Thursday, July 5, 2007

The Transformers Movie worthy of the Big Screen

I liked the Transformers movie. I wasn't planning to go see it as I was never a fan of the toy or the 1980's animated series, but a friend of mine wanted to go and I tagged along. The film has an impressive scale which is easy to appreciate on the big screen. Home TV screens get bigger and bigger, but certain films still require a theatrical viewing and this is one of them. Michael Bay treats the audience with an appreciable degree of respect and he avoids the current trend of throwing in fleeting pop culture jokes that amount to cheap laughs and limit the appeal of repeated viewings. There are a few moments of robot-homiletics that take the viewer into dreckland, but the bulk of the film is dominated by exciting, large-scale action motivated by clear goals.
Shia LaBoeuf does a good turn as Sam, the geek-turned-hero of the story. I think LaBoeuf has become a fairly good actor and is definitely ready for some juicier roles than can be had on the kid's network shows where he earned his acting chops. The animation was outrageously good - the weight implied in the movement made the giant robots believable and they are well integrated with the live-action world. The technical challenge of designing the machine transformations was done with incredible showmanship.
Its the action of the film that seduces you. If you're looking for heart-tugging emotions from these machines, you will find a few attempts withing the course of the film, but you will most surely be disappointed. The film's running time is indulgently long, so hook yourself up to a catheter before you enter the theater or you will be leaving to visit the restroom halfway through. Yes, the use and promotion of General Motors products is blatant, but I've grown numb to that aspect of the business - it's there to stay. At lease the GM product placement caused me to forget that the Transformers are a line of toys available from Hasbro.
The story is what I would refer to as "serviceable" - it gets the job done and provides a framework for the entertainment. You will definitely find films with better, more original story lines and deeper characters and just about everything that we've always been taught is necessary for a successful film. But you can get all of that in books as well as anywhere else. The big screen of a cinema should deliver the thrills and chills of a good circus, and for sheer spectacle and fun The Transformers Movie is one of the greatest shows on earth (for the summer, anyway).

Sunday, July 1, 2007

Hansel and Gretel in Stop Motion

I saw this stop-motion version of Hansel and Gretel when I was very young and it burned itself into my brain. It's kind of crude by todays standards, and sort of unintentionally nightmarish.

There is a great entry from last year (June 6, 2006) on Michael Sporn's Blog regarding this film.

Another Preston Blair TV Graphics masterpiece

Remember when they used to “pause, for station identification”? If you don’t, then you missed items like this which were used to sex up local TV stations and make them look cool. Sorry about the quality on this. I improved it the best I could. Click HERE to view.

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Preston Blair's Air Force Recruitment Spot

Preston Blair did some amazing motion graphic spots for television through the New York animation house TV Graphics, Inc. They are mostly station identifiers (WOR-TV New York, etc.) but this one was for Air Force Recruitment and uses music from the Air Force Jazz Band. Click HERE to view.

Tuesday, January 30, 2007

More Betty Boop Movie Designs

As per Mitch Kennedy's request, these images show more of the surreal animation ideas that were in the script for The Betty Boop Movie. They were individual moments, though rather than setpieces, so these images were done more quickly and are less well-designed than the others. Koko would have been the wildest character for animation with his ability to morph/stretch. Betty was kind of a sexy muse that would "animate" the world around her - so she would end up dancing with/being chased by/being serenaded by - things that would "come to life".

Sunday, January 28, 2007

Mary Blair Meadow Gold commercial

In the early 1950’s, a Little Golden Book was published entitled, “I Can Fly” by Ruth Krauss with illustrations by Mary Blair. The book was popular and caught the eye of someone who thought the little girl and the graphic style would be good for a Meadow Gold advertising campaign. So in the mid-1950’s, a few commercials were made by TV Graphics, Inc. of New York (owned by Mary Blair’s husband, Lee Blair). I have two of them - they are both similar but one is for milk and one is adapted to advertise ice cream. Click HERE to view the commercial.

Thursday, January 25, 2007

My First Live-Action Film

"The Civilization of Maxwell Bright" is my first effort at production design for a live-action film. It was one of those low budget "labor of love" projects where the director mortgages his house to raise the budget capital, etc. Although it won some awards, including a Grand Prize at the Florida Film Festival and a Best Actor award for lead actor Patrick Warburton at some other festival, it's hard to find a place to see it. I don't think it is out on DVD yet. A Vancouver BC company called Industry Works is the distributor. Click HERE to view the trailer. The following is the synopsis from the Austin Film Festival:

"Boasting standout performances from Warburton and Roberts, the film tells the story of electronics salesman Maxwell Bright. His relationships with women are explosive and cruel, so he resolves to find his fantasy woman: demure, submissive and obedient. Ultimately he decides to buy a Chinese mail-order bride. When Mai Ling arrives, she attempts to awaken the peaceful Buddha in Max while he introduces her to American luxury, carnality and freedom. Max's entire world spirals out of control when Mai Ling suddenly becomes his only foundation."

Thursday, January 18, 2007

Betty Boop...the Movie!

Here's three images I did for the aborted 1993 project, "The Betty Boop Movie". Betty is still in high demand as a licensing character and considered a top producer of revenues in that arena - even without any new animation to keep her image fresh for the public. Betty Boop is one of the largest classic cartoon merchandise items in the world with over 400 licensees in 38 countries. As recently as the 1970's or 1980's, a court returned the Betty Boop copyright to the Fleischer family.

Max's son Richard Fleischer saw an opportunity to create a new movie for Betty, so he and the Zanucks (Richard and Lili) were Executive Producers, Jerry Rees and Steve Leiva were Producers, Steve Moore was Director and I was Production Designer. The negatives that I heard aimed at the project were that it was too sophisticated for kids and too childish for adults – or something to that effect. That just seems to me like a negative way of saying that it has a broad appeal for a general audience. Anyway, here's three of my favorite pieces. Let me know if you would like to see more.
The project was aborted during the development process when Frank Mancuso replaced Alan Ladd at MGM.
(note to Frank Mancuso: Just make the movie anyway!)

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Peace On Earth

On the eve of the U.S. involvement with WWII, the United States had a peace policy desiring to keep us neutral regarding the war in Europe. This cartoon by Hugh Harman, produced in 1939 while he was at MGM, supports that general sentiment. It is available at through the following link:

The following is the obituary for Hugh Harman from the New York Times. It notes the Nobel Prize nod for Harman's "Peace on Earth" cartoon from 1939:

New York Times
Hugh Harman, 79, Creator Of 'Looney Tunes' Cartoons
Published: November 30, 1982

Hugh Harman, the Oscar-winning creator of the ''Looney Tunes'' cartoons, died Thursday at his home in Chatsworth after a long illness. He was 79 years old.

Mr. Harman, a self-taught animation pioneer and one of Walt Disney's first collaborators, also created the ''Merrie Melodies'' cartoons that gave the world such memorable characters as the catand-mouse duo Tom and Jerry, Daffy Duck, Porky Pig, Sylvester and Tweetie.

Mr. Harman and his partner, Rudolph Ising, won the Oscar for their 1940 cartoon ''The Milky Way.'' The partners had seven Oscar nominations between them, and Mr. Harman also was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize for his 1939 antiwar feature, ''Peace on Earth.''

Mr. Harman, who started his career in 1922 at Disney's studio in Kansas City, Mo., later worked as an independent producer for Warner Bros. and then went on to M-G-M. He is survived by his son, Michael; two grandsons, and a nephew, Fred Harman 3d.

Monday, January 15, 2007

You Didn't Rake the Joints!

I wanted a patio built outside of my dining room. There was a space between the dining room and the garage and to get some privacy for the new patio, I needed a wall built to enclose the space. I wanted something integrated to the house - using the same materials so, in the end, it would appear as if the patio were original to the 1947 California ranch style home. To get it done right, I hired a landscape architect. Luckily, I found one with talent, but he was just starting out on his own so he wasn't yet commanding a huge fee. The designs were drawn featuring a flagstone wall and patio with steps up to new french doors that would lead into the dining room. I hired a contractor who assured me that he had a very good mason to do the flagstone work. This was important to me because I had something very definite in mind. I am a fan of Frank Lloyd Wright and the attention to detail that he put into each of his buildings. My house is no "Fallingwater", but I did furnish my contractor with a photograph of the masonry found on that iconic structure. It featured horizontal limestone with random stones set out from the face of the wall to cast interesting shadows and add visual variety to the surface. Another feature of Wright's designs is the "raking" of the mortar between the stones. Raking refers to the process of removing the still-wet mortar at the front spaces between the stones so that the joints between stones are set back about 1/2 inch from the stone face. This makes a space for shadows when the light hits the surface of the masonry.

The raked joints were visible in the photo that I provided to the contractor, but you would have to look for them and appreciated the idea that they existed in order to notice them. When I arrived home from work one day, I was disappointed to find that the mason had indeed set some of the stones forward in a random manner, he did not rake the joints as I had anticipated. It seemed to be a big deal to me at the time, and fortunately I did not express myself by losing my temper and criticizing the mason's work. It was, after all, not his fault that I was not more specific in describing my desire for raked joints. I had just assumed that, because I wanted them there and because they were visible (albeit small) in the example photo, that they would appear in the mason's finished work. The contractor assured me that the pilasters and wall would be stronger for lack of raked joints. The scale of my masonry masses was considerably smaller than Wright's work, so the additional mortar would only make the wall stronger. That idea placated me somewhat.

The whole story reminds me to be thorough when I give direction and to be grateful for the good aspects of the work that is done. The stones were laid straight and the cuts showed an appealing variety of shapes. An amateur would not have done the job this well. I've received may compliments on the patio wall over the years and no one is aware that I originally wanted raked joints. I can imagine the sadness and anger I would have caused if I overlooked the good stuff and launched into a tantrum about the raked joints. Thank God for self control. This story might not serve as a profound metaphor for other situations in life but, then again, it might.

Friday, January 12, 2007

TV Graphics, Inc.

Here are a couple of images from FilmGraphics/TV Graphics, Inc. I'm researching this company, so if anyone has any info/contacts/leads relating to this commercial animation studio which operated in New York city during the 1950's and 1960's, please contact me. The image on the left is from the Meadow Gold campaign whick featured the little girl by Mary Blair. This character was based on the appeal of the little girl character in the "I Can Fly" Little Golden Book by Mary. There were 2 or 3 tv spots using this character. I have the milk commercial and the ice cream commercial. The image on the right is the company logo. Michael Sporn tells me that the name Film Graphics, Inc. was used when the company was doing industrials, and the name TV Graphics, Inc. was used for television ad accounts.

Thursday, January 11, 2007

Film Graphics, Inc.

Lee Blair, (1911-1993) gave me some old animated TV commercials made at his New York studio in the 1950's and 1960's. I am compiling research on him and his studio Film Graphics, Inc. - a.k.a. TV Graphics, Inc. This studio produced all the Meadow Gold spots that Mary Blair designed with the graphic little girl character. They also did the Freakies cereal ads that Preston Blair animated. I have some media articles and things, but I would love to have much more. If you know of anyone who worked at this studio in New York or has information about Film Graphics, Inc. and Lee Blair, then please get in contact with me.
This is a piece I did for a project that I was developing for a feature film based on George Plimpton's children's book. "The Rabbit's Umbrella" I always like the pieces I did for that project, but I never really got a handle on a good way to update the source material - It was "charming" and whimsical, but also was tonally out of step with today's audiences, so I eventually abandoned it. This piece illustrates a moment when a "guardian angel-type mentor-rabbit" appears in a dream to inspire the main character to save a town from money-grubbing developers.
Plimpton's book was illustrated in simple pen-and-ink line drawings by Guy Pene DuBois - a well known cartoonist (New Yorker magazine) from the 1950's (the era of the book's original edition). I wanted to give a rich, dimensional theatrical treatment to the material, so this was an attempt in that direction.

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Hugh Harman

These are photos of animation pioneer Hugh Harman.
I am currently researching his life/career. If anyone has any items of interest, please contact me. I have just about all that is available on the internet, so links are probably not helpful. If you know the whereabouts of his children, I would like to contact them as well.
Hugh worked with Disney in Kansas City and came out to Los Angeles work on the Alice comedies with Disney. (see photo) He later founded Warner Bros. animation department with Rudy Ising - later hiring people like Joe Hanna and William Barbera.
I met him at an auction of Walt Disney's uncle's garage (yes, there was such an auction) on Kingswell Ave. in Hollywood back in 1982 and shortly after that he died.

Tuesday, January 9, 2007

In the beginning...

I am working on a project in Portland right now. I like the city very much and it has a personality all its own - different from Los Angeles. There's a sizable "green" culture here. People are concerned about the quality of the water, etc., but the tapwater in Portland is delicious. Try drinking from the tap in L.A.! I had a visitor at the studio today from Los Angeles. A recent grad from my alma mater CalArts (Valencia, CA). The alumni association has a mentor program so this was my mentoree (there must be an official name for this). We toured the studio and talked about his career goals. He met with Human Resources and he submitted his samples. I remember my mentor, Lee Blair, arranging a visit to Disney studios for me when I was just a sophomore in high school. What a dream come true it was to visit the studio that I had read about so much in books and in periodicals that I hunted down in my hometown library! I was able to meet with Eric Larson and get a tour of the studio. Now I feel like I have "paid it forward".