Monday, September 15, 2014


KAHLIL GIBRAN’S THE PROPHET played at Tiff on Friday night at the gorgeous Winter Garden Theatre. This film, which was produced by Salma Hayek and directed by Roger Allers, has no distribution at present. I hope that this is rectified since it certainly should be seen by larger audiences. It uses a FANTASIA like construction with animated sequences illustrating Gibran’s poetry in a wide variety of styles. The original book of poetry had a very slight setting where AlMustafa is addressing the people of Orphalese before taking ship for home. In the film the linking narrative, written by Roger Allers, has a dark undertone. It involves Almitra, a wild little girl, her mother Kamila, and Halim, a Turkish guard who befriend the imprisoned poet Mustafa, who may or may not be returning home on his ship.
The story is well directed, with animation produced at Bardel Animation, Vancouver. I was amused to see that I recognized Nik Ranieri’s animation long before I read the credits. It was also nice to see other old friends from Disney working on this picture…along with a few of our Sheridan grads!
The art direction is extremely varied and most of it is outstanding. I was particularly impressed with Michael Socha’s opening sequence, which beautifully illustrated the meaning of the poem in a stunning technique. Tomm Moore’s and Bill Plympton’s sequences also nicely illustrated the subject matter and displayed their characteristic styles. One or two sequences were less interesting to me but all were a refreshing change from mass produced ‘franchise’ films, and the ending was genuinely moving. You care about what happens to Mustafa. I hope that some distributor cares about this movie enough to take a risk on it. It will do well in festivals and ‘art houses’—and maybe more, if people get a chance to see it. That theatre was packed to the rafters!

KAHLIL GIBRAN’S THE PROPHET played at Tiff on Friday night at the gorgeous Winter Garden Theatre. This film, which was produced by Salma Hayek and directed by Roger Allers, has no distribution at present. I hope that this is rectified since it certainly should be seen by larger audiences. It uses a FANTASIA like construction with animated sequences illustrating Gibran’s poetry in a wide variety of styles. 

Friday, September 12, 2014

What Makes a Great Animator? James Chiang Explains

The animator who brought you surfing penguins
Animator, Director and artist James "JC" Chiang has worked as an animator on many feature films including Robots, Ice Age - The Meltdown, Surf's Up and Open Season, and was animation director on the 2008 Veggie Tales movie. He teaches animation at Animation Mentor, and is a fine artist in his own right. We asked him to talk about what, exactly, makes a great animator.

Friday, August 29, 2014

Director Frank Gladstone talks about his new film "Hero of Color City"

Frank Gladstone is a producer, director, animation entrepreneur and the Executive Director of ASIFA Hollywood, the organisation that hosts the annual ANNIE awards - the "animation Oscars". Frank has just finished directing his first feature length animated film, The Hero of Color City, which will be released in cinemas in October. In a Skype interview (a first for FLiP!) we asked him to talk about the challenges of directing an indie animated film and bringing it to the screen.

Monday, August 25, 2014

Timo Vuorensola, Director of Iron Sky, explains Crowd Funding for Beginners

Timo Vuorensola, director of Iron Sky, gave a lecture at Closing The Gap, a European conference on film financing, explaining how to crowd fund an independent feature film. Iron Sky was initially funded through online sources, and later on secured more conventional funding on the back of the crowd-sourced contributions. Timo explained how he pulled off such an ambitious and successful project by starting an online fan base to help make his film.

Saturday, August 2, 2014

THE STRESSFUL ADVENTURES OF BOXHEAD AND ROUNDHEAD: Independent Animated Feature made (almost literally) on a Shoestring

The computer has not only made it possible to animate in three or four dimensions, it's eliminated a great deal of the repetitive work associated with drawn animation and made it possible for independents and students to have production values that once were only the provenance of very high budget features. It's amazing to consider that THE STRESSFUL ADVENTURES OF BOXHEAD AND ROUNDHEAD, a new independent animated feature from animator/instructor Elliot Cowan, had a smaller budget than many animated commercials.
The gorgeous art direction  by Elliot Cowan and Neil Campbell Ross gives the film a stylish look that does not resemble that of other films. The animation style, which is simultaneously whip-like and rubbery, perfectly suits the story of the commercialization of art and the drawbacks of living in the city--and also living in the country.
Boxhead and Roundhead are two friends who live in a small country shack menaced by carnivores, one of whom is the size of a small building.
When the city shoots a garbage projectile too far and destroys their home, the two friends travel there to seek redress. On the way Roundhead explores the arts while Boxhead endures a demeaning 'day job'. 
The film's message is that it isn't hard work that guarantees success; and it also isn't art. Boxhead and Roundhead are a 21st century Laurel and Hardy who seem destined to fail at even the simplest tasks. 
The music by the Gadflys was well chosen and the voice work by Elliot Cowan (as most of the characters) and his cast was excellent. I did find the music mixed a little high at some points, and since the film is very dialogue-heavy this sometimes interfered; but it was easy to follow the story.
The Stressful Adventures of Boxhead and Roundhead took two years to make and was partially funded by the Romanian film office.  It premièred at the Melbourne Animation Festival in 2014. Animators contemplating making an independent feature (and there are more of them than ever before) should watch this film and read Elliot's entries on his blog describing how it was done.  It's also a lot of fun to read.
Congratulations, Elliot...and I hope to see this film on the big screen soon.

Friday, August 1, 2014

Why Students Need to Fail

Jason Thompson
At the recent SAS (Society of Animation Studies) conference in Toronto, Sheridan professor Jason Thompson gave a brief but fascinating talk on "Why our students need to fail". Citing the book by Guy Claxton What is the point of school?, Jason argued that school is important because of eight critical things that students must learn:

Saturday, July 26, 2014

Do students need to go to university to learn to animate?

The TAAFI Education Panel
On Monday 16 June TAAFI - the Toronto Animation Art Festival International - hosted a panel talk on the subject of  “An Animation Education”. The sub-title of the talk was “Do you need to go to university to learn animation?”. In other words, given all the opportunities now available to study online, should  students still commit to the expense and time of a full undergraduate education?

On the panel to discuss the question were Richard Arroyo – head of Games at,  Mark Jones, chair, School of Creative Arts, Aubrey Mintz, Head of Animation, California State University Long Beach, Brooke Keesling, Manager, Animation Talent, and Tony Tarantini, Sheridan College Professor of Animation. The first question was this:

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Story Masterclass with Frank Gladstone in London on 16th August - just £6!

Lupus films, the folks who brought you The Snowman and The Snowdog, are running a one day masterclass with animation industry veteran Frank Gladstone on August 16th in London - for just £6. Anyone who is serious about story telling in animation should attend - I'll most likely be there myself, furiously taking notes. Frank is a world-class talent whose credits include some of the biggest hits in animation history. I attended his month-long story seminar at Lupus last year. Full details below:

Monday, July 14, 2014

T Dan Hofstedt reveals The Secret of Animation

T. Dan Hofstedt - animation supremo
My old friend and former kumrad at Disney animation, T Dan Hofsted, recently posted at Facebook a reply to a student asking how to become an animator. T Dan is one of the best animators I know, a veteran of countless Disney hits including The Lion King, Pocahontas, Hercules and Mulan, so he ought to know a thing or two about how to make it as an animator. Here is what he wrote:

Saturday, July 5, 2014

The Neuroscience of animation

Your brain, but animated
At this year's SAS (Society of Animation Studies) conference in Toronto, a number of presentations focused on the subject of Animation and the Mind - The Neuroscience of Animation. This field of research tries to look at animation from a neuroscientific point of view, asking what it is about the design and structure of our brains that influences how we watch and enjoy animation.

Monday, June 30, 2014

Flipping The Classroom

Alex Williams
Alex Williams' presentation at the Society of Animation Studies lasted only five minutes but had more content than many I heard that ran four times as long. Alex recommends 'flipping' the classroom by assigning lecture videos as homework (as he does with Animation Apprecntice, his online course) and concentrating on work in progress during studio sessions. "The beauty of an online lecture is that if you don't get it the first time, you watch it again and again". Of course...some students don't watch the videos. These are the same students who 'glance' at reading assignments in the textbooks (translation: they stared at the cover for a few seconds but didn't open the book.) And they are the same students who won't do well in class and who won't get great grades. Ultimately, you can't make people learn...they have to want to do it. But it does make sense to maximize studio time and minimize lecture time, since we are working in visual media. Alex can 'pitch' really well, too.


Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Nancy Beiman explains why animators ought to study Charlie Chaplin

The Little Tramp. Photo: Wikipedia
Why should animators watch Charlie Chaplin films? Nancy Beiman, former supervising animator at Disney Feature Animation and now one of the key professors at Sheridan College in Toronto (and contributor to FLiP), has the answer. It's because good animators are pantomime artists, and Chaplin was "the greatest pantomimer of them all". At the 2014 SAS (Society of Animation Studies) conference in Toronto, Nancy explained how animation and silent film comedy developed together, inspiring one another to perfect the art of physical comedy.

Monday, June 9, 2014

Pete Western reports on "A Moment in Time" at BFI - the first ever public screening of "The Thief and the Cobbler" in the UK

Animation people in the UK were in for a rare treat on the first Sunday in June. AMPAS [Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences] arranged a screening of the work print of Richard Williams’ lost masterpiece “The Thief & the Cobbler” followed by a Q & A with the man himself. This event was all the more extraordinary because until AMPAS got in touch with Mr. Williams to tell him they were digitizing and archiving the original director’s cut, he had refused to answer all questions about the film.

Friday, June 6, 2014

D-Day 70 years on - filmed by Uncle Ken

Canadian riflemen land at Juno Beach, D Day, 6 June 1944. Colour photo by Ken Bell
This article about my great-cunle Ken Bell was first posted last year, but today, the 70th anniversary of the D-Day landings, seems like a good day to re-visit Uncle Ken's life and work.

Ken Bell was my great uncle. Before WW2 he was a keen amateur photographer and, soon after Canada declared war on Nazi Germany in 1939, he joined up, offering his services to the newly formed Canadian Army Film and Photo Unit, a propaganda outfit which would record Canada's involvement in the war.

On 6 June 1944, 70 years ago today, along with tens of thousands of American, British, Canadian, and other Allied forces, Ken landed at Juno Beach in Normandy with the Highland Light Infantry of Canada, on day one of Operation Overlord.

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Remembering Caron Creed

Caron Creed at work on Who Framed Roger Rabbit?. Photo: Pete Western
Caron Creed, animator, designer, wife and mother, died in her sleep last night. She had fought breast cancer for over a year, but it returned with a vengeance and she was taken into hospital on Sunday. Caron was a talented artist and huge fun to be around. On Who Framed Roger Rabbit?, where I met her, she was always the first to lead a friday night expedition to the local pub, and then beyond to the Camden Palace, where "Rabbit" animators unwound after a week of toil.

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Lawrence Marvit introduces Myths from the Underground - out tomorrow!

Myths from the Underground is a new graphic novel from Eisner-nominated artist Lawrence Marvit. Ever wondered what happened to all the gods from ancient mythology whom no-one worships anymore? Wonder no more. They're still here, very much alive and among us - you just haven't noticed them. In an exclusive interview with FLiP, Lawrence explains how it all came about.

Monday, May 26, 2014

Losing Donna

On May 16, my wife, Donna, lost her life to cancer.   She was first diagnosed in December of 2010, and over the past three and a half years overcame every obstacle.  I wrote about her fight in FLiP.  But two weeks ago the obstacles became too many, too steep, and too overwhelming.  I was with her at the end, and she died peacefully.

Sunday, May 11, 2014

What does a visual effects supervisor do, exactly?

Matt Johnson (left) in Los Angeles on Beverly Hills Chihuahua
What does a Visual Effects Supervisor actually do – and how do you become one? Matt Johnson, veteran VFX supervisor on dozens of Hollywood hits, including World War Z, Into The Woods, V for Vendetta, X Men, and Chronicles of Narnia, explains what a Visual Effects Supervisor actually does for a living, and how an aspiring film-maker might become one.

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

UK Premiere of "A Moment in Time" - The Director's Cut of The Thief and The Cobbler - at BFI on June 1st

On June 1st, the BFI (British Film Institute) in association with the Academy of Motion Arts and Sciences is screening the UK and European premiere of "The Thief and the Cobbler: A Moment in Time" - the long-awaited Director's Cut of Richard Williams' lost masterpiece.

BFI will be screening a new digital version of the reconstructed work-print at the BFI/Southbank in London. Richard Williams will be in discussion with veteran film critic David Robinson following the screening. BFI members can buy tickets now - and tickets go on sale to the general public on May 13th

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Disney Animation and the Autistic

CBS Sunday Morning ran a story about an autistic boy who related to the world through Disney animated films - specifically the old school, hand drawn films. It's an amazing piece that underscores how character animation can be truly magic.

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.