Sunday, 7 April 2013

Happy Birthday, James Garner!

James Garner as gambler, Bret Maverick
Again it is my annual tradition to celebrate the birthday of my favourite actor, Jim Garner. For this year's celebratory caricature I've decided to portray Jim in the role that first brought him a large degree of international fame, as gambler, Bret Maverick in the TV series Maverick, which ran from 1957 to 1962. I was too young to know the show when it was originally broadcast and, sorry to say, I don't recall it ever having been made available in the years since in any of the markets where I lived. As such, I must confess that the only episodes I'd ever seen were the handful that were release on a single DVD back a number of years ago.

Happily that situation has now been rectified, as the complete first season of Maverick was released on DVD this past year, with season two due out very shortly. The character of Bret Maverick is a professional gambler and sometime conman, though only conning those whom he believes are deserving of being brought down a peg or two. He is always a champion of the underdog, and will go out of his way to see that an innocent person receives justice. Though a fast draw and crack shot with a pistol, Bret often manages to get himself out of most tight spots on his wits alone. As a gambler, he has learned to read a man pretty well, anticipating correctly what he's likely to do and being able to cleverly bluff his way through a situation as if he were dealing with an inferior poker player. I love the quirkiness of the series, where no character seems to follow the conventions of the traditional TV western. Even some of the baddies may adhere to some code of honour.

Ironically, though I had never seen the original Maverick, it was when Jim reprised the character 20  years later on Bret Maverick that I first became aware of who the character was. It was also on the set of that TV show that I was able to realize my longtime dream of meeting Jim Garner. You can read about that visit to the set on this previous post

Jim Garner is in his 80s now, and pretty much retired from acting, but I hope he knows how many people he's brought great enjoyment to through his numerous film and TV roles. His legion of longtime fans are extremely loyal and still watch him onscreen every chance we get. Incidentally, a special thanks to Robert Howe, who was fortunate enough to have worked on The Rockford Files back in the mid-70s for a couple years, and who has recently written a new book reminiscing on that time, as well as having created an official Facebook fan page dedicated to Jim. If you're a fan too, please check these out!

Happy Birthday, Jim - we love ya'!

Saturday, 30 March 2013

Happy 100th Birthday, Marc Davis!

Yes, today marks the 100th anniversary of the birth of Marc Davis, one of "The Nine Old Men", Disney's celebrated group of veteran animators. Andreas Deja has been writing up some great posts on his blog, so I'm not about to compete with that. But I also love and admire the work that Marc did after his career as an animator, when he moved on to design and create many of the best attractions at both Disneyland and Walt Disney World. Attractions such as The Haunted Mansion, It's A Small World, and The Pirates of the Caribbean were all a big part of my childhood in those early years of family road trips from Ottawa, Canada, down to the brand new Walt Disney World in Florida in the early 1970s. Actually, though, my personal favourite attraction that Marc designed was The Country Bear Jamboree, that had its debut at Walt Disney World before also being built for the Bear Country area in Disneyland.

Marc Davis concept art.....

At that time in the 70s, both my Dad and I were big fans of country music, so The Country Bear Jamboree was a well appreciated parody of Nashville's beloved Grand Ole Opry, with its caricatures of familiar character types from that era of country in the form of cartoon bears in various shapes and sizes. To this day I still love vintage country music (although not its vapid pop/rock incarnation as "New Country"), and The Country Bear Jamboree in its heyday remains a favourite of mine. Sadly, I hear that the show has been recently pared down in length by the philistines who currently run Disney, as they feel that they can get more performances crammed in per day in this abbreviated form.

....Translated into the actual show!
On a similar theme, I recall onetime going down to WDW and seeing a diorama with models on display in The Walt Disney Story on Main Street, of a new proposed attraction called The Western River Expedition. This would have been another water based ride featuring audio-animatronic characters, similar to The Pirates of the Caribbean, then only at Disneyland. Sadly, it was never to see the light of day, as they figured that it would be more cost effective to instead recreate the Pirates ride for the Florida audience.

Marc Davis working on The Western River Expedition model

Concept art for the saloon scene
Many years later, I had finally achieved my dream of working down at WDW as a character illustrator in the Marketing Art Dept in 1990. A couple years later in 1992, I took a vacation out to Disneyland to attend a convention put on by The Mouse Club, a fan club not officially associated with The Disney Company. They had quite a roster of guest speakers lined up, including Marc Davis who was to take part in a panel discussion on the creation of several of the Disneyland attractions. I was staying in the Disneyland Hotel where the convention was being held, and as I was making my way to the room where this event was to take place, I luckily bumped into Marc Davis and his wife Alice just as they were entering the hotel lobby. Since they weren't sure where the room was, I gladly offered to escort them there, taking the opportunity to chat with them along the way. 

Western desperadoes!
The room was on the second floor, but Marc, though walking slowly with a cane, did not want to take the elevator and insisted he could make it up the stairway, which fortunately had shallow wide steps. The hotel had recently been renovated, and there had been some panels of park concept art put up as decoration, so when Marc and Alice arrived at the top of the stairway, there facing them on the landing were a series of large panels featuring the above concept art from the never built Western River Expedition with the masked desperadoes on their horses, also comically wearing masks. I'll never forget Marc's reaction to seeing this art he'd created so many years before. He gazed slowly across the panels, then gradually smiled and started to quietly chuckle to himself. I could tell that he was getting some great amusement from seeing his work again and seemed quite touched that it was on display quite large for people to enjoy. I only met Marc Davis that one time, but I'll never forget witnessing that sweet moment with Marc and his wonderful cartoon art. Happy Birthday to Marc Davis, a genuine Disney Legend!

Wednesday, 13 March 2013

Congratulations, World...

...On your new Pope! It looks like we could be in for a fun time ahead!

"Hah! It looks like they fell for it, Stanley!"

Monday, 7 January 2013

Anthropomorphism in Animation

In the 1946 Disney animated feature, Make Mine Music, there was a rather delightful sequence called Johnny Fedora and Alice Bluebonnet. It was a terrific example of anthropomorphism - giving human traits and personality to that which is not human. Usually we think of anthropomorphism as it relates to cartoon animals who wear clothes, talk, and walk upright on their two hind legs. But there are plenty of samples of objects that are also brought to life with human traits, like the enchanted clock, candlestick and tea pot in Beauty and the Beast, or the brooms that overwhelm poor Mickey Mouse in The Sorcerer's Apprentice.

But getting back to the film I cited above, here are some stills from Johnny Fedora and Alice Bluebonnet that show what it is that I love about their design and treatment in the animation.

In the stills above, you can see how the two hats really lend themselves to being cast as human "types". Alice has a bow on the back, just as a girl might have a big bow tying up the back of her hair. The rest of the ribbon hangs down gracefully and can be utilized as girlish arms as demonstrated. Also, the lace around her brim suggests a frilly collar on a dress. Johnny is certainly a lot simpler in design, but the eyes exist where there would be the shadowed indentations on a fedora, and the opening of the hat acts as his mouth. The hatband even suggests a mustache, I suppose.

What I particularly enjoy though about Johnny's design is the use of a visual "cheat" - an element that goes deliberately against the rules of 3 dimensional structure (like Mickey's always round ears, for example). In Johnny's case the cheat is in the way his face actually encompasses two separate planes of the hat: the eyes are on the front, while the mouth is on the underside of the brim. Because a drawing is a 2 dimensional representation of 3D form, the artists can easily get away with this optical illusion of the two planes working as one when the hat is tilted up, as in the two stills above. Also, note how Johnny is able to exhibit emotion in the way the brim is pushed and pulled to achieve different mouth shapes, with the eyes reacting accordingly. This is the magic of traditional, hand drawn animation, and one of the reasons I will always vastly prefer it to CG animation, which so often is trying to mimic the literalness of live-action film. Additionally, so long as Hollywood continues to pursue creating these CG films in 3D, such visual"cheats" cannot possibly work as effectively.

