February 22, 2010
At 11:59, I don't plan to add further animation-related content to fps.

In its earlier form, it was a print animation magazine founded and edited by Emru Townsend. Its first issue was in 1991, spawned from a science fiction/animation fanzine called Quark. Seven years ago today, Emru wrote his first online review for fps, which he reincarnated as a website, blog. Five years ago, he released the first issue of the PDF magazine.

I plan to do some work on the site in the near future, including making all of the PDF magazines free downloads.

After I tie up loose ends, the site will remain active. If you haven't been with us since the beginning, please take some time to look through the blog, and explore the site's archive of interviews, commentaries, podcasts and reviews.

There are countless people to thank and I have no minutes left. I hope you know who you are.


I used to read constantly. In the last two years, I have found it very difficult to read anything. I used to have a policy about finishing everything I start. Recently, I find it difficult to finish any book easily, if I manage to read it all the way through.

Last year, in late summer, I received the eighth volume of Walt's People: Talking Disney with the Artists who Knew Him by Didier Ghez, also the man behind the Disney History blog. After reading the contents and dedication to Emru Townsend, founder of Frames Per Second, I thought to myself, "Surely I will read this soon," as I put it on the top of my pile.

And there it stayed for several months, as life sped on.

I'd read previous volumes and knew I was in for a treat. Two weeks ago I reminded myself of that, and during one of my busiest times ever, I took the time to read this latest volume. Walt's People is an anthology of about three dozen interviews with different people who knew Walt Disney, interviewed by different people, including animation historians and other animators, over quite a span of time.

I am probably the last reviewer to mention this book, but I had to chime in:

I couldn't put it down. What's great about this series is that these interviews are not chopped up versions of interviews, with the author's tracts including a lot of supposition instead of actual direct quotes from the subjects. On paper, this is the closest we get to being in the room.

Most of the interviews brought knew information to light or recontextualized information as I previously understood it. Some just made me laugh. The interview that stood out for me was Carl Barks. You definitely get a sense of the man through his words. Also notable were the recollections of Retta Davidson. Some interviews are interesting because they give you all the goods; others are equally successful because you feel like you need to know more. Hopefully, this book will answer many questions for readers but also lead them to ask more, and perhaps spur on future historians.

Luckily, volume 9 is in the works. So start reading volume 8 now in preparation.

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February 21, 2010

Sylvain Chomet’s The Illusionist, the follow-up to his brilliant 2003 Les triplettes de Belleville had its premiere screening this week at the Berlin Film Festival. I can't wait to see it! It's an adaptation of an unproduced screenplay by Jacques Tati, intended to be a live action film. This footage looks fantastic and if the screenplay is anything close to Tati's wonderful Playtime (which I've only just picked up on Blu-ray) this could be one of the finest animated films of the year!

Via: /Film

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Here we are at my final review for FPS. Although I have been an erstwhile contributor at best, I want everyone to know how much my involvement has meant to me. When I first came to Canada, I could not work or study. I could, however, blog. Emru Townsend gave me the opportunity to do just that, and running around my new home for FPS became a fun, fast way for me to learn about Toronto and about one of my favourite art forms.

Volume 4 of University of Minnesota's annual publication Mechademia edited by Frenchy Lunning and with contributions from Christopher Bolton, Takayuki Tatsumi, Marco Pellitteri and Thomas Lamarre focuses on concepts of war, history and memory in anime. All the usual suspects are here: Evangelion, Grave of the Fireflies, Patlabor 2, Barefoot Gen. While it may surprise some scholars to learn that these titles can still be mined for meaning, the exegesis contained in these pages proves that there is still some blood to be wrung from the mecha, as it were.

Japan's military history is a difficult one. The tensions at play (colonialism, identity and modernity, to name a few) are still painful, and in many ways they still dictate what Japan is as a country today. The critical essays gathered in this volume focus on those tensions and how they continue to shape Japan's national and artistic discourse, from one of Studio Ghibli's most beloved films to the anonymous 2-chan crowds who followed Densha into the battle for his future happiness.

One of the things I enjoy about Mechademia as a publication is the way it examines both obscure and pop culture material from a variety of theoretical standpoints. Some of the essays here are so firmly rooted in critical theory that they can seem almost inscrutable. Christophe Thouny's piece, "Waiting for the Messiah: The Becoming Myth of Evangelion and Densha otoko" falls into this category. It performs the function of all good analyses: instantly alienating a once-familiar text by shining a new light on it, thereby forcing the reader/viewer/participant to re-approach that text.

Other essays are more accessible: Wendy Goldberg's "Transcending the Victim's History: Takahata Isao's Grave of the Fireflies" is a clearly-written piece that nevertheless exposes new areas of investigation inside the film's historical subtext. Similarly, Gavin Walker's "The Filmic Time of Coloniality: On Shinkai Makoto's The Place Promised in Our Early Days" clarifies the multiple narratives and meta-narratives that intersect in Shinkai's stately, almost exposition-free film.

Essays like these, even when they're a tough read or on a topic I know very little about, are one of the reasons I told my students last year to begin reading Mechademia. It's also one of the few peer-reviewed publications that isn't hidden away in the absurd and bizarre labyrinth of university library permissions: you can just order it online like any other book, and then keep it forever. (Though as an academic, I'd really love a digital copy: typing selections out by hand every time I want to use a quotation in an essay is bothersome, compared to cutting and pasting from a PDF. Notice how I haven't really quoted anything, here?) I've had the good fortune of meeting Frenchy Lunning on two separate occasions, and I've corresponded with her and her editorial staff multiple times. I know about the hard work that goes into every issue, and I also enjoy the focus on a single theme for each -- it keeps the volume on point, while gathering all the latest research into one volume for interested scholars. We've needed a publication like Mechademia for a long time, and I'm glad we have it.

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October 12, 2009
Superaman/Batman: Public Enemies Blu-ray Disc

SUPERMAN/BATMAN: PUBLIC ENEMIES (2009, Blu-ray released September 29, 2009 - MSRP $29.99)

You know I've got a soft spot for these DC Comics animated adaptations. I've given fairly positive reviews to the two previous efforts in the series - Wonder Woman and Green Lantern: First Flight. So you're probably expecting more of the same from my review of Superman/Batman: Public Enemies on Blu-ray disc. And you'd be right! In fact, I think it might be the best of the bunch!

From what I can tell, that's probably not the popular opinion. I got my copy of the Blu-ray disc quite late and so had the opportunity to browse other reviews kicking around internets. While the disc itself would be constantly highly rated, reviewers seemed unanimous in slamming the simplistic story. I felt like the simplicity really worked in this case!

Superman/Batman: Public Enemies is essentially a one-hour fight scene. There isn't much character or story. But plenty of excitement. And, at the end of the day, isn't excitement what draws us to a superhero adventure? Here's the setup, in a nutshell - Lex Luthor has swindled his way into becoming the president of the US and declares Superman and Batman public enemies. Villains and heroes alike hunt them down and try to beat the crap out of them. Awesome! That's pretty much all there is to it. But you know what? With such a a short runtime, that's okay. What drags the production down for me is the character designs. Superman/Batman: Public Enemies is an adaptation of a DC Comics miniseries (I didn't read it so I can't comment on how faithful the script is to the original Jeph Loeb story.) As such, the filmmakers attempted to mimic the character designs of the comics' artist, Ed McGuinness. To the productions detriment, if you ask me. The designs, while looking a whole hell-of-a-lot like McGuinness' are too chunky and muscled and despite some champion work by Lotto Animation, the characters don't animate very well. Give me the old, simplified Bruce Timm models any day!

The Blu-ray looks fantastic! Really well done. Probably the best looking disc of all the DC Comics adaptations that Warner has released thus far. And, despite the lack of an uncompressed soundtrack, it sounds strong and pretty dynamic! Where the Blu-ray fails for me is in the bonus feature department. Aside from the requisite collection of trailers and six Bruce Timm best-of-Justice-League episode picks (all looking better than ever compressed with the VC-1 codec, I might add), the only extra materials on the disc are a short featurette exploring the relationship between Superman and Batman, and a sit-down dinner with the actor who performs the voice of Batman. Don't get me wrong, what we're given is pretty cool. I can take or leave the featurette but the dinner chat, running almost an hour long, is really great. Just like the Green Lantern: First Flight disc, however, Superman/Batman: Public Enemies is sorely lacking in any detail on the production itself! One again, we're robbed of a commentary track, or making-of featurette. Come on, guys! As cool as it is to hear Kevin Conroy chat about his almost twenty years voicing Batman, I'd rather know something specific about the film I just watched. How about an interview with Sam Liu? If this Newsarama interview with the director is any indication, he has a lot to say about the production. What about Stan Berkowitz? Having adapted the comics to screen, he most likely has a few insights to share. Urgh...It's so frustrating to feel like nobody at the studio cares about this end of things anymore. Here's hoping they rethink their position of avoiding production docs and commentaries for next years Justice League: Crisis on Two Earths Blu-ray Disc release.

Also on The Bllu-ray Blog: Superman/Batman: Public Enemies Blu-ray Disc review

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October 6, 2009
Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs Blu-ray Disc Review

SNOW WHITE AND THE SEVEN DWARFS (1937, Blu-ray released October 6, 2009 - MSRP $39.99)

Stunning. Absolutely stunning. I wish I could turn back time to watch the gorgeous visual presentation of Disney's Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs Blu-ray disc for the first time, all over again. Experiencing this, the first Diamond Edition release from Walt Disney Home Entertainment's new line of classic films on Blu-ray, was akin to feeding my hungry eyes a platter of pure 2D animated magic.

I don't think I really need to run down the story of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs for you, do I? (Read the full original English text by the Brothers Grimm here, if you don't know it yet.) Disney's interpretation is pretty much a classic by now. And though it feels it's being told in a style that's far from contemporary, Snow White holds up. Enough about the the story, let's get to the meat of my commentary. Let's talk about the Blu-ray disc itself!

Robert A. Harris, the famous film historian and preservationist responsible for restoring innumerable films like Lawrence of Arabia (in 1989), Spartacus (1991), My Fair Lady (1994), Vertigo (1996) Rear Window (1998) and more recently the Godfather films, has stated the Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs Blu-ray disc is "...essential to any serious collection." I'd say that's putting it lightly. This disc is as good as home video gets. Disney has given the film, which many consider to be one of the most important in cinema history, the royal treatment. It looks and sounds absolutely terrific! The studio could have scrubbed it to the bone, removed all grain, sacrificed detail, chopped it to fit your widescreen plasma display or performed any number of operations that would have "improved" the film for modern home video audiences. Instead, they've allowed Lowry Digital to carefully bring the 1937 animated to life, scanning all elements at 4K and using the same proprietary technology that has taken care of classics from The Wizard of Oz to the Star Trek TV series. I can't imagine Blu-ray getting any better than this.

That being said, this Blu-ray presentation won't be for everyone. There will be a portion of the audience disappointed by the warts-and-all transfer presented on the disc. There are damaged or misplaced cells within the film which cause it to appear out of focus for a time. This is fine detail that even Walt Disney wouldn't have noticed during the creation of the film because of the lack of resolution of the Technicolor process. The studio could have digitally "corrected" this effect but chose instead to leave the work as it was created. Brilliant! Again, this is what Blu-ray should be.

By the same token, the sound on the disc is fantastic! I'm sorry for all the unadulterated raving and praise I'm showering on this release but, man, they've really knocked it out of the park. The 7.1 DTS-Master Audio track could have been really insulting and over the top, translating the original mono elements into some surround-sound abomination. But again, Disney provides a truly dynamic presentation while remaining true to the spirit of the original work. And just to cover all of their bases, the studio has included the original mono track, for all you purists out there.

The bonus features on the Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs Blu-ray disc are wonderful but problematic. Let's start with the wonder. There is so much stuff packed on to two Blu-ray discs! I spent hours combing through every nook and cranny of this thing - a commentary track hosted by historian John Canemaker and featuring comments by Walt Disney himself, deleted scenes and storyboards, short documentaries and the Hyperion Studios tour which encompasses hours upon hours of shorts (Silly Symphonies in HD!), galleries, featurettes and audio snippets. And don't even get me started about the creepy "Magic Mirror" which greets you every time you put the disc in. That thing will talk to you about the time of day, the weather outside, how many times you've watched the disc...Brrr...Creepy...

What I didn't like about the extras was the Hyperion Studios tour navigation and the fact that Disney has failed to include all of the bonus features from the 2001 DVD release. In order to watch the features buried within the Hyperion tour (and they are multitudinous!) , the disc forces you to navigate your way through a maze of "rooms" within the studio. So, say for instance that I wanted to watch the "Steamboat Willy" short (Did I mention that all the Silly Symphonies are in HD! SILLY SYMPHONIES IN HD!!! "THE OLD MILL", "FLOWERS AND TREES", "GODDESS OF SPRING" AND MORE IN HD!!!! ... You should really just stop reading now and run out and buy this disc.) I'd have to find my way over to the "Sound Stage" before selecting it. This is a drag. By the same token, I found it annoying that there wasn't a "Play All" button that would have just taken me on the tour, allowing me to sit back and enjoy all the contents. I found myself having to press play on a new feature at least every few minutes. Hell, some of the little nuggets of information, like "Stories from the Camera Department" are less than 60 seconds long!

From what I can tell, this new Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs Blu-ray is missing a few critical features from the 2001 DVD. Most critically a 40-minute documentary hosted by Angela Lansbury and more abandoned and deleted scenes. It's a shame we're all going to have to hold on to our old DVDs to have everything. I mean, the feature is the thing here and it is glorious. But this would have been a perfect disc for me, if Disney had made it a bit more comprehensive. Seriously, ditch the Tiffany Thorton music video (Who the hell is Tiffany Thorton anyway?) and give me more deleted scenes!

One final gripe - the packaging. I live for this stuff. I love Blu-ray and home video. And despite my familiarity with these sorts of things I found the dual package marketing strategy baffling. It took me ages to figure out that Disney was offering the same contents in two completely different packages, targeted at two different audiences. One release is in standard Blu-ray packaging, implying that the DVD included in the package is a bonus. The other release is in standard DVD packaging and strongly implies that the Blu-ray content is the bonus. ARGHH!! What a frustrating thing to do to your customers, Disney! I mean, I get it. I understand what the goal is but there's got to be a better way. Just saying.

NOTE: The Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs Blu-ray disc is only $9.99 at Amazon.com at the moment (Oct. 6, 2009.) Use the code "snowhite" to get $10 off their already amazingly low price!

Via: The Blu-ray Blog

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October 5, 2009

Two films competing at the Reanimania festival are relentless in their vision. The Canadian Edison & Leo by N. Burns and the Brazilian Passaros by Filipe Abraches.

You have not seen a film like Edison & Leo before; a stop motion feature that takes extreme liberties with the life story of Thomas Edison. It does so with plenty of dark humor contained in a father-and-son narrative that surpasses Darth Vader and Luke’s in dysfunctionality. Edison is portrayed as a cheating, robbing and selfish husband/inventor/father. After alienating his older son, accidentally killing his wife, he electrically charges his younger son, Leo, and calls him his “greatest invention”. Electric Leo grows up unhappy until the day he decides to challenge his father. Along the way, many instances of John Watersesque drama occur. There’s even an attack by the Pasana tribe on the Edison house.

Passaros is a hand drawn short film that makes powerful use of bird motifs. An elderly woman feeding hundreds of caged birds on her rooftop receives a younger, male guest. As they dine together, authority figures barge inside the kitchen, sack the man and lock him in one of the woman’s cages. After being freed by the woman, the man whose face has come to resemble that of a bird’s, reaches the edge of the building and decides to flee for his life. The close ups of birds, coupled with the mastery of shapes in the animation (watching the woman dicing and preparing the bird dinner is intense) are what give this dialogue-less film its unique eeriness.

Another noteworthy film competing in the short film competition is Desanimé by Anne Leclerq. This puppet animation dealing with loneliness relies on micro-movements such as eye twitches to put the viewers in the emotional space of the protagonist, a young woman. The film also cleverly combines animation with live action. In a couple of exterior shots near the end of the movie, the woman walks amongst crowds of live action. She clearly looks like she does not belong with these people, but that is the point: she’s a secluded person. The combination of both mediums dramatacizes the emotion.

On day 2 began MARANI, Reanimania’s animation market. The company that started it off was Touch Fx, a local animation studio. There are not that many animation studios in the Caucasus region. According to Touch Fx, there aren’t any that specialize in high quality CG feature animation. None besides them: Touch Fx is a commercial effects studio turning to feature production. They have two movies on the way: Kukaracha, a co-produced animation with Russia and The Kam, a mo-capped cowboy movie that is completely theirs. Tests sequences from both movies looked impressive and entertaining. Touch Fx churns out a lot of work with a small staff. A couple of talented directors, one IT and effects guru, one art department lead, one character and setup lead, one senior animator and a handful of modelers, riggers and junior animators. Even the CEO of the company, Vahe Sarkissian, models in his spare time. All of this as they do advertisement spots here and there. The company plans to finish both films in the next two years. I believe Touch Fx will go far but not without presenting themselves better. Their demonstration could have been prepared better: sure the lady with the butterfly wings welcoming the attendees looked cute, but she was not distracting people from the fact that a Q & A session was absent from the showcase.

What you did not want to miss after Touch Fx was the second part of Yoshi Tamura’s workshop entitled “2D Animation: Motions and Emotions”. Mr. Tamura, a feature animator with a credit list that includes The Princess and the Frog, Igor and Tarzan shared many of his secrets with a group of ten inquisitive animators at the Naregatsi art center. What made Tamura’s workshop interesting was his insistence on researching poses and thinking about the filmmaking aspects of a given scene before actually animating. In brief, here is the method Tamura elaborated on during the workshop:

-Understand the movie you’re working on, know its logline and believe in it.

-Get to know the characters you are working on. Even if they are secondary, know what their psychology and motivations are.

-Do thumbnail drawings of the scene you are working on. Mr. Tamura spends half his time doing thumbnails. He calls this the fun and research stage, and believes that you are never wasting your time doing thumbnails: this is how you obtain the best acting and composition for your scene.

-Refer to your own life experience when thumbnailing your poses. This will help the audience refer to their own when watching the movie.

-Discuss you work with your supervisor and move on to the next stage: the pose test.

-The pose test is a rough animation that features only timing and spacing of thumbnail drawings or models if working in 3d. This stage shapes the animation style of the motion.

-After discussing the scene, move on to the first pass of animation which features the main poses (or accents) of the animation. At this stage you will include accel/deceleration and again review your work: your timing can longer change so you might have to get rid of secondary accents from your animation if they are not legible.

-After more feedback, go to the 2nd pass and add details such as facial animation.

The example Tamura used to explain this methodology was a short sequence from Igor in which Pinky is talking to and pointing at Brain.

In this Youtube clip, Yoshi Tamura breaks down a shot he worked on from Flushed Away in which the protagonist is angrily banging his phone against wall. Mr. Tamura does a great job in explaining how the filmmaking aspects of the shot (the camera framing and the audience’s identification with the character) defined the poses he used in the animation of the character. Along the way, he also touches upon a difference between working in 3d and 2d.

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October 3, 2009
The first Yerevan international animation film festival, ReAnimania ’09, kicked off today in Armenia’s capital. The fest began with the screening of Animal Crisis, a Spanish comedy competing in the feature category. While this film’s drawbacks come from the limitations of Flash animation (i.e.. crappy front view walk cycles), it does take the medium away from the cinematically flat and minimal to the world of Warner hurt gags and Ren and Stimpyesque dirtyness. It does so with an Orwellian script and a pleasure in mutilating Disney archetypes: the heroic stallion, the seedy lion and the treacherous Hyena. Think of this film as South Park with animation principals applied throughout. My favorite instant of the film: watching a Flash hippo clap. A never before seen motion; at least by me.

Other highlights from the first day included an intimate interview with Michel Ocelot of Kirikou and Azur et Asmar fame. The conversations with the director set the tone of the festival. When Ocelot was asked why he is interested in making films for children, he replied that he does not think about his audience when starting to work on a film. He only strives to do a good job. Ocelot believes that animation should go in the direction that graphic novels have taken a while back: dealing with issues in a way that audiences from any age group can appreciate. In the mind of the French animation author, "Animation is never just for children."

This statement was concurred by Vrej Kassouny, the interviewer and director of the festival. Kassouny stated one of the main goals of Reanimania is to make its audiences aware that animation does not equal to films for children. Animation is an art form, and like any art form you can work with it in different ways.

With retrospectives on Armenian animation, Bruno Bozzetto and Alexander Shiryaev; the Pitching & Producing for animation and 2D workshops, competitions in feature, short, graduation, TV an educational films; forums and studio showcases, Re-Animania is surely to shed some new light on animation during the next three days. It runs until Oct 6th at Kino Moscow in Yerevan, Armenia.

Find the festival schedule and read about the history of Armenian animation on ReAnimania's site.

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September 27, 2009
The first Montreal Stop Motion Film Festival will take place on October 24th and 25th. If you already have a stop motion film, you still have a few days left to submit your film. There are no submission fees (but you should read the rules first). Submit your film by September 30th!

In addition to submitting your professional, independent or academic film, you'll need to:
  • Complete the submission form.
  • Provide 2 images from the film.
  • Provide a photo of the director.
The festival is the brainchild of Erik Goulet, one of the most enthusiastic supporters of animation in the city, especially if it's pixillated or has an armature or clay in it. After a long stint at Softimage, Erik is now an instructor at Concordia University's Mel Hoppenheim School of Cinema in the Film Animation program. He created the Stop Motion Award to further raise visibility of the art and technique.

(Erik has also contributed to fps in the past, interviewing Ray Harryhausen in the first online issue of fps.)

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