Walking Towards the Storm

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Artist Unknown, (Walking Towards the Storm), Computer Graphics, Animation Gif

“By early evening all the sky to the north had darkened and the spare terrain they trod had turned a neuter gray as far as the eye could see. They grouped in the road at the top of a rise and looked back. The storm front towered above them and the wind was cool on their sweating faces. They slumped bleary-eyed in their saddles and looked at one another. Shrouded in the black thunderheads the distant lightning glowed mutely like welding seen through foundry smoke. As if repairs were under way at some flawed place n the iron dark of the world.”
Cormac McCarthy, All the Pretty Horses

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A Year: Day to Day Men: 19th of November,  Solar Year 2018

Caution: Fire in the Room

November 19, 1959 marks the release date for the television show “Rocky and His Friends”.

“Rocky and His Friends” was a serialized animation show, produce by Jay Ward Productions, that ran from November 1959 to June of 1964. During its history, it appeared under several broadcast titles, most notably “The Rocky and Bullwinkle Show”. The series was structured as a variety show, with the main feature being the adventures of Rocky the Flying Squirrel and the moose Bullwinkle. Their main adversaries were the two “Russian” spies Boris Badenov and Natasha Fatale. both who worked for the Fearless Leader.

The animation show included three other supporting segments: the old-time melodrama styled “Dudley Do-Right of the Mounties”; “Peabody’s Improbable History”, in which the dog Mr. Peabody takes his boy Sherman to different historical events in time; and “Fractured Fairy Tales”, a new look, albeit slightly askew, at the classic fairy tales.

The idea for “Rocky and His Friends” was from Jay Ward and Alex Anderson, who had both collaborated on “Crusader Rabbit”, the first animated series created specifically for television. Production began in February of 1958 with the hiring of the voice actors: June Foray who voiced Rocky, Natasha, and every female character on the show; Paul Frees who voiced Boris and Inspector Fenwick,; Bill Scott who voiced Bullwinkle, Dudley Do-Right and Mr. Peabody, and William Conrad who narrated the Rocky and Dudley Do-Right segments..

“Rocky and His Friends” was sponsored by the cereal-manufacturer General Mills, who insisted that the show have an late-afternoon time slot, targeting it toward children. The writers and designers were hired; however, no animators were hired. Instead in a move to save cost, the advertising agency for General Mills outsourced the animation to a Mexican company called Gamma Productions, which caused many productions problems because of its quality of animation and mistakes in the continuity of the animated characters and scenes.

“Rocky and His Friends” abounded with quality writing and wry humor, appealing to adults as well as children. Its segments mixed puns, self-humor, and satire on the existing culture and topics in life. The animation art has an unpolished look with limited action compared to the other animated series produced at that time. Despite this, the series is still held in high esteem by critics, with some viewing it as a well-written radio program with visual images. The series was influential to the development of other animated series and, to date, has aired in one hundred countries.

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A Year: Day to Day Men: 29th of October, Solar Year 2018

The News of the Day

October 29, 1938 was the birthdate of director and animator Ralph Bakshi.

Ralph Bakshi, at the age of eighteen, was hired by the cartoon studio Terrytoons as a cel polisher, a position that involved removing dust and dirt from animation cels. After a few months, he was promoted to cel painter and began to practice animating. Aware of his desire  to become an animator, he started to receive help and advice from established animators: Connie Rasinski, Manny Davis, Larry Silverman and others.

At the age of twenty-five, Ralph Bakshi was promoted to director. His first assignment was the series “Sad Cat”, a Terrytoon animation series of a scraggly cat and his friends. Unsatisfied with the traditional role of a Terrytoons director, Bakshi pitched to CBS a superhero parody called “The Mighty Heros”. The executives liked the idea and, after seeing the character designs, agreed to the show with Bakshi as its creative director. It appeared as a segment on the “Mighty Mouse Playhouse” and ran from 1966 through 1967.

Ralph Bakshi started in 1968 his own studi,o Bakshi Productions, located in garment district of Manhattan.  His studio paid higher salaries than other studios and expanded opportunities for female and minority animators. The studio began work on “Rocket Robin Hood” and took over the “Spider-Man” television series. In 1969, its division’ Ralph’s Spot, produced commercials and a series of educational shorts for Encyclopedia Britannica.

