Monday, June 29, 2020

Mr Morgan's Wild Ride - for Charity

Thorfinn, aka Richard Morgan - the nicest viking indeed.
Richard Morgan has authored and Illustrated heaps of childrens' books in the UK, such as his latest series Thorfinn the Nicest Viking.  I met him in New Zealand working on my Redux Riding Hood short, and we've been long distance pals ever since.  He shares with FLiP his plans of bicycling to raise money for cancer research. 

by Richard Morgan

My daughter and I have started cycling together during the lockdown and felt we wanted a goal, so we joined the Cancer Research UK Cycle 300.  I lost my Mum and my wife's Gran to cancer, plus I have lost several close friends to this disease and seen the horrible upset it leaves in its wake. However, I have also seen close friends fight and beat cancer due to the amazing treatment available now.

Living in Cambridge, its all road bike for us.  We've been building momentum since the Tour De France came to visit.  I have always cycled its like second nature. I got my first bike from Ellis Briggs in Shipley, Yorkshire, and rode it everywhere.  As I learnt to drive I got a mountain bike and took it to the lakes in Cumbria to hoon down mountains. When I moved to Auckland NZ to work for Disney*, I treated myself to a new Marin and cycled all over, it was amazing.  So at 53, this seems like a wonderful thing to be doing with my daughter before she goes off to university in September, hopefully!

The cycle is over the whole of September and my daughter is keen to do it as lots of short rides and avoid the pain in the bum.  I would rather do one or even two bigger rides for the adventure, so we will see who wins.   I will be updating the charity page as we do the rides so you can see us on the road and follow our progress.

People can donate on my Just Giving page.

Or join ... and get on your bike .   Cancer Research cycle 300 website.

*Toonz Animation in Auckland produced shows for Disney TVA, including Redux Riding Hood.

Saturday, June 27, 2020

Kelly Asbury Saved My Life

Kelly at the "Nightmare Before Christmas" wrap party.  To his right, Allison Abbate dances with Joe Ranft.
When I got the news of Kelly Asbury's death yesterday, I immediately thought of the night he saved my life.

In April of 1992, I started working on The Nightmare Before Christmas in San Francisco. The studio was set up in an old, two story industrial building with a sprawling floor plan and no air conditioning.  It looked like it was once an old factory, making ball-bearings or sausage.  For reasons I have forgotten, faded hand prints of Herve Villachaize were set in the sidewalk just outside the front door, which opened to 7th Street, several blocks south of Market. I worked in an open bullpen area doing storyboards with Mike Cachuela and Joe Ranft.  In an adjacent room, Kelly worked in the art department with Kendall Cronkhite and Deane Taylor.  

Meanwhile, in Los Angeles, a trial of four cops who beat Rodney King senseless was wrapping up.  On April 29th, they were acquitted of using excessive force despite video footage to the contrary.  The streets of south central Los Angeles erupted in rage with violent protests.  

At the studio the next day, there was a general buzz of disbelief about the verdict.  The locals knew that San Francisco was not to be outdone when it comes to street rage, and kept an ear on their radios for local unrest.  Just after lunch, Kelly came around to the bullpen.  

"Hey Steve, do you pass Market Street going home?" he asked. 

Thursday, June 11, 2020

What's Going On

Ed Bell's professional animation career spans 34 years, including stints at Disney, Kroyer Films, Hyperion, and Collosal Pictures.  I've known him since we were CalArts kids in the early '80's (and he still returns my calls).   In the wake of the George Floyd murder, I asked him a few questions.  He has generously shared with FLiP his raw feelings about our times, his experience as a protester, and of life as an African-American artist in the animation industry.  Please read and absorb.  -Steve 

By Ed Bell

The times are hitting me hard, this time around.

In ' 92 I was helping clean the streets post Rodney King, volunteering for Maxine Waters in South LA. I saw the place I grew up in after National Guard had rolled in, and there was so much work to be done. So my sense of deja vu and dread is dark and heart breaking. This won't be a well written essay. There's some rambling, off the subject.

So, How were the protests I attended?

Last week I was at the rally at City Hall where I've been many times with the same purpose. With the Mayor, we took a knee.  News cameras and vans were everywhere. Helicopter presence. Police had guys in high windows watching everything. My son said he assumes they were snipers. He is 16. That was a very full block of protesters. People kept a few feet of distance. Wore masks. We heard from the mayor and civil Rights leaders. Jamie Fox spoke. Mothers who have lost their kids to law enforcement spoke. Synchronized voices, calling for justice and for peace in the streets, there was no looting or throwing things. It felt like a familiar ceremony. A little catharsis. A smidgen of solidarity. But I've been a little numb for days at this point. My kid spent hours on his phone watching other cities go bananas, at the same time as we gathered in a well behaved but tense crowd at City Hall. 

Tuesday, June 2, 2020

FLiP-ping Out

What can be said that is not already being said about the state of affairs in our country?   And who cares what an animation blog thinks of national affairs?  All I know for sure is that the protesters are on the right side of history.  I know for sure we have a President who only represents those who agree with him and rejects the rest - loaths them, calls them names, belittles them.  We can surely do better than having a school yard bully as leader, someone who only cares about himself.  But what do I know, I'm an animator.  But for what it's worth, I'm with them.

Wednesday, April 15, 2020

Plugging into Work from Home

On March 16th, the studio where I work announced that we would all be working from home until the COVID-19 pandemic was under control.  The IT department had worked through the weekend on the logistics of this large, sudden shift in production.  Now this computer-tech luddite was tasked with applying their plans to my computer at home.

Sunday, March 29, 2020

Thursday, December 19, 2019

A Great Day for America - The Far Side is Back!

The overwhelming majority of Americans can agree that the return of Gary Larsen's "The Far Side" comics is great news.  I read about this yesterday on CNN's website though it was not headline news for some reason.  In the CNN article, Larsen explains that he decided to make an official Far Side site because so much of his work was posted online without his permission - fan sites, but more irritatingly, sites exploiting his work to promote their own products or services.  His new site will feature the old strips, but promises some new stuff to come.

Tuesday, December 17, 2019

Santa's Other Helpers

While Santa Claus gets the glory for pulling off Christmas every year, it is common knowledge that he has 'helpers'.  A team of little elves - the Merry-Makers - work tirelessly behind the scenes to bring joy to the world.  But did you know there's a second rank of helpers, an off-shoot of the Merry-Makers?  These are the Havoc-Makers,  Santa's Dipshits.

Thursday, November 7, 2019

The Brave Little Toaster gets Dental Surgery

     Years of brushing my teeth too hard had caused my gums to recede to the point where I needed oral surgery.  And so I found myself reclined in a dentists' chair, having just had four shots of novocaine injected into the roof of my mouth.  Yes, it hurt.
     While the oral surgeon left me to numb up,  a woman with a clipboard asked me some questions.  One of them was "Occupation?"
     I answered, "Animation." 
     I elaborated, "I work on cartoons."
     "Oh, interesting."  she said.  "Anything I would know?"
     "How old are you?"  I asked.
     "Thirty two."  she said.
     I did some quick math, then said, "How about 'The Brave Little Toaster'?"
     She squealed.  Like a girl.  She squealed so loud the dental assistants rushed in to see if she was alright.  She turned to them and said, "He did 'The Brave Little Toaster'!"
     Then they squealed.  Right before me, four professional women morphed into cooing little girls, talking over each other how they had loved that movie growing up.
      The one with the clipboard broke through the cacophony.  "Oh my god!  There's a scary clown in that movie that scared the crap out of me!"  She was referring to Toaster's nightmare sequence.
     I laughed. "I animated that sequence."
     "Really?" she said.
     I nodded.

Saturday, September 7, 2019

The Unbearable LightBox of Being

There's a new animation expo in town - LightBox -and yesterday, I went.   The last such event I attended was the World Animation Celebration in 1998, at the same location - the Pasadena Convention Center (newer building).  My aversion to crowds keeps me away from such events,  but every once in a while I nudge myself to get out there and network.  Still, I dreaded the thought of it.  
     I convinced myself Friday would be less crowded than the weekend.  20 minutes before opening, there was a line of cars around the block for parking.  I found an alternate lot a few blocks away and walked in the stinking September heat to the expo.  To clarify, this was not specifically an animation expo.  The LightBox site describes it as, "Over 250 of the best artists from the animation, live-action, illustration, and gaming industries coming together for the ultimate celebration of art."  Being the first such mish-mash event I had ever attended, it was, by default, the "ultimate". 

Thursday, July 25, 2019

Three from My Storyboard Graveyard

In the process of updating my personal website, I came across storyboards that never made it for three Illumination films: "The Grinch", "Minions",  and "Despicable Me 2".  I worked for months and months on versions of these films that were later abandoned.  Nothing I boarded for "The Grinch" made it onscreen, but here is a clip (without sound) showing the Grinch's "Aha!" moment - the plot to steal Christmas...

Wednesday, July 3, 2019

Eat, Drink, Animate! By Tom Sito

Who knew animators could cook? Tom Sito, USC animation professor, co-director of Osmosis Jones and Emeritus President of the Animation Guild, has written a cookbook celebrating the recipes of animation artists.

You might think animators can't cook, but you'd be wrong. "Eat Drink Animate" is where you can learn the secrets of Walt Disney's chilli and and Tissa David's Hungarian Goulash.

I should declare an interest here - the book includes one of favourite recipes, Poisson a la BAFTA, which was reverse-engineered a few years ago from a dish I liked so much while dining at BAFTA Piccadilly that I decided to try and make it myself. I wrote it in French to make it sound posh.

Tom is a prodigious author, with many books on animation and animation history to his name.

Thursday, June 13, 2019

Ross Anderson Pulls a Rabbit from a Hat

We first interviewed author Ross Anderson back in 2013, about his research project into the history of the making of Who Framed Roger Rabbit? - the pioneering film that is 26 years old this year.

Six years later, Ross's book "Pulling a Rabbit from a Hat" has finally hit the bookshelves; he was signing copies at this year's Annecy film festival.

Ross's book aims to be the definitive history of the making of the film. It is well researched and very detailed, and appears to very accurate down to the smallest details,

I've been looking forward to buying my copy for years. Among the highlights are Tom Sito's hilarious sketches and scribbles that documented the roller coaster ride that was the making of the film.

Thursday, January 3, 2019

The Forgotten Art of Kathleen Bell

Kathleen "Kay" Bell 1937
Kathleen Bell was a 20th Century illustrator whose work is now almost completely forgotten. She was also my grandmother and, if she is remembered at all, it is as the mother of, and major influence on, my father, the animator Richard Williams.

Kathleen "Kay" Bell was born on 19th May 1909, and lived in Toronto, Canada, where she worked as commercial illustrator. Of her vast body of work for newspapers and magazines, almost nothing survives.

All I have of her published work is the illustrations for one book, so long out of print that it doesn't even show up anymore as a listing at A few years ago I managed to buy what was most likely the last remaining copy available for sale, and since then the listing has been deleted.

Sunday, November 11, 2018

The Grinch Who Left an Easter Egg

In May of 2014, my wife Donna was a patient at Sloan Kettering Hospital in Manhattan, being treated for complications from the cancer she'd been fighting for 3 1/2 years.  The doctors were treating her aggressively.  They were the best in the country, so we were confident she would beat it.  As she rested, I sat next to her bed with my Cintiq, doing storyboards for Illumination on "The Grinch".

Tuesday, July 3, 2018

"Fossils" Lunch in Toluca Lake

From left: Charles Solomon, Bob Kurtz, Scott Johnson, Howard Green,  Eric Goldberg, Tom Sito,
Alex Williams, Ruben Aquino and Ross Blucher.  Photo copyright the nice waitress at "The Counter".
Animation historian and critic Charles Solomon organised a "Fossils" lunch today, a meeting of various former (and current) Disney and DreamWorks animators to talk about the olden days, and wonder what the heck happened to our industry.  Little did I know that Eric Goldberg, master of 2D animation timing is still doing hand-drawn animation at Disney, working on special projects for the Parks.  Bob Kurtz is still doing freelance jobs,  James Baxter is still flying the flag for 2D animation, and animator-turned academic Tom Sito trains his students at USC in the correct use of exposure sheets. And I still use Ruben's model sheets from "Lion King" to teach quadruped locomotion to my students.

Who says 2D animation is dead?


Monday, June 18, 2018

Jettisoned - "Radiohead meets Hawkwind"

Welsh filmmaker (and friend of FLiP) Nathan Erasmus has teamed up with young psychedelic rockers KOYO to produce a new sci-fi inspired animated video for the band’s new single ‘Jettisoned’.

Friday, November 24, 2017

Andrea Torrejon Talks Character Design

Andrea Torrejon is a London based character designer, best known for her work on Rovio's Angry Birds.

Character design is one of the most fun parts of our industry, but also one of the most competitive, and hardest to break into.

We asked Andrea to talk a little bit about her work, and what is involved in being a professional character designer.

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Tara's Lasting Impressions

Last May, I was having lunch in the new courtyard at Nickelodeon (where I work) with writer Andrew Blanchette.  There were some guys sandblasting cartoon characters into the concrete benches. Working in the midst of them was a model-pretty woman - not the type you would cast in a blue-collar role, unless it was a "Flashdance" remake.   I told Andrew. "We need to go talk to her."
 "We need to go talk to her."           
And so we met Tara Tarrant, owner of LaJolla Stone Etching. She was putting the finishing touches on a very impressive Ninja Turtles etching that wrapped around a bench. So how does a gal like her find herself sandblasting for a living?
Tara gave FLiP the scoop:

"I come from a long line of artistically gifted individuals, mainly on my mothers side. My grandmother and mother are amazing oil painters and my mother is a muralist as well. I believe I must have picked up any artistic talent that I possess from these amazing and talented women. I do not have any formal art schooling, but I have always loved art and being creative.  It's in the blood!"

Saturday, November 11, 2017

Alex Williams, the Strip King!

 Last month, FLiP's very own Alex Williams won The Cartoon Art Trust Award for Strip Cartooning for his "Queen's Counsel", which has run in The Times of London for the past 25 years. This is a huge honor, the comics equivalent of a BAFTA Award.  Alex is typically modest about it,  saying, "Actually I felt a bit unworthy about the whole thing."


Wednesday, May 10, 2017

The Prefab Messiahs and The Man Who Killed Reality

Xeth Feinberg, the mad genius behind "Bulbo" and "Papu" tells FLiP about a new venture with his old band, The Prefab Messiahs.  It's a new song and animated video called "The Man Who Stole Reality".   FLiP approves of this message.

FLiP:  Who the heck are the Prefab Messiahs?

Xeth: I like to think of THE PREFAB MESSIAHS as an audio-visual collaborative art project. It seems more respectable and 'sensible' that way.

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Our Next 4 Years

Immediately after the November election, I was contacted by Carolyn Bates, a long time friend and colleague.  She wanted me to create a public service announcement for a grassroots organization called Our Next 4 Years (ON4Y).   I wrote, designed, voiced, and animated a piece called "Make Cheese, Not Walls".   Enjoy!

I asked Carolyn some questions about Our Next 4 Years.....

1.  What is ON4Y and how did it come to be?

Our Next 4 Years  is an all volunteer organization of almost 300 animation professionals.  We are partnering with progressive organizations in order to create animated PSA’s that can counter the regressive policies of the current administration.  Our group’s members include Oscar, Emmy, Annie and Humanitas award winners and nominees from studios big and small.

Following the election, producer / director, Mike Blum of Pipsqueak Films, reached out to me and broached a grand idea. Mike was motivated to action after reading a fervent Facebook post by his animation supervisor, Ramiro Olmos.  Ramiro wanted to lend his animation skills to help support progressive causes and create change.  Mike has tremendous creative & organizational skills and a good dose of chutzpah to make that happen. 

Sunday, March 5, 2017

Remembering John Watkiss 1961 - 2017

John Watkiss 1961-2017
John Watkiss, the brilliant animation artist famous for his stunning visual development work on "Tarzan", has been taken by cancer at the far-too-young age of 55

I first met John when I was just 16, when I used to tag along with my sketchpad at the life drawing classes that he taught at my father's old animation studio in Soho Square, and later at "The Diorama" Arts Centre in Regent's Park.

John wouldn't just tell you how to improve your work - he would sit down and show you how to make it better.  Anyone who attended his class took home his drawings - on the corner of the page, mocking your own unskilled efforts, and encouraging you to do better.

At the time I thought all art teachers did this.  It was only later that I found out how few teachers have the confidence and ability to personally correct their students' work. John knew he was better than the rest of us put together, and he didn't hesitate to show you where you had gone wrong.

Thursday, March 2, 2017

Erin K's Latest Music Video

Erin K and animation Producer Nathan Erasmus have just released their new video "Assholio", described as a "classic fairytale - classic as in 1600’s nightmarish and disturbing fairytale". And, of course, "who doesn’t want to see a unicorn pig?"  The end result is "somewhere in between a super detailed animatic and a simplistic animation; kind of an "anti-mation".

Saturday, July 30, 2016

Yay for Sarah May: Self Help for Animators

Sarah Bates' 2007 FLiP article "Animation Brat" was reposted the other day as a precursor to this brand spanking new interview with her, where she talks about her latest online venture, Yay With Me. Sarah has been doing a self-help blog and podcast called Help Me Be Me that is so fantastic, it has prompted me out of my widower's funk and refueled my interest in old passions like FLiP.  "Self Help for Animators" is a bit of a misnomer; her blog is not aimed at animators specifically. But it does touch on many emotional and psychological issues creatives wrestle with daily.

FLiP: What prompted you to create  Yay With Me?

Sarah: Back in 2010 while I was writing commercial scripts and shooting spec spots, Zooey Deschanel asked me to contribute to Hello Giggles, a pop-culture site for women which she and two other savvy gals were about to launch. She’s my best friend since kindergarten, so I immediately said yes though I didn’t know what I was going to do about the content. My first thought was, “I’ll just be hilarious and Tina Fey will hire me on 30 Rock.” I thought my blog would be the perfect forum for promoting myself as a comedy writer – I pictured Tina Fey running across a shoot-out and immediately sending me a plane ticket. That is… until I started writing blogs.

In my opinion – there’s so much fluff out there that is of no value to the world and I didn’t want to make more of it – in other words, listicles are not my style. I started asking myself, first – what do I have to offer strangers that’s of unique value, which as it turned out – was the most important learning I’ve done for myself. Hence, the current content I create for Hello Giggles – a blog called Teaspoon of Happy.

Once I started thinking in terms of value, the blog became about translating the greatest learning I’ve done in my life – all of which came through hardship.  That insight – I call it “the why,” - is what I try to give to audiences, because truly it’s the missing link to making change of any kind.  You just have to be able to understand what caused the symptom and then you can figure out the solutions.  More importantly, you can forgive yourself because you can finally see it’s not your fault, you’re not broken – the blocks you are hitting are the same ones I’d hit, if I lived your exact life experience. Success comes from having the right tools, and a lot of us haven’t been given the right ones from our own lives.  Plus, a lot of the catalysts for stuck-ness are painful, complicated, and layered, so I take them apart and make them understandable – in my own words (A lot of them are cuss words).  I do a lot of research, but I learned the majority of what I preach through personal experience – including years of therapy with an amazing psychologist that I can’t thank enough.  If this were an Oscar ceremony I’d thank Dr. Sharon Flynn – she gave me a gift I can never repay.  And if you’re in the LA area – she’s practicing!  I highly recommend her to anyone who needs to do some self-work.