Tuesday, July 8, 2008

News - 07/08/08...

Animation Block Party ‘08

Brooklyn’s homegrown cartoon festival Animation Block Party will return for its fifth edition from July 25-27. Over 100 animated shorts will screen during the three-day festival, chosen from 800 plus entries.The line-up of films and ticket info was officially announced today. If the event’s promotional materials (left) are any indicator, this is not to be confused with traditional festivals. It has an informal and indie spirit with plenty of opportunities for mingling and partying. I’ve heard positive things from everybody who has attended. Here are more details from their press release about the various festivities:

ABP opens on Friday July 25th at Rooftop Films, featuring live music from Plushgun, followed by a screening of ABP’s most fun and fan friendly cartoons. A party at Bar Matchless will follow ABP-Rooftop screenings with free beer from Radeberger.

ABP continues on Saturday July 26th at Bam Cinematek, with experimental works and music vids in Program One and a storytelling focus in Program Two. Screenings will be followed by an after party at Cherry Tree with free Newcastle courtesy of America’s Finest News Source, The Onion, Inc.

ABP closes on Sunday July 27th at Bam Cinematek, with top professional-independent works in Program Three and narrative local-international shorts in Program Four with an after party at Habana Outpost, featuring streaming toons, food specials and free beer courtesy of Autodesk.

Bonus Note: The guy who did the drawing above is Doug Crane, who was the primary inker on the Terrytoons classics Flebus and The Juggler of Our Lady - and also did some animation on the 1981 classic Heavy Metal and one of the best TV opening title sequences ever - Thundercats.

(thanks cartoonbrew)

'Hulk Vs. Wolverine' trailer online

Here it is, the trailer for the animated reimagining of one of the most memorable first meetings in Marvel history: 'Hulk Vs. Wolverine', one half of the upcoming 'Hulk Vs.' animated double feature:

'The Dark Knight’s Wizard World Chicago trailer

The movie trailer for 'The Dark Knight' is now online for your viewing enjoyment!

Review: "Spider-Man" Signs Off with a Spectacular First Season

Toon Zone takes a look at the first season of The Spectacular Spider-Man

The Spectacular Spider-Man snuck up on me. I knew that a new Spider-Man cartoon was coming, but it’d been five years since the previous one, which came out five years after the one before that. It can get a little tiring keeping track, especially when they tweak the character too much. But the guiding idea—and the welcome surprise—behind The Spectacular Spider-Man is its return to the character's comic book roots. Who would have thought that to make a great Spider-Man cartoon you only had to give viewers a high school-age Peter Parker adjusting to his new role as Spider-Man? The thirteen episodes that make up season one found the heart of the character and created a unique and entertaining show.

The Spectacular Spider-Man quickly struck an appropriate balance between the serious and the fun. It had drama, but disdained melodrama. Peter Parker made tough choices that required a certain amount of sacrifice, but he never wallowed in misery (which is very easy to have the character do). The series wants us to have fun with the character, and in one episode Spider-Man even comments that his audience expects him to make jokes.

The first season of any show is going to be heavy on the introductions, and this one had to introduce Peter Parker's supporting characters and Spider-Man's villains. More than half the episodes were driven by a new villain: Vulture, Electro, Lizard, Rhino, Dr. Octopus, and Chameleon all got single episodes to themselves. The rest of the season then built up bigger villains that are a constant threat to Spider-Man. All the enemies, with the exceptions of Tombstone and Venom, were from the early years of his publication history. I liked how the show would introduce a character first and then turn them into a super villain in a later episode. A couple of classic villains even debuted this season without yet donning their costumes and showing their full abilities.

The rest of the episodes built mysteries around the Green Goblin and the Big Man, and set up Eddie Brock as a major foe. It did a great job by throwing in clues and red herrings that would confuse both new views and fans well-versed in Spider-Man lore. The only downside was that in some cases, such as the revelation of who the Green Goblin is, it still felt like the complete story hadn’t been laid out yet and we’ll have to see it unfold in future seasons. The Venom angle isn’t played as a mystery, but all of Eddie Brock’s appearances work well at showing the deterioration of his friendship with Peter. The man who once viewed Peter Parker as a brother sees both Peter and Spider-Man as enemies and then gains the power to torment him.

The supporting characters drove the story and conflict almost as much as the villains. Between Aunt May, his classmates, and his Daily Bugle co-workers, Peter Parker has over a dozen supporting characters, each with their own unique voice and personality. It was great to see how his relationships evolved, and it suggested that many of the characters, particularly Flash Thompson, have depths to them that are yet to be explored. Then there’s Harry Osborn, who went through a hell of a lot during this season. The show went so far as to pay homage to the controversial drug abuse storyline of the 1960s.

