Sunday, February 22, 2015

Oh Brother...

This was something that came up on my Blog Reading List:

Here's Why Disney's Frozen Will Be Here Forever

Let's forgive the fact that I think Frozen is just a very mediocre movie. This article doesn't talk about the kind of influence this movie in question could possibly have so much as it talks about how Disney is cashing in on its recent mega-hit. NOTHING in this article serves as proof that Frozen will have a lasting impact outside of how much it's making. We all know what the human race is like now, focusing on the most successful thing for a little while, then going on to the next successful thing once it comes along. That's what I think will happen to Frozen. Eventually it will wear out its welcome and people will move on from it. It's just taking longer than normal.

Saturday, September 6, 2014

Tex Avery Day Pt. 2

I bet you’re all wondering how “Tex Avery Day” went back in February, huh? Well, I’ll admit that it wasn’t all I had hoped it would be, but for what it was, it was a decent dedication to one of animation’s greats.

I left my apartment at 12:40 or so and, with cash in my pocket, gas in my tank, and Cheap Trick playing on my iPod, I drove over to Taylor to check out this event. I managed to find a parking space in front of the theater. While I was waiting in line, I showed a couple of people a picture I drew earlier that week of Droopy and the Wolf (impressively, without reference, since I drew it from memory,) and they were amazed by my drawing.

The drawing that impressed many.
This was on the door of the theater

After we got in, we had to sit through some dull speeches (which were pretty much the same thing) in order to get to the good stuff. For one thing, not only did they show a video of Tex talking about his career, they did unveil a painting of Tex Avery. The image didn’t resemble what people usually associate with Tex Avery, it looked more like one of his younger photos, like back when he was starting out, either at Walter Lantz Studios and Warner Bros. As for guest speakers, I had no idea who any of those people were. I was actually thinking they would get animators and cartoonists who were inspired by Tex’s work. But then again, they didn’t have much of a budget, so what was I to expect there?

The Tex Avery Painting

There were (cheap) costumed characters of Bugs Bunny, Yosemite Sam and Marvin The Martian, which was strange, since out of them, the only one created by Tex Avery was Bugs Bunny. Friz Freleng and Chuck Jones created the other two, respectively. Critical Research Failure, perhaps?

Try to keep a straight face looking at these.

Afterwards, we got to see them unveil the state marker down the road. A gentleman who sat by me in the theater took my picture with the marker (along with Bugs Bunny, who happened to get into the picture,) and I headed over to get some cake and check out some of the cartoons they offered.

Me by the state marker

Me by the state marker with the only character that Tex Avery actually created that was even AVAILABLE for this. 

Surprisingly, most of the cartoons that were shown at the theater WEREN’T Tex Avery cartoons at all. They were mostly Looney Tunes cartoons in general, with very few that were directed by Tex Avery. It’s a shame, since Tex deserves a lot more recognition for his MGM work because, while he did break ground at Warner Bros., it was his MGM work where he was at his creative peak. On the plus side, I’m at least glad the newer generation is getting exposed to these great classic cartoons. And I did enjoy the cartoons I actually sat down to watch. (Mostly because I waiting for the next thing they offered.)

To make up for it, they did have a documentary playing upstairs that actually talked about his career. Maybe I laughed a bit too loud, but hey, I was at least enjoying the clips they played, and besides, it was cool to hear people like Chuck Jones, June Foray, Michael Lah, and even animator and historian Mark Kausler talk about his work and the impact it had.

After that, when things cooled down a bit, I went around, taking a few more pictures, and then went over to read the actual state marker before gathering everything and heading back home.

The state marker

The state marker a little closer up

That next Friday, a Cartoon Brew article about the event was posted and apparently, a reader on Cartoon Brew posted his own article about “Tex Avery Day” on Cartoon Brew, and one part caught my attention:

“…some chubby shaggy weirdo kept showing me his sketch book(*) and telling me he was still in college.  ‘ACC? You know Mike St----ns?’

(*) his drawings were actually pretty good.”

THAT WAS ME! I was the “chubby shaggy weirdo” who showed off my sketch book! It’s an honor to be blown off by you, whoever the heck you are! My status as obnoxious, mentally unhinged maniac is well assured!

All joking aside, (since I am very sensitive about my weight and thus do not appreciate being called “chubby” at all,) the event itself wasn’t perfect, but they did make do with what they had. Apparently, one of the coordinators of the event, going by the name “SAM”, was aware of this and commented about it on that same Cartoon Brew post (although I did make some spelling corrections and that kind of stuff):

“As one of the coordinators for the event, rest assured we have bigger plans and your critique is as expected. One must understand that Taylor is a small town with limited budgets and many here locally didn't even know who Tex Avery was before we started this process. Securing the marker was certainly a milestone but merely a starting point to show forward motion and we're very proud of what we accomplished. As far as the costumes, we contacted Six Flags and they don't loan. We ultimately contacted the source that creates the official WB costumes and had several bona fide Tex characters ordered. Unfortunately the storm hit the Southeast prevented shipment so the costumes were cobbled together in a matter of days by local youth trying to make the best of a bad situation. Rest assured next year’s installment will include Tex Avery related content never before seen and more. Our goal is only to raise attention and awareness to an under appreciated pioneer. We would appreciate your support here.”

It sounds like they plan for this event to be annual as opposed to a one-time thing. If that’s the case, then it’s good to know they’re accepting of criticism and are willing to learn from the mistakes, and I plan to attend next year to see what they have next time. That is, if they announce it again.

Tex Avery Day Program (outside)

Tex Avery Day Program (inside)

Sorry if this took forever to post. I don’t know why it did, but rest assured, more posts will be coming on the way soon.

Friday, February 21, 2014

Tex Avery Day

Frederick Bean “Tex” Avery is, in my opinion, one of the greatest animated cartoon directors of all time. His impact on Golden Age Animation was huge, particularly his work at Warner Bros. and MGM. Tex’s work is well known for breaking the fourth wall, stretching a joke to its comedic limit, wild takes, screwing with medium conventions, (since cartoons were originally aired in theaters, they had stuff like silhouetted audience members standing up on occasion in the actual cartoon only to be attacked by the animated character onscreen,) and over-the-top slapstick. He felt that cartoons could and SHOULD be able to do anything, his philosophy being that animation must go far beyond live-action and anything a human actor can do in order to get a laugh.

With this mindset, he had a groundbreaking career. Born in 1908, he started his career at Walter Lantz Studios in the early 30s before heading over to the Leon Schlesinger studios and getting an animation job at a building on the Warner Bros. backlot that the animators working there at the time dubbed “Termite Terrace”. During his stay at Warner Bros., he originally created two of my favorite cartoon characters, Bugs Bunny and Daffy Duck, in 1940’s “A Wild Hare” and 1937’s “Porky’s Duck Hunt” respectively. He worked with animators Bob Clampett and Chuck Jones, and his sense of humor rubbed off on them as well. After splitting from Warner Bros. in 1941 after a disagreement with Leon Schlesinger regarding the short “The Heckling Hare”, Tex joined MGM in 1942, and gave the world such creations as Droopy, Screwy Squirrel, Red Hot Riding Hood, and many, MANY incredibly hilarious shorts. After he ended his tenure there in 1954, (with his last few cartoons there released in 1955, including two that were co-directed by animator Michael Lah,) he returned to the Lantz studio for a short while. He spent the rest of his career working on animated television commercials and writing gags for Hanna-Barbera cartoons like Kwicky Koala, before dying of liver cancer in 1980.

He had an impact on many in the animation community. Aside from Clampett and Jones, his cartoons inspired Bill Hanna, Joe Barbera, Eric Goldberg, John Kricfalusi, and Bill Plympton, among many others, and while he never had as many accolades as, say, Chuck Jones, he did manage to snag some Oscar nominations and he was honored by the Library of Congress. Sadly, his work at MGM has been barely released on DVD, which, to me, is a crime against decency.

