Wednesday, April 30, 2014

(Real) Flying Car Animation

Pegasus Vaylon

Animation of real flying cars. Well, we all dream of a flying car. The 1964/65 NYC Worlds fair practically promised us one by now. While ungainly prototypes have popped up now and then, only to be quickly forgotten like spring snow, there's something new.

You may even get a chance to drive this thing - if you're French and a member of the Special Forces.

The French do a lot of, shall we say, business in countries that are crawling with terrorists. We don't hear much about it because, quite frankly, they don't want to publicize every move they make. Some countries are not looking for that sort of, um, reputation.

So, for example, did you know that there was a French secret service agent held hostage in Somalia about a year ago? The French launched a daring night-time rescue operation that was ruined by the sound of the choppers sweeping in from the sea.

No, this is not James Bond stuff, this is real life. Americans are not the only ones blundering about in third-world hellholes trying to keep their people in one piece.

Frustrated, the French decided to do something about it. And why not? It's not as though terrorism is going away any time soon.

The French procurement office (Direction Générale de l’Armement (DGA)) tracked down a startup, Vaylon, led by a fellow named Jerome Dauffy, which previously had tendered the vehicle as a possible addition to the French armed forces. Not only did they agree to come up with a prototype, but they already have delivered it. It runs on ordinary gasoline, with flight costs expected to be roughly €20 - €50 per hour, roughly what one would expect to spend on a light plane.

The vehicle is known as Pegasus. It is designed to take off in 50-100 meters, fly at a height of 3,000 meters and land under 10 meters. That is pretty STOL. The company claims that it can stay in the air for up to three hours at 60-80 kilometers per hour. It combines the driveability of a dune buggy and the flight capability of a powered hang glider.

The Vaylon company just supplies the vehicle - the military decides what if any, weapons to load it with. One can easily see the utility in extracting somebody behind enemy lines or descending upon an enemy in a night-time assault. Or maybe just crossing the bay to that isolated beach you can see invitingly on the fourth of July when everything else is packed!

It's a little unclear if the vehicle will be available for private purchase. However, it seems possible that it will. The vehicle is expected to sell in the neighborhood of €100,000 ($135k).

Watch the video and see if you want one.

From the youtube page:
The Vaylon company develops an innovative solution of mobility able to move quickly on earth and/or in the air, in an autonomous way and in any circumstances (overcome obstacles (rivers, cliffs, dunes...), lack of roads infrastructures, natural disaster).
Light all-roads vehicle, side by side, double type-approval, road/air capacity, STOL (Short Take Off and Landing)
Road speed: 65 mph
Air speed: 35- 50 mph
Altitude: low altitude flight, to more than 3000 m (10.000ft)
Payload: From 160 kg -- 350 Lbs (civil type-approval) to 250 kg -- 550 Lbs
Minimum autonomy depending on configuration and loads: 3h
The Vaylon Pegase will be available in Europe in the second quarter of 2015.


"Sunset" Animation From Cento Lodigiani

Cento Lodigiani

SUNSET from cento lodigiani on Vimeo.

I stumbled upon this "Sunset" animation, which struck me as quite beautiful. And, since I'm a sucker for classical music and he chose probably the best classical tune of all, Beethoven's Moonlight Sonata, I enjoyed this minimalist short. It has an abstract look with silhouettes that gives it a moody and detached feel.

Cento Lodigiani is the animator, and he can best describe the animation himself, as he does on his Vimeo page:
I wrapped up in a single short film a few animations I've been working on this summer.
Three short stories that take place during the sunset. Tragically, it's going to be the very last sunset experience for all of the main characters involved.
Anyway, hope you enjoy it. I've been posting a lot of science animation recently, which is important and advances the world and all that, but animation as pure enjoyment is what it's about, too. Fun is good.

Oh, just for nothing, here is a full copy of the Sonata in case the background music grabs you:


Global 2014 Earthquakes January 1 - April 30

global earthquakes PWTC

Animation of all earthquakes in early January 2014. Earthquakes don't hit my neck of the woods too often - the Rockies - and when they do, you'd be hard-pressed to notice them.

However, the rest of the world is not so lucky. A lot of people have developed an intense interest in earthquakes for very good reasons - they could be subject to a real whopper of one some day.

The above video from the Pacific Tsunami Warning Center (PTWC) is, as of this posting, up-to-date with all recorded earthquakes of the previous four months. Note that the flashes indicate both depth (color) and magnitude (size of flash). Depth is important for a number of reasons, not least is how the resulting tsunamis form.

There are a few obvious patterns that you will notice from watching the animation:
  1. The earthquakes are clustered along fairly obvious and well-known fault lines where tectonic plates meet and grind against each other;
  2. The Asian/Alaskan/North American/South American ring is known as the "ring of fire" for a very good reason;
  3. The mid-Atlantic trough is a real hotbed for earthquakes, though nobody ever mentions them; and
  4. Earthquakes inside large landmasses are fairly rare except along fairly obvious (once you notice the patterns) points.
Looking at the location of the quakes, you better appreciate that it is only a matter of time before a nice big one hits California again. This year, the big ones were in South America and New Guinea, but that luck could run out at any time.

Naturally, this kind of interpretation would have been impossible before the 20th Century, and even now it only is so obvious to the casual observer because of the power of animation. Easy for me to say now. It took a lot of expense and effort to develop the resources and equipment and understanding to plot this easy-to-see data.

Oh, and April is Tsunami Awareness Month!!!!!!! Posting this video is my attempt to do my part to help the cause.

From the PTWC youtube page:

Earthquakes happen every day, and as this animation shows, small ones happen more frequently than once per hour. The moderate-to-large earthquakes are less common, however, perhaps 1-2 per month on a long-term average. Therefore April 2014 was unusual not in the total number of earthquakes that occurred but in how many moderate and large ones happened, and PTWC had to issue official message products for 13 different earthquakes in that month for earthquakes with magnitudes of 6.5 or higher, easily a record for this institution. Of those 13, PTWC issued tsunami warnings for 5:

1 April, M8.2, northern Chile
3 April, M7.8, northern Chile
12 April, M7.6, Solomon Islands
13 April, M7.7, Solomon Islands
19 April, M7.8, Solomon Islands

This animation shows all earthquakes on earth so far this year in sequence as recorded in the USGS's NEIC database (available at Note the typical level of activity through March. But starting with the 8.2 magnitude earthquake in northern Chile on April 1, the rest of the month saw 12 more moderate-to-large earthquakes mostly in Chile and the Solomon Islands but also in Nicaragua, Mexico, Canada, and even the south Atlantic Ocean. The animation concludes with a summary map showing all of the earthquakes in this four-month period.


Costa Concordia Transport Animation

Costa Concordia

There's still a lot of interest in the Costa Concordia salvage operation, which is the biggest of its kind. The most fascinating aspect is how much time and effort -and pollution - they avoided by retrieving the ship in one piece.

There is another animation of the Costa Concordia wreck here.

Ship retrieval is an advanced science, with its practitioners going back hundreds of years. It was much more common a hundred years ago for ships to wind up on rocks, destroyed and unseaworthy, and then the insurers who were on the hook had to figure out what to do.

Princess May
SS Princess in May 1910.
For instance, on August 5, 1910, the Princess May went aground at high tide on Sentinel Island, Alaska (between the main area of Alaska and Vancouver). It was a regular cock-up: even with the heavy fog there was a lighthouse on the island and the ship slammed straight into the small rocky outcrop as if aiming for it.

Princess May
Another view of the Princess May at low tide - the Captain really hit the bulls-eye.
After the tide went out, well, it didn't look so good for retrieval efforts of the Princess May (above picture). The ship's owners, having saved the passengers and the cargo of gold, got down to business. They had to act fast because winter wasn't far away and the longer the ship sat on the rocks and got pounded by the tide, the worse the prospects were. That's how it is in ship retrieval, same then as now, time is money.

The owners hired the world's expert on ship retrieval. After a lot of rock-blasting and other preparation, the expert managed to refloat the ship and get her in for repairs - not salvage. The ship sailed again, for twenty more years - now, they'd probably just scrap it automatically for liability reasons. Now that's a successful retrieval operation.

The Costa Concordia effort follows in those footsteps. While they had to break her up, the operation would have been infinitely worse if they hadn't had the massive equipment to tow her to the scrapyard. Any job is easy if you have the right tools, they say, and fortunately, they had the tools because of centuries of ship retrieval.


Tuesday, April 29, 2014

13-Year-Old Wins Animation Competition

Tia Margan Big Lunch
Tia Margan

The Big Lunch (see below) launched a competition with animation filmmakers Aardman this year. The Big Lunch asked children between the ages of seven and 15 to produce a short Big Lunch film starring Morph, using the animation software Animate It! The prize was for the animation to be featured in a nationwide campaign.

The offer created a sensation. Thousands of UK schoolchildren got down to work and submitted marvelous animated videos.

A Big Lunch spokesman said:
“We were overwhelmed by the fantastic entries received from all over the UK; so much time, effort and creativity had gone into them all. The judging panel – including Big Lunch communications manager Trudi Holden, Eden Project’s Lou Thorn and Aardman’s creative director Merlin Cressingham – found it very hard to whittle the entries down to four shortlists which went to a public vote on Facebook.
“After 24 hours of voting for the public’s favourite, a big congratulations goes to Tia Margan, aged 13 from Milton Keynes for Mad Morph Tea Party, now our official Big Lunch film for 2014!”

Tia Margan Big Lunch
Tia Margan, of Milton Keynes
According to winner Tia Margan:
My inspiration came from Wallace and Gromit and it took about a week to plan and sort out my props. I’m a keen animator and I would like to pursue animation as a career.”
It's terrific for Tia that she is interested in animation, as one of the prizes for winning is to attend a seminar with top-flight Aardman animators. Her stop-motion animation submission was painstakingly arranged and shot and is an outstanding result from a girl who beat out a lot of older kids.

Congratulations, Tia!

The Big Lunch derives from the Eden Project. "The aim is to get as many people as possible across the whole of the UK to have lunch with their neighbors annually on the first Sunday in June in a simple act of community, friendship, and fun." The idea came about in 2009. The next Big Lunch is June 1, 2014.


"Atomic Puppet" Finding Distributors

Technicolor Atomic Puppet
Atomic Puppet.
Technicolor, SA is creating a new animated kids series called "Atomic Puppet" (52 episodes x 11 minutes apiece). The show features a fearless superhero who is transformed into a powerless puppet by his disgruntled sidekick. As part of the transformation, the hero’s powers are accidentally transferred to his biggest fan, one 12-year-old Joey Felt. The two then must work together to keep their home, Model City, safe.

The show is created by Mark Drop ("Johnny Test") and Jerry Leibowitz ("The Mouse and the Monster"). It is currently in production. The show is co-developed and produced with Canada’s Mercury Filmworks and France’s Gaumont Animation.

Technicolor has sold the show to France Televisions, which will air the show on its France 4 channel beginning in 2016. Atomic Puppet will premiere in Canada on TELETOON and in France on Disney XD, which will also bring the show to other global territories.


Tornadoes from Space by NASA

NASA tornadoes

Tornadoes from Space animation. This is a beautiful capture from the government's weather satellite system of the tornadoes that formed over Nebraska, Kansas, Iowa, Oklahoma, Arkansas, Louisiana, and Mississippi on April 27, 2014. There were literally dozens of tornadoes listed that day.

It all looks benign and peaceful from space. Not so much on the ground.

From the NASA Youtube page:
This animation of NOAA's GOES-East satellite data shows the development and movement of the weather system that spawned tornadoes affecting seven central and southern U.S. states on April 27-28, 2014. Credit: NASA/NOAA GOES Project
The video is stunning - and lethal.


Monday, April 28, 2014

Drones - Real Flying Drones - Play Classic Tunes


Flying drones
Drones play music.