This brings me to a subject that is bound to rub some people the wrong way, but I believe the criticism is warranted. Because of the trend in current animated features to try to emulate live-action cinematography, I feel that we're losing the very definition of what it means to be an animated film. My own interest in animation as a young kid was that it was the illusion of a drawing seemingly springing to life upon the screen. That was truly magical to me, and was certainly one of the factors contributing to my love of drawing and hopes to one day becoming a cartoonist. For me, it was always "The Animated Cartoon" - take "Cartoon" out of the equation and I really wasn't that interested. Sure, I liked some stop-motion animation back then, but it was always drawn cartoon animation that intrigued me.

So hopefully you can understand why I might not be particularly impressed with the latest short that Pixar is working on called The Blue Umbrella, which seems like a watered down (so to speak) variation on the classic Disney segment cited above. I came across this teaser clip on Cartoon Brew today and I must say it just leaves me cold. For a start, though it's technically CG animation, it might as well be live-action footage from the way it looks. The animated faces appear merely pasted on, rather than being physically integrated into the umbrellas themselves, and these objects only twist and turn a bit, not exhibiting any of the whimsical "Squash and Stretch" we associate with classic drawn animated performance. In short, this film clip holds about as much charm for me as a typical TV commercial for Kool-Aid, which it sadly puts me in mind of. For the record, I remain equally unimpressed with Pixar's two Cars features, as they also come across as live-action films with some animated elements pasted on top, again exhibiting no exaggeration of form and movement of the various car characters, thus not taking proper advantage of the animation medium.

By the way, I've heard that this short film may be the work of the satellite studio that Pixar set up in Vancouver. If so, it is likely that some of the folks involved in the animation may be former students of mine at Sheridan. Please understand that my criticism is not targeted toward those involved in bringing the film to fruition. My issue with the film is in the concept and art direction that was decided upon by the powers-that-be. Animation that tries this hard to look like its live-action film cousin just isn't really "animation" in the true sense of the word, not in my book anyway. Sorry, but this stuff needs to be said.

Sunday, 6 January 2013

Miz Diaz

What?! There's still a pulse in this old blog?!
Yeah, it's been far too long since I've updated this thing, but here's something new to put on here as the first post of 2013. I did this caricature of Cameron Diaz for the current Caricaturama Showdown 3000 challenge, though I must admit it's been ages since I last participated in that thing too. Hopefully this entry will lead to some more in the weeks ahead, as I really do need some sort of kick in the butt to get back in the creative groove again.

Monday, 1 October 2012

Happy 30th Anniversary, EPCOT!

Today, October 1st 2012, marks the 30th anniversary of EPCOT, the second park to open as part of Walt Disney World in Orlando, Florida. Though I'll always love The Magic Kingdom best of all, EPCOT runs a very close second for me, and I feel a particularly close connection to that park. You see, back on opening day, Oct. 1st 1982, I was gathered along with my parents and sister in the huge crowd of thousands patiently waiting outside the gate, incredibly excited to know that we would be among the first guests to enter this long anticipated new theme park that had such an interesting evolution.

Originally EPCOT had started out to be something far more ambitious, the "Experimental Prototype Community Of Tomorrow", the personal model of an actual working city as envisioned by Walt Disney himself. Sadly, Walt passed away before this grand experiment could be put into motion, and the plan for an actual working and living community was ultimately decided to be too great a challenge for those who were now in charge of running Walt Disney Productions. To be honest, I don't blame them a bit. It would have been a huge venture, fraught with potential problems and financial risk, and without Walt there to guide them they seriously doubted whether they could make it work.  

So instead, they re-envisioned EPCOT Center as more of a permanent World's Fair, a showcase for new ideas in the area to be known as Future World, and a second area featuring a series of international pavilions circling a manmade lagoon to be called World Showcase. I would imagine that the success of Canada's own EXPO '67, that was a keystone of our centennial celebrations built in Montreal, was also a huge influence on how EPCOT Center evolved into the new theme park it would become.

