Search For Treasures

Sunday, December 27, 2009

The Art of Philip Zec : British Political Cartoonist Extraordinaire

These are a few examples of the great work of British Political cartoonist Philip Zec. He worked for The Daily Mirror in London from the 1930s until 1958.

This is one of his most famous cartoons.

Until Next Time

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Film as Revelation

Today's post is dealing with a topic that I don't think I can fully verbalize. I'm here to talk about movies. However, I'm specifically talking about certain types of movies. These are the types of films that affect a person so much, that they transcend being a mere movie and become an experience.

What I mean by this is that the film affects on such a deep level, that it helps shape your mind, who you are at your core. Also, these are the films that you love despite any and all flaws it may have. These films only come a few times in one's life, or at least for me. I think that's the reason why it's really hard for movies to impress me fully. I enjoy movies, but there are few movies that I love wholly, especially animated films. I think it's because I've studied animation so much that my standards have become impossibly high that I'm bound for disappointment.

I'm looking for that next film experience that will enrich my life.

Here are a few that already have:

What are yours?

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

My Feelings on "Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs" (1937)

I've recently rewatched Disney's Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. We recently bought the Diamond Edition (although it would have been better if we waited for the 2-disc DVD set because we don't have a Blu-Ray player), and I've been reanalyzing my view of it.Let me say that my view of this films has changed over the years. When we first got the videotape of the film, I remember thinking it was a girly film, and not leaving a big impression on me. As I got older and learned more about animation, I learned to respect its place in the history of my beloved artform, but I still didn't think it was that great of a movie. I had a fair share of qualms with it

However, I've grown older and more mature (hopefully) and have come to admire it and like it as well. I think it was after reading Michael Barrier's Hollywood Cartoons: American Animation in Its Golden Age and all of the time he focused on this film that caused me to look it over again. I popped in the VHS tape we had and watched it. To my surprise, I was actually enjoying it. A few more viewings, and I was getting what the fuss was about. it truly is a good film.

First off, the visuals of the film are spectacular. The backgrounds are so wonderfully painted, filled with a wide variety of colors, but they're more muted colors with a wide variety of shades. More animated movies should watch this to get a look at what a good color scheme is. It also provides excellent atmosphere. I can really feel the influence of artist Gustaf Tenngren in the film. I think my favorite scenes for pure atmosphere are the scene in which Snow White runs into the forest and it looks like the forest is alive and ready to devour her and the scene with the Hag Queen in her dungeon.

Secondly, the animation is fantastic. All of the characters are animated wonderfully, giving them a great depth. I know a lot of people have heaped praise on them already, but I have to single out a couple of animators for their work. First off, Fred Moore and Bill Tytla did fantastic with the dwarfs. They added such life and vitality to them. Of course, it helps when the voice actors do a good job giving you juicy material to work with. However, the dwarfs that really leave me entertained are Grumpy and Dopey. They're the ones that have the most personality. Grumpy is more than just grumpy. He's superstitious, wary of strangers, and plain stubborn to boot. However, we see him transform into a more kind-hearted character as he falls in love with Snow White. That and I really do suspect that he is the true leader of the group. He just lets Doc think he's in charge, but when push comes to shove, Grumpy leads the charge. All you have to do is look at the big chase scene at the climax and you'll see my point.

Dopey is the other Dwarf I like because he reminds me of Harpo Marx. Childlike and a bit impish. That, and he is a horny little devil. Don't believe me; watch the scene where he tries to get one last kiss from Snow White. There's more than just affection on his mind.

The other animators I have to give praise to are the artists who worked on The Wicked Queen. Actually, I've noticed a little quirk in the animation that helps provide quite a contrast in her character, almost like revealing two different sides of her. When Art Babbitt and his assistants animate her (when she is in her royal form), the animation is graceful, precise, and cold, very much representing her as we know her. In her animation, we do see subtle facial expressions, like the best actors of the time. Her body language is a bit melodramatic, but it adds such emphasis to the scenes she's in. In contrast, the Hag Queen is more hammy and openly evil. She;s not cold, but just evil in that pure sense. She also has hammy, but also subtle body gestures. It's almost ;like she is revealing her true self, her more human emotions. Norm Ferguson and his assistants did a masterful job.

Now, I still have a few qualms about the film. Some of the most important story points are hard to believe. First off, Snow White's romance with the Prince feels forced, but I guess I can chalk that up to fairy-tale conventions. Secondly, I cannot believe that the Dwarfs would all fall instantly in love with her that fast. If I'm supposed to believe that these dwarfs are living, thinking characters, then I can't accept that there wouldn't be any hesitation to keep Snow White in the house. Maybe I'm missing something about her character. Perhaps I just don't understand the character dynamics of this movie. Can someone explain that to me?

However, apart from those little trepidations, everything else about the film is marvelous. I love the musical score and the songs. My favorite is still "Heigh-Ho".

When talking about story, the pace of the storytelling is marvelous. Every scene of the film flows, even if the scenes are just little bits of padding, like the scenes with the small animals. Come to think of it, they may not be padding at all. Perhaps these animals help to serve Snow White's character. Their undying devotion perhaps helps to highlight her own essential purity and goodness.

Also, it makes a great use of editing, montage, and all other tools of filmmaking. I would have to study more about that aspect of film in order to go in-depth.

I finally understand why this is a masterpiece. I understand why Walt was so proud of it.

Until next time.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Pathos: What The Hell Is It?

Pathos. The word brings to us images of suffering and despair, whether it be from films or from life itself. However, what does it really mean?

Webster's Dictionary (at least the version I have) states that pathos means, "the quality in something which arouses pity, sorrow, sympathy, etc." This concept has intrigued me for quite some time. I've heard many people refer to the word when it comes to entertainment. Disney animators talk about how it makes up the core of their character animation. John Kricfalusi has said that Disney films are full of fake pathos. How does one tell the difference between "Fake Pathos" and "Genuine Pathos"? Well let's take a look at different examples of pathos in the media, particularly film, and film animation.

Jim Smith, animator/manly cartoonist, has described his definition of pathos as, "Emotional content, not just sadness or sentiment, but honest emotion as opposed to contrived."

Mr. Smith, while discussing the topic with yours truly, has cited the classic comic strip "Popeye" by E.C. Segar as an example of genuine pathos. For example, in one strip, Popeye gives money to an orphanage because he was once an orphan himself. Jim Smith gets a manly lump in his throat every time he reads it. Sorry I couldn't find the matching picture, but spanking can be a source of pathos, as it is a common experience to children, representing a parent's disapproval.

Mr. Smith has also mentioned the beloved Christmas classic "It's a Wonderful Life" as a strong narrative with genuine pathos. In particular, he cites the line "Zuzu's petals" as a tearjerker. I have nothing to argue against it (since I've never seen it), so I'll go along with it. It seems that even some of the most bitter of curmudgeons are moved by this story. I'll attribute that to a great performance by Jimy Stewart and wonderful direction by Frank Capra.

Now, what is an example of "fake pathos"? The best example I could find is the story of The Vampire's Assistant. I remember seeing this with my cousin while we were at a Bainbridge Island theater. It concerns two boys, Darren and Steve (pictured below). Both go to a freakshow, where Steve recognizes a vampire working for them named Crepsley. Steve wants Crepsley to turn him into a bloodsucker, but is refused for having "bad blood" (How does that work?). When Steve finds out that Darren has been made into a vampire, Steve feels betrayed and swears revenge.

We're given a bit of backstory for Steve, where it states that his parents never notice him, or some such crap, and how he feels like Darren stabbed him in the back by becoming a vampire, but there's no indication of why we should give a damn. He actually says in the movie that his friendship with Darren is secret, and he doesn't want people to know about it. All in all, I don't feel any sympathy for him, so there goes the dark but sympathetic anti-hero angle, and he's too much of a whiny dipshit to take seriously as a villain. I was praying he would have his head ripped off by a random werewolf attack. I actually got the same feeling about the characters, particularly the villain, of Meet the Robinsons.

Perhaps that's the difference between genuine and fake pathos: the strength of the story and the emotional investment in the characters. The reason why we feel sympathy for characters like Popeye is because they have endeared themselves to us, because they are strong interesting characters. For example, back in the 20s or 30s, Sandy the Dog, of Little Orphan Annie fame, was injured and no less than Henry Ford himself sent a letter to the syndicate that distributed the strip asking if Sandy would survive. That's the kind of power a good character can have on people.

