Quick Note: The Animation Anomaly facebook Page

It’s still early stages yet, but there is now a facebook page for The Animation Anomaly. It’s also totally official and fully endorsed by me! How do you know? nobody else beat me to it!

I mostly use it as a place to notify people about particularly interesting posts and to share links with websites and webpages that I don’t have enough to say about in a regular post.

It’s still early days but that shouldn’t stop you from heading on over to ‘Like’ it now!

 

Reflections on Mr. Magoo and Leslie Nielson

Via: Wikipedia

The world of comedy lost one of its greatest talents the other day when Leslie Nielson passed away. I am certainly not the person to write a eulogy although I was somewhat disheartened by the sheer number of “Don’t call me Shirley” tweets flowing by yesterday. Yes, that performance changed his career, but he was much more than that.

In fact, one of his roles that I didn’t hear about at all was his oft-overlooked performance as Mr. Magoo. While not his best role (Lt. Frank Debin takes that cake), it did serve to remind me that Mr. Magoo is (was?) still very much in the public’s consciousness despite being over 50 years old.

Originally a side character, Mr. Magoo went on to star in his own series of shorts, created at the deeply influential UPA Studio. Despite his age, and the fact that he is not near as popular as in his hayday, Mr. Magoo is still an active character that pops up here and there to remind us of his existence.

The aforementioned film is perhaps the best indication that Mr. Magoo is still nestled in the consciousness of the American public. Granted the film was released over a decade ago, although if the character were truly dead, said film would never have seen the light of day.

Mr. Magoo is proof that you don’t necessarily need to be all over the place in order to be popular. Brief interstitial appearances that gently remind the public of your existence should be enough to maintain a certain level of popularity.

That, I believe, is the mistake that Warner Bros. et al are making whenever they haul the Looney Tunes out for another film. Yes, they need to bring in new blood to sustain demand for the characters, but a new film is almost certainly not the most effective way to do it. (I am aware of the possible contradiction with what I said above but the circumstances are slightly different, the Mr. Magoo film was certainly not an attempt to reboot the character).

Besides the character himself, the Mr. Magoo shorts were very noteworthy because they cam from the UPA studio, a somewhat ground-breaking company that hauled animation look and design into the modern age. If you happen to be interested in learning more about it (and who isn’t) I’d recommend Cartoon Modern by Amid Amidi, a passionately written tome that espouses the heavily stylized design that came to define 1950s America.

Mr. Magoo was and still is one of the most important cartoon characters ever created. He broke the mould for what made cartoon characters popular and he could certainly be seen to serve as an inspiration (however small) for Carl Fredrickson in Up.

What I Found at the Second-Hand Bookshop

Via: GoodReads.com

A wee while ago I espoused the virtues of the library as a great source for animation and animation-related books. Naturally, it is not the only source in existence for reading materials. Frankly, I’m quite ashamed that I forgot to mention the second-hand book shop as well.

While up in western New York this past weekend (hence the brief hiatus), I happened to pay a visit to a local bookshop whose owners had decided it was time to enjoy the finer things in life and were in the process of flogging off ever single book in the place (all 200,000 of them) for the princely sum of $2 each. Yes, that’s right, two of your fine [American] dollars would get you any book in the joint.

Now myself, being the bookworm type, simply had to pop in and take a bit of a nose around to see what I could find. The only downside to such shops is that you can guarantee that nothing is really organised and that a bit of foraging is required to find what you’re looking for.

So, in amongst the Idiot’s Guide to Netscape and first editions of Nancy Drew there is the possibility of finding some, shall we say, diamonds in the rough. Thankfully, I did manage to locate said diamonds, and promptly cleaned the guy out of every decent animation book he had, all 6 of them!

There’s a biography of Chuck Jones by Hugh Kenner that looks pretty decent, a book dedicated to Big Little Books that has a ton of early, 1930s-era animation, comic and detective books and Walt in Wonderland, which focuses on his silent animated films from the 20s.

Excited as I was to start reading those, they will have to wait. Before then, I have to plough through How to Make Animated Movies by Anthony Kinsey, the official Walt Disney biography by Bob Thomas (very excited to read this) and last but certainly not least, “That’s All Folks: The Art of Warner Bros. Animation” by Steve Schneider.

