Wednesday, January 16, 2008

News - 01/17/08...

Notes on Persepolis

A few random notes on the French animated feature Persepolis:

• Upon winning the best animated feature prize from the NY Film Critics Circle, Persepolis creator Marjane Satrapi said, “In France, they always call the New York critics tough bastards. So thank you, my bastard friends.” Animation director Michael Sporn responded on his blog, “It’d be nice to hear what she might say if she wins an Oscar. She’ll get my vote.”

• The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences announced yesterday the nine films which are advancing to the next round of voting in the Foreign Language Film category. Persepolis, which was France’s entry, was snubbed and didn’t even make the shortlist. I’ve been opposed to the Oscar’s Animated Feature Film category from the very beginning for the simple reason that it continues to ghettoize the art form. Academy voters don’t feel compelled to recognize the merits of animation as film when they know that a special category exists solely for animated features. As the art form continues to mature with films like Persepolis, the flaws of the Animated Feature Film category will only become more and more evident.

• Whoever said animation isn’t a powerful medium and can’t be used to instigate positive change in society? Chicago’s Daily Herald has an interesting article titled “Local Iranians hope Persepolis will open eyes about their homeland.” Says one Iranian interviewed in the piece, “I think Americans are generally very open-minded, but there isn’t a lot on the news about the people of Iran, just its government. Persepolis shows how important it is to see that a country’s government and its people can be different.”

• The box office numbers for Persepolis are deceivingly tiny. While the film placed 28th on the charts last weekend with $187,000, it is performing remarkably well considering that it is only playing in 18 theaters. In fact, it had the second-highest per-theater average of any film playing last week, behind only Paul Thomas Anderson’s There Will Be Blood. If there’s any question why the animated art form is viewed so poorly by the general public, it’s because a film like The Pirates Who Don’t Do Anything can open in 1300-plus theaters while an animated feature like Persepolis remains virtually inaccessible to the general moviegoing public. One can only assume that distributor Sony Pictures Classics will move Persepolis from its current platform release into a wider release once the Oscar noms are announced next week.

The (Animated) Presidential Campaign

Earlier this month, I linked to illustrator Steve Brodner’s podcast series “The Naked Campaign” which offers his views on various Presidential candidates. This got me to thinking about whether there are other people who are creating animated pieces in hopes of influencing the outcome of this year’s Presidential elections.

A bit of searching on YouTube uncovered a number of independently produced animated pieces, though none of them appear to be making a huge splash at the moment. But it’s only January and with ten months still to go, I expect we’ll be seeing an unprecedented use of animation during the 2008 elections. The most viewed animated piece supporting an individual candidate that I found on YouTube is the following Ron Paul Brickfilm short, which has garnered over 60k views since debuting ten days ago.

Andrew Arnold has created an impressive CG political animated series called Heada’State which features strong condemnations of candidates Rudy Giuliani and Thompson

Ray Noland (director) and Rebecca Berdel (animator) have posted a piece called Revolt in support of Barack Obama.

Democratic longshot Mike Gravel is promoted in this puppet and stop-motion piece titled The Word: Mike Gravel .

And this live-action spot by candidate Mike Huckabee has inspired two different animated parodies, both of which are posted here and here.

This is not an attempt to catalog animated pieces that express a political viewpoint because there are plenty of those. Rather I’m curious to find out how animation is specifically being used to effect this year’s Presidential elections through pieces that are either for or against individual candidates.

Beowulf theatrical and director’s cut DVDs in February

DVDActive reports that Paramount Home Entertainment has announced theatrical and director’s cut releases of Robert Zemeckis’ Beowulf on 26th February. The only extra feature on the theatrical cut will be A Hero’s Journey: The Making of Beowulf featurette. The Director’s Cut will include that, along with a Beasts of Burden featurette, a Origins of Beowulf featurette, a Creating the Ultimate Beowulf feaurette, an Art of Beowulf featurette, additional scenes, trailers, and easter eggs. An HD-DVD release of the film will also arrive on 26th February which will feature a high definition transfer, along with 5.1 Dolby Digital Plus, and 5.1 Dolby TrueHD tracks. All the extra features from the above releases will be included alongwith a Conversation with Robert Zemeckis, further featurettes on the stunts, art design, props and a couple of extra additional scenes.