I loved EPCOT in that first visit on opening day, as it was a thrill of a lifetime to see Disney history unfolding before my eyes. I have several favourite memories of that visit, including that first time experiencing The Universe of Energy, where the guests were directed to their seats in the large theatre before a film began on the history of oil formation during the age of the dinosaurs. As the film ended, the curtains parted and, much to our surprise, the "theatre" broke up into a series of huge ride vehicles that then lined up one by one to enter through the curtains into a fog-filled, musty smelling land of life-sized audio-animatronic dinosaurs. Perhaps audiences today are somewhat jaded, but back in 1982 this ride was truly state of the art! 

My other very fond personal memory happened at the finale of The American Adventure show in the American pavilion in World Showcase. Aside from the technical marvel of the very sophisticated audio-animatronic historic figures that told the story of America's turbulent beginnings and evolution, what really sticks with me is what happened during the filmed portion that plays out afterward. As the attraction's theme music swells majestically, images fade in and out toward us of many key moments in the 20th Century. When filmed images of John F. Kennedy, then Martin Luther King appear, there was spontaneous applause from the audience. But when they are followed not long thereafter by Walt Disney himself, the crowd rose to its feet applauding wildly. It was one of those moments where you had to be there to feel the huge emotional response in that theatre.

Two years after visiting EPCOT, I was to begin my own career at Disney, working initially in the Canadian Merchandising Division in Toronto for 6 years, then transferring to Florida to work in Walt Disney World's Marketing Art Department for an additional 4 years. I started in WDW in 1990, and in 1992 EPCOT celebrated its 10th Anniversary. As one of the character illustrators in that department, I was asked to illustrate the article about EPCOT's 10th that was featured in The Disney News magazine. They wanted a painting that would promote the celebration show that took place around The Seven Seas Lagoon in World Showcase, but in a cartoon style featuring the Disney characters. The show admittedly had some problems that would become apparent a couple weeks after its debut. For one thing, it took place at midday, and I have to say that fireworks are not too impressive at that time - more visible smoke than light display against the sunny Florida sky! Additionally, they had performers flying around in para-planes above the lagoon, dressed in Disney character costumes. Though the character heads were constructed of a lightweight mesh, rather than solid fibreglass like the walkaround versions, the pilots found that their vision was still not that great through the coloured mesh, and Disney decided to cancel that part of the show before the possibility of some tragic accident occurring!

I enjoyed doing the illustration immensely, and the article below shows the stages of the creative process in the way an illustration evolves from concept sketch through to final painting:

Monday, 3 September 2012

Disney Big Figurines

Over on the blog by my friend, Kevin Kidney, longtime Disney artist, Kevin has just posted some photos of the "Big Figs" or Big Figurines that were created over the years for the Disney Catalogue and Disney Stores merchandise. Kevin and fellow artist, Jody Daily did the initial concept drawings for the figures, establishing the pose usually based on a specific moment from the film they appeared in. After that, rotation drawings would be created from the concepts in several views in order to visually aid the sculptor who would be crafting the figure dimensionally out of clay. Kevin has kindly pointed out that I did the rotation drawings for a number of them and, if memory serves, I think this is an accurate list of the ones I had a hand in that are pictured in his post:

Jiminy Cricket (in hobo garb)
Mickey Mouse Club Morty (one of Mickey's two nephews, though it could be Ferdy)
Penguin Waiter (from Mary Poppins)
Pinocchio and Jiminy
Minnie and Goofy as Disneyland tourists (Did I do Mickey and Donald as well? I can't recall!)
The White Rabbit 
Dumbo and Timothy
The Three Caballeros

I'd previously posted the rotations for Pinocchio and The White Rabbit a few years ago here. More recently I had posted the ones of The Three Caballeros here.

Here are several of the others that I've managed to find among my files of past Disney work: