Friday, December 31, 2010

Monday, December 27, 2010

A Bad Year at the Box Office

The final numbers aren't in yet, but The New York Times is reporting:
North American attendance for 2010 is expected to drop about 4 percent, to 1.28 billion, according to, which compiles box-office statistics. Revenue is projected to fall less than 1 percent, to $10.5 billion. It has been propped up by a 5 percent increase in the average ticket price, to $7.85, thanks to 3-D.
Last January, I posted this chart from Deadline Hollywood:

If the numbers are correct,the number of tickets sold is lower than it has been in any year since 1999. Revenue is down as well, even with the average cost of a ticket rising from $7.46 to $7.85.

This implies that the bloom is off the 3-D rose. There have been more 3-D films released this year, yet fewer people are willing to pay to see them. While this doesn't imply the impending death of 3-D, it does imply that 3-D's novelty has worn off. Its revival was just a blip, not a sea change; it will no longer increase box office revenue on its own.

It also shows that Hollywood has gone too far in raising ticket prices. While it is understandable that ticket sales should fall during a recession, they have fallen lower than the earlier years of this recession and lower than they've been in more than a decade. Time will tell if this is a trend or just an aberration, but it is something that Hollywood should worry about. A downward trend in attendance is the last thing the film industry needs.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Dirty Tricks

The United States Department of Justice has found Pixar and Lucasfilm guilty of restraint of trade.
"Beginning no later than January 2005, Lucasfilm and Pixar agreed to a three-part protocol that restricted recruiting of each other's employees. First, Lucasfilm and Pixar agreed they would not cold call each other's employees. Cold calling involves communicating directly in any manner (including orally, in writing, telephonically, or electronically) with another firm's employee who has not otherwise applied for a job opening. Second, they agreed to notify each other when making an offer to an employee of the other firm. Third, they agreed that, when offering a position to the other company's employee, neither would counteroffer above the initial offer.


"Lucasfilm's and Pixar's agreed-upon protocol disrupted the competitive market forces for employee talent. It eliminated a significant form of competition to attract digital animation employees and other employees covered by the agreement. Overall, it substantially diminished competition to the detriment of the affected employees who likely were deprived of information and access to better job opportunities.

"The agreement was a naked restraint of trade that was per se unlawful under Section 1 of the Sherman Act, 15 U.S.C. § 1."
At the same time that Pixar was making Toy Story 3, where the villain hid behind an agreeable facade in order to manipulate others for his own selfish ends, the company was doing the identical thing to its employees. If you have a taste for wading through legal jargon, you can read the official documents here.

(Link via VFX Soldier)

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Even More on Walk Cycles

So a friend of mine pointed me to another Walk Cycle Tutorial! This one is brought to you by April Peter

She does a nice job breaking different areas of a walk down. Have a look around.

Morpheus v1.0 Released

Hey Everyone

Just wanted to let you know that Josh Burton has officially released his first version of his Morpheus Rig!

He has been testing for quite sometime and has fixed plenty of things on it to make it a great new rig to have int he arsenal. He has also posted some links to peeps already having used it.


Dan Haskett Interview

The Animation Guild blog is now posting a series of audio interviews with members. The latest features old friend Dan Haskett, character designer and animator extraordinaire. (And here is part 2.) I first met Dan in New York in the 1970s, where he was one of the most prominent young bloods anxious to restore animation to the glories of the past. For those too young to remember, animation was at a real low point then. Dan has contributed to many major features and TV specials over the course of his career.

Earlier interviews are with Ruben Aquino, Bruce Smith (part 1, part 2), Ed Gombert (part 1, part 2), and Robert Alvarez (part 1, part 2). Thanks to the Guild adding labels, a quick link to all the interviews can be found here.

I really value interviews with animation artists as the mainstream media (and some recent documentaries) spend too much time focusing on management and not enough on the people who actually create the films. Now that The Animation Podcast seems to be dormant, I'm glad to see The Animation Guild taking up the slack.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Walt & El Grupo

This is an excellent documentary chronicling the three month tour of South America by Walt Disney and assorted artists at the request of the U.S. State Department. With World War II already underway in Europe in 1941, the State Department was concerned that South America might align itself with the Axis powers, giving the Axis military bases on this side of the Atlantic Ocean. Their response, when the U.S. was still officially a neutral country, was to send cultural celebrities such as Disney (and, separately, Orson Welles) to South America to promote ties between North and South America.

This documentary, now on DVD, is written and directed by Ted Thomas, the son of Disney animator Frank Thomas who was one of the artists on the trip. Other participants included Lee and Mary Blair, Jim Bodrero, Herb Ryman, Ted Sears and Norm Ferguson. As all of the participants have passed away, the documentary relies on the memories of spouses, children and grandchildren who have often saved letters from the trip and read from them. Animation historians John Canemaker and J.B. Kaufman add their perspectives.

I have to say that I prefer this documentary to Waking Sleeping Beauty. The time period of Walt & El Grupo was a complex one, affected by both world and studio politics. In addition to the threat of war, the trip coincided with the famous strike at Disney and one incentive for Disney's participation was to get away from the studio so that less emotionally involved parties might work out a settlement. Beyond politics, the film is also good at focusing on the artists. We learn of their backgrounds and their contributions to the expedition while seeing examples of the art created during the trip. In this regard, the film is better balanced than Waking Sleeping Beauty.

