Friday, December 13, 2013


Diane Disney Miller (1933 - 2013)  was the oldest and until recently the only surviving child of Walt Disney.  Diane Miller was a keeper of the flame not just for Walt's professional life but for also for the understanding that he was a human being and a family man.

Her dedication dates back as far as 1956 when she was only twenty years old and wrote for the Saturday Evening Post a profile sketch of what it was like to have Walt Disney living at home with her.

For the few of us who have parents in the public spotlight or who have gained some sort of fame (or infamy for that matter), they are not that public figure.  For us, they are just "Dad" or "Mom".  Truth, no matter what they are famous for, their achievements as a parent far more heroic, substantial and admirable than any bit of so-called fame they have.

So I asked a crucial question,  "Daddy are you Walt Disney?" 
"Yes, honey", he replied.
"I mean are you the Walt Disney?"
He nodded.  So it was true!

"Daddy," I said, "please give me your autograph."

- Story recounted by Diane Disney Miller, My Dad, Walt Disney, Saturday Evening Post Nov. 17, 1956

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Good 'Ol Charlie Brown Comes to Tokyo

Couldn't let the year go by without mentioning the great exhibition Ever and Never:  The Art of Peanuts at the Mori Arts Center Gallery organized by the Charles M. Schulz Museum.  If you're going to be in Tokyo anytime soon, hurry up and see it before January 5th.   

Charles M. Schulz and Peanuts was always my first inspiration to draw. I'll never forget seeing a documentary where "Sparky" drew Charlie Brown right on camera.  For a six year old it was nothing less than magic.

On exhibition are over a hundred drawings displayed.  Unlike many exhibitions in Tokyo,  you can examine the detail of as close as you like...without touching.    Also in the exhibition is Charles Schulz's studio and drawing well as some of his drawing that were "rescued" from the trash bin.  Interesting as it was, for anyone who can relate, knows someone looking at your balled up, trashed drawings is potentially as embarrassing as someone putting your dirty underwear on display in a gallery.  

Plenty of other artifacts there: animation cells from Bill Melendez' Peanuts Animated specials, merchandizing going back generations.  Schulz's bittersweet melancholic touch can be felt throughout the entire exhibition from beginning to end, but there is plenty there to smile about.  A big and rare treat.

Tuesday, November 5, 2013


Post #100.

Good timing.   Much of what has inspired us has come from the sharing of others.  As artists, we starve to expand not only our "visual vocabulary" but our academic understanding of technique, theory or process.    All artists have had an experience where that "one little tidbit" of information if not set them on the right path, got them over a tremendous hurdle in improving themselves.  

Every single action we do has an affect on others.  The smallest act you do might have tremendous impact on other people.  It's my hope to simply inspire and  share some of what has inspired me over the years.  Pardon any semblance of vanity as I post sketches or drawings from my sketchbook.  Only the result of inspiration at work.

"Impression without expression equals depression."-  Walt Stanchfeld.

A great inspiration of mine is Peter De Seve.  I can't say he has been a major influence, but he does subscribe to much of what I find inspirational.  Peter de Seve has been an illustrator for The New Yorker and has been a character designer in animation for many years.  

Saturday, October 26, 2013

What I Saw Today. October 26, 2013

Just one of those very random things you see on the platform while waiting for the train in Tokyo. 

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Anatomy of a Fight 1: Fight of the Year

This animation short entitled, "A Warrior's Dream" by animation director Li Jing has been floating around for the past week.  Given it has two of my greatest passions animation and martial arts, I had to say something. 

Donnie Yen is one of the leading popular martial arts actors today.  Son of another famous martial arts master, Bow Sim Mark, Donnie has a long history in the martial arts world.  Recently he has been noted for his portrayal of the Wing Chun Kung Fu grandmaster, Ip Man. (Sometimes written as Yip Man)  Grandmaster Yip Man is greatly renown as Bruce Lee's first formal martial arts teacher. 

Bruce Lee of course needs no introduction.  Founder of the Jeet Kune Do philosophy,  greatest influence on modern martial arts in the 20th Century.  Forever the king of martial arts motion pictures.  Period.  

The film does fall a bit short with some of the nuance that gives animation sparkle and true life.   Some performances copied rather than acted and a lack of "cushioning" or "easing out" that should be there no matter how fast or precise these martial arts legends are.  With a larger budget or more time, I'm very confident that would not be the case. 

All THAT said, this was amazing to watch and obviously there was a lot of love and hard work behind it.  Martial arts in films are basically special effects.  Without a story behind it becomes boring or meaningless quite quickly.   In this case, however, it's an exception. 

Friday, October 18, 2013

Oh, the joy.

A good friend introduced me to her new baby.  What a darling.   Maybe I'll give it a shot too.  Looks like fun.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

台風 Tokyo Typhoon

Can't tell you how many times we have typhoon warnings in Japan.  Well yesterday it finally hit.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Late night sketch of an Tokyo OL.

Japanese Wildlife:  OL: (Pinkimus Collarius)  Otherwise known as the shokuba no hana (職場の花) or 'Office Flower'.   The Japanese term for a female office worker is "OL" or 'office lady'.  Life Expectancy:  4 - 6 years....or marriage.

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

From the Sketchbook: What I saw yesterday....

A quick doodle of what I saw on the street by Takashimaya  yesterday.  Priceless. 

Animation Fusion: SHORT PEACE

Watched the animated anthology film, "Short Peace" featuring two short films by Katsuhiro Ootomo:  Hinoyoujin (火要鎮 / ひのようじん)  (not translated but entitled in the USA as "Combustible") and Bukiyosaraba (武器よさらば / ぶきよさらば).  (Translated as Farewell to Weapons)

4 short films in total, each story using a combination of handrawn animation and computer animation.  In the past, there were reservations about how these handrawn/ CG fusions were done as both mediums clashed against each other battling for attention.   

In most cases it worked, especially Tsukomo (九十九) which arguably stole the show. 

Ootomo's films were great and particularly thoughtful towards Japanese culture of the past and future. They didn't exactly have the the great acting animated performances that Ootomo's "Akira" had but it they still delivered compelling visuals.  The timing for Farewell To Weapons / Bukiyosaraba (武器よさらば / ぶきよさらば) is interesting as some political groups in Japan have recently been pushing for the formation of a Japanese army. (Japan's WWII peace treaty states Japan is not allowed to have military forces of any it's defense forces) 
People not acquainted with Japanese history (current or past) may find "Combustible" anti-climatic.   Even the correct title "Hinoyoujin" (火要鎮 / ひのようじん) will not make sense to anyone unless they know something about the severity and seriousness of fire prevention during Japan's Edo period.  Arson was amongst the highest of offenses in Japan, punishable only by death.  The story was likely based on the story of Yaoya Oshichi.  

For its art direction alone, Combustible is worth seeing as I've never seen a fully animated piece done in the style of a Ukiyo-e illustration.  

Friday, March 8, 2013

From Up On Poppy Hill (コクリコ坂から) : Why animate?

Since Studio Ghibli's "From Up On Poppy Hill" will be released in a few days,  I thought it would be good to finally get around to soapboxing my impression of the film.

"From Up on Poppy Hill" (known as Kokuriko Zaka Kara here in Japan)  is an absolutely brilliant film.    It was directed by Hayao Miyazaki's son, Goro and based on a 1980's manga series.   Without giving too much away, it tells a nostalgic (well, nostalgic for Japanese people anyway) story about a group of ambitious high school students in the rapidly developing Showa Period of Japan,  post-World War II.  

This 1960's period in Japan had a resurgence of development industry-wise as well as an accelerating "We Can Do It" spirit amongst Japan's youth. These kids would be the ones who eventually would be the leaders of Japan's economic boom period.  

This was one of the better animated films I have seen in a long time.  Not so much for technical reasons but for it's ability to tell a very moving and compelling story.  Which brings me to my dilemma about the film:  "Why Animate It?"  

Traditionally and even more in the USA, animation has been used as a tool to tell stories that cannot be told with conventional live action.  IE: the use of caricature for exaggeration, as a special effect.    "From Up On Poppy Hill" was beautiful,  but it was completely devoid of any need for exaggerated effect and I'll even go as far to say it borders on lacking a sense of caricature since all of Ghibli's characters literally have the same face --- with the exception of over-the-top characters.    

On the heels of news that Disney announced that has no intentions of doing any hand-drawn animated projects in the near future, it made me think also about the importance of a film like this ---

I noted my opinion to a Japanese friend who felt the movie was spot on in terms of the atmosphere it was trying to convey.  As she put it, this time in Japan was a very hopeful, and beautiful time in Japan mainly for its simplicity.  If the film was done up to the teeth with fancy zooming shots and, near- photorealistic backgrounds -- it simply would have killed the charm of that time for Japanese --- and the movie.  

Point taken.

Some say we don't go to animated films to see the technical merits of the animation since story always is what people ultimately remember.  But in a sense we do go for the atmosphere that animation brings to a story.  As the saying goes, less can be tremendously more

Currently it seems many animation studios don't appear to believe in this.  Nice to know not all  haven't. 

Sunday, February 10, 2013

6 Artists: Civil Rights Roundtable

THE QUESTION of what qualifications do artists and entertainers have to use their high visibility to comment on worldly affairs has been long debated.   However that is the very essence of what defines an artist isn't it?
An artist might be an entertainer, but an entertainer is not an artist. More and more, serious issues are given more attention and gravity when an entertainer postures on issues of social importance.
An artist has an responsibility to express him- or herself with sincerity and truth. Though artists are given to idiosyncrasies, to be an artist is an honor and a responsibility.   When one speaks, it should be with done with a degree of forethought and eloquence.  
August 28th, 1963,  the date of the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, six noteworthy artists met in a studio immediately after attending the march and witnessing "I Have A Dream" speech of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference's (SCLC) leader, Dr. Martin Luther King. Jr. : 
Marlon Brando
Sidney Poitier
James Baldwin
Harry Belafonte
Joseph Mankiewicz
Charlton Heston
No posturing, no antagonizing. Everything said was sincere towards bringing light and positive solutions to the truly serious issue of the Civil Rights Movement of the 1950's and 1960's.

Artists are the voices of society.   Past, present and future.  Artists can be some of the greatest forces in bringing about social change.

Drawing professor Robert Beverly Hale of The Art Students League in New York summed it up:

"We are the intellectuals, we are the artists
We are the music makers, we are the dreamers of dreams
Wandering by lone sea breakers, sitting by desolate streams
World losers and fore sakers, on whom the pale moon beams
But we are the movers and shakers of the world forever it seems
With wonderful deathless ditties we built up the world's great cities
And out of a fabulous story we fashioned an empire's glory
One man with a dream that pleasures shall go forth and conquer a crown
In tune with a new song's measure shall trample an empire down
We in the ages lying in the buried past of the earth built a Nineveh with our sighing
And Babel itself with our mirth
Then all through them with our prophesying to the old, to the New World's worth
For each age is a dream that is dying or one that is coming to birth."

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Robert McGinnis Part 1 : Defining Bond and his Women

"An artist is a one-man theater.  He or she conceives the plot, writes the script,  stages, directs,  and acts out the roles.  In my career, I have covered an enormous range of subject matter and hope to never be confined to just one.  But to the community of art critics there is something unsettling about about a person who won't be indelibly stamped with a narrow label. "   - Robert McGinnis  (The Last Rose of Summer)  

ROBERT MCGINNIS is not just an illustrator but an artist who deserves to be a household name just as Norman Rockwell or even Andrew Wyeth.

Responsible for more than 40 movie posters (such as Breakfast at Tiffany's and Barbarella) his artwork was the last (and possibly the first) driving force to make movie-goers put down money for that movie ticket.

In an age of digital dependency,  illustrated movie posters are rare today.  (See previous blogs:  Bob Peak - Father of the Modern Movie Poster )  However an illustrator can bring more to the subject matter than a photograph, altered or not.  Sometimes skin-pore depth realism is not always what stimulates the imagination.

Robert McGinnis is a significant contributor to the modern James Bond myth as he painted and illustrated seven James Bond theatrical posters. Half of which during the defining 007 Sean Connery years.

McGinnis, didn't simply illustrate scenes and faces from the film, but he gave an artistic "thematic sense" of what to expect from the story and the characters as well as adding his own slight personal artistic insight and touch.

His women have a heightened appearance of sensuality that can more haunting and appetizing than a simple photograph.  His illustrations touch the imagination and the deep sexual psyche.  Sultry eyes, perfect hourglass silohuettes, slightly elongated legs is the stamp of the Robert McGinnis woman.

His concept of using tarot cards for Live and Let Die was a brilliant compositional choice as well as a boldly creative statement about the film.   A choice elevating the poster from a disposable advertisment,  to a work of art.

Works of art people like to keep around and revisit and again and again.  The same can't be said for something that simply wants to sell you a just product.   More to come on Robert McGinnis.  Much more to be said about his other movie posters and his 1200 (!) paperback illustrations.  

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

GRAFFITI ART: From NYC streets to Tokyo Bridges

Was the father of graffiti Japanese?  

Arguable, but it's pretty much accepted that modern urban graffiti art started with the graffiti artist Taki 183.  Despite a Japanese sounding name, Taki was in fact a Greek-American youth in the late 1960's who tagged his name all over the NYC landscape, setting in motion the underground culture which has snowballed to a global level.  

Near my Japan residence, the Tamagawa Bridge has it's fair share of graffiti art.  It's doubtful my neighbors have the same fascination as I do since I can remember graffiti in it's early days in 1970's New York.  

Graffiti in Japan is just as expressive, urban, rebellious and rhythmic as anything on the NYC subway trains before technology destroyed subway art culture literally overnight by the late 1980's.  Despite that, graffiti art has survived and grown exponentially since then.

There are tag names, graffiti characters to be sure, but the use of Japanese kanji, katakana or hiragana is notably absent.  At least I haven't seen it.    It seems Japan's graffiti artists prefer western words or sounding names to Japanese ones.  However the picture below seems to be a combination of stylized kanji and hiragana.

I am sure there are even more dynamic graffiti pieces to be found around Tokyo, but this is just a taste of what's in my backyard.   Below are two clips on graffiti art.  One historical, the other from Japan's perspective.