Happy 50th Anniversary to Yogi Bear!

Via: Yowp

I must admit, it completely flew over my head that yesterday was the actual date, so it’s a bit of a belated celebration over here on the Anomaly blog. Nonetheless, we all make mistakes when it comes to this kind of thing and I was in fact, distracted by the review I wanted to do for Mary & Max.

So, yes, the Yogi Bear Show is 50 years old. My, my, it doesn’t seem that long since we celebrated the 50th anniversary of another famous Hanna-Barbera show. Clearly these were busy times for the studio, and it would shortly add another one to the mix with The Jetsons.

As usual when it comes to such cartoons, I must direct you all towards the Yowp blog, which has once again provided an excellent, concise piece on the show and its beginnings. There is little if anything I can add to an already well-written piece except to say that I did watch the show as a kid and although the distinct memories are a bit foggy, I can say with certainty that they are fond ones.

Happy (Belated) Birthday Yogi, here’s hoping that we may continue to be entertained by you pic-a-nic basket stealing antics.

Anomaly Appraisal: Mary & Max

Via: My[confined]Space.com

When you think of claymation, the first thing that might pop into your head is probably not a feature film. A pre-school series such as Pingu perhaps, but not something that you intend to watch over the course of an hour and a half or more. For the record, claymation is a form of stop-motion animation, not a different type of animation altogether.

I know that this films has been out for a while, but it was only the other night that I finally got the chance to sit down and watch it, and I am pleased to report that it exceeded all my expectations and then some.

Admittedly, the idea of the story did not exactly speak volumes to me. A tale of a young Australian girl being pen-friends with a 50-something New Yorker does not exactly warm the cockles of the heart, especially at this time of year when there’s snow everywhere.

However, if you look past the superficial skin of the story, you will be amazed at how deep it really goes. For one, this is a story about character. Both main protagonists are clearly contorted, confused and seemingly alone in this world, and yet both find solace in each other in different ways.

The film begins in Australia with a background to Mary’s life; her alcoholic mother, her aloof father, her agoraphobic neighbour, her pet rooster and the boy next door with the terrible stutter. In the middle of all of this, we get a glimpse into the life of a little girl who is isolated and in in the extreme sense, sort of abused as an unwelcome intrusion into her parent’s lives.

On the other side of the world, Max is a loner who sees the world in a very literal sense. He is easily confused by the actions of others and as such, he often lets his anger get to him. He is emotionally fragile, and like Mary, had a similarly traumatic childhood.

Both seemingly disparate characters do share something in common, their love of chocolate and The Noblets, a TV show. With these two similarities, the two develop a friendship maintained only through letters (the film is set in the 1970s) through thick and thin.

I don’t want to give too much of the story away, but there are some dramatic twists and turns that have implications for both characters. What I can say though, is that the ending is carried out in a very suitable way that left me feeling empty at the time, like the directors skimped out, but after having thought about it for a while, I came to the conclusion that it is one of the better endings I have seen in a long time. It brings a definite conclusion to things and it is clear how much each character benefited from all the correspondence over the years.

The animation is superb, I cannot say any more. The limited use of colour means that you are much more focused on the animation rather than the look of things. There are plenty of visual gags that are in that subtle, British style, in other words you have to pay close attention to what’s going on in the background.

The direction is excellent, with every shot clearly having been thought through thoroughly (try saying that 10 times in a row!). The quirkiness of the film stands out in the actions of the characters and the way each shot is used to help explain a character’s emotions or thoughts.

Although I am averse to celebrity voice-actors, I will say that Philip Seymour Hoffman does an excellent job of portraying Max. You can hear the weariness in his voice and the way he dictates his letters to himself suggest that he is a man who has a lot on his mind. As for the other characters, they are all performed to perfection (lots of alliteration in this post today, eh?).

In the end, Mary & Max did not elicit an enormous amount of emotion from me, but it did leave me immensely satisfied that I had seen an excellent film that is clearly a cut above many other movies that are billed as emotional dramas. Looks are not everything and I am confident that if you can get past Max’s sour puss on the poster, you will be rewarded by a very good film indeed.

Weekly Weblinks: Part Deaux

This post is really should have been done earlier, but school and work aside, there just wasn’t time until now. I am always on the lookout for new and exciting blogs to follow as well as interesting posts to share and without further adieu, here’s a few I came across this week.

Blogs

Bleeding Pixels

The blog of Dave Johnson, who provides regular updates on the goings on in animation with some personal commentary. One to follow.

The Cartoon Cave

Written by Pete Emslie, one of the old-school cartoonists of this world. it contains tons of awesome sketches and illustration among posts on old comics and animation. Worth reading for the pictures alone but Petes personal take on things makes it all the better.

Posts

Hanna-Barbera, the Missing Theme Park

Lisa K. Berton takes a look at Hanna-Barbera’s attempts to enter the lucrative themepark market and how their presence has been declining as of late.

Animazing Amation: The Secret of Kells

A review on the Late to the Theater blog, which focuses on films available through instant streaming that reinforces everything that has been said about this film and how excellent it is. Worth reading and serves as a great reminder that The Secret of Kells is available in Netflix.

Weekly Weblink: Chuck Redux

Via: Chuck Redux

The name Chuck Jones should be one that is instantly recognizable. Literally millions of people have seen his name appear on the screen before several minutes of madness and hilarity begins. He was much more than a superb director however, and that’s where this blog come in.

Co-written  by Robert Patrick and Chuck’s grandson, Craig Kausen, the blog is a fantastic resource for anything and everything created by Chuck.

There are of course, loads of Warner Bros. stuff, like model sheets, storyboards character analysis and the like. There are also the special edition cels that Chuck created in later years after the Warner Bros. studio shut down. In addition to all of that, there is also plenty of news on Chuck Jones-related events, personal stories, interviews, letters, paintings, long tales and the perpetually exciting Image of the Day, as exemplified above.

All in all, the blog is perhaps the best resources on the web when it comes to the life of one of the world’s greatest animators, and it is a huge credit to his legacy that such time and effort is put into making it such a wonderful resource for all to use.

The blog is updated regularly and is always a delight to read.

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The Two Weeks of My Life When I Could Have Been Considered An Animator

Via: Wikipedia.org

Yes, the tagline for my blog is not entirely accurate, I did dabble in animation before I became a civil engineer. Now granted, I still cannot draw properly, and never really have been able to do so. I once entered an art competition for the Community Games and it was only after they announced the winners that my mother pointed out that my drawing had everyone swimming out to sea, complete with tropical island and palm trees. Needless to say, I did not win.

So drawing really isn’t in my genes. I kind of wish it was, but at the same time, I know my kids (all four of ’em) will have at least some capabilities that enable them to draw more than a straight line.

You would think that would have limited me in the animation field wouldn’t you? Oh, no. This is the 21st century, where I could, theoretically, carve a whole career out of making films consisting straight-lines all made on the computer (if I really wanted to). But this post is set before that, all the way back in the early, early days of 1997 AD (or BCE for the Jewish folks).

It was at the very beginning of January that year that I paid a very rare visit to the US with my Dad. Long story short, my uncle had a computer (with something called America On-Line that allowed you to do stuff on the “internet”) and on said computer was, Where In The World is Carmen Sandiego. However, that is not all. Also installed on that Packard-Bell-branded PC was a copy of Spider-Man Cartoon Creator.

Sadly, Google failed to turn up a screenshot, but if you can imagine a screen with a scene in the middle and plenty of big buttons around the outside for adding characters, objects, etc. then you’ve got the gist of it.

With this basic program, you could create an entire show using either the included backgrounds and characters. For the voices, you had to supply your own, and I’m sure I did the best impressions of Peter Parker I could. Everything was based on Spider-Man: The Animated Series which was being or had recently been broadcast and is one of the very few comic book TV shows that I watched regularly as a child.

Naturally, whatever I created has long since been lost to the ether, but I remember having great fun playing it and acting out the role of a creative overlord. Perhaps it was because I was a kid and kids are more easily entertained, but I really did have fun when my imagination ran wild.

After nearly two weeks of playing the game, it was time for me to head back to The Auld Sod, but before we left, we headed up to a computer show. Now this is back in the pre-dotcom bubble when computers were awesome and not merely a tool of everyday life. Long story short, we’re wandering around and guess what I see is for sale. That’s right, the Spider-Man Cartoon Maker!

My Dad asked me if I wanted it, and I did, but at the time, I thought computer programs cost $200 and up. Where I got this notion, I do not know, but long story short, so I said….no, because I didn’t want my Dad to spend $200 just on me (I was a selfless kid, really).

Where would I be now if I had had more than a fortnight to act out my animation fantasies? Who knows. I would most likely still be an engineer, seeing as having a cartoon-making program on the PC will not exactly improve my drawing skills in the slightest.

What the program did teach me though, was that cartoons are ‘made’, they don’t just appear out of thin air on the TV or cinema screen. I suppose it’s just a wee bit of a shame that the full realization of that didn’t come about until I was about 20 years, 7 moths old.

Anomaly Appraisal: The 100 Greatest Looney Tunes

Via: The Cartoon Cave

We got some snow here in Baltimore last night, so today I get to work from home! Without having to engage in the usual race against time that I normally do to write a post, I became rather distracted by some Looney Tunes on YouTube. Having grown up with all of them, it was very hard not to watch just a few as they finally give me the impetus I needed to post my review of The 100 Greatest Looney Tunes.

Edited by Jerry Beck (whom you all should know as one half of Cartoon Brew and the guy who knows more about classic animation than anyone else), it does pretty much exactly what it says on the tin. However, this is no mere directory of shorts, but a carefully curated collection of the ones that stand out, that are worth mentioning and, as Jerry notes in his introduction, are worthy of being ranked among the classics of American cinema from the same era.

The book is superbly laid out with each short getting a two-page spread with screenshots on one and the commentary opposite. There is the title, a quote, the production details, a short paragraph description and then there is the real gem of the book, the personal responses.

See, there are tons of books out there that detail Looney Tunes shorts and there are plenty of books out there that contain personal tales of people’s favourite ones, but rarely are the two brought together so wonderfully. The commentators includes a who’s who of animation folk, such as Linda Simensky, Michael Sporn, Greg Ford, Eric Goldberg, Mark Mayerson, J. J. Sadelmaier, the list goes on and on.

What makes all these personal responses so great is exactly that, they’re personal! Many remark about how much they learned from watching these shorts, and indeed how often they used to view them, mostly on TV re-runs. While reading through them, I found myself on more than one occasion mentally playing the film in my head, which only added to the enjoyment as I recalled all the gags and indeed, my own viewing experiences.

The Looney Tunes series of shorts are just one series that have had a profound effect on American culture. Their longevity is proof that they have managed to transcend the fickle nature of the entertainment industry, where fads rule and films can date quicker than the Chinese food in the fridge. The 100 Greatest Looney Tunes is a superb companion book that should bring back fond memories of these shorts, and may also inspire you to seek them out again. Highly recommended and can be bought on Amazon.

Happy Australia Day!

Via: The Australian National Botanical Gardens

In honour of today being Australia Day, I thought it would be nice to focus on Australia as a source of animation. I was vaguely aware of it as a base for out-sourcing animation way back in the day (Hanna-Barbera were the first) but it would appear that now, it is very much a source of content as well!

Australia would not be the first place one would think as a country you could out-source productiont to, but back in the 70s, it made perfect sense. Everyone spoke English and having been ruled by the British, also shared certain cultural norms with the likes of Britain and America thus reducing some of the higher hurdles that having production overseas can entail. As I mentioned above, Hanna-Barbera were the first (if I remember correctly) to realize that there were gains to be had by utilising the nascent artistic talent of the vast country.

However, over time, these same Australians who were producing work from overseas gradually began to realise their own potential and began making films and TV shows. Perhaps the most famous of the first wave is “Arthur! And the Square Knights of the Round Table” which was broadcast in the mid 1960s.

In more recent times, feature films such as FernGully, $9.99 and Mary and Max along with TV shows like Tracey McBean have helped solidify Australia as a successful source and base for animation production, perhaps more so than other countries who have attempted similar efforts. No doubt, Australian animation will continue to be successful in the future with the growth of the internet helping to lessen the physical isolation of this fascinating country.

Preamble: Today’s Oscar Nominations

Later on today, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences will announce their shortlist for this year’s Academy Awards, better known as the Oscars.

I don’t particularly want to comment on proceedings until they occur, so I won’t. I’ll post an update later this afternoon.

UPDATE: And the nominations are in!

Toy Story 3 did get the anitcipated Best Feature nomination, but it also received a spot in the Best Animated Feature category, much the same way Up did last year. I doubt we will see history being made on February 27th however.

Also nice to see The Illusionist get a nod although it faces stif competition from Now To Train Your Dragon and the afforementioned Pixar juggernaut. Again, there was no good reason for having a three-spot shortlist when it could have been so easy to find just two more animated films that are worthy. Cartoon Brew has a good summary of all the aniamation-related nominations.

In the short film section, it’s disappointing to see that Bill Plympton will have to wait another year for a crack at the golden statuette. At this point, it would seem that Day and Night is leading the race for that category.

So, overall, it’s the usual suspects once again, in both animation and live-action. There’s no real surprises and the best films are excluded in both the general and technical categories. Perhaps I ought to make like that one guy and hold my own alternative awards show the night before, where I announce my winners.

Joe Murray On Balancing Art and Business

A short and sweet post today but that should not detract from it’s meaning. Over on his blog, Stephen M. Levinson has posted this great quote by Joe Murray, creator of Rocko’s Modern Life:

Most artists would just prefer to paint, draw, play, create all day without a thought of how they are going to pay the bills. But that is not reality. The trick is to pay the bills while keeping your individual spirit as whole as possible.

It’s an absolutely spot-on observation on how animators have to combine art with making a living. Joe should know, he’s been in the position of having to do it himself, and so far he seems to be doing OK for himself.

I know myself, when I graduated from university, no-one told me anything about running a business or even how to manage my money. Thankfully my uncle gave me one or two excellent books by Ric Edelman on how to keep basic tabs on your money and where it goes.

Finding a job in animation is tough, becoming a success is even tougher and being a continual success is near impossible, but it can be done. Having even a basic business knowledge can be a huge benefit, and the library is full of excellent guides and textbooks on business. You don’t need and MBA to be a success, so take Joe’s advice to heart, and learn how to balance your art and your bills. It might be a little painful now, but it will pay off in the long run.

What I’d Hoped to Find in New York City

I had something in mind for today’s post. I was in New York City (a fairly large metropolis) and I figured that the easiest thing to do was to blog about something animation-related that I happened to run into.

The last time I was there, you couldn’t turn a corner without being confronted by a Tangled poster. This time around, I am sad to report that the only animation-related thing I discovered during a whole day of going up and down Manhattan was a small ad for Gnomeo and Juliet in a subway carriage. So suffice to say, the combination of a not-quite-so-smart phone and an pretty ugly location for the poster meant that I decided to wait till I got home to blog about it.