I managed to see a ton of his work thanks to various sources. Many of them I saw as a kid thanks to his shorts being featured on VHS (which I have rented and watched many times,) and on Cartoon Network and Boomerang, and later on, I got to see some of these shorts on Youtube. Needless to say, as someone who loves both cartoons and surreal, outlandish comedy, I absolutely ADORE his work. Even to this day, his cartoons are still as relentlessly creative and funny as they were back when they were originally made. Sure, some of the gags might be a little dated, particularly the WWII gags and the more racial stuff, but they still hold up well, in my opinion.

Why do I bring this all up, you ask?

This Saturday, February 22, Tex’s childhood home of Taylor, Texas, will declare Tex Avery Day. It will take place at the Howard Theatre, feature a dedication of a Texax State Historical Marker in Avery’s honor, guest speakers, screenings of his cartoons, and a portrait unveiling. I found out about this, thanks to Cartoon Brew, and since I’m currently living in Austin, I’m planning to attend as both an aspiring animator/cartoonist and a huge Tex Avery fan. It’s only a little more than a half-hour’s drive from where I’m living, and hopefully, it’ll be worth the visit.

Friday, February 14, 2014

Michael Sporn 1946-2014

Left to Right: John Canemaker and Michael Sporn
It has come to my attention that New York independent animator Michael Sporn has passed away January 19th.

I have not met him, nor am I the most familiar with his work as an animator (although I might have possibly seen some of the stuff he did for Weston Woods and Sesame Street when I was younger) but as a casual viewer of his blog, which is a treasure trove of animation art, history and commentary, and easily one of the greatest animation blogs on the web, I figure I had to talk about him a little.

For those unaware, (and I'm sure a ton of you are,) Michael Sporn was a New York based animator who, after working under the likes of John and Faith Hubley, Richard Williams and R.O. Blechman, struck out on his own, started his own studio in 1980, and produced, directed and animated on numerous TV animated specials and short spots with small budgets and a desire for artistic freedom and the ability to work on projects that interested him the most. He did both commissioned works and personal creations, sometimes based on children's literature, while others were based around more social issues. Some of these productions include "The Hunting Of The Snark", "Abel's Island", "The Marzipan Pig", "The Man Who Walked Between The Towers", and "Champagne", just to name a few.

One of his most notable accomplishments was his 1984 short film, Doctor DeSoto, based off the William Steig book of the same name, getting nominated for the Best Animated Short Film Academy Award.

As for his passing, I have noticed that on some of his more recent blog posts, something about Sporn's writing seemed, well, off. It had become a little more sloppy and disjointed and I was wondering if he was experiencing some sort of deterioration or health issue or something.

Little did I realize that I wasn't all that far off.

He wasn't suffering from any form of dementia or mental deterioration, like Alzehimer's, but he was suffering from pancreatic cancer, which was what ultimately did him in. Sadly, at that time, he was directing and producing an animated feature based on the life of Edgar Allan Poe. Whether that will see the light of day or not is unknown.

I'm not the most familiar with the guy, so my tribute might not be the most heartfelt. The tributes by animation historians Michael Barrier and John Canemaker, on the other hand, are. You can read them here. And you can also read animation teacher and blogger Mark Mayerson's tribute here. Heck, how about two Cartoon Brew tributes as well, one from site co-founder Amid Amidi, and one from Courage The Cowardly Dog creator John R. Dilworth. I wanted to show these particular tributes to give you an idea as to what his impact on the animation community was. He wasn't as famous as many of those big-name animators out there, but those who knew him remember him fondly.