Family Guy Goes Blue on Disc

The force is with Peter and the Griffin clan as the Star Wars saga gets some good-natured ribbing in Family Guy Presents: Blue Harvest. The sixth season premiere episode is now available on DVD with some nice extras. Fans can also pick up the special edition, which comes in collectible packaging and offers trading cards, 3-D glasses, a T-shirt and more. There’s more irreverent silliness to be found in writer/director David Wain’s The Ten, which features an animated segment created by Augenblick Studios. It also hits retail today following a limited theatrical run.

“Blue Harvest” is a reference to the working title George Lucas and crew used to keep over-zealous fans from crashing the set of 1983’s Return of the Jedi. The hour-long Family Guy installment debuted on Sept. 23, drawing big ratings on FOX with depictions of the show’s various characters in iconic Star Wars roles.

DVD bonus materials include additional footage, an uncensored track, animatics, commentaries, interviews with series creator/exec producer Seth McFarlane and Star Wars creator George Lucas. The Fox Home Entertainment release lists for $22.97 for the standard version, and $34.98 for the special edition with limited-edition collectibles.

The Ten stars Paul Rudd, Adam Brody, Rob Corddry, Famke Janssen, Ken Marino, Gretchen Mol, Oliver Platt, Liev Schreiber and Jessica Alba in a series of ten humorous and twisted stories based on the Ten Commandments. The animated story employs a misguided Rhino and a cast of other animals to illustrate why it’s wrong to bare false witness. Extras include commentary by Wain, Marino and Rudd; alternate-take and deleted-scene vignettes; a bonus interview; Wainy Days “Episode One” as seen on; ring tones and wallpaper. Read Animation Magazine's exclusive interview with animator Aaron Augenblick concerning the project here.

Disney Background Artist Brice Mack Passes Away

Brice Mack, who painted animation backgrounds for Walt Disney in the '30s, '40s and '50s and subsequently produced and directed commercials and films, died Jan. 2nd in Hollywood, California. He was 90.

Mack painted backgrounds for SNOW WHITE AND THE SEVEN DWARFS, PINOCCHIO, FANTASIA, SONG OF THE SOUTH, CINDERELLA, ALICE IN WONDERLAND, PETER PAN and LADY AND THE TRAMP, among others. He also painted backgrounds for many shorts, including the 1942 Academy Award-winning LEND A PAW.

Mack also worked as a writer in the story department and did illustrations for various Disney projects, including the PETER PAN children's book and a Peter Pan mural in Captain Hook's pirate ship at Disneyland, which was completed just prior to the park's opening.

In addition to working for Disney, Mack also did freelance illustrations, articles and cartoons for magazines, including FORD TIMES, COLLIERS and TRUE. One article he wrote and illustrated was about a new activity called "skin-diving." Mack was an early pioneer of skin diving and made his own equipment.

During World War II, Mack left Disney in 1942 and became a pioneering navigator for the Air Transport Command. He delivered aircraft, cargo and personnel throughout the world until the end of the war.

After the war, in 1945, Mack returned to Disney. In 1954 he left to start Era Prods., a commercial production company specializing in animation. Many Disney artists and animators came to work for him and he continued to do contract work for his good friend Walt Disney. Notably, Mack painted the first iconic Disney Castle illustration for THE WONDERFUL WORLD OF DISNEY TV show.

Mack's company also provided animation for The Petersen Co., one of the top commercial production houses in Hollywood during the '60s and '70s. Mack produced and directed numerous animated and live-action TV commercials for Petersen.

Mack went on to produce and direct commercials, films and theme park rides with his company, Unicorn Prods., and continued to consult for Disney until his retirement in the early '90s.

Mack's feature directing credits include JENNIFER (1977), SWAP MEET (1978), HALF A HOUSE (1979) and ROOSTER (1983). He also produced MARA OF THE WILDERNESS (1965) and RUBY (1977).

Mack and his cartoonist friends Dick Shaw and Virgil Partch had many notorious parties and adventures. In 1950, for a FORD TIMES article, they drove in the first Mexican Road Race.

In 1961, Mack and his friends held a party on the last Red Car ride from L.A. to Long Beach, dancing to animator pal Ward Kimball's Dixieland Jazz band, "The Firehouse Five Plus Two."

The son of a Navy commander, Mack was born in the Philippines and grew up in Alaska, Virginia and California.

In his senior year in high school, Mack earned an athletic scholarship to the University of Arizona, where he was on the football and track teams. He set a record for the discus throw that stood for many years. He was also an avid boxer and served in the Cavalry. At the University of Arizona, Mack met and married Margaret Louise Spencer. They had two sons, Brice and Greg. The couple divorced in the early '50s.

In 1957, Mack married fellow Disney artist, Helen Virginia Mack, and had a third son, Kevin, who worked for his father for many years and is now an Academy Award-winning visual effects supervisor (WHAT DREAMS MAY COME) currently working at Sony Pictures Imageworks (GHOST RIDER).

Brice is survived by his wife, Ginni, his sons, Brice, Greg and Kevin, and his grandsons, Jon, Ray and Danny.

BAFTA Nominates Animated & VFX Films

The British Academy of Film and Television Arts has announced the nominees for the 2008 Orange British Academy Film Awards. Oscar favorites RATATOUILLE from Pixar/Disney and Fox's THE SIMPSONS MOVIE join DreamWorks' SHREK THE THIRD as nominees in the Animated Film category. The nominees in the Short Animation category include Aardman Animations' THE PEARCE SISTERS, directed by Jo Allen and Luis Cook; Pearse Moore and John McCloskey's THE CRUMBLEGIANT; and HEAD OVER HEELS, directed by Osbert Parker, Fiona Pitkin and Ian Gouldstone. Gouldstone previously won the BAFTA for his short animated film GUY 101.

In the Special Visual Effects category, the nominees are Oscar hopefuls THE BOURNE ULTIMATUM (Peter Chiang, Charlie Noble, Mattias Lindahl, Joss Williams), THE GOLDEN COMPASS (Michael Fink, Bill Westenhofer, Ben Morris, Trevor Woods) and PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN: AT WORLD'S END (John Knoll, Charles Gibson, Hal Hickel, John Frazier), as well as HARRY POTTER AND THE ORDER OF THE PHOENIX (Tim Burke, John Richardson, Emma Norton, Chris Shaw) and SPIDER-MAN 3 (Scott Stokdyk, Peter Nofz, Kee-Suk Ken Hahn, Spencer Cook).

A complete list of nominees is available here.

'Johnny Bravo' debuts on Boomerang with a 12 Episode Marathon

Cartoon Network series Johnny Bravo will be joining the Boomerang lineup this Monday, January 21, 2008 with a 12 episode marathon from 8PM till 11PM (ET) before settling into it's regular nightly spot at 10PM (ET) the following day.

NY Times on Promoting the New "George of the Jungle" Cartoon

The New York Times has taken a look at the new methods Cartoon Network exploited to promote the new George of the Jungle cartoon, including on-line promotions and games, a DVD release of the original George of the Jungle cartoons, and a promotion with the Applebee's restaurant chain, all in addition to the standard TV and radio spots. The article also notes the "soft launch" of the series, with two sneak previews of the series hitting last year before its true debut this year, and how the original George and Rocky and Bullwinkle became corporate spokespersons in return for a berth on the broadcast television schedule.

Cartoon Network's "Chowder" Extended to 20 Episodes

On his weblog, C.H. Greenblatt noted that Cartoon Network has expanded their order for Chowder to 20 half-hour episodes. A new episode will air this Friday, January 17, 2008, at 7:00 PM (Pacific), where the first story of the episode was storyboarded by Grim Adventures of Billy & Mandy creator Maxwell Atoms.

Comic Book movie news has an interview with Producer Akiva Goldman who talks about some of the upcoming comic to movie projects:

In the Small - "It’s a real project, but no script yet"

The Losers - "The Losers is a very good script. I don’t know when it will start, but the script is really good"

Teen Titans - "... I have a strong impression that this movie will be delayed for a while, since they´re doing the Justice League movie - and these heroes are basically young versions of the JLA ones."

Doom Patrol - "Doom Patrol probably won't happen. It’s too hard to get it right. It’s a complicated project".

Click the link for the full article.

Online Austrian Cartoon Award

Austrian Cartoon Awards announced today that more than 240 cartoons from 35 countries have been uploaded to thier cartoon server in anticipation of online voting for the Audience Award. Deadline for uploaded entries is the 28th of February 2008.

On the 20th of January 2008 the ONLINE-Voting for the Audience Award will begin. Anyone is ecouraged to view the entries and to vote for your eight personnel favorites.

30 nominees out of all voted cartoons will take part in the final-round of the public-voting. These cartoons will be displayed for the second voting between 7th and 30th of April 2008 (every online registered visitor is able to vote for another three favorites).

The best 10 entries, out of 30 nominations, will also take part in the final round of the Austrian Cartoon Award (Wildcard). If one entry should already be selected the following best entry will be forwarded to take part in the final round. The cartoon with the highest score will be awarded with the "Audience Price" and win a prize-money of Euro 1.500,- (about $ 2,200.00 US dollars).

If you vote the winner-cartoon of audience-award, you will take part in the aca-lottery and win one out of 20 prizes.

Academy ignores animation for Best Foreign Film

Is anyone surprised that Persepolis wasn’t nominated for the Best Foreign Language Film Oscar? No foreign animated film submitted by its home country has ever been nominated in this category.

And its interesting to note that Persepolis wasn’t even the first animated nominee from France. In 1953 France submitted Jean Image’s Johnny The Giant Killer. In 1975 Belgium submitted Tarzoon, Shame Of The Jungle.

For the record, here’s a complete run down of previous animated films submitted to the Best Foreign Film category:

1986: Hungary, CAT CITY
1994: Japan, POM POKO
1999: Argentina, MANUELITA
2005: Luxembourg, RENART THE FOX
2007: France, PERSEPOLIS

None of them made it. Most of these entries were submitted in the years before the Academy recognized animated features. Unlike some of my colleagues, I’m grateful the Academy’s Best Animated Feature category exists. With the exception of Beauty And The Beast, the organization has failed, time and again, to recognize the art. The industry simply does not consider animation in the same league with live action. Eliminating the Animated Feature Oscar will not change how Academy voters consider animation. Having that award at least brings us to the table.

To some the Best Animated Feature category may be a “ghetto”, but ultimately it’s up to us to raise the consciousness amongst the filmmakers, the Academy and the public.

Animating The Chicago Spire

The Chicago Spire, a building designed by superstar architect Santiago Calatrava, is poised to become North America’s tallest free-standing structure and the world’s tallest all-residential building when it is completed in 2011. When the developers officially unveiled the project last September, their presentation included a slick five-minute animated promo. Pushing far beyond typical animated architectural renderings, the developers enlisted vfx houses Lightstream Pictures and Sony Imageworks to create a feature film-style piece complete with dramatic staging and lighting. A portion of the film can be seen on the building’s website,, and a video about the building with a few more animation clips can be seen on YouTube. It just goes to show that there’s no product or idea that can’t benefit from some well conceived animation.

Help Nina Paley Complete Sita Sings the Blues

Nina Paley’s offbeat indie animated feature Sita Sings The Blues recently was accepted into the prestigious 58th annual Berlin International Film Festival, where it’ll be having its world premiere next month. But as Paley writes on her website, “The bad news is, she’s programmed in a theater that doesn’t do Digital Cinema. That means unless I have a 35mm print by February, her one and only World Premiere will be on, well…video. I can’t let that happen.”

I’ve heard positive words from numerous people who have seen work-in-progress versions of Sita. The film, which Paley started production on in 2004, is uniquely personal, tackling the story of breaking up with her husband in India, combined with an unlikely mashup of Indian mythology and 1920s American jazz. Paley made the film entirely on her own, without a producer or studio backing, and still needs $20k to create a 35mm master. She is accepting tax-deductible donations through this website. It’s a worthy cause for animation fans who have a few extra bucks to spare.

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