Wednesday, December 9, 2020

The Return of Kirk Wise

Kirk Wise is back with a new feature, Bobbleheads: The Movie. In FLiP's first ever podcast, he talks about his long journey from Atlantis to a series of dead end projects, a long sabbatical, and return.  Oh, and Cher. He talks about Cher.  

Here's a trailer for the film, streaming now on Netflix. 

Sunday, November 8, 2020

Alex Trebek and an Animator Walk into an Elevator

What sudden and sad news to hear of Alex Trebek's passing.  There have been new episodes of Jeopardy! running daily, with no sign that his death was imminent.  Reading the news reminded me of the 30 seconds we spent together in London.  I warn you - this story does not have a good ending.  

In June of 1993, I was directing the ill-fated Betty Boop movie for MGM.  I was sent to London with producers Leslie Hough and Steve Leiva to meet with John Leatherbarrow from Premier Films, the studio that would potentially do a large chunk of the animation. In fact, it was from this meeting that Premier would later work on Space Jam - but I digress.

Steve Leiva insisted we stay at the very ritzy Hyde Park Hotel, across the street from the famous Harrod's department store.  This place was waaay too swanky for this South Jersey kid.  I never needed a maid to pull down a bed sheet for me, it's really not that complicated.  But the chocolates left on the pillows were nice, so long as you noticed before plopping down on the bed.  

The Hyde Park Hotel is an old, historic place, used as a hospital during the World War II bombings of London.   It has tiny elevators that fit four people snugly.  I was in one such tiny elevator with another hotel guest when it stopped and the doors opened to reveal a moustachioed Alex Trebek.  He took two steps directly toward me, then rotated around and pushed the button for the ground floor.  The other hotel guest spoke to him, and he said here was in town for the Wimbledon tennis championships.  

For 30 seconds, I had a very close up view of the back of Alex Trebek's head.  I could only think, "Don't sneeze, Steve.  Whatever you do.  Don't sneeze!"  At last the doors opened.  Alex walked out, through the lobby, and into the streets of London - our paths never to cross again.  I told you the story didn't have a good ending.  

Thinking about it now, I saw more of the back of Alex's head that day than has been shown in 36 years of his hosting Jeopardy!  I consider that my special privilege.  

Jeopardy riddle  -

Answer: An expression of good wishes to a person starting a journey.

Question: What is Godspeed, Alex?


Wednesday, November 4, 2020

It Takes a While


Anxiously await election results?  I am.   Meanwhile, this old commercial got stuck in my head, now it's in yours too.  Only Chocodiles can save us now.



Saturday, October 31, 2020

The Frank and Ollie Timeline and the Back to the Future Effect


I have vivid memories of being teased for being 'the kid' at work, like it was just a few years ago.  But through my own lack of vigilance, time accelerated 36 years into the future, slip-sliding to the year 2020.  2020!  When I was starting out in animation, sci-fi movies portrayed the year 2020 as a dystopian future where the environment is ruined by man's greedy industrial pursuits and chaos rules - like that could come to pass.

Since moving back to Los Angeles after thirteen years on the east coast, I have been living in my own, personal Back to the Future sequel.  Everything is the same, but different. Landmarks I once used for directions are gone. Downtown LA is barely recognizable.  And no more Mo's, Billy's Deli, or World Art Supply. 

Recently, I crossed the threshold where friends and colleagues die, and not by accident.  Two passed this summer - Kelly Asbury and Sue Nichols.  I attended a memorial service for Kelly last month.  Arriving late, I sat in the back of the outdoor venue.  I saw the backs of a lot of older people in masks, then  realized - these are my peers!  They appeared to wearing age makeup to appear older, except they weren't.  I just had not seen them in 20 years. The Back to the Future Effect strikes again.

After the service, we all said our hello's through masks and distance.  They seemed to be experiencing the Back to the Future Effect themselves.  Standing there with former CalArts classmates Chris Sanders, Gary Trousdale, and Jeff DeGrandis,  we talked about the incredulous reality of aging.  "Consider this," I said,  "If we juxtaposed our career timelines over Frank and Ollie's, we'd be at Aristocats."

That comment was met with groans, gasps, and cartoon takes.  None of us feels like we're anywhere near the twilight of our careers.  Our skills are the sharpest ever, and our resumes speak to the solid experience we bring any production.  But the reality of how we are perceived by the industry cannot be denied. I've met many recruiters and executives since returning from New Jersey,  all much younger than me, all fascinated to meet someone who actually worked on A Goofy Movie.  It's like they are surprised I'm still at it, still hustling for work at my age.  It might be a different story if storyboard artists and animators got residuals like voice actors, but alas....

