Wednesday, December 31, 2014

New Year's Resolutions for Animators

What should an animator's new year's resolutions be? Animation is a huge and growing business, a far cry from the cottage industry it used to be even twenty years ago. But it is a competitive world, and good animators need to be smart to stay on top of their game. So here's a checklist for some simple ways to maintain your edge in 2015

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Merry Christmas from the REAL Tiny Tim

Spot the Difference
Way back in 1971 my Dad's animation studio at no. 13 Soho Square in London took on their biggest project yet - a TV adaptation of Charles Dickens'  A Christmas Carol. The twenty-two minute TV special was produced by Chuck Jones and many scenes were animated by Ken Harris, one of Chuck's star animators from Road Runner days. Other animators included Grim Natwick and Emery Hawkins.

Thursday, November 6, 2014

What Does It Take To Become a Successful Character Designer? - Luis Grane Explains

BoxTrolls - designs by Luis Grane

Luis Grane is an animator and character designer whose work can be seen on dozens of animated films including Prince of EqyptHotel Transylvania, Ratatouille, and Open Season. Most recently he did character design work for The Box Trolls, recently released worldwide in theatres. FLiP asked him to talk about the work of a character designer at a big studio - and how the heck you get there in the first place.

Monday, October 27, 2014

What Makes a Great Animator? A Personal View from Mike Nguyen

Korean Goshawk - animation by Mike Nguyen
Mike Nguyen is a veteran animator who has worked on many classic Hollywood feature films such as "Beauty and The Beast" and "Space Jam".  He was a lead animator on Brad Bird's classic "The Iron Giant" and also on "Osmosis Jones", and has been working for a number of years on his own independent animated feature film  "My Little World".  FLiP asked him to talk about what makes a great animator.

Sunday, October 26, 2014

The World of Free - How Can Freelance Artists Survive in Modern Digital Media? Garrett Gilchrist Explains

Freelance artists, especially those just starting out, often feel like everyone wants stuff done for free. Unpaid internships, free work "to get your name out there", or payment deferred "until the project gets financed" - such are the perils of the modern digital economy. Garrett Gilchrist has been working as an independent artist, writer and filmmaker for twenty years, and is best known for his "Recobbled Cut" of Richard Williams' unfinished animated feature The Thief and the Cobbler. In this interview he talks about what is wrong with modern digital media, how the "World of Free" came about - and what can be done about it.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

SONG OF THE SEA: Not Quite a Review - by Steve Burch

Song of The Sea premiered in London on Sunday Night
It is not often that you get a European animated feature released. It is not often that you get an animated movie, be it a short or feature length, that is an absolute delight to watch. Song of the Sea is both of these. Directed by Academy award-nominated filmmaker Tomm Moore and released by Cartoon Saloon, the movie Song of the Sea transports you into an astounding multi layered magical world, filled with a wonderful collection of Irish human and fairy folk lore characters, whose personalities both unfold and grow richer as the tale develops.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Mikkel Brons-Frandsen Launches His Free Game "Look"

Look byMikkel Brons-Frandsen
Mikkel Brøns-Frandsen is one of a number of talented students to have graduated from the excellent Animation Workshop in Denmark in recent years. Mikkel has just released a free new game for the PC, titled "Look - an Interactive Poem". FLiP asked him to talk about the game and how it came about. 

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Happy Birthday Pete Western! - as Drawn by Comic legend Mike Western

Happy Birthday Pete!
Today is the birthday of animator and director Pete Western, and here at FLiP we thought we would share some of the hand-drawn cards sent to him by his illustrator father Mike Western over the years. They serve as snapshots through the decades from the 70s to the noughties. I have know Pete for almost 30 years - we first met on Who Framed Roger Rabbit? - but I had no idea his dad was a famous comic book artist. More than that, I recognise Mike Western's style from the war comics that I and my friends read avidly as a child, re-fighting WW2 in our living rooms with plastic soldiers and hand-painted Spitfires.

Saturday, October 11, 2014

Remembering Donna

Remembering Donna
Readers of FLiP may have noticed that Steve, FliP's founder and the authentic voice of this blog, hasn't posted much lately. Steve lost his wife Donna to cancer earlier this year, and blogging hasn't been high on his list of priorities since then. Donna may not be with us, but she is certainly not forgotten. Steve recently unveiled a memorial to her at the skate park that she was so much responsible for - taking on the burden of mayoral office in a small town to try to make things better for her local community.

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Submit your Indie Film Project now to Cartoon Movie

Cartoon Movie 2014
The Deadline to submit a feature film project to Cartoon Movie is 26 November 2014. Are you looking for co-producers, financing and distributors for your animated feature film project? If so, you should submit it to Cartoon Movie! If your film gets selected, you will be able to pitch it to almost 1,000 animation and industry professionals from forty countries. Present at Cartoon Movie are 200 buyers, including 120 distributors & sales agents.

Monday, September 15, 2014


KAHLIL GIBRAN’S THE PROPHET played at Tiff on Friday night at the gorgeous Winter Garden Theatre. This film, which was produced by Salma Hayek and directed by Roger Allers, has no distribution at present. I hope that this is rectified since it certainly should be seen by larger audiences. It uses a FANTASIA like construction with animated sequences illustrating Gibran’s poetry in a wide variety of styles. The original book of poetry had a very slight setting where AlMustafa is addressing the people of Orphalese before taking ship for home. In the film the linking narrative, written by Roger Allers, has a dark undertone. It involves Almitra, a wild little girl, her mother Kamila, and Halim, a Turkish guard who befriend the imprisoned poet Mustafa, who may or may not be returning home on his ship.
The story is well directed, with animation produced at Bardel Animation, Vancouver. I was amused to see that I recognized Nik Ranieri’s animation long before I read the credits. It was also nice to see other old friends from Disney working on this picture…along with a few of our Sheridan grads!
The art direction is extremely varied and most of it is outstanding. I was particularly impressed with Michael Socha’s opening sequence, which beautifully illustrated the meaning of the poem in a stunning technique. Tomm Moore’s and Bill Plympton’s sequences also nicely illustrated the subject matter and displayed their characteristic styles. One or two sequences were less interesting to me but all were a refreshing change from mass produced ‘franchise’ films, and the ending was genuinely moving. You care about what happens to Mustafa. I hope that some distributor cares about this movie enough to take a risk on it. It will do well in festivals and ‘art houses’—and maybe more, if people get a chance to see it. That theatre was packed to the rafters!

KAHLIL GIBRAN’S THE PROPHET played at Tiff on Friday night at the gorgeous Winter Garden Theatre. This film, which was produced by Salma Hayek and directed by Roger Allers, has no distribution at present. I hope that this is rectified since it certainly should be seen by larger audiences. It uses a FANTASIA like construction with animated sequences illustrating Gibran’s poetry in a wide variety of styles. 

Friday, September 12, 2014

What Makes a Great Animator? James Chiang Explains

The animator who brought you surfing penguins
Animator, Director and artist James "JC" Chiang has worked as an animator on many feature films including Robots, Ice Age - The Meltdown, Surf's Up and Open Season, and was animation director on the 2008 Veggie Tales movie. He teaches animation at Animation Mentor, and is a fine artist in his own right. We asked him to talk about what, exactly, makes a great animator.

Friday, August 29, 2014

Director Frank Gladstone talks about his new film "Hero of Color City"

Frank Gladstone is a producer, director, animation entrepreneur and the Executive Director of ASIFA Hollywood, the organisation that hosts the annual ANNIE awards - the "animation Oscars". Frank has just finished directing his first feature length animated film, The Hero of Color City, which will be released in cinemas in October. In a Skype interview (a first for FLiP!) we asked him to talk about the challenges of directing an indie animated film and bringing it to the screen.

Monday, August 25, 2014

Timo Vuorensola, Director of Iron Sky, explains Crowd Funding for Beginners

Timo Vuorensola, director of Iron Sky, gave a lecture at Closing The Gap, a European conference on film financing, explaining how to crowd fund an independent feature film. Iron Sky was initially funded through online sources, and later on secured more conventional funding on the back of the crowd-sourced contributions. Timo explained how he pulled off such an ambitious and successful project by starting an online fan base to help make his film.

Saturday, August 2, 2014

THE STRESSFUL ADVENTURES OF BOXHEAD AND ROUNDHEAD: Independent Animated Feature made (almost literally) on a Shoestring

The computer has not only made it possible to animate in three or four dimensions, it's eliminated a great deal of the repetitive work associated with drawn animation and made it possible for independents and students to have production values that once were only the provenance of very high budget features. It's amazing to consider that THE STRESSFUL ADVENTURES OF BOXHEAD AND ROUNDHEAD, a new independent animated feature from animator/instructor Elliot Cowan, had a smaller budget than many animated commercials.
The gorgeous art direction  by Elliot Cowan and Neil Campbell Ross gives the film a stylish look that does not resemble that of other films. The animation style, which is simultaneously whip-like and rubbery, perfectly suits the story of the commercialization of art and the drawbacks of living in the city--and also living in the country.
Boxhead and Roundhead are two friends who live in a small country shack menaced by carnivores, one of whom is the size of a small building.
When the city shoots a garbage projectile too far and destroys their home, the two friends travel there to seek redress. On the way Roundhead explores the arts while Boxhead endures a demeaning 'day job'. 
The film's message is that it isn't hard work that guarantees success; and it also isn't art. Boxhead and Roundhead are a 21st century Laurel and Hardy who seem destined to fail at even the simplest tasks. 
The music by the Gadflys was well chosen and the voice work by Elliot Cowan (as most of the characters) and his cast was excellent. I did find the music mixed a little high at some points, and since the film is very dialogue-heavy this sometimes interfered; but it was easy to follow the story.
The Stressful Adventures of Boxhead and Roundhead took two years to make and was partially funded by the Romanian film office.  It premièred at the Melbourne Animation Festival in 2014. Animators contemplating making an independent feature (and there are more of them than ever before) should watch this film and read Elliot's entries on his blog describing how it was done.  It's also a lot of fun to read.
Congratulations, Elliot...and I hope to see this film on the big screen soon.

Friday, August 1, 2014

Why Students Need to Fail

Jason Thompson
At the recent SAS (Society of Animation Studies) conference in Toronto, Sheridan professor Jason Thompson gave a brief but fascinating talk on "Why our students need to fail". Citing the book by Guy Claxton What is the point of school?, Jason argued that school is important because of eight critical things that students must learn:

Saturday, July 26, 2014

Do students need to go to university to learn to animate?

The TAAFI Education Panel
On Monday 16 June TAAFI - the Toronto Animation Art Festival International - hosted a panel talk on the subject of  “An Animation Education”. The sub-title of the talk was “Do you need to go to university to learn animation?”. In other words, given all the opportunities now available to study online, should  students still commit to the expense and time of a full undergraduate education?

On the panel to discuss the question were Richard Arroyo – head of Games at,  Mark Jones, chair, School of Creative Arts, Aubrey Mintz, Head of Animation, California State University Long Beach, Brooke Keesling, Manager, Animation Talent, and Tony Tarantini, Sheridan College Professor of Animation. The first question was this:

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Story Masterclass with Frank Gladstone in London on 16th August - just £6!

Lupus films, the folks who brought you The Snowman and The Snowdog, are running a one day masterclass with animation industry veteran Frank Gladstone on August 16th in London - for just £6. Anyone who is serious about story telling in animation should attend - I'll most likely be there myself, furiously taking notes. Frank is a world-class talent whose credits include some of the biggest hits in animation history. I attended his month-long story seminar at Lupus last year. Full details below:

Monday, July 14, 2014

T Dan Hofstedt reveals The Secret of Animation

T. Dan Hofstedt - animation supremo
My old friend and former kumrad at Disney animation, T Dan Hofsted, recently posted at Facebook a reply to a student asking how to become an animator. T Dan is one of the best animators I know, a veteran of countless Disney hits including The Lion King, Pocahontas, Hercules and Mulan, so he ought to know a thing or two about how to make it as an animator. Here is what he wrote:

Saturday, July 5, 2014

The Neuroscience of animation

Your brain, but animated
At this year's SAS (Society of Animation Studies) conference in Toronto, a number of presentations focused on the subject of Animation and the Mind - The Neuroscience of Animation. This field of research tries to look at animation from a neuroscientific point of view, asking what it is about the design and structure of our brains that influences how we watch and enjoy animation.

Monday, June 30, 2014

Flipping The Classroom

Alex Williams
Alex Williams' presentation at the Society of Animation Studies lasted only five minutes but had more content than many I heard that ran four times as long. Alex recommends 'flipping' the classroom by assigning lecture videos as homework (as he does with Animation Apprecntice, his online course) and concentrating on work in progress during studio sessions. "The beauty of an online lecture is that if you don't get it the first time, you watch it again and again". Of course...some students don't watch the videos. These are the same students who 'glance' at reading assignments in the textbooks (translation: they stared at the cover for a few seconds but didn't open the book.) And they are the same students who won't do well in class and who won't get great grades. Ultimately, you can't make people learn...they have to want to do it. But it does make sense to maximize studio time and minimize lecture time, since we are working in visual media. Alex can 'pitch' really well, too.


Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Nancy Beiman explains why animators ought to study Charlie Chaplin

The Little Tramp. Photo: Wikipedia
Why should animators watch Charlie Chaplin films? Nancy Beiman, former supervising animator at Disney Feature Animation and now one of the key professors at Sheridan College in Toronto (and contributor to FLiP), has the answer. It's because good animators are pantomime artists, and Chaplin was "the greatest pantomimer of them all". At the 2014 SAS (Society of Animation Studies) conference in Toronto, Nancy explained how animation and silent film comedy developed together, inspiring one another to perfect the art of physical comedy.

Monday, June 9, 2014

Pete Western reports on "A Moment in Time" at BFI - the first ever public screening of "The Thief and the Cobbler" in the UK

Animation people in the UK were in for a rare treat on the first Sunday in June. AMPAS [Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences] arranged a screening of the work print of Richard Williams’ lost masterpiece “The Thief & the Cobbler” followed by a Q & A with the man himself. This event was all the more extraordinary because until AMPAS got in touch with Mr. Williams to tell him they were digitizing and archiving the original director’s cut, he had refused to answer all questions about the film.

Friday, June 6, 2014

D-Day 70 years on - filmed by Uncle Ken

Canadian riflemen land at Juno Beach, D Day, 6 June 1944. Colour photo by Ken Bell
This article about my great-cunle Ken Bell was first posted last year, but today, the 70th anniversary of the D-Day landings, seems like a good day to re-visit Uncle Ken's life and work.

Ken Bell was my great uncle. Before WW2 he was a keen amateur photographer and, soon after Canada declared war on Nazi Germany in 1939, he joined up, offering his services to the newly formed Canadian Army Film and Photo Unit, a propaganda outfit which would record Canada's involvement in the war.

On 6 June 1944, 70 years ago today, along with tens of thousands of American, British, Canadian, and other Allied forces, Ken landed at Juno Beach in Normandy with the Highland Light Infantry of Canada, on day one of Operation Overlord.

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Remembering Caron Creed

Caron Creed at work on Who Framed Roger Rabbit?. Photo: Pete Western
Caron Creed, animator, designer, wife and mother, died in her sleep last night. She had fought breast cancer for over a year, but it returned with a vengeance and she was taken into hospital on Sunday. Caron was a talented artist and huge fun to be around. On Who Framed Roger Rabbit?, where I met her, she was always the first to lead a friday night expedition to the local pub, and then beyond to the Camden Palace, where "Rabbit" animators unwound after a week of toil.

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Lawrence Marvit introduces Myths from the Underground - out tomorrow!

Myths from the Underground is a new graphic novel from Eisner-nominated artist Lawrence Marvit. Ever wondered what happened to all the gods from ancient mythology whom no-one worships anymore? Wonder no more. They're still here, very much alive and among us - you just haven't noticed them. In an exclusive interview with FLiP, Lawrence explains how it all came about.

Monday, May 26, 2014

Losing Donna

On May 16, my wife, Donna, lost her life to cancer.   She was first diagnosed in December of 2010, and over the past three and a half years overcame every obstacle.  I wrote about her fight in FLiP.  But two weeks ago the obstacles became too many, too steep, and too overwhelming.  I was with her at the end, and she died peacefully.

Sunday, May 11, 2014

What does a visual effects supervisor do, exactly?

Matt Johnson (left) in Los Angeles on Beverly Hills Chihuahua
What does a Visual Effects Supervisor actually do – and how do you become one? Matt Johnson, veteran VFX supervisor on dozens of Hollywood hits, including World War Z, Into The Woods, V for Vendetta, X Men, and Chronicles of Narnia, explains what a Visual Effects Supervisor actually does for a living, and how an aspiring film-maker might become one.

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

UK Premiere of "A Moment in Time" - The Director's Cut of The Thief and The Cobbler - at BFI on June 1st

On June 1st, the BFI (British Film Institute) in association with the Academy of Motion Arts and Sciences is screening the UK and European premiere of "The Thief and the Cobbler: A Moment in Time" - the long-awaited Director's Cut of Richard Williams' lost masterpiece.

BFI will be screening a new digital version of the reconstructed work-print at the BFI/Southbank in London. Richard Williams will be in discussion with veteran film critic David Robinson following the screening. BFI members can buy tickets now - and tickets go on sale to the general public on May 13th

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Disney Animation and the Autistic

CBS Sunday Morning ran a story about an autistic boy who related to the world through Disney animated films - specifically the old school, hand drawn films. It's an amazing piece that underscores how character animation can be truly magic.

Saturday, April 19, 2014

James Baker's Days at Cuckoo's Nest

sketch by James Baker
I first met James Baker at Cuckoo's Nest Studio in Taiwan, in 1986.  He was working on Hanna Barbera shows,  and I was there for retakes on The Brave Little Toaster.  He gives an hilarious account of his experiences in his blog.  I can attest to the veracity of his tales - he tells it how it was!
Check it out!

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Richard Bazley introduces Lost Treasure Hunt - just launched at Kickstarter

Richard Bazley is an animator, director and film-maker who has just launched a new animated film project at Kickstarter - Lost Treasure Hunt, a history adventure series intended to entertain and educate. The project is being made in partnership with the public broadcasting giant PBS. Here Richard talks about the genesis of the project, and how the public can get involved - and help bring it to life.

Sunday, April 13, 2014

British animation industry booms

Calamity Island. Shipwrecks... and penguins
According to an article in today's Guardian, the British cartooning industry is booming as never before, thanks in large part to the tax credits put in place by Chancellor George Osbourne in April 2013. CBeebies, the UK's most popular broadcaster of animated children's content, is apparently doubling its output, and it is largely local talent which will reap the rewards of this new boom in UK cartoon spending.

Friday, April 11, 2014

DNeg and Elizabeth Murdoch to open Locksmith Animation studio in the UK

According to yesterday's Variety, Elizabeth Murdoch and the London based visual effects house Double Negative are opening an animation studio in the UK, to be known as Locksmith Animation. The venture is being piloted by Sarah Smith, who was the writer and co-director of the Aardman animated feature film Arthur Christmas.

Friday, April 4, 2014

Wide Mike in Pharmacy

Wide Mike by Steve Moore
"This tells me nothing."  he said with a groan, gently flicking the paper back to me from behind the pharmacy counter.

My wife was getting her bi-weekly chemotherapy, and she sent me down to pharmacy to answer a question they had regarding her new insurance carrier.  She did not yet have a new insurance card, so she gave me sheet of paper with all the information printed on it, with the instruction, "Show this to pharmacy."  The pharmacist, a wide, miserable sack of paste named Mike, wasn't in the mood for my sheet of paper, and dismissed me with a passive smirk, avoiding eye contact.

Thursday, April 3, 2014

DreamWorks' artist Nassos Vakalis introduces his latest short film: "Dinner for Few"

Nassos Vakalis is a story board artist, director and animator who has worked for many years at DreamWorks, storyboarding on just about every DreamWorks film you can think of over the last ten or fifteen years. He and I worked together on many projects, during the course of which I learned to respect his skill, versatility and speed. Nassos also writes and directs his own short films; his most recent short is the impressively designed and very ambitious Dinner for Few. FLIP asked him a few questions about how he managed to complete such a complex project.

Sunday, March 30, 2014

A Letter from Tee

I recently came across a box full of keepsakes from my days as a CalArts student.  Among the memory jogging items were sketches and a letter by animation legend T. Hee.  Tee was one of my teachers, and we bonded over our love for the skewed and whimsical.  Finding these items was a thrill, as I had not seen them in almost thirty years.

At school,  Tee would make the rounds and hang with anyone interested in his input.  He would place tracing paper over my designs and, with a few tweaks, make it work.  He would make clucking sounds with his tongue while marking little x-es on my tangents.  He would move an arm or leg a little to get balance or silhouette.   I took advantage of any opportunity to sit with him as he went over my sketches and storyboards.

Saturday, March 29, 2014

The Evolution of Convolution

The following story is fiction.  But it is not bullshit.

My neighbor, Dick, is in the pharmaceutical business.  His hero is Dr. Henri Breault, who, in 1967, invented the child-proof cap.  Dick was four years old at the time, and still recalls his first encounter with such a cap, when he swallowed nine of his father's pills for back pain and had to have his stomach pumped.  He was only four, but had outsmarted Dr. Breault.  Dick has dedicated his adult life to making something as simple as taking a pill a major hassle by designing packaging that is not only child-proof, but a major challenge to adults as well.

Dick was participating in a trade show called "The Evolution of Convolution", and I was given a free pass.  I didn't feel like going, but after last month's blizzard,  my snow plow guy had dumped my driveway snow into his driveway, and I felt I owed him one.

I had no idea what to expect, but never imagined it would be as big as it was.  Apparently, convolution is a big business.   As I entered the convention hall, I was handed a map with a schematic of the booths.  The room was laid out like a maze, presumably in keeping with the theme.  There was a numbered list of vendors, though the booths on the map were lettered.

Saturday, March 22, 2014

Disney Animation Florida is Still Closed

Roller Coaster Rabbit, produced at Disney Feature Animation Florida.

This month marks the the tenth anniversary of the closing of Disney Feature Animation Florida; not that anyone is celebrating.

Florida based animator Hugo Giraud recalled his days at the studio:

"I worked on Brother Bear as in-house freelancer, and was let go right after it. I was hoping to come back on My Peoples (or A Few Good Ghosts as it was renamed) since I'd seen some 2D development character art done by Andreas Deja, director Barry Cook, and animator Paul Kashuk.  I had friends at the studio and some of them were starting CG training because My Peoples was going to be a 2D/3D hybrid. 

Just as they were supposed to start production on the movie, the plug was pulled. David Stainton was seen as the culprit, since the direction of the studio was going strictly CG. There were people that were in that studio for 10 years and more - that was their life and all they knew. They'd grown up together, like a family, and not only shared work time together but been through houses, partners, marriages, kids born and grow up, divorces, etc... It was a really somber vibe, a lot of people didn't know what they were going to do. 

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Free live webinar at Escape Studios on March 26

I'll be doing a live animation webinar courtesy of London's Escape Studios on Wednesday 26 March at 6pm. We'll be tackling the animation of multi-legged creatures, and I'll be demonstrating a technique that allows you to animate apparently complex creatures in a simple way, creating sophisticated animation in a clean and efficient workflow. It's only an hour long, it'll be fun - and it's completely free!

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

How do animation graduates find work in the animation industry?

How animation graduates find work in the animation industry? Now that I spend a lot of my time teaching, I get asked this question a great deal. There is no simple or straightforward answer. Jobs in the entertainment industry have always been highly competitive, and the supply of trained graduates competing for the best entry-level positions has never been greater. Official jobs postings, word of mouth, rumours in the pub, personal contacts, even cold-calling - all of these can be effective ways to find work in the business. Below are the twelve key rules that I think are vital for success.

Monday, March 10, 2014

Bugs Bunny is Still Dead

Bugs Bunny in the year 2000.  Bob Clampett got it right.

The animation world is a tither over Warner Bros. announcement of it's umpteenth revamp of the Looney Tunes franchise in Wabbit - A Looney Tunes Production.  Fans are either salivating or puking.  Much ado about Bugsy.

Sunday, March 2, 2014

Are universities failing the UK's visual effects industry?

Pat Joseph, co-founder and chief creative officer of The Mill, certainly thinks so. In this post at the Televisual blog,  Joseph argues that higher education in the UK is not responding to the needs of the visual effects industry, and is not training students of the digital arts to a sufficiently high calibre. Critics of UK government policy argue that tax breaks for the creative industries create unfair competition (see thursday's post about the sad end of Rythm and Hues). But could it be that, despite the tax breaks, the university sector is the achilles heel of visual effects work in the UK?

Thursday, February 27, 2014

Life After Pi - the sad end of R&H

In this excellent 30 minute documentary, the film-makers explore the sad end of Rythm and Hues, one of the world's finest visual effects houses, pioneers in photo realistic character animation. The film explores how R&H strove to be the best in the world, but also what was the financial cost of that search for excellence.

The chief villain of the film is the film subsidies coming from countries like Canada and the UK, where the Government offers tax rebates to create financial incentives for work to be done at home, stimulating domestic creative industries. What this leads to, of course, is a competitive auction for visual effects work, with artists acting as "pixel gypsies", following the studios to far-away cities in search of work, as changing tax subsidies send work to different countries.

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Huffington Posts' "Jessie" Theory

An article in the Huffington Post puts forward an interesting theory:  Woody's female counterpart Jessie originally belonged to…….belonged to……..

Andy's mother!

Here's the article:  

You tell me, are they right?

Monday, February 24, 2014

Harold Ramis, One of the Good Guys


I was very sorry to hear of Harold Ramis' death today.  He was one of my favorites on SCTV in the '70's.  Watching that show as an 8th grade super 8 filmmaker, I never dreamt I would one day get to work with Moe Green himself.

Thirteen years later, Tom Wilhite at Hyperion Animtion hired me to direct the feature Rover Dangerfield.  I was only 26, and had more hubris than experience.  It was Rodney Dangerfield's baby, and he got Harold Ramis to write a script.  It wasn't a horrible first draft, though Harold did not put his name on it.  With story artist Rebecca Rees, who was pregnant with her son Ian,  we started working to improve the script.

I had a meeting with Rodney in his suite at the Beverly Hilton.  Just me and him.  He started to read the script aloud - a 120 page script.  He would read a little, stop and talk about it, then read some more.  Feeling trapped, I tried to talk about some of the broad strokes changes I wanted to make, as if the 69 year-old comedy genius gave a firm crap about the story ideas of a 26 year old kid.  "I thought you liked the script."  Rodney kept saying.  I backpedalled like Ralph Kramden, "Hamina hamina hamina…."  Not only was this not a first draft for him, it was the shooting script.

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Farewell Frank Terry

Frank ran the Character Animation course at CalArts
 Animator and teacher Frank Terry has died. According to his family:
"....(Frank) passed away on Tuesday, February 11th in the morning.  It was sudden in the sense that his diagnosis of pulmonary fibrosis only came 2 1/2 months ago and he had a precipitous decline from Friday, February 7 until he passed on Tuesday".

Frank ran the animation program at the California Institute of the Arts for many years, including the years 1996-1998 when I taught evening classes there in character animation, driving up the 5 freeway two nights a week to give lectures at the very strange but very creative place that is CalArts.

Sunday, February 16, 2014

Nancy Beiman Talks to NPR

FLiP's own Nancy Beiman has now had two major interviews in one month.  First, as part of the Vanity Fair story on the early days of the CalArts Character Animation program, and now a follow up interview on NPR's Weekend Edition, where she dishes a bit on life in A-113….

Friday, February 14, 2014

Introducing Nano Films

Everyone needs an animated film, even if they don't know it yet. Ten years ago, no-one could have imagined that every plumber would need a website. I predict that, in ten years time, every business will want a short animated film that tells the story of what they do.

Maybe it will be an animated logo, a mini infomercial, something to play on a smart phone, or a short film on their website, something that makes their business unique and different, something that reaches audiences (especially younger ones) who don't want to read pages of dull text on a static site.

The only trouble is - the cost. Animation is time-consuming and expensive. But what if we could make animated films really cheaply, for a tiny budget? Then, surely, everyone could afford one, and businesses all over the world would queue up to commission small films.

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Looking Backward

I'm writing this as a bit of an addendum to the VANITY FAIR article on the early years of Cal Arts.

I'm pleased and honored to have been included in the list of interviewees, and think that the article is a good snapshot of that time. But like a snapshot, it only shows a few details, while others are fuzzy, and there may be distortions to the image. This post will attempt to bring one issue in particular back into focus.

One attitude that prevailed at that time was that if you weren't going to Disney you weren't going anywhere. After all, the Cal Arts program had been set up to retrain artists for the Disney studio as the older artists retired. We ate, breathed and learned from Disney films (This monolithic attitude began to crack in our second year, thanks to my classmate Darrell van Citters, who arranged visits after hours from artists Michael Maltese, Mike Lah, Maurice Noble and Ed Love as a hint of what else was out there.) Cal Arts sponsored a talk by Chuck Jones and another by Richard Williams.

Sunday, February 9, 2014

The Hunched and Goofy in Vanity Fair

The latest issue of Vanity Fair has a fantastic article on the genesis of the CalArts Character Animation program and the Hollywood heavyweights who got their start there.  Among them is FLiP's own Nancy Beiman, who is extensively quoted in the piece.  Congrats, Nancy!

Saturday, February 8, 2014

Fail Faster

The idea behind this excellent four minute video is - that since all of us are likely fail in almost everything we do (at least at first) - then the key to success is to fail faster.  The argument runs like this: no idea comes out fully formed, it needs to be tweaked, revised and perfected, but you have to get it out there to see how best to improve it.

Thursday, February 6, 2014

The Interview - brought to you by The Animation Workshop

The Interview

The Animation Workshop in Viborg, Denmark, is one of Europe's leading animation schools, perhaps the best English-language animation school outside of North America. It's a hugely creative place, packed with energy and life, full of talented students doing their best to learn animation and, in their final year, make their own mark on the industry with a stunning short film. This year is no exception.

One of this year's most successful films is Interview, a funny and surprising film with a delicious twist. Two of its creators, Mikkel Okholm and Mikkel Brons-Frandsen, talked to FLiP about how it came about.

