Notes about animation

April 10, 2017 permalink

The Making of Rock and Rule

The Making of Rock & Rule

Hey, it’s Lou Reed, Iggy Pop, Debbie Harry, and Maurice White talking about their roles in the odd, uneven 1983 toon film Rock & Rule. The movie itself is kind of lousy, except that it somehow was starring these folks (and their music), and despite Nelvana turning it into a very off Disney / Goofy-esque rotoscoped nightmare.

Possibly of interest for the above-mentioned musician interviews alone, the documentary also has scenes of how feature animation was made in the early 1980s (traditional hand-drawn cels with multiplane camera photography), and some talk about the synthesizer work of Patricia Cullen (who IMBD tells me recorded synth scores for a number of other 1980s cartoons and TV shows).

(via The Making of Rock and Rule : Nelvana : Free Download & Streaming : Internet Archive)

December 24, 2012 permalink

Dave Brubeck on Guaraldi Peanuts Music

There is a mixture of sadness and joy in the Peanuts characters. Their all-too-human disappointments and minor triumphs are reflected in Guaraldi’s music. It is a child’s reality.

August 5, 2012 permalink

Selectively Deanimating Video

Another SIGGRAPH, another mind-bending example of video being freed from linear time — Jiamin Bai, Aseem Agarwala, Maneesh Agrawala, and Ravi Ramamoorthi’s Selectively De-Animating Video:

We present a semi-automated technique for selectively de-animating video to remove the large-scale motions of one or more objects so that other motions are easier to see. The user draws strokes to indicate the regions of the video that should be immobilized, and our algorithm warps the video to remove the large-scale motion of these regions while leaving finer-scale, relative motions intact. However, such warps may introduce unnatural motions in previously motionless areas, such as background regions. We therefore use a graph-cut-based optimization to composite the warped video regions with still frames from the input video; we also optionally loop the output in a seamless manner. Our technique enables a number of applications such as clearer motion visualization, simpler creation of artistic cinemagraphs (photos that include looping motions in some regions), and new ways to edit appearance and complicated motion paths in video by manipulating a de-animated representation.

(Via O’Reilly Radar)

October 15, 2011 permalink

Disney Employee Handbook 1943

Studio map from a nifty Disney employee handbook circa 1943. The info in the booklet is mostly uninteresting, but it’s peppered with wartime secrecy, unions (represented by a headless, walking union suit — weird!) , and the gender biases that were prevalent at Disney at the time (sorry, ink-and-paint girls, the “penthouse club” is for men only!). This book was produced not long after the famous animator’s strike of 1941, which was unpleasantly lampooned through the clowns in Dumbo, and would have been read during a time of high tension between the studio and the employees.

(Via @dajanx)

June 19, 2011 permalink

Marjane Satrapi on Adapting Comics for Animation

Animation and comics are false siblings. They resemble one another but they’re two completely different things. The relationship a reader has with a comic is nothing like the one a viewer has with a film. When you read a comic, you’re always active, because you have to imagine all the movements that happen between the frames. In a film, you are passive: all the information is there. And when you make a comic it never happens that you have 500 or 1,000 people reading it in the same place at the same time, all reacting.

May 2, 2011 permalink

Fleischer Popeye 3d Backgrounds

Dave Fleischer of Fleischer Studios demos the distorted-architecture-on-a-turntable that his studio pioneered for creating compelling 3D backgrounds in their animated shorts. You can see it in motion in a number of their Popeye cartoons (like Popeye Meets Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves) or in their originals like Mr. Bug Goes to Town (PS: check out that awesome title card typography!)

If you happen to be in L.A. this week, you can catch some classic Fleischer shorts in pristine 35mm prints as part of Jerry Beck’s animation series at the Cinefamily. Do it!

