Friday, December 30, 2011

The Direction of Animation as of 2011

There is yet another (but insightful) article and debate about the future of animation, cartooning and filmmaking in general at Cartoon Brew.

Not going to get into that debate here but it did bring to mind that despite all the things CG animation is praised for what it can do, it's interesting how much little attention is given to what it's not doing. Or rather how the medium is not being maximized nor fully exploited.

"Realism"seems to be the mantra of CG animation. To that I answer, "so what"? The computer can do so much, literally anything. However, it seems more attention is put on "replicating" life, rather than reinterpreting it. I liked Kung Fu Panda 2, but seeing all down to the little taste-buds in Po's tongue while he's screaming in 3D fails to impress me. At least the way it was done.

I remember a similar shot from John Kricfalusi's Spumco, Inc.'s animation on the Ren and Stimpy show. In that case, artists exploited that shot by ruthlessly caricaturing the sores, mis-colorations, and critters found on the character's tongue.

My point is there seems to be more editorial done in the process of hand-drawn animation rather than in CG animation. Not that it can't be done, but (correct me if I'm wrong) it just isn't being done. It seems producers are so wrapped up in technology, dazzling audiences with photo-realistic cartoons, they are overlooking the simplest points in getting a reaction from audiences. Just creating a photo-realistic image is not enough.

Since cartoons have proven to be a multi-billion dollar business there is more financial pressure on studios to minimize risks and losses. In that kind of ginger-footed environment, could a Tex Avery of CG animation be born?

Chuck Jones' 1963 short film "Now Hear This" is a perfect example of the editorial that hand-drawn just tends to inherently do. "Now Hear This", simple as it is, was a lot more entertainingly experimental than a lot of things in CG recently. It's not that CG can't do these things, it's just that unfortunately as of December 31st 2011, we don't see it being done enough.

Sunday, December 25, 2011

John Carter of Japan

Excited to see animation directors Andrew Stanton and Brad Bird taking their aim at live action.

Films are marketed differently in Japan for obvious reasons. The "desperate to get the teenage-male demographic" for Disney's, "Tangled" was still titled "Rapunzel" here in Japan. The idyllic fairy tale paradigm still goes over quite well in here.

That might be the reason why "The Dark Knight" had disappointing financial results in Japan. The general consensus was that it was, well....dark. Japan's mainstream moviegoers don't really see being "jaded" or "edgy" as attractive a virtue as in the USA.

Nitpicking, but I wish they kept the "John Carter of Mars" title for the Japan release of Disney's John Carter. The Japanese coming attraction reveals a lot more about the plot than the USA versions. My only questions is what was John Carter doing in New York? I thought he was a Confederate from Virgina.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Little Inspiration

A photo I took on Shichigosan Day. I love the kid in the back. He almost looks like an animated caricature.

Monday, December 5, 2011

Happy 110th Uncle Walt -The Greatest Artist To Draw Without a Pencil

It's a day late here in Tokyo, but December 5th, 2011 marks what would have been Walt Disney's 110th birthday.

This is not Disney-phile rhetoric, but Walt Disney was a great man. In my Disney history snobbery I've said too much about his drawbacks: his attitudes towards people of color and women, his business policies, his *cough*, draftsmanship.

But none of that is really important ultimately.

Even the people who had reservations about Walt quickly admit he was brilliant and his contributions to the institution of film (and yes, world culture), immeasurable.

As I like to say, Walt was greatest artist to draw without the use of a pencil.

Cartoon Brew has a worthwhile link and note to his birthday, here.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Bob Peak - Father of the Modern Movie Poster

I can't go since I'm stuck in Tokyo at the moment, but I hope someone catches this since this is a one day shot.

Bob Peak exemplifies everything that is good and important about what an artist or illustrator brings to the movie poster. When movie posters could still be considered coveted illustration art and not photoshopped fashion photos----Bob Peak revolutionized what we know as the Hollywood movie poster. Bob Peak is to the modern Hollywood movie poster is what J.C. Leyendecker is to modern illustration.

His work didn't just advertise the movie but it arguably made and artistic statement about the concept, theme and energy of the film.

The Society of Illustrators is having special event today to honor Bob Peak. It would behoove anyone who still appreciates illustration and taste to go. ONE day only.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Norman Rockwell - My Adventures as an Illustrator

Norman Rockwell's autobiography reads very much like his illustrations. Simple, sometimes poignant, full of heart and undeniably cinematic. Since TV is out to exploit the 20th Century's golden years recently, this would make great mini-series.

Rockwell's illustrations have always had an "animated" feel to them. From the way he tells stories, I'm convinced he would have made a great story man at any animation studio.
His recollections on his friend Joseph Leyendecker and the influence of his first editor at the Saturday Evening Post, George Horace Lorimer are worth the read alone.

Rockwell ends his biography circa 1959. His son, Tom Rockwell closes it with an afterword about his father's interest and support of the Civil Rights Movement and the last years of his life. Wish I read this sooner.

Monday, October 31, 2011

Happy Halloween From Tokyo

Always loved Japan's answer to Fantasia, Robot Carnival(1987).

The segment, "Nightmare" directed by Takeshi Nakamura (中村 たかし) pays homage to Disney's Night on Bald Mountain from Fantasia and The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad segment, Legend of Sleepy Hollow.

Happy Halloween. Enjoy.

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Shiny Things That Mean Nothing

That's exactly what I read on the description on the first art piece at the Yokohama Triennale 2011 at the Yokohama Museum of Art today. This is Japan's leading art exhibition of contemporary art that is held every three years. Without a doubt there was work from from the world leading contemporary artists, including Yoko Ono. (How could she not be included?) There was craftsmanship, there was meticulousness, there was obvious thought and hard work and there were....questions. I.E. "What do you want to say??"

I'm no snob. Experimental expression is a must. But I like to believe that art is "communication" not masturbation. If you express something so nebulous and you know that no one is likely to understand what you're saying off the bat----then why communicate anything at all?

There's an anecdote in Norman Rockwell's, "My Adventures as an Illustrator" where a young hippie was in his studio observing Rockwell's process. Rockwell was working an illustration of Johnny Appleseed and the hippie said, "Whatcha doing it that way for?" The hippie scribbled off some unintelligible (but I guess passionate) scribbles onto a piece of paper, declaring it to be better depiction of Johnny Appleseed. Rockwell told him no one would be able to identify the scribbles but himself. The hippie responded, "So? What difference does it make about anyone else? I know it's old Johnny. I'm painting it for myself."

Expressing something for yourself is one thing, but the moment you put it out there for others to see now, you're communicating. Don't you want to be understood?

There are worthwhile, visually beautiful and sometimes inspiring things there no doubt. (Maybe that's enough?) Some things communicated to me better than others. I'll leave it at that.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Animation School in the Palm of Your Hand Part II

I blogged earlier about how animator Clay Kaytis had made this amazing podcast called, "The Animation Podcast". Great and inspiring interviews with animators such as Glen Keane, Ray Harryhausen, Andreas Deja, James Baxter and Eric Goldberg. There were 30 podcasts in all. The last podcast available on iTunes was about three years ago.

For those going through Animation Podcast withdraw, I am sure you have found other great podcasts online. Animation Mentor has its newsletter and offers webcasts through its site. There's Toon In! made by the UPA Legacy Project. And of course there is the SplineCast from the Spline Doctors.

What stood out the most was TAG Blog's TAG Interview by Steve Hulett. TAG Blog is designed in the interest of promoting members of The Animation Guild, I.A.T.S.E. Local 839. Here, you just won't hear interviews with the household names in animation like Andreas Deja, Burny Mattinson or Andy Gaskill, but very noteworthy people in animation who might not be at the tip of your tongue. On TAG Interview people seem to be a bit more "frank" about their experiences in animation. See the Walt Peregoy interview for further clarification.

What people offer to say on the TAG Interview isn't always as "carefully phrased" or "self-censored" as in some other interviews. Realities of production, working with difficult or unscrupulous people, breaking in, and yes, what to do in the face of unemployment. You'll find a little of all that in the TAG Interview. A nice compliment to the other sources of what you can learn about animation online.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011


The photo above I shamefully swiped from so I could make this post. As the icon landed on my desktop I saw that whoever named the file didn't label it with a random series of alpha-numeric characters. The file as was named: "Hero".

Steve Jobs, 1955 - 2011 was indeed one of the few true great innovators remaining from the 20th Century, perhaps the most culturally, technologically expansive centuries known to mankind.

American illustrator, J. Scott Campbell in his tweet about Jobs' passing called him, "the Walt Disney of technology". He is so right. Aside from his key role in the development of Pixar Animation, he like Disney, and many other visionaries, furthered the technology of his industry as well as the culture surrounding it.

When I think of the innovators I respect, I notice that they all have this in common: they have created their own universes and were driven by indomitable passion to follow the voice of what they felt to be important and what made them happy. Even when they failed (and think of those innovators you admire) ....failure didn't stop them.

"Your time is limited, so don't waste it living someone else's life. Don't be trapped by dogma — which is living with the results of other people's thinking. Don't let the noise of others' opinions drown out your own inner voice. And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become. Everything else is secondary." - Steve Jobs

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Gucci x Hirohiko Araki = 幸せ

Johnny-Come-Lately again, BUT at least this time, you have two days left to catch this.

Anyone remember the anime or manga series Baoh? JoJo's Bizarre Adventure? If art, animation, illustration, Gucci or fashion stirs anything in you, this is something you might want to check out.

Observing its 90th Anniversary (80th Anniversary in Japan), Gucci has collaborated with manga artist Hirohiko Araki in connection with his 30th Anniversary (in the business I have to assume). I was more familiar with the anime and manga series, Baoh which was published back in the late eighties in Japan but didn't get translated for U.S. audiences until the early nineties.

This might not seem like the obvious match up, but maybe fans of the manga or anime, JoJo's Bizarre Adventure might know that Araki has named some of his characters after famous fashion designers. To his advantage, there even an echo of his characters in the Gucci logo as one part of the JoJo's story it set in Italy and JoJo is known there as "GioGio". (Is that reading too much into it?)

I blogged earlier about the death of illustration in light of the way film poster art has been hijacked by Photoshopped photography. But things like this bring optimism that the powers that be understand illustration and the hand-drawn line still has a significant impact on people. American comic artist J. Scott Campbell did a similar comic art/ fashion collaboration with Express Jeans in 2003 and Hogan Milan Fashion Week in 2007. Dig around, I'm sure you'll find images.

The exhibition hall showcasing this work can be found at the GUCCI Store in Shinjuku, Tokyo....until, ah, October 6th. There you will find original artwork and illustrations by Araki as well as a full sized figure of the JoJo's Bizarre Adventure character, Rohan Kishibe. Also if you're in town grab a copy of the October issue of Japanese fashion magazine, Spur. Inside is a 16 page manga of "Rohan Kishibe Goes to Gucci".

If you can't get to Shinjuku in the next couple of days, or get a hold of Spur, I've included images from the magazine and the event below. Enjoy.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Don't Sleep on Frédéric Back

I meant to post this a long time ago, but if you're in Tokyo tomorrow is the last day to catch this amazing Studio Ghibli sponsored exhibit on Canadian animator, Frederic Back

Animator, illustrator, muralist, author, Knight, and Academy Award winner has a plethora of his work in film and television at the Museum of Contemporary Art Tokyo on display until tomorrow I'm afraid.

There are over one thousand drawings from his days of studying Fine Art in France, to his illustrations, his educational animation work at Radio Canada to (what I found most emotionally moving) tons of sketches he made traveling cross country in Canada with his wife on their honeymoon. Of course there is original work from his Academy Award winning films, The Man Who Planted Trees, and Crac.

There's a sleepy, dreamlike quality to his work that comes off almost like post-Impressionistic art in animation. Nothing to sleep on. Very inspiring.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Unforgettable J.C. Leyendecker

"It scared me. Joe had been the most famous illustrator in America. Then the Post had dropped him; advertising agencies had dropped him, the public had forgotten him. He died in obscurity. "

- Norman Rockwell, from My Adventures as an Illustrator

Just read a haunting chapter from Norman Rockwell's biography, My Adventures as an Illustrator. Rockwell had nothing but the deepest admiration for J.C. Leyendecker or Joe as he refers to him in his book.

Leyendecker met an unnecessarily tragic end, but he contrary to Rockwell's feelings, he has not been completely forgotten. He's no longer a household name, but his work still influences artists and illustrators today.

Anyway after Rockwell's chapter on Leyendecker I had to revisit some of my old reference books on him. I agree with Rockwell, that perhaps because of circumstances that would ultimately lead to his undoing, his work did "fall off" towards the end of his career. But the work that he made prior to his downfall is simply amazing and inspiring.

Friday, August 19, 2011

The Harimaya Bridge is available... so what movie are YOU going to see?

Four years ago, I had the honor of being one the many who helped this film come to life. But The Harimaya Bridge had its inception as much as more than ten years ago. Proof of the reward of perseverance.

This feature film is now available via video on demand (VOD) on most cable and satellite systems in more than 100 million households in the U.S. and cool is that??

The Harimaya Bridge stars Ben Guillory, Saki Takaoka, Misa Shimizu, and Danny Glover (who also severed as the film's producer).
The film is about American man who must go to rural Japan after the sudden death of his estranged son there, and the secrets he discovers his son left behind.

The film had a nationwide release in theaters in Japan and a limited release in the U.S. The LA Times called it "powerful" and "a unique, complex, consciousness-raising accomplishment". So you don't have to just take my word for it because I worked on it.

YES, I am going to drop the "S" word: SUPPORT good films. This is Summer we are assaulted by countless tentpole movies like: Transformers 3, Pirates of the Carribbean, whichever superhero movie you want to pick.... Fine all well and good, but if you want something that is entertaining as well as something you can say was time well-spent, well you have a choice...

Learn more here:

Please watch, and please help spread the word. Thanks!

Friday, August 12, 2011

Nine Old Mad Men?