Uninterested in the animation the studio was making, Bakshi wanted to produce something personal. He soon developed “Heavy Traffic”, a tale of inner-city life. Impressed with the satire of Robert Crumb’s “Fritz the Cat”, Bakshi wanted to adapt Crumb’s artwork to animation. After several failed attempts to get Crumb to sign the contract, he acquired the film rights through Dana, Crumb’s wife who had power of attorney. After Warner Brothers backed out of the deal to finance the film, Jerry Gross, the owner of Cinemation Industries, agreed to fund its production and distribution through his grindhouse network.

Despite receiving finances from other sources, the budget was very tight. So pencil tests of the animations were excluded. Artist Ira Turek inked the outlines of scene photographs onto cels with a Rapidograph, giving the backgrounds a stylized realism virtually unprecedented in animation.  When the production was finished at the now Los Angeles studio, the Motion Picture Association of America gave it an X rating, making it the first animation film to receive such a rating.

The MPAA refused to hear an appeal about changing the rating. Thirty American newspapers rejected display advertisements and refused to give it editorial publicity. The film “Fritz the Cat” opened on April 12, 1972, in Hollywood and Washington DC. It went on to become a worldwide hit, becoming the most successful independent animated film of all time.

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A Year: Day to Day Men: 23rd of October, Solar Year 2018

Afternoon Slumber

October 23, 1941 marks the release in New York City of Walt Disney’s “Dumbo”.

“Dumbo” was the fourth animated film produced by Walt Disney Productions. It is based on the storyline written by Helen Aberson and Harold Pearl. Jumbo Junior is the main character, an anthropomorphic young elephant cruelly nicknamed “Dumbo”. He has unusually large ears with which he is capable of flying. His only true friend is Timothy, a mouse, which belied the stereotypical animosity between the two animal species.

The voice actors in “Dumbo” were not given any credit for their roles. This was done for all four of the first animated films Disney made; Walt Disney wished to maintain the illusion with the audience that the characters were real. The title character Dumbo did not have an actor since he did not have any spoken dialogue. Timothy Mouse was voiced by character actor Edward Brody, who frequently played dumb cops and gangsters in films, one of which was role as Brogan in the 1944 “The Thin Man Goes Home”.

“Dumbo” was originally intended to be a short film; but Disney realized, that to do justice to Helen Aberson and Harold Pearl’s book, it needed to be feature-length. Disney Studios was in financial difficulty at the time, as both “Pinocchio” and “Fantasia” did poorly at the box office due to the war in Europe. When the film went into production in early 1941, director Ben Sharpsteen was told to keep the film simple and inexpensive. Thus, “Dumbo” lacks the lavish detail of the previous three animated films; background paintings are less detailed; and the character designs are simpler.

During its production period, the leader of the Screen Cartoonist’s Guild, Herbert Sorrell, demanded that Disney sign with his union, rather than the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees, with which Disney had already signed. After Disney refused twice, much of the Disney studio staff went on strike. The strike lasted five weeks, and ended the family atmosphere and camaraderie at the Disney Studios.

The movie was completed in fall of 1941 and RKO Radio Pictures released “Dumbo”. After its October 23 release in New York City, “Dumbo” proved to be a financial success despite the advent of World War II. Despite its low cost, substantially lower than the three previously released Disney animated films, “Snow White”, “Pinocchio”, and “Fantasia”, it eventually grossed the equivalent of twenty-seven million dollars today. “Dumbo” and “Snow White” were the only pre-1943 Disney features to earn a profit.

“Dumbo” won the 1941 Academy Award for Best Original Score, awarded to its musical directors Frank Churchill and Oliver Wallace. The film also won Best Animation Design at the 1947 Cannes Film Festival. On July 8, 2014, it was announce that a live-action re-imagining of “Dumbo” was in development, directed by Tim Burton. Casting is now complete and the film is scheduled to be released in March of 2019.

