Thursday, July 30, 2009

DISNEY ANIMATION HISTORY part VI: Save Hand Drawn Animation

Disney hand-drawn animation will be resurrected in 2009 with the release of THE PRINCESS AND THE FROG so please be sure to go and see it in December. I know, I know, if you don’t have kids why would you want to see a cartoon and another princess picture at that?  

HERE’S WHY: Only if MASSES of people go to see THE PRINCESS AND THE FROG, will more films be hand-drawn and maybe we can save this beautiful art form. 

It’s a good cause, folks and you will love the art, if not the story. Besides, it will be a refreshing change from exploding trucks and marauding monsters and you know that few artists can make a pencil line sing like Disney animators.  And you may never have the opportunity to see Disney pencil animation again.

Not that we have anything against CGI animation, great in its own right, but we want BOTH. So, please drag you family along and all your friends, even your enemies. Watch the trailer here. 

BTW - I'm not pimping for Disney here, just for the endangered art form that has now been given a second chance. A third chance actually, see previous posts.

Friday, July 24, 2009


 Chocolate bars seem to be getting thinner and smaller and I feel I’m not getting enough bang for my cocoa beans. Boxes of individual chocolates are not for me, what I like is an extended orgy with a big, fat slab of pure, chocolatey chocolate. The bigger the better. As a matter of fact, huge chunks of chocolate hewn out of enormous chocolate icebergs are more my style. Cliffs of chocolate, the ones you can practically climb up the side of with crampons and ice-picks and leave teeth marks on. The only problem is, the big rocks of chocolate that you can find at Trader Joe’s and Whole Foods, are not chocolately enough. They’re too sweet and milky and they don’t have enough cocoa butter and darkness. 
     The more expensive stuff, like Lindt, even though the bar is thin and heavily cardboarded, has superior cocoa content and glossy smoothness that does slake a chocolate craving better than the sugary, milkier stuff.  Just one thin square of Lindt can be folded in half with the tongue so it fits into the palate and the thick cocoa butter melts ve-e-ry slowly, lingering and releasing heady flavour before slipping down the throat, leaving a tasty trail.
     Chocolate truffles are also a wonderful thing. Real truffles, that is, not those over-sized, fake, shiny smooth things. A real truffle is designed for a taste and texture experience. First, the wild and lusty fragrance punches you in the nose, then, as the truffle hits your tongue, the dry cocoa powder on the outside makes your whole mouth shrink around it as it soaks up your saliva, then releases the rich, cocoa flavour and, just when you think you’ll keel over with delight, the smooth, silkiness of the ganache bursts out and knocks your socks off, filling your mouth with deliciousness and driving you crazy with satisfaction. 

There’s a chocolatier in Paris who makes lovely chocolate confections in the shape of shoes, naked rugby players and sausages. Solid chocolate sausages. Now, that’s what I’m talking about!  And I realise that this is the point when I should stop talking about tongues and mouth and satisfaction, but what the hell, a chocolate sausage is sometimes better than sex.
NOTE TO LINDT and SPRüNGLI - I would be delighted to do some taste  testing for you on any new products you may be developing.
French Chocolate Cake on Foodista

Thursday, July 23, 2009


What traditional animation does best with a pencil line, is make soft, bouncy characters who drag their flesh when they walk, run or shake their head. There’s a definite sense of weight to a hand-drawn character and this is by design, not accident. CGI, on the other hand, is often stiff and weightless. This is a shame and we wonder why there’s not more stretch-and-squash. Is it a software problem or lack of research into how much a character/object should squash and stretch to look alive? (much more than you’d think!)
     What really bugs me, is when GIGANTIC digital monsters walk and run around on the screen, they seem to be lightly skimming across the landscape instead of heavily stomping and heaving their heft about with effort. A big creature doesn’t move fast and lightly, it’s ponderous, its massive flesh sinks around it when its feet hit the ground and it takes time for the flesh to settle and then get heaved up again for the next step. WEIGHT needs to be shown by sagging the whole body, not just bobbing the head and scapulae up and down. Objects, like rocks and trains and TRANSFORMERS don’t need as much stretch and squash, neither do small, light things like spiders, ants and dragonflies, which flutter, scamper and flit, but things bigger than a doughnut need to have their bulk moved up and down, side to side to look lifelike.
     We see this stiffness in digital dialogue too. The mouths barely move. But, a mouth in animation needs to move much more broadly than in real life. Timing is also essential, the animator has to judge just when to start the sound because the mouth action comes a frame or two ahead of the sound.  P, B, T and D-sounds are particularly important, as the mouth must match exactly the explosive syllable.  And the F mouth with teeth-over-lower-lip is particularly difficult, especially on a duck :-)

     Rigging has improved a lot, so there's more squashing in CG, but there has to be stretching too.
     Pencil animators were surprised to discover that most CG animators they worked with were not artists, they knew little about the ART part of animation and were very resistant to learning it. They didn't even want to learn anatomy, so important in character animation. Art shmart, they said, hand-drawn is dead, digital rules. They even began to loftily tell us about basic artistic principles we'd learned at art school and which they were just discovering. The principles and tricks of good animation were all discovered by artists wielding pencils (stretch-and squash, slow-in-and-out, overlap, follow-through, anticipation, the moving hold) and it's a shame that more digital animators don't avail themselves of all the pencil-and-paper knowledge to be found in books, films, shorts (Chuck Jones and Tex Avery are great stretchers-and-squashers) and in live traditional animators. 

     Animation, in whatever format, is a magical art and we look forward to seeing much more digital stretch and squash and more magic in CGI.

Monday, July 20, 2009


I like writing to the sound of golf on TV.
The hushed commentary and quiet applause provide a presence without distracting. And there’s all that lovely soothing green grass when you do look up. 
Tennis is good too, although very distracting when Roger and Rafa play, but otherwise, I like the soft “pocks” and the relatively gentle commentary in the background, which let me think without feeling totally cut off from the world.
Of course, if Roger and Rafa are playing it's very distracting for another reason: their beauty of movement and extreme stretches and follow-through are too gorgeous for an artist to ignore.
     The BBC on low volume is also good for a companionable drone.
     Music, I find, is too distracting, it always sweeps me up and makes me listen exclusively to it, drowning out the voices in my head––wait, that doesn’t sound right­­––the writerly voices, I mean.
On the other hand, total silence and solitude freeze my brain. I keep rushing out to see if the world is still there. The trick is to find the right balance of companionable, reassuring and soothing sounds. My thought process, such as it is, needs to know there are people about, downstairs, next door, upstairs, just not right next to me, as I write. Household noises are conducive to writing: dish washing, pots clattering, children’s voices––love those––birds chirping, the dull roar of city traffic with an occasional siren is good. But I just can't to write in the thundering quiet of the country. It's great to gambol about in, sleep in, relax in, paint in, but not to write in. Not for me, anyway.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009


An animator once told me: "There are two magic moments in animation. The first when you make a character move and the second when you make it come alive."
The first is like learning to walk and the second is like learning to fly.
  Drawing by N. Lumiere

Tuesday, July 14, 2009


Happy Bastille day. Today it's mandatory to watch the parade on the Champs Elysées, take two hours for lunch: a dozen marennes, a foie gras with a bottle of Dom Perignon, followed by chocolate truffles as you sing the Marseillaise and wave the tricolor. Then take the afternoon off, dab some Arpège behind your ear, go and see JULES et JIM, LA GRANDE ILLUSION, THE ILLUSIONIST or L'ARTISTE in a Chanel outfit and a pair of Céline shoes.
Then do it all again for dinner.
Vive la France.