Ted Thomas traveled to the places visited by the group, interviewing surviving participants or their descendants, showing newspaper clippings and movie footage of the time. The trip was well documented, both by the participants and by the local media, so Thomas has a wealth of material to work with.

The documentary does reveal that certain live action scenes of the trip used in Saludos Amigos were taken back in Burbank when the editors needed bridging material. (And if my eye doesn't deceive me, they were shot in 35mm where the actual footage was shot in 16mm.) The original release of Saludos Amigos is included as an extra. It's "original" in that it includes footage of Goofy smoking cigarettes, something deleted from later releases in order to protect children.

The film has a very large cast and if I have any criticism it's that I wish people were repeatedly identified. Seeing so many adult children of the group, it is easy to forget who they are relatives of. I also wish that more of the artwork produced on the trip was identified by artist where possible.

Walt & El Grupo does a good job of capturing a time and place in both world and Disney history. It's a pleasure to spend time with the artists and to see the magnitude of Walt Disney's popularity at the time.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

More on Walk Cycles

Hey Everyone

Just found a great post on Francis Jasmin's blog about breaking down a walk cycle.


He has lots more goodies on there about breaking of joints and different approaches to animating.
Great suff! Enjoy!

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Waking Sleeping Beauty: Requiem for a Studio

Watching this film, I got the feeling that Don Hahn and Peter Schneider made it because they realized their best days were behind them and they were looking to celebrate and mourn the end of their greatest successes.

This film covers the period of Disney animation history from the change in management in 1984, when Frank Wells, Michael Eisner, Roy Disney and Jeffrey Katzenberg took over from Ron Miller until Katzenberg's resignation after The Lion King. Because the film is bookended by these two changes in management, the film gives the impression that the rise and fall of the studio during this period was due to the people at the top. While they undoubtedly had a strong influence, such as deciding which films were made, the quality of those films was determined by the literally hundreds of people who created them.

Those people are portrayed as bystanders to management politics and the film is curiously selective about who gets identified. I don't believe that Andreas Deja or Eric Goldberg, while they are shown, ever have their names on screen and (except for a deleted clip in the extras) Goldberg is not heard either. I spent a great deal of the film wondering who I was looking at or knowing and waiting in vain for the film to identify them. In an odd way, the film is like a monster movie where giant executives face off while anonymous artists run for cover. Even when the artists are identified, there is no sense of what part they played in the making of the films or their individual sensibilities.

The film is fascinating for anyone interested in animation history, but I think that overall the film is a failure. It doesn't explain why the animated features became successful except to talk about management shaking up the animation staff and the presence of Howard Ashman. There is no doubt that Ashman was a major influence in terms of the musical numbers and story construction, but he had nothing to do with the creation of the visuals. Those are left unexplained.

The film takes for granted the status of the animated features, measuring them only by box office. There's no further attempt to evaluate them in terms of quality or dissect why some were more successful than others.

The management infighting that led to the collapse of Disney animation is spelled out and no one comes off looking good. Once Frank Wells died, the remaining executive team was jealous of each other and couldn't put aside their differences for the good of the stockholders or the art form. The studio may have run out of energy anyway, but it took only seven years from The Lion King to Atlantis: The Lost Empire. For an explanation of that decline, see Dream On, Silly Dreamer.

There is one segment in the extras that shows perfectly what's missing from this film. The recording session for The Little Mermaid's song "Part of Your World" was videotaped. Inside the recording booth, Howard Ashman and Jodi Benson work on getting the interpretation right amidst the chatter from the control room. While Benson hasn't yet nailed what Ashman is looking for, her performance is superb. Her voice is beautiful and her phrasing is masterful. Music is more cinematic than animation in that it can be created in real time, but this is perhaps the only example on the DVD of the creative act, the thing at the center of the films that this documentary is supposed to be celebrating. The Disney artists were Benson's equal in their own field, though the film doesn't acknowledge this. No matter how sharp Wells, Eisner, Katzenberg, and Disney were, they were not the ones writing, directing or drawing. In this film, all the glory goes to the jockeys and too little to the horses.

It's only the popularity of the films covered in this documentary that justify its existence. Few would care to see a documentary about Hanna Barbera during the same time period. But as this film does little to explain the success of the animated features from 1984-'94, what's left is little more than a souvenir for the crew and those fans with a hunger for a look behind the scenes.

Friday, December 3, 2010

Reminder: AnimSchool Launch

Just a quick heads up that AnimSchool has just launched their site


So have a look around the site and check it out.


Wednesday, December 1, 2010


Yesterday I caught news that Pacific Northwest artist, and arguably the best teacher back at the Art Institute of Seattle, William Cumming passed away at the age of 93.  This is how I remember him ; he was constantly in his sketchbook and he loved working with young people!  I'd stay after class and he'd share his enthusiasm for Degas, Turner, Renoir with me.  He'd always mention that he wanted his students to build the confidence to someday have their work hang right alongside those masters.

Find out more about Bill's life and work here!

"Fine art is a war, I hate fine art with all its fuss and crap. Fine art students are brought up in a spirit of contempt for people. Of course I paint for the market. So did Rembrandt. So did Titian. It's high time we quit compartmentalizing art, and leave graduating students thinking they need a grant to make a living."

