So here’s what happened:
Somewhere between me attempting to update one of my plugins and me doing nothing at all, one of my plugins decided to die on me. Unfortunately, this happened to be the plugin that runs the slideshow of feature posts atop the front page of my site. Even more unfortunately, none of my attempts to restore the plugin files to the versions from the day before solved the issue. Eventually, I had to restore the site back to a backup from the previous week, which had the most unfortunate effect of erasing some of my most recent articles.
It could definitely have been worse, but I’m not to happy about it, especially given the effort I put into getting the design of my site to where it was.
So I’m regrouping right now, giving some thought to what I want to do next. There will be some more animation writing from me and the site will continue; I’m just not sure in what form yet.
Thanks for your patience and understanding.
Now that I’m done celebrating my own birthday, I thought I’d write about the birthdays of some of the world’s most famous cartoon characters. Many animated celebrities have official birthdays , often reflecting the days these characters made their onscreen debuts. So lets look at some of the big toon birthdays and the stories behind them.
For the second time in the show’s history, a Simpsons couch gag has been created by an outside animator. For this season, the guest animator is John Kricfalusi (i’m told it’s pronounced “Kris-fuh-LOO-see”) of The Ren & Stimpy Show fame. If you enjoy it, you’ll want to check out the behind the scenes videos and John K interview on Cartoon Brew.
I don’t usually point out changes I make to the site, but I figure this is something you would be interested in. I’ve installed a new plugin called CommentLuv which lets people who comment on The Ink and Pixel Club easily post links back to their blog. If you interact with the site more – comment more often, tweet about an article, like an article on Facebook – you’ll get to choose from a variety of your blog posts to link to and the links become DoFollow, which helps you out with the search engines. Plus there’s a section in the sidebar for the most frequent commenters. Feel free to try it out by posting a comment on this article, or on one you have something to say about.
Since there’s no new article this week, I’m giving you the opportunity to read or reread what I’ve written about the three Toy Story movies. Looking back at these films is a great way to see how far Pixar and computer animation have come in the last few decades. I’ve also updated the articles with a new navigation box at the top of each, so it’s easy to jump to any point in the series.
Start with Famous Firsts – Toy Story to revisit the very first computer animated feature film.
Then continue on to my take on one of my all-rime favorite animated movie in Why I Love Animation – Toy Story 2.
Finally, Saying Goodbye – Toy Story 3 looks at the most recent and last of the three films.
Get reading! The toys are waiting for you.
All images in this article are copyright Disney/Pixar.
While I recover from a birthday cake hangover, please enjoy Crater Face, a simple and surprisingly moving student film from animator Skyler Page.
Hand-drawn movie animation is in trouble.
Fans of the medium may have been cheered up by this past weekend’s box office reports but a seventeen-year-old Disney film doing better than expected in its 3D release does not mean drawn animation is experiencing a resurgence. (It may mean that Disney should be releasing more if its classic films into theaters for limited runs, but that’s a question for another time.) As far as Hollywood goes, Disney is starting to be the only studio interested in continuing to make hand-drawn animated films. There are still hand-drawn animated films being produced by independent and foreign filmmakers – some of them wonderful movies, but these films tend to get only limited releases in the US. As Hollywood continues to look down at drawn animation as a dying art form and television increasingly turns to Flash as a cheaper, faster, and less drawing intensive way to produce animation, there is a real danger that the craft of drawn animation could die out.
A big part of the problem is that hand-drawn animation is struggling to find an identity in a market dominated by computer animation. Disney – the only studio really wrestling with this question – has tried to return to what has worked in the past with The Princess and the Frog and Winnie the Pooh, but financial success has been elusive. But it’s not just the quest for subject matter that is giving hand-drawn animation problems; it’s the need to find its style. The argument that the goal of animation shouldn’t be to imitate real life is an old one, but since computer animation has come of age, it has become more relevant. Drawn animation simply cannot compete with computer animation when it comes to replicating the texture and dimensionality of real life. Nor should it try to, as the other side of the uncanny valley may well be a dead end for computer animation as well. (Again, a question for another time.) Hand-drawn animation needs to find visual styles that cannot be replicated in computer animation in order to wow audiences again.
Here are my ideas for visual styles that embrace the hand-drawn nature of drawn animation:
I Like It Rough
I love looking at pencil tests. Seeing animation in its rough form, the actual drawings made by the animators before they’re cleaned up into more refined line drawings that match up with drawings of the character in the rest of the film, is one of my favorite things about special edition DVDs. Animation that preserves that rougher, more energetic line quality is nothing new, not even for studio feature animation. As far back as the 1960s, Disney was using the then-new Xerox technology copy pencil drawings directly onto cels, resulting in films like One Hundred and One Dalmatians and Robin Hood that showcased a sketchier line. Modern computers can do an even better job of putting rough drawings on the screen, as seen in this image from Pocahontas. The Disney short John Henry, shown at the top of this page, was one of the most blatant attempts in studio animation to get the look of rough animation drawings into a final film. Paired with the right subject matter, an entire movie done in the style of rough pencil animation could be visually stunning.
A Visit to the Art Museum
Animation is already art, but that doesn’t mean it can’t benefit by borrowing from other art forms. This is not a new idea; Sleeping Beauty got much of its style from medieval tapestries and Tangled drew inspiration from the works of Fragonard. But the use of diverse styles from the fine arts is usually limited to shorts or individual scenes in a feature. How cool was it to see an Art Deco illustration brought to wonderfully fluid life in the “Almost There” sequence from The Princess and the Frog? To watch Al Hirschfeld drawings in motion in the “Rhapsody in Blue” segment of Fantasia 2000? To thrill to the mind-blowing fusion of expressionism and surrealism in UPA’s The Tell-Tale Heart? A full length movie done in these or other atyles inspired by works of art would be no less amazing.
This idea goes back to one of the major revolutions in animation design, when naturalism got kicked out the window and replaced with something audiences had never seen before. When UPA’s Gerald McBoing Boing premiered, critics were wowed by the simple, unpretentious artwork that never sought to hide its hand-drawn nature. Characters’ skin tones blended into minimalistic backgrounds and blotches of color broke free of the surrounding linework. To see the idea of drawings that don’t pretend to be anything but drawings taken even further, look at Chuck Jones’ The Dot and the Line: A Romance in Lower Mathematics, where the only three characters are a blue line, a red dot, and a black squiggle. At a time when animation seems more obsessed with realism than ever, a movie that goes in the complete opposite direction could stun audiences into paying attention.
Those are my three ideas for making hand-drawn animation fresh and exciting again. Got your own? Post them in the comments.
All images in this article are copyright their respective owners.
Yesterday was the birthday of the incomparable June Foray. Cartoon Brew posted a photo of Ms. Foray at work along with a clip from an interview she did about being cast on some show about a moose and a squirrel. I’m posting another clip from the same interview where she does a bit of Rocky and Natasha in rapid succession. The world of animation is lucky to have this amazing woman as both an actress and an advocate for the art form.
By 1994, Disney was the undisputed king of movie animation. Their return to the animated fairy tale musical had been hugely successful and each film they released was a bigger hit than the one before. Every movie studio that was making animated films wanted a piece of that success and most of them tried to achieve it by copying the Disney formula. This is clearly the case with Thumbelina, a Don Bluth film that tries desperately to give viewers everything that they loved about the Disney films of the time. Audiences weren’t won over and Thumbelina was thoroughly trounced at the box office by Disney’s The Lion King. Did Thumbelina flop for lack of the Disney marketing machine and brand recognition? Or did the film have bigger problems?
StoryCorps is a nonprofit organization that gives Americans of all walks of life the opportunity to talk about their lives and have their words preserved for posterity at the Library of Congress. One of StoryCorps’ projects is recording the stories of the victims of the September 11 terrorist attacks as told by their families and loved ones. Three such interviews were made into animated shorts by Rauch Brothers Animation. They’re perfect examples of how relatively simple animation can effectively protray deep and complex emotions. Beyond that, the films speak for themselves.