Are these real gems of book? Nah, they’re fairly run of the mill (except the Kinsey book, that seems pretty rare) and any second-hand bookshop is likely to be the same. Nonetheless, if I hadn’t stopped in and looked around, I wouldn’t have all these lovely books to read in the coming months. 🙂

Food for Thought: Female CGI Character Designs

Via: DevilCatz.wordpress.com

You would think that over the last 15 years or so, there would be plenty of exciting human character designs put out by the Hollywood studios, what with CGI being a new and exciting field and all. When the idea popped into my head yesterday, I realised that we haven’t seen all that many over the years. Granted, making CGI humans has only really been possible over the last 5 years or so, but even then, the examples have been few and far between.

Take a look at this small sampling:

Ginormica:

Via: Discover Magazine

Sam Sparks

Via: MattTrailer

Colette

Via: DevilCatz.wordpress.com

and Roxanne

Via:megamindmovietrailer.blogspot.com

Elastigirl from The Incredibles doesn’t really count because I don’t consider her as a “normal” human character in the same sense as those above.

Compare those charcters to this one, by Andrew Hickinbottom

Woah! Big difference, eh? You can tell this one has real character, and she looks even more French than Colette!

OK, yeah, they’re all female but I can justify it on the grounds that female characters in general have much more intricate designs and distinguishing features and as a result more often than not represent the best designs in a film. I’m not being biased, just my personal opinion.

If you look back over the years at all the cartoons ever made, good character design can do wonders for your film. I can say with certainty, that when I was young, my mother pretty much hit the nail on the head when she opined that no-Disney animated films really did lack the polished design that Disney’s had. Was that the only thing that hurt their chances, probably not, but I bet it didn’t help them either.

Like I said, it’s still early days so I am hopeful that we’ll start to see more and more explorations of the capabilities that CGI can offer in terms of character design and the level of detail the technology can provide.

Why I’m Currently Thinking About Fievel Mousekewitz

Via: Squidoo

It’s been a rough time to be an Irishman this past week. First we didn’t need the bailout then we might need a bailout and now we’re taking the bailout, which comes with an added dose of patriotic-busting shame in that most of it happens to come from the British. The French may have swallowed their national pride and took the Marshall Aid when it was given to them, although in fairness, they kind of really needed it.

So all this talk about the country being in the toilet has got me thinking about the last time it was in the toilet, which are more affectionately called the dark ages, a period of time known to the rest of the world as the 1980s. I should point out though, that the topic of today’s post happens to have been made in the 90s, although we were poor then too!

Today’s film is notable for being one of the first I remember seeing at the cinema. Beauty and the Beast was perhaps the first, which i saw right after they’d finished refurbishing the local picture house. All the same, Fievel Goes West has a place in my heart as the first film I can remember actually seeing. Sure I watched Beauty & the Beast, but I couldn’t for the life of me tell you how I felt about it at the time.

I should point out that Fievel Goes West was not associated with Don Bluth, although there is an Irish connection in that he did set up an animation studio in Ireland in the late 80s, the short-lived Sullivan-Bluth studio. Arguably Bluth’s greatest contribution to Ireland was the founding of an animation course at Ballyfermot College, which paved the way for home-grown studios to emerge, creating the likes of The Secret of Kells and Granny O’Grimm.

Getting back to the point, the film is somewhat sadly forgotten at this point, standing in the shadow of the original American Tale film that is lauded as one of Don Bluth’s best after he left Disney. I haven’t watched it in literally years, but I can still recall some of my favourite parts, the funny jokes, Tiger the cat and of course, Cat R. Waul, played to perfection by Mr. John Cleese.

I suppose that kind of brings up another aspect of youth, looking back and realising that for years you either listened to, or watched all these famous and talented people without having a clue who they were. I will freely admit that i watched Thomas the Tank Engine all through my early years and knowing that they were narrated by some bloke called Ringo Starr who seemed to be pretty good at it.

Did Fievel Goes West deserve to succeeed? I think it did, and it probably would have if it hadn’t have been caught up in the maelstrom of succes that Disney had only just begun to create with Beauty and the Beast. It’s an entertaining film on a number of levels, perhaps slightly more juvenile than we’ve come to expect thanks to Pixar, but it deserves at least one viewing. As far as I know, it is on Netflix, so now you’ve no excuses!

In the meantime, prayers for the repose of the soul of the country formerly known as Ireland are being csaid, most likely at a Catholic church near you.

Why The Cinema Experience Needs to Change

Via: zizzybaloobah on flickr

The other night I went to see Harry Potter (which contained a surprise animated sequence). It was a rather unique experience because we didn’t go to our usual cinema. Sadly, the 7 o’clock showing was all sold out there (and likely overrun with rowdy teenagers to boot), so instead we had to find somewhere else.Thankfully, The Senator Theatre was re-opened just in time and it turned out to be about the same distance away from the house too!

All in all, it was a great evening and the film was fantastic to boot. Normally we drive up, park, get gouged when we buy our tickets, get gouged again when we buy the popcorn and then have the pleasure of watching 20 minutes of commercial content followed by another 20 minutes of advertising before the film finally starts.

At The Senator, we got our tickets online for less than usual with the popcorn being slightly cheaper as well, and there was no beating about the bush when the lights went down. We got a rating certificate and then the film. I hadn’t seen start that quick since I was at a sneak preview for The Simpsons Movie!

Throughout the evening, what struck me most was how much different it was from our usual cinematic expeditions. It was more like a special event, an occasion even. Granted, it was Harry Potter, so things were slightly more electrified than normal although that did not cloud the overall experience.

All of this got me thinking and it made me a wee bit sad to think that going to the cinema is no longer treated as something special. It is now a run-of-the-mill chore that is forgotten as soon as we leave the building. How did things become so bland and mundane? Let’s take a look back.

The Golden Age of Hollywood between the 20s and the early 50s was also the greatest era for cinematic entertainment in this country. New cinemas were popping up all over the country and changed the face of evening entertainment in the US.

The cinema owners knew this and realised that the best way to earn business was to have people come to their cinemas, and come often. They achieved this through competition, either in size, features, luxury or price. Often it was a combination of them all. Yeah, the studios may have block-booked timeslots and owned the cinema chains but they still had each other to contend with.

There was a time when you could go to dinner at the theatre and then go upstairs to watch the show. You might have even been able to enjoy a drink at the bar afterwards and your movie ticket would have been all of 25 cents. Even adjusted for inflation, this is cheap by today’s standards.

The point is that owners made going to the cinema an experience. They wanted attendees to feel special, that they were being offered a glimpse into the Hollywood glamour; customers responded in kind by dressing up for the evening. The result of all of this is that they came back, again and again and again. In 1930, attendance was 80 million people, or 65% of the entire population! Since then, audience numbers have declined to the point that barely 3% of the population visits the cinema on a weekly basis.

Why is this? Television certainly has its role to play. Why indeed would you drive all the way to the cinema, cough up your kids college fund and then watch a film with a guy on the left who can’t stop farting and a woman on the right conducting a live directors commentary, not to mention the kid behind you kicking your seat. When you think about it, you really would be much more comfortable at home on your own couch, maybe even in your underwear and being all the happier for it.

The point here is that today, cinema owners and movie studios are under a number of illusions when it comes to why people go to the cinema, which I will now dissect:

  • “People want to see it first” – I can download it at home before it even comes out (legality aside)
  • “People want to see it on a big screen” – I’ve got a 50″ plasma screen with surround sound at home and I don’t have to worry about someone blocking the view
  • “It’s affordable entertainment” – YouTube is affordable entertainment
  • “Its 3-D” – This is a tricky one, because I cannot see things in 3-D (bad right eye) and the third dimension has been bandied about twice in the past without success.

As you can see, there is actually very few reasons why any of us should go to the cinema. It’s normally an expensive, cold, noisy hour and a half with very little to show for it in the end. I haven’t even touched on the strip searches some chains have implemented to catch “pirates”. Talk about pissing off the people who are handing over their hard-earned cash.

Compare that to the golden era when customers were treated like royalty. The expansive architecture (check out Uncle Eddie’s Theory Corner and his comparison post if you don’t believe me) , the awe-inspiring theatre chamber, the men’s lounge (seriously, the Senator has a men’s lounge you pass through on the way to the bathroom) and the feeling that you are doing much more with your evening than watching a film.

That way of thinking has been lost in this country. Today, cinema-goers are treated like cattle, “get them in, get them out” is the order of the day. Patrons somehow “owe” the cinema the pleasure of their business rather than the other way around. Why has it come to this? Why is it that as a film fan, I am forced to make choices about whether it is worth my while going to see a film or not? I shouldn’t have to, and the entire industry is worse off because of it. I may be just one person, but if one farmer in Iowa is judged by the Supreme Court to come under Federal law because of the corn he grows, then I am certainly not alone.

Instead, would it not be better if going to the cinema were treated like the occasion it used to be? Instead of being given the Wal-Mart treatment, we were enlightened by our evening and as a result, are far more likely to consider patronising The Senator again (definitely once they get that bar open though). In the past, the addition of more screens, stadium seating and better sound were thought to entice people from their armchairs. Now it’s 3-D that’s been given another crack at the limelight, and it too, looks to falter again. All these things cost a ton of money, which could perhaps have been better spent on giving the customer something they actually want.

Hundreds if not thousands of cinema gems have been lost over the years, the victims of growing suburbia, socio-economic upheaval in their surroundings and a general apathy towards history in this country. The March of Progress, etc. etc. The oft-quoted response is that such buildings are “a dime a dozen”. Sadly, there isn’t that many left.

Is there hope for the future? Perhaps. Cinemas such as The Senator are dependent on two things: continued patronage and the uninhibited ability to show the films they want. I fully enjoyed my little slice of American cinematic glory. Its time we all did.

The Problem With Lists and My Top 10 List of Animated Robots

I was kind of shocked when I checked the date it was first broadcast because I can’t believe it’s been nearly five whole years, but nonetheless it inspired today’s post. I’m talking about Channel 4’s 100 Greatest Cartoons list, which was broadcast over a pretty epic 3 hours in total.

As a list, its pretty comprehensive, although some will take issue with the fact that cartoons were defined as films, shorts and TV series so the likes of Betty Boop had to contend with the entire cast of Futurama who were up against Akira. Not entirely a fair fight in my opinion but I digress.

I mention all this because as a list, The 100 Greatest Cartoons is actually pretty good. It was voted on by members of the British public so naturally a few shows made it in that American folks would never recall. The main issue I have with lists is the propensity for the youngest items to rank really high. A noted example is (can’t believe I’m referencing this) the greatest albums of all time in Q magazine a few years back. The Red Hot Chili Peppers then-current album was way inside the top 10. I can’t even recall the name of it now.

Another aspect of lists (and it’s the main reason I tend to stay away from them on the blog) is that when some one person makes them up, they reflect the personality of that person. For example, if I were to make a list of the top 10 animated robots, it would look like this:

  1. XJ-9 (bonus points if you also know her name)
  2. Mr. Bender Bending Rodriguez
  3. The Iron Giant
  4. EVE
  5. EVA Units 01, 02 and 03
  6. Astroboy
  7. The Robot from Castle in the Sky
  8. Transformers
  9. Rosie the Robot
  10. The break-dancing robot that caught on fire

By the looks of things, it appears to be a fairly inconspicuous list. You may argue that Astroboy should be first or that I am adhering to the very thing I lament in the paragraph above (I don’t this just happens to be the way the list is). The point is that this is my list and what I consider to be the top 10 animated robots. You will probably have a completely different list, and that’s perfectly fine. I think the reason we are so obsessed with such lists is that we want to compare ours and argue about why that list is wrong and ours is right (it’s a human nature thing, right?).

 

The 2011 Academy Awards Shortlist and Why There Should be Five Nominees

By now you should have seen the shortlist for the contenders for the 3 nomination slots for this year’s Best Animated Film category of the Academy Awards. Just in case you haven’t, here it is:

  • Toy Story 3
  • How to Train Your Dragon
  • Shrek Forever After
  • Despicable Me
  • Alpha and Omega
  • Cats & Dogs: The Revenge of Kitty Galore
  • The Dreams of Jinsha
  • Idiots and Angels
  • The Illusionist
  • Legend of the Guardians: The Owls of Ga’Hoole
  • Megamind
  • My Dog Tulip
  • Summer Wars
  • Tangled
  • Tinker Bell
  • Great Fairy Rescue

Academy Rules state that if there are more than 15 entries on the shortlist, then the number of nominations go up to 5. The logic behind this is that the rather artbitrary number of 15 is used as a yardstick to measure how popular animated films are in this country. In a year like this one, enough were not released to warrant the wider number of nominations.

