Commentary 25 May 2013 05:36 am

Epic May Days

Bernard Waber 1921-2013

Lyle in closet grab

WaberBernard Waber was an author/illustrator I worked with twice animating his two most popular books for HBO. He was an enormously sweet fellow who enjoyed coming to my studio to see his projects in production. He wanted little to no involvement in that actual production but we tried to involve him just as well.

Mr. Waber died last Thursday at the age of 91.

The favorite story I tell about him is that HBO had little party for him on the celebration of the completion of Lyle Lyle Crocodile. It was a pleasant party with several of the animation voices present. There were half children and half adult, and there was a guy dressed like Lyle who wandered about the party.

At one point a large cake shaped like Lyle the Crocodile was brought out and Mr. Waber was handed a knife to cut the cake. Staring at his cartoon creation he couldn’t cut the cake, so he handed the knife to the guy in the Lyle suit to lit him do the duty. With that, the Lyle impersonator cut off the head of the Lyle cake and began to dole out pieces.

It was an interesting moment few people took notice of.

Mr. Waber was a delightful person, and his art was truly fund to draw. I miss now knowing that he’s no longer around. It’d take the fun out of animating any of his other, many books.


Epic of Course


The MP Academy hosted a screening of Blue Sky’s film, Epic. Director, Chris Wedge attended the screening for a Q&A afterward. (Unfortunately, the batteries in my camera went sour and I wasn’t able to get a photo.) Last weekend, Candy Kugel got the Academy to offer seats to anyone who’d seen it on my blog. However, the day before the screening, we were told that only guests of members would be allowed to attend. Sure enough come showtime, they allowed all the young people who’d shown up to see the film. Good thing too since there was a poor turnout from Academy members. However, with the ASIFA members anxious to see the show rhere was a decent sized crowd.

It was a rather generic Q&A, but it went well and quickly. Chris Wedge is a very amicable guy and made a positive out of the program. The film itself is an attractive and very quick paced action-adventure film. It should do pretty well especially with music celebrities like Beyoncé (who isn’t ready to become an actor just yet.) I have to say that I’m a fan of Blue Sky’s work. There’s always a real attempt to do something more than give something generic; they really want to make something rich. And, maybe because they’re so far from the people in LA, they do things that are totally original and theirs. All those Ice Age films are good examples, but add Rio or the Horton movie, you get a good idea of what I’m talking about.

Now with Epic, they’re doing a giant of a movie that takes place in Wiliam Joyce’s world of little people. Fighting fairies that go to war on the backs of hummingbirds. It’s original, to say the least.

Unfortunately,it can’t take the backbone of Myazaki’s Princess Mononoke where the majesty of the forest is shown amidst all the battles. Yes, the forest and the woodland creatures are both beautiful and endangereed, but we have to see and understand this as part of the life and and death of battle, It isn’t enough to be part of ecosystem (albeit one we don’t know about), but it would be more courageous to show HOW they fit into that system and why they are so important – as are those endless battles. And the excellent art direction.


Another Epic – one from 1995


This article by Barbara Robertson in CGW Magazine August 1995, is an excellent report about the ways and means of making the first cgi animated feature, Toy Story. Ms. Robertson writes about the programs used, the methods of lighting and even their casting of the cartoon characters. (Rather than casting each character–that is, assigning a character to an animator–they tended to assign all the characters in a sequence to an animator. The “dailies” kept everybody aware of what everyone else was doing.)

Essentially, in the big picture, not much changed. As a matter the most important part hasn’t changed since the days of Snow White. stories and scripts are still told in the same way. If they aren’t good there’s trouble, no matter how may dwarfs,dolls in the playroom, or leaf men bustling about on hummingbird backs.
Toy Story


Epic off Course

cumberThe only other film I’d seen this week was the worst film of the year. Even worse than the pretentiousness of Prometheus. Riddley Scott might have to work harder if he wants to make a more stupid film than Star Trek Into Darkness. The dialogue is certainly the worst written drivel I can remember hearing packed all into one film. As a matter of fact, I’m not sure one can even say the dialogue was written; it just pours out of the mouths of the mediocre actors. Only Benedict Cumberbatch and his fine talent is able to pull some sense out of the words he’s forced to say. All the other actors seem designed to read such lines. With Simon Pegg reaching a new low as he tries to act as though he’s been cast as a Scrooge McDuck imitation. His lines certainly don’t sound as though they’re coming from a human. The man has talent, but the director, JJ.Abrams, works hard to get poor performances out of most of the cast. Spare yourself and stay away (unless, of course, you are an indiscriminating 14 year old boy.) Other than Cumberbatch, the only other person worth watching was Michael Giacchino whose score is sometimes very good. He does “Mickey Mouse” his music a bit too often for my taste, but he also does what few others do on this film. He gives it strength!