Like I said, I'm not the most familiar with his work. However, I do plan on checking out some of his animations and re-reading through more of his blog at some point. Lou Reed's death motivated me to check out more of his music, so I'm sure that the same could apply here. (Incidentally, Lou Reed was also a native New Yorker.)  I do plan to look through the archives on his blog more, but as for films, I managed to find a few of them on Netflix some time ago and just recently, as of this writing, I have managed to check out a couple of his films on DVD, Whitewash and Champagne, both dealing with heavy social issues, and from what I can see, despite the minuscule budgets he works with, he still manages to create decent looking cartoons with a modern artistic bend to them. As far as the content goes, my favorite of the two was Champagne, which was a two-hour interview with a convent-raised girl named Champagne Saltes condensed down to a 13 minute cartoon. Half of it was improvised animation, while half of it used a storyboard, which is pretty impressive.

One quote in particular, however, stood out to me about how much Michael Sporn loved animation. On his "Making Of" Featurette of the DVD, the ever passionate Sporn said this: "I think animation has the potential to be the greatest of all the arts." Well, Michael, wherever you are, with great music, acting, storytelling, visual arts, and the right amount of effort and passion in the right hands, it's always possible.

Friday, December 27, 2013

Some Of My Animations

I figure I'd post something related to animation, so here's some of the animations I did in my Basic Animation class for ACC:

Ball Bounce

Walk Cycle

Flying Egg

Arm Throw

Head Turn

Flour Sack

Monday, September 16, 2013

Michel Gagne’s The Saga Of Rex

Remember how I brought up Mike Nguyen’s “My Little World” as a project I wanted to see created and fully realized? Well, here’s another such project done by another animator who has had a TON of experience in the field, Michel Gagne.

This is an artist from Canada who has provided both character animation and special effects animation for Don Bluth’s productions and has provided effects animation for Warner Bros. Animation, (Quest For Camelot, The Iron Giant, and Osmosis Jones,) as well as the occasional work for Disney and Pixar, providing visual effects for Ratatouille (the taste visualization sequences) and Brave.

Some of his effects work:

Quest For Camelot

Ruber's Death
(Say what you will about the overall film and ESPECIALLY the Deus Ex Machina nature of this scene, but you gotta admit this is some awesome effects work and a cool way to kill off the villain...)

Osmosis Jones

(...but nowhere as cool as THIS death...)

The Iron Giant


To read more about these and other effects animation he's done, click here: Michel Gagne's Effects Animation

He’s also had a ton of independent experience as well, both as animator and illustrator. His 1995 short film, Prelude To Eden was given an Annie Award nomination.

The making of the short can be found here: The Making Of Michel Gagne's "Prelude To Eden"
And here's some on the music of the short (something that should interest my brother greatly): Shirley Walker And The Music Of "Prelude To Eden"

He’s also created a video game, Insanely Twisted Shadow Planet, and a comic book series, ZED, which was finished and released as a trade paperback by Image Comics as ZED: A Cosmic Tale in 2013, which I own a copy of. And speaking of comics, that brings us to The Saga Of Rex.

The little fox, Rex, first appeared in Gagne’s self-published 1998 book, A Search For Meaning: The Story Of Rex. Gagne would later return to the character with The Saga Of Rex, which was serialized in volumes 2-7 of the brilliant comic anthology series, Flight, and later published by Image Comics as a complete graphic novel in 2010, the same year volume 7 of Flight was released.

Needless to say, what I’ve seen of Gagne’s work, I LOVE it. It’s creative, it’s bizarre, and it’s fascinating and full of intrigue. Purely inspired and inspiring work.

So why do I bring all this up, you ask? Well, not too long ago, the animation news site, Cartoon Brew, released an article (Michael Gagne Speaks About His New Short "The Saga Of Rex") that brought Michel Gagne and The Saga Of Rex back to my mind. Last year, Gagne got the idea to make The Saga Of Rex into a full-length classically hand drawn independent animated feature, and started a successful Kickstarter campaign to fund a 4-minute short to serve as the first installment for the film. The article was made to announce the short’s recent release and to have Michel Gagne talk about the creation of the animation. Of particular note is this statement he gave to Cartoon Brew about traditional hand-drawn animation:

“I would like to believe that there are still some people out there who want to see good old 2D classical animation being done. I know that my big donors love this type of animation and want to see it continue. We can’t rely on the big studios to keep the art of 2D full-animation going, so it’s up to us.”

As someone who has grown tired of CGI’s prominence in the animation realm and also would love to work in the classical animation field one day, I agree with what he has to say. If the big studios aren’t willing to support 2D full-animation, then at the moment, it’s up to the independent creators and the people willing to support the medium to bring it back to prominence as an animation art form, and with projects like this, "My Little World," Ralph Bakshi's "Last Days Of Coney Island," and Tony White's "Spirit Of The Game," (Spirit Of The Game) created by people who are passionate about the art of traditional animation and are wanting to take it in new directions to show that there is still a future in the medium, I certainly hope they succeed. 

And as someone who has read “The Saga of Rex” comics from the Flight books and enjoyed them, I would really love to see this story created into an animated feature, because of how much drama, action, adventure, heart, imagination, beauty, creativity and charm are contained in these silent comics. Bill Plympton has proven that you could completely ax the dialogue in a full-length animated film and still have the visuals, music, and sound carry the story and make it all work, as was demonstrated in his great film “Idiots And Angels,” so I don’t see why “The Saga Of Rex” couldn’t do similarly.

Like My Little World, I see a lot of potential with this project and hope it’s a successful creation. The animation world deserves fresh, creative animated projects, but not all of them have to be in CGI. It's my belief that there should be balance when it comes to the three big mediums of animation: hand-drawn, stop-motion, and CGI, and right now, the prominence and popularity of CGI is sadly outweighing this balance and not allowing the other two mediums to thrive and prosper as much as they should. I'm still hoping that one day, balance will come at last, and the tide will turn in favor of hand-drawn animation and stop-motion animation gaining prominence and popularity with audiences. While I do love a lot of what CGI animation has produced and what it's capable of, I feel that it should NEVER be seen as a replacement for the other mediums and instead coexist with them, as all three are capable of creating wonderful animated projects, regardless of what they're made with, and if projects like The Saga Of Rex can help create demand for hand-drawn animated films, there is still hope for the industry and a hope for balance.

So, to sign off, if you haven't seen the short already, here it is in all of its creative glory:

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Don Bluth & Gary Goldman at the Alamo Drafthouse

My family came to visit me this past week, and, while looking for some things to do, Mom found something that she figured would be of much interest to me: that weekend, August the 10th and 11th, Don Bluth & Gary Goldman were going to be showing some of their movies at Austin’s Alamo Drafthouse Cinema/Restaurant and then doing a Q & A Panel afterwards.

Don Bluth, for those that have been living under a rock for the past few decades, is the Disney animator who, having been dissatisfied by the direction that Disney was taking since the untimely death of Walt, decided to take matters into his own hands by taking several other young animators starting out at Disney, notably Gary Goldman and John Pomeroy, and going out to start his own studio in the late 70s/early 80s to create classical animation that wound up serving as real competition for Disney during the 80s, with such animated hits like The Secret of NIMH, the Laserdisc arcade games Dragon’s Lair and Space Ace, An American Tail, and The Land Before Time. Apparently, with this competition, Disney realized they had to put more effort into their animated projects, thus leading to Disney’s renaissance era. While Bluth’s features in the 90s suffered both critically and financially (with the exception of Anastasia,) I consider Don Bluth to be one of several factors that saved animation and brought it out of the Dark Age of crap like Filmation and Hanna-Barbera.

I know people like Ralph Bakshi have accused him of splitting from Disney only to serve as a generic Disney knock-off, but here’s the thing: Love them or hate them, the majority of his films are NOT, in any way, actual Disney knock-offs. Don Bluth is passionate as an artist and storyteller, and while most of his films tend to draw a lot from Disney’s earlier classics, his work does have a distinct style to them that separates them from Disney’s work. The drawing style, while taking a lot from Disney, has its own unique flair to it. The stories, while having a feel of something Disney would create, are dark, edgy, and willing to take more risks with what could be shown to younger audiences while still being family friendly, at least when they’re at their best. If you want a REAL Disney knock-off that actually used to work at Disney, try Richard Rich, director of The Swan Princess. Not only did he harp off Disney’s style of art and story without taking any real risks, but some of the character designs for that movie actually look like they were taken from Don Bluth as well. 
Seriously, tell me that turtle somehow DOESN'T resemble Littlefoot from The Land Before Time.
So yeah, Bluth may not be perfect, and several of his movies, ESPECIALLY his work in the 90s, tend to be heavily flawed, (though I tend to give Bluth the benefit of a doubt and put the blame on studio executives, the most talentless and un-creative people in the world,) I still respect him for his vision and his desire to show the world what animation can be capable of.

Uh, where was I again? Oh, right. Don Bluth’s appearance at the Alamo Drafthouse.

Fun Fact: The poster for this film was painted by the under appreciated talent that is Drew Struzan.
The films that Bluth and Goldman selected to show were The Secret Of NIMH, All Dogs Go To Heaven, and An American Tail, three of the four films created during the group’s prime in the 80s. I wanted so bad to see The Secret Of NIMH, since that’s my personal favorite of Bluth’s films, but sadly, they were sold out. I did, however, get to see All Dogs Go To Heaven with my brother and my dad, and the rest of the family went with us to see An American Tail. Those were both really enjoyable films, despite not quite matching up to the power and magic of their first outing. There was so much I wanted to ask them at the Q & A panel, but for the sake of time and the fact that others wanted to ask them stuff as well, I kept both questions I asked to one per viewing. With All Dogs Go To Heaven, I asked about any future projects they had planned, (they didn’t tell much, but I can understand why,) and with An American Tail, I asked how they got into the animation industry, as well as any advice for those that wanted to enter as well.

Don and Gary were both very good at public speaking, often recounting the experiences behind the making of their projects with a good-natured sense of humor and a fascinating insight to several things related to animation, music, story, and all that good stuff, as well as giving their thoughts on modern animated films and the like. I heard of such tales and anecdotes as Martin Short’s ego getting hurt when Don asked him to be “a little funnier,” Burt Reynolds’ terrible “dog voice,” memories of late actors like Dom DeLuise and Judith Barsi, Paul Williams getting drunk in order to sing his take on “Flying Dreams,” and the two people that inspired the crow, Jeremy, from The Secret Of NIMH, among others. They were surprisingly humble about their work as well, especially considering they hadn’t watched these films ever since they were originally made and released.

After we watched An American Tail, Don and Gary signed my copy of Don Bluth’s The Art Of Animation Drawing book, and my mom took a few pictures of me with the two veteran animators. To an aspiring classical animator such as myself, that was the equivalent of seeing one of your favorite rock bands live and having them sign your favorite album. I plan to write them a very nice letter soon to thank them for that and for sharing their experiences and knowledge with those who participated, myself included.

On a final note, yes, there was a karaoke sing-along of Linda Ronstadt and James Ingram’s version on “Somewhere Out There” that was played before we watched An American Tail. I was totally taken off guard when Toy Joy’s Lizzy Newsome, who organized this event with Bluth and Goldman, held that microphone up to me on the last note. Sure, I may have been in the front row for that particular showing, but I was still surprised she picked me, of all the people in that row, and I wasn’t trying to draw too much attention to myself when I sang along, either. I didn’t think it was as best as I could have done on such short notice, but afterwards, she encouraged me by saying that she felt I did well. That was nice of her.

So anyways, here are some of the photos:
(Left to Right) Me, Brian, (my sister's hubby,) Tyler, and Rylee by the American Tail poster replica
Me by the American Tail poster replica (I'm honestly not too proud of my looks)
Me in line to get my copy signed (Sorry if the photo's blurry)
Me with Don Bluth (left) and Gary Goldman (right)
Another pic with Don and Gary (I'm guessing this was the one where Gary was joking with me and saying I blinked in the first photo. We had three taken in total, but Mom sent me these two.)
Don and Gary's autographs on the first page of my copy of Don's Animation Drawing book, as submitted through my scanner.