Several supporting characters also served as love interests: "love triangle" doesn’t even begin to describe the kind of thing Peter Parker found himself in. Throughout the season, he made many attempts at getting closer to various girls, including Liz Allan, Betty Brant, and even the Black Cat. Popular love interest Mary Jane Watson was introduced at the end of the sixth episode and was eventually included in the opening credits. Having both MJ and Gwen Stacy in supporting roles makes Peter’s love life more of a journey with different possibilities (where other interpretations usually make Mary Jane the primary and obvious love interest). By the season finale, Peter did make romantic progress with one girl in a moment that's a little surprising and very natural.

Each episode always went deeper than the main fight with the bad guy. Homages to past Spider-Man writers and artists popped up here and there, and supporting characters from the Spider-Man comics that will become important later had cameos. Every episode is worth a re-watch to see what’s important or how things have progressed. The symbiote, for instance, which Spider-Man wears for a time, changes his costume in small ways. It’s not talked about, but it makes for a great visual to go along with the story. It’s interesting to note that the episodes are named after terms associated with evolution, economics, natural science, and psychology. The world of Spider-Man isn’t driven solely by super-powered beings. When you get right down to it, it’s about human behavior and how man, as a reasoning animal, relates to himself and his environment.

As good as season one was, there is still room for improvement. The show does a great job of building up plotlines and giving stories the time they need to develop, but this also makes it essential to watch the episodes in order. Also, juggling around a large cast means some plots and characters are going to be less interesting than others. The Glory/Kenny relationship was nice to watch, and it did have an impact on Harry, but it may not have been necessary. The cast is still growing, and that will inevitably mean shoving some other characters to the side. A little more focus on plots that directly involve Peter or Spider-Man would help to make the story less cluttered.

But there’s plenty to enjoy. Although the flashback origin sequence borrowed heavily from the Spider-Man movies (and it’s painfully obvious in some moments), I thought it was a well-done episode that used a unique framing devise and gave us the essential back story of the Peter Parker we’ve been watching all season, finally showing what kind of an influence Uncle Ben had on him. I also greatly enjoyed the debut of the Sinister Six. When dealing with any group of characters, it’s easy to lose sight of their individuality, but in “Group Therapy”, the Sinister Six all had distinct motivations and personalities, and it was a lot of fun watching them play off one another

If season one is any indication, we’re in store for one of the greatest Spider-Man cartoons of all time. It hasn’t taken long at all for it to find a unique voice that fits well with the character of Spider-Man. There’s also a certain uniqueness to the simplicity of the character designs. Momentum builds with each episode, making Spider-Man’s world deeper and richer. I like to be more forgiving of most shows their first season if I think it’s struggling but the material has potential. With Spectacular Spider-Man, I don’t even need to worry about whether or not this series is going to be good. It’s done quite a lot in thirteen episodes. The show’s already taken off.

Got Gort??

Last week, we got our first look at the trailer for this Christmas' remake of THE DAY THE EARTH STOOD STILL [HERE].

The last shot in the trailer revealed a "Gort"-like robot zapping something with his laser eye.

The shot evoked this moment from the original film:

This surprised many, as a review of the remake's script by AICN's Uncapie indicated Gort did not appear in the film.

...we do get a robot to come out of the ship. But it's nothing like "Gort" - nor is it as fierce as "Gort."

Its called the "Totem". It walks around on all fours, does its destructo-ray stuff, and stands upright like a totem pole when its finished.

...said Uncapie, whose write-up you can fine HERE.

THE DAY THE EARTH STOOD STILL director Scott Derrickson has now addressed the "Gort"/"no Gort" connundrum over at MTV's Movie Blog.

“It was intentional,” Derrickson said. “I certainly took a lot of time to explore other possibilities. It wasn’t just a foregone conclusion in my mind that we would be sticking to the original. I tried looking at a lot of different possibilities, worked on a lot of different ideas with artists and just always a nagging sense that there was something right about the way the original, that there was something about this alien entity choosing a human form or being in a human form that had value even by modern standards, not by 1950 standards. I also am such a fan of the original film. You have to also just have some respect for Gort. Gort is Gort. There’s no question what we designed pays homage to the original.”

...says Derrickson in THIS INTERVIEW with MTV.

Derrickson also talks about adjusting the original film's thematics to make them seem more immediate to contemporary audiences, and indirectly retaining the Klaatu-as-Christ metaphor of Robert Wise's 1951 progenitor.

New Astro Won't Stray Far

David Bowers, who is currently directing the upcoming animated feature Astro Boy, told SCI FI Wire that it will not veer far from the story told in the original manga and the later animated TV series.

"The characters are all there," Bowers said in an interview at the Anime Expo in Los Angeles on July 5. "It is the original characters, but we have new characters, and Astro's basic journey is the same. He starts off in a slightly different environment. Astro's living in this floating city. But that's where the differences end, really. I must say, I just wanted to get to the emotional core of the movie and have people have a few laughs along the way and hopefully make them cry a couple of times. Then I'll be happy."

The new film features the voice of Freddie Highmore (The Spiderwick Chronicles) as the title character, a robot built by a scientist to replace his deceased son. When the scientist, voiced by Nicolas Cage, rejects him, he sets off on his own to find his place in the world.

Astro Boy, originally created by Japanese artist Osama Tezuka, first appeared in a manga series in the early 1950s. It became a popular animated television series in the 1960s and was later revived in the 1980s and, most recently, in 2003. Until now, however, the iconic character has never appeared in a theatrical film.

Bowers said that the timelessness of the story, combined with advances in animation technology, have made this the perfect time to bring the character back once again.

"I think the fact that the story has survived five decades, ... --I'm not going to start comparing it to Shakespeare--but good stories tend to last for a reason," Bowers said. "It's a simple, dramatic story that's as relevant now as it was then. Astro Boy in the 1950s, if you look at the original manga, it looks a little bit old-fashioned and a little bit quaint in its way. But it's worth remembering that at the time it came out and was a big success it was absolutely cutting-edge and futuristic and amazing looking. And that's what our Astro Boy is going to be. We're going to be sort of reintroducing Astro Boy, but it's a very, very modern movie. But this universal theme that I think is timeless is still running through it." Astro Boy is set for release in the fall of 2009.

Heath Ledger's 'Dark Knight' Joker Stands Out In 70-Year Evolution Of Batman's Greatest Foe

We take a look back at the villain's transition from prankster to psychopath.

The Clown Prince of Crime. The Harlequin of Hate. The Ace of Knaves.

Nearly 70 years after "Batman" #1 first hit stands, there still is really only one name that perfectly fits the Dark Knight's greatest adversary, a villain alternately portrayed as a harmless prankster and a vicious sociopath, a man who's equal parts deranged, goofy, psychotic and comical: the Joker.

"Lightning in a bottle," "Batman: The Animated Series" co-creator Bruce Timm said of the character. "Just a brilliant creation."

(Find out what went into creating our favorite version of the Joker, as portrayed on "Batman: The Animated Series," in the MTV Movies blog.)

What makes the Joker so brilliant, and why has he remained Batman's greatest foe? We took a look at his various incarnations throughout history, up to and including his appearance in "The Dark Knight," to find out.

Created by Bob Kane and Bill Finger for the comic book's first issue in 1940, the Joker — with his green hair, white skin and permanent smile — was based on photos of Conrad Veidt from the silent film "The Man Who Laughs." Since then, he has remained the most prominent villain in Batman's increasingly large gallery of rogues. This early version of the Joker was a straightforward mass murderer whose appearance alone seemed to set him apart.

"And it's weird, because it's not like Batman is the Human Torch, and his nemesis would be the Human Ice Cube," Timm laughed. "A clown is not the antithesis of a bat."

Except most bats, of course, aren't this particular Bat — a man who has dedicated his life to ridding the world of evil, using cold, hard logic, an unwavering moral code and a strict adherence to the rules of justice.

"If you just told the Joker story, you're talking about a guy with clown makeup on who's psychotic," comic-book legend Jeph Loeb surmised. "What makes him interesting is that it frustrates the hell out of Batman, who is a detective who needs to follow a series of clues in order to resolve an issue. It's living in a very logical world. The Joker, meanwhile, is someone who doesn't follow any rules. He's a complete question mark capable of anything. All you get with the Joker is — ready for the pun of the year? — a wild card."

The Joker spent his first few decades as that wild card, imagined mostly as a harmless prankster. This version of the character reached his nadir as portrayed by Cesar Romero on the "Batman" television show of the 1960s. His appearance never changed, but his motivations and crimes did. He ceased to be an anarchist and became, instead, yet another themed criminal.

It wasn't until the '70s and '80s that the Joker went back to his roots (permanently it would seem), becoming both a vicious killer and a true mirror to Batman — someone who would go to any length to point out the absurdity of his enemies' mundane lives, whether that meant capturing or torturing Commissioner Gordon, paralyzing his daughter, Barbara, or even killing the second Robin, Jason Todd.

But it was with Batman himself that the Joker would have his sweetest laughs.

"You had a bad day once, am I right?" the Joker asks Batman in the 1988 comic book "The Killing Joke." "I know I am. I can tell. You had a bad day, and everything changed."

"As cool as Batman is, he's kind of a stuffed shirt," Loeb said. "The Joker is somebody who can make fun of that, point out the absurdity that it's a good idea when your parents are killed in the street in front of you to go dress up like a bat. It's an incredibly insane plan."

By the time Tim Burton's "Batman" live-action film came around in 1989, the Joker changed yet again. This time he was given a backstory that made him the man who killed the Waynes. Played by Jack Nicholson, the Joker was a stone-cold killer, but also a little bit campy, a little bit frivolous, a little bit too funny, perhaps.

"We both come from the cartoon world originally. We had similar ideas. Tim [Burton] said [the Joker] should have a humorous dark side to him," Jack Nicholson MTV News last year.

Dark and humorous, yes, but maybe also too heroic. And how could he not be as played by Nicholson?