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Kevin Parry is on a Roll

Tim Burton (left) and Kevin Parry (right)

Kevin Parry graduated from Sheridan's animation program last April. His film, The Arctic Circle (watch it at the link), was done in stop motion and Kevin has gotten it into more than a dozen festivals.

Last week, Tim Burton was in Toronto to publicize the show of his art work at the Bell Lightbox and one of the events that Burton was involved in was meeting student film makers from various local schools. Sheridan sent Kevin and his film. You can see video of the event and read Kevin's thoughts about meeting Burton here.

Canadian Animation Resources has posted the first part of a lengthy interview with Kevin about the making of his film and the next installment will cover the Tim Burton event.

Kevin is not only a good filmmaker, he's good at marketing himself. That's a powerful combination and I'm sure we'll be hearing more about Kevin in the future.

Will Eisner: Portrait of a Sequential Artist on DVD

I reviewed this documentary when I saw it in 2008 at a film festival in Toronto. The film is now available on DVD and Blu-ray. I recommend it, not only because it is an excellent film, but also due to the extras, which I'll get to below.

While Will Eisner never worked in animation, his career in comics focused on how to tell stories visually, which makes him relevant to the challenges facing animators. The documentary covers Eisner's career, which broke down into surprisingly well-defined periods. In the 1930s, Eisner was a pioneer in the comic book business, starting in the period before Superman became a massive hit. In addition to writing, drawing and editing comics, Eisner created a factory for turning out pages, a system he admitted was influenced by the Disney studio.

In 1940, Eisner was given the opportunity to create a comic book for newspaper syndication and his creation, The Spirit, provided him with a laboratory for his experiments in layout and panel breakdowns. Because he was addressing the newspaper, and not the younger comic book, audience, he pushed The Spirit into a more mature treatment of the detective genre. The Spirit was also a landmark in a business sense, as Eisner retained ownership of the strip when the standard was for a strip's creator to be employed by a distribution syndicate which held the copyright to the strip.

During World War II, Eisner was involved with using comics to teach equipment maintenance in a magazine called Army Motors. While he continued The Spirit after the war, by the early 1950s, Eisner focused exclusively on comics as a teaching tool, continuing his relationship with the military with P.S. Magazine, showing soldiers visually how to use and maintain their gear.

In the 1960s, Eisner discovered the burgeoning fandom for comics and he allowed The Spirit to be reprinted by several publishers. In the '70s, Eisner was one of the first to explore the idea of original graphic novels with his book A Contract With God. He dedicated the rest of his life to the creation of new works, including several autobiographical novels about growing up in New York and the early days of the comic book business.

The documentary covers all these periods with examples of Eisner's artwork and interviews with cartoonists who are his contemporaries and the later generations he influenced. On camera interviews include Jules Feiffer, Joe Kubert, Gil Kane, Art Spiegelman, Frank Miller, Neil Gaiman, and Scott McCloud.

Late in his career, Eisner interviewed several cartoonists for the purposes of comparing notes on how they approached their stories. These interviews were printed in various magazines devoted to Eisner's work and then collected in a book called Will Eisner's Shop Talk. Those audio interviews with artists such as Harvey Kurtzman, Jack Kirby, Gil Kane, Joe Kubert, Neal Adams and others are extras on this DVD, and for me, they alone are worth the price of the disk.

Whether you're interested in comics history, visual storytelling, or the business side of creating stories, Eisner's life and this documentary have something to offer.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Walk Cycle Depot

"Walked" across a great new blog out there called the Walk Cycle Depot. Seems to be a great idea to collect some cycles all in one spot...hopefully David Nethery keeps posting.


Good thing too is he is trying to get them all in there as quicktimes.
Found the link via The Arc Blog.


Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Mike Walling: Body Mechanics

Hey everyone, this was just sent out in the latest Jason Ryan newsletter.This is what Jason had to say.

"New Awesome Walk Through Video  

When I first started in Disney Animation Studios back in Dec 1995, I was really inspired to see legendary animators such as James Baxter, Glen Keane, Andreas Deja, and Eric Goldberg host a series of demos called Chalk Talks.  We would all cram into a theatre and the directing Animators would talk about how they approached animation.  This very event was the spark that lead me to record my own Tutorials back in '07, Webinars in '08,'09,'10 and now create the One of my Instructors for has recorded an awesome Body Mechanics Quicktime Video that is now available for purchase and download from workshops. When ever I start to show my work flow, I tell animators that my workflow is just one approach of many, it is so important to see and learn from as many professional animators as you can so that you can develop your own approach.
Mike Walling Videos
Mike Walling Body Mechanics
Mike is amazing at communicating very clearly how he approaches animation.  In his first Video he shows how he uses live action reference as inspiration for his planning and blocking stage.  In his second video he runs through how he polishes his shots into full feature level animation.  We are making these quicktime videos super affordable and downloadable so that anyone who is learning animation can avail of this resource.  Mike really enjoyed the process of making this video so much that he has already planned out his next video"

So check em out and enjoy! You can also check out Mike's site

Rigging Reel: E Sousa Vincent

A co-worker sent this rigging reel on over from E Sousa Vincent and it is pretty great! You might have seen these characters in Meet Buck or Salesman Pete. Some great stuff there. This really shows you what can be done with rigs and how many tools us animators have to get the best possible performance out of the characters.