Perhaps there is some underlying explanation that we are not privy to, but come on man, I could easily pick 5 films, nay, 5 universally acclaimed films from that list and still be left with plenty to spare. Maybe in years gone past the quality of films has meant that only three good films could be chosen. I don’t exactly know, although I would doubt it, seeing as the category has only existed since 2001.

Think of the debate that would be generated! Look at last year! There were 5 nominees and the quality of the nominees was very fine indeed. Included were Coraline, Fantastic Mr. Fox, The Princess and the Frog, Up and The Secret of Kells, a film that hadn’t even been on general release when that ceremony was held!

With just three films in the race this year, it will most likely come down to Toy Story 3, How to Train Your Dragon and either Despicable Me or a take-your-pick from the indies; the general attitude to which can be summarised in the quote below from the Washington Post’s, Celebritology blog:

All the usual animated suspects made the first round of cuts…..”The Illusionist,” the requisite annual animated entry that’s critically lauded but that no one’s kids will ever see? Total check.

In such a circumstance, I’m relying on HTTYD to upset the Pixar apple cart. It’s just a shame that genuine contenders for the award are dismissed before they even get the chance to line up for the race.

Now imagine if there were 5 nominees. You can add in an extra two films to the mix and with a strong indie presence, you can be assured that they stand a better chance. Both The Illusionist and Idiots and Angels would garner a lot of extra exposure from even a simple nomination and that would only increase interest in the artform (surely something we can all agree on).

Like I said above, more contenders might not lower the odds for Toy Story 3 (at least not at your bookie) but it would reinforce the idea in the general public’s mind that animation is a wonderfully varied medium that exists outside the major Hollywood players. Having said that, I do realise that the Academy Awards are a back-slapping ceremony for Hollywood, so if you’re not in the club, your chances of winning are slim. But seriously, how much extra does it actually cost the Academy to add two more films to the list? Not much, but they could stand to gain a lot more if they did.

Recap of the 2010 ASIFA-East Art Auction

I’m a day late and much more than a dollar short with my recap of the this fantastic, bi-annual event that helps raise money for ASIFA-East. I do have a very good excuse, however, in that I didn’t get in the door until half two on Tuesday morning (it was a long bus ride in case you were wondering) and I had to revise for a test in the evening, so that meant blogging took the back seat for a day.

But enough beating about the bush and onto the auction itself, which was ably hosted by Mr. Justin Simonich who was assisted by the lovely Linda Beck.

Animators are involved in the creation of some truly fantastic pieces of artwork, be it the actual cels used in the cartoon, development art, backgrounds, etc, etc. Sometimes these wonderful items get mothballed in storage, sometimes they get auctioned off to the highest bidder and sometimes the artists themselves get to keep them. Thankfully, the auction has those and much, much more.

FanBoy and ChumChum sketch by Eric Robles

Besides your usual animation cels (of which I managed to acquire one, from Mark Kausler and Greg Ford’s short “It’s the Cat”), there was also plenty of comics, T-shirts, sketches, original paintings, development sketches and posters, all singed for posterity of course and many included little doodles (these people do draw for a living after all).

Fish Hooks sketch by Noah Z. Jones

Like any good buyer at an auction, I sussed out the lots and made note of which ones I planned to bid on. Of course I didn’t buy all of them (I would’ve needed a cart to take it all back) and besides, I didn’t want to be selfish. Of the items I did not win, the one I am probably most disappointed with is that above, the sketch by Noah Z. Jones of his new TV show, Fish Hooks. It’s pencilly look would’ve gone great with the white walls in my apartment. The second one I lost is below and is pretty self-explanatory. Not only is it from Sesame Street, it’s also signed by Big Bird himself!

Sesame Street picture book art.

There were plenty of laughs to be had and Mr. Warburton gave new meaning to the term “phoning it in” when he made a passionate plea on behalf of his lot that would better that of any politician (his assertion that $55 was just an ugly number to bid extracted plenty of laughter).