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Big Bruddah, with the Goo Goo Googley Eyes

Don Martin predicted Mark Zuckerberg in a 1970's Mad Magazine. 
The Spirit of St. Louis was playing recently on TV - James Stewart as Charles Lindbergh, an aw-shucks guy making the world's first solo trans-Atlantic flight.   The film relies on Stewart's voice-over narration to express Lindbergh's inner thoughts during the flight.  It brought to mind an early Saturday Night Live spoof of the film featuring Buck Henry, with much sillier voice-over, and a running gag where Lindbergh peers out the window, only to be splashed with a bucket of water.  He is ultimately visited by the Landshark.

Curious to see the skit, I did a Google search.  I didn't find a video clip, but I did find a transcript, from an episode on May, 21, 1977.  I was in 8th grade, but my memory of the skit was very good, considering I had not seen it since.  Curiosity satisfied.

A few days later, I got an e-mail on my g-mail account from, subject line, "Saturday Night Live, May 14, 1977".   Their message was:

Thursday, January 30, 2014

Stephan Franck talks about Silver - courtesy of the CTN


"You have to be your own person, or die." ~Stephan Franck  
The Creative Talent Network (CTN) often hosts interviews with creative individuals in the animation industry doing especially interesting work. Below is the text of a recent interview with Stephan Franck, animator, director, storyboard artist and now the author of a highly successful series of independently published graphic novels - Silver. Stephan also happens to be a former kumrad from many an animated film, and a friend of FLiP Here, Stephan talks to CTN about how he got Silver off the ground. 

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Bob and Bradly's Charmin' Tale

Bob Blevins and Bradly Werley are Portland based animators who have created an undoubtedly original film, T.P.   As Bob describes it, "The film is a gut wrenching drama about a roll of toilet paper who is born into a dirty gas station bathroom, and must struggle for his destiny to unravel differently than his traumatized predecessor."

Told you it was different.

Bob further explains, "It started between two bedrooms and a kitchen in San Francisco, and wrapped in a garage in Portland. Some very gifted people have been helping us out, including veteran voice actor Bob Bergen, the official voice of Porky Pig."

Having recently wrapped production after three years of production, they have launched a Kickstarter campaign to help us raise funds for the post production costs. Bob and Bradly, a.k.a. WerleyBob Pictures, talked to FLiP about their ambitious project.

Monday, January 27, 2014

Brigitte's Garden at Disney MGM Studios

The best thing about working on an animated film is, as everyone knows, the project itself. It's going to be awesome, you're going to do your greatest work ever, and on opening night you will stun the world with animation excellence. But then, as the years pass, a funny things happens. You tend forget about the film itself (with a few honourable exceptions), and what you end up remembering, often with great fondness, is the people you worked with.

Sunday, January 26, 2014

More Gremlins Redux

After Friday's posting about the 1992 development of the Roald Dahl Gremlins project at Disney TV Animation, Jerry Rees sent FLIP a bunch of images of the development art used in the pitch.  Enjoy!

artist: Jerry Rees  Frans Vischer

Saturday, January 25, 2014

FLIP goes to Shepperton Studios

On wednesday I went with some of my students from Buckinghamshire New University to visit Shepperton Studios. Being a movie geek, I couldn't wait to visit the place where classic films like Kubrick's Dr Strangelove, The Day of The JackalRidley Scott's Alien and Attenborough's Ghandi were filmed. I mean, even empty film studios are full of atmosphere; a place to fill the imagination with dreams of stardust. Shepperton did not let us down.

Friday, January 24, 2014

Disney and Dahl's "Gremlins" Redux

In 1992, I got to work on three great projects: The Nightmare Before Christmas, A Goofy Movie, and one that was never produced, Gremlins; not the Joe Dante Gremlins, but the Roald Dahl / Walt Disney one.

You cartoon buffs out there recall the Bugs Bunny shorts from World War II featuring little gremlins who tear apart Bugs' warplane in flight?  They were based on a short story by Roald Dahl done during the war for Disney Studios.  Disney was developing a feature from the story, but could not secure the complete rights, partially owned by the British Air Ministry, so he mothballed the project.  Dahl would release it in book form using Disney development art as illustrations.

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Learn Flash with Andy Sykes - free online video tutorials!

Andy's in the house
Earlier this year I posted about New Year's Resolutions for Animators, one of which was to learn a new piece of software. Right now I am (for a change) practicing what I preach, and learning how to use Adobe Flash, creating 2D animation - just like I used to do back in the Olden Days, before I got seduced by the Dark Side of 3D animation.

Fortunately, students today are blessed with an astonishing variety and breadth of web content, including free tutorials in just about anything one could ever want to learn. Flash is no exception to this rule. Below is a link to an excellent website which hosts a series of excellent - and highly recommended - free tutorials in Flash.