E Sousa Vincent - Rigging Showreel 2010 from Vinzou3d on Vimeo.


St. Marks, East Village NYC

Made it down to the East Village after an epic 3-day birthday celebration.
Love the hair!

Also,  Bobby Chiu contacted me a while back to contribute to the collection.  So look out for my app hopefully sometime soon.

Also Also,  I decided to put up a bunch of Design stuff I've done onto a separate blog site.  It's a bit sparse and very much a work in progress, but do check it out if you're keen 
Feedback is always welcome.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Directing Animation

David Levy's books have consistent strengths. His tone is friendly and conversational. He is willing to admit mistakes he's made in his career, which gives him credibility. He interviews a wide selection of other animation professionals, so the books are not limited to Levy's own viewpoint.

His greatest strength is his concern for the people side of the animation business. Levy always focuses on behaving professionally, communicating clearly and being organized so as not to sabotage a project or one's own career.

All of these strengths are present in his latest book, Directing Animation. It includes chapters on directing indie films, commercials, TV series, features and for the web. Interview subjects include Bill Plympton, Tatiana Rosenthal, Nina Paley, Michael Sporn, PES, Xeth Feinberg, Tom Warburton, Yvette Kaplan and many others. Each of these people relate good and bad experiences they've had directing, giving a rounded view of the job and a host of things to avoid.

However, there is a hole at the center of this book in that Levy says very little about the actual craft of directing. The job of the director is to decide how the story will be told. Depending on the medium and the director, that might entail boarding, designing, cutting an animatic, directing voice talent, drawing character layouts, supervising layouts and backgrounds, timing animation, spotting music and sound effects, mixing sound and doing colour correction. Each of the above has the potential to enhance or detract from a film's effect on the audience, but you won't find any advice as to how these tasks can be used for greater or lesser results. The ultimate value of a director isn't people skills or organization, it's aesthetic. The viewers don't know (or care) if the crew got along or the production ran smoothly. Their only concern is what is on the screen.

Levy chooses not to make aesthetic distinctions. Even without getting specific about certain projects, there is still a wealth of material that could have been written about ways to communicate to an audience.

It is true that the role of the director in animation has been systematically devalued since the dawn of television. The huge amounts of footage that have to be produced for TV force directors to be little more than traffic cops, making sure that the work flows smoothly to the screen. Live action TV is dominated more by writers and producers than directors, and in animation, it's writers, designers and producers who rule the roost. Feature animation, with the exception of independent films, has mostly succumbed to the same disease. Where directors were once hired to realize their own vision, these days they're often executing another person's, lucky to insert a bit of themselves when no one is looking.

What's in this book is important and worth reading, as are Levy's other books. However, anyone interested in the craft of directing animation will find this book incomplete. The nuts and bolts of directing aren't here, let alone the distinction between what produces good and bad results.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Breaking Down Lip Sync

Ran across a great post about some lip sync stuff today over at the Animation with a Moustache Blog. Oliver Ladeuix takes a quick shot from the Toy Story 3 trailer and breaks down some of the shapes and movement in the mouth.

Great post! More to come on Lip Sync resources.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

What's Opera, Doc?

Paul DiPierro

Forget Bugs Bunny. Animation is now being used in real operas.
The use of computer animation in opera is a growing trend – it offers a broader artistic palette for set design, and for many companies it is also a savvy cost-cutting move. At the Sacramento Opera, animator Paul DiPierro, 26, is charged with supplying eight to 15 scenic projections for "Orlando."

He will compose images on a digital tablet by using Adobe Photoshop and Autodesk Maya. The images will be projected on a large screen and are the equivalent of matte paintings. The images will not be animations, although animated images may be in the works for Sacramento Opera productions, DiPierro said.

"Down the line that is something that I think we will definitely be doing. The company has shown interest in using them for the 'Magic Flute.' "

DiPierro believes that the possibilities are limitless with computer-animated imagery.

"Imagine performers interacting with a fire-breathing dragon, or caught in the middle of a thundering avalanche."

Although that idea sounds far-fetched, opera companies have been doing just that, including Teatro alla Scala in Milan, Italy, which used an animated sequence of a horse moving in a fog bank for a 2006 production of "Dido and Aeneas."

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

A Toast

Last Leaf

OK Go | Myspace Music Videos

Geoff Mcfetridge used a whole lotta toast (this is at 15 frames per second) and a laser cutter to make this music video for OK Go. This is a new twist on the concept of paperless animation.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Update on The Cobbler and the Thief Documentary

Last June, I wrote about Kevin Schreck, a film student who was raising money to make a documentary on the complicated production history of Richard Williams' The Thief and the Cobbler.

Schreck successfully raised the money for the documentary through and has since gone to London, where he recorded 26 hours of interviews with people associated with the film.

Here is his latest update:
The documentary is coming along nicely. We had two terrific interviews up in Toronto back in October from two individuals who worked at the studio in the mid-1970's. At this point, I am mostly editing the project, but there may be a couple more interviews in the near future. I am currently editing the second section of the film (the production history from 1973-1983, or so). I am also trying to collect more archival material (photographs, artwork, audio or visual recordings, documents, etc.) from those who worked at the studio. What I've received so far has been fascinating and extremely informative, but if anyone else has any relevant archival material that they would be willing to share, that would be very helpful.
I'm looking forward to seeing the completed work.