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A Year: Day to Day Men: 11th of September, Solar Year 2018

Packing Heat

September 11, 1972 marks the passing of Polish-American animator and film producer Max Fleischer.

By 1914 the first commercially produced animated cartoons started to appear in movie theaters. Max Fleischer devised an improvement in animation through a combined projector and easel for tracing images from live action film. This device, known as the Rotoscope, enabled Fleischer to produce the first realistic animation since the initial works of Winsor McCay. The patent to Fleischer and his two brothers was granted in 1917.

Max Fleischer started working with The Bray Studios, which had a contract with Paramount Pictures, after World War I. His initial series, the “Out of the Inkwell” films featuring “The Clown” character, was first produced at The Bray Studios. The films featured the novelty of combining live action and animation and served as semi-documentaries with the appearance of Max Fleischer as the artist who dipped his pen into the ink bottle to produce the clown figure on his drawing board. While the technique of combining animation with live action was already established by others at The Bray Studio, it was Fleischer’s clever use of the technique combined with Fleischer’s realistic animation that made his series unique.

It was during this time that Max Fleischer developed the Rotograph, a means of photographing live action film footage with animation cels for a composited image. This was an improvement over the method used by Bray Studios where a series of 8″ x 10″ stills were made from motion picture film and used as backgrounds behind animation cels. The Rotograph technique went into more general use known as “Aerial Image Photography” and was a main staple in animation and optical effects companies for making titles and various forms of matte composites.

In 1924, Fleischer partnered with Edwin Miles Fadiman, Hugo Riesenfeld and Lee DeForest to form Red Seal Pictures Corporation, which owned 36 theaters on the East Coast, extending as far west as Cleveland, Ohio.  During this period, Fleischer invented the “Follow the Bouncing Ball” technique in his “Ko-Ko Car Tune” series of animated sing-along shorts. The series lasted until early 1927, becoming very popular with theater goers.

Max Fleischer’s most famous character was Betty Boop, born out  of a cameo caricature in the early animated films. The “Betty Boop” series began in 1932, and became a huge success for him. However, Fleischer’s greatest business decision came with his licensing of the comic strip character Popeye the Sailor, who was introduced to audiences in the 1933 Betty Boop cartoon, “Popeye the Sailor”. Popeye became a box office hit and was one of the most successful screen adaptations of a comic strip in cinema history. Much of this success was due the perfect match of the Fleischer Studio style combined with its unique use of music. By the late 1930s a survey indicated that Popeye had eclipsed Mickey Mouse in popularity, challenging Disney’s presence in the market.

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A Year: Day to Day Men: 21st of August, Solar Year 2018

The Fuscia Curtain and the Man

August 21, 1906 was the birthdate of Isadore “Friz” Freleng, the American animator, cartoonist and composer.

Friz Freleng began his career in animation at United Film Ad Service in Kansas City, Missouri. There, he made the acquaintance of fellow animators Hugh Harman and Ubi Iwerks. In 1923, Iwerk’s friend, Walt Disney, moved to Hollywood and asked his Kansas City colleagues to join him. Freleng joined the Walt Disney studio in 1927 and worked on the “Oswald the Lucky Rabbit” cartoons and the “Alice Comedies”, a series with a live action little girl named Alice and her animated cat.

Freleng teamed up with animators Hugh Harman and Rudolph Ising to try to create their own studio. They produced a pilot film with a new character named Bosko. While trying to sell the Bosko film, Freleng moved to New York City to work on the “Krazy Kat” cartoons. The Bosko character was finally sold to producer Leon Schlesinger, who would produce the series for Warner Brothers. Freleng moved back to California and worked on the “Looney Tunes” cartoons for Warner Brothers. While there, he introduced the studio’s first true star, Porky Pig, in the 1935 film “I Haven’t Got a Hat”.

The Warner Brothers Studio’s hands-off attitude toward its animators allowed Freleng and his fellow directors almost complete creative control and room to experiment with cartoon comedy styles, which allowed the studio to keep pace with the Disney studio’s technical superiority. Freleng’s style quickly matured, and he became a master of comic timing. Often working alongside layout artist Hawley Pratt, he also introduced or redesigned a number of famous Warner characters, including Yosemite Sam in 1945, the cat-and-bird duo, Sylvester and Tweety in 1947, and Speedy Gonzales in 1955.

Freleng and Chusck Jones would dominate the Warner Bros. studio in the years after World War II, with Freleng largely concentrating on the above-mentioned characters, as well as Bugs Bunny. He won four Oscars during his time at Warner Brothers, for the films “Tweetie Pie” in 1947, “Speedy Gonzales” in 1955, “Birds Anonymous” with Tweetie and Sylvester in 1957, and “Knighty Knight Bugs” in 1958. Six of Freleng’s other films were Oscar nominees.

Besides animating and producing the cartoon films, Freleng also was a talented director. He directed all three of the vintage Warner Brothers cartoon in which the drinking of Dr. Jekyll’s portion induces a series of monstrous transformations; “Dr. Jekyl’s Hide” with Sylvester the Cat  in 1954, “Hyde and Hare” with Bugs Bunny in 1955, and “Hyde and Go Tweet” with Sylvester and Tweety in 1960.

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A Year: Day to Day Men: 27th of July, Solar Year 2018

Hold

July 27, 1940 was the release date of the film “A Wild Hare”.

An early version of a Bugs Bunny-like character appeared in the 1938 “Porky’s Hare Hunt”. It was co-directed by Ben Hardaway and an uncredited Cal Dalton, who was responsible for the initial design of the rabbit. Porky Pig is cast as a hunter tracing his prey who is more interested in driving his pursuer insane rather than escaping. The white rabbit had an oval shaped head, a shapeless body, and was voiced by Mel Blanc.

This rabbit character appeared in “Prest-O Change-O”, directed by animator Chuck Jones and released in 1939. This version of the character was cool, graceful and controlled. He retained the laugh but was otherwise silent in the film. The third appearance of the rabbit was in the 1939 “Hare-um Scare-um” directed by Dalton and Hardaway. This time he was gray and had his first singing role.

“The Wild Hare” is considered to be the first official Bugs Bunny cartoon. It is the first film where both Elmer Fudd and Bugs, both redesigned by animator and developer Bob Givens, are shown in their fully developed forms as hunter and tormentor. The film is the first in which Mel Blanc uses what becomes the standard voice for Bugs, and says Bugs’ famous catchphrase, “What’s up, Doc”. A huge success in the theaters, the film received an Academy Award nomination for Best Cartoon Short Subject.

Since Bugs’ debut in “ A Wild Hare”, Bugs appeared only in color Merrie Melodies films, alongside Elmer and his predecessors. Bugs made a cameo in the 1943 “Porky’s Pig Feet”, but that was his only appearance in a black-and-white Looney Tunes film. He did not star in a Looney Tunes film until that series made its complete conversion to only color cartoons beginning in 1944. “Buckaroo Bugs” was Bugs’ first film in the Looney Tunes series and was also the last Warner Bros. cartoon to credit Schlesinger, who had produced the film of the original rabbit. The Leon Schlesinger Productions studio was sold to Warner Brothers in1944 after the release fo “Buckaroo Bugs”.

The cartoon 1958 “Knighty Knight Bugs”, directed by Fritz Freleng, in which a medieval Bugs trades blows with Yosemite Sam and his fire-breathing dragon, won an Academy Award for Best Cartoon Short Subject, becoming the first Bugs Bunny cartoon to win that award. Three of Chuck Jones’ films —“Rabbit Fire”, “Rabbit Seasoning” and “Duck! Rabbit, Duck!”— compose what is often referred to as the “Rabbit Season/Duck Season” trilogy and are famous for originating the historic rivalry between Bugs and Daffy Duck.

Chuck Jones’ classic 1957 “What’s Opera, Doc?”, casts Bugs and Elmer Fudd in a parody of Richard Wagner’s opera “Der Ring des Nibelungen”. This cartoon was deemed “culturally significant” by the United States Library of Congress and selected for preservation in the National Film Registry in 1992, becoming the first cartoon short to receive this honor.

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A Year: Day to Day Men: 6th of April, Solar Year 2018

Wet and Heated by the Sun

On April 6, 1906 the first drawn animation film is copyrighted by J. Stuart Blackton.

J. Stuart Blackton was an Anglo-American filmmaker, co-founder of the Vitagraph Studios and one of the first to use animation in his films. ”The Enchanted Drawing” in 1900 is considered to be the first film recorded on standard picture film that included some sequences that are sometimes regarded as animation. It shows Blackton doing some “lightning sketches” of a face, cigars, a bottle of wine and a glass. The face changes expression when Blackton pours some wine into the face’s mouth and takes his cigar.

The technique used in this film was basically the substitution splice: the single change to scenes was that a drawing was replaced by a similar drawing with a different facial expression (or a drawn bottle and glass were replaced by real objects). Thus the effect is not considered animation.

Blackton’s 1906 film “Humorous Phases of Funny Faces” is often regarded as the oldest known drawn animation on standard film. He later copyrighted this film on April 6 in 1908. It features a sequence made with blackboard drawings that are changed between frames to show two faces changing expressions and some billowing cigar smoke, as well as two sequences that feature cutout animation.

Blackton’s “The Haunted Hotel” in 1907 featured a combination of live-action with practical special effects and stop-motion animation of objects, a puppet and a model of the haunted hotel. It was the first stop-motion film to receive wide scale appreciation. Especially a large close-up view of a table being set by itself baffled viewers; there were no visible wires or other noticeable well-known tricks. This inspired other filmmakers, including French animator Émile Cohl and Segundo de Chomón, to work with the new technique. De Chomón would release the similar “House of Ghosts” and “El Hotel Electrico” in 1908.

J Stuart Blackton left Vitagraph to go independent in 1917, but returned in 1923 as junior partner to Albert Smith. In 1925, Smith sold the company to Warner Brothers for a comfortable profit. Blackton did quite well with his share until the stock market crash in 1929, which destroyed his savings. He spent his last years on the road, showing his old films and lecturing about the days of silent movies. Blackton died August 13, 1941, a few days after he was hit by a car while crossing the street with his son. At the time of his death he was working for Hal Roach on experiments to improve color process backgrounds.

Donal O’Keeffe, “Dead Ahead”

Donal O’Keeffe, “Dead Ahead”

‘Dead Ahead’ is a postcard animation to the world of the horror movie genre. Our intrepid travellers head out into the wilderness on their road trip only to find one nightmare scenario after the other. With each step forward a new monster emerges paying homage to such classics as Friday the 13th, Jaws and Pet Sematary.

Walk the Dog

 

“Dame mit Hund (Walk the Dog)”, from Talking Animals on Vimeo

Directed and animated by Sonia Rohleder.
A woman walks her dog in the park, where she meets a man she would have liked to avoid.

  • Sounddesign: Michal Krajczok
  • Animation: Sonia Rohleder and Veronica Solomon
  • Voices: Ivan Baio, Alberto Picciau, Francesca Pili, Ivana Mescalchin

Talking Animals is a collective in Germany of award-winning professionals in animation and sound design/music, united as Talking Animals since 2009. They make short films, music videos, animated documentaries, animation for advertisement, explanatory movies. Their styles range from artistic 3D, over cutout and 2D drawn animation to analogue stop motion under the camera. Their site address is http://talkinganimals.de.

Steven K. Simons and Sonya Nevin

Steven K. Simons and Sonya Nevin, Gifs from “The Panoply Vase Animation Project’

Steve K. Simons and Sonya Nevin are in Westminster, England. The Panoply Vase Project site is: http://www.panoply.org.uk

Steve Simons has been making vase animations since 2007.  With a history in software engineering, Steve studied multimedia production and design before becoming a freelance animator.

Sonya Nevins is a Research Fellow at the University of Roehampton in London.  She did her doctorate on ancient Greek warfare at University College Dublin.   She has worked and volunteered in the Ure Museum, the UCD Classical Museum, and the Royal Museums Greenwich.  Sonya’s research and teaching interests include religion, warfare, and historiography.