Dec 29, 2005

Michael Barrier is well worth reading

I'd not noticed til this morning that Michael Barrier had graciously noted the existence of the Blackwing Diaries over on his site, in his December 19th entry. An honor!
While I have never spoken personally to Mr. Barrier(we've exchanged a few emails over the last year or so), his Funnyworld was, and remains, the finest magazine I know devoted to cartoon animation. Amid Amidi's Animation Blast is also excellent, and catching up fast to that distinction, but Barrier owns the award for writing on animation at a time that couldn't have been less encouraging, the mid-late 1970s. Long before the Illusion of Life, long before Of Mice and Magic, Barrier was devoting space in his magazine to both Disney and Warner Bros. animation, taking the styles of both Milt Kahl and Rob Scribner seriously as performance(the only other attention paid across the spectrum to the arts of animation was in Danny and Gerald Peary's 1980 The American Animated Cartoon, an anthology with priceless essays and interviews).

The most refreshing thing in Funnyworld was how honest and opinionated its various viewpoints could be, particularly Barrier's, without ever--in my opinion at least--descending into the kind of snideness of a John Simon or a Richard Schickel. I still disagree heartily with some of Barrier's opinions, but he expresses them so well that even a viewpoint quite opposite to my own is a pleasure to read--sometimes a slightly infuriating pleasure, but always laced with respect. And often extremely funny, in a dry vein. I made one particular trip to the Margaret Herrick Library at the Motion Picture Academy simply to be able to read out-of-print back issues of Funnyworld; one reviewed both the film and book detailing the production (by the aforementioned John Canemaker--he too a pioneer in animation scholarship) of "Raggedy Ann and Andy". I burst out laughing at one dead-on description(by Barrier)of the design of Raggedy Ann, and its limitations:" ...there are times when Ann, with her pop eyes and flat face, comes periously close to looking like a friendly fish". Ouch! But true.
His particular Grail (which he writes about frequently) is that of true animation performance; a living, breathing being brought to life via the pencil...the same thing that's brought 99% of animation artists to the trade...and what all animators strive for.

I myself have never worked as an animator, spending the majority of my career in story, but one brief, pre-Calarts idyll taking a union assistant class from Dale Oliver exposed me to the pure pleasure of the moving line, even though we were limited to doing careful inbetweens of scenes Dale himself had worked on--from "101 Dalmations", "Jungle Book", and "The Rescuers". I love the look, the reality of animation at its finest; at CalArts Glen Keane brought his sequence--all rough animation, virtually no cleanups-of "Part of Your World" to screen for our dept.; the beauty--not of the music, which is certainly pretty and catchy, but of Glen's rough, fat lines describing a young woman's yearning face, her 'spontaneous" gestures, her eyes--how was he able to do that? I admit, I cried at the exquisiteness of it. The way I cry watching scenes from "Bambi", or at--this will really out me as a geek--the credits cards in "Pinocchio": seeing the names of such amazing, everyday-joe, brilliant artists as the animators on those pictures...will the bar ever be set that high again?

So, back to Barrier: this is what he writes about. He's working(almost finished--but can still use some particular details, if you have any--go take a look at his blog) on a biography of Walt Disney right now; I am sure it will be the seminal book.

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