Dec 29, 2006

Cleaning my studio...

...the things you find.
I was just talking about the good old Silver Passes the last week we were at work--getting that itch to go to Disneyland again. I hadn't seen my worthless old passes in years, but I just knew I probably didn't thow them away. I was right. This little item got you & 4 of your friends and/or family into the Parks gratis(and flashing your ID got you 30% off all food and purchases).
Very nice perks indeed.

The 33 Club (I guess it's officially known as "Club 33" but that's never what we used to call it as kids, so--): I was privileged to finally go there for brunch a few years ago for my birthday. Aside from this little notepad (a complimentary item), we bought champagne glasses to remember it by. If you grew up making regular trips to Disneyland as my family and friends did, the 33 Club was a mysterious, forbidden place one could only dream of ever getting into; a virtually unmarked doorway adjacent to the Pirates exit, with a small brass plate hiding an intercom and button. Admittance was and is by appointment only--and via the membership of a select few companies and individuals. It's also been known as the only place inside Disneyland that serves alcoholic beverages.
Stories abound--like the time when I and my best high school buddy were eating at the Blue Bayou(the Club balcony overlooks the Bayou restaurant) and pelted with ice from some imbibing VIPs above. We didn't mind; they were just small ice chips, after all--and who knew who it might have been tossing the ice? Such was our reverence for the place that we felt honored to be thus acknowleged.
The birthday brunch, by the way, was excellent.

-An addendum: I see that on the Animation Nation site there was some mention of the high cost of eating at Club 33. True, it's expensive(easily $50 per person), but what the poster doesn't mention is that entry into Disneyland is free with a reservation at the 33 Club.
At the time of my birthday brunch I wasn't a Disney employee, much less one with a silver pass, so that aspect saved me and my three guests a considerable sum. It was well worth it for the Disney lore and overall atmosphere that fill the "forbidden" upstairs Club, and the friend who made it possible (not an animation artist but a Disney fan whose dad was in several classic Disney live action films in Walt's time) has my heartiest thanks for making it happen. If you're curious, be sure you click the link embedded in my post above for a site with some fun details and photos of the inside of the Club.

Dec 28, 2006

2719 Hyperion blog

The title of this post is of course the address of the old Disney Hyperion studio--and now also a blog of note.
How is it I'd never heard of this blog before? It seems to have existed since September.

2710 Hyperion

They've got a swell collection of a heck of a lot of swell stuff, including many more of the Disney Studio's annual Christmas cards. Here's one from 1941:

to see the larger one and many others, click on the link above

I've only got two or three of these cards, myself...and I'm drooling with envy.
Lots of wonderful information there, too.
I just now discovered this site via the intrepid Didier Ghez(also always worth a visit), so know little about it, but thought I ought to link it right away--the better for more to enjoy!

Dec 27, 2006

The price of creativity, Disney-style

Over on Cartoon Brew Jerry Beck has cited a rare exhibition of Walt Disney's Carolwood Railroad train in southern California.

With the post he's put up a terrific picture of Walt apparently seeing his gift locomotive, the "Lily Belle", for the first time. Three Disney employees involved in crafting the surprise gift are there--one is Ward Kimball, the preeminent train fanatic of all of Walt's staff
(Ollie Johnston included. An aside here: when I visited Grizzly Flats, Ward's backyard, full-sized train setup, in 1981 shortly after reading the unpublished galleys of "Illusion of Life", I was astonished at the size and breadth of Ward's trains big and small. "I don't get it", I said to Ward, "in the piece on Ollie, his trains are written about--that he has a miniature track in his yard like Walt's was...but there's no mention of any of this in your bio at all!" (forgive me, I was a teenager and extremely naive--not to say plain dumb)
Ward's silent response to me was an indescribable expression that was, shall we say, wryness personified, and very funny too. God love the wonderful messrs Johnston and Thomas--but there's clearly something about competing train fanatics and 9 old men.)

