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Archive for the ‘Animated Films’ Category

Animated Shorts: The Further Adventures of Uncle Sam

The Further Adventures of Uncle Sam: Part 2 (1970) by Dale Case and Bob Mitchell is one of my favorites. (Complete list of favorites is here.) If you like American underground comics of the Sixties or Ralph Bakshi’s Fritz the Cat, you will probably like this. It may best be described as a string of political cartoons connected by a story that features Uncle Sam, the bald eagle, the Statue of Liberty, and literal money men. There’s more invention and imagination going on in this short than in most of the animated features of recent years combined. (Note: it’s called Part 2 even though there was no Part 1, just as Star Wars was called Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope long before Lucas made the prequels.)

It won the Grand Prix at Annecy International Animated Film Festival in 1971. You can purchase a DVD that includes this film as well as a bunch of other great animated shorts here. (Note: the version of Bob’s Birthday included in this set is, unfortunately, in French.)

Written by David Kilmer

November 8, 2012 at 9:24 am

Did Tim Burton Steal a Credit from Michael McDowell?

I first learned about the book that would become The Melancholy Death of Oyster Boy & Other Stories when Steve Bissette cryptically who wrote in Taboo #8:

There were so many, many more [stories that had been completed, but not published in Taboo]: Michael McDowell and Tim Burton’s sardonic “The Oyster Boy,” completed but lost in the shuffle of Burton’s post-Batman career.

That comment was dated May 1995. The Oyster Boy story appeared in Burton’s book two years later, the longest and most substantial piece by far in the collection. However, Michael McDowell’s name did not appear as an author or co-author, and only made an appearance on the Acknowledgments page at the end of the book. Somehow, he had lost his status as an author of the story. This is the Michael McDowell who is credited as a writer on the scripts for Beetlejuice and The Nightmare Before Christmas. What happened? Unfortunately, McDowell cannot be asked because he died in 1999.

In 2000, Bissette wrote:

My only problem with this collection is the solo credit on the cover and title page proferring Tim Burton as the lone author. This seems deceptive at best. Through the events I’ve just described to you, I can attest to the fact that Michael McDowell wrote the Oyster Boy story; if you’re at all familiar with Michael’s own work, his voice rings loud and clear. I’d sure like to know who really wrote the rest of this book. Buried on page 115 are the acknowledgments, with “Thanks to” a number of writers — prominent among them Michael McDowell. It seems fair to assume the others listed had a hand in the rest of the stories and verse, too. Can anyone out there provide some credits and credentials here?

Here’s the acknowledgments page from the first edition:

(Eva Quiroz was Burton’s assistant through Sleepy Hollow, and Rodney Kizziah has a credit in Ed Wood as “Vampira friend.” Neither has a credit that would suggest having written anything in this book. But what of the other two?)

Despite suggesting that Burton stole McDowell’s credit as a co-author, Bissette concludes by saying:

Those misgivings aside, this is RECOMMENDED, and makes a great gift.

This is the same Bissette who recommended people boycott Marvel’s The Avengers movie due to authorship issues related to Jack Kirby. Why the double standard when it comes to Tim Burton and Michael McDowell?

FURTHER THOUGHTS

1. This curious case of disappearing credits on a Tim Burton project cannot help but remind me of what happened to Barry Purves on Mars Attacks!. Purves wrote about his experience here. Writing for Animation World Magazine in 1997, Wendy Jackson wrote:

To create the intricate Martian puppets, Burton contracted the services of model makers Ian Mackinnon and Peter Saunders. Mackinnon noted that, “It seemed a rather brave route to be taking, but Tim has always been a great believer in the artistry of puppet animation.” Within a few weeks, Mackinnon and Saunders had amassed a large team of sculptors working in L.A. and the U.K., who were busy building hundreds of identical 15-inch Martian puppets. Mackinnon, overseeing production in Los Angeles, was soon joined by contemporary master puppet animator Barry Purves, creator of such festival award-winning short films as Next, Screenplay and Achilles. With Purves acting as animation director, elaborate sets were constructed and filming began. “We spent months working on bizarre little Martian gestures and ways of moving,” Purves recalled. “The animation tests were looking good and suitably creepy.” But the newly formed “dream studio” of a stop-motion facility, dubbed “Stickman” was short-lived.

In November 1995, Warner Bros. decided that the time and technical demands of blending stop-motion animation convincingly with live-action were just too challenging a task to be dealt with in the year left before the film’s scheduled release. And so, nine months into the stop-motion production, the model animation team was dispensed with and replaced by 3D computer animation.

Not all of the model work was done in vain. Movements and gestures developed by Purves’ team were adapted to the computer characters. Mackinnon and Saunders’ puppets were digitally scanned and rendered into computer models, while the 15-inch puppets were cast into enlarged full-scale Martians to be used in several of the film’s live-action scenes.

While Mackinnon and Saunders and some of the people on their team received a credit under a “Special Effects by” heading, Barry Purves did not receive any credit at all, despite, as Jackson wrote, having developed movments and gestures that were adapted to the CGI characters. Recently the Tim Burton exhibit that originated at MOMA included some of the stop-motion test footage produced by Purves and his team. Some of the footage featured Purves playing a victim of a Martian raygun. Why can’t Warners release all of the stop-motion footage produced by Purves and his team? Burton described it to me, at a 1997 Oyster Boy signing, as being “beautiful.” Am I the only one who would love to see it?

Purves’ website is here.

Written by David Kilmer

May 23, 2012 at 11:12 am

Cartoons: Themes and Variations

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This post is part of The Short Animation Blogathon.

TEX AVERY: KING OF CARTOONS

Hollywood cartoon director Frederick “Tex” Avery, was born February 26, 1908, in Taylor, Texas. At Warner Brothers’ Termite Terrace in the late Thirties and early Forties, Avery helped define such characters as Porky Pig, Elmer Fudd, Bugs Bunny, and Daffy Duck, but, more importantly, he helped create an alternative to the dominant Disney world of sentimental cartoon realism:  a wacked out, yet logically consistent world where an escaped convict wolf can run out of the film frame or an ocean liner can fall from the sky.

Here are two of Avery’s best films. “Northwest Hounded Police,” released by MGM five years after “Tortoise Beats Hare,” one of the last films Avery made for Warner Bros., is a re-working of some of the themes found in the Bugs Bunny short. A re-working, but not a re-make. Just as Avery like to structure individual films as variations on a theme, he also liked to develop even more variations on these same themes from film to film. Avery had a degree of control of his films that would have made other film directors envious, if they had not been prejudiced to dismiss the cartoons as not really being films. But for those of us who understand that cartoons can be art just as much as any live action film, Avery was a film auteur in the best sense of the word. If only the system allowed more like him to exist.

Written by David Kilmer

February 26, 2012 at 9:50 pm

Noise and Creativity

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How many artists can work in noisy environments? I don’t know, but Alan Moore is not one of them:

I know there are some people who can apparently write with a roomful of people and a radio on and a television or stuff like that. I can’t imagine how they do it. I can’t have any sound in the room while I’m working. I can’t have anybody in the room with me. (Alan Moore: Storyteller, p. 306.)

Neither is Quentin Tarantino:

Quentin Tarantino sues over neighbour’s macaws driving him to distraction

Nearly every day Mr Tarantino and others in his home are subjected to the macaws’ obnoxious pterodactyl-like screams, which are not only startling, but have also seriously disrupted Mr Tarantino’s ability to work as a writer in his home.

The defendants know that their birds issue blood-curdling, prehistoric sounding screams. Though one might assume that, as a fellow writer, Mr Ball would understand and respect a writer’s need for peace and quiet while he is working, that assumption would be wrong.

How many people in the world have access to silence? I certainly don’t. Our neighbor to the north likes to enliven our days with the sound of his electric saws and gasoline powered leaf blowers. At this very moment to the south, a film crew is set up across the street, repeatedly playing loud music over and over. We already get enough of that from the guy who lives below us whose preference is to spend his days playing video games and watching TV with the volume set to max. Silence nowadays is more golden than ever, in the sense of being scarce. Even the Grinch, who lives alone on a mountaintop, could not keep the noises at bay. No wonder he was a Grinch!

My question is this: does the amount of art made in the world shrink as the noises made in the world increase? And here’s another question: what if there are two types of people? The first thrives on noise, but wilts under quiet; the other wilts under noise, but thrives under quiet. If these groups do exist, can they ever get along? Here’s a cartoon that addresses this question:

Here’s a cartoon about a man driven to the breaking point by noise:

ADDITIONAL THOUGHTS

Someone should run out in the street, nab the first Tarantino look-alike they spot, and make Quentin Tarantino Vs. the Prehistoric Bird right away!

