Aug 16, 2007

Christmas in August--a Marc Davis greeting

This is one of my Comic Con purchases: one of many Christmas cards designed by the superlative Marc Davis (with a self-caricature).

I'm not sure when this was done--how young would he have been to have looked as slim as he's depicted here? It's a wonderful drawing and I was glad to find it at the Van Eaton Galleries booth.

What's the Art happening on Flower Street?

Since I never seem to remember to ask my friends when I talk to them(and since those I do remember to ask don't know): what in the world are those placards placed over at WED advertising? What sort of show is it?

I apologize to non-locals for the crytpic nature of this post and promise I'll post something of less arcane interest soon, but I've really just got to know. Whatever it is, it's only for employees of the Disney Company.

Aug 14, 2007

Toy Stories

What's your story, buddy?

ETA: Jeff's toy just received an excellent review at the Plastic and Plush blog. Congratulations again to Jeff for garnering such kudos.

I've been catching up with a lot of the blogs I link to lately--ones I mean to visit regularly but too often procrastinate checking in on. Since the Comic Con, however, I've had a new motivation: what did all those fellow travelers I missed seeing there think of it, and how did the sellers I know of do?

So I've been making the rounds and enjoying the stories and pictures. One entry particularly stirred me up enough to begin a post about it the other day, though I put it aside until I'd have more time. Oddly, an article in today's New Yorks Times offered a quote that fit the old post here it is--the post, first:

* * *
Jeff Pidgeon blogged about an encounter he had at the Comic-Con involving the vinyl "Happy Beaver" toy he designed and was offering there. Apparently a vendor expressed interest in this appealing orange guy, and asked him what the character's story was. Jeff was forced to admit that...well...he didn't have a story, exactly; he had drawn a fellow he liked the looks of and wanted to see as a toy(Jeff is one of the animation world's preeminent cool toy collectors, by the way--more on that in a minute).

This woman was kind of amazed that Jeff didn't follow the toymaker's script--how could he have bothered to commission a sizeable retail toy with no story for it?
He was nonplussed at the expostulating from this stranger...after all, he is a story artist of long experience(at Pixar, no less). Wasn't it okay for him to indulge himself in a fun project of three-dimensional toy design? Does every figural thing with eyes, nose and tail have to have a backstory?
* * *

Well, that was as far as I got the other day. I put it aside and reflected on whether or not I was making too much of this little anecdote, but it did needle me for some reason. Then I read this in this morning's paper an article about the over-management of children's play--of adults inserting themselves and their notions of what "play" should be into a private world where children would otherwise think and invent and fantasize spontaneously. Here's the passage that really popped out at me--the article is reported by Patricia Cohen. She's quoting a professor at Brown who's written a book about children's play throughout history:

"Mr. Chudacoff...explain[ed] that with so much commercial licensing, toys have become more of an offshoot of the television and film industries than elements of play.
One result is that a toy comes with a prepackaged back story and ready-made fantasy life, he said, meaning that “some of the freedom is lost, and unstructured play is limited.”


Now, Jeff's vinyl toy isn't meant specifically for children, it's a fun object designed for adults like Jeff(and myself, and a passel of other animation people and artists)who enjoy fun objects around our environment for various reasons. Call it whimsy, maybe. But I think part of the reason that we do enjoy these things is that they both please our sense memories of childhood play and at the same time keep striking those synapses that we use all the time in our work. Stories beget characters--but also, very often characters beget their own stories--ones we couldn't tell until we get to know their players a little better. That's what I'd surmise about Jeff's character--why it isn't a boo-boo to have gone so far as to create him without The Story at hand, readymade, to reel off to a wholesaler or bystander. Jeff might well disagree, however.

Anyway, there is no hard and fast rule to this. It goes back to that old question" "where do your ideas come from?" Where? It's part nature, part nurture, part--who knows what?

And speaking of toys, for anyone with a passing interest in the glory days of strange and wonderful, make-your-own-backstory toys of yesteryear, have a look at Jeff's Flickr pages.

We had this around the house when I was a preschooler; I thought it was the most magical thing in the world.

a bootlegged toy knocking off a character from the Disney film "Chicken Little"
all the images are by and appear courtesy of

Aug 12, 2007

Dog days of summer-animal analysis

Michael Barrier has quite a few interesting emails and links lately; one that pushed one of my animation hot buttons grew out of his and others' reactions to "Ratatouille". It involves the handling of animals as characters in animation. Mike links to a post by caricaturist, Sheridan College instructor and blogger Pete Emslie. Pete's thoughts are fairly brief but clear and pointed, and as he says, there are many permutations to the types of characterizations he lists in his post.

Barrier himself writes something I couldn't put any better:

"To me, anthropomorphism like that in so many Hollywood cartoons has most often been a sign not of infantilism—the common accusation—but of an openness to the potential of artistic devices that more fastidious minds reject out of hand. You can do things in animation and the comics with animal characters that you can't with human characters; and as Pete's handout suggests, the more alert the artist is to the possibilities and limitations inherent in the different kinds of animal characters, the better the odds that something exceptional will result."

Boldface is mine. The misuse or dismissal of this truism Barrier mentions has frustrated me in the process of doing story on a couple of projects in the past, before my present job.

There were instances where opportunities to add something special were missed, involving animal characters that while able to "talk" didn't ever speak to human beings and were supposed to be real animals in a "real" environment.
Those projects worked from a script, but there was (supposedly) ample room for some visual, physical interpretation and ideas from the story artist. In some cases, however, I found myself thinking that the characters--instead of being birds or dogs--could have been mice, cats, horses or buffalo and virtually nothing but the character design would have changed.

There was literally no thought given to how a dog would react to a situation versus a parrot. It was all plot and dialogue, all the time. The fact that a story might revolve around a canine in a human household was only a gloss, not the crucial factor it should have been.
As someone who's lived with dogs, parrots, horses, fish and cats(to name a few), this really drives you around the bend in its waste of potential animation gold just sitting there waiting to picked up, drawn and presented to the audience. So, whether it makes it into the film or not, you continually try to insist on not just having a character get from A to B, but have him get there the way a puppy would. This doesn't mean cramming all kinds of diversions and asides into a scene but being judicious about where, when and how much depending upon that character at that moment.

Few films achieved this as brilliantly as in the handling of all the animals in "Lady and the Tramp". It's a lesson in thinking along those lines, and in the process turns scenes that might be a heck of a tough sell today("they put the puppy to sleep in the kitchen with a newspaper, but she won't stay put") and turns it into the universal, lovingly familiar experience that everyone who's ever raised a dog has experienced--and as a bonus we get to see it from not only the humans' but the puppy's point of view. It's scenes like that, just as much as the old "Bella Notte" number or "He's a Tramp" that make this a classic. Incidentally, those musical numbers are both examples of the story crew really pushing the limits they've set for themselves in terms of how anthropomorphized the dogs are--but (in my opinion at least) they get away with it as they do all through the film by never leaving out the "dogginess" they need to sustain the fantasy and tether it to reality.

This isn't to say that degrees of "faithful" anthropomorphism can't be mixed within a film with success in the best efforts of animation. I stumbled on a bit of "Dumbo" on TV yesterday, and the crows, Timothy Mouse and the Stork have little relation to their real life counterparts other than the use of their wings-those that have them-and the fact that they have beaks or tails. In "Dumbo" the brasher characters are also "free"--free of the strictures of being working circus animals, they can come and go as they wish and boss about or rag on human beings and animals alike, acting as a Greek chorus. They exist in a kind of limbo between the "real" elephants and kangaroos and tigers and the full-on humans such as the ringmaster. Timothy would gain little or nothing to push more elements of real mouse onto him--he doesn't need it. He's more [Fred]Moore than Mouse.

images courtesy of this site
Obviously one could go on about this all day--"Ratatouille" offers a lot to chew on on this subject, and I've already written a bit here and elsewhere about how well I thought those animals were handled, with attention paid to extreme subtleties of rats that made for an almost subliminal layer of reality to Remy and the others(but especially Remy). I don't know how much was instigated by the animators, but knowing Bird I would surmise that there are no accidents in anything on that score; the phrase "with a gimlet eye" was invented for Brad Bird, believe it.

