Thursday, February 26, 2009

News - 02/26/09...

Evil Toons

Director Fred Olen Ray:

“So I’m sitting in this movie theater one day and I’m watching Who Framed Roger Rabbit and I see Jessica Rabbit come on and all the guys are going, ‘Va-va-va-voom, I’d have sex with that,’ and I said, ‘You know, I bet that somebody’d pay money to see a cartoon character rip a girl’s clothes off.’”

And with that bit of insight, Ray produced the adult live-action/animated feature,
Evil Toons, a 1992 production that I’d never heard of until yesterday when I read about it on Richard O’Connor’s blog. Interesting note for animation fans: the animation in the film was created by none other than Oscar-nominated John Dilworth (creator of Courage the Cowardly Dog and the director of Dirdy Birdy).

Here’s the trailer to whet your appetite:

And an 11-minute commentary from the director offering insights into how he created movie magic:


Chuck Jones’ Tom & Jerry

The Chuck Jones Tom & Jerry cartoons of the 1960s are a mixed bag. There are a couple of good ones (I really like The Cat Above, The Mouse Below and The Cat’s Me-Ouch for example) and a whole bunch of mediocre ones. But one thing that most agree is that the films themselves look great thanks to Maurice Noble’s layouts, Jones character designs and the first rate professionalism of his crew. MGM/UA released a laser disc boxed set of these back in the 1990s (which was marred by awful DVNR clean-up technology, which essentially ruined the cartoons one redeeming value: the animation). Now Warner Bros. is making up for that with two-disc DVD collection of digitally remastered cartoons. Tom & Jerry: Chuck Jones Collection features 34 Tom & Jerry shorts and two bonus documentaries: Peggy Stern’s Chuck Jones: Memories of A Childhood (which airs March 24th at 8pm on TCM) and an original doc, produced by our friends at New Wave Entertainment: Tom and Jerry… and Chuck. It goes on sale June 23rd.

For more information on Chuck Jones check out the new blog devoted to the director, by his grandson Craig Kausen:
Chuck Redux blog.

(Thanks, Dave Lambert and Larry Levine)


Astro Boy set for October release

Osamu Tezuka’s big screen adaptation of Astro Boy is officially back on track after producer Imagi Entertainment announced it has completed a $25 million financing plan, reports Variety. The animated feature is slated for an October 23 release. According to Imagi’s U.S. president, Erin Corbett, the company has already called back 23 of its staffers to complete Astro Boy. Imagi had temporarily suspended the production on the movie last month.

DreamWorks Animation income falls 45%

Variety reports that DreamWorks Animation’s latest earnings are reflecting the current revenue dips being experienced by most of the motion picture studios. Added concern for the Broadway musical Shrek and overall DVD sales are among the topics Jeffrey Katzenberg addresses in relation to DWA’s last quarter profit figures.

DeGeneres joins Dog Show cast

According to The Hollywood Reporter, actress Ellen DeGeneres will be lending her voice talents to Dog Show, an animation pitch recently picked up by Warner Bros. Also providing voice work for the in production film are Robert Downey Jr. and Tina Fey. The movie, written by Alan Schoolcraft and Brent Simons, will center around a a group of offbeat hounds who turn the pure-bred world of dog shows upside down.

Eric Brevig to direct Yogi Bear feature

ComingSoon reports that the upcoming live-action adaption of Yogi Bear will be helmed by Eric Brevig, director of the most recent Journey to the Center of the Earth film. Writing the screenplay will be the executive producers of That 70’s Show, Joshua Sternin and Jeffrey Ventimilia. The Yogi Bear movie, which is planned to be a 3-D project, will combine live-action and CGI in a similar manner to Alvin And The Chipmunks.

Walt Stanchfield - Drawn to Life

Published for the first time ever, Drawn to Life is a two volume collection of the legendary lectures from long-time Disney animator Walt Stanchfield. Edited by Don Hahn, all of Walt Stanchfield’s amazing handout notes and lectures have been assembled into a two volume collection titled, Drawn to Life - 20 Golden Years of Disney Master Classes. Walt was an animator, trainer, mentor and coach for decades at Disney and helped breathe life into the new golden age of animation with his teachings. He influenced such talented artists as Tim Burton, Brad Bird, John Musker, Glen Keane, Andreas Deja and John Lasseter. According to Don Hahn, “Drawn to life is one the strongest primers on animation ever written. The material spares no detail on the craft of animation, but also digs deep into the artistic roots of animation. It is a publication that has been anticipated for many years by every artist and student that Walt ever came in contact with. It has been a labor of love for me and I am so proud that Walt’s teachings will live on in these two volumes.” A trailer for the same can be watched here.

Warner Bros acquires rights to Lonely Dog

Variety reports that Warner Bros. has acquired screen rights to The Lonely Dog, a limited-edition book of paintings done by Queenstown artist Ivan Clarke. Akiva Goldsman and Kerry Foster will produce the CG animated dog tale through Goldsman’s WB based Weed Road banner.

Circular Imitation, um... Inspiration

The wonderful thing about the entertainment industry? If somebody hits on a winning formula, a large bunch imitations are sure to follow.

Like for instance, as there was Beauty and the Beast, so was there Quest for Camelot. And Bugs Life and Antz coming out at the same time, just an amazing coincidence, right?

Uh, probably not.

But the search for the next genius show or (better yet) genius executive is pretty much unending ... and seems to go in big, looping circles ...

Early in his tenure as chairman of the Walt Disney Company, Michael Eisner said he became so frustrated with the competitive advantage that Nickelodeon held over the Disney Channel among young cable viewers that he set about poaching a cadre of Nickelodeon executives, including Rich Ross, who now oversees the Disney Channel ...

This summer, in its prime-time Nick at Nite program block, Nickelodeon will introduce
“Glenn Martin DDS,” an animated series about the dysfunctional family of an eccentric dentist that was presented to Ms. Zarghami by Mr. Eisner, who left Disney in 2005 and now works part time as an independent producer ...

Next month Nickelodeon will introduce
“Penguins of Madagascar,” a Saturday-morning animated series featuring some of the characters of the “Madagascar” movies, which was brought to Nickelodeon by Jeffrey Katzenberg ...

Let's see. Jeffrey used to reside at the Disney address, didn't he? One more nice, circular highway.

Long ago in the 1970s, animation was simple, well-defined, and irrelevant to most of mainstream Hollywood. Hanna-Barbera produced the lion's share of animation that went on the teevee, and Disney created the small amount of theatrical product that was made. Everybody else stayed away from it. ("Small profits, big headaches, who cares?" ...)

But thirty-plus years later, animation is a big money generator, so the congloms fall all over themselves to produce cartoons. In particular, cartoons that create maximum bucks. (The first try at this, when Disney's rivals tried to replicate the Mouse's nineties' success with hand-drawn features, fell flat. The second wave of C.G.I. features has seen Fox, Disney, DreamWorks and others share success that eluded many of them earlier.)

So it's hardly surprising that, with the allure of big bucks, the competition among the multi-nationals for high octane animation talent and properties has become ferocious. John Lasseter and Ed Catmull aren't in a stand-alone studio named Pixar anymore. Jeffrey Katzenberg and DreamWorks Animation are in strategic alliance with Viacom. And any successful feature or small screen show that gains traction in the marketplace finds an imitation (or three) a couple of eye-blinks later. (Shrek Goes Fourth is in development ... just ahead of Toy Story III and Cars II. And as there was a film full of fuzzy animals called Ice Age, so was there a film about fuzzy animals named Madagascar ... just like television's SpongeBob SquarePants was followed by Chowder. Funny how those dynamics work.)

