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Yesterday the Annecy International Animated Film Festival came to a close. For everyone who was unable to make the annual jaunt to Haute-Savoie to bask in the excellence of the graphical beaux arts, the festival has its own way of simultaneously enticing you and making you feel bad about your creative self. By this, we mean the signal films.
There were five signal films in total, conceived, designed and as usual, beautifully realized by the students at Gobelins.
The Retake created by Maxime Delalande, Nadya Mira, Semiramis Mamata, Laurent Moing and Rayane Raji
Sawa created by Camile André, Janis Aussel, Clément Doranlo, Maud Girard and Jong-Hyun Jung-Boix
Copernicus created by Elssa Boyer, Anne Courtin, Myriam Fourati, Sarah Simon and Pedro Vergani
The Fancy Family created by Debora Cruchon, Eve Ceccarelli, Marie-Pierre Demessant, Batiste Perron and Simon Masse
See Saw created by Marlène Beaube, Marion Bulot, Thibaud Gayral, Guitty Mojabi and Raphaëlle Stolz
Yesterday was the last day of employment for Disney animation veteran Nik Ranieri (Lumiere in Beauty and the Beast, Meeko in Pocahontas, Kuzco in The Emperor’s New Groove) after he was unceremoniously dumped by Disney Feature Animation last April along with other studio cornerstones. He wrote a long post on his Facebook fan page tonight about leaving the company while expressing the view that hand-drawn feature animation is still a viable art form. He also showed a hand-drawn test that he produced for Disney’s CG pic Wreck-It Ralph. The full text and video are below:
It has been several weeks since my last Animator page posting. As you’re probably all well aware by now, I no longer work for The Walt Disney Company. June 10th was my last day. In October of this year, it would have been 25 years. Disney was my home for the last quarter century and I’ll always be grateful for the people I worked with and the experience I gained there. The last couple of years have been the most difficult of my career. At times I was filled with hope that my skills would be utilized in a new hand-drawn film. At other times, I doubted that a hand-drawn feature—hybrid or otherwise—would be produced at all. We were pretty much kept in the dark for over 2 years and once the word did come out that no more hand-drawn features would be produced, it was only a matter of days before we were “given our notices”. I’m not so much sad that I was let go as I am sad that they gave up on a medium that, if given the right treatment, could be a viable product once again. You may wonder, what will I be doing now. I can’t tell you that because I don’t know. It is said that when God closes one door, He opens another. I pray that He will guide me to the right door and that I’ll open it with confidence. Not in myself but in Him who guides my path.
As a parting reminder of my last years at Disney, here is my last hand-drawn test for a Disney production. I was asked to animate the character of Ralph from “Wreck-it Ralph”, as a guide for the animation of the character in the film. It took me 2 months to animate this scene because,
1. I had to adjust the look of the character as it changed, which meant redoing some of it and
2. I basically did all the drawings myself. Most animators don’t do every drawing in a scene, but I wanted it fully animated and since I didn’t have any inbetweeners, I had to draw everything.
That’s Burny Mattinson, and he started working at Disney sixty years ago today, making him the studio’s last active employee to have worked directly with Walt Disney. It’s amazing to think what a different place America was when Mattinson first started working at the company: Disneyland didn’t yet exist, WWII general Dwight D. Eisenhower was President, there had never been a Super Bowl, Elvis Presley was just graduating high school, black people still sat in the back of the bus in many parts of America, and we’d never traveled into outer space.
Starting in the mailroom, Mattinson worked as an inbetweener, assistant animator and clean-up artist on Lady and the Tramp, Sleeping Beauty, and 101 Dalmatians. He inbetweened on some of Fred Moore’s last animation and did clean-up on Marc Davis’ Maleficent. Later, he became a storyman on The Jungle Book and The Aristocats.
Mattinson made his directing debut on the featurette Mickey’s Christmas Carol, before returning to do story on Beauty and the Beast, Aladdin, The Lion King, Pocahontas, Mulan, Tarzan, and the recent Winnie the Pooh feature, among others. Here’s a four-part podcast in which Mattinson discusses his career.
Everyone showed up this afternoon for the ceremony honoring Burny, including Ron Clements, Eric Goldberg, John Musker and John Lasseter:
This afternoon, Disney announced release dates for all of its animated features produced by Walt Disney Animation Studios and Pixar through 2018. The two studios will be responsible for fifteen theatrical releases over the next six years. During the previous six-year period (2007-2012), Disney and Pixar released a total of 12 films.