All in all, it was a great evening. The only downside was the contorted ride home, when I had to somehow get some sleep but also prevent my purchases from crashing to the floor. The auction is a great event that I’m glad I make the effort to attend. There are always some great art to be bought and the crowd is jovial. It certainly made my Monday a lot better than it could’ve been!

UPDATE: For the super-official recap of the event, head on over to The Exposure Sheet to see what Emmett Goodman has to say.

What if Pixar Made the Next Fantastia?

The other day, I had a bit of a back and forth conversation on Twitter with Mr Sam Levine about Fantasia, in which he mentioned pitching a sequence featuring Gustav Holst’s suite “The Planets”. Afterwards it got me thinking about the whole concept of Fantasia and why it remains so popular even after all these years.

My personal opinion is that it epitomises the best of animation as an expressive artform. Now I don’t meant to say it has the best animation, that’s a statement that requires some serious research and evidence to back up, which I don’t have the time for today. What I mean is that the music forms the basis on which the animation is based, not the other way around, which is the way most films are scored these days. The result is a wonderfully complex series of sequences in which the animator is allowed a fair amount of creative license that is used to great effect. Does dialogue distract from the animation? Watch any animated show/film/etc with the sound off. Do you pay more attention to the character’s movements? I bet you do.

With the thought of seeing the film for the first time in a few years (since it’s coming out on DVD) as well as seeing Fantasia 2000 for the first time, it got me thinking: What if Pixar made the next Fantasia?

We all know that Pixar makes good movies (I know it too, in difference to my recent comments over on Cartoon Brew) and while their writing team has been given a ton of credit for their slate of films, the animation crew seems to be in their shadow to a certain extent. A film like Fantasia would be a wonderful opportunity to give them a chance to flex their creative muscles.

In comparison, Disney was at a similar stage when he made the original. Here he was, an established animation studio that had won critical and commercial success who was looking for a vehicle to showcase the latest in technology, which at the time included stereo sound and technicolour (yes, that had been around for almost a decade but I dare you to name more than a few, colour, World War II films).

Does Pixar need a film to showcase all their creative skills? No, not really, they already do that in almost every film they release. Would I still like to see them do it? Absolutely! CGI is in desperate need of something to show of the animation itself and not just the design or the backgrounds.

The realities of the movie business today mean that a Pixar Fantastia is unlikely to happen, which is a wee bit of a shame really, since the original is still immensely popular. I would not, however, rule it out altogether.

Why A Film Review Should Make You Want To See the Movie

Although I’ve mentioned that I’m not particularly fond of movie critics, they do undertake an important role, that of reviewing movies for the general public who simply do not have time to view them all. Naturally the quality of such reviews varies greatly and critics generally tend to come off as snooty, holier-than-thou types who will savagely beat a film before it goes on to become the top grossing one of the year.

Sometimes the best reviews I’ve read are not by real critics at all, they’re written by fans, movie-lovers or friends. The internet has been marvellous in that regard as I can Google said movie and discover literally thousands of personal responses to the film.

The proliferation of movie reviews on the internet does not mean, however, that the calibre or quality of said reviews are any better. Responses by fans can be tainted my personal bias, cultural bias or indeed national bias (for the record, we Irish did enjoy Four Weddings and a Funeral) and you always run the risk of a poorly written or worded review (I’ll put my hand up here) spoiling your appetite.

The interesting thing is, when you break it down, a film review, if done correctly, should encourage you to go see the film no matter how bad (or good) a film is. That’s not to say it should encourage you to go see a pile of puke, like say, The Mask 2 but it should present the reader with enough information about whether they want to go and see the film or not.

Take for instance Michael Sporn’s review posted yesterday for The Illusionist. It covers all the bases and discusses the negative aspects of the film (of which there are few). By the end, I wanted to see this film, not because of how brilliant Michael conveyed it to be, but because he made me believe that this is a good film through his spirited writing and comprehensive inclusion of other well known animation figures and their opinions.

In the end, the decision to go see the film will be made by you and you alone (although your friends and peers may have some serious influence). A good review will inform you of why you should see it and have minimal comments on the negative aspects the film, which of course, will leave it up to you to determine them for yourself.