Happy Birthday Momma Pontillas!

Yesterday was the birthday of one the most adorable people in the world.  My mom is a single parent and I'm a single child, so growing up we just had each other.  I made the cross-country trip from Seattle to NY with her a year ago today.  She checks this blog every day for updates, leaving supportive comments but they never go through :)
She loves loves loves Filipino folk dancing and was always dancing around the house, but generally is too shy to do it in public.  It is the cutest thing you've ever seen.

Happy Birthday Mom!  I love you!

Sunday, November 7, 2010

The Decline and Fall of UPA

Top: Gerald McBoing Boing. Bottom: Dick Tracy.

Darrell Van Citters has completed a four part look at UPA's collapse, filled with details I was unaware of. UPA was the studio that broke with Disney-style graphics in the late '40s and early '50s and became a critical darling with films like Gerald McBoing Boing, Rooty Toot Toot, Unicorn in the Garden and the Mr. Magoo series. UPA's inability to control its costs is well-known but it was also the victim of the collapse of the theatrical shorts market and a large-scale exodus of talent to work on the first version of the Alvin and the Chipmunks TV series. The sale of the company to new owners was the final nail in the coffin, as they lacked any of the artistic ambition of the company's founders.

It's a cautionary tale that could apply to any animation studio, especially now that we're reaching the end of the TV era. Part 1, Part2, Part3 and Part4.

Monday, November 1, 2010

Peet, Dick, Phineas, Ferb, Nick

Ger Apeldoorn reprints some rare Bill Peet illustrations for the Mickey Mouse Club Magazine.

Harvey Deneroff reports that Dick Williams completed a film he started in the 1950s called Circus Drawings and premiered it at the Pordenone Silent Film Festival in Italy.

Fast Company profiles the success of Disney's Phineas and Ferb and provides figures for licensing revenue for various children's TV properties.

The New York Times writes about Cyma Zarghami, the president of Nickelodeon, and how Nick is doing in its competition with the Disney Channel, the Hub, and Cartoon Network.

Monday, October 25, 2010

The Illusionist

I saw Sylvain Chomet's The Illusionist at the Ottawa International Animation Festival. I found it so remarkable that I returned to see it again the following night. The review below is an attempt to convey my feelings about the film without revealing too much of the story, as it has yet to be released in North America. There are many aspects of this film that I will eventually discuss in great detail, but that will have to wait until other people have the chance to see it. The film is scheduled to open in New York and Los Angeles on Christmas Day and I assume it will get a wider release early next year.

Sylvain Chomet's subject is human eccentricity. That was plain in his earlier work, The Old Lady and the Pigeons and The Triplettes of Belleville, though he hadn't found a way to combine his eccentrics with a workable story. The Illusionist, based on a script by the late French comedian and filmmaker Jacques Tati, is Chomet's best film yet, one that combines his eccentrics with a melancholy tale of age and youth.

Tati's script was written sometime in the latter 1950's, and this film has strong echoes of Chaplin's Limelight. Both films concern performers who have lost their audience and who have encounters with younger women. Limelight pairs Chaplin with a depressed ballerina. While his own career deteriorates, he helps to revive hers. In this film, Tatischeff, a stage magician, becomes the protector of Alice, a teenage maid who attaches herself to him to escape her life of drudgery.

At best, Alice is naive; she takes Tatisheff's magic as real. He works hard to fulfill her wishes. However, this puts financial pressure on Tatischeff, whose act is passé, and eventually he can no longer sustain her illusions.

What separates this film from most contemporary animated features is its acknowledgment of failure and its feeling of melancholy. Tatischeff is only one of several performers who are watching the demand for their talents vanish in the age of television and rock and roll. There is a ventriloquist, a clown, some acrobats and an opera singer, all of whom are remarkably individual in their appearance and movements. Chomet gets to indulge himself with them, but in a broader context that ties their oddness to being out of step with audiences. As this film is made with drawings in an age of cgi, I wonder if Chomet wasn't reflecting on his own situation as his animated performers became more desperate.

Live action is full of autumnal films. Limelight, John Ford's The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance, and John Huston's The Dead are suffused with sadness and a feeling of helplessness. Until now, animation has refused to acknowledge these things. As animation directors age, they don't mature or else the industry doesn't let them. Chomet is not yet 50, but he has directed this film with the wisdom and insight of someone twenty years older.

Some films become touchstones; they remain part of the conversation years after their release. For some part of the animation community, The Illusionist will be a touchstone. While I have enjoyed Toy Story 3 and How to Train Your Dragon, The Illusionist is my favorite animated feature of the year and I don't expect that will change in the remaining months.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Harlem 125th Street

I met her last Sunday morning, We took the same train back up to White Plains from Harlem.  She's an avid film lover, and her favorite nostalgic of all time is the Empire Strikes Back.

