"What's New" Archives: September 2006
September 19, 2006:
HIATUS: I'm gone again for the next few weeks. See you in October.
September 18, 2006:
CARTOON MODERN: To read my review of Amid Amidi's important
new book, click here.
SONG OF THE SOUTH: I've posted ten pages of drafts for this
Disney feature, all from the "Running Away" sequence that
opens with Uncle Remus singing "Zip-a-dee-doo-dah"three
pages of combination work and seven pages of animation.
Combination page two
Combination page three
Animation page one
Animation page two
Animation page three
Animation page four
Animation page five
Animation page six
Animation page seven
My thoughts about the animation of Song of the South are
on pages 389-391 of Hollywood
Cartoons: American Animation in Its Golden Age.
WALT'S BASH, CONT'D: Are Myklebust writes:
A copy of the program for "Walt's Field Day" was offered
on an auction at Hakes some time ago (I forgot to note down
the date, but it was around November 2005). This is a part of the
Pages list various events along with that event organizers
Admin. - Riley Thomson
Baseball Game Old Timers Vs. Studio Team - Mickey Batchelder
Touch Football - Jack Kinney
Rowing Race (- Hal Adelquist)
Gadget band - Ward Kimball
Award(s) - Ted Sears
(No times were mentioned in the description.)
The program offered in the auction was described as complete (a
total of eight pages), including perforated Dinner/Luncheon
coupons missing in most surviving copies. Only the cover was scanned
in the auction. From the estate of the background artist Douglas
Bud Rickert. So its looks like your copy of the program
is not complete.
MB replies: Are is undoubtedly right; four pages, including
the coupons, are missing from the middle of the program. That explains
why the earliest event listed is at 5 p.m. No doubt Homer Brightman
tore out those pages when he removed the coupons.
September 14, 2006:
WALT'S BASH, CONT'D: On September 6, I posted the program
book and a little more information about the celebratory "Field
Day" that Walt Disney held for his staff at Lake Norconian
in June 1938. You can learn more about that famous bash at a couple
of other sites, the Animation
Guild's blog and Jenny Lerew's Blackwing
Diaries. And here, courtesy of the Guild's blog, is a link to
California, newspaper story about the present sad state of the
Lake Norconian Club Resort. The resort is in a town called Norco,
in Riverside County south of Ontario off I-15.
GEPPI'S MUSEUM: In case you missed it, the New York Times
ran a piece
last week about the then-imminent opening of Geppi's Entertainment
Museum at Baltimore, a comics-oriented institution that also includes
what the Times called "packed displays" of "movie
posters, animation cels, action figures, board games, advertisements,
and more." That Times story may not be available any
more as a free link, but there's also a Web
site for the museum itself. I'm looking forward to visiting
the place on one of my frequent returns to my old stomping grounds
in the Washington area. I'm especially curious how it compares with
museum in Maine.
I met Steve Geppi almost thirty years ago, when I was assembling
the contents of A Smithsonian Book of
Comic-Book Comics. He then had a comic-book store in a basement,
somewhere in Maryland, I forget where, and he and I went together
to a photography studio for the shooting of part of his copy of
Action Comics No. 1. I encountered him again almost ten years
later, when I was writing a story about nostalgia for a business
magazine; I devoted a page to what was then a fast-growing chain
of Geppi retail stores. Geppi is now the owner of Diamond Comic
Distributors, which is, as the Times says, "the largest
distributor of English-language comic books." He's also a part
owner of the Baltimore Orioles baseball team and a pillar of the
Baltimore business establishment. A pretty amazing rise for someone
who is still a dyed-in-the-wool comic-book fan, I think.
BACKGROUNDS: Back in June and July, I posted a couple of items
about whether the static backgrounds in Pixar's Cars could
be considered "matte paintings" in the traditional sense.
The answer is, sort of; such backgrounds can be created digitally,
just as if they were being painted, and then combined with animated
characters and settings in the foregrounds. A couple of my visitors
have since written to elaborate, especially about how such backgrounds
are being used in live-action films. One of my correspondents says:
"It is my understanding that all contempory matte paintings
in Hollywood are digital, but the digital technique is the same
as the old-fashioned traditional one, including brushesmost
digital matte painters work in both mediums, digital for film work
and traditional for gallery work. Both mediums are flat, 2D. You
can build 3D backgrounds, and in some Cars scenes, they didthey're
just far more labor-intensive, but in my opinion, they don't clash
as much with the 3D look up front. Here's the Web site of Dylan
Cole, who's considered one of the best contempory matte painters
in Hollywood. Scroll through the matte painting samples (Lord
of the Rings, for example)it's good stuff, and you can't
tell they're not oil."
has written to recommend Blue
by Peter Weishar, "in which there's a very nice fold out
of the process, which includes 2D BGs composited with 3D characters.
As 3D packages renders to 2D pictures, these renders can just as
easily be exchanged for painted BGs (matte painting usually referring
to photo-real painting whilst background paintings usually refers
to a stylized look). Both are of course painted by hand, just to
different looks and with whatever tools it takes to achieve that
look within the schedule and budget of the productionwatercolor,
Photoshop, Painter, Deep Canvas, acrylics, oils etc."
I won't pretend that I understand everything Leo wrotelike
the reference to "renders"but I think his point
is clear enough. I probably should read that book, even though I
feel a total lack of enthusiasm for the Blue Sky product.
SANITY: This from Randy Watts: "Just wanted to comment that
I enjoy your site a lot. It's quitesane. I don't mean that
as any sort of backhanded insult. Just that many folks posting about
animation these days are a little odd.
"I had gotten used to the presence of the ideastandard
on animation forumsthat all theatrical animation produced
during the '30s-'60s is inherently good. In fact, the reason I no
longer post on forums is because of some almost bizarrely nasty
flames and e-mails I once got for remarking that I had sat through
nearly a dozen of Famous/Paramount's Herman and Katnip cartoons
and found them to be largely worthless. I haven't gotten used, though,
to what appears to be a newer idea. That TV animation, particularly
that ground out by Hanna-Barbera in the 1950s and '60s, is very
nearly the equal of the very best '30s and '40s theatrical animation.
"Don't get me wrong. I love animation and I love cartoons.
I just find much of what's being written on animation and cartoons,
and the folks who are writing it, hard to stomach. That's why I
enjoy your site so much (as well as your book, Hollywood Cartoons).
It is free of that nonsense. Rather like the way that Bob Clampett
is commonly elevated by these folks to a status that leads one to
suspicion that God told Jesus to buzz off so He could spend eternity
telling Bob how much he loved Coal Black. Now, I like Bob
Clampett. I think he made some brilliant cartoons. I just find that
kind of overstatement grating."
MB replies: I like being called "sane." I remember
realizing, when I was listening to some Haydn symphony, that that
composer's sanity and cheerfulness were what I most loved about
him. On the other hand, I love Mahler, too, and "sane"
is not the first word I would apply to most of his music. I think
there's a trick to maintaining a sane appreciation of great art
that is itself over the top, like Mahler'sand Bob Clampett'sthe
trick being to embrace the art and the artist wholeheartedly without
slipping into hysterical adulation, on the one hand, or condescension
on the other. If you wander off toward either of those extremes,
you're missing a lot of what the artist has to offer, which is not
just unfettered emotion but also the subtle and surpassing skill
that gives the emotion such effective and convincing form. Like
Mahler, Clampett wasn't "wild"; he was in many ways the
most carefully controlled director who ever worked in animation.
Unfortunately, I think a lot of cartoon fans are most comfortable
with hysterical adulation (or its obverse, hysterical condemnation),
because it relieves them of the burden of thought. As I've suggested
in an earlier posting, such people are always searching restlessly
for some new idol to worship. Herman and Katnip and Huckleberry
Hound seem like unlikely divinities to me, but perhaps it's part
of their appeal that so few people are visiting those particular
shrines. I'm reminded of the wonderful old Bob Newhart routine in
which he's organizing a hate group aimed at Eskimos; it seems they're
the only minority group left, all the others having already been
claimed by some other hate group.
DRAFTS: I'm going to try to post some Song of the South
drafts by this weekend, before I leave on another extended trip.
But no promises.
September 8, 2006:
MONSTER SCANNER: For my thoughts on Monster House and A
Scanner Darkly, click here.
September 6, 2006:
WALT'S FIELD DAY: In the last few months, a number of Web
sites have posted scans of old cartoon-studio documents, especially
from Disney, the studio that generated by far the most such paper.
has been particularly active, posting a lot of draftsthe scene-by-scene
records of who animated what in a particular cartoonand other
Disney documents on his blog. There has been similar activity by
such high-quality bloggers as Michael
Mayerson, and Jenny
Lerew. Some of the documents have been new to me, and I've been
delighted to have good copies, especially now that the Disney Archives
is effectively closed even to serious researchers.
Here's a relic from my own files, the program for the infamous
June 4, 1938, event called "Walt's Field Day," a Disney
studio party to celebrate Snow White's success. My copy belonged
to Homer Brightman. I call the party "infamous" because
any number of Disney folks celebrated with un-Disneyish behavior
that involved lots of alcohol and illicit sexual combinations. The
most striking thing about the program, I think, is Gunther Lessing's
role as a dance judgewho knew?
