Sunday, December 28, 2014


 1) FROZEN MAGIC - It wasn’t marketing that made FROZEN successful, it was the elusive secret ingredient that makes a film a hit: MAGIC. And this is top-of-the-line CGI magic. The snow and ice effects are dazzling, the camera angles are breathtaking, the lighting is spectacular, the  character designs wonderful, the backgrounds stunning. But, by far, the biggest star of FROZEN is the animation. . .

2) FROZEN: A SECOND RENAISSANCE AT DISNEY ANIMATION? - We would love to see Disney use its best-in-the-world art on a broader spectrum of animated subjects to reach new audiences. Come on Disney, branch out, we dare you. Your top-of-the-line animation should include more than princesses and fairy tales. Bring the quality of the content up to the quality of the animation art. What do you say Bob Iger, John Lasseter, Ed Catmull, Kathleen Kennedy?...                   

3) TWITTER’S DESIGN DECLINE - Good design doesn’t complicate, it simplifies, it’s intuitive, easy to read and a pleasure to look at. The golden rule of good design is: FORM FOLLOWS FUNCTION. If we judge Twitter by its current design form, its function must be an illogical jumble . . .

4) The SIMPSONS  - I went to school with a boy who modeled himself on Bart Simpson, his parents being off at work every day and he being newly arrived in the US from Uzbekistan and having no other influence but TV . . . 

5) SHOULDERS of ANIMATION GIANTS - Please let’s stop going on and on and on about Disney’s Nine Old Men. Doing so suggests nobody was as good before or since which is just not true. They stood on shoulders of giants like Emile Cohl, Winsor McCay, Lotte Reiniger . . .

6) BEAUTIFUL ART, UGLY ARTISTS - Should we celebrate an artist who’s done something shameful? Can we venerate art produced by someone capable of evil? Should the two be separated? Can we love the art and not the artist? ...

7) WRITING RITES  - There’s so much literary advice online, I thought I’d offer some practical ideas for beating out the words. Be prepared and you won't waste time looking for stuff when you're aflame with inspiration: 1) Stock up on tea/coffee, chocolate, waters and champagne.  2) Surround your desk with spider plants, ferns and aloe vera for extra oxygen to fuel your brain . . .

8) ROBIN WILLIAMS - Animation and Robin Williams were made for each other as you can see in this fabulous ALADDIN number animated by Eric Goldberg. The art was inspired by Al Herschfeld’s lyrical lines visible in the curled fingers of the Genie and the  actual Hershfeld drawing . . .

9) Day of the Dead: MARCEL PROUST - ...this little pearl from Remembrance of Lost Time
“And behind a drape I surprised a little alcove which, 
stopped by a wall and unable to escape, 
 had hidden itself there and was sheepishly 
looking at me with its oeil-de-boeuf 
made blue by the moonlight.”

10) The FUNCTION of ART - “Art” is such a short word it doesn’t really do justice to all the glorious colors, shapes, ideas creativity and structures it represents. Or all the delight, rage, curiosity and satisfaction it provokes. I wish it were a bigger, longer more juicy word befitting such an important concept.
                                 Ai Weiwei, Coca Cola Vase, 2011

Sunday, December 21, 2014


These subjective impressions (↑ Mmm to ↓ Ugh)
should not be taken for proper reviews. 

THE GOLDFINCH by Donna Tartt
↑ ↑ ↑ This huge book won the 2014 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction and deserved it if only for length and complexity. Lots of action: an explosion, a coming-of-age unrequited love story, secondary characters more interesting than the protagonist, theft, travel, guns and, of course, Carel Fabritius’s real painting that can be seen at the Mauritshuis in the Hague. I enjoyed it and did finish it, by the way. 

THE BAT (A Harry Hole Novel) by Jo Nesbo  ↓ – As much as I wanted to love Jo Nesbo, I didn’t.

THE SECRET HISTORY by Donna Tartt  ↑ ↑ ↑
The characters in this book are more vivid than those in The Goldfinch. Slow, deliberate narrative with expertly planted bits of back-story to hold the suspense. Very Crime-and-Punishment.

THE CIRCLE by Dave Eggers
↑ ↑ - Dave Eggers writes so well the eye just slides over the page like butter on a lobster. This is a cautionary tale about providing too much information to social media. Not one of his best but written, I feel, in anger and dread for what we’re getting ourselves into.

