Saturday, May 31, 2014

How Animated Advertising Should Look and Sound

Coke Spot

Animation comes in many different forms, and advertising is one of them.

How Animated Advertising Should Look and Sound. This is a brilliant animation from the Coca-Cola Company. Just because it is an ad spot does not mean it's not worth looking at unless, you know, you seek to overthrow the bond of the capitalist corporate patriarchy that enslaves us and unleash the true power of the People and all that. Quality is quality, and we can learn from and enjoy advertising spots just as much as we can from Disney animation or anything else. Coke, in fact, has some of the best and most enduring television ads - many will remember the "I'd like to buy the world a Coke" ads from the early '70s, quite possibly the best ad of all time.

Some of the greatest talents out there began working on commercials. That includes animators and singers. It's pretty well-known that Barry Manilow, for instance, started out his career as an ad man in the 1960s and came up with advertising jingles that incredibly are still used to this day ("Like a good neighbor, State Farm is there" is just one of many - the company must have thought it had died and gone to heaven when he started singing it in his concerts).

The singer in this ad is Wendy Colonna of Austin, Texas. I think you'll agree that she has a great voice with a heartfelt feel. She reminds of some other, very famous singers, and that suggests she may get there herself someday, too. Presenting this animation is worthwhile just to bring her to your attention by itself, let alone that it is a brilliant, vibrant and highly detailed piece of animation.

Coke Spot


Preserving Animation Cels

Alice in Wonderland cel preservation
Detailed "Alice in Wonderland" cel showing early signs of delamination of the paint.
Here's a short primer on what Disney does with old films. If you truly want to understand more about the films you love and what has happened to them over time, read on. This is all about preserving animation cels.

Ever wonder what happens to the original animation cels to classic films such as "Cinderella" and "Pinocchio"? Well, if you do, you're very rare. Most folks probably think they get stuck in a museum somewhere, or maybe a numbered vault underneath Disneyland.

Actually, that latter idea is pretty close to what actually used to happen. Until 1990, nobody really thought much about what happened to old animation cels. Each cel from the old days was hand-painted and inked. Outlines of the character were meticulously and painstakingly drawn in ink on the front of the sheet, and paint was added to the reverse side. This is what the "paint and ink" girls did, and they did it very well.

Walt Disney did want to keep the original materials around - who can blame him, they cost an awful lot of money to prepare - but his intent was simply to keep them in storage somewhere, not do anything special to preserve them. So, Disney set aside what everybody called "the Morgue," a basement beneath the studio where the old films went to die and lay in rest forever, or at least until a reissue was called for. This "morgue," which aside from being a basement was nothing special, remained the resting ground of the classics until 1990 when a state-of-the-art, climate-controlled research facility called the Disney Animation Research Library (ARL) was built. It now houses some 65 million pieces of Disney art, from the 1920s onward.

Pinocchio cel preservation
Original "Pinocchio" cel shows signs of buckling of the film.
Back in Walt's day, even film pros didn't reckon on film deteriorating. The film was considered permanent and presumably would endure for centuries like papyrus or something. Turns out that is not the case at all - the paint and ink on the film cracks and flakes off, and the film itself corrodes. Extreme (or simply less than ideal) temperatures hasten both of these processes. The ideal temperature for film preservation is from 62°F and 65°F and at 50 percent relative humidity, depending on the film stock, and that is how the originals now being stored.

Preservation is complicated by the fact that the studio used different types of film through the years and even different types of film stock for the same motion picture. The best temperature and other conditions for preserving one type of film stock aren't necessarily the best for preserving another. Only by closely studying the film itself with advanced techniques such as gas chromatography and mass spectrometry can the ARL staff know how to store the film so that it lasts for another generation.

For instance, cellulose nitrate was used from the 1920s to 1942, while cellulose diacetate use began in 1929. The early films sometimes used both kinds. Cellulose diacetate then gave way to cellulose triacetate between "The Fox and the Hound" in 1981 and "Mickey's Christmas Carol" in 1983. There also was some polyester film thrown in along the way for good measure. Clearly, the studio would run through its old stocks of the previous generation of the film before moving on to the new generation. All of these types of film age different, deteriorate at different rates and require different preservation conditions.

Those with an interest in film history likely have heard that the films of old Hollywood were made on cellulose nitrate, which was combustible and degraded quickly. Many classic films were lost forever because of this, either because they started fires that burned through entire collections, or they simply degraded - in fact, only a tiny fraction of 1920s films survive at all. Even major blockbusters have been lost. The switch to cellulose acetate was thought to end these problems, but in fact, cellulose acetate also degrades overtime via hydrolysis (and which makes large collections of aging film smell like vinegar). Cellulose acetate film will lose its color due to the degradation of the plastics used in its manufacture. All of these problems are now behind us because of digital film, but anything made during the last century is subject to these conditions.

Thus, there is a lot going on behind the scenes at Disney to keep the original films and related materials in existence, so that new media (Blu-ray and so forth) versions can be created from the earliest and best sources. This is why it requires a massive effort to bring out something that fans think is easy to do, such as a new Diamond Edition of their favorite classic. Knowing all this helps us to appreciate that animation films really are true art, and unlike all other films.


Animation of Asteroid Discoveries 1980-2011

Asteroid discoveries.

Animation of Asteroid Discoveries 1980-2011

This is an extraordinary animation from Scott Manley that visualizes the asteroids that were discovered year by year by astronomers between 1980 and 2011. Something on the order of half a million asteroids was discovered during that time.

To orient you, the balls spinning around the bright light in the center (the Sun) are the inner planets. You can tell which one is earth because it is the one that the light follows as it spins, that is, the light that shows the asteroids that were being discovered at that time. Another way to orient yourself is to remember that we are on the third rock from the Sun. The year in question is shown in the lower left, and obviously, we complete roughly 30 revolutions in those roughly thirty years (he did not begin and end on January 1).

Those asteroids were invariably in the area of Space closest to earth, in a rectangular region opposite to the rays of the sun.  The video also shows each individual asteroid's orbit after they were discovered, but you have to have the video on a high resolution to see that.

Videos such as this show how animation can synthesize enormous data sets down to something understandable. Just imagine all the research it took to identify all those asteroids, and how difficult it would be to make any sense out of them at all without seeing them portrayed graphically in this manner.

Besides the immense data collection that this video must have entailed, it also is cool in showing how astronomers are like sailors on a ship flashing their flashlights out into the void and looking for debris. Who knows what might be happening on the other side of the sun - all the astronomers can see is what it beside us at the moment. It shows the limits of earth-based telemetry.

Things changed around the end of the '90s as NASA got its act together with Hubble and various other hardware systems.

All else aside, this is a pretty video! For a science video (I know, ugh!) this is fun to watch, with a good soundtrack, even if you're not a science geek like me all those other guys. Watch fullscreen in 1080p for the maximum effect, a detailed animation like this has a lot to offer, and what you take out of it depends on what you bring to it. Let me just say that this animation is easily understandable by just about anyone, and the same cannot be said for all astronomy videos.

Of course, the asteroids are tiny and space is huge, so the way the animation colors in empty space is highly misleading. But you already knew that.

From the youtube page:
New version with data up to the end of May 2011. Rendered at more HD than HD resolution - 2048 lines - if you have gear that can play this in original format then I'm jealous. (and I have a 4096x4096 resolution version if you happen to have a planetarium and a hundred thousand dollars in projection gear)
Science & Technology


Upcoming Diamond Edition Releases

Walt Disney logo

Disney is rumored to be releasing the following Diamond Edition packages over the upcoming months/years. This is completely unofficial, these are from information that folks spotted on semi-official Disney sites, so take it for what it is worth. If the date comes and goes and no release, well, we apologize for the misinformation. We'll try to keep the information updated for upcoming releases with new posts, this is "state of the moment" information as of the date of this post.

Even if the dates are correct as of this time, Disney changes release dates all the time for a variety of reasons. So, check back every so often and we'll try to post any changes that we see.

These are scheduled US releases of Diamond Edition Blu-ray animated titles, to the best of our knowledge at the current time, with both Blu-ray and DVD discs and bonus features/material in each package:

Hercules (6/10/14)
Tarzan (6/10/14)
A Goofy Movie & An Extremely Goofy Movie (2-Movie Collection – 6/24/14)
Mickey, Donald and Goofy: The Three Musketeers (Summer 2014)
The Black Cauldron: Special Edition (8/19/14)
Bears (8/26/14)
Fun and Fancy Free (9/30/14)
The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad (9/30/14)
Sleeping Beauty (10/7/14)
Saludos Amigos & The Three Caballeros (2-Movie Collection, Blu-ray and DVD – 12/2/14)
Make Mine Music & Melody Time (2-Movie Collection – 12/2/14)
Planes: Fire & Rescue (12/9/14)

101 Dalmatians (2/3/15)
Aladdin (10/6/15)

Pinocchio (2/2/16)


Sony Moving Animation to Canada

Sony Smurfs
The Smurfs are leaving LA.
Sony Moving Animation to Canada.

Strikingly confirming what we said recently, Sony Pictures Imageworks has announced that it is joining the exodus of animation shops out of Los Angeles and heading to the financially sunnier climes of Vancouver. The move, of course, is to take advantage of generous tax credits provided by the Canadian government that neither Los Angeles nor California matches.

Thus, even if California takes action to give animation companies tax breaks, it's too little and too late for this major outfit. That bird has flown. To Canada.

Imageworks produces the animation for Sony Pictures Animation (SPA) films such as "The Smurfs" and its sequels. It also does the special effects for many live-action films such as Disney/Marvel's upcoming "Guardians of the Galaxy." The company is a major player in the industry.

There currently are 270 Imageworks employees in Los Angeles. Those are good, well-paying jobs for talented artists. The new facility that Imageworks is moving to in Vancouver, above a shopping mall, will be able to accommodate up to 800 employees. There is no word on what will happen to Imageworks' current California employees or if there will be additional new hiring of Canadians.

The Los Angeles/California tax structure is slowly but surely strangling the film industry that remains in Hollywood, the golden film goose that laid the golden egg in the Golden State exactly 100 years ago after leaving New York and now is getting increasingly restless for a new home.


Friday, May 30, 2014

Growth of US Shopping Malls and Dollar Stores Animations

Growth of Shopping Malls in the US

Mall growth in the United States during the 20th Century.
Growth of US Shopping Malls and Dollar Stores Animations. It is no secret that malls boomed during the 20th Century. In fact, new malls were built every year from the 1950s to 2007, the first year when no new malls were built.

Another interesting phenomenon is the growth in "dollar stores," or those that charge a dollar for anything in the store.

Dollar store growth over time.
Dollar stores have become much more popular in recent years. This animation shows their growth over a ten-year span from 2008-2018. They really expanded greatly following the 2008-2009 recession.

Dollar store growth in the southeast.
The growth of Dollar stores has been especially powerful in the southeastern section of the United States, as shown in the above animation.

I love these kinds of animations, which tell a story covering decades in a simple animation.

Roosevelt Field Shopping Mall
Roosevelt Field Shopping Mall on Long Island


SpaceX Dragon V2 Animation

SpaceX Dragon
Docking with the ISS.
SpaceX Dragon V2 Animation.

Space animations (see also this slick one about Copernicus) are all about the professional pacing and electronic background music these days, and here we have another good space animation. Elon Musk of Tesla and PayPal fame has lots of money to burn, and some of it is going into orbit and back. SpaceX is the company (Space Exploration Technologies Corporation, or SpaceX), based in Hawthorne, California, that Musk founded back in 2002. This video shows a just-announced proposal for a human transport vehicle.

It would be very cool if this works. If we're ever going to get off this rock, something like this will be the means to do it.

SpaceX Falcon Vs. Dragon

The SpaceX Falcon line of craft is the cargo rockets. The SpaceX Dragon spacecraft is the craft designed for human transport. They complement each other. The SpaceX Falcon 9, capable of bringing 23k lbs of cargo into orbit, already has successfully docked with the International Space Station (ISS). The SpaceX Falcon Heavy, with heavier payload capacity, is supposedly ready to go on its first demonstration flight very soon.

The Dragon is nowhere near the flying-into-space stage yet. It is projected to fly within "a few years." That they are only now releasing a concept video shows it is still far off, how far off nobody really can say with any certainty, it's all subject to testing and successful flights. If you are thinking, "Well, Elon Musk knows," well, perhaps, but he's been saying since about 2010 that this Dragon craft was only a few years away. Apparently, it's still a few years away. We all know how that goes. Complex, ground-breaking things often take much longer than we think or wish.

I just want to thank Mr. Musk for not naming one of the rockets "Enterprise." Yes, I loved the show too, but every other US craft these days seems to have to be called that.

SpaceX Dragon
Separation. The crew would be in the part to the right, which would return to Earth later.

How SpaceX Dragon Would Work

As you can see in the animation, this Dragon rocket would act like a VSTOL aircraft, landing on a runway by firing its jets. If it works, it would be the first spacecraft with that capability. That seems to be its most unique feature.

One has to wonder at the efficiency of this - that's a lot of fuel to do all that counter-firing - but Musk is the one with billions of dollars and the rooms-full of rocket scientists, so we'll have to see how this plays out. There has to be a lot of science behind this, perhaps some kind of passive automatic braking mechanism built into the capsule itself. That method of landing certainly would have its advantages, including not landing at sea and requiring a fleet of ships on alert, and not even requiring a runway. Theoretically, the craft could land on the White House lawn or in Yankee Stadium during the 7th Inning Stretch.

Another potential problem is the moving parts. Notice how when the craft disengages from the ISS, it has to close a front hatch. What if that got stuck or warped and didn't close properly? Hey, stranger things have happened, there's a lot of heat involved in launches and landings. That would be "not so good" for the human cargo. So, they have a lot of critical parts.

That's the thing about animations that we always have to remember - they're always precise and pretty and everything works as it should. Hatches don't be balky and not want to close, hinges don't just "break" or get misaligned, that sort of thing. Sometimes real life isn't like that, especially on, say, the 75th re-use.

The craft is designed to carry up to seven astronauts at a time. In the animation, we see the SpaceX Dragon attaching to the International Space Station, then coming back down to earth. Part of the capsule's plan is to have as few disposable parts as possible in order to keep expenses down, which is contrary to everything NASA and everyone else has done to date.

This craft can carry around 3 tons of cargo in total. It does not replace the cargo-carrying craft but rather supplements it. If this Dragon craft works within a reasonable time frame, it would come in quite handy, as the Russians say they will stop providing launch services to the ISS in 2020. The SpaceX Dragon would be a welcome replacement - if it's ready and it works. Carrying people is a lot different than carrying cargo, it's going to require quite a bit of testing to satisfy everyone that it is safe to fly.

SpaceX Dragon
Human quarters inside the Dragon.
From the youtube page:

Meet SpaceX's Dragon V2 spacecraft, the next generation spacecraft designed to carry astronauts to Earth orbit and beyond.

Paperman (2012) - Combining 2D and 3D


Short film "Paperman."

"Paperman" is a romantic little animation that's actually been around for a while, running before "Wreck-It Ralph." It won both the Academy Award for Best Animated Short Film at the 85th Academy Awards and the Annie Award for Best Animated Short Subject at the 40th Annie Awards.

It is an unusual animation, being a short film from Disney that has all scenes, character models and props modeled in 3-D and afterward rendered mostly into 2-D visuals. It looks like 3D, but it really isn't, so calling it 3D would be a misnomer. Basically, they rendered the whole thing in Black-and-White 3D models and textures and then they went back frame by frame and drew the traditional Disney animation. The software created to make Paperman was created specifically to make 2-D out of 3-D animation and models, so it is an experimental video in a format called "final line advection."

John Kahrs is George, Kari Wahlgren is Meg, Jeff Turley is the boss.

The short was produced by Walt Disney Animation Studios and directed by John Kahrs, who claims it stemmed from his own experiences commuting into Grand Central Station in New York City. Having done the same into Penn Station, I can verify that this is the kind of thing you kind of wish would happen at some point, though it never does. You see someone and wonder if you should go say hello, and then you figure you'll see them again the next day or some other time and you never do. Perhaps it's an old friend from high school or just someone who strikes your fancy. Naturally, when you have time to think about it later you realize you should have just gone over and said something. Call it a "commuter fantasy." Everyone who spends enough time taking the train into the city has a story or two like that...

Incidentally, the standard way to try and hook up between buildings like that isn't the paper airplane method, that would never work because of the wind and distance and, well, it's just too small a target. Besides, windows in the city are almost always closed, especially on the avenue side. Instead, you get the biggest piece of paper or cardboard that you can find and you write your phone number on it in as big and dark a manner as you can, then you hold it up to the window and jump up and down like an orangutan until the other person sees you. Then, she laughs and closes the blind.

Now, how would I know this?

Anyway, it's a cute video and well worth a look.

There are various copies of this floating around of varying quality. Here's another version should the one above doesn't work:


Children's Animation "Wayne the Stegosaurus"

Wayne the Stegosaurus
Wayne the Stegosaurus.
Children's Animation "Wayne the Stegosaurus."

Wayne the Stegosaurus: A Motionpoems Animated Short from The Mill on Vimeo.

All kids love dinosaurs, that's kind of a given. Combine dinosaurs with some really kid-friendly animation and you usually have a winner. That's what "Wayne the Stegosaurus" looks like. It is the product of an outfit that is sort of an artist collective.

It is a cute and lovely piece of animation that you or your child might find fun, and of course, it has a nice message as well.

Wayne the Stegosaurus

From the web page:
The Mill artists adapted the children’s poem "Wayne the Stegosaurus" by Kenn Nesbitt into a delightful animated film for the 5th Season of Motionpoems, a non profit bringing poets and filmmakers together to create short films. Find out more about creating the film from the artists:
Co-Directors: Aran Quinn, Jeff Dates
3D Lead Aritsts: Rob Petrie, Jeff Dates
Producer: Jason Bartnett
EP: Danielle Amaral


"The Book of Life" - First Look

The Book of Life
"The Book of Life."
Guillermo del Toro, the producer behind "Kung Fu Panda 2," "Rise of the Guardians" and "Puss in Boots" among many other films, is currently working on "The Book of Life," directed by Jorge R. Gutierrez. Here is the first trailer:

The film is being produced by Twentieth Century Fox Animation working with Reel FX Creative Studios.

The Book of Life

In "The Book of Life," Manolo (Diego Luna) is a young man who faces that eternal movie dilemma: doing what his father (Hector Elizondo) and grandfather (Danny Trejo) expect and becoming a bullfighter or pursuing his dreams of becoming a musician.

The Book of Life

Zoe Saldana, Channing Tatum, Ice Cube, Christina Applegate, Ron Perlman and Opera legend Placido Domingo all contribute voices. "The Book of Life" premiers in the US on October 17, 2014, and in the UK on the 24th October 2014.

The Book of Life

The official synopsis from the studio:
From producer Guillermo del Toro and director Jorge Gutierrez comes an animated comedy with a unique visual style. THE BOOK OF LIFE is the journey of Manolo, a young man who is torn between fulfilling the expectations of his family and following his heart. Before choosing which path to follow, he embarks on an incredible adventure that spans three fantastical worlds where he must face his greatest fears. Rich with a fresh take on pop music favorites, THE BOOK OF LIFE encourages us to celebrate the past while looking forward to the future.
The Book of Life

The stills make the animation appear to be softer than much of the current CGI films on the market. It may not be hand-drawn, but it has a smoother look to it than many of the blockbusters, with colors that are not quite so glaring. It might be a nice change of pace this fall.

The Book of Life


DreamWorks Rearranges the Deck Chairs

DreamWorks Animation is dancing as fast as it can - with Penguins.
DreamWorks is in trouble. There's no question that DreamWorks Animation is going through a difficult period. It has had three out of four flops recently - "Rise of the Guardians" at the end of 2012, "Turbo" in 2013, and "Mr. Peabody and Sherman" this year. "The Croods" did well last year, so expect a sequel from that as soon as they can crank one out. But a 25% success rate is not good, and those flop films collectively lost a lot of money. Many think that DreamWorks spent too much  ($180 million) on "Mr. Peabody," a sign of over-confidence. With Hollywood accounting, you can never be sure exactly what is going on, but DreamWorks had to take huge charges for its film failures that really hurt its stock price, so that money that it isn't seeing is important.

The common denominator of those three under-performing films, aside from the fact that they were all from DreamWorks and greenlighted by legendary studio head Jeffrey Katzenberg, is that they were not sequels. Now, that might not seem like something out of the ordinary or even something to mention - for instance, Disney almost never does theatrical sequels to its major hits, though that may be changing - these days the most popular word in Hollywood is, you got it, "sequel."

To a large extent, DreamWorks has built its empire on sequels. "Shrek" begat "Shrek 2" and "Puss in Boots" and, well, all sorts of little Shreks. DreamWorks also has several other highly successful franchises such as the "Madagascar" films. So, DreamWorks is far from being a one-trick pony.

It's an axiom of the business that movie stars are allowed three box office duds in a row before they start losing roles. While studios are a bit more resilient than that, they aren't immune to costly film failures. Disney has gone through several periods in its history when the very survival of the studio hung by a thread, and nobody in the business compares to Disney in terms of success and prestige. DreamWorks has nowhere near the deep catalog of Disney, and it does not have the tv networks and tv series and the theme parks (though DreamWorks is building several major parks in China and Europe) and what-not that Disney can always fall back on (not that Disney has to with the end-times success of "Frozen").

So, with DreamWorks struggling, what is its prognosis?

Just fine.

Jeffrey Katzenberg
Jeffrey Katzenberg knows the business, and the business is sequels.
Katzenberg hears the cries of the shareholders who have been losing money recently. Accordingly, here is what the studio is going to do, some of these things obvious, some just recently announced:
  1. Release guaranteed smash hit "How to Train a Dragon 2" this summer on schedule.
  2. Release sequel "Penguins of Madagascar" this holiday season.
  3. Push off new (i.e. non-sequel) "Home" starring Steve Martin until next year.
  4. Jeffrey Katzenberg has been making noises recently about further sequels to its successful franchises such as another "Shrek" and "How to Train Your Dragon 3" and even "How to Train Your Dragon 4" (that's how utterly confident they are about "How to Train Your Dragon 2").
What does all this tell us? Well, it confirms the power of sequels. It also shows that DreamWorks has a whole deck of aces up its sleeves.

Sequels in Hollywood are virtually guaranteed money-makers. All you have to do is re-tell the same story with different bits and maybe a couple of new actors thrown into the mix as new villains or new buddies to the main character and... guaranteed hit.

That is life in Hollywood these days. Anyone who tells you differently is kidding you.


"Home" has a brilliant pedigree. It stars proven headliner Steve Martin and also features Jim Parsons and Rihanna. However, while Martin is proven, the story is not. "Guardians," for goodness sake, had Hugh Jackman in it, and there's no more bankable star today than Jackman. So a big name can't save a turkey all by himself (and nobody is saying that "Home" is ready for the bake oven), certainly not Steve Martin, who hasn't been in much lately.

Accordingly, "Home," which was originally supposed to be released on November 26th, 2014; has been moved back to March 27th, 2015. "Penguins of Madagascar," another sequel to "Madagascar" that has the added bonus of featuring popular stars John Malkovich and Benedict Cumberbatch, has been moved forward to a November 26, 2014 release date after previously slotted for mid-2015. It's not really a sign of desperation - but a sign that DreamWorks is feeling the heat and wants to bank some coin before putting out any more new (non-sequel) material. Three out of four failures is bad enough, but four out of five would not be good at all and might cause all sorts of problems with financiers.

When you think about it, this latest move makes sense anyway. Penguins in wintertime - when else would you want to release a movie about penguins? The Steve Martin film has had a rocky marketing campaign, being tied so far to the sluggish "Mr. Peabody," so it could use more time to get the word out to people that it is worth watching.

Now, here's the true bottom line: DreamWorks has nothing whatsoever to fear right now. Nothing, that is, if everything proceeds as it always has in Hollywood, with sequels to successful films also being huge successes.

If "How to Train Your Dragon 2" and "The Penguins of Madagascar" have unexpected problems, though, then DreamWorks will be in trouble. But that's highly unlikely.


Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Chinese Animation: Streaking in Stockholm

"Chinese Animation: Streaking In Stockholm."

Chinese animation is still a fledgling industry, but it is on the rise. It also has something to say, which may surprise some folks.

This is an animation about a political event that you likely never heard about. Since it gives a glimpse into Chinese art, we present it here, with an explanation below. The animation is difficult to decipher unless you know the background or understand Chinese writing, but bear with me here, it will all make sense.

All right, now the explanation. This all stems from Chinese dissidents protesting the incarceration of Nobel Peace Prize winner Liu Xiaobo. The dissidents are Chinese artists Liao Yiwu, Bei Ling, Wąng Yiliang, Meng Huang, and Wąng Juntao.

Liu Xiaobo is a Chinese human rights activist (and lots of other things such as a professor) who called for political reforms and the end of communist single-party rule. Fat chance! Xiaobo is currently incarcerated as a political prisoner in Jinzhou, Liaoning. His wife, who did nothing wrong that we know of, is under house arrest. The Chinese government does not play around with this sort of thing.

Xiaobo won a Nobel Peace Prize, but could not attend because he was in a jail cell. Liao and the others tried to place an empty chair at the Nobel Prize ceremonies in Stockholm in 2012 to protest Xiaobo's incarceration that had resulted in his inability to attend to accept his award. The dissidents also were upset that Mo Yan, a controversial Chinese writer, would participate in the ceremony and accept his own Nobel Prize for writing that year whilst Xiaobo remained locked up and could not accept his. The Chinese government likes Mo Yan and doesn't like Liu Xiaobo, while the dissidents now like Xiaobo and don't like Mo Yan. Thus, the empty chair in the animation served multiple purposes, much like Clint Eastwood talking to an empty chair also served multiple purposes.

Not getting any satisfaction after the 2012 stunt (and it was a stunt, but a stunt attempted in a good way for a noble cause), the dissidents decided to up the ante in 2013. They dispensed with the chair idea and instead came up with streaking in the snow right outside the Nobel Prize ceremonies. Now, obviously, this was all set up, because the Swedes probably would have let these guys run around in the snow and dark and ice naked all night if they wanted to and then collected the frozen corpses in the morning. Probably the happiest guy in the entire country that night was the naked guy, Liao Yiwu, whose main concern no doubt was that nobody might notice and he might freeze to death if not "subdued." The dissidents got what they wanted, publicity for their cause and a mercifully quick end to this cold adventure, and they now have this video as well, more publicity. And, might I add in a not immodest way, this post.

I say this in the kindest possible way: the Chinese are great at these kinds of stunts, such as the famous picture of the guy standing in front of the column of tanks. I especially like the subtle animation touch here of having the Chinese leader at the microphone standing on a stack of books to make himself look important. This actually is a sad video, because it's a completely lost cause in a totalitarian state, but these guys are trying to do something anyway.

Below a clip of the actual, obviously staged, event. Look at the snow! It was December in Sweden! After dark! He must have frozen like an icicle! And it takes courage to do something like this, regardless of whether it was staged or not or in a foreign land when you live under a repressive regime. It doesn't take long to get frostbite under those conditions, either.

Oh, and the animation is actually a combination with an earlier animation from 2012 that was just about the chair incident. The chair one wasn't as much fun as this one, though. I mean, noble as it was, it was just a chair. Maybe next year they'll have a new, expanded version, too, that will be even more interesting.

From the youtube page:
On December 10, 2012, artist Meng Huang streaked outside the Nobel Prize banquet in Stockholm, Sweden, to protest Mo Yan winning this year's Nobel in literature. He was accompanied by German Peace Prize recipient Liao Yiwu, who is currently living in exile in Berlin. The two were upset that Mo Yan did not present an empty chair in honor of Nobel Peace Prize winner Liu Xiaobo, currently serving an 11-year sentence in China for state subversion.


Hope for California Animation

Jerry Brown
Potential Swami of Animation, Governor Jerry Brown.
Hope for California Animation. One of the biggest growth sectors in entertainment is animation. The animation craft really is taking over Hollywood.

Or, not quite yet. But it could.

One of the most difficult things to explain is why so much of the best animation isn't actually done in Hollywood. All the major studios are located there, Walt Disney practically invented modern animation there, but the studios farm it out to Australia or Japan or Canada or Ireland or other states. Now, why should they do that? It's not as if the scenery in Tokyo is any better for animation than that in the San Fernando Valley.

The reason is taxes. California has never given animation any kind of tax preference. Other jurisdictions do. That is a major reason why animation is shipped across the country or overseas because it is cheaper there and the work is of acceptable quality. This has been going on for decades. Sure, some animation work is done there, but the easy stuff is all farmed out. Sometimes, you just have to scratch your head at the blindness of lawmakers to do what is best for their people.

This Bill comes along as more evidence of the problem hits the news. Washington D.C. has just managed to lure Hollywood animation company Pigmental Studios away from LA. You may not have heard of Pigmental, it's no Disney or DreamWorks, but it has partnered with Pixar, Disney, and other animation studios. The sky is the limit with these smaller companies in this growing field. Pigmental now will move its operations from Los Angeles to the District because of approximately $250,000 in incentives that D.C. agreed to provide:
"We are excited to have Pigmental call the District home and look forward to seeing the creative energy they will bring to our burgeoning film production community," said D.C. Mayor Vincent Gray in announcing the move. "Attracting businesses such as Pigmental is fueled by our efforts to create a more sustainable economy and generate opportunities that tap into the creative industry."
Pigmental Studios logo

The grant was part of D.C.'s tech incentives program, a program that LA and California could not match. There are also tax breaks and other assistance, all provided by D.C.'s Office of Motion Picture and Television Development. Pigmental plans to open an office in Georgetown, with 12 employees moving there and another 50 to be hired later. Pigmental currently is working on "Kong," a science fiction-inspired version of the Chinese epic "Journey to the West." Pigmental announced earlier this year at the Cannes Film Festival that the movie will be released in 2016.

So the erosion of animation jobs (60+ jobs!) and talent and taxes from LA continues as we speak. The good news for Californians is that this could change, and soon.

This week, the California Assembly votes on Assembly Bill 8139, which puts the Golden State in serious competition for top-tier animation work with New York, Georgia, and Louisiana, as well as Britain and Canada, due to entertainment tax subsidies. For the first time, California has language in such a bill for visual effects and the animation that propels VFX.

This hasn't happened before. It's a sign that animation is becoming big league to the extent it wasn't before. Though we all know animation always has been big-time, the politicians just never bothered noticing.

Up until now, California's entertainment tax subsidies have focused on cable t.v. shows and lower budget features. Ever wonder why so much live-action production work takes place routinely in Vancouver, where seemingly half the television series in production is filmed? Because of tax subsidies there, and the lack of them in California. Does that make any sense whatsoever for Californians who need jobs? No. Has it ever mattered to the state's legislators? No.

Somehow, after decades of seeing jobs departing for other climes, the wise heads in Sacramento have come to recognize that visual effects jobs and high-end movies/television have been leaving the state in droves.

This is just a start. It's too much to expect politicians to get this done the first time. The State Senate might not even bother voting on the Bill, or it might lose the vote in the State House, or Jerry Brown may have a Moonbeam moment and not sign it if it ever does reach his desk.

But this legislation could see a big change in the animation field if it becomes law.

Jerry Brown
Jerry Brown


Mr. Magoo, the Theatrical Collection (2014) - Jim Backus at his Finest

Mr. Magoo Jim Backus
Mr. Magoo. Oh, old hat, you say, you know all about him. Do you? What's his first name? Answer below.
Everyone is familiar with "Gilligan's Island." Though it only lasted for three years in the mid-60s, it was Sherwood Schwartz's finest hour (and he did "The Brady Bunch" as well, so that is saying something.

Mr. Magoo, the Theatrical Collection (2014) - Jim Backus at his Finest. On the island, you had Gilligan, the Skipper, the professor, Mary Ann, Ginger, and the Howells. While the Howells may seem almost an after-thought in the ensemble, in fact, the actor who played Mr. Howell was the most bankable star in the entire cast, the only one the entire world would recognize instantly.

Jim Backus played the blustery plutocrat. In the mid-60s, nobody would have recognized Jim Backus in the street - but the moment they heard him, a smile of recognition would play across their faces.

Mr. Magoo!

Mr. Magoo Jim Backus

Yes, Jim Backus played Mr. Magoo, and it was his signature role - even though nobody ever saw him play it. Those were the days when voice actors could become a ubiquitous presence in peoples' living rooms, but nobody would have recognized them on the street if they tripped over them. Alan Reed (Fred Flintstone), Mel Blanc, and Jim Backus all experienced this phenomenon.

"Mr. Magoo" was the creation of the long-forgotten United Productions of America (UPA).

UPA had been founded by disgruntled animators from Walt Disney's studio who had gone on strike in 1941. This strike, in fact:

Disney animators on strike 1941
Disney animators on strike 1941 - and the birth of UPA.
It took UPA a while to get up to speed, and it took whatever work it could find: automaker corporate films, government public service announcements, anything. Finally, having established itself, Columbia Pictures hired them to do theatrical shorts. Shorts in those days (and, to some extent, to this day, though that is rare now) played before regular feature films as a sort of warm-up act. Entire careers rose and fell on whether audiences liked the shorts, or instead got up to get some popcorn while they played. UPA is still with us, as a unit of DreamWorks Animation, but its creative life ended in the late '70s and it retains value principally for its library.

One of UPA's shorts, "Ragtime Bear” in 1949, was about an elderly, near-sighted retiree named Mr. Magoo. Audiences couldn't be sure if he was the villain or the hero, but they knew one thing: that they loved him. Always well-intentioned though somewhat gruff and impatient, Mr. Magoo became one of the most beloved characters in animation history. “When Magoo Flew,” from which the clip above was taken, later even won an Oscar.

Everybody loved Mr. Magoo. UPA had chosen Jim Backus, a minor character actor in B-movies such as "Father Was a Fullback" and "One Last Fling," to voice the main character. Backus and his avuncular delivery got better and better as time went on, and Backus built his entire career as a voice actor on the character. The "Gilligan's Island" role was just a chance for Backus, probably the biggest unknown star in Hollywood, to actually get his face in front of the cameras for a change. That role was perfect for Backus because "Gilligan's Island" was just about the most cartoonish television series ever filmed.

Backus was probably as mystified by that show's overwhelming success as everybody else, but it created an entire second career for him after Mr. Magoo ran out of steam in the early '60s. That is, Mr. Magoo ran out of steam as original theatrical material - the shorts were replayed endlessly as Saturday morning television cartoons through the 1970s.

Mr. Magoo Jim Backus
Mr. Magoo always got into trouble because of his near-sightedness.
The nicest thing about "Gilligan's Island" is that it earned Jim Backus eternal fame which he deserved for Mr. Magoo. People mourned his passing when otherwise he would have been long forgotten by then.

"Mr. Magoo: The Theatrical Collection" has been released and is a delight for fans of Mr. Magoo. It contains 53 short films and one feature-length ("1001 Arabian Nights" from 1959), in all over 400 minutes worth of material. It comes in a box set with bonus features that include audio commentaries, an interview with Leonard Maltin where he discusses the history of UPA, a documentary about the creation of the character and how the work being done by UPA was “anti-Disney”, a photo gallery and more.

Mr. Magoo's first name? Yes, he had one. Quincy. Quincy Magoo.

Disney animators on strike 1941


"The Science of Symmetry" from TED-Ed

Symmetry TED-Ed

"The Science of Symmetry" from TED-Ed. This animation from TED-Ed explains the importance of symmetry in science and biology. This probably isn't something you've ever thought about - which is why it's such a fascinating video.

The video explains bilateral vs. radial symmetry, plant symmetry, animal symmetry, and how some animals have no symmetry at all (coral). This is all-important in the study of developmental biology.

Kelleher doesn't mention this in the video, but studies have shown that in humans, one of the prime elements of attraction that individuals have for others is the symmetry of their faces. Yes, it really is that simple.

As with all TED-Ed animations, this one goes quickly from the simple to the complex and provides a little bit of everything on the topic.

From the youtube page:
When you hear the word symmetry, you might think generally of triangles, butterflies, or even ballerinas. But defined scientifically, symmetry is "a transformation that leaves an object unchanged." Huh? Colm Kelleher unpacks this abstract term and explains how animal's distinct symmetries can tell us more about them -- and ourselves. 
Lesson by Colm Kelleher, animation by Andrew Foerster.


"Bee Friendly" from Emma Caswell - Bee Friendly to Bees

Bee Friendly
Without bees, we'd be in big trouble.

Bee Friendly - A Short Animation By Emma Caswell from Emma Caswell on Vimeo.

"Bee Friendly" from Emma Caswell - Bee Friendly to Bees.

This is a charming animation intended for young children that explains the importance of bees in the world and how we must learn to help the bees.

I bet you didn't know that bees like red, blue and purple flowers!

I'm a sucker for these information little animations that are simply done but pack a powerful message. Plus, I admit it, I love Emma's veddy English accent. The background music is perfect, too, along with the watercolor animation. And I love this video even despite the fact that I'm allergic to bee stings, so there's my best endorsement.

Emma doesn't mention it in the video, but bees are also under all sorts of pressure in the US. Emma intends this video only for young schoolchildren, but it is so well done I think that many others might enjoy it.

"Help ... save the bees ... today," Emma says with perfect British enunciation. Really now, who can argue with that?

Bee Friendly
"This... is Bertie."
From the page:
“Bee Friendly” is a short animation aimed at children within their 1st year of secondary school, where they will be learning vital information about the environment in many of their studies. The aim of this animation is to inform them whilst they are at an age in which they are curious about our planet, and to encourage them to go home and plant some seeds in their garden, which will help save the bees.
Without bees, we would be without one third of all our food.
Albert Einstein once said: “If the bee disappears from the surface of the earth, man would have no more than four years to live.”
By simply planting pollen and nectar rich plants in your garden, it can help the bees flourish, by giving them a home.
This is an animation created for my Level 5 Illustration Degree focusing on moving image through convergence or divergence.
Help save the bees today!


Disney's "Planes: Fire & Rescue" Trailer 2 - Thunder

Planes Fire and Rescue

Disney's "Planes: Fire & Rescue" is coming. You'll recall that "Planes" was a surprise hit last summer, so Disney did not waste any time bringing this "Cars" spinoff back in a hurry. Above is the trailer "Thunder."

Dane Cook returns as the voice of Dusty Crophopper, the cropduster plane with big dreams. He is joined by Julie Bowen ("Modern Family"). Stacy Keach returns as Skipper, and Ed Harris, Erik Estrada, and Fred Willard have roles. The film is directed by Bobs Gannaway and opens July 18th in the US and August 8 in the UK.

In case you were wondering, the original song in the trailer (not the Elvis Presley tune) is "Still I Fly." It was written and produced by Michael Smith (Smidi Music, Inc.).

Planes Fire and Rescue

From the Disney youtube page:

Disney's Planes: Fire & Rescue comes to theatres on July 18!

"Planes: Fire & Rescue" is a new comedy-adventure about second chances, featuring a dynamic crew of elite firefighting aircraft devoted to protecting historic Piston Peak National Park from raging wildfire. When world-famous air racer Dusty (voice of Dane Cook) learns that his engine is damaged and he may never race again, he must shift gears and is launched into the world of aerial firefighting. Dusty joins forces with veteran fire and rescue helicopter Blade Ranger and his courageous team, including spirited super scooper Dipper (voice of Julie Bowen), heavy-lift helicopter Windlifter, ex-military transport Cabbie and a lively bunch of brave all-terrain vehicles known as The Smokejumpers. Together, the fearless team battles a massive wildfire and Dusty learns what it takes to become a true hero. Directed by Bobs Gannaway ("Secret of the Wings").


Radiator Springs 500 1/2 Preview

Radiator Springs 500 1/2
"Radiator Springs 500 1/2."
Radiator Springs 500 1/2 Preview. The "Cars" franchise is alive and kicking. Director Rob Gibbs brings the cars of Radiator Springs to life with this tale of a challenging race based on the real Baja 1000 race in Mexico, "Radiator Springs 500 1/2," the first release in the Pixar animated short series "Tales from Radiator Springs."

Disney/Pixar is releasing a series of shorts available only on Disney Movies Anywhere! Nothing has been released yet except for this, and the studio is keeping tight-lipped about what will happen in future shorts. We also don't know when they will appear.

Radiator Springs 500 1/2
Director Rob Gibbs.
Mater appears and participates in the race. There's lots of off-road action in this one, and we see a lot of the outskirts of Radiator Springs for the first time. The short is 6:20 in length, a full theatrical short.

Probably the best thing about these shorts is that Owen Wilson returns to voice his character, Lightning McQueen. The animation is up to par, done by the Vancouver studio that shut down after this. John Lasseter was deeply involved, "Cars" being his baby from Pixar.

Since Pixar isn't releasing any films this year, these shorts are the only new material coming out of the studio until the middle of next year.

There are new off-road vehicles in this short, so perhaps you collectors of the cars of "Cars" (I know you're out there!) will have something new to get in the stores at some point.

This is only available to viewers in the US, apparently. Kind of ironic on a channel named "Disney Movies Anywhere!," but it is what it is.

Radiator Springs 500 1/2

From the youtube page:
Race into summer with the premiere of Radiator Springs 500 1/2 an all-new adventure, now available for free on Disney Movies Anywhere! This Disney Pixar short is the exciting first installment in the "Tales from Radiator Springs" series.  
Featuring Owen Wilson as Lightning McQueen and directed by Rob Gibbs ("Mater's Tall Tales"), Radiator Springs 500 1/2 tells the story of a "leisurely drive" planned in honor of Radiator Springs' town founder, Stanley, which turns precarious as Baja pros descend on the town and challenge Lightning McQueen to an off-road race. Meanwhile, the townsfolk, led by a Stanley-costumed Mater, enjoy the planned "leisurely drive" to retrace Stanley's original frontier route. Thinking they're on the same course, a wrong turn sends McQueen and the Baja pros on a treacherously wild bid for survival. The misunderstanding leaves the racing professionals in awe of the "legend" of Stanley: the Original Off-Road Racer.
Radiator Springs 500 1/2


Tuesday, May 27, 2014

The Seven Dwarfs Sing!

The Seven Dwarfs Sing! Briefly

Seven Dwarfs and their Diamond Mine
The 1967 Seven Dwarfs album.
The Seven Dwarfs Sing!. Everybody knows about "Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs." It is a 1937 classic animated feature film that starred seven loveable little guys who save Snow White and help dispense justice to the Evil Queen.

What you may not know is that the original Seven Dwarfs have their very own songs that you've probably never heard, that don't appear in the movie. Back in the day, album tie-ins to successful motion pictures were about as common video game tie-ins are now. "Snow White" was no exception.

The Seven Dwarfs and their Diamond Mine

First up, the 1967 tie-in to the 30-year anniversary re-release of "Snow White," an album entitled "The Seven Dwarfs and their Diamond Mine." This album was put together while Walt Disney was still in charge, so it (along with the others below) reflects his vision.

All right, it isn't exactly The Beatles, but it's amusing that the powers that be would even go to the trouble of coming out with "The Seven Dwarfs and their Diamond Mine," and even more so that they did so during the Summer of Love in the midst of '60s counter-culture. It's also an amazingly brief LP, clocking in at less than half an hour - apparently, the Dwarfs sing, but not that much.

It is all silly stuff - the Dwarfs throw a ball for Snow White in a ballroom built in their diamond mine after not seeing her for a couple of years - and the album is completely in keeping with a continuing focus (one might uncharitably call it an obsession) by Disney on the Dwarfs. As evidence of that, witness the recent opening of the Seven Dwarfs Mine Train attraction at Walt Disney World this year. Sometimes, to understand the present, it helps to recall the past.
WALT DISNEY presents
Disneyland Records DQ-1297 (12” 33 1/3 RPM LP / Mono / 1966)
Disneyland Read-Along Book and Record LLP-316 (12” 33 1/3 RPM with Book / Mono / 1967)
Executive Producer: Jimmy Johnson. Producer/Musical Director: Camarata.
Running Times: 25 minutes (LP) / 10 minutes (Read-Along).
Performers: Robie Lester (Narrator, Seven Dwarfs, Snow White); Bill Lee, Thurl Ravenscroft and Bill Kanady (Singing Voices of the Seven Dwarfs).
Songs: “Music in Your Soup” and “You’re Never Too Old To Be Young” by Larry Morey and Frank Churchill.
Music Excerpts: “Heigh-Ho,” “One Song.”
So, there, and you thought you'd seen everything!

Walt Disney's Snow White and Sneezy

All of the Dwarfs are little guys, but some are more equal than others.

All big fans of "Snow White" have their favorite dwarf. Grumpy is a big fan favorite at the moment, and in fact is a regular on the current Disney-produced "Once Upon a Time" ABC television series. The others are not as high-profile right now - but that wasn't always the case.

Disney always has its own favorites among the seven, no doubt based on surveys about their relative cuteness or current (and apparently fickle) fan interest or... something. Back in the day, those favorites did not include Grumpy but rather were... Sneezy and Dopey.

Snow White Sneezy
Walt Disney's Snow White and Disney as told by Dennis Day.
"Walt Disney's Snow White and Sneezy" was a 1952 release from RCA Records "as told by Dennis Day." As any big music fan will know, Dennis Day was an Irish Tenor who had a continuing relationship with the Disney corporation. He did the "Johnny Appleseed" segment from the 1948 "Fantasia" crypto-sequel "Melody Time," for instance, which was turned into a short film of its own. As with the later "Gold Mine" release, this is a quickie at a mere eight minutes.

Dennis Day was a huge star in the 1950s, appearing on two different television series at the same time. He had a boyish "Golly gee whiz, Mr. Wilson" voice that fit in perfectly with the 1950s Disney culture. But while Day's star burned bright, it flamed out and completely disappeared as he got older. He is not as well-remembered today as many other stars of the time, but his Disney association assured him lasting fame.

Here, Day helps promote the 1952 re-release of "Snow White" (are we sensing a pattern here?) by playing the roles of all of the seven Dwarfs in a somewhat eccentric fashion. Billy Gilbert voiced Sneezy in the film, but Day goes off on his own interpretation that is definitely different. That's great, establishing his own mark on the character is the mark of an artist, but it strains the continuity between the album and the film which it was designed to promote.

What's most fun about this album is that the Evil Queen's death in the film is absolutely ignored, and Sneezy must battle an evil plan given to her (here, the legendary June Foray) by the Magic Mirror (Hans Conried). The bottom line - Sneezy's sneeze stops! The Prince also has a bit role, but sadly for his fans remains un-named.
RCA Little Nipper Youth Series Records WY-447
Told and Sung by Dennis Day
(7” 45 RPM & 10” 78 RPM / Mono / 1952 / 8 minutes)
It's just really cool to have the Evil Queen back in action, aided and abetted by the evil Magic Mirror. Maybe she survived that fall after all?

Walt Disney's Snow White and Dopey

Along the same lines as "Snow White and Sneezy," "Snow White and Dopey" has Dennis Day again voicing the Dwarfs and narrating. The plot this time again involves the Evil Queen - who knew she was this popular! - hatching an evil plot. Apparently, she has something against the Dwarfs, another indication that this is set post-film rather than pre-film since there is no indication in the film that she had ever heard of them.

Snow White Dopey
Walt Disney's Snow White and Dopey as told by Dennis Day.
The Evil Queen here plays a similar trick as she did in the film - she pretends to be nice in order to disarm and then eviscerate her enemy. She gives Dopey jingle berries, apparently again on the counsel of that dastardly evil Magic Mirror. Dopey completely falls for it (well - he's dopey, right?), which leads to him and Snow White being captured. Do things end badly? What do you think?
RCA Little Nipper Youth Series Records WY-448
Told and Sung by Dennis Day
(7” 45 RPM & 10” 78 RPM / Mono / 1952 / 8 minutes)
For both "Sneezy" and "Dopey" albums:
Producer: Steven R. Carlin. Writer: Martin Weldon. Musical Director: Henri René.
Performers: Dennis Day (Narrator, Dwarfs, Prince); June Foray (Queen, Animals); Hans Conried (Magic Mirror, Animals).
Songs: “Sneezy Song” “Dopey Song,” by Martin Weldon and Henri René.

It's highly unlikely that any of these albums were transferred to CD, but you never know what you might find down at the Disney store.