Another way of distinguishing true and fake pathos is how hard one tries to get people to sympathize with characters. John K. has stated that Disney uses camera cuts and music, as well as sad background stories, to achieve pathos. I find that to be a major blunder, especially in recent animated films. Let's take a look at Meet the Robinsons again. The film tries too hard to find empathy, but the characters are so nondescript and lackluster that I was left cold. However, they used every trick Disney could use to get an emotional reaction, from the sad music to the main character's backstory as an orphan. Unfortunately, I wasn't feeling it. Too forced for my tastes. Does that make me coldhearted?

A perfect example of a film with true pathos, despite its length and lack of familiar characters, is the classic Chuck Jones cartoon One Froggy Evening. It succeeds on narrative and use of archetypes, but also because everything feels as if it occurs naturally. Even though Chuck Jones' cartoons sometimes feel as if the characters are preordained to act a certain way, the reactions feel natural. Let's take a look at our main character. He's a joe-shmoe working to make a living. He finds the singing frog and sees a way to fame and fortune, a way out of the drudgery, like all of us want. However, he is foiled at every turn by some divine interference which states that nobody but him can see the frog sing and dance.

That causes him to go from this...

To this
Tom Kenny has stated that he found this cartoon to be "existentially sad".

I get a similar reaction when I view Ralph Bakshi's Heavy Traffic. It seems to be the whole feel of the film. One scene in particular always moves me in way I can't quite describe. It is the scene at the nostalgic nightclub, where Michael meets up with his mother Ida. Afterwards she has a drunken conversation with him, she wanders where soon she is surrounded by old family photographs. She soon sees her old wedding photo, and finally collapses, realizing how she has wasted her life, and youth, by being married to Angelo Corleone. It's a very quiet, but powerful scene. There are no tears, but simple realization and resignation. I don't tear up, but I feel the complete despair and emptiness of Ida.

You can view it here on this clip from YouTube.

Thank you for reading my little mini-essay on pathos. I guess ultimately, pathos lies in the eye of the beholder. It's all up to you.

Now, to finish, I'm going to show you one of the few scenes in film that causes me to bawl like a baby. If you don't shed at least one tear, then you are a heartless communist.

Until next time boys and girls.
Thank you Jim Smith for the inspiration.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Evaluating Admiration and Role Model

I have been thinking about my heroes in the world of cartoons and animation. I've been reading up on a lot of these people for quite some time. I'm quite surprised by the wide variety of opinions about certain figures in cartoon history.

For example, we have the established view of history, with the respected critics and their views of events, such as the view of Disney as the godsend and the be-all-end-all of animation, and that the other studios produced mere "entertainment". That would be the view that Disney wants to impart on us. Another view offers us the view of Disney as the Anti-Christ, who sucked all the joy and made cartoons rebel against their inherent nature. This goes on for every figure in the medium, from animators like Freddie Moore and Rod Scribner, to directors such as Chuck Jones and Ralph Bakshi.

Ever since I started visiting animation blogs, a whole new world has opened my eyes and my mind. I've only ever heard one side of the story about these legends. It was at first hard to listen to such criticisms, because I had pretty much been indoctrinated. For example, John Kricfalusi has stated on a few occasions about Chuck Jones' habit of having Daffy being the loser in those cartoons simply because he preordained it. Or how he picks apart a lot of Disney films, a lot of which I have grown up with. This was a little hard for me to deal with me, because so much praise had been placed upon them that I just began to parrot them.

Now, I've heard opposing opinions and have since then gained a more rounded understanding of these people. I can see a bit of how Chuck Jones can seem to have a sense of preordainment towards his characters, or how Ralph Bakshi does have weak storytelling abilities.

Visiting these sites have opened my eyes to my heros faults, but allowed me to view their strengths as well. I now have a more analytic, discerning mind that allows me to cut through the bullshit the studios throw at us.

The point I've gotten from all of these blogs and postings is that you must understand your influences, and learn from their strengths and failings. Thus you can learn to avoid those mistakes, and thus keep from repeating them. That is something that I don't see in the media today. You hear a lot about a person's artistic influences, but you don't hear about what they learned to keep and what to avoid.

I know this seems like an obvious statement to make, but there are those that don't learn this. They don't learn to have a discerning eye. Thus they never advance as artists. Current animation studios keep rehashing all of the ideas of the old studios, with out understanding what made those old cartoons great in the first place. Cartoon Network works a lot in that angular, 1950s style, but don't know how to properly draw that style.

I think this industry, in fact all industries need to learn to use critical thinking and analysis. Sorry if I seem to be rambling, but this was just something I had to write down. I couldn't think of any proper order to put this in, so I'm just writing what comes to mind. Thanks to those who actually read this insane babbling.

For reading this, I shall reward you with some funny cartoons.
Have Fun,

Until next time kiddies.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

A Little Inspiration Part 2: The Young Ones

Nothing really special today, just posting an episode of one of the funniest and weirdest sitcoms to have ever hit the small screen: BBC's The Young Ones

You know, the British seem to be a bit more experimental in their comedy programming than we Yanks. I've never seen an American sitcom where all the characters can be blown up in one episode and appear just fine in the next, furniture talks, and random rock bands appear in the living room to perform. That's one point for the Brits.

This episode is called Bambi

Part One

Part Two

Part Three

Part Four

The Young Ones is owned by the BBC.

Happy Trails

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Frank Bellamy: The Good Doctor Artist

This is the work of Frank Bellamy, a British illustrator/comic book artist. He worked in the pages of TV Century 21. He is best known for his work on comics and illustrations for properties such as Doctor Who, Thunderbirds, as well as Dan Dare and the newspaper comic strip Garth.

Excellent page layouts, quite easy to read, and fantastic use of color. Obviously the British had a bit more respect for the medium than we Yanks.

For more information about Frank Bellamy as well as to see more artwork, please visit the site below:

Happy Trails

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Character Design and Its Role in Animation.

Today boys and girls, we venture into the role of character design in animation. It is a part of animation that is largely neglected in modern work (at least in major studios).

John Kricfalusi, a man whom I respect, even if I don't always agree with him, has a few good points about character design.

His five points of character design:

1.) Functional - Understandable logical form
Simple sensible forms
Can be moved easily

2.) Aesthetic - Pleasing Balance of shapes

3.) Recognizeable - Distinct from other characters

4.) Personality - Allowing the viewer to know a character's personality simply by the way they

5.) Original - Not a knock-off of a previous character

Fore more of this post go to:

Now, I would like to add a sixth part to that list. It's one that I've been thinking about for awhile.

6.) Believable - Allowing the viewer to believe in the story you're telling or the world your
characters reside in.

Let me explain what I mean. I mean that some designs are better suited for different styles of story. Wouldn't characters looking like these...

would look very strange in a more film noir-like cartoon, wouldn't you say?

On the other hand, animation is all about caricature, and if we lose that element, animation is no longer exciting and it becomes a pale imitation of live-action. It would be a vast and grueling undertaking for animators to try and move character that looked like this

or like these

The question then arises: "What is that right level of caricature where the characters are believable in their environment, but are still fun to animate?"

A great example would be the character designs of the characters in Ralph Bakshi's "Hey Good Lookin'". Each of the characters, even minor characters, has a distinct look to them, different to every other person, just like real people, but they still have a cartoony feel, much like what Jack Davis or Mort Drucker do, a MAD Magazine feeling.

Vinnie (above) looks nothing like Crazy Shapiro (below)

If you want to see what I'm talking, go over to YouTube and watch the movie. You'll see what I mean.

Many of the side characters were designed by the late and wonderfully talented artist Louise Zingarelli. The main characters were done by David Jonas. I wish there was more "Hey Good Lookin'" artwork in the Bakshi book.

Another good idea would be to look at some of the old adventure strips like "Dick Tracy". Chester Gould was a great storyteller, but was also, as he described himself, a "big-foot cartoonist that got side-tracked."

I know that character design is only one step in the animation process, but it should be given careful consideration. From there we can build upon it and make a great film. However, this is only my opinion. I gladly await to hear yours.

Happy Trails

Saturday, June 6, 2009

Great Animation: What Is It?

Hello again dear readers. I know I've been gone awhile, but not that many people read my blog, and why should people since there are so many others that much more knowledgeable about the subjects I talk about out there.

Okay, sorry about the self-pity. Now onto today's subject.

Ever since I decided to become an animator and working towards that goal, I have looked over many animation blogs (just look at the side of this page to see how many I look over), and reading over their articles, a thought keeps popping back into my mind...

What, in fact, does make great animation?

I've heard one argument after another by many different sources, such as Michael Barrier, Bob Jaques, John Kricfalusi, and Michael Sporn.

Michael Barrier, when discussing Milt Kahl and his work, had this to say:

"Those characters, and others that Kahl designed and animated later, have what seems to me not real warmth but a calculated appeal whose artificiality Kahl's beautiful drawings can't quite conceal."

"Ironically, it is "sincerity," that Disney shibboleth, that is most conspicuously lacking in Kahl's work."

What exactly is "sincerity"? Does it exactly equal good animation. Isn't good draftsmanship enough. Can an animator be a horrible draftsman, but if he/she has "sincerity", can they make great animation. I have actually heard that said about legendary animators Art Babbitt and Ed Love, although I can't remember where.

He also had an interesting statement he wrote about Don Bluth animation-style, which happened to appear in his review of the 2002 Disney flick Treasure Planet:

"It is the kind of animation that results when animators try to achieve the vaunted Disney "sincerity"—that is, animation in which the characters really seem to believe in what they're doing—by having the characters behave as if they know that they're appearing in a film.

What's involved is not mere staginess, the usual mugging or playing to the audience. In Bluth animation, the characters are not entertaining hams, or, even less, ironically self-aware; instead, they are as painfully awkward as adolescents on a first date. The characters' insistent self-awareness is what makes Bluth animation so uncomfortably distinctive."

These criticisms leave me wondering how one would leap to that conclusion. Those are pretty harsh words for Mr. Bluth and his disciples. I guess that these criticisms are the result of how one feels while watching it.

Here's a quote from Max Fleischer about how he thinks animation should be: “If it can be done in real life, it’s not animation”.

If that's the case, then the work of his studio would reign supreme, seeing as how everything in their films could never be done in real life. Have you ever seen a woman with a phallic nose transform into a frying pan , complete with two eggs. Or how about a chicken coop morphing into a demonic face while chasing a chicken thief.

John Kricfalusi and Thad Komorowski have similar ideas. While they do differ about specifics (and the fact that they hate each other guts), they both believe in animation that is fun and entertaining, such as the work of Irv Spence in the Tom and Jerry series or Rod Scribner's work for Clampett.

Animation director Michael Sporn has this to say about great animation:

"My preference will always go to the flawed yet emotional animation."

The layfolk often see that quality animation means smooth full animation, like one would get from a feature film.

I guess the ultimate answer to this question is it's open to interpretation. I guess great animation is what you want it to be. My personal preference is animation that has specific facial and body expressions. This allows you to know what the character is all about. I would like to read what you readers have to say about this. Drop a line in the comments.

Until then, Happy Trails.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Help Me: I'm Technologically Illiterate!

Now, many would think that, as I am twenty years old and living in the computer age, that I would know the ins and outs of computers and be able to do anything with one. This is, unfortunately, not the case. It is only by the grace of God that I'm even able to use the basics of Blogger.

Now, as I am an aspiring cartoonist, I would like to post my attempts with using construction and other drawings. However, I don't know how to use the scanner. Now, I could probably learn to use the scanner part, but I need to know how to upload all of that stuff I want to upload, like my construction drawings and my collection of comics.

Next, I need to know which program allows you to overlap the original source of a drawing and a person's copy. Also, how do oyu upload film clips and film snaps? I ask for the help of my friends on Blogger (Joe Bloke? Fellow cartoonists?)

Just leave me a comment and that will help.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

The Betty Boop - Cab Calloway Trinity

Today I only have to show you the amazing cartoons showcasing the wonderfully talented Cab Calloway and surreal animation of the Fleischer Studios. It's sad they no longer make these types of cartoons.

Minnie the Moocher (1932)

I personally prefer the more curvaceous Betty. Don't you?

Snow White (1933)

The Old Man of the Mountain (1933)

I love the design of The Old Man.

Sorry for these lame updates, but I need to figure how to use my scanner and get Photoshop so I can post my construction drawings and various comics.

Until we meet again

(Special thanks to Joe Bloke for commenting on the past couple posts. I'll try to post comics for him next time.)