Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Plugging Directing Animation

Yes, it's that portion of the show when we plug the latest hot ticket item to buy for the holidays. Today, we are happy to recommend our friend Dave Levy's latest book entitled "Directing Animation". Very appropriately titled because it is about directing animation. What's that you say? What's to direct? There are no actors in animation. Au contraire mon frere! An animator is an actor with a pencil (or Wacom stylus) and there is a team of designers and artists who need a leader with the artistic vision to head up the production.
The book is CHOCK FULL of insight and information from a wide range of directors of commercials, web, TV and film that shed light and offer advice on what it takes to direct in animation.
Dave's style of writing is informative and witty and will have you laughing while hearing great anecdotes about production woes and triumphs. You can't get this information anywhere else. Learn directly from real life situations from some of the top directors in the industry today. What's really great is that Dave Levy is a director himself so not only does he offer his own animation war stories but you get the real meat of information because he knows what he is talking about and knows what to ask of his interviewees. Learn from their mistakes and their revelations of secrets behind the drawing table. You can't learn this in in a classroom kids!
It's a great book for anyone interested in the process of animation or if you know someone in animation and just want to learn a little bit more of what they do.
Oh, and I'd be remiss if I didn't mention that it includes some awesome insights from David Wachtenheim and Robert Marianetti. Yes, we are in the book. Ok, there I said it. I'm biased. But it really is a great read.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

More Big Baby

We recently wrapped animating five more episodes of the popular Big Baby series of shorts for Cartoon Network. Don't know when or where they will be airing but this time and don't know how much we can say about it. CN is a little guarded about letting too much information out before its time and of course new Big Baby shorts have been on the forefront of everyone's thoughts for a long time. I can't tell you how many times someone has stopped me on the street saying, "Hey man, when are you doing more Big Babys" or "When are you doing a Big Baby feature, that s#*t is awesome?" or "hey can I have a dollar!" Yes, the streets of New York are brimming with Big Baby fans. And for those of you who think I am talking about the character Big Baby from the last Pixar film Toy Story 3 well, I'm not. Obviously, the folks at Pixar are huge fans of ours and decided to pay tribute to our work. Thank you John Lasseter. We like your work too.

Thanks to all of our crew who worked on the new shorts.
Directors/Writers - David Wachtenheim, Robert Marianetti
Animators - Steve Mead, Mike Wetterhahn, Daniel Bodinof, Jessica Milazzo, David Wachtenheim
Character Designs and Layouts - Sean Latrell
Backgrounds Layouts - Jason Macdonald, Gideon Kendall, Robert Marianetti
Background Painter - Kevin Lacroix
After Effects Artistes - Dale Clowdis, Bryce Jarrett
(apologies if anyone was left out)

Thanks also to the folks at CN:
Creator/ writer - Dave Striepe
Producer - Steve Patrick
Executive Producer - Evan Adler
Sound - Michael Kohler

For those of you who have never seen or heard of Big Baby, here is one of the original seven shorts found on
Big Baby: Airplane

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Will Elder's Fatty Chicken

Our friend Gary Vandenbergh is creating a documentary on famed MAD magazine artist Will Elder entitled "Chicken Fat" after all the millions of little visual gags Elder would cram into each comic panel. Will was one of the original contributors to MAD magazine and was a huge inspiration and innovator of the magazines outrageous humor. Gary has put together an impressive list of interviews of people who worked with Will or were influenced by him including:
William M. Gaines, Al Jaffee, Harvey Kurtzman, Art Spiegelman, Arnold Roth, Drew Friedman, Andy Kindler and many, many more.
Gary was even gracious enough to ask me and Robert to be a part of this wonderful tribute to an amazing artist. Take a look at this promo to see some of the wonderful people paying respects to Will. I don't know how the last guy on the promo got on there but whatever. Sheesh.
Looking forward to the final film Gary.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Here is the full version of the Simon Cowell opening as seen at the beginning of the Rage Against the Machine concert at Finsbury Park.

Monday, June 7, 2010

24 hours to RAGE

The call came on Wednesday afternoon from Gwynn Adik at ACME Filmworks. The band Rage Against the Machine had started an online campaign to garner the #1 single on the charts over the Christmas holiday in the UK. For the past four years, the #1 slot went to the current winner of Simon Cowell's UK show talent show, "X-Factor". With the help of the Facebook page Rage Against X-Factor , the band was successful in knocking off X-Factor winner Joe McElderry's cover of Miley Cyrus' single "The Climb" and gain the number one position much to the dismay of Mr. Cowell.
As thanks to all their fans, RATM was scheduled to play a free victory show at London’s Finsbury Park on June 6th and it was to begin with an animated Simon Cowell introducing the band.

Harvey Lewis of DC3 Global who was producing this segment for RATM was thrilled when he heard we would take the gig and he couldn't have been nicer or more understanding about the constraining schedule. Harvey told us he loved our work on SNL and had the utmost confidence in our abilities. He was sure whatever we gave him would be great and was completely understanding of the limitations. So nice to work with a guy like that.

We would have until Friday to get them the cartoon and if there were any notes, to implement them and upload to London for Saturday morning. Two days? A minute and a half of animation? Inside we were panicking but we said yes, of course. After all, our record to date was a two and a half minute cartoon for SNL in four days (see below for "Are You Hot?" video). One character (Simon Cowell) addressing the audience shouldn't be TOO bad.

The idea for us was to get the look and mannerisms right. If you capture the essence of the character you're halfway there. Luckily (or sadly), I have watched my share of American Idol and was fairly an aficionado of Simon Cowell and his various attitudes. A few well placed key head poses, arm mannerisms, eye rolls and the piece started taking shape but that was only the first 30 seconds. At 5:30 am Friday morning, my strength was waning and I decided it would be best to take a nap and get working later that morning rather than try to work straight through. After a roughly uncomfortable two and a half hour sleep on the couch I restarted at eight am panicked with the dread that I may not get done on time. Somehow, by noon, all the pieces were falling in place, Robert had created a great BG of Simon's "vault" loaded with bags of money and bars of gold.

At 1:30, we sent a test to Harvey who would show it to the band and we had to wait for notes. More panic. It was half done, the end was all rough. There was no lipsync. Would they understand what they were looking at? What if they didn't like it? What if there were tons of notes and corrections? How would we finish on time? Finally, the word came back. NO CORRECTIONS. As a matter of fact the band called it "brilliant" and the guys "totally crushed" on it. (I think that's good!) So off to finish the piece and by 6:00 pm miraculously it was done. Lipsync and all. We had a few glitches with the output to quicktime, but with the aid of editor George Khair, the track was slid and fell perfectly in place and it was uploaded off to London.


As seen in the YouTube clip above, shot by a fan, the cartoon got a great reaction from the crowd and apparently the band blew the crowd away. Glad we could be a part of it. We will post the original spot another time.

Here's the aforementioned SNL cartoon that held our personal record of four days.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Well trained Dragons

When the first trailer for Dreamworks' latest film "How to Train Your Dragon", hit the screens, I was less than impressed. The dialogue seemed silly, ("thanks for nothing, you useless reptile"), the design of the dragon was less than stellar and seeing Jay Baruchel, the voice of the main character in two other trailers ("She's Out of My League" and "Sorcerer's Apprentice" (G-d help us)) was overkill for me. However, as newer trailers came out with more scenes I started getting more interested and I was looking forward to actually seeing it. Well, yesterday I went to see it with two of my kids and it completely lived up to my expectations and more. I am no movie critic. Just an animator and director with a forum so I will just give my overall impressions without the in-depth film analysis.

Firstly, the character designs were great. I was so happy to see that Dreamworks' strayed from the "realistic" human characters in the Shrek films. The stylized Viking designs, with their massive broad chests and arms, and great big beards were a great departure. And that was just the women (rim shot). The voices were fantastic. It was so nice to hear a Scottish brogue for once in a Dreamworks film that made sense. I never understood why Shrek was from the Highlands but Gerard Butler and Craig Ferguson applied their natural brogues to great use in this film. Even the kids voices were stellar, even though the aforementioned Jay Baruchel was aligned with other slightly overexposed young actors, Jonah Hill, Cristopher Mintz-Plasse and Kristen Wiig long with America Ferrara and T.J. Miller. But it didn't matter because the casting was great and enhanced rather than distracted from the characters. I even learned to love the design of toothless, the main dragon character. While he may not look like a conventional dragon as we've all come to think of them, there is reason for that in his character of a mysterious dragon that no one has ever seen before. There are many different species of dragons in this world and they all have there unique looks and fit nicely together in this world.

The acting (yes, I said acting) was great and I don't mean just the voices. The animation of some of the characters was amazing. I can't recall any other animated film I have seen where there were moments that I thought the character of Stoick, the head Viking, was a man in a big Viking costume. Some of the gestures, body language and overall movements and so much life and realism in them it was hard to take your eyes off him every time he was on screen. Truly superb animation. Don't mean to take away from any of the other characters. All were great but Stoick was impressive. I wish I could recall who the animator was.

It even had a good story. Of course, like most "kids" films the plots can be over predictable at times, but this was able to be predictable yet surprising, emotional without being overtly sentimental, and terrific action that made great use of the latest craze of 3D. I have to also give huge kudos to the story team for adding a surprising element in the end (I will not give it away) that other studios may have backed away from and left out but gave the film a real gravitas that you don't see in many "childrens" films. Thank you Dreamworks for being brave. And gratefully, they didn't have to resort to pop culture references for cheap jokes and lame gags.

Lastly, I want to talk briefly about the 3D. What a pain in the ass. I don't know if all the theaters are like this, but the glasses we had were tinted darker on the left eye and they wouldn't fit comfortably on our faces. And while the center of the screen may have been clear, around the edges and peripherally everything was blurry. Man this 3D thing really makes me mad. The whole opening sequence of a dragon attack on the village at night was impossible to see. Having said all that, the production design was beautiful. The rolling green hills, the sprawling sea of viking vessels, were majestic. And the flying sequences really showed off the 3D nicely if you were able to view it.

Overall, I thought it was one of the best if not THE best Dreamworks film to date (although I did like Kung Fu Panda as well) and I hope they continue to take chances and push themselves with every new film that comes out. Next up Shrek Forever After. Well, hopefully after that.

Monday, March 8, 2010

2010 Oscars

While over 35 million people spent their Sunday nights watching the 2010 Oscar telecast, I and 3 million of my closest friends had to choose between Dateline and the Amazing Race because Cablevision pulled ABC from the air OR ABC didn't allow Cablevision to broadcast their otherwise free channel. Cablevision even offered to allow its subscribers to watch Movies on Demand for free but when we went to try and do that, but of course, it didn't work. Thanks Cablevision.

Regardless of who is right in this argument, I was pissed and wanted to watch the Oscars. So instead I watched Undercover Boss as I trawled (or is it trolled) the internet on my laptop looking for an online telecast of the show and not just the red carpet entrances, but to no avail. Then at around 10:30 I realized one of my facebook friends mentioned that miraculously the telecast had come back on. Did the superpowers behind the ABC/Cablevision have mercy and call a cease fire for a brief moment to bring peace to the world and allow the viewers to come together in harmony to watch the Oscars? I didn't care what the reason, the Oscars were on and I was going to finally watch it. So I watched the cinematography award given out , the horror film montage, the memorial montage, sat through one dance number and decided the magic was gone and went to bed. Sorry, too little too late. The enthusiasm was gone.
Not that I am an Oscar junkie or hold Oscar parties to rate the star's wardrobes, or even have a pool to bet on the winners. I do none of that. As a matter of fact, I can't stand the self congratulatory, god worshipping that goes on in Hollywood and its Romanesque triumphal parade which is the Oscars. That's not to say I don't dream one day of winning one of those gold statuettes for myself so I can look out at all my peers and say, HA! For ONCE, I am better than you! No. I enjoy watching the Oscars for other reasons.

1) To see who wins Best Animated Feature, because animation am my business. I learned this morning the winner was UP. Shocker! Who'd have guessed it that a small little studio like Pixar would run away with this years award. Why did the other films even bother showing up? Actually the fact the "The Secret of Kells" was nominated was a great inspiration for smaller studios who are still holding on to the notion that traditional animation is alive and well. Disney's "Princess and the Frog" helped too. I Actually have not seen "Secret of the Kells" yet, but the images and scenes from Ireland's Cartoon Saloon's production are beautiful and confirm why I got into this industry in the first place.

