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.

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Orbillenium Interview

All Artwork And Videos belong to Dwayne "Cheeks" Gissendanner

Dwayne “Cheeks” Gissendanner (a.k.a. 80s90sicon, Orbillenium, Orbcreation) is an artist who loves old-school stuff, namely cartoons, TV shows and music from the 80s and 90s. Over on Youtube, he became known for creating a really well-edited video series called “Y2K After Effects”, where he points out where things went wrong after the turn of the millennium, in terms of the entertainment industry, fanbases, humanity, and other things. He has currently shifted his focus from making these videos to working on his artwork and making plans to create cartoons. As a fan of this video series, as well as a fan of his incredibly awesome artwork, with its eccentric coloring, stylistic drawing, and that retro atmosphere, I see a lot of potential for the guy and I felt like getting to know him a little more and letting people know a little bit about him as well. So later on last year, I had the good fortune to be able to interview him through DA notes and learn some more about his creativity and insight.

LK: Your hobbies seem to consist of drawing, skating, video editing and old school stuff, from what I know of. Do you have any other hobbies or interests that I didn’t mention?
DG: Actually you pretty much got them all. There are times when I do Bboy but not much.

LK: What convinced you that the entertainment industry was going down the tubes?
DG: The day I turned on the TV and realized that I hated every channel I turned to. There was nothing of my interest I wanted to see and nothing to my liking on the radio. When I saw what kind of cartoons they were producing nowadays, I started looking up old school Nickelodeon videos and realized that entertainment was so much better back then. This was when I first discovered YouTube back in ‘06. I then started to watch videos of people ranting about today's entertainment. So I figured I could take a stab at making rant videos of my own. That was the start of the Y2K series.

LK: You sure Nostalgia Filter has nothing to do with this, that entertainment really was better back then in comparison to now?
DG: This is my first time hearing about this Nostalgia Filter. Most of my findings in terms of the way things were then and now were based on what I liked to watch and listen to, watching tons of Youtube videos, reading the comments on the videos and watching many rants on why other people thought that the past was better. Everyone has their own reasons for why they believe the past is better, some of them being the same as others. For me, it was all about the atmosphere. It's not just about TV shows and music, but the atmosphere that encompasses TV shows and music. The way people dressed, the kind of shows they watched and the Saturday morning experience of being able to wake up early to your favorite bowl of cereal and cartoons after having been enslaved through five days of school knowing that after that last Friday school bell, Saturday was a day that you earned and you treated it like it was your day to be a kid with no limits and full fledged childhood freedom. The way everybody connected with one another, the type of clothes they wore, the trends, and the people that would be looked at as heroes and idols, motivators that would help inspire their future (Michael Jordan, Wayne Gretzky, Hulk Hogan, etc.)

LK: Is there anything about today’s world that you do like?
DG: The only thing that interests me about today's society is technology. To me, it soared high while humanity failed, for it’s what we do on computers and phones now, and all the technical devices we have at our disposal that has made life better and easier.

LK: So the increased technology interests you the most about today. Is there nothing in the modern entertainment industry that you like or that interests you in the slightest?
DG: Not really. There may be some rare moments when something might catch my eye, but it doesn't happen often.

LK: Who or what would you consider influences for your artwork?
DG: Most of my influence comes from 80s and 90s videos whether it be promos, commercials or TV shows. Some of it comes from Saturday morning cartoon memories and videos. During the 80s and 90s, there were a lot of bright colors and random craziness in the promos and commercials, etc. Videos like this, for example: CBS Saturday Morning Promo 1989 (Author's Note: Sorry if I couldn't display the actual video in the blog, but it wouldn't bring it up in the "Search Youtube" section like I wanted. Anyways, here it is, for your viewing pleasure.) And as you can see, my artwork harvests a lot of bright colors as well. As far as whom, most of it comes from people who can draw better than me. It helps me focus on drawing better and making my work look just as good, if not better.

LK: So basically, 80s and 90s cartoons, promos, commercials, TV shows, and other stuff from your childhood, right? And do you consider people that can draw better than you to be some of the animators and cartoonists that created some of those shows you grew up on?
DG: Yes, and yes. Animators, comic book artists, Youtube artists and people on deviantART contribute to my inspirations.

