May 28, 2007

Norm Ferguson, Webb Smith, and the Pluto flypaper sequence

An absolutely fascinating and must-read article by Michael Barrier examining some rare Pluto drawings.

Thanks to an anonymous collector(I think I know who that might be--and if I'm right--email or call me, you-who-shall-not-be-named! I need to talk to you), Barrier has posted some wonderful pages of sketches of Pluto, studies for that famous stuck-on-flypaper sequence in "Playful Pluto"--not only a very funny cartoon bit in itself, but exceptional enough that none other than Preston Sturges chose to feature it in the climax of his masterpiece "Sullivan's Travels"(Joel McCrea's Sullivan is a prisoner in a chain gang, taken for a rare "movie night" at a local black church; when he sees the desperate, beaten, dead-end prisoners laughing their guts out at Pluto's antics, he has an epiphany that stands as Sturges' own personal and professional credo).

Here's just one page--go to Barrier's blog to see more:

image courtesy of

I personally don't believe that these are gag drawings, but agree with John Canemaker's assessment that they look much more like they'd come from the animator himself(Ferguson, the great Pluto expert). That said, they are more finished than one might expect of 'Fergie', so perhaps Barrier's other suggested possibility is true--that it's the work of yet another, third party studying the Ferguson sequence.

In any case, It's just great to be able to see rare material like this. Many thanks to Barrier and his generous contributor.

RIP Charles Nelson Reilly

Sad news for fans of goofball television on a Memorial Day: Charles Nelson Reilly has died.

Lest some readers of Blackwing think I am going the way of blog-potpourri with this post, rest assured that Charles Nelson Reilly was a friend to wonderfully cheesy and strange cartoons and the kids that watched them; he deserves a moment of reflection and thanks.
I mean that sincerely. A terrific comedian, likely the first openly gay man many kids ever saw regularly on television, he was also a serious student of acting, a director of award-winning stage productions, and a playwright. He was also a sweet, funny, engaging man in real life--an opinion I base on running into him after work at Pavilions on Ventura Blvd., doing his grocery shopping. Here was a guy who truly made life--or buying a lamb chop--a moveable party.

And speaking of parties, try catching up with some reruns of "Match Game", a game show where the game mattered not at all, the guest celebrities all knew each other and were often a little tipsy as the day's taping went on--and Charles "underplayed" if not underdressed his usual persona to wonderful effect. That man got away with some of the most unbelievable insults (mostly to the woman who became a close buddy, Jack Klugman's then-wife Brett Somers) ever ad libbed on american television. For kids who were watching it all made adult life seem like some bubbly cocktail party...or reminded us of funnier versions of our own parents, I'm not quite sure.

Of course, there was also Sid and Marty Krofft's "Lidsville", "The Ghost and Mrs. Muir", and one fantastic performance on "The X Files"(the latter really showing what the man could do without all the schtick). He won a Tony award for "How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying" on Broadway. He's done voices for "Spongebob", Hanna-Barbera, Disney television and many Bluth features.

He said he'd be eulogized as a game-show guest, and he will--but the important thing is that he'll be remembered by millions of people who have a genuine, fond affection for him, courtesy of his own inimitable self. He afforded us some killer laughs. That's a real rarity. Hail and farewell.

May 27, 2007

Cartoon Modern

Look at these wonderful sketches from Cartoon Modern. There's plenty more where these came from.
I am really remiss in keeping current with a lot of blogs lately, and Cartoon Modern is one of those with some fascinating posts I've missed. The artwork above is by UPA designer Sterling Sturtevant. She's pretty keen, I think.

Blog Blurb: Will Finn

self-portrait by Will Finn, swiped from his new blog

...and another sucker answers the siren song of the blogosphere!

Welcome Will Finn to the fold, everyone!
Surely a man who needs no elaborate introduction to animation folk, I will nevertheless say that my introduction to him(though not his to me)occurred in an ex-bank building on Ventura Blvd. in Studio City, California.