2) To see who wins Best Animated Short so I can wallow in self pity that I haven't created an Oscar worthy short. Yet!
As for the short film winner, Logorama, I happened to have watched it the week before and was really impressed by the overall concept and idea. It was extremely clever and imaginative and I guess had a statement to make about the over saturation in our lives of corporations and mass marketing but the world created of logos almost was a gimmick instead of a story point. Nonetheless, it was amazing to watch and try to spot each of the thousands of logos and corporate iconic characters in the film. Really enjoyable to watch. Congratulations to the winners, the French artistic conglomerate of H5. What will Nick Park do without another Wallace and Gromit Oscar?

3) To see the montages. I love to watch the film montages so I can rattle off, "seen it", "wanna see it", "never heard of that one", as each clip rolls by. I also like to see the montage of the people who died the previous year so I can say, "he/she died THIS year?", or "I didn't know they died" or "I didn't even know they were still alive".
After the broadcast finally came on I DID see the memorial montage, and is it just me or was Farrah Fawcett left off from the montage? What was that all about? Is it because she was mainly a TV star and not a film star? Has the world forgotten "Saturn 3" already? It's bad enough that her death got eclipsed by Michael Jackson's but to totally get left off the montage? It's like the day Princess Diana died,another death got totally overshadowed. A little known woman known as Mother Theresa.
And now, I found out that there was a montage remembering John Hughes's iconic teenage comedies of the 80s. The man whose films defined my generation was honored and I missed it. I must go and watch the tribute and pay my respects to the man that gave us Lloyd Dobler and Long Duk Dong.

4) Mostly, this year I wanted to see Steve Martin, my all-time favorite comedian, and Alec Baldwin, who has become one of today's greatest comedic actors and backbone of the great 30 Rock, host this years awards. Although, their lackluster film It's Complicated only got a few good hearty laughs from me, I was excited and willing to give these two power houses another chance. Missed it. Will have to catch it on YouTube.

5) Seeing James Cameron lose. Not that I don't like James Cameron or his films. Terminator and Aliens 2 were iconic Sci-Fi films of my youth. But two things really tainted my overall view of this man. Firstly, his "I am King of the World" speech after winning for Titanic was the most obnoxious and saddest thing I ever saw. You know this guy was not popular in High School and he was sadly giving the finger to all the spitballs he's had flung at him over the years. But really dude, it's an award for a movie. I didn't hear President Obama scream "I am King of the World" when winning the Nobel Peace Prize. Secondly, while interning one Summer at DreamQuest Images special effects studio in Simi Valley CA, I had the pleasure of working briefly with Mr. Cameron on the effects for his film "The Abyss". Okay, working WITH is a little strong. At the time we were creating video storyboards which involved puppeting cardboard ships on sticks to illustrate the shots that the effects artists would later create with real models (not those virtual CG models the kids are doing these days). The first day, I was dutifully (and quite competently) puppetting one of the ships doing exactly what Mr. Cameron instructed in every shot. On the second day his own effects guys, assistants and lackeys and hanger on-ers, started taking over the puppeting and I was relegated to the task of slating the shots. Not a glamorous position but an important one and I was happy just to be on the set. But when King Cameron started yelling at me because I wasn't getting the slate out of the shot fast enough I realized that the free internship I had didn't list being yelled at by a megalomaniacal, narcissist as one of its selling points. I decided to spend the next few days with the amazingly talented matte painters Bob Scifo and Ken Allen that I spent the rest of the Summer with.

So, thanks a lot ABC and Cablevision for messing up my Sunday night, and now my Monday morning, seeing as though I have to catch up on replays of the events on the web. All, I can say is don't you dare screw with my Tuesday Night of LOST or I may have to break out the old rabbit ears on your butts.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Stroker & Hoop

In case you missed it when it first aired, Adult Swim has full episodes of "Stroker and Hoop", along with episode guides, character profiles, and other fun downloads. Created by Jeff Olsen and Chris Kelly, the 13 episode series follows two inept private detectives and their talking car as they solve some of LA's most ridiculous crimes.

View Full Episodes Here