Sunday, February 26, 2012

Saga City - a charming animated short by Luc Chamberland

Check out this delightful animated short - Saga City - by my old friend Luc Chamberland, whom I worked with many years ago on "Joseph" - the sequel to DreamWorks' "Prince of Egypt". Luc directed the animation in Vancouver and did an awesome job - now he is a Director at the National Film Board in Montreal. You can see Saga City here at the NFB website. Enjoy! - Alex

Friday, February 24, 2012

Come and Join the Big Egg Hunt!

This week saw the launch in London of the Faberge Egg Hunt - the world's biggest ever Easter Egg Hunt. The event aims to raise funds for two important charities: Action for Children and Elephant Family, inviting tourists, locals and visitors to hunt down the strategically placed giant eggs all over the capital.

Alex of course cannot reveal the secret location of his egg, but visitors to London's South Bank near Hungerford Bridge might be searching in the right area.

You can see a pdf map of the South Bank eggs here: And if you really get stuck, there's a cheat sheet here. And you can even bid on the eggs too! The auction begins online here: Go know that what you really need is a giant Easter egg in your living room!
And, with 10 coats of marine varnish, you can even leave it outside. - Alex

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Tales from Usher House Studios

posted by Steve
Here's one from the archives, called "Project Pod John".  It's the story of a studio's attempt to create a John Lasseter of their own......

This was probably my favorite of the articles I wrote for the original FLIP.  I took a twisted meeting that  really happened and twisted it some more.  Give it a read, you've probably had a meeting like this yourself!  More tales from Usher House are yet to come!

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Hearts & Hammers, Episode 1

I've had a couple of e-mails lately from people looking for my old Hearts and Hammers short. I did four of these back in the '00's, but they've been offline for a few years. If you're not familiar with the short, it's simple: a man and a woman discuss love while holding their hearts in one hand and hammers in the other.  Its a Valentine's Film for people going through a rough patch.

So for you, Tony Sprando of Bend Oregon, and for you, Trish Baird of location unknown, here's the first episode of Hearts and Hammers.....

Monday, February 13, 2012

Gary Miereanu - Publicity Hound

posted by Steve
Gary at snowy Lincoln Center last night.

I first met Gary Miereanu in 1997, when I was at Disney TV Animation.  He was in the publicity department, and I was a red-hot director of a whimsical short called "Redux Riding Hood".  When you're a red-hot director, you get introduced to people like Gary, and they write stuff about you.  Some of it's true!  Gary is an enormous guy with an enormous heart.  He's always been a pal to me, even after my fifteen minutes as cartoon celebrity were up.

He does publicity for Warner Bros now, covering their premieres and such.  But what is truly, TRULY impressive, is that he's in New York City right now, covering the Westminster Dog Show for the LA Daily News.  My wife and I have become hooked on this show, and I was gobsmacked last year when I learned that Gary was there, in person, on the floor, photographing the event.

Gary explains: 
"Four years ago, on behalf of Warner Bros , I scheduled a premiere for one of the DC Universe Animated Original Movies.  I've watched the Westminster Dog Show every year it's been televised,and never thought I'd get the chance to attend. My original career was that of a sportswriter and photographer, and I've covered everything from six Super Bowls to World Series to NBA and NHL championships and so on (for Sport Magazine, and dozens of magazines and newspapers). So when I realized that Westminster was the same week as the premiere, I called my old newspaper -- The Los Angeles Daily News -- and offered my services to shoot the dog show. And they agreed. By coincidence, Warner Bros. has had a premiere for me to run each of the last four years (including tonight) in New York during the week of Westminster, so we've kept the ball rolling. And it is truly two of the most fun days of my year."

photo from 2011 Westminster Dog Show by Gary Miereanu

Gary wears a bright yellow shirt to the event so his wife and kids can spot him on TV.  He's a big dude, so finding him is not like finding Waldo.  Now you, too, can play along! 
Gary adds, "As one of my best pals says, 'You can see that shirt from space!'"

The man in the yellow shirt on the front page of the New York Times last year with the 2011 Best in Show dog.  

See shots of this year's show here....

See more shots of last year's show in the LA Daily News

Watch the Dog Show tonight (Monday):
8-9 PM (Eastern Time) live on USA Network
9-11 PM (ET) live on CNBC

And be sure to watch for Best in Show Tuesday night:
8-11 PM (ET) live on USA Network

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Valentine's Nth

It's time once again to go up to the attic and pull this film out of the box for the hunched and goofyhearts out there.  Actually, its been on Vimeo for months, but who knew?  The Indescribable Nth is a short I made independently starting in 1993 and completing in 1999.  Production was done at Character Builders Studio in Worthington, Ohio.
I started this film during a time when animated features were telling dramatic stories with human characters designed with realistic proportions in realistic settings.   There was a ton of production value and great craftsmanship, but that meant squat if the character acting failed to move the audience.  I felt that little bit of information was lost on executives.  In the '90's, epic scale was in, which in an animated film is what - a tiny animated character on a large background?   Clearly, the lesson they took from The Lion King's success was: more wildebeests!

So I wanted to make a little film that told an emotional story with extremely stripped-down designs that, according to the geniuses in charge, were only good for yuks.  But we managed to bring the audience to the brink of tears with a series of simple line drawings.  And that, to me, is what makes character animation magic.  Not to short-change the other elements of production - all are important to create the whole - but the actors are the eyes through which the audience experiences the story.  (I hear a chorus of my peers yelling "DUH!!" right now.)

I have to take my hat off the the gang at Character Builders, who put as much passion into making this film as I did.  They were a greatly underrated bunch back then and I am proud to have worked with them. Look how many ended up at Disney and Pixar!

Share The Indescribable Nth with someone you love.  But you're still on the hook for a Valentine's gift.

The Indescribable Nth from Steve Moore on Vimeo.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

David Bowie got me Hooked on Coffee

posted by Steve

In 1984, I was a student at Cal Arts.  I stayed up late a lot - sometimes all night - working on my student films.  So did my classmates -most of them, anyway.  And when I think back at those times what amazes me is that I did not drink coffee.  Ever.

One night, while watching TV in the dorms with Tim Hauser and the gang, an ad came on aimed right between our eyes.  A man's voice bombastically declared, "YOU are the New American Society.  The movers.  The shakers.  YOU are the NEW Coffee Generation!"  As the man spoke, Jeff Lynne sang "Hold on tiiiiiight - to your dream. Ooooooh yeah....".  This was edited to short, MTV-style clips of celebrities.  There was David Bowie - HUGE in '84.  And the Wilson sisters from Heart. And Kurt Vonnegut, my favorite author of all time. And Ken Anderson the NFL quarterback, not the Disney artist.  And Cecily Tyson the actress, who purred, "...because coffee is the calm moment that lets you think.  Coffee gives you the time to dream it, then you're ready to do it!"  

The dorm gang gave little thought to the commercial except for Tim, who jumped up indignantly (or was he going for more wine?) and said, "They're trying to get our generation hooked on caffein!  That's disgusting!"

Tim was right!  The National Coffee Association sponsored the ad to change the image of coffee from that nasty shit your parents drink at breakfast to a lifestyle accessory for hip and happening young people of the 1980's.  A mere ten years later, Starbucks was everywhere.

We should have taken the ad as a cue.  We should have seen the potential business opportunity in catering to a New Coffee Generation.  We could have been bazillionaires.  But we were animation students, dreaming of Disney glory.  "Hold on tiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiight.............TO  YOUR DREAM!."

Today, it takes two cups just to leave the house, then a third to nurse through the morning at work. To quote Kurt Vonnegut, "Poot te-tweet!"
Cecily Tyson: Actress / Coffee Pusher

Here's another commercial, where Heart uses coffee to mix a new hit.  "Go on and set your coffee mugs on the control board, gals, we don't mind."   

Tim Hauser commented:

LOL! -- Tim Hauser: mad prophet of the dorms! Thanks for the memory!!!!

(BTW -- "Caffeine" needs an "e" at the end).

Monday, February 6, 2012

At last - A Graphic Novel about the Hunched and Goofy

Mark Kalesniko’s graphic novel Freeway is a truly brilliant, hilarious look at the hunched and goofy lifestyle in our industry's ground zero.  His humor is wickedly honest, his storytelling unflinching.  His graphics capture the blinding stark light of Los Angeles with a pace that pulls the reader through at a wicked pace.  Freeway should resonate with anyone who has worked in the LA animation scene and experienced this less-than glamorous life in the San Fernando Valley.
By Mark Kalesniko

Freeway tells the story about Alex Kalienka, a layout man, stuck in traffic on the 134/101freeway as he heads to work. While trying to keep calm and get to his destination, his mind bounces from one thought to another exploring his life, fantasies and fears. These thoughts show Alex imagining a golden age of animation in the 1940’s where great artists work in creative collaboration and mutual respect while contrasting with the present day reality where office politics, petty jealousies and boredom are the norm. It is this contrast of the romanticized past with the realistic present that sets a conflict that Alex tries to resolve as he drives to work. The theme, as with my other books, is what you perceive or imagine something or someone to be is for the most part the complete opposite in reality.

As with my past works, I do incorporate some autobiographical elements in my stories. Like many writers, I write what I know, or better yet, imagine what I know. The beauty of writing fiction is combining my experiences, experiences of others, and imagination to create a story that is satisfying to the reader. For instance, in the 1970’s part of the story - where Alex comes down to L.A. - that experience really happened to me. I did come down to try to break into the animation business and was so overwhelmed that I hid in my hotel room and ran home. But that is where I end the autobiographical element and bring in the fictional part of the story.  Alex is pretty much by himself at the hotel, so I added the religious character of Walter so he could have someone to tell his story to.  That never happened in reality. The same with the mystery girl, there was no girl breaking into hotel rooms when I was there, so I added her for drama and a little sexual tension. That’s what makes writing fiction fun, combining different elements to make for an interesting story.

The characters in Freeway are composites of people that I have known both in and out of the animation business. On one project I was working on, there was a rumor of a cleaning lady spotting someone running around naked after hours. I never heard if the nudist was seen again or who it was, but the image stuck in my head. Years later, when I was writing Freeway, I thought why not make Paul the nudist, as his way of venting his stress and frustration. Again I knew no such person but it made a great way to add a fun personality trait for one of my characters.
Freeway, as with all my books, starts with index cards. I write down scenes, plot points, and dialog on the cards and tack them on a board. Because Freeway has a very complicated storyline, set not only on a freeway but also in 3 different time periods, I put each time period on a different color card.  For example, the freeway sequence would be white, the 70’s sequence pink and so forth. After I had all the ideas down, I began to shuffle the cards into a coherent story using the colors to help me keep track of which story was coming up next.

Once I felt I had a full outline, I began to write the script using the index cards as my template. The script was made up of seven chapters, all titles of songs from the 1940’s. Each chapter had a certain theme.  For instance, in Chapter 3, “If You Were The Only Girl In The World,” I wanted to explore the women in Alex’s life including his girlfriend Chloe, and his obsession with the mystery girl on the freeway.
Once the script was completed, I would take each chapter and break it down, drawing tiny crude thumbnail sketches of each page and its panel placement, action, and dialog. From there I began the drawing process. On past books, I would draw right on the board, but because Freeway had so many characters, time periods, and cars, it was easier to draw roughs separately on scratch paper and trace them to the board. Once drawn, I would ink the page and it would be complete and then I would send it to my publisher who would do the lettering and balloons. If you want to see some of the rough sketches, thumbnails and photos used in my book, go to my blog at .
Freeway took ten years to create.  My previous works took on average of three to four years, and I thought Freeway would be the same. What I didn’t take into account was the amount of research that was involved including the re-creation of the 1940’s Bunker Hill district - which does not exist anymore - or the complexity of drawing thousands of cars, which are extremely difficult to draw. Also, I wanted the book to be pleasing visually and to do that I had to render each drawing quite extensively which was very time consuming.  My hope was that when completed, the reader will be able to go on a visual trip that they can go back to time and time again.
The marketing is mostly done by my publisher. They send out my book for review and set me up for signings or talks at Comic Con, Ape and Miami Book Festival. I’ve also set up a web presence with my website, blog and Facebook to help promote the book.

You can order Freeway through Fantagraphics Books at . Also I have a link to the Fantagraphics website at my blog, which I mentioned above, and at my website at  .

At the moment, I’m finishing up a 38 page, Alex story that I will be giving away on my publisher’s website.  That should be done in a couple more months. After that, I have a couple of ideas for longer stories which I will do some outlines on and then choose which one to do next. 

I want to thank Steve Moore for setting up this arrticle. Steve and I go way back to our days as animation students at Cal Arts and his support and interest in Freeway is greatly appreciated.

Saturday, February 4, 2012

How to get the taxman to finance your independent animated feature film

- Posted by Alex

This post is about tax, or rather about tax-financing. But stop!....don't click away yet! For anyone in the UK trying to finance an independent film (and every self-respecting animator has a film project in there somewhere) - this is one of the best ways to do it. It's called EIS - and it is a semi-miraculous way to get the taxman to pay for your project.

What is EIS? 
EIS stands for Enterprise Incentive Scheme. It is a tax-efficient vehicle for financing new enterprises, or indeed film companies.

Tax efficient vehicle? Can you speak English please?
OK - in simple terms, here is how it works: EIS is a government tax scheme, which gives your investors very attractive tax breaks, so that they start making money long before the film does. I'll say that again: the investors start making money long before the film does.

What? ....but that's impossible, isn't it?
No. Let's say you want to raise £5m for an independent animated film. You have a great script, great character designs, a budget, a business plan - you've even done a proof-of-concept trailer. Now you just have to attract investors. First, you set up an SPV (single purpose vehicle). This is the film company that will make the film. Let's call it Awesome Films Ltd. All the rights (script, designs etc) get assigned to Awesome. Now you go to investors - that's wealthy folks with lots of spare cash -  and get them to invest.

But why would wealthy people want to invest in your film? Isn't that kind of risky?
Yes, but your film is awesome, and they are going to make money right away - even before you start making it. Under EIS, they can write off the entire amount of their investment against their income tax bill, so that they pay 30% less tax - immediately.

So they get a 30% tax break? Right away! - that's amazing!
It gets better. If your film makes money (we hope it will!) your investors don't have to pay any capital gains tax on the profits. So, they get the profits tax-free. Also, if they get run over by a bus, the profits are not subject to inheritance tax either - their children will get the profits tax-free too. So, if your film does more than break even, your investors will do very well indeed.

Ok, that's all good, but what if the film makes a loss?
God forbid. But, if it does lose money, there is more good news - the taxman helps pay for the losses. Your investors are able to write off the losses against their income tax.

Incredible! Why does the British government do this?
Because they are desperate to get new businesses up and running, to grow the economy. So they are throwing money at business startups, not in the form of grants (which are very hard to get) but in tax breaks through EIS. If you follow the rules, EIS represents a huge government investment in your business.

How do you follow the EIS rules?
Well, you will need some professional advice to help you tick all the boxes. That means you need a good accountant and/or lawyer. But it is well worth it.

How do you know this stuff?
That is a secret. But it might have to do with a lecture I attended at a leading firm of London solicitors (lawyers) last week.

- Alex

Friday, February 3, 2012

Harlow in Hollywood

I’ve been a fan of Old Hollywood history almost my entire life. To me, Jean Harlow seems to encompass all the glamor, excitement and drama of those days. With her platinum blonde hair, radiant smile and satin bound figure, Harlow is an Art Deco goddess in earthly form. But the genuine warmth that emanates from her is what makes her special. Who Jean Harlow appears to be and who she really is are two very different things, and it’s this juxtaposition that I find fascinating.

Years ago, famed photographer and author Mark Vieira suggested we do a book together on Harlow. I had acquired a major collection of photos over the years and with Mark’s know how (having written at least ten books on Old Hollywood history) and my enthusiasm we embarked on this project together.  When we realized that 2011 was Harlow’s hundredth birthday, our goal was to have a book come out in time to celebrate that milestone. ‘HARLOW IN HOLLYWOOD’ published by Angel City Press in Los Angeles is that book.

Harlow reigned in Hollywood for just seven short years. First emerging in Howard Hughes’ WW1 blockbuster “Hell’s Angels,” she started as a public joke and grew into an extraordinarily gifted comedienne. She had a gift for mixing sex comedy with a curiously honest innocence. It was this combination that made her box office dynamite. By 1937 she was gone, but she paved the way for future sex symbols such as Lana Turner, Marilyn Monroe and Madonna.

But who was the person behind the movie star image? Her name was Harlean Carpenter and she was born in Kansas City, Missouri in 1911; the daughter of a mild mannered dentist and his socialite wife.  Movie magazines would forever portray her early life as idyllic, happy, and privileged. The truth was a little more sinister. Though she grew up in an upper middle class family, Harlean was controlled by a domineering mother; a woman of questionable moral character. Culled from interviews with countless friends and schoolmates in Kansas City, Hollywood and Chicago, what emerges is the story of a warm hearted girl victimized by a gold-digging mother, who divorces her husband, and takes her daughter to Hollywood to pursue her own goals of a movie career. As Harlean grows up, her striking beauty takes centre stage and Mother Jean transfers her dreams of stardom onto her daughter.

The bond between mother and daughter was the cornerstone of Jean Harlow’s life. Though she appeared mature beyond her years, she was incapable of separating emotionally from her Mother. While it was charming to the public to have a sex symbol who couldn’t stand being away from her ‘Mommie’ for too long, the truth was she could never keep a marital relationship because of her slavish devotion to her.

‘Harlow In Hollywood’ follows Harlow’s personal and professional lives from childhood, to her first days in Hollywood, her ascension to movie queen at MGM, her survival of public scandal due her second husband’s suicide, and her own untimely death at the age of twenty-six. Using Harlow’s own words at times, and countless never before seen photos, the goal of this book is to get a clear sense of who the real person was behind the image. Jean Harlow led an extraordinary life and left a niche in Hollywood many have tried to claim. Her name is synonymous with the glamorous thirties, and she will forever remain a symbol of Hollywood.
I’m immensely proud of this effort. It’s a large format coffee table book, 240 pages long with about 280 rarely seen photos of Jean Harlow. The photographs encompass everything from glamour portraits, production stills, personal family photos to candid photos shot by fans who ran into Harlow on the streets of Hollywood. The research done utilizes private letters and personal interviews with friends and family from Harlow’s Midwest years to her halcyon days in Hollywood. The text provides the most up-to-date, accurate and honest presentation of Harlow’s fascinating but all too brief life. It has been nothing short of a labor of love and I’m most pleased to know that it has been received and reviewed so well, but most of all, I take great pleasure in knowing that it will exist forever. I hope you will enjoy the book as much as Mark and I had creating it.

Get a copy!
And read more about Darrell's Jean Harlow collection in the FLIP archives.