Monday, May 26, 2008

News - 05/26/08...

Disney Artists To Self-Publish Rocket Johnson

In recent years, many artists at feature animation studios like Pixar, DreamWorks and Blue Sky have become involved in self-publishing art books and graphic novels. The Disney artists have remained noticeably absent from the scene…until now. A whole slew of Disney Feature story artists and directors are getting ready to release a fun-looking 72-page graphic novel anthology entitled Who is Rocket Johnson?, in which they answer the question posed by the book’s title. The book, limited to 1,000 copies, will debut in July at the San Diego Comic-Con and will sell exclusively at booth 2302.

Contributing artists are:
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

The book also features a painted cover by Paul Felix and pin-ups by Glen Keane, ChenYi Chang, Byron Howard and Arthur Adams. There’s a website coming up soon at and an official announcement at the blog of Paul Briggs.

(thanks cartoonbrew)

Indy Grosses $126 M

Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull unearthed an estimated $126 million since its opening at 12:01 a.m. May 22, according to The Hollywood Reporter.

That includes an estimated $101 million from Friday to Sunday, which followed a first-day Thursday gross of $25 million. Paramount also projected a $25 million haul for Monday, which would give the first Indy sequel in 19 years a five-day total of $151 million.

That would compare with $151.1 million tally posted by last year's Spider-Man 3, a best-ever weekend opening.

Star Wars: Episode III--Revenge of the Sith recorded the highest-grossing first five days of any picture before or since: $172.8 million after debuting on a Thursday before a non-holiday weekend in May 2005.

Meanwhile, Disney was projecting a Friday-Sunday gross of $23 million for The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian. That represented a 58 percent drop from the opening weekend to finish in second place through Monday for a 10-day total of $91.1 million.

Iron Man placed third for the weekend with an estimated three-day haul of $20.1 million and an estimated $25.6 million through Monday. The holiday-bolstered gross is expected to raise the hit movie's total to $257.8 million, making it by far 2008's best-grossing movie to date.

Lumber Jacksons

Everyone check out Lumber Jacksons, an original short House of Cool Studios created and produced for Disney. It features the voice talent of Wayne Brady (Don't Forget the Lyrics). The creative team a HoC really outdid themselves in completing this beautiful short. They are also proud that they used Flash in a way that produced a really high quality look. Props go to the Disney team who were great to work with and all the designers and animators especially Cal, Robin, Ben and Matt.

The short can be viewed at .

They also animated this awesome anime style sequence for Blue Sky's Dr. Seuss' Horton Hears a Who!, which can be seen below.

Podcast recommendations

Load your iPod this weekend with a chestload of free interviews with some of the most fascinating personalities from the animation world: The Animation Podcast offers lengthy audio podcasts with masters such as Andreas Deja, Milt Kahl, Glen Keane, James Baxter, Ray Harryhausen, Ron Clements and John Musker; while BuzzBender recently chatted with Bee Movie’s director Simon J. Smith, Ratatouille supervising animator Dylan Brown, Stan Lee and Paul Dini; and sister site Creating Success Podcast features interviews with Flushed Away directors Sam Fell and David Bowers, Cars directing animator James Ford Murphy, Bill Plympton or Shrek the Third director Chris Miller.

In the mood to hunt easter eggs this holiday weekend?

DVD Review has unearthed hidden bonus features from recent animated releases including Ratatouille, The Simpsons Movie (DVD and Blu-Ray), Surf’s Up, Beowulf, Enchanted, Peter Pan: Platinum Edition, as well as Pixar Short Films Collection: Volume 1. Enjoy!

Disney’s Paper Cut-out Animation

I’m a longtime fan of the incredible (and overlooked) stop motion paper cut-out animation sequences created by Bill Justice and Xavier Atencio for the Disney Studios in the late 1950s and early 60s. These remarkable little films have escaped wide attention by appearing in some of the least of Disney’s efforts during this period (their titles for The Parent Trap (1961) being an exception). The design and direction are top notch - and remember, these were created completely by hand, and animated frame by frame under a camera. None of the computer shortcuts employed by South Park here.

It’s hard to get the Sherman Brothers tune out of your head from the opening titles to The Mis-Adventures of Merlin Jones (1964):

This one is a little un-P.C., from the featurette A Symposium Of Popular Songs (1962):

Disney designer Kevin Kidney has posted his own tribute to these works on his blog, showcasing his own intricate recreations of these paper puppets (created with partner Jody Daily). Check it out here.

(thanks cartoonbrew)

From aintitcoolnews:

The transcript is in from Peter Jackson and Guillermo del Toro's HOBBIT webchat!

Ahoy, squirts! Quint here. I had a last minute lunch here in Austin... the amazing BBQ of the Salt Lick... and when I got home I realized I missed the Hobbit chat at the Weta website with Peter Jackson and Guillermo del Toro. I signed up and everything, but being the dumbass I am, I totally forgot about it.

Luckily for me, those rascally Weta folks have a complete transcript. I'm just starting to read now, but wanted to throw the link up now rather than after I finished.

Chat transcript here! The greatest of adventures is about to begin!

Presto Chango for Pixar

Bill Desowitz gets a first look at Pixar's new short, Presto, with director Doug Sweetland: a "cartoony cartoon" with lots of traditional magic.

Pixar’s Presto is a slapstick ode to Warner Bros. and Tom and Jerry toons. All images © Disney/Pixar.

Presto, the newest Pixar short, which premieres at Annecy on June 10 before screening theatrically with WALL•E on June 27, is a real cartoony departure. It's a slapstick ode to Warner Bros. and Tom and Jerry toons, in which a turn-of-the-century magician finds himself in a hilarious onstage feud with his hungry rabbit. Talk about a carrot and stick reversal. Presto, the magician, has never experienced such humiliation, as the crafty rabbit, Alec, gives him a taste of his own supernatural hocus pocus. There are plenty of magic hats and vaudevillian antics during the frantic five minutes, punctuated by iconic squash-and-stretch gyrations and bug-eyed reactions. Presto gets egg on his face, is attacked by a ladder, has his clothes torn off, gets electrocuted, uncontrollably dances a jig and is hurled high into the rafters. And the stuffy audience cheers every moment of it.

For first-time director Doug Sweetland, the animator who's worked on every Pixar feature up to Ratatouille, as well as the Boundin' short, Presto was a revelatory experience -- just as shorts should be.

Doug Sweetland.

"What I ended up pitching and what ended up on screen are two different things," he says. "The only consistent thing is that it's a magician and a rabbit. The idea of it being a throwback to old cartoons came along the way. I pitched the magician as a sympathetic character who gets dumped by his rabbit. And at an opportune moment, a fan boy rabbit comes knocking at the door asking for an autograph and he incorporates this knock-kneed newcomer into his act almost immediately. And all these hat gags sprung from that. I wanted both of these characters to be innocent... Once it got approved, that's when my troubles started and the real work began, when Presto becomes a really antagonistic character, who's more oblivious than mean-spirited up front."

Sweetland got deeply lost trying to find a working story. "There were months and months when I was pitching and bombing." But the Pixar brain trust of John Lasseter, Andrew Stanton, Pete Docter, Bob Peterson and Lee Unkrich proved invaluable.

"It's like when you sign up for the Army: you don't expect them to go easy on you. And it was very much a boot camp-like experience. But it was the opportunity of a lifetime to be taught by these guys. I would be a fool not to trust them, but I did everything to hold onto my ideas. And, ironically, the first time I went in to pitch something where I had no idea whether it would work or not, was the first time that they bought it. It ended up being a total laugh fest.

"My main misconception in the beginning was that story was about the best collection of ideas relating to a topic. But it's not: it's all about sequence. Andrew Stanton at one point sensed that I was holding onto old ideas. 'Well, just try it out, draw it -- it takes five minutes.' It was that 'stop holding on, stop holding on.' That was the advice that got me to go into places and see where it went, rather than trying to control the process.

"The other thing is that the hats are a device in the story. And for the longest time, I was fixated on the gags. The story just didn't work from a character standpoint and Bob Peterson said, 'I know this is going to sound weird, but the short should work without the hats at all.' His comment got me to focus purely on the two characters and charting a progression of their argument."

The Tom and Jerry influence stemmed from a genuine story need and was helpful in establishing a quick setup. In order to get to the conflict quickly, viewers had to know what the rabbit needed.

Thus, the Warner Bros. and Tom and Jerry influences stemmed from a genuine story need. "We needed a really quick setup, we needed to know what the rabbit needed right away, and we needed to know what the conflict was. And that was where we spent the majority of time, working out the first 30 seconds of the short. When it became clear that Presto was a comic villain, then it couldn't help but point back to these great antagonistic relationships between Bugs and Elmer or Yosemite Sam. And so that became a model for us. Serendipitously, we had Teddy Newton as our character designer, who is steeped in classic cartoon history and styles. He designed our characters for us and John [Lasseter] was very clear up front about having them be iconic: signifiers of the magician and the rabbit you would expect him to have.

When it became clear that Presto was a comic villain, the filmmakers used the great antagonistic relationships between Bugs and Elmer or Yosemite Sam as a model for the main characters in the short.

"As far as animation style, that was tricky to find too. We did look a lot at Tex Avery, but mainly our source material was Tom and Jerry, because it's very clear that Presto is Tom and Alec is Jerry. And we looked at Warner Bros., of course, especially any performance-oriented cartoon, particularly the one where Bugs is fighting with the opera singer, called Long-Haired Hare [directed by Chuck Jones in 1949]. And there's a lushness to Tom and Jerry that's almost in Disney territory. Warner Bros. is a pretty good middle ground for fullness and crack timing. Tex is more joke-oriented and since this is basically like a stand-up piece -- we are telling visual pantomime jokes in animation -- we looked at Tex just to see how he controls motion to deliver jokes."

Sweetland thinks Presto was a refreshing change of pace from the more nuanced, emotionally complex and hyperreal Pixar features. Fortunately, a lot of the technology for the squash-and-stretch in 3D came with Brad Bird and The Incredibles. "The challenge was artistic," Sweetland suggests, "and the hardest thing was to de-program everything I had learned on the features...

"With the short, the main thing is, 'Where's the punch line?' And let's design movement for the punch line, because you don't want to water down the screen with a bunch of ancillary movement and nuance. It takes a high degree of control to stage things. It's one of those counterintuitive challenges where you think animating less will be easier, but doing anything with less means you have to think a little bit more."

Also integral is the look of Presto, supplied by Production Designer Harley Jessup (Ratatouille), which Sweetland admits is a cross between those two terrific turn-of-the-century magician movies, The Prestige and The Illusionist. "This is perfect because the classic cartoons sprung out of a vaudeville style. You have true magic with the hats and it's nice to think of it as overlapping with the modern age, but it's not overwhelmed by technology. Harley was great at making that world seem lush and decadent and alive. And that was important for the comedy. You had to have this environment of total formality.

"We kept looking at the London Opera House and the Paris Opera House and classic vaudeville theaters here in San Francisco, including the Geary, which we actually took a tour through. Presto has to try so hard to be a high-status person and impress the crowd, which is the aristocracy. Overstatement is a motif of the short, and Harley is the perfect person for that. The theater is one of my favorite things about the short."

To get an environment of high formality, the filmmakers looked at the London Opera House, the Paris Opera House and classic vaudeville theaters like the Geary in San Francisco for set design ideas.

However, populating this ornate theater with 2,500 patrons (even with the help of Massive software under the supervision of Matt Webb) was an expensive proposition. There was talk early on of just doing some cutaways to reveal a few audience members. But Sweetland thinks that seeing just the back of their heads makes it seem all the more real, and adds to Presto's humiliation.

"I couldn't be happier about getting a [full] crowd into that theater. We got the chance to create a world inside this theater, which is like a steroid-pumped vaudeville theater that can only exist in fantasy with such a ridiculous scale. But it has every bit of Pixar realism to lend the grandeur of it."

Jessup definitely dressed their world from the Ratatouille prop room, as they rummaged left and right and had sticky fingers.

"One bit of technical R&D: We were pushing the characters pretty fast and there were lots of scrambles and we noticed that the motion blur after animation was a little fuzzy and faint, so we had the time to go in and try different composites. We tried to get the characters a little more solidified.

"There's a tendency with standard motion blur to, say, have a character's foot during a scramble de-materialize just a bit. It looks a little too diffuse. We didn't do a uniform change in motion blur, just those instances where the animation is really pushing the characters to the limit: about a dozen shots or so. We were going for a combined dry brush or distortion drawing look, trying to emulate hand-drawn animation. I was glad that most of the animators really dug working on a cartoony cartoon. They found the slapstick pretty liberating."

Pre-Order The Incredible Hulk Soundtrack is taking pre-orders for composer Craig Armstrong's The Incredible Hulk score, hitting stores on June 10th, three days before the movie is released in theaters. has included the full track listings for the 2 discs that are included. If you'd like to know this early what they are, you can do so here.

In related news, the official website for the movie has updated with some new photos, including this one below. Just head for the photo gallery there to view all the pics.

Page Hearn, 48, voiced Fidgel in "3-2-1 Penguins"

Stage actor Page Hearn, the voice of Fidgel the scientist penguin in several 3-2-1 Penguins animated videos from Big Idea Productions, died May 17 at 48.

He apparently suffered a heart attack while crossing a street in Jersey City, New Jersey, where he had moved in 2005, said a statement from Chicago's City Lit Theater Company, where he was its longtime managing director.

Like other animated videos from Big Idea Productions, the 3-2-1 Penguins series offered a Christian message. As Page H. Hearn, he had voice roles in Trouble on Planet Wait-Your-Turn (2000), The Cheating Scales of Bullamanka (2001), The Amazing Carnival of Complaining (2002), and The Doom Funnel Rescue! and Moon Menace on Planet Tell-A-Lie (both 2003).

A 17-year mainstay at Chicago's City Lit Theater, Hearn was best known for his sublime portrayal of the perfect butler Jeeves in a series of P.G. Wodehouse adaptations, which he performed each winter for nine seasons.

Hearn had a family history of heart disease -- his grandmother had died from the same cause at the same age as he, and his father recently underwent bypass surgery -- but he himself had not been diagnosed with heart trouble. He and his partner Steve Gutierrez had just that day completed moving to Brooklyn, and Hearn was running an errand in Jersey City related to the move when he collapsed while crossing an intersection on his way to catch a train. Doctors at the hospital where he was taken said he most likely died where he fell.

A Baltimore native, Hearn was born on December 2, 1959. He attended Northwestern University in the early 1980s before beginning a 22-year career in Chicago theatre.

Hearn moved out east to pursue more lucrative acting opportunities. Just this month, he made his network television debut with a small speaking role as a jury foreman on an episode of NBC's Law and Order: Special Victims Unit that aired May 6.

"He had this light behind his eyes," Gutierrez told the Chicago Tribune. "He was just an amazingly funny and supportive person. And I can't tell you how many times we'd go out to dinner in Chicago and people would call him 'Jeeves.'"

Onstage in New York, he acted in shows at Metropolitan Playhouse in the East Village and the off-Broadway Marjorie S. Deane Little Theater, as well as directed at Abingdon Theatre and wrote a short play that was produced by Metropolitan.

He directed for such companies as New Tuners and The Free Associates. He wrote such pieces as Descent into the Maelstrom, a one-man tribute to Edgar Allan Poe that he performed each Halloween in Chicago from 1987 and 2006.

For over two decades, Hearn worked in big and little theaters in Chicago. Over the years, he worked as an actor at The Commons, Bailiwick, Lifeline, Oak Park Festival, Court, Raven, Buffalo Theatre Ensemble, About Face and Reflections theatres.

He was part of the 1990 Jeff Citation-winning ensemble cast of City Lit's The Good Times Are Killing Me as well as a member of the 1999 After Dark Award-winning ensemble cast of Noises Off, produced by Broutil and Frothingham at Theatre Building Chicago. He directed for New Tuners, The Free Associates, Arts/Lane and Reflections.

He founded Metamorphosis Theatre, for which he adapted and produced Descent into the Maelstrom, a one-man Edgar Allan Poe show that he performed at various Chicago locations every Halloween from 1987 through 2006. He wrote the children's plays Ooooogy Green and Other Fables (which toured Chicago area schools for thirteen years) and The Adventures of Jack Rabbit, Private Ear.

By far, most of his work in Chicago was at City Lit. From 1988 to 2005, he worked there as actor, director, understudy, playwright, adaptor, director of touring, tech director, managing director and de facto artistic director. As managing director, he shepherded the theatre through the transition from being an itinerant company to having the stability of its current permanent home in Edgewater.

His acting at City Lit encompassed the sinister strangeness of Henry James's The Turn of the Screw and the pointed satire of the title role in Moliere's Tartuffe. As a director, he was drawn toward inventive stagings of classic comedies, such as Richard Brinsley Sheridan's The Rivals, which he staged with a Keystone Kops motif.

He wrote one full-length play for City Lit, An Ecstasy of Dragonflies, a romantic fantasy. "For a time in the early years of this decade, when City Lit was going through bad financial times, he was the theatre's only staff member and kept the place open largely through the force of his will," the theater said.

Over a 15-year period, he was involved in some capacity or other with every one of City Lit's signature P.G. Wodehouse stagings, highlighted by his work as the unflappable Jeeves (memorably paired with Mark Richard as world-class nincompoop Bertie Wooster) in the theatre's nine-year string of Bertie-and-Jeeves productions. His script for Jeeves and the Mating Season won a 2002 Jeff Citation for Outstanding Adaptation.

Besides Gutierrez, survivors include parents Beau Hearn and Brooke Pacy, stepmother Ellie Hearn, stepfather Bill Pacy, brothers Biff and Gibson, sister Dana Hark, and eight nieces and nephews.

A memorial service will be held at 7 p.m. June 30 in City Lit Theater, 1020 West Bryn Mawr Avenue. Memorials to be held in New York City and Baltimore are also being planned.

Thelma Keane, Mommy of "Family Circus," dead at 82

Thelma "Thel" Keane, "Family Circus" cartoonist Bil Keane's wife and the model for the Mommy character in the long-running one-panel newspaper comic, died Friday of Alzheimer's disease. She was 82.

Keane's first name appeared occasionally in the comic. She had been living at an assisted-living facility near her Paradise Valley, Arizona family home for the past three years.

Anne Costello voiced "Mommy" in the NBC cartoon specials A Special Valentine with the Family Circus (1978), A Family Circus Christmas (1979) and A Family Circus Easter (1982). Bil Keane created all three, which were produced by Cullen-Kasden Productions and were ratings successes.

"She was the inspiration for all of my success," Bil Keane, 85, said Sunday of his wife.

The very first Family Circus cartoon, in February 1960, showed Mommy surrounded by a roomful of toy clutter. She answered the door to a survey person who asked, "Any children?"

"When the cartoon first appeared, she looked so much like Mommy that if she was in the supermarket pushing her cart around, people would come up to her and say, 'Aren't you the Mommy in 'Family Circus?' and she would admit it," he told The Associated Press from his home.

Bil Keane began drawing Family Circus in 1960. Featuring two parents and their four children, it appears in about 1,500 newspapers and offers traditional family values with a humorous touch.

During the Second World War, Keane met Thelma "Thel" Carne in the war bond office in Brisbane, Australia. She was a native Australian working as an accounting secretary. He worked next to her as a promotional artist for the United States Army.

Said Bil Keane: "I had this desk alongside the most beautiful Australian 18-year-old girl with long brown hair. And I got up enough nerve to ask her for a date."

Like an Aussie boomerang, Bil Keane came back five years later, marrying her in Brisbane in 1948. They moved to Roslyn, Pennsylvania (near his home town of Philadelphia), where their real live family circus was born. After having five children, the couple moved to the Phoenix suburb of Paradise Valley in 1958.

Just as her cartoon double did, Thelma Keane was involved in community affairs and parent-school activities.

In a 2006 interview with Arizona's East Valley Tribune, Bil Keane credited his wife's decorating skills for the retro look of his 1960-vintage living room, which features a brightly patterned orange couch and wood-paneled walls. "It must have been my wife's clairvoyance, if that's the case," he said.

Besides being the inspiration for the loving, patient Mommy of Family Circus, Thelma Keane was her husband's full-time business and financial manager.

Because of Thelma, according to her family, Bil Keane became one of the first syndicated newspaper cartoonists to retrieve all rights to his comic.

"There was nothing that I did in the cartoon world or in the business world that she wasn't the instigator of, and she certainly deserves all the credit that I get credit for," Bil Keane said.

Thelma Keane was diagnosed with Alzheimer's about five years ago, said her daughter, Gayle Keane, 58, of Napa, California, who's also her father's administrative assistant.

Her mother was singing and dancing as the family visited her and celebrated her birthday only last month, Gayle Keane said. However, her mother began rapidly declining last week and died peacefully.

"We all had a time to say goodbye in the end. I just think she's in a better place, and she's not dealing with that fog and confusion that Alzheimer's brings into your life."

One of the Keanes' four sons, Glen, of Santa Clarita, California, is a 2D lead animator for Walt Disney Studios. Leaving CalArts in 1974, he joined Disney the same year.

His debut work was featured in The Rescuers as an animator for Penny, alongside Ollie Johnston. He also created the characters of Ariel (The Little Mermaid), the Beast (Beauty and the Beast) and Pocahontas.

With the aid of his youngest son Jeff, of Laguna Hills, California, Bil Keane still works on Family Circus. He draws the ideas, characters and captions, then sends them to Jeff for inking.

Keane said that his late wife remains with him.

"The losing of Thel is a heartbreaking thing for me. However, it makes me realize how important she was to my worldly success, and I know where she is now, I feel that she's still helping me and probably giving me the inspirations you can only get from an angel in Heaven."

Thelma Keane is also survived by sons Neal of Northridge, California and Christopher of Dragor, Denmark; and sister Tess Horne of Brisbane; and nine grandchildren.

A memorial service will be held at 10 a.m. Saturday at The Franciscan Renewal Center in Paradise Valley. It will be open to the public.

YTV's "Jibber Jabber" picks up four Leo Awards

"Jibber Jabber," a CGI-animated comedy-action kids' series produced for Canada's YTV channel, won four Leo Awards during ceremonies Friday and Saturday at the Westin Bayshore in Vancouver.

Co-produced by Northwest Imaging & FX and Jibber Jabber Toons Ltd., Jibber Jabber won the Leo for Best Animation Program or Series (David Bowes and Jim Corbett, producers). Distributed worldwide by Bejuba Entertainment, the series is about two seven-year-old fraternal twin brothers with inexhaustable imaginations and only one thing on their two minds: action and adventure.

The Jibber Jabber episode "Race to the Red Planet" received Leos for Best Overall Sound in an Animation Program or Series (Chris McIntosh and Alex Hall) and Best Musical Score in an Animation Program or Series (Michael Richard Plowman). Another episode, "Enter the Jelly," was honored for Best Screenwriting in an Animation Program or Series (Victor Nicolle).

Rounding out the awards for animation, the Leo for Best Direction/Storyboarding in an Animation Program or Series went to Rav Grewal, Jean Lacombe, Steve Ball and Colin Lorimer for the Storm Hawks episode Calling All Domos.

The 2008 Channel M Diversity in Cultures Award was presented to Jeff Chiba Stearns for the partly animated documentary One Big Hapa Family, which explores how children of mixed-race families perceive their unique multicultural identities. The award carries a $10,000 cash prize.

Stearns, of mixed Japanese-Canadian and Caucasian ancestry, included a short classically animated sequence -- a spoof of the popular character Dora the Explorer -- to start the film.

"We received 13 submissions, but One Big Hapa Family was the one that stood out and best exemplified the values of the Channel M Award to bridge cultural understanding," said Leo Awards president Walter Daroshin.

Established in 1998, the Leo Awards celebrate excellence in British Columbia film and television. The awards are a project of the Motion Picture Arts and Sciences Foundation of British Columbia.

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