February 22, 2010
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.
February 21, 2010
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.
June 22, 2009
The Snowman, Street of Crocodiles, Girls Night Out, Creature Comforts, Screen Play, Bob’s Birthday, The Man With the Beautiful Eyes, City Paradise, Rabbit: A truncated litany of some of the brilliant shorts that since the mid-1980’s have defined British animation the world over, and are jaw-droppingly impressive. What they, and the unlisted others, share apart from their creative potency is, perversely enough, an institution. A government mandated, uniquely funded institution that luckily for all of us was peopled by passionate souls who cared about art and diversity (writ large), and who actively contrived to put money and resources into the hands of the most talented, fecund creators they could uncover. No, not the NFB (but thanks for thinking of us) Britain’s Channel 4 – or Channel Four, more correctly – television network.
In British Animation: The Channel 4 Factor, Clare Kitson, Channel 4’s commissioning editor for animation throughout the 1990s, has written a humane and intimate history of the ups and downs of animation at the Channel, leavening it with just the right amount of dry wit, personal insight and anecdote. The book is a deft balance between an academic tome offering historical context and background and an eye-opening guide to anyone interested in the many behind-the-scenes manoeuvrings that go on to actually get these kinds of films made and-most importantly in Channel 4’s case-on to air.
As an NFB producer, the themes that resonated for me (both for the echoes and the dissonances) are Kitson’s perspective as a commissioning editor rather than a producer, and the Channel’s intrinsic ability (and sometimes inability) to get things onto TV screens around the UK. While these are not mass audiences by most standards, they are certainly much larger audiences than short animation otherwise gets on broadcast television – if our films get onto television at all. Such a luxury, but as Kitson points out also such a curse, was each season’s scheduling matrix even for a broadcaster so committed to diversities of topic, technique and running length.
The Channel 4 Factor is valuable history. But as memoir about what Kitson likes and why, it’s revealing and fun, and already well exceeds the price of admission. The middle section, in particular, reveals the makings of several of the Channel’s most famous films from her own unique vantage point along with the filmmakers’ own tellings of the tale. It’s as a sociological dissection of how such an organization came about, almost from whole cloth, where Clare hits her stride. As a case study, Kitson offers up much of the recipe for success that created and sustained both Channel 4 and the NFB. Indeed, parallels to the NFB regularly caused me pleasant surprise. Compressed in active years, Channel 4’s animation history is like the NFB’s but accordioned into itself three times over.
I suspect many producers see commissioning editors as mercurial demagogues, unaware of real work of filmmaking and blithely changing objectives and mandates from season to season. Kitson quite effectively put that myth to rest. She reveals the very passionate people who created an ethos committed to being background players. Producers boosted artists by giving them money to make films, but more importantly by creating a culture that was willing to take big risks on small films. Here’s the original job posting for Channel 4 commissioning editors:
Television production experience may be an advantage but is not essential. Whether your passion is angling or cooking, fringe theatre, rock, politics, philosophy or religion, if you believe you can spot a good idea and help others realise it on the screen, we are looking for commissioning editors and would like to hear from you.
Clearly, the early, passionate years of Channel 4 were driven by both by its unique mission and by strength of personality and will of its editors and executives. What kind of society is predisposed to permitting such a creature to be born, and more importantly, to live and thrive? Is it peculiar to Anglo-Saxon socialism, which would also explain the NFB?
Kitson writes about diversity and minority remits (but not just about skin colour or ethnicity or orientation) and cultural big thinkers who believed in social change and art as the change tool. She admires a 1980s UK society and a handful of faithful who were ready to lift and be lifted to a new plateau of humanity and criticality, of engagement and responsibility. While not of the same soaring oratory and historic portent of Barack Obama’s presidency, Channel 4 changed the game. I wonder if Mr. Obama might see PBS and the NEA anew were he to read The Channel 4 Factor. I suspect he already carries those convictions or ones quite similar, but I’m quite certain he’d enjoy the animation education he’d get from Kitson's caring and insightful writing.
Of course, there’s no telling what the success-to-fail ratio was for Channel 4’s roster, much as it’s hard to know for the NFB unless one is dogged and inclined to statistics. There’s a chance many animators are like me and prone to apocrypha rather than evidence. Although I do think it’s absolutely true that reputations are built on equal parts evidence and belief, and it’s only when belief has no tangible, recent success to riff on that paper lions are revealed and fairly scrutinized. The ratios may have dipped a bit in recent years, but Kitson leaves us with hope for British animation by the book’s end, and it’s a hope I share in all my various capacities within the animation shorts world.
We always need a secular, art-centric “city upon a hill” that challenges and binds us. There are precious few such institutions left, but Clare Kitson has given valuable clues and insights in how to go forth and multiply.
