Friday, December 29, 2006

Cleaning my studio...


...the things you find.
I was just talking about the good old Silver Passes the last week we were at work--getting that itch to go to Disneyland again. I hadn't seen my worthless old passes in years, but I just knew I probably didn't thow them away. I was right. This little item got you & 4 of your friends and/or family into the Parks gratis(and flashing your ID got you 30% off all food and purchases).
Very nice perks indeed.

The 33 Club (I guess it's officially known as "Club 33" but that's never what we used to call it as kids, so--): I was privileged to finally go there for brunch a few years ago for my birthday. Aside from this little notepad (a complimentary item), we bought champagne glasses to remember it by. If you grew up making regular trips to Disneyland as my family and friends did, the 33 Club was a mysterious, forbidden place one could only dream of ever getting into; a virtually unmarked doorway adjacent to the Pirates exit, with a small brass plate hiding an intercom and button. Admittance was and is by appointment only--and via the membership of a select few companies and individuals. It's also been known as the only place inside Disneyland that serves alcoholic beverages.
Stories abound--like the time when I and my best high school buddy were eating at the Blue Bayou(the Club balcony overlooks the Bayou restaurant) and pelted with ice from some imbibing VIPs above. We didn't mind; they were just small ice chips, after all--and who knew who it might have been tossing the ice? Such was our reverence for the place that we felt honored to be thus acknowleged.
The birthday brunch, by the way, was excellent.

-An addendum: I see that on the Animation Nation site there was some mention of the high cost of eating at Club 33. True, it's expensive(easily $50 per person), but what the poster doesn't mention is that entry into Disneyland is free with a reservation at the 33 Club.
At the time of my birthday brunch I wasn't a Disney employee, much less one with a silver pass, so that aspect saved me and my three guests a considerable sum. It was well worth it for the Disney lore and overall atmosphere that fill the "forbidden" upstairs Club, and the friend who made it possible (not an animation artist but a Disney fan whose dad was in several classic Disney live action films in Walt's time) has my heartiest thanks for making it happen. If you're curious, be sure you click the link embedded in my post above for a site with some fun details and photos of the inside of the Club.

Thursday, December 28, 2006

2719 Hyperion blog

The title of this post is of course the address of the old Disney Hyperion studio--and now also a blog of note.
How is it I'd never heard of this blog before? It seems to have existed since September.

2710 Hyperion

They've got a swell collection of a heck of a lot of swell stuff, including many more of the Disney Studio's annual Christmas cards. Here's one from 1941:

to see the larger one and many others, click on the link above

I've only got two or three of these cards, myself...and I'm drooling with envy.
Lots of wonderful information there, too.
I just now discovered this site via the intrepid Didier Ghez(also always worth a visit), so know little about it, but thought I ought to link it right away--the better for more to enjoy!

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

The price of creativity, Disney-style


Over on Cartoon Brew Jerry Beck has cited a rare exhibition of Walt Disney's Carolwood Railroad train in southern California.

With the post he's put up a terrific picture of Walt apparently seeing his gift locomotive, the "Lily Belle", for the first time. Three Disney employees involved in crafting the surprise gift are there--one is Ward Kimball, the preeminent train fanatic of all of Walt's staff
(Ollie Johnston included. An aside here: when I visited Grizzly Flats, Ward's backyard, full-sized train setup, in 1981 shortly after reading the unpublished galleys of "Illusion of Life", I was astonished at the size and breadth of Ward's trains big and small. "I don't get it", I said to Ward, "in the piece on Ollie, his trains are written about--that he has a miniature track in his yard like Walt's was...but there's no mention of any of this in your bio at all!" (forgive me, I was a teenager and extremely naive--not to say plain dumb)
Ward's silent response to me was an indescribable expression that was, shall we say, wryness personified, and very funny too. God love the wonderful messrs Johnston and Thomas--but there's clearly something about competing train fanatics and 9 old men.)


Anyway, it's well worth a click to the Brew to see the photograph of Walt: he's 1000% thrilled--his face is completely lit up. An engineer's hat, not quite able to fit on his head, perches somewhere above his cranium. And from that same delighted, hard-driving man came this POV when planning his model track at his home with this locomotive:

Walt equipped the property with a red barn (modeled after his family's barn back in Marceline) with woodworking and machine tools. He also enlisted the aid of studio staffers like Roger Broggie, who had established the Disney Studio machine shop (and whose son is author Michael Broggie). He decided that it would be more exciting if the tunnel were shaped like an S -- so that riders wouldn't be able to see the light at the end when they entered it. One worker advised Walt that it would be cheaper to build the tunnel straight. "No," said Walt, in a classic Disney response, "it's cheaper not to do it at all."

That is the attitude that made the Disney Studio, that made "Snow White", "Pinocchio", "Fantasia", "Song Of the South", "20,000 Leagues Under the Sea", "Mary Poppins"--and Disneyland and EPCOT.

Walt was no fool. He gets labeled a "dreamer" all the time--and he certainly was, but he also possessed a midwestern shrewdness and could certainly be what we call "cheap"--when in his opinion money wouldn't pay back in results. It's often been said he needed his less imaginative brother, Roy, to rein him in and hold the pursestrings of his empire-building, and that's true, but unlike many other visionaries and gifted producers, he never seemed to run out of steam. If he lost his initial enthusiasm for animation in favor of community planning and who knows what other concepts lost to his death, he wasn't dishonest about it(to the chagrin of his animation staff). And he'd have found a way to get the entertainment and artistic drive of animation in there somehow, anyway.

I digress wildly, but anyway, go and peek at that photo.

Monday, December 25, 2006

Merry Christmas--this time from Ward Kimball



This is Ward Kimball's Christmas card from 1963. I have one of them, unsigned; where I got it I can't quite remember. Probably in a box of stuff my then-workplace(Larry Edmunds Bookshop) got from a retired Disney animator years ago...since Christmas cards weren't in our usual line I snagged this. The cels and drawings we also received I priced myself, to be sold(being the only animation"expert" in the business). All of those went quickly...for about a tenth of what any of it would be worth today. Ah, well.

Leave it to Ward to stage such a scene...I imagine that the pretty hipster in the fire truck is Ward's daughter Kelly, but I'm not sure. Of couse that's Betty Kimball hanging off the rear.

Once again, a merry Christmas to all--and many thanks for all of your kind comments and feedback this year!

Sunday, December 24, 2006

A Merry Moore Christmas


Fred Moore's christmas card (from himself and his second wife), circa 1950 or so--a very lovely gift to the author from James T. Walker, owner of the vast majority of the fabulous Fred Moore artwork that I've been privileged to share with you this year. Thank you, Tim, and I hope to see you soon!

2006 has been a year of terrific joy and personal and professional satisfaction for your diarist here at the Blackwing blog. It's also been on the personal side the single most challenging and difficult one I've ever had. The last couple of months have been fraught with the kind of drama no one wants to deal with but all of us do--just not usually so soon. As Groucho Marx once said(quoting faux-Eugene O'Neill), "The gods look down and laugh"--and roll the dice. Everyone takes a turn.

In that I know I'm not alone, and the kindness of my friends, colleagues and yes, to offer another swipe (from Tennesse Williams) 'the kindness of strangers', too--has meant a tremendous amount to me. Pardon my being so elliptical, but suffice to say that Christmas and the entire holiday season do nothing if not drive home to the average person all that's really important; the too-swift passing of another year; the beauty of the smallest things, and also wistful thoughts of the past.

Many of the posts here have dealt with the past in the form of various stories about animation. I don't believe in wallowing in an invented or idealized Golden Age, but I do think that far too much of recent history("recent" meaning the last hundred years)is unjustly forgotten, and that with each generation's disappearance from the world we too often lose the lessons that took our predecessors a lifetime to learn--the hard way. We do it all over again, and when we actually stop and read about them, or look at their work, we find that very little has changed. The "bad" things were there too, just as now, in droves: petty politics, career jealousies, unfairness, unrewarded toil, family dramas. But there too were all the same wonderful things--sudden spurts of artistic brilliance and satisfaction, laughs with irrepressible coworkers, joy at the births and weddings and promotions of deserving friends, discoveries of new talents that take the art of drawing, painting or animation further than you thought it could go. We share all those ills and triumphs not only with our bunch of fellow salmon swimming upstream but with the many schools that have gone before us, and stand in spirit shoulder to shoulder with us now.

To them, and to you, I wish you all the very merriest and most peaceful of holidays!


a very young Carole Lombard-not animation-related, but definitely another of my muses

Saturday, December 23, 2006

A deMille Christmas greeting



This is director Cecil B. deMille's Christmas card from 1957. I've had it for about 20 years--since retrieving it from deMille's desk, believe it or not. It's a longish story I won't bore you with here...but isn't this a terrific card? DeMille was making his "Ten Commandments" at the time, and the trades were predicting the expensive film would be a turkey---hence the sphinx drawn this way. It appears the artist is a man named Bruce Durrell, about whom I know absolutely nothing.

Who would have thought the intense Mr.deMille had such a great sense of humor--about himself? Of course, he did get the last laugh as "The Ten Commandments" was a hit.

Sunday, December 3, 2006

New animated shorts from-guess who? Disney.

I've subscribed to the New York Times for half a dozen years now, and in that time have been perpetually amazed at how much more local news I read in those pages than in my previous paper--especially as regards my own line of work, animation.
So yet again I've unflapped the hefty Sunday edition of the Manhattan daily to find an article written just for us: on the recently revived plan to make theatrical shorts at Disney. Charles Solomon is the author.
The Times has a registration website, so I've pasted it here for your enjoyment. Obviously my usual disclaimer about copyright doesn't apply to this post--it's all property of the New York Times. Here it is:


MOVIEGOERS who have become inured to pre-show car ads and trivia quizzes may soon get something old enough to seem new: cartoon shorts.

After a hiatus of nearly 50 years, Walt Disney Studios is getting back into the business of producing short cartoons, starting with a Goofy vehicle next year. The studio has released a few shorts in recent years — “Destino,” “Lorenzo” and “The Little Match Girl” — but those were more artistic exercise than commercial endeavor. The new cartoons, by contrast, are an effort by a new leadership team from Pixar Animation Studios, now a Disney unit, to put the Burbank company back at the forefront of animation with a form it once pioneered.

“The impetus comes from John Lasseter, who takes the idea from Walt Disney and 100 years of film history,” said Don Hahn, producer of “The Lion King” and “The Little Match Girl,” in a recent interview at his studio office. “Shorts have always been a wellspring of techniques, ideas and young talent. It’s exactly what Walt did, because it’s a new studio now, with new talent coming up — as it should. I think the shorts program can really grow this studio as it grew Pixar, as it grew Walt’s studio.”

Although audiences today are more familiar with his feature films, Walt Disney’s reputation was originally built on shorts. In the 1930s “A Mickey Mouse Cartoon” appeared on theater marquees with the titles of the features, and Disney won 10 Oscars for cartoon shorts between 1932 and 1942. He used the “Silly Symphonies” to train his artists as they geared up to create “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs.” But after World War II Disney phased out short cartoons because of rising production costs and the minimal amount theater owners would pay for them.

Mr. Hahn said the new shorts would be screened in theaters along with Disney films. “You pay your 10 bucks to see a movie,” he said, “and you get a surprise you hadn’t counted on.” The new shorts will be done in traditional 2-D animation, computer graphics or a combination of the two media, depending on the story and the visual style.

This is not the first attempt at such a revival. Warner Brothers, for example, tried to bring back the classic Looney Tunes characters in new shorts in 2003, but they proved unsuccessful and most of them were never screened theatrically.

Chuck Williams, a veteran story artist who will produce the new films for Disney, said they do not have to become a profit center in order to perform a real commercial function.

“They allow you to develop new talent,” Mr. Williams said in an interview at the Disney studios. “Shorts are your farm team, where the new directors and art directors are going to come from. Instead of taking a chance on an $80 million feature with a first-time director, art director or head of story, you can spend a fraction of that on a short and see what they can do.”

It is not surprising that Mr. Lasseter is using short films to train and test the artists: he and his fellow Pixar animators spent almost 10 years making shorts, learning how to use computer graphics effectively before they made “Toy Story” and the string of hits that followed. Pixar continues to produce a cartoon short every year, and has won Oscars for the shorts “Tin Toy,” “Geri’s Game” and “For the Birds.”

Four new shorts are in development at Disney: “The Ballad of Nessie,” a stylized account of the origin of the Loch Ness monster; “Golgo’s Guest,” about a meeting between a Russian frontier guard and an extraterrestrial; “Prep and Landing,” in which two inept elves ready a house for Santa’s visit; and “How to Install Your Home Theater,” the return of Goofy’s popular “How to” shorts of the ’40s and ’50s, in which a deadpan narrator explains how to play a sport or execute a task, while Goofy attempts to demonstrate — with disastrous results. The new Goofy short is slated to go into production early next year.

The idea for “Home Theater” came from the experience Kevin Deters, one of its two directors, had buying a large-screen TV. “For years I’ve been saying to my wife, let’s get a nice, large TV, because I’ve been suffering with a 30-inch screen,” he said. “She finally acquiesced around the time of the Super Bowl. When we went shopping, we discovered the stores had ‘Delivery in Time for the Big Game!’ and similar promotions, some of which appear in the film.”

Over the years the studio has tried unsuccessfully to update the classic characters. Mr. Deters and his co-director, Stevie Wermers, for instance, unhappily recalled “Disco Mickey,” the 1979 album that suggested the trademark mouse could boogie like John Travolta. The cover featured Mickey in a white suit and open shirt, swinging his hips.

“You don’t want to put Goofy on a skateboard,” Mr. Deters said. “There’s no reason to attempt to make him hip and cool. Goofy isn’t cool. He’s the ultimate domesticated man, as the ‘How to’ shorts showed. I relate very well to him as the guy who’s sort of a schlub on his couch.”

“How to Install Your Home Theater” will be made with a fairly small crew: despite the triumph of computer animation, Disney still has a number of talented traditional animators who are eager to draw again.

“The Goofy short will be very funny, but we won’t have to spend a lot of money and time on it, which won’t diminish it one bit,” Mr. Hahn said. “Obviously there’s a financial component to these films. We have to make them responsibly. But the big investment is for the long haul. We’re saying we believe in new talent and new techniques, and they’ll pay dividends in 10 to 20 years, just as we’re reaping the benefits now from the investment we made 25 years ago, training John Lasseter and Andrew Stanton and Tim Burton and John Musker and Ron Clemmons.”

Disney also intends the new talent to reflect an increasingly diverse work force. For most of its 100-year history American animation has been the creation of male artists, a situation that is slowly changing.

“It’s kind of shocking to realize that once the Goofy short gets made, I’ll officially be the first woman director at Disney Feature Animation,” Ms. Wermers said. “Considering that probably more than 50 percent of the audience for the short will be female, because of moms taking the kids, there should be more female voices out there.”

Ms. Wermers is not alone in her sense that Mr. Lasseter and his fellow Pixar alumni are already having an impact.

“I feel Disney is a very different place than it was a year ago,” said Chris Williams, a story artist who is developing “Golgo’s Guest” and “Prep and Landing,” “and the shorts program is just part of that. It’s become a very exciting place to work.”

Saturday, December 2, 2006

Ralph Hulett's Christmases

I'm not sure how many of the visitors to this blog also regularly stop at the Animation Guild's frequently updated online location, so just in case...


Steve Hulett, local 839's Business Manager, is not only an alumnus of Disney Feature Animation, but his father Ralph was a distinguished Disney artist in the golden age. Above is just one of his father's christmas card designs which Steve's been regifting to the public via the TAG blog. These weren't the usual projects done strictly for friends and family--Hulett did these as freelance jobs for some extra coin. Just imagining an artist knocking these beauties out while maintaining a fulltime studio gig makes you feel a little lazy, doesn't it? On the other hand, many of my current peers are managing the same sort of output--books, paintings, gallery shows and such all while giving their all to their day jobs. Amazing.


Here's a link to more of them: Ralph Hulett's Christmas paintings
You can always pay the TAG blog a visit and scroll down to see the thumbs and enlarge them there, too. There are many styles and an impressive display of masterful technique.

I also wanted to mention once again that Dave Pimentel, head of story on "Bee Movie" and currently teaching story at Calarts, has posted another in a series he's handed out to his students on drawing for storytelling. He usually posts his personal sketchbook drawings, but will likely be putting up more of this sort of offering. It's definitely worth checking out:

Monday, November 20, 2006

Don Graham-a call for information

Given the breadth of knowledge and interest of visitors to this blog, I thought I might strike gold if I made a direct appeal for any information about the late, great Don Graham, legendary instructor at Chouinard's and later the in-house life drawing guru of the Walt Disney Studio.

What I'd like is to be able to locate whoever he left behind him who's in charge of his estate. I ask on behalf of a former Chouinard(not Calarts)graduate who was a student of Graham's.

Please contact me via my profile page email if you can help. Thanks!

Tips for story sketching...

...and all dynamic composition in a new post from Dave Pimentel.
He was reading through Bill Peet's autobiography again, and worked out a lesson plan for his students at Calarts based on Peet's incomparable design and staging. Mark Kennedy has also used Peet for such examples in his blog--and anyone interested in the art of animation storytelling would be well advised to check out both these veteran's posts on a regular basis.
Dave will be no doubt be putting up more of his ideas and handouts for his students as the semester goes on. A great opportunity to learn from these grads and teachers.


illustration courtesy of the Drawings From A Mexican blog

Sunday, November 19, 2006

a Mary Blair surprise


I've recently had reason to spend time at UCLA's vast, impressive medical complex. Although my business wasn't in the department of the renowned Jules Stein Eye Institute, it was close enough, and I remembered that the stolid, sleekly functional medical building contains a lovely little secret tucked away for children and their familes: a mural commissioned and donated by Walt Disney, and designed by Mary Blair.

It's not a huge piece, but it's been done to fit a specific niche: one wall of an,ordinary, smallish rectangular children's waiting room.
Done by Mary at the peak of her "Small World" work, dating(I believe) to 1964, it's reminiscent of her late lamented Tomorrowland tiled mosaic. The ceramic tiles used in this work are large--more than a foot square, with much raised texturing and outlining of the the figures, along with accents for pure fun.

The wall is broken up by a bathroom door for the use of both boys and girls(I would have loved being depicted as an an indian myself, rathe than a matching cowgirl-trust Mary to do it):


The wall's in pretty good shape--a few tiny areas have small chips, but nothing major--and remember, this is a kids waiting area--it's amazing that it's survived as intact as it has for 40 years.

I wish these images were of better quality, but they're taken from a brief video I shot while there. As this is very much an in-use space and there were a few parents sitting on a couch beneath the wall, I had to be hasty and do my best to avoid inadvertently capturing anyone in the frame. The result is certainly not as definitive as I'd like, but I knew readers here would get a kick out of seeing it.

I certainly hope that you never have recourse to visit the facilities there, but if you do--it is a wonderfully interesting, invigorating place to be. As well as one of the best centers of its kind in the country.


And of course, it wouldn't be there at all if not for the gift of the special patron responsible for it:

the cross-hatching resulted from the glass door of the room being opened back against the plaques-as with the Mary Blair plaque above
Walt Disney's legacy of giving back to the community continues to this day at UCLA--the names of Geffen, Katzenberg and Peter Morton(founder of the Hard Rock cafes) are visible throughout the hospital. I'm sure there are the names of many, many more prominent entertainment figures that I didn't see.

The gifts of those that are able to contribute have made huge differences in the lives of millions of people who know nothing about the donors. While most monetary help is put to use in practical ways like machinery and operating budgets, this older gift is a small, sweet vision of pure art gracing one room of the Eye Institute. Thank goodness it's survived to this day through hundreds of refabs and redos and razings and spiffier buildings erected. I wonder how many children have stared(or tried to)up at Mary Blair's wall and thought of Disneyland, or just of fantastical adventures featuring the children shown there?

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Just for fun: a candid shot from a great film


Click to enlarge-it's worth it

Confession: The only connection I can make with animation vis a vis this still is that Bacall and Bogart featured in at least two Warner Bros shorts, a Clampett and a Freleng, both must-sees: "Bacall To Arms" and "Slick Hare".

Title card borrowed from the great Dave Mackey's indispensable website
Aside from that, it's one from my personal collection that my husband has listed on Ebay; browsing over the recent listings I noticed this was up and got a charge out of seeing it again.
Betty "Lauren" Bacall is 19 years old here, in what looks to me like a relatively unretouched candid shot. Bogart is 40-something and they're wildly in love during filming of this project, Howard Hawks' "To Have and Have Not". The expression on both of their faces is an example of the ineffable spirit of real people being real together that no CG "recreations" of such men as Bogart will ever accomplish). Drawn animation has come much closer, but in precious few instances--mainly due to the fact that there simply aren't enough scenes in current animated films where this sort of intimate, shared delight is possible for two characters. That doesn't mean it couldn't happen--and it's something to shoot for.


More eye candy up for grabs, straight from my old still books...this one is from a hell of a watchable, classic pre-code DeMille epic, "The Sign Of the Cross". One of my favorite thirties directors, Mitchell Leisen, designed Colbert's costumes and much of the scenery in this racy potboiler(at one point Claudette takes a bath in asses--well, actually cow's milk--in the nude; it's really something if you haven't been exposed to pre-code films before).
Leisen was a trained artist who'd intended to pursue that profession before he fell into working for DeMille; his rise to the heights of Paramount studios resulted in a wonderful, if now largely forgotten career.

I have a self-portrait Leisen painted in the late 30s that I'll never part with. The book about Leisen by David Chierichetti, "Hollywood Director" is one of the absolute best for a true feeling of what it was like to work in the studio system at its height.

One more, one of my absolute gems-Jean Harlow in her prime--they don't make them like this anymore:

Sunday, November 12, 2006

More Toadying: Paul Fisher again


The irrepressible Paul Fisher as drawn by the inimitable Dave Pimentel

The other day's post about my colleague Paul Fisher was based on a single drawing of his that I've had pinned to my wall for the past several months--that one of the Toad closely examining...something or other. Here then are a few final panels--albeit 2nd generation xeroxes scanned on my dubious flatbed--from one of my favorite scenes in "Flushed Away", sequence 1750: the Toad/celphone business. For those who haven't seen the film yet, the Toad is speaking via celphone screen to the heroes; his arms and legs are actually those of another character.

This is a prime example of a story artist doing his thing in sync with the characters in a scene he devised himself. These are mostly in sequence with a couple of my favorite wild card panels tossed in. The entire thing consisted of several hundred story sketches..
And as always, remember: all the images in this post save the caricature are ©2006 Dreamworks Animation.

Enjoy!












Friday, November 10, 2006

Rodolphe

And here's a lovely drawing(one of hundreds) from yet another guy I occasionally catch a glimpse of here at work:



Rodolphe Guenoden
has a way with women.

Mate Encore



My friend Patrick Mate was on a George Pal binge recently, immersing himself in the great Puppetoons among other things from genius animator Pal. The above is his idea of he and his wife as Pal creations...well, Pal-Mate creations.
He's got that wonderful odd stretching-the-legs-to-meet-the-ground walk of Pal's down here. Really, if you haven't seen the Puppetoon Movie, Netflix it now.

Friday, November 3, 2006

Toad in the hole: Paul Fisher


Paul endowed the Toad with a generous helping of himself: a not-so-thwarted thespian-megalomaniac. All images copyright 2006 Dreamworks Animation and Aardman.

I generally make it a point not to mention anything that pertains directly to something I personally have worked on, but I do enjoy pointing a finger at those artists I work with or near that deserve special mention.
Patrick Mate, Devin Crane, Dave Pimentel and Donnachada Daly have all had blurbs from the Blackwing Diaries, and so with today's release of the Aardman/Dreamworks production "Flushed Away" I'd like to direct you to the "heart and highlight"[Paul's words, written for Ian McKellan's Toad] of that production: its prolific and very funny head of story Paul Fisher.


left to right: a barely visible Mark Kennedy, Paul Fisher, Jenny Lerew, and Ash Brannon at Calarts--all veterans of the class of '87-90. I believe I'm actually on the phone to Don Knott's agent in this shot. He really should have done Mark's film.


another rough board drawing; Le Frog and a compatriot
Paul had a habit on this production of drawing all his boards very, very small, then knocking in the tone and blowing them up on the xerox to pin up on the boards. These measure a little less than the size of a playing card; the size of our actual story pads is much larger, but both keep to the same filmscreen ratio.
So, being relatively tiny these are also fairly rough or loose drawings, but they're just right for the places they fill in the story.

Paul has a particularly keen feeling for nuance in a character's performance--and, better than that an eye for the absurd in every circumstance. Like all good artists, these guys are utterly real to him when he immerses himself in a scene, which in my opinion is why he's able to get real laughs and a genuine sense of life from his cast.

These drawings are basically scraps I culled from his floor over the past several years of "Flushed Away"(well, maybe from a shelf or the seat cushions of his guest chair--this stuff is everywhere; I'm sure all story artists can relate). There are only about 25,000 more where these came from. Put together they make for some great sequences and he isn't a bad boss, either.
Congratulations, Paul--see you on the other side of the weekend. And many thanks to our directors, Sam and David, too.
Cheers!

Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Happy Birthday to the great Ollie Johnston


25 years ago I was calling around to every bookstore in the greater Los Angeles area to try and locate the first copies of The Illusion of Life. I finally found it in Century City, an hour's drive away from my home in Los Feliz. I can still remember the breathlessness with which I rushed across town, threw down my 60 bucks(quite a bit of change in those days), and hustled back to my car. I can vividly remember at every stoplight down Santa Monica Blvd. opening the cover and flipping through the pages, trying to get a preview as I couldn't wait to get home and really start digging in.
I'd seen the book in galley form at the Disney studio archives a few months earlier but I'd been limited by time to reading very little, and besides--there were none of the all-important illustrations. That book, cowritten by Ollie Johnston along with his great friend the late Frank Thomas, was a bomb tossed into a desert of animation present. Very little was going on in 1981 to compare with, say 1941, and we were starving for such a book--one that would give us drawings, movement, acting, film-building...all of it behind-the-scenes takes on working at the world's greatest animation atelier in the most fertile years of the film industry, from one of its greatest animators. Ollie and Frank had come through with the goods...a cherry to top the perfect parfait of dozens of drawn characters made real.

So, for all the careful performances, for all the heart and warmth and the commitment to character animation that has inspired generations of artists and many millions of others, I humbly bow and offer Ollie a heartfelt "Happy Birthday!". Thanks, from all of us.

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

How to draw really well.


from David Pimentel's moleskinie notebook
What's the most surefire way to improve your drawing chops?

Drawing. All the time. No matter how good you already may be.
This guy slays me:


He draws in the car, in restaurants, at lunch, at break--you name it. Everything's an opportunity to capture something. Walt Stanchfield must be beaming somewhere.

I've worked around him for a little over two years now, and in that short time--frankly, at times week to week--I've seen leaps and bounds where I wouldn't have thought things could get any better, which along with all the other guys around here toting sketchbooks is the proof in the pudding. This is good advice I kick myself about oh, every 20 minutes or so.

So grab that sketchbook--and make sure you've got it on you at all times.

Sunday, October 15, 2006

Animated acting-the CG version; Part 2 of a reaction to the Next Big Thing Myth

Further thoughts on the New York Times' article on supposedly new and better versions of motion capture animation technology.

Turning to the inside of the article, there's some small dose of artistic reality(and taste)from director Taylor Hackford, who points out the same huge caveat about "recreating" actors digitally:
"If you want Ethel Barrymore to give you the incredible, heartfelt performance, that comes from the soul of the actor." Then he adds, "It's not something you can get by animation"[italics mine]

Well, obviously I can't agree with that last bit--shades of that LaSalle guy in the San Francisco paper. Moving on:

Later on the producer and director of the upcoming "Foodfight" "which will be the first full-length movie to use Image Metrics technology", according to the article, says this: [in a CGI film] every time someone would say something, or do something, banks of people[those would presumably be animators] would have to figure out how the lips move, how the eyes move--and it's not even that good".

Again: oh, yeah?

Last week I stood behind a fellow story artist and animator who's currently moved back to the animation end of the films we work on. I watched his scene, in which he's responsible for all the action and acting in the frame, with fascination. The shot was brief with but a small amount of dialogue, but the experience that he'd acquired as a 2D animator of some years' experience was obvious. The characters were alive, and their movement gave me a thrill to see even without the final surfacing and color that put such a high sheen on CG figures. The timing was subtle, weighted, well-judged, natural...yet the speakers weren't human. But their believability even in shades of grey was undeniable.

I love the magic of animation. I particularly love doing story, but there is without doubt a yearning most of us have to see characters move for the first time, to be alive in the most basic state--that allure of the rough pencil test of flipping poses on 8s sans breakdowns, when you can still clearly see in a mass of lines a personality emerge.

I'm no snob about 2D versus CG or vice-versa; I probably prefer the look of the pencil, but when I see animation like my friend's it's obvious that it's just a means to an end.
And speaking of efficacy of means and ends, another animation director, one whose medium is computer games like Grand Theft Auto and who's used the touted software the article advertises for two years, admits that "There's no taking away the fact that a team of animators can sit and make some very convincing animation if they want to[gee, thanks], but I challenge anyone to do the volumes that I need in the time that I need, at this level of quality, and to capture the nuance of the voice actor".

Actually, I think I can suggest quite a few people who could do just that--although that director's main interest as a games person is as he says volume on a tight deadline.

So maybe it's apples and oranges here, because what my end of the business concerns itself with is that old saw about "Quality is #1". Period.

Basically, a studio or crew has to be on the same page. Is it going to be all about speed and cheapness, relatively speaking? Because it's a fact that an awful lot of excuses can be made to justify "new" software as the best when what it really is is what was sold to you as the best way to lower your expenses while maximizing your footage.
I know of some miracle workers--animators--who manage to do amazing feats of acting in record time when the crunch comes, as it always does...their secret? Not the software. It's the knowledge of a lifetime between their ears. It's their taste, their acting chops, their own interpretation of the timing of the movement and the tenor of the voice actor. And it's unique to them, no matter how mathematic the tools are.

They are irreplaceable, and there's no machine or program that will instill the soul into their work without them at the controls.

Technology will do it all...or not

This morning's(10/15)New York Times has another in a type of article that seems to bobble to the front page of Arts sections like a piece of balsa wood, every few years for at least the last 15: "Cyberface-a new technology makes animated figures as expressive as SAG members. Is this the birth of filmmaking's new era? Or the death[dum dum dummmm!]of the flesh-and-blood actor?"

The illustration accompanying the article. The gulf between the live model and the digital version is self-evident. Copyright 2006 The New York Times Company


Start merely with the title, in its large pica print trumpeting breakthrough!: a "new technology"[really?] that "makes" animated figures[the reporter is really referring soley to expressions of the face, forget body language for now] "as expressive as SAG members"...oh, indeed? I guess that's settled, then.
Or not.
Because the examples shown, heavily surfaced and rendered as they are next to mug[ging] shots of the models scanned and used for the final "animated" faces, are inarguably about 75% more pliable, expressive and interesting to look at than the offered, supposedly "more animated" digital versions.

In other words, here we go again.

And reading on, we get the old canard, trotted out for as long as these pieces has been published, that with this new technology all it'll take to resurrect Marilyn Monroe is, well, to use this copyrighted software on her. This is so patently silly that I hardly know where to start. I won't begin as an animator, just as a hardcore movie lover and admirer of such actors on film as Marilyn--a woman who in my opinion was much more talented than she's usually given credit for, even in these revisionist days.
She's also one of the most famous icons of pop culture--up there with Chaplin, Bogart, Bugs Bunny and Mickey Mouse: recognized worldwide by people who may have never seen one of their films. So, a software program will map "any character virtual or human, living or dead" and transpose a performance so that it looks like Marilyn herself is doing...what?


candid Marilyn

Here's a huge point hat I have yet to see addressed in all of these breathless articles that read like press releases:
who exactly is going to be the designated brain of Monroe? Who's the ultimate expert on what Marilyn would do in a new situation?

I suppose a top female impersonator like Jimmy James would be of some help, but he channels a pastiche of things MM did in "Gentlemen Prefer Blondes" and "Some Like it Hot", not so much "The Misfits" or "Don't Bother To Knock", never mind the Monroe of her private, introspective life.
Thus the caricature of an actress who actually sounded nothing like her comedic babydoll voice, who really did read Stanislavsky, and who was probably more inquisitive and cultured than many aspiring starlets today is reduced in theory to a computer catalogue of expressions. She'll never create anything new as she well might have past the age of 36 from a new, original script. But we're supposed to stand back, watch and admire her impersonators, to go along with the pretend Marilyn.
You might be able to build a version of her face, but who will supply her timing, her charm, her thought? Does any person on earth really have the nerve to say "oh, sure--I can"? I'd like to meet that person.
In any case, I'm sure the idea of who will actually give a performance tweaking the map of Marilyn's face will fall to a group, not to another actor.

You see my point: what made Bogart Bogart or Marilyn Marilyn was something that cannot be recreated in a new form that has any authority. They're both dead, and they took their quick and ever-changing minds with them when they went. They've given their last performances and to suggest so blithely that any actor is reduced to the look of their face is beyond insulting, a totally empty bit of trumpeting and salesmanship.

And what about an actor like Gregory Peck, in perhaps his greatest performance as Atticus Finch in "To Kill A Mockingbird"? Think about that one: Peck barely moves a discernable muscle in his face; he's a model of restraint, of inner thought, of passing shadows of concern, of love, of frustration. A farther cry from the ludicrously crude live action funny faces that illustrate the NY Times article could not be imagined...so, does that mean that this "revolutionary" software will be limited to the worst kind of bad acting? Is the camera's lingering examination of Garbo's face in the final shot of "Queen Christina" dull because she isn't squinting, gaping or grinning?

So much for making SAG members start sweating. Next post, I'll give a couple of thoughts on why it really ignored not just animators, but the whole concept of what animating is--as I believe it to be, anyway.

Thursday, October 12, 2006

Panel Recap


In lieu of a more suitable illustration--here we have two striking women of animation, circa 1941(see Walt's contemporaneous reference to such of his staff below)

Back from the See Jane/Union "Where The Girls Aren't" panel. Wow. That was a heck of an evening. I felt incredibly proud to share a dais with Brenda, Jill, Dean, Fred and Geena, all moderated cogently and well by Kevin Koch. A lot was said, yet it was obvious that any one of us could have gone on much longer and I was eager to hear more from everyone--especially Dean, Brenda and Jill. 90 minutes and we barely scratched the surface. I feel it was a success. The turnout was great, many more than I expected might attend. Thanks to Kevin for asking me, and thanks especially to the supportive attendees who came and participated. I was thrilled to see some friends I've missed for ages, and very humbled and gratified to hear some kind words about The Blackwing Diaries. Shucks!


I'd carried a book up with me and almost had a perfect moment to read a relevant passage I'd marked, but the moment passed so I'll share it here. Kevin Koch had just alluded to the infamous "no thanks" letter that's been passed around and published, a letter sent in 1939 to a young woman artist who'd inquired about how to get a job as an animator at Disney's. She received a formal reply flatly stating that "women do not do any of the creative work in connection with preparing cartoons for the screen in making animated cartoons, as that is performed entirely by young men". Of course, this was in fact totally untrue, since there were indeed some few women in the story, visual development and assistant animator areas at the Disney studio at that very moment, but apparently the official line was don't even think about it--but if you must, try out for ink and paint. At least they were accurately honest about that division having nothing to do with the "creative work" of animation.

Yet barely 3 years later, in 1941, his studio full of unrest and at the brink of the strike that would tear apart the old illusion of happy cloudless days, none other than Walt Disney himself said these words in front of his assembled employees, at a kind of "state of the studio" speech:

..."The girl artists have the right to expect the same chances for advancement as men, and I honestly believe that they may eventually contribute something to this business that men never would or could. In the present group that are training for inbetweens[sic] there are definite prospects, and a good example is to mention the work of Ethel Kulsar and Sylvia Holland on the "Nutcracker Suite", and little Rhetta Scott, of whom you will hear more when you see "Bambi".

...if a woman can do the work as well, she is worth as much as a man"


This, from Walt Disney--in 1941! He wouldn't have said it if he didn't believe it. He was a genius, a mercurial character and a product of his age--almost a victorian by birth--yet he cared more than anything else about the end product, the films he was obsessed with making better than anyone else's.

I wish I could have managed to wriggle this stellar quote into the evening, but we had plenty of good discussion without it.
Personally, I come away lost in thoughts of how to best inspire the next generations of artists...why are so few of the applicants at Calarts or indeed at Disney or Pixar or Dreamworks girls? Is it, as I suspect, largely a matter of ignorance about the possibilities of telling stories and using one's artistic skills in this medium? Does it have anything to do with how few girls are comics geeks in grade school? Is drawing, after all, de-emphasized in school to the point where it's relegated to nothing more than a "hobby" for all but the most fanatical who wield a pencil or pen? Naturally I'm prejudiced in thinking that art should be a crucial part of any child's education; for a century or so it was a sure fire part of a well rounded american child's curriculum. Now I don't think most 7th-12th grade kids even get exposed to studio arts at all--not in public school, anyway. That can't be a good thing.

I could go on and on, and not strictly about girls...but as I said at the panel, these little thoughts are motes floating next to the Titanic-sized context of The Entertainment Industry and Art of animated film & television we work in. I think it does help, somehow, to float some subjects and perspectives out into the open sea of discourse and acknowledge them, adding our own experiences where they might be enlightening. I certainly benefited from what I heard tonight.
Thanks again, everyone.

EDITED TO ADD: The union blog's just posted (10/13) a synopsis of the event with a few photos. I wish it had been better edited, with real rather than remembered quotes. There are three abbreviated statements attributed to me which aren't quite what I said or how I said it--and for someone who is as in love with words and meaning as I am, it's a bit painful to read. One example: When Brenda Chapman told of being sought out by Joe Ranft specifically to help with the female characters in "Cars"--and when Geena (or Kevin) noted that there was only one female "car" character, I held up my fingers to indicate "two"--also blurting out as it occurred to me: "Isn't it funny?--cars are usually always referred to as female, as in "She's a cherry!", that kind of thing--they're thought of as feminine, like boats, traditionally. Yet in "Cars" almost all the cars are male...." This off the cuff observation is given in the TAG recap as this: Jenny Lerew: And aren't cars usually designated female, like ships. But almost all the cars in "Cars" are male. What was a spontaneous thought comes off sounding like a complaint or problem. Not so!

Further, some of the non-verbatim contextual recounting of observations made by the speakers makes use of perjoratives they in fact didn't use nor flatly imply, as in this: "In another example of job stereotyping, Jill recalled being assigned sequences involving the character Jessie in Toy Story 2 while she was at Pixar."
While Jill did speak of that, she wasn't in my opinion talking about "stereotyping", not did she use that hugely loaded word. Or is my memory failing me?

Yes, there was very honest and matter of fact noting of the byproducts of working in a mostly male environment. Brenda took some words directly out of my mouth that I was all set to say, in fact--namely, that the guys at Pixar, several of whom I know and who I feel fairly certain are a lot like, well, like me and my closest [male] friends in the business, do what comes naturally: they write and conceive and draw stories and characters that are dead honest--that come from their own guts and experiences. And they're guys, many of them fathers, all former little boys as I was a former little girl...they naturally(in my opinion)think of a boy's reaction and persona before a girl's, for good reason--they're boys. That's who they are, that's what they know. And I often start a new story with the hero being--guess what? A girl. Usually a girl an awful lot like youngest, feisty(not to say bratty), redheaded me.

Now, stories get embellished and fleshed out, and characters are changed, stretched, gender-bent--even made into another species or thing--but we all start with what we know best, first. Sometimes we stick to that, because it's the story we want to tell and it works best...or sometimes, as happens, we change a character from a girl to a boy or vice versa, because it makes a better story. And sometimes we might do something with some of our characters that we aren't aware of, that we'd be enhancing our stories to think again about.

The big point I personally believe--that I will hazard Brenda and Jill do too--is that's perfectly okay--it's just that as so many of the creators of stories are guys, sometimes the characters' gender and approach, reflecting the guys doing the drawings and thinking, are weighted towards the male end of the balance. That's not to say that a good storyteller--man or woman--can't or shouldn't or wouldn't choose to use whatever or whoever they please for their specific story...I could give concrete examples of what I think are unusually successful, conscious choices, one being all the characters in "Incredibles". But right now this is long enough already, so I'll pass.

A very important observation all three of us, the women on the panel agreed upon was left out of the TAG report: we all said that we hadn't felt "held back" or hindered as artists due to gender in any obvious, substantial way--that is, not as far as we knew, anyway. In fact, I said that given the tiny numbers of women vs. men at school, the females in the business who've stuck with it have fared better statistically than the men...maybe that means that if you're committed enough to seek out animation as your life's work, when it's already a male-dominated field, you'll just keep at it no matter what-but it also suggests that somewhere, from someone there'll be encouragement and help.

I talked repeatedly about the common goals that I share in story work with my male colleagues...that the aims we have far outweigh the differences. I'd like to have had that quoted. And Geena Davis herself made clear that her interest is simply in a hope for more interesting, reflective and inclusive stories that can be told for all children to enjoy.
I add these points as the recap as presented by the union blog comes off rather confusingly and certainly doesn't give the tenor of the evening as I experienced it...then again, it is a very very big subject.

I'd want Blackwing readers to know It wasn't any sort of a venting or bashing discussion. I'd likely be unsatisfied with anything but a straight transcript of the evening, but I still feel compelled to note my take on, well, my take. If you've read this far--I owe you some more pith on this blog.

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Where the girls and boys will be...


Busy times at work and away.

Tonight my union, the Animation Guild, is hosting a panel discussion inspired by a study noting surprising female/male ratios in children's programming; like the study(commissioned by "See Jane", a think tank begun by Geena Davis, who'll be part of the panel)the evening is called "Where The Girls Aren't". Yours truly is on the panel too, along with "Lilo & Stitch" co-writer and director Dean De Blois, Brenda Chapman (now up at Pixar, whose reputation over the last 19 years in the business is well-known, not least her distinction as the first director of a feature animated film in the US), and producer Fred Seibert of his eponymous Frederator/Oh Yeah! Cartoons. Jill Culton, former Pixar story artist and present feature director with her film "Open Season" in theatres now, is also on board to come.

I was asked by union president Kevin Koch to participate mainly on the basis of my having weighed in on this topic on the union's blog several months ago. Announcing the event tonight Kevin posted a blurb about the panel and again there's some comments that indicate this is a hot-button issue for some. You can read it here.

Well, it should be interesting. Personally, I can only speak for myself--as an artist, as a filmgoer, and as a former little girl who grew up with whatever was on TV and in theatres when I was a kid. Based on those factors I have my own beliefs and ideas like most people do, but I've never thought of myself as political on the subject, with one of those dreaded agendas. What I do believe is always important(when done well, in a spirit of exploration and contemplation) is plain old talk, which is true for any subject that seldom gets discussed openly. The forum tonight won't just deal with the parameters of the "See Jane" study, it'll also address the fact that our animation industry has so few women, even now, in the 21st century, who're employed in our business. Why is that? I've been asked that question since the first day of my very first job--and before, in school. I have no big answer, only guesses.
But the question itself is always a jolt to me, because I really never think of myself as apart from the guys at my work. In drawing characters and story; I'm first and foremost a storyteller--and I'm all the characters, male, female, and in between. I 'm pretty certain that this is also how all my colleagues who happen to be male think, too. But while we are what we are--men, women--for however much that counts, the thing is that the drawing is a creature of its own--who can tell the sex of the person who drew it? No one.

I don't believe in quotas. I am interested in good stories, real characters...but in a milieu that's overwhelmingly male the status quo possibly may have an influence on what we do and how we see our stories and characters, and that's something that at the least(and maybe at the most, too)we should make ourselves more aware of. Just conscious of. --Not self conscious.

The imaginations of children are very forgiving, all-embracing, and usually more wild and creative and gender-bending than our adult version. And I'd throw into the mix the fact that not every thing we, animation folk, do is for children, although the reality is that a large part of our audience(for feature films made at large studios, with big budgets)will consist of families.
The subject is so multi-faceted that I really can't see what more we can do at a panel in a couple of hours other than toss around ideas and observations, but if that's all we do it'll still be an interesting and enlightening evening, I think.

Sunday, October 8, 2006

Women of [Disney] Animation

The second post in almost as many days that's really a redirection to the Animation Guild's blog, but this one's also on a subject that's always been of particular interest to me.


Wonderful caricatures of animation artists Tamargo and Zwicker by John Sparey-see the original, larger version at its home base, the TAG blog, from which this illustration is gratefully borrowed

Bea and Liz

Please go and give it a read. Honestly, I'm ashamed that I've never heard of either of these women before; if you'd asked me if there were any females in the animation department apart from ink and paint or layout, I'd have said I knew of only one off the top of my head, Ruth Kissane. Obviously there were at least several more and their stories have to be interesting by any measure simply because their presence in animation--and at the "best" studio, Disney's--was so rare.

When I was a teenager I wrote to Disney archives maven David Smith to ask him about Retta Scott, whose picture had appeared in Christopher Finch's "Art Of Walt Disney" and whose credit as animator on "Bambi" fascinated me. I asked Dave to tell me what her credits were, and if she was singular at Disney's as a woman in animation--the drawing, as apart from the inking end(keep in mind that virtually all of the so-called "ink and paint girls" were usually highly trained artists, having gone to the same schools the elite animators had).

Dave's answer was terse and offered only that yes, Retta Scott was "unique" as a female animator or assistant at Disney's until the 1970s; he mentioned nothing about such people as Bea Tamargo, Liz Zwicker or Ruth Kissane. I think this was likely due to their names not listed in on screen credits as "animators", but I really had been curious to know if women did any drawing jobs that involved animating...obviously, there were and they did. What a shame they weren't on the historical radar of the archives.

Frankly, the individual drawings and personal art I'd love to see is that of these girl veterans of Disney's; were they as strong artistically as many of the guys whose work we collect, and who had more important positions? Virtually impossible to know, unless someone somewhere saved grandma's stuff, which I certainly hope is the case. It seems certain that anyone in any capacity at Disney's had to be practically overqualified to get a job offer, especially after the war.

Saturday, October 7, 2006

Fred Moore by Ward Kimball via Steve Hulett


One of a series of extremes posed out by Fred Moore for an unproduced sequel to "Saludos Amigos" set in Cuba; this drawing hasn't been published before here. Courtesy of James Walker , from his collection. Fred's genius is often never more evident than in the roughest of his drawings.

Back in the late 70s and early 80s Steve Hulett had a dream job at Walt Disney Productions(as it was called then): he was assigned to interview many of the old-timers either on the lot or recently retired yet still connected to the studio. He's posted many of these--all worth reading--over on the The Animation Guild's union blog. Here's a sampling of a lengthy interview Steve did with Ward Kimball, which he was lucky enough to be able to tape--when I interviewed Ward in 1981 he insisted I not turn on my tape recorder, for two reasons: he'd been "burned" by a verbatim but cringeworthy (also exceedingly touching and honest) interview he'd done which had made print, and also--this is my opinion--he wasn't completely sure of a teenager who he'd never met before(me) rather than a Disney employee whose dad had worked for the studio(Steve)! Well, I was fortunate he talked to me at all--I still can't get over it. But I'm digressing again.

So, Steve Hulett posted an exchange with Ward about Fred Moore.
You can read it here.
It's almost exactly what he told me, complete with the part about finishing Fred's work for him. I did, by the way, sit in my car outside Ward's home for at least an hour furiously scrawling down all the quotes and stories I could before they left my memory, so I did have that.

Fred Moore in the 40s; from James Walker

I'll say that while I believe that all the men I interviewed were honest--Art Babbitt, Ken O'Brien, Ollie Johnston, Larry Clemmons, Carl Urbano, and Ward--obviously each one was not only digging back into memories that were decades old, but were talking about a colleague, once a superstar at the greatest studio in the world, who'd fallen from favor and died barely 40 years old...so there's bound to be some mixed feelings there. Ward I felt especially, as the man I spoke with closest at one time to Fred, struggled with emotions about his old buddy. As a matter of fact, in my conversations he showed a good amount of plain anger at Fred, and made it clear he had cared a lot about him, and felt frustrated at how little he could do for him. He'd use a fair amount of sarcasm in expressing this, but even me, a jejune teen, picked that up. I think those are things to keep in mind when reading some of Kimball's remarks in Steve's interview excerpts.

Tuesday, October 3, 2006

Mermaid regnant


my cintiq tribute to one of my favorite animated characters

Well, today's the day that the film, the one they said couldn't be made, the one that changed forever the future and existence of character animation, "The Little Mermaid", is released on DVD in a special-special 2 disc edition. Just exactly what's on this I'm not yet sure; I was privy to only about 30 minutes of watching some pieces of the various supplements this afternoon--someone else's copy. I haven't even purchased mine yet. What I wanted to see was the pencil test version of "Part of Your World" that Glen Keane brought to Calarts one evening and showed us. I've never had a pencil test make such an impression on me before or since(the music being as beautiful as it was didn't hurt, either.) But I think it's not included on this release...well, there's loads of other goodies, including many scenes in story reel form. If you read this blog you really have got to have this.

"Mermaid" was released in 1989, an age ago. "Roger Rabbit" had already come out and made the impact it did--and whatever you think of that film's merits, it certainly had an inarguable, important effect on animation being taken seriously as crossover adult entertainment. That was a distinction lost on the mainstream media as well as the public almost since the beginnings of television, when all "cartoons" became unfortunately ghettoized as being for kids only.

This film had everything going for it; that old expression about the stars being in perfect alignment certainly seems true in its case. Clever ideas, a sincere story and real, breathing characters...and a talented staff of artists dying to sink their teeth into drawing and animating it all. And the composing team--a perfect fit and application of the abilities of musical-comedy pros with humor, great lyrics and story sense.
I watched a story reel version of "Poor Unfortunate Souls"--I'd forgotten just how witty the lyrics are, and what a great performance Pat Carroll gave singing it...not to mention the animation! And the editing, and the color styling...yes, it's great. I can't recall the film having any dead spots...nothing that made me say, "oh, yeah, well, once I get past this scene..."

I'm gushing, sure. But I wonder how many people under thirtysomething really remember what a bombshell hit this was in '89? I saw it several times, once at the Cinerama Dome, of all places(this must have been pre-El Capitan retrofitting); the showing was a 10pm one(that in itself a first, as most animated features didn't have shows past 6pm), the crowd was packed(this more than a week after opening--maybe two weeks). The audience that laughed, clapped and sat in rapt attention was mostly 18-40...for an animated cartoon about a "little" mermaid. Now that's a sensation.

For all the subsequent wincing at the inappropriate and overdone musical comedies in animation, all the ripoffs and merchandising and cynicism in some quarters, we really owe our jobs, all of us, to the tremendous success of that one film which jump-started the business.

"Animation" signified something that got the average person in the street excited and intrigued, without embarrassment. Our audience is different now, times are different, but the essential desire of the audience to be surprised and entertained is still the same. "Mermaid" was a hit because it was just so, so good--and such a surprise. The elements that worked then are certainly still within the grasp of today's filmmakers. It's more than possible.