THE IMPERFECTIONISTS by Tom Rachman – ↑ ↑ ↑ Loved these aromatic Roman stories written by a former journalist stationed in Rome. The characters are alive with irrationality, ambition, drive, oddness. Food and drink are mentioned often as they should be in a book set in Italy. An altogether delicious book.

↑ ↑ - Meaty debut crime novel introducing brave and tortured DI Marnie Rome and a terrible villain we look forward to unpacking in subsequent books. Surprises and twists although I did guess the biggest twist because of the way the first two thumped me upside the head. Layered, well-constructed and the first of a series.

WILD: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail by Cheryl Strayed 

↓ ↓ ↓ – A very disappointing book. Yet another self-indulgent tale of a woman trying to avoid dealing with life’s problems and expecting a medal for walking along a trail with a big backpack and not even the wit to lighten it allegorically as she goes along.

HEART SONGS and Other Stories by Annie Proulx 
↑ ↑ ↑ - Austere stories of suffering and malice from wonderful Annie Proulx who knows how to write about the big stuff. No vapid sniveling and whining here. "Stong's eyes shone like those of a greedy barn cat who had learned to fry mice in butter." (from HEART SONGS) There is a stunningly evocative description of running water and reeds in the The WER-TROUT story.

POSTCARDS by Annie Proulx
↑ ↑ ↑ - The postcards are sent by Loyal Blood to his family. He's run away after accidently killing his woman and hiding her body in a stone wall. Searing, high definition writing.

Edition française complète, 10 tomes augmentée, illustrée et commentée
↑ ↑ ↑  -  I spent most of 2014 continuing to wade through this massive tome. Halfway through, I find the protagonist pathalogically observant, sharply funny and his lush, extravagant writing is certainly worth the effort. Sometimes a sentence is two pages long with only two commas! If you want to understand the French, this is the manual.

Saturday, December 13, 2014


Why is it every time an expert is consulted about the rules of grammar or spelling, they almost always follow their explanations with a disclaimer along the lines of: “Language is constantly changing so it's perfectly all right to say whatever you like and spell any old way.” If this is an effort to save people embarrassment, it’s painfully misguided because it only fosters ignorance and confusion.

Yes, language is a living thing and does evolve as we can easily see in constantly changing swearing and slang, but everybody wants to communicate eloquently and effectively, whether we’re rappers, used car sellers, teachers, inspirational speakers or best-selling writers. And to do this we
not only need talent and inspiration but a solid knowledge of good grammar and, for writers and taggers, correct spelling. 

We know we’re all judged by how we speak and write, by our accents, our choice of words and the expressions we use. Bad grammar and spelling is dangerous, it can cause bosses not to hire us, potential friends to take us for illiterate ignoramuses
and grandmothers to be eaten. And often this judgment happens without our knowledge because it’s considered offensive to correct someone’s grammar. Frankly I’m offended if my grammar and spelling aren’t corrected.

Grammar and spelling are supposedly taught in schools but so many people are confused or ignorant of the rules by the time they need them in real life we wonder what the hell they do teach in schools. If grammar can be got consistently wrong it can be corrected and got consistently right. The same mistakes are so prevalent that it seems they are what are being taught in schools: 

If I HAD done it not If I WOULD HAVE done it.
I feel BAD not badly 
I LIE on the floor now not  I LAY on the floor now. 
ANY MORE is used only with a negative: I don't do that any more.
The difference between TAKE and BRING (Bring it to me then take it away.) 
WHO usually refers to people, THAT to things.

There are rules and we need to know them before we can flout them. So, grammaticists, grammaticians, grammarians, just give us the rules already so we can choose for ourselves when and how to deliberately misuse language for fun.


Friday, November 7, 2014


While reading a review of Disney Animation’s BIG HERO 6, which opens today in the US, I came across references to soft robotics being created by Carnegie Mellon’s Soft Machines Lab whose robots with soft exoskeletons were apparently the inspiration for the Michelin-Man type character of Baymax in BIG HERO 6. Unlike FROZEN, BIG HERO 6 has no female leads, writers or co-directors. Directed by Dan Hall and Chris Williams, written by Dan Gearson, Robert Baird and Jordan Roberts, BIG HERO 6 is a boy film in Disney's alternating boy film/girl film series. Is it just too hard to mix two genders in one film?  

The animated short to be shown with BIG HERO 6 is FEAST, a Disney Animation production featuring a long-awaited variation of the hybrid Meander/hand-drawn software used in PAPERMAN. This version emphasises shapes and lighting reminiscent of a 1950s line-less cartoon style. While interesting and well-made, I'm not sure this is the direction to be going with this software. Isn't it the line that makes hand drawn animation so magical? This variation has a flat, creepy, uncanny-valley, falling-apart feeling to it, don't you think? 

Next up, no doubt, will be Pixar’s very stereotypically girly INSIDE OUT about an 11-year old girl’s emotions, directed by Pete Docter, written by Michael Arndt. If ever there was a project where a female writer and director could have been an inspired asset it’s this one but no girls involved except the female lead. 

Pixar, still a separate studio from Disney animation, succeeded in making a perfect mix of genders in THE INCREDIBLES, so why not continue that franchise? Wouldn't you like  to see the further adventures of Elastigirl, Mr Incredible, Dash, Violet and Jack-Jack?
UPDATE November 2015: Brad Bird is writing INCREDIBLES II which we'll have the pleasure of seeing in 2017-ish.
                                            INSIDEOUT, MEANDER

Friday, October 31, 2014

Day of the Dead: MARCEL PROUST

Today being the DAY of the DEAD I’m going to celebrate Marcel Proust, who is dead, among other things. Off and on for a couple of years now I’ve been wading through Marcel Proust’s massive masterwork: A LA RECHERCHE DU TEMPS PERDU and I’m a third of the way through the ten volumes in French. Odd that there are only seven in English but I’m told there are supplemental DVD-like features at the end of this, like motivational carrots.

It takes a while to accommodate oneself to his detailed writing and, frankly, if my wi-fi hadn't been cut off,  thus disabling Kindle, I would probably never have got this far or sunk sufficiently into the book to be able to appreciate it.

It’s not because the book is so intellectually challenging that it’s hard to read. Rather, it’s the flowing style using interminable sentences with little punctuation and even fewer paragraphs that makes it difficult to follow. Every facet of an idea is explored which, while presenting marvels of observation and perception, slows the pace to something less than glacial.

Let’s be frank, some of the book is downright boring due to its appalling snobbery and astonishing solipsism. Marcel validates himself by telling us how wild members of the aristocracy are about him, how superior they are to the vulgar family servant Françoise and how beautiful, graceful and elegant they are in their boxes at the opera, unlike the common members of the audience below. He describes corridors, courtyards and stairs being there to serve only him. He thinks the reason a young woman has rebuffed his sexual advances is that she smells bad and doesn’t want him to know it (!)

There are also stultifying passages showing off his knowledge of painting and art, interminable pages about color. He mentions PINK a lot, especially in regard to young women who are all sorts of variations of “rose et or”. This is particularly stuffy because he has obviously not heard that a picture is worth a thousand words. Or maybe he's trying to prove that his words are as good as, or better than, a painting.

But the good stuff is stunningly beautiful, quite unique and surprisingly funny. Just when you're abandoning all hope of ever seeing the plot again, up pops a surprising connection to a character or event that we last saw so long ago we've forgotten it. Some of my favorite bits so far are Odette’s seduction of Swann, Proust’s insights into the French psyche and an anthropomorphised hotel. A wall talks to him, a “solitary beauty of a courtyard” is held captive by high walls, a staircase holds out its steps to him, the soft carpet is there so he can walk about barefoot and the shutterless windows assure him they will not sleep all night so he can come and look out of them at any time without waking them. And this little pearl:

“And behind a drape I surprised a little alcove
which, stopped by a wall and unable to escape,
had hidden itself there and was
 looking at me with its oeil-de-boeuf
made blue by the moonlight.”

   Drawing by David Levine 
UPDATE: Finally finished the book on April 15, 2015 and found a detailed chronology of events and list of characters and breakdown of the plot which would have helped during the reading. 

I'm glad I read the whole thing, it gave me great insight into the French psyche, it showed that it's not always a good idea to write about every little detail you've ever observed. But I think he wrote that way because he knew he was dying and wanted to have a record of everything he'd seen and heard and tasted and smelled in his short life. 
This book made me think of all the people who didn't have Proust's gifts and their unsung lives. Like these poor folks who's only record is the marks made on their cannister coffins.

Friday, October 17, 2014


Why sweat over hand-made, brain-wrought blog posts when there is software featuring algorithms and artificial intelligence that can do it faster and easier? Several different kinds of software actually: Yseop Inc. (this one is European, polyglot and claims to be able to do a sales pitch), Narrative Science, Narrative Analytics, Arria NLG and Linguastat among others. They produce, not the clumsy Google-Translate type of thing, but flowing prose used in actual newspapers as legitimate journalism.

An artificial intelligence engine called QUILL, partly funded by the CIA (!), can generate news articles and business reports in English only. In March 2014 the company Narrative Science launched Quill Engage, a free Google Analytics application that delivers narrative style reports for website owners. I availed myself of this offer and here is the abridged robo-written report generated by the Google Analytics stats for my blog:

All Web Site Data Report for the Week of Oct. 06 - Oct. 12
Sessions + 83% -- Pageviews + 105% -- Avg Time On Site + 82%
Sessions Up, Higher Than Annual Weekly Average. Overall sessions
increased by 83% week-over-week. That's more than triple your annual 
weekly average. The rise in traffic was driven by direct sessions, growing 194%.

I must say, I find this report a hell of a lot more interesting and understandable than graphs, charts and figures. Well, maybe not graphs.

At UCLA I recently bumped into someone who was studying internet linguistics, the study of language used by phones and machines which is a related field imitating human speech and part of the trend of replacing human-to-human interaction with human-to-machine interaction.

So, is it just a matter of time until they can produce an artificially intelligent novel?  Maybe it's already being done. Maybe some of all those millions of books out there are robo-books. Will we be able to tell the difference between a robo-novel and a novel written by a real live human?

UPDATE April 16, 2015: 
Philip M. Parker has created a system that can write a book in twenty minutes and it has generated hundreds of thousands of books, many on Amazon.
World Clock by Nick Montfort is a novel generated with 165 line of Python code in about four hours in November 2013 and published in December 2013.

Artwork above: Matt Groening

Sunday, October 5, 2014


Photo: Lukke
Walk down the Boulevard Haussman
toward the Arc de Triomphe in the summer, 
watch its majestic shape and golden stones appear 
between the green leaves until you can clearly see 
La Marseillaise by Rude. Stare with your mouth open, 
feel the wind whistling through the arch, 
see the flame of the Unknown Soldier. 
Feel small and overwhelmed. 
Just as Napoléon
(on the left)

A region as 

lush and voluptuous 
as its foie gras and wines  
in bottles with hips instead of 
shoulders like Bordeaux bottles. 
For a good time try lunch at the Moulin des Ruats near Avallon. 
Order a good Burgundy, maybe a Romanée-Saint Vivant 
"Les Quatre Journaux", 
…”a marvelously aromatic wine, with a velvety texture which 
culminates in a persistent and powerful finish in the mouth”.
I once bet a condescending cinematographer a bottle 

of this wine that it would rain the next day. 
It did and he duly went to buy the wine, 
returning, ashen-faced, with the bottle
which was more expensive 
than he’d ever dreamed 
a wine could be. 

3) John LE CARRÉ
 the only writer I know who can shock you on the page. 
You have to go back and read the passage again 
to see how he punched you in the gut. 
To do this, he carefully slows down the action, 
quiets the scene so we hear only small
sounds like a distant dog barking, 
he moves in close to
the protagonist 
then, POW!
Read The Honorable Schoolboy 

and you’ll see what I mean.

I get so excited taking off in a Boeing or an Airbus
I feel as though I’m flying on my own. Without a plane.
My dreams of flying are always vertical.
None of this lying down Superman stuff for me.
I fly standing up.

Try it.

and all things xanthous: egg yolks, early morning sunlight,
dandelions (dents-de-lion: the leaves do look like lion’s teeth),
a pan of cadmium yellow in my paintbox,
mustard flowers, buttercups.

by hand. The scent of sliced wood,
the pungent pong of graphite, the bitter bite of paint.
The satisfaction of slicing through soft wood
and achieving the
pointiest of

Your face splits in two and your body shakes with
a burst of mirthful HA-s. For a few moments
you’re possessed by a rhythmic force
that leaves you purged, refreshed
and coursing with endorphins.

that moment when you see comprehension
dawn in someone’s eyes and
their face opens and
you both get a
warm fuzzy

Magic time is when the lights dim and you slip into another world, become someone else, live a different life for a couple of hours.
This is also known as the Transportation Business.

10) LOVE
is when you see and
feel seen by someone
who knows how
to look.

Sunday, September 21, 2014


The wonderful thing about love letters is they don’t need to be well-written. No need for fancy language or literary niceties. They don’t really need good grammar, although bad spelling can kill the mood. They can be wild and illogical and barely need to be legible. Written with passion and emotion, they have the power to evoke the same emotions they were written with, even years later. The written word powered by love is the mightiest form of communication. Nothing else comes close.

The one thing a love letter does need to be, however, is hand-written for maximum impact. So that, even when crumbling into bits, it still has the power to make your heart soar and reduce you to tears.

Even great writers use quite simple language to express love in a letter:

Mon cher amour, ma petite fleur,
on n'a fait qu'un, n'est-ce pas?
Je vous aime si fort, si fort et je le sens bien.

- Jean-Paul Sartre à Simone de Beauvoir

Personne ne vous a aimé, ni ne vous aimera comme je vous aime.
- Simone de Beauvoir à Nelson Algren

While art in a love letter is charming, it rarely, if ever, packs the wallop of words. A pressed flower, though, sometimes can.

Beautiful poetry can affect many readers but it's not as potent as a clumsier but personal love letter. Quoting poetry in a love letter may seem elegant but is actually expressing second-hand emotions so it's not as touching. Even Auden and Larkin, who use ordinary words to hit you in the heart, may have spoken and written letters less dramatically than this:

He was my North, my South, my East and West,
My working week and my Sunday rest, 

My noon, my midnight, my talk, my song; 

I thought that love would last for ever: I was wrong.
- W.H. Auden

On me your voice falls as they say love should,
Like an enormous yes.
― Philip Larkin


Sunday, August 31, 2014


Should we celebrate an artist who’s done something shameful? 
Can we venerate art produced by someone capable of evil? 
Should the two be separated?
Can we love the art and not the artist?

John Galliano (Juan Carlos Antonio Galliano-Guillén) 1960-  A Gibraltar-born British fashion designer who headed Givenchy, Dior and his own label. In 2011 a French court found him guilty of allegedly making "racist comments to customers in a café" and sentenced him to pay a total of €6,000 in suspended fines. In France, expressing anti-semitic ideas is illegal. 

 Leni Riefenstahl: 1902 -  2003 - A German film maker best known for her films TRIUMPH OF THE WILL and OLYMPIA, she left a legacy of cinematic innovation and her films are considered among the best in the world. Take a look at the diving sequence in OLYMPIA, it's technically and esthetically stunning, makes you want to fly.
Riefenstahl worked for and befriended Hitler and his criminal cronies. She was tried but never convicted of any crimes. However, Triumph of the Will does celebrate war criminals. She also produced beautiful photography and died aged 101.

Adolphe HITLER : 1889 - 1945
In case he needs introducing, Hitler was an Austrian-born German who aspired to be a professional artist but was rejected twice by the Academy of Fine Arts in Vienna.

He became a politician and killer of millions instead. His art is not a glorious thing so it's not hard to refrain from celebrating it. But people do buy it and not for it’s beauty, so what else would they be celebrating but the monstrosity of the artist?
Art, Beauty, Fashion, Painting, Film, Galliano, Riefenstahl

Friday, August 22, 2014


There’s so much literary advice online, I thought I’d offer some practical ideas for beating out the words. Be prepared and you won't waste time looking for stuff when you're aflame with inspiration:

1) Stock up on tea/coffee, chocolate, waters and champagne.
2) Surround your desk with spider plants, ferns and aloe vera for extra oxygen to fuel your brain.
3) Have an excellent dictionary on hand.
4) Line up some good music or sound loops of oceans or rainforests.
5) Make an outline grid for plot, characters, places.
6) Create your characters.
7) Describe your settings.
8) Read magnificent books.
9) Steal from the best.
10) START! The dazzling opening can only come after you've finished the book, so just start already.
11) Write a rough draft: one sentence per chapter.
12) Write at different times of day/night to see which suits you.
13) Walk/do chores while thinking & never call it "procrastinating".
14) Don’t throw in vast swaths of Googled text - zzzzzzzzz.
15) Surprise your readers.
16) Keep a notebook, it’s easier than backs of envelopes.
17) Ruthlessly kill your misplaced darlings.
18) Stand, stretch or walk for two minutes every hour.  
19) Don't get crumbs in your keyboard.
20) Finish the book. 


Friday, August 15, 2014


Robin Williams didn’t so much make me laugh as marvel open-mouthed at the lightning-fast intelligence behind the wit and the perfectly matched gestures. You can see him thinking, comparing, concluding and performing while vacuuming in everything around him through those intelligent blue eyes.

Animation and Robin Williams were made for each other as you can see in this fabulous ALADDIN number animated by Eric Goldberg. The art was inspired by Al Herschfeld’s lyrical lines visible in the curled fingers of the Genie on the right --> and the  actual Herschfeld drawing below. Williams and Disney had a falling-out over the promotion of ALADDIN and he refused to do the voice of the Genie in any subsequent projects, his voice being replaced by the wonderful Dan Castellaneta of Homer Simpson fame.

Here’s the young Robin Williams performing in 1977: the remarks to the audience and crew are particularly biting but without malice, leaving everyone laughing in his dust.

I once saw him walking up Madison Avenue, his face lit up in the crowd, his little red cheeks radiating beams of bliss, reveling in the turned heads and admiration that followed him up the street. For those of us who didn’t know him personally, he’ll always be here in his videos and films, making us laugh and marvel at his talent.


Friday, August 8, 2014


As we’ve noticed at least one modification to Twitter’s recent terrible design changes (FOLLOWERS is now only two huge bios across but still annoying as we have to read across and down), perhaps these suggestions could find their way into the Twitter format to make it as easy-to-use and well-designed as it should to be: 

1) The ugly PROFILE format with the too-big avatar and the too- wide-and-narrow background could be vastly improved by centering the avatar and bio as it was before. Omit the date we joined Twitter, nobody cares.
Small centered avatar
Top line:  name, Twitter name and place
2nd and 3rd lines: Bio
Bottom line: Photos and videos – LINK to blog   
2) the FOLLOWERS format, a lugubrious glob of giant bios with avatars, background picture two or three bios wide which has to be read not only vertically but horizontally as well. TMI, dudes, are we toddlers who need such big pictures? Go back to the vertical list of easy-to-read names & tiny avatars, perfect to scroll through. We can look up bios of interest ourselves, just like adults. 

3) Many folks misuse the FAVORITE star in the mistaken belief that it’s the equivalent to "liking” something on Facebook, but only two TWITTER users ever see it. On Twitter the RT button is all we need. Please replace the FAVORITE star with a DM button.  

4) We can look up our followers under FOLLOWERS, no need to inject them into our ME timeline. 

5) We’d like to send a Tweet without accidentally including unwanted Twitter #addresses from the list of usually-not-helpful #addresses stuck to our cursor in the Tweet box. 

6) TWEETDECK (which Twitter owned last time I looked) doesn’t let us paste pre-written messages or links in the TWEET BOX and links aren't automatically shortened pre-posting anymore so they sometimes take up 140 characters. Please invent a new algorithm or whatever that lets us paste a pre-typed Tweet and especially an automatically shortened link into the Tweet box. 
And, BTW, when we hit the reply arrow, our own name comes up so we're talking to ourselves. We'd like to answer a Tweet without extensive cutting and pasting. Also, Tweetdeck changes our blog URL to a one, totally messing up our stats.

Thank you! 
Who’d like to see improvements in Twitter design? 

Friday, July 18, 2014


Photo: Emile Cohl

Celebrating animators and the magical art of animation is a good thing, but please let’s stop going on and on and on about Disney’s Nine Old Men. Doing so suggests nobody was as good before or since which is just not true.
The nine old men (and I’m not going to name them yet again) were  talented and inventive but they did stand on shoulders of giants:

Emile Cohl (France, 1857-1938) - Fantasmagorie
Winsor McCay (USA, 1867-1934) - Gertie the Dinosaur

Max Fleischer (invented Rotoscope) (USA, 1883-1972) - Boop-Oop-A-Doop
Otto Messmer (USA, 1892-1983) - Felix (the Cat) Revolts
Lotte Reiniger (Germany, 1899-1981) - The Adventures of Prince Ahmed
Walt Disney (USA, 1901-1966) - Laugh-O-Grams “Jack, The Giant Killer” (Walt was one of the animators)

Friz Freleng (USA, 1906-1995) - The Pink Panther
Tex Avery (USA, 1908-1980) - Dumb Hounded
Chuck Jones (USA 1912-2002) - What’s Opera, Doc?

Just as today’s animators stand on the shoulders of the Nine and future greats will stand on these shoulders:

James Baxter (UK) - Spirit   
Silvain Chomet (France) - l’Illusioniste 
Glen Keane (USA) - Beauty and the Beast pencil test
Caroline Leaf (Canada/USA) - The Street

Hayao Miyazaki (Japan) - The Genius and Wonder of Hayao Miyazaki   
Richard Williams (Canada) - The Thief and the Cobbler 
Kathy Zeilinski - (USA) Hunchback of Notre Dame: Frollo

Photo: Kathy Zielinski

Saturday, July 5, 2014


Those of you who read my blog regularly know that I have, on several occasions, vented my spleen about harassment in the animation industry. Here and here and here. This has, tellingly, caused some animation people to un-follow me.

Yesterday I was advised about an unpleasant and surprising event that occurred two days ago over at Cartoon Network. The male creator of the show CLARENCE was fired by Cartoon Network after allegations of sexual assault by a female storyboard revisionist. Cartoon Brew published this abrasive article where the comments say as much about sexual harassment in animation as the article

And *here’s what the alleged victim has to say. 

The alleged harasser has nothing to say so far.    

The alleged sexual assault was no surprise, but the quick firing was unheard of in the animation business. Usually the men who do such things get a little lecture and often a promotion while the victim is blamed and shamed and watches her career go down the toilet. In this case, *the man was not fired at the request of the alleged victim (see her statement above), it seems there were other factors and previous incidents involved. Note that every article published about this incident suggests that
her Tweets caused the alleged harasser to be fired that very day, yet basic logic tells us that a show's creator would never be fired on the spot merely because of one person's Twitter allegations.

The art of animation may be technically cutting-edge but the culture is mostly primitive, backward and unprofessional, lacking in simple courtesy and respect toward women. Surely everybody knows by now that harassment is illegal not a right or a privilege. It’s not an inconsequential gesture. It creates a hostile workplace, costs the employer and the victim money and reputation and makes the harasser look like a Neanderthal. Nobody can do their best work when they’re being insulted, ignored, slandered, called names and underpaid. Not to mention groped and grabbed at will with the complicity (sometimes participation) of management.

Animation workers deserve a safe workplace with zero-tolerance for all forms of harassment. We need to be able to say to harassers who’ve said it to us so many times: “If you don’t like it you can leave.”

Friday, June 27, 2014


Fan Kaun / van Gogh by ZHANG HONGTU
Art makes us react. That’s its job, to make us think and feel and know we’re alive. See if these two images don’t make you do a double take and think and smile a bit.
“Art” is such a short, monosyllabic word it doesn’t really do justice to all the glorious colors, shapes, ideas creativity and structures it represents. Or all the delight, rage, curiosity and satisfaction it provokes. I wish it were a bigger, longer more juicy word as befits such an important concept.

Art may be a small word but it plays a huge part in our daily life. Where would we be without it? 

Bereft and impoverished, that’s where. 
Art constantly enriches and subconsciously sustains us as we rush about:

- Poster art on public transport transports us: I’d like to go there/see that/have that/What the hell is that?

- Fine art in museums lifts our spirit with beauty, makes us marvel at how it was done, when it was done, why it was done. The problem with fine art is that it’s heavily influenced by its context, the hushed museum, the whispering and echoing footsteps. How wonderful it must be to have a piece of fine art in your own home where you can see it in different lights, talk about it without whispering, touch it, smell it, savor it, inhale and ingest it.
- Art in decoration: our choice of color and texture for the walls, carpets, furniture is art.
- The art in the design of the things we use daily: a silver Mac, so carefully designed to function well and look beautiful, a comfortable chair designed to fit our anatomy (very hard to find), a Ferrari (Well, I’d like to use one daily) with its gorgeous lines and passionate color.
- A most powerful combination of two arts: an illuminated/illustrated book  a double joy and enrichment. 

1997, vase from the Tang Dynasty (618-907) and paint by AI WEIWEI

Friday, June 20, 2014


I went to school with a boy who modeled himself on Bart Simpson, his parents being off at work every day and he being newly arrived in the US from Afghanistan and having no other influence but TV. When we explained that Bart wasn’t a role model, that he was an awful warning, a worst-case scenario, he vehemently protested. When we told him The Simpsons wasn’t a show for kids, he almost wept with rage. “It is, it is!” he screamed.

Poor kid. Except it was hard to feel too sorry for him because his parents condoned his truly terrible behavior, thought it was cute and allowed him to terrorise his older sister whom they treated as unimportant and invisible. He once received (from a non-family member) a firm swat on the butt for turning the stereo up to top volume and hiding the remote. The swat was remarkably effective because it disrespected his behavior and he immediately went into a sullen silence then slashed some furniture.

When he made his sister cry, we comforted her by saying he’d be in jail by the time he was eighteen. And, sad to say, he was. He became a drug addict, hated his parents for letting him become Bart Simpson, then found religion but was still profoundly unhappy. He subsequently returned to his homeland and who knows whom he could be terrorising now. His sister, on the other hand, was inspired by real life and a bit by Lisa Simpson and today is a college graduate and doing splendidly.

I mention this to illustrate what a cultural influence The Simpsons show has become since its inception in 1989. It’s part of global culture; everybody knows Homer, Marge, Lisa and Bart. The Simpsons even have a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, Mr. Burns has become a play (“Mr. Burns” by Anne Washburn) and their creator, Matt Groening, has eleven Emmys and is a multimillionaire,  and many of the voice actors are quite rich too. So, take that all of you who think cartoons are inconsequential fluff and nonsense.

What makes the show great?

- Not the limited animation, done by Film Roman and various South Korean animation studios.

- It’s not the design, storyboarding and layout also nicely done by Film Roman in Burbank and much improved from Matt Groening’s original characters:

- It could be the voices, which may sound casually cartoony but just try doing Homer’s little shriek or even his “doh”. It’s much harder than you think. Dan Castellaneta has kept him just this side of obnoxious, making him loveable despite his catastrophic stupidity and omnivorous greed (“Mmm, chocolate”) and lent him his good singing voice on occasion. Dan also does Grampa Simpson, Krusty, Barney Gumble, Mayor Quimby. Julie Kavner does Marge, Patty & Selma, Nancy Cartwright is Bart, Nelson Muntz, Ralph Wiggum. Harry Shearer does Mr. Burns, Smithers, Principal Skinner, Ned Flanders, Rev. Lovejoy, Dr. Hibbert, Hank Azaria: Moe Syzlak, Chief Wiggum, Dr. Nick, Apu, Comic Book Guy.

-It definitely is the writers, mostly Harvard and UCLA-educated, who make this show great. Funny is much harder to write than anything else so an Ivy league education, great smarts, silliness and acerbic wit are essential to making a show consistently funny for 26 years. Writers Conan O’Brien,  
Ricky Gervais,    Evan Goldberg,   Al Jean, 
Ken Keeler*,   Jay Kogen Jeff Martin,   George Meyer,  
Mike Reiss,   Seth Rogen,   John Swartzwelder,
Jon Vitti,   Wallace Wolodarsky  gave us:
*Bonjour, you cheese-eating surrender-monkeys! - Groundskeeper Willie

You'll have to speak up, I'm wearing a towel. - Homer

"Inflammable means flammable? What a country!" - Dr Nick Riviera

Hi, I'm Troy McClure. You might remember me from such self-help videos as "Smoke Yourself Thin" and "Get Confident, Stupid." 

Aren't we forgetting the true meaning of Christmas: the birth of Santa - Bart

 I used to be with it, but then they changed what "it" was, and now what I'm with isn't it. And what's "it" seems weird and scary to me. -Grampa

Oh boy, dinnertime. The perfect break between work and drunk! - Homer

Now make like my pants, and split. -Comic Book Guy

Stupider like a fox! - Homer

Yes, but I'd trade it all for a little more. -Mr. Burns 

It felt comforting to know that while we watched TV, there was art going on behind us - Marge 

I'm going to the back seat of my car, with the woman I love, and I won't be back for ten minutes! - Homer

 If cartoons were meant for adults, they'd put them on in prime time. - Lisa

She knew my one weakness, that I'm weak! - Homer

 I've been called ugly, pug ugly, fugly, pug fugly, but never ugly ugly. – Moe

Hmm, looks like we’re out of corn pone, fat back, hard tack, fat pone, corn tack…” - Bart

If you don't like your job you don't strike, you just go in every day and do it really half assed, that's the American way. - Homer