Animation Is A Genre

At least it is according to the New York Times:

At the box office, animated films, which have recently been Hollywood’s most reliable genre, have fallen into a deep trough…

Animation encompasses many genres which is why it should not be considered one. It is part ignorance, part misinformation, but there are very few, if any excuses for such a sweeping generalisation an artform.

Besides, the films have been “reliable” because they’ve been good and have more often than not out-performed their live-action counterparts, not just because they are animated.

Passing Thoughts on The Disney Strike

It was seventy years ago but the effects are still felt to this day such is the magnitude of what happened in Burbank all the way back in 1941. As you would expect, the TAG Blog has a nice writeup on the event that is worth reading.

There were problems on both sides of the picket, but as Steve points out in the post, some people on either side wold not talk to one another even decade later.

It’s important to remember that there is much to gain by putting others before yourself.

A Sharp Reminder of How Animation Is Perceived In Some Quarters

On Friday, Tim Cushing over at Techdirt posted a piece that discussed another article by Jeffrey A. Tucker in which he discussed Disney’s Tangled and the political allegories of the film. With me so far? OK. One facet that Jeffrey touched on was how ideas/stories can be, in his words, turned into 2.0 versions, that is to say, be remixed and improve upon the original.

Both are great articles and I encourage you to read them both, but it was in the Techdirt article’s comments where a flame war seemed to break out. Now I do not condone flaming or trolling, but sometimes it brings out the true nature in folks, poking the beast as it were.

Anyway, reading down the comments, I came across one that epitomises that particularly nasty attitude that seems to linger around animation sometimes:

What kind of grown man calls watching children’s Disney movies a “pleasure”? Seriously, do you have the intellectual capacity and interests of an 8 year old girl?

It refers to Disney, but then they are only one of the many that the comment could apply to.

There are eejits everywhere and, much like the guy who called me an asshole on Friday after I apologised for taking his parking space, it says more about who its coming from than who it’d directed at.

Does it really matter that a grown man finds watching Disney movies a pleasure? Why should you even care? They’re good films and being the free society that we live in, can’t anyone enjoy them? How about the way such a statement insults all the fine people who worked on such a film, do they have the same, limited capacity?

It’s disheartening to be reminded that people like that exist. Sadly, the very nature and behind-the-scenes nature of animation leads to that kind of attitude because some people are incapable of separating what they see on screen from how things are actually created. Well, that and the fact that they believe that something needs to be ‘grown-up’ in order to be considered entertainment.

Cars 2 in New York

image

Apparently Mater is the only one. Is this a coincidence or does Disney/Pixar think they’ve got a winner on their hands?

It’s interesting to compare it to Tangled. Last November you literally could nor turn a corner I’m the city without seeing the poster with the smouldering eyes (you know the one) .

Comapritively I only saw one poster for Kung Fu Panda 2 too. Is animation in a bit of a lull? I hope not.

Hang Out With Indie Animator Bill Plympton and Friends Tomorrow Night

Starting tomorrow night (Friday, May 27th), the Museum of the Moving Image is hosting not one, but two days of Bill Plympton-related screenings.

Friday will see a discussion with Bill and David B. Levy on their new book, Bill Plympton: Independently Animated and will include screenings of some of Bill’s shorts. As a bonus, Bill has promised every audience member a drawing of their very own! He will also be signing his book.

On Saturday (May 28th), there will be screenings of Bill’s feature films, Hair High and Idiots and Angels as well as a preview of the documentary Adventures in Plymptoons.

Below is the press release which contains all the details:

Museum of the Moving Image presents

INDEPENDENTLY ANIMATED: BILL PLYMPTON

May 27 – 28, 2011

Bill Plympton may be the only major animator who still hand-draws every single image of his own films. Though his approach to filmmaking may be old-fashioned, his offbeat and inventive artistic sensibility is unique. This two-day program of screenings and discussions celebrates Plympton’s new book, Independently Animated.

All screenings are free with museum admission unless otherwise noted.

Independently Animated: An Evening with Bill Plympton

Friday, May 27, 7:00 p.m.

Screening, discussion, and book signing with Bill Plympton and David Levy

The lavishly illustrated new book Independently Animated: The Life and Art of the King of Indie Animation, by Bill Plympton and David Levy, published by Rizzoli, is part biography, part retrospective, and part behind-the-scenes look at Bill Plympton’s life and career. It contains hundreds of pieces of art from his films, as well as never-before-seen doodles, drawings, and production notes. To celebrate the publication, the Museum presents a festive evening with a discussion, short films, and live drawing by Plympton, followed by a book signing. Everyone in attendance will receive their own original drawing from Plympton.

Among the highlights: a work-in-progress screening of an exciting new short film, Plympton’s hand-colored restoration of Winsor McCay’s 1921 film The Flying House, a charming film about a husband who turns his house into a flying machine, which bears remarkable similarities to the Pixar film Up; a screening of the popular short film Guard Dog and Guard Dog Jam, the result of an invitation to animators around the world to remake Plympton’s film by each contributing their own remake of one shot from the film.

Tickets: $10 public / Free for Museum members. Members may reserve tickets in advance by calling 718 777 6800.

Adventures in Plymptoons

Saturday, May 28, 3:00 p.m.

Preview screening With Alexia Anastasio in person

Dir. Alexia Anastasio. 2011, 98 mins. Digital projection. This new documentary about animator Bill Plympton follows his path from the many rainy days of a Portland childhood spent indoors drawing to a self-made career as an independent animator. The film includes interviews with family, friends, colleagues, critics, and fans.

Hair High

Saturday, May 28, 5:30 p.m.

Introduced by Bill Plympton

Dir. Bill Plympton. 2004, 78 mins. Digital projection. An outrageous gothic myth from the 1950s, Hair High is the legend of Cherri and Spud, a teenage couple who are murdered on prom night and left for dead at the bottom of Echo Lake. Exactly one year later, their skeletal remains come back to life and they return to the prom for revenge and their justly deserved crowns.

Idiots and Angels

May 28, 7:30 p.m.

Introduced by Bill Plympton

Dir. Bill Plympton. 2009, 78 mins. A misanthropic gun dealer who spouts an unwelcome pair of wings is the antihero of Plympton’s noir-flavored feature, which was entirely hand-drawn, mainly in gray pencil. According to the New York Times, the film, which is entirely without dialogue and has music by Tom Waits, Pink Martini, and others, “defies expectations. It is relentless, and brilliant.”

One Look At These Posters And You’ll Visit Film On Paper Too

If you’re not even a wee bit jealous of Eddie Shannon, then you’re clearly not into movie posters.

Film on Paper is his website where he is archiving his entire collection (literally thousands) and it is by far the most fascinating that I have come across. Filled with rare and foreign versions, the site includes a couple of animation ones, nice ones in fact. His ones for The Incredibles are unreleased, which makes them even more awesome (check out the one below if you don’t believe me).

Is this not the most badass poster you've seen for this film?

You could spend literally hours on the site and I absolutely recommend that you do. Movie posters are a fascinating artform in and of themselves and its nice to see them get some love from a devoted collector.

Here’s How Digital Projectors Will Ruin Animated Films

Via: Nina Paley’s Blog

Last August, I wrote about the wonderful analogue nature of going to the cinema and how the industry has been more resistant than most to the move to digital. Since then, there has apparently been a massive shift to digital projection after the technology finally improved enough to the point that it could rival traditional celluloid and since Sony began giving away their projectors in exchange for promotion rights.

What’s interesting though, has been the coincidental and simultaneous shift to 3-D projection. Naturally projecting in 3-D is a bit trickier and with new projectors are necessary, it seems only advantageous to also move to digital distribution as well, whereby films are downloaded directly from the internet rather than shipped in cans.

However, it occurred to me yesterday (as I read the Cartoon Brew post and the Boston.com article) that the advent of digital projection, while ushering in a whole new era for cinematic entertainment, is not without its teething troubles.

For starters, the claim that cinemas are short-changing patrons by leaving 3-D lens in for 2-D films is disheartening, but also how projector companies like Sony are using DRM in their projectors (yes, projectors) because they don’t want anyone to open them. So the end result is a dull picture projected onto the screen because the 3-D filter lens absorbs so much light.

That’s the first way digital projection can harm animation. If 3-D lens are not switched out, the picture is utterly ruined. In a live-action film this may not be so much of an issue due to the greater detail being projected, but for animation, there are often some very vivid and lively colours that will not ‘pop’ near as much as they should. Animation has been a traditionally very colourful artform and whose appeal rests largely on its creative use of colour.

The second way is resolution.

My computer monitor is a 22″ widescreen with 1920 x 1080 pixels. It’s nice and big, sure, but it’s resolution is lower than my mobile phone at about 72dpi. What does this have to do with film? Well, I remember when digital cameras first came out and how atrocious their resolution was compared to traditional film cameras. Now in fairness, they’ve improved a lot but only in the perceptive sense. A good quality SLR film camera will absolutely trump a digital camera when it comes to image quality simply because film has the capacity for storing images at much higher resolution than current digital technology.

My point? While digital projectors have improved greatly over the last decade, they are still at that early stage that digital cameras were at all those years ago. They represent a sufficient substitute for 35mm film, but only in the sense that the human eye cannot immediately detect the differences.

Personally, I would (and do) feel short-changed for paying extra to see a 3-D film and in return see a lower quality film in both colour and resolution.

What are your thoughts? Am I right or reading far too much into this for a Tuesday morning?

Fart Humour Done Correctly

‘Son of Stimpy’ is one of the standout classics of the series. Not only is it completely absurd, it also caused a ruckus at the time for its plot. In it, Stimpy farts and believe that the offending gas has been transformed into a character, a ‘son’ if you will, whom he calls “Stinky”. Stimpy spends much of the episode searching for Stinky and convincing Ren that he exists.

At the time (and apparently still to this day) controversy surrounds the episode. Naturally, much of it centers on the potty humour of the episode and the central theme of farting.

Which is sad in a way because as supposedly rock bottom as Son of Stimpy is, the whole farting aspect is just one small part of the overall episode. The rest is about Stimpy searching for his long lost ‘son’  and the struggles he faces in his quest. This is where the real humour of the episode lies and supports the over-arching absurdity that people will often search for something that cannot be found.

Is it appropriate for kids? I can’t see why not. I mean, flatulence is a natural and essential bodily function. We make fun at crying and burping, why not farting too? In hindsight, Son of Stimpy is almost quaint in a way. The controversy around it serves to remind us of a different time, a time before fart gags and before they permeated animated features to the extent that they have.

While it may not be the greatest or most clever cartoon ever broadcast, Son of Stimpy nonetheless represents the high-water mark for toilet humour on TV that has never been equaled before or since.

Cy Schneider on Children’s Television: How 20 Years Really Is A Long Time

The book is dedicated to Walt Disney, the greatest Pied Piper of the all.

A couple of weeks ago, I picked up Cy Schneider’s book, ‘Children’s Television’ at a used book sale. I didn’t know much about it and I certainly hadn’t heard of the author, but it seemed to have some stuff about animation in it so, for the money, I figured, what the hell.

Long story short, it was a fascinating book to read. Not so much for what it says but for how dated it now appears. Published in 1989, this book was released right on the cusp of the last animation revolution, and it shows.

That same year, The Simpsons debuted on FOX, which irrevocably altered the perception of animation among adults; no longer was it the sole preserve of children. Not long after the three original Nicktoons burst onto the scene and the bar for animation was raised yet again. Nineteen eighty-nine also saw the release of The Little Mermaid, which heralded a new age for animation at the cinema as well.

In most aspects, this book was outdated even before it was published. It was written for the status quo and just could not foresee the dramatic changes that were literally months away. With that in mind, it does provided a great look at what the industry was like and is useful as a yardstick for how far it has come.

First of all, who is Cy Schneider? He was an advertising man who was instrumental in creating the first set of commercials that appealed directly to children, he successfully launched and developed the marketing  for Barbie and he also was on board when Nickelodeon was launched. What is notable about his career is that he was consistently involved in the area of children’s programming, which is why he wrote the book.

Children’s Television is intended as a guide to the industry for the uninitiated but seems to offer tips that are aimed at would be professionals. There are chapters on the history of children’s television, how television affects children, how to communicate with children and the licensed character. The last chapter is titled “The Boom Years” but it talks mostly about Schneider’s predictions on the future of the business, most of which are more related to the industry itself and the technological developments rather than the content.

In the first chapter, Schneider asserts that children’s television is first and foremost a business. This is sobering because we all like to think of it as a good-natured, well-intentioned industry that provides entertainment for kids but in reality, it is a business. It is a theme that is often repeated throughout the book and is hammered home that businesses will seek out the most economically efficient answer, not necessarily the right one, even when kids are involved.

Perhaps no difference is more striking or noticeable than the shift from shows based on existing toys to original characters. In addition to the seismic shift to children’s cable channels, the relative lack of licensed cartoons today is indicative of the change in attitudes among executives. The book contains plenty of references to the likes of He-Man and G. I. Joe who are held up as models of the new era and how they can represent the same aspects of quality that original characters can. Hindsight shows that that is not the case and that networks have come to value the fact that original characters can put much more money in their pockets than licensed characters can.

Playing into this is the parallel change in the characters of children’s TV shows. While Schneider talks at length about the ‘noble savage‘ who has populated children’s (in particularly boys) stories for over a century. He does offer some tips when it comes to characters that are generic at best. I would like to focus on his tips for girl’s heroines, which he offers in the following five characteristics:

  1. The are young, either children or girls, seldom women.
  2. The are innocent. Feminine but never sexual.
  3. They are usually pretty, clever and gifted.
  4. They have high morals and exemplary behaviour.
  5. They are admired by adults as well as children.

These attributes can pretty much describe any female lead in any cartoon prior to the 1990s but they are rather vague.

The book devotes an entire chapter to the various “do-gooders, politicos, pedagogues and assorted other axe grinders” who inhabit the cultural landscape. The chapter is little more than a rant against these various groups and only attempts to see their point of view in a very token sense. Seeing as it is written by a guy whose career depended on such programming it is understandable why such ‘interference’ in his business would cause his blood to boil. Why it is included, I do not know, but it makes for interesting reading and does emphasize the point that you can’t please everyone.

Overall the book is worth sussing out, if only to gain a perspective on how much children’s television has changed and improved over the last 20 years. It has also made me eternally grateful for the vast and varied choice of animated programming that we have today, and how healthy competition in the business has promoted the steady upward increase in the quality of the programming.