Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Vaughn Bode - Wizards and NYC Subway Art

Inner city NYC kids in the 1970's and 80's who had any drawing talent often carried not a sketchbook, but a black hardcover 'tag book'. Tag books were saturated from cover to cover with illustrations bleeding with color done in magic marker. This was a sketchbook for graffiti art. A 'tag' referred to a graffiti artist's nom de plume. Which usually was the subject of their art pieces found on subway cars.

Animated cartoon characters such as the Looney Toons, Disney and Marvel characters would often appear alongside these huge graffiti mobile murals, but the cartoon artist that arguably influenced graffiti art the most was Vaughn Bode.

Bode's characters Cheech Wizard, Lizard, Cobalt-60 or his voluptuous "Bode girls" like Belinda Bump were staples of graffiti art. Bode influenced many young urban artists to pick up a pencil (or a spray-can) inspiring them to create.

Bode entered the NYC underground comics world in the early 1970's along with his peers like Robert Crumb. Vaughn Bode called himself a "graphic animator" and and greatly desired to be an animator at Disney's. After a stint in California, Bode he made several unsuccesful attempts to enter the animation industry. This was pre-1975, roughly around the time Disney started its first animator training program.

It's only poetic justice that only a couple of years later Bode's work would inspire an animated feature film based on his illustration style: Ralph Bakshi's 1977 animated feature, "Wizards".

2012 is the 35th anniversary of "Wizards". A commemorative blu-ray and new book will be available later this year as noted on Cartoon Brew.

Below are three videos of a rare interview with Bode in 1974. (Thanks to mollybode on YouTube) He talks about turning down Stan Lee, his feelings about Disney and also mentions his friendship with the fantasy illustrator Jeffery Jones. (Catherine Jeffery Jones).

Vaughn Bode is the patron saint of all graffiti artists around the world and still continues to influence artists today. Vaughn Bode died in 1975. His son Mark continues to create art in the same style and spirt of his father.

Part 1

Part 2

Part 3

Saturday, January 7, 2012

Hollywood's Akira not dead...yet.

Production on Hollywood's adaptation of the 1988 Japanese animated film "Akira" has been shut down for the fourth time. However sources like Deadline, say the film is not dead. Is that like zombie "not dead"?
The film has been in development hell since Warner Bros. acquired the rights almost ten years ago. Big names have been attached and replaced as to who would produce and direct the film.

Its decision to use caucasian actors instead of Japanese actors has undoubtably placed a stigma around the film and its direction. There have been already serious rumblings calling for a boycott against the film.

It would be great if we knew that this film was to be remade like The Magnificent Seven remade the Seven Samurai. Or if it would result in iconic imagery like Fistful of Dollars from Akira Kurosawa's Yojimbo. (FYI. Kurosawa sued the producers for ripping off his film) But gut says something different doesn't it? The budget cut from $150 million to $90 million isn't helping either.

The more this film gets passed around and discounted like an old bottle of dimestore liquor, the more it feels there's something "greasy" going on. But maybe that's not just the film but just film business in general:

As film director Alexander MacKendrick once said, "...the money making is what the [film] business is about. The deal is the real product. The movie is just an incidental by-product of the deal."

Hate to say it but I think they would make more money just converting the original Japanese Akira anime to 3D and re-releasing it in theaters. I'm quite sure it would pull off the same surprise the Lion King 3D did last year.

Monday, January 2, 2012

CG Animation Trend Hits Japan....in 3D

By the way, the CG animation/ 3D release bug has finally hit Japan. Friends: Naki's Monster Island is not the first CG animated film from Japan, but it is one of the first major full length films marketed at kids.

I don't think there's going to be any CG vs. hand-drawn debate in Japan. The appeal of animated illustrations will have a very long life here. However due to the nature of CG animation, it will be interesting to see how the mindset towards animation will change in the future. With the exception of a few animation directors like Katsuhiro Ootmo (Akira, Steamboy) Japanese animation rarely has rarely "fully animated" dialogues between characters. Also with the exception of huge showpiece animated action sequences, animation is rarely shot on 1's and is notorious for having action animated on what looks like 3's or even 4's sometimes.

(To those who may not know, shooting on 1's and 2's refers to how many exposures a frame will have in an animated sequence. "Who Framed Roger Rabbit" is a good example of animation shot on 1's. Extremely fluid animation. Some say it's too fluid and looks swimmy. Generally, most feature hand-drawn animation is shot on 2's. If anyone remembers the choppy TV animation in the 80's...that's a good example of animation done on 3's and possibly even 4's....i.e. G.I. Joe, Transformers. Almost 100% of CG animation is on 1's.)

While American animation is always striving for realism, Japanese animation is generally "iconic" and symbolic. (Note what was done to Lilo and Stitch when it was transformed for Japanese audiences) Japanese animation will use virtual pictographs on characters faces to show emotion for comic effect: hashmarks over the face to show stress, fountains of tears that evaporate instantly. It will be interesting to see how this will play out in a CG environment. Note the last few frames of the trailer above.

My two cents: so long as Studio Ghibli never does a CG animated film, hand drawn animation will still be king in Japan.