Don Bluth studios had their facility there at the time they were doing Space Ace, etc. and while I was visiting with a friend of a friend I picked up a little studio newsletter with a column about the studio cat, written by a Will Finn, accompanied by his own charming illustrations. This Finn was a story guy, or an animator--or both, I can't remember now.
He's done a few things since then(though if he'd done nothing else but supervise the damn clock I'd be in total awe).

Seriously, this blog should be fun and interesting reading. Carry on, Will!

Travel, vintage, cartoons

I was always told jet lag a)wears off after the first day or so, and
b)is always worse when flying west to east.
Neither has been true for me...or maybe Paris has a special hangover effect. That must be it.

Anyway, here's a little something that popped out at me from today's(May 27)New York Times:
Because We're Not There Yet

Someone found a copy of a 1954 book on traveling with the family via car. It looks like fun(I love this kind of social anthropology), and has some neat illustrations to boot.
Here's two:

Unfortunately the illustrator of this little book isn't credited in the article.

I do try and keep the posts here specific to animation, but I think all the animators I know wouldn't mind seeing these or knowing this book exists--Ward Jenkins, I'm squinting at you--so...

ETA: More Fun: The intrepid Scott Santoro found this fun b/w clip of the author of "Traveling By Car", Carol Lane, demonstrating how to pack.

May 24, 2007

Back with a question about Disney's Peter Pan

A page spread from the Golden book of Pater Pan. We had this one in the house when I was a kid, and I was nuts about it. The finished film has scenes that come as close as any in Disney's canon to matching the appeal of the visual development artwork.

Finally back in Los Angeles, and back to work.

Paris is unsurprisingly everything everyone says it is and more. It fills the mind and heart with a burning love for and appreciation of the beauty that is everywhere apparent--and not just in the concrete surroundings.

But right now, it's the interminable plane ride back that has me writing, with a question tossed out to all and sundry--I know someone knows this.

The in-flight entertainment included french and english versions of Disney's 1953 "Peter Pan". Since the flight was over 12 hours long(I'm still recovering)I had several opportunities to watch it in various pieces.
Now I can't get "You Can Fly!" out of my head(thank you, Sammy Fain)--and also would very much like to know:

Who animated the youngest Darling child, Michael?

He really struck me as being particularly solid and well done; even though he has only a supporting role he rings totally true as an about-3-and-a-half year old boy--and is completely charming(to me, anyway). Whoever did that work deserves a hand...Lounsbery perhaps?

I hadn't realized how long it's been since I'd seen the film. For me it has some of the most successful art direction and design of any of the features, if it's not a classic of the order of "Pinocchio" it's still able to inspire delight, in some scenes simply to look at.
And again, here's a Disney animated feature where the credits manage to evoke a sense of wistfulness, grace and anticipation for the story--the credits! This by a combination of absolutely gorgeous paintings, length of shots, choice of shots, and naturally the music score--all perfect.

This reminded me that I've intended for months to do a post about credits--how good they can be, and how frequently they're a missed chance for additional filmmaking in today's cinema, especially in animation.

So, who did animate Michael?

May 20, 2007

Blackwing a Paris

The Diaries are away in Paris at the moment. Back in a few days!

Audrey Hepburn in "Funny Face" looks out over a Paris balcony. While this scene was shot on a sound stage in Culver City, the film has a lot of fun location footage with the actors dancing around the real Paris-and some very appealing interior art direction, too.

May 10, 2007

Ward in his element, take two

Ward Kimball in his train room, circa 1977, courtesy of the Los Angeles Times. CLICK to make this image huge.

Thanks to an entry in one of my must-visit blogs, L.A. Observed, I found this great photo in UCLA's brand new online, searchable photo database. I am busy enough that I didn't have time to do anything more than the most cursory search--I actually found this photo of Ward by accident--so there must be plenty of other treasures there.