11/28/2012

Brain Pickings has a page about and some excerpts from a book about noise, Discord: The Story of Noise. Here’s a sample:

[Charles] Babbage attacked noise on many fronts, making numerous court appearances and, like any good naturalist, collecting data to support his case, including his detailed list of 165 interruptions that he suffered over 80 days and his estimate that noise had reduced his working output by a quarter.

Babbage’s efforts might have been more successful had he not insisted in characterizing the battle against noise as the battle of the ‘intellectual worker’ against ‘those whose minds are entirely unoccupied.’ He included in his pamphlet a list of ‘Encouragers of Street Music’:

tavern-keepers, public houses, gin-shops, beer-shops, coffee-shops, servants, children, visitors from the country, and, finally and occasionally, ladies of doubtful virtue…

And he also lists ‘Instruments of torture permitted by the government to be in daily and nightly use in the streets of London,’ comprising:

organs, bass bands, fiddles, harps, harpsichord, hurdy-gurdies, flageolets, drums, bagpipes, accordions, halfpenny whistles, tom-toms trumpets, and, the human voice, shouting out objects for sale.

Animated Shorts: Watch “To Be” Instead of The Prestige

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Just watched Christopher Nolan’s overly serious, and a bit tedious, version of Christopher Priest’s novel, The Prestige. My recommendation is that everyone instead watch John Weldon’s National Film Board of Canada animated short, “To Be,” which exploits similar ideas. It’s witty, clever, and provocative; and it didn’t need a multi-million dollar budget and 130 minutes to work its magic.

Written by David Kilmer

January 18, 2012 at 1:13 am

The Adventures of Tintin’s Nose

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Tintin’s nose

While watching Spielberg’s The Adventures of Tintin, one thought kept flashing through my mind: why does Tintin (and Snowy) have cute little noses, while everyone else have noses that one must describe with words such as bulbous, hooked, huge, unsightly. This is the kind of nose for which the word “proboscis” was no doubt coined.

So here it is, The Adventures of Tintin’s Nose:

Will Tintin and Snowy's cute little noses survive their adventures intact?

The big nose threatens the little nose. Bystanders' noses add to the threatening atmosphere.

Tintin's nose meets Captain Haddock's nose. No contest. Even Snowy seems impressed.

The first mate, despite having an admirable nose himself, appears none too keen to gaze upon his captain's mighty proboscis.

Bad guy nose vs bad guy nose. Which one will win? Tough call!

Imagine this shot in 3D! Tintin appears to be doing just that.

The big unanswered question is this: What would Freud have said about this game of nose vs nose which Tintin’s nose is forced to play? Of course, to pose that question is tantamount to answering it. The same could be asked of one of my favorite films, The Nose by Alexander Alexeïeff and Claire Parker. It is about a man’s quest to find his nose. If you want to watch an animated film about noses, this is the one to watch. Here it is:

ADDITIONAL THOUGHTS

You have been reading my review of The Adventures of Tintin directed by Steven Spielberg and written by Steven Moffat and Edgar Wrighy & Joe Cornish, based on the comic book series “The Adventures of Tintin” by Hergé.

Thanks for reading.

Written by David Kilmer

December 19, 2011 at 1:45 pm

Variations on a Theme from Chaplin

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Start watching “Barber of Seville” at 4:08

Start watching “Rabbit of Seville” at 3:07

These clips show how Shamus Culhane, director of the Woody Woodpecker film, “The Barber of Seville,” and Chuck Jones, director of the Bugs Bunny cartoon, “The Rabbit of Seville,” drew inspiration from the barber scene in Charlie Chaplin’s The Great Dictator.

In his autobiography, Talking Animals and Other People, Shamus Culhane, director of the Woody Woodpecker cartoon above, does not mention Chaplin. He does speak of the storyboard for the short as being done by Bugs Hardaway and sounding as if it was created without Culhane’s input, so perhaps it was Hardaway who drew the inspiration from Chaplin.

These variations on a theme from Chaplin are just one example of how artists borrow and steal from each other. In fact, thanks to the latest Criterion Collection release of The Great Dictator, we learn that Chaplin may have been inspired by his brother Sydney (present during the production of The Great Dictator) who did a film with a barbershop scene in 1921, King, Queen, Joker:

Or Chaplin could have been inspired by himself. Here is a barbershop scene that almost made it into “Sunnyside” (1919):