Michael Fukushima is a producer in the National Film Board of Canada’s Animation Studio, apparently with a bit of closeted anglophilia.
Where To Get It
British Animation: The Channel 4 Factor, by Clare Kitson published by University of Indiana Press (North America) and Parliament Hill Publishing (UK).
June 8, 2008
Antonia Levi, Mark McHarry, and Dru Pagliasotti are calling for academic papers on the phenomenon of yaoi and BL anime and manga fandoms in a global context. Here's the CFP:
This edited, interdisciplinary volume seeks to examine the new representations of same-sex attracted males in boys' love and/or yaoi -- that is, male same-sex romance or erotica as featured in manga, manwha, anime, videogames, fanfic, fanvids, artwork, and other media derivative of the genre's Japanese origins. The collection's primary focus will be the ways in which fans in countries and cultures other than Japan interpret and use these genres, although the editors are open to contributions about boys' love fandoms in Japan as well. We want to provide a broad overview of scholarly essays and research in yaoi / boys' love studies and so encourage work from all disciplinary perspectives. Scholarly work about slash fiction is welcome, too, insofar as the genre is discussed within the framework of boys' love / yaoi.
May 26, 2008
Countless column inches, magazine pages and pixels have been devoted to the question/problem of racist black stereotypes in animation, and at some point someone says these cartoons need to be framed or presented in their historical context. It's unstated, but that phrase often means "Let's acknowledge that these cartoons were produced in a less enlightened time, and that the images are offensive. But man, are they funny. Can we go back to watching them, please?"
Not that the first sentence is untrue, but it's a simplistic reading at best. If you really want context, then start with Henry T. Sampson's That's Enough, Folks: Black Images in Animated Cartoons, 1900-1960, which catalogues the many American cartoons that used these images, along with plot descriptions, production credits, and industry publication reviews—necessary and welcome, but maybe a little too clinical. The Colored Cartoon: Black Representation in American Animated Short Films, 1907-1954, in contrast, takes the same kind of data as That's Enough Folks and shapes it into a decades-long narrative.
Lehman recounts a chronological history of film animation from its beginnings at the hands of J. Stuart Blackton through most of the Golden Age of animation, weaving in descriptions and explanations of the types of racist images used. This really does put things in context, as for the first time we get to see how the evolution of these images and the gags behind them corresponds to the evolution of animation, movies, pop culture and society at large.
After I finished the book—at 137 pages it's a quick read—it occurred to me that The Colored Cartoon is, in itself, an answer to many of the questions and misconceptions that have swirled around this debate for at least as long as I've observed it. Why is it okay to make fun of Elmer Fudd, who is white, but not black characters who chase Bugs Bunny? The seemingly obvious answer is that Elmer Fudd's skin colour isn't the source of the humour, his ineptitude is. For those that argue that a black character's ineptitude isn't necessarily racist, Lehman's long-range view breaks down the different types of stereotypes and why even the most innocuous-looking depictions were part of a larger trend. Is the call to stop broadcasting cartoons with these images a recent example of political correctness run amok? Hardly. The NAACP—you know, black people—have been protesting these cartoons since World War II. (If you'd read Donald Bogle's Toms, Coons, Mulattoes, Mammies, and Bucks, you'd know that. But if your reading list is restricted to animation books, The Colored Cartoon will fill you in.)
The Colored Cartoon isn't perfect. Far from it, in fact. While I liked how Lehman sometimes talked about simple economic or technological issues (like the trouble early animators had with lip sync) and how they affected what was seen and heard onscreen, I was less enthused by some of his conjectures that were presented as fact. Was Bugs Bunny a descendant of African-American mythical trickster figures like Br'er Rabbit? Sure, I can get behind that interpretation. Does that make him, and his trademark cool, an example of black culture being mined and transformed for cartoons? Maybe, but that leads to the thorny question of intent. While animation artists like Bill Littlejohn and Martha Sigall weigh in throughout the book, they don't offer any insights here, which leaves Lehman's assertion as an untestable theory.
I'd have preferred if the book was longer (but then, with good books I usually do), held back on the theorizing and gave us more animator interviews, more in-depth stories of activism (I like Lehman's frank description of the NAACP's missteps, and I'd like to see more interviews in that area) and more industry insights—for starters. Still, imperfect doesn't mean bad. At the very least, The Colored Cartoon is a start—a start at providing the often-cited context for this debate that will allow it to move on to a different level. That alone makes it a worthy entry in this still-nascent field.
Where to Get It
Buy The Colored Cartoon: Black Representation in American Animated Short Films, 1907-1954 from Amazon.com
February 25, 2008
When I read the first Mechademia volume, I felt that it maintained a tenuous balance between different kinds of scholarly essays on manga and anime. Mechademia Vol. 2: Networks of Desire has about the same amount of works—23 contributions compared to the original's 20—and more of a focus.
The subtitle of this volume accurately describes the book's theme, and essays are divided into four sections (Shojo, Powers of Time, Animalization and Horizons). Each essay spins "desire"—and sometimes its own section title—in different ways.
Five essays in particular are standouts, and worth the price of the book on their own. Deborah Shamoon's "Revolutionary Romance: The Rose of Versailles and the Transformation of Shojo Manga," Toku Masami's "Shojo Manga! Girls' Comics! A Mirror of Girls' Dreams" and Keith Vincent's "A Japanese Electra and her Queer Progeny" combine to provide a rich, textured history of the origins and progression of shojo manga and their depictions of same-sex relationships. Miyao Daisuke's "Thieves of Baghdad: Transnational Networks of Cinema and Anime in the 1920s" offers a fascinating look at the "Japanification" of Noburo Ofuji's 1926 Bagudajo no kozoku (The Thief of Baguda Castle, incidentally part of the Cinémathèque Québecoise's early-anime retrospective), which was a sort of remake of the American live-action feature The Thief of Bagdad.
For me, the crown jewel of the book is Mizuno Hiromi's "When Pacifist Japan Fights: Historicizing Desires in Anime," an look at how the evolution of postwar Japan's militarism, nationalism and masculinity were expressed in 1977's Space Battleship Yamato and 1995's Silent Service. The piece was so compelling it made me want to rewatch Gasaraki and further appreciate Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex 2nd Gig, both of which featured conspiracies to remilitarize Japan. It's worth noting that this essay is the longest in the book, but reads so smoothly it feels like it's the shortest.
Otherwise, the book is hit or miss depending on the kind of scholarly essays you prefer. As a fan of Occam's Razor, I'm a bit wary of essays that read a lot of symbolism into anime that the creator makes no claim to. Granted, there are those shows like Haibane-Renmei and Neon Genesis Evangelion where the creators are specifically adding layers of meaning, but I had to roll my eyes when Christopher Bolton read various shades of meaning into 2000's Blood: The Last Vampire's use of CGI for mechanical objects, specifically airplanes. While it's true that this was a pioneering blending of CGI and cel in anime then, the same techniques had been used elsewhere in the world for almost 15 years in pretty much exactly the same way. It's a symptom of my long-standing complaint that at times anime aficionados wall themselves off from animation history at large.
This same issue comes up in William L. Benzon's review of Takashi Murakami's Little Boy: The Arts Japan's Exploding Subculture book and exhibition, but in a good way: After thoroughly examining Murakami's thesis of how Japan's unique national trauma (the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki and their defeat in World War II) explains the frequent use of apocalypse in the country's fiction, he turns around and says he doesn't buy it. Why not? Because "apocalyptic art and fantasy are in no way unique to Japan. For example, apocalypse has been a persistent theme in postwar American culture," despite the fact that the U.S. was never bombed during the war.
It's exactly this kind of intellectual awareness and honesty that anime scholarship (hell, anime fandom) needs more of. There are many things about anime and manga that are unique, and there are many books (including Mechademia) that celebrate that. But if we really want to position these media within the cultures of the world at large, then we need more work that looks at them in relation to what's going on outside of Japan, and there's no better place to do it than within the rigorous structure of academic writing. I'm happy that Mechademia is starting to encourage this kind of thinking, and I hope the next volume takes it further.
October 19, 2007
I passed by the Drawn and Quarterly bookstore this evening just before their grand opening event and I had to hold onto my wallet for dear life. Drawn and Quarterly began life in the early 1990s as an alternative comics anthology of original and utmost quality, then came the comic book series, and graphic novels that were varied and, may I say in the best possible way, designy. The sense of design that all of the various artists had, in addition to unique styles and great storytelling, set the D+Q selection apart from many of the titles out there, and also, I think, gave courage to many artists and publishers to consider the quality and scope of what could be printed and how it could be told.
Drawn and Quarterly's artists Adrian Tomine, Joe Matt, Chester Brown, Seth, Gary Panter (of Pee Wee's Playhouse) and others offer visuals and stories that surely are fodder for the animator's imagination. [EDIT: I don't just speculate: I forgot that Clyde Henry Productions are creating a live-action/animated film adaptation of Chester Brown's surreal Ed the Happy Clown.] The store does not stop at stocking only their impressive list of titles. Classic graphic novels, like Maus and Love and Rockets, and hidden gems abound.
The more overt animation related selection included titles like John Canemaker's Winsor McCay, as well as McCay reprints, and Nine Lives to Live: A Felix Celebration by Otto Messmer.
Copies of Bone were also available, which I've already mentioned for its appeal to animators and animation fans. The Lute String by Jim Woodring and D+Q's translated Complete Moomin by Tove Jansson (which I happily purchased) also break down the boundaries between comics and animation. Both artists' work directly inspired multiple animated adaptations and often in a different parts of the world than where it was originally created, expanding the stories' reach.
Drawn & Quarterly Bookstore
211 Bernard, Montreal
If you're just getting started, my D+Q recommendations:
Optic Nerve by Adrian Tomine
Jar of Fools by Jason Lutes
The Fixer by Joe Sacco
Louis Riel by Chester Brown
September 21, 2007
Last year, the Tokyo Museum of Contemporary Art (also just known as Museum of Tokyo or MOT) held a notable exhibition, The Art of Disney. A beautiful catalogue was also published for the exhibit featuring works that were once thought lost. This summer, the DVD catalogue of the exhibit was released in Japan as well.
I decided I was going to see whatever exhibit was showing at the museum when I was in Tokyo, as I like to do in any new city I visit. It ended up the major exhibit was also animation-related this year: a retrospective of work by Art Director Kazuo Oga.
Kazuo Oga worked on a diverse animation projects such as Barefoot Gen, Dagger of Kamui and Wicked City before creating the background art for My Neighbor Totoro at Studio Ghibli. He went on to work on all of the subsequent features for the studio, and last year, directed his own film for the studio, Taneyamagahara no Yoru.
The lush scenery he creates with his brush is truly breathtaking, and the museum selection was as dense as an of the green forest background he is known for. The sheer number of pieces was more than I have seen for comparatively-sized art exhibitions of any type, and I have never seen its like for animation artwork, mostly from the Studio Ghibli archives. He captures the spirit of the countryside, but also of everyday Japan with a balance of love and accuracy.
Almost all of the art is unphotographable. Near the end of the exhibit, after a room of multiplane setups, there are a number of backgrounds that are blown up so that people can pose in front of them, but most people just step back in wonder to take a whole new look at the art. (I couldn't help posing with Totoro, though.)
Afterward, everyone was invited to fold an origami Totoro in an open room, with mini-backgrounds. Here's mine.
Like the Art of Disney catalogue, a catalogue has been published for this exhibit as well. A DVD is forthcoming for the end of the year. The exhibit has been extended until September 30. If you find yourself in Tokyo, you won't want to miss it.
September 16, 2007
Review written by Aaron H. Bynum
As profound an impact as Osamu Tezuka has had on the artistic and commercial cultures of manga publishing and the production of Japanese animation, it nevertheless remains true that in no place other than Japan is the late Tezuka acknowledged in scholarly media with constant fervour each passing year. A man whose ambition knew no bounds, Osamu Tezuka is one of Japan's most recognizable icons, while at the same time the nation's best-kept secret. He was a veritable "one-man dream factory," as author and translator Frederik L. Schodt wrote in his new book, The Astro Boy Essays. Known to the Western world mostly through his manga creation of a little rosy-cheeked robot boy named Atom, Osamu Tezuka was an individual of colossal imagination.
Read the review
July 19, 2007
Review by Mark Mayerson
While Pixar is one of the most advanced computer animation facilities in existence, before they bring their programming smarts and processing power to bear, they start with the art.
The Art of Ratatouille concentrates on displaying that art. The book is full of drawings, paintings and sculptures showing how the characters and sets evolved before the nuts and bolts of computer animation were applied.
Read the review
June 22, 2007
Looks like there are a whole lot of books coming down the pike in the next few months, starting with a wave of computer animation titles in July. One, the second Digital Art Masters volume, is the only one to focus specifically on finished art, while the remainder are how-to guides to Houdini, 3ds Max, Flash, Lightwave and After Effects. A few reissues and new editions are also in the mix from September onward, including a new edition of Animated Films and the paperback version of Japanamerica, in September and November respectively. October's got a nice surprise, though, with a book called The Colored Cartoon: Black Representation in American Short Films—which I hope will tackle its subject matter with a bit more verve than That's Enough Folks, the only other book I'm aware of that exclusively focuses on the subject. Later in the month there's also Jerry Beck's Hanna-Barbera Treasury, 108 pages of finished and pre-production art, which should be just enough to tide us over until February's biography of legendary designer Maurice Noble.
7/13 - Houdini on the Spot (paperback) (Book)
7/15 - 3ds Max 9.0: Accelerated (paperback) (Book)
7/15 - Learning Flash CS3 (paperback) (Book)
7/16 - Digital Art Masters: Vol. 2 (paperback) (Book)
7/24 - Adobe Flash CS3 Professional Video Studio Techniques (paperback) (Book)
7/24 - Flash CS3 Professional for Windows and Macintosh (Visual QuickStart Guide) (paperback) (Book)
7/25 - Essential LightWave v9: The Fastest and Easiest Way to Master LightWave 3D (paperback) (Book)
7/30 - Adobe After Effects CS3 Professional Classroom in a Book (hardcover) (Book)
8/12 - Animation Now! (Taschen 25th Anniversary) (hardcover) (Book)
8/21 - Berenstain Bears: Get Organized (DVD)
8/21 - Crazy Cartoons (DVD)
8/27 - Machinima For Dummies (paperback) (Book)
8/28 - Bolek & Lolek Are Camping (DVD)
8/28 - Bolek & Lolek Combo Pack (DVD)
8/28 - Bolek & Lolek on Vacation (DVD)
8/28 - Van-Pires Transform: Swarm Storm (DVD)
8/28 - Van-Pires Transform: Uncool Fuel (DVD)
9/3 - Adobe Flash CS3 Professional Studio Techniques (hardcover) (Book)
9/4 - Robot Chicken: Season Two (DVD)
9/4 - Robot Chicken: Seasons One & Two (DVD)
9/10 - Adobe Flash CS3 Professional How-Tos: 100 Essential Techniques (paperback) (Book)
9/11 - Fantastic Four Vol. 2 (DVD)
9/17 - Adobe Flash CS3 Revealed (paperback) (Book)
9/18 - Animated Films (Virgin Film Series) (paperback) (Book)
9/18 - Black Lagoon Vol. 3 Limited Collector's Edition (DVD)
9/18 - Body Language: Advanced 3D Character Rigging +CD (paperback) (Book)
9/18 - Do You Know the Milfing Man (Adult) (DVD)
9/18 - Family Guy Vol. 5 (DVD)
9/18 - Grim Adventures of Billy & Mandy Complete Season 1 (DVD)
9/18 - Josie and the Pussycats: The Complete Series (DVD)
9/18 - Ramen Fighter Miki Vol. 1: Miso Mayhem (DVD)
9/19 - Adobe Flash CS3 Professional: Video Training Book (hardcover) (Book)
9/25 - Anime Studio: The eFrontier Official Guide (paperback) (Book)
9/25 - Cool Devices: The Collection (Adult) (DVD)
9/25 - Imma Youjo: The Erotic Temptress Vol. 2: Perfect Love Doll (Adult) (DVD)
9/25 - The Third: The Girl with the Blue Eye Vol. 2: Tending Wounds (DVD)
10/1 - Colored Cartoon, The: Black Representation in American Animated Short Films (hardcover) (Book)
10/9 - Ben 10 Complete Season 2 (DVD)
10/9 - Ben 10 Complete Seasons 1 & 2 (DVD)
10/9 - Metalocalypse Season One (DVD)
10/15 - Flash CS3 Expert Answers (paperback) (Book)
10/16 - Squidbillies: Season One (DVD)
10/23 - Hanna-Barbera Treasury, The (hardcover) (Book)
10/23 - Meet the Robinsons (Blu-ray)
10/23 - Meet the Robinsons (DVD)
10/23 - Rozen Maiden Traumend Vol. 1: Puppet Show (DVD)
11/13 - Japanamerica: How Japanese Pop Culture Has Invaded the U.S. (paperback) (Book)
11/30 - Adobe After Effects Master Class (paperback) (Book)
12/18 - Rozen Maiden Traumend Vol. 2: Revival (DVD)
2/1 - Stepping into the Picture: Cartoon Designer Maurice Noble (paperback) (Book)
2/6 - Digital Video Essentials: Adobe After Effects 8.0 (paperback) (Book)
11/13 - Basics Animation: Digital Animation (Book)
12/24 - Maya Character Creation (Book)
June 8, 2007
Well, that didn't take long. It's only been a few days since ImaginAsian launched their weekday morning anime programming block, and they've already announced the first six DVD releases for the three series (Cat's Eye, Super Dimension Century Orguss and Nobody's Boy Remi). On another front, it looks like there are a couple of good books coming over the next six months. Two in particular, Astro Boy Essays: Osamu Tezuka, Mighty Atom, and the Manga/Anime Revolution and To Infinity and Beyond!: The Story of Pixar Animation Studios sound like must-read material.
7/10 - Cat's Eye Vol. 1 + series box (DVD)
7/10 - Nobody's Boy Remi Vol. 1 + series box (DVD)
7/10 - Princess Princess Vol. 2: Chorus of Cuties (DVD)
7/10 - Super Dimension Century Orguss Vol. 1 + series box (DVD)
7/24 - Naoyuki Tsuji Animation Collection (DVD)
7/24 - Todd McFarlane's Spawn: Animated Collection (DVD)
7/31 - Cartune Exprez (DVD)
7/31 - Emilys First 100 Days of School (DVD)
7/31 - Hand Maid May Box Set (DVD)
7/31 - Hare+Guu Box Set (DVD)
8/7 - .hack//Roots Vol. 3 (DVD)
8/7 - .hack//Roots Vol. 3 + MP3 case (DVD)
8/7 - Cat's Eye Vol. 2 (DVD)
8/7 - Dick Tracy Show Vol. 1 (DVD)
8/7 - Dick Tracy Show Vol. 2 (DVD)
8/7 - Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within (Blu-ray)
8/7 - Godzilla: The Original Animated Series Vol. 3 (DVD)
8/7 - Happy Tree Friends Vol. 3 (DVD)
8/7 - King Kong: The Animated Series Vol. 3 (DVD)
8/7 - Nobody's Boy Remi Vol. 2 (DVD)
8/7 - Simpsons: Complete Tenth Season (DVD)
8/7 - Super Dimension Century Orguss Vol. 2 (DVD)
8/14 - Noein Vol. 5 (DVD)
8/14 - Tokko Vol. 3 (DVD)
8/14 - Trollz 2-Pack: Best Friends/Magic of the Five (DVD)
8/14 - Trollz: Best Friends for Life (DVD)
8/14 - Trollz: Magic of the Five (DVD)
8/16 - Character Emotion in 2D and 3D Animation (paperback) (Book)
8/21 - Big O II Complete Collection (Anime Legends) (DVD)
8/21 - Casper's Scare School (DVD)
8/21 - Galaxy Angel AA Vol. 2 (DVD)
8/21 - Kimba Mini Set Vol. 1 (DVD)
8/28 - ATOM Vol. 1: Touch of Paine (DVD)
8/28 - ATOM Vol. 2: Enter the Dragon (DVD)
8/28 - Curious George Takes a Job and More Monkey Business (DVD)
8/28 - Growning Up Creepie Vol. 1: Creepie Creatures (DVD)
8/28 - Land Before Time: Amazing Adventures (DVD)
8/28 - Mickey Mouse Clubhouse: Mickey's Treat (DVD)
8/28 - Rozen Maiden Vol. 3: War of the Rose (DVD)
8/28 - Samurai Jack Season 4 (DVD)
8/28 - Tsubasa: Reservoir Chronicles: Seeds of Revolution Vol. 3 (DVD)
8/28 - Tutenstein Vol. 3: The Fearless Pharaoh (DVD)
8/30 - Anime Intersections: Tradition and Innovation in Theme and Technique (paperback) (Book)
9/1 - Astro Boy Essays: Osamu Tezuka, Mighty Atom, and the Manga/Anime Revolution (paperback) (Book)
9/4 - Alvin and the Chipmunks: Scare-Riffic Double Feature (DVD)
9/4 - Chill Out Scooby-Doo! (DVD)
9/4 - Inu Yasha Complete Movies Box Set (DVD)
9/4 - Inu Yasha Season 4 Box Set (DVD)
9/4 - Inu Yasha Season 4 Box Set Deluxe Edition (DVD)
9/4 - Naruto the Movie: Ninja Clash in the Land of Snow (DVD)
9/4 - Naruto Vol. 15 (DVD)
9/11 - Foster's Home for Imaginary Friends: The Complete Season 2 (DVD)
9/11 - Foster's Home for Imaginary Friends: The Complete Seasons 1 & 2 (DVD)
9/11 - Tom & Jerry: Spotlight Collection Vol. 3 (DVD)
9/11 - Tom & Jerry: Spotlight Collection Vols. 1-3 (DVD)
9/18 - Full Moon Vol. 6 (DVD)
9/18 - Tweety's High-Flying Adventure (DVD)
9/25 - Bleach Vol. 6 (DVD)
9/25 - Hikaru no Go Vol. 10 (DVD)
9/25 - Naruto Vol. 16 (DVD)
9/25 - Ranma 1/2: Season 3 Box Set: Hard Battle (DVD)
10/1 - Computer Animation, Second Edition: Algorithms and Techniques (hardcover) (Book)
11/1 - To Infinity and Beyond!: The Story of Pixar Animation Studios (hardcover) (Book)
11/16 - Robot Ghosts and Wired Dreams: Japanese Science Fiction from Origins to Anime (paperback) (Book)
11/19 - Foundation Flash Animation Techniques (paperback) (Book)
6/21 - House of 100 Tongues (Adult) (DVD)
8/7 - GTO: Great Teacher Onizuka Semester 1 (DVD)
8/14 - Initial D Season 2 Box Set (DVD)
8/14 - Slayers Season 1 (DVD)
9/14 - Data-Driven 3D Facial Animation (paperback) (Book)
9/18 - Basics Animation: Scriptwriting (Book)
9/30 - Opportunities in Cartooning and Animation Careers (paperback) (Book)
10/31 - Learning with Animation: Research and Implications for Design (paperback) (Book)
12/26 - From Impressionism to Anime: Japan as Fantasy and Fan Culture in the Mind of the West (paperback) (Book)
12/12 - Boobalicious Vol. 2 (Adult) (DVD)
12/12 - Break Time Vol. 1 (Adult) (DVD)
12/12 - Dark Chapel Vol. 2 (Adult) (DVD)
12/12 - Insatiable Vol. 2 (Adult) (DVD)
12/12 - Ringetsu Vol. 3 (Adult) (DVD)
June 7, 2007
Review by Mark Mayerson
Understanding how to use tools to reach a goal is the basis of the animator's craft. The trick is to know why you're doing something and sometimes a computer can get in the way. Character Animation: 2D Skills for Better 3D works both the 2D and 3D sides of the street, using drawings to get the reader to think about motion principles before tackling the complexities of software.
Read the review
June 6, 2007
Ed Hooks is an actor and acting coach who has been helping animators understand the importance of acting theory to improve their craft. He is also the author of Acting for Animators, the first book that was written solely on the subject and has taught the principles of the book to animators the world over.
He will be in Montreal on June 11 at Centre NAD to teach his Acting for Animators workshop. Ed was kind enough to answer a few questions I had for him.
Tamu Townsend: The first group you instructed were animators on the crew of Antz. How has your workshop changed since then? Besides all of the knowledge you have conferred to animators, what have they taught you and how has it affected your workshops and approach?
Ed Hooks: In 1998, Pacific Data Images had recently been acquired by DreamWorks and was in pre-production for its first feature, Antz. Ken Beilenberg, the Special Effects director, happened to be one of my students in my ongoing Palo Alto acting class for actors. One night after class, he asked me if I would be interested in teaching an acting class on-site for the animators at PDI [Pacific Data Images]. He explained that the animators at PDI were working on their first feature film, that they had previously only worked on commercials, and they needed acting training. I'm the kind of person who rarely says "no" to something, and so I agreed.
Mind you, I did not know squat about animation at that point. I knew I was a good acting teacher, but that was as far as it went. After that talk with Ken, I shortly thereafter wound up standing in front of a group of about 25 animators at PDI. I made the mistake of trying to teach them acting the same way I taught it in my acting-for-actors classes. I was arrogant enough to belive that there was only one way to teach actnng. I brought in scripts, had the animators get up and "cold read" them, assigned them scene partners and told them to go home and rehearse, to commit scenes to memory. By the third week, I had lost about half the class. That was when the Human Resources people at PDI took me to lunch.
"This isn't working, Ed," they explained.
"I can see that," I replied.
"But Ken says you are a good acting teacher and so, if you want to try something else, we'll keep paying you."
I went back to the animators and started all over again. "I know a lot about acting," I said, "But I obviously do not know much about animation. If you guys will tell me exactly what you do, I will do my best to bring what I know to bear on your work process." And so they sat me down at their computers and showed me what they did, which was an eye-opener to me.
I went back to the drawing board. How could I teach acting theory to people who did not, in fact, want to be actors? Very few animators even fantasized about appearing on Broadway or in a Robert DeNiro movie. Indeed, probably more than eighty percent of the animators were too shy to get up in front of people. This was a different situation than I faced in my regular acting classes for actors. I decided to teach the animators at PDI with a combination of lectures on basic acting theory, supported by clips from live-action movies.
That was how it all started. Necessity is indeed the mother of invention. What I do today in my Acting for Animators workshops had its beginnings back there at PDI in 1998. I have expanded and refined on it, of course, but the basics of the class began there. Since those early days at PDI, I have taught for most of the major animation studios and game companies. Each time, I try to improve on what I did the last time.
A year or so after I taught for PDI/DreamWorks, I started looking for books that addressed the difference between actors and animators. There were none, and that is what led to Acting for Animators. To this very day, I continue to refine what goes on in the class, but I now have a concrete understanding of what animators do and how it differs from what stage actors do. I continue to teach stage actors but, when I teach animators, I essentially change hats. Actors operate in the "present moment"; animators, by contrast, do not really have a present moment. Animators have twenty-four-frames-make-a-second. Animators have the illusion of a present moment. One must therefore teach acting theory to actors in a different way than one teaches it to animators. I learned the lessson, with the help of PDI/DreamWorks, the hard way.
TT: Do you feel that animators that use different techniques - 3D, 2D, stop-motion - will get the same use from the course? Are there certain components that may speak more or be more important to one person because of the technique he or she uses?
EH: Acting theory is acting theory, and it doesn't matter what animation technique you use: it is all about storytelling, and the process is ancient, going all the way back to Aristotle. I teach that the origins of acting lie in shamanism. An actor steps in front of the tribe, draws a circle in the dirt and says, in effect, "Listen to me. I have something to tell you." The tribe gathers round, hoping to learn something about survival on earth. The story is everything. It doesn't matter if you are using 2D, 3D, stop motion or... whatever. If you have something useful to say to the tribe, it will be well taken. If you do not, it will not.
TT: Mark Mayerson would like to know, when you are doing talks at studios, if you make recommendations for keeping characters consistent given that multiple animators will be working with the same character. That's obviously a problem that live actors don't have to deal with.
EH: I recommend that, at the beginning of a project, the animation director establish a "character bible" that contains everything there is to know about each individual character. Usually, the character bible is a three-ring notebook. It contains drawings of the characters, biographies, descriptions, et cetera. All of the animators working on a particular character should refer back to that bible. It should be kept in some place that is open to the entire production team.
TT: Do you have a specific teaching experience you would like to share?
EH: One of my students- Sharon Coleman- received an Academy Award nomination in 2006. Ms. Coleman was in my class in Swansea, South Wales and again at the National Film School in the UK. I had the opportunity to monitor her progress, from initial idea all the way to final 2D execution of Badgered. I was fortunate to be able to give her advice at several different stages of development. Sharon is a brilliant storyteller and animator, currently working for DreamWorks in Los Angeles, but at that time she was a student. I am proud of my input into her project.
My worst experience would probably be at a game company- not to be named. I was hired to teach an Acting for Animators class and, before the class started, the company owner took me into his office to explain what he wanted. He showed me a sports video, a football thing. He explained that he had himself performed as a mo-cap [motion capture] performer for some of the crashes and falls. He wanted me to teach his animators to do "good acting" such as he was doing in his mo-cap suit. Oh, Jesus! The man was very nice, but he didn't have a clue about acting! Taking falls on-camera had nothing whatever to do with acting theory. I can remember grinning at him and assuring him that I would teach them how to do it right. Then I went into workshop and taught my regular class.
TT:After Montreal, where will you go next in 2007?
EH: For certain, I will be working at Swansea Animation Days in Swansea, South Wales, and at Animex in Teesside, England and at FMX in Stuttgart, Germany. It is looking like I will be going to Australia for the third time in late September. The last time I taught in Oz was for Animal Logic, which was at the time working on Happy Feet.
May 21, 2007
I've been remiss, because I haven't yet mentioned that Bitter Films Volume One: 1995-2005, the collected films of Don Hertzfeldt, is one of the funniest and most enjoyable DVDs I've watched in a while. You could make a convincing argument that shorts like Billy's Balloon (in which a rogue balloon beats the tar out of its toddler owner) and catchphrase-inspiring lines like "My anus is bleeding!" place Hertzfeldt's work squarely in the frat-boy demographic, and I'd have a hard time disagreeing with you. The thing is, Hertzfeldt combines delightfully deadpan dialogue with a minimalist (read: stick-figure) yet expressive drawing style and a real talent for planning technically elaborate sequences that fit the story without screaming "Aren't I awesome?" Dive in to the copious extras and you'll probably come away more impressed than when you went in.
Speaking of DVD compilations and independent animators, you don't want to miss Liquid Tales, the collection of Patrick Smith's work. In some ways Smith's work is the opposite of Hertzfeldt's—it's colourful and scratchy and distinctively rendered—but it's no less enjoyable or personal. But hey, what say I show rather than tell: check out Puppet, his latest film, on Yahoo.
I've always said that a key difference between live-action filmmaking and animation filmmaking is that it's possible, though unlikely, that a live-action director can shoot a ten-minute film in ten minutes, while it's utterly impossible for an animation director to do so. J.Walt Adamczyk, who contributed to our January 2006 issue, insists on proving me wrong. His Spontaneous Fantasia, a one-hour animated program that he creates live, will be showing in a 180° full-dome theatre at the Glendale Community College Planetarium for four days in June, for a mere ten bucks ($6 for the under-twelves).
Don't know how this book slipped under my radar, but it looks fascinating. Orwell Subverted: The CIA and the Filming of Animal Farm digs into the CIA's hand in the creation of Halas and Batchelor's 1954 feature adaptation of George Orwell's novel. Author Daniel Leab not only dug through production archives and interviews, but CIA papers uncovered through the Freedom of Information Act. By the way, you can get 20% off the rather hefty $55 list price if you call 1-800-326-9180 (it's toll free) and mention the code OSRC.