Friday, May 31, 2013

Fun with Stoopid Buddies

Micro Mahem is a fun little short from Stoopid Buddy Studios, the Burbank, California  based stop-motion animation studio that brought us Robot Chicken.  The Stoopid Buddies are the actor Seth Green, animator John Havartine IV, producer Matthew Senreich, and director Eric Towner.

In Micro Mahem, they mix primitive stop motion models with fantastic camera work with hilarious results.  There's some interesting production still at the end as well.  They certainly seem to be enjoying their work.  Hats off to them!

Thursday, May 30, 2013

Five Most Annoying Things About Maya - an Open Letter to Autodesk

Even as Maya 2014 is launched, I know in advance it's not going to fix the things that drive me mad about this piece of software that has become the industry standard for digital animation. There are of course other 3D packages - Blender, 3D Studio Max, Softimage - but Maya is the one the industry most commonly uses. Whether you're in London or LA - Maya is king. Which brings us neatly to the burning issue - why don't Autodesk fix the things that drive everyone crazy about it?

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

My Awesome 21st Century Upgrade to Disneyland's Peter Pan Ride

I've had this idea for about eighteen years now.  I have no way of making it happen, but I do have an outlet to share the idea with you Imagineers out there, boldly assuming you haven't already considered this and abandoned it for some reason.   Here goes.....

I propose an entirely new Peter Pan ride, where you are sprinkled with pixie dust, think happy thoughts, then fly, actually fly, like Peter, Wendy, and the boys over London to Neverland.  You would not be in a fake boat riding on a clanky overhead rail.  You would be completely untethered.  What's the secret?  

Sunday, May 26, 2013

Framestore opens up in Montreal - and more VFX jobs leave London

The growing and rather depressing trend for jobs to leave London's Soho and head for Canada seems to be picking up pace. Framestore, one of London's leading visual effects houses and the studio which, more than any other, helped to make London a global centre for VFX work, has opened up a new operation in Montreal - no doubt chasing generous Canadian tax credits.

Saturday, May 25, 2013

Dan Scanlon's Indie Film "Tracy"

Before Dan Scanlon directed Monsters University, he did a mockumentary called Tracy.  He talked to FLIP about it back in 2008, when it was still a work-in-progress.  He described it as, "a fictional documentary about Tracy Knapp the host of a 1970's children show called The Imagination Train Station. The film is about his life, his resentful son, his alcoholic ex-wife, and his mysterious death in 1995.  It's a comedy."

Dan has posted the entire film on Vimeo.  

Dan talked to FLIP about the film:

"The idea for the film came in 2003. Fellow story artist Brian Fee and I were trying to think of a short film idea to work on in our (then) endless spare time. We started talking about all the creepy 1970's children's shows we loved as kids, and how a lot of the hosts looked like porn stars. We thought it would be great if Brian played one of those host, with a porn afro and matching bushy mustache.  I've been making short 8mm films and videos since I was a kid, begging my friends and parents to dress up as robots and clowns for my movies. It was kind of cute then, it's not as cute when I'm asking them to do the same at 31".

Thursday, May 23, 2013

The Art of Caricature - DreamWorks animator Jim Van Der Keyl reveals his secrets

Jim Van Der Keyl is a caricaturist and animator who has worked on many of the biggest animated hits from DreamWorks in recent years, including Kung Fu Panda, Kung Fu Panda2, Flushed Away, and Over the Hedge. In 1999 he was nominated for an Annie award for his animation on Brad Bird's masterpiece  The Iron Giant. He also writes books and DVDs on the art of caricature - truly a renaissance animator. FLIP asked him to reveal the secrets of the craft - how does an animator become a great caricaturist?

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Matt Novak - the Disney animator who became a children's book author

Back in 1989 I spent a summer working at the newly built Disney MGM studios theme park in Orlando, Florida, which among other rides featured a tour of the "Magic of Disney Animation". The ride was real, in as much as the studio being toured actually made real films, such as Tummy Trouble, RollerCoaster Rabbit, and later Mulan. We called it the "goldfish bowl", since the visitors would watch us through the glass partition as we worked.

One of the very talented artists I met there was Matt Novak, who worked on many films including "Rescuers Down Under" and "Beauty and the Beast". Since leaving The Mouse he has built a successful career writing and illustrating children's books, winning awards and publishing dozens of titles. FLIP asked him a few questions about what it takes to make it in the competitive world of publishing.

Monday, May 20, 2013

More on The Ideal Workspace

Yesterday's post on studio space seemed to resonate with readers.  FLIP heard from a couple of art department veterans.  

Fred Cline's credits include The Little Mermaid, Bebe's Kids. Space Jam, and Robot Chicken.  Fred told FLIP:

"For me, there is a distraction issue any time there is shared space, and there is an isolation issue every time there is individual space. As for me, if I am storyboarding, I like to share space because it's easy to get a sort of tunnel vision where you are focusing on your own section of the film and not considering the whole picture. Sharing space as a storyboard artist gives a constant reminder of progress on other sections of the film. If I am designing or doing art direction, I need lack of distraction (or isolation) in order to accomplish the most in a limited amount of time. Apart from that, all I really need is an ergonomic chair, and a cintiq. I've found that a central seating area with coffee table and sofa/upholstered chair seating group adds to the collaborative process."

Sunday, May 19, 2013

What is an Ideal Work Space?

On today's CBS Sunday Morning, Richard Schlesinger did a segment on the Herman Miller Company, where the office cubicle was created decades ago. Today, they're at it again, with a new design for the workspace; a large open space with no division among the ranks.

This may be a swell idea in certain companies, where constant communication among workers is more productive.  But what about in, say, an animation studio, a place where films are made one frame at a time by a crew of artists while another crew of non-artists concurrently keeps track of schedules, budgets, and work flow? How does that big open space work there?  FLIP asked some veteran animation folks about their ideal work environment.

Leticia Lichtwardt's work space.  Some TCM for the thick and thin.

Saturday, May 18, 2013

My Roger Ramjet Coloring Book

You may recall from an earlier post, I am cleaning out my father's house, which is also my childhood house. Among the ancient treasures are some not so ancient ones from the 1960's, like my Roger Ramjet coloring book.

"Who's Roger Ramjet?" my wife asked.

Thursday, May 16, 2013

A Brenda Chapman Exclusive You Won't Read Anywhere Else!

Brenda Chapman has found herself to be a lighting rod for controversy this year.  So FLIP asked the question no one else dared ask:

If you could use that lightning rod to raise zombie artists from the dead to make a film, who would you choose?

Her answers are bound to send another round of shock waves through the animation community.  Brace yourselves....

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

2D O.D.'d

I put forth the theory that 2D animation died of an overdose.

In the 1990's, 2D feature animation exploded, then imploded.  Where a couple of studios used to release a feature every four years, the triple whammy success of An American Tale, Who Framed Roger Rabbit?, and The Little Mermaid set the stage for what is now commonly referred to as The Animation Renaissance.

Dozens of new features were given the green light as every studio in town joined the dance. DreamWorks started in 1994 with Jeffrey Katzenburg taking the knife Eisner stuck in his back and shoving it right down Big Mike's throat - to the benefit of the artists. Their salaries doubled, tripled, even quadrupled as the two studios competed for talent.  In betweeners were getting paid upwards of $2700 a week.  Top artists 15 to 20K.

Monday, May 13, 2013

The secrets of Matchmove revealed - by industry veteran Amy Lloyd

Matchmove: it's all about cameras, baby
Matchmove is one of the more technical and less well known departments in the 3D visual effects pipeline. Amy Lloyd was for many years a lead matchmover at Cinesite in London's Soho, and has worked on countless visual effects blockbusters including Harry Potter, X Men, Moon, Battle LA and John Carter. FLIP asked Amy to talk a little about what exactly her department does, and why it is so important in VFX.

Sunday, May 12, 2013

FLIP goes to Disneyland Paris!

Last week I went to Disneyland. I took two nieces, aged seven and four years old respectively, for cover, just in case anyone wondered what a 45 year old man was doing voluntarily spending 3 days in an amusement park. They loved it - and so did I.

The park is 20 years old this year - which reminded me that it was around 25 years ago that I bought shares in Euro Disney, as it was called then. I was convinced, aged 20, that this would be the best investment of my life. What could possibly go wrong? Disney Parks are a money machine, right? 25 years later - I would surely be rich.

Saturday, May 11, 2013

Day of the Disney Dead

A CNN article writes:  "On May 1, the entertainment giant filed an application to the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office to secure the phrase "Día de los Muertos," or "Day of the Dead," across multiple platforms. Disney subsidiary Pixar is releasing a film -- for time being called "The Untitled Pixar Movie About Dia de los Muertos" -- this fall."

This news shouldn't make anyone mad, right? 


Thursday, May 9, 2013

For Jamie

Jamie Baker, last summer.
My old pal and animation colleague James "Jamie" Baker had a stroke just after last Christmas.  When I say 'old pal", I don't mean he is an old man.  He's pushing fifty, but still, not your typical stroke-having age.

Initially, he kept his condition very private. He was in bad shape, completely paralyzed on his right side - his drawing arm side.  Julia Lundman has been there with him through it all, and started posting to friends on the Caring Bridge website.  As Jamie became more lucid, he started sharing his thoughts and experiences of this truly horrifying ordeal, and in doing so let it be known that he had not lost any of his sharp Australian wit.

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

The Passing of 12 Year-Old Creator of "Hero Up!"

