Aug 23, 2010

The Blackwing Returns

Some of my Blackwing pencils

NOTE Today I heard from two story artists simultaneously with exciting news via Mark Frauenfelder at apparently that mighty elegant instrument, the extinct Blackwing pencil, is soon going to resume production. I wrote the post below ("Why My Blog Is Titled As It Is') in November, 2005, and it seems like a good time to give it an encore.

They don't make them like this anymore. Really--they don't make these at all; production ceased in 1998, apparently.
I love these pencils--they're a joy to draw with, although I rarely use them now (dwindling supply), but their real attraction is the association they can't shake for me--that of the Disney studio of the 50s, of sketch artists and draughstmen and designers working on immortal projects, not only at Disney feature animation but all over Los Angeles: the maitre'd at Musso's taking a reservation for four in 1933; a script supervisor working alongside Preston Sturges making notes during takes of "Sullivan's Travels"; a student at Chouinard toiling on a design project in 1961; Henry Miller, or Bob Clampett, or Clarence Darrow or Ward Kimball or Ernie Kovacs or Raymond Chandler. Who knows how many yet remain in the musty drawers of retired writers and artists all over the city, from Arcadia to Malibu?

I first saw one of these on the desk of an animator at Disney's in the early 80s, and later on the desk of Cecil B. DeMille, untouched since his death in the 60s; there were some among T. Hee's studio ephemera, given to us at CalArts after his death. I ordered an entire box from the redoubtable Cartoon Colour Company of Culver City, many years ago. Little dreaming of its eventual demise, I recklessly scrawled away, and now my Blackwings constitute barely a fistful, from stubs to pristine unsharpened.

It's a thoroughly romantic instrument: sleek and silvery, fast-moving and easy to sharpen, with a curious back end--a golden holder encasing a silver clasp cradling a removable eraser, the better to extract, flip and so extend its usefulness.

Among both pencil enthusiasts and stubborn pencil-wielding animators, it fights for prominience with the fat, round, green Blaisdell Layout, most famous as the longtime-preferred pencil of Glen Keane. I have a stub of a Blaisdell somewhere--really, a stub, barely two inches long. It's easy to see why it's so appealing, as it skates smoothly over the paper--best used as a blunt instrument with its wide smear of soft lead.
But I still swoon for Blackwings--surely the only pencil which bears its own motto--in quotes, no less--across its length: "Half the pressure, twice the speed". And it certainly seems to be so. A sorry world where such treasure is allowed to pass away. I am old enough to know it's the little things in life--particularly in an artist's life--that immeasurably enhance the day to day grind.

So, the Blackwing: I look over my shoulder and admire the gleam of the golden lettering on my desk. A glorious instrument with all the possibilities that art provides at its tip. And thus the blog moniker.

There's an excellent review of an "old" Blackwing here. Very much worth a click.

Aug 22, 2010

Fred Moore Girl Statue

I saw the prototypes at Comic Con, and they were beautiful. There's a blonde and a raven-haired paint, and last but not least a red headed, green-eyed version available by special preorder from Electric Tiki. Just wanted to share.

Aug 17, 2010

John Canemaker signs tonight at the Americana on Brand

I really don't want to remember today as the anniversary of Joe Ranft's death. I understand why many would, as I'm a person who's fascinated by history, the lives of people who've gone before us and marking their passages. I remember very well where and when I heard that Joe had been killed and what I felt at the time, though I didn't write about it here. Later I posted a memory of him that meant something to me. I understand this and I do it myself for people I'm interested in and have cared about, but I don't want to think about Joe dying that way, this year, on this anniversary.

This year there's a much more apropos reason to do a post mentioning Joe. John Canemaker has just published a beautiful book about him and the legendary, longtime-Disney artist and supervisor Joe Grant--a dual celebration and examination of two men whose lives, one way and another, contributed greatly to animation storytelling in films we love: Two Guys Named Joe: Master Animation Storytellers Joe Grant & Joe Ranft.

The book was released August 2nd, and that's the day my copy came from Amazon. I've been waiting for it as eagerly as any in a long time, and it's well worth the wait. I'll publish a thorough review later this week, but suffice to say it's another in the indispensable list of titles from John Canemaker. Anyone interested in, working in or who cares an atom about the art of animation can't afford to miss any book or article Canemaker signs his name to. How he manages to be a filmmaker himself while researching and teaching and writing as well as he does all those things is a mystery to me, but I'm certainly glad he does. We're all in his debt for the scholarship he's done.

The Los Angeles area is hosting John Canemaker for signings of Two Guys Named Joe: one tonight In Glendale and tomorrow at the Happiest Place On Earth. He is not only one of the most talented but one of the most generous and affable authors you'll ever meet, and I hope many of you get the chance--and get a book signed.

Barnes & Noble Tuesday, August 17, 7:00 pm
Glendale Americana
210 Americana Way, Glendale, CA

Disneyland Resort Wednesday, August 18, 9:00-11:00 am
Disney Gallery, Main Street USA
Anaheim, CA

Aug 4, 2010

Great Inspiration: music-only soundtrack for Lampwick's transformation in "Pinocchio".

I just found this on the blog written by Jaime Weinman, Something Old, Nothing New-which he in turn found on youtube. It's arguably the most frightening scene in animation history-Pinocchio witnessing the wages of childhood sin on his new friend Lampwick.
Everyone's seen it numerous times, but here it is presented with no dialogue or other track-nothing save the dramatic score of composer Leigh Harline. The character animation is primarily the work of Fred Moore, Ollie Johnston, Milt Neil, Milt Kahl and Eric Larson.

I can't remember how I initially found Weinman's blog (and in all honesty I don't check in with him often enough these days), but in my internet wanderings he's one of the best writers on film and other popular entertainment I've come across. His entries are frequently so fascinating that I'll become interested in a title I either had no patience for or any curiosity about before he examined it. That's obviously not the case with "Pinocchio", a film I probably put at the top of my animation mountain, but it figures it's Jaime who shares something that's a must-see for anyone who loves animation. Be sure to read his accompanying comments about composer Harline.