Monday, December 22, 2008

Waltz With Bashir - I got some Academy Award screeners, Part Four...

And just when I thought the river o' screeners had dried up, 'Waltz With Bashir' (movie website) shows up in the mail from Sony Pictures Classics.

Here's a synopsis from the site:

One night at a bar, an old friend tells director Ari Folman about a recurring nightmare in which he is chased by 26 vicious dogs. Every night, the same number of beasts. The two men conclude that there’s a connection to their Israeli Army mission in the first Lebanon War of the early eighties. Ari is surprised that he can’t remember a thing anymore about that period of his life.

Intrigued by this riddle, he decides to meet and interview old friends and comrades around the world. He needs to discover the truth about that time and about himself. As Ari delves deeper and deeper into the mystery, his memory begins to creep up in surreal images …
I enjoyed some of the 'Production Notes' on the website, sounded like a Herculean effort on a small team's part:

4. After the final version of the video film was decided upon, Ari, together with animation director Yoni Goodman, broke down the video film into a basic storyboard. This process took another four months. After the storyboard phase, the pioneer animation team was established and included six animators who began the animatic stage, or as it is known in the USA, the video board – the most basic illustrations of the future film in the most basic motion.

5. The animatic stage took another six months and was followed by another round of screenings. This time on a big screen. The central objective of this round of screenings was to make changes to the largest extent possible at the animatic stage in order to avoid corrections at the final animation phase, which is several times more costly.

6. After final approval of the animatic, the art team began sketching the film based on the reference of the final video copy and the storyboard. In total, four illustrators drew close to two thousand individual illustrations and 80% of the illustrations were drawn by the film’s super designer David Polonsky.

7. At the same time, the animation team, comprised of 10 animators, began animating the illustrations. If at the beginning the production forecast was that the team would complete 6 minutes of screen time per month, the intricate and Sisyphean technique developed by animation director Yoni Goodman caused the production to be 50% arrears as opposed to the plan and the progress rate was 4 minutes per month.

8. The average progress rate of an animator on the film “Waltz with Bashir” was 37 frames per 9 hour work day, which are a second and a half. When an animator finishes such a work day, he returns home and does not have the mental stamina even to watch a pathetic football game on TV.

9. The animation work in the case of Waltz with Bashir became especially complex due to the man who developed it: Animation director Yoni Goodman. They say he developed it according to his abilities, which are absolutely phenomenal and do not represent human beings what so ever, which means it took an animator on the film one month to establish a normal work pace.

10. Yoni Goodman not only possesses phenomenal skills, he is considered the “eutopic man” by the team. He is extraordinarily talented and was born with an incorrigible optimism. He is also a “deadline freak” who can exist for days and nights on end on an excellent diet of coffee, cookies and the lowest form of junk food. He is also a great admirer of the Rambo films, especially Rambo 3, which serves as tremendous artistic inspiration for his animating skills.

11. Illustrator and artistic director David Polonsky drew 1720 illustrations for three whole years all by himself, and these comprise 80% of the film’s illustrations. At the onset of production, David was an introverted fellow, who drew two drawings a day and did everything he could to justify his reputation as a talented artist and Russian immigrant who is ill at ease in Israeli society. After three years, we found this same David performing at exclusive karaoke events and dubbing with a powerful and loud voice the main character of Bridget Folman’s next animated production “Atomic Family”.
I'll watch this over the break, it's definitely not a mainstream affair.

Laika Layoffs Reported

From 'The Business of Animation: A Commentary' blog:
"I knew it would happen sooner or later. Today, it was announced that Laika is laying off 65 (or 75 depending on your source). It seems that Jack and Ben has been shelved and those working on it are getting the axe.

When Coraline completely wraps, we may see more pink slips. This is par for the course in the animation industry. The difference is, since this company is on its own little island up there in the Pacific Northwest, they'll have a harder time bringing in new people next time around." (full post)
I just hope that the people laid off land somewhere quick, this is a horrible time of year to chunk people out the door. I understand it from a business point-of-view, but still sucks.

I'm hoping good things for 'Coraline' when it releases February 6th, the behind-the-scenes stuff is great, and I love Selick, so fingers crossed for this stop-motion production.

Disney's Bolt and Glaco's Guest short film... I got some Academy Award screeners, Part Tres...

Well, got my last batch of screeners (I think) for this year. I really enjoyed Bolt. I am interested in hearing some behind-the-scenes stuff from guys that worked on it how much it was re-tooled from 'American Dog', I know the scoop is probably already out on a bunch of sites but I'm too lazy to go dig. Disney also sent out a nifty 2009 calendar and soundtrack disc.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Madagascar 2... I got some Academy Award screeners, Part Deux...

Got another screener in the mail. I love getting these! The cardboard package is ok, but the insert that holds the DVD really sucks, very flimsy and the DVD keeps popping out, ended up slightly scratching the disc. That's why I put it in another holder. Oh well, who am I to grouse, it's a freebie, so all is good.

I took my 3 year old to see this movie in the theater, he really enjoyed it, the penguins were his favorite, I think.

Next, I'm hoping for a screener of Bolt!

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Wall-E, Presto, Kung Fu Panda... I got some Academy Awards screeners...

This is always a cool time of year for me, I get Academy Awards screeners of animated films! So far I have Wall-E, Presto (Pixar's short film by Doug Sweetland), if you haven't listened to the interview with him at Spline Doctors, I highly recommend it!

Spline Doctors - Doug Sweetland Part 1
Spline Doctors - Doug Sweetland Part 2

I held up the the casings of the screeners to my Class 1 students at Animation Mentor tonight, they ooh'd and aaah'd, which made me laugh. I'm such a nerd with these screeners, I get excited this time of year when I see a padded tan envelope in the mail for me, I know the goodies are here!

It's a great treat, and a good reminder of the hard work that goes into these films.

Everyone have a great holiday season!

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Muppet designer Bonnie Erickson on puppet storytelling and inspiration

Good article. Whenever I get ready to pre-plan for animation, I will always get in front of a video camera, even if it is just my webcam, and act out several versions of whatever action or acting I'm going for. That instant feedback is important to me, and that is what I find appealing about puppetry.

Bonnie Erickson designed and built the inimitable Miss Piggy in 1974 for an early "Muppets" television special, produced by Jim Henson. Puppets, props and storyboards from Henson's prolific career are featured in the traveling exhibit "Jim Henson's Fantastic World." Anika Gupta spoke with Erickson.

You've been designing muppets and mascots for years. What attracts you to them?
The creation of worlds—the whole process of designing characters, putting together a back story, giving the characters an environment in which they can thrive and casting performers who can bring them to life.

Why do puppets appeal to adults as well as children?
They've been a tradition across the world for thousands of years as a form of storytelling. But, until recently, they have't been appreciated in the United States. Now, however, puppetry is finding a niche in the arts—dance, theater and even opera. I think people appreciate the performers' skill as well as the artistry of the puppets themselves. We owe a lot of that to [Muppets creator] Jim Henson's vision.

(full article )

Monday, September 08, 2008

Original Ghostbuster Harold Ramis Confirms Reboot | Wired

25th anniversary of the original 'Ghostbuster' movie next year, like anyone should be surprised that Sony wants to capitalize. I do like how they are being coy about it.
Original Ghostbusters scribe Harold Ramis has clarified rumors regarding the revival of the '80s paranormal franchise.

"Columbia is developing a script for [Ghostbusters III] with my Year One writing partners, Gene Stupnitsky and Lee Eisenberg," Ramis (pictured, right) told the Chicago Tribune. "[Dan] Aykroyd, Ivan Reitman and I are consulting at this point, and according to Dan, Bill Murray is willing to be involved on some level."

Ramis also backed up rumors that Judd Apatow regulars like Seth Rogen, Steve Carrell and Jonah Hill could lend their star power to the third installment.

"Judd Apatow is co-producing Year One and has made several other films for Sony, so of course the studio is hoping to tap into some of the same acting talent," said Ramis. "The concept is that the old ghostbusters would appear in the film in some mentor capacity." (link)

Sunday, September 07, 2008

I think Youtube might be advertising Spore..

They are very subtle.

Wednesday, September 03, 2008

VOLTRON movie in the works?

This definitely could be somewhere on the 'awesome' scale, please don't nuke the fridge!

(actually, don't think that phrase really works with the Voltron property, but I haven't used it in a while, suck it Indy!)

Bill Melendez 1916-2008 |

Man, I grew up tracing 'Peanuts' comic strips, love those specials. RIP.

(more at

Bill Melendez, the Mexican-born American character animator, film director, and film producer, best known for his animation for Warner Bros, UPA and the Peanuts specials and feature films, has passed away.

