Sunday, November 29, 2009

ACE and '84

1984 was a good year. Imagined things of the future were becoming realized. Ridley Scott launched his famous "1984" commercial announcing the Macintosh computer. George Orwell's 1984 and dystopian view of the future was nowhere to be seen...yet. And best of all, (for me anyway) there was "Dexter"...I mean "Ace", I mean, "Space Ace".

Former Disney animation chief and maverick, Don Bluth released (as a followup to the laserdisc video game and arcade blockbuster, "Dragon's Lair") "Space Ace in 1984, showcasing some of the best hand drawn animation you could interact with for a quarter.

The Hollywood pitch for "Space Ace" most likely would have been " Jerry Lewis' Nutty Professor meets Star Trek". With a more coherent narrative and more dynamic game play than "Dragon's Lair", "Space Ace" was a hit.

Now that I think about it, 1984 wasn't really a good year for everyone. Some were not too happy with President Reagan's economics. The Cold War was still in full effect. (As seen in Rocky IV) Walt Disney Pictures was slated to release "The Black Cauldron" only a year later and there was some uncertainty as to what direction that film was supposed to be well as the studio itself.

Bluth however, (along with animation partners, Gary Golman, and John Pomeroy) was on track and were smoking hot. "The Secret of NIMH" (1982) was already made a huge impact, "Dragon's Lair" was making waves, just as "Space Ace" and his Steven Spielberg, Amblin Animation collaboration, "An American Tail" was just around the corner.

Don Bluth remains one of my most admired animation directors. Not just for his "style" (the draftsmanship and timing in his films without a doubt have a certain"look") but for his courage to branch out on his own and do his own thing. The "Bluth/ Disney" rift is almost legendary. There's no denying his departure from Disney did affect production and leave a bad taste in the mouths of many affiliated with them. I'll never forget hearing about how the ABC Network (under Disney of course) refused to air any commercial material that could have promoted Bluth's animated version of "Anastasia".

Whoa. I've really digressed here. Back to Dexter...I mean, Space Ace. This certainly old news, but "Space Ace" now available as game playable as an app for the iPhone. Some say five bucks is a steep for an app, but considering how much money I spent as a kid playing this game, five bucks is worth it. But it's not the gameplay that I'm interested in. Space Ace has great animation (for a video game) that has withstood the test of time in its measure of being entertaining.

And if you are really cheap, well, then look below.

Space Ace - Original Game Full Movie

Alex | MySpace動画

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Anime? Anyone?

Living in Tokyo, Japan has granted me some folly as well as wisdom. It killed a lot of very erroneous, preconceived notions about Japan and Japanese culture. And it heightened my appreciation for the many good things Japan has to offer.

Despite what one would think, however, living in Japan has made me develop an almost irrational and pathological dislike for Japanese Anime.

I never thought the day would come, because it seems like only yesterday I regarded Japanese animation almost as the "second coming" in terms of what it had to offer the animation medium.

Todd McFarland (comic artist of Spider-Man and Spawn fame) summed up Japanese animation best for me as I paraphrase: "Japanese animation has mastered giving you the impression a lot is happening, when it really isn't."

Animation in general is very expensive. Japanese animation studios have mastered holding people's attentions with extremely limited animation (held poses, talking heads on static bodies that almost never move, animation sometimes done on 4's, 8's and 12's) BUT holding everything together with simple, but solid draftsmanship, action scenes that ARE animated quite well and dynamically, and reasonably compelling and mature plotlines.

I feel it has been the draftsmanship and the plotlines that has made the world go ape over Japanese animation over the past few years.

Japanese anime can be like "moving manga" (not a far stretch from the old Marvel Superheroes cartoons from the 1960's for those who know). The Japanese animation way is more concerned with presenting a graphic image rather than putting forth a convincing acting "performance" ala "Disney".

Is there good Japanese animation? Hell, yes. Katsuhiro Otomo is still number one in my book. Yes, Hayao Miyazaki is a true artist and visionary. Japanese animation has its place in the world as a viable medium and it deserves appreciation on it's own special merits.

Personally I'm glad that there is a huge fan base for Japanese animation in this digital age of CG animation. (which from looking at recent B.O. sales seems to have been losing it's "wow"-factor steam unless it has "Pixar" or "Dreamworks" on the billing) Japanese Anime serves as an example that there are those who still have a huge interest and appreciation for traditionally hand-drawn animation.

Sad to hear that in the past couple of years that DVD sales for Japanese animation has plummeted (as interest in the medium continues to rise). Let's face it, video piracy is to blame here. The majority of the consumers who are into anime are not the types to go out to the local video store for the newest anime when they can get it online for free. Not a good thing.

