Jul 26, 2006

My goat, gotten

Over on Cartoon Brew this morning Amid Amidi notes a prominent newspaper's review of "Monster House". It's a jaw-dropper.

The art of film writing and reviewing is obviously subjective, and I have no particular grievance with writers in general on film even if on occasion I might I violently disagree with their tastes or views. In the best of it I at least find something new to think about in a reviewer's points.
But the paragraph Amid excerpts has to read to be believed; the writer makes a mockery of 100 years of often beautiful, heartbreaking, breathtaking, real acting achievement in animated films. It's one thing to write about a "new" technique in film as the flavor of the month served up in a holy grail--it's another to backtrack and demean the plain fact of past successes as somehow terribly lacking, which is what this reviewer thinks of, well, basically all Disney animation output from 1937 until "Monster House" with its supposedly improved presentation of animated facial performances.

An excerpt:
"There was never any point to a close-up in an animated film -- there was never really anything to see[italics mine]."

Not really anything to see?
Methinks someone's been drinking much too deeply from the well of the presskit. This gentleman may think the fat kid's face in "House" is vastly superior in expression to, say, the kitten Figaro showing his annoyance at Gepetto's muttering in "Pinocchio"; I know where my vote lies.

You can come after all of us still working on our craft, fair enough; the book's still being written on everything we're currently doing in animation. But don't dare go after past giants whose work probably won't ever be equaled on its own terms--terms that were invented from scratch, that are the foundation of any techniques such as "Monster House" uses. Not only is it dead wrong on its face, with hundreds of examples that dispute it (and of course not just from Disney films, either), but the artists who achieved those triumphs are dead themselves and can't defend their work.
Maybe that's a blessing in this case.

Jul 25, 2006

Chris Sanders' sketchbook tip

I've had a lot of emails asking where, post-Comic-Con, one can acquire one of these swell self-published sketchbooks by everyone's favorite Lilo artist, director Chris Sanders. I didn't know myself, but here's some very helpful information from an anonymous reader of the Diaries:

"I ran into Chris Sanders at the very end on Sunday night... the rest of his sketchbooks (which are AMAZING, by the way!) went to Stuart Ng and Bud Plant... you should be able to get them online very soon."

Many thanks, anonymous! And thanks to Chris for doing the book and manning a booth at the Con--please don't let it be the last of them.

Jul 24, 2006

Freddy Moore reference stills

Here's an interesting oddity kindly referred to me by a prominent animator whose name you'd all know(I'm not sure if he wants credit for this; I'll be happy to do so if he doesn't mind): a collection of photographs, or "stills" on Ebay, all the usual semi-rough, gorgeous Fred Moore girls, but for some unknown reason these were officially passed around the Disney studio, courtesy of Joe Grant's Model Department. Exactly why it was deemed necessary for artists to have what are basically Fred's personal gift pinups as desk reference is a mystery. Although there were projects such as the aforementioned "All The Cats Join In" sequence that were designed by Fred, those had their own, specifically corresponding model sheets; these seem like nothing more than eye candy...perhaps there was some sudden edict to try and attain some spirit or style from these girls' poses?

The reverse of all of these photographs are stamped in this way; what were these used for? Why were they done?

Unfortunately, this Ebay seller decided to use material from my blog as part of his selling page, including a few screen caps I made and a photo from the collection of James Walker that's one of my favorites, of Fred in a crib at a party(he also quotes liberally--without any attribution--the offical "Disney Legends" web page devoted to Moore, as well as linking to yet another page containing a completely fictional account of Fred Moore's accidental death).

James Walker was fully aware when he allowed me to post artwork from his private collection on Blackwing Diaries that these would be easily downloadable for anyone, anywhere--and that was fine by him. He has the generosity of the pure afficionado, and luckily for the rest of us loves to share things that have taken him decades and thousands of dollars to acquire. I salute him for that. I know that I would be snagging the drawings and photos of Fred Moore and others myself, were they on other blogs--but--and this is crucial--for my private use, not to resell or to use to sell other stuff. There's something slightly unsettling about seeing pictures that have turned up without any credit in someone's sales pitch without even an email asking permission. This happens all the time(I had an entire essay I'd written and published about Ernie Kovacs plagiarized by not one but two different people, one a radio show host in Seattle, the other a Columbia "communications" student; both presented my original work and accompanying photographs word for word as their own on their websites with their names attached), but it's a huge breach of internet etiquette to do that--however laughable the concept may seem. The seller may be entirely innocent of any of this, but even if he found the photograph through googling Fred Moore he'd easily notice which page it came from--especially as he used other images from my site. I'd like to write it off and forget it as a well-intentioned attempt to give these photos some background.

I realize too that where the borrowed "Make Mine Music" screen caps are concerned, I was posting images that I emphatically don't own, but I did go to some little bother making them, and it's just a no-no to swipe such things from other people without first asking if you can repost them. Not included in this area are direct links to the source; many people have been kind enough to quote from and link to posts on Blackwing Diaries, sometimes including an image from my site--and I'm flattered and happy that they do it. I do the same thing in regards to others' sites, as you've seen.

But this Ebay stuff is different and inconsequential as it really is, it's not cool. Ebay in fact has a standing policy of not allowing sellers to "borrow" or use others' photos in their listings, and often shuts down auctions for that infraction.

And as a final bit of editorializing, in my opinion this seller is asking much too much money for what are after all, so-so condition copies of photographs--photos that were definitely printed more than once and passed around freely within the studio, and perhaps externally as well. There's an old saying about rare items that "they're worth whatever you want to pay for them", but $300 per photo(for the "buy it now" option)? I'd put the "real" value at somewhere like 40-75, tops. But again--if someone wants it that badly, and it makes them happy to have a photographed drawing that's indeed about 60 years old, there's nothing wrong with that. I suspect there are more of these scattered around the US, though.

In any case, enjoy more examples of the delicious line work of Fred Moore!

Jul 23, 2006

San Diego Comic-Con '06

a handful of the 80 billion people attending the San Diego Comicon on Saturday

I didn't think I would be there, but at the 11th hour I went, by car. My mission: look for hard-to-find, self-published artist's sketchbooks, out of print art books, maybe acquire some original art. I hadn't been to this event in almost a decade, and while I expected it to have changed, nothing prepared me for the insanity of tens of thousands of frantic, hot and bulky attendees (nearly everyone had multiple luggage attached) at this year's Con. I had a prepaid admission, but the unprepared(which I nearly was myself) waited for hours in the hot, hot sun. This after a commute that took 4.5 hours from Los Angeles(usually about half that). In any case, I was ready and eager to hit the floor of the massive convention hall, packed as it was with thousands of sweaty bodies.

The most obvious difference is just how consumed by all pop culture the Con has become, and how few of the booths had a direct association with what we generally think of as "comics". Not that that's necessarily bad--it's a treat to see so many artists(many from animation) selling their own sketchbooks, art, and crafty goods.
I was there from 3:30 til they kicked everyone out at 7, yet barely scratched the surface. I never met Floyd Norman(who I was told asked after me--where were you, Floyd? I'm sorry I missed you!), never found the Chronicle Books booth OR the booth of my online buddy Jenny("sewdarncute"), and missed countless other goodies, I'm sure. But thanks to the homing device attached to Dave Pimentel, I did locate the Stuart Ng booth, where I pretty much spent my allowance:

Modest in number, but choice! Among the titles here shown are:
Animation Blast issue 9
Chris Sanders Sketchbook 1b
Mucci Time/David 'Mucci' Fassett
Frogg's Lament, a Paper Biscuit book by Ronnie del Carmen
Enrico Casarosa's Sketchcrawling
Paul Brigg's PBCB Studios Sketchbook, vol. 3
Pierre Alary, Carnet de Croquis Sketchbook
Entre Chats, a compendium bandes dessines by 22 different french artists all riffing on cats; I was wowed in particular by Severin and Franquin
a great book reproducing some Joseph Clement Coll drawings
...and some wonderful stuff from Conduct Happiness: tshirt, buttons and a flipbook animated by James Baxter

Dave Pimentel listens to Pierre Alary, a superb artist who had several wonderful bandes dessines and a sketchbook available at Stuart Ng's booth
Dave and his longtime pal Clay Kaytis--in addition to browsing, buying and chatting up dozens of friends--were producing a microphone from time to time and doing Animation Podcast interviews on the spot--a great idea that also seemed insane, given the decibel level in the hall and the general ambience of a Tokyo subway car at 5 o'clock, but if anyone can make a good show out of that cacophany, it'd be Clay. Yours truly was cruelly ambushed by Pimentel and offered the most stilted remarks imaginable--one can only pray that judicious editing reduces any Blackwing Diaries presence to a "Hi!". here's hoping.