Here’s what we know so far based on available information:
Pixar’s Monsters University – June 21, 2013
Disney’s Planes – August 9, 2013
Disney’s Frozen – November 27, 2013
Pixar’s The Good Dinosaur – May 30, 2014
Disney/Marvel’s Big Hero 6 – November 7, 2014
Pixar’s Inside Out – June 15, 2015
Pixar’s Finding Dory – November 25, 2015
Disney Untitled Animation – March 4, 2016
Lee Unkrich’s Untitled “Day of the Dead” project – June 17, 2016
Veteran visual effects supervisor John Knoll has been promoted to the position of chief creative officer at Disney-owned Industrial Light & Magic, reports Variety.
Working directly with ILM president Lynwen Brennan, Knoll will ensure creative consistency throughout the planning and production stages of ILM projects. The move is similar to John Lasseter becoming chief creative officer at Pixar following Disney’s purchase of the company.
Knoll is held in high regard throughout the visual effects industry. He was a visual effects supervisor on the Star Wars prequels as well as the first three Pirates of the Carribean films. He has worked on countless other major projects at ILM stretching back to Willow and The Abyss, and including films in the Star Trek and Mission: Impossible franchises. Knoll is also known as the creator of the software package Adobe Photoshop, which he developed with his brother Thomas in the late-1980s.
Besides serving as a creative voice in the production process, Knoll told Variety that he will leverage the company’s talent pool by encouraging interaction between crews working on different projects. He also said that he will remain hands-off in many instances:
“We have well-established supervisors here that certainly don’t need me to interfere with their project. Michael Bay comes because he wants to work with Scott Farrar. J.J. [Abrams] comes to ILM because he has a great relationship with Roger Guyett. These things are already working and I don’t need to interfere. [My role] is just to help from a facilities standpoint to make sure they get the resources they need, and to troubleshoot problems.”
Dave Filoni, who was supervising diretor on Clone Wars, will head up the production as exec producer. He will be joined by Clone Wars veterans Kilian Plunkett (Art Director) and Joel Aron (CG Supervisor), as well as some fresh faces:
Leading the development of the series is a creative team of exceptional talent. Screenwriter/producer Simon Kinberg (X-Men: First Class, Sherlock Holmes, Mr. & Mrs. Smith) is an executive producer on Star Wars Rebels and will write the premiere episode. He is joined by Dave Filoni as executive producer, who served as supervising director of the Emmy nominated Star Wars: The Clone Wars since 2008. Executive producer Greg Weisman brings with him a wealth of animation experience with credits such as Young Justice, The Spectacular Spider-Man and Gargoyles.
For this week’s crowdfunding profile, we travel to Central America where the husband-and-wife team of Guillermo Tovar C. and Nadia Mendoza A. is working feverishly to complete Costa Rica’s first full-length animated feature
“>The Esoteric Birthday (El Cumpleaños Esotérico)
. They have been working on the film for the past two years, and plan to finish it by this December. They describe their unconventional-looking movie as an “experimental digital” animated film:
The Esoteric Birthday tells the story of the coming of age of a peculiar little girl who is about to become a powerful witch. She has to undergo a ceremony of initiation that involves a series of dangerous trials. It all takes place in a fantastic and mysterious tropical island, with over 50 characters, like a group of intergalactic witchdoctors, a religious sect of wild animals, two cannibal Amazonian warrior twins, and lots and lots more.
Guillermo and Nadia, who operate as Interdimensional Studio, are asking for $25,000 for the post production which includes sound design, original music, and hiring a small crew of local animators for lighting, texturing and compositing. The entire 70-minute film will be released online at no charge after its festival run in 2014. The rewards they are offering include drawings from the pre-production phase and having a donor’s face drawn into the film as a background character. They have currently raised just over $4,000 with 51 days left in their campaign.
Cartoonist Bruce Timm has stepped down as supervising producer at Warner Bros. Animation to develop his own projects. He’s been replaced by James Tucker, a veteran of Batman: The Animated Series, Justice League and, more recently, Batman: The Brave and the Bold.
Edward Levitt, an unsung hero of the Golden Age of animation, has died. He was 96. Levitt died on Tuesday, April 2, in Palmdale, California.
Levitt worked as a production designer, storyboard and layout artist, and background painter for thirty-five years in the animation industry. His superb skills as a designer made him a key figure during the Cartoon Modern era of the 1950s.
Ed Levitt was born in New York City on April 17, 1916 and grew up in Somers, Connecticut and Brooklyn, New York. His family moved to Los Angeles in the mid-1930s and following graduation from high school, Levitt applied to the Disney Studios in 1937. He was hired at $16.50 per week and did rotoscape tracing on Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs.
The Disney studio recognized his talent as a painter, and by the end of production on Snow White, he had switched to painting backgrounds. He worked as a background artist on Pinocchio, the “Rite of Spring” segment in Fantasia and Bambi. Levitt picketed during the Disney strike of 1941. He returned after the strike was settled to work on Victory Through Air Power, but left again to enlist in the Marines in 1943. During the war, he made training films while a member of the Marine Corps Photographic Section in Quantico, Virginia.
Here are a couple examples of his paintings from Fantasia and Bambi:
After the war, Levitt became a partner in a Los Angeles-based production company called Cinemette, which was formed with ex-Marines (and Disney artists) John Chadwick, Jack Whitaker, and Keith Robinson. The studio operated between 1946-1950, and they created a number of industrial films, as well as entertainment short subjects and early TV commercials.
Levitt’s liberal politics led him to direct Grass Roots (1948), which called for establishing a world government through a revision of the United Nations charter and was partly funded by the United World Federalists. He also produced a popular anti-nuclear film Where Will You Hide? (1948), which attracted the attention of no less than Albert Einstein, who commented, “Somebody, after having seen this film, may say to you: This representation of our situation may be right, but the idea of world government is not realistic. You may answer him: If the idea of world government is not realistic, there there is only onerealistic view of our future: wholesale destruction of man by man.”
Levitt’s star rose during the 1950s when commercials and commissioned films were produced at an increasingly frenetic pace. His graphically accessible yet sophisticated style made him much sought after as a designer, storyboard and layout artist. “He was a great artist,” said animator Bill Littlejohn. “And his layouts were the best. He could animate, too. I sure liked working with him. He was so damn good at what he did. He knew the problems that the animators would face and he would design things with that in mind.”
These are a few examples of commercials and films designed and laid out by Levitt:
Through the 1950s, Levitt worked as a freelancer at more than a dozen studios including Graphic Films, Cascade Pictures, Raphael G. Wolff, Quartet Films, John Sutherland Productions, Eames Office, ERA Productions, United Productions of America, Ray Patin Productions, Academy Pictures, Churchill/Wexler Film Productions, Storyboard Inc., and Fred A. Niles Productions.
At Playhouse Pictures, Levitt worked closely with director Bill Melendez on many of the Ford spots starring the cast from the Peanuts comics. When Melendez opened his own studio in 1964, Levitt was one of the first artists he hired. “I remember Ed as being reliable, steady, pragmatic, kind and generous,” said Melendez’s son Steve, who also worked at the studio. “I know that he helped Bill in the early days not only artistically but also financially. Bill always considered Ed to be ‘The Best’, a title he did not bestow easily or often. Ed could draw anything and had a great grasp of how a film is made. He was the best layout person I have ever met.”
Levitt played a key role in designing the first Peanuts special, A Charlie Brown Christmas with backgrounds like this:
He also coined the famous credit used for many years at the end of the Peanuts specials—Graphic Blandishment. “Blandishment” is defined as “something that tends to coax or cajole,” which speaks to Levitt’s modesty and his view of the role he played in the filmmaking process.
Steve Melendez recalled that Levitt was proud of A Charlie Brown Christmas even during times of uncertainty and doubt:
“When we completed A Charlie Brown Christmas, and we all had a chance to look at the answer-print, Bill, Lee [Mendelson] and everyone else thought we were the authors of a great disaster and we would probably never make a film again. Ed was the sole voice who said, ‘Don’t be silly, this film will be shown for a hundred years!’ And he was right. I don’t know if he believed it or not, but his calm confidence gave everyone hope that perhaps things were not as bad as they seemed.”
By the early-1960s, Ed identified himself as a Cartoonist-Rancher on his income tax returns. He had begun taking animal husbandry classes at Pierce College, and had purchased a ranch in Lake Hughes, an hour’s drive north of Los Angeles, near Gorman, California. There, he planted cherry and apple orchards, and began to raise cattle.
Bill Melendez made this drawing of “cartoonist-rancher Ed”:
He spent most of the 1960s working on the Charlie Brown TV specials, and also directed a couple of Babar specials for Melendez. Other Sixties projects included the titles of It’s a Mad Mad Mad Mad World, and the features Gay Purr-ee and The Incredible Mr. Limpet.
Levitt retired from animation in 1973 to become a full-time rancher and orchard owner. “As you get older,” Levitt told a newspaper reporter, “it just seems a lot nicer to sit up here in the forest and listen to the trees grow.”
Levitt is predeceased by his wife, Dorothy. He is survived by his brother, Julius Levitt; sister, Annette Priemer; his four children, Alan Cyders; Geoffrey, Dan and Paul Levitt, along with numerous grandchildren and great-grandchildren. In lieu of flowers, the family has requested that donations be made in his name to the Motion Picture & Television Country House and Hospital.