Found an interesting story from the Wall Street Journal on how the animation business in Japan hasn't been doing so well, and those who love the art of animation who are willing to endure during these tough times.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Color Comes to Tokyo

Saw a great exhibition today. The Museum of Contemporary Art Tokyo (MOT) today started a three month exhibition displaying the works of American artist, Mary Blair. Mary Blair was a commercial artist well known for her work with the Walt Disney Animation Studio and Walt Disney Imagineering. Starting around 1940 she was a key conceptualist for many Disney shorts and films such as, "Cinderella", "Alice in Wonderland", "Peter Pan" and  "Song of the South."

Mary Blair provided the concepts and designs for the "It's a Small World" attraction at Disneyland. Her legacy lives on as her style and design is still used as the model when updates are made to the attraction.

Her work is bold and simple. Complex and childlike. She might use simple wall of color against deep shadow for impact. Sometimes she used a array of hues and colors in an almost mosaic like composition. Color can be used to invoke mood, direct your eyes to a certain point or to communicate. Her work did all this and more.

Mary Blair maybe wasn't so well known for her commercial work by name, but her style is certainly recognizable by many. Notably illustrations for the Golden Books and many commercial food products and household goods advertised throughout the 1950'sand 1960's. That bold but childlike appeal and feel of her work of her work has echoed into much of the commercial illustration we see today.

Aside from hundreds of pieces of her works being on display, her Disney Legend Award (the first female to ever receive one), her Annie award, a recreation of her work studio, several of pieces of art from her personal home were also presented. Works done not only by herself but her husband Lee Blair, (brother to animator Preston Blair) and even a couple of piece from her Walt Disney Imagineering collaborator, Marc Davis. Great stuff.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Animation School in the Palm of Your Hand

So...what ever happened to the Animation Podcast??

What is The Animation Podcast you ask? That's a question I wouldn't be surprised to hear from a person who would be a layman to animation. If I mentioned Glen Keane, Andreas Deja or James Baxter and you didn't as so much flinch, you'd be forgiven. If I said "Nine Old Men" and your Jeopardy answer was, "FDR's Nine Supreme Court Justices", you'd be forgiven.

But if you were an animator who worked for a major American animation studio and asked me "What's the Animation Podcast?" I'd be shocked. Because that's the very same question I was asked when I had the opportunity to hang out with an animator who's credits to me were quite impressive. Are there actually animators in the industry who actually do not know what The Animation Podcast is??

The Animation Podcast is a free (key word is FREE, folks!) podcast available on iTunes run by animator Clay Kaytis. His credits include most recently animation supervisor of "Rhino" from Disney's "Bolt". ( An impressive piece of dynamic animation for a character whose design is essentially a palm sized beanbag....trapped inside a plastic ball no less.)

The Animation Podcast features interviews with some of the animation industry's most respected animators like the ones mentioned above. People who were literally responsible for breathing life (and yes, magic) into iconic film characters of Oscar nominated films as The Beast in Disney's "Beauty and the Beast", Scar of "The Lion King" and The Genie from "Aladdin".

I believe in his first podcast Clay said, "So much of what I know about animation is from handouts, lecture notes and interviews of great animators of the past. It's always a rush for me to find some new clip or audio file that gives you an insight into who they were and what is was like when they were creating such amazing work."

The Animation Podcast is a priceless wealth of information, not just about animation (and quite frequently Disney history) but also filmmaking and production in general. Listen to a couple of podcasts and you'll learn a great deal not only about what about what goes into animating a character, but also what goes into developing a film concept from start to finish. Did I mention the podcast was free?

Clay published thirty (count 'em, 30!) free podcasts featuring interviews and audio recordings of animators such as the aforementioned above and film legends Ron Clements and John Musker, Milt Kahl, Burny Mattinson and Ray Harryhausen. About a year ago The Animation Podcast culminated to an interview with Eric Goldberg (animator of The Genie in "Aladdin")... and I was like this podcast is REALLY getting good. "What's next for the Animation Podcast?"

The answer to that was, "silence".

For almost a year there have been no podcasts, no teases not a single audible peep from The Animation Podcast. Which brings me back to my original question, "What happened to The Animation Podcast?"

The main website, is still up and functioning, and Clay did make a post to make a plug for Walt Stanchfeld's new "Drawn to Life" books. But no updates. I'd like to think well, if Clay isn't around making podcasts, hopefully he's animating.

I don't know what goes into publishing a podcast, but I am sure it's a LOT of work. Clay Kaytis is obviously very passionate about animation and loves the medium intensely. I can't think of any other reason why he would produce for free, such excellent work that many interested people would certainly pay money for. Work that without a doubt will be included in lists of reputable material pertaining to Disney history and animation history in general.

I am confident that Clay and The Animation Podcast will return at some point, most likely with a podcast that will do more than please but inform and inspire. the way just to note how generous Clay Kaytis is, you can find him on Twitter under Doing what? Giving tips and advice on animation....yes, for free.

I can be found on Twitter now too.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

In Case You Missed It.

