.

That Jerry Goldsmith score almost makes the film and all its negatives brilliant. And the voice of Elizabeth Hartman as Mrs. B(F)risby is inspired. It’s quite unique and quirky. This is one of her best performances, and she had many of them.

In the end, I’m glad to have watched it again, but it’s unlikely I’ll rush to view it again in the next few weeks.


– The NYPost printed a big illustrated review of The Simpson’s Handbook, a new book designed to show you how to draw the characters of The Simpsons. The credited author is Matt Groening.

The book appears to print model sheets reworked for the general public. Otherwise it seems to be somewhat similar to those Disney How to draw Mickey (or Donald or Goofy or Pluto) books you could get at Disneyland in the 60′s.

The on-line version of the review doesn’t include all those that appeared in the newspaper; some of the illustrations from the book were printed. The images looked interesting though the Post tried to make it look like a fun-for-kids book. I’ll have to check it out when I’m in a book store.

I guess they’re starting to gear up the publicity machine behind the Simpsons feature film about to be released.


Daniel Thomas MacInnes hosts an excellent site called Conversations on Ghibli. There, naturally, you’ll find an enormous amount of information on Ghibli, the studio that hosts Miyazaki and his films.

Not only does Daniel Thomas offer extensive current information about the films, but he also posts many, many videos.

Currently there are a number of short films to view on the site. Go there and just start watching.
Three I found breathtaking are:
……..a Yurij Norstein ad: here
……..Miyazaji’s Sky Colored Seed: here
……..Yoshiyuki Momose’s ads for House Foods: here


For those of you who haven’t seen this insurance ad by Sylvain Chomet, maybe it’ll help keep you on hold until his next film appears. It’s already been four years since The Triplettes of Belleville. Making features is a tough business.


- I assume many of you have read Jim Hill‘s article on the potential box office draw for Ratoutille (Rat-a-too-ee). The article sounds like good business sense even if it isn’t the tale we’d all like to hear. I assume we’ll all know the answer by this time next week.

Rants against this article appear at Tom Sito‘s site and at the Animation Guild Blog and at Josh Tyler’s Cinema Blend.

Michael Barrier has a positive review of the film worth reading.

Books &Mary Blair 26 Jun 2007 08:22 am

Retta Scott & Cinderella II

– Here are the remainder of the selections from Retta Scott’s illustrated version of Disney’s Cinderella.

I’m actually curious to know how Western Publishing proceeded with the illustrated Disney books. Apparently a large number of Disney artists contributed to the books – at least in the 40′s & 50′s. Bill Justice, Dick Kelsey, Mary Blair, et al. Then, of course, there are the Golden Books that didn’t have a Disney connection by Disney artists. The Poky Little Puppy by Gustaf Tenggren is, of course, the most famous of these.

(Retta Scott working on Pastoral seq. from Fantasia.
From The Art of Walt Disney by Finch.)

I believe these original illustrations are still on exhibition at the Disneyland Gallery along with others gems from the Little Golden Book series illustrated by Disney artists.

There’s also a new Cinderella book available which uses preproduction art by Mary Blair. This one is NOT a Little Golden Book but comes from Disney Publishing.

Here’s the link to yesterday’s Part I posting, and
some of the remaining illustrations in this book follow:

8 9
(Click on any image to enlarge.)

10 11

13 14

Books &Mary Blair 25 Jun 2007 07:30 am

Retta Scott & Cinderella I

Retta Scott‘s name was always an intriguing one for me.

She was an animator on Bambi, Dumbo and Plague Dogs. She was layed off at Disney’s when they hit a slump in 1941 but came back to do a number of Little Golden Books for Disney. The most famous of her books was her version of Cinderella, one which was so successful that it remains in print today as a Little Golden Book.

When asked why females weren’t animators at the studio, the Nine Old Men who traveled the circuit, back in the 1970′s, often mentioned her. They usually also said that she was one of the most forceful artists at the studio, but her timing always needed some help (meaning from a man.)

Ms. Scott was known predominantly for her animation in Bambi. Specifically, she’s credited with the sequence where the hunter’s dogs chase Faline to the cliff wall and Bambi is forced to fight them off.

The scene is beautifully staged and, indeed, is forceful in its violent, yet smooth, movement. I was a young student of animation, so this sequence had a long and lasting impression on me.

Here are some of her illustrations for Cinderella published in 1950 to tie in with the Disney film. Oddly, the illustrations don’t completely look like the film’s characters. The cat and mice are close, but Cinderella, herself, is very different, less realistic. She looks more like a Mary Blair creation. When I was young, I was convinced that these were preproduction illustrations done for the film. If only.