Spoiled alert!!! There are two shots – cu aways – that you should look for. They come at some intenee moment in the fim (joke: there are no intense moments just loud and louder. With lots of quick cuts to lots of miscellaneous people.

stewardessOne quick cut goes to a blonde female; she must be J.J. Abrams’ girlfriend, because she has no other role in the movie. (Well, she does have another quick cutaway later.) Her starched blonde/white hair is short, and she looks a bit like my drawing on the right. At least her hair looks like that. Her second quick cutaway shows her turning some switch beneath her, but she barely has time for that. Maybe she’s in the film for those who will stop the vid when they buy it. Whaever, just another bit of absurdity in a moronic film that’s making a lot of money.


Not Quite the Epic


The excellent site, The Thief posts a new update on Richard Williams and what he’s been up to. The report on an article that appeared in The Guardian about Dick. The article goes into depth about Dick’s history and his story of failing to make The Thief and the Cobbler as he would have wanted it.

Today he is doing another long film but refuses to reveal what it is about. He feels that revealing too much will eventually help him to end in failure, so better to reveal it as i goes. Rather than trying for a feature film, he’s trying for a long film divided into chapters. As he finishes a chapter, he could reveal that, without worrying that the rest may never come.

    “We had so much publicity about The Thief and then it went wrong” – but says it is being made in chapters – “so if I do drop dead we will still have something” – and that a six minute prologue, which will be a short film in its own right, will soon be ready. “What I’m interested in is that nobody has been able to handle realism. It’s just been embarrassing. So I’m doing graphic realism, these things are obviously drawings, but it will go into adult territory and will combine different styles. I want something that will be grim, but also funny and salacious and sexy.”

8 Responses to “Epic May Days”

  1. on 25 May 2013 at 11:54 am 1.Stephen Macquignon said …

    It was a pleasure to work on Mr. Bernard’s stories

  2. on 25 May 2013 at 7:43 pm 2.Nat said …

    Thanks for sharing all of the great info as always. Lyle Lyle Crocodile was one of my favorite books as young girl, after I inherited it from my mother. I also really do think that Blue Sky keeps continuing to improve its output. Hopefully, they will continue to make more original films and not Ice Age ones. (But those tend to make the most money don’t they?)

  3. on 28 May 2013 at 10:58 am 3.Amy said …

    I’m totally surprised that you’re a Bluesky fan Michael. Visually Bluesky is pretty good – Rio looked nice, but for the most part I find their characters all move in the same zippy way, and their films lack sensitivity.
    Horton is manic, Robots is completely unwatchable, and I’m dreading how they destroy Peanuts.

  4. on 28 May 2013 at 1:39 pm 4.Amy said …

    I’m a little behind but I just read that Bluesky is doing “The Story of Ferdinand”.
    Say it ain’t so!
    Heaven help us if Jim Carrey or Steve Carell voice Ferdinand.

  5. on 28 May 2013 at 5:25 pm 5.KI said …

    I really wish I read your review before putting my money down for Star Trek Into Darkness. I really do.

  6. on 29 May 2013 at 3:42 pm 6.Ray kosarin said …

    So sorry to learn about Bernard Waber. A deft storyteller and ilustrator and a sweet guy.

    He knew not only how to write good words and draw good pictures but, even better, when to let the words tell and when to let the pictures tell (he never insulted the reader by doing both).

    We knew his characters not only from how they look and what they do but from everything they have in their house and where they have it: his pictures invite us to know stories outside the pages of the book — stories that Waber did not write and yet, in a sense, did write.

    It was a special pleasure for me, Michael, to work on those two shows. Waber’s characters were a joy to animate; they looked already halfway animated, even in the book, and everything else you and Bridget did in fleshing them out faithfully captured his spirit.

    A moment I remember, during LYLE: an HBO exec expressed doubt about using a full color palette where the book, in many pages, used only spot color, even despite your assurances that the book was probably made that way because it was from an era when kids’ publishers commonly controlled costs by limiting the number of pages with four-color plates. So you invited Waber to come by the studio and have a look himnself, and he was fine with it. He said: “I like color.” And that was that!

  7. on 29 May 2013 at 9:38 pm 7.Laura said …

    I’m thrilled to know you are a fan of Blue Sky, Michael! I laughed my head off at Rio, and Scrat is my all time favorite character. Like many other people, I aspire to work there.

  8. on 03 Jun 2013 at 8:24 pm 8.Joey P. said …

    Wait, if this is a new low for Simon Pegg, what was the old one? He never- well, maybe some of “Paul”…

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