Dec 15, 2010

Dave Pimentel published a lovely book: "Evoke"

I've written on these pages several times already about my colleague Dave Pimentel.

Dave is a story artist who's probably the loudest cheerleader I know for drawing, drawing, drawing--at all times, in all places and with all media--and he's got the tweets, posts and sketchbooks to prove it.

He was lucky enough to be in the late Walt Stanchfield's gesture drawing classes at Disney. Stanchfield's philosophy and approach had a profound effect on him (as on so many others), and in the spirit Walt embodied he loves to share with and encourage other artists. He genuinely gets a charge out of not only creating his own work, but by seeing what everyone around him comes up with, whatever their take might be.

When I first started working with Dave I'd seize the chance to flip through his sketchbooks. He always had at least one in progress and a stack of what he'd just filled up on a shelf in the office. Each page was fun to look at, and each page was drawn from life. In fact, it was on those pages that I got to know his family before I'd actually met them--from the beautifully observed and executed sketches of them at the park, the bookstore, the beach, in the car...just engaging in ordinary everyday pursuits, but made to seem lyrical and alive on paper. The same was true of the anonymous passersby in his world, caricatured just enough to be recognizable as unique individuals. They all contained stories.

I hoped he'd self-publish a book of his drawings, and he has--he's also made it not only good to look at but to feel; it has a tactile, hard cloth binding with one of his ink brush drawings embossed on the oversize cover. He wanted it to resemble like the kind of 1950s-era books that all artists are drawn to(in my experience anyway) and it succeeds.

In addition to the many sketchbook excerpts he wrote a about a dozen pages containing the tips and ideas he uses in his gesture classes and applies to his own work. It's 100 pages of a very handsome and inspiring call to the pen, the pencil, and the sketchbook. Looking at it will make you feel good. And you'll really want to draw.

You can buy it from him here: EVOKE: The Art of Dave Pimentel

Dec 1, 2010

Chouinard Art Institute Brochure circa 1950

Submitted for your approval: the back cover of Chouinard's list of class offerings for the 1950-51 school year.

How many of the instructor's last names can you recognize--and what would you pay for a time machine to take you back to the Westlake District of Los Angeles and register?

This rarity along with an earlier brochure are the property of a colleague and animation artist whose uncle attended Chouinard during this time. Want to see more?

(click to enlarge)

Nov 6, 2010

Lee and Mary Blair's 1939 Los Angeles Home On the Market: (UPDATED)

I can think of an awful lot of people who are going to enjoy this.

The Hollywood Hills modernist home designed in 1939 by architect Harwell Hamilton Harris for Disney artists Lee and Mary Blair is for sale, listed at $725,000.
Harris worked for two of the greatest talents of the age and area, Richard Neutra and Rudolf Schindler, before starting his own firm in 1933.

The realtor's listing describes it as three levels "incorporating an entry, open plan living/dining area, bedroom, bath, and studio or 2nd bedroom and bath at the top". I think we know what the Blairs used the top floor for, and it wasn't a bedroom.

It's a wonderful space in a wonderful location, just what one would imagine for a couple like this. And it looks today much as it must have when they moved out, thanks to its current owner who obviously appreciated its value-sadly, not often the case in southern California.

Edited to add: an excerpt from Lisa Germany's book "Harwell Hamilton Harris"(2000):

Mr. and Mrs. Lee Blair were directors for the Walt Disney Studios who had been interested in a house by Harwell Harris since 1937. He had, in fact, designed a house at that time that was canceled due to an uncertainty in their work(of the five Disney clients Harwell had during these years only two would see their houses reach the construction stage). In 1939 they returned with a new lot and he started over again. This lot was extremely steep and Harris designed the tiny, one bedroom house with three stories sheathed in horizontal redwood siding. Each of the three blocks of the house rose another step up the hill. At its rear, each floor rested on the natural level of the ground and at its front it rested on the rear edge of the block below it. Thus, the second story used the roof of the first story for a roof terrace, and the third story used the roof of the second story for its roof terrace. So high, in fact, was the studio that the clients had a spectacular view of Los Angeles and even of the cowboy and indian movies being filmed at Fox Studios.
The Blair house followed all the rules of Harris' nine-point plan. The same finishes--grass matting, plywood walls and Celotex ceilings--were used thoughout, and each room had one wall of glass opening into a garden or terrace. This allowed not only for a more generous display of the floor but also showed the Alvar Aalto chairs and Harris-designed couch and dressing table to their full advantage.

A correction, and a note: the Blairs were not "directors" at Disney's in 1939. The Blairs' unbuilt property that fell through in 1937 was on Beech Knoll Road in Laurel Canyon.

Fellow Dreamworks story artist and author/illustrator Scott Santoro (who lives near the Blair's former residence and has seen the exterior) writes:
"It's the first time the house has been on the market since 1955. The lot is large, steep and rangy with a switchback stair to the front door. I'd hate to move things in and out of there, though it does have a funicular [probably what's more often called a hillevator-ed]. The garage sets into the slope and has a grass roof."

The images above are from the sale listing and are recent. Below are photographs taken both in the Blairs' time and today. The circa 1939 color photo of the living area features what looks like a watercolor by one of the couple near the fireplace. The chairs in the Blairs' living room are are by Finnish architect and designer Alvar Aalto

Here are some views from the street of the Blair residence garage, the "hillevator" and exterior taken on November 6, 2010 by Scott Santoro. Thanks again, Scott:

Nov 5, 2010

There is only one Glen Keane...

As long as he's been working and as great as he is, he always seems to get better.
From the page about his upcoming Paris exhibition Nov. 10 through Jan. 8th, 2011 at the Galerie Arludik, here's a sketchbook drawing done in 1999. Click to see it properly.

Oct 17, 2010

Imagination+animation+technology= a profoundly jaw-dropping filmic experience

I was emailed about this yesterday(thanks, Joe and David Doherty), and it's something I thought the passersby here would definitely appreciate. The link comes from a site called Kotaku, and as they wrote, in "a technique called video mapping, the Macula project takes the 600-year-old Astronomical Clock on Old Town Square in Prague and transforms it into one of the most impressive things we've ever seen. See for yourself."

The 600 Years from the macula on Vimeo.

Quoting from the Makula website (translated from Czech):

Video mapping using current technology available in the entertainment industry, a whole new way. The main contents are the projections to cooperate with the selected object and try to break the perception perspective of the viewer. With the projector can fold and stress any shape, line or space. Evocative play of light on the physical object creates a new dimension and changing the view of the seemingly "normal thing". Everything becomes an illusion.

I think this is pretty cool stuff.

Sep 29, 2010

Squid Pro Quo

Growing around my desk this past month is a stack of fine new books I've wanted to write about. One by one they arrived, were pored over, enjoyed...and then the struggle began to find the time to do them blog justice.

Time: there's the rub. As the days go by this colorful group has migrated around my workspace like Kipling's cannons: looming to the left of me, tipping to the right of me, but never sitting quite where I want them--square in the middle. That position is claimed by a Cintiq tablet. Lately I've found that between work and what time remains to home life the blogging wedge finds a very thin edge indeed.

Happily, though, reviewing is a pleasure I still enjoy when possible, and never so much as when writing about new work from talented people. In that spirit I take up the keyboard this week and mark those recent titles, beginning with the first picture book published by my friend David Derrick: Sid the Squid and the Search for the Perfect Job.

Dave has been storyboarding, blogging and sculpting constantly in the five years I've known him. He's one of the most energetic and intrepid artists I've ever seen in action, and he's smart enough to play to his interests when planning a project. When he grabs hold of a subject he goes all the way, and one of his fascinations is sea life. He studies it, photographs it, swims with it and best of all draws it(all these permutations visible on his website), so it's natural that his first stand-alone children's book became a sweet-natured fable about a giant squid. It's a charming, simply written story about an anthropomorphized cephalopod and the little girl who helps him find the best way he can be employed in and around the northern California bay area, winding up at the Monterey Bay Aquarium. Droll adventures ensue.

In most picture books it's the 'how' rather than the 'what' that makes it notable. Like virtually all of us in story Dave has been working on a Cintiq for some time and decided it would be interesting to use it for book illustration. While digital, his technique retains a pleasing graphic quality and a neo-impressionistic use of Photoshop paint. As far as Sid himself is concerned, it can't be easy to elicit character from a creature with little more than eyes to act with, but he manages to makes Sid very appealing. My favorite illustration is one of the giant squid dejected after having bombed out of most of his job attempts, spilling over a park bench clutching his appendages to his "chest" like knees.

It may be playing a little fast and loose to offer a legendary predator of the deep as an earnest red-orange character putting out fires, washing windows, or rescuing real-life mortal enemies like whales, but conviction can get you places. Dave clearly believes in Sid and his story and he delivers him-and us-to its end safely and sweetly. Nice job.

A detail from the endpapers for "Sid the Squid". These deep-sea portraits are among my favorite drawings, and were done in ink. The illustrations proper were all drawn digitally, via Cintiq.

Aug 23, 2010

The Blackwing Returns

Some of my Blackwing pencils

NOTE Today I heard from two story artists simultaneously with exciting news via Mark Frauenfelder at apparently that mighty elegant instrument, the extinct Blackwing pencil, is soon going to resume production. I wrote the post below ("Why My Blog Is Titled As It Is') in November, 2005, and it seems like a good time to give it an encore.

They don't make them like this anymore. Really--they don't make these at all; production ceased in 1998, apparently.
I love these pencils--they're a joy to draw with, although I rarely use them now (dwindling supply), but their real attraction is the association they can't shake for me--that of the Disney studio of the 50s, of sketch artists and draughstmen and designers working on immortal projects, not only at Disney feature animation but all over Los Angeles: the maitre'd at Musso's taking a reservation for four in 1933; a script supervisor working alongside Preston Sturges making notes during takes of "Sullivan's Travels"; a student at Chouinard toiling on a design project in 1961; Henry Miller, or Bob Clampett, or Clarence Darrow or Ward Kimball or Ernie Kovacs or Raymond Chandler. Who knows how many yet remain in the musty drawers of retired writers and artists all over the city, from Arcadia to Malibu?

I first saw one of these on the desk of an animator at Disney's in the early 80s, and later on the desk of Cecil B. DeMille, untouched since his death in the 60s; there were some among T. Hee's studio ephemera, given to us at CalArts after his death. I ordered an entire box from the redoubtable Cartoon Colour Company of Culver City, many years ago. Little dreaming of its eventual demise, I recklessly scrawled away, and now my Blackwings constitute barely a fistful, from stubs to pristine unsharpened.

It's a thoroughly romantic instrument: sleek and silvery, fast-moving and easy to sharpen, with a curious back end--a golden holder encasing a silver clasp cradling a removable eraser, the better to extract, flip and so extend its usefulness.

Among both pencil enthusiasts and stubborn pencil-wielding animators, it fights for prominience with the fat, round, green Blaisdell Layout, most famous as the longtime-preferred pencil of Glen Keane. I have a stub of a Blaisdell somewhere--really, a stub, barely two inches long. It's easy to see why it's so appealing, as it skates smoothly over the paper--best used as a blunt instrument with its wide smear of soft lead.
But I still swoon for Blackwings--surely the only pencil which bears its own motto--in quotes, no less--across its length: "Half the pressure, twice the speed". And it certainly seems to be so. A sorry world where such treasure is allowed to pass away. I am old enough to know it's the little things in life--particularly in an artist's life--that immeasurably enhance the day to day grind.

