Monday, December 10, 2012

The Power to Visualize and See

"The science of design, or of line-drawing, if you like to use this term, is the source and very essence of painting, sculpture, architecture... Sometimes... it seems to me that... all the works of the human brain and hand are either design itself or a branch of that art."  - Michelangelo 

Drawing is a communication tool and indispensable skill which helps condition the mind to visualize abstract ideas, concepts, emotions, designs and paradigms.   Something to remember.

Sunday, October 7, 2012

Illya Repin: Russia's Norman Rockwell

It's humbling a great to "discover" an artist who inspires you so much, but had existed for so long without your knowing.  At Tokyo's Bunkamura Museum,   I was lucky stumble up on the works of Illya Repin (1844 -1930) a great Russian painter whose works can mentioned in the same breath as Leo Tolstoy as being one of Russia's great artistic treasures.

Without a doubt a master painter in terms of his ability to capture realism.  (At a time where impressionism was becoming the new flavor of the month)  His ability to capture the spirit of people almost borders on caricature and almost has an "animated" feel to it.

Subtle caricature,  dramatic staging as well as subtle social commentary, there is certainly something Norman Rockwell-ish about Repin.   There is this love of people and ability to capture the most appealing or compelling parts of people in his paintings and portraits.  Truly inspiring.  Today will be the last day Repin will be exhibited at Bunkamura in Tokyo but someday a trip to St. Petersberg's Russian Museum would be more than worth it to see his works up close again.

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Bruce Lee and Hanna Barbera Animation Deal?


 I was rummaging through my old martial arts reference books.  Many of which are related to Chinese martial arts.  One of my favorite historical references is a comprehensive collection of Bruce Lee's letters to his family, friends, martial arts and film colleagues:   Bruce Lee:  Letters of the Dragon, Correspondence, 1958 - 1973. edited by John Little.  

The last letter written by Bruce Lee on the last day of his life, July 20, 1973 leaped out at me:

41, Cumberland Rd. 
Kowloon, H.K.
July 20, 1973.

Adrian Marshall
Suite 920, Century City
10100 Santa Monica Blvd.
Los Angeles, Calif. 90067

Dear Adrian,
Will be arriving Los Angeles on Aug. 3rd, would like to sit down and hope you can leave open the weekend of Aug. 4th and 5th to discuss the followings:
1/ the deal with Hana Barbera
2/ Warner's proposition
3/ Titanas from Italy
4/ Andy's proposition from H.K. which I will explain to you when I see you in person
All in all, it will be a hectic schedule with television shows, United Press interview, etc., spending one week in L.S. and leaving on Aug. 18th to New York for another week of publicity, maybe Johnny Carson Show and so forth etc. And then, my publicity tour will officially end on Aug. 24th and on Aug. 25th I will meet Linda at L.A., ready to come back to H.K. hopefully in one piece.
In the meantime, if there is any preliminary discussions that you can start without my presence, go right ahead. However, I would prefer you and I sit down first and discuss the whole plan of the income tax situation before we proceed on. Also, I would like to meet with you first before meeting with Raymond Chow and then both of us will hear him out. By the way, there are also other propositions of books, clothings, endorsements, etc. At any rate, I will talk to you personally when I see you.

Take care my friend,
Very truly yours, 


PS: Looking forward to a sincere opened and honest relationship between you and I to really do something fair and square. By the way, SY Weintraub had just called and will be flying here to H.K., supposedly to have devised a super plan for me. At any rate , I won't sign anything until I and then maybe Raymond and/or SY sit down and we all talked. So get prepared!! See you soon. 

At the top of the list  Bruce Lee wanted to discuss with his attorney, Adrian Marshall was a "deal" with the animation studio Hanna-Barbera, which in 1973 was exploding with made for TV animation content.  Hanna-Barbera's other Chinese themed cartoon, "The Amazing Chan and the Chan Clan" had already run its one season course.  However the faces we were seeing on television slowly but surely were becoming more ethnically diverse.  It's doubtful that Bruce would have landed a whole animated TV series this at this point in his Hollywood career.  But it's likely he could have been slated as an animated guest on "The New Scooby-Doo Movies"  which featured both real and fictitious popular personalities such as Cass Elliot, Davy Jones, and Batman and Robin. 

 In 1973, the "Kung Fu" TV-Series was doing well, and Bruce Lee, (the man who fathered the idea of that show) was about to bombshell western pop-culture with his re-introduction to American audiences in "Enter the Dragon".  The film, which even 40 years later is still the bar for all martial arts films to live up to. 

 If this deal with Hanna-Barbera was already greenlit, it's a no-brainer that the studio's animation great Iwao Takamoto would have overseen the project.  Iwao Takamoto, former assistant to Disney's Milt Kahl was a world-class draftsman.  Would have loved to see his model sheets interpreting Bruce Lee for animation.


Tuesday, July 24, 2012

ONTOSHIKI: One Artist You Should Watch

"Whether he is an artist or not, the photographer is a joyous sensualist, for the simple reason that the eye traffics in feelings, not in thoughts." - Walker Evans

Nothing sums up Ontoshiki better than this.

One of the advantages of living in Tokyo is that it has given me the opportunity to meet a wide range of extremely talented artists and wonderful souls.

Ontoshiki (otherwise known as Justin Vun) is one of them: an Australian photographer, a talented professional, an artist, a visual sensualist and a gifted storyteller. All this informs his photography and is easily read in his work.

There is a stream of consciousness narrative in his work that as he puts it, "spans both Eastern and Western cultures and philosophies".

Anyone who appreciates fine photography HAS to follow Ontoshiki. He did me the great favor by coordinating photo session for my other vocation within Chinese martial arts. (Please see Ki Martial Arts Studio). I found it so amazing Ontoshiki articulated many of the fine aspects of my martial art, going beyond words and conventional demonstration with his visual voice.

I am truly in awe of his work and his ability to see. His work is inspirational. Plain and simple. I am honored that I can call him a friend. Please view more of his work at : Ontoshiki Photography.

Monday, May 21, 2012

Burne Hogarth Draws The Rest of the Head

I'm sure anyone who has tried to pick up a pencil understands how frustrating drawing can be.
When I was in college I had two drawing teachers.  One drawing teacher was very strict and unforgiving. The other was very loose and open minded.  Continually he would say, "I can't teach you how to draw, but I can show you some of the rules."  While the other one would say, "NO, it's like this.", taking my fingers like I was a three-year old and repositioning them on my pencil.

Drawing or true discipline in art is something you have to learn from someone else.  A master.  You can try to reinvent the wheel, but you'd be better off listening very closely to someone who has been at it longer that you and build off that.

There are tons of "How To Draw" books out there.  But there aren't so many art books that teach you "How to Think".  Lots of books or tutorials are quite similar to what you see above.

The ability to draw is an indispensable skill for all artists.  No you don't have to be a Rembandt Van Rijn, but the ability to "visualize"what you want to communicate will take you far.

Burne Hogarth the great illustration master, is arguably one of the most referenced artists in terms of dynamic illustration.  (ie, American Comic Books).  His books like Dynamic Anatomy or Dynamic Figure Drawing are a staple in almost every artist's library.

Found an interesting clip of master Hogarth actually drawing and breaking down the human head in an instructional film.  He breaks down like a science where the points are of the human head, but again he left out one important point.  How to think.

Here are some art instructors, tutorials and books which I have found to be particularly informative on thinking about your approach towards drawing.

Matthew Archembault - Drawing Tutorials Online 
Mike Mattesi - Drawing FORCE 
Walt Stanchfield - Drawn to Life

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Tokyo Celebrates Walt Disney's 110th Birthday

Once made the mistake of telling a Tokyo resident that Walt Disney couldn't actually draw Mickey Mouse well.  She never spoke to me ever again.  Seriously.

The image of Walt Disney is damn near sacred in Japan.  Or Tokyo anyway.  It's difficult to leave your house and not see at least one Disney related image between home and your final destination.
In honor of Walt Disney's 110th birthday, the Disney Family Museum put on an exhibition with the Matsuya Ginza department store in the high-end shopping district of Ginza.

Occasionally pedestrian, but it was  very much worth taking a look (despite the aftertaste of the sledgehammer merchandising).  Lots of artifacts from Walt's personal possessions as well as artifacts from the past and wall in the Bambi section that paid tribute to Tyrus Wong that was nice to see.

Below are some shots from the exhibition.    Apparently Walt's early drawings of Mickey Mouse were there, but I didn't get to see them.  They closed the doors on me.   Retribution for spoiling someone's magic I guess. That's what I get.  

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Katsuhiro Otomo Exhibition 大友克洋 GENGATEN

The other week I posted about Katsuhiro GENGATEN exhibition at 3331 Arts Chiyoda.
Amazing work. Sadly pictures weren't allowed in the exhibition, but I was able to get a shot of this:

Friday, April 6, 2012

Every day is Milt Kahl Day

For the next forty years, Kahl was Disney graphic style, a fact he proudly touted:

I felt a little bit like the chess champion of the world at one time was a Franco-Russian by the name of Alexander Alekhine. Someone --- an onlooker --- mentioned to him, "Mr. Alekhine, that isn't a book move you made there." He said, "I am the book."

---- from John Canemaker's, Disney's Nine Old Men

He has been called the Michelangelo of animation and is usually seen as the greatest animator of all time.

Many people credit Fred Moore (who basically designed Mickey Mouse as we see him today) with the "appeal" ever present in Disney animation, but Milt Kahl, as far back as Pinocchio, has been regarded as the architect of refining graphically what is known as the "Disney style" in character animation.

There are many animation blogs that often pay tribute to him with a 'Milt Kahl Day", posting his pencil tests or drawings. Andreas Deja, Sandro Cluezo, and Jamaal Bradley's blogs are some of the most popular.

A couple of years ago I stumbled up an audio recording of what sounds like a CalArts lecture with Milt circa early 1970's when Disney's "The Rescuers" was in production. (I think this recording was available on, but it seems that it's down)

I found the recording greatly inspiring, insightful and loaded with helpful comments on staging, caricature, production and an artist's mindset towards his work. This recording is nothing new, but I noticed there wasn't anyone presently interested in sharing these valuable words I figured I'd share it.

On that note, Clay Kaytis on his Animation Podcast website has a great post with another recording of Milt Kahl at CalArts also speaking about The Rescuers. Definitely worth listening to.

In addition to the eighteen sound clips I am re-posting, I am posting the pencil test of Madame Medusa which Milt references in the recording. Apologies for not being able to combine all the clips into one track.

If you listen carefully you'll hear who I believe to be Eric Larson sitting on on the lecture. If anyone out there has anything they would like to add about this recording, please feel free to comment below.

Hope you find this as inspiring and informative as I did. Enjoy.

Credit and thanks to Jaamal Bradley for posting the clip below.

Milt Kahl & Ollie Johnston from Jamaal Bradley on Vimeo.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Toyko International Anime Fair 2012 - Goro Miyazaki Wins Big

Japan doesn't have the ComicCon or WonderCon but what it does have is the Tokyo International Anime Fair. As one of the largest Japanese animation conventions in the world, animation, film and television companies, as well as toy and game developers will all converge on one place from Thursday, March 22 to Sunday, March 25.

This will be the 10th convention in its history as last year's was canceled due to Japan's Tohoku Earthquake and Tsunami Disaster of 2011. Many of events this year will center around support for aid and recovery still needed in Japan's Tohoku region.

Anime director Goro Miyazaki, son of Hayao Miyazaki will receive the top award in the the category of Animation of the Year for "Kokurikokaza Kara" (コクリコ坂から Ani) English title: "From Up On Poppy Hill" . Dying to see how Disney is going to market a somber animated drama about Japanese high school students in 1963 struggling to move their lives forward as Japan picks itself up after World War II.

The Tokyo International Anime Fair should be prove to be interesting this year with symposiums on how Japan's animation industry will have to consider business with the China and India as they continue to grow economically. If that bores you there will be plenty of girls in anime costumes to keep you entertained.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

One Piece Exhibition

Personally not a fan of Eiichiro Oda's manga, One Piece. Arguably the most commercially popular manga in Japan since Dragonball.

Like it or not this manga is a marker for this generation of Japanese and manga-philes. I'm sure in about 10 or 15 years some Hollywood studio will acquire the rights to do a live action version of it....and likely screw it up.

From March 20th to June 17 the Mori Arts Center in Roppongi Hills (Tokyo, Japan) will host a One Piece Exhibition featuring original artwork, films, interactive media and all that geek stuff.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Snoopy Anime in Japan.

From the people who brought you Ninja Scroll, Japanese animation studio, Madhouse, Inc. has not only acquired animation rights to Charles Schulz's Peanuts, but has already completed one animated short.

Whether this means Madhouse will be animating only content for commercials or if they will be animating narrative content, is unclear at this time. Most likely it will be only for Japan since the American animation studio, Wild Brain has rights for the USA. Wild Brian animated the first Peanuts special with involvement of neither Schulz nor animation director/ producer Bill Melendez with "Happiness is a Warm Blanket Charlie Brown".

Peanuts, otherwise known simply as "Snoopy" (poor 'ol Charlie Brown, upstaged again) is immensely popular in Japan, only rivaled by Mickey Mouse.

Peanuts is now 63 years old. Charles Schulz at one time being the only person to draw the characters, as well as oversee all merchandising, there existed a certain purity in the integrity of the strip. Melendez was the only man Schulz trusted to animate the Charlie Brown and Snoopy universe. Peanuts' charm truly laid in the fact it truly was 2D, graphically. But the nuance and the timing of animated Peanuts is certainly from an American point of view, established originally by Schulz and Melendez.

If Japanese Snoopy stories will be produced, let's only pray it won't be a repeat of the horrid (and I mean horrid) miscarriage of animation like Japan's Lilo and Stitch.

Friday, March 9, 2012

Coming to Tokyo? Katsuhiro Otomo Art Exhibition - Starts April 9th

Celebrated but at the same time underrated manga artist and animation director, (my favorite Japanese animation director) Kastuhiro Otomo will have an exhibition of his original art at 3331 Arts Chiyoda starting April 9th and continuing on to May 30th.

The exhibition entitled, Katsuhiro Otomo Gengaten will feature the history of Otomo's artwork (3,000 original sketches) as well as 2,500 first time released pieces from his most globally recognized work, Akira. It will also premiere his new artbook, Otomo Katsuhiro Artwork KABA2.

Tomorrow marks the 1st anniversary of the 3/11 Tohoku Earthquake and Tsunami Disaster otherwise known as Great East Japan Earthquake. 30% of the event proceeds will go to donations for relief and aid still needed in those areas.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Eiko Ishioka - 石岡 瑛子 - (1938 -2012)

Her work is the antithesis of femininity in Japan. Her designs were always BIG and BOLD and sometimes a little BAD. Instincts say there will be a tribute to Eiko Ishioka during the 84th Academy Awards this coming Sunday. For those who she is not a household name with will likely say --- "Oh, she's the one who did that?".

Whether it's Eiko's work for Francis Ford Coppola's Dracula, The Fall, Miles Davis' album design "Tutu", or even that Parco ad with Faye Dunaway eating an egg on camera ---- it's all there. The balance, energy and that statement that reads as her work is all there.

There was clear theatricality in her work. A magic that translated well to film. Ask some people and they will tell you the real star of Coppola's Dracula wasn't the actors but Eiko's costumes. Who's going be the Art Director for Tarsem Singh's films now?

She never threw together random and clashing bold elements just to hustle your attention. She created a new mythologies that did away with traditional imagery but was faithful to the energies of the characters or set pieces. I feel she was not beyond caricature or absurdity. Not with the intent of lampoon. Simply her artistic editorial.

Some people do caricature with pen and pencil, some can do it with a camera. She was able to do it with fabric and materials.

Below is her obituary and perspective on her method madness in her own words. Eiko Ishioka Obituary, source: The Guardian.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Vaughn Bode - Wizards and NYC Subway Art

Inner city NYC kids in the 1970's and 80's who had any drawing talent often carried not a sketchbook, but a black hardcover 'tag book'. Tag books were saturated from cover to cover with illustrations bleeding with color done in magic marker. This was a sketchbook for graffiti art. A 'tag' referred to a graffiti artist's nom de plume. Which usually was the subject of their art pieces found on subway cars.

Animated cartoon characters such as the Looney Toons, Disney and Marvel characters would often appear alongside these huge graffiti mobile murals, but the cartoon artist that arguably influenced graffiti art the most was Vaughn Bode.

Bode's characters Cheech Wizard, Lizard, Cobalt-60 or his voluptuous "Bode girls" like Belinda Bump were staples of graffiti art. Bode influenced many young urban artists to pick up a pencil (or a spray-can) inspiring them to create.

Bode entered the NYC underground comics world in the early 1970's along with his peers like Robert Crumb. Vaughn Bode called himself a "graphic animator" and and greatly desired to be an animator at Disney's. After a stint in California, Bode he made several unsuccesful attempts to enter the animation industry. This was pre-1975, roughly around the time Disney started its first animator training program.

It's only poetic justice that only a couple of years later Bode's work would inspire an animated feature film based on his illustration style: Ralph Bakshi's 1977 animated feature, "Wizards".

2012 is the 35th anniversary of "Wizards". A commemorative blu-ray and new book will be available later this year as noted on Cartoon Brew.

Below are three videos of a rare interview with Bode in 1974. (Thanks to mollybode on YouTube) He talks about turning down Stan Lee, his feelings about Disney and also mentions his friendship with the fantasy illustrator Jeffery Jones. (Catherine Jeffery Jones).

Vaughn Bode is the patron saint of all graffiti artists around the world and still continues to influence artists today. Vaughn Bode died in 1975. His son Mark continues to create art in the same style and spirt of his father.

Part 1

Part 2

Part 3

Saturday, January 7, 2012

Hollywood's Akira not dead...yet.

Production on Hollywood's adaptation of the 1988 Japanese animated film "Akira" has been shut down for the fourth time. However sources like Deadline, say the film is not dead. Is that like zombie "not dead"?
The film has been in development hell since Warner Bros. acquired the rights almost ten years ago. Big names have been attached and replaced as to who would produce and direct the film.

Its decision to use caucasian actors instead of Japanese actors has undoubtably placed a stigma around the film and its direction. There have been already serious rumblings calling for a boycott against the film.

It would be great if we knew that this film was to be remade like The Magnificent Seven remade the Seven Samurai. Or if it would result in iconic imagery like Fistful of Dollars from Akira Kurosawa's Yojimbo. (FYI. Kurosawa sued the producers for ripping off his film) But gut says something different doesn't it? The budget cut from $150 million to $90 million isn't helping either.

The more this film gets passed around and discounted like an old bottle of dimestore liquor, the more it feels there's something "greasy" going on. But maybe that's not just the film but just film business in general:

As film director Alexander MacKendrick once said, "...the money making is what the [film] business is about. The deal is the real product. The movie is just an incidental by-product of the deal."

Hate to say it but I think they would make more money just converting the original Japanese Akira anime to 3D and re-releasing it in theaters. I'm quite sure it would pull off the same surprise the Lion King 3D did last year.

Monday, January 2, 2012

CG Animation Trend Hits 3D

By the way, the CG animation/ 3D release bug has finally hit Japan. Friends: Naki's Monster Island is not the first CG animated film from Japan, but it is one of the first major full length films marketed at kids.

I don't think there's going to be any CG vs. hand-drawn debate in Japan. The appeal of animated illustrations will have a very long life here. However due to the nature of CG animation, it will be interesting to see how the mindset towards animation will change in the future. With the exception of a few animation directors like Katsuhiro Ootmo (Akira, Steamboy) Japanese animation rarely has rarely "fully animated" dialogues between characters. Also with the exception of huge showpiece animated action sequences, animation is rarely shot on 1's and is notorious for having action animated on what looks like 3's or even 4's sometimes.

(To those who may not know, shooting on 1's and 2's refers to how many exposures a frame will have in an animated sequence. "Who Framed Roger Rabbit" is a good example of animation shot on 1's. Extremely fluid animation. Some say it's too fluid and looks swimmy. Generally, most feature hand-drawn animation is shot on 2's. If anyone remembers the choppy TV animation in the 80's...that's a good example of animation done on 3's and possibly even 4's....i.e. G.I. Joe, Transformers. Almost 100% of CG animation is on 1's.)

While American animation is always striving for realism, Japanese animation is generally "iconic" and symbolic. (Note what was done to Lilo and Stitch when it was transformed for Japanese audiences) Japanese animation will use virtual pictographs on characters faces to show emotion for comic effect: hashmarks over the face to show stress, fountains of tears that evaporate instantly. It will be interesting to see how this will play out in a CG environment. Note the last few frames of the trailer above.

My two cents: so long as Studio Ghibli never does a CG animated film, hand drawn animation will still be king in Japan.