125th street.  This is the train station most Blue Sky peeps from the city take to work in Greenwich, CT.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

NFB Open House in Montreal

The National Film Board of Canada will host an animation open house at its Montreal office on Monday, October 25. You can find details here.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

New Animation School: AnimSchool

So if you haven't heard about this yet here goes. There is a new online animation school set to debut in November called AnimSchool. The school will be run by the creator of 3D Appeal Blog and 3D Appeal Blog Now, David Gallagher. David has been over at BlueSky for quite some time doing Character Development, including rigging and animating. He is very well rounded in all of the different specialties of the animation process. You can check out some of his crits on the 3DAppealBlogNow. The school seems to have two set paths for training: 3D Character program that teaches modeling and rigging and  3D Animation that teaches animation. As I was writing this post I had many questions so I went directly to the source and David was kind enough to answer some great questions about the school. A main difference between this school and others is this will be teaching other aspects other than just animation. The mentors he speaks of will be from a multitude of great companies including BlueSky and Pixar.

 1. Will each student have the same teacher (say they took the 3D Animation course) the whole 21 months or do they have the opportunity to experience multiple teachers with each term?

David: Each term, the student chooses which teacher to learn from. The students will probably be learning from a different teacher each term.

2. I have heard that you are multi-talented as a Rigger and an Animator. Has this allowed you to be able to produce rigs that you know will help the animators achieve great shapes with and will you be teaching "Animator Friendly Rigging."

David: I'm most definitely trying to teach "animator-friendly rigging". I think any rigger or modeler who learns some animation will then become better at their craft, understanding the process of actually using the characters.

 3. Will Alumni still have access to the site/school and or Rigs, demos and lectures once they have completed the course? How does that work? How does that work for students just taking one course?
David: Graduates from an AnimSchool will have continued access to existing and future character rigs, as well as video lectures.

For the students taking a single class, they are able to use the rigs for six months after the class.

4. Is there some type of reel review for professionals that want to take a single course so you know what level they are at?
David: People wanting to take a particular course apply for it at the website, sending a link to their reel. That teacher determines whether they are ready for their class.

5. Besides this amazing new venture with AnimSchool, what have you been most proud of while working in the industry?
David: After working in this industry so long, you wouldn't think it, but I still feel like I'm getting started. I'm madly passionate about animating and modeling and making cool facial expressions. I'm just thrilled to be able to have done some of the shots I animated. Then some facial expression modeling for pre-production development. I'm really inspired and excited about appealing expressions.

6. What inspired you to start up AnimSchool?
David: I wanted to teach the skills that I know well: animating, modeling, and rigging. And there wasn't a place online where I could do that, so I decided to make AnimSchool, with the help of so many of my former colleagues.

7. Will you be attending CTN this year?
David: We are so busy working on AnimSchool that I won't be there! But I will plan for next year.

8. How many rigs will there be for AnimSchool or will the one rig be customizable?

David: Right now there are two: the cute skeleton guy and the human guy you can see on 3DAppealBlog or on the AnimSchool splash page. We have plans for a female character as well. I love making characters, so there will probably be others.

There's only so much you can do with those editable uber-rigs. I personally get more excited about really fine-tuned custom deformations that work well with the character's natural shape.

and finally...

9. Will the rigs limits be more on an industry level or a student level?

David: The rigs are industry level. Certainly in terms of deformation and facials, since that was my specialty at Blue Sky for so long.

It sounds like an amazing opportunity and there are more answers to your questions found on his FAQ page here. Thanks again to David Gallagher for taking the time to answer some questions. Take a look around and check it out...check back in for updates.

Monday, October 18, 2010

When Cartoons Were Popular

Over at Greenbriar Picture Shows, John McElwee posts part one of a two part series on how theatre owners advertised animated shorts to attract customers. And here's part two.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Pecos Bill Mosaic

Steven Hartley has started to post a mosaic of the "Pecos Bill" sequence from Melody Time, based on documents provided by Hans Perk.

Attending the Ottawa International Animation Festival

I'll be at the Ottawa Fest from Friday to Sunday. For the occasion, I've put my photo up on the blog. If you see me there, stop and say hello.

Dumbo Part 25

This sequence shows the aftermath of Dumbo's flying.

The montage is a great snapshot of the public's preoccupations at the end of the 1930's. Dumbo setting an altitude record relates to the public's ongoing romance with aviation at the time. People like Charles Lindbergh, Amelia Earhart, and Wiley Post were all celebrated aviators of the period (the latter two dying in flight). "Dumbombers for defense" relates to the war in Europe, which the United States would join in 1941. The Hollywood contract had been sign of success at least since the 1910s, when performers started to make big money and in the '30s, movies and radio were the two major mass media. Dumbo's contract also explains Timothy's absence from the final scenes.

What follows the montage is the transformation of the circus. There have previously been scenes of Casey, Jr. in dark and stormy weather. He's now bedecked with flowers and chugging effortlessly in the bright sunlight. The elephant gossips are all smiles and celebrating the one they formerly ostracized. Dumbo's mother has gone from her depressing prison to a luxury car and now nothing stands in the way of her physical contact with her child. The crows have the vicarious pleasure of an outcast triumphing with their help.

The few animators credited here are effects animators, so we're completely without credits for the character animators.

Having watched this film over an extended period of time, the thing that strikes me most is how the main characters of the early Disney features are so passive and so victimized. Snow White does nothing on her own behalf except decide to become a housekeeper for the dwarfs. Pinocchio takes no positive action until he decides to save Gepetto. Dumbo's only positive action is to fly without the magic feather. Bambi goes with the flow until he fights another stag for Faline.

A character's arc implies growth towards a new viewpoint, but in the early Disney films it's like there's a binary switch that gets hit as the climax approaches. The characters don't grow towards maturity, they achieve it in an instant (and in Snow White's case, not at all). While heroes generally have mentors to guide them, in Dumbo the mentors are just about the whole show.

Dumbo's bath sequence isn't critical to the plot; it can be removed without changing the story. But it is crucial emotionally, as it is the only time we see Dumbo after his ears are revealed when he's not under attack of some sort. As a character, Dumbo is pretty much a cipher except for this sequence. There's nothing particularly individual about the way he panics when separated from his mother or the way he is scared when the elephant pyramid falls or when the clowns push him from the building.

This lack of personality, except in the most general terms, may be a reason for the film's success. Dumbo is a blank slate that the audience can write on with their own feelings of victimization. During the depression, there was no shortage of those feelings.

The recurrence of helpless heroes and savvy mentors may say something about Walt Disney himself and may mesh with the zeitgeist of the time. Walt had an older brother who looked out for him and stuck by him as he tried all sorts of questionable schemes and fell victim to a series of predatory businessmen like Charles Mintz, Pat Powers and Harry Cohen. That's practically a blueprint for Pinocchio, and Pinocchio taking responsibility for his actions may correlate to Disney taking ownership of his creations.

If Walt had Roy, America had President Franklin D. Roosevelt. In 1940, he was running for a third term, a first in American history, and he had shepherded the country through the Great Depression. The feelings of helplessness in the face of larger forces and the need for a saviour were reflected in Dumbo.

In a lot of ways, Disney and the zeitgeist separated in the post-war years. With America having won the war and become a world power, the idea of helplessness was only good for movies aimed at children. Films for adults became a lot more psychologically complex in the '50s and while there was still a lot to be afraid of (the burgeoning youth culture, the cold war and science run amok), the passivity of Disney's animated heroes was no longer mainstream. Even young Jim Hawkins gets to shoot somebody in Disney's live action Treasure Island.

Dumbo was the only Disney feature set in contemporary times until 101 Dalmatians and the only film to address racial issues until The Princess and the Frog. Racial and ethnic stereotypes show up in films like Lady and the Tramp and The Aristocats, but there is no attempt to get beyond stereotypes. If anything, the Disney films shunned present-day problems and were set in the past or in fantasy, where problems were straightforward and solutions were cut off from real-life complexity. The world of 1940 leaks into Dumbo and it's one of the things that makes the film so interesting. In several ways, the film is a precursor to Ralph Bakshi's work and it's a shame that in the intervening 30 years, neither Disney or anyone else was willing to pursue contemporary issues in the form of an animated feature.

Having completed this latest mosaic, I'd like to thank Hans Perk once again for the studio documents that make this (and the other) mosaics possible. I'd also like to thank everyone who took the time to comment.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

27th St & 6th Ave, NYC

At the window, texting and waiting.  The second time we passed, whomever she was texting had arrived and they looked like they were fighting.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Starz Sells Film Roman

Deadline Hollywood Daily is reporting that Starz has sold Film Roman to "a group of investors lead by former Film Roman President Scott D. Greenberg."

To the best of my knowledge, this is the fifth set of owners the studio has had since it was founded by Phil Roman. The studio is best known for The Simpsons, but it works on the show as a supplier. It doesn't own any part of the show.

Starz' Toronto studio, which has produced features such as Everyone's Hero, 9 and Gnomeo and Juliet has been up for sale at least since last July.

Story Board Webinars

Just a quick link here. You might know Jason Ryan's site for his webinars and now for Ianimate, but he also offers some Story Board webinars by Robb Pratt. He is a story board artist over at Disney Toon Studios and has been in the industry for quite some time. It is set up like Jason's and seems to make for a great time.


So head on over if it interests you. I believe he offers a free rampup so you can get an idea of it.


Ratatat, Terminal 5

Friday, October 8, 2010

Irish Animation

John Canemaker's latest article for Print is online, with a survey of the Irish animation scene. It includes embedded versions of two films by Brown Bag, Give Up Yer Aul Sins and Granny O'Grimm's Sleeping Beauty, as well as trailers for two Cartoon Saloon productions, The Secret of Kells and Song of the Sea.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Blog Highlight: Brendan Body

Hey everyone

Quick post about this blog. I first ran into a post on Spungella about wings on birds. Then I also ran into the blog again on Carlos Baena's site. So I thought I would share because Brendan Body has a serious amount of great post on here. One I found on breathing I read twice!

So have a look around..really worth a look. Thanks for the posts guys!
Enjoy this great resource!

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Jim Tyer Storyboard

Run, don't walk, over to the ASIFA Hollywood Animation Archive, where they have a complete Jim Tyer storyboard for an unproduced Terrytoon called Blood is Thicker Than Water. The material includes the script and you can see how Tyer broke it down. Some of the drawings are in blue pencil and others are finished, such as the drawing above.

The writer, whoever he was, clearly had Song of the South in mind. Two of the Uncle Remus stories are referenced here, the tar baby and the "born and bred in the briar patch" sequence. The ending of the Terrytoon is forced, but Tyer's great, cartoony drawings are so much fun to look at that they make up for the story the same way his animation saved the finished cartoons.