"The Joker was portrayed in that film as someone who's likable, as someone who acts as a wish fulfillment part of us. It really is the idea that within us all is that notion that if you could get away with murder, you would murder someone," Loeb asserted. "I find that message to be extremely disappointing in terms of human nature, but you can't deny that that's what makes film interesting."

It would be 19 years before the Joker was given another shot at big-screen glory, in this summer's "The Dark Knight." Played by the late Heath Ledger, this Joker doesn't crack jokes, he cracks skulls. He's the embodiment of anarchy, an evil made all the more terrifying because he's made real. His plan? Show Batman how absurd the world is by blowing up just about everything that he can.

"He has zero empathy," Ledger told MTV News last year. "It's the most fun I've had with a character and probably will ever have."

Whether it's been Romero, Nicholson or Ledger behind the makeup, however, and whether he's been a maniac or a prankster, a clown or a killer, one thing has always remained constant with the Joker: the laugh — a laugh that with each breath seems to say he's the only sane man in an insane world.

So, why so serious? Because for nearly 70 years the joke has been on Batman.

New UK book on Spirited Away

Nausicaa reports about the new book Spirited Away: BFI Film Classics by Andrew Osmond, a Berkshire based freelance film journalist, who also writes for a range of film publications including Sight and Sound, Empire and SFX. According to the article, “Andrew Osmond’s insightful study describes how Miyazaki wrote, storyboarded and directed Spirited Away with a degree of creative control undreamt of in most popular cinema, using the film’s delightful, freewheeling visual ideas to explore issues ranging from personal agency and responsibility to what Miyazaki sees as the lamentable state of modern Japan.”

Origin: Spirits of the Past in UK cinemas this July

DVDTimes reports that Origin: Spirits of the Past, the first full-length animated feature film made by Japanese anime Studio Gonzo, will be receiving a limited UK theatrical release from 12th July. A futuristic sci-fi fairy tale, Origin: Spirits of the Past, is directed by Keiichi Sugiyama whose work also includes Neon Genesis Evangelion.

John Lasseter on Toy Story Mania

UpcomingPixar has an exclusive interview with John Lasseter, chief creative officer at Disney/Pixar, wherein he talks about his role in developing theme park Toy Story Midway Mania, through Walt Disney Imagineering.

Animating From the Gut

From the Animation Guild Blog, Kevin muses on your first pass of animating a scene -

Kevin writes.

... Let's step away from the technical aspects of character animation, and focus on the forest and not the trees. Try taking a completely non-technical approach in the early stages of your shots. I’m recommending you get yourself firmly into right-brain mode, block out your internal critic, and just animate from the gut. Animate unconsciously. Put yourself into a trance. Try not to let anything or anyone interrupt you during this phase. Work this way until the shot starts to take clear shape. Then, and only then, start consciously thinking about the principles of animation. Only then start consciously monitoring your poses and arcs and spacing. But as you go into a conscious, thinking mode, don’t lose the initial spontaneity and verve of your first pass.

I was reminded of this by an article in the Wall Street Journal a few days ago. The writer, Robert Lee Hotz, summarized some recent studies on perception and decision making, aptly titled Get Out of Your Own Way. He writes,

“Such experiments suggest that our best reasons for some choices we make are understood only by our [brain] cells. The findings lend credence to researchers who argue that many important decisions may be best made by going with our gut — not by thinking about them too much."

I’ve been considering these kinds of ideas as I’ve been animating lately. I was thinking I might record myself animating a scene, to use as a multi-part blog post. I would show something students frequently ask for: how I worked through the shot, from start to finish. But I realized that the initial stages of my work flow aren’t nearly systematic enough, and that I couldn’t completely explain why I do some of what I do. To someone else those early stages would probably appear chaotic, even random. But I know it works for me, and I know it’s not that different than what many other animators do (though each in their own way). Our right brain is dedicated to intuitive, creative, holistic activities, and those activities don’t lend themselves to logical, linear analysis.

Another interesting quote from the WSJ article:

“. . . Ap Dijksterhuis at the University of Amsterdam recently found that people struggling to make relatively complicated consumer choices — which car to buy, apartment to rent or vacation to take — appeared to make sounder decisions when they were distracted and unable to focus consciously on the problem.”

Please note: I do not think the key to animating from the gut is to distract yourself. I think good animation takes too much of our brain power.* What I’m suggesting, which is consistent with the Dutch study above, is that we make better complex decisions when we aren’t consciously trying so hard. We tend to do great work when we’re in the mystical creative trance that can’t be explained and has to be experienced.

As I write this, I’m remembering the thoughts of Shamus Culhane in his book, Animation: From Script to Screen. I’m sitting in the airport in Las Vegas, so I can’t get at the book, but I’ll have to pull it out for a reread when I get back to Los Angeles. If you haven’t read this book, I think you’ll like it. Especially his thoughts on tapping into your creativity.

I’m not sure CG animation lends itself to that creative trance as much as hand-drawn animation, but I do know that it’s possible, and I know some animators who work this way even if they don’t view it in those terms (perhaps because it sounds kind of new-agey?). Give it a try (realizing that you’re trying not to try, but that’s the beauty of it!).

* This statement will doubtless remind people of this: "[Milt] Kahl also hated having music or audio distractions while he was working, telling protegé Richard Williams that, “I’m not smart enough to do two things at once.”

[Floyd] Norman said that the first rule of working in the animation wing was “never disturb Milt Kahl while he was working . . . The slightest noise would prove a distraction, and the irascible animator would soon visit those who talked too loudly, or dared to crank up the radio.

Imagi Lands Big Investor

As it prepares its feature-length version of the anime classic Astro Boy for theatrical release sometime next year, Hong Kong- and Los Angeles-based animation studio Imagi is receiving a big financial boost. Daily Variety reports that investor Mark Pawley, through his Oxley Spring Media, is buying $40 million worth of shares in the company. The funds will be used to help finance four upcoming Imagi animated features beyond Astro Boy and Gatchaman, another popular manga and anime property. The studio behnd the 2007 Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles reboot, TMNT, plans to put out a new movie every eight months.

Pawley, who previously headed Asia Pacific investment banking for Credit Suisse First Boston, will have an 18% share in Imagi. He will also reserve the right to nominate two directors to the company's board.

Slated for worldwide theatrical release in 2009 from Summit Ent., Astro Boy is being directed by David Bowers (Flushed Away) will feature the voices of Freddie Highmore, Nicolas Cage, Donald Sutherland, Bill Nighy, Nathan Lane and Eugene Levy. The film is based on the manga and anime created by Japan's legendary Osamu Tezuka in the early 1950s.

Gatchaman is based on the classic anime TV series Science Ninja Team Gatchaman, which debuted in the 1970s and is better known in the U.S. as Battle of the Planets or G-Force. Imagi’s CG update is being directed by Kevin Munroe (TMNT), and is expected to hit theaters in 2010.

One of the four other pics in the pipeline could be
Fluorescent Black
. Imagi has picked up rights the sci-fi screenplay from Matt Wilson. The script will reportedly be adapted as a graphic novel before being made into a film.

FUNimation Gets ARM, Geneon Anime Titles

Navarre Corp.'s FUNimation Ent. has acquired distribution rights to a number of anime titles from ARM Corp. Later this year, FUNimation will begin releasing Devil May Cry, Murder Princess, Guyver: The Bioboosted Armor and many other series on DVD in North America and other territories around the world. The deal also includes broadcast, digital and merchandising rights. In addition, FUNimation has teamed with anime producer Geneon to distribute properties on DVD in North America.

"We are very enthusiastic about these titles," says Gen Fukunaga, president and CEO of FUNimation Ent. "Not only are these excellent series, but they also fuel FUNimation's major initiatives in social networking, the FUNimation Channel and internet VOD. These new titles cement FUNimation as the leading anime provider for television broadcast and legitimate online content."

The other titles included in the ARM agreement are: 009-1, Ah! My Goddess: Flights of Fancy, Air Gear, Air (movie), Air (TV), Blade of the Phantom Master, Comic Party Revolution, Coyote Ragtime Show, Jing, King of Bandits: Seventh Heaven, Jinki: Extend, Kanon, Kyoshiro to Towa no Sora, Le Chevalier D'Eon, Magikano, Moeyo Ken (TV), Moonlight Mile, Nerima Daikon Brothers, Pani Poni Dash!, Project Blue Earth SOS, Pumpkin Scissors, Red Garden, Sgt. Keroro 1st & 2nd, Tokyo Majin, UFO Princess Valkyrie, Utawarerumono, Venus Versus Virus, The Wallflower, Welcome to the NHK, Xenosaga.

Geneon properties to be handled by FUNimation include Hellsing Ultimate, Black Lagoon Second Barrage, Karin, Kyo Kara Maoh Season 2, Lyrical Nanoha, Elemental Gelade, Fate Stay Night, Kamichu, Ninja Vixens, Paradise Kiss, Rozen Maiden, Rozen Maiden Traumend, Shana, Shonen Onmyouji, The Familiar of Zero, The Story of Saiunkoku, When They Cry and The Law of Ueki.

Anime Expo Issues Awards

The Society for the Promotion of Japanese Animation, the organization behind the annual Anime Expo, has anounced the winners of the 2008 SPJA Awards. The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya turned up a big winner as Anime Expo attendees voted for their favorites in a number of categories including voice acting, character design and background design. The series picked up a total of six awards during the convention, which took place over the weekend at the Los Angeles Convention Center.

This year's Anime Expo featured such guests of honor as up and coming director Masahiro Ando, popular American voice actor David Hayter, famed Pokemon director Masamitsu Hidaka, the dynamic duo known as Jyukai, renowned animator Hiromi Kato, celebrated veteran voice actor Toshihiko Seki, new Japanese "It-Girl" Shokotan and legendary character designer Takada Akemi. For more information on the event, go to www.anime-expo.org. Also check out AXBackstage (www.axbackstage.org) for exclusive interviews with guests, video coverage of convention activities, photos, news and other goodies.
2008 Society for the Promotion of Japanese Animation Awards Winners:

Best Voice Actor (Japanese)
Tomokazu Sugita for The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya

Best Voice Actor (English)
Alessandro Juliani for DEATHNOTE

Best Voice Actress (Japanese)
Aya Hirano for The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya Haruhi Suzumiya

Best Voice Actress (English)
Laura Bailey for Shin-chan Shin-chan

Best Casting Director
Kaeko Sakamoto for The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya

Best Character Design
Shoko Ikeda from The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya

Best Mechanical Design
Eureka 7 (Staff includes Shoji Kawamori)

Best Male Character
Ichigo Kurosaki for Bleach

Best Female Character
Haruhi Suzumiya from The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya

Best Mascot Character
Mokona Tsubasa Reservoir Chronicles

Best Background Design
Mobile Suit Gundam 00 Sunrise

Best Original Video
Hellsing Ultimate Geneon Entertainment

Best Feature Film
The Girl Who Leapt Through Time from Bandai Ent.

Best Television Series

Best Original Score
Naruto Toshio Masuda & Musashi Project Aniplex

Best Original Song
"Hare Hare Yukai" from The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya Aya Hirano, Minori Chihara, and Yuko Goto Lantis

Best Director
Mary Elizabeth McGlynn Naruto

Best Manga - Action
Tsubasa Reservoir Chronicles from CLAMP and Del Rey Manga

Best Manga - Comedy
Negima! from Ken Akamatsu and Del Rey Manga

Best Manga - Drama
Eureka Seven from Jinsei Kataoka / Kazuma Kondou and Bandai Ent.

Best Publication
Newtype from Kadokawa Shoten

Brave Little Toaster author Thomas Disch ends life

Science fiction writer and poet Thomas L. Disch, whose children's books were adapted into the 1987 animated movie The Brave Little Toaster and two sequels, died Friday of suicide in his New York City apartment, according to authorities. He was 68.

His body was discovered Saturday, said the New York City Police Department. He died of an apparent self-inflicted gunshot wound to the head, said his co-literary executor, Ben Downing.

Disch's novella The Brave Little Toaster: A Bedtime Story for Small Appliances was first published in Fantasy and Science Fiction magazine in 1980. Later issued in book form, it won the Locus, Seiun, and British Science Fiction Association awards before being adapted into a cartoon.

In 1988, he published the sequel The Brave Little Toaster Goes To Mars, which became an animated movie in 1998. The direct-to-video The Brave Little Toaster To The Rescue (1999) was also based on his original novel.

All three films were co-produced by Hyperion Pictures and Kushner-Locke Productions.

Disch had been depressed for several years, a situation aggravated by the 2005 death of his partner of over three decades, poet Charles Naylor, and he had been fighting his landlord's attempts to evict him from his rent-controlled apartment, according to friends posting on LiveJournal.

The author of major science-fiction novels Camp Concentration and 334, Disch had been openly gay since 1968, national gay magazine The Advocate reported.

He wrote the first original novel based on the classic 1960s TV series The Prisoner.

Born Thomas Michael Disch in Des Moines, Iowa on February 2, 1940, he was described as "the most formidably gifted unfamous American writer" by Newsweek magazine.

Disch moved to New York City to study architecture at New York University. Taking a writing class in his junior year, he decided to try pulp fiction. In 1962, he sold his first published story, "The Double-Timer," to Fantastic Stories magazine for $112.50.

Although he held such other jobs as Metropolitan Opera supernumerary and graveyard-shift news reporter, Disch soon considered writing his primary occupation.

Other early works included "Descending" (1964), "Come to Venus Melancholy" (1965), "The Roaches" (1965), "Casablanca" (1967) and "The Asian Shore" (1970).

The Genocides (1965) was his first novel. Two others followed before 1968's Camp Concentration, about an inmate treated with experimental drugs in an American concentration camp. 334 (1974), a set of connected stories set in a New York apartment complex, was a finalist for the Nebula awards.

On Wings of Song (1980) was a Hugo and Nebula finalist, and won the John W. Campbell Memorial Award.

His 1982 story collection The Man Who Had No Idea included Hugo nominee "The Man Who Had No Idea" (1978) and Nebula nominee "Understanding Human Behavior" (1982).

Disch wrote two plays, including 1990's The Cardinal Detoxes, which was denounced by the Catholic Church.

After his 1980 collaboration Neighboring Lives with Naylor, he wrote four modern horror novels, including 1991's The M.D.: A Horror Story, a Bram Stoker Award finalist.

Disch was given two O. Henry awards for his fiction.

His book The Dreams Our Stuff Is Made Of, subtitled "How Science Fiction Conquered the World", received Hugo and Locus awards as non-fiction book of the year.

As a poet, he wrote under the name "Tom Disch"; his long poem "On Science Fiction" won the Rhysling Award in 1981.

More recently, Disch had been increasing his literary output, with three books to be published within a year: novella The Voyage of the Proteus, published last December; short novel The Word of God, published this month by Tachyon Publications; and collection The Wall of America, set for release in October from Tachyon.

Thomas L. Disch is survived by brothers Jeffrey, of Stillwater, Minnesota; Gregory, of Kaleden, British Columbia; and Gary, of Ottawa, Ontario; and by sister Nancy, of Minneapolis.

From "Gotham Knight" to Rising Sun: Discovering Anime via Gotham City

Walking into the anime section of your local video store or retailer can be a rather intimidating experience. It's like walking into the jazz or classical section of the CD section: without a little bit of knowledge, the breadth of the selection and the many similar-sounding names can result in confusion, bewilderment, and a lot of wasted time and money in blind experiments.

However, the release of Batman Gotham Knight can be a perfect hook into the anime section for those who want to explore its riches, but don't know where to start. In this article, we'll take a look at the studios and creative staff behind each of the chapters of the direct-to-video movie, pointing out some of our favorite anime that was produced by the same people. Where appropriate, we've linked in to relevant Toon Zone News reviews as well.

"Have I Got a Story for You" (Directed by Shojiro Nishimi)
"Working Through Pain" (Directed by Toshiyuki Kubooka)
Animation Produced by Studio 4ºC

The first short of Batman Gotham Knight, "Have I Got a Story for You," was produced by Studio 4ºC and directed by Shojiro Nishimi. Nishimi was the character designer for the bizarre anime Tekkonkinkreet (Sony, read review here), and the distorted, slightly grotesque human figures from that movie are dead ringers for the characters in this chapter of Gotham Knight. The movie also featured a Tokyo depicted as an insane, overgrown, and incredibly detailed urban jungle that is strikingly similar to the depiction of Gotham City in this chapter.

Studio 4ºC has done a huge variety of more conventional anime than Tekkonkinkreet as well, although very little of it is currently available in region 1 DVDs. Other than Tekkonkinkreet, the other major release from the studio is Katsuhiro Otomo's Steamboy (Sony, read review here), a wild alternate history set in a steampunk Europe. "Working Through Pain" was directed by Toshiyuki Kubooka, whose major credit before this was as chief animation director for the Gunbuster OVA (original video animation, the Japanese anime term for a direct-to-video movie), a classic giant robot anime from 1988 available in a deluxe boxed set from Bandai Visual.

"In Darkness Dwells" (Directed by Yasuhiro Aoki)
"Deadshot" (Director unknown)
Animation Produced by Madhouse Studios

Another of the busiest studios in the Japanese anime industry, Madhouse Studios provides the animation for Death Note (VIZ Media, read reviews for volumes 1-3 and volume 4), one of the most popular anime in Japan and the United States today. Focusing on a cat-and-mouse game between a high-school serial killer who calls himself "Kira" and a quirky but brilliant detective known only as "L," the series currently airs on Cartoon Network's Adult Swim block and is frequent fodder for "Who'd Win" debates between Kira and the Batman.

Madhouse is also behind Black Lagoon (read reviews of volume 1 and volume 2), soon to be re-released by FUNimation, which is a beautifully animated and darkly comic look at a Japanese salaryman who falls in with a gang of modern-day South Pacific pirates. Both Death Note and Black Lagoon will be quite accessible to the average Batman fan, although Death Note tends to be wordier than an average Batman cartoon and Black Lagoon is far more violent and mature-themed. Finally, video game fans may have already encountered Madhouse's work through the Devil May Cry anime (currently ADV Films, but recently acquired by FUNimation) that was released along with the deluxe editions of the latest video game.

It's not anime, but it's worth pointing out that Madhouse was also the studio behind Spawn: The Animated Series. With its American superhero comics pedigree, it might be another, more accessible stepping stone into the world of anime.

"Crossfire" (Directed by Futoshi Higashide)
Animation Produced by Production I.G.

Production I.G. is another of the busiest and best-known production houses in the anime industry. The major franchise that they provided animation for is Ghost in the Shell, starting with the original theatrical feature film and running all the way through the many follow-up series (all available via Manga Video, read review of Ghost in the Shell Stand Alone Complex Solid State Society). The dark, strange view of the future the series presented has been one of the most influential anime ever made, especially with its shadows visible in The Matrix. The studio is also behind Blood+ (Sony), a stylish and exciting series that's something like the Japanese anime version of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, as a Japanese teenaged school girl leaps into a centuries-long war between humanity and the vampiric Chiropterans.

"Crossfire" is marked by the adrenaline rush of a massive gun battle and heavy fisticuffs between Batman and two sets of mobsters. Such action sequences shouldn't have been much trouble for sequence director Futoshi Higashide, who was the animation director for Baki the Grappler (FUNimation, read round-up review of season 2). At its best, the series turns up some of the finest animated violence available, with distinctive fighters beating each other bloody, repeatedly. If Batman Gotham Knight seems too restrained, maybe a few sessions with Baki will satisfy those desires.

"Field Test" (Directed by Hiroshi Morioka)
Animation Produced by Bee Train

Bee Train doesn't have the pedigree of the other anime studios in Batman Gotham Knight, with the major credit to its name (and of director Hiroshi Morioka) being the .hack series of anime (all available from Bandai, read review of .hack//SIGN). Based on a PlayStation video game, the series uses the device of a massive on-line video game to range far and wide, jumping across environments and characters in a multi-volume journey that crosses over from anime, manga, and the video games.

Special thanks to the Anime News Network Encyclopedia for invaluable research assistance, and to the many Toon Zone News staffers who know more about anime than I do and whose reviews (some of which are linked here) served as guides for my own explorations into anime.

Three for 'Gotham Knight'

Local hoodlums challenge the notion of an outsider -- Bruce Wayne --being taught ancient techniques.

At the recent Wizard World Chicago, Comics2Film sat down with the various men responsible for bringing the Dark Knight to his latest animated adventures in 'Batman: Gotham Knight'.

First up, the acclaimed writer Brian Azzarello wrote the segment of the film called "Working Through Pain", which involves a wounded Dark Knight struggling for survival.

Trapped in the sewers beneath Gotham, a wounded Batman sees the light of the city above.

Q: How were you chosen to write for Gotham Knight?

Greg Noveck contacted me, a week before I was going to Europe. He asked me if I would be interested in doing this. I said sure, and he said 'well I'm going to need it in two weeks.' So I had a nice hotel in Barcelona but I can't tell you much about the city itself.

Q: Why "Working Through the Pain"?

A young Bruce Wayne travels to India to learn the ancient techniques of dealing with pain.

A: Because I was interested in telling something about the process of learning how to be batman. I didn't have much interest in writing about Batman himself but Bruce Wayne was something I wanted to do. It was hard, because fans want these movies to be super heroes jumping around. And this is Bruce Wayne learning to be the badass we know as Batman.

Q: How would you describe Bruce Wayne psychologically?

Really fucked up, it's that simple. Bruce Wayne is somebody who hasn't progressed beyond one event in his life. He's done everything he can to stay at a certain point in his life. He took over his father's business, lives in his father's house, he's constantly haunted by his past.

Bruce Wayne is awakened in the middle of the night.

Q: Was it tough writing such a short segment?

It was ok, considering I only had two weeks it was awesome. I hit my 2 week deadline on the day.

Q: Is there a reason there's no official villain in your segment?

Yeah, they told me I couldn't write a villain in, it's that simple!

Deadshot readies to fire on Batman during their battle inside a subway tunnel in "Batman Gotham Knight."

Alan Burnett is a staple of Bat-animation, having written numerous episodes of 'Batman: The Animated Series' and 'Batman Beyond', as well as several of the direct-to-video features. Burnett's segment is called 'Deadshot'

Q: When were you brought on board?

I was brought on as it was happening. There was a segment that they had all laid out, and I was brought on after everything else was written.

Q: How different was the process from working on the various series.

Bruce Wayne examines a gun for a moment prior to his confrontation with Deadshot in "Batman Gotham Knight"

A: Not that much different but, being direct to DVD I was able to use a villain that television would never let me use, Deadshot. They don't like guns on children's television, the audience for this DVD is a bit older.

Q: What do you think of the six segment style?

I really like it I'd like to see them do another one

Q: Were you given a beginning point and an ending point or allowed to go hog wild?

Well, I there is a certain progression to it. I wasn't given firm guidelines but had to follow the progression. Like in the beginning the cops are afraid of Batman but by the end they're secretly working for him.

Our hero literally emerges from the shadows in his first unique appearance with Josh Olson's opening segment of 'Batman Gotham Knight.'

Josh Olsen is well known to readers of this site as the screenwriter of 'A History of Violence'. Olsen took his turn on the segment called "Have I got a story for you".

Q: What led up to you're involvement in the movie, and you're segment "Have I got a story for you"?

I'm a huge Batman fan, and I had just bought a house. The most exciting thing about my house is that I have a closet that can hold my comic book collection, and there's room to keep it up for 10 years. That's how valid I am. So, I've always been a fan. 'History of a Violence' was based on a graphic novel, but that's not really like this. This film isn't necessarily based on a comic book. I had done some stuff through Noveck in the past, I was approached if I was interested in doing it. I can still hear my agent screaming at me, I had just been nominated for an Oscar. It raised my profile, and I had just turned down a huge studio project right before I took Gotham Knight. I love the idea, it was more then just a Batman cartoon.”

A seemingly robotic Batman arrives to foil the villain in Josh Olson's film-opening segment of 'Batman Gotham Knight.'

Q: What did you think of the animation style?

'I was surprised by the detail, it seemed like no background was used twice. Even the most mundane scene would have very precise detail. It's truly amazing.”

'Batman: Gotham Knight'' arrives in stores today!

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