To do justice to this book, though I’m not posting ALL of the illustrations, I’ll break it into two postings.

(Click any image to enlarge.)

1 2

3 4

5 6

Photos 24 Jun 2007 08:35 am

Street Scene Sunday Photos

- As you may have guessed, if you’ve followed this site, I’m in love with New York. I enjoy just looking at its busy-ness. The street scenes are always interesting to me, and the activity keeps my eyes excited.

I’ve enjoyed snapping pictures of the perspectives of these streets that I see on my daily hikes. Here are a few of these photos, which I’m sure will bore the heck out of most of you.

Looking uptown from West 4th Street and Sixth Avenue in the village, you can almost pretend it’s a small town scene. However, if you walk another block in any direction the view is completely different.

A. At 9th Street and Sixth Ave. the scene is completely different. There’s a large number (mayber twelve) of police cars in a single row racing uptown with their lights and sirens blaring. You never know who they’re escorting. I once saw Bill Clinton in a black SUV heading downtown to the site of the 9/11 attack.
B. Moving Eastward on 9th Ave. things change again. More trees are on the side streets here in Greenwich Village.

D. Looking downtown from 12th St. & Fifth Ave. you can just about make out the arches at the entrance to Washington Square Park. It’s only five blocks downtown.
E. Looking uptown on Fifth Ave & 17th St gives you a completely different perspective as the Empire State Building starts to center everything.

What seems like only half a block Eastward, standing on Broadway at 22nd street, looking downtown, the view is wholly different. Union Square Park, 8 blocks downtown, changes everything from this vantage point. There’s also more congestion.

G. At 24th St & Fifth Ave the Toy district looms large. I’ve always been intrigued by the connecting tunnel up in the sky; it hinges the two buildings. This was one of the more interesting features at the World Trade Center.
H. At 28th St & Lexington Ave you can just about make out my favorite building in the City, the Chrysler Building. Its Art Deco presence seems to always be glittering in New York. This street is lined with Indian Restaurants; I’m standing in front of “Curry In A Hurry,” a NY staple.

Daily post 23 Jun 2007 08:22 am

Handelsman/Ratatouille Art/

– New Yorker and Playboy cartoonist, J.B. “Bud” Handelsman, died on Wednesday evening.

He had contributed cartoons to the Observer, New Statesman, Punch (including covers and the popular “Freaky Fables” series), New Yorker, Saturday Review, Saturday Evening Post, Look, Esquire and Playboy. He’d created a 10 min animated film called “In The Beginning”. He’d also illustrated a number of books including Who’s That Stepping on Plymouth Rock?.

After studying at the Art Student’s League, he went to NYU for Electrical Engineering but switched to commercial art after graduating in 1946. At first he sold cartoons as a sideline but became a full time free lance cartoonist in 1960. He was one of the first cartoonists working for Playboy.

His covers for the New Yorker magazine were identifiable to all readers of the magazine and were usually signed JBH.


CanMag has posted a number of concept art pieces from Pixar on the upcoming film Ratatouille (Rat-a-too-ee.) These are visible (in a flash version) on the official site.


On his excellent site, Kevin Langley is giving attention to some of the background artists at Paramount. He’s merely offering screen grabs – many of them – but the effect is effective. It gives some real focus to the fine backgrounds done for that studio.
It’s interesting that he chooses to start with the work of Tom Ford who seems to have been at the studio for only a few years, from about 1947-1952.

Personally, I enjoy watching how Robert Little‘s work changed, grew and developed over the many years he worked at Paramount and Fleischer’s. From Gulliver to Casper to Modern Madcaps.

An example of Ford’s work can be seen above from “Audrey The Rainmaker.” This is one of the many samples from Kevin’s site.


Check out Thad Komorowski‘s site. He’s giving us a treat with some of Floyd Gottfredson‘s dailies of the Mickey Mouse comic strip. It starts with 1936 and continues through other posts, ongoing.

Daily post 22 Jun 2007 07:56 am

Sing Kirikou Sing & UPA book

– The ASIFA East show, this past Wednesday, that centered on my two newly released dvds was thoroughly enjoyable (for me.) A nice crowd of animators and students and friends turned out to see clips from the four half-hour films featured. In between the clips I brought up four of the people who worked on staff for me, Jason McDonald, Stephen MacQuignon, Masako Kanayama and Ray Kosarin. In the audience were two animators who each worked on at least two of the films, Mark Mayerson and John Dilworth.
(Me, babbling in the front of the room.)

