South of Boudoir

I enjoy quite a bit of the work of Charley Chase.  He was as big as Chaplin, Keaton, and Laurel and Hardy during the silent era.  Although he doesn’t have quite as big a following today as some of the other great stars of that era, Chase made some really great slapstick comedies.  He was also quite the director as well, especially in the early 30’s where he directed several shorts for The Three Stooges.  

In January, I’m hoping to check out a screening of one of his shorts South of the Boudoir.  One of the reasons I’m looking forward to it is that it feature’s Arthur Q. Bryan, who attempts to seduce Chase’s wife, and apparently he does so by talking in a familiar cartoon character’s voice.  Who’s Arthur Q. Bryan some of you might ask?  And what cartoon character is he most well known for?   

This might ring a bell!

 January can’t come soon enough!  🙂

Self Worth and Golden Idols

One of my occasional favorite hobbies is complaining about the animation industry on the most popular animation site out there, Cartoon Brew .  One of the chief editors on there, Amid Amidi constantly likes to play devils advocate with some of the things he posts.  Ironically in his recent post about the Celebrification of Animators, Amid, makes reference to his own tabloid post about another animator.  He posted a story a few weeks ago about a Dreamworks animator who beat a dog in the head with a hammer and was sentenced to jail time, and then in his current post he made reference to a majority of people who gave him flack for posting it, especially since in that same post he put a cute picture of a chiuahuaha with a bandage over it’s head under the post title.  The “majority” of people who complained in that post….well, I think I probably did the most complaining.  I was pretty angry that on the animation industry’s most read website, he was exploiting the personal life of an animator, even if he was trying to prove some point.  Opening the comment boards up to hecklers to say obcene things about this person left me a little flabbergasted.  We may not know the whole story about what this animator did and why he beat this dog (defense, mental health issues, etc), but to see outside hecklers doing this, and no work friends coming to this man’s defense, it’s quite sad to see the broken state our animation community is in.  Amid of course wanted to prove a point that to a younger generation, thanks to the internet, animators are achieving high celebrity status, even going as far as being subjects for news headlines where animators beat dogs with hammers.  But it’s not my concern that animators are reaching levels of celebrity recognition.  What concerns me is the psychological impact this kind of celebrity worship is going to have on a younger generation of animators entering the field. 

The image above, for those reading who don’t know, is Glen Keane, who is presently the most well known Disney animator, hence the Jesus symbolisim.  This image of course comes from a parody site, , but several images from this site were posted on Cartoon Brew to show how more and more people are identifying the artists behind everyone‘s favorite animated films, bringing these artists not only to recognition with the public, but also into emerging celebrity status. 

But seeing so many of these parody memes posted at once, it started to bother me again, and I started to feel a little repulsed by what I was seeing.  I suppose it was one thing for these images to remain in obscurity on somebody’s private Tumblr site.  But it’s something else when several of these images are posted all at once on a major site like Cartoon Brew, in a post which glorifies the celebrity status of these major animators.  When Amid posted the article, he considered these meme posters as progress for the recognition of animators.  The thought of encouraging celebrity profiles for animators annoyed the hell out of me, and my first comment I posted, I was a little pissed off at AmidHere’s what I wrote:       
 What progress are you referring to? Animators being worshipped like pop stars? Kids worship pop stars based on hearing the same kind of song played over and over again, just as the dudes who made these memes blindly worship Pixar and Disney, who…lets see…have been telling the same story over and over again in every animated feature for the last 20 years. They don’t recognize this as art. It’s a blind programmed response to what they’ve been fed since childhood about what a cartoon is supposed to be. They’re Otaku for American animation. I respect a lot of these animators posted. But what’s this expectation that they should be worshipped like Jesus or Tom Cruise? It’s a blessing in disguise that some of these master animators/artists live in general obscurity from the general public. Most of the big celebrity guys like Seth MacFarlane, or John Lasseter, or even Brad Bird became major celebrites once they GOT AWAY FROM ANIMATION. People no longer associate Brad Bird with what animated feature he’s going to direct next. The public now wants him to direct fucking Star Wars. How’s that progress for animation? Promoting these animators as gods is bad…it’s a pipe dream…it’s an illusion that will attract fewer artists who actually have something in this medium as opposed to those young artists who desperately want to be Milt Kahl, or Brad Bird, or John Lassater, when they should concentrate more on what they want out of their work and what they want to say about life. Most of these animators worshiped made their mark, but only because they spent their careers working for someone else. God, I love Harryhausens work too, but he’s also worked on a lot of shitty B movies. We can admire and respect these people for their work. But even joke humor like this gets young animators worshipping a golden calf as if working in the animation industry is plagued with fame and riches. Its not. And it shouldn’t be. Just because most animated features are box office smashes doesn’t mean they’re good. The public is only responding to their expectations for what they think an animated film should be, and it’s exactly what the major studios play into to get into people’s wallets. No matter how differently the film is dressed, its almost always the exact same story. Posters like this glorify all the things that are wrong with our field to begin with. So if your a young artist or someone who wants to dedicate their life to animation, John S. is right. These posters are not funny, their a bullshit waste of time. Don’t get sucked in.

I got no response from Amid of course, and just a few jibe remarks from a few complainers, saying that I had no sense of humor about these posts and that I was taking it way too seriously.  That seems to be the knee jerk defensive response I get when I’m trying to point out something.  It’s not that I don’t have a sense of humor.  But many people out there seem to turn a blind eye when it comes to the context of these messages they’re being spoonfed from sites like Cartoon Brew.  Even at one point, an old timer animator from Walt’s days at the studio (he posts fairly often), chimed in about the rest of us having no sense of humor about the parody images.  So, not directly responding to him, I chimed in again, abeit briefly:  

We do want animators to get recognition for their work. But not like this. To the naysayers who want us to stop taking these images so seriously…the one thing you may be right about is that these images are taken out of context. And really, if this is supposed to be parody, in what context is it supposed to be taken in and by whom? 

You might want to take a moment and listen to some of the people who are repulsed by this. There are young naive artists out there who will take these images seriously as fan worship. It’s panders to their own insecurities about themselves, putting their idols up on unreachable platforms instead of allowing themselves to bring their idols down to their level and ask…where did those people start? What made them who they are today? How did they find their inspiration, and what can these great artists teach me to find it on my own?

There are a lot more young animators in the industry coming in through places like trade schools that teach them the tools, but with a very limited understanding of their own artistic voice. They are like a lot of us who grew up as kids on Disney or Pixar with dreams of becoming an animator, but without understanding their calling as artists, they go for the straight path, and are trained at these trade schools to create formula animation (which is part of our current problem with every animated film having characters that move and act exactly the same way). And a lot of these young guys come from backgrounds where the only things they’ve watched are Disney/Pixar films, or whatever Cartoon Network/ Nickelodeon shows they grew up with. They’ve never watched a Frank Capra film or a John Ford/ Billy Wilder movie. They’ve never studied Laurel and Hardy. Most of them couldn’t tell you who Paddy Chayefsky is. These idols/gods they’ve spent their lives worshiping in the images above are all they know about their artform, and they blindly worship them without understanding what really made those people who they are. These young animators are here NOW working in the industry. I’ve met them! They’re all over the place. 

I get why you and others on here would want to defend this simply as stupid humor. But we have no idea what this is supposed to be satarizing or what the humor is supposed to be. Did the guy making this think these artists have bloated egos? Is he making fun of the current students who worship these artists? Did he expect a lot of us to be repulsed by this? 

Regardless of what the intention, these images will have an effect on someone, a young kid who will look at them and never believe they have any self worth or a unique vision of their own compared to those who came before them.

Over the years, even after Cal Arts, I’ve come to know and meet a lot of animators who work in the industry.  If there’s one thing I’ve come to learn about animation’s they’re a very sensitive people.  I include myself in this.  You see a lot of animators who come from strong religious backgrounds.  They were raised on Disney movies and Cartoon Network shows.  Animators, like sheep, travel in herds with their own kind, like minded individuals, who all have the same programmed worship button in response to just about any American animated feature that comes out.  They are a proud people as much as they are stubborn.  

Within a lot of these artists however, no matter how good they are or even the ones who have obtained some form of success…they are also a frightened people, skiddish, and emotionally vulnerable inside.  It’s not a big surprise why these artists create main characters in most animated features are outcasts who want to be accepted in the world.  Most animators are afraid to stray from the path of their friends.  They will stay together in groups, even when working at the major studios and working alongside their idols at the studios, their idols are still worshiped like Gods instead of just being seen as ordinary human beings.  But worship has its limits.  For one thing, those young animators blindly walking the already trodded path have never discover their own sense of self worth.  They don’t believe their capable of finding anything greater in themselves, which makes it almost a futile effort for them to strike out on their own and find what their own destiny is calling to them.  It’s the problem of religion (in this case, religion of the animation idol), in which a persons field of vision is so limited their stuck in once place, afraid to take a leap of faith into the outside and expand their world view.  Doing so means stepping away from all your friends and striking out on your own…and into a world of danger…and the adventure of your life.  

I didn’t voluntarily leave my animator friends, but the more I saw the path in front of me and started realizing it may not be the right way, it was inevitable that my friends and I began to grow apart.  And I fell apart after that.  Things reached its peak when life was suddenly forced on me, to the point where now it’s pretty much impossible for me to go back to my old self.  It’s painful.  It’s harsh.  It makes a man or a woman want to scream at the cruelty of the universe.  But in looking back at all the suffering I’ve had to endure so far, I can see a new side of myself emerging.  One thing I do know, it’s how all of my idols in the animation industry became who they are.  I know some people I went to school with, and people I met early on who have made their careers in the animation world.  Some of them even have their own TV shows.  But even some of those people, despite their success, they have still never stepped off the beaten path.  I can see the ones who found their dream job, but once they got it and without any further direction to guide them, they’ve started spending their time taking up expensive hobbies on their Facebooks…their job isn’t enough anymore.  Some of those people try acting or sewing.  I saw one person who makes a better gymnast than they are an animator!  The job isn’t enough anymore, and they’re searching for something more.  It’s why you see a lot of working animators doing Children’s books on their spare time.  They are looking for their voice in search of something to say.  

It’s a miraculous thing to get your dream job that you spent so long working towards.  But once you have it, the inevitable question is going to be, what now?  What do I have to say?  This is where many people who have followed their idols end up.  But for someone to be a true artist, is the job really enough?  And to tell you the truth, it’s at this point where our idols fail us.  Then pretty soon the inevitable happensWe are alone.  

So I guess the big question we have to ask ourselves is if all this celebrity worship is really worth it.  Admittedly, having our heroes is important, if anything to give us a push into the life we want to dedicate ourselves.  But our heroes can only take us so far.  If we continue to hold onto them, they only serve to become a golden idol…a false hope and a status we will never obtain.  Because their path is not your path.  We are each destined to find our own way.  There is always a price.  There is always a personal sacrifice that has to be made to find out who you are destined to be.  It’s okay to have your heroes.  

But Celebrity Animator?  Those are just bullshit words.  If that’s really what you are striving for, then you are definitely in the wrong business.    

REVIEW: Rise of the Guardians (2012) Dir. Peter Ramsey

I’ve always enjoyed a good hard cider Christmas story about the power of belief, especially with films that tell you that you’d better believe in Santa Claus or you’ll be a miserable wreck for the rest of your life.  Of course, I still believe in Santa Claus, but if you’re an adult and you still believe in Santa, you understand the truth of what that means…that as an adult its not about Santa being a real person, but it’s keep alive in yourself that sense of wonder about the world, as well as sharing that spirit of that wonder with your children.  Children of course believe in Santa the real person, but what they find out later on is that really the spirit of Santa is the extension of the parents love for their childI’m a sucker for those great holiday films that try to reaffirm the power of belief, especially in adults when it comes to Christmas.  Films like Miracle on 34th St., It’s a Wonderful Life, etc.  One of my personal favorites is One Magic Christmas, a Disney film from the 80’s that REALLY goes to the dark side when you don’t believe in Santa Claus (in that film, when she doesn’t believe, her husband is shot and killed, and her kids are kidnapped and then drown in a river when the car goes over the side of an icy road!  It’s a great movie though, and it does have the greatest Santa Claus ever put on film, I can’t wait to talk about that one later.)  And now, there is a new addition to the “you’d better believe or else” story from Dreamworks:  Rise of the Guardian’s.  

Now, I’ll be up front about this.  Rise of the Guardians is not a great film.  But there’s nothing out right bad about it either.  It’s heart is certainly in the right place when it comes to its message about the power of belief, and holding on to that sense of wonder about the world.  It’s a film with a lot of really good ideas, that if only expanded on further it could have truly been something special.  It holds back a little to much in places where it could have been really funny…for instance when the Boogeyman (named Pitch Black in the film)  puts nightmares in all the children of the world, and uses his minions to snuff out every holiday (keeping easter eggs from reaching their hiding place, stealing all the money left by the tooth fairy, etc.) and in essence he makes it where almost every child in the world has stopped believing in Santa, The Easter Bunny, The Tooth Fairy, The Sandman, and Jack Frost, so the only figure left in their nightmares is their fears with the Boogeyman.  In a way, if you think about it that somebody made it so every child in the world stopped believing in Santa Claus, that’s actually a pretty funny idea, which I thought could have been milked so much more for hilarious gags.  The kids in the film essentially walk around like zombies during the day, because all of them have been having nightmares!  

 The movie follows Jack Frost, who in typical hero’s journey fashion, starts out as someone who doesn’t know who he is.  The opening sequence was actually pretty engaging, and left me curious that this might actually be a pretty solid film.  Unfortunately, once Jack meets the other Guardians, it becomes your typical animated film plot.  And ONCE AGAIN, there’s the big scene where everybody hates Jack and nobody wants to be his friend anymore.  Except of course the Boogeyman, who is dealing with the same problem as Jack in that children just don’t believe in them anymore.  Even there, that could have been another interesting story point.  There are some stories and film versions where Jack Frost as a trickster figure is sometimes portrayed as a villain.  It would have been interesting, at least briefly if Jack did join Pitch out of bitter resentment for being cast out.  

But while the film has its share of the usual animated film cliche’s I actually had a good time with it, and I was able to forgive most of the silly well trodded story points. I have to say if there were any characters in the film that I really loved in the movie, it was Santa’s Yeti helpers, who I wish could have been expanded upon more.  They did have some of the best laughs in the movie. 

  There was only one major problem that annoyed me, which came at the end of the movie, and it‘s at the very end where the Guardians have Pitch Black cast out.  I don’t think they should have done that.  I actually felt they should have asked Pitch to join them as a Guardian.  The Guardians aren’t about protecting children from “evil”.  The Guardians are about protecting the children’s beliefs and their sense of wonder about the world.  Pitch himself may be the most important out of all of them, because while his purpose is to scare children, he’s actually helping them to conquer their fears, and giving them something to believe in with the other Guardians.  Without Pitch to challenge them, the children would have no reason to believe in their icons.  So why would Jack of all people turn his back on Pitch who has the same problem as he does?  And really, why couldn’t Pitch be accepted in their group?  It’s not like he killed anybody.  The worst he did was give kids nightmares (which is his job).  What about acceptance and forgiveness?  Which I think especially with the spirit of Santa Claus are important virtues to pass along.  Instead, the ending turns the film into a “good vs. evil” parable between the Man in the Moon (God), and Pitch (The Devil).

  As a comparison, I always thought of one of the great “boogeyman” villains was Jareth from the Jim Henson film, Labyrinth.  I always thought secretly he really wasn’t a villain at all, but that he was actually there to help Sarah conquer her fears about herself…and help her to grow up.  This feeling was indicated to me at the end of the movie, when Jareth in the form of the white owl watches the characters celebrating at her house, and then flies off, possibly moving on to the next person who needs help.  You could call him a kind of trickster guardian angel.  Which is the kind of villain I thought Pitch should have been in finding his place in the world.  What else is the devil but a kind of trickster angel, who is there to tempt us and help us find the compassionate human side to ourselves?  

So like I said, Rise of the Guardians is not a great movie, but it’s got good ideas, and it‘s probably one of the better animated films I’ve seen all year.  If anything, I think Dreamworks is the one American animation studio out there that tries at least to break the mold and find a definite voice for themselves.  They’ve done it a few times now with Kung Fu Panda and How to Train Your Dragon.  I’m finding myself more and more impressed with them as leaders in the industry, and I hope they continue to try and break the mold, and give us newer and more interesting stories for the future.         

KyToons Presents: Watch What You Eat!

Yesterday at Thanksgiving, my 6 year old cousin Kyla and I had our first filmmaking collaboration using Toon Boom Storyboard Pro.  Kyla came up with the story, did all the drawings and coloring on my Cintiq, and I “assisted”, animating the character for her based on what she wanted the dinosaur to do.  Just to let you know, she’s quite the director!  I gave her very few suggestions just to give her a little nudge…a few of which she threw out!

The title of her cartoon is: Watch What You Eat!
Here’s Kyla’s first animated cartoon!  

After this first cartoon, we made a sequel called Watch What You Eat 2!  And of course, being a sequel, she wanted to make it a little more epic.  And while technically this version is a variation on the same story, the one thing that changed about this story (and surprised me) is that she gave it a proper ending.  I suggested at the end if the T rex ate the meat and became Godzilla sized, and she said “No, I just want him to go back to normal and be happy.”  She learned right away and knew exactly what she wanted.

We may have a budding filmmaker on our hands.  🙂