Animation is long past the point where congloms can ignore it. The art form has become so valuable, in fact, that the Big Boys treat it like live action: Steal creatives who are good at the medium; borrow ideas that have made other animation producers large fortunes.

But then, the power of money has always been magical, hasn't it?

(Thanks Animation Guild Blog)

Joss Whedon Explains Why DC Heroes Lack Movie Appeal & How He’d Do A Batman Film

Batman has been receiving lots of love from the mainstream movie world lately, but according to Joss Whedon, DC’s Dark Knight is the publisher’s only character with any chance of holding onto that lovin’ Hollywood feeling.

“With that one big exception (Batman), DC’s heroes are from a different era,” Whedon recently told Maxim Magazine when asked why the publisher had so much trouble bringing its iconic characters to the big screen. “DC’s characters, like Wonder Woman and Superman and Green Lantern, were all very much removed from humanity. Batman was the only character they had who was so rooted in pain, that had that same gift that the Marvel characters had, which was that gift of humanity that we can relate to.”

Of course, Whedon’s sentiment shouldn’t be news to fans of Batman or the wildly popular “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” creator, who shared the details of his own Batman movie pitch with MTV last year — a film that introduced a new villain to the character’s rogues gallery, and was “less epic” but “similar in tone” to Christopher Nolan’s “Batman Begins.”

“It was more about the progression of him and it was more in Gotham City,” Whedon told MTV of his big-screen Batman story. “He didn’t go to Tibet and meet cool people … In my version, there was actually a new [villain], it wasn’t one of the classics — which is probably why they didn’t use it.”

In the Maxim interview (which was detailed in Coventry’s “Geek Files” blog), Whedon further explores the differences between DC and Marvel characters (”[Marvel's characters] didn’t live in mythical cities, they lived in New York. They absolutely were a part of the world.”) and even sheds a bit more light on his much-discussed experience with the on-again, off-again live-action “Wonder Woman” movie.

“I have no idea the status of the movie and, honestly, I never did,” said Whedon. “I was told they were very anxious to make it. I wrote a script. I rewrote the story. And by the time I’d written the second script, they asked me…not to.”

“They didn’t tell me to leave, but they showed me the door and how pretty it was,”
added Whedon. “Would I like to touch the knob and maybe make it swing?”

Jackson Signs Nine-Picture Deal to Play Nick Fury!

Samuel L. Jackson has buried the hatchet with Marvel Entertainment, making a deal to play the role of Nick Fury in Iron Man 2, and potentially many other films.

Jackson's deal is a long-term commitment to play Fury, the leader of the espionage unit S.H.I.E.L.D. His deal contains an option to play the character in nine future Marvel superhero films, efforts that are expected to include The First Avenger: Captain America, Thor, The Avengers, toplining a possible S.H.I.E.L.D. movie, and potential sequels.

Jackson introduced Fury in the closing moments of Iron Man, when the character asked Robert Downey Jr.'s Tony Stark to join his group.

X-Men Origins: Wolverine Int'l Poster!

Here's a pretty cool international (French) poster for "X-Men Origins: Wolverine," starring Hugh Jackman, Liev Schreiber,, Danny Huston, Lynn Collins, Taylor Kitsch, Dominic Monaghan and Ryan Reynolds.

I actually like this International poster better than the Domestic one, Wolverine looks like he's howling at the moon and YES I am aware that Wolverine is not a WOLF!

The film is directed by Gavin Hood and is due out to hit theaters on May 1st, 2009.

Check out the poster below.

Hugh Jackman reprises the role that made him a superstar - as the fierce fighting machine who possesses amazing healing powers, retractable claws and a primal fury. Leading up to the events of X-Men, X-Men Origins: Wolverine tells the story of Wolverine's epically violent and romantic past, his complex relationship with Victor Creed, and the ominous Weapon X program. Along the way, Wolverine encounters many mutants, both familiar and new, including surprise appearances by several legends of the X-Men universe whose appearances in the film series have long been anticipated.

(Thanks Latino Review)

Interview With Disney Animator Glen Keane

One of lifetime Disney animator Glen Keane’s crowning career achievements takes place late in the 1991 Disney feature film Beauty and the Beast. The Beast, having heard of Belle’s love for him, goes through a transformation…

Keane, who was honored in 2007 with the Windsor McCay Award for lifetime contribution to the field of animation, has too has undergone some transformations in his career, and also watched the industry transform as well. A gifted football player in his youth, Keane opted out of a scholarship and turned his attention to painting - and eventually animation while at Cal Arts. In his first job at Disney, Keane’s work on The Rescuers marked the transition from the era of The Nine Old Men; subsequently beginning the era of The Nine New Men. Working alongside John Lasseter, Keane helped guide one of the seminal CGI projects ever conceived - a 30-second test based on Maurice Sendak’s Where the Wild Things Are that merged 2D character animation with CG backgrounds. Along with films like Star Wars, Tron and Luxo Jr., the projected helped transition the world of animation closer to the CG landscape we now know. After his legendary work on Aladdin, Beauty and the Beast, Pocahontas and Tarzan, Keane underwent another transition - that into director. He took the director’s chair in 2003 for the CG film Rapunzel, which is due in theaters next summer. In 2008, due to non-threatening health reasons, Keane relinquished his directing duties to Byron Howard and Nathan Greno, taking instead the role of Executive Producer on the project.

Glen also helped me transform into an animator - after seeing him in
The Making of ‘The Rescuers Down Under,’
I knew exactly what I wanted to do with my life.

I recently got the chance to run a few questions by Glen, and we go over the onset of the Lasseter-era at Disney, his Windsor McCay award his thoughts on passing his legacy onto the next generation.

BRENDAN BURCH: Now that you’re directing, do you miss the physical process of animating?

Directing Rapunzel has been a great learning experience for me. However I have always seen myself as an animator at heart and have longed for the day to be back animating, living in the skin of the character I am drawing.

BRENDAN: How has the Pixar team changed the way things work at Disney?

John Lasseter and Ed Catmull have brought with them a refreshing honesty and collaboration that is permeating the studio. They very quickly instituted a story trust made up of directors and heads of story to give honest critiques of each other’s films. To be open to this kind of feedback is both painful and liberating. Our films have made giant strides forward by this process.

BRENDAN: How has the transition from pencil to the Cintiq digital tablet gone for you?

I have been doing my storyboards on the Cintiq tablet for Rapunzel. The first thing I noticed is how easy it is to get lost in doing very finished, rendered boards rather than exploring in quick thumbnails the many different approaches one may take to an idea. The computer seems to tempt one to commit too soon to an idea. Maybe it is just my habit but I find that I think better and more creatively on paper. So my solution is to thumbnail and explore on paper, then scan in my rough sketches into the Cintiq. I am now free to move forward knowing I’ve seen the problem from every angle.

BRENDAN: Do you have any routines for uncorking your creativity?

Get away. That’s what I need to do when I am stuck. I go for a long walk and refresh my soul. I go to a museum to remind myself that I am an artist and need to think like one. Often the thing that can happen to someone working for a big studio like Disney, or any studio for that matter, is that you can forget why you love this art form. It can quickly become about meeting a production goal. Schedules and deadlines are important, even essential, because they create a fire and heat that seem to force you into your best ideas. However when you feel creatively empty and uninspired, the deadline mentality will say “It’s okay just let it go. So what if it’s not your best work - you’ll get another chance next time. Hand in the scene and at least you can feel good about hitting the numbers.”

I reject this voice and instead do something that feels entirely counter-intuitive. I take that seemingly all too precious time and walk out the door of the studio, hop in my car and drive to the Norton Simon Museum in Pasadena. I marvel at the Rodin sculpture at the entrance. I study the Degas pastels and figurines… I start to remember that I am an artist first and animator second.