So, the Blackwing: I look over my shoulder and admire the gleam of the golden lettering on my desk. A glorious instrument with all the possibilities that art provides at its tip. And thus the blog moniker.

There's an excellent review of an "old" Blackwing here. Very much worth a click.

Aug 22, 2010

Fred Moore Girl Statue

I saw the prototypes at Comic Con, and they were beautiful. There's a blonde and a raven-haired paint, and last but not least a red headed, green-eyed version available by special preorder from Electric Tiki. Just wanted to share.

Aug 17, 2010

John Canemaker signs tonight at the Americana on Brand

I really don't want to remember today as the anniversary of Joe Ranft's death. I understand why many would, as I'm a person who's fascinated by history, the lives of people who've gone before us and marking their passages. I remember very well where and when I heard that Joe had been killed and what I felt at the time, though I didn't write about it here. Later I posted a memory of him that meant something to me. I understand this and I do it myself for people I'm interested in and have cared about, but I don't want to think about Joe dying that way, this year, on this anniversary.

This year there's a much more apropos reason to do a post mentioning Joe. John Canemaker has just published a beautiful book about him and the legendary, longtime-Disney artist and supervisor Joe Grant--a dual celebration and examination of two men whose lives, one way and another, contributed greatly to animation storytelling in films we love: Two Guys Named Joe: Master Animation Storytellers Joe Grant & Joe Ranft.

The book was released August 2nd, and that's the day my copy came from Amazon. I've been waiting for it as eagerly as any in a long time, and it's well worth the wait. I'll publish a thorough review later this week, but suffice to say it's another in the indispensable list of titles from John Canemaker. Anyone interested in, working in or who cares an atom about the art of animation can't afford to miss any book or article Canemaker signs his name to. How he manages to be a filmmaker himself while researching and teaching and writing as well as he does all those things is a mystery to me, but I'm certainly glad he does. We're all in his debt for the scholarship he's done.

The Los Angeles area is hosting John Canemaker for signings of Two Guys Named Joe: one tonight In Glendale and tomorrow at the Happiest Place On Earth. He is not only one of the most talented but one of the most generous and affable authors you'll ever meet, and I hope many of you get the chance--and get a book signed.

Barnes & Noble Tuesday, August 17, 7:00 pm
Glendale Americana
210 Americana Way, Glendale, CA

Disneyland Resort Wednesday, August 18, 9:00-11:00 am
Disney Gallery, Main Street USA
Anaheim, CA

Aug 4, 2010

Great Inspiration: music-only soundtrack for Lampwick's transformation in "Pinocchio".

I just found this on the blog written by Jaime Weinman, Something Old, Nothing New-which he in turn found on youtube. It's arguably the most frightening scene in animation history-Pinocchio witnessing the wages of childhood sin on his new friend Lampwick.
Everyone's seen it numerous times, but here it is presented with no dialogue or other track-nothing save the dramatic score of composer Leigh Harline. The character animation is primarily the work of Fred Moore, Ollie Johnston, Milt Neil, Milt Kahl and Eric Larson.

I can't remember how I initially found Weinman's blog (and in all honesty I don't check in with him often enough these days), but in my internet wanderings he's one of the best writers on film and other popular entertainment I've come across. His entries are frequently so fascinating that I'll become interested in a title I either had no patience for or any curiosity about before he examined it. That's obviously not the case with "Pinocchio", a film I probably put at the top of my animation mountain, but it figures it's Jaime who shares something that's a must-see for anyone who loves animation. Be sure to read his accompanying comments about composer Harline.

