Saturday, December 26, 2009

My Top 5 Books for 2009

Over at CARTOON BREW Jerry Beck has picked his top ten animation books for 2009, I will throw in with a few offbeat favorites of mine:

This tells the untold story of the little known quartet of talent that created UNDERDOG, TENNESEE TUXEDO, KING LEONARDO, and many other cartoon hits of the 1960's. Since
precious little has ever been written about this team, this book sheds welcome light on the group, who are all still present, accounted for and lucid, despite the fact their ad-hoc company dissolved 40 years ago. The key artist of TTV was Joe Harris, who appears to have very nearly single handedly designed and storyboarded their entire output of shows. A few of Mr. Harris' original sketches appear in the book and their energy and wit managed to sustain their charm despite the fact that the shows themselves were usually shipped off to be produced under bargain basement conditions. The more I learn about this group the more I want to know. And hey--the nifty cover art is by Mike Kazaleh!

I enjoyed this movie immensely and was glad to get the book, another handsome and slickly produced SONY "art of" book. Some of the group behind the movie also created the very funny and short lived MTV series CLONE HIGH and their rough sketches, storyboards and designs are fun to see. Looking forward to seeing the film again when it is released on DVD next month.

3. THE BEST OF THE WIZARD OF ID by Brant Parker & Johnny Hart

(Brant Parker originally worked for Disney on MICKEY & THE BEANSTALK, so it kind of qualifies as an animation book)
I really liked Johnny Hart's B.C. comic strip as a kid--it was a real departure of comic style from what was currently running at the time. My personal favorite however was WIZARD OF ID, which followed, being even more broadly goony and grotesque. It is hard to tell where Hart leaves off and where Parker begins; they appear to have been such copacetic partners. But while Hart established his success with B.C. first, Parker was a decade older and had been an early influence on Hart. In any case, their WIZARD strips are great to see again in this volume, which also compelled me to track down some of the early paperbacks, which I owned and loved as a kid.

4 & 5. EEK & MEEK (vol. 2 & 3) by Howie Schneider
(OK, not animation, but nice cartooning all the same)
Eek and Meek were two comic strip mice born in the 1960's in the aftermath of Hart & Parker's considerable influence. Howie Schneider sketched them as spidery, post-atomic cousins of Herriman's immortal "Ignatz Mouse", and though I never saw them in the newspaper as a kid, I was happy to purchase these two volumes from Charles Brubaker, who was kind enough to post a book list for sale a few weeks ago. I am still slowly going over the books to enjoy Mr. Schneider's deceptively simple artwork. Curiously, he later evolved the characters into humans without much fanfare, and continued the characters' antics until his death a few years ago without missing a beat,

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Merry Finkmas

With apologies and admiration to the late great Brant Parker + Johnny Hart and their cartooning heirs.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Roy E. Disney, RIP

Sorry to hear that Roy Disney has passed away today. (Interesting to remember that Walt died on Dec. 15, 43 years ago).

I have not seen him since a jovial conversation at a Christmas party three years ago, nor was I aware he was battling stomach cancer, which seems to have been the cause of death. Over the 20 or so years I knew him and he was always affable and down to earth. I remember one morning (right after RESCUERS DOWN UNDER wrapped)passing him on the main lot and I was a bit startled by his cheerful greeting: "Hi Will! How's it going?" -- I looked up and saw him waving his usual cigarette in hand, (tho he gave it up a few years later) and managed to return his greeting as casually as I could. It was just a casual blip but I could not get over the fact that here I was on Disney's fabled campus trading waves with Roy. His oft-remarked uncanny resemblance to Walt made it even more startling.

It is no exaggeration that his fierce protection of the Disney company was a primary and active and ongoing concern for him. The great 80's comeback was his doing and he was every bit as much the champion of the feature animation division, even in the mid-80's when its future was in doubt. He remained that champion through the years that followed and though he tended not to be as minutely "hands-on" as others, he was never simply a figurehead: his involvement and commitment were constant and as I moved into positions of more responsibility that was as obvious as it was welcome from the creative group. He was a genuine, flesh-and-blood link to the ideal we wanted to serve and we were lucky to have his enthusiastic and good-humored support.

My condolences to the family and thanks for the memories.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Sheliah Beckett

With 12 days left till Christmas, here's a few scans from Sheilah Beckett's THE 12 DAYS OF CHRISTMAS Golden Book published in 1992. Click to enlarge, Ms. Beckett's work is always worth studying.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Henry Syverson animals

From "Aesop's Fables" -- The lion and the ox. (1968)

One of the qualities I find magnetic about Syverson (and many others) is the spontaneous feel of his art. The more you could add to these drawings, the more they might lose. I think that's one of the things I enjoyed most about the "xerox era" of hand-drawn animation: the drawings could be loose enough to still show erasures and not even have to be "closed off" (in the digital era, this became basically impossible). Those little gaps of freedom in the lines still make me smile. Probably because I am prone to draw that way myself all the time. I have always found it very tedious to close off every area of a drawing, and can't do it reliably well without stiffening things up.

The other quality Syverson's work typifies for me is simplicity. Simplicity is one of the most difficult things to achieve and has as much to do with knowing what to leave out entirely (and what to merely imply) as it has to do with what to leave in.

One of my favorite quotes ever:

"Everything should be made as simple as possible, but not one bit simpler." - A. Einstein

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

2000 years ago today...


I saw an e-blurb on Sunday promoting the re-mastered re-release of Mel Brooks & Carl Reiner's 2000 Year-Old Man routines on CD available as of today. In honor of that release, I give you a clip from the most recent album, which I used to animate to as a test for a project Eric and Susan Goldberg were cooking up exactly ten years ago. Not exactly 2000 years, but close...

This was just about the last really long piece of full animation I've done--the project itself was (alas) shelved. Eric's idea was to cast Mel as a certain elf with an unpronouncable name and I got to make up this animation as I went along. Eric designed the character and provided me with a custom made model sheet. It's kind of grainy and it doesn't really make much sense, but it was fun to do. I got to take my sweet time doing it and instead of thumbnailing it out or even posing it, I just went thru the dialog one chunk at a time, working more or less straight ahead. I would finish one chunk completely and then move on to the next, contemplating what to do as I went along.

Somewhere I have xeroxes of this I can post a few scans from. The copyright of the audio belongs to the holders.