LK: I’ve heard you talk some about cartoons and TV shows, but I don’t think I’ve ever heard your thoughts on movies. What would you consider to be some of your favorite movies?
DG: Well, I'm not much of a movie person, but I do have some favorites, like House Party, the Back to the Future trilogy, Friday, Space Jam, A Goofy Movie, and The Lion King, just to name a few.

LK: What about favorite TV shows, cartoons and/or anime, if any of the latter?
DG: Favorite cartoons are Ren and Stimpy, (the very show that got me into drawing,) Looney Tunes, Tiny Toons, Animaniacs, Doug, Rocko's Modern Life, Pepper Ann, Garfield, What-a-Cartoon Show, Dragonball Z, and there are many others I can't name. As far as shows go, pretty much 90% of anything Nickelodeon had on in the early to mid 90s and most of everything that came on Cartoon Network.

LK: What about the other 10% with Nickelodeon? Care to tell me that?
DG: The other 10% would be Hey Dude, Space Cases, Welcome Freshman and Aaahh! Real Monsters. Although Welcome Freshman and Hey Dude had damn good intro music, I found myself turning the channel after the intro was over. There was just something about the shows that I just couldn't connect with and the same goes for Aaahh! Real Monsters. Given how much I loved cartoons then, I just couldn't get into that show. Space Cases, I didn't like at all. I didn't like the intro or anything about the show. I think the only reason I thought that show might grab my attention was because it had the Black Power Ranger as one of the casting members.

LK: From what I gathered from your Y2K After Effects videos, you seem to like rock and hip-hop from the 80s and 90s when it comes to music. What do you consider your favorite bands/artists? Are there any other music genres that you like?
DG: I did have a lot of favorite rock bands like Metallica, Static-X and Slipknot, and I have a passion for "old school" hip-hop. These days, I pay no attention to what's on the radio and I can't remember the last time I saw a full-length music video on TV, let alone watched much TV. These days you can tell when people just don't care to put any effort in music, especially when the music videos are full of materialistic stuff and no real music. Nowadays, I listen to underground hip-hop, unknown artists and music on Youtube. As far as a favorite genre of music goes, I always had a thing for Smooth Jazz and I have recently got into Lounge music. Keeps me calm, and I enjoy being relaxed.

LK: Ok, so basically that would represent most of your opinion in regards to music. Any other bands/artists that you would consider favorites?
DG: Paul Hardcastle (Smooth Jazz), Damu Fudgemunk (Youtube Hip-Hop artist), and Ethereal Universe (Youtube artist)

(Like what you've heard so far? Check out some more here: Orbillennium Music Playlist)

LK: I’ve heard some of the music you’ve created. Pretty cool stuff. May I ask what inspired you to try your hand at creating music?
DG: I'm no musician, but I just got tired of hearing what everyone's definition of music was these days. So I took a stab at making my own music. I knew what type of sounds I wanted to hear, so I would attempt making my own music tracks.

LK: Do you have any original characters or concepts that you’ve come up with for shows and that kinda thing?
DG: Well for the most part, I haven't come up with any concepts for TV and stuff like that. I don't have any intention to put my characters on TV and what not. My goal is to build my Orbillennium name as a way to host quality art (my cartoon characters) and quality videos, like the stuff on my Youtube and deviantART accounts.

LK: I was going to ask you about your goals and that kinda thing, but that's a fairly decent answer as to your intentions. Do you have any other goals or other specific ones in mind? Also, about the name "Orbillennium", where did you come up with that?
DG: Well, my other goals would be to make comic books and/or online comics, videos and animations with my characters. The name Orbillennium came from me being tired of how this millennium has been in terms of humanity and entertainment. I thought it would be kinda cool to create my own millennium rather than just some company. The "Orb" name comes from an idea I had for a comic book company name that I came up with in high school called Orb Comics. But as time when on and things got more crappy in society, the “Orb” name soon branched into its own millennium.

LK: So I take it you’ve been trying to come up with some ways to combat these “Y2K After Effects”. How are you going on that?
DG: Well so far, not very good, given all the financial woes I’ve had and not having much motivation or free time to draw, with work and personal stuff and whatnot. I'm sure that sooner or later, things will start to go good for me and I can rise to the occasion of dealing with these Y2K After Effects.

LK: Oh geez, I'm sorry to hear that. Well, I hope for the best, since I see a lot of potential in you as an artist. I'd ask about what you do for work and all that, but that's most likely another question for another time. Anyways, next question: what do you use to create your artwork?
DG: I usually use HB pencils, Faber Castell drawing pens, and depending on the mood I'm in, I will either color it by hand with Prismacolor pencils or markers on Bristol board paper or I'll scan it in my computer and color it in Photoshop.

LK: How about your videos and music? How do you make those?
DG: Depending on what type of video it is will determine how I will approach it. For example, those Y2K videos I did. Everything starts with inspiration and motivation. I would watch several videos whether it was based on nostalgia or rant videos. In my head I begin to create a story of what I want it to look like. So with careful planning and editing, I try to bring out the scare factor of why things are the way they are in entertainment today. With the music I make it's no different. The only difference being that it's from a musical perspective. I am no musician, so I create by ear. I know what kind of vibe I'm looking for and what sounds I want to hear so I just start trying out different things until I come across something that compliments what I'm looking for. I don't have any high tech equipment or anything like that. All I have is a Midi keyboard and music software and so far, that is all I've really needed.

LK: Ok, but what software do you use to make your videos?
DG: I use Vegas Movie Studio 10 to edit videos, and I use FL Studio to make my music.

LK: Also, when I asked about your videos, you mentioned trying to "bring out the scare factor of why things are the way they are in entertainment today." So was it your intention to "scare people straight" with these videos? The Teeny Bopper Bacteria one in particular I felt was pretty terrifying.
DG: My intention wasn't to scare people senseless, but to give somewhat of a scare as to where entertainment is nowadays and where it's headed. And yeah, the teeny bopper bacteria video was illustrating the fail of the human race and who today's lack of entertainment is catering to. But the way I put it together, it looked like a virus that was spreading and infecting everyone that actually appreciates quality entertainment.

LK: I was talking to a friend about the bumpers, promos, and commercials on Nickelodeon back in the 80s and 90s, and how there was something in the classic Nickelodeon that the modern Nick sadly lacks that I couldn't quite put my finger on. He suggested that it was probably the surrealism and over-exaggeration in the look of the channel and that nowadays, the bumpers and commercials want to be as plain and generic as possible. Would you say that's part of the reason, aside from the lack of quality programming and the teeny bopper targeting, why most of these networks have fallen from grace?
DG: Well, that is true. There is also the overprotective parents who worry about everything being right these days and because there are a lot of rules out there nowadays in reference to what they can show on TV. And then there are the networks that are too afraid to take risk with some of the content that they showcase on TV, and are in constant fear of lawsuits and other overprotective parents complaining about kids’ entertainment.

LK: Ok, I've asked about some of the aspects of entertainment like cartoons, TV shows, movies, music and that kinda thing, but do you have any opinions about video games or are you not too familiar with gaming to have anything to say about them?
DG: Well I haven't put much in what's going on in the video game world other than the constant complaining and nagging about the graphics being what makes the game instead of the gameplay itself and what not so I can't say much about the gaming industry in general.

LK: I see. I take it you're not into video games all that much, then.
DG: Well, I'm not much of a gamer. I'm trying to get back into it but it's a slow process.

LK: Lately, I've been checking out old 80s and 90s commercials, and I noticed how they actually tend to be more genuinely entertaining than most of today's commercials. Do you think there's a reason for that as well? 
DG: If you look at some of the old commercials while there is an emphasis to promote and/or sell something, it doesn't feel like it was forced on the consumer. It feels more like it was done for least that's how I see it. It's almost as if commercials were made to entertain rather than sell something. And with less strict rules during that time and less influence from soccer moms and other overprotective parties on what type of content can be put on TV, it seems like people had more freedom and more fun to make commercials the way they did back then.

LK: Looking back at your response to my question of what convinced you that the entertainment industry was going down the tubes, you mentioned that you felt entertainment was much better back then. In what ways would you say they were better than today's entertainment?
DG: There was a better sense of creativity and fun. It felt like people weren't trying to impress corporations or parents. It felt like they were trying to impress themselves, which is why the entertainment had more quality.

