Animation Artifacts &Commentary &Hubley 24 Apr 2009 07:37 am

Up Up and Away

– Yesterday’s NYTimes blog, The Carpetbagger, featured a short piece on the expansion at Pixar. The source of the Times’ information was the Pixar Blog which admits to the construction. The cost of construction, “does not include labour and other associated costs, which will undoubtedly run into the millions of dollars also.”

They then go on to add that the rest of the Disney studio is laying off workers, while they, Pixar, are expanding.
Très generous.

The Times comments: “But it’s hard to argue that Pixar is being in any way excessive with these plans. The studio, acquired by Disney in 2006 for $7.4 billion, has been planning the expansion for years, and desperately needs it: its current space, while opulent by some standards, is crammed far beyond its designed capacity.”

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Mark Osborne, one of the co-directors of Kung Fu Panda, reminisces on AWN about classes with Jules Engel at CalArts. This is a heartfelt piece that I enjoyed reading. If you haven’t found it yet, you might take a glance. The piece was written to coincide with the celebration of Jules’ work which was held last Sunday; fortunately the words live past that date.

I like the fact that there are groups keeping Jules’ name alive. Aside from the positive comments from past students, there is also the Jules Engel Appreciation Group on Facebook. I wish some of the other important figures in animation’s history had equal attention. Maybe that’s part of my reason for writing on this blog.

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- To that end, let me share these four drawings by John Hubley of a baby for a Ruffles commercial. I haven’t seen the spot, done in the late 60s, but I have seen lots of toddlers drawn by Hubley. It’s amazing how different all of them are. Each child has a real personality and charm that I find extraordinary. How many kids have we seen in the past twenty or so years in Disney/Dreamworks/Pixar/Bluth features that are all so identical. Their feature films like to post the names of all the production babies at the end of their films, but I’m not sure any of the animators actually see their babies, at least based on the characters we’ve seenanimated. (Think of that cloying cliché of a toddler in the otherwise excellent short, One Man Band.)

I haven’t found two such tykes from Hubley’s hand that resemble each other – or other cartoon children.


(Click any image to see the full animation drawing page.)


A decent animator can’t help but know what to do with such models.


21 Responses to “Up Up and Away”

  1. on 24 Apr 2009 at 10:56 am 1.Fred Sparrman said …

    The baby in One Man Band IS somewhat repulsive, and I think the Pixar folk have admitted as much. But it was an ENORMOUS technical breakthrough, upon which Pixar’s (you must admit) BETTER human characters have been based. To complain about the “cliched” character is pretty ungenerous, when it was a historic accomplishment simply to get it on the screen. I’m not trying to negate your feelings about the more recent Pixar animated babies, but the One Man Band baby deserves a little respect!

  2. on 24 Apr 2009 at 12:09 pm 2.Dave Levy said …

    Fred, Michael is not talking about breakthroughs in pixals or process here. He’s talking about performance, acting, believability, individuality and humanity.

    Are you suggesting that the technical breakthrough achieved with the baby in One Man Band prevented Pixar means that they couldn’t ALSO create a nuanced and honest bit of character animation? A film doesn’t come with a disclaimer running on the bottom that tells the audience, “don’t mind this character… it was an incredible breakthrough.” A film lives and dies on its own merits. A film is self contained.

  3. on 24 Apr 2009 at 12:18 pm 3.Michael said …

    You’ve hit the nail on the head, David. I work for the most ungodly low budgets in the world. When you do a 1/2 hr tv show for 1/5th what the rest of the world charges, you can’t go around with the film telling people to forgive it for its budget.

    What’s on the screen is all that counts. If they were able to get the pixels close, they could have gotten rid of the clichés and the cloying nature of the character. Or maybe it shouldn’t have even been there to start with.

    Sorry, Pixar doesn’t get a pass from me.

  4. on 24 Apr 2009 at 12:23 pm 4.David said …

    “The baby in One Man Band IS somewhat repulsive, and I think the Pixar folk have admitted as much.”

    Do you mean the baby in Tin Toy (1988) ? One Man Band (2006) is something else.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ng-Iigt2Njw

  5. on 24 Apr 2009 at 12:47 pm 5.Michael said …

    I actually think the baby in Tin Toy works better than the girl in One Man Band. Fewer clichés and more character. The animation and the cg work isn’t as good, but who cares except for other cg people.

  6. on 24 Apr 2009 at 2:36 pm 6.Fred Sparrman said …

    Actually I did mean (and took Michael to mean, though now I’m not sure which he meant) “Tin Toy”, apologies.

    Yes, I am precisely suggesting that the technical breakthrough achieved with the baby in Tin Toy meant Pixar couldn’t also create a nuanced and honest bit of character animation.

    So you guys don’t watch an early 2D film and forgive it for crudities that the studio hadn’t mastered at the time? Of course you do.

  7. on 24 Apr 2009 at 4:57 pm 7.Michael said …

    Just to be clear, I said One Man Band, and that’s the film I meant.

  8. on 24 Apr 2009 at 5:14 pm 8.Cameron said …

    Does that mean we have to stop forgiving the bland rotoscoped animation in Snow White? Because I’m way ahead there (it’s still a good movie, even if I prefer a good number of other Disney movies to it).

    Come to think of it, Disney’s been reusing female leads since the beginning. As does Miyazaki, though those are actually interesting characters so I don’t really care.

    Okay, everyone rips themselves off. But I think it’s a case of liking certain character types and finding an ideal design for said character. It’s not that different from casting the same actor repeatedly, like with Kinski and Herzog or Mifune and Kurosawa. The actor fits the director’s favorite type of storytelling.

    Hubley, it just so happens, prefers to mix things up.

    As for One Man Band…meh. Loved the short, didn’t see anything particularly wrong with the infant.

  9. on 24 Apr 2009 at 5:23 pm 9.Michael said …

    My point was that the girl, and most of the children in current animation, are clichéd. If you aren’t able to see it, neither did the directors. You’re in good company.

    Nothing in Snow White could be called a cliché – even with 20/20 hindsight.
    Aspects of the film are dated, but that’s true of every film.

  10. on 24 Apr 2009 at 6:55 pm 10.Fred Sparrman said …

    The presumption that “cliché” is a fixed thing that some can see and others can’t is a bit insulting. One man’s Snow White is another man’s cliché!

  11. on 25 Apr 2009 at 8:20 am 11.Michael said …

    The word “cliché” does have a definite meaning. If there are clichés in Snow White, I’d appreciate your showing me where so that I can be enlightened. Otherwise, this argument has become like most blog commentaries: moot.

  12. on 25 Apr 2009 at 10:43 am 12.Fred Sparrman said …

    Michael, I really don’t believe you can be missing my point. I can’t “enlighten” you about “where” the clichés are because, like beauty, they are in the eye of the beholder. I find her entire performance to be “trite” and “commonplace through overuse”, which are two dictionary definitions for “cliché”. Yes, even considering the time at which the movie was made.

    Like the baby in “Tin Toy”, Disney was so concerned with just getting SOMETHING up on screen that was SORT OF like a believable pretty young girl that performance went out the window and they relied on rotoscoping and clichéd acting.

    I find the girl (she’s not a “toddler”) in “One Man Band” perhaps INTENTIONALLY clichéd, so as not to tip off the fact that she’s unaccountably an expert violinist. Doesn’t bother me, as the gag kind of hinges upon it.

    But again, all this is just my personal opinion. What seems clichéd to one person may not seem so to another, and neither person is wrong. Does that really even need to be said?

  13. on 25 Apr 2009 at 5:49 pm 13.Michael said …

    Sorry, Mr. Sparrman, I get what you’re saying. I don’t agree with you. Clichés are not a matter of opinion. A movement is either based on a tired old movie conventionor it isn’t. Show me ANYTHING in Snow White that qualifies to fill that bill (based on something that came before it), and I might agree with you.

  14. on 25 Apr 2009 at 6:34 pm 14.Fred Sparrman said …

    I don’t agree with your premise that cliché isn’t a matter of opinion (or personal viewpoint). First, you’d NEVER get a “panel of experts” (whomsoever they might be!) to agree on examples of what is “clichéd” and what isn’t. Second, a performance might be based entirely on an earlier performance, but if a person wasn’t familiar with the first performance, the rehash wouldn’t seem “clichéd” to them at all. It is ENTIRELY a matter of personal viewpoint.

    Nevertheless…I’ll bite. I feel Snow White’s performance is made up almost entirely from stock attitudes derived from silent movie dramas. Not from real life, personal investment, but from watching someone else acting and trying to copy that. (Or from literally tracing Marge Champion’s acting!) I don’t have the wherewithal or time to provide specific examples from the silents, but I feel I’ve seen a large enough quantity of them to be justified in my opinion. (Nor would my trying and failing to provide specific examples prove they weren’t there anyway.) That – coupled with my rejection of the premise to begin with – satisfies me.

    I really feel the word “cliché” is being misused, anyway. The question is, does the acting feel believable and personal? I sure don’t think Snow White’s does. But it is just a matter of opinion.

  15. on 26 Apr 2009 at 12:04 am 15.Michael said …

    You’re right it’s your opinion, and it is irrelevant to me. I don’t want to get nasty nor continue a one-on-one conversation with someone who is so obviously disinterested in animation that’s important to me.

    Hence, this argument is pointless to me. You have your opinion, and I have mine. Of course, you’ll provide the last word. So have it, and goodbye.

  16. on 26 Apr 2009 at 12:18 am 16.Fred Sparrman said …

    Hmm…I think I’ll go with “petulant”.

  17. on 26 Apr 2009 at 12:31 am 17.Fred Sparrman said …

    Well, since I’ve got the last word anyway, I’ll point out that Mr. Sporn has gone back and rewritten his post #15 to seem a good deal less “petulant” than the version I responded to. I guess rewriting history is one of the prerogatives of being a blog owner.

    Anyway, here’s a nice one: Peace.

  18. on 26 Apr 2009 at 12:07 pm 18.Michael said …

    You’re right, I did make a change in #15. Five minutes after writing it I went back to make it less mean-spirited. Unfortunately, after that my site seemed to have gone down for quite a few hours.

  19. on 26 Apr 2009 at 12:39 pm 19.Pete Emslie said …

    I’ve certainly drawn my share of squirming babies at events where I’ve been hired to draw caricatures. The problem at that age is that the features are not fully formed, so there is a somewhat generic sameness to them all. However, if one can honestly seek out the distinctiveness of the relative size, shape and placement of the features, the resulting drawings can be quite unique. I particularly get a kick out of the very young ones with their comical, bulging wide eyes darting around, trying to take in all of this big strange world that is new to them.

    In animation, there has usually been a tendency to go for the idealized, cute baby characters, and the features are rather generic, though certainly based on general observations of real babies. I believe that you’re going to find much more interesting and unique little tykes in print cartoons, where cartoonists tend to get a little wilder. The Brits especially are great at creating very distinct little kids, such as the little hellions found in the cartoons of Giles or Ronald Searles’ “Girls of St. Trinian’s”. But all of these little kids and babies are often quite visually repulsive, as the artists are deliberately not going for the cute, endearing variety. The examples of babies you’ve posted by John Hubley actually seem much closer in spirit to the work of Giles and Searle than to the average animated cartoon baby, but you must admit, the Hubley babies are rather repulsive, which is what makes them that much funnier.

  20. on 26 Apr 2009 at 2:08 pm 20.Michael said …

    They are distinctively unattractive babies in the Hubley films, and that’s part of the charm. Most animation seems to want to drown in the cuteness.

    I can’t imagine caricaturing young children for parents. If you actually capture anything in them, the parents will most probably be annoyed.
    I remember standing with friend, John Canemaker in FAO Schwartz when he had a gig to caricature children for parents. Every one looked the same to me – except for the obvious hair or eye colors. Parents loved it, and John was right to draw them as he had done.

  21. on 28 Apr 2009 at 5:17 pm 21.Thad said …

    I just took a look at this back and forth… For the most part, I agree with Michael. I took a look at ONE MAN BAND and didn’t find a damn thing to recommend about it, and certainly nothing remotely resembling a breakthrough. It’s all copying Chuck Jones’s style of posing. And screw the ‘how many’ instruments they’re animating. They had Woody Woodpecker doing the same thing at Lantz on a shoestring budget quite regularly. And Heckle and Jeckle at Terry too.

    But, Fred, I do agree with you. The Snow White character ‘acting’ is pretty cliched and kind of hokey, as is the Prince. It’s clicheish, but still believable, something ONE MAN BAND is not. Everything else in SNOW WHITE is a breakthrough and makes up for any small shortcomings.

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