Saturday, April 19, 2014

James Baker's Days at Cuckoo's Nest

sketch by James Baker
I first met James Baker at Cuckoo's Nest Studio in Taiwan, in 1986.  He was working on Hanna Barbera shows,  and I was there for retakes on The Brave Little Toaster.  He gives an hilarious account of his experiences in his blog.  I can attest to the veracity of his tales - he tells it how it was!
Check it out!

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Richard Bazley introduces Lost Treasure Hunt - just launched at Kickstarter

Richard Bazley is an animator, director and film-maker who has just launched a new animated film project at Kickstarter - Lost Treasure Hunt, a history adventure series intended to entertain and educate. The project is being made in partnership with the public broadcasting giant PBS. Here Richard talks about the genesis of the project, and how the public can get involved - and help bring it to life.

Sunday, April 13, 2014

British animation industry booms

Calamity Island. Shipwrecks... and penguins
According to an article in today's Guardian, the British cartooning industry is booming as never before, thanks in large part to the tax credits put in place by Chancellor George Osbourne in April 2013. CBeebies, the UK's most popular broadcaster of animated children's content, is apparently doubling its output, and it is largely local talent which will reap the rewards of this new boom in UK cartoon spending.

Friday, April 11, 2014

DNeg and Elizabeth Murdoch to open Locksmith Animation studio in the UK

According to yesterday's Variety, Elizabeth Murdoch and the London based visual effects house Double Negative are opening an animation studio in the UK, to be known as Locksmith Animation. The venture is being piloted by Sarah Smith, who was the writer and co-director of the Aardman animated feature film Arthur Christmas.

Friday, April 4, 2014

Wide Mike in Pharmacy

Wide Mike by Steve Moore
"This tells me nothing."  he said with a groan, gently flicking the paper back to me from behind the pharmacy counter.

My wife was getting her bi-weekly chemotherapy, and she sent me down to pharmacy to answer a question they had regarding her new insurance carrier.  She did not yet have a new insurance card, so she gave me sheet of paper with all the information printed on it, with the instruction, "Show this to pharmacy."  The pharmacist, a wide, miserable sack of paste named Mike, wasn't in the mood for my sheet of paper, and dismissed me with a passive smirk, avoiding eye contact.

Thursday, April 3, 2014

DreamWorks' artist Nassos Vakalis introduces his latest short film: "Dinner for Few"

Nassos Vakalis is a story board artist, director and animator who has worked for many years at DreamWorks, storyboarding on just about every DreamWorks film you can think of over the last ten or fifteen years. He and I worked together on many projects, during the course of which I learned to respect his skill, versatility and speed. Nassos also writes and directs his own short films; his most recent short is the impressively designed and very ambitious Dinner for Few. FLIP asked him a few questions about how he managed to complete such a complex project.

Sunday, March 30, 2014

A Letter from Tee

I recently came across a box full of keepsakes from my days as a CalArts student.  Among the memory jogging items were sketches and a letter by animation legend T. Hee.  Tee was one of my teachers, and we bonded over our love for the skewed and whimsical.  Finding these items was a thrill, as I had not seen them in almost thirty years.

At school,  Tee would make the rounds and hang with anyone interested in his input.  He would place tracing paper over my designs and, with a few tweaks, make it work.  He would make clucking sounds with his tongue while marking little x-es on my tangents.  He would move an arm or leg a little to get balance or silhouette.   I took advantage of any opportunity to sit with him as he went over my sketches and storyboards.

Saturday, March 29, 2014

The Evolution of Convolution

The following story is fiction.  But it is not bullshit.

My neighbor, Dick, is in the pharmaceutical business.  His hero is Dr. Henri Breault, who, in 1967, invented the child-proof cap.  Dick was four years old at the time, and still recalls his first encounter with such a cap, when he swallowed nine of his father's pills for back pain and had to have his stomach pumped.  He was only four, but had outsmarted Dr. Breault.  Dick has dedicated his adult life to making something as simple as taking a pill a major hassle by designing packaging that is not only child-proof, but a major challenge to adults as well.

Dick was participating in a trade show called "The Evolution of Convolution", and I was given a free pass.  I didn't feel like going, but after last month's blizzard,  my snow plow guy had dumped my driveway snow into his driveway, and I felt I owed him one.

I had no idea what to expect, but never imagined it would be as big as it was.  Apparently, convolution is a big business.   As I entered the convention hall, I was handed a map with a schematic of the booths.  The room was laid out like a maze, presumably in keeping with the theme.  There was a numbered list of vendors, though the booths on the map were lettered.

Saturday, March 22, 2014

Disney Animation Florida is Still Closed

Roller Coaster Rabbit, produced at Disney Feature Animation Florida.

This month marks the the tenth anniversary of the closing of Disney Feature Animation Florida; not that anyone is celebrating.

Florida based animator Hugo Giraud recalled his days at the studio:

"I worked on Brother Bear as in-house freelancer, and was let go right after it. I was hoping to come back on My Peoples (or A Few Good Ghosts as it was renamed) since I'd seen some 2D development character art done by Andreas Deja, director Barry Cook, and animator Paul Kashuk.  I had friends at the studio and some of them were starting CG training because My Peoples was going to be a 2D/3D hybrid. 

Just as they were supposed to start production on the movie, the plug was pulled. David Stainton was seen as the culprit, since the direction of the studio was going strictly CG. There were people that were in that studio for 10 years and more - that was their life and all they knew. They'd grown up together, like a family, and not only shared work time together but been through houses, partners, marriages, kids born and grow up, divorces, etc... It was a really somber vibe, a lot of people didn't know what they were going to do. 

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Free live webinar at Escape Studios on March 26

I'll be doing a live animation webinar courtesy of London's Escape Studios on Wednesday 26 March at 6pm. We'll be tackling the animation of multi-legged creatures, and I'll be demonstrating a technique that allows you to animate apparently complex creatures in a simple way, creating sophisticated animation in a clean and efficient workflow. It's only an hour long, it'll be fun - and it's completely free!

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

How do animation graduates find work in the animation industry?

How animation graduates find work in the animation industry? Now that I spend a lot of my time teaching, I get asked this question a great deal. There is no simple or straightforward answer. Jobs in the entertainment industry have always been highly competitive, and the supply of trained graduates competing for the best entry-level positions has never been greater. Official jobs postings, word of mouth, rumours in the pub, personal contacts, even cold-calling - all of these can be effective ways to find work in the business. Below are the twelve key rules that I think are vital for success.

Monday, March 10, 2014

Bugs Bunny is Still Dead

Bugs Bunny in the year 2000.  Bob Clampett got it right.

The animation world is a tither over Warner Bros. announcement of it's umpteenth revamp of the Looney Tunes franchise in Wabbit - A Looney Tunes Production.  Fans are either salivating or puking.  Much ado about Bugsy.

Sunday, March 2, 2014

Are universities failing the UK's visual effects industry?

Pat Joseph, co-founder and chief creative officer of The Mill, certainly thinks so. In this post at the Televisual blog,  Joseph argues that higher education in the UK is not responding to the needs of the visual effects industry, and is not training students of the digital arts to a sufficiently high calibre. Critics of UK government policy argue that tax breaks for the creative industries create unfair competition (see thursday's post about the sad end of Rythm and Hues). But could it be that, despite the tax breaks, the university sector is the achilles heel of visual effects work in the UK?

Thursday, February 27, 2014

Life After Pi - the sad end of R&H

In this excellent 30 minute documentary, the film-makers explore the sad end of Rythm and Hues, one of the world's finest visual effects houses, pioneers in photo realistic character animation. The film explores how R&H strove to be the best in the world, but also what was the financial cost of that search for excellence.

The chief villain of the film is the film subsidies coming from countries like Canada and the UK, where the Government offers tax rebates to create financial incentives for work to be done at home, stimulating domestic creative industries. What this leads to, of course, is a competitive auction for visual effects work, with artists acting as "pixel gypsies", following the studios to far-away cities in search of work, as changing tax subsidies send work to different countries.

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Huffington Posts' "Jessie" Theory

An article in the Huffington Post puts forward an interesting theory:  Woody's female counterpart Jessie originally belonged to…….belonged to……..

Andy's mother!

Here's the article:  

You tell me, are they right?

Monday, February 24, 2014

Harold Ramis, One of the Good Guys


I was very sorry to hear of Harold Ramis' death today.  He was one of my favorites on SCTV in the '70's.  Watching that show as an 8th grade super 8 filmmaker, I never dreamt I would one day get to work with Moe Green himself.

Thirteen years later, Tom Wilhite at Hyperion Animtion hired me to direct the feature Rover Dangerfield.  I was only 26, and had more hubris than experience.  It was Rodney Dangerfield's baby, and he got Harold Ramis to write a script.  It wasn't a horrible first draft, though Harold did not put his name on it.  With story artist Rebecca Rees, who was pregnant with her son Ian,  we started working to improve the script.

I had a meeting with Rodney in his suite at the Beverly Hilton.  Just me and him.  He started to read the script aloud - a 120 page script.  He would read a little, stop and talk about it, then read some more.  Feeling trapped, I tried to talk about some of the broad strokes changes I wanted to make, as if the 69 year-old comedy genius gave a firm crap about the story ideas of a 26 year old kid.  "I thought you liked the script."  Rodney kept saying.  I backpedalled like Ralph Kramden, "Hamina hamina hamina…."  Not only was this not a first draft for him, it was the shooting script.

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Farewell Frank Terry

Frank ran the Character Animation course at CalArts
 Animator and teacher Frank Terry has died. According to his family:
"....(Frank) passed away on Tuesday, February 11th in the morning.  It was sudden in the sense that his diagnosis of pulmonary fibrosis only came 2 1/2 months ago and he had a precipitous decline from Friday, February 7 until he passed on Tuesday".

Frank ran the animation program at the California Institute of the Arts for many years, including the years 1996-1998 when I taught evening classes there in character animation, driving up the 5 freeway two nights a week to give lectures at the very strange but very creative place that is CalArts.

Sunday, February 16, 2014

Nancy Beiman Talks to NPR

FLiP's own Nancy Beiman has now had two major interviews in one month.  First, as part of the Vanity Fair story on the early days of the CalArts Character Animation program, and now a follow up interview on NPR's Weekend Edition, where she dishes a bit on life in A-113….

Friday, February 14, 2014

Introducing Nano Films

Everyone needs an animated film, even if they don't know it yet. Ten years ago, no-one could have imagined that every plumber would need a website. I predict that, in ten years time, every business will want a short animated film that tells the story of what they do.

Maybe it will be an animated logo, a mini infomercial, something to play on a smart phone, or a short film on their website, something that makes their business unique and different, something that reaches audiences (especially younger ones) who don't want to read pages of dull text on a static site.

The only trouble is - the cost. Animation is time-consuming and expensive. But what if we could make animated films really cheaply, for a tiny budget? Then, surely, everyone could afford one, and businesses all over the world would queue up to commission small films.

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Looking Backward

I'm writing this as a bit of an addendum to the VANITY FAIR article on the early years of Cal Arts.

I'm pleased and honored to have been included in the list of interviewees, and think that the article is a good snapshot of that time. But like a snapshot, it only shows a few details, while others are fuzzy, and there may be distortions to the image. This post will attempt to bring one issue in particular back into focus.

One attitude that prevailed at that time was that if you weren't going to Disney you weren't going anywhere. After all, the Cal Arts program had been set up to retrain artists for the Disney studio as the older artists retired. We ate, breathed and learned from Disney films (This monolithic attitude began to crack in our second year, thanks to my classmate Darrell van Citters, who arranged visits after hours from artists Michael Maltese, Mike Lah, Maurice Noble and Ed Love as a hint of what else was out there.) Cal Arts sponsored a talk by Chuck Jones and another by Richard Williams.

Sunday, February 9, 2014

The Hunched and Goofy in Vanity Fair

The latest issue of Vanity Fair has a fantastic article on the genesis of the CalArts Character Animation program and the Hollywood heavyweights who got their start there.  Among them is FLiP's own Nancy Beiman, who is extensively quoted in the piece.  Congrats, Nancy!

Saturday, February 8, 2014

Fail Faster

The idea behind this excellent four minute video is - that since all of us are likely fail in almost everything we do (at least at first) - then the key to success is to fail faster.  The argument runs like this: no idea comes out fully formed, it needs to be tweaked, revised and perfected, but you have to get it out there to see how best to improve it.

Thursday, February 6, 2014

The Interview - brought to you by The Animation Workshop

The Interview

The Animation Workshop in Viborg, Denmark, is one of Europe's leading animation schools, perhaps the best English-language animation school outside of North America. It's a hugely creative place, packed with energy and life, full of talented students doing their best to learn animation and, in their final year, make their own mark on the industry with a stunning short film. This year is no exception.

One of this year's most successful films is Interview, a funny and surprising film with a delicious twist. Two of its creators, Mikkel Okholm and Mikkel Brons-Frandsen, talked to FLiP about how it came about.

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Big Bruddah, with the Goo Goo Googley Eyes

Don Martin predicted Mark Zuckerberg in a 1970's Mad Magazine. 
The Spirit of St. Louis was playing recently on TV - James Stewart as Charles Lindbergh, an aw-shucks guy making the world's first solo trans-Atlantic flight.   The film relies on Stewart's voice-over narration to express Lindbergh's inner thoughts during the flight.  It brought to mind an early Saturday Night Live spoof of the film featuring Buck Henry, with much sillier voice-over, and a running gag where Lindbergh peers out the window, only to be splashed with a bucket of water.  He is ultimately visited by the Landshark.

Curious to see the skit, I did a Google search.  I didn't find a video clip, but I did find a transcript, from an episode on May, 21, 1977.  I was in 8th grade, but my memory of the skit was very good, considering I had not seen it since.  Curiosity satisfied.

A few days later, I got an e-mail on my g-mail account from, subject line, "Saturday Night Live, May 14, 1977".   Their message was:

Thursday, January 30, 2014

Stephan Franck talks about Silver - courtesy of the CTN


"You have to be your own person, or die." ~Stephan Franck  
The Creative Talent Network (CTN) often hosts interviews with creative individuals in the animation industry doing especially interesting work. Below is the text of a recent interview with Stephan Franck, animator, director, storyboard artist and now the author of a highly successful series of independently published graphic novels - Silver. Stephan also happens to be a former kumrad from many an animated film, and a friend of FLiP Here, Stephan talks to CTN about how he got Silver off the ground.