LK: One would figure that, going by your other Y2K videos, you were just an overly nostalgic adult, but your “Childhood Innocence” Y2K After Effects Video seems to show that, as well as the state of entertainment, you feel concern for modern youth as well. I bet you consider childhood a very important time in someone’s life. Care to explain why you feel that?
DG: Everything that happens during your childhood years creates what will become of you in your teen and adult years. There’s always the old saying that everything begins at home. When you hear of kids who are disruptive and somewhat of a menace to society, it usually occurs from how they were raised as a child. Not everything is based on childhood, but a good majority of what happens in your childhood shapes you into what you will become later on in your life.

Entertainment kept a lot of us out of trouble and kept us all in a fun atmosphere making us want to do fun stuff, go out doors, etc. Some of that entertainment also taught morals and lessons in life. But when that 's taken away, you're left with menacing kids that cause trouble and are sucked in by peer pressure.  A good example of this is in the "Childhood Innocence" video. Near the end of the video there is a segment that discusses the peer pressures of what kids wear and how they act around others because of infatuations with certain celebrities and the fact that everyone thinks more about relationships and sex at a ridiculously young age than they do about where they will be in life.

LK: You certainly seem passionate about this, I can tell. Is it a fear of yours that children would grow up too fast?
DG: Well, I think that it’s already happened, but I do feel that it could get much worse.

LK: Oh dear. Like how so? Do you have any way you plan to prevent that and the other “growing up too fast” issues through your work?
DG: There isn't really much that can be done. Like the times change, people change as well. The only real way that things can get better is if they start learning to live better than they are now which will also take the help of parents who can raise them right and as far as entertainment is concerned, doing things independently like what I'm doing now may very well be the only way because trying to rely on corporations (as you can see by the way television entertainment is) isn't gonna do much good.

To end things on a positive note, he has just recently started a new website for the Orbillenium name, which can be found here: Orbillennium

Definitely check it out when you can. And to Dwayne, thank you for agreeing to do this interview and I hope you will be able to one day let your creativity shine for all to see.

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Picture Books In Danger?

Not too long ago, I read this article from 2010 telling that picture books are no longer a staple for children. Part of it was due to the economic downturn, as was mentioned, but what got my attention was the mention that parents were pressuring kids to read text-laden chapter books over picture books earlier in their lives. And I don’t mean 10 or 12-year olds; I mean kindergarteners and first graders.

To hear parents instilling that kind of thing to their children this early in life absolutely DISGUSTS ME.

I’ve been reading since I was a toddler, and if there’s one aspect of literature that has always fascinated me throughout my childhood, it was the picture book. The illustrations that were contained in these wonderful tomes were one of the reasons why I got interested in drawing. I even came up with my own silly parodies that my mom would type on the computer while I dictated them, and then I would draw my own illustrations in them, even if, at the point in my life that I came up with them, they were very crude stick figures done in marker.

To me, one of the most fascinating aspects of picture books were the actual illustrations themselves. I mean, yeah, the stories and the wording did interest me as well, of course, but what really sucked me in and actually made me want to read them were the illustrations. The artwork of standouts like Dr. Seuss, Dav Pilkey, Bill Peet, Jack Kent, Lane Smith, Chris Van Allsburg, Mercer Mayer, Maurice Sendak, Stan and Jan Berenstain, H.A. Ray, Shel Silverstein, Berkeley Breathed, and the Little Golden Book artists, among others, always appealed to me somehow, whether it was the design, the detail, the colors, the visual humor, or even the atmosphere of the piece, and proved that some of these illustrators really knew how to create books that were visually interesting, stimulating for the imagination, and, more often than not, fun to read. And if they were writers as well or they teamed up with writers who acknowledged their skills and let them show off their work, that made it all the more better.

"Uggh, what a stench! So THAT'S why they're green!"
Too Dumb To Win An Award? Sure. Too Dumb To Not Be Funny? Heck No.
Uh, heh, I hope they don't mean "lost his head" in the same way that I'm thinking of...
Or "How The Wolf Unintentionally Got The Negative 'Big Bad Wolf' Stereotype Associated With Him."
Notice that "Now A Major Motion Picture!" sticker in the corner? Yeah, that's not an out-of-date addition to the book at all.
You can tell that this is a very early Little Critter just by how it was drawn. It does make me wonder if Mayer was considered a "Poor Man's Maurice Sendak" at the time, though...
It amazes me how the Berenstain Bears went from fun, silly antics to cutesy moralistic fluff to having some religious "Living Lights" books published by Zonderkidz starting in the late 2000s for some reason. Talk about going Lighter And Softer! 
"This is Major George to Ground Control, I just stepped through the door, and I'm floating in a most peculiar way..."
"Now, Boy, I want you to give this special apple to a girl named Snow White..."
Who wants to guess that they just caught someone skinny dipping?
A staple in young children's reading since 1942, and let's hope it still IS...
But again, to hear of parents that are like that just makes me cringe, because it only further instills the stereotype that modern children grow up too fast. If I ever saw one of those parents telling their children they can do “better than this” or encouraging them to read this much text at such a young age, I’d feel the desire to take them away from their children for a second, and scold them furiously, something like, “Screw you, you insensitive jerk, just let your kids live their childhood out while they still have it!” I wouldn’t actually try a stunt like that, since I wouldn’t know what consequences it would bring about, but I would still want these people to learn a thing or two about raising their kids right. Childhood is one of the most important times in a person’s life, the point when they’re the most developmental, and to hear of parents that do such things really pisses me off. It makes me wonder if they ever took child psychology, like my mom did.

I myself have an interest in making picture books of my own at some point. Sometimes, I’d visit my local libraries to take a look see at their picture books and re-live some childhood memories of reading these stories while creating new ones from reading books I haven’t read before.

In 2011, I also ordered a picture book from Barnes And Noble done by an artist that I had taken an interest in, Brianne Drouhard, an animator who has done design and storyboard work for stuff like Teen Titans, The Avengers: Earth’s Mightiest Heroes and Class of 3000. That book was Billie The Unicorn. It had a cute and surprisingly interesting story and endearing characters, and of course, Brianne’s incredible artwork. Every page explodes with stylish design and eye-popping color that demonstrates her incredible skill and instantly made me a full-fledged fan of her work.

(This last one isn't from the actual book, but it's still associated with the character and it looks great, so I felt like adding it, regardless.)

(A rough piece of fanart I drew for Brianne as a way for thanking her for the book. She felt I got the characters down with this one.)

Also, I’ve been checking out the work of illustrator William Joyce lately. You may know of him for recently being responsible for Dreamworks’ “Rise Of The Guardians,” and the incredible, highly-recommended, must-see 2011 Academy Award Winning Animated Short Film, “The Fantastic Flying Books Of Mr. Morris Lessmore,” created in association with Shreveport-based Moonbot Studios, (which can be seen on Youtube, for those curious,) but Joyce is a familiar name in both children’s books and animation, creating such books like George Shrinks, Rollie Pollie Ollie, A Day With Wilbur Robinson, (which was adapted into Disney’s Meet The Robinsons,) and The Leaf Men And The Brave Good Bugs (which has been adapted into the Blue Sky Studios film “Epic,” and was released this year,) just to name a few. I’ve only read some of them so far, like Santa Calls and Dinosaur Bob And His Adventures With The Family Lazardo, but I’ve really enjoyed what I read and definitely look forward to reading more. What amazing artwork! What imaginative storytelling! William Joyce has proven himself to be a creative powerhouse, and I’ve grown to really admire a lot of his work ever since learning of his name. I may be a young adult now, but I still appreciate picture books for reasons like those.

Just so you're aware, this isn't a screenshot from the actual animated short of "Mr. Morris Lessmore," but rather the book adaptation of the story.
Even though I have read chapter books and longer novels myself in my later childhood, I still don’t think there’s anything wrong with children reading picture books, as long as they are visually interesting and tell good stories while stimulating imagination and being fun to look at. I don’t know if things have changed much since 2010, but hopefully, there may be a resurgence of this format of literature, a day when parents will realize their mistakes and allow children to read more of what they want rather than what the parents want them to read, because no matter what anyone else says, picture books really are a great introduction to both the art of storytelling and the art of illustration for children. 

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Mike Nguyen's My Little World

Sorry if I haven’t posted anything in a while. It can be hard when you’re trying to think of what all to talk about when there’s so much you want to say. I will try to get around to posting more whenever possible.

Anyways, on to the article.

