Monthly ArchiveMay 2009
Photos 31 May 2009 07:53 am
- Before getting to the business at hand, today, let me post this link to an article in the NYTimes. Her Prince Has Come. Critics, Too. It gives a good indication of what to expect when The Princess and the Frog is released. Many of the reviewers will discuss the racism inherent and miss the cartoon on the screen.
- The on-again / off-again rains had me depressed enough that I didn’t pull my camera out, nor did I take one shot. However, my friend, Steve Fisher sent me a stash of photos this week, and they’re so good I don’t want to pass them up. So regardless of the fact that the pictures have little in common, let me post them.
Memorial Day (Click any image to enlarge.)
The steel frame structure in the foreground is under construction
virtually against the residential building partially seen beyond it.
As soon as the new cladding is erected, one will not be able to see that
side of the house at all. But more unfortunate is that the folks in the
house will no longer be able to see anything outside from their windows.
- Jiri Trnka is one of my heroes. His sense of design is as gorgeous as his puppets. There’s a feminine delicacy wrapped around a very masculine strength. The same is true of his puppet films. Look at any frame of The Archangel Gabriel or Midsummer Night’s Dream.
We don’t often see Trnka’s illustrations, so I’ve decided, for my own entertainment, to post a few of those in the Grimm’s Fairy Tales book. You can still find copies of this republished many times over. (I suspect the manuscript and illustrations are in public domain.)
Here are about half of the book’s illustrations:
Red Riding Hood
Daily post 29 May 2009 07:48 am
For some inspiration let me give another Hubley answer in the Halas book, The Technique of Film Animation:
- Do you think cartoon is capable of handling realistic subjects, especially involving the human figure?
JOHN HUBLEY : Yes, provided animators master fundamentals of drawing form and volume, and then combine this with fresh, personal expressions of human action. The mechanics of moving the human figure cannot be isolated from the motivational drives and dramatic meaning of any action, without rendering it empty and useless. It is primarily the emotional content of an action that is of interest to an audience, and the goal of animators must be to express this in graphic motion; not merely to move arms, legs, and bodies around in space. At this point it will become possible to deal with “realistic subjects” and make them exciting and believable.
For some reason, the response makes me think immediately of Glen Keane’s Tarzan. Glen was on to something for whole stretches of that film, but the skateboarding through the trees destroyed any illusion of reality for me.
In fact, for me, the best and best observed human animation has always been the work in 101 Dalmatians. All of it.
The reviews are out, and the clearest and most articulate of the ones I’ve seen is by Manohla Dargis in the NYTimes. She’s fast becoming my favorite current reviewer. I urge you to read the whole thing, though I can’t resist quoting one or two phrases:
In its opening stretch the new Pixar movie “Up” flies high, borne aloft by a sense of creative flight and a flawlessly realized love story.
Though the initial images of flight are wonderfully rendered — the house shudders and creaks and splinters and groans as it’s ripped from its foundation by the balloons — the movie remains bound by convention, despite even its modest 3-D depth. This has become the Pixar way. Passages of glorious imagination are invariably matched by stock characters and banal story choices, as each new movie becomes another manifestation of the movie-industry divide between art and the bottom line.
… an adult relationship that the director Pete Docter brilliantly compresses into some four wordless minutes during which the couple dream together, face crushing disappointment and grow happily old side by side. Like the opener of “Wall-E” and the critic’s Proustian reminiscence of childhood in “Ratatouille,” this is filmmaking at its purest.
But much like Russell, the little boy with father problems, and much like Dug, the dog with master issues, the story starts to feel ingratiating enough to warrant a kick. O.K., O.K., not a kick, just some gently expressed regret.
I’m looking forward to seeing it tomorrow.
Commentary 28 May 2009 07:58 am
- I’ve read three different reviews for Up, all very positive.
. Tom McCarthy in Variety reviews the film we all expect to see: another feel-good, light and airy cartoon done by those wizards at Pixar. All positive.
. Michael Rechtshaffen in The Hollywood Reporter writes a less specific but much more buoyant review. “Despite the innate sentimentality, director Pete Docter (“Monsters, Inc.”) and co- director-writer Bob Peterson keep the laughs coming at an agreeably ticklish pace.”
. Robert Wilonsky in the Village Voice reviews a film that slyly works more as a film for adults than for children. “Pixar movies have been moving in this direction for years—adult animation sprinkled with just enough shenanigans to entertain the kids while we get our weep on.” All positive.
The best written review was the Village Voice, and it’s also the one that makes me most curious to see it. Two of the reviews suggest that 3D is probably a hindrance more than a help:
Variety: In fact, the film’s overall loveliness presents a conceivable argument in favor of seeing it in 2-D: Even with the strongest possible projector bulbs, the 3-D glasses reduce the image’s brightness by 20%. At the very least, the incentive for seeing “Up” in 3-D would seem less powerful than it is for other films.
Voice: Do not see Up in 3-D. It’s inessential to the tale and altogether distracting.
The Hollywood Reporter spends much of its review promoting the 3D experience: “… those attending theaters equipped with the Disney Digital 3-D technology will have the added bonus of experiencing a three-dimensional process that is less concerned with the usual “comin’ at ya” razzle-dazzle than it is with creating exquisitely detailed textures and appropriately expansive depths of field.”
The film opens tomorrow, and I’ll look forward to some of the other more mainstream reviews. I’ll see the film at an Academy screening on Saturday. It’ll be shown in 2D at the screening, so I won’t have the option of seeing it in 3D. (Perhaps the Academy should update?) Regardless, I’d like not to see it wearing polarized glasses that dim the design’s colors to offer an unnecessary effect. You pay $5 more for 20% less, in my estimation.
I’m not sold on the character design in the trailers and stills I’ve seen, and the character animation I’ve seen has not won me over. But that all becomes moot if the story is solidly engaging as both of these reviews suggest. I can hope as well as anyone.
Meanwhile in another story about Up, The NY Post offers a Q&A with Ed Asner, as well as a-not-very-positive article about Pixar’s attempt to do more daring kinds of movies: a “… rodent-driven “Ratatouille” and continuing with last year’s “WALL-E” — an amazing, mostly wordless film about a robot tidying up after an environmental apocalypse.”
“The movie’s premise is so unusual that Thinkway Toys, Pixar’s partner since 1995, has decided to sit this one out.
‘That really tells you something,’ says David A. Price, author of ‘The Pixar Touch.’ ‘Everybody likes their grandpa, but the consumer product folks don’t think that grandpa is gonna sell as a doll.’
Docter says he and the other creative staff at Pixar don’t think in terms of marketing and merchandising.”
I wonder if Bob Iger would say the same.
But then this has been the story on many of the entertanment blogs (eg: this one) over the past few months. Personally, I don’t think it’s fair to judge a film on its marketablity quotient, but then I’m not sure that a film that costs upward of $150 million shouldn’t concern itself with that factor.
Originally, Toy Story premiered without any dolls on the market. Disney seemed to have been showing their lack of support for that first big Pixar effort. The success of the film caught them unaware, and they weren’t able to truly capitalize on the dolls until after the success. (Making Toy Story 2 all the more important.)
Perhaps children will be craving for rubberized Carls and they’ll have to make Up 2 to encourage them. Of course, that’d have to wait until Toy Story 3 and Cars 2 hit theaters.
Daily post 27 May 2009 07:35 am
I’d known Tony only in conjunction with ASIFA for the many years I sat on that board. He was a member before I, and that dates at least back to 1973. He was a voicferous member who helped forge that little organization back in its earliest days.
His work goes back as far as 1961 when he was one of the producers on the Tales of the Wizard of Oz for Rankin Bass. He also did continuity for Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer and wrote and did production design for the Rankin Bass feature, Willie McBean & His Magic Machine.
His presence at ASIFA East meetings will be missed.
- Jeff Scher shares an older film of his with the NY Times.
NYC was shot in 1975. After the lab went out of business and the negative was lost, Jeff hand colored his print and used that as his negative. The images and colors were more vivid than expected and
his work was completed. Shay Lynch added an appropriate syntho-pop score which adds light to the film.
The words of Hans Richter “who spoke of rhythm as being the essence of cinema and ‘the conscious articulation of time’” and Goethe “who called architecture frozen music” drove the film.
It’s a stirring and expressionist view of the city with a hand-touched vivacity. Check it out (and support animation on the NY Times – so they know people are watching.) NYC
- An extensive article written by historian Greg Ford about animation director Tex Avery appears on the Bright Lights Film Journal‘s website. The article was originally written for the 1978 Zagreb Animation Festival’s retrospective of Avery’s work. It was reprinted in the Bright Lights magazine/journal but until now hasn’t appeared on-line.
Like all of Greg Ford’s work, it’s thorough and extensive and includes unnecessary apologies by the author. If you have any interest in Mr. Avery’s work, read Tex Avery/Arch-Radicalizer of the Hollywood Cartoon.
By the way, Greg Ford’s commentaries on those WB DVD collections is among the finest. His offerings, as well as those by Mike Barrier and Mark Langer are principal.
- And speaking of Mike Barrier, he recently posted on his site, MichaelBarrier.com, a picture of Disney wearing cap and gown as he received his honorary degree from Harvard back in 1938. This page and picture gave Mike an excuse to note that he had a relatively recent feature on his site called: Day in a Life. These photo essays are invaluable, and if you haven’t checked them out, I urge you to do so. They’re light enough to make you smile, but they offer real historical information.
Walt Kelly, 1955
Kansas City, 1922
Disney, June 20, 1938
- Finally, in case you haven’t heard or seen it, the current New Yorker cover is one that was drawn and painted by Jorge Columbo while standing and waiting an hour on line at Madame Tussaud’s Wax Museum on 42nd Street. It was drawn on his tiny iphone. You can watch a short video of the cover painting and read more about it here.
Commentary 26 May 2009 07:47 am
- I recently spent a few minutes rereading the questions printed at the back of John Halas’ seminal text, The Technique of Film Animation. There’s something formidable to me in a few solid questions posed to a number of smart people. Playing off and comparing them against each other almost gives another answer. I think I first found this book back in 1966, yet in all those years the questions and answers never seem to date. At least not for me.
Anyway, one specific answer struck me this time, and had me thinking about a subject that’s been prominently on my mind lately. Naturally enough, it’s John Hubley’s answer that impresses me. Here’s the question with John’s answer:
- Do you think animation is in a general state of stagnation as regards its style and presentation? How would you like to see it develop artistically?
JOHN HUBLEY: There is a tendency toward cliches of design in a traditional sense, and even the so-called modern style. (The large profile nose, hair line, arms and legs, black dot eyes, etc.) But more disturbing are the cliches of action (stylized flutter-lip action—sandpiper-like leg motion for walks and runs, multiple image jitters for fright, and many others). The trend toward more rapid timing of actions and reactions is reducing the human characteristics portrayed in the animated image. I would like to see the development of animation which is capable of deeper emotional expression; the portrayal of characters that are more profound and human. This will require stories dealing with ideas and relationships beyond the usual cat and mouse chase or “cute” children’s tale.
If anything his answer is more appropriate today. Cliches in design are not the only sins evident, but cliches in animation and movement even more so. There’s the Flash thing – angled characters with thick external lines are the way forward for most animation done today. It’s the most severe design that the mediocre to poor popping animation hides behind. Solid flat colored backgrounds and a total lack of depth in drawing is the signature of most of the Flash pieces I’ve seen. Too few try to overcome the simple problems in Flash – like popping a head from profile to straight on with no inbetween drawings, or popping from any pose to another. They’re not all in homage to Tex Avery. More likely it’s an homage to laziness. After all, it’s just a cartoon.
Occasionally, you’ll come upon a Sita Sings the Blues and realize that Flash isn’t the problem, but it’s the handicap for many another limited animator. How smartly the design is conceived in Nina Paley‘s film, it gives a very fluid action and a busy texture in the very stylized and appropriate backgrounds. But this is defiinitely the exception to the Flash films out there. Nina uses the medium for all it’s got.
It isn’t just Flash. So many other shorts; so many cg or 2D features are so limited in their choices. The upcoming Disney feature, The Princess and the Frog, cannot fully be critiqued based solely on its trailers, but honestly, it’s doubtful the rest of the film will be designed differently. As it is, the film reminds me a bit of the animated sequences done by James Baxter for Disney’s Enchanted. That was supposed to be a parody of all those Disney fairy tales done recently. I somehow doubt that The Princess and the Frog is parody, but I could be wrong. It just looks retread; well-done retread but just the same.
After seeing those credit pieces for Kung Fu Panda (also done by James Baxter Animation & Shine Studio) wouldn’t we expect more of Disney? Maybe not. Actually, the entire Kung Fu Panda was well designed.
Those 2D title sequences were exceptional though, and if I were trying to revitalize the 2D division of Disney, I’d be going for something strong not reworked. However, as I’ve said, I haven’t seen the final version of The Princess and the Frog and will hold any final criticism until I do.
Design shouldn’t exist outside of the film it’s working within. Two fine examples of excellent and daring design that strengthened their films would be Mulan and Lilo and Stitch. The strong, simplicity of Mulan gave that film the backbone it so needed. I wasn’t completely satisfied with the character design; several of the characters (grandmother and dog) seemed to step out of another film. But overall, it was a brilliant effort, and watching it was almost hypnotic. Lilo and Stitch almost seemed retro with the decision to use the water color backgrounds and beautifully rounded characters. There was a softness there that absolutely made that film. Both were examples of daring design that supported the stories and the animation. It didn’t call attention to itself but brought you into the film.
My sole purpose here isn’t to criticize anyone. I’m just calling for some solid and strong design in animation for both settings and characters. Designers and animators have been sleep walking far too long.
- From time to time, I’ve been pleased to showcase some mural paintings by my friends, cartoonists Tom Hachtman and his wife Joey. She has a company out of New Jersey which paints murals and commissioned Trompe l’oeil paintings.
Last year they went to a Parkland, Florida home and painted Venice by moonlight in a dining room.
This year they returned and painted the Coney Island boardwalk by daylight in an upstairs hallway.
(Click any image you’d like to enlarge.)
Photos 24 May 2009 08:38 am
Memorial Day seems to be about the right time for me to remember mailboxes. Both brown and and blue, they exist in droves holding onto the snailmail still out there. One might wonder how many more postage rate increases it can withstand before we depend allmost exclusively on internet communication.
These days many of the boxes have been decorated with graffiti of different sorts. All of it seems to be some kinda message to the world.
Nice and clean with dozens of coats of paint
Given that it’s probably a federal offense, one would expect such graffiti to be limited. But I’d say that that’s not the case.
I can remember walking down the street with John Leguizamo and his director David Bar Katz as he was about to open in Freak on Broadway. Al around town his face was stenciled on sidewalks and walls promoting the show.
We passed a mailbox and John saw his image/ad. He got upset. He knew that it was a federal offense to mark up the mailbox and he asked his director to see if he could look into stopping such practices. The show opened and I suspect there was no such inquisition from the feds.
(Click any image you want to enlarge.)
. . . so scrawled it up and down Houston St. in the Village – both sides of the street – on all of the mailboxes.
It certainly got the point across to “Baby”.
“Faro” is someone who’s been out there for quite awhile.
(S)he doesn’t just cover mailboxes. Subway walls and posters
are also fair game for this scribbler.
Daily post 23 May 2009 08:04 am
- The new Disney magazine twenty-three hit the streets this week. I mean that literally. While walking past some street vendor selling used books out of old cartons, I noticed a copy of this magazine sitting there bright, shiny, new and cellophane wrapped. We haggled the price until he sold it to me for $5. Cheap at half the price, but I wanted to find out what it contained.
Actully, the issue has been available for a little while now. The magazine is probably expensive (I can’t find a price anywhere including the website for it.) I guess you’re supposed to buy a membership in D23, a fan club. Regardless, I was still curious.
This issue contains, of course, an obligatory story on Up as well as another story about touring Pixar, plenty of articles about forthcoming films and Disneyland sites. There’s also one about Annie Leibovitz shooting stars to look like animated princesses and princes. It reminds me of an expensive version of an old fanzine they used to have called the Mickey Mouse Club Magazine. This is obviously more glamorous, exciting and expensive, but it’s still all just advertising for Disney product.
They’ve taken their cue from Vanity Fair (without all those board advertising plates – coming soon?) and use a lot of slick photos, and lots of type: white against black. The one article that caught my interest (no, not the piece about the “Modern day Gepetto”) was one on Tim Burton’s forthcoming Alice in Wonderland. It didn’t really say much about that film (slick photos, though), however there was a list of Burton’s films. Included on it was a 45 min. “Hansel and Gretel” he did for the Disney Channel in 1983. Why isn’t this out and available? I want to see it! Regardless, I look forward to his Alice.
(Having written this, I must confess that I was just interviewed by John Canemaker for an article he’s writing for the magazine about Snow White.)
(Click any image to enlarge.)
- Variety reports about a Christmas Special, “Prep and Landing“, in production at the Disney TV unit. It didn’t take long for the story to go from Variety to the NYTimes to USA Today.
Dave Foley is the starring vocal talent involved. Apparently, according to the article, John Lasseter asked for suggestions for possible shorts. Chris Williams, director of Bolt, came up with this idea but was too busy to take it into production.
- Hans Perk, on his inimitable site, has a post that’s been holding over for a couple of days. For some reason this piece has stayed with me since he first posted it.
It features those boxes they had on the wall of the first floor of the Disney Animation building way back when. I saw them in 1977 when I was granted a tour of the studio. The animation department was deep in the throes of completing Pete’s Dragon and I wasn’t permitted a tour of the second floor. They didn’t want to disturb any of the hard-working animators. So I had to contend with viewing these boxes and seeing a couple of the live-action sets for Pete’s Dragon.
I had a light (meaning laughing a lot) viewing of the boxes and didn’t really take them seriously. However, they obviously stuck hard in my memory. Every one of these boxes posted by Hans remained clear and real in my memory, despite only viewing them once. I was impressed that the artist had done so successful a job. In fact, I was surprised when Hans noted that it was Bill Justice who designed them. That guy was a talent. I’ll have to write about him someday soon.
Thanks to Hans for posting them and touching some recessed memory.
- Here’s a booklet that Karl Cohen sent me, the catalogue of an exhibition of Joanna Quinn‘s stunningly beautiful drawings for the National Media Museum in Bradford, West Yorkshire. This show will be held from October 16, 2009 – February 21, 2010. The catalogue has me watering at the mouth and gets me wondering if I can visit this show.
Perhaps there’s some venue in the US that would be interested in proogramming something so attractive and valuable.
Take a look at this catalogue:
(Click any image to enlarge.)
- The ever-creative John Schnall sent me a video of a recent piece he did. As a film, it’s pure promo but as a creative endeavor it’s pretty sensational. I thought I’d like to share, so here it is: Glympse.