Sunday, February 20, 2011

THE UNUSUAL SUSPECTS: NATIONAL FILM BOARD OF CANADA

There are certain cartoons, studios and creators that are so universally beloved that to merely mention them in a blogpost insures a zillion hits. Last week I referred to them as 'The Usual Suspects' and although I appreciate them as much as anybody, as time goes by I find less and less to say about them that hasn't already been said, and often more astutely than I could say it.

Instead, here's a salute to a some cartoons that I feel are too often overlooked and under-appreciated; many are from the NFBC, aka the National Film Board of Canada. I was lucky enough to snap up a couple DVDs worth a dozen years or so ago, none of which seem to be widely available any more. Happily, YOU TUBE users step in to fill the gap and provide uploads of some of them.

First up is GET A JOB, by Brad Caslor. This came out around 1985, well before ROGER RABBIT, and it pays a sterling tribute to the golden age of LOONEY TUNES, (particularly Bob Clampett) with impeccable style, clever writing, and drop-dead perfect timing and posing. There's a segment around 6:20
where 'Bob Dog' more than triples in size and it is done with amazingly sophisticated camera work, layout and staging. The 'old-timey' homages are noticeable but lovingly done, and more than made up for with original ideas. Ostensibly an "educational" film, it makes its point with great humor, hectic energy and non-stop kinetic buoyancy. I love this cartoon.


Next is THE BIG SNIT (also mid-1980's), probably my favorite NFBC cartoon. Daft, unpredictable, dark and silly all at the same time, the Scrabble opening even inspired the opening scene of one of the first SIMPSONS (according to my recollection of Matt Greoning's commentary). I suspect the wife character's hairdo might have influenced Marge's coiffure, (though hers also suggests Dr. Seuss as well). Directed by Richard Condie.


SNIT's yelling couple put me in mind of HOT STUFF, by Zlatko Grgic, another "educational" short ostensibly about fire safety from the early 1970's. This one used to show on Chuck Jones' CURIOSTY SHOP (ABC Saturday Morning answer to SESAME STREET) and I met the author and voice star Don Aroli many years later when Chuck Jones was making CHARIOTS OF FUR. The timing and acting (both voice and animation) are quite funny without owing much of anything to previously made cartoons. That alone makes it worth watching. The embed code was disabled, so please copy & paste this link:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ht6lRb8y_AQ

Cartoonists and animators in my age group will recall these films both fondly and readily, but I am surprised how many younger artists I meet have never heard of them. If you haven't--give them a look--it looks like they were done with a lot of talent and love.

UPDATE 2/22/11: YOWP directs us to the NFB online database, which has added many animated titles since I last visited a few years back--check it out for more Canadian wonders... (Thanks YOWP! and Amir...)

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Monday, February 14, 2011

Cheesey Valentine Interlude

No mass upload of frantic arbitrary scribblings this week. However in honor of everybody's favorite blood-pumping organ, here's a few heartfelt Valentine's Day sketches of WTF MOUSE.



Also, when in the SMALL ROOM, please feel free to check in to the Other Small Room...

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Influence, Maps, and The Usual Suspects

Influence Maps first came to my attention a few months ago, when sites like SHANE GLINES  began mentioning them. The concept of making a proportional collage of your top ten influences as an artist/animator/cartoonist has genuine merit, and although I did not make one of my own, a mental image of my Influence Map is not hard to imagine…

The depressing thing is that it would be virtually identical to at least hundreds of others. Influences are tricky things, they guide us but they can also suffocate us (what I call "Prisoners of Love Syndrome"). Cartooning is still a relatively young pursuit and also a commercial one, which both tend to suggest that is not a particularly deep one, in fact notoriously shallow. Sadly, a good deal of proof supports the shallow thesis, but I am not going to despair too much over that. The notion of the Influence Map may hold the keys, both to the problem and the solution...

Over the years I began making a mental list of what I call "The Usual Suspects" : iconic, watershed artists, films and artworks that have become universally canonical to animation & cartooning. I refrain from listing them here for two reasons:

1. If you're an animation artist or animation art enthusiast you already know who they are.

2. Someone is sure to misinterpret me as "bashing" these greats. Far from it, their status, quality and influence is perfectly understandable and I share the praise and elevation of  it along with everybody else. My concern is that the limited and consistent quantity of their influence runs the risk of homogenizing the general pool. 

About ten years ago I actually wrote up a short list of The Usual Suspects and it indeed was alarmingly short; shorter still were the actual wellsprings of these influences: Disney Studio, Warner's, H-B, MAD, PUNCH, New Yorker Magazine, a smattering of newsprint & comic book publishers rounding out the scant few others. A few contemporaries of my generation have been added since I was first starting out, but they'd largely be either from the same sources or influenced by the previous generation to a considerable enough extent to make them almost a sub-set of the original list.

As I said above, these artists and films are all understandable and I would not discourage anyone from them. For that matter, the contemporary studio HR departments seem to have learned how to recognize the best disciples of the cannon and to hire accordingly, so far be it from me to talk any students out of potential employment. But a restless spirit in me is always eager to switch things up a bit, to re-shuffle the deck in hope of staying fresh. For instance, up until about 5 years ago, my general influence pie-chart would have been at least 70% "Disney" whereas today I would put that percentage at less than a third of that size. Thanks to internet exposure, I have been particularly jazzed by the classic cartoonists of South America such as DiVito, Abel Ianiro, and Fantasio, along with many others from other places and times.  I have also made a point of coming back to examine artists I previously under-estimated to evaluate subtle merits I overlooked before. I would encourage anybody to do the same. Just as we should coldly scrutinize our favorites for their blunders, weaknesses, and routine tropes, we should also take a second look at some we may have dismissed to see what they were doing right, even if only occasionally and marginally. Also, if you notice that all or many of your influences are decades old (or older) make a point of scouring the contemporary landscape (bleak as is sometimes seems) for somebody or something current to take heart from. It you can't, then go in the opposite direction, deep into antiquity...  

For that matter, I would encourage map-makers to consider making more than one Influence Map: apart from the artists you are influenced by, try making a map of other influences: what music inspires you? Which actors? Photographers? Writers? Architects? What are your favorite type fonts? Animals? Patterns?

For an even more soul-searching map: who are the friends, family and real people in your own life who influence & inspire you? What are the places you love to be in? What landmarks in your daily experience mean the most to you? What's your favorite food? Chances are, these are going to be the influences that can be the most constructive in your artistic process and since they are unique to you, the most important. Don't be afraid to let them affect your work. In fact, make a point of it...

Friday, February 11, 2011

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Sunday Doodle Deluge




 Baz & Basil "work" as incidental characters in animation. The rest of the time they goof off. It's not easy to tell which is which...

 Resident Clone Trooper
 Bidniz Man
 More incidentals....



Inexplicable dinosaur gags coming up in 3...2...1...


 Word to the wise: they really do.