The evening was filled with interesting questions that compared working on film to working digitally, that discussed the method of control I exercised (or didn’t) while directing, the stylization of the films, and the wild differences all the films had in their construction. There were also the questions about schedule and budget (basically the same question) and production methods.

It was one of those evenings where no one left and it was hard to get people out of there an hour after the program had ended. I want to thank Dave Levy and all who helped put this program together. I enjoyed it immensely.
Jason, Stephen, Ray and Masako ——————-Dave Levy watches a intently.

A couple of other reports on this event were nicely posted by Jeaux Janovsky on the Frederator Blog and by Mark Mayerson on his blog.


Buy tickets here.

- An article in Variety gives us the news that the French animator, Michel Ocelot, is turning his Kirikou character into a theatrical musical show.

The $6 million production, is due to begin rehearsals next month. It is being produced by theater impresario Victor Bosch and Didier Brunner, the producer of the two “Kirikou” films. The show is scheduled to open on October 3rd.

Ocelot wrote the script (libretto) and the lyrics to the songs. The music for the songs, as was the music for the films, is written by the likes of Youssou N’Dour and Malian songstress Rokia Traoure. The musical is choreographed and directed by Wayne McGregor.

The show will try out in the French city of Lyon before moving to Paris where it’s big competition will be The Lion King, about to open there shortly. Apparently Paris will soon be besieged by African theatrical reproductions.


Tee Bosustow, who is currently putting together an all-encompassing documentary on the history and art of UPA, has produced a book of rare photos that Amid Amidi helped edit. The book’s sale will help Tee raise money to complete the documentary.

He sent me an email about it, and I thought I’d post it to share the good news. Here’s what he had to say:

Announcing a limited edition book of rare UPA photographs
Published in a numbered edition of 1000, this hardbound book is a photographic celebration of one of animation history’s most innovative and experimental animation studios, UPA Pictures.

The volume contains dozens of rare and unpublished photographs, most of which have never been seen outside of the personal scrapbooks of UPA artists.

The book is designed and written by historian Amid Amidi, whose recent Cartoon Modern: Style and Design in Fifties Animation won the prestigious Theatre Library Association Award for best film or television book of 2006.

Mr. Amidi has personally selected the photos from the collections of UPA artists including Robert Cannon, Stephen Bosustow, Howard Beckerman, Fred Crippen, Sam Clayberger and Joe Messerli.

The book will debut at the Ottawa International Animation Festivalin September. But, you can reserve your advanced book(s) now…

Pre-sale orders are now open for the thousand copies printed.
50 copies, signed by UPA veterans, are available at $150
Numbered, but unsigned, editions will be sold at a special pre-order price of $35 (valid through Sept. 15)
After September 15 (according to post-mark on envelope), the price for unsigned editions will increase to $45
(All proceeds will go to the production of the feature documentary, UPA: Magoo, McBoing Boing & Modern Art.)

Send a check or money order, made out to: “Artist in Me L.L.C.”
Artist in Me
UPA Photo Book
6311 Van Nuys Blvd., #406
Van Nuys, CA, 91401

Include your Name, Address, Email and/or phone
Include S&H (shipping & handling) in total price
S&H for Single (or first) Book via Priority Mail – $10
S&H for each additional Book via Priority Mail – $4 S
&H for Single (or first) Book via Express Mail – $20
S&H for each additional Book via Express Mail – $9

Animation Artifacts &Books 21 Jun 2007 07:32 am

Illustrated Animal Farm I

- When the film Animal Farm was released, a tie-in book was published which republished George Orwell‘s novel with line drawings from the film by “Joy Batchelor and John Halas.” I somehow doubt they did the illustrations, but obviously one person within the studio did do the work. It has the look of a single hand.

There are some 35 spot illustrations, so to showcase them all I’ve decided to break this up into two separate postings. Part II will be up next week.
Here’s the first group:

This is the book’s dustcover._________________________ (Click any image to enlarge.)

This is the double/title page.

Each chapter has its own heading, and there are usually one to two stills within the body of each chapter.

Some of the illustrations, like this one, spread across two pages under the type.

For those of you unfamiliar with this story, it tells the tale of a farm wherein the animals are mistreated.

Under the guidance of the pigs, the animals take over the farm and create an animal collective.

However, the pigs grow lazy and do less of the work as they take charge of the others.

They eat more than their share of the food and mistreat the animals who do the greatest amount of work.

As animals begin to die under the guidance of the lazy pigs, there is some grumbling among the masses.

The pigs dominate and rule with a heavy hand.

Boxer, the horse, is the figure of strength and symbolically the real leader of the animals.

You can watch Animal Farm on YouTube by going here.

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