Technicolor announced last week that they have appointed Owen Hurley to be the Creative Director of its Animation and Games group. Hurley will be based in Bangalore, India, at Technicolor Digital Productions’ animation studio.
The company, which formerly focused on technology solutions for the entertainment industry, has been building its reputation as a content producer since 2010. Their Indian studio has a dedicated unit working on Rockstar Games
including such titles as Red Dead Redemption, L.A. Noire and Max Payne 3.
Earlier this year, Technicolor also announced plans to develop original content. Their current projects in development include Berkeley Breathed’s Pete & Pickles; Atomic Puppet, (a co-production with Mercury Filmworks); and a TV series adaptation of the graphic novel series The Deep.
Hurley recently directed Technicolor’s Barbie in the Pink Shoes for Mattel. Prior to working at Technicolor, Hurley was the Director of Animation and Cinematics at Vancouver-based Relic Entertainment, where he worked on the games Company of Heroes and the Dawn of War series. During an eight-year stint at Mainframe Entertainment, he directed episodes of Beast Wars, ReBoot, War Planets and Weird-Ohs as well as the direct-to-DVD movie, Casper’s Haunted Christmas.
Like a signature, each animator has their own little quirks or trademarks that distinguish their animation from others. Some draw character’s features in a unique way (eyes, hands, etc.), some lean heavily on certain principles or include abstract imagery or gimmicks into their scenes, and some fall back on specific poses or gestures. The “Milt Kahl Head Swaggle” is an example of the latter, and it both intrigues and aggravates me at the same time.
To clarify, the “Milt Kahl Head Swaggle” is when a character (animated by Disney legend Milt Kahl) sort of rattles his/her head from side to side, usually at times when they’re feeling cocky or self-assured. Sort of an “Am I great or what?” type of gesture.
Again, I can’t deny how remarkable an animator Milt Kahl was, but for a long time I considered him to be a really hammy animator in the worst possible sense, and this gesture cemented that idea in me for a good long while.
In a Frank Thomas or Ollie Johnston scene, I could see the wheels turn in the character’s heads and felt that the characters were sincere, emotionally-driven personalities. I never felt that in the majority of Kahl’s characters. A lot of his characters are like actors on a stage, projecting themselves a bit too far in their performances.
But at the same time, he uses this gesture for a reason, and it works well in every scene he implements it. He only used it on broader, more caricatured characters like Tigger, Sir Ector or Brer Rabbit, characters with strong egos and a cocky sensibility, and the gesture defines the character’s personality in the most simple and direct way possible.
Much like finding an often-reused piece of animation or sound effect in a Disney film, my dislike for it came only from repeated viewings. Because we live in the age of DVDs, Netflix and Quicktime files, we now can have a studio’s entire library literally at our fingertips, able to survey and dissect the content any way we choose, including surveying an animator’s entire forty-year output front to back and taking shots completely out of context like I have here.
Another thing I realized over time is that Kahl seemed to prefer being a broader animator. For years he was stuck with the most difficult and seemingly less interesting assignments, which the rest of the animators couldn’t pull off because they weren’t as good of a draftsman as him. For example, he clamored to work on characters like Captain Hook but was stuck doing Peter Pan and the Darling children, or with Alice instead of the more zany, off-the wall characters that populate the rest of Alice and Wonderland. He would end up designing a lot of these other characters, but never get to animate most of them.
Luckily for him, by the 1960s, Kahl’s creative shackles were loosened and he was back to doing broader animation, and like a free spirit, he went all out on each character, from TheSword in the Stone through The Rescuers. Each character he animated during that period overflowed with energy, all of which was probably pent up inside him for so many years. His days of princes and realistic little children were over, and for the rest of his career he was able to let loose, have fun and do the things he wanted to do.
Milt Kahl knew he was a good animator, and he wasn’t afraid to show it through brash flourishes of animation. The head swaggle, corny and over-the-top though it may be, not only defines those Disney characters, but also defines the self-assured Kahl himself.
Among the newsworthy tidbits is that Williams has in the recent past animated some of Banksy’s graffiti for a medical conference. The most intriguing revelations for Williams admirers though are reserved for the last paragraph of the article, in which Williams discusses his long-term secret animation project. The recently-turned-80 Williams has puckishly subtitled the project, Will I live to finish it. From the article:
He is reluctant to say too much about what “the big film” is about – “we had so much publicity about The Thief and then it went wrong” – but says it is being made in chapters – “so if I do drop dead we will still have something” – and that a six minute prologue, which will be a short film in its own right, will soon be ready. “What I’m interested in is that nobody has been able to handle realism. It’s just been embarrassing. So I’m doing graphic realism, these things are obviously drawings, but it will go into adult territory and will combine different styles. I want something that will be grim, but also funny and salacious and sexy. I can’t tell you how excited I am by it. No one has been able to do this and I know that I can. All I need is some time and five or six assistants who can draw like hell.”
