Saturday, October 31, 2009

The Legend of Sleepy Hollow (Disney, 1949)

Here's a special Halloween treat - wonderful background art from Disney's The Legend of Sleepy Hollow (1949).

There's a great variety here, with all the technical expertise you'd expect.

Great stuff!

Before the Fall

The article below dates from about 1981, though I no longer have a record of what Canadian publication it appeared in. Though no one knew it at the time, it was published at the peak of Nelvana's promise. The studio's trajectory had been on a steady climb with its TV specials and it was working on its first feature, known originally as Drats and later renamed Rock and Rule.

By the time the feature was finished, it almost finished the studio. Nelvana had been forced to sell of its share of the film in order to raise the money to complete the film, which had gone over budget. Had the film turned into a hit, Nelvana would not have benefited except in the area of reputation. The distributor, United Artists, lost all interest in the film after a disastrous test screening in Boston, so even that potential benefit failed to appear.

After the film's completion, the company was essentially bankrupt, but Michael Hirsh managed to bring in enough service work to keep the doors open. Eventually, he would prove his genius for sales by finding well-known properties that TV networks and distributors were happy to purchase animated versions of. The company prospered to the point that it was bought by Corus, a Canadian cablecaster, making Hirsh, Loubert and Smith millionaires. Of the three, only Hirsh is still involved in animation. He took over Cinar after a major financial scandal crippled the company and has successfully turned it around, renaming it Cookie Jar.

Nelvana today bears no resemblance to the company portrayed in this article. The young, enthusiastic and talented crew who were bent on changing animation are long gone and the company is now a division of a public corporation focused on its bottom line. The failure of Rock and Rule (and unfortunately it deserved to fail) changed the course of Canadian animation history for the worse. To date, no Canadian studio has accomplished what Nelvana was trying to do, so the promise of 1981 remains unfulfilled.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Happy Birthday Ralph Bakshi

Today is Ralph Bakshi's 71st birthday. Below is a publicity pamphlet that accompanied the release of Heavy Traffic. I still feel that Traffic is Bakshi's most satisfying film and one that pointed in a direction that too few have followed. Persepolis may be the only animated film I can think of that's similar.

Note that the film was rated X at the time of release. Current versions are rated R, though I have no memory of what's been cut. Regardless of the rating, what makes the film groundbreaking for me is the combination of cartoony designs and realistic emotions. Besides breaking animation's family friendly stereotype, Bakshi also showed how much more a cartoon was capable of.

Most of the film is on YouTube. One part is missing, and I suspect that it's the Maybelline sequence that Mark Kausler animated, as there is some explicit sexual content there. The film is also available on DVD for $10 U.S. It's not a great transfer, but the film is worth seeing in any condition.

(Click to enlarge.)

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

More Animation Tools

A friend pointed me in the direction of this site the other day and WOW! There are more animation tools out there than I realized. I guess as more and more people enter our industry there will be more tools made for the various programs that we use. TradigiTools has made scripts for Maya that will make life that much easier and our workflow that much faster. It is equipped with various tools like, a tweener that actually highlights your breakdowns with green ticks and keep the normal red, Timing incrament tools so you can automatically select how many frames you want or need between Keys and a Redundant key remover. There are quite a few more options and they have it setup in all nice drop down menus. Have a look at there Promo Vides to see for here. Animation Mentor has also gotten together with them in promoting their tools. I honestly feel more schools should invest in this and let their students enjoy some of the tools that will be available to them as they hit the industry. So check them out and enjoy.

Screen shot.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Knock! Knock! (Universal/Lantz, 1940)

On a whim, I pulled out a collection of Woody Woodpecker cartoons recently. Having grown up on the sparse 1960s TV cartoons, I was reminded that when Walter Lantz was on top of his game, he was really, really good. This background art from 1940 is as good as Disney's short cartoons, and that's high praise indeed! A couple of wonderful pan B/Gs I would have loved to include, but there was just no way to remove the cel characters. However, I still managed eighteen pieces from one cartoon!

This digitally re-created background art is from "Knock! Knock!," an Andy Panda cartoon in which Woody Woodpecker made his debut.

Take a look, and enjoy this wonderful art from Walter Lantz and associates!

OK, I had to include this pan... the cel characters are the first frame in the sequence which pans right.