(Via Cartoon Brew)

April 16, 2011 permalink

Little Nemo Turns 100

The principal factor in my success has been an absolute desire to draw constantly. I never decided to be an artist. Simply, I could not stop myself from drawing. I drew for my own pleasure. I never wanted to know whether or not someone liked my drawings. I drew on walls, the school blackboard, old bits of paper, the walls of barns. Today I’m still as fond of drawing as when I was a kid — and that’s a long time ago…

December 30, 2010 permalink

Bute Tarentella

[Video no longer available]

Experimental animation pioneer Mary Ellen Bute’s short film Tarentella was selected this week for preservation in the National Film Registry as a culturally significant film. From the press release:

“Tarantella” is a five-minute color, avant-garde short film created by Mary Ellen Bute, a pioneer of visual music and electronic art in experimental cinema. With piano accompaniment by Edwin Gershefsky, “Tarantella” features rich reds and blues that Bute uses to signify a lighter mood, while her syncopated spirals, shards, lines and squiggles dance exuberantly to Gershefsky’s modern beat. Bute produced more than a dozen short films between the 1930s and the 1950s and once described herself as a “designer of kinetic abstractions” who sought to “bring to the eyes a combination of visual forms unfolding with the … rhythmic cadences of music.” Bute’s work influenced many other filmmakers working with abstract animation during the ‘30s and ‘40s, and with experimental electronic imagery in the ‘50s.

Bute’s final piece was an interpretation of Finnegans Wake, one of the very few attempts ever made at staging Joyce’s novel of troubled dreams.

April 13, 2010 permalink

Early Experimental Computer Animation Modeling a Cat’s Gait

[Video no longer available]

Early experimental computer animation through mathematical modeling of a cat’s gait. Evidently, equations were written to model the basic skeleton form of the cat and its walk, and the computer was used to generate a shadow-like projection printed frame by frame onto paper using ASCII-like characters (this animation was done in 1968 on a Soviet BESM-4 mainframe, so I’m not sure what character set they’re actually using here). The result could then be filmed, inverted, and manually cleaned up. Not exactly something that would really take the animation world by storm, but it’s an interesting usage of mainframes for art.

See also: more detailed info about the animation including links to the fulltext paper (in Russian – Google Translate does a pretty good job)

(Via Make)

March 1, 2010 permalink

Ren and Stimpy Production Music

WOW, I’m about four years late on this one, but in case anyone else hasn’t come across this: a fan has collected and cataloged a huge chunk (nearly 7½ hours worth!) of the incidental music from Ren & Stimpy. You know the stuff: the delightfully surreal, atomic age lounge music that defined the series. Don’t miss the smallish image link to Volume 2! The direct download links went dark, but if you poke around towards the bottom of the comments you can probably figure it out…

(spotted via twomuch)

February 28, 2010 permalink

Bill Plympton’s New BBQ Short

Bill Plympton’s got a new short aimed at the younger set on the way, about a cow who wants to become a hamburger. No dialog or sound effects; simple, blocky colors inspired (“ripped off”, in his words) by Kandinsky; and final line art rendered with Sharpie. Looks good to me!

If you’re up in NYC for the premiere (which will be at an Austin-themed BBQ joint in Manhattan that takes its inspiration from Kreuz Martket!), you can hit him up for a free cow drawing.

February 28, 2010 permalink

Animation: production vs. post

Mark Mayerson writes a pretty good rebuttal to the idea that the animators that worked on James Cameron’s Avatar were shortchanged by the film’s placement as a live-action feature:

“I’ve written extensively on how fragmented the process of making an animated film is and how so many of the acting decisions are made before the animator starts work. The character designs, the storyboard and the voice performance all make acting decisions that constrain the animator’s interpretation. There is no question that motion capture is yet another constraint, probably larger than all the others. To insist that Avatar is an animated film is to marginalize animators even more than they are in what are generally considered animated films. Is this the direction we want things to go? Better to agree with James Cameron and focus our attention on films where animators create, not enhance, performances.”

February 21, 2010 permalink

“I don’t carry a sketchbook to do pretty drawings in it.”