Drones playing music. This is not strictly animation, so if anyone wants to get upset about that, so be it. However, this is in, shall we say, the tradition of animation, and if it isn't animation, it's all the freakier for that reason alone.

In a nutshell, a formation of flying drones plays several tunes, including the classic "Also Sprach Zarathustra" from "2001: A Space Odyssey," "Carol of the Bells aka Shchedryk (Bountiful Evening)," and a slow tempo version of "The Star-Spangled Banner."

Yes, flying drones. Real drones. Really flying. Really playing instruments.

To get technical, there are six quadrotors and some improvised musical instruments. No humans involved. Somehow, they muffled the rotor noise, and there must have been some. One assumes.

This is cutting edge stuff and currently is making the round of science fiction festivals. This will likely be the only time that Lockheed Martin and Intel get a credit on here, so enjoy it, boys!

From the Youtube page:
KMel Robotics presents a team of flying robots that have taken up new instruments to play some fresh songs. The hexrotors create music in ways never seen before, like playing a custom single string guitar hooked up to an electric guitar amp. Drums are hit using a deconstructed piano action. And there are bells. Lots of bells.
Many thanks to Lockheed Martin and Intel Corporation for their support.
See this show and more live at the USA Science & Engineering Festival on April 26 & 27 in Washington, D.C.
Lockheed Martin in the founding and presenting sponsor of the festival.
KMel Robotics (
Video Produced and Directed by Kurtis Sensenig (
Music Arrangement and Sound Design by Dan Paul (
It seems all right to me.


All Spider-Man Animated TV Series, Best to Worst

Spider-Man in All His Webbed Glory!

All Spider-Man Animated TV Series. If you are looking to pick up a Spider-Man series as a gift, or are just curious about how many series' there have been starring Spidey, this list may come in handy. These are our recommendations for which series to consider spending time on and which to pass by.

Let's get the ball rolling with number 8 on our list, then proceed down to our choice of the absolute best "Spider-Man" tv show to date.

Spider-Man Unlimited.

Spider-Man Unlimited

13 episodes

Fox ordered 13 episodes of "Spider-Man Unlimited" in the late '90s, trying to hop on both the tv animation craze flowing from shows like "Animaniacs" and "The Simpsons." There clearly were plans to make the series last, as the series ends with an unresolved cliffhanger, but it wasn't meant to be. The show was hamstrung from the start because Fox never got full rights to all the Spider-Man characters. The animation is sub-part, the voice actors unrecognizable, and probably the worst sin is that the series is told in sequential order. Thus, if you randomly watch an episode and haven't seen the entire series, you are left wondering what is going on. The only thing going for "Spider-Man Unlimited" is that, if you are a fan of the 1994 series (see below), "Unlimited" serves as a kind of sequel or follow-on to it.



26 episodes

This version of Spider-Man is very traditional. We don't get "amazing friends" and there aren't any interdimensional portals or anything like that. There also are some story arcs in the series long before those became common on episodic tv, with relationships between Spider-Man and his adversaries like Dr. Doom playing out over episodes.

The animation is nothing special, and this "Spider-Man" is not remembered by many fans. However, it is bread-and-butter Spidey, focusing on Peter Parker and his life rather than the glitz of interdimensional warps and all that, so worth a look.

In "Ultimate Spider-Man," Spidey must choose between good and evil.

Ultimate Spider-Man

52 episodes

"Ultimate" is aimed at younger viewers, much as the classic 1967-70 series was. Spidey talks to the audience and goofs around and generally does not take the proceedings all too seriously. It is slapstick at times and always aims for humor, which unfortunately does not jibe well with the somewhat sad Peter Parker tale.

Marvel really got behind this version - it came along during an era when there seemed to be another Spider-Man movie coming out every year - assigning writers from "Batman: The Animated Series" and other highly regarded projects.

This is another "Spidey and his amazing friends" version, and they tend to be the least Spider-like of them all. This time around, his colleagues are Nova, White Tiger, Iron Fist and Power Man, all, of course, under the aegis of S.H.I.E.L.D. Agent Coulson is around in disguise as the Principal of Peter Parker's high school.

"Ultimate Spider-Man" isn't bad, it just isn't classic. There are better versions out there.

Spider-Man: The New Animated Series.

Spider-Man: The New Animated Series

13 episodes

This series aired on MTV of all places and is not very well known. The 2002 Spider-Man film had done well, and some smart exec figured that the public hungered for a continuation of that tale. So, we get Peter, Mary Jane Watson and Harry Osborne moving on from high school to college, Empire State University. There even was a new love interest for Spidey, Indira Daimonji.


The focus remained on Peter Parker and his trials and tribulations, just as did the film. There aren't a lot of villains, as Peter has his hand's full playing with Mary Jane and Indira. The real highlight of the series was the voice talent, which included Neil Patrick Harris and Lisa Loeb. The animation also was very good for the time, though some will carp that its quality isn't up to more recent fare. However, in a good DVD set it looks outstanding to this viewer.

"Spider-Man: The New Animated Series" is a fun watch and well worth your time.

Spider-Man (1994).


65 episodes

The 1994 "Spider-Man" lasted a long time and led to the sort-of sequel mentioned above in 1999-2000. The animation was good, though not spectacular, and Mary Jane served as Peter's unswerving love interest. There were long story arcs that played out over multiple episodes, and other huge characters from the Marvel universe wandered in from time to time. This series was so good that it could have lasted longer, but there were rights issues behind the scenes that led to its untimely passing. This is the "Spider-Man" that best resembles the comics, so if you are a fan of Marvel comics books, this is a series to consider watching. There's so much of it that it will entertain you for a long time, and you can continue the fun for another season with "Spider-Man Unlimited" if that grabs you.

Spider-Man (1967-1970).


52 episodes

Big fans are going to question how I can recommend this series at all. This does take a little explaining but bear with me. This ABC series is worth getting if you can find it.

This "Spider-Man" gets a bad rap these days for a number of reasons. First, the animation is prehistoric and barely a step up from "The Flintstones." Not that there's anything particularly wrong with that, but modern eyes expect more these days than endlessly scrolling backgrounds and stark drawings surrounded by black lines. The villains are corny, and the plots trite.