BRENDAN: Do you plan to work on any personal projects in the future?

I want to explore new directions that hand-drawn animation can be moving in; directions that the computer has now made possible.

BRENDAN: How do you feel your work has progressed since you started your career?

I am more and more interested in taking my lead from discoveries and observations from real life and letting that inspire my work. Whenever I have done that, I have done my best work. Whenever I try to make my work look and feel like other animation - I fall short.

BRENDAN: Congratulations on winning the Windsor McCay award at the 2007 Annie Awards. What does this award mean to you?

One of the most wonderful memories of that night was meeting Windsor McCay’s family. He is such a legend that to meet other McCay’s who were so approachable and genuine I was reminded that animation has always been created not by legends, but by folks just like you and me.

BRENDAN: With all of the Nine Old Men now gone, who do you look to for artistic advice or guidance in your career?

Frederic Back has always been a great source of inspiration. I believe his work points to the future of where I hope hand drawn animation can go. Anytime I can spend with him is precious to me.

BRENDAN: For animators, do you recommend watching live-action reference video?

Of course. When you study live action frame-by-frame, you see the “secrets” revealed as to why a movement or expression feels the way it does. I am in awe of the world and it’s creatures.

BRENDAN: When you’re animating, how much importance do you put on weight and gravity?

If a character lacks weight in how it moves, it lacks credibility. I don’t believe it exists. It becomes just a drawing or a frame of film. As I animate, I have an inner-feel of the weight of the character that I am always very aware of with each step, twist and movement. If, as I animate, the weight of a character feels in any way untrue, all sorts of animation alarm bells sound off in my gut.

BRENDAN: You’ve left a significant mark on the animation industry over the last 30 years. What will the next 30 years look like for you?

I want to spend it giving back to others as I have had so many give so generously to me. I want to improve as an artist and find better and more personal ways to express myself in animation.

Frank Thomas, Ollie Johnston and Eric Larsen gave so freely to me that I feel not only a debt of gratitude but also a great responsibility to hand the baton on to young animators today. I am still learning, in new ways, principals that I learned from those masters in my early twenties. I find myself saying, “Oh so that’s what Ollie was talking about. Now I get it.” Anytime I get that “now I get it” feeling, I have to find someone to pass it on to.

BRENDAN: Would you ever be open to teaching animation?

I have always taught animation at the studio as I work side by side with other animators. At times, I give lectures outside of Disney and someday the idea of teaching animation full time may be what I choose. I’m not sure if I’m ready for that yet.

BRENDAN: You have worked at Disney throughout the majority of your career. Do you ever feel limited, having worked at only one studio?

What one might consider as limiting (working at only Walt Disney Animation Studios) has actually been incredibly expanding for me. Because of its stature, Disney has attracted so many of the best artists in animation within it’s walls ever since I’ve been here. The animation world is actually a rather small family and so many animators I know at other studios have come from Disney or are going to come here. There is a constant influence from outside of our studio walls. Disney itself is ever evolving and continually re-inventing itself. The studio of today is nothing like it was in the 70’s and nothing like it will be 10 years from now.

BRENDAN: As you survey the animation industry in 2008, are we in a new golden age?

It seems to me that a “golden age” starts with a movement to discover and learn. It worked that way when Walt turned Hyperion studios into a veritable animation university complete with animal pens to keep deer for study. The result was Snow White, Bambi and Fantasia. In the seventies, when Disney re-started its training program, there was an influx of new talent, new discoveries and wonderful new films like Little Mermaid, Beauty and the Beast and Lion King. Branching out from Disney, there are the films of John Lasseter, Brad Bird and Tim Burton.

We need to be stretching out and learning, discovering, trying new things. We cannot rest on where we are. There is always a stronger, more convincing, more personal and expressive way to tell our stories and to animate our characters. If we do that then we can move into another “golden age.”

(Thanks lineboil)

Disney's "Bolt" remains top dog at UK box office

Disney's animated shaggy dog story "Bolt" stayed at the top of the British box office for a second week running, trade magazine Screen International said Tuesday.

The story of a young dog on a journey to save his owner from evil,
Bolt took advantage of midterm holidays in Britain to make $5.9 million on 594 screens for a total of $20.2 million. That's up 23% -- not counting previews -- from the first weekend.

The film has exceeded the entire run of another Disney film, 2005's
Chicken Little, and was expected to make more than Pixar's Cars (2006) by midweek.

Bolt made $12.1 million from 3,891 screens in 40 countries, raising global grosses to $155.2 million. That's second only to The Curious Case of Benjamin Button outside North America -- and $42 million more than Bolt's domestic total

In France,
Bolt was the top Hollywood film, making $3.8 million in 692 venues. Grosses dropped only 12% in its third weekend, which was during a school holiday period. That raised the cumulated gross to $15.6 million, more than the entire run of Cars.

made $642,000 in 125 theaters in the Netherlands, raising the takings to $1.7 million after two weekends. It was Belgium's top film for the second weekend in a row, making $385,000 on 111 screens for a total of $1.1 million. In Sweden, Bolt made $340,000 at 193 locations for $2.6 million; it was expected to overtake Cars by midweek.

Much more revenue is expected in August when, due to staggered release schedules,
Bolt opens in Japan.

Meanwhile, Disney's partly animated
Beverly Hills Chihuahua grossed $1.3 million from 1,073 theaters in 15 countries, raising international grosses to $43.7 million.

The Tale Of Despereaux brought in $1.4 million from 1,140 screens in 35 countries for a total of $28.5 million. Much of the latest revenue came from a powerful second weekend in France, where it made $700,000 from 310 screenings after rising 8% during school holidays for a cumulated total of $1.7 million.

, Laika Entertainment's debut feature film, grossed $900,000 from 637 theaters in six foreign countries over the weekend, raising grosses to $4.8 million. After three weekends, Coraline
is second at the Mexican box office with a total of $3.4 million.

Star Trek's J.J. Abrams: 'This film's not for Trekkies'

Star Trek's Zoe Saldana (from left), J.J. Abrams and Chris Pine in Korea on Tuesday.

J.J. Abrams and cast members from his upcoming Star Trek spoke in Seoul, South Korea, this week to pitch the movie, and Abrams again confirmed that the movie is aimed not so much at longtime fans as at newbies, according to a report on Abrams was joined by Chris Pine, who plays Capt. James T. Kirk, and Zoe Saldana, who plays Uhura.

"We made this film not for Trekkies but for future fans of Star Trek," Abrams told a news conference. "The studio wanted to give the film a fresh start, and I was originally brought in as a producer, but upon reading the script, I saw so much potential and possibility that the original had failed to realize due to technological constraints, so I got very greedy and I decided to direct it myself."

Like Abrams, Pine admitted that he was a relative newbie to the franchise.
"I began watching the original series pretty feverishly, because I knew I only had a limited amount of time to prepare for the role, and after getting halfway through the first and second season, I wasn't doing myself any favors by trying to pick up on the mannerisms of William Shatner and the minutiae of the Star Trek world,"
Pine said. "I would have created a character that was more impersonation than an original incarnation. J.J.'s prescription for realizing the role—and this goes for all of us—was to create our own and not worry too much about obeying the laws of the original Star Trek world."

For her part, Saldana said that she saw herself in the character of Uhura.
"I do have a gravitational pull towards characters that are strong," she said. "I think there are similarities between Uhura and myself. It is conceivable to believe that some of you leaks into the roles actors play, and I certainly hope that the things that did manage to leak in, ... complemented my interpretation of my character in the film, the way she's able to command herself with so much discipline and strength in a setting that's mainly masculine and still hold court and fulfill her job in an androgynous manner. I love women that are like that."

You can read more here. Star Trek opens May 8.

World's Finest Talks with Christopher Drake on "Wonder Woman" Score

The World's Finest Online has interviewed composer Christopher Drake on his score for the Wonder Woman direct-to-video animated movie, arriving in stores this Tuesday, March 3, 2009. Among other topics, Drake discusses his musical inspirations for the score, what he avoided to make this score sonically distinct from other animated projects in the DC Universe, his feelings about incorporating the theme song to the Lynda Carter TV show, and moments or cues that he's particularly proud of in the finished movie.

Top 10 Animation/VFX Tools of the Year

Animation Magazine takes a look of their favorite software/fx packages of the past year -

We left it up to our readers to pick their favorite animation and vfx tools/software packages of the year. Here are the terrific 10 items that earned the most votes, in alphabetical order:

3ds Max (3D Studio Max) ’09. Employed in many of the top Hollywood film productions, videogames and TV commercials, but also priced for the home studio, this full-featured 3D modeling, animation, rendering and effects solution has everything you need to create high-quality content. The latest version, 3ds Max 9, offers new rendering capabilities, improved interoperability with industry-standard products including Revit software, lighting simulation and analysis technology, and additional time-saving animation and mapping workflow tools. The software now comes in two distinct flavors to better meet the specific needs of entertainment and visualization customers. In addition, greater OBJ translation fidelity and more import/export options allow for more accurate data transfers between 3ds Max and digital modeling packages, including the new Autodesk Mudbox software. Suggested retail price is $3,495, with upgrades from 3ds Max 2008 going for approximately $895.

Adobe Creative Suite 4 Master Collection. Adobe has crammed a bunch of its popular software applications into this little box. This comprehensive, cross-media creative environment offers users a wide variety of options for designing print, interactive, web, film, video and mobile content. Integrating new versions of widely used Adobe software, the suite allows artists to design freely with images, vectors, video and sound, moving easily from page to screen. The Master Collection combines Adobe InDesign CS4, Photoshop CS4 Extended, Illustrator CS4, Acrobat 9 Pro, Flash CS4 Professional, Dreamweaver CS4, Fireworks CS4, Contribute CS4, After Effects CS4, Premiere Pro CS4, Soundbooth CS4, OnLocation CS4 and Encore CS4 with additional tools and services. You get all that for $2,499, or upgrade for $899.

Blender. Developed as an in-house application by Dutch animation studio NeoGeo and Not a Number Technologies (NaN), Blender is a free, open-source 3D content creation suite available for all major operating systems under the GNU General Public License. It may not have all the same bells and whistles of leading packages such as Max and Maya, but this software is a great value considering what it costs—nothing. Students, independents, hobbyists and even professionals can take advantage of Blender’s tools for modeling, rigging, animation, rendering, UV unwrapping, shading, physics and particles, imaging and compositing, and realtime 3D/game creation. Blender can be downloaded from, where visitors will find educational materials and support, as well as an online community of users.

DigiCel FlipBook. Many of our readers wrote in to tell us how easy it is to create 2D animation and line tests with this classic number. FlipBook allows animators to draw right on the computer using their mouse or tablets, or draw on paper, then shoot the rough sketches under a camera for speed, then scan the cleaned up drawings for quality. You can also paint the drawings quickly and add pans and zooms and then export the movies on the web. You can download the entry-level program for $79, the midrange version for $299 and the high-end professional program (1,500 frames and 99 foreground layers) for $699. As one of the software’s fans noted, “What I like about FlipBook that you feel like it was made with the animator in mind!”

e-on’s Vue 7 xStream. This product from e-on Software offers professional CG artists a complete toolset for creating rich and realistic natural environments and integrating them into any professional production pipeline, including 3ds Max, Maya, LightWave, CINEMA 4D and XSI. Possible applications for the 3D scenery program range from architectural visualization to broadcast and film. Vue offers full interaction with native elements, including two-way mutual shadow casting, reflection, refraction and lighting. The latest release is based on a totally redesigned integration approach. Among the new features is EcoSystem Generation III, featuring new Dynamic Population Technology for creating dense ecosystems that extend beyond the horizon without concern over the number of instances. There’s also a new way of viewing scenes from a graph-based point of view, MetaNodes for grouping several nodes or links into a single node, and full compatibility with mental ray technologies such as Sun & Sky, Photometric Lights and Distributed Bucket Rendering. Special offer pricing through is currently $1,235.

Luxology’s modo 302. It’s hard to believe that the first version of modo was introduced at the SIGGRAPH confab more than four years ago. Since then, the advanced polygon, subdivision surface, modeling, sculpting, 3D painting, animation and rendering package has made believers out of many in the community. This brilliant tool helps artist create realist objects quickly, while incorporating advanced features such as n-gons, 3D painting and edge weighting. The current version offers tool updates, more rendering and animation features, and a physical sky and sun model. Oh, and don’t forget that some of the artists working on this little indie movie called WALL•E used modo to deliver the goods this past summer!

Maya ’09. Once the crown jewel in Alias|Wavefront’s arsenal of digital creation tools, Maya is now a sibling of Autodesk’s 3ds Max. Maya ’09 launched just in time to celebrate the 10-year anniversary of the popular 3D modeling, animation, rendering and effects solution. Highlights of the latest release include a new Maya Assets toolset and other new tools for managing the complexity and size of scenes, a new Render Proxy feature in mental ray, additional multi-threading work and algorithmic speedups, accelerated modeling workflow and collaborative, iterative projects and pipelines. The software has a new animation layering paradigm that provides animators with increased non-destructive flexibility, as well as an updated Render Pass toolset that offers precise control over render output and optimizes integration with Autodesk Toxik procedural compositing software. The suggested retail price is $1,995 for Maya Complete 2009 (standalone) and $4,995 for Maya Unlimited 2009 (standalone). The upgrade price from Maya Complete 2008 is $899, and the upgrade from Maya Unlimited 2008 is $1,249.

Pixologic’s ZBrush 3.1. It’s not surprising that many of today’s 3D artists, game developers and CG model supervisors have embraced this leading software application. The 3.1 version offers a new Brush Palette and features such as color mask and back-face masking, as well as poseable symmetry, user-assigned hotkeys, support of square alphas, refined user interface and higher subdivision levels. This slickly integrated modeling, texturing and illustration environment also offers instant feedback and real-time response—kind of like a friendly teacher (priced at $599) you can count on when you need to deliver a challenging digital sculpting assignment!

Toon Boom Software. Our readers had a hard time picking among the Montreal-based company’s family of various products, but one thing they all agreed on was that the Emmy-winning solutions have made 2D animation much easier and user-friendly. Whether they’re aimed at home users (Toon Boom Studio), boutique shops, freelancers and educators (Toon Boom Animate or Toon Boom Digital Pro) or traditional film/TV industry studios (Toon Boom Opus and Harmony), they’ve been hugely influential in the creation of modern animation projects in the past two decades. They even have a great model for beginners—Flip Boom, which is ideal for learning the basics. Keep in mind that some of the notable 2D animated features of recent years (The Triplets of Belleville, The SpongeBob SquarePants Movie and Curious George) used Toon Boom software in their pipelines!

Wacom Cintiq 12WX. Aaaah, Wacom tablet, how do we love thee. It’s easy to admire the beautiful design, the 12.1” TFT display and the way the 4.4 pound gizmo offers the advantages of a wide-format LCD monitor with Wacom’s pro pen technology. We could mention the point accuracy, the fast cursor control and the 1,000-plus levels of pressure-sensitivity on the pen tip and eraser, but once you take a look at the 12WX, the heart takes over the mind. Most important of all, you can take this small wonder home for only a grand.

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