Where are you on the Frank and Ollie timeline?  If you're at Pinocchio, you may want to consider fighting for those residuals.  It's a fight that has been fought before, but never with the number of artists that animation has today.  David's odds against Goliath are the best they've ever been.  But do it soon, the Frank and Ollie timeline moves fast!  Once you've reached The Sword in the Stone,  the industry doesn't take you seriously anymore.  


Monday, September 7, 2020

The Fundraiser to Help Chris Jenkins

Last Monday, animation veteran Chris Jenkins suffered a stroke in the thalamus of his brain.  His sister has set up a GoFundMe page to help ease the financial burden of his recovery.  The $30,000 goal has already been shattered, a testament to Chris' standing among his animation peers.  If you'd like to help out....

click this link. 

 FLiP wishes Chris a most speedy recovery. 

Thursday, September 3, 2020

And now, David Lynch with the Number of the Day

If there's one reason to get up during the COVID lockdown, it's David Lynch's morning weather report and number draw.  Each morning he picks from ten numbered ping pong balls in a jar (fans have been waiting for a seven for weeks).  In a separate video, he does the weather report from what appears to be his home office, piping hot cup of coffee steaming in the foreground.  
There's a certain calming quality to these videos that, for me, starts my workday off right.  Lynch is heavily into Transcendental Meditation, and these videos carry that vibe.
 Go on, try it.  It's free! And it's David Lynch! 

Tuesday, September 1, 2020

So Long, Sue

Animation lost another great artist yesterday, as Sue Nichols lost her life after a long battle with cancer.  FLiP posted about her fight back in March of 2015, ten months after cancer took my wife, Donna. And though we weren't close,  I really, REALLY wanted Sue to make it.  Medical justice, I guess.   

Sue worked in story and development on a heap of features, from Beauty and the Beast to Princess and the Frog, and most recently, Ugly Dolls.  I knew her from our student days at CalArts where she was best friends with Brenda Chapman, a friendship that lasted until the day she died.  Often, if I ran into Brenda somewhere, Sue was with her.  She had a big bright smile and taste for twisted humor.  At CalArts, she was responsible for creating a series of haunted house mazes in good ol' A-113.  I experienced one of these mazes first hand, and I can attest to their brilliance.  There's a FLiP post about it from back in 2012 that is a worthy tribute to Sue.  Click here to check it out. 

So long, Sue!


Saturday, August 8, 2020

Mr. Rees' Ukulele

 Last night there was a story on the local news about Harold Rees, a luthier (maker of stringed instruments) who was still at it at the age of 100.  For years, concert violinists have purchased his work, or entrusted him to repair and restore their precious instruments.  It was a really wonderful story made more wonderful by the fact that I know this man. 

Harold Rees is the father of my longtime friend and animation colleague Jerry Rees.  Over the past 35 years, I have seen Mr. Rees at Jerry's house on many occasions.  I've also seen many of his handmade instruments - violins, violas, banjos, and ukuleles.   After one such visit to Jerry's with my wife Donna,  she commented on the incredible craftsmanship in Mr Rees' work.  I confessed to her that I had always wanted to buy one of his ukuleles but was afraid to ask.

Tuesday, August 4, 2020

The New Masthead

For post #501, it's time to switch it up.

Friends of FLiP know that every few years, I like to change the logo.  It keeps it fresh for me. and hopefully for you readers as well.  

FLiP started out as an e-zine website - do they even use the term e-zine anymore?  Monthly, I would post four new pages, plus a cover page.  As I explained in the first issue in May of 2007,  "Each letter in the word "FLIP" corresponds to a differently themed web page.  The F page has articles on animation specifically.  The L page has creative writing by animation professionals.  The I page has non-animation art done by animation professionals.  The P page focuses on animation people and their extracurricular interests."  For the index page I animated four characters (one with an extra head) singing the FLIP theme song - yes, a theme song.  It was sung by my kids, my wife Donna, and me.

I really enjoyed doing the FLiP e-zine as both a writing exercise and means of meeting new artists and hearing their stories.   Three years on,  it became a chore instead of creative outlet, so I stopped.

In 2010,  I was vacationing in London and met friend and colleague Alex Williams for dinner.   Alex proposed that we team up to restart FLiP as a blog. On Jan 9, 2012, we relaunched FLiP in this format.   Between the two of us, we were able to post fairly regularly for years.  Then my wife passed, Alex became a father, and the blog sat moribund for a long while. Despite the dearth of new posts, there have been a slow, steady stream of readers - over a million so far - from all over the globe.  Not bad for a little hobby. 