More fighting(I'm not kidding--at various points I was holding my arms elbows out just to make it, inch by inch, cross the aisles), and an hour later I found the booth for Conduct Happiness, a fun and charmingly designed line of kidswear(and adults, too)run by Disney and James Baxter animator/designers Joe Moshier and Chris Sonnenburg; I've long admired their work and was glad to have a brief chance to chat with Chris, a huge Fred Moore fan(aren't we all!), who told me a bit about a touching visit to Ollie Johnston's home he'd made recently, accompanied by a small group of dedicated animation artists...he said some mighty nice things about this blog, an all I can say is to repeat my debt to James Walker, who's provided virtually 100% of the Moore artwork and much of the facts I've been able to post here. It's an honor to be associated in any way at all with such names as Moore's. if only to pass along the work, which was James' intent--what generosity. I find all afficonados of such great animation and drawing are also swell people...must be a connection there somewhere. Wouldn't Fred be surprised, though?
While at Conduct Happiness a general hoohah greeted the arrival of a guy someone called "my old director!": John Sandford. One of my favorite artists by virtue of his Chippy & Loopus comics, and all his drawings in general. However, as I was fast sweating into a puddle, and he was surrounded by hailing pals, I didn't get the nerve to introduce myself...by then it was almost 7pm, closing time for the hall. I saw the Mach 5, a gaggle of Predators, the usual storm troopers and snow troopers, one Jack Sparrow and a few other types...I probably missed ten thousand other cool exhibits and people and books. Even with the crush of bodies, the waiting everywhere and the unbearable heat I had a swell time, and the hours flew by. But next year, I think I'm going on a Thursday. Whaddya say, fellas?

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Jul 15, 2006

Tintin Tonight!

For those in the greater Los Angekes area, the local PBS station KCET is airing a documentary all about Tintin and his creator, Hergé, at 9pm tonight, Saturday, July 15.

I read Tintin's adventure "Rocket To the Moon" when I was very small, thanks to my older brother, older enough in years to have a great library already assembled. The book fascinated me--its real sense of danger and even a pre-2001 Kubrickian moment, which really blew my tiny mind. And I loved the drawings. And "Snowy", better known as Milou. But where my brother acquired that book, back in the 1960s in an age of very different mainstream comics, I don't know. San Francisco?

Certainly Tintin wasn't the cultural icon here in the US then that he's always been in Europe, and of course he's generally known and loved here now, but not then. So I grew up considering Tintin my personal discovery, my own secret. I hope that's as amusing to my EU pals as it is to me.

I have no idea how good or otherwise this particular documentary is, but it's definitely going to be checking out. Hergé was amazing and started a style of drawing and even of storytelling that continues to this day, carried on by many other terrific artist/writers.

Jul 14, 2006

Call for links

To my ever vigilant, always-au courant readers:

I've accidentally stumbled on a couple of recent Calarts students' blogs...which makes me wonder what I'm missing out on that I could otherwise be engaged by and perhaps banging a gong for.

So, if any of you have a line on a particular favorite I don't have on my links page yet, please drop a comment and let me--and the rest of us--know about it. I think my own particular taste is evident from the long list I have at right, but I'm open to anything. Fire away!

Jul 11, 2006

A wonderful short by Aurélie Blard-Quintard

a frame from "Emily & le hamsterosaurus-Rex", © Aurélie Blard-Quintard 2006

I'm staggered...can this cool little film really have been made by the quiet girl I sat in life drawing with today, Aurélie Blard-Quintard? I think so!
I could catch glimpses of her lovely life drawings, but little did I know she'd done this. Go have a look at her school end of term project:

Emily & le hamsterosaurus-Rex

A hamster-T-rex named Profiterole? What's not to love?
Click on it and watch it, you won't be sorry...I love her designs, her animation--there's wonderful, natural, expressive posing--in clay, no less...all her ideas are fun and it's paced just right. Terrific!
I had a celebrity in my car today--lucky for her I hadn't seen this yet or I'd have no doubt embarrassed her with gushing. à demain, eh?

And here's her blog with more goodies: Aurélie

Jul 10, 2006

More illustration inspiration

Next to P.D. Eastman, my favorite illustrator was Roy McKie, and the book "Ten Apples Up On Top" was the book of his I loved best. Like Eastman, there's something about McKie's style--its simplicity, clarity, boldness, personality. Look at that thing on the riddles book! It's weird, bright red, and funny--somehow friendly, too. Perfect for young kids.

This simple story of three animals competing to seem who could balance the most apples on their heads...they just don't do them like this anymore. Well, not too often. And this guy was one of a kind. I know nothing about McKie...I really should look him up. Judging by the look of his signature I'd bet he did New Yorker-style illustration for magazines and such.

I've had this book sitting on a little easel, displayed in my living room lately; it's been over 100F in the San Gabriel Valley, and in addition to the charm of this thing, looking at it makes me feel happy--and cooler. Snow! A coming-together of two of my childhood heroes in one book. Bliss.

Jul 9, 2006

P.D. Eastman

Like almost every kid--and especially every youngest child, we inheritors of hand me down toys and books--I grew up with the Beginner Books that Ted Geisel edited for Random House.
Ted also wrote many of the series under his most frequent pen name, Dr. Seuss. But although I loved Seuss, my absolute favorite author/illustrator was P.D. Eastman. "Are You My Mother?", "Go Dog Go!", "The Best Nest" and "Sam and the Firefly" among many others made a huge impression on me.

Like Bill Peet, Seuss, and a few others of their generation, Eastman had cut-to-the-heart appeal in his simple, friendly drawings--which were also often staged to great dramatic effect. I'm sure millions of children can remember the pentultimate image from "Are You My Mother?" with the baby bird, beak agape, perched on the edge of a huge digging crane's teeth.

Several years ago I was surprised (pre-Wikipedia) to find practically nothing about him on the internet. Via an old message on a librarian's website I stumbled upon an email for Tony Eastman, one of Phil Eastman's children and an animator in his own right, and we corresponded. It was from Tony that I learned that Phil had been a story artist at Disney's and UPA; well, I shouldn't have been surprised. It seems that virtually any illustrator whose sense of charm, staging and color were exceptional had worked in animation during it's golden age. Through Tony, I was connected with a woman who had a rare item: one of Eastman's original drawings, which she'd won at a charity auction over a decade ago. She'd kept it in her kids' room and was willing to let it go, and I'm happy to say it's now on my own wall:

Sorry for the poor image--it's framed, and I don't want to take it apart...but it gives a good look at one of Eastman's cover mock-ups; this one was an unused alternate for "The Best Nest"(it's so described and signed by Eastman in a notation at the bottom; it's also full sized in scale).

Interestingly, his first design was used--with some changes--for a later, popup version called "My Nest Is Best":

I'd be willing to bet almost all readers of this blog know Eastman, and that most of you liked his work as much as I did. It's a great example to me of the value of simplicity, and amazes me in how much he's able to suggest with very little in the way of detail. That's a story artist's dream.

Jul 8, 2006

Vintage mystery photo time-animation edition

One of these I can ID, one I can't.

The first still is from a Fox film, circa 1929-30; I 'm not 100% who any of the gentlemen are in the picture, but I do recognize Felix the Cat on the drawing board. Is the guy we see drawing here Brad Bird's favorite actor, El Brendel? Is the fedora-wearer the third husband of Mary Pickford, Buddy Rogers?
Is this a scene still, or is this a semi-candid taken to commemorate the visit of the producer of the Felix cartoons, or is this a newspaper artist of same? Someone out there knows, I'm sure. I love as always the presentation of "how cartoonists[and it might as well be animators]do it": on a life drawing board with newsprint, using a piece of charcoal or a crayon--complete with background!
Also note the amazing, life-sized deco statue our friend on the left is resting his smoking arm on.

As for the other, of course it's Ken Anderson, surrounded by "101 Dalmations" art, apparently making a presentation to this woman in a formal kimono(whether she's Japanese or perhaps Korean I don't know). What a great drawing Ken's made--I can't read the caption, unfortunately...and I wonder why Ken has a slightly tense look on his face. Who knows? Wasn't he a bit of a famous hothead at the studio, along with Peet and Kahl? Be sure and correct me if I'm wrong!

Clcik the photos to get a better, larger view

Correction and addendum:: Jerry Beck writes in the comments that the film shown is "The Golden Calf":, a "lost" musical feature from 1930, and so this is indeed a scene still, not a candid. Actors Richard Keene and Jack Mulhall flank El Brendel(famous for playing mostly "comic swede" parts). I originally wrote that the cartoon cat was "Krazy" cat, when it's obviously "Felix" on the drawing board...I knew that, but in one of those weird moments where you know one thing and write/say another, I wrote the wrong character down as an ID. Many thanks to Jerry for sharing his expertise!

Jul 7, 2006

Red-headed She-devil of Drawing

Marlo by me

Have you guys met this woman yet? I haven't, in real life, but I've admired her drawings:


She's an insane, powerful cartoonist. Talk about drawings with guts! And they're funny. I'm not usually into certain extreme styles(not a boast, btw--a confession), but this lady's work is solid through & through. Fun stuff!

Jul 6, 2006

The Blackwing is dead....long live the Blackwing?

...the pencil, that is, not the blog.

Animation Podcast's Clay Kaytis was kind enough to forward this swell blog post, wherein another afficionado of the great gray pencil(and a much more dedicated one)posts his discovery--after personal experimenting--of a possible successor to the discontinued Blackwing.

Here it is: The Search For the Wild Blackwing.

Jul 2, 2006

More about Mary Pickford

More about the Mary Pickford film I saw recently, and why I think her art has a lot to offer thoughtful animators as well as story artists.

A frame from the film "Daddy Long Legs"; Mary is playing a 12 year old here, in the first half of the film. A wealthy girl has just called Mary a bastard, literally,and she turns to give this glare

Mary Pickford is best known today as an actress in silent movies who played adorable little girls with long blond ringlets, but that's a terribly superficial description that does her talent and charm no favors. As a kid I was vaguely aware of her in much the same way as I was Chaplin and Keaton: quaint, black and white images in books--and virtually nothing more. Her films were nowhere--she was still alive back then, owned most of them, and didn't want them to be seen. She was a famously reclusive frail little old lady tucked away in her mansion in Beverly Hills, "Pickfair". She formed her own film company and later founded United Artists Corporation with Chaplin, D.W. Griffith, and her husband Douglas Fairbanks. Along the way she also helped found the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences to honor screen achievement with "Academy awards"; started the Motion Picture Fund, including the "home"--a beautiful retirement community for the benefit of anyone who'd contributed to work in filmmaking(in pre-union days, remember), and contributed mightily to other charities.

As a kid I came across a biography of her which I bought based mainly on the cover photograph: Mary in a pretty pose surrounded by puppies(she looked young, like an illustration--or a living doll; of no determinate age; she was probably really about 28). It was a beautiful, painterly, victorian image, and the biography had some interesting stories of Mary becoming famous back in the 1910s. Years went by and I gathered bits of information about her--winced at her disturbing acceptance of an honorary Oscar on TV, went to screenings at the Academy that she helped to found, read of her death and the subsequent fire sale of all her possessions from Pickfair...but still, I'd never seen more than a few tiny clips of her on film, in Kevin Brownlow's terrific television series on silent films, "Hollywood: The Pioneers". But there was little of Pickford to see other than some 16mm D. W. Griffith prints at the Silent Movie Theatre on Fairfax, dating from 1910 or so. Interesting, but hard to watch.

Finally, about 6 years ago the Academy presented a restored print of a 1919 Pickford film, "The Hoodlum". By the way--If you ever have a chance to see any film projected at the Academy, go. They do public screenings of all sorts of films regularly, usually charging all of five bucks.

Watching "The Hoodlum" in a beautifully restored print with an audience on the big screen was a revelation.
Made in 1919, it was exquisitely photographed, funny and touching by turns--and featured a charismatic star at her peak. I had also bought the concurrent book "Mary Pickford Rediscovered", a coffee table volume that in and of itself offers gorgeous images, including many scene stills that make one yearn to see the films they are from. It all combined made me an instant Pickford fan.

The title I saw the other night, "Behind the Scenes", was from a year that sounds incredibly long ago: 1914. Think for a moment where animated cartoons were at that point in cinema history--even Krazy Kat hadn't been animated yet. There was J.R.Bray, Winsor McCay, and some others...but most of it (with the notable exception of McCay's singular work) was terribly crude stuff.

Not so the live action features, at least the ones like "Behind the Scenes" which had a very involved star player like Pickford in front of the camera and were "A" productions. Not every film she made during this time was a gem (personally I have trouble making it through "Cinderella", also from 1914), but it's easy to see at this early point why she was a huge sensation.

As I wrote before, she also has I think great things of interest to animation artists in her acting. She even resembles an animated character, albeit one of the most sophisticated type. Her familiar "little girl" persona manages to be emblematic of girlhood or childhood without becoming a pastiche. She does this by a sensitive, economical study of movement and pantomime, and by dint of possessing a peculiarly unclassifiable face. She's young, wise, serious and puckish. Small in stature, with a short waist and a large head(cartoon proportions!) she uses her size to her advantage, managing to pull herself up till she seems very "big" on the screen. She uses her small, elegant hands sparingly, never moving them to no purpose, so when they do move they attract attention naturally. She makes herself endlessly malleable for the camera, but never seems self-conscious as some silent era actors do.

In "Behind the Scenes" she plays a young woman her own age(about 22); an actress on the neo-vaudeville stage, appearing in a "Follies" sort of entertainment. She fools around in the communal dressing room with her pals, the other actresses, and her timing and sheer enjoyment of everything she's doing bubbles over onto the celluloid.
A young man trying to make it in NYC visits the theatre with a wealthy school friend, and Pickford meets him after throwing a balled-up streamer directly into his eye from the stage. This part is played by the film's director, James Kirkwood. He's very tall, very attractive and just oozes masculinity (he and his star Pickford were thought to have carried on an intense affair offscreen; rumors like that are a dime a dozen but watching them working together in this film it's utterly believable). He marries the young chorus girl, and they live in crummy digs while she continues the stage work she loves. After he comes into money requiring him to take over a rural farm, he naturally (for the times) expects her to drop everything in New York and move with him. They're deeply in love, and one oddly-staged scene makes clear that she loves babies and wants a family with her husband, eventually.

But Mary is crushed to learn her husband thinks nothing of asking her to abruptly dump her career--especially as she's finally, finally gotten a chance at the lead role. She balks at moving from New York to a farm in the middle of nowhere with nothing to do but housekeeping. For 1914, this is pretty wild stuff, but it's handled from Mary's point of view, not her husband's--even more astonishing for the times.
This is where Mary Pickford's special qualities really shine. She's been as charming as a young heroine could be up till this point in the film: graceful, endearing and playful, always upbeat. Now, suddenly she discovers her life--everything it means to her apart from her new husband--is over, and she's expected to leave every vestige of it behind her for--what, she's not sure. I can't describe the looks that cross Pickford's face as she realizes this; they're so real, so believable, that when she speaks (there are almost no "title cards" translating her and her husband's dialogue for us) we can hear exactly what she's saying: "But...what will I do on a farm? What about my job at the theatre?" Her gestures are economical--there's no wringing of hands or meaningless posing--it's all very natural and felt. She described herself as a "mood actor" to Kevin Brownlow, and she was. The plot unfolds in a surprising way-she leaves her husband, in a sustained scene that starts off with Mary finally uncorking the frustration and grief she feels. Of course, all ends well, but not until she's had her chance to go back "behind the scenes"--the original, literal meaning of the phrase: to stand behind the painted sets, waiting for a cue.