One thing that tends to interest me about hand-drawn animated films over other mediums of animation is finding out who some of the artists and animators are and finding out what all they worked on or ARE working on. Some of these are pretty familiar, like many of Disney’s biggest names, but some aren’t very well known outside of certain animation circles. One of these names in the latter is Mike Nguyen, who, in spite of having an animation career that has spanned from Disney (Beauty And The Beast) to Warner Bros. (Space Jam, Quest Of Camelot, The Iron Giant) to Dreamworks (The Road To El Dorado) to others (Once Upon A Forest, The Pagemaster), is very unfamiliar to the public. Hopefully, his dream project will change that.

Since 2000, he’s been working on a hand-drawn animated film known as “My Little World”. I found out about it not too terribly long ago, but needless to say, just one look at that in-progress trailer on Youtube and I was fascinated by what I saw. Not only were the designs cute and appealing, but the animation was incredible. There was a real sense of flow, weight, and energy to it. But don’t take my words for it, check it out!

Doesn’t that just look so interesting? I’m not even a sports fan and I’m still intrigued by what I saw. It looks like it was created by someone that really understands the art of hand-drawn animation and really loves the medium. And with a career like his, Mike certainly seems like just the kind of person who’d work on an independent animated film project like this.

From what I heard, the story is pretty basic, about a little boy who is upset over a loss and is sent to stay with his aunt in the countryside for the summer, since his parents hope the change of scenery would do him good. While there, he befriends some of the local kids in town and gets drawn into their self-made summer soccer tournament. It basically sounds like a Hayao Miyazaki kid’s movie mixed with The Sandlot, only instead of baseball, the sport in question is soccer, or football, as it’s known to the rest of the world. And hopefully, there won’t be crude language or an unfortunate vomiting storm on a Tilt-A-Whirl set to The Champs’ “Tequila”.

However, just from what I’ve read on the film’s website and in interviews, Mike really put a lot of thought as to what his intentions and themes with this film will be. As he said in his recent interview with the animation blog, FLIP:

“My Little World is a hand-drawn theatrical feature film about the purity of innocence, the joy of living through simple day-life experiences and the very endearing warmth of true friendships. For me, such abstract and intricate experiences of feelings and emotions can be best conveyed through senses of motion - that is really what animation is wonderfully capable of.”

Just from the sound of it, I figure Mike’s out to make a movie that’s pure Sweet Dreams Fuel, an optimistic and bright film that embraces a lot of the wonders of simple everyday life, similar to such Hayao Miyazaki kid’s films like “My Neighbor Totoro” and “Kiki’s Delivery Service,” while intertwining such complex themes into its straightforward narrative while still appealing to the young AND the young-at-heart. As long as it doesn’t talk down to kids and treats them seriously, I’m all for it.

The film IS still in production as of now, though, and Mike had also mentioned in this interview that he’s trying to find investors willing to fund such a project. According to him:

“The problem has been that, although the budget of an indie animated film is very small compared to a studio film, it is still larger than a modest live-action production. And, to date, very few indie animated features from around the world have made their investment back, however small their budgets.

“I feel that smaller films with fresh, diverse and interesting contents will be a new future for the animation industry. The key to paving this path lies more in the film-makers than the investors. Every new independent animated film that has been released - and failed commercially - creates harder conditions for the next indie film to be made. But if just one independent film should succeed in a huge way, this will inspire a new framework in animated film-making, with a tremendous potential for growth both commercially and creatively.”

Well, I certainly hope that this movie is able to accomplish such a goal. However, there are two things I would like to suggest to Mike Nguyen on the highly unlikely chance that he’s reading this. One, consider Kickstarter in case you’re in need of extra funding and you haven’t found an investor yet, and two, avoid the Completion Bond Company like the plague. (Richard Williams wishes that HE followed that last step…)

I could go more into this, but I just want to conclude by saying that this sounds like a really, really good animated film and I hope its production and release is a success. I, for one, definitely look forward to seeing it. In the meantime, here are some links: 

The Home Page for My Little World and the production company, July Films:

Mike Nguyen’s Blog, Rainplace: 

A Harvey Deneroff commentary related to the film and Mike Nguyen (May 18, 2003):

The Youtube Page, where you can see some behind-the-scenes stuff related to the film’s creation:

Animation Insider Interview (March 22, 2012):