May 29, 2008

Hollywood history tonight-fun stuff

Tonight at 7pm Larry Edmunds Bookshop in Hollywood is doing a book signing/screening that should be a hoot.

There are unfortunately too few people around today who've seen the best available work of John Barrymore. I knew him only as a kind of dissipated buffoon for years, until I saw both his best late films (one great 1939 example: "Midnight", directed by Mitchell Leisen, written by Billy Wilder; also the fantastic "Twentieth Century", an early screwball comedy directed by Howard Hawks and costarring Carole Lombard-don't miss either of those) and his best silents. Turner Classic Movies has shown a fair number of great Barrymores as part of their Sunday night silents, and UCLA and the motion picture Academy show rare, restored prints on occasion--always highly recommended.
But I knew the legend of John Barrymore before I knew his actual work. An unbelievable libertine, he wanted to avoid the family business of acting and attended art school instead, but he soon found that his physical beauty as well as his famous family made acting too easy an option to pass up as a living. He turned out to be good at it, even if late in life he overindulged his supply of ham.

Barrymore loved all animals-the weirder the better. Here he coos over his pet vulture Maloney-possibly named after the writer who intended his gift to be insulting, but not to Barrymore, typically.

I've seen a number of his drawings and he was a good draughtsman (the one example I could find online is in my opinion one of his lesser works, done pretty late in his life). Well known as a womanizer("the great lover" as well as "the great profile"), yachtsman, adventurer and unfortunately, chronic alcoholic, he was the center of a tight knit group pf actors, writers, directors and artists, and that's the subject of a new book-the reason for the Larry Edmunds event, Hollywood's Hellfire Club, by Gregory Mank.

The other book being signed and talked about tonight, "Baron of Mullholland" is about Errol Flynn.
One of John's best latter-day pals, Flynn shared a lot of obvious interests with Barrymore-especially sailing and boozing. They also both possessed a particularly wry view of the world and a healthy sense of humor--one that Tim Burton probably would appreciate. In other words, decidedly dark. When Barrymore died prematurely(as did Flynn)largely from his alcoholism, a famous story(probably true) says that his inner circle bribed a mortician to "borrow" Barrymore's corpse and sit it up in Flynn's home-drink in hand-to greet him when he stumbled back in at 4 am. You can't make this stuff up.

At the signing there's going to be rare footage screened as well--some home movies of the actors, and perhaps some other things. Plenty cool. I've heard Flynn's daughter might be there tonight, too. Larry Edmund's is on Hollywood Blvd. right across the street from the venerable Musso & Frank Grill, where both actors and a host of other greats from the golden age of Hollywood met to drink and occasionally eat.

By the way, if any local readers haven't been to Musso's you have to go; to me it's the most old style "New York" establishment in Los Angeles--probably on the entire west coast, and has the menu, ambiance and waiters to prove it. It still attracts a lot of power players as well as old regulars of lesser clout, like myself. The martinis are sublime and deadly. Shaken, not stirred.

It's hard times for small businesses like Musso's these days-especially for independent bookstores. L.A. has so few left, and Larry Edmunds is one of them. If you're ever looking for an out-of-print book on theater or film or a rare poster or still you have to drop by Edmunds-even if you can't make the event tonight.

Where were you in 1980?

With thanks to super-8 cameraman Randy Cartwright, here's an artifact of animation volleyball history. I think the participants need no introduction.

May 27, 2008

Tissa David's Titania

drawing by Tissa David from Michael Sporn's blog
Every time I visit Michael Sporn's blog I find something unusual or amazing or both. I think of myself as a packrat but I've nothing on Sporn, who in the course of his animation career has not only worked on a wide breadth of subjects but sought out the work of others that he admires. This drawing is by a friend and frequent colleague of Michael's at his studio, veteran animator Tissa David. It's a cleanup of Titania, the faerie queen from "A Midsummer Night's Dream", and I love its lush, sensuous feel. If you go to Michael's blog to read the entry you'll see the wild color styling of the final version along with a good amount of other examples. It looks like it was an interesting project-done by four people in two years(and animated entirely by Ms. David).

Tissa David is one of those people I'd dreamed I might one day share an aperitif with after some sparkling New York dinner party. I first read about her in John Canemaker's book about Dick Williams' "Raggedy Ann & Andy" feature, which had a chapter that recounted her early life and painted a very vivid portrait of a spirited individual. It ended with a quote from her that made an impact on me-to paraphrase: "even when I was wandering Paris so broke I collected cigarettes from the street for my next day's smoking, I thought life was the most exciting adventure imaginable".
That's how I remember it though I have probably mangled it. I've thought of that statement many, many times over the years. It gave a profound impression of an animator who was eternally optimistic, seeing her life as an "adventure" no matter the obstacles, who survived, who never stopped practising her art. I believe she works still.

May 25, 2008

Rocket Johnson!

From Paul Briggs here finally is the announcement of a project that an awful lot of guys have been working on in their spare time-of which they have precious little. Nevertheless, somehow they all pulled it off.
I was lucky enough to see most of the book and it's a must-have. Talk about a roster of names; some very familiar, some you may not yet know-but all have done terrific work.
Here's Paul's email press release:

"Who is Rocket Johnson?" is a 72 page graphic novel anthology being self-published by Walt Disney Animation Studio's Story Artists and Directors. It's an all-ages book in which every artist answers the question: "Who is Rocket Johnson?"
It will be sold exclusively at booth 2302 in San Diego ( and is a limited edition of 1,000 copies.

Cover painted by:
Paul Felix

Artists contributing stories:
Steve Anderson
John Musker
Dean Wellins
Mike Gabriel
Kevin Deters
Paul Briggs
Tom Ellery
Sam Levine
Nathan Greno
Don Hall
Mark Kennedy
Aurian Redson
Daniel Chong
Tron Mai
Lawrence Gong
Joe Mateo
Michael LaBash
Chris Ure
Bruce Morris
Mark Walton

Featuring pin-ups by:
Glen Keane
ChenYi Chang
Byron Howard
Arthur Adams

That's some lineup. For more information visit the official website.

Edited to add: Briggs informs me that at the present time there aren't any plans to do more than 1000 copies, take advance orders, or do any mail order at all. That means that if we want one we'll all have to plan to be at the Rocket Johnson booth at San Diego during the Con-probably early in the week. I feel positive that sketchbook resellers such as Stuart Ng and Bud Plant will be picking up multiple copies to offer at their own outlets, but with only 1000 available to begin with those too should sell quickly. I have to think it likely that when the initial run does sell out, more will be printed-eventually. But for now look for it only at the Con.

May 18, 2008

Disney Girls...

this well-dressed young woman wears an enigmatic expression

...and this girl looks like a cross between Bonnie Parker and a very young Jane Wyman(when she was blonde)-what a stance!

Doesn't she look happy? The implement is in her hand is an airbrush. Notice the Woodland Cafe title card on the wall-a souvenir? This desk by the way is far superior to the unpartitioned inkers' tables.

Here's real sportiness! I love these outfits. Kate Hepburn gets too much credit for wearing "daring" slacks in the 30s, based on this photo. Perhaps this was taken on a Saturday. Disney staffers worked a half day on Saturdays-standard hours even for live action actors and production people in the Depression era.

These were taken at the Hyperion studio, circa 1936-37.
All this and more were scrapbooked (along with a wealth of discarded drawings, color models, doodles and company memos) by a girl with the unlikely name of Ingeborg Willy-a young woman who obviously loved her animation job inking in the best studio in the United States. By the way-none of the women pictured above is Ms. Willy, I think-she was holding the camera.

These come from the collection of Robert Cowan(see below), who acquired Ms. Willy's scrapbook in 1998. He made an absolutely lovely job of printing up a facsimile and offering this rare scrapbook at cost, thinking that he'd like to share his find with interested parties. Only a very few were ultimately sent out(Hans Perk writes about it in more detail here), but it may yet be reprinted. I'm very lucky to have it to hand and glad to share a few of these snapshots with you.

Like her freshly uprooted sign says-here's the Comic Strip Building. This is one of the very few Hyperion structures that survives. It was moved to Burbank as the new campus was being built and is still on the Disney lot today, used as a freestanding conference room near the front gate. The silhouette of Mickey on the building's shutters was a nice touch. Ingeborg herself seems to be reflected in the doors of the bungalow, looking down into her camera taking the picture.

If these were pictures of women working at an unknown studio-or at any other company-in 1936, I'd still be fascinated by them. That they're Disney employees-and the all-too-rarely-seen ink and paint contingent at that-makes it a thousand times better. I collect vintage materials of all kinds and often while browsing through boxes at an antique mall will find snapshots like these; I think they're great. As I wrote in my comments on another blog about this book, these bring the times of 70 years ago to life, making them real and accessible and so have a wistfulness about them.

Was it as hot that summer as it is today? There wasn't smog in 1936, and I've read that a person driving from Pasadena to Silverlake could smell orange blossoms.
Well, sometimes in early spring when the temperature is just right while driving along the 2 freeway you still can. But there's a Gelsons market where the Walt Disney Studios sign with the waving neon Mickey Mouse used to be. And pretty much nobody has time to do their hair like this before work. On the other hand, those expressions look awfully familiar. I wonder what their stories were and how long they each worked at Disney's? Southern California's probably full of the grandkids of these women, somewhere.

Break time

Coming soon...., not Indy IV.

If you don't already have Paul Briggs bookmarked, you'd better be doing it now.
Not only does he post wonderful sketches, but as he puts it, "Get ready" for an announcement of something very soon, revealed on his blog. Believe me, you're all going to be interested in whatever it is.

The Ninth Wonder Of the Universe

Michael Sporn posts beautiful examinations of animated films and their artists so frequently that unless I'm sharp I miss them. Don't make the same mistake, especially where this one's concerned; last week he did an entry on the tent-raising sequence from Dumbo. It's well worth your time.
No one who cares about clarity, beauty and appeal in film can stop learning from and just plain enjoying the charms of Dumbo, especially when Mike makes it so visually stunning. He must have spent a lot of time capturing screen shots, a few of which I've reposted here. But make sure you read and view his entire post:

"Tent building"

May 14, 2008

Rare Disney story sketches from Robert Cowan

a vivid story sketch of Ward Kimball from "The Reluctant Dragon"


From "Melody Time"

A very rough page of sketches for "Sleeping Beauty"-look closely to read some of the hilarious dialogue. What was this page done for, I wonder? A preliminary of fuller sketches to come?

Lovely drawings from "Hawaiian Holiday"

Go there now! Lots more where this came from-and not just story sketches and thumbnails, but layouts. backgrounds, cels...and not only from the Disney studio. It's a collection to drool over.  Bob Cowan-who was unknown to me before I recently bought his self-published Willy Ingeborg scrapbook facsimile-is a very generous guy to want to share this treasure he's amassed, and we're all the richer for it.  The Cowan Collection

May 10, 2008

Marc Davis Lecture/Celebration #12: Influences and mentoring

Last Friday friend Sharon Colman (see below) and I made the breakneck drive from the Valley to Beverly Hills for this year's Marc Davis Lecture on Animation, the 12th year the Motion Picture Academy has presented it. It's been redubbed a "celebration", and that certainly fit the evening.

It was a full house(predictably so, given the impressive lineup of pros on the dais). Andreas Deja, Pete Docter, James Baxter and Eric Goldberg were scheduled to speak on "Mentorship In Animation". Each of them gave prepared remarks before screening a clip from one of the Disney animators that had influenced their work, then showing a clip of their own that reflected that influence. Andreas was first. His remarks were entertaining and charming, which didn't surprise me as I'd heard from friends over the years how effortlessly Andreas shares his love for and analysis of Disney character animation. Even so I was impressed with the ease he displayed standing in front of an enormous theatre filled with film folk and afficonados of all kinds. And he's got great comic timing-actually, all of the artists did, most notably Eric Goldberg. Eric's not only a great raconteur but he's got to be one of the best mimics I know(his impression of Dick Williams killed).

In keeping with the man whose name was on the program, Andreas showed a clip that featured Marc Davis' last feature assignment-Maleficent's introduction in "Sleeping Beauty", then a clip of his own character from "Aladdin", Jafar.
Funny how stimulating it is to hear someone who knows what they're talking about describe animation you think you know almost too well-you can't help but look at it anew. He described his pondering how to handle Jafar; he could have gone any number of ways with the character, but as the rest of "Aladdin"'s cast was so "bouncy and happy" he determined--with an eye to Davis' handling of the regally restrained threat of Maleficent--to underplay Jafar as much as possible. The clip showed his success with that approach to great effect.

Pete showed how the warm, very real(and tactile)relationship between Mowgli and Baloo in "Jungle Book" had a hand in inspiring his handling of the bond between enormous Sully and toddler Boo in "Monsters Inc.". I actually teared up a little watching the clip. It wasn't just that it was a beautifully judged scene-the characters saying goodbye to each other-but the added impact of seeing a movie projected on a real, large movie screen can't be underestimated-which was true of all of the presenters' clips.

James recounted his trip to the ARL(Disney's animation research library)to flip Milt Kahl's animation of King Louie in preparation for his animation of Rafiki in "Lion King". He stressed that he wanted only to be inspired and informed, to learn what Milt might have done in planning and executing scenes with an ape, not to copy (which he certainly has never done). But he did cop to one thing being "stolen"-the use of the elbow hair on Louie's arms. James is nothing if not scrupulous in attributing credit! He also made a point of giving credit to the story artist who worked on the scene he animated, that was shown. As a story artist I beamed from my seat at James' generosity in acknowledging the contributions of the boards--in his case done by Lorna Cook. Eric also mentioned a slew of names that were involved in his sequence ether boarding or animating(In my experience a likely reason board artists sometimes go unmentioned is because the path from boards to animation is such a twisty one. Very often a sequence-especially one as complicated and elaborate as a musical number-is the result of many different story hands. A sequence going directly from a single story artist to one animator is the exception rather than the rule, especially now in the days of CG).

Eric Goldberg-always a joyfully puckish personality-showed the "Three Caballeros" title song in tandem with his own "Friend Like Me" number from "Aladdin". [For a more detailed description of the actual presentation-which would take me more time to write up than I have during my lunch break here-see Kevin Koch's post about the evening here.]

After the four had shown their individual clips, Andreas retook the podium and an overhead projector while the rest-accompanied by moderator Charles Solomon-settled into armchairs placed in front of the screen. As they twisted in their chairs to look behind them, Andreas projected a truly mouth-watering selection of his (mostly) rough, original and rarely-seen animation drawings done by all of the "nine old men" of Disney--plus Fred Moore.
A regular reader of this blog can imagine my happiness at the lovely tribute Andreas paid to Moore's work(with accompanying original drawings) as the first true example of a Disney style of character appeal which had undeniable impact on all the nine. This part of the evening was really different and very was like listening to a good DVD audio commentary-with the added bonus of the speakers being all informed, enthusiastic, intelligent and there in real time. For that segment audience and panelists alike were firmly in the same boat: all of us--whether pros, students, retired filmmakers or casual attendees--were fans of the work being displayed. Having Andreas, Pete, James and Eric point out various things in the drawings and expound on them was pure gold.

All in all it was an inspiring, warmly enjoyable night that I think Marc Davis would have approved of and been happy to be associated with. His wife Alice was there and surely felt the affection and gratitude her husband and partner's work engendered; likewise Milt Kahl's daughter and other family members. These Academy programs are really wonderful.

I should add that in the Academy lobby there's an incredibly neat display of all kinds of animation art and ephemera-model sheets, studio scrap, cels and story sketches. We only got a glimpse and it hadn't yet officially opened so I'll be back to see it again. Anyone in the area should make a point to get out to Beverly Hills and see it.

May 6, 2008

Tooned In-to great interviews with top animation folk

Sharon Colman, Scots native and Academy Award nominee for her film "Badgered"

What do Lou Romano, Sharon Colman, Mikhail Aldashin, Brad Bird, Steve Hickner and Dave Hilberman have in common?

Well, besides all being part of our wide world of animation they've all been the subjects of (online streaming) interviews conducted by Tee Bosustow, a charming and intrepid gentleman who describes himself as a "late-blooming animation fan", deferring when his surname is exclaimed upon to his brother and father, both of whom made distinguished careers in the business.
His father Steve Bosustow was one of the founders of UPA, no less.

Tee has made quite a start at compiling a resource of interviews with animation pros on his Toon IN site. I ran into him some months ago when he met up with Sharon for her interview, and he's been plenty busy since then getting the site up and adding names you'd all want to hear from. His mission statement mentions a desire(already borne out)to focus on the international as well as the more known, local scene-always a good thing.

I'm plugging this as I find far too few people know about it-and I admit I've been remiss in not seeking out these interviews before. They're great to listen to while at the cintiq. Along with Clay Kaytis' Animation Podcast, Toon In is a definite bookmark to revisit regularly. Which reminds me-don't miss Clay's brand new(as of this writing) Part One of an interview with Ken Duncan-it's tops.