Tuesday, December 29, 2009


Studios lose vast amounts of money, time and talent because of gossip, so you’d think they’d put a stop to it. But no, gossip and even outright slander are not only tolerated but actively encouraged by insecure department heads as a way of keeping tabs on artists.

This makes the atmosphere in any Hollywood animation studio surprisingly sour and bitter for a place that makes a fun product.
Regular office gossip is bad enough, but cartoon gossip is far worse. Like the images themselves, animation gossip is grotesquely distorted and viciously twisted. No matter how unrealistic and downright asinine, it’s swallowed whole, enhanced, enlarged and passed around as fact. And, worst of all, this laughably implausible rubbish is not only believed, but acted upon. No benefit of the doubt, no verification, no defense. Reputations are routinely assassinated and careers destroyed by loose-lipped artists.

Even a saint wouldn’t escape the sharp tongues and dull minds of the gossipers. And the gossip is not always behind your back, sometimes it’s delivered right to your face. Artists are accused of being or not being whatever the gossipers have decided they are or aren’t.

The hostility caused by gossip makes artists feel isolated and uncomfortable and it also diminishes the quality the artwork in a business that requires co-operation and team-work.

All this misery and waste of time and talent could be avoided by simply making it company policy not to tolerate gossip––see this interesting  New York Times article by Shayla McKnight, November 14, 2009: “... the human resources manager who interviewed me, mentioned the company’s no-gossip policy. She said something like this: “There’s no back-stabbing here, and no office politics. Gossiping and talking behind someone’s back are not tolerated.
I remember thinking: “Really? That’s odd. How is that possible?” Everywhere I’ve worked people have gossiped..." "

If sycophantic smiles and hysterical jollity can be strictly enforced, and in animation they are, then it’s not impossible to make gossip unacceptable, which would make workers happier and greatly improve the product as well as the atmosphere.  The wonderful art of animation would also be a wonderful job instead of a nasty business.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009


When I was a poor student in Paris, my friend Tove invited me to spend Christmas in Copenhagen. It was all a bit last-minute and rushed, I tossed some things in a SportSac and raced to the Gare du Nord for the train which, like all French trains left exactly on time. And it was packed. 

Apparently, the entire world had decided to spend Christmas in Copenhagen. Not only were there no more couchettes available, but no more seats either. I would have to stand all the way from Paris to Copenhagen. Bof, I thought not easily daunted, there’s bound to be a tiny corner for me to sit in. Besides, how hard can it be to stand all the way to Copenhagen? 

Pretty damned hard, it turned out. And pretty damned cold. Minus 13 degrees Celsius. The coldest I'd ever been in my life. And there was no tiny corner to sit in. We were packed like frozen sardines in the train corridors. All night I shivered and stood at the icy window looking out at the dark. At some point near dawn, the train went on a bridge or a tunnel or something interesting and everyone rushed to the windows to see it. I rushed from the window to someone’s freshly vacated seat in a nice warm compartment for a few minutes’ sleep and never saw what was so interesting.

Tove met me at the station and escorted me through rooftop-high snow banks and green copper towers to her family home, built into the hillside for warmth. Faint with fatigue, I was received in a glowing house smelling of apples and spices and wood and candles and shown to my room. I slid gratefully into a soft white down envelope like a giant sleeping bag and fell instantly asleep. Like sleeping on a cloud.

The next day, I awoke to exotic foods, fireplace flames a fragrant Christmas tree decorated with white paper ornaments and warm, friendly people.

We did a lot during my visit, saw the Royal Danish Ballet, visited friends from Paris, ate a lot of æbleskiver, ebernødder and drank a lot of gløgg and akvavit.

It was the most exotic Christmas ever, but the thing I remember most, with the most appreciation and enjoyment, was sinking into that warm, white, feathery cloud of a bed at the end of the frozen train ride.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

DISNEY ANIMATION HISTORY part VII: The Princess and the Frog

Today, THE PRINCESS AND THE FROG will be released in the  US, a little later elsewhere. Please go and see it in droves, take the nippers and their friends, take all your friends, acquaintances and co-workers.  It’s box-office numbers that will save Disney pencil animation folks, that’s the way corporate numbskulls think: if it makes money it stays. Vague intentions to get the DVD later won’t do the trick here, it’s the immediate injection of cold hard box-office cash that will save the art, the artists and the know-how and skill it takes to draw films frame-by-frame. Already so much and so many have been lost, don’t let corporate greed kill off the fine art that enchanted your childhood.
     PERSEPOLIS and PONYO are excellent examples of the award-winning and successful hand-drawn animation that has been available to us while Disney disgracefully allowed its own hand-drawn animation to languish and die.
You can help put Disney pencil animation back in its rightful place by going to see The P andthe F in the first week of its release, preferably the first weekend. You’ve saved Disney animation before and you can do it again. Flex your hand-drawn muscles, show the doofuses how dumb they were to shut down the pencil animation that the company was founded on. It’s not Disney you’re saving, it’s the art form and hundreds of skilled, talented artists whose talents are now wasting away in bars, restaurants, offices and other inappropriate jobs. An animation artist’s place is at the drawing board and you can put her/him back there.
     I know you are all busy men and women of the world, but perhaps you could spare just 97 minutes of your time to enjoy the beautiful art of animation, the glorious stretch-and-squash that you haven't seen for ages, the lovely colors, the stunning background painting, the excellent camera angles/moves and lighting.  Maybe you'll even laugh and, if the story bores you, look at the art, listen to the music.  It's a good cause. As John Lasseter, Head of Animation, said in a recent Reuters interview: “Never in the history of cinema has a medium entertained an audience. It's what you do with the medium. But for some reason, hand-drawn animation became the scapegoat for bad storytelling." 
Here's a taste of what you can expect: http://bit.ly/192pOp


Sunday, December 6, 2009


In 1994 when Jeffrey Katzenberg left the studio to co-create DreamWorks with Steven Spielberg and David Geffen, he took many heavily-bribed top Disney artists with him . . .