In 1938, Melendez was hired by Walt Disney to work on animated short films and feature-length films such as Bambi, Fantasia and Dumbo. Three years later, he joined Leon Schlesinger’s team at Warner Bros. studios, where, as a member of the Bob Clampett and Art Davis units, he animated on a number of Bugs Bunny and Daffy Duck shorts. Among the classic Warner Bros. shorts he animated on are Book Revue, The Great Piggy Bank Robbery, Baby Bottleneck, and The Big Snooze. UPA put him on their payroll in 1948 to work on many television commercials, as well as the Gerald McBoing Boing and Madeline shorts.

After a decade working on commercial and industrial films at studios like John Sutherland Productions and Playhouse Pictures, Melendez founded his own production company in 1964. Bill Melendez Productions helped produce the annually broadcast Christmas special A Charlie Brown Christmas, for which he won an Emmy Award and the George Foster Peabody Award despite having to work on short notice and with a tight budget.

Melendez has gone on to do over 75 half-hour Peanuts specials, including the 1989 miniseries, all with partner Lee Mendelson. In 1979, he directed a made-for-TV animated version of The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe.

Saturday, August 02, 2008

Ghostbusters: The Video Game... the controversy continues...

I can't talk about the tempest kicked off by the recent Activision announcement, but Terminal Reality is still moving forwards with the game. It's looking great! There was a hands-on demo of one of the levels at this year's Comic-Con, and it was a smash hit. Lots of very positive feedback from the fans.

It is a lot of fun to animate with the voice cast of the original. Next year is the 25th anniversary of the original 'Ghostbusters' movie, so opportunities like this don't come around often. On my slate of 'to do' for this game is a couple of nice cinematic shots with Ray Stantz (Dan Aykroyd) and a lil bit I came up with for Slimer.

Monday, May 05, 2008

Pixar’s Brad Bird on Fostering Innovation

This was circulating at work, I very much subscribe to the notion of getting everyone into a room and looking at the work that is being generated. Get comments on it. Does this work? What if this was simplified? This isn't working, try this instead.

Getting notes from the director or person who has final say is generally always preferable. Maybe not always convenient, but definitely cuts down on situations where there is misinterpretation. It also fosters a creative atmosphere and allows the artist to ask questions that an intermediate person might not think of.


Pixar’s Brad Bird on Fostering Innovation

This week The McKinsey Quaterly asks: what does stimulating the creativity of animators have in common with developing new product ideas or technology breakthroughs? Apparently, a lot.

In Innovation lessons from Pixar, McKinsey writes:

Brad Bird makes his living fostering creativity. Academy Award-winning director (The Incredibles and Ratatouille) talks about the importance, in his work, of pushing teams beyond their comfort zones, encouraging dissent, and building morale. He also explained the value of “black sheep”—restless contributors with unconventional ideas.

Steve Jobs hired him, says Bird, because after three successes (Toy Story, A Bug’s Life, and Toy Story 2) he was worried Pixar might struggle to stay innovative. Jobs told him: “The only thing we’re afraid of is complacency—feeling like we have it all figured out,” Bird quotes his boss as saying “…We want you to come shake things up.” Bird explains to McKinsey how he did it — and why, for “imagination-based companies to succeed in the long run, making money can’t be the focus.”

The piece is behind McKinsey’s pay wall, but we extract its 9 key lessons below.

Lesson One: Herd Your Black Sheep

The Quarterly: How did your first project at Pixar—The Incredibles—shake things up?

Brad Bird: I said, “Give us the black sheep. I want artists who are frustrated. I want the ones who have another way of doing things that nobody’s listening to. Give us all the guys who are probably headed out the door.” A lot of them were malcontents because they saw different ways of doing things, but there was little opportunity to try them, since the established way was working very, very well. We gave the black sheep a chance to prove their theories, and we changed the way a number of things are done here.

Lesson Two: Perfect is the Enemy of Innovation

The Quarterly: What sorts of things did you do differently?

Brad Bird: I had to shake the purist out of them—essentially frighten them into realizing I was ready to use quick and dirty “cheats” to get something on screen… I’d say, “Look, I don’t have to do the water through a computer simulation program… I’m perfectly content to film a splash in a swimming pool and just composite the water in.” I never did film the pool splash [but] talking this way helped everyone understand that we didn’t have to make something that would work from every angle. Not all shots are created equal. Certain shots need to be perfect, others need to be very good, and there are some that only need to be good enough to not break the spell.