In Spring of 2009 the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, along with host (an master animator) Andreas Deja, put on an incredible and perhaps once in a lifetime tribute of to the legendary animator master, Milt Kahl.

I was kicking myself wishing I could have made this event. As I heard, the turnout was so great that tickets were oversold and people had to be turned away.

I just discovered that the Academy in all its grace put up several video clips of the host panel's discussion from the tribute which you can see here:

Now if they would only post video of the entire tribute online.

Though the clips are only a few minutes in length each, they are a wealth of amusing, sincere and heartfelt anecdotes about one of the most notoriously demanding animators in film history. Andreas Deja, Kathryn Beaumont, Brad Bird, Ron Clements, John Musker, Floyd Norman all shared their priceless experiences with the man.

Infamous for his uncensored and unrestrained candor, Milt Kahl as I have come to understand was demanding due to his passion and high standards. He was "The Disney Style" as I heard it put as his draftsmanship developed the standard and the model for many (if not most) of Disney's animated characters.

People who know who he was regard him as sort of an animation demi-god...which in away he was. His animation talent still exceeds most of the animation we see today.

Despite that, he had a sense of humility about his incredible talent.

To paraphrase, Kahl said something like, "I'm better simply because I worked harder at it."

Amen to that. Art has to be tempered with discipline.

For me Kahl's best performance was his last: Madame Medusa of The Rescuers (1977). The fact that a rough maverick like Kahl could create a mid 40-ish, red-haired, prissy and selfish fop of a hellcat who doesn't know she's over the hill yet proves the fact that animators are ultimately not simply cartoonists, but performers. Actors with pencils.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

The Harimaya Bridge

About a decade ago, up and coming filmmaker, (and I'm proud to brag, friend) Aaron Woolfolk participated in the Disney Screenwriting Fellowship. Today, he is in Japan celebrating and promoting the completion of his first feature film, "The Harimaya Bridge" starring Ben Guillory, Saki Takaoka, Misono, and Danny Glover.

"The Harimaya Bridge" tells the story of an American father who travels to rural Japan after his estranged son is killed in an unfortunate accident. In doing so, he confronts his own prejudice about Japan seeing the lives his son has touched and learns a secret about his son's life as well.

Aaron always spoke favorably of the Disney Screenwriting Fellowship. Filmmaking is a long, hard and arduous process. You need need all the help you can get and you take it whenever and whereever you can. The fellowship presented opportunities Aaron was able to maximize in making his vision come to life.

(left to right, The Harimaya Bridge stars: Ben Guillory, Saki Takaoka, Danny Glover and writer/ director Aaron Woolfolk)

On learning the art, the business, meeting people within the industry, within the DSF, Aaron noted, "All of those things influenced me as I took "The Harimaya Bridge" from simply being a well-written script to being a viable project that people were willing to invest in.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Fast Pigs: 3, no, 3 1/2 hours of Chuck Jones - UPDATED

There was a great link on YouTube that had an interview with Charlie Rose and animation director, Chuck Jones. A great find where Chuck Jones elaborated on humor, drama, art, the Church of Mark Twain and the wisdom of fast pigs.

As good things never last forever it the clip was removed.   However I did come across several interviews with Chuck Jones for the Archive of American Television.  The interviews were conducted by animation legend, Tom Sito in 1998.  In total all six clips run about 3 hours long.

The interview was filled with priceless Chuck Jones anecdotes, insights on drawing,  anatomy, timing, his years at Termite Terrace and his short stint at Disney.

The videos are a perfect compliment Chuck Jones' autobiography, Chuck Amuck, (one of my favorite books) a great read for any artist, animator, filmmaker or anyone.

NOTE:  I noticed that the original links were removed, but I was able to find the new links and update them.  View them here but also please visit the original page on the Archive of American Television's website.

Part 1

Part 2

Part 3

Part 4

Part 5

Part 6

Where's that other 1/2 an hour? Sometimes you do get what you want.  I discovered that the Chuck Jones/ Charlie Rose interview has found another life on Charlie Rose's homepage. Enjoy!

Sunday, May 3, 2009

Creativity: Heart, Discipline.

I was thinking what was a good way to kick off this vanity project/ blog. Incidentally, I've been whining to myself about my right shoulder which I injured earlier this week. No, I'm not crippled, but it is annoying and I've used it as an excuse to not draw for a couple of days.

Artist/ illustrator extraordinaire Frank Frazetta, detailed his many emotional and physical struggles in the documentary "Frazetta: Painting With Fire". Despite being near death, he found a way to still be creative, still produce. Even after suffering a stroke, and losing the use of his drawing hand, (his right hand), Frazetta still pushed forward by switching to draw and paint with his left hand instead.

Ralph Bakshi, also featured in the film made a very plain but poignant note that, "Art begins in the heart and the mind. You don't draw with your hand, you just don't."