I read this morning about the passing of a twelve year old boy from Allentown, PA named Zachi Telesha, who fought bone cancer for  almost half his life.  Sadly, kids die every day from cancer, kids who have been entertained by our movies and tv shows. In Zachi's case, he dealt with the hardships creatively, creating a group of super-heroes which, through the efforts of school employees, was published as a comic book called Hero Up!  
Zachi Telesha , creator of "Hero Up!"  Photo by Tom MacDonald
Illustrated from Zachi's stories by Glen Mullaly, Hero Up!  was published by Rodale Books.  Proceeds go to Angel 34, a nonprofit committed to fighting pediatric cancer.  

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Ray Harryhausen Lives!

Mention the film Jason and the Argonauts, and people think of  Ray Harryhausen.  He didn't write it, he didn't direct it, he didn't star in it.  But it's his film.  He produced it, and other fantasy adventures like it around his ideas involving stop-motion animation - an enviable position.

I had seen Harryhausen's work long before I knew his name, which I first heard as a student at CalArts.   Two friends from film graphics, Steve Burg and Shannon Shea, were always talking about this brilliant guy Harryhausen.  For the longest time, I thought his name was Harry Hausen - they never referred to him using his first name.  They had super 8 films of their primitive attempts to ape Harryhausen - pardon the pun.  Shannon was animating dinosaurs, Steve was more about space ships.

Sunday, May 5, 2013

Cheese and Onions

Here's a silly one for your Sunday: the Cheese and Onions sequence from All You Need is Cash, a parody documentary based on the careers of The Beatles.

Thursday, May 2, 2013

Quasimodo, The Riddler, and Me on a Fire Escape

One thing I love about our business is getting to work with stars of my childhood.  In 1998, it was Frank Gorshin, one of the greatest impressionists of an era chock-a-block with them.  His three impressions of Kirk Douglas - young, middle aged, and old - in The Big Story are sublime.  And of course, he is the only Riddler that counts.

I was coming off Redux Riding Hood and looking for a project.  Sharon Morrill, my boss at Disney TVA, was having trouble with the reels of Hunchback 2one of those wretched cash cow direct-to-video sequels.  The script was a paint by numbers dog, the songs Irving Cohen rejects.  But Sharon let me do Redux, she was in a jam, and I'm a loyal sap.  I dove into the Seine after Quasimodo, or in this case, the not quite Seine.

They wanted to recast the villain with a comic actor, someone who could inject some humor into the role.  I suggested Frank Gorshin, and was soon on a jet to New York to record him.  How many times did I see Frank Gorshin on Batman, or The Mike Douglas Show?  And now here he was, waiting for me in an old Manhattan office building.  He shook my hand, and started a conversation, but interrupted himself  "Can I smoke in here?" he asked.

"Balcony." someone said.

Frank invited me to join him, and we walked down a short hallway.  He opened a metal fire door to the 'balcony' - a wrought iron fire escape fifty two stories up. We stepped out, just enough room for two people once you shut the door.   Frank lit up, and there I was, that little kid watching Batman on the floor of the TV room, standing toe to toe, literally, with The Riddler on a rusty fire escape 520 feet above Manhattan. 

Making small talk under these circumstances was a bit challenging.  I remember thinking, "What if he pushed me off this fire escape?"  I knew he wouldn't do it.  Probably not anyway.  But what if he did?  Or what if the wrought iron gave way?  I wonder where we'd land? If someone throws this door open, it could knock me right off.  Oh shit, I'm not saying anything.  Say something.  Don't talk about the Riddler, he might hate that, then you'll have a pissed off Riddler standing close enough to bite your nose off.  He probably wouldn't do that, but just don't mention The Riddler.    

"I used to watch you in The Kopycats." I said, pulling one out of me arse.  His face lit up.  He loved doing that show, though it was only on for one season.  He seemed happy that someone remembered.  Just as we were bonding the door opened, whacking me square in the back.  If not for the monkey grip I had on the rail, this story would have a different ending.  And a different author.  A woman behind the door apologized for nearly killing me and told us they were ready to start the session.

Frank delivered, but Sharon and her toadies were less thrilled.  They somehow thought  he could take their straight, dull, stock villain dialog and create a character as memorable as The Riddler.  When I reminded them that there was: A) No humor in the character as written, and B) Only one four hour recording session to do all his dialog,  I only succeeded in antagonizing them.

Ultimately, Uberboss Eisner's beef was not with Gorshin's performance.  He didn't like the story and didn't like the songs.  Who was to blame?  The guy not invited to the meeting: me.  It wasn't The Riddler who shoved me off the fire escape, it was Quasimodo.


Gorshin voices three Kirk Douglas-es in David Toten and Tim Watts' BAFTA winning The Big Story.
A pencil test of the short is below....

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Dining with the Dinosaurs - the Cartoonist's Dinner

Last week I had dinner with some dinosaurs. Or, as they are more commonly known, cartoonists. The occasion was the semi-annual dinner of the BCA, that is to say the British Cartoonists Association (confusing, they also call themselves the PCO, or Pro Cartoonists Association). Anyway, open up a British newspaper (remember them?), turn to the nearest cartoon and, chances are, the cartoonist will be a member of the BCA. Or the PCO. Or both.