Aug 28, 2006

Cartoon Modern, the book

It's here!

Amid Amidi's much-anticipated Cartoon Modern has finally arrived in my mailbox. Tantalized by the graphic "leftovers" Amid's been posting these past months on his concurrent blog, my expectations were high.

one of the pages illustrating the Walt Disney studio entry

I'm happy to report that the book lives up to and exceeds my hopes and then some--it's a very handsomely produced volume focusing on the insanely fertile midcentury modern period of American animation, both commercial and theatrical.
The publisher, Chronicle, has a well-earned reputation for excellent, attractive layout and design and their approach is a perfect fit with the subject matter, tailor-made for prominent placement on coffee tables of design and animation lovers everywhere.

designs by Gene Hazelton for the Grantray-Lawrence studio

"Cartoon Modern-style and design in fifties animation" is arranged as a encyclopedia of studios, from Academy Pictures to Warner Bros., each chapter filled with eye-popping and mostly, I'm sure, unpublished designs, character models, backgrounds, storyboards--you name it. Leafing through the 200 pages I'm struck with the caliber of work from studios I've never heard of in my life: Elektra Films, Grantray-Lawrence Animation, Academy Pictures--next to Disney, UPA, Playhouse, Warner Bros. and a dozen others. The time span covered is surprisingly short--barely more than ten years, and the same names(Hubley, for instance)pop up in more than one entry. There's an addendum on the international scene and even a fascinating black-and-white "Yearbook" section of photographs of almost all the noted artists. I haven't even begun to really dig in, but it's gorgeous, inspiring, and obviously fills a pretty fair-sized gap in animation history to date. This is one of those titles that everyone reading this just has to have. My few poor scans are must be seen and savored to be truly appreciated.

Availiable now from Amazon, and at your local bookstore.

(*I hope Amid will forgive me one little note/correction: a typically goofball photo taken at Ward Kimball's house to celebrate completion of "Toot, Whistle, Plunk & Boom" misidentifies Ward's wife Betty--she's the bespectacled lady in the front row wearing a black blouse with pearls, seated near their daughter Kelly; by the way--leave it to Ward to have a full-sized stuffed lion in his living room.)
(**Whoops! And now I've piled boo-boo upon boo-boo, and misidentified Betty Kimball myself! As Amid points out in his comments, Betty(who I bloody well knew is a blonde)is the lady in the chunky necklace sitting on the lion's back. Now, doesn't this description intrigue you? And this is just the photo section!)

Happy Monday

I wrote about her a few weeks ago, but as she's recently posted such appealing drawings on her blog I link once again to Mlle
Aurélie Blard-Quintard.
We just bid her farewell upon her return to live and work in her own Paris--a loss to animation here. Just look and enjoy her irresistible sketchbook. Lovely stuff.

One of the great things about working where I do is the chance to brush shoulders with a large contingent of artists from all over the world. I'm constantly marveling at the dash, style, technique and perspective of all these super artists, some of which are linked here and over at Patrick Mate's blog, as well as at Cartoon Brew. For inspiration and plain visual candy, you'll find these men and women hard to beat.

Aug 24, 2006

Again, about Joe

Joe Ranft, from 'skribbl"'s video circa Disney 1985

Two lovely posts in other blogs have come to my attention in the last few minutes, Story Boredom and Mark Kennedy have both posted tributes to Joe Ranft, whose death occured one year ago last week near Mendocino, California.
The Story Boredom post is wonderful--and of all things, it includes a video of Joe himself performing a bit of magic, circa 1985--two years before he taught at CalArts--a time when he'd just left Disney to do his own thing and a few short years before he settled into his incredibly productive work at the young Pixar studio. It's silent footage, but it's all Joe, and wonderful to see.

Mark's contains a doozy--Joe's just been rightfully honored in a special way at Disney Feature Animation--go see his photograph to find out how. And the previous post of Mark's has some of his own thoughts about knowing Joe as a teacher and friend. Mark's is an intensely valuable, professional blog concerning storytelling and filmmaking, and he rarely(if ever)alludes to anything personal, save for how it affects his art. Joe was certainly a personal influence on and friend to Mark, and as for his influence on the continuing art of his students and colleagues--well, go read what Mark has to say.

Aug 20, 2006

Animation and Magic

I saw a movie last night I highly recommend, "The Illusionist".
It's the sort of film that makes me feel viscerally why it is I love movies, and why I want to make them. It also happens to be a very low-budget production by typical standards(the average of a studio release now hovering somewhere around 60 million), I believe "The Illusionist" was made for under 20 million--an amazing accomplishment.
But imagination and intelligence are there in abundance, and the very mixed, date-night audience was held in rapt attention, the kind of vibe that you seldom get: a room filled with people all paying total attention to the screen. It was sold out too, a good sign...although that owed something to the fact that it's playing in a very limited release this weekend.

Your mileage, as they say, may vary, but if you want to see or love underplayed acting, mystery, restraint as a form of tension, and old-style wonderful make-believe--and if you love animation the odds are you do--I'll have to think you'd enjoy this. If you don't, that's okay too, mind you--I can also understand if it simply isn't someone's cup, but in any case, give it a chance. It'll probably open wider soon.

Why am I bringing this up in an animation blog? Well, some of the most delightful bits in "The Illusionist" are the humblest--the sleight of hand performed in real time in front of the camera(the magic performances advised and no doubt staged in some instances by the incomparable Ricky Jay). And animation has a sort of bond with magic, stage magic. Some of the earliest forms of animation were put to use in magic acts of the last and previous centuries, via magic lanterns and other effects. And all magic depends upon--can't in fact work without--the audiences' suspension of disbelief, a delight in experiencing something that can't be and believing it to be real. That's a fair definition of film animation, too.

It's perhaps not so odd, then, to discover how many animation artists are interested in magic, or are magicians themselves.
The first one I met was Joe Ranft.

Joe on the road--Route 66, in fact, as part of "Cars" research--getting a barber's once-over. From

Joe was our story teacher at Calarts--it was both his first teaching experience and our first as students in such a class. He taught us from 1st year through 2nd. Joe's gifts as a story guy and teacher are worthy of an entire post dedicated to that subject alone, but apropos of magic there's one particularly wonderful memory I have of him.

One night after the evening class had ended, a few of us TAs and others had been mixing cocktails and had a pleasantly tipsy buzz on when it came up that Joe (who was hanging out as he did before making his drive back south from Valencia) knew magic.
All over that like a seagull on a potato chip, I begged and begged Joe to please, please do some magic--and he agreed.
I believe he had a half-dollar on him(what self-respecting magician wouldn't?), someone produced some cards, and I have never had such fun watching magic done. Close-up magic is just that: we were all leaning over the table in the design room, crowding around him, staring directly at his hands while he produced the most deft effects I've ever seen. I remember the frisson of amazement and sheer joy I had, the back of my neck tingling watching him do impossible things.

What I remember too as specially impressive was how once he'd agreed to do magic, his demeanor changed. Always affable and sometimes just the tiniest bit shy in his manner, he transformed himself into a Joe that was completely different. His professional magician's persona was put on, and we got a real performance, very serious. His little audience (about 3 or 4 of us) was utterly in his thrall.
Upon finishing he just as quickly became just Joe again. Also magic!

Since then I've met other animation artists who grew up amateur magicians. There's a very strong corollary there, especially for animators and story artists, as Joe was: the art demands a strong performance ethic, an understanding of exactly how to direct the audience's attention where you want it at all times(or risk losing the joke/moment/trick), and a desire to delight and hypnotize your audience. Joe was a natural teacher; He had the furthest thing from a bombastic personality, but he was totally committed to his craft and that shone through brightly and clearly. He also had a genuine enthusiasm to see anything grow: a student's talent, an idea or a sequence--same thing. He'd give anyone's questions serious attention.
He'd say "this doesn't work at all--here's why". He'd laugh loudly and infectiously if he liked something--or loved it. if you were lucky. He was one of the most lovable personalities I've ever known, and surely ever will.

Of course I've nothing like the years upon years of close contact with him that his friends at Disney and later Pixar had; I hadn't seen him in at least 12 years when he died. But I'd thought about him often (which says everything about him, nothing in particular about me).
I always looked forward to seeing him somewhere soon, at any some function up north or down here--and I knew that if we did run across each other I'd greet him with a running jump and a hug. Not because I do that to everybody(I'm shy, too), but because he was just that sort of person. I wanted to tell him what I was doing now, thank him for all he did for me, ask about his kids and wife and his life up there, all sorts of things.
He might well have been embarrassed, but I wouldn't have been, because after all these years I still have huge wells of affection and gratitude for him and I am sure he'd have understood that. Because I was just one of hundreds of people who felt exactly the same way. And embarrassed or not he'd have gone out of his way to be kind to me as he did with everyone else. I'm sure I'll continue to be inspired by his example for the rest of my life.

That's magic.

Aug 18, 2006

Patrick Mate redux

A recent painting(analog, not digital)by my affable and modest neighbor, Patrick. Damn!
I admit ignorance on the entire story of his character "Mirabelle" the elfin little girl, but of course there must be one. He's got such a rich palette, both figuratively and literally, in all his work but I just love how he handles this fantastical girl. I want to see a book about her. Here's one of my very (recent) favorites:

For more detail in a larger copy, go to Patrick's blog and scroll down a bit; it's worth it
I love these women. They just beg to be about expressive, elegant designs--and funny, too.
And there's also something that really grabs me, that isn't always there in all the beautiful drawings I see around me--storytelling. Even when Patrick does a caricature or a "pretty/sexy girl" painting, it often has something more going on to my eyes than just a porttrait or an excecise in stimulates my imagination. Not all animation art does that-even though we're always shooting for it. It can be an exceptionally subtle thing.

Aug 17, 2006

from my garage...

Yes, really. The garage. I'd forgotten I still had this drawing from "Nifty Nineties". Features two "clever boys from Illinois"-caricatures of Ward Kimball and Fred Moore, designed by the indefatigable Kimball. These two also provided their own voices, a real rarity.

Animated by Ward and assisted by Tom Oreb, who probably cleaned up Ward's drawing here--although Ward said he did much of the cleanup himself on this ultra-fast, low-budgeted Mickey Mouse cartoon, a gap project between "Reluctant Dragon" and "Dumbo".

Aug 16, 2006

The Blaisdell

If the Blackwing is the king of animators' pencils, then what would this be?
Well, as much as I admire and revere Blackwings, I'll reconsider: this is a serious implement meant for serious animation; drawings of a gutsy, exuberant nature. No indecisive artists need apply.

So, okay, I'll call the Blaisdell Layout king.
Aren't you jealous of the artist this belongs to? I know I am. It's in good hands, though. Somewhere I too have a small that it can't be sharpened electronically, almost too small to hold. Why is it that if there's a classic, fabulous instrument that artists discover and love the company of origin will be certain to discontinue production at the first opportunity?

Hollywood pinups

This is a wee bit off-topic, but since it seems to clear up a question I had about the possible involvement of Fred Moore(or any animation artist), and since it does involve a type of art near and dear to the hearts of virtually any cartoonist of the golden age, here goes:

You'll recall that some time back I posted Dan Goodsell's photos of his collection of "Nudist Scamps" statuettes; charming, well-posed girls who resembled Fred Moore's famous pinups in 3-D. These are attributed to a Verdan Lolayne of Hollywood, California. Later called(or aquired by)"Rick's Figurines", these apparently were sold on Hollywood Blvd in the early 40s. Here's a new find, a portfolio of complementary designs; they contain 4 watercolors, which I think were line prints to which real paint had been applied. Here's an example of one of them:

Clearly not by Fred Moore, and it would seem "Lolayne" is an actual individual who did these drawings. Or maybe not. But it's still a neat style I'll post the others if anyone's interested. I do have to say, though, that I prefer the statues to the 2D versions.

Aug 15, 2006

Yesterday in our gesture drawing class at Dreamworks we had an exceptional model, Cassandra. Here she is in one of instructor Dave Pimentel's drawings--one of several he's posted over on his sketchblog, Drawings From A Mexican. I came for the second hour only, which was a shame--this girl had the perfect figure and grace for gesture drawing; she used every bit of her form from her hair to the beautiful way she posed her hands and feet. She also wore a costume and her face had a look that suggested a model for one of the pre-raphaelite painters--Rossetti or Burne-Jones. Figure modeling isn't as easy as it looks, by the by, even for 2 or 5 minute poses. I hope dave's able to post more later...if he can wangle some of his classes' work. Everyone did a super job and had a blast.

Aug 14, 2006

Golden info

If you haven't been by Mark Kennedy's blog lately, you're missing out on some truly great stuff:

Temple of the Seven Golden Camels: Design and Drawing

Must-read material. Stuff like this makes me lunge for a good pencil--or at least feel like lunging for one.

Bob Winquist would be very proud(and that's saying something).

a Ronald Searle sketchbook page Mark uses for discussion in his notes on drawing and design

Aug 13, 2006

Didier Ghez loves Disney history

One of a series of French Mickey Mouse posters that Didier has posted to his blog; his appreciation of the rare and unusual in Disney history is something he clearly loves to share

I've meant for weeks to point visitors here to a recently-formed, indispensable blog:
Didier Ghez' Disney History.

Another amazing rarity: a very young Milt Kahl appears on the cover of this french animation book

His blog is brand spanking new and already he's posted some choice items, many of which he'd love to know more about. Since Blackwing readers are amazingly astute when it comes to cartoon history why not drop by his place and have a look around? Some interesting dialogues are sure to ensue.

Didier also edits and contributes interviews to a series of books he's compiled titled "Walts People". There are interviews with dozens of Disney artists spanning the last 40 years or so. I have Volume 3 and am still working through it--it's great stuff. Volume 4 is on the way for later this fall.
Nothing beats hearing information direct from the source.
Dive into his blog and enjoy.

Aug 10, 2006

the real Fred Moore

For a change of pace, here's a reminder of what Fred Moore is really all about--be sure to click it to see the larger version:

A terrific prize from James Walker's collection. At least 36" long, this was done as a present for the son of a fellow animator. Obviously framed, hence the glare and slight cutoff--but as I like to say "what's there is cherce".

Happy Thursday!

Aug 8, 2006

On Death, Truth and Animation History: Fred Moore

The supposedly "shunned" Fred Moore clowning with his coworkers, including animator John Sibley circa 1952, out in front of the Disney feature animation building. Courtesy of the private collection of James Walker.

Animator David Nethery wrote an email addressed to several bloggers, myself included, regarding a renewal of the hoary old chestnut, "Fred Moore's tragic, gin-soaked death". The quotes are mine, and are warranted as this sad coda to the fabulous life and work of a truly important figure in animation history keeps popping up--most recently, apparently, in a book by a previously published author. I'd like to name neither him nor the book, nor the Indian website that is treating this erroneous story as a kind of expose or scoop. It's pure gossip and untruth masquerading as history.

Before I write anything else, let me simply state the truth, basic and unadorned: as proved by the newspaper reports of the day and his own death certificate, Fred Moore died the day after a car accident, in St. Joseph's hospital(just across the street from the Walt Disney studio, his employer--and where his boss Walt would also die 14 years later).
His wife was driving their car, which was hit head on by a second car--in other words, it wasn't the Moore's fault. I've been told by James Walker(a much more expert authority on Moore than I am)that Mrs. Moore was making a u-turn on Foothill blvd. when the oncoming car hit them. Both Fred and his wife were hospitalized. Fred died the next day of internal injuries.

That's it. No "drunk driving" on Fred's part, no drama beyond the profound tragedy of a much-too-young artist killed in a traffic accident.

The reason this matters is that the stories that are repeated and told as fact range from the merely inaccurate to the ridiculous.
Some have come from men who were bona-fide coworkers of Moore's at Disney's, but that doesn't mean that they knew exactly what happened--that their own memories weren't exaggerated or tainted by personal feelings(does anyone else know of relatives, elderly ones, who tell whoppers about family history? Because I certainly have).

Often the stories contend that Fred's old friends sold him out, or ignored a desperate plea for money to pay hospital bills(!), or similar yarns. They always suggest that Fred's death was a direct result of his alcoholism, if not also due to the neglect of his studio or former friends. Well, it seems believable and likely...but life trumps fiction on a regular basis, and it just didn't happen that way.

Nor did Fred die while inserting his key into his front door, expelled from a Catholic hospital that denied him treatment due to lack of funds, nor was he(as this latest nonsense contends) a sadly unemployed drunk. He was fully employed at the time of his death. He was busy working on "Peter Pan", animating the mermaids and lost boys(it would be released a year after his death).
He was an 839 union member with full benefits(anyway, even if he'd been a bum on the streets, St. Josephs would not have turned him out with serious injuries). It's all absurd, but boy! What a story, eh?

It made David angry, and he wondered in his email if perhaps he wasn't overreacting. Actually, no.

In any history errors abound as a matter of course, but in film history they're legion. Even the most careful researcher has made a few of his or her own mistakes to their dismay, and they're eager to correct them when they discover them. In personal histories--biography--it's a particularly insidious problem. These were real people, not "characters", and we owe it to them to be as fair and honest as we can when writing about them. The animation community has always been a small fraternity and people gossip then as now.
That the unremarkable yet tragic accident that took Fred Moore's life was exaggerated and inflated isn't news; what is disgusting is that it's been used to effect an agenda against Walt Disney himself and/or Fred's coworkers. Certainly there was politics aplenty at that studio; there's politics at all studios--that's life, and business. But while Fred had been "fired"(or rather, laid off) in 1946, so were many, many other artists--including those without the performance problems Fred's work suffered from. The really big deal was that although his lifestyle hadn't changed, the animation board(the "nine old men")hired him back with Walt's blessing in 1948. And he was retained at Disney's until his untimely death. That's fact. So much for Walt's poor treatment of a former superstar.

Again, stories abound, and always will; but for nonsensical junk to be published in a book as fact is a wee bit sickening. And of course, it makes every other thing a sloppy author publishes suspect as well, fairly or not. It's a shame....and it's shameful. A great artist deserves better.

UPDATE: Amid Amidi has both quoted David Nethery's eloquent email on this subject and added his own well-phrased thoughts. He also names the author and links to the online sources that have unfortunately picked up this phony story.

Aug 1, 2006

Disney Animation Building, circa 1984; last one out turns out the lights.

The employee directory for D wing in the old feature animation building on the Disney lot in Burbank. A fabled area where, yes, Fred Moore once sat, along with Ward Kimball and many other immortals of animation. This was the last thing a sentimental assistant removed as they were leaving the Feature Animation building forever for the converted buildings on Flower Street in Glendale(and where, starting with "The Little Mermaid", Disney FA went on to have a renaissance of creativity and energy). It was posted in a display holder at the head of each wing's hallway. I'll bet this stirs memories for some readers.