The COVID lockdown and other current events have brought me back to FLiP, hence the new look. 
I went back to the original logo for inspiration, with drawn characters.  And the flying pig is back!
Viva la hunched and goofy!


Sunday, July 26, 2020

Jill vs Pornhub

Emmy-winning animation Art Director Jill Daniels has set her brushes on a serious subject - to help fight human trafficking.  She is part of an art competition to promote awareness on the subject.  Check out the entries, and show your support by voting. 

By Jill Daniels

ARTXFREEDOM  is an art competition to raise awareness on human trafficking and the deep darkness of slavery and bondage that is in the porn industry sponsored by Exodus Cry.  When I read the emotional stories of the victims my heart just burst with the piece (above) and it felt like my hands just followed along as best they could.  :)

I became aware of the work of Exodus Cry after a dear friend told me about how good their “Nefarious:  Merchant of Souls” film on you tube is - I have added the link below. 

Nefarious: Merchant of Souls | Human Trafficking Documentary - Full Movie  

Watch the film, pray, sign up with the website, donate to the cause!  By supporting the light that this organization is shedding and all standing together we can make a difference and truly set people free from lives of bondage that are not their own choice.

Voting ends today!  Check it out!  

Wednesday, July 8, 2020

Three New Far Sides, Here at Last!

Six months after it was announced, Gary Larson has posted the first three NEW Far Side cartoons in 25 years on his website.  He picks up right where he left off in terms of the humor and staging.  Stylistically, he has ventured into the digital age, working from a tablet.  He explains on his site that experimenting with digital tools has given him a renewed enthusiasm for cartooning, which led to this casual revival of the strip.  The end result is an evolved Far Side, more painterly,with little line work.  It's a fresh look that puts the Far Side smack into the year 2020.  And yes, they're hilarious.

Bookmark his site,!


Monday, July 6, 2020

Premier: The (animated) History of White People in America

Industry veteran Ed Bell writes to about his new project, The History of White People in America (not to be confused with the Martin Mull's 1985 program).  Ed tells FLiP what this new project is and what it took to make it to screen.   It premieres TODAY, and FLiP's got it first.

By Ed Bell

Think of The History of White People in America as the School House Rock for the racial history of America.

When the Pilgrims arrived, there was no notion of white, black, or red as we understand race now. In 1950s Georgia, Chinese immigrants were perceived as white or black depending upon what town they lived in. Today, academics say some Latinos and Asian-Americans are “white.” What does that mean and why does it seem so important to our nation’s story?  This series that will tell the story of how whiteness and non-whiteness were invented and continue to evolve, morph and drive the American story.

In 15 animated short films, we will tell American history as it has never been told before. We wanted to at least make the attempt to offer people a platform or an inducement to actually talk about the real problems we face as a country, let alone as an industrialized world.  I won't pretend to know who the target audience is anymore. I won't BS about it: everyone should see and contemplate these shorts.

Sunday, July 5, 2020

A Zoom Toast to Kelly

Top row: Kevin Lima, Steve Moore, Chris Bailey, Fred Cline.  Middle row: Kirk Wise, Dan Jeup, Rob Minkoff, Wendell Luebbe.  Bottom row: Tim Hauser, Butch Hartman.
Friday night I took part in a toast via Zoom - the pandemic's next best thing to being there.  We were toasting our friend, director Kelly Asbury, who had passed away a week earlier.   There are hundreds of industry people who would have turned up for this, but we kept it to a core group who hung out as CalArts character animation students in the early eighties: Chris Bailey, Fred Cline, Butch Hartman, Tim Hauser, Dan Jeup, Wendell Luebbe, Kevin Lima, Rob Minkoff, Kirk Wise and myself.  These guys are more than an animation who's who to me - they are my brothers. 

For the most part, the gang looked the same - a testament to living the animation life, I guess.  Most of us wore glasses now.  Kevin was rocking a new, bearded cue-ball look. And me with my COVID lockdown '70's hair  (cowbell band, anyone?).  The only real sign of age is that we were on Zoom for more than three hours and never talked shop once. 

Stories I either didn't know or had forgotten kept us laughing for hours - the crazy shit that makes us glad cell phones and social media did not exist back then.  These were not the flattering stories told at funerals, but hilariously human stories about Kelly.  Maybe you had to be there. I'm glad I was.   

"He was like the Sun." Kirk said.  "People just gravitated to him."

Cheers, Kelly!


CalArts dorm, July 1984.  From left: Mark Rouse, Kirk Wise (white shirt), Butch Hartman, Steve Moore, and Kelly Asbury. Photo by Kevin Lima

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