Spider-Man waves at the beginning of each episode.
However, I defy any true Spider-Man fanatic to claim that this version does not have a special place in his or her heart. The series is absolutely a riot if seen in the right spirit, and in a good way. The intro alone is worth having, it is a stunning tour de force of telling the Spider-Man experience and pointedly showing that, hey, this is a good character, not a bad guy. So, they have Spider-Man waving at the camera as he swings along and then taking a picture with a lens that for some reason says "Your Friendly Neighborhood Spiderman." This was a show for kids, as was all such animation at the time, and they had to make a special effort to show that "Spider-Man" wasn't evil, but was our hero because Spider-Man simply wasn't very well known yet (unlike now).

If you aren't sold by that, you aren't a true Spider-Man freak.

The best part, though, is the eternal theme song. There isn't a Spider-Man fan out there who doesn't subconsciously accept the theme to this "Spider-Man" as the true Spider-Man theme, just as, say, true Star-Trek lovers will never accept any theme that doesn't have references to the original "Star Trek" theme. It just is what it is, and the film creators later acknowledged that immutable fact by incorporating this original theme into the film series. If you don't recognize that when it happens, and why it is so special when it does happen, you are sorely, sorely deprived as a Spider-Man fan. Trust me, the powers-that-be behind the Spider-Man films know all about this original series, and guys like that don't go out of their way to pay direct homage to no purpose.
♪♫  "Spiderman, Spiderman, does whatever a spider can, spins a web, any size, catches thieves, just like flies, look out! Here comes the Spiderman!" ♫♪
There were all sorts of problems with this series that are well-known now and were at the time. The original animators, Grantray-Lawrence, went bankrupt after the first season and the show was passed off to Krantz Films, a second-tier outfield led by Ralph Bakshi. Bakshi is legendary for many reasons, but not for his work on this "Spider-Man." Thus, if you can only get one season of this original classic for that special Spider-Man lover in your life, the first season is an absolute must for any true follower of Spider-Man.

The studio was run by Grant Simmons, Ray Patterson and Bob Lawrence.

Ray Patterson remembered, “Spider-Man was different. It was completely drawn from the beginning, just like a regular show. We had around eighty people working on the show so it was a pretty big deal. Thirteen half hours for ABC. We took over that old hotel across from the Universal Studios entrance (in California) and remodeled the whole thing, made it look all cartoony with different colored doors and everything. As a matter of fact, we had a booth all set up on the Universal tour that would have animators in there and girls painting cels. We were all set up to do it, but then we closed the studio in 1968, after the first season of Spider-Man was finished, and that was the end of that. We trusted the wrong people.”

So, the first season was quality. After that, not so much.

Spider-Man and His Amazing Friends.

Spider-Man and His Amazing Friends

24 episodes

This version of "Spider-Man" involved Spidey and the usual array of super-hero friends. Personally, that kind of detracts from the series - we big Spider-Man fans want out tale told unfiltered! - but this was a good, solid version anyway.

"Spider-Man and His Amazing Friends" introduces us to Iceman and Firestar. Apparently, they couldn't get Human Torch for this series due to a rights issue, so they came up with Firestar, who is a bit of a babe. The trio (Parker, Bobby Drake, and Anjelica Jones) were college students and roommates (things must have been pretty liberal at that school!), and they frequently went on trips with other Marvel superheroes. This was a breakthrough series in that respect and opened the door for later iterations with various combinations of the Marvel superhero pantheon.

Dan Gilvezan and Frank Welker of "Transformers" provide the main voices, and there was the narration by Stan Lee himself (though that narration has been cut from most modern versions -- if you can find a copy that has it, get it). This is a fun series, and Firestar is fun to look at, so this is a worthy entry for anyone looking to get a fun Spider-Man experience.

The Spectacular Spider-Man.

The Spectacular Spider-Man

26 episodes

The classic Batman animated television series by just about everyone's reckoning was "Batman: The Animated Series" in the 1990s, and "The Spectacular Spider-Man" follows nicely in those footsteps. This series is kind of a fan's version, with elements drawn from the films and comics. The producers were Greg Weisman and Victor Cook, and they did a great job telling stories and not playing up Spidey's freakish abilities. Josh Keaton became "the voice of Spider-Man" in this series and did a great job. The animation is somewhat simple, which actually works well and lets the series tell a story rather than trying to overwhelm the viewer with glitz.


"The Spectacular Spider-Man," like so many Spider-Man series before it, fell victim to behind the scenes rights issues (Disney bought the rights, so Sony could no longer use the characters). If you are looking for a garden-variety Spider-Man series that is artfully done and just tells the story of Spider-Man, this is the one to get.


Sunday, April 27, 2014

"How To Train Your Dragon 2" - First Five Minutes

No Fooling, This is the ACTUAL First Five Minutes of "How To Train Your Dragon 2"

How to Train Your Dragon 2

"How to Train Your Dragon 2" opens in U.S. theaters in 3D on June 13th.

How to Train Your Dragon 2

There is a lot of aerial action in DreamWorks Animation's "How to Train Your Dragon 2," with the first five minutes composed of dazzling sequences showing Hiccup having fun cavorting with his faithful pal Toothless.

Whether or not the plot matches the stunning 3D animation is yet to be seen. Perhaps Hiccup is neglecting matters back home? Show up at your local IMAX on June 13, 2014, and find out!

From the website:
The thrilling second chapter of the epic HOW TO TRAIN YOUR DRAGON trilogy brings us back to the fantastical world of Hiccup and Toothless five years after the two have successfully united dragons and vikings on the island of Berk. While Astrid, Snoutlout and the rest of the gang are challenging each other to dragon races (the island's new favorite contact sport), the now inseparable pair journey through the skies, charting unmapped territories and exploring new worlds. When one of their adventures leads to the discovery of a secret ice cave that is home to hundreds of new wild dragons and the mysterious Dragon Rider, the two friends find themselves at the center of a battle to protect the peace. Now, Hiccup and Toothless must unite to stand up for what they believe while recognizing that only together do they have the power to change the future of both men and dragons.
US Release: June 13, 2014

How to Train Your Dragon 2

Starring: Jay Baruchel, Gerard Butler, Craig Ferguson, America Ferrera, Jonah Hill, Christopher Mintz-Plasse, T.J. Miller, Kristen Wiig

Director: Dean DeBlois

How to Train Your Dragon 2


Saturday, April 26, 2014

"Super Life" - Life if it Were a Video Game

Super Life from Eben McCue on Vimeo.

Eben McCue provides us with "Super Life," his take on what life would look like if we were living in an arcade game.

Imagine every you'll ever do, from start to finish, as it would play out in under a minute in the 8-bit graphic. That's what you have here.

Except unfortunately there's no reset button.

As he states:
Your life sucks, try Super Life. 
Super Life let's you experience an entire life time in 46 seconds! From your very first steps to your very last, see all the thrills of adolescence, the decisions of adulthood and the joys of retirement! 
Coming soon to arcades and home entertainment systems everywhere. Maybe. 
(Watch on your Iphone 5 or other smartphone in portrait mode, it fits perfectly!) 
This is a tweaked version of a piece I made for the 80-ft. tall screen outside the Boston Convention Center in South Boston. It will be playing during this year's PAX East convention starting April 11th - 13th

"Painted," Trippy Stop Motion from Elvis Schmoulianoff

Elvis Schmoulianoff Painted stop motion

Painted: An Adventure in Stop Motion Body Art from Elvis Schmoulianoff on Vimeo.

In the tradition of Peter Gabriel's classic "Sledgehammer" music video of the 1980s, animator Elvis Schmoulianoff goes way out there and shows how to manipulate pixels in order to make a human become part of a CGI background in her "Painted: An Adventure in Stop Motion Body Art."

Watching "Painted" for the first time, I admire the artistry, attention to detail, the originality and the inspiration. I also, quite frankly, am just a bit creeped out at these stop motion animations which subtly dehumanize the human form. It stems from some irrational fear about treating people as less than they are. Completely subconscious, but we all have these sorts of hidden biases, whether we acknowledge and understand them or not.

I had the same initial reaction to Gabriel's (series of) stop-motion videos, but I got over it. Now, they're just cool videos. It helps if you've gone through the artistic process yourself, as I'll explain below. But if you do find this a bit difficult to really get into at first, I understand.

In any event, being creeped out isn't necessarily a bad thing, so let's just applaud the artistic bang from a hard-working, talented lady. And I think you pay an artist more respect by being transparent about your reaction than by muffling your comments because art is at its best when it stirs the emotions and swirls you around until you gain new perspectives on the art, and yourself.

But now let's get on to my main critique.

Elvis Schmoulianoff Painted stop motion
Elvis Schmoulianoff.
One can see "Painted" as a metaphor for the artistic process itself, where art is not separate from the artist but interacts with her or him. It flows in endless waves, out, then back, submerging the artist into the painting because the painting is the artist, her expressions, her thoughts, and her passion. The art is of the artist but also shapes the artist in a symbiotic process that only ends when the artist is done with the work.

It's a great performance piece and well worth watching several times to catch all the nuances.

As Elvis states on her page:
Painted is an experiment in stop motion face & body painting that plays with the idea of giving paint it's own life and personality on a living canvas. The whole project was initially inspired by MUTO - the incredible stop motion graffiti video by BLU.
Imagined, painted, modelled, photographed & edited by Elvis Schmoulianoff
Music: Flow Motion by Square One
Everything was photographed in my bedroom in late 2012/early 2013 with a point and shoot camera , natural light, a pile of paints & body paints, brushes and a mirror over a period of 10 days. The final sequence contains footage from five of those days and is comprised of 1064 individual images, the rest was mainly retakes of the first minute which all taught me valuable lessons in what not to do...
Music is by Flow Motion By Square One. Ms. Schmoulianoff credits a slice of inspiration to the legendary Fritz Lang, which is always a pleasure to see.

We're fortunate that we may see more of this from the artist:
I learned SO MUCH and am absolutely desperate to make another - this was just a test to ready me for a real one after all!! However I want to do it properly next time now I have a slightly better idea of how to go about it - and that involves a controlled light source and the kind of camera that won't fit in your back pocket... but as soon I can afford one there will be PLENTY more work coming your way :)
Anyone interested in more Elvis may visit her site here.


Friday, April 25, 2014

How Tsunamis Work

Do You Understand Tsunamis?

Capture from the Ted-Ed instructional video on tsunamis.

Ted-ed provides another excellent animation of tsunamis. We learn how they form, what they do, and what can be done about them.

As usual with TED-ed animations, this one has a nice mix of general and very specific information which should be information for just about any casual viewer. These forces of nature kill tens of thousands of people and, regardless of whether you live near the coast, could directly impact your life someday (as the people of Japan found out after Fukushima). In any event, we can pretty much guarantee that you will see the word used in a news headline down the road.

The funny thing about tsunamis is that they are impossible to predict, and even after they occur and the wave begins, their actual effects when they reach land are also are difficult to predict. Sometimes, a seemingly horrible underwater earthquake will cause little damage (South America, 2014), while other times, one with just the right formation will take out a huge swathe of a country (Fukushima).

Tsunamis are a fact of life, and interest in them spikes every time there is a tsunami. So this is an evergreen topic. However, people also tend to forget about tsunamis once they have happened and they are no longer in the news. It is good to learn about them so you are prepared for next time.

From the web page:
The immense swell of a tsunami can grow up to 100 feet, hitting speeds over 500 mph -- a treacherous combination for anyone or anything in its path. Alex Gendler details the causes of these towering terrors and explains how scientists are seeking to reduce their destruction in the future. 
Lesson by Alex Gendler, animation by Augenblick Studios.
Katsushika Hokusai

Disney Animator Bonuses for "Frozen"?

Disney Frozen
"Frozen" (2013).
Will Disney animators get bonuses for "Frozen"? This is kind of a sensitive topic. It is not really for general fans of Disney who simply saw "Frozen," loved it, and now sing "Let It Go" in the shower.

Instead, this is for fans of animation itself, even practitioners of animation. You know who you are.

I'm going to try to get the facts right about this. If I mess anything up, my apologies, I am just going on what I can find out. No disrespect intended to any parties small or mouse-like, and if there is a political side to this, I'll state right up front that I'm not buying it. This is about animators in 2014, and that's it. Straight up. No taking sides here, this is as balanced a presentation as I can muster.

No matter who you may side with, this is intended to give a bit of peek under the hood at how the industry works. The issue is the nature of employment in the animation industry. Period.

Ok, now that we got past that, here we go.

There's a practice in the animation industry in which the studios hire animators as contract workers. The studios hire talented artists who are not employed elsewhere as "run of show" animators. These contract workers are hired to work on a specific project, and when the project ends, so does their employment. There is a start date and a pre-assigned end-date, and everybody knows what those dates are in advance.

So, sounds pretty standard, right? Just like, say, calling the local temp service and hiring a few more maintenance guys to stock the shelves one night at Wal-Mart.

Now, of course, there were many of these run-of-show animators hired specifically to work on "Frozen." Reports are that there were hundreds of these workers, but it could have been fewer. No matter the number, the studio would have had difficulty finishing "Frozen" at its high-quality standard and in time for its release date without them.

Parenthetically, let's note that it would be a thrill of lifetime for an animator to be privileged to say forevermore that they drew the paintings in the "Frozen" castle or the steps on the magic bridge that Elsa runs up during "Let It Go" or the ice on the pond where Olaf loses his nose, so it's not like simply working on the film wasn't a nice reward in and of itself. But this is business.

The run-of-show animators on "Frozen" were all gone from Disney by the time the film came out. That is as it was always intended - their contracts had ended, and their departures were pre-planned and, no doubt, accompanied by hearty handshakes and vows to work together again soon. Nice line on the old résumé and all that.

Later, the film came out and did its thing, whose success wasn't entirely unexpected (I can attest to the unusually high level of fan interest months before the actual release). Nobody could foresee the giant windfall in store for the studio.

"Frozen" blew out the lights at the theaters, grossing over a billion dollars (and counting), and that's even before the first blu-ray or soundtrack is figured in. There's no point giving an exact figure, it is an immense and endless source of cash.

Now, everyone knows that when money is involved, people get interested. That is only natural, and human nature. I defy you to claim that you would be different. No point being judgmental about it, that's life.

Here is where it gets controversial.

Some of these run-of-show animators (and perhaps others) noticed all that money, and then they heard a curious thing: the animators (and everyone else) who were still working at Disney were receiving nice special one-time bonuses, equivalent to ten-weeks' pay. One did not have to be Sherlock Holmes to deduce that the bonuses were from the "Frozen" windfall.

So, these now-unemployed animators (of course, some had moved on to other projects, some even at Disney, where they would have received the "Frozen" bonuses anyway while working on one of the other three films currently in production) started to wonder about the, you know, fairness of it all. Especially when the rumor surfaced that the bonuses were being paid to everyone still working at Disney, not just to the people who had worked on "Frozen." Share the wealth and all that.

What to do, what to do.... Why, call the Union Rep!

Animators are covered by The International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees, Moving Picture Technicians, Artists and Allied Crafts of the United States, Its Territories and Canada (IATSE), specifically, IATSE Animation Guild 839. You pretty much have to belong to the guild to work as an animator at a big shop like Disney.

According to Union Rep Steve Hulett, he was told by officials at the studio that the bonus “was because of 'Frozen' but not about 'Frozen.'”

So, no bonuses for you!

Well, sort of - some of the run-of-show animators were probably working while the "Wreck-It Ralph" (which made about half as much money in 2012 as "Frozen," still a huge hit) bonuses were handed out. As current employees of Disney, they would have received those bonuses despite never having worked on "Wreck-It Ralph."

So, many of the animators did get something extra. No matter how much work the animators had done on "Frozen," though, they received no bonus tied to that film if they were gone by the time the bonus was issued. Just how the system works.

But, the atmospherics were awful because of the magnitude of the "Frozen" windfall.

The issue ties in somewhat to thoughts I have shared elsewhere about the management/animator tensions always bubbling beneath the surface at major animation studios.

Let's be clear, this is not about legality, because rest assured everything was done completely legally. This is about what is right and what is wrong and what people feel. Without the studio, these folks would get nothing, period, so the studio is a huge asset to their lives. Conversely, without the workers, the studio would get nothing done and earn zero and owes the workers everything. So, this isn't about a big, bad corporation or greedy worker bees, but about people.

That's how it stands. Nobody was fired, and nobody was denied something to which they were legally or contractually entitled.

Does that make it right? Your call.

Disney Frozen
Disney Animators on strike, 1941.


Thursday, April 24, 2014

Fictional Tea Ad

Dubsteep Tea
Dubsteep Tea!

Dubsteep Tea Logo Animation from adam webber on Vimeo.

Fictional tea ad. I'm all for giving quirky little animations a viewing - heck, where else are you going to see them?

This is from Adam Webber, a student at CSU Channel Islands, which probably sounds like it should be somewhere in Europe. Actually, it is in California not far from Malibu.

The animation is not long and not too much happens in it - but what does happen is kind of cool. Lots of detail in this quickie animation. You may like this in particular if, like me, you are a big tea lover.

Everybody has to start somewhere.

Congrats on a great school project!

From the web site:
Logo animation for fictional beverage Dubsteep Energizing Tea. Student project at CSU Channel Islands, created using Cinema 4D, Turbulence FD, and After Effects.
Animation, concept & design by: Adam Webber
Instructors: Luke Matjas & Beth Leister.
Music: "No Grip" - Feed Me


Classic Lip-sync of "Love is an Open Door" from "Frozen"

These Guys Should Go on "Dancing with the Stars" Next

Love is an Open Door Frozen Brad Borosak Matt Kilby
Lip-sync Cowboys

"Love is an Open Door." Pretty much everyone has seen "Frozen" who's going to see it, many people more than once. Apparently, these two guys are among the latter group.

"Love is an Open Door" is a tune from "Frozen" that hasn't gotten as much press (or notoriety) as the ubiquitous "Let It Go." The latter song has been the pathway to stardom for everyone from "Elsa" actress Idina Menzel to nine-year-old singing sensation Annelise Forbes. So, perhaps "Love is an Open Door" is feeling a little neglected by songwriters (and Academy Award Winners) Robert Lopez and Kristen Anderson-Lopez.

Well, Naval Academy Midshipmen baseball buddies Brad Borosak and Matt Kilby have taken direct action to rectify that situation. As the Admiral once said, "Damn the torpedoes, full steam ahead!"

The song is sung in the film (and in this video) by talented thespians Kristen Bell and Santino Fontana, who play Princess Anna and Prince Hans.

It's hard to pick out why this particular lip-sync is so good. It may be the precision with which the boys get each line perfectly. It may be the astonishment at the realization that they've actually listened to the song enough times to be able to mime it to perfection, complete with little gestures. Or, it may be the guy in the back seat who's desperately trying to hide from the camera.

You decide. Well done, guys.


Wednesday, April 23, 2014

No Sequel to Disney's "Frozen" - Yet

Frozen Frozen 2

Disney Studios Chairman Alan Horn surprised some folks when he told Bloomberg TV the other day that not only is a "Frozen" sequel not being created or written or cast, it "isn't even being discussed."

"Frozen" is a billion-dollar film. The wait to see the Princesses Anna and Elsa at the Norway Pavilion in Walt Disney World in Orlando, Florida can stretch for four hours. That's a long time for a young fan to wait, but they are up to the task when "Frozen" is involved. Perhaps at some point, they should just start singing "Let It Go"?

Any other studio would be working up a sequel to "Frozen" right now. It would clear a cool half-billion dollars even if it were completely worthless. But Disney is different - it took them 30 years to do something as a follow-up to "Cinderella," and "Cinderella 2: Dreams Come True" wasn't really worth the wait. Disney probably still makes more on sales and merchandising of the original than on the follow-up to "Cinderella." So they know what they're doing and have a long history to guide them. The Disney brand is what matters.

But facts are facts. "Frozen" is the highest-grossing animated film ... ever. "Shrek 2"? Blown away. "Toy Story 3"? Left in the dust. The most powerful word in Hollywood these days? Sequel.

So, what exactly is Disney waiting for?

Frozen Frozen 2
Disney Studios Chairman Alan Horn.
Horn said first things first. They are working on getting the musical to Broadway and other venues first.

Disney has a lot on its plate right now. There is another possible "Pirates of Caribbean" sequel that apparently is being discussed, and "Star Wars: Episode VII" looms on the horizon for December 2015 release. Rumor has it that even "Wreck-It Ralph" is getting a sequel soon.

Apparently, the coming "Star Wars" film already has been cast by director J.J. Abrams. Horn did say that the next three "Star Wars" films will be released in 2015, 2017 and 2019. Disney has a tendency to release one major feature film per year, and since it takes four or five years from start to finish to make an animated feature film, it could be 2020 before "Frozen 2" appears - if then.

Update: the Disney sequel to "Frozen," titled "Frozen II," was released in 2019.


Crazed Animated Music Video from Búho

Búho music video "Endless/Blur"

Animation in music videos has been accepted at least since the Beatles' "Yellow Submarine," but it recently seems to be undergoing a bit of a revival. The Texas band Búho released this single Endless/Blur on Crowquill Records, and it merits a look just for seeing what is going on at the cutting edges of animation these days.

According to the youtube page, this music video was animated and produced by Seattle based character artist Bradley Oliver Wilkinson. It must have been a lot of work! We're not going to comment on the song because you are as equipped to do that yourself based upon what you like - it has a heavy metal grunge-rock feel - but the animation is pretty cool.

I mean, either you like this sort of thing or you don't, your call. The animation is nightmarish and definitely way out there on the alternative side. If you're in the mood for something like that, this music video should be a lot of fun. If you don't do things a little wacky like this, you don't get noticed.

Búho music video "Endless/Blur"

Búho [boo-oh] is:

Brad Angotti (vox)

Mauricio Gudiño Jr.

Andrew Elizalde

Búho Tour Dates:
APR 25 – San Antonio, TX @ Bottom Bracket Social Club
APR 26 – Corpus Christi, TX @ Nasa
APR 27 – Austin, TX @ Empire Control Room
APR 28 – Denton, TX @ Rubber Gloves
APR 29 – Oklahoma City, OK @ The Conservatory
APR 30 – Tulsa, OK @ Soundpony
MAY 01 – Fort Smith, AR @ Old Town
MAY 02 – Hot Springs, AR @ Maxines


"Underdogs" Animated Feature Film coming from Weinstein this year

"Underdogs" is Coming!

Underdogs Weinstein

You probably never heard of the animated feature film "Foosball." Well, there's no reason that you should. This is another case of how what you see and hear about in the animation film industry is controlled by the major players in Hollywood. "Foosball" is a low-profile Argentinian animated feature film from director Juan Jose Campanella and yet another indication that animation production is steadily gaining traction overseas.

Harvey Weinstein of the Weinstein Company noticed "Foosball," though, and he has picked up "Foosball" for international release. It will receive new Hollywood voiceovers, with the voice actors not determined at this point. The film will be retitled "Underdogs" and will be released internationally (U.S, Canada, Australia, New Zealand and France) during August 2014. The English release will be August 27, 2014.

"Underdogs" focuses on a reluctant hero whose town is threatened when his long-time rival returns home to avenge an old grudge. When the players from his foosball table are magically brought to life, he recruits them to help him enter into the biggest underdog match ever.

"This film's magical story, heart, and humor, along with its top-notch animation, truly resonated with us and is sure to captivate parents just as much as it will their children," co-chairman Harvey Weinstein said. "We're incredibly excited to share it with audiences here in the U.S. and around the world."

Below is the original trailer of "Foosball," which will become "Underdogs":

No doubt a horde of Hollywood voice actors are scrambling for the chance to voice some of the characters in "Underdogs." Director Campanella says:
"It is a dream come true that Harvey Weinstein took our film under his wings. We couldn't hope for anything better. Not only because he might be the savviest distributor in the world but also because he has shown over the years an impeccable taste in films. So far, our creative collaboration has been of great respect and cooperation. I am looking forward to the future." 
It must be a dream come true - can you imagine the thrill of having your local production in South America picked up for distribution globally? Campanella must feel as though he won the lottery.

Heretofore, Campanella - who's been working since the 1970s and hails from Argentina - has been known as a successful tv series director on dramas like "Law & Order: Special Victims Unit." He also has directed the occasional feature film such as "The Secret in Their Eyes," but he's not exactly well known in the States. This film "Underdogs" takes him to a whole new level in his career, and we couldn't be happier for him.

Underdogs Weinstein


Animation about Global Development

Human Development Report 2013: The Rise of the South

UN Human Development Report 2013

This is an interesting animation from the United Nations showing global development trends. The animation pretty much speaks for itself, the bottom line being that the developing nations Brazil, China, and India are growing fast and will soon produce more than the established industrial powers in Western Europe and North America. However, there are many dangers to this development and these countries have their own issues to surmount to continue their rapid growth.

Animations like this are useful tools for educating about current geopolitical issues and disseminating very dry information that most people would not see otherwise. The animation field is just not about entertaining.


Sunday, April 20, 2014

Bunnies in Animation

Bugs Bunny in the standard Warner Bros. Title Card.
All right, today as I post this it is Easter, and sometime you just gotta do what you gotta do.

Today's topic is bunnies in animation. Technically, we'll go a bit beyond bunnies to include rabbits, but you get the idea.

I realize this post is not going to get a million views, and that is all right. This is going to be a fun little exercise, and if you like bunnies, well, this one's for you.

Bugs Bunny

"Eh, what's up, doc?"
Everybody knows Bugs Bunny. One of the most famous characters in all of the animation, Bugs is the pre-eminent non-Disney character, hailing from Warner Brothers (actually its little-known predecessor, Leon Schlesinger Productions). Warner Bros. is the home of the groundbreaking "Looney Tunes" and "Merrie Melodies" series.

Bugs is always outwitting his dim-witted and single-minded enemies such as Elmer Fudd and Yosemite Sam. Bugs has a love-hate relationship with Daffy Duck, a scheming and screwball type whose devious plans always came to naught.

Bugs was voiced by the legendary Mel Blanc, and he was so popular that he became the corporate mascot of Warner Bros. and his catchphrase the title of a 1972 screwball comedy film starring Barbra Streisand.

The White Rabbit

The White Rabbit in Disney's 1950 film "Alice in Wonderland."
The White Rabbit was created by Lewis Carroll in his classic children's novel "Alice's Adventures in Wonderland." Elegantly dressed, he is late for an appointment and leads the curious Alice down the infamous rabbit hole to Wonderland.

It turns out later that the White Rabbit is a servant of the King and Queen of Hearts. What he was doing in the "real" world is never explained, but he must have been on some errand for their Lordships.

The White Rabbitt is an iconic figure in fiction, turning up everywhere from counterculture pop songs by Jefferson Airplane ("White Rabbit"), "Star Trek," and "Lost." He also, of course, stars in the various films of "Alice in Wonderland."

Roger Rabbit (and Jessica Rabbit)


Roger Rabbit first appeared in Gary K. Wolf's novel "Who Censored Roger Rabbit?" The novel depicted a world where humans and cartoon characters lived together. Robert Zemeckis adapted the novel for his 1988 Disney film "Who Framed Roger Rabbit?", which turned into a huge success and has led to all sorts of ancillary ventures such as video games.

Roger is a popular Toon who works for Maroon Cartoons. Unfortunately, he is framed for murder and needs to clear his name. We learn that Roger is married to Jessica Rabbit, a beautiful and vivacious lounge singer who has become iconic in her own right, even more so than Roger himself.

Rabbit from "Winnie the Pooh"


"Winnie the Pooh" was the brainchild of author A.A. Milne in 1926. Pooh, as he's called, is a cuddly little bear who is always getting into trouble in Ashdown Forest, Sussex, England. Rabbit is Pooh's friend, who alternately gets him into and out of trouble. Rabbit is level-headed and decisive, but his intricate plans usually cause the problems that everyone else such as Piglet and Tigger has to un-do.

Rabbit is a fixture in the Disney films of Winnie the Pooh and usually winds up squaring off against Tigger, who Rabbit alternately likes and hates.

My Melody


"My Melody" is a character created by Sanrio, a Japanese company that specializes in creating heroes for children such as "Hello Kitty." My Melody came along in 1978 and is a cute little girl rabbit who wears a pink/red hood and usually carries a basket. Women of all ages love "My Melody," and she stars in various anime series along with the other Sanrio characters such as Bad Badtz-Maru (a male penguin), Charming Kitty and Cinnamoroll.

There are so many Sanrio characters that it is hard to keep them straight unless you are a devoted fan, but there are plenty of those. While nowhere near as popular as Hello Kitty and some of the others, My Melody stars in her own video games and has her own record album, "I LOVE 30 - MY MELODY."

E. Aster Bunnymund aka The Easter Bunny


In William Joyce's "The Guardians of Childhood" children's book series, the Easter Bunny has a very human dimension. Named E. Aster Bunnymund, the Easter Bunny starred in "The Rise of the Guardians," a 2012 DreamWorks Animation film. In it, Hugh Jackman voices Bunnymund, who is the fabled keeper of Easter Eggs. Bunnymund, it turns out, has an Australian accent and is a bit of a hunter. Bunnymund has troubles in the film when the Nightmares invade his territory and destroy his eggs, but the Guardians fight back and attempt to restore children's' faith in the Easter Bunny.