Saturday, December 27, 2008

Starcraft 2: Raynor on the Rocks

this has been out for a while, but i figured since i try to update on quality video game animation, i ought to talk about the potential of StarCraft 2:

i've always been impressed by the Blizzard cut-scenes in terms of graphics wise, and of course the RTS portion of the games are addictingly well-done (in the day, only Westwood really was any competition with the Red Alert series before folding and passing on the reins to other companies). the RTS portion of the new game also looks pretty good

the original cut scenes admittedly look much more dated, but i think Blizzard has a great sense of visual (and aural for that matter) storytelling. reminisce or witness anew:

what are some of your favorite cut scenes from games?

Friday, December 26, 2008

It's a White Winter

i'm off to the snow for a few days, hopefully i'll be able to get my hands on a computer to update a little, but in the meantime -- here's one of the musical surprises of the year, at least for me. Fleet Foxes are like a cross between My Morning Jacket and a gospel choir. and Sean Pecknold (his brother is in the band) has done a very simple, very well executed, and souful stop motion rendition of "White Winter Hymnal."

White Winter Hymnal from Grandchildren on Vimeo.

and just in case you didn't have enough of yesterday's "Peace On Earth," here's MGM's Hanna and Barbera 1955 remake entitled "Good Will to Men." its got the benefit of sixteen more years of modern warfare -- and its much more polished -- but i prefer the original, which seems just a bit more subtle i guess. the cartoon was lavishly filmed in Cinemascope and produced again by Fred Quimby, who would retire the same year, it was nominated (like Peace on Earth was) for a short subject Oscar.


Thursday, December 25, 2008

Yes...yes...good will toward men.

merry christmas! i've only one short for you today. and its a good one. after Harman and Ising were fired from MGM in 1937 (see the past two posts), they setup their own in-house studio. work was scarce though and they ended up doing a one-shot for Disney called "Merbabies" in his Silly Symphonies line. Disney had promised two more such cartoons, in exchange for Harman and Ising lending their own ink and paint team to Disney in order to help complete Snow White and the Seven Dwarves for Christmas. however, he reneged on his deal, and the animators were free agents once again, eventually selling the ideas to Fred Quimby at MGM who hired them back. Rudolph Ising created the character Barney Bear, a sleepy-eyed character based on himself, while Hugh Harman worked on what would eventually become the Oscar-nominated, post-apocalyptic Christmas short Peace on Earth (1939). its power is undeniable still today.

Harman was quoted as saying, "I'd say that I made about three good pictures. I'm not kidding." this was one of the three.

the contrast between the human portions and the animal portions are delineated by the animation styles (amongst other things) -- the animals are very cartoony while the humans are rotoscoped to great effect. i think this is probably the best use of rotoscoping i've perhaps seen. the utilization of the technique is perfect -- in Bakshi's cartoons its often just distracting, but here it adds to the story that's told.

here's Harman's own recollections on the short. see if you agree:

"It made more money than any picture we ever made. Fred Quimby, who was sort of a business manager at MGM tried to stop it. Then when it was finished, I think he wanted to take all the awards for it himself."

"Peace on Earth was a tough one to animate and to write. We shouldn't actually have made that as a one-reeler, we should have made it in about three to five reels. We cut it and cut it and cut it; we didn't cut footage that was animated—nobody in his right mind does that, unless it's bad. But cutting the storyboard and switching around. It has some flaws. I just got tired of it near the end. That's always been a weakness with me, that I get so fed up on it at the end of a picture that I would just as soon turn it over to the Girl Scouts to make. Unless it were a feature that would warrant going on with costs forever. I've observed that as a weakness in myself, that I often end up with a weak, insubstantial ending for a picture."

(all from the Michael Barrier interview)

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

9 to 5

merry christmas eve! how about some atmospheric animation?

this is the original "9" by Shane Acker, a recent UCLA MFA Animation student alum, who has been forever developing the concept as a feature film with producer Tim Burton. looking to expand the idea a bit, some famous voice actors were thrown in to boot: Elijah Wood, John C. Reilly, Jennifer Connelly, Crispin Glover, Martin Landau, and Christopher Plummer.

while not exactly your typical animated voice cast, one wonders if it might have been a little dolled up by some suits to make it more pallatable to the general public. regardless, i don't think i've ever seen something like this film or concept in feature film animation (especially CG animation) ever. i bring all this up, of course, because this is the debut of the trailer, announcing 9's release on 9-9-09. take a look if you dare:

a followup to yesterday's post, here's another Christmas short by Harman and Ising, this time in full color while at MGM in 1936. we last left them at the Van Beuren Studios producing the Cubby Bear series, of which they did two episodes and part of a third before a contractual dispute that led the duo out the door and to MGM in 1934 along with a new series of Bosko shorts. they had much the same system at MGM that they did at Warner Brothers -- Harman would do the Bosko series and Ising would develop the one-shots, here named "Happy Harmonies." The Pups' Christmas has little to no plot this time -- they merely interact with the kids' new Christmas toys. i think the funniest bit is when one of the puppies swallows the voice-maker of a doll that says "mama."

once again, there was a bit of racism involved in the cartoon, though its been edited out of this TBS tv airing. according to a poster:
"There was a scene cut out in between 6:17. The brown puppy runs into a toy that I had what I believe was a black person on it that danced and said "Hey!" The puppy gets scared and runs again and that's when we get to the scene of the wooden monkey."

also once again, Harman and Ising refused to be bound by their budgets and were promptly fired by MGM a year later in 1937 when they couldn't rein in the budget for Happy Harmonies.

an interesting interview by Michael Barrier with Harman in 1973

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Merrie and a Little Bit Racist Melodies

once again, here's an obscure Christmas cartoon that I first saw on a Christmas potpourri VHS as a young child. The Shanty Where Santy Claus is a lively, if second-rate cartoon again about an orphan and was part of the Merrie Melodies series when it was run by Hugh Harman (no relation) and Rudolph Ising. former original Disney animators (they were with him in Kansas before he moved to Hollywood), Harman and Ising were instrumental in the Alice Comedies and the Oswald the Rabbit cartoons for Disney. they broke off along with Charles Mintz when he broke off his deal with Disney and took Oswald along with him, where Harman and Ising continued their work with the character. when Universal kicked Mintz out and brought in Walter Lantz (who would later create Woody Woodpecker), Harman and Ising were out of work -- except for their signature AND copyrighted character, Bosko:

they shopped him around to all the studios in town until they finally found a friend in Leon Schlesinger who offered them a contract to produce a series of cartoons for Warner Brothers: Looney Tunes and Merrie Melodies. Looney Tunes ended up being for recurring characters (mainly starring Bosko) while Merrie Melodies turned into one-shots. this particular short is a Merrie Melody from 1933, right before they left the studio over budgetary disputes to go work for the Van Beuren cartoon studio.

its truly bizarre to watch today. there are also about a zillion cycles.

Monday, December 22, 2008

I Want a Dinosaur for Christmas

if you've waited till the last minute to shop for the animation enthusiast on your list, fret no further! you too could get an original drawing from 1914 "Gertie the Dinosaur," the Winsor McCay hand-drawn(and I don't mean cel) classic.

only $5000! it looks like it might be from the endless cycle where Gertie sways back and forth. a little description from the ad:
"To create the film, McCay himself drew thousands of frames of Gertie on individual sheets of rice paper, which he then mounted on cardboard for registration. Of the estimated 10,000 drawings used to make the film, only about 400 are known to exist.

Image size 8 1/2”w x 6 1/2"h in original condition mounted on cardboard (overall size approx. 9 1/4"w x 7 1/2"h (23 1/2cm x 18 1/2cm). Certificate of Authenticity

perhaps this might be a little more in your price range for a Winsor McCay fan

you know dasher and dancer and prancer--wait no. you know Rudolph the Red-Reindeer and How the Grinch Stole Christmas and A Charlie Brown Christmas and A Garfield Christmas and Frosty the Snowman. But do you recall...any other specials at all? I present to you five alternative cartoon christmas specials:

one of three holiday specials commissioned by CBS, Will Vinton's Claymation Christmas is a not often replayed special that contains some great bits along with your favorite Christmas songs. the California Raisins regale us with Rudolph while the singing camels steal the show with the chorus for We Three Kings (Star of Wonder). the bells that hit themselves is probably my favorite skit (and there are quite a few of them). here's part 1. i trust you can find your way to parts two and three.

Eek the Cat has always been a criminally underrated show. created by Savage Steve Holland, the show ran on FOX Kids from 1992 to 1997! an incredibly long run for a show not available on DVD. Holland directed three live action eighties movies -- two starring John Cusack (Better Off Dead and One Crazy Summer). being a CalArts graduate, however, he ended up with his own animated show on FOX starring a purple, fuzzy cat named Eek along with his oversized girlfriend Annabelle and her ferocious dog -- and the bane of Eek's existence -- Sharky the Sharkdog.

this particular episode, It's a Very Merry Eek's-Mas, involves Santa (voiced by Bill Shatner) dealing with the reindeer going on strike, headed by noneother than the voice of Bobcat Goldthwait, and Sharky's search for his family. Eek's mantra "it never hurts to help" makes the show worth watching to see him pushed to the edges of his code...only to bounce back. here's part 1 again:

probably the best of the bunch, A Pinky and the Brain Christmas brings more emotion to the special than most Christmas specials. Brain, predictably, wants to take over the world...on Christmas Eve, while Pinky just wants to deliver his letter to Santa, really bad. warn your eyes, they're about to well up:

i'm cheating a little bit here, as you may be aware of this special, but it gets much less press than its Rankin-Bass brothers Rudolph and The Year Without a Santa Claus (featuring the Miser Brothers). Santa Claus is Comin' to Town is one of their strongest specials. featuring Fred Astaire as the narrator and Mickey Rooney as Kris Kringle, the 48-minute special tells the origin of Santa Claus and explains the mystery behind many Christmas traditions. the legendary voice-actor Paul Frees plays the ruler of Sombertown -- Burgermeister Meisterburger. the songs are more than up to snuff, some on par with Rudolph's output. without further adieu:

finally, "A Jolly Molly Christmas," an episode from Disney Afternoon's Tale Spin, involves Rebecca's daughter's struggle over the existence of Santa. Baloo and Kit try to make her believe by taking her to see "Santa."

Sunday, December 21, 2008

poor santa

the opening to the Chevy Chase classic National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation is a pretty fun 2-D animation by Bill Kroyer involving Santa encountering Murphy's Law when visiting the Griswold house this year.

probably primarily known as the director who inflicted Fern Gully: The Last Rainforest on the world, he's worked on just about everything from being the story director of Gobots and the Animalympics. more recently, he's moved towards computer animation including work on Tron, The Green Mile, Cats & Dogs, Scooby Doo, the Coca-Cola Polar Bears, and Garfield (the one with Bill Murray) -- much of which was done at Rhythm and Hues where he resides as a Senior Animation Director these days. here's the film that got his Hollywood career started off:

nominated for an academy award in 1988, but losing to John Lasseter and Tin Toy, Technological Threat is a pretty interesting short film -- it uses hand drawn animation for the wolves and computer generation for the replacements and the blocky boss. a nice little allegory for the rise of computer animation, probably even more relevant today than it was then.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

A Very Fleischer Christmas

here's an old Christmas cartoon that I hadn't seen as a child -- and it holds up remarkably well. starring Grampy of the Betty Boop series, it involves a group of orphans that have all their toys break and start to cry, when Grampy passes by. he's a really insane character. my favorite part is when he spits out nails...

Christmas Comes But Once a Year was part of the Fleischer Brothers Color Classics series, which was a competing entry to Disney's Silly Symphonies. originally done in the two color CineColor process, and then later the two-color Technicolor process, the Color Classics weren't allowed to license the three-color version until Technicolor's exclusive contract with Disney expired at the end of 1935. this 1936 cartoon makes use of both the three-color Technicolor process and Max Fleischer's invention of Setback or Tabeltop -- this allowed animation cels to be photographed against 3-D backgrounds as seen at the beginning and end of the short.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Two Scoops of Kickass

here's fellow UCLA Animation student Zach Lind's 2nd year computer film. its done in Toon Boom and drawn with a Wacom Cintiq. its a fun and well animated short. nice to see some good student animation done in Toon Boom.

as the winter grows exceedingly colder, one yearns for a nice fireplace to crowd around and warm up. enter: pes.

you too could have a warm, candy corn fire on your computer, for free!

finally, here's a unique HowCast video, explaining what to do in the situation of a bear attack in the stop motion. its exceedingly well done.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Go on home rednose, your mama's calling ya!

you all know the Rankin/Bass version of Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, in all of its Animagic glory, but have you ever seen the original, Max Fleischer version?

the Fleischer brothers, famous for their creations of Betty Boop and Popeye, as well as releasing two features that competed with Disney (Gulliver's Travels in 1939 and Mr. Bug Goes to Town in 1941), had by this time been separated, precipitated by Paramount's takeover of the Fleischers' studios after their disastrous move to Miami to avoid labor disputes in New York. the Fleischers themselves were involved in a family feud leading Dave to go off to run Columbia's Screen Gems animation studio in 1942. Max took a different route and headed up an industrial film company's animation department -- The Jam Handy Organization. this film was perhaps the greatest achievement while at the company.

created by Robert L. May while working for Montgomery Ward in 1939, the story was adapted into song by Johnny Marks in 1948 and formally recorded by Gene Autry in 1949. before this, however, the short story that May had written was adapted into this Fleischer cartoon in 1944 in a more faithful adaptation than the later Rankin/Bass version.

tonight is the airing of the final episode of Moral Orel ever. i interned at Shadowmachine Films, the production company of Robot Chicken and Moral Orel, and i preface this by saying i was not a big fan of Moral Orel when i first watched it. its since grown on me immensely. Nature Pts. 1 & 2 from Season Two of Moral Orel were probably the most affecting stop motion animation I've seen on television (though More is amazing).

getting to go through the storyboards for season three and seeing the first dailies from shooting, I knew that the third season would continue what the last few episodes of the second season had promised. the opening episode, Numb, was a floorer -- featuring the music of The Mountain Goats and circling the events leading up to last season's Nature episode. check out the end of Moral Orel if you can. its a shame that there will only be one stop motion show on Adult Swim now, especially when it was just revving up.

Here's Nature Pt. 1 & 2

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

the funtastic world of animation addiction

this is an oddity of a video. produced in the end of the 1980s and released on June 7th 1990, this is a video of the ride simulator known as The Funtastic World of Hanna-Barbera. originally at Universal Studios Florida, it was one of the first ride simulators of its kind, being produced concurrently with the Back to the Future ride which would come out a bit later. the whole thing, according to The New York Times, was part of a big push by David Kirschner (the creator/producer of American Tail and the Chucky series), when he was appointed the President and CEO of Hanna-Barbera in October 1989, to make Hanna the next Disney.:
''Disney is a classic company that has supplied classic features,'' Mr. Kirschner said. ''We have been a television company that's entertained a generation of baby boomers with characters. It's easy to point to Disney and what they've done as a model.''

the actual animation was split up to a few companies, namely Rhythm and Hues (in one of their earliest projects), Don Bluth Entertainment, and deGraf/Wahrman who did the bulk of the backgrounds and CG work in the film. the Don Bluth studio, while simultaneously working on Rock-A-Doodle, did the work on the characters in cel while everything else was rendered in the computer. though Kirschner didn't bring Hanna Barbera into the Disney realm (unless you count the original live-action Flintstones film a wild success), this ride is pretty fun and often forgotten. it was retired to make way for Jimmy Neutron's Nicktoon Blast in 2002. its jumped around since then from theme park to theme park, currently residing in Six Flags Kentucky. without further ado:

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

what exactly does this bikini machine do?

take vincent price, throw in frankie avalon, put in a dash of The Supremes, and then bowl full of chopped Art Clokey and what have you got? no, not a stew, but Dr. Goldfoot and the Bikini Machine! unofficially the first spoof of the Bond series, this 1965 American International Pictures (famous for its low budget Roger Corman horror films) gem was unleashed on an unsuspecting public. popular enough to receive a sequel (Dr. Goldfoot and the Girl Bombs), its pretty well reviled in general. the most remarkable part about it has to be the opening sequence by the Gumby-master himself:

speaking of Mr. Clokey, here's the animation that started his career:

the story behind it according to KQED:
"Gumbasia was made on a ping-pong table in his dad's garage. A clay-animated art film done to the beat of jazz music, Gumbasia shows the moving power of Kinesthetic film principles. Art showed it to Sam Engel, a big film producer of the day who was making a film with Sophia Loren. After seeing it he told Art to rewind it and show it again. He paced back and forth and said: "Art, that's the most amazing film I've ever seen!" Art thought "wow, now I can direct and mingle with Sophia Loren," then Sam said: "Can you make figures out of that clay? I'd like to improve the quality of TV for children." Art said he could, and he and his wife came up with Gumby."

kinetic sounds about right. finally, here's the Christmas Gumby classic "Scrooge Loose":

Monday, December 15, 2008

my blog plus garfield

so perhaps one of the most unique cartoonist achievements of recent memory has been the removing of garfield from his own comic strip. the idea had been floating around on message boards for a while and 32 year old Irishman Dan Walsh decided to dedicate a blog to jon's existential angst.

instead of suing him, Jim Davis has embraced the phenomenon and even got in on the fun himself with a book on it. the book has side by side comparisons of the original strip and the new, garfield-less one. admittedly, this sounds less fun. you can find all the new adventures here.

here's an oldie but a goodie

Len Janson and Chuck Menville made and starred in a series of pixilation films in the late sixties and the early seventies. what strikes me about them today is not only the amount of work that must have gone into them -- but that they move the camera so darn much -- and without (unintended) disorientation. the soundtracks add a lot to the films as well. here's their first and also Academy Award nominated driver's training film:

Stop, Look and Listen (1967)
they also made a western, Blaze Glory, in 1968 and a film about a mountie called Sgt. Swell of the Mounties in 1972 before moving on to a more traditional animated career. Len became a producer and writer for a diverse array of shows including Tarzan, Lord of the Jungle, Shazam!, Smurfs, Star Trek: The Animated Series, and Tiny Toon Adventures. Chuck managed to work on much of the same stuff as well as getting nominated for an Emmy (along with Len) for "My Smurfy Valentine."

here's a more recent version of the same concept, except this time with a Mario Kart twist

my classmates at UCSB Michael Figge and Jess Riegel made this in 2007 for a class that solicited viral videos about Harley Davidson. my favorite animation is the part with the thwomp. you can find more of Jess' stuff here. he's particularly fond of unicycles and bananas.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

don't mind if i do

Leerone - Care For Some Whiskey [Official Music Video] from Hank Friedmann on Vimeo.

here's an ambitious, yet quaint stop-motion/live-action composite music video from animator Hank Friedmann. my favorite part is when she's dancing with the troll-like creature at the end, as if swinging while holding hands -- the background blurs and creates a seamless effect. according to Hank himself, he used Shake to composite everything and used the blue screen method to shoot Leerone and key everything out. very effective.

i caught the ASIFA screening of Tales of Despereaux last night with Sara at the DGA. not expecting too much, i think it was enjoyable -- if confused in both tone and protagonist focus -- who's story is it? the style, however, is very nice and has a great storybook quality to it. its much better than the usual animated fare from studios other than Disney/Pixar or Dreamworks. the story behind the production, apparently, was not a happy one, as reported on Cartoon Brew a few months ago. the original director Sylvain Chomet (The Triplets of Belleville) was fired, but claims his designs were still used without proper credit.

to continue my reporting on video game animation as well, i present you The Secret of Monkey five German.

ive seen plenty of movie recaps in flash in 30 seconds to 5 minutes, but this is a first -- the pretty faithful retelling of an adventure game. there's an english version, but its just not as fun. a while back there was a movie in the works based on the series, that Steve Purcell did some concept art for.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Gimme some of that fancy rose water.

this is the opening to the 1997 LucasArts first-person western shooter -- its animated fairly well and has an appealing and distinct visual style. the animated cut scenes were by far the best part of the game.

the new book by Rob Smith, former editor-in-chief of PC Gamer Magazine, covers the story of LucasArts from 1982 to present, with oodles of concept art and interviews with creators -- i'm looking forward to seeing what they have on Ron Gilbert and Monkey Island. you can buy the oversized stocking stuffer here.

also, if you're in the LA area, $9.99 is making its week-long oscar run at the Laemmle Theatres Music Hall. here's the summary:
"Based on the short stories of Etgar Keret, $9.99 is a stop motion animated feature from Australia which offers slightly less than $10 worth about the meaning of life."

merely for the fact that stop-motion features rarely get made or released in theaters, i think i'll check it out. i'm not convinced that the story is worth telling, particuarly in the laborious stop-motion process, as it looks like a typical indie "life crisis" film.

Friday, December 12, 2008

let them eat....clay!

here is a great claymation short by Guionne Leroy, a Belgian animator who's worked on everything from Toy Story to Chicken Run. this particular piece is animated to opera audio -- and fantastically so i might add. she tackles diversity and race relations in ways that features fail to do in two or three hours. (and much more entertainingly)

the gravity employed in the characters, as well, is of note.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Cupid and Comet and Donner

continuing with the christmas theme

this was a christmas short made by David Hand, who was a big deal in animation first with the Fleischers for the Out of the Inkwell series, and then as one of Disney's biggest animators for Silly Symphonies, Mickey Mouse, and a supervising director for Snow White and Bambi. he produced this during a later period when he had left Disney and right before the studio he was working for closed.

the cartoon itself is an oddity but full of very attractive character designs -- something John Kricfalusi talks about on his blog this week:

my mom used to sit us down to watch a whole vhs hodgepodge of obscure christmas shorts when my sister and i were younger -- this was one of them, though the christmas connection is tenuous at best. peace on earth.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Inspiration Search

i'm done with my first quarter at UCLA as of today. time to start thinking about two-quarter long C film.

The New York-based stop-motion animator Pes is always inspirational. Higher quality version here:

he can do commercial work, but still keep it very unique and personal.

The first post

hello all. i intend to post animation-related well as anything mildly interesting that comes along...

here's a stop-motion merry christmas video by Patrick Dorian

you can find more of his stuff here:
he's done a lot of graphic design work.

this is a note i found while working at the library a few years ago.