Annie Award Nominations

Like a palate cleanser after the feature animation diss* I wrote about in the last post, ASIFA-Hollywood comes along with the nominees for this year’s Annie Awards. Who needs the NYFCC! We have ASIFA, and we’ll have our own damned party!

The Annies are always a fun ceremony, and a good time to catch up with friends. It’s also a rare chance to honor some of the people behind the scenes in a business where we’re pretty anonymous to most of the folks who enjoy what we do. I’ll admit I’m a little ambivalent about these kinds of individual honors. On one hand, if ASIFA-Hollywood didn’t give such awards, no one else would. And lord knows that there are many people in the animation business who deserve some individual props. The cartoon above is by past Annie winner, and current nominee, Patrick Mate, a humble, quiet guy bursting with talent, yet someone most people have never heard of.
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NYFCC Best Animated Feature award

Oh, the humanity! Cartoon Brew has highlighted the New York Film Critics Circle choosing not give a Best Animated Feature award this year. This kind of thing offends some people in our industry, and others seem to take this as a judgement of the lack of quality in this years animated features. I find myself not caring much. I like reading the thoughts of some critics, but do we really make animated films to win awards?

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Animation Flight School

I’ve been teaching the Animation Mentor Animals & Creatures Class 2 this term, and in particular we’re focused on animating flight (and flying dragons!).  Of course, if you’re going to animate a believable fantasy creature, you need to understand real flying animals, like birds and bats, and I’m going to summarize some ideas and then some great resources below the fold.

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On Gratitude, and Happy Thanksgivings

Reflect on your present blessings, on which every man has many, not on your past misfortunes, of which all men have some.

There do appear to exist benefits to regularly focusing on one’s blessings. The advantages are most pronounced when compared with a focus on hassles or complaints…

The first quote is from Charles Dickens, and reflects a common sentiment.  The second is from a scientific study, Counting Blessings Versus Burdens: An Experimental Investigation of Gratitude and Subjective Well-Being in Daily Life (J. Personality and Soc. Psychology) by Robert A. Emmons and Michael E. McCullough, which actually proves that the popular sentiment is empirically true.
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Two features that I animated on open this month, which is exciting.  First up is Hop, which I recommend, despite the lousy reviews.  I think many reviewers misunderstand why movies appeal to audiences.  Good or bad reviews often have little correlation with how much people enjoy their movie-going experience.  Not that Hop is The Godfather.  Which is what reviews frequently get wrong — they take a family film that is intentionally aimed squarely at the kiddies and review it with a one-size-fits-all sensibility.  Hop a sweet, shallow entertainment, like a basket of Easter candy, and not so different than many of the animated films we all loved as children.

Carlos rallies the troops

Carlos rallies the chicks in a still from one of my scenes

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Invisible Ink

A while ago I wrote about how I think being an animator has more similarities to being a writer than it does to being an actor. Not that we cannot or should not learn from actors and acting technique, but I think we share quite a bit in our process with the work that writers do.  Along those lines, I’ve been spending time recently at The Invisible Ink Blog, which I found among the links at Ted Mathot‘s excellent blog. The Invisible Ink Blog is by Brian McDonald, author of a couple of books on writing, Invisible Ink and The Golden Theme.

Here are a couple of his recent posts I especially like from an animator’s point of view. First, one on the role and nature of conflict in story: Conflict Resolution.

One of the key lessons I try to impart at Animation Mentor is the importance of conflict in animation. Every shot in an animated film should be essential — something vital needs to be happening, and it often involves a character in conflict. Every shot tells it’s own tiny story, and there is no story without conflict. Read the rest of this entry »

Milt Kahl magic

Sorry for the long delay between posts.  Working seven days a week will do that.  Here’s a quick bit of animation inspiration courtesy of Michael Sporn and John Canemaker: some fantastic animation of Peter Pan by the great Milt Kahl.
Kahl Pan
Go here to see all the key drawings from the scene, and the actual animation (sans inbetweens).    It’s wonderful stuff. Read the rest of this entry »

Yin and Yang in animated features: Tangled and The Illusionist

The Illusionist

I saw both Tangled and The Illusionist within a couple of days of each other through the CTN Expo, and came away impressed by both, but for very different reasons.  In a way, these two films represent the Yin and the Yang of feature animation.   The difference in animation technique is the least of the differences between these two features.  One is intensely personal, hand crafted, subtle, and demands a certain patience of its audience.  The other is a big-studio extravaganza, with all that that entails.

Warning: there be spoilers below.  Proceed at your own risk.

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CTNX2010 postscript

CTN logo

The second CTN Animation Expo happened the last three days in Burbank, and I’m really glad I went for the whole thing this year.  Despite some rough edges, it was well worth the time and money (and I came away with some ideas for several blog posts).

One of the great things about gatherings like this (actually, CTNX is the ONLY gathering like this these days) is that you run into scores of old friends, students, and colleagues, and you get to meet a ton of new people (here’s a nice summary with photos of last year’s event by Randall Sly; the photos look like they could have been taken at this years event, so this gives an idea of what it was like).  I was pleased that several people talked about enjoying my blog, so I’m also fired up to try to post more regularly. Read the rest of this entry »

Cartoon Gluts?

For as long as I’ve been in the industry, I’ve heard people grumble about the number of animated features being made.  This conventional wisdom posits that animated features must be rare and ‘special’ to be successful. The corrollary is that an abundance of animated films will destroy the market.  For some people, more than two major animated releases a year is too many, and any more would spell doom.

The boom that followed The Lion King lead to a lot of worrying about animation gluts, as I was reminded by a Daily Variety article from July 15, 1997 (my first year in the industry).  Is it high noon for toon boom?, written by Andrew Hindes, starts with this tired cliché: “There may be trouble brewing in toon town.” (Really Andrew?  Was that priceless wit the best you could do?)  After noting the relatively disappointing performance of Disney’s Hercules, the article continues:

In the next 18 months, no less than five new big-budget feature cartoons, plus Disney’s reissue of its 1989 hit “The Little Mermaid,” will be released [Anastasia, Quest for Camelot, Mulan, A Prince of Egypt, and A Bug’s Life].  As those pictures begin competing for promotional partners, toy licensees and audiences, one analyst predicts, “It’s going to be a bloodbath.”

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The animation and animation-related musings of Kevin Koch