Storyboard artist and animation historian Mark Kennedy on keeping a sketchbook:

I’ve seen artists on the Internet question the necessity for this, saying that you can’t really learn anything about drawing by carrying a sketchbook, and that the drawings you do in a sketchbook are always dashed off, careless and sloppy. []

The real reason I carry a sketchbook is so that I can record and remember details that I observe. Drawing from real life is the best way to teach yourself how people look, act and move in a naturalistic way (and help you remember it later). Life drawing and studying the work of other artists and animators are great learning experiences, but those things aren’t the same as studying real life. A great life drawing is an amazing feat and you can learn a lot about drawing and anatomy by going to life drawing. But very few life drawings give you a lot of information about the model’s personality and what kind of human being they are. You’re never going to create an original story or character based on a life drawing model you saw.

February 20, 2010 permalink

Vanity Fair on Disney’s Ink & Paint “Girls”

From a good piece in this month’s Vanity Fair, “Coloring the Kingdom”, about the often-unsung Ink and Paint “girls” that cranked out most of the hand painting for Disney’s early feature days:

The end of the assembly line usually inherits all the problems. Preparing the animators’ vision for camera required the inking and painting of thousands of fragile, combustible cels with perfect refinement. During Snow White, it was not at all unusual to see the “girls”—as Walt paternalistically referred to them—thin and exhausted, collapsed on the lawn, in the ladies’ lounge, or even under their desks. “I’ll be so thankful when Snow White is finished and I can live like a human once again,” Rae wrote after she recorded 85 hours in a week. “We would work like little slaves and everybody would go to sleep wherever they were,” said inker Jeanne Lee Keil, one of two left-handers in the department who had to learn everything backward. “I saw the moon rise, sun rise, moon rise, sun rise.” Painter Grace Godino, who would go on to become Rita Hayworth’s studio double, also remembered the long days merging into nights: “When I’d take my clothes off, I’d be in the closet, and I couldn’t figure it out: am I going to sleep or am I getting up?”

(Via Mayerson on Animation. Photo © Walt Disney Productions/Photofest.)

February 1, 2010 permalink

Animascope Automated Animation Process

A circa-1966 industry ad for Leon Maurer’s Animascope process for producing animation on the cheap: animation without drawing and with fewer pesky artists! Similar to but different than rotoscoping, this process used high-contrast photography and actors in contrasty costumes with their skin painted white and contour lines painted on. The performers would then be filmed dancing around under bright light on a black-lined stage, and the resulting photography could be composited onto traditional background plates. Weird, but sort of a primitive version of mocap, and done for the same economical reasons.

(Via Cartoon Brew – for more info on the process, a good place to start might be this comment left by Brew reader Kustom Kool)

January 27, 2010 permalink

Finally the One Thing the Four Contending Films

Finally, the one thing the four contending films listed above [Alvin and the Chipmunks: The Squeakquel, Disney’s A Christmas Carol, Monsters vs. Aliens, and Up have in common is they all employ CGI, just like Avatar and many, many other films we could open this discussion to. I bring this up because it has pretty much been agreed upon around the Internet Avatar will be taking home the Oscar for Best Visual Effects, which creates an interesting conundrum. Why is the CG in Avatar considered visual effects while the CG employed for a Pixar or DreamWorks film simply considered animation? If Avatar is up for Oscar’s Best Visual Effects award shouldn’t Up and Monsters vs. Aliens be as well? The fact they aren’t, but A Christmas Carol is, interests me.

From a post by Brad Brevet on Rope of SIlicon on the graying divide between animation and visual effects, and the Academy Awards’ “animation ghetto”. Arbitrary definitions aside (the Oscar qualifications stipulate that a film must be “75% animated” to run in the animated feature category), it’s interesting to see folks try to distinguish between a “film” and a “cartoon” – is it the attempt at naturalism? The motive of the director (and subsequently how he himself submitted it for review)? The application of a specific technique like performance capture that makes CGI act more like makeup or costume?

January 18, 2010 permalink

Richard Williams on Eye Lines in Animation

A note from famed animation director Richard Williams to his crew working on Who Framed Roger Rabbit? about the importance of the gaze between the toons and the live actors in establishing the believability of the scene. In matters of animation composition, this guy knows what he’s talking about: his Animator’s Survival Guide is a compelling read for artists of any stripe working with visual storytelling, and he’s also the man responsible for the great-but-famously-troubled production of The Thief and the Cobbler (if you’ve never seen it, fire up your favorite torrent client and look for Thief and the Cobbler: the  Recobbled Cut – it’s a must-watch).

(Via Signal vs. Noise)

January 14, 2010 permalink

Went Digging Through My Archives and Came Across

Went digging through my archives and came across this, one of my favorite frames from the first year of the original Fleischer BrothersPopeye shorts. In a contest of manliness, Bluto smokes an entire cigar in one drag and blows the smoke in Popeye’s face. The sailor retaliates by doing the same but blowing the smoke out of his one good eye. This is what makes animation great, folks!

Here’s a link to the full cartoon: Can You Take It?

(Or skip straight to the awesome)

January 13, 2010 permalink

This Presents an Interesting Problem Caricature

This presents an interesting problem. Caricature has never been taken as seriously as realism. The history of Western art, with the exception of the dark ages and the 20th century, has always been derived from realism, and the art of the dark ages probably had more to do with the loss of knowledge and craft than with a conscious artistic choice. Caricature might be seen as clever, but except for artists, nobody values caricature as more than a lightweight diversion. Disney moved more towards illustration when he went into features. The all-cgi features have pushed their visuals towards greater complexity (which sometimes clashes with their character designs). Video games have also gravitated towards realism. I believe that this has been motivated by a desire to be taken more seriously by getting closer to what Western eyes value in art.

From Mark Mayerson’s thoughtful post on Avatar’s use of mocap versus keyframe animation, why James Cameron and Peter Jackson can do it successfully (and artfully) but Robert Zemeckis fails at it (the zombie-eyed children of Polar Express, A Christmas Carol), and whether the rift between traditional animation and performance capture speaks to something deeper in the history of representational art.

January 13, 2010 permalink

Winsor Mccay‘s 1911 Animation of Little Nemo

Winsor McCay’s 1911 animation of his Little Nemo comic strip (embedded above) was selected this year by the U.S. Library of Congress to be entered as a culturally significant work in the National Film Registry (along with Michael Jackson’s Thriller, The Muppet Movie, and others). Knowing that McCay did this all himself, by hand, cranking out tens of thousands of hand-colored drawings (keep in mind he was also pioneering the field of animation, inventing techniques as he worked) in addition to his incredibly intricate newspaper work leads me to suspect he was living in an alternate stream of time than the rest of us. Incredible stuff.

(Via Cartoon Brew)

January 12, 2010 permalink

Salon: The Aesthetic Gulf Between Miyazaki and Pixar

In place of the conventional, reductive versions of morality and psychology shown in Pixar’s films, Miyazaki gives us something closer to actual experience, treating good and evil not as a binary equation but as a sliding scale and presenting people (and characters) that often don’t know why they do what they do and latch on to reductive explanations at their peril. Characters can be scary and then friendly, threatening and then reassuring, honest and then misleading; they can shift identities and change shape, succumb to spells and then break out of them. […]

Parents will testify that a child who sees his or her first Miyazaki film after a steady diet of Pixar and Disney is apt to experience a perhaps troubled reaction, much deeper than “That was fun” or “I liked it.” Miyazaki challenges every preconceived notion about family entertainment that Pixar and its ilk conditions children (and adults) to have. Pixar’s very best work this decade — “The Incredibles,” “Wall-E” and “Up,” and moments of “Monsters, Inc.” and “Finding Nemo” — is wonderful; it gives children lots to see and a fair amount to feel. But Miyazaki’s work does more than that. His art is engrossing and beautiful but also challenging. He urges children to understand themselves and the world, and then shows them how. The Babysitter mesmerizes children. Grandfather changes their lives.

From Salon’s “Directors of the Decade” countdown (Pixar and Miyazaki share the #2 slot). I think it’s a bit reductive to count “Pixar” as a director (why not specifically highlight Brad Bird or Andrew Stanton’s work?), but I know what they’re getting at. Pixar represents the best storytelling in American animation and both approaches have their valid points, but it’s interesting how much stronger of a moral stamp Miyazaki has on Studio Ghibli’s output.

(Via Mayerson on Animation)

November 29, 2009 permalink

Pellet Gunn by Tim Beckhardt

A dog, a cyclops, and others kill some time with the help of wormholes and hobbyist self-modification. Made in 2008.

Pellet Gunn by Tim Beckhardt. Not 100% sure that I get the full story, but it’s great in a non sequitur, underground comix sort of way. His line work and hand-filled blacks are nicely composed, and the animation is fun. Extra points for the Philip Guston painting in the background.

August 8, 2009 permalink

Nick at Nite Indentity Bumpers

A thorough set of the indentity bumpers from Nick at Nite, circa 1991. Kind of surreal (and tedious) watching these back to back, but it’s amazing how many of them I remember, and how many were done by well-known animators. This is where things were at in the early 90’s NYC animation trade. A number of these folks would later be rounded up in Atlanta to help create Cartoon Network. Sadly, all of these cable channels seem to have lost their sense of purpose, with Nick at Nite now showing ‘retro’ shows like “Just Shoot Me”, TV Land focusing on reality programming, and Cartoon Network becoming a dumping ground for kid’s live-action.

Related branding regression: MTV International drops the famous animated/adaptable MTV logo in favor of a static mark, and (the horror!) Nickelodeon is moving away from their venerable and innovative “splat” logo after nearly 30 years of it being awesome.

(Via Cartoon Brew, where a number of the folks who worked on the N@N promos have left comments)

June 30, 2009 permalink

Spongebob Guru MTV Promo

This new series of promos by Pepper Melon reminds me of the good ol’ days when MTV was running experimental stuff like Liquid Television and the more subversive late-night blocks of animation with Ren & Stimpy, MTV Oddities, The Maxx, and The Brothers Grunt (maybe not so much that last one…). If Cartoon Network’s ditching cartoons, maybe the more artful ones can migrate back to MTV (which stopped caring about the M part of its name way before most Spongebob watchers were born anyhow, as the cliche goes). See the rest at Cartoon Brew.

June 9, 2009 permalink

A Little Love: The Art of Bill Melendez

Documentary: A Little Love: The Art of Bill Melendez. A great short video taking a look at Meléndez’s work for UPA, the quick transition he made from working on those shorts to the graphic design of the classic Peanuts tv specials, and also the influence that he had on Wes Anderson’s films (I’d gotten the Charlie Brown / Max Fischer connection, but never noticed the homage where Max is walking with the little plant for Margaret Yang – brilliant). Via Cartoon Brew.

May 9, 2009 permalink

Krazy Kat Cartoon with Restored Soundtrack

For possibly the first time in 80 years this Krazy Kat cartoon, Ratskin, has been reunited with its original soundtrack recording, discovered on a rare Vitaphone disc in Australia. Found via Cartoon Brew, who has a good writeup of the discovery.

(note for George Herriman fans: the animated escapades of Krazy generally have little to do with the comic strip, more closely resembling Oswald the Lucky Rabbit or Felix the Cat’s hijinx)

May 5, 2009 permalink

Revolver: Looping Animation Shorts

Revolver, a brilliant series of short looping animations by Jonas Odell (codirected with Stig Bergkvist, Marti Ekstrand & Lars Olsson). I loved these when they ran serialized in the early days of’s Renaissance 2.0 / Kino section, circa 1995, and hastily squirreled away all of the QuickTime .mov’s from the site for archiving. Benefit of having the .mov’s? You could have all of them open and playing simultaneously!