Monday, October 4, 2010

The Temper Trap, Terminal 5

Where Studios are Located

I've recently learned of two very interesting interactive maps. One locates computer animation studios and the other gaming studios. There may be an overlap between them.

There are obvious benefits to these sites for anyone trying to find a job. However, not everyone realizes the repercussions of various locations until they've experienced them.

I'm not talking about specific cities, but I am talking about studio density. Depending on where someone is in his or her career, density makes a big difference.

The problem with low density locations (i.e. with just one or two studios) is that if you get laid off or a studio closes, you have to relocate in order to continue working in the industry. This is what happened to people in Arizona when Fox closed it's studio, to people in Florida when Disney closed there, and to people in Portland when Laika laid off the crew after Coraline.

This isn't much of a problem for people who are unattached, but it becomes a much larger problem once people form romantic relationships and have children. Uprooting other people in pursuit of one's own career can create powerful resentments.

As a result, people tend to flock to those areas with half a dozen or more studios, so that if they have to change jobs, they don't have to relocate. Of course, it means that people starting their careers often have an easier time finding work in the smaller centers as it is harder to entice people to move there.

Regardless of where you might be in your career, these maps may prove useful.

Happy Birthday Buster

Today is Buster Keaton's birthday. That's him in old age next to a photo of himself as a child performer in vaudeville.

I recently read The Fall of Buster Keaton by Joseph Neibauer, about Keaton's career after he lost his creative independence in 1928. The book is a reasonable survey of his work at Educational, Columbia, MGM and in television, but it needed a stronger editorial hand. Quotes and phrases are repeated and the book often degenerates into summaries of the films.

I'm am looking forward to reading Buster Keaton: The Persistence of Comedy by Imogen Sara Smith. The book got a very good review at Greenbriar Picture Shows.

It's amazing that 115 years after his birth and more than 80 years after his best work, Keaton continues to fascinate.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Dumbo Part 24

Finally, Dumbo triumphs and shows his worth.

Note the large gap between shots 3 and 18. The missing shots that are on the draft are all of the clown fireman arriving and preparing to fight the fire. The Disney studio wisely decided not to delay Dumbo's triumph any more than necessary. Now that the audience knows Dumbo can fly, they are waiting to see the secret revealed and wonder how it will affect Dumbo's life.

The idea of the magic feather is frankly hokey, but it serves an important storytelling purpose. It's a convenience for the film makers, as Dumbo should not believe in the feather as he didn't have it before waking up in the tree. It's more logical to believe that Dumbo's "magic feather" should be alcohol. However, because the audience knows Dumbo can fly, there would be no suspense in this sequence without some way to cast doubt on his eventual success. As Dumbo believes in the feather and he loses it during his descent, the audience is left guessing what will happen.

The wind and siren sound effects during Dumbo's fall from the building are very effective in ramping up the suspense. Note also the airplane sound effects when Dumbo pulls out of the dive. Logically, the sound makes no sense but it is emotionally right.

Dumbo's shadow, which showed he could fly in the last sequence, is once again an important storytelling device as his shadow moves over the ringmaster and the crowd.

It's a little surprising how much Dumbo goes after the clowns compared to the elephants. The clowns were insensitive and ignorant, but the elephants knew full well what they were doing.

This sequence feels somewhat truncated. Once Dumbo takes his comic revenge on his tormentors, there's really nothing left for him to do. There's one more short sequence to wrap up a loose end, but the story is effectively over here.

The layouts for camera moves in this sequence are very effective, both during the fall and after. The moves add to the sense of urgency during the fall and afterwards bolster the gracefulness of Dumbo's flight.

The stand-out animation here is by Les Clark. His work on Timothy during Dumbo's descent is excellent and it's a shame he doesn't have more footage in the film. Grant Simmons and Ray Patterson do the clowns here, though humour comes from the clowns' humiliation, not their planned antics. Walt Kelly returns for a couple of ringmaster shots. It's a shame that some of the shots are uncredited, especially Dumbo's machine gunning the peanuts at the elephants.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010


Hello, friends. And I mean that.

In the years since I started this blog, I've made real friends around the world.

The time has come for a hiatus. Possibly permanent.

It takes an incredible amount of time to digitally restore these backgrounds. I've loved every minute!

But, my life is in a state of evolving and transition, and I need to focus on that.

I'm going to leave the blog online for your reference. And mine too!

Thanks for your support and encouragement over the years. Over TWO MILLION people have visited this blog.

Amazing. It's a tribute to the artistry of the talented people in the animation industry.

For the moment... that's all, folks.

Thanks again for your interest!


Rob Richards

Monday, September 27, 2010

Website Highlight: Jason Martinsen

Hey Everybody

Haven't done a highlight in a bit so wanted to point you to Jason Martinsen's site. He's worked at quite a few studios and has done some great work on films @ BlueSky, ILM, Double Negative and even Naughty Dog the great game studio that brought you Uncharted. Under his animation tab he has generously put together a Reference Comparison showing his refVid and the shots he used them on...Great Breakdown!!


All of his work you can frame through too they are in QuickTime...enjoy.


Grizzly Bear, Governor's Island NYC