Anyway, it's well worth a click to the Brew to see the photograph of Walt: he's 1000% thrilled--his face is completely lit up. An engineer's hat, not quite able to fit on his head, perches somewhere above his cranium. And from that same delighted, hard-driving man came this POV when planning his model track at his home with this locomotive:

Walt equipped the property with a red barn (modeled after his family's barn back in Marceline) with woodworking and machine tools. He also enlisted the aid of studio staffers like Roger Broggie, who had established the Disney Studio machine shop (and whose son is author Michael Broggie). He decided that it would be more exciting if the tunnel were shaped like an S -- so that riders wouldn't be able to see the light at the end when they entered it. One worker advised Walt that it would be cheaper to build the tunnel straight. "No," said Walt, in a classic Disney response, "it's cheaper not to do it at all."

That is the attitude that made the Disney Studio, that made "Snow White", "Pinocchio", "Fantasia", "Song Of the South", "20,000 Leagues Under the Sea", "Mary Poppins"--and Disneyland and EPCOT.

Walt was no fool. He gets labeled a "dreamer" all the time--and he certainly was, but he also possessed a midwestern shrewdness and could certainly be what we call "cheap"--when in his opinion money wouldn't pay back in results. It's often been said he needed his less imaginative brother, Roy, to rein him in and hold the pursestrings of his empire-building, and that's true, but unlike many other visionaries and gifted producers, he never seemed to run out of steam. If he lost his initial enthusiasm for animation in favor of community planning and who knows what other concepts lost to his death, he wasn't dishonest about it(to the chagrin of his animation staff). And he'd have found a way to get the entertainment and artistic drive of animation in there somehow, anyway.

I digress wildly, but anyway, go and peek at that photo.

Dec 25, 2006

Merry Christmas--this time from Ward Kimball

This is Ward Kimball's Christmas card from 1963. I have one of them, unsigned; where I got it I can't quite remember. Probably in a box of stuff my then-workplace(Larry Edmunds Bookshop) got from a retired Disney animator years ago...since Christmas cards weren't in our usual line I snagged this. The cels and drawings we also received I priced myself, to be sold(being the only animation"expert" in the business). All of those went quickly...for about a tenth of what any of it would be worth today. Ah, well.

Leave it to Ward to stage such a scene...I imagine that the pretty hipster in the fire truck is Ward's daughter Kelly, but I'm not sure. Of couse that's Betty Kimball hanging off the rear.

Once again, a merry Christmas to all--and many thanks for all of your kind comments and feedback this year!

Dec 24, 2006

A Merry Moore Christmas

Fred Moore's christmas card (from himself and his second wife), circa 1950 or so--a very lovely gift to the author from James T. Walker, owner of the vast majority of the fabulous Fred Moore artwork that I've been privileged to share with you this year. Thank you, Tim, and I hope to see you soon!

2006 has been a year of terrific joy and personal and professional satisfaction for your diarist here at the Blackwing blog. It's also been on the personal side the single most challenging and difficult one I've ever had. The last couple of months have been fraught with the kind of drama no one wants to deal with but all of us do--just not usually so soon. As Groucho Marx once said(quoting faux-Eugene O'Neill), "The gods look down and laugh"--and roll the dice. Everyone takes a turn.

In that I know I'm not alone, and the kindness of my friends, colleagues and yes, to offer another swipe (from Tennesse Williams) 'the kindness of strangers', too--has meant a tremendous amount to me. Pardon my being so elliptical, but suffice to say that Christmas and the entire holiday season do nothing if not drive home to the average person all that's really important; the too-swift passing of another year; the beauty of the smallest things, and also wistful thoughts of the past.

Many of the posts here have dealt with the past in the form of various stories about animation. I don't believe in wallowing in an invented or idealized Golden Age, but I do think that far too much of recent history("recent" meaning the last hundred years)is unjustly forgotten, and that with each generation's disappearance from the world we too often lose the lessons that took our predecessors a lifetime to learn--the hard way. We do it all over again, and when we actually stop and read about them, or look at their work, we find that very little has changed. The "bad" things were there too, just as now, in droves: petty politics, career jealousies, unfairness, unrewarded toil, family dramas. But there too were all the same wonderful things--sudden spurts of artistic brilliance and satisfaction, laughs with irrepressible coworkers, joy at the births and weddings and promotions of deserving friends, discoveries of new talents that take the art of drawing, painting or animation further than you thought it could go. We share all those ills and triumphs not only with our bunch of fellow salmon swimming upstream but with the many schools that have gone before us, and stand in spirit shoulder to shoulder with us now.

To them, and to you, I wish you all the very merriest and most peaceful of holidays!

a very young Carole Lombard-not animation-related, but definitely another of my muses

Dec 23, 2006

A deMille Christmas greeting

This is director Cecil B. deMille's Christmas card from 1957. I've had it for about 20 years--since retrieving it from deMille's desk, believe it or not. It's a longish story I won't bore you with here...but isn't this a terrific card? DeMille was making his "Ten Commandments" at the time, and the trades were predicting the expensive film would be a turkey---hence the sphinx drawn this way. It appears the artist is a man named Bruce Durrell, about whom I know absolutely nothing.

Who would have thought the intense Mr.deMille had such a great sense of humor--about himself? Of course, he did get the last laugh as "The Ten Commandments" was a hit.

Dec 3, 2006

New animated shorts from-guess who? Disney.

I've subscribed to the New York Times for half a dozen years now, and in that time have been perpetually amazed at how much more local news I read in those pages than in my previous paper--especially as regards my own line of work, animation.
So yet again I've unflapped the hefty Sunday edition of the Manhattan daily to find an article written just for us: on the recently revived plan to make theatrical shorts at Disney. Charles Solomon is the author.
The Times has a registration website, so I've pasted it here for your enjoyment. Obviously my usual disclaimer about copyright doesn't apply to this post--it's all property of the New York Times. Here it is:

MOVIEGOERS who have become inured to pre-show car ads and trivia quizzes may soon get something old enough to seem new: cartoon shorts.

After a hiatus of nearly 50 years, Walt Disney Studios is getting back into the business of producing short cartoons, starting with a Goofy vehicle next year. The studio has released a few shorts in recent years — “Destino,” “Lorenzo” and “The Little Match Girl” — but those were more artistic exercise than commercial endeavor. The new cartoons, by contrast, are an effort by a new leadership team from Pixar Animation Studios, now a Disney unit, to put the Burbank company back at the forefront of animation with a form it once pioneered.

“The impetus comes from John Lasseter, who takes the idea from Walt Disney and 100 years of film history,” said Don Hahn, producer of “The Lion King” and “The Little Match Girl,” in a recent interview at his studio office. “Shorts have always been a wellspring of techniques, ideas and young talent. It’s exactly what Walt did, because it’s a new studio now, with new talent coming up — as it should. I think the shorts program can really grow this studio as it grew Pixar, as it grew Walt’s studio.”

Although audiences today are more familiar with his feature films, Walt Disney’s reputation was originally built on shorts. In the 1930s “A Mickey Mouse Cartoon” appeared on theater marquees with the titles of the features, and Disney won 10 Oscars for cartoon shorts between 1932 and 1942. He used the “Silly Symphonies” to train his artists as they geared up to create “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs.” But after World War II Disney phased out short cartoons because of rising production costs and the minimal amount theater owners would pay for them.

Mr. Hahn said the new shorts would be screened in theaters along with Disney films. “You pay your 10 bucks to see a movie,” he said, “and you get a surprise you hadn’t counted on.” The new shorts will be done in traditional 2-D animation, computer graphics or a combination of the two media, depending on the story and the visual style.

This is not the first attempt at such a revival. Warner Brothers, for example, tried to bring back the classic Looney Tunes characters in new shorts in 2003, but they proved unsuccessful and most of them were never screened theatrically.

Chuck Williams, a veteran story artist who will produce the new films for Disney, said they do not have to become a profit center in order to perform a real commercial function.

“They allow you to develop new talent,” Mr. Williams said in an interview at the Disney studios. “Shorts are your farm team, where the new directors and art directors are going to come from. Instead of taking a chance on an $80 million feature with a first-time director, art director or head of story, you can spend a fraction of that on a short and see what they can do.”

It is not surprising that Mr. Lasseter is using short films to train and test the artists: he and his fellow Pixar animators spent almost 10 years making shorts, learning how to use computer graphics effectively before they made “Toy Story” and the string of hits that followed. Pixar continues to produce a cartoon short every year, and has won Oscars for the shorts “Tin Toy,” “Geri’s Game” and “For the Birds.”