I've scanned in the four pages on which there's any type; click
on each small page to go to a larger version:
Ward Kimball drew Mickey on the cover, as he told me on June 6,
1969, in the first of our interviews:
"In 1938, we had a party to celebrate finishing Snow White,
a three-day [sic] bash that Walt sponsored. We decided to have a
printed program. I was asked to draw Mickey on the cover, teeing
off a golf ball. In order to have Mickey's head addressing the ball
and at the same time smiling at the audience, I said, what the hell,
I'll use our regular eyes that we're using on everything elsethe
Dwarfs, Snow White, Goofy, Plutoand put black pupils in them.
This really caused a riot in the comic-strip department. The next
week, [Al] Taliaferro and [Floyd] Gottfredson came running in and
said, 'Is this the way you guys are drawing Mickey now?' We kind
of played it cool and smiled and said, 'Maybe.' Fred Moore agreed
that it gave Mickey more personality; Mickey didn't have to roll
his little black ovals out to the edge of the big eye boundary to
get expressions. Since Fred had just convinced Walt to accept Mickey
cheeks that bulged out with the dialogue movements, Walt also bought
the new eyes."
And here's a picture from the party, courtesy of Willis Pyle, then
a very young Disney assistant animator. That's Pyle in the upper
right, with his hands in front of him; the man just to his left,
seen in profile, is the Finnish-born photographer and artist Kosti
Ruohomaa, and to Willis's right, with someone's hand on his head,
is Les Clark. Les's sister Marceil is the woman in the upper left
with her arm over a man's shoulder; the man at the far left, just
behind the guitar's neck, is Sam Cobean. (The identifications are
I'm thinking about putting up a few drafts on the site, too, since
I have a lot of them. Song of the South, maybe. I'm not sure
how much such posting I'll do, since I'm not sure how many people
are really interested. When a site is already as specialized as
mine, giving it even more of an inside-baseball flavorand
posts of drafts will certainly do thatmay not be the most
wonderful idea. But we shall see.
September 5, 2006:
THE ANIMATED MAN: You can't order my biography of Walt Disney
yet, but you can click
here to ask amazon.com to let you know when it starts taking
orders. The book will be out next April.
THE DISNEY BLOG: There are too many blogsand even too many
good onesto keep track of these days, but you shouldn't overlook
Didier Ghez's Disney
History blog. Jim Korkis, a veteran explorer of the side streets
and byways of Disney lore, is a contributor. Lots of nuggets here.
MILT GRAY: While I was away last month, John Kricfalusi invited
Milt Gray to write for his blog about animation timing for today's
television cartoons, as opposed to the timing for the great cartoons
of the past, specifically Bob Clampett's. The result is highly illuminatingand,
I'm sorry to say, depressing where today's cartoons are concerned
(although it's depressing enough just watching the damned things).
You can read Milt's piece by clicking here.
Milt's essays posted on my own site, on Clampett
and his great cartoon Coal
Black and de Sebben Dwarfs, are still available.
K.'s blog is also worth visiting for some of Kricfalusi's own
postings, especially his analyses of Warner Bros. cartoons. John's
hectoring tone can get tiresome"lovable crank" is
the phrase that leaps to mind, with the emphasis on "crank"and
some of the people who post comments on his blog are a little scary,
but the man knows his Looney Tunes. You may want to skip his paeans
to the early Hanna-Barbera TV cartoons, though. In them I hear the
voice of a middle-aged curmudgeon who clings to that common juvenile
fallacy, "If I like it, it must be good."
September 2, 2006:
AS I WAS SAYING...: I've been away from the site longer
than I expected, in part because I was investigating how to set
up an RSS feed. Being on the receiving end of RSS feeds is no problem,
since "news aggregators" are so readily available now.
In my own case, I use the Sage plug-in for the Mozilla Firefox browser
to troll for additions to sites like the indispensable Cartoon
Brew. But publishing RSS feeds appears to be another matter,
at least when you're using obsolete (but comfortable) Web-site design
software like Macromedia Dreamweaver 4. I could spend the money
to upgrade my software, of course, but I'd rather not, at least
not yet, unless there's no good alternative. If anyone has any suggestions,
I'd welcome them.
THE COMMENTARIAT: I've been shockedshocked!to hear
that some people think my August 3 posting about audio commentaries
was a dig at John Kricfalusi and Eddie Fitzgerald. I'm baffledbaffled!as
to how anyone could reach such a conclusion. But I'm grateful, too,
for the messages I've received from people who've enjoyed the commentaries
I've contributed to the Looney Tunes DVDs. Dan Briney wrote that
my commentaries were "the most level-headed, professional,
informative, and worthwhile of them all," and that's great
I have strong preferences about what should go into commentaries,
but I've enjoyed some of the other Looney Tunes commentaries, even
when they've differed considerably from mine; I very much like John
K.'s commentary for Clampett's Great Piggy Bank Robbery,
for instance. What I find bothersome is less the differences among
the commentaries than how violently some cartoon fans attack commentaries
that try to offer anything more than mindless enthusiasm. It always
seems to me, when I stumble upon angry explosions of that kind on
a blog or a message board, that the fans involved are desperate
to recapture what they felt when they first saw the cartoons involved,
most likely when they were kids camped in front of a TV set. They
seem to resent any suggestion that there's a different kind of pleasure
to be taken from watching a cartoon for, say, the twentieth time
instead of the first.
Sometimes, it's true, you can experience on a repeat viewing something
very close to the same startled joy a cartoon brought you the first
time. That happened to me many years ago, when I was passing through
a college's student union and a TV set happened to be tuned to Tex
Avery's King-Size Canary. I'd seen that cartoon when I was
a kid, on a Saturday matinee program at the Heights Theatre in my
Little Rock neighborhood. The Heights loaded up its cartoon matinees
with Famous Studios cartoons, Screen Songs especially (how well
I remember the groans when the bouncing ball materialized!), but
occasionally my patience was rewarded and some good Warner or MGM
short turned up. One Saturday the gem in the dungheap was King-Size
Canary, and I remember watching it in rapturous astonishment.
When I was at the student union, I knew instantly I'd seen that
cartoon beforebut I remembered nothing specific about it,
and so seeing it then was very much like seeing it for the first
time. I'm sure I laughed as hard. But that was an unusual situation,
and I can't think of any exact parallels where other cartoons were
involved. More often, as I watch cartoons I've seen before, I enjoy
not so much the gags as I do everything that makes those gags so
funnythe timing, the staging, the emotional and psychological
insights, the strength of the character conception, the expertise
of the animation, and so on. In the best cartoons, there's something
new of that kind to discover on each viewing.
It's always fun, too, to watch good cartoons with people who haven't
seen them many times before. When a group of non-fans surrenders
to delight at a screening, and you find yourself laughing heartily
along with them, it can be almost like seeing the cartoons for the
first time. But ultimately it is with a good cartoon as it is with
sex: you can lose your virginity only once. I'm afraid those fans
who've seen every MGM and Warner cartoon fifty times and are desperate
for new thrills like those that Bob and Tex and Chuck once providedhey,
I've heard those Ted Eshbaugh cartoons are way cool, how
can I see 'em?are doomed to disappointment.
AMID'S BOUNTY: Within a few days late last month, I received the
ninth issue of Amid Amidi's invaluable magazine, Animation
Blast, and his new book, Cartoon
Modern. Either one would be an achievement worthy of sustained
applause; to have produced both almost simultaneously, along with
the Cartoon Brew
site Amid shares with Jerry Beck, is an amazing feat. (My thought
is, lucky for us that Amid is so young and can get by on what must
be no more than four or five hours of sleep).
hope to read both magazine and book within the next few days and
offer some extended thoughts about them. So far I've read Pete Docter's
piece on John Sibley, the Disney animator, in Animation Blast,
and it's an outstanding piece of worklots of good research
(I shared with Pete excerpts from some of my interviews, as I've
done with Amid and John Canemaker and other writers I respect),
wrapped up in an article that conveys extremely well Sibley's strengths
as an animator and his characteristics as a person. Pete is himself
an animation pro, the director of Pixar's Monsters, Inc.,
and it's tremendously encouraging that a leading professional at
the leading animation studio has such a strong sense of his medium's
Sibley was, thanks to his early death (in 1973), one of the people
Milt Gray and I missed interviewing, and I'm delighted that Pete
has plugged that gap in our knowledge. Amid has done very much the
same with Cartoon Modern, a richly illustrated survey of
animation design in the 1950s at studios ranging in size and influence
from Disney and UPA to small commercial housesterritory that
I did not explore in depth when I wrote Hollywood Cartoons: American
Animation in Its Golden Age but that deserves sympathetic attention.
Such additions to our knowledge are exactly what I might have hoped
for when I wrote my book.
CARTOON POP: I was dismayed a few weeks ago to find that David
Gerstein's Cartoon Pop Music Page had disappeared from the Web.
Now it's back as a subdivision of Jerry Beck's Cartoon Research
site, a more stable and permanent home. If you didn't visit David's
page in its earlier incarnation, you're in for a treat; you can
get to it by clicking here.
COMING DISTRACTIONS: I've seen Monster House and A Scanner
Darkly (illustrated below) , and I'm collecting my thoughts
about both films for a joint review sometime within the next few