Wednesday, July 25, 2007

ComicCon 07

The scene outside the hall at last year's Con
The circus is in town again. Or rather, leaving town for San Diego.

Every year the Comic Con gets bigger, if that's possible, and more and more artists are representing themselves with books and other items of interest.

Last year, many of us were at the Con on the same day, and while I was only able to dash about for a brief two hours of sweating madness
(tips: never leave late, don't drive, and don't go on a Saturday), I had such a great time--my first trip in years--and was so inspired that I determined to do a book...or something. As it happens, so did my friends. Lots of my friends. Eventually six of us story folk decided to do a book project together, and get a booth for the Con this year. We did. But along the way we had a detour from self-publishing; now our compilation book will be released by a real company, one of the best ones. Due to the dealmaking and the publisher's schedule it won't be available until next year's Con. I'll post more about our project later.

In the meantime our booth was ceded to another band of Dreamworks-based bloggers:

All swell guys. Read more about them over at Donnachada's Daly Blog, complete with floor layout and location. This is going to be a great weekend with lots of eyepopping loot to be got.

Sunday, July 22, 2007

Cleaning out Closets

You find the funniest things in boxes under boxes. These are character layout drawings from the very first job I had, in 1989. I loved them so much I saved them(this scene was cut). Imagine my utter dismay when the episode arrived back from overseas and had none of this quality in it, unfortunately.
They're not by me, but by Chris Reccardi, who back then sat in the next cube over. While his IMDB resume lists but one or two episodes of this series he really worked on it for well over a year before moving on to Ren and Stimpy. As a matter of fact, most of the original crew at Spumco worked on this show's first season.
These drawings were done fast, yet the sureness and emphasis of the Prismacolor line over the loose roughs is a beautiful thing. They're pretty funny, too. Hope you enjoy.
Be sure to CLICK the images to enlarge if you're so inclined.

Thursday, July 19, 2007

Ward stumped

Cartoon Brew posted this a while ago, but I didn't watch it until yesterday. A fascinating and priceless bit of vintage television: the meeting of two famous wiseguys--and probably one of the only times Ward Kimball looked (a little) in awe of anybody.
He does get in one good comeback with perfect timing and delivery, though.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Moore Bats Again

Howard Lowery's animation art storefront on Magnolia is no more, but he still regularly sells some choice items on Ebay. Like this drawing I lost out on from "Casey Bats Again", a 1954 short sequel to "Casey at the Bat". It featured Casey with a family of gorgeous daughters--each and every one the design of Fred Moore.
This animation drawing certainly looks like Fred's work, but it's also possibly a close copy of Moore's style by the very talented animator (and Moore's close friend and onetime assistant) Ken O'Brien. More trivia: she sports a hair ornament very like that of one of the Moore-designed centuarettes in "Fantasia".

Moore died two years before the release of this short, directed by Jack Kinney; if he actually animated footage it was delayed quite some time in its release.

Sunday, July 8, 2007

Weekend Bird Blogging #9

An eclectic weekly collection of recent posts about birds, birders, and birding by bloggers throughout the blogosphere—but mostly from sources other than the mainstream bird blogs—that illustrates the universal appeal and attraction of our feathered neighbors, personally selected by me for your reading and viewing pleasure:

Shane Prigmore bats 300

Judging from the dozens of comments on his posts, my coworker Shane Prigmore has a lot of friends in the blogging groove...but just in case you haven't dropped by already, have a look at his baseball paintings. Terrific.

Both Shane and his colleague and pal Shannon Tindle have been squirreled away somewhere on campus working like maniacs. Can't wait to see what they come up with, can you? We're more than fortunate to have them.

Saturday, July 7, 2007

Eight Random Facts

I have been tagged by Amy Hooper of WildBird on the Fly, and Tom and Sheri of Birders on the Border, to play the Eight Random Facts meme. Thanks, Amy, and Tom and Sheri!

So here we go. The rules for Eight Random Facts are simple. Players are asked to post a blog entry that:
  • Explains the rules of the game,
  • Contains eight random facts about themselves, and
  • Lists eight other bloggers who are tagged to write similar posts.
  • Finally, players should notify (by email or blogpost comment) each person that they have chosen to play the game, referring them to your post for further details.

    Eight facts that you probably don't already know about me:
    • (1) In the spring of 1966 or 1967 I participated in a grassroots volunteer effort to bring attention to an area of marsh and dunes along the shore of Lake Michigan in Berrien County, Michigan, that was being threatened by a sand mining operation. My major contribution, as I recall, was to lead people on tours of the area. That area is now protected as a State Park and National Natural Landmark.

    • (2) During spring break of my senior year in college, I drove to Florida on my own, not to party on the beaches, but to visit birding hotspots such as Everglades National Park, and the Florida Keys. To save money, I slept in my car and ate Pop Tarts that I heated on the engine of the car.

    • (3) I spent four years in the U.S. Navy—my chosen alternative to being drafted into the Army for two years during the height of the Vietnam War—without ever stepping foot on a ship, only to later join the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and spend the next three summers plying the waters of the Aleutian Islands in a 65-foot boat and 20-foot Zodiac raft.

    • (4) One of my first assignments for the Fish and Wildlife Service was to act as caretaker of 30 Aleutian Canada Cackling Geese (Branta canadensis hutchinsii leucopareia) that had been transported from the Patuxent Wildlife Research Center in Maryland to Attu Island so they could be acclimated prior to a planned release on Island in May. One day in late March, while working on the holding pens that had been erected on the shores of Casco Cove, I was surprised at the approach of a bird that appeared to be a huge immature-plumaged Bald Eagle (Haleaeetus leucocephalus)—except that it didn't look quite right, and besides, Bald Eagles weren't known this far west—and me without binoculars! By the time I was able to retrieve my glasses from inside the old Coast Guard Loran Station the bird had disappeared over the horizon. In retrospect, I now realize that this was probably a Steller's Sea Eagle (Haliaeetus pelagicus), which has since been documented nesting on the east end of Attu, but that species remains off my life list because I was caught off guard without binoculars handy.

    • (5) I never paid any attention to the Dixie Chicks until they got into hot water over Natalie Maines's anti-war and anti-Bush comments. But with the release of their Not ready to make nice album, I became one of their most ardent fans.

    • (6) My three major addictions/obsessions (other than birds) are, in no particular order: the Internet, my blog, and Diet Dr. Pepper (before I retired, I used to regularly consume two 20-oz bottles in the course of a 9-hour work day).

    • (7) I am a chronic procrastinator and am terribly disorganized. The latter trait has led me to adopt this A. A. Milne quote as my personal mantra:
      “One of the advantages of being disorderly is that one is constantly making exciting discoveries.”
    • (8) I recently fell in love—with K. T. Tungstall, the Scottish singer-songwriter. For weeks before I finally discovered who she was, I would wake up in the middle of the night to the haunting melody and lyrics of Black Horse and the Cherry Tree playing on the radio.
    And now, my eight victims selectees (if they choose to accept the mission) are:
    May the Force be with you!

    Photo Credits:
    • The Roseate Spoonbill (Ajaia ajaja) is from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
    • The Aleutian Islands scene is from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
    • The Aleutian Canada Goose is by Steve Ebbert at
    UPDATE: The Eight Random Facts meme really seems to be making the rounds.

    Friday, July 6, 2007

    The Ivory-billed debate

    Louis Bevier (here and here) has just launched a new Website, Ivory-billed debate. In it, he provides an overview as to what the debate is and is not about, and what is at stake (i.e., “the credibility of observational evidence”). He also ponders the philosophical question, “Is there hope?”

    Next, he examines in fine detail the plumage features detectable in the bird shown in the Luneau video (the one that Fitzpatrick et al. claim shows an Ivory-billed Woodpecker, Campephilus principalis), compares them to the features one would expect to see in Ivory-billed and Pileated (Dryocopus pileatus) woodpeckers, and concludes that “it is almost certainly a normal Pileated Woodpecker.”

    He then examines the wingbeat frequency of the bird in the Luneau video, compares it to those of the Pileated Woodpecker, and concludes:
    Empirical evidence demonstrates that the bird in the Luneau video flaps at the same rate as a fleeing Pileated Woodpecker.
    Finally, he provides a video analysis of three Pileated Woodpeckers video-taped in a flight cage in Maine. His finding:
    Several launch sequences were recorded confirming precise wing and tail movements that match the Luneau video. Deinterlaced video fields match precisely launch sequence from Arkansas in terms of timing of wing movement and reduced or blurred out black training edge to underwing. These launch mechanics were identical to free-flying Pileated Woodpeckers videotaped elsewhere in Maine.
    The Luneau video was the most persuasive evidence that Fitzpatrick et al. had to support their claim that at least one Ivory-billed Woodpecker was present in Arkansas in 2004. Bevier’s Website is still under construction and edits will continue, but it seems to me that his preliminary analysis has done considerable harm to the claims of Fitzpatrick et al. This is sure to elicit much additional public debate, one that will be interesting to follow in the weeks and months ahead. Will Fitzpatrick and others at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology respond to this challenge to their credibility?

    Thursday, July 5, 2007

    Hanging Art Break

    I love mobiles, but it can be hard to find really good ones that aren't expensive. These were fairly cheap--the owl is from; the hen from a scandinavian online store.

    These two are in my office at work. And I admit it--I'm playing around a bit with my new phone...there's something so satisfying about snapping a picture, mailing it to your online email account, and uploading it from there to Flickr in about 2 minutes.
    This is just a little bit of photographic eye candy. In the main my office isn't too spectacular decoration-wise; there are some here that(as might be expected)really look like they're inhabited by an artist. Ward Jenkins once posted some snaps of his workspace when he was back in Atlanta(he's at Laika in Portland now), and wow. That was one fun looking desk area.

    Memorable Movies

    Over the years, I would say that well over 95 percent of what I have posted at Birds Etcetera has had to do with birds in one fashion or another. Today, for a change, I am invoking my privilege of indulging in the “Etcetera” side of this blog.

    I here present a list of 75 movies that I can remember watching (some more than once) that made an indelible impression on me for one reason or another. Other movies could have been listed (I’m sure that I’m overlooking a few memorable ones), but these are the ones that stand out at this particular moment in time. They are listed chronologically in the order in which they were released, which more or less approximates the order in which I would have viewed them.

    In reviewing the list, I am struck by three things: (1) the relatively large number of musicals, (2) the lack of movies about sports of any kind, and (3) only one movie about birds!

    Wednesday, July 4, 2007

    Birds and Fireworks

    The noise from the annual 4th of July fireworks display in Martinsburg’s War Memorial Park caused me to ponder the impact of fireworks on wild birds (they drive our hyper-sensitive dog crazy). Here’s what a quick Google search revealed:

    In their advice on “Fireworks and wild birds,” Great Britain’s Royal Society for the Protection of birds “particularly urge[s[ firework display organizers to avoid locating near to sensitive wildlife areas, such as nature reserves and roosting sites for wild birds.” That seems like remarkably sensible advice. But they also note that “there is little evidence to suggest that fireworks harm wild birds or affect their conservation status.” That also makes sense.

    The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, spurred by concerns about the potential direct and indirect impacts of fireworks on beach-nesting Piping Plovers (Charadrius melodus) [a threatened population] on the U.S. Atlantic Coast, issued guidelines for avoiding such impacts. This has led to the cancellation of fireworks displays in some communities, much to the consternation of local residents (see here and here).

    Elsewhere, fireworks displays have been halted or modified to protect a pair of Peregrine Falcon’s (Falco peregrinus) nesting near London, nesting Western Snowy Plovers (Charadrius alexandrinus nivosus) [a threatened subspecies] in Morro Bay, California, and nesting seabirds at another California coastal locality.

    Mockingbird Serenade

    The Northern Mockingbird (Mimus polyglottos) is not unknown in our urban neighborhood. On the other hand, it is far from a regular resident of our backyard or neighboring properties, though I seem to have seen and heard it about more frequently this year than in the past.

    It was with great pleasure, then, that my wife and I enjoyed an extended serenade of a mockingbird singing from atop our neighbor’s antenna the day before yesterday. In addition to it’s own varied song phrases, I heard snatches of songs or calls of at least five other species: Killdeer (Charadrius vociferous), Blue Jay (Cyanocitta cristata), Carolina Wren (Thryothorus ludovicianus), Gray Catbird (Dumetella carolinensis), and Northern Cardinal (Cardinalis cardinalis).

    Tuesday, July 3, 2007

    Birding Unusual Places

    Larry of the Brownstone Birding Blog recently challenged birders to birders to check out a location in their area that they have never birded before and to file a report on what they see. An interesting challenge indeed, and one that I intend to follow-up on soon, but not here. Instead, Larry’s post got me to thinking about some of the more unusual places that birders pick to do their birding.

    Birders seem to make a habit of seeking out unusual and often unsavory places in which to pursue their hobby. Landfills (for gulls) and sewage treatment plants (for shorebirds) certainly top the list. And while turf farms aren’t unsavory, they certainly might be considered unusual places to bird, except for the fact that they attract certain species—such as Baird’s (Calidris bairdii) and Upland (Bartramia longicauda) sandpipers—that are often hard to find elsewhere.

    Charles T. Flugum, a Minnesota farmer, did all or most of his birding from the seat of a tractor. He even wrote a book about the birds he saw while tending his fields.

    And David Patick, a birder from Huntington, West Virginia, recently drove in excess of 350 miles (about 5 ½ hours) to add Fish Crow (Corvus ossifragus) to his West Virginia life list. And where did he find the elusive Fish Crow? In the parking lot of the Martinsburg Mall.

    My unusual birding place was a 1 to 3-mile segment along the right-of-way of the New York Central System where it traversed the rural countryside of southwestern Michigan between Detroit to Chicago. This didn’t seem unusual to me at the time. In fact, it was my normal stomping grounds (my “patch,” to use today’s British vernacular) in my early teens. The tracks offered many advantages: (1) they provided an elevated vantage point from which to scan the habitats lining both sides of the right-of-way; (2) the rails and ties provided a stable and level surface for easy hiking; (3) they provided me easy access to a variety of habitats that would otherwise have been inaccessible. The major disadvantage, of course, was having to keep my eyes and ears open for approaching trains

    Sunday, July 1, 2007

    Even a Rat Can Dream

    On Friday the crew of the film I'm working on went to the movies together.

    Although this is a fact of life well known within our industry, for the benefit of others I should describe the symbiosis of everyone working on animation--in particular on the grueling, long-form, long gestated projects shown in theatres.

    It's hard not to notice that animation fans, critics and writers often assume that the various studios have the mien of warring camps. Certainly they are all in competition in the marketplace. But it would be a mistake to think that there isn't a mutual and healthy atmosphere of respect among the artists and productions. There is. And while film feifdoms must by necessity remain apart and secretive for obvious reasons, the small world of animation is so cross-pollinated that on a personal level virtually all of us are invested in what's going on all over California and really, in the world at large.
    So, when a new film comes out of some importance everyone is eager to see it.

    "Ratatouille" is an anomaly of sorts for the director and screenwriter. Begun by Oscar winner Jan Pinkava, the story of a french mouse with an exceptionally sophisticated palate just didn't sound like the sort of project that Brad Bird would be drawn to. But this director is also an exceptionally sophisticated screenwriter, and the resulting film is the best recent example of a true modern fairy tale. Light, elegant, sweet, gentle--but with the fillips of danger and the threat of death that all the best fairy tales have. I walked out of the theatre into hard, hot Burbank thinking of the old New Yorker writer E.B. White.

    There've been films made of White's children's books, most notably "Stuart Little" and "Charlotte's Web", but none have come close to capturing the style and elegance of White's stories(if you haven't read them for yourself, you should-no matter how old you are.). "Ratatouille" does, and it's because of the writing first. Mind you, as Bird has said and as is obvious, a screenplay isn't just talking, and neither is this story. People and rats talk, but only to their own kind and only when they have something to say, and it's worth noting that Remy, the hero, spends many scenes unable to speak at all--and those are probably his best scenes.

    White had a talent for creating "real" animals living in a human world, possessed of nuanced personalities yet not quite human. One of my pet peeves is when animals are used in a supposed naturalistic fashion--that is, in a story where they are perceived as mere beasts by humans, but instead of exploiting the unique and familiar animal characteristics every person recognizes the choice is made to turn them into little people who only look like animals. Sometimes that serves a movie best. More often it doesn't.

    Remy uses his hands as rats do--but along with doing so in an anthropomorphic fashion, he also frequently does things as a rat would do them, albeit if he had human intelligence. The scene where he almost escapes the sure-death of the kitchen for the first time but can't resist correcting the soup is a great example of this kind of character animation. The thousands of choices made by director first and all the animators(as well as the story crew)afterwards add up to that E. B. White perfection of fantasy becoming believable and natural.

    Remy makes breakfast for Linguini; he never gets to nibble his own tiny omelet, though

    One thing one knows in a Bird film is that he will never, ever write down to the audience. I don't believe that any screenwriter aims to be patronizing, but Bird goes one further every time out. If every soul in a seat doesn't "get it", well, they can follow along with the mood and it's on to the next scene. The first appearance of the aesthetically severe food critic Ego was one of my favorites; there's no way that a lot of kids in any audience will understand what he's talking about, but they'll know he's dangerous, somehow. The danger he happens to pose is the loss of a Michelin star or two--and what a film, that can make the hoi polloi give a damn about that? But it works.

    It's supposedly Remy's story, but it's really about what happens when he's in a certain situation, rather than all about him alone. This is a fireside yarn, an anecdote, a fairy tale about one little rat, a hapless guy and a once-great restaurant in the greatest epicurean city in the world and what happens when they all come together at the same place and time for a couple of weeks.

    I haven't mentioned how it looks. It looks like good food smells and tastes. It looks like the best sort of caricatured, not reality. Well, it looks delicious. I mean delicious animation.
    Wonderful vocal performances. Loved the way Lou said "little chef" with real affection. I had no idea that Garofalo was Colette til the end. Great score. Beautiful lighting (which did look like Paris light to me as I remember it; I'll have to take it up with Michael Barrier via email, but I'd swear that some of the light-on-buildings in the film looked a match for the early-morning video I took, posted on my Sketchbook blog).
    Fantastic end credits--this last is a particular issue with me; animated films really should exploit their credits, front and back, by making them as visually pleasing and creative as possible. It doesn't happen often enough. This one does.

    And it just so happens that the very last line in the film happens to be the one thing I ask of every movie I go to see (and all too often don't get).
    To have ended on that phrase, that invitation, that challenge put a silly smile on my face that lasted all the way into the murderously hot afternoon sunshine, to my car, and all the way home.

    Addendum: I deliberately avoided all newsy articles, spoilers and film reviews of "Ratatouille" before I saw it, so now I've got a bit of catching up to do.
    By all means check out this review by Scott Foundas in the L.A. Weekly. Very well written as well as touching on many things I didn't. Same reaction, though.

    And one more thing: not just by the way: congratulations to Jim Capobianco for a wonderful credit on a wonderful film. Way to go, fella.

    And lastly, it did make me hungry.


    A completely non-animation-related post. I can't even get away with the old Pixar-Apple/2 degrees of separation anymore. Nevertheless-

    Pasadena, Friday night; a nice dinner out. Afterwards: "Isn't the Apple store on this block? Let's go check out the suckers waiting in line for the phone".

    5 minutes later...

    It's pretty cool, I must say. While it's true that out in the middle of nowhere(that would mean greater Los Angeles County without a high speed wireless network handy, like, at a Starbucks) the AT&T internet is slow, the functions of the phone and the ease of use are revolutionary. Now all I've got to do is pray there aren't any buggy surprises in the offing.

    That's my old phone on the table at work yesterday. I took the picture with the iPhone. It takes good pictures if you aren't waving it around.

    Wikipedia Birthday Meme

    I was so impressed with this meme when it first came out that I posted mine six months early. But now, I think it bears reviewing again, on the occasion of my birth some 61 years ago today.

    Weekend Bird Blogging #8

    An eclectic weekly collection of recent posts about birds, birders, and birding by bloggers throughout the blogosphere—but mostly from sources other than the mainstream bird blogs—that illustrates the universal appeal and attraction of our feathered neighbors, personally selected by me for your reading and viewing pleasure: