Tuesday, December 8, 2009

News - 12/08/09...

Jack Black producing animated project

Variety reports that actor Jack Black, partner Ben Cooley, and writer Jason Micallef have successfully pitched an untitled animated film to Illumination Entertainment, who are currently in production on Despicable Me. The story is about cryptozoology.

2009 Brew Holiday Gift Guide #1: Richard Williams Masterclass

This review is long overdue - by a year in fact - and I hope Richard Williams and Mo Sutton can forgive me for the delay. They sent me a review copy of Wiliams’ Animation Masterclass DVD, The Animator’s Survival Kit and I have watched it in fits and starts over the past year with animation director Yvette Kaplan. As a non-animator, I was highly entertained by Williams lectures, drawing and demonstrations, but I realized that Yvette was a better judge of the information, knowledge and principals being discussed. Therefore, I’ve asked her to write this review for readers of this blog:

Richard Williams’s 16-DVD box set is an impressive and impressively packaged expansion of his best-selling book of the same name. Based on the now legendary Masterclass he taught at Blue Sky Studios in New York, actual footage of the class itself has been combined here along with over 400 specially animated examples of the principles he covers. Between the classic and in-depth nature of these lessons and William’s touching sincerity, generosity of spirit and profound love of the art form, if he had titled the set “Animation’s Survival Guide”, he would not have been wrong.

And Dick Williams does indeed dig deep in this extensive tome. More than thorough, it sometimes borders on the obsessive; but what is an animator if not obsessed? Dick Williams is obsessed with the beauty of movement, and he has structured his lessons very specifically, with the basics, and even before. In DVD #1, accurately titled, “Starting Right”, he describes how he himself learned the art of animation through dedication, hard work, struggle and persistence spread over the course of many years. Of course he stresses the importance of life drawing and keeping sketchbooks, but it’s when he gets personal that the real magic starts. He has no end of praise and credit for the impact of his mentors, most notably master animator Milt Kahl, of whom he speaks with obvious affection and even awe. According to Williams, it was Kahl who opened his eyes when he was just starting out, who got him seeing and thinking in a special way, and pushed him to strive for excellence and beauty.

Next, he moves on to the tools of animation. Disc 2 is titled “Timing and Spacing” and it is actually an entire DVD dedicated to the beginner’s animation class stand-by, the bouncing ball. But this is a lot more than your standard bounce or ball: Williams breaks down the laws of physics and weight in such detail only a mathematician could compete. He treats even this seemingly mundane animation exercise like a work of art in progress. He shows us examples of every possible variation and how the spacing (between the drawings) determines everything. There are so many possibilities and choices it made my mind reel. Yet challenging as the concepts are, Williams happily manages to make them ultra clear by using a Penny moving across a variety of spacing charts, an example I thought brilliant in its simplicity and clarity.

He then moves onto even MORE Timing and Spacing, since after all, “It’s all in the timing and spacing.” On this DVD he breaks down the concepts of exposure sheets and the numbering system, whether to use one’s or two’s, and how to decide where in-betweens should fall. He proves his points with clear and sometimes amusing examples of how variations in spacing charts, or the skill level of the in-betweener, can make or break the movement and sometimes surprise us, in both good ways and bad.

The level of detail and sense of endless possibility that Williams applies to everything is nowhere more evident than when he talks about the animated walk. He devotes four whole discs to this one topic, acting out nearly endless variations with his own amazingly rubbery cartoon body. He dissects the low, the pass, the high and the contact drawings, the flexibility of joints, and then moves on to variations on the themes like sneaks and runs and of course animal walks, using stunning animated examples. He impressed me completely by breaking down a horse gallop , (something I always found daunting) in such a way as to make it clear to me for the very first time. He even breaks down an 8-legged walk with patience and clarity, and I’m positive that if there were such a thing as a 12, or even 200-legged creature, we’d have seen that too!

Appropriately, Williams ups the ante once basic skills are internalized. Getting deeper into the difference between merely making something move and making it live and breathe, he becomes his most inspiring with Disc 9, which is devoted to Overlapping Action and Weight, and Disc 12, on Anticipation and Accents. He also loosens up a little with a couple of discs devoted to fun principals like “Takes” (what animator could resist that one?) and a disc titled “Vibrates”. That one is a particular favorite of mine as I love to use the technique in my own limited way to add little nervous trembles and tics when appropriate to liven up an otherwise talking head on a TV series.

It’s only during the last few discs, that Williams finally puts the icing on this well made cake and gets down to focusing on creating animated performance. There are two discs devoted to Dialogue animation, yet surprisingly only a single disc for Directing and Performance. Two discs on Timing and Spacing, four discs on walks and only ONE on how to make a character ACT? Isn’t that the heart and soul of animation and what we all want to achieve? How can that be?

My guess is the answer lies in Disc #16: “Putting It All Together.”
By the time the conscientious and dedicated viewer has made it to this point, he or she has delved deeper into the techniques of animation than most students ever get the chance to. Yes, it was a long journey, but now, armed with the proper tools, and a master’s mind set, the
Animator’s Survival Kit graduate can start his or her work in earnest: making characters live and breathe and think and act. Not like carbon copies of someone else’s work, but in their own unique voice.

And it all becomes clear; by consolidating the fruits of his many years of love and labor into a finely crafted and curated tour of a Master Animator’s mind, William’s has given us the same gift his mentors gave to him. This time, packaged for a new generation, inside a single, albeit BIG, box on 16 DVDs.

Sounds like a pretty great gift to me. You can watch excerpts from the Masterclass or order the set directly from Williams on his website.

(Thanks cartoon brew)

Disney’s timeless battle between the young punks and the old guard

Everything old is new again at the Mouse Factory. Or so says Disney Legend Floyd Norman via JHM, as he talks about the creative struggles that have gone at the Studios for decades now

You probably already know the story. A group of young guys move into the establishment and begin to shake things up. The old guard naturally has issues with the young punks, and they begin to push back. It’s a story we’ve all heard before, and I find it amazing that it remains a story that never really ends.

Disney's Old Guard did not eagerly embrace the pushy new youngsters and often found them a pain

You know the place well. It’s the Walt Disney Studios in Burbank where the Old Maestro, Walt Disney has been creating animated masterpieces for decades. Disney’s creative team was the cream of the crop, and for years they defined cartoon film making for the rest of the animation universe.

Suddenly, a gang of new kids invades this little creative sanctuary. Most of them just out of school and getting their feet wet in the cartoon business. They brought with them radical new ideas, and a fresh approach to animated film making. Sure, they respected the “old school,” but it was also a new decade and things were rapidly changing in the fields of painting, architecture and music. Clearly, it was time animation saw some changes as well, and this new team of animation artists were determined to lead the way.

As you can imagine, Walt’s established veterans were not all that pleased with the kids encroaching on their turf. And I regret to say some even turned on the eager young guys. “Who do they think they are,” grumbled the Disney old timers. “We don’t need any snot nose kids telling us how it’s done!” However, the youngsters persisted. They even had the audacity to come in on weekends and quickly turn out storyboards and other development art. Their approach to layout was unique, and the radical ideas suggested by the new background artist puzzled many.

However, not all the Disney veterans were resistant to change. Forward thinkers like Ward Kimball, Tom Oreb, Bill Peet and Don DaGradi refused to maintain a closed mind. They encouraged the young guys, and talked them up. They even looked forward to working with them because -- even though they were new to the business – the next generation still had much to offer. I’ve always especially admired Ward Kimball for his approach. His unit was a mix of old Disney veterans, and eager young kids. Ward was smart enough to know new ideas and approaches were needed, but they had to be built on a solid foundation.

Surprisingly, the rather conservative boss seemed open to new ideas and let the young guys push animation in a bold, new direction

In time, the new kids proved their worth, and they in no small measure helped launch a revolution at Disney. Today, they’re highly regarded as Disney veterans, and masters in their chosen field. Most have profoundly influenced this amazing medium, and I’m proud to have worked with many of them.

Several names are already coming to mind, right? You’re thinking of John Lasseter, Brad Bird, Tim Burton, John Musker and Henry Selick. Sorry, but you’d be wrong. You see, these things happened long before. This talented group of “Crazy Young Kids” arrived at the Walt Disney Studio in the fifties. You can see their influence in many of Disney’s animated films such as “Melody,” “Toot Whistle Plunk and Boom,” “Sleeping Beauty” and “101 Dalmatians.”

That’s right, boys and girls, the kids I’ve been talking about include Eyvind Earle, Walt Peregoy, Victor Haboush, Tony Rizzo, Ray Aragon and a number of others who upset the status quo. Something studio managers would do well to remember should they plan to keep the animation business alive and vital.

(L to R) Vic Haboush, Tony Rizzo, Walt Peregoy & Tom Oreb. Some of the guys who led the "New Wave" at Disney in the 1950s

Box Office Sees Quiet Before Frog Storm

It’s a quiet week for new animation and VFX films at the box office — something that will be rectified with next week’s wide release of Disney’s The Princess and the Frog.

The main openers are the action film Armored, which starts in some 1,900 cinemas; the drama Brothers in just more than 2,000 theaters; the comedy Everybody’s Fine in 2,100 locations and a wide release for the horror comedy Transylmania. A limited opening of some 10 theaters hails the arrival of the George Clooney drama Up in the Air.

But holdover VFX films will also be players. Chief among them is The Twilight Saga: New Moon, which could bring its total over the $250 million mark this weekend. Roland Emmerich’s 2012 also is still doing well.

Disney’s A Christmas Carol continues to perform well four weeks out from its first release. The film has passed the $100 million mark at the domestic box office.

Planet 51 and Fantastic Mr. Fox also are still in play, with the former having grossed nearly $30 million in two weeks of release. Mr. Fox has grossed just under $11 million in three weeks of release, though it has racked up plenty of rave reviews and awards buzz along the way.

Disney’s The Princess and the Frog continues its limited, two-location run this week. The film has racked up impressive per-screen numbers in advance of its wide release, set for next Friday.

(Thanks Animation Magazine)

Poezenklaas! by Victoria Cook

Sing along:

Hey Poezenklaas you are the best
With your Poezen paws and your big red vest
Gotta big kitty face and a big big heart
A tummy full of pies

Music is by Brian Lonano and Flash animation is by UArts student Victoria Cook.

(Thanks cartoon brew)

Interview: Chris Dainty and Super Star Tap

As the iPhone user base continues to expand, smaller animation studios and indie animators are discovering a promising new distribution platform. One example is Ottawa-based animation studio Dainty Productions, which recently released its first iPhone game, Super Star Tap (official Super Star Tap website or buy it at the iPhone app store). The game, which will be most appealing to the younger set, rewards players with handsome bits of animation as they complete each level. In this interview, I corresponded via email with game creator Chris Dainty about how they produced the game, creating games versus pitching ideas to studios, and the broader implications of iPhone games for the animation community.

Cartoon Brew: If I understand correctly, the game originally started out as The Constellations, which was an idea for an animated TV series. What inspired you to turn it into a game instead?

Chris Dainty:
Jessica Borutski and I created the show concept in 2006. We had lots of positive feedback from the networks, but nothing materialized. We didn’t have enough time or money to invest in a full-out cartoon, and I couldn’t stomach shelving this idea. After looking into iPhone stats it seemed like the perfect vehicle to get the characters out there, stay independent, and hopefully make some revenue. Thirty million people have iPhones, twenty million have the iPod Touch, so there’s a lot of screens.

Explain the game briefly and how the animation plays a role in it. I noticed you’re also planning to offer expansion packs so you can introduce new characters from the universe over time.

CD: Super Star Tap
is a puzzle game in which the player must tap the stars to unlock the constellations. The animation portion of the game is the reward the player receives for unlocking the constellations. If you tap the wrong star, it will glow (blue if you’re far away, red if you’re close) to help find the constellation star path. We will be releasing new levels every few months to keep the game new and fresh and keep people playing the game. Talk a little bit about the production process behind the game.

How many people were involved? How long did it take to produce?

Dave McKenney (our programmer) used Cocos2D for the iPhone. It’s a free download from Google and it’s a framework for building 2D games. We then signed up for the developer program on Apple, which cost $100. Dave and I started with a rough idea of game play in August ‘09, then tweaked as we did game testing. We had a working version by September. The character designs were done back in 2006 by the very talented Jessica Borutski. Everything was animated in Flash. I designed all the game menus in Photoshop, and my wife, Jennifer, worked as the project manager, game tester and did sound effects using the free program Audacity.

Do you view games a stepping stone to other media, like TV series, or is this the end product for your company now?

Sure, eventually I’d like to see the characters in a TV show, but honestly I’d rather the success of this game drive broadcasters to me. I’m building my audience first through games so that it will help fuel the cartoons we want to produce.

If somebody has developed a project and they have the option of pitching it as a TV show or creating their own game, what do you think is the advantage (either creative or financial) of pursuing the game route?

I highly recommend going the game route over pitching a TV show. I’m not a huge gamer, but I’m an entrepreneur that sees more value in selling a game on the app store than doing a song-and-dance for a network that only green lights two or three new shows out of the thousands of pitches they receive every year. Apple only takes 30% from sales of the game, while the rest is profit for us. It’s also a lot cheaper to produce games because two or three people can do it, and you have full creative control.

Were there any major difficulties or challenges you ran into while making the game? If somebody is thinking of making their own animated iPhone game, what pitfalls would you recommend they watch out for?

The paper work is a bit daunting and can take a lot of time to get through. With tax forms, contracts to sign, banking info (if you’re Canadian you have to add a 0 in front of your bank number—don’t ask me why, but it was just one of the many things that slowed down the release of the game), it always takes longer than you think it will take to make it onto the AppStore. Many nights, I kept refreshing the screen staring at the words “in review,” but once it was for sale, wow, it’s the best feeling in the world.

What sort of a role could iPhone games and apps play for independent creators like yourself in the future?

I think the iPhone has a lot of potential to help make independent animation profitable for individuals with creative and innovative ideas. Apple has made the app store accessible to everyone and this is huge for indie content creators who want to compete against the big companies out there. I also think that people getting into the mobile industry need to adapt as it changes. The way people pay for entertainment is constantly evolving. I think micro-transactions and freemium will play a big part for the whole of the entertainment industry from games to animation. One business model that I’d like to experiment with in the future is releasing exclusive mobile shorts that also include a small game.

(Thanks cartoon brew)

Upcoming New "Batman: The Brave And The Bold" Episode Details For Cartoon Network

Details for upcoming Batman: The Brave and The Bold episodes scheduled to air in the coming month on Cartoon Network have been released.

Cartoon Network has confirmed that two new episodes of Batman: The Brave and The Bold are currently scheduled to air in the coming weeks, including the debut of an all-new episode this week, mixed in with repreats from the first season of the fan-favorite series. Schedule and initial new episode details for Batman: The Brave and The Bold installments slated to air over the next month are available below.

Friday, December 11th, 2009 at 7:30pm (ET) - "The Long Arm of the Law!"
Bent on revenge, Kite Man and Rubberneck endanger Plastic Man's loved ones.

Saturday, Decemebr 12th, 2009 at 8:30pm (ET) - "The Long Arm of the Law!"
Bent on revenge, Kite Man and Rubberneck endanger Plastic Man's loved ones.

Friday, December 18th, 2009 at 7:30pm (ET) - "Invasion of the Secret Santas!"
The evil Fun Haus plans to steal Christmas with his army of robot Santas and killer toys including Dynamite Dolly and the Presto Play Pals! Red Tornado teams up with Batman to save the day and in the process, finds his holiday spirit.

Saturday, December 19th, 2009 at 8:30pm (ET) - "Invasion of the Secret Santas!"
The evil Fun Haus plans to steal Christmas with his army of robot Santas and killer toys including Dynamite Dolly and the Presto Play Pals! Red Tornado teams up with Batman to save the day and in the process, finds his holiday spirit.

Friday, December 25th, 2009 at 7:30pm (ET) - "When OMAC Attacks!"
The all-American fighting machine OMAC is pitted against the equally destructive Shrapnel in a chaotic fight to the finish, but the architect behind the battle is the mysterious, balance-obsessed villain Libra.

Saturday, December 26th, 2009 at 8:30pm (ET) - "When OMAC Attacks!"
The all-American fighting machine OMAC is pitted against the equally destructive Shrapnel in a chaotic fight to the finish, but the architect behind the battle is the mysterious, balance-obsessed villain Libra.

Friday, January 1st, 2010 at 7:30pm (ET) - "Revenge of the Reach!"
Batman and Blue Beetle face off against foes from Blue Beetle's past. Also featuring the Green Lantern Corp.

Saturday, January 2nd, 2010 at 8:30pm (ET) - "Revenge of the Reach!"
Batman and Blue Beetle face off against foes from Blue Beetle's past. Also featuring the Green Lantern Corp.

New installments of Batman: The Brave and The Bold are slated to air well into 2010, including the premiere of the highly-anticipated "Chill of the Night!" second season episode. Episode specific details, including images, videos and episode descriptions, are forthcoming. Please note that schedule details are subject to change without notice.

Stay tuned for further updates, including images, clips and details on upcoming episodes of Batman: The Brave and The Bold.

Psyop Creates A Happy Holiday For UPS Store

Pysop has produced yet another TV spot in The UPS Store’s cardboard-inspired series. This one takes on a holiday theme. A Happy Holiday was initiated by Doner.

The Tail of The Mouse That Soared

Kyle Bell’s CG short The Mouse That Soared has been making the rounds at the animation festivals for some time now, and we’re just now getting a sneak peek. Bell, a veteran animator who is currently holding down a gig at LAIKA, co-wrote the short with Matthew Hayes. The 6-minute film follows the adventures of a flying circus mouse.

Animated Ricky Gervais Podcast

The crew at UK-based Chopsy Animation are ahead of the curve. A pair of Ricky Gervais animated projects are in the works, but a couple years back they shot this stop-motion sequence, title Monkey Boy, which I believe pulls audio from Gervais’ podcast.

Granny O’Grimm’s Sleeping Beauty Now Online

Brown Bag Films’ 6-minute short film Granny O’Grimm’s Sleeping Beauty is now available online. The film, which was recently short-listed for the 2010 Oscar for Best Animated Short Film, was written and voiced by Kathleen O’Rourke and directed by Nicky Phelan.

'Thor' to Succeed with Stan Lee

You gotta love Stan Lee. Even with the limitations of Twitter's 140 character limit, the man can lay on the hyperbole. Take for example his account of a recent conversation about his upcoming 'Thor' cameo, which he shared with his followers last night.

Hey, I got an email from the [multi]-talented director of 'Thor', Kenneth Branagh. Not enough space left to tell what he said-- stay tuned--

* - Kenneth Branagh (of course I call him "Ken!") said my cameo's set for the upcoming 'Thor' movie. --To him, it's a cameo, to me-- it's a ROLE!

* - I went easy on Ken Branagh when we discussed my role in 'Thor'. Told him I wouldn't insist on my name above the title, I think he was grateful

* - Yeah, I mentioned Ken [Branagh] a few times, but I warned you I was a name [dropper]. Seriously tho', with him directing, 'Thor''s a sure winner

* - Of course, my previous tweet revealed the extent of my innate modesty. I really wanted to add "With me doing a cameo, 'Thor''s a sure winner" [emphasis ours]

* - Can't tweet anymore. Due to 'Thor', I must start rehearsing my thee's and thou's. So, if thou objecteth not, I wish thee well! 'Nuff saideth

Peter Jackson clears up Hobbit rumors

Since producer Peter Jackson announced that he would make two films from J.R.R. Tolkien's The Hobbit, we've wondered whether he'll split the book in two or make the book the basis of the first movie and use the second to bridge The Hobbit with The Lord of the Rings.

Well, he cleared it up for us over the weekend: The two movies will be based solely on the book, even though the films' director, Guillermo del Toro, had suggested the latter approach.

"The second Hobbit script is still based on the Hobbit novel," Jackson said in a group interview Sunday in Beverly Hills, Calif., after a press conference for The Lovely Bones. "The Hobbit novel is in two parts."

The Hobbit tells the story of a young Bilbo Baggins' quest for a treasure guarded by the dragon Smaug. In the more youth-oriented adventure, Tolkien established the world of Middle-earth, where he later set his Lord of the Rings trilogy.

Whereas each of the Lord of the Rings films was based on a separate book, screenwriters Jackson, Fran Walsh and Philippa Boyens (with del Toro) have found a middle point where they could end The Hobbit: Part 1 and begin The Hobbit: Part 2.

"Yeah, yeah, we have, but you'll have to wait and see the film to find out," Jackson teased.

The first Hobbit movie is due in theaters in 2011, with part two following in 2012.

MTV's Live 'Avatar' Q&A Is Online!

Quick note from outside the comics scene, folks: Last week's live "Avatar" Q&A with director James Cameron and stars Sam Worthington and Zoe Saldana is finally up and online for you to check out — just in case you missed the original broadcast.

Now, back to your regularly scheduled comics conversation...

Rumor control: McG directing Terminator 5 and 6?

Everyone's posting today a story that McG is going to be making more Terminator movies, based on Gizmodo, which listened to the director's live commentary Saturday night on the new Terminator Salvation movie.

Here's why you should take these pronouncements with huge grains of salt.

♦McG's been saying he planned on making a fifth and sixth Terminator film ever since he got the gig to direct Salvation. Just because he says it doesn't mean it's happening.

♦Halcyon group, which owns the rights to the Terminator franchise and for whom McG made the movie, announced this month that it is auctioning off the rights to the franchise. Once those rights go to someone else, whatever was planned under Halcyon's regime likely goes right out the window and the new owners will start from scratch.

♦Even if the new owners go ahead with the envisioned fifth and sixth films that would complete a trilogy that started with Salvation, there's no guarantee that McG would be a part of it.

Terminator Salvation was no big blockbuster: With a budget of around $200 million (according to Box Office Mojo), the movie grossed $371,352,910 worldwide, which likely didn't completely cover the production costs, plus marketing and advertising. With only $125.3 million in domestic grosses, Terminator Salvation can be considered a disappointment financially.

Of course, we could be wrong and McG could already have a signed deal and a green light. We'd be happy to eat our words if that were so, as we actually liked his "director's cut" better than the theatrical version when we viewed it on Blu-ray the other night.

What do you think? Do you want to see McG continue his Terminator saga, or should they bring in fresh blood?

Babylon 5 creator to reboot Superman

Ready for a new Man of Steel? Or should that be a new old Man of Steel? DC Comics announced today that Superman will be reconnecting with his roots next year in Superman: Earth One, from the creative team of writer J. Michael Straczynski and artist Shane Davis.

According to DC's official site, The Source, both Superman and Batman will be reborn "with their first years and earliest moments retold in a standalone, original graphic novel format, on a new earth with an all-new continuity."

A new Earth? What does that really mean? We'll just have to wait and see. For now, Straczynski says, "What I'm trying to do is to dig in to the character and look at him through modern eyes. If you were to create the Superman story today, for the first time, but keep intact all that works, what would it look like?"

"It is monumental for us as comic readers to see Superman birthed for the first time," added Davis. "It's a privilege to realize that you're the artist that gets to draw it, better yet having the luxury to do it in an original graphic novel. This is going to be epic!"

Batman: Earth One will also launch next year from writer Geoff Johns and artist Gary Frank.

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