Just finally read John Canemaker's, "Nine Old Men and the Art of Animation". So well written and good reading. After reading this as well as several volumes of "Walt's People" edited by Dider Ghez, this just confirms for me how compelling and dramatic the lives and relationships of these artists were. I still say these stories (as well as other noteworthy people at Disney's) would make an awesome biographic miniseries. There's sexism, substance abuse, racism, backbiting, competitiveness but above all that you have this art form rising above all that to tell great stories.

Who wouldn't be interested in seeing the stories of the people who literally created modern animation as we know it? Especially noting the heavy drinking, chain smoking, foul mouthed, competitive atmosphere at the old studio in contrast to the "Mouse and Fairy factory" image the general public has.

Again as I noted this somewhere in some forum before but someone responded that today's Disney executives would probably never let it happen for those very reasons.

Anyway, it's an idea. That's where all things begin. Naysayers or no.

Nine Old "Mad Men", anyone?

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Jeffrey Catherine Jones, (1944 -2011)

Frank Frazetta called her "The world's greatest living painter." I just learned this great heavyweight of art and illustration passed away recently. After losing Frazetta last year, it's another sad blow to the world of illustration.

My favorite quote from her on digital painting: "...this piece was done entirely in Photoshop - I said "never" and now I say "never again." Where's the painting? It doesn't exist! I can't carry it around in the backyard thumping it."

To be sure, those tangible masterpieces actually touched and created by her hands will be regarded even more precious.

Clip from Maria Cabardo's documentary, Better Things: Life and Choices of Jeffery Jones.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Game Changers Part I

Found a trinity geek fest with a DGA salute to Steven Spielberg. Steven Spielberg, James Cameron and J.J. Abrams all on one stage.

The Golden Boy, the Maverick and I guess the would be Newcomer.

Spielberg sometimes seems cagey when discussing his craft, and to my knowledge has never done a "DVD audio commentary" for any his films.

Because of this, I think he's one of the few who still value the power (and importance) of magic and illusion in filmmaking. (And said it himself that his participation in the Q&A was killing the illusion of moviemaking)

He says there should be no such thing as "trade secrets" and that everyone in the industry should share whatever great discoveries that they have found. I personally agree, but I feel that Steven was perhaps referring to technical process not artistic. Just my opinion.

Should artist feel a need to "explain" themselves? Perhaps not. But when it's in the interest of teaching, encouraging others and raising the bar of the medium for everyone, it's certainly good.

Not as super-insightful as I would like it to have been, but it's definitely a treat. Enjoy.

Monday, July 4, 2011

Who Remembers Movie Programs?!

Super 8 was some of the most planned, manipulative uses of nostalgia I've seen in a long time and I loved it. My usual routine to after seeing a movie in Tokyo is to buy a movie program. No, when I say movie program, I don't mean Final Cut Pro or iMovie.

Doesn't anyone remember movie programs?! Super 8 had tons of flaws but it worked as a piece of narrative nostalgia. Just had to get a program. Why didn't the folks in marketing drop the other shoe and release movie programs to accompany the film? (If I'm wrong, please correct me)

Anyone who connected with the nostalgia in this movie, anyone who saw at least ONE 80's Spielberg or Star Wars film in a theater in their lifetime certainly remembers the the pleasure of having "piece of the movie" to take home as a memento or at least certainly a conversation piece.

Folks like to throw that term "viral marketing" around. Which basically is virtual technobabble to say "word of mouth". What better viral marketing than your movie program floating around, sitting on the coffee table when friends come over?

Rather than shelling out an extra 5 bucks on a pair of 3D glasses I'm going to bitch about anyway, I'd much rather spend that on a memento of a great movie experience I'll have forever. The joy of having a movie programs was like a symbol of you were in for a treat or at least you came home with with something because you attended something special.

Any Gen X'er remembers in elementary school the envy of someone having an"Empire Strikes Back" movie program and you just couldn't wait to get to the theaters (not just to see the movie) but to get your hands on one of those programs.

Movie programs are always available with the films in Japan. Any they are just as good (if not better) than the ones that were produced in the USA. The movie programs just don't give the usual publicity shots and storyline overviews, but they also have extensive material showing the pride in the craftsmanship in the making of the film. NOTE keywords: Pride, craftsmanship. If the producers felt they did a good job they should be proud to show people in print what they have labored on.

Given, much of what is covered in movie programs can be seen in the supplementary chapters on the DVD release----but who wants to wait for that?!

Go home with a movie program, in a way the studio is communicating:
"Yeah, you damn, right this is something special you're looking at here. So special we're publishing it so you can hold it in your hands, read it and take it home with your friends."

I can only post a few pages of the Super 8 movie program because the booklet just has too many pages. Definitely you get your money's worth. (26 pages in total)

So what's the deal? Americans don't read anymore? Super 8 was a nice trip back to the feeling of when the experience of movies were... yes dammit, magical experiences. Going home with a movie program certainly added to the experience.