Don’t believe everything you read—or see—online. One of the newer Google search features is to include a biography box for individuals who have entries on Wikipedia. The problem is that Google’s algorithms occasionally select random photos to include as part of these profiles. So, we end up with situations like the above in which Beauty and the Beast co-director Gary Trousdale is depicted as Disney producer Don Hahn.
Or how about director Bob McKimson substituting for director Frank Tashlin?
And I don’t even know how this one happened: Disney director Clyde Geronimi (Sleeping Beauty) is replaced by U.S. Senator John McCain.
We received an email this afternoon from a friend of photographer and film editor Jay Lawton, who passed away on Tuesday, April 23, after a battle with cancer. He was 51. Lawton’s family provided the following obituary:
As an assistant editor he worked at several Los Angeles animation studios, including DreamWorks Animation, Warner Bros. and Walt Disney Television Animation. Projects included Recess, Lady and the Tramp II: Scamp’s Adventure, The Jungle Book 2, Clifford’s Really Big Movie, Loonatics Unleashed, Johnny Test, and The Replacements.
For over a decade Lawton ran his own fine art studio, JayPG Photography, and his recently completed “Project 50,” a set of fifty portraits of gay men over the age of fifty (a demographic Lawton felt was unjustly marginalized within an already marginalized minority), is scheduled to be exhibited at this summer’s LA PRIDE / Christopher Street West Festival. Lawton’s photo archives documenting over two decades of Gay and Lesbian history in Los Angeles have been acquired by the ONE National Gay & Lesbian Archives housed at USC. Lawton is survived by his partner, Peter Ayala, and a sister, Janet Brunty, of Waycross, Georgia. Donations in his name may be made to the ONE Archives, www.onearchives.org.
In 2005, Don Bluth and producing partner Gary Goldman donated their animation archives to Savannah College of Art and Design (SCAD). The substantial collection includes all the artwork they had saved beginning with Banjo the Woodpile Cat in 1979, as well as administrative and legal documents, scripts, unproduced concepts and publicity materials.
SCAD is currently on a years-long mission to process and catalog the material so that it will be accessible to researchers and students. They’ve posted a generous sampling of the materials on the Don Bluth Collection website including pencil tests from Space Ace, storyboards from The Secret of NIMH, and character designs from Thumbelina. Even if you’re like me, and find Bluth’s work to be mechanical and generic, it’s hard to deny the immense value of preserving an archive of this scale and making it available to future generations.
Cartoon women are inherently difficult subjects for the animator for the reason that animation demands caricature and comedy, which are concepts inconsistent with femininity, grace and sensuality. The result is that when animators create female leads, they tend to de-emphasize cartoon qualities and accentuate realistic mannerisms and behaviors.
There was a brief moment in animation history when funny and sexy female characters were encouraged though, and that era coincided roughly with World War II. Some historians, like John Costello, have argued that the war represented the true beginnings of the sexual revolution in the United States. During the early-1940s, sexual imagery gained new visibility and cultural acceptance. Young soldiers lusted after Betty Grable and Rita Hayworth pin-ups, while reading Milton Caniff’s comic Male Call and decorating their bombers with provocative nose art. Within this liberal environment, Hollywood directors and animators took advantage of the opportunity to explore creative new ways of portraying the female character in animation.
A handful of animators, notably Pat Matthews, Preston Blair, Rod Scribner, Fred Moore, and Milt Kahl, became known for their ability to handle women characters that were true cartoon creations. Still, there were limited opportunities to animate such characters, and it wasn’t uncommon for animators to use male characters in drag as a substitute for the female, such as Daffy Duck’s striptease in The Wise Quacking Duck (1943), animated by Art Babbitt.
The sexy cartoon female occasionally appeared in animation after the war, but by and large, the industry began to favor a blander and less cartoon-influenced style. By the early-1960s, the average cartoon female in Hollywood animation had become so unappealing that Rocky and Bullwinkle co-creator Bill Scott quipped, “The way women are drawn in our business today, one would assume all the artists are fags.”
The following selection of animated films illustrate some of the various approaches to the animated female character during the World War II period:
“Eatin’ on the Cuff” or The Moth who Came to Dinner (Warner Bros, Bob Clampett, 1942)
Coal Black and de Sebben Dwarfs (Warner Bros, Bob Clampett 1943)
Red Hot Riding Hood (MGM, Tex Avery, 1943)
Abou Ben Boogie (Walter Lantz Prod, Shamus Culhane, 1944)
Most animation fans know that Ub Iwerks co-created Mickey Mouse. But he contributed a lot more to animation than people think.
1. Ub Iwerks was a workhorse
While the rest of Disney’s studio was toiling away on the last few “Oswald the Lucky Rabbit” shorts that they were contractually obligated to finish for Universal, Ub animated the first Mickey Mouse cartoon, Plane Crazy, alone and in complete secrecy. During work hours, Ub would place dummy drawings of Oswald on top of his Mickey drawings so nobody would know what he was doing. At night, Ub would stay late and animate on Mickey. He animated the entire six-minute short singlehandedly in just a few weeks, reportedly averaging between 600-700 drawings a night, an astounding feat that hasn’t been matched since. When the success of Mickey Mouse propelled the Disney studio to new heights, Ub continued his efficient streak by animating extensive footage on Silly Symphonies shorts like The Skeleton Dance and Hell’s Bells.
2. Ub Iwerks was a mechanical marvel
When not animating with a pencil, Ub loved to build and create inventions. He was intrigued by the inner workings and mechanics of machines, and loved to delve into what made things work. Supposedly he once dismantled his car and reassembled it over the course of a weekend. With this mechanical knowhow, Ub invented devices that incorporated new techniques into his cartoons. After Iwerks opened the Iwerks Studio in 1930, he heard that Disney was attempting to develop what later became the multiplane camera. Ub one-upped his old partner and made his own version from car parts and scrap metal, and incorporated the multilane technique into his cartoons, like The Valiant Tailor:
3. Ub Iwerks was a jack of all trades, and a master of every one
Besides being a skilled animator, mechanic and machinist, Ub constantly expanded his creative and intellectual pursuits through hobbies and sports. Being the ultimate challenge-seeker, he excelled at every single thing he attempted. And when he felt that he had mastered something and it was no longer a challenge to him, he’d quit. When Ub bowled a perfect 300 game, he put his bowling ball in the closet and never bowled again. When he took up archery, he became such a skilled archer that he got bored of getting bulls-eyes and quit that too. Even as an animator, Ub felt he perfected his craft and after his studio closed in the mid-1930s, he never animated again.
4. Ub Iwerks created movie magic
When Ub rejoined the Disney studio in 1940, Walt Disney gave his old partner free reign to do as he wished. With Disney’s resources, Ub developed special effects techniques for animation, live-action films and Disney’s theme parks, much of which is still in use today. He helped develop the sodium vapor process for live-action/animation combination and traveling mattes, which he won an Oscar for in 1965 after utilizing it in Mary Poppins. He adapted the Xerox process for animation, which eliminated the tedious task of hand inking every cel. For Disneyland, Ub designed and developed concepts for many of the park’s attractions, including the illusions in The Haunted Mansion and the animatronics for attractions like Great Moments with Mr. Lincoln and Pirates of the Caribbean. Disney even loaned him out to Alfred Hitchcock to help with the effects needed to create flocks of attacking birds in The Birds.
5. Ub Iwerks made animation what it is today
If Winsor McCay laid he foundation for character animation, then Ub Iwerks built a castle on top of it. He took the didactic rigidness of what animation was in his era and made it loose, organic, appealing and fun. Building upon what Otto Messmer did before him with Felix the Cat, the characters Ub animated were packed with personality. Characters like Oswald the Lucky Rabbit and Mickey Mouse were creations that audiences could relate to as no characters before. They thought, breathed, emoted and were infused with life.
What Iwerks designed and animated in shorts like Steamboat Willie and Skeleton Dance contained the principles (squash and stretch, appeal, anticipation, etc.) that became the genesis of the “Disney style”, which animators like Fred Moore and Milt Kahl later fleshed out. His work reached out and influenced animators all over the world, and they took the ball and ran with it. Rudolph Ising and Hugh Harman, who worked under Ub at Disney, brought his sensibilities to Warner Bros. and developed the Merrie Melodies and Looney Tunes series. Many animators got their start at Ub’s studio in the early 30′s, including UPA co-founder Steve Bosustow and Warner Bros. director Chuck Jones. Manga and anime pioneer Osama Tezuka was also greatly influenced and inspired by Ub’s work.
Stop-motion pioneer Ray Harryhausen, whose work is featured in classic adventure films like The 7th Voyage of Sinbad (1958), Jason and The Argonauts (1963) and Clash of the Titans (1981) died in London on Tuesday, May 7th at the age of 92. The New York Times has an obituary.
Born in Los Angeles in 1920, Harryhausen had an early fascination with animated models in the 1930’s after discovering the stop motion work of Willis O’Brien in King Kong. He went on to work with George Pal on the Puppetoons shorts, the Army Motion Picture Unit during World War II with Frank Capra and O’Brien himself on Mighty Joe Young in 1949.