Lesson Three: Look for Intensity

The Quarterly: Do angry people—malcontents, in your words—make for better innovation?

Brad Bird: Involved people make for better innovation… Involved people can be quiet, loud, or anything in-between—what they have in common is a restless, probing nature: “I want to get to the problem. There’s something I want to do.” If you had thermal glasses, you could see heat coming off them.

Lesson Four: Innovation Doesn’t happen in a Vacuum

The Quarterly: How do you build and lead a team?

Brad Bird: I got everybody in a room. This was different from what the previous guy had done; he had reviewed the work in private, generated notes, and sent them to the person… I said, “Look, this is a young team. As individual animators, we all have different strengths and weaknesses, but if we can interconnect all our strengths, we are collectively the greatest animator on earth. So I want you guys to speak up and drop your drawers. We’re going to look at your scenes in front of everybody. Everyone will get humiliated and encouraged together…

Lesson Five: High Morale Makes Creativity Cheap

The Quarterly: It sounds like you spend a fair amount of time thinking about the morale of your teams.

Brad Bird: In my experience, the thing that has the most significant impact on a movie’s budget—but never shows up in a budget—is morale. [what’s true for a movie is true for a startup!] If you have low morale, for every $1 you spend, you get about 25 cents of value. If you have high morale, for every $1 you spend, you get about $3 of value. Companies should pay much more attention to morale.

Lesson Six: Dont Try To “Protect your success”

The Quarterly: Engagement, morale—what else is critical for stimulating innovative thinking?

Brad Bird: The first step in achieving the impossible is believing that the impossible can be achieved. … “You don’t play it safe—you do something that scares you, that’s at the edge of your capabilities, where you might fail. That’s what gets you up in the morning.”

Lesson Six: Steve Jobs Says ‘Interaction = Innovation’

The Quarterly: What does Pixar do to stimulate a creative culture?

Brad Bird: If you walk around downstairs in the animation area, you’ll see that it is unhinged. People are allowed to create whatever front to their office they want. One guy might build a front that’s like a Western town. Someone else might do something that looks like Hawaii…John [Lasseter] believes that if you have a loose, free kind of atmosphere, it helps creativity.

Then there’s our building. Steve Jobs basically designed this building. In the center, he created this big atrium area, which seems initially like a waste of space. The reason he did it was that everybody goes off and works in their individual areas. People who work on software code are here, people who animate are there, and people who do designs are over there. Steve put the mailboxes, the meetings rooms, the cafeteria, and, most insidiously and brilliantly, the bathrooms in the center—which initially drove us crazy—so that you run into everybody during the course of a day. [Jobs] realized that when people run into each other, when they make eye contact, things happen. So he made it impossible for you not to run into the rest of the company.

Lesson Seven: Encourage Inter-disciplinary Learning

The Quarterly: Is there anything else you’d highlight that contributes to creativity around here?

Brad Bird: One thing Pixar does [is] “PU,” or Pixar University. If you work in lighting but you want to learn how to animate, there’s a class to show you animation. There are classes in story structure, in Photoshop, even in Krav Maga, the Israeli self-defense system. Pixar basically encourages people to learn outside of their areas, which makes them more complete. [and more creative].

Lesson Eight: Get Rid of Weak Links

The Quarterly: What undermines Innovation?

Brad Bird: Passive-aggressive people—people who don’t show their colors in the group but then get behind the scenes and peck away—are poisonous. I can usually spot those people fairly soon and I weed them out.

Lesson Nine: Making $$ Can’t Be Your Focus

The Quarterly: How would you compare the Disney of your early career with Pixar today?

Brad Bird: When I entered Disney, it was like a classic Cadillac Phaeton that had been left out in the rain… The company’s thought process was not, “We have all this amazing machinery—how do we use it to make exciting things? We could go to Mars in this rocket ship!” It was, “We don’t understand Walt Disney at all. We don’t understand what he did. Let’s not screw it up. Let’s just preserve this rocket ship; going somewhere new in it might damage it.”

Walt Disney’s mantra was, “I don’t make movies to make money—I make money to make movies.” That’s a good way to sum up the difference between Disney at its height and Disney when it was lost. It’s also true of Pixar and a lot of other companies. It seems counterintuitive, but for imagination-based companies to succeed in the long run, making money can’t be the focus.