The Place of March 22nd in Animation History

Another unremarkable Friday? Ha! Not a chance. Today, the 22nd of March, actually has a fair bit of animation history to it; more than one would expect anyway. What noteworthy events happened on this day? Let’s take a look.

Birth of Milt Kahl

mostinfluentialdisneyanimators_MIlt Kahl

Yes, legendary member of the Nine Old Men, Milt Kahl was born this day in 1909. If he were alive today, Milt would be celebrating his 114th birthday. The 50 Most Influential Disney Animators blog has pretty much all you need to know about him.

Death of Walter Lantz

The creator of Woody Woodpecker died on March 22nd 1994 aged 94.

Death of Bill Hanna

Via: My usual haunt for all things H-B related, the Yowp Blog
Via: My usual haunt for all things H-B related, the Yowp Blog

One half Hanna-Barbera died on this day in 2001 aged 90.

Premiere of ChalkZone

The second series to come out of Frederator’s Oh Yeah! Cartoons was first broadcast on the 22nd of March, 2002.

Birth of Mort Drucker

He may not be an animator, but his influence on them is certain. The MAD cartoonist celebrates his 84th birthday today.

Birth of William Shatner

Yes, today is International Talk Like William Shatner Day as invented by voice-actor Maurice LaMarche to celebrate the famous actor’s birthday. Today he celebrates his 82nd!

10 More Important Moments in Animation History

Over on Neatorma today, it a list of ten landmark moment in animation history. I can’t disagree with any of them, but I could not help but wonder whether there were more that are just as significant but not mentioned in the list. As it turns out, there is. Here are 10 more important moments in animation history

Snow White & The Seven Dwarfs

As far as landmark moments go, this is the biggie. Not only was it the first feature length animated film, it also had numerous technical achievements, became the highest grossing film up until that point and legitimized animation as a serious form of entertainment and art. Suffice to say, it is still a magnificent film almost 80 years later and the fact that it is should be proof enough that it was a significant moment in animation history.

Hanna-Barbera Move To TV

The venerable MGM duo of William Hanna and Joe Barbera suddenly found themselves out on the ear in the early 1950s and through near desperation were forced to consider TV as a potential outlet for their creativity. Overcoming many obstacles including severe time and budget constraints, they managed to create a successful studio that made animation efficiently enough for the small screen. Needless to say that animated TV landscape could be very different today if Hanna-Barbera had not succeeded or even tried. True, UPA may have been the first, but H-B made it their bread and butter and made a rather decent living from it for many decades. (Obligatory link to Yowp, your definitive online repository for early Hanna-Barbera information)

ACT

As much of an influence as Hanna-Barbera had on televised animation, Massachusetts housewife Peggy Charren had an even greater one. Under the guise of the Action for Children’s Television organisation, she successfully eliminated many of the staple concepts of animated TV shows; namely cartoon violence and slapstick. In conjunction with downsized budgets in the 1970s, animated TV fare changed from the likes of Johnny Quest to the likes of Scooby Doo. Such changes were not necessarily the worst that the technique endured in that decade, but they did create a malaise in animated TV for much of the 70s and 80s that is still etched in many memories.

TRON

TRON was Disney’s first attempt at a full CGI-rendered feature film. Although it wasn’t as critically acclaimed as Star Wars, it did usher in the modern era of CGI animation that unfortunately remained dormant within Hollywood for over a decade. It also proved to Disney that computers could play a role in animation production, and through a long and complicated road, would eventually lead to CAPS, Disney’s computerized colouring system.

Cable TV

As mentioned above, ACT had a rather negative impact on TV animation. Thankfully, cable TV had just the opposite effect. Although both the Disney Channel and Nickelodeon were created in the early 1980s, it was not until the very early 90s that the power of the platform was realised. The original Nicktoons (Doug, Rugrats and Ren & Stimpy) were a blast of fresh air in the otherwise staid and predictable world of kids cartoons. Being creator-driven, they emphasised content and characters over brands and toys. Being so much funnier than the competition meant that Nickelodeon ran laps around competing broadcast networks and sold many millions of pieces of merchandise as a result. Although the concept has been in danger at times, the quality that creator-driven shows provide continues to set the bar for animated kids shows. Just look at the current crop (Adventure Time, Gravity Falls and SpongeBob) and how well they are doing.

The Simpsons

Yes, The Flintstones may have been the first, but The Simpsons took it all the way to eleven. Still limping along after 24 years, this show utterly changed the face of both animated television and television itself. Showing up the banality of contemporary shows, the Simpsons set the comedic and quality bar so high, it cannot reach it itself any more. Not only that, the Simpsons dragged animation back into the mainstream consciousness of the world and led directly to many imitators, stablemates (Futurama, Family Guy, King of the Hill) and erstwhile ‘mature’ shows (Adult Swim, Archer, etc.) Although it doesn’t shine nearly as bright as it used to, the Simpsons has and will be noted in the history books as the defining moment of televised animation around the world.

Beauty and the Beast Gets Nominated for Best Picture

Oh sure, animation had been showered with Academy Awards before (Snow White being the prime example) and a category for shorts had been in existence for many years. However animated films as genuine, dramatic entertainment was still shunned by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences until Beauty and the Beast managed to get nominated for Best Picture. It sadly lost, but the effect was immense. Suddenly theatrical animation was no longer the sole preserve of those too young to drive, it could be enjoyed by adults just as easily. The nomination ultimately led to the creation of a category solely devoted to animated features whose effect on animation’s stature remains debatable.

Toy Story

The first wholly 3-D CGI animated film is entirely worthy of mention and has been ever since it came out in 1995. Much more than that though, Toy Story also ushered in a strikingly new form of animated film that shared much more in common with live-action films than animated ones up to that point. There were no musical numbers, a distinct lack of magic, cute sidekicks and a basis on existing stories. Yup, Toy Story was all-new, adult-friendly and a damned good film to boot. It’s influence has been cast over CGI films for well over 15 years and looks set to continue for the foreseeable future too.

YouTube

Why does YouTube merit a mention here? The answer is simple. Until it was launched, if you wanted to see an animated short, you had to either: A) be near a big city where a screening might be held, B) work at a studio or C) make it yourself. The advent of YouTube meant than anyone anywhere could create, upload and watch animated shorts. Combined with the dramatic drop in the cost of computer power and you have an explosion of animated content (both good and bad) that has had an unfettering effect on how the public views the technique. What are the ultimate results of this explosion? It’s still too early to tell, but it is certain that they will make large waves in the 10 years or so to come.

Avatar

Defining moments can be both good and bad and James Cameron’s Avatar merits a mention because it was, in all reality, an animated film albeit with human-powered movements. It completely blurred the line between what was animation, motion-capture and VFX and has set a defining moment for all three. Again, it is too early to tell what the ultimate effects will be, but even now, it is accepted that the bar has been raised. Now we just have to see what happens next.

Four Insightful Articles From Animation History

By way of Sherm Cohen’s excellent blog, I learned of the truly fascinating Modern Mechanix blog. A site devoted to all those old magazines that said we would have flying cars and living on the moon by now. Anyway, Sherm has already posted a few articles on his blog but here are four more insightful articles from animation history.

View each article in their entirety by clicking on the images.

How the First Color Cartoons were Made

MOVIE CARTOONS Gain THIRD Dimension

The Fleischer 3-D backgrounds to be exact.

The Magic Worlds of Walt Disney

A massive (50 page) article in the National Geographic from 1963 that’s all about the man himself and the organization he built with his brother Roy. Quite literally a must-read.

Tron: Computer Technology Goes Hollywood

 

AWN Deals With Some Tricky Women

Spotted over on the Ambling Around column of AWN is this review for a book that you may not be aware of. Tricky Women is a festival held each year in Austria dedicated to, you guessed it, women in animation and they’ve put out a collection of essays devoted to the topic.

The description from the review is as follows:

Published by Schüren Verlag (Marburg, 2011), this 189 page volume contains essays by scholars, animators, and educators that address issues relating to women practicing animation and gaming. The book also includes a DVD with five well known auteur films discussed within the text.

The review is quite thorough in its detail of the essays contained within the book, the first of which may appeal to most of you out there as it pondering the following

[Jayne] Pilling concludes by raising a number of important questions, the most interesting of which is, “Is there a difference overall in the approach of male and women filmmakers in adapting fairytales within animation?”.

Suffice to say it looks like an entertaining (if slightly academic) read, as the conclusion make out:

…this unique scholarly contribution is a highly recommended text for the following areas of study: Animation, Art, Education, Film Studies, Gaming Studies, Media Studies, Women’s Studies, and Gender Studies at both the undergraduate and graduate levels. And it’s a must buy for university and college libraries that collect texts on these subjects.

It’s welcoming to see a topic like this receive some attention. Much the same as other industries, the contribution of women to the animation field was ignored for a long time, so its only right that the history of such be celebrated in the appropriate fashion.

Check out the AWN article for details on how to order the book as well as the full review by Sharon katz.

 

John B. Knutson Presents A Series of Posts You Should Probably Pay Attention To

Over at the Random Acts of Geekery blog, John B. Knutson has just begun a series of posts that are definitely worth your while following even if you are familiar with the subject matter.

The challenge he has set himself? Well it’s quite simple really, he going to track down and blog about every single film mentioned in Leonard Maltin’s seminal tome,‘Of Mice and Magic’.

He’s started with J. Stewart Blackton and early Windsor MacCay so now’s your chance to get in on the ground floor.

Ten Rock Solid Reasons To Read Floyd Norman’s Blog Every Day

  1. Floyd’s been around a while, so he knows just about everything there is to know about animation.
  2. His Disney knowledge is exquisite and magnificent in it’s depth and detail.
  3. He keeps things short and sweet but never skimps on the details.
  4. He has plenty of stories to tell about the old days, which make for very worthwhile reading.
  5. His website has a ‘gag wall’ filled with incredibly funny pictures.
  6. In addition to his daily posts, he has a special section for longer stories.
  7. Every post has a lovely photo or sketch to go along with it.
  8. Plenty of learned people read his blog too, so the fun doesn’t stop with the posts, it continues in the comments!
  9. Floyd also stays right on top of all the latest happenings in animation, he’s not stuck in the past.
  10. The blog’s title is “Mr. Fun”, how much cooler can you get than that?

Convinced? Head over here and start reading.