Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Spring Cleaning in the Summertime

Well it’s that time of year here in Tuberville Georgia. It’s time to sit around by the pond, drinking coffee in the early morning, and hoping to catch big old “hogshead” the catfish for supper.

These summer days sure do make a critter want to spend the day in bed, seems like there just isn’t enough java beans in the world to wake me up some mornings.

All of which means that it must be time for our annual spring cleaning that we procrastinated until summer to start. We had a big meeting here at Tall Grass Radio. And everyone decided, while I was taking my usual "important meeting nap", that it was my turn to do the clean up.

So I got out my best broom and my flowered spring cleaning dress and rolled up my stockings and got to work.

Exactly who is making these drawings anyway, I don’t wear a dress to do spring cleaning!

You see that’s the kind of visual abuse I take around this place. I slave over a warm keyboard writing these articles and Marty makes fun of my hairy legs and makes me out to be a total buffoon.

So this week in revenge for all that abuse I’m going to post a few of his own self portraits so that you can see that he is really a handsome devil.

He is totally useless at helping clean up around the studio, using the lame excuse that because he lives a 1000 miles away from Tuberville that he can only lend moral support to the effort.

He did hold a sympathy yard sale just to demonstrate his solidarity with my plight.

But mostly he just spends his summer days getting down at the local shopping mall or Fuddruckers working as a protestor against the spread of IPODs as an alternative to Giant Ghetto Blasters.

Right now he is probably reading this blog post and thinking "gosh those are sure funny drawings."

Well I have to get back to cleaning up the studio, after all, it is "too hot" to sit out by the pond trying to catch old “hogshead” the catfish any way.

Saturday, June 10, 2006

Two Crocs And An Ex-Wife

I recently watched a classic Disney feature film and I was reminded about what made those earlier movies great. The particular movie I watched was “The Rescuers” which was released in 1977. Now much has been said and written about the demise of classical 2D animation and the emergence of 3D as its replacement in feature films, but “The Rescuers” is a wonderful example of how there is no validity in thinking that the older style of animation was inferior. Being a great entertaining film is all in the story, the characterizations, the emotions and the humor and has nothing to do with the technique used.

The Rescuers is a really great movie and it is as entertaining today as it was 30 years ago. It was a well told story with great characters and a perfect mixture of adventure, mystery and humor. Truly a classic example of what worked when Disney studios was on the right track. If you have not seen The Rescuers or if you haven’t seen it recently, please do yourself a favor and watch this wonderful film.

Now as to classic well done villains, Madam Medusa in The Rescuers could easily have been the sister of Cruella DeVil from 101 Dalmatians. She was just dripping with meanness. “Famous film actress Geraldine Page voiced the slimy Madame Medusa, but the live-action reference was based on animator Milt Kahl's ex-wife -- whom he didn't particularly care for. Kahl was so exacting a perfectionist during his animation of Medusa that his assistants had a hard time living up to his standards. As a consequence, Kahl ended up doing almost all the animation for his evil creation himself." Madame Medusa was Mr. Kahl's last great character for Disney before he retired.

The story follows the adventures of two mice (totally Disney) Bianca and Bernard who attempt to rescue a missing orphan girl named Penny. The film was four years in the making, with the combined talents of 250 people, including 40 animators who produced approximately 330,000 drawings; there were 14 sequences with 1,039 separate scenes and 750 backgrounds. The film was directed by Wolfgang Reitherman, John Lounsbery, and Art Stevens.

My favorite characters are Evinrude, a dragon fly that works as an outboard motor (that’s implied humor) for a swamp boat made from a leaf and the two villainous crocs, Brutus and Nero. Those crocs are amazingly good characters as Medusa’s beloved "petsy-poos".

I don’t want to give away the story in case you have never seen The Rescuers, but this film mixes humor, both visual and implied, with adventure and mystery and it was sure to be entertaining across a broad spectrum of viewers. The folks at Disney need to re-watch this film themselves because they lost the magic in most of their later feature attempts.

The animation is outstanding and each major character is worth individual study to learn the different styles of characterization used. This is masterful animation.

Thursday, June 01, 2006

First There is Life Then Comes The Energy

A couple of my favorite words to use when trying to describe cartoons are “energy” and “life”. I use them all the time in discussions of the main qualities of cartoon work that I like. But I’m not sure if what they mean to me is the same as what others think they mean, so in the spirit of clarity, here is my attempt to explain them. These are my personal interpretations, so they may be different than what someone else means when they use these terms.

When I say that a cartoon is full of “life”, to me, that means that it is engaging and interesting and it gets me emotionally involved. It makes me want to care about what I am watching and it naturally invites me into its world. The opposite is a “lifeless” cartoon which just doesn’t connect and when I am watching it I just can’t get past the fact that I’m watching moving drawings. Now I never said anything about the aesthetic quality of the art or that it was great animation or believable movement or realistic. It just has to "pull" me directly into its world.

My definition of “life” points more to what is happening and how it is happening and not how the cartoons are made. The works of Nick Park from Aardman Animation are a great example of cartoons that are full of life. When you watch a Nick Park cartoon it is impossible not to get fully sucked into that world. Wallace and Gromit cartoons both the shorts and the features are always full or life. They live in an eccentric little world and yet it is impossible to not get lost inside those cartoons. They are full of life. Wallace & Gromit

Now “energy” in a cartoon for me is far more than just “life”. Again I’ll reference Nick Park’s Wallace and Gromit cartoons. Beyond the fact that these engaging cartoons pull you directly into their world with all of its detail and subtle humor, they also absolutely burst with “energy”. It is that almost breath taking way that they can go from the mundane eating of jelly and toast to comically absurd chase sequences. The model train chase in “The Wrong Trousers” is perhaps one of the most high energy sequences ever created in a cartoon and certainly one of the funniest. If you are not acquainted with Nick Park and his work, don’t let another day pass by before you seek out a DVD copy of these amazing cartoons. Once you have studied Wallace and Gromit you will completely understand “life” and “energy” in cartoon making, which has nothing to do with the fact that they are “plasticine” stop frame animation, as we are talking about their content not their production technique. Again it isn’t about 2D or 3D, it is about cartoon making.

The life in a cartoon is that essential spark that connects with the viewer and the energy knocks you out of your chair laughing.