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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.
The fashion sphere can’t seem to get enough of Mickey and Minnie these days, and not just the expected corporate collabs like OPI cosmetics or Barney’s Electric Holiday, but actual couture showstoppers stomping the runways in fashion capitals and captured in the pages of high fashion editorials (like the above Peter Phillips mask for 2005 US Vogue). And even after having revisiting the subject a dozen times over the last five years, designers are still finding new inspiration to cut and sew a pair of mouse ears into their fashion stories.
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.
Disney announced today that they will release a ‘lost’ Mickey Mouse short called Get A Horse! featuring Walt Disney himself as the voice of Mickey Mouse. The hand-drawn short “follows Mickey, his favorite gal pal Minnie Mouse and their friends Horace Horsecollar and Clarabelle Cow as they delight in a musical wagon ride, until Peg-Leg Pete shows up and tries to run them off the road.”
The never-before-seen work will be presented at the Annecy International Animated Film Festival in Annecy, France on Tuesday, June 11. Lauren MacMullan (Avatar: The Last Airbender, Wreck-It-Ralph), Dorothy McKim (Meet the Robinsons) and animator Eric Goldberg (Winnie the Pooh, Princess and the Frog, Aladdin) will be on hand to present the film.
Disney unveiled a new Mickey Mouse short today called Croissant de Triomphe, that can be watched HERE. It is one of 19 new shorts that will begin airing on Friday, June 28, on the Disney Channel, Disney.com and other Disney-branded platforms.
Paul Rudish (Dexter’s Laboratory, Sym-Bionic Titan, My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic) is exec producing and directing. Aaron Springer (SpongeBob SquarePants, Korgoth of Barbaria) and Clay Morrow (Dexter’s Laboratory, Chowder, Camp Lazlo!) are also directors. Joseph Holt is art director and Stephen DeStefano did character design.
If the first short released Croissant de Triomphe is any indication, this is a handsome and distinctive series, featuring a mixture of Cartoon Modern-styled backgrounds and loose, expressive cartoon animation. The three-and-a-half-minute running time of the first short is perfect. I’m glad that studios are awakening to the fact that there can be other lengths besides 7- and 11-minute episodes.
If I have any observation about the first short Croissant de Triomphe, it’s that it struggles to find the humor in its set-up, which is Mickey driving around Paris on a scooter. Outside of a couple half-hearted attempts at gags (nuns knocked into the air like bowling pins who then float down, an appearance by Cinderella), the cartoon emphasizes frenzied non-descript action sequences over slapstick. Even obvious gag set-ups—for example, Mickey dressed as a knight and lancing croissants—have no comedic payoff. Hopefully as the crew finds its footing, they are able to balance the accomplished action sequences with a more spirited comic sensibility.
If I can make each and every one of you buy a book this week, it would be one or both of these – Simply put, these are two of the best animation books of the year. Each completely different from the other, both are absolute must-haves for anyone, everyone who loves animation.
I’ve personally been a fan of Bill Plympton’s since I first saw his print cartoons in the Soho Weekly News (an NYC alternative newspaper in the 1980s). I actually met Bill at a comic con back then, but he wouldn’t remember that. However, I was lucky enough to become a personal friend of his since the time of his first short Your Face, which I helped distribute through the Tournee of Animation.
That said, I had no expectations for this large coffee-table art book, except to see lots of artwork from Bill’s films and comic strips. Boy, was I in for a surprise. First off, Bill got David Levy to co-write the book with him. Readers of this blog know that I am a huge fan of Levy’s writings and previous books. Chris McDonnell (Meathaus; Bakshi’s Unfiltered) did the layout, so the book is gorgeous. What I didn’t expect was how moved, dazzled and entertained I was by Bill’s story and the abundance of varied art and images.
This is Bill’s journey, told through his voice, and every page of this 264 page book is pure joy to read or to look at. Your Face (1987) was the film that introduced us to Plympton and was a breakthrough for him as an artist. It’s fascinating to see his early work fill the first 75 pages, as you can see his many influences (Yellow Submarine, Milton Glaser, David Levine) in his drawings. Your Face really nails what we are to know as Bill’s style – and from there on, in this book, we are able to see how he’s grown as an animator through storyboards, rough comics, production cels and pencil drawings. The text recounts his entire professional career. As “the king of the independent animators”, aspiring artists will find lots of inspiration in his story.
Terry Gilliam contributes a hilarious Foreword in the front, and Bill provides a detailed Filmography in the back, along with a list of his personal inspirations (it’s a great list and includes Tex Avery, Bob Clampett, Rod Scribner, Hayao Miyazaki and R. Crumb among many many others) as well as his all time favorite and worst films (where Bill counts The Chipmunk Adventure as one of the worst – even though he animated on it!).
Independently Animated: Bill Plympton is available now on Amazon.com and at whichever book retailer still exists in your city. Also, tonight April 27th, at the Society of Illustrators in New York, Bill’s having a big book party and film screening to celebrate the book’s publication. It’s from 6:30-8:30 at 128 East 63rd Street (between Park and Lexington Avenues).
And on Monday May 2nd, Bill is throwing open the doors of his New York City studio to have a gala Starving Animator’s Sale of discounted artwork from all his classics: Your Face, How to Kiss, Guard Dog, The Cow Who Wanted to be a Hamburger, Idiots and Angels. Refreshments will be served. Be there 4pm to 8pm at 153 W. 27th St. #1005.
Just finished the first Fanatagraphics collection of Floyd Gottfredson Mickey Mouse adventure stories and I'm bowled over. I just love them. Great drawings, great stories and a rollicking cartoon adventure. It's so great to read fun comic books. Even if they are 80 odd years old. Grab this book for yourself!
I drew this with a Japanese brushpen and a Cintiq.
Abstract from one perspective, recognizable as animation icons from another. Check out these cartoon-based perspective sculptures by UK artist James Hopkins. Most of his subjects are recognizable even in their distorted form – either way, they are a lot of fun.
Click on thumbnails below to see even more of these incredible pieces of art:
Brew reader Jonathan Sloman spotted this baseball cap for sale on Oxford Sreet in London. Mortimer Mouse wasn’t exactly a cartoon “star”, appearing in just one classic Disney short. Regardless of whether it’s authentic or bootleg, there’s a certain novelty in seeing a minor cartoon character appear on his own piece of merchandise.
It’s December. Holiday gift-giving time. Prepare for several posts in the next few weeks about new books and DVDs you must own – or give to your toon-headed loved ones. But first up, above all else, are these two:
How can you resist any book with Horace Horsecollar on the cover? How many books even have Horace Horsecollar on the cover? This one does. Walt Disney’s Mickey Mouse Vol. 2: “Trapped on Treasure Island” is the latest edition in a series of magnificently produced hard covers reprinting vintage Mickey Mouse comic strips by Floyd Gottfredson from the 1930s. Specifically from January 1932 through January 1934, this book gloriously reprints six classic continuities (The Great Orphanage Robbery, Mickey Mouse Sails For Treasure Island, Blaggard Castle, Pluto And The Dogcatcher, The Mail Pilot, Mickey Mouse And His Horse Tanglefoot and The Crazy Crime Wave), each strip restored from the best possible archival materials. Uncut, uncensored and politically incorrect – these tales are from an alternate Disney universe, where Mickey is a red-blooded, two-fisted adventurer; they are fun to read and a delight to view. Gottfredson’s comics are as classy, funny and as slick as the Disney shorts from the same period. And as usual, co-editor David Gerstein provides a plethora of “bonus materials”: galleries of rare art and merchandise, character histories, essays about scripter Ted Osborne and collaborators Webb Smith and Merrill De Maris, aided and abetted by noted Mouse historians Alberto Becattini, J.B. Kaufman and Malcom Willits – and over a half-dozen pieces are penned by Gerstein himself! A fine package, a full meal, and a perfect follow-up to volume 1, Walt Disney’s Mickey Mouse Vol. 2: “Trapped on Treasure Island” fills a gap long-neglected in animation history. Buy it.
I think I’ve been waiting for this book my entire life. I’ve always enjoyed the artistry and wit of Walt Kelly’s Pogo, but the historian in me always wanted to read the entire thing, strip by strip, from day one. At long last the complete Pogo has been compiled, lovingly, by Fantagraphics Kim Thompson and Kelly’s daughter Carolyn Kelly in the miraculous new hardcover, Pogo: The Complete Syndicated Comic Strips, Vol. 1: Through the Wild Blue Wonder. Buy this book. It wasn’t the first newspaper comic strip by an former Disney animator, but it’s the best – and the first I’d encountered to have an animators aesthetic in the layouts and character poses. This fascinated me no end as a child. Kelly’s drawings are just magnificent, and his sophisticated writing style was far ahead of its time. Its time has come – and Fantagraphics has gone out of its way to ensure the best possible copies of these rare strips were found, restored and preserved perfectly here for all time (BTW, I&rsqu
Thank you Facebook, for allowing us to to see another side of Disney – off model Mickey’s, awkward Donald’s and suggestive Pigs – courtesy of postings from around the world. Just had to share some of my favorites:
I’ll bet you’ve never seen the actual opening of an early 1930s Mickey Mouse cartoon. Oh, you may think you have – but only animation historian David Gerstein really has – and thanks to him, now we can too. Gerstein’s spent years researching and accumulating rare prints and original film elements to these early 30s Disney cartoons – and has compiled all that research into his latest post on his blog.
Gerstein, editor of Fantagraphics’ Floyd Gottfredson Library, is displaying images from more than a dozen of these rare title frames – like this lost one above from Giantland (1933) – he found in various private collections. The newly recovered title cards include several styles previously unseen by modern-day Disney buffs and serious researchers. Calling all Disney Nerds: look closely at some of this material and you’ll note even some copyright lines and sound system credits differ from versions we’ve seen for years. This is some heavy stuff – and I love it! Thanks, David… Mickey mavens, check this out!
This was just screened at Comic Con and worth a look – it’s the intro to the forthcoming Epic Mickey 2 video game, featuring Oswald the Lucky Rabbit, Gus Gremlin and a host of early 30s Disney bit players.
While we’re at it – and not to be a complete shill for this product – this promo (below) on the history of Disney’s Oswald is pretty good. Game designer Warren Spector and Disney archivist Becky Cline discuss and review the history of the character. Makes me feel good to see a 1920s cartoon star re-emerge in the 21st Century. The prospects for reviving Koko the Clown or Farmer Al Falfa are looking better every day.
Besides his obvious importance in West Coast art, Foulkes has a fascinating animation connection: he became Ward Kimball’s son-in-law when he married Ward’s oldest daughter, Kelly, in 1960. The marriage didn’t last, but Ward had a lasting impact on Foulkes.
Most curiously, Ward inadvertently turned Foulkes into a vehement opponent of Mickey Mouse. Foulkes’ unflattering depictions of Mickey have appeared in his work for decades and serve as a broader commentary on the ways that corporations condition and influence consumers through benign Pop symbols. The press notes for the Hammer exhibit tell more of the story:
In the late 1970s Foulkes’s former father-in-law Ward Kimball (one of the head animators at Disney Studios) gave him a copy of the Mickey Mouse Club Handbook from 1934, and Foulkes read the letter inside detailing how the club would teach children to be well-behaved, polite citizens. Dismayed by Disney’s attempts at brainwashing, Foulkes developed a skepticism and distrust that have remained with him ever since. A few years later he began to take his paintings in a new direction, and Mickey Mouse became a recurring character. The seminal work “Made in Hollywood” (1983) features a copy of the letter from the Mickey Mouse Club Handbook.
Llyn Foulkes photo by Ward Kimball, 1962. (And yes, that’s a dead cat in the painting behind him.)
I interviewed Llyn when I was researching my biography of Ward Kimball, and my book touches on the relationship between Ward and Llyn. Llyn’s success as a fine artist in the early-Sixties was a big inspiration to Ward, who began pursuing his kinetic art seriously around the same time. Despite a big difference in age, Kimball and Foulkes got along well and shared a similar set of hobbies. Notably, Foulkes, in addition to being a painter, is also a musician, and he plays a self-built one-man musical instrument called the Machine:
Here’s the description of the Hammer show followed by some more images:
The Hammer Museum presents an extensive career retrospective devoted to the work of the groundbreaking painter and musician Llyn Foulkes (b. 1934 in Yakima, Washington), on view from February 3 to May 19, 2013. One of the most influential yet under recognized artists of his generation, Foulkes makes work that stands out for its raw, immediate, and unfiltered qualities. His extraordinarily diverse body of work—including impeccably painted landscapes, mixed-media constructions, deeply disturbing portraits, and narrative tableaux—resists categorization and defies expectations, distinguishing Foulkes as a truly singular artist.
LLYN FOULKES is organized by Hammer curator Ali Subotnick and will feature approximately 140 artworks from public and private collections in the U.S. and Europe, some of which have not been seen for decades. The exhibition will explore the entire scope of the artist’s career, including early cartoons and drawings, his macabre, emotionally-charged paintings of the early 1960s; his epic rock and postcard paintings of the late 1960s and early 1970s; his “bloody head” series of mutilated figures from the late 1970s through the present; his social commentary paintings targeting corporate America (especially Disney), which include his remarkable narrative tableaux that combine painting with woodworking, found materials, and thick mounds of modeling paste, seamlessly blended into the painted surface to create a remarkable illusion of depth. The show will also feature a video of Foulkes playing his Machine, a one-man instrument consisting of horns, bass, organ pipes, percussion and more. LLYN FOULKES will be accompanied by a fully-illustrated catalogue including essays by novelist and art critic Jim Lewis, writer Jason Weiss, and curator Ali Subotnick.
Jam Session at Ward Kimball’s home in 1973: Top row, from left to right: John Kimball, Al Dodge, George Probert, Robert Crumb, Ward Kimball. Bottom row, from left to right: Robert Armstrong, Spencer Quinn, Llyn Foulkes (on drums).
Kelly Kimball and Llyn Foulkes with their daughter, Laurey. Photo by Ward Kimball, 1962.
Wedding cake toppers that Ward designed for Llyn and Kelly’s wedding, 1960.
Moving things around in the garage, I came across some old college-era drawings, paintings, and prints that I kept. It was funny to go back and look at these things that have rarely seen the light of day since the early 90’s.
It’s especially funny since I’m a completely different person now than I was then, and the imagery I gravitated towards oozed with my youth. With titles like “Angel of Suicide” …What? All that’s missing is my “Question Authority” bumper sticker.
I knew that I wanted to make some kind of statement, but I don’t think I ever knew what that statement was. I just knew what imagery fit the bill - or formula - for cutting edge, music saturated L.A./Long Beach California. But really, it’s very similar to a lot of other statements that you see even among today’s emerging young artists that I see online. And, we thought we were being so avant garde. I just knew that I DIDN’T want to “illustrate” as that was a bad word in the fine arts department. Oh, silly me.
What I do see that is worth anything is the interest in detail, linework, and texture that are a big part of my current work. I just think I took a pretty round-about way of getting here.
I remember that 3-D box face that I had on my wall, the mannequin head with the Mickey Mouse ears, the gas mask…I just can’t for the life of me figure out which apartment that was (I moved several times during my college years).
I am fascinated by the science of retrieving sound waves from wherever they go after they hit the air and dissipate. Since waves don’t end but keep spreading out, any sound ever made is technically still out there waiting to be rounded up and heard again. That’s incredible. It means, among other things, that if we could refine the science enough, we could literally hear epic moments like the Gettysburg Address or re-experience sweet, personal exchanges like a baby cooing. How eerie yet thrilling would it be to stand in a field in Pennsylvania and hear Abraham Lincoln’s actual voice brought back to life by modern technology corralling scattered sound waves? But, in some ways, I don’t think we need to wait for those advances. Have you ever been somewhere and heard the echoes of the past? Not specific words, maybe, but whispers of sound that seem to linger. In Chattanooga, Tennessee, there is a massive natural stronghold of great tactical benefit during the Civil War. The army that controlled Lookout Mountain, with its towering height and expansive view, was in a position of virtually impenetrable superiority, and as such it was the scene of fierce fighting. At the base of the mountain, if you stand very still and listen very carefully, the wind still carries the sounds of long ago. It is haunted. In Walt Disney Production’s The Haunted House, Mickey and friends are hearing things. I wonder if it would help to know it’s just trapped sound waves.
Big news out of San Diego: Fantagraphics announced that they will be publishing a complete run of Floyd Gottfredson’s “Mickey Mouse” newspaper strip, which he drew daily between 1930 and 1975. As Fantagraphics publisher Gary Groth says, “I think it’s the last truly great, masterful strip that has not been reprinted.” Here’s an interview with Groth with more details about the project, which begins in spring 2011.
Here’s something I’d like to have: this cleverly designed limited edition Mickey Mouse remote control from Japan, with a stand shaped like Mickey’s shoes. In addition to controlling the TV (and which Disney Channel you’ll watch) it has a voice button with which to hear 9 Mickey Mouse lines. It also has a “B.S.” button (which hopefully filters out all Disney B.S.). If only it could restore all cable programming to pre-1970 Disney films and cartoons.
If Epic Mickey didn’t rock your world – maybe this will…
Technologizer’s Harry McCracken posted this on his personal blog, and I couldn’t resist sharing it with Brew readers. It’s video of Fisher-Price’s Dance Star Mickey doll, from Toy Fair 2010 at the Javits Convention Center in New York City. It goes on sale next month.
Calling all animation historians and Disney geeks! Our friends at the Modern Mechanix blog have dug up another animation related article from their stash of long lost popular science/mechanics publications of the 1930s. This time it’s Making Mickey Mouse Act For the Talkies from the March 1931 issue of Modern Mechanix magazine. The article, by [...]
Disney fans like to look for “hidden Mickeys” – but here’s one they may have missed. When Disney’s mouse became an overnight sensation in 1928, almost every competing studio included a Mickey-like mouse (or a Mickey-like fox or Mickey-like bear) in their films. Now it turns out that these ersatz Mickey’s weren’t confined to Hollywood cartoons.
Norakuro is a Japanese comic series created by cartoonist Suiho Tagawa (1899-1989), which ran from 1931 up until the early ’40s, about a black dog in a canine Army, very much inspired by the Imperial Japanese army at the time. The comic stopped when World War II broke out, but the cartoons remained popular. It was animated several times – a series of short-films in the ’30s, two TV series (1970-71 and 1987-88). This cartoon is believed to be in public domain (if you can find it) – Mickey Mouse is still protected by international trademark.