Jul 12, 2010

What's up with Bird (Brad)

Robert, Brad and George at ShoWest in 2005
Because it's always interesting to hear what's going on with him and because his name probably gets mentioned by someone in our industry 83.2 times a day in some context or other, I was very happy to read this exclusive by Nikki Finke at the head of her Deadline Hollywood blog tonight:

From by Nikki Finke: I hear that, after a hot pursuit by all the major Hollywood agencies, formerly rep-less Brad Bird has signed with UTA's Tracey Jacobs and David Kramer. The writer-director is currently prepping to helm Paramount's Mission: Impossible IV for producer J.J. Abrams, with Tom Cruise starring. But Deadline has reported previously that Paramount is currently rethinking MI4. I hear the script that came in is very good, but the studio is still trying to figure out the budget as well as Cruise's role in light of the lackluster Knight And Day grosses. There's talk that Tom's character will mentor a young operative this time out if the pic proceeds. I just hope Bird is pay or play.

He's also attached to direct 1906 for Warner Bros. Bird won two Academy Awards for directing the Pixar hits The Incredibles and Ratatouille, both of which he also wrote. Bird's first major animated feature came with Warner Bros' The Iron Giant, which he wrote and directed. In addition to working at Pixar, Bird has also had a prolific television career, having worked on shows such as The Simpsons, King Of The Hill, and The Critic. Bird will continue to be represented by attorney Jake Bloom.

Any news such as this is good news. Everyone I know wants to see whatever he does next as soon as may be.

Jun 28, 2010

Toby Shelton

Toby Shelton's cintiq sketch revisiting his design for the title character in the Disney series "Darkwing Duck" and his story panels from "How To Train Your Dragon" and "Princess and the Frog" from his blog. CLICK to enlarge.

In an industry full of talented people and myriad styles the work of story artist Toby Shelton remains unique.

His facility with line is something else--form, weight and gesture beautifully employed. The guy can draw. But to leave it at his technical skill would be missing more than half the picture. It's the sincere appeal of his characters, their acting and his cinematic staging that give his stuff its impact, as well as an intangible something that's just terrifically likeable. Recent credits of his include "Megamind", "Princess and the Frog" and "How To Train Your Dragon".

In another life (as he puts it in his blog's profile) Toby worked for Disney feature animation as an animator, and in 1985 was one of the first to work at Disney's new Television Animation division, where his superb designs for "Rescue Rangers" and "Darkwing Duck" became well known and were traded freely, even by artists who'd never met him. He's posted some of that original character design work on his blog. For the requirements of this era in television in particular, sheets like these leap off the quality meter.

Everywhere he's worked has benefited immensely from his skill, and the influence and inspiration he provides to other artists is palpable. He's a thoughtful artist and a generous one.

Toby Shelton: Stuff I Did--be sure to visit it often.

A Toby Shelton rough story panel from Disney's "Princess and the Frog"-borrowed from a post by the great Paul Briggs on Paul's blog.

Toby's exploratory sketch of Mama Odie from Princess and the Frog. His design remained through the story process and animation.

Jun 19, 2010

Sunday, June 20: win rare art by Fred Moore. Or Glen Keane. Or Marc Davis. Or 100 other geniuses of animation.

UPDATED 6/22 For the record: the auction raised over 70,000 to help Pres and his family defray the tremendous costs of his fight with leukemia.

This is a drawing by Fred Moore-probably a study for a presentation painting. It's one of a kind and it's beautiful-and it can be yours.
It'll be auctioned live tomorrow and even if you're many miles away, you can email the auction organizers today and arrange for an absentee bid to be placed for you. It's part of one of the most impressive auctions of great animation art in quite some time, and it's for a good cause.

UPDATED TO ADD: The L.A. Times had a nice article covering the auction here

Good cause? That's an understatement.

Patrick's painting of Pres and his wife Jeannine as Bonnie & Clyde, from Patrick's blog
I've never met Pres Romanillos, but thanks to my friend Patrick Mate I know several things about him, including these: he and his wife Jeannine have an awesome pride of cats, he's an excellent animator, and he's an awful lot of fun to take on road trips to the Comic Con. Also, anyone that Patrick draws with such affection and gusto must be quite a guy.

This is also borne out by the amazing organization of "Pres Aid", the auction tomorrow that Pres' friends and colleagues in animation have put together to help defray the costs of Pres' battle with leukemia.
There are far, far too many pieces for me to feature them all here, but clicking on the link above will take you to the blog set up to display most of them and explain more about the event.

In addition, some additional, choice art that wont be auctioned in the live event on June 20th has been listed on Ebay-I managed to win a beautiful, unsigned Marc Davis giclee of his personal watercolor work. Those listings, which are ongoing, are accessible here.

But back to June 2oth: here's a sampling of the stuff that'll wind up with a happy new home tomorrow:

Carlos Grangel studies for Tim Burton's "The Corpse Bride"; Carlos' original paintings--like Nico Marlet's and many of the other current artists in the auction--is virtually never available for anyone to buy anywhere. This is an extremely rare opportunity to own one. This particular piece was exhibited in recent the MOMA show devoted to Tim Burton's career.

A limited edition print-one of only 22 made-of a personal painting by Marc Davis, signed by Marc and donated to the auction by Alice Davis. Pres and his wife were good friends of the Davis'. I want this painting. Bid against me and make me earn it

This fantastic painting of Messrs Hitchcock and Scorsese by Patrick is going to be in the auction tomorrow. He's one of the very best caricaturists I know, in addition to his visdev and animation work.

Beautiful piece of character design(of Gobber) from Nico Marlet, done for "How To Train Your Dragon". Nico's famous work is more beautiful in person than any scan can show-true of all the scans I have here. You can bid on it tomorrow.

An original pastel by the terrific illustrator-much beloved of animatio artists--the late Earl Oliver Hurst.

Live Auction to benefit Disney and Dreamworks animator Pres Romanillos
Sunday, June 20, at the Animation Guild
1105 N. Hollywood Way (just north of Magnolia)
Burbank, CA 91505. Registration at 1pm, auction to follow at 2 til it's done (about 4pm)

From Kevin Koch's Pres-Aid site: "The building will open at noon, and we anticipate registering people at 1 pm and starting the bidding at 2 pm. We're working with our friend Howard Lowery, the expert on animation auctions, and we're deeply grateful for his participation. Absentee bidding will be available for those who cannot be in Burbank that day, and we anticipate being able to handle phone bidding on a limited basis."

May 15, 2010

LAist reviews the Calarts Producers Show

LAist, a Los Angeles themed website that reads like a hipper, more locally aware online edition of the L.A. Times, did a review of the annual Calarts Producers Show. As most of my readers know, this one-night-only screening is culled from the best films done in the character animation program at Calarts during the year and presented specifically to showcase the students to prospective employers and other interested parties.

I wasn't able to be there this year although I had a last minute invitation on Thursday evening. I wish I had gone after hearing the various wrapups yesterday from my colleagues who attended--and finding this article on LAist. I confess I'm a little shocked that it warranted mention as it's such an insider sort of show, or was. Is it openly advertised these days?
In any event it's a serious review of the show, with particular mentions (and critiques) of some of the standouts among the standouts. Go over to LAist and peruse their take.
In addition, if anyone can put names to the design art featured in the photograph at left it would be much appreciated.
images from

May 8, 2010

Devin Crane, Paris and paintings in the spring...

...who could ask for anything more?

My colleague and friend, Dreamworks visdev artist Devin Crane is having a show of his luscious personal paintings opening in Paris at the Galerie Arludik on May 26th. Lucky are those who will be able to drop in and see his work up close on the Ile Saint Louis. A small sampling of the paintings he's done for this show are below(click to enlarge):

"Waiting for Klimt"

"High tea in Hell"

Galerie Arludik is a perfect venue for Devin's first European solo show, as a visit to their website will show. They have an impressive listing of artists from the worlds of animation and bande dessinée. If like me you can't get away to France have a look at the work online. If you are able to be there, it's going to be a lovely evening, no doubt about that.