Friday, May 22, 2015

Randall Kaplan's Boxhead

Hey there. Recently, an animation Kickstarter that looks like it might be of interest to some managed to get successfully funded. It's an animated HORROR film.

To my knowledge, the only people who have pulled off horror films in animation would be the Japanese. Ralph Bakshi tried a live-action/animation horror film, but thanks to the meddling of execs, we got Cool World, which is considered a mess by many.

I freely admit to not being much of a fan of horror (though I do love horror-comedy, like Gremlins, Cabin In The Woods, and the Evil Dead movies), but regardless, I'm a huge supporter of animation as a serious storytelling medium that's capable of being more than "just for kids". Besides, I tend to have a fascination with the macabre, and-

Alright, ALRIIIIGHT!!! 

So anyways, now that we got a humorous bit out of the way, time to be a bit more serious. This project is the brainchild of Randall Kaplan, a filmmaker and artist who has worked in the film industry as an editor, concept artist, and even actor, and he has done some short films of his own. It's based around this character that came to him in childhood that he dubs Boxhead, a human-like creature with a head that has eyes and nothing else and a long stalk of a neck.

Creepy looking, isn't it?

He drew this character again and again, and it grew into a story. His thesis film in college was a live-action short film involving the creature, which was shown at festivals and eventually compiled with Kaplan's other films on the DVD "Behind The Flesh".

But he wasn't done with Boxhead yet, oh no. The story only grew, and Kaplan decided it should be a feature length movie, and as he was drawing these concepts and storyboards, he came to the realization that he HAD to see these images and characters come to life through drawings.

This is the story, according to the Kickstarter page:

Al is an aging, alcoholic recluse. There was a time when he aspired to be someone; a writer, with a life and career. That time, along with all of his dreams have long passed him by.

He lives alone, his life reduced to an empty, solitary and drunken existence.

But as time slips away, a strange creature watches, waiting in the dark...

One night Al discovers something absolutely horrible that could possibly save his soul.

He takes on the role of a detective, acting out a story he never finished.

All the while, the creature enters into different people's lives, unveiling their deepest fears and regrets, their loneliness...

...and feeding off of it.

Al is led down a rabbit hole, through a labyrinth of past and present fantasies and nightmares, to ultimately, find himself.

Promotional Art for Boxhead done by Randall Kaplan
This film has creative potential for quite a few reasons. First of all, as was mentioned, it's an animated horror film, a rarity outside of Japan. With the whole Animation Age Ghetto thing in place, people are still under the delusion that animation is just "for kids". In actuality, it's capable of being a storytelling medium in its own right, one that's capable of matching or even surpassing live-action. And with the right mind and the right project, it's possible to demonstrate that. I believe in its potential to be that. Sure, there can still be animation for kids and families, but that doesn't mean that ambitious, adult projects can't be accepted as well. I've mentioned that I was a huge fan of indie animator Bill Plympton before, and a lot of the reason was because he was always daring to be different from the mainstream, and it always showed in his work.

Randall Kaplan's project is similar. It dares to be different. It dares to present something new to animation and horror fans alike. And that's something that deserves to be admired.

Second, rather than being exploitive nonsense like certain horror films tend to fall under, this deals with some pretty heavy themes, like loneliness and isolation. It's very personal to Kaplan, but he hopes it'll be universal to others. To me, it's a story that has a lot of promise to it, a story about someone who has given up hope but, amidst a series of truly terrifying events, manages to finds himself. It's one that presents the possibility for a lot of depth. I love good stories, and this has the makings of not just a good horror story, but a good story in general, from the interesting premise to the strong themes.

And under it all, surprisingly, there will be a tenderness to it, something that doesn't come to mind when you think "horror". I don't know how most horror fans would respond, but personally, I like this idea. Sometimes, there needs to be something to balance out the darker aspects of a project, like humor or poignancy. Just like life isn't all sunshine and rainbows, life isn't all bleakness and misery, either. I love dark stuff as much as the next guy, but it's always nice to be reminded that, even in the darkest of times, the good of humanity can still shine through.

Turner Classic Movies wrote a blurb about Kaplan's short films back in 2009, and one that will hopefully apply to Boxhead as well:

"Kaplan expertly blends the uncanny, grotesque, and the touching..."

Already, this film sounds like it could be up my alley. Despite not being the world's biggest horror fan, I've managed to find quite a few I like and, thanks to stuff like Cinemassacre's Monster Madness reviews, I can understand and appreciate what the genre is about, what the appeal is, and what it's capable of. Besides, as someone who understands what it means to be lonely, (yes, even for someone who's not very social such as myself, I've had my fair share of loneliness,) I'm pretty sure it'll manage to gravitate towards me as well.

Third, just from what I've seen of the project, through the opening scene available on Kickstarter, as well as Kaplan's concept drawings, it looks great. The drawings are creative, well-shaded, and they really give off this heavy atmosphere. As I mentioned, I tend to have a fascination with the macabre, and whenever the macabre is depicted through drawings, it's very fascinating, because you can see where someone's imagination can truly go.

Like I said, he managed to get it successfully funded, but I feel indie artists need all the help they can get. I wrote to Kaplan, and he said that he was still open for donations and support of any kind. I plan to write back to him once I finish this blog post, thanking him for responding back and likely donating some money, because this is a project I'd like to see come to life, and one that I'm sure a lot of others would like to see as well.

If you like, you can read more about Boxhead here:

And you can visit Kaplan's website here:

Thanks for reading and, as Kaplan told me in his email, "many dreams and nightmares to come..."

Thursday, May 14, 2015

Two Cool New Kickstarter Projects

Image belongs to Bill Plympton

Bill Plympton's Revengeance

As I've mentioned before, I'm a big fan of Bill Plympton. His work is creative, well-drawn and funny. From his shorts like Your Face and Guard Dog (both nominated for Academy Awards) to his features like The Tune and Idiots And Angels, he is an example of what you can do in animation when you follow your own path without interference from studio heads. Anyone who knows about him is aware that he usually does mostly everything by himself, animation, writing, designs, you name it. He usually has people to composite the films into computers and doing post-production work, but aside from that, Bill's the man behind it all, and he's done plenty of shorts and seven full-length features with this work method. His reason for not going with any collaborators? He never found anyone who could recreate his twisted imagination.

This time, however, he has himself a partner, an artist/writer who goes by the name of Jim Lujan, making this new project his first feature film to have a creative partner. After seeing some of Lujan's shorts, Bill felt that Jim's work was a perfect fit for his animation. So after calling him up and suggesting they collaborate, Jim sent Bill a script, Bill liked the results, and now, here we are. They set up a Kickstarter to get some extra funding for the project.

Bill will produce, animate and direct, while Jim will write, design, and provide music and voice. They even got some names like Matthew Modine (Full Metal Jacket, Vision Quest, The Dark Knight Rises) and Dave Foley (The Kids In The Hall, NewsRadio, A Bug's Life, Monsters University) to provide some of the voices.

The story, as described on the Kickstarter page, goes as thus:

Revengeance tells the story of a low-rent bounty hunter (named Rod Rosse, The One Man Posse) who gets entangled in a web of seedy danger when he takes on a job from an ex-biker/ex-wrestler turned U.S. senator named "Deathface." Rod has to find what was stolen from the senator and find the girl who stole it. Soon, Rosse finds there’s more than meets the eye to this dirty job. Between the ruthless biker gangs, the blood thirsty cults, and the crooked cops - Rod Rosse is a marked man. If the bullets don’t kill him - the California sun just might!

So as you can tell, this is a very adult story, but since I'm an avid supporter of animation being taken seriously as more than just a medium for younger audiences, I think it has its own merits. There's a demand for this kind of animation, and with Bill Plympton's amazing creativity, I'm positive he can turn out a great production. And despite not being familiar with Jim Lujan, I get the feeling he'll work great with Plympton. I mean, if his work is good enough to impress the King of Indie Animation himself to the point where he gets to work with him, there has to be something to admire about Lujan's work.

There's only seven days to go, though, and they haven't quite made the $80,000 mark yet. They're pretty close, though, so I'm hoping that, by spreading the word, they'll be able to make it.

To check the campaign out, go here: Bill Plympton's Revengeance: An Animated Feature Film by Bill Plympton

Image belongs to Playtonic Games


I've been getting back into the gaming mode, (more on that later, since I have a LOT to talk about involving it,) even getting a Nintendo 64 so I can play catch up with some Nintendo classics, most notably Banjo-Kazooie. Created by Rareware, the same guys behind such games as Donkey Kong Country, GoldenEye 007 for the N64, Conker's Bad Fur Day, Killer Instinct, Battletoads, and a great many others, Banjo-Kazooie is considered one of the greatest platformers for the N64. I actually remember playing it at a friend's house, and playing it again, I still enjoy it. It plays great, it looks great, it's fun, it's funny, it's just downright brilliant. And so's its sequel, Banjo-Tooie.

Sadly, in the early 2000s, Rareware was purchased by Microsoft, and it's only gone downhill since, eventually culminating in what is considered the ultimate betrayal for Rare fans: Banjo-Kazooie-Nuts & Bolts. Don't believe me? Here's what game reviewer JonTron had to say on it, for those curious:

Thankfully, most of Rare's staff left to create Playtonic Games, and their spiritual successor, Yooka-Laylee (formerly Project Ukulele), is now available to be funded on Kickstarter. It actually managed the incredible feat of being fully funded in 40 minutes, (clearly demonstrating how much demand there is for a game of its kind,) but they still allow donations for it to make it the best game they can possibly make it. Not only do they have the original Banjo-Kazooie designer, Steve Mayles, back on board, but they have David Wise (Donkey Kong Country) and Grant Kirkhope (Banjo-Kazooie) doing the game's score. These are just a few of the names from Rare we can expect to work on this game. We don't know what the game's about yet. All we know is that our main stars are a chameleon and a bat and that it'll be done in the tradition of classic 3D platformers.

As someone who's sick to death of most modern gaming trends, this is a hopeful return to the good ol' platforming action adventure games that I love with some fresh faces. Forget stuff like Call Of Duty or whatever generic FPS is on the market. The world needs more games like this, that are in the action platformer spirit of Mario, Donkey Kong, Banjo-Kazooie, and even non-Nintendo games like Crash Bandicoot and Spyro The Dragon (two of my childhood favorites). Hopefully, with games like Yooka-Laylee, A Hat In Time (another platformer successfully funded through Kickstarter,) and Armikrog (the spiritual successor to the adventure point-and-click clay animated game The Neverhood,) we can bring back games that are fun, imaginative, creative, and artfully designed to the industry.

Who knows? We may eventually get a real Banjo-Threeie as well. (Hopefully, Nintendo, Playtonic, or someone will be able to buy back that particular IP. Hopefully.)

To check the campaign out, go here: Yooka-Laylee: A 3D Platformer Rare-vival by Playtonic Games

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