Using a signature technique of combining rear projection and stop-motion puppetry called Dynamation he brought life to science fiction and fantasy creations in almost thirty films and shorts spanning five decades. The influence of Harryhausen on film luminaries like Steven Spielberg, George Lucas, Peter Jackson, and James Cameron is immeasurable and his work continues to inspire animators and VFX artists around the world.
Ray Harryhausen. Farewell to an astonishing talent – He was a one-man industry and a one-man genre. Alsoa true gentleman.
Among the most important things an animator must keep in mind when animating is making sure that drawings read clearly to the viewer. By using strong keys, solid staging, and clear silhouettes, the audience can understand the actions that a character performs onscreen.
Legendary Disney animator Fred Moore, known for his broad yet overwhelmingly appealing drawings, took that idea one step further in his animation. Not only did he have strong silhouettes in his keys, but he ensured that his animation had strong silhouettes throughout a scene. The clarity of his silhouettes remained even in the breakdowns and inbetweens.
In this scene from Pluto’s Judgement Day, Moore animates Mickey struggling to regain order after Pluto, covered in mud, chases a kitten into his house and wrecks havoc:
Despite how frantically Mickey is moving around in this shot, as well as being obscured by Pluto and the mud effects, his action is still clear because Moore kept the silhouettes intact from drawing to drawing for most of the scene. The negative space between Mickey’s limbs, head and ears as well as the kitten’s paws, ears and tail help bring out the poses. Further, he exaggerates his poses for readability, especially during anticipations. Moore also uses strong arcs, both in Mickey’s torso and his arms, to visually guide the viewer where the actions is going next.
I went over the whole scene and blacked out Mickey and the kitten to show their silhouettes more clearly:
Disney story artist Mark Kennedy talks about silhouettes in greater detail on his blog.
Visual effects house Method Studios, with nine offices worldwide, has announced the hiring of Erik-Jan de Boer, James Jacobs and Keith Roberts. The studio’s recent projects include Iron Man 3, Argo, Men in Black 3 and Cloud Atlas.
Erik-Jan de Boer, (seen above, 2nd from the left) formerly of Rhythm & Hues, where he helped them earn Academy Awards for visual effects on Life of Pi, will be coming aboard Method’s Vancouver office as Animation Supervisor.
“Joining Method presents a great opportunity for me to be part of a multi-facility visual effects house” says de Boer, “There are some impressive projects on the horizon and working on these in an artist-driven environment is an exciting prospect.”
James Jacobs, who received a 2013 Scientific and Engineering Academy Award for helping build Weta Digital’s character simulation software used in Avatar, will join de Boer in the Vancouver office as Creature Supervisor. Meanwhile, Keith Roberts, a veteran of Rhythm & Hues, will serve as Animation Supervisor in Los Angeles.
“We are thrilled to have Erik, James and Keith join our team,” said Christian Kubsch, Method’s President. “Their arrival couldn’t have come at a better time, as Method Studios is in the process of expanding the character animation talent across our global network.”
This Thursday, Cinefamily (611 North Fairfax Ave, LA, CA) will present “Autarky: Frontier Animation,” a collection of 26 animated shorts from current CalArts students in both the Experimental and Character Animation programs. The trailer above shows an impressively eclectic range of student work. It will be interesting to see how students curate their own work as opposed to the school’s year-end shows. The late-night screening begins at 11:59pm and tickets can be pre-purchased HERE.
Sometimes when I’m animating, I recharge my creative batteries by watching some of my favorite scenes or pieces of animation. There’s a handful of animated pieces that I watch again and again, but only one that I always return to without fail. It blows me away every time I see it, and upon each viewing, I always seem to discover something new. After every viewing, it makes me strive harder and harder to become a better animator.
No surprise that this scene from Winnie the Pooh and the Blustery Day (1968) is a Milt Kahl scene. I may be one of the very few people who has had the gall to say something remotely negative about Kahl’s animation in the past, but I still think all the admiration for him and his work is completely justified. He could handle anything, and make it look and move beautifully. It’s a shame he wasn’t given more assignments like this one, because I feel that his more cartoon-oriented animation really stands out as some of his best.
While the entire four-minute sequence of Tigger in Pooh’s house is wonderful (great personality animation, dialogue, pacing, etc.), it’s the shot of Tigger bouncing around Pooh that stands out for me. The reason I love that scene so much is that it perfectly encapsulates all twelve principles of animation. In about 7 seconds, each principle is flawlessly showcased, some multiple times, and some intertwining and overlapping one another. As broad and over the top as it is, there’s layer upon layer of intricate elements that make the scene work. It’s a masterpiece of animation, but isn’t brought up too often compared to some of the other characters in Kahl’s career.
For starters, watch when Tigger first begins bouncing:
There’s little to no anticipation in his legs, but instead the anticipation is shown in the movement of his head going down before the take off. The tilt of his head, in relation to his arms, legs, ears and whiskers as he first jumps show a great use of arcs. Also notice the successive breaking of the joints on Tigger’s arms, from his shoulders to his elbows to his wrists, and the drag on his fingertips.
As he bounces in place, you can really feel the energy transferring through his body, from his head down to his tail and right back up to his head again, much like a wave action. The folds and wrinkles in his body as he squashes down not only tell us that Tigger is a well-worn toy with loose stuffing, but how much force and weight that Tigger is exerting with each bounce.
Now, Tigger begins to bounce in a circle around Pooh:
This is why Tigger’s stripes play such an integral role in his design. The stripes sell the idea that Tigger is not a flat drawing, but a three-dimensional living creature. His stripes wrap around the forms of his body and give the illusion of volume. So when Tigger is bouncing around Pooh, those stripes make it clear that Tigger’s body is turning away from us in perspective. Also notice the overlapping action on Tigger’s tail, and how it bends and swings at the kinked parts.
Tigger then jumps up and spins on his tail:
There’s so much going on in this one-second action. Tigger’s torso is twisting and contorting, his top half slightly delayed than his bottom half. Like before, his arms and legs following arcs, and his hands, ears and whiskers are dragging behind. And while all this is going on, he’s squashing and stretching on every bounce until finally easing into his final pose before making physical contact with Pooh and charging offscreen.
And throughout that entire scene, on every bounce, footstep and contact, Tigger is hitting every single beat in the song. Each of Kal’s key poses are appealing, with clear staging and strong silhouettes. Even the animation on Pooh, who takes a back seat in this sequence to contrast Tigger’s outlandish behavior is wonderfully done. It’s almost contradictory how Tigger moves. While he’s galumphing around the screen like a roughhouse, there’s a certain level of grace in his movements. And both Tigger and Pooh’s personalities are easily distinguishable, Tigger being confident and boisterous and Pooh being underplayed and submissive. Overall, a tour de force of animation.
Coincidently, Kahl was also animating Shere Kahn in TheJungle Book around the same time. They’re both tigers (Tigger loosely so), but look how drastically different in approach and execution they are from each other. Shere Kahn is restrained and more subtle—built and functioning like a real tiger, while Tigger is so full of energy and enthusiasm that he’s practically bursting at the seams, and is a completely graphic design. Compare them to Kahl’s caricatured tiger from the Goofy short Tiger Trouble twenty years earlier and you have some sense of how broad Kahl’s abilities were as an animator.
I would’ve loved to know Kahl’s opinion about his own work on Tigger. I know there’s plenty of information floating around about how he felt about Medusa, Shere Kahn, the Brers or any of the human characters he animated, but barely anything about his work on Tigger. If anyone has any insight about this, please share!
For those that want a closer look at this scene, here’s a video of it slowed down 500% with annotations:
LAIKA/house, the commercial arm of ParaNorman production studio LAIKA, announced today that they’ve added Carlos Andre Stevens to their directing roster. Stevens was most recently a director/creative director at LOGAN/NY, and prior to that worked at Seattle-based Süperfad.
In the press release announcing his arrival, Stevens said that his decision to move to LAIKA was based partly on the city’s lifestyle amenities:
“New York City was terrifically fun, but I need more nature. I was a competitive downhill and freestyle skier growing up, so I love the fact that I can be at the beach, in lush forests and on snow-capped mountains in less than a two-hour drive from Portland. Skiing ignited a passion for risk-taking that I continue to seek out in both my professional and personal life. The quality of life in Portland enriches creativity.”
His reel and various commercials directed by him can be seen on LAIKA’s website.
The boys at Melbourne and Sydney, Australia-based Rubber House Studios have attached some funny cartoon visuals to this tale narrated by Eighties wrestling star The Iron Sheik. It’s the first in a series of “Very Animated People” shorts that Rubber House is producing for the new YouTube comedy channel Jash.
Starring: The Iron Sheik
Director: Greg Sharp
Art Direction: Ivan Dixon
Animation: Rubber House
Supervising Producer: Jensen Karp
Producers: Page Magen and Jian Magen
Produced by AJ Tesler, Nicholas Veneroso
Animation Producer: MJ Offen
Audio Editor: Brett Kushner
Cartoonist Bruce Timm has stepped down as supervising producer at Warner Bros. Animation to develop his own projects. He’s been replaced by James Tucker, a veteran of Batman: The Animated Series, Justice League and, more recently, Batman: The Brave and the Bold.