May 18, 2009

Ricky, Pete, George Booth and UP

sketch of Carl by Pete Docter

Yesterday's New York Times had an interesting article about the character designs in "UP".

Read it here.

Accompanying the text of the original published piece is yet another of those online-only great Times interactive specialties, with Ricky(Nierva) and Pete (Docter) discussing their ideas. Wonderful stuff.

And if you're not familiar with George Booth yet, you should be.

ADDENDUM: Some of you probably know that "UP" had its premiere at Cannes last week. I know virtually nothing about the film. First, because in its early days as with all the projects of that studio no one working on it or around it said anything, and so pretty much everyone not in Emeryville was in the dark.

When we down south do get jots of information--that Brad Bird has taken over direction of "Ratatouille", for instance--all we know is it's something concerning a rat/chef. Dubious as it might seem as a premise, it's usually a safe bet to assume that Bird will pull off whatever he's doing.

The same goes for the people working on "UP". While I've certainly been curious about it, as its release nears I find I don't want any spoilers at all. I really want to be surprised.

So, the film finally opened at Cannes--the first film screened (out of competition), a gala event. It was reported that it received an ovation. Todd McCarthy, longtime primary reviewer for variety and one of my favorite writers on fllm, filed his report. I skimmed the traditional bold-type opening paragraph, reading no further than that as I didn't want to learn anything crucial. Here's a bit of what he wrote:
Tale of an unlikely journey to uncharted geographic and emotional territory by an old codger and a young explorer could easily have been cloying, but instead proves disarming in its deep reserves of narrative imagination and surprise, as well as its poignant thematic balance of dreams deferred and dreams fulfilled.

Mr. McCarthy doesn't toss around that kind of sentiment very lightly.
It sounds lovely, and I wish the crew all the happiness that a good film will bring, that they've earned through their hard work these last 3-plus years.

May 6, 2009

Kahl Conversation

A short time ago the motion picture Academy had a tribute to Milt Kahl that sounds like it was quite an evening--if you managed to get in (many ticket holders didn't, due to a snafu of some sort).

I wasn't there, unfortunately, but the ensuing mention of it on Michael Barrier's blog and the comments that followed are well worth reading, even though I find I don't entirely agree with anyone's opinions. But that's what makes a horse race. I only just discovered it and suggest you have a read here.

The screen cap above is from a scene near and dear to me and the friend I first watched it with back in the early 80s: the brilliant animator captured in the act of drawing. Talk about intensity.

We watched this episode of the "Disney Family Album" series on Kahl with a lot of awe and a wee bit of fear. Actually, the shots of Kahl relaxing outdoors somewhere up in the beautiful Bay area sunshine were charming, but nonetheless there seemed some undercurrent of coiled tension, of his just barely tolerating the process of being interviewed. Having also heard once-in-a-lifetime stories about working with Milt from his colleague Dale Oliver involving the breaking of Bakelite and other forms of studio equipment might have colored our view. Imagine handing this man some cleanups!

But make no mistake: we were in total thrall to the man's artistic skill. I would have "suffered" working around him gladly for the experience-and it was clear that Oliver and others had relished it and wouldn't have traded it for anything. Such is the spell of genius. I'll bet it didn't hurt that he also appeared to have had a terrific sense of humor. Here's to "Miltie-pie".

Oh, Miltie-pie, if I should die,
Please bury me in 3C-12.

Then I'll know why, but never cry,
About the pictures that they shelve.

I'll gaze upon, what's going on,
And get it straight from Walt—

And then I'll see who's blaming me,
When it is not my fault!

I'll get firsthand, the things they've planned
That animators never know.

See color shots, hear story plots,
Gee, I can hardly wait to go.

Yes, I like Forest Lawn, but when I'm gone,
You know where I'd rather be. . . .

I don't mean heaven, or 3C-11,
It's 3C-12 for me.

-attributed to Milt Kahl & Frank Thomas

Walt Stanchfield Lives

It would be a safe bet that anyone working in the american feature animation industry has either known, heard of or seen the influence and artwork of the late, great Walt Stanchfield.

Stanchfield was a longtime animator at the Disney's from the postwar era through his retirement in the 1980s, but what made him famous beyond the walls of the studio were his handouts-his notes from the classes he taught in gesture drawing. Using a model in quick poses, the task was to capture the essence of an idea-to distill as economicallly as possible all the life, weight, and story the observer could find in the pose.

I really can't say much about Stanchfield that an old friend and student of his couldn't say much better: Dave Pimentel. Dave was an avid student of Walt's and took his lessons seriously-retaining enough to teach the "Stanchfield way" himself in recent years. I'd seen some of the notes and had the odd mishmash of 100th generation xerox copies passed on to me over the years, but sitting and doing it was something else again. There's no substitute for drawing, drawing, drawing, and the enthusiasm of a true believer like Dave really revs up the motor.

As you can see from Dave's post, the notes from his legendary drawing classes have been compiled into book form in two new volumes edited by Don Hahn. These are an absolute must for any artist-forget about their importance as "animation only"; there's gold there for anyone. Frankly, for someone who simply thinks idly of drawing for their own pleasure but no clue how to go about it, I'd point them to these books-but the contents are also bedrock for the most serious draughtsman. As Dave points out, this guru of the pen was also full of life lessons. He must have been an incredible person to know. I wish I'd been able to meet him as well as take his classes, but at least there's a benefit of these new books. A lot of thanks are due to Don Hahn for getting them into print.