Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Studio Ghibli Retrospective

UPDATE: Here's a link to the schedule at the IFC Center.

A major Studio Ghibli retrospective will soon be starting at IFC in New York City and will travel to Los Angeles, Chicago, Washington D.C, Toronto, Boston, San Francisco, Seattle and other cities in 2012. The films will be projected in 35mm. Here's a list of what will show and the dates for IFC:


Director (Producer)
Versions Year RT

Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind
Hayao Miyazaki (Isao Takahata)
Subtitled and dubbed (Uma Thurman, Shia LeBouf, Edward James Olmos, Mark Hamill) 1984 116 min

Castle in the Sky
Hayao Miyazaki (Isao Takahata)
Subtitled only 1986 126 min

My Neighbor Totoro
Hayao Miyazaki (Toru Hara)
Subtitled and dubbed (Dakota Fanning, Elle Fanning, Tim Daly, Frank Welker) 1988 86 min

Kiki’s Delivery Service
Hayao Miyazaki (Hayao Miyazaki)
Subtitled and dubbed (Kirsten Dunst, Phil Hartman, Janeane Garofalo, Debbie Reynolds) 1989 102 min

Only Yesterday
Isao Takahata (Toshio Suzuki)
Subtitled only 1991 118 min

The Ocean Waves
Tomomi Mochizuki (Nozomu Takahashi)
Subtitled only, digital only 1993 72 min

Porco Rosso
Hayao Miyazaki (Toshio Suzuki)
Subtitled and dubbed (Michael Keaton, Cary Elwes, Brad Garrett, David Ogden Stiers) 1992 94 min

Pom Poko
Isao Takahata (Toshio Suzuki)
Subtitled and dubbed (J.K. Simmons, Brian Posehn, Tress MacNeille, John DiMaggio) 1994 119 min

Whisper of the Heart
Yoshifumi Kondo (Toshio Suzuki)
Subtitled and dubbed (Ashley Tisdale, Cary Elwes, Harold Gould, Brittany Snow) 1995 111 min

Princess Mononoke
Hayao Miyazaki (Toshio Suzuki)
Subtitled and dubbed (Billy Crudup, Claire Danes, Gillian Anderson, Minnie Driver, Billy Bob Thornton, Jada Pinkett Smith, John DiMaggio) 1997 134 min

My Neighbors the Yamadas
Isao Takahata (Toshio Suzuki)
Subtitled and dubbed (James Belushi, Molly Shannon, Tress MacNeille) 1999 111 min

Spirited Away
Hayao Miyazaki (Toshio Suzuki)
Subtitled and dubbed (Daveigh Chase, Jason Marsden, Michael Chiklis, Susan Egan) 2001 125 min

The Cat Returns
Hiroyuki Morita (Toshio Suzuki)
Subtitled and dubbed (Anne Hathaway, Cary Elwes, Peter Boyle, Elliott Gould, Tim Curry, Andy Richter, Kristen Bell, Avril Lavigne) 2002 75 min

Howl’s Moving Castle
Hayao Miyazaki (Toshio Suzuki)
Dubbed (Christian Bale, Lauren Bacall, Billy Crystal) 2004 119 min

Hiroyuki Morita (Toshio Suzuki)
Dubbed (Cate Blanchett, Matt Damon, Liam Neeson, Tina Fey) 2008 101 min

For more details, go here.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Mini History Lesson

Profiles in History is having an auction entitled Icons of Animation on December 17. While the majority of items are out of my price range (maybe all of them actually), you can download a catalog of the auction for free.

Even if you're not in the market to buy, the catalog is a mini history lesson by itself. It contains art from Disney, MGM, Warner Bros, Fleischer and Hanna Barbera. There is work by Bill Tytla, Fred Moore, Carl Barks, Bob Clampett, Virgil Ross, Irv Wyner, Mary Blair, Preston Blair, Gustav Tenggren, Charles Schulz, etc. There are worse ways to spend time than by paging through the download and admiring so much beautiful stuff.

(link via Disney History)

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

The Genius That Was Pocoyo

If you've ever worked on a TV series, you know the limitations. The budgets are tight and the schedules are short. There is always the danger of attempting something too ambitious for TV or letting the limitations restrict everyone's creativity. Either way, the end result is mediocrity.

Usually, the first casualty of TV schedules and budgets is the animation itself. Whether it is subcontracted to a low wage studio or not, it still takes a lot of time to get done. Shows often throw the animation overboard, relying instead on the scripts, the audio tracks and the designs to keep the audience entertained.

Occasionally, though, somebody decides otherwise. Pocoyo is a pre-school cgi show made in Spain. The creators, Guillermo García Carsí, Luis Gallego and David Cantolla, made conscious design choices that free them up to move the characters. What are they?
  • No backgrounds
  • Little to no dialogue
  • A limited number of characters
Most TV series will have the characters go into new environments at least occasionally. That requires design and in cgi also requires modelling, texturing and lighting. By eliminating backgrounds all together, there's a significant time and money saving.

Many pre-school shows just use a narrator. It makes it easier to create versions of the show in different languages in that there is only a narration track to replace and it can be done with only one performer, not a cast. The lack of dialogue also forces the animators to communicate visually.

By limiting the number of characters, once the design, modeling and rigging of the characters is done, that's it for the series. No new neighbors, visitors, villains, etc.

As the design, modeling, rigging and texturing jobs are limited in scope, the money normally spent on them can be put into performance. The Pocoyo characters move in distinct ways. Their rigging is excellent, resulting in playful shape changes and funny movements.

In addition to these creative choices, the show has something that's hard to write into a budget or schedule: charm. It's just fun to watch. There are pre-school shows I find deathly boring or puerile. Pocoyo is a show that doesn't need apologies. It works for pre-schoolers, for their parents and certainly for animators.

Two other things are worth mentioning. Where many North American shows now default to 11 minute episodes, Pocoyo is roughly 7 minutes per episode. That gives the show a snappy pace where other shows feel padded to fill their running times. The other thing is that for years, the conventional wisdom was that holds don't work in cgi. Pocoyo proves they do. It's not the cgi that makes holds feel dead, it's the designs and style of movement. Pocoyo's designs are cartoony enough and the movement stylized enough that holds work. That's another money-saver, too.

The first season is the best. Unfortunately, when it came time to do another season, somebody decided to "improve" the series. While Pocoyo is a perfect example of "less is more," somebody decided that less wasn't enough. Characters were added and so were environments. Instead of Pocoyo and friends living in limbo, they now visited cliché environments like the sea bottom and outer space, making it just another pre-school show.

While the original vision lasted, however, Pocoyo showed that there are artistic choices that can overcome TV's budgets and schedules. As TV budgets continue to shrink, animation doesn't have to be sacrificed unless the producers want it to be.

Wednesday, November 09, 2011

Bil Keane R.I.P

Bil Keane, cartoonist of the comic strip The Family Circus and the father of Disney animator Glen Keane, passed away on Tuesday at the age of 89. Details here.

Monday, November 07, 2011

A Discussion of the Kirby Copyright Decision

I'm sure some of you have your eyes glaze over every time I bring up Jack Kirby or copyright. However, I keep mentioning it as intellectual property, more than factories or natural resources, has become one of the most valuable assets in the world today.

The decision against the Kirby estate in its attempt to recover copyrights on many of the Marvel characters is a warning to anyone who creates for a living.

At the Center for Cartoon Studies, a graduate school program in comics located in Vermont, Stephen R. Bissette, cartoonist, publisher and creator rights advocate, discussed the Kirby decision with lawyer Oliver Goodenough, a professor at the Vermont Law School. The audio runs an hour and covers issues like nepotism, work-for-hire, risk, ethics and the history of employer-employee relations in the comic book field. I recommend it highly.

Maybe Not So Weak?

I haven't seen this film, but Movie Morlocks, the official blog of Turner Classic Movies, has a review and stills from the French animated feature A Cat in Paris. It looks like a film I'd like to see, though I have no idea if it will get a North American release outside of Los Angeles. In any case, I will keep an eye out for it.

Sunday, November 06, 2011

A Weak Year for Animation?

The following 18 films have been submitted to the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences in the category of Best Animated Feature. With 18 submissions, there can be five nominees.

The Adventures of Tintin
Alois Nebel

Alvin and the Chipmunks: Chipwrecked
Arthur Christmas
Cars 2
A Cat in Paris
Chico & Rita
Gnomeo & Juliet
Happy Feet Two
Hoodwinked Too! Hood vs. Evil
Kung Fu Panda 2
Mars Needs Moms
Puss in Boots
The Smurfs
Winnie the Pooh

I have to admit to not having seen many of these films and some of them have not yet been released. Many of them are sequels or spin-offs. At least three contain motion capture (Tintin, Happy Feet 2 and Mars Needs Moms). And none have a strong buzz, at least so far as I've heard.

While it is great that this many animated features are being made, both from an employment and audience standpoint, it's disheartening that this year's Oscar winner will likely be something that won't stand the test of time.

My guess for the five nominations are: Cars 2, Tintin, Rango, Rio and Winnie the Pooh. The latter will be there only to maintain some visibility for hand drawn animation. The eventual winner will depend a lot on the critical and box office reception of Tintin. Should that film be a hit, I expect it to win, regardless of the fact that I think it's completely wrong-headed. If it doesn't have a strong showing, I would guess the winner will be either Cars 2 or Rango.

The nominations will be announced on January 24.