Afterwards, my friend commented that the film was so-so, nothing special--but he thought Mary was sensational in it. It's more or less true; I was entertained all the way through it, but it really needed the boost of a one of a kind star presence, which it certainly had in Pickford. Her ability to make something out a very simple story and what could have been a stock ingenue character were what made her the most famous and adored actress in the world at that time, and for about a decade. She had a large amount of control over her films, from her performance to the writers to the director, photographer and the rest of the cast. She was determined to try different things, many of which didn't work, but she was always striving for a sincere performance in an entertaining film. I think she would have loved the animation production process, with the opportunities it offers for total control of every aspect of a movie. And I suspect the problem of delivering a great animation performance via drawings would have fascinated her too.

Of particular interest to animators is that while Pickford and the cast performed these scenes there was live music on the set to help them achieve the proper mood. This was done during single, non-dialogue shots of Mary walking around her home, closeups of her thinking...if ever there was a shared intuition and methodology between artists, it would be this sort of actress and an animator who also draws to beats, and animates characters with the same rhythm and timing--timing of movement lost to any sort of acting but the ballet today, with a few exceptions.

I've grabbed a few frames directly from the film "Daddy Long Legs"(1919).
What I realize after removing them is how much they need the frames all around them to have the impact they do(well, that's film for you)--but I've left them here anyway; hopefully they offer some idea of her visual charm. One of the great things that distinguished Pickford from other pretty faces of the period is what always elevates actors: the magical glimpse of thought fleeting across her face; sincere, real, totally believable thought. It's a crucial element for animation, obviously. Even in broad comedy, if the characters in a feature lose believability, they can't sustain the kind of humor I think is the best kind for our medium: character-based, idiosyncratic, relatable humor.

Bear with me as once again I cite "The Incredibles"--for the very good reason that it's always on one or more of my cable channels, and I have one particular scene stuck in my mind while writing this:
Watching superhero coture designer Edna Mode walk across her inner sanctum is funny movement. Her tiny legs switch back and forth like a beetle's while her huge head stays almost entirely still by comparison. I don't laugh out loud at it, but it's a perfect, amusing bit of character. But her gestures and the expression in her eyes in her ensuing dialogue: [paraphrasing here]"Men of Robert's age are unstaAable and prrrone to weaknessssss"--that's really funny to me. It comes straight out of the character and could only be said by THAT character in that situation. It's specific character-based humor, even though the scene isn't meant to be a total laughfest but more a contrapuntal blend of plot advancement, drama and humor.
I'm sure it's no accident that Brad Bird has been going to screenings of old movies as long as he has--going back over 20 years. There's a lot there that anyone can learn from and that can help us make the kinds of entertainment we hope will last.

In the book Mary Pickford Rediscovered, Kevin Brownlow writes of a rare interview he had with the great pioneer, Pickford, then 72. She tells him: "Imagine that of all the children I have, Kevin, none of them have used my experience. To me, that is for me to die". It's very sad, and at the time (1964) it must have seemed true to her in many ways. Of course by "children" she meant all those who came after her in the filmmaking world, and by her "experience" she meant exactly that: the discovery by trial and error she participated in of what would work on the screen as a story. Even she felt her films should be destroyed, as she'd seen how the media derided silent movies, the horrible prints shown at the wrong, too-fast speed making them look ridiculous, the emphasis on the "corny" old-fashioned stories while ignoring the existence of astonishing, adult and gorgeously mounted films that made the early talkies look as stilted and crude as they were. Now on DVD and at screenings such as the Academy's and MOMA's a new generation can appreciate the craftsmanship that was all over these best films of the era and marvel at the fact that much of the technique was being done for the very first time. And again, lots for animation folk to learn from. If Pickford isn't your thing, there's Keaton, DeMille, Gish, Chaney(the Tod Browning-Lon Chaney collaborations still haven't been matched for shocks), dozens of others. Pick up a copy of "The Parade's Gone By", and see if it doesn't whet your appetite.

By the way, I'm not the only crossover person from animation who was there the other night; I finally met a sort of author hero of mine, Joe Adamson(our mutual friend Mike Hawks introduced us). I owe him a huge debt just for writing "Tex Avery: King of Cartoons"(published when there was literally not a single thing available on the WB directors), "The Walter Lantz Story", and especially, "Groucho, Harpo, Chico and Sometimes Zeppo", a book on the Marx Bros and their films that had me laughing myself out of bed at 2am many many nights during my high school years(and afterwards).