Still, there are some shots where I'd sure like to wring that animator's hand.

Aug 10, 2007

Mary Blair's Cinderella visdev

Coming out later this month from Disney Press. Kudos to them.
I had completely forgotten about this new book, and was surprised when it popped up today on my Amazon "recommended" page(gee, wonder how they guessed that one?).

Visit Ward Jenkins and learn about the enigmatic yet sunny Lou Peters

Ward Jenkins has singlehandedly amassed one of the best collections of fun 50s-60s illustration I've seen anywhere, and he blogs about it regularly and well. His most recent post is chock full of charming graphics by an illustrator named Lou Peters, Go see it!

Aug 9, 2007

Bruce Timm's sketchbook cover

Of all the items to miss at the con...I didn't even know he was doing them. This is I believe #3.
Bruce has been a big influence on a lot of people who in some cases might not even know it. Back in the day I never saw anyone, anywhere so facile with a brush pen and markers...and with such singularly appealing results. He's got a great color sense and I was agog at the rare watercolor(or gouache) of his that I'd see.

So I've got to track one of these babies down. Stuart Ng has them, at a price.

Aug 5, 2007

An Earl Oliver Hurst Monday

image courtesy of American Art Archives
If he wasn't in animation, he sure could have been--but then we'd likely be out all those fantastic covers and illustrations.
Posted here to porvide a little charm and inspiration for what's sure to be a busy week for wielders of Blackwings and styluses.

Aug 4, 2007

Chris Sanders

These images taken from and copyrighted by

Cartoon Brew beat me to the announcement of Chris Sanders' new website, but they get ten times my traffic anyway. It's all good.

In an industry with so many talented artists, this man still manages to be utterly unique. That his particular style of drawing hits the mark for a passel of people was made very plain to me after last year's Comicon, where my offhanded posting of his sketchbook cover brought many many inquiries from people who just had to get a copy of that little book. This year he was back with a larger Volume II, as well as the beautiful vinyl figure pictured above. Add to that the fact that now he has his very own website sure to be filled with wonderful drawings and there's plenty of eye candy for everyone to drink in and enjoy.

a page from Chris' online sketchbook

I'm also personally fortunate that he happens to be working at the same place I am right now, preparing a new film in its early stages that he'll direct. He's a great guy who exudes sunniness, so I guess yet again the drawings don't lie.

Aug 2, 2007


what it's all about: Rej Bourdages' son Jake contemplates the force

No, this isn't going to be a slam on the venerable San Diego Comic Con. I just couldn't resist the title--why not recast the verb for the purposes of titling the grueling-yet-satisfying con experience?

The main thing about San Diego is the enormity of it. There were at least several booths I'd specifically wanted to visit, and yet not only did I not happen to stumble by them, I completely forgot about them until the next day. People and stuff I'd looked forward to seeing for a year. That'll give anyone a good idea of how intense the thing is. But I wasn't ever idle during my six hours on the floor of the exhibition hall: Stuart Ng Books, Bud Plant, Illustration House, Graphic Collectibles(seeing original Sullivant and Gibson and Hurst drawings and paintings and actually contemplating buying them almost made the entire trip worth it alone), Red Window, Chris Sanders, Conduct Happiness, Van Eaton Galleries, and the myriad smaller vendors and individuals whose wares were fun and appealing...all that and a peck of stormtroopers.

Part of the haul: