Archive for category Animation
Last night, a brief Twitter exchange between writer Chris Roberson and myself got me to thinking about the early career of one of the Muppets, Rowlf the Dog. As noted in his Wikipedia entry, ‘Rowlf was actually the first true Muppet ‘star’ as a recurring character on The Jimmy Dean Show, first appearing in a show telecast on September 19, 1963.”
Exploring further for online evidence of Rowlf’s role on the shoe, I was fortunate to run across a seven-minute clip of Dean and Rowlf discussing music, courtesy of the always enlightening blog for the ASIFA-Hollywood Animation Archive. Why would an animation site cover the early work of a Muppet? As noted by the blog: “Animators can learn a lot from puppeteers when it comes to creating a living, breathing character.”
Check out the post, as it is almost as informative as the YouTube clip.
A few weeks back, Lilli Carré dropped me a note about Eyeworks, the experimental animation festival that she’s co-directing with Alexander Stewart on this Saturday, November 6 at Chicago’s DePaul CDM Theater. As detailed at the festival’s website: “Eyeworks is a new film festival featuring abstract animation and unconventional character animation. Festival programs showcase outstanding experimental animation of all sorts: classic films, new works, overlooked masterpieces, and quirky footnotes of history.
I think it would be better to see more than just two episodes of FX’s new animated comedy/adventure series, Archer, before making a full analysis of the show. But after only two episodes (the show premiered at 10 PM with two episodes on January 14), I find myself giving it a Season Pass status on my Tivo and looking forward to the next new episode. The show’s premise as defined at the website is “an animated, half-hour comedy set at the International Secret Intelligence Service (ISIS), a spy agency where espionage and global crises are merely opportunities for its highly trained employees to confuse, undermine, betray and royally screw each other.”
The animation is incredibly rudimentary, possibly in an effort to emulate the vibe of a great many of Cartoon Network’s Adult Swim shows. In fact, the show’s creator, Adam Reed (according to Wikipedia) has been an actor/writer/director/producer on Sealab 2021 and Frisky Dingo at Cartoon Network. But I could care less about the animation–the appeal to this show is partially its writing, but mostly the voice casting. Fans of 2003′s Arrested Development will be pleased to see Jessica Walters cast in the show, she plays the head of ISIS, as well as Archer’s mother. Walters plays the character almost as acerbic, witty and dysfunctional as her character on Arrested Development. As a fan long ago of Comedy Central’s Dr. Katz, I was pleasantly surprised to find that H. Jon Benjamin (best known as Ben Katz [the doctor's unambitious, quirky son]) was cast in the lead role of Archer.
In the episode’s premiere (described here), Archer is training another series cast regular, Cyril, on how to be a spy. Cyril asks if he will be taught karate as part of training, leading to my favorite bit of dialogue so far, when Archer responds: “Karate: : The Dane Cook of martial arts?”
It’s a quirky and great show so far, but be advised, to say the show features adult themes and language is an understatement.
When a person can craft a 1940s educational film into pure comedy, you have won me over as a permanent fan. That person is Scott Bateman, an “animator in New York City“. His latest project shows how funny stamps can be…seriously. Until very recently, Bateman’s work was featured at Salon.com–but Bateman Animation can also be found at True/Slant and his YouTube channel. With his run at Salon ending, Bateman is devoting more time to generating interest in his film, Atom Age Vampire, which we also get to discuss. My thanks to friend of the blog, Mary Jo Pehl, for introducing me to the greatness of Bateman’s work. And my thanks to Bateman for this email interview.
Tim O’Shea: How do you go about tracking down obscure audio like “Actual audio from the 1947 educational film Using The Bank“. And from there, how do you typically go about writing the script that you run in parallel with the animation. Do you write the script before starting the animation work?
Scott Bateman: There is a wealth of amazing material in the Prelinger Archives at archive.org, a web site that hosts a vast array of public domain material. The Prelinger Archives specializes in short educational and industrial films from the 1940s and 1950s–hygiene, cold war propoganda, juvenile delinquency, it’s all there. Man, I can spend hours on that site!
My writing process for these animations goes something like this: I’ll end up watching a film several times while I animate it, because I’ll go through once and animate bodies, then another time through for mouths, another for hands, etc. So by the time I add the commentary, I already have a ton of snarky comments about the film at my disposal. I’ll put in the comments I most want in the movie first, then fill in the holes between.
David A. Price instantly piqued my interest recently with his thorough examination of Pixar, called The Pixar Touch: The Making of a Company. The book aims to cover “the history of Pixar Animation Studios and the ‘fraternity of geeks’ who shaped Pixar’s story.” According to Price’s bio, he “has written for The Wall Street Journal, The Washington Post, Inc., Forbes, Business 2.0, and Investor’s Business Daily. He received his bachelor’s degree in economics and computer science from the College of William and Mary and law degrees from Harvard Law School and Cambridge University. His previous book, Love and Hate in Jamestown, a history of the Jamestown colony and the Virginia Company, was published by Knopf in 2003 and was a New York Times Notable Book of the Year.” It was a true pleasure to get to interview Price about his latest book. I particularly respect him even more after learning his interview philosophy/no-pressure approach.
Tim O’Shea: You’ve been a fan of Pixar since the late 1980s, but how long had you been considering an examination of the Pixar company?
David A. Price: I became a Pixar fan after I saw an unfinished version of Tin Toy at a conference in ’88. But I didn’t start thinking about writing their history for another 15 years. In 2003, I had finished my book on the Jamestown colony and everyone was telling me to tackle another story out of the colonial period. That’s the standard advice — to build on what you’ve already done.
Enrico Casarosa and his new book, Venice Chronicles (“A love story/travelogue/graphic novel”), was just one of the great books I found out about at the Baltimore Comic-Con in September. Casarosa was not at the con, but AdHouse’s Chris Pitzer was telling folks about the book in advance of its release (given that AdHouse is serving as the book’s distributor). I have trusted Pitzer’s instincts on books for years, so while I was still at the con, I emailed Casarosa to line up an email interview.
Before jumping into the interview, here’s the official bio on the storyteller:
“Enrico Casarosa has been in the animation industry for more than ten years, drawing storyboards that fit into large animated feature films. Currently a story artist at Pixar Animation Studios Enrico continues his quest to create more hours in the day by drawing alternate realities. Sooner or later his experiments will break through and we’ll all have to buy new watches. Meantime he just published an art book “3 trees make a forest” with partners in crime Ronnie del Carmen and Tadahiro Uesugi. Other times he pursues his muse by traveling with his watercolors and sketchbooks. Enrico is the founder of ‘SketchCrawl’, a worldwide drawing marathon event that gathers artists from all around the globe.”
Once you finish reading the interview, be sure to go here to buy the book directly from Casarosa.
Tim O’Shea: In addition to this new book, the Venice Chronicles, you work at Pixar. I was struck by something you recently wrote in your blog: “It’s become tradition for us selfpublishing friends here at Pixar to take photos of the opening of the first box of books.” How many selfpublishing friends are at Pixar and can you name some of them (and their projects)?
Enrico Casarosa: Oh yes there’s quite a few of us. I’ve had the luck of sharing tables at more than a couple of conventions (and co-publish a book) with uber talented friend Ronnie del Carmen. Another long time friend here at Pixar is Bill Presing, artist of “Rex Steele Nazismasher”. We met a long time ago back in NewYork and both did stories for the anthology Monkeysuit. And the list of talented pixarian friends/co-workers goes on: Scott Morse (Tiger!Tiger!Tiger!, Magic Pickle), Ted Mathot (Rose and Isabel, Cora), Derek Thompson , Dice Tsutsumi (Out of Picture) and many more. There’s also been a couple of anthologies called Afterworks that gather comics for some of the folks here and they even a new volume in the making.
To be able to score another interview with one of the Cinematic Titanic crew after having the good fortune to interview Mary Jo Pehl was not something I had expected. But right after Pehl expressed interest, so did Frank Conniff. Conniff, another original MST3K cast member and writer, was best known as TV’s Frank on the show. After MST3K ended, Conniff diversified into various TV projects, including work on Sabrina, the Teenage Witch, and Invader Zim. In addition to his current involvement with Cinematic Titanic, he serves as host and performer for Cartoon Dump, a monthly show at Hollywood’s Steve Allen Theatre that aims to feature “live comedy, great music and hilariously bad animation“. We got to talk about both new projects briefly this week. My thanks to Conniff for his time, and to Josh Opitz for arranging both Cinematic Titanic interviews.
Tim O’Shea: You recently wrote about Skidoo (the Otto Preminger film with Groucho Marx as a gangster named “God”). I have seen the film as well and I wonder would that be a film that the Cinematic Titanic gang might like to tackle? Or is it just so weird on its own merits that to mock it would dilute the potency of its sheer badness?
Frank Conniff: I don’t think we could ever get the rights to “Skidoo.”
On the one hand, it would be a fun film to riff on, but on the other hand, it is, as you say, bad on its own merits and maybe it doesn’t need the Cinematic Titanic treatment to be enjoyed.
To gain and keep your interest, I understand the importance of a consistent schedule. So please consider my apology for the delay with the Friday entry. This blog will always be a work in progress. Rather than merely being about interviews that I find of interest, going forward these “of interest” posts will cover any items from the week that I find of interest to me.
First on the list of interests, Friend of Talking with Tim (FOTwT) Curt Holman sparks an interesting discussion when he details the bonding time he and his daughter enjoyed recently watching a majority of the DC animated series, Justice League (and its later Justice League Unlimited incarnation). Curt is a great critic and arts journalist, but for me, his best stuff is when he writes about his lovely family. Read the rest of this entry »
Michel Gagné is a visual storyteller with a cultural reach and creative appeal that very few of his contemporaries enjoy. I first became aware of him through his Spore story for DC Comics in 2003. I have an immense amount of respect for the depth and variety of mediums that Gagné explores to tell his tales. No matter what realm of pop culture you may favor, it is likely you have been exposed to his work in some way in the past several years.
Tim: It’s been a few years since we last did an interview. When we last spoke, a majority of your printed work was self-published. So I was surprised to see in more recent years that you have been participating in the Flight anthologies. What drew you to allowing your new Rex installments in Flight, rather than published by you?
To date, the experience of being involved with Flight has been nothing but positive. All the artists involved are so talented and encouraging. I look at their work and I get inspired and hopefully they get inspired looking at my work too. We all feed off each other’s creative energy.
Since I started with Flight, a few publishers have voiced their interest in publishing the graphic novel of the completed story (the final chapter will run in Flight 7) so I’ll probably let somebody else publish that as well. To tell you the truth, I’m probably going to work more and more with publishers in the future. I enjoy self-publishing but it’s very time consuming and time is something I don’t have enough of already.
Tim: How much has your participation in Flight broadened your audience?
Michel: Flight has now become the bestselling comic anthology in America so Rex gets a heck of a lot more exposure then if I was publishing it myself. A lot of people are discovering my work through Flight which is awesome.
Tim: In that same vein, how many new doors of creative offers opened in the wake of your highly regarded and high profile work on Ratatouille?
Michel: Everything I do gets me some exposure in one way or another. Hopefully, I proved to Pixar that I could integrate my own brand of hand drawn animation in one of their movie. I’d hope to do that with The Incredibles but it didn’t pan out. I’m glad we were successful with Ratatouille. I’d love to do more work with Pixar if we find the right fit.
I’ve been very fortunate in the animation industry to work for and meet the right people. I always give my very best on every assignment and I am devoted to creating work that’s original and interesting. The word always gets around and every year, I receive offers to do the type of animation I consider really fun. I’m doing six shots right now for the upcoming Horton Hears a Who movie that are just totally the kind of animation I love to do.
Tim: Music has always been a major influence and/or role in your creative pursuits. How did your recent collaboration with the Victoria Philharmonic Choir go, and will you be collaborating with them again?
Michel: I was very proud of the work I did for the project although; the actual show for me was a bit of a mixed bag. In one hand, the musical performance was astounding, but the shadow puppet part was under-rehearsed and not to the level I would have liked it to be. Every one did the best they could but the resources were lacking. The problem when you work for the “arts” is that the budgets are very limited and most of the people involved work on a voluntary basis. To get things to look the way I had them in my head, we would have needed about 10 times the budget and 10 times the time.
As far as working with them again… Yes, I’d be totally open to it. Perhaps we can keep perfecting The Spectre’s Bride and make it really shine.
Michel: Actually, I’ve been working on getting things going with the Jazz Festival for over a year. That’s way before I was approached by the Victoria Philharmonic. I’ve got a lot of stuff planned with them including some truly ground breaking animation projects. One of these projects is already completed and will have its premiere at the Festival in 2009. We’re talking about premiering the film by projecting it on the side of a skyscraper in downtown Vancouver! I can’t talk too much about all this because we’re still raising the funds to achieve everything I have in mind but I can honestly say that it’s going to be one of the coolest things of my career.
Tim: Am I correct in thinking that ZED is produced on an annual basis, and if so, when do you expect to finish the next installment?
Michel: I love doing ZED but it’s pretty tough fitting him in my schedule. ZED is for all intent and purpose, a hobby. I do it for fun. I’ve already started issue 9 and it’s coming along nicely. I’m planning on having it done for the summer of 2008. Then, issue 10 will be release the following year, and that will be a wrap. The complete ZED series will be 10 issues.
Tim: When was the first time you found out folks were getting tattoos made based on your work? Were you surprised by this development–of your insane character designs is there one that sticks out as one you hope you never see come to life in a tattoo?
Michel: I started seeing people with my artwork tattooed at conventions. At first, it took me a bit by surprise. One time, I walked into a store in Seattle and the girl at the cash register had one of my drawings tattooed on her arm. I didn’t expect that! Another time, I got an email from a guy who tattooed most of his upper body with my artwork. He didn’t want me to put his picture on my website though.
If people like my art and want to put it one their skin, that fine by me; any of it.
Tim: What can you tell folks about the potential for a new film project in 2008 and/or the video game you currently are developing?
Michel: The video game is called “Insanely Twisted Shadow Planet” and I’ve teamed up with an amazing crew to produce it. I’m designing the visuals and doing a lot of the animation myself. We haven’t signed with a publisher yet, but we should have a deal ironed out early in 2008. You can watch the trailer at http://www.insanelytwistedshadowplanet.com.
Starting in mid-January, I’m going to be production designing an animated movie produced by Gary Kurtz (Star Wars, Dark Crystal). I was contacted by the writer, Sabina Spencer, about a year ago and since then, the first phase of financing has come through which will allow me to begin the design work. I really like the story and I see a lot of potential there. A friend of mine, animator Richard Bazley (The Iron Giant), is also involved. All four of us, Gary, Sabina, Richard and myself, hung out in London for three days to brainstorm about the project and we’re all very excited. I really can’t say much more at this point except that the film is a perfect match for my design sensibilities.