Four new shorts are in development at Disney: “The Ballad of Nessie,” a stylized account of the origin of the Loch Ness monster; “Golgo’s Guest,” about a meeting between a Russian frontier guard and an extraterrestrial; “Prep and Landing,” in which two inept elves ready a house for Santa’s visit; and “How to Install Your Home Theater,” the return of Goofy’s popular “How to” shorts of the ’40s and ’50s, in which a deadpan narrator explains how to play a sport or execute a task, while Goofy attempts to demonstrate — with disastrous results. The new Goofy short is slated to go into production early next year.

The idea for “Home Theater” came from the experience Kevin Deters, one of its two directors, had buying a large-screen TV. “For years I’ve been saying to my wife, let’s get a nice, large TV, because I’ve been suffering with a 30-inch screen,” he said. “She finally acquiesced around the time of the Super Bowl. When we went shopping, we discovered the stores had ‘Delivery in Time for the Big Game!’ and similar promotions, some of which appear in the film.”

Over the years the studio has tried unsuccessfully to update the classic characters. Mr. Deters and his co-director, Stevie Wermers, for instance, unhappily recalled “Disco Mickey,” the 1979 album that suggested the trademark mouse could boogie like John Travolta. The cover featured Mickey in a white suit and open shirt, swinging his hips.

“You don’t want to put Goofy on a skateboard,” Mr. Deters said. “There’s no reason to attempt to make him hip and cool. Goofy isn’t cool. He’s the ultimate domesticated man, as the ‘How to’ shorts showed. I relate very well to him as the guy who’s sort of a schlub on his couch.”

“How to Install Your Home Theater” will be made with a fairly small crew: despite the triumph of computer animation, Disney still has a number of talented traditional animators who are eager to draw again.

“The Goofy short will be very funny, but we won’t have to spend a lot of money and time on it, which won’t diminish it one bit,” Mr. Hahn said. “Obviously there’s a financial component to these films. We have to make them responsibly. But the big investment is for the long haul. We’re saying we believe in new talent and new techniques, and they’ll pay dividends in 10 to 20 years, just as we’re reaping the benefits now from the investment we made 25 years ago, training John Lasseter and Andrew Stanton and Tim Burton and John Musker and Ron Clemmons.”

Disney also intends the new talent to reflect an increasingly diverse work force. For most of its 100-year history American animation has been the creation of male artists, a situation that is slowly changing.

“It’s kind of shocking to realize that once the Goofy short gets made, I’ll officially be the first woman director at Disney Feature Animation,” Ms. Wermers said. “Considering that probably more than 50 percent of the audience for the short will be female, because of moms taking the kids, there should be more female voices out there.”

Ms. Wermers is not alone in her sense that Mr. Lasseter and his fellow Pixar alumni are already having an impact.

“I feel Disney is a very different place than it was a year ago,” said Chris Williams, a story artist who is developing “Golgo’s Guest” and “Prep and Landing,” “and the shorts program is just part of that. It’s become a very exciting place to work.”

Dec 2, 2006

Ralph Hulett's Christmases

I'm not sure how many of the visitors to this blog also regularly stop at the Animation Guild's frequently updated online location, so just in case...

Steve Hulett, local 839's Business Manager, is not only an alumnus of Disney Feature Animation, but his father Ralph was a distinguished Disney artist in the golden age. Above is just one of his father's christmas card designs which Steve's been regifting to the public via the TAG blog. These weren't the usual projects done strictly for friends and family--Hulett did these as freelance jobs for some extra coin. Just imagining an artist knocking these beauties out while maintaining a fulltime studio gig makes you feel a little lazy, doesn't it? On the other hand, many of my current peers are managing the same sort of output--books, paintings, gallery shows and such all while giving their all to their day jobs. Amazing.

Here's a link to more of them: Ralph Hulett's Christmas paintings
You can always pay the TAG blog a visit and scroll down to see the thumbs and enlarge them there, too. There are many styles and an impressive display of masterful technique.

I also wanted to mention once again that Dave Pimentel, head of story on "Bee Movie" and currently teaching story at Calarts, has posted another in a series he's handed out to his students on drawing for storytelling. He usually posts his personal sketchbook drawings, but will likely be putting up more of this sort of offering. It's definitely worth checking out: