In the 90s I bought a LaserDisc player because it was the best way to get bonus features like director’s commentary and “making of” shorts on some of my favorite movies, before DVDs took off. But I’ve resisted getting a Blu-ray player, even though studios seem to have completely shut out DVDs from the behind-the-scenes material we’re used to. Luckily artists can still share their work directly via the web.
I love this new site from Pixar artists, just in time for the holidays, on the making of their short film The Blue Umbrella. It’s presented as a holiday calendar with a new page revealed each day. From day 3:
“The second test I had made after having just been to a concert of Sarah Jaffe. I fell in love with her music and voice and desperately wanted to pitch her an idea for a music video. But I needed a concept for it. While walking through the city and listing to her songs I suddenly got this idea for a music video where a whole city would sing one of her songs.”
It’s one of those rare sites that is so wonderful that I make an exception to not following it if there’s no RSS feed. Added to my bookmarks.
Richard Williams turned 80 years old last month. Although his body of work is extensive, including Roger Rabbit and the unfinished masterpiece The Thief and the Cobbler, I think he will be most remembered many decades from now for the extraordinary book, The Animator’s Survival Kit.
I referenced this book all the time when I was working on a little hand-drawn short film several years ago. Now an iPad version of the book is available. Floyd Bishop, writing for Animation Scoop:
“The timing of the animation examples in the book have always been hard for me to get my head around. This app shows the drawings come to life through animation. You can loop playback or scrub through the animation. I found this feature to be the most useful thing about the app.”
Nowadays, I’m too busy with software side projects to have time for animation as a hobby, but as a huge fan I’ll occasionally catch up on news and all the beautiful work artists are doing.
A few of my favorite short films over the last year:
- Chipotle’s stop-motion video. I was really happy to see it run during the Grammys last year. When I had showed my kids the video on YouTube earlier, they immediately fell in love with it. Kudos to Chipotle for giving it some high-profile national airtime. And don’t miss the amazing Flickr set of the production.
Disney’s Paperman. You’ve probably seen this by now, and behind-the-scenes similar to this profile from Fast Company. Disney hadn’t innovated much in combining 2D and 3D since deep canvas on Tarzan and the character work on Treasure Planet, both over 10 years ago. It’s great to see them back on the cutting edge.
Mickey Mouse in Croissant de Triomphe, supposedly the first in a series of new Mickey shorts. I would’ve preferred this to be more in the 1930s style, but this is still a lot of fun, and captures the spirit of the old Mickey shorts well.
And finally, I was really excited that Disney’s Pixar won an oscar, and to see the reaction from director Brenda Chapman. Circling back to Richard Williams, she actually worked early in her career on Roger Rabbit, and then as a story artist at Disney and director on Dreamworks’s Prince of Egypt.
Brenda said on her blog, about the Oscar win:
“And when I was fretting over having just one guest ticket, my husband, Kevin Lima, insisted that I take our daughter, Emma, with me. ‘You should share this with her,’ he said ‘it’s a mother and daughter night!’ Having Emma with me that night not only let me share with her one of the most wonderful nights of my life, it allowed me to tell the world how very much she means to me.”
So incredibly well-deserved. Animation is a painstakingly slow art form. The work of all these artists, from Richard Williams to Brenda Chapman, isn’t a 3-month mad dash to ship the next gimmick app to the App Store; it’s work that is measured across decades. Taken as a whole, I view it as an inspirational story of perseverance — a reminder that creating something great takes time.
Every year my New Year’s resolutions look about the same: draw more, journal more. (Blogging more is never one of my resolutions, but I’m nevertheless off to a good start this year with a goal of about one new post a day.)
This year I knew I needed some inspiration to keep drawing more. I ordered a calendar of drawings from the in-progress short film Leonardo and pinned it to the wall above my desk. My idea was pretty simple: every day I will see this calendar, and I will mark off the days that I actually draw.
The calendar is still blank. Guess I’ve failed, so far.
In better news, animator Jim Capobianco is nearing completion of the film. He’s been posting some “excellent tips on his blog”:http://leoanimation.blogspot.com/2009_01_01_archive.html about what he’s learned during production. I saw a rough cut of his film at the 2D Expo. Even in storyboard form you could tell it would be great. I blogged briefly “about the trip to California”:http://www.manton.org/2004/07/california_adventure.html for the expo and WWDC back in 2004.
His day job is at Pixar, where he’s been responsible for other hand-drawn efforts such as Your Friend the Rat (on the Ratatouille DVD) and the WALL-E closing credits.
There are a lot of computer animated films out this year. It was inevitable, with Disney shutting down its 2d division a few years ago and all of Hollywood getting on the 3d bandwagon. Some will be successes, some failures — just like their live-action counterparts — and that’s fine.
I’ve seen Cars twice now. Perhaps it’s because a certain 2-year-old I know says “zooma!” more than any word in his limited vocabulary, but this little Pixar film is really growing on me.
Meanwhile, it looks like “2d is officially back at Disney”:http://www.laughingplace.com/News-ID510530.asp. Can’t wait.
It was made official today. The rumor only surfaced a week ago, but in that time many people have gone from surprise and skepticism to hope that maybe it could be great for both companies. For Pixar, it might mean more creative control over their characters and sequels, plus not having to worry about distribution or settling for a partner without the reach into merchandising and vacation spots that Disney has. Interestingly, John Lasseter will also advise on new theme park attractions.
In the old days under Walt, it was common for artists to move between short films, features, and Disneyland design. Walt had a knack for seeing the best skills in people and using them wherever they could be most effective. He also had an instinct for story, a relentless pursuit of quality, and of what people would want to see, or how to sell it. Steve Jobs shares more than a few of these qualities, even if his management style at Pixar has been to delegate more than micromanage. Could Jobs pull another NeXT and infuse Disney with Pixar management and culture, or will he be content to sit on the board and coordinate deals with Apple for video content? Who knows.
For Disney, the benefits of the deal are pretty obvious, since all of the Pixar films have been huge money-makers. What’s less clear is what will happen to all the films currently in production at Disney. We have to assume they will continue mostly unchanged. Disney had a rough and controversial transition to 3d, with many layoffs and studio closures, but they did make the transition and this deal will probably upset that just a little.
There is also still that dream that with a leader (Lasseter) who appreciates traditional 2d animation, Disney might even buy back some of those old animation desks and give 2d another try. Although some of the great directors of the 2nd golden age at Disney have left (such as Ron Clements and John Musker of The Little Mermaid and Aladdin), Disney still has many 2d-trained directors, and now so does Pixar (Brad Bird), with enough 2d fans throughout both companies to form another studio branch entirely.
I read a bunch of weblogs by artists at Disney and Pixar now, so hopefully their views will start to trickle in too. Good luck to everyone at both studios.