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 Hollywood animation studios surprisingly sour and bitter for places 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 we taxied 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 and fell instantly asleep. Like sleeping on a cloud.

The next day, I awoke to exotic foods, fireplace flames and 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.

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 . . . 


You can find the content of this post in ANIMATED, a novel.

Sunday, November 22, 2009


France is justly famous for its cuisine, also for eating frog’s legs and snails. These things came to be part of the French diet because of hard times during wars and famine. Frogs and snails and all the rest are a good, cheap source of protein and should not be sniffed at by those of us who have plenty to eat. How choosy would we be if we were hungry, I wonder?

There was a time in France (1030-1032 under King Henri I), when food was so scarce that the French not only ate snails, frogs, kidneys and livers etc., but they ate each other as well. Cannibalism was common and human flesh was sold in the market. Of course, other peoples have also resorted to cannibalism, some not even out of necessity.  

Most ancient cultures have experienced famine at some point and have learned to eat all parts of the animals they kill: beak, snout, ears, testicles, penis, uterus, intestines, heart, lungs, pancreas, brains. Alexandre Dumas even has a recipe for elephant’s feet, in his Grand Dictionnaire de la Cuisine, available on Amazon in case you need it. They taste like marrow, apparently. 

Too many people, usually plumper than they should be, loudly squawk “ew!” at the mention of a liver or a kidney on their plate, or even mutton, which many mistaenly think is goat.  This “ew” factor has been exported around the world via TV shows and movies, making it acceptable to throw out or ignore vast amounts of nourishing food for no good reason, while too many people starve.

There’s nothing shameful or “ew” about eating a snail; they’re now considered a delicacy. There's even snail caviar, delicate translucent snail eggs which taste like "a walk in the woods", I hear. And if snails eat your garden, eat them back. With garlic butter and parsley and a nice Beaujolais. Besides, snails are quite remarkable critters: not only do they have a beautifully designed Art Nouveau home, but they can slide across a razor’s edge without cutting themselves, thanks to their amazing mucous. By the way, snails should be served cooked and HOT and not on "a bed of ice", as I read with horror on a blog recently. When cooked they are not slimy in any way, the texture is softly rubbery, in fact. 

Other fine sources of protein are octopus beaks, giant African snails (as big as a Sunday roast), cicadas, lemon ants, bee larvae, bamboo worms, scorpions, tarantulas, dragonflies, sago grubs, cockroaches. And, the way things are going, we might be eating them sooner than we think.

Photos: top: Beef heart   /  Centre right: snail caviar  


Saturday, November 14, 2009


Last week I bumped into a friend who asked about my book.
    “What's it about?”
    “Oh, what fun, how charming!”
There it was again, the assumption that anything to do with animation is automatically fun and charming. The patronising tone also suggested that animation might be frivolous fluff not to be taken seriously. Not that it isn't fun now and then, but there's more to it than fun and jokes.
     Although cartoons are mostly made to amuse, (with exceptions like PERSEPOLIS and WALTZ WITH BASHIR), it’s the end product that’s funny, but the work required to get it on to the screen is challenging, difficult, painful. Anything but fun.
    Nothing fun or charming about working eighteen hour days, producing high quality images at supersonic speed while diplomatically dealing with people you often hate with a passion. Animation is a cold-blooded, cutthroat business, where it’s every artist for himself. It’s an industry, a business, not a joke, not fun. And, although artists may have a reputation for being weird and crazy, how many films would be finished if animation artists were so nuts that they couldn’t do their job? And their job is tough. It requires not only artistic talent, but discipline, endurance, stamina, courage and nerves of steel, not to mention buns of steel.   
    Artists race against time to get those funny gags and cute, charming characters on to the screen. They may enjoy the challenge of moving a character in a funny way, painting a background with a specific atmosphere, but not for long. In animation, there’s no time for artistic indulgence, it’s all about deadlines. Daily, weekly and the ultimate deadline, the film’s release date which can't be changed. So, even though the average animated feature film, from concept to screen, takes about four years to make, it’s always the animation department that bears the brunt of the pressure to finish on time. The writers and designers take up a lot of the time making the film the best it can be before animation can start and, since there’s still a lot of work to do after animation, it's the animators who are under the most pressure to work fast.
    Animation is also team work. Artists have to work together, sometimes for decades, so they get to know each other intimately, they get on each other's nerves, get in each other's face and business, gossip, fret, fight and befriend each other, but always there’s the common thread that makes these disparate individuals function like one big multi-armed organism, the animation.  Animation artists would walk through fire for their art.
    And don’t get the impression that they are a humorless bunch. Artists skewer each other with biting caricatures, chortle about each other’s peccadilloes, pull stunts and pranks, but mostly they just don’t have time for fun.   
    What IS funny about an animation studio, is the way it takes itself so seriously.  It has to, to get the work done, but people taking themselves seriously are always funny.  It’s the banana-peel school of comedy.  One slip and you’re hilarious.
    And the urgency is funny. It’s just a movie, for heaven’s sake, but artists can get caught up and carried away by the artificial urgency of a deadline to the point of slapstick. All this high drama and hilarity provided fodder for my book.
    So, while the business of animation is not much fun, writing and reading about it is.        

Sunday, November 8, 2009


When it was time to start animating BEAUTY AND THE BEAST. . .

The content of this post can be found in 
ANIMATED, a novel

Sunday, November 1, 2009


I first discovered Twitter in June 2009.
After hearing about it from everyone, everywhere for months, I finally logged on, created an avatar and told the world about my lunch. It seemed asinine.  But, gradually, I found kindred writerly and artistic spirits and spirits I didn’t think could be kindred but were.
Twitter was as addictive as chocolate.
I loved reading what other people were doing, it was voyeuristic and altogether terrific. Getting glimpses of people’s lives is a writer’s dream, even better than eavesdropping in a café.  Almost better than chocolate.
    After the novelty of connection wore off, I began to learn things about publishing, agents, editors, query letters and submissions that would have taken years to learn without Twitter. I shared chocolate info while savoring sweetly perfumed 70% Lindt intense pear and the witty, sarcastic, hilarious and harshly critical Tweets and blogs of the other people I followed. Their excellent writing inspired me to tighten up the blather on my blog.
    Over the past months, thanks to Twitter, my blog has been visited by artists, animators, writers, poets, scientists, photographers, journalists and lawyers.
    Twitter also allowed me to see how much writers struggle to write.  Even published and successful ones panic about deadlines, agonise about the next book not being good enough, worry about being dropped by their publisher and about how low advances are going. Good grief, it seems writing never gets easy. Except for Dan Brown, who is not on Twitter. Or J.K. Rowling, who is, but is too busy writing to Tweet. (What is she writing, and when will we see it?  Will it be under a pseudonym and if so, how will we know?) 
    Dan Brown, God bless his rich little best-seller heart, says he gets up at 4 am to write. So, I figured it was worth a shot. I began waking up a 4 AM.  Not to sit at my keyboard, but to think in the dark. (In more ways than one).  Writing is 99% thinking and 1% typing, isn’t it?  I thought about what I wanted to write that day. Toni Morrison said something like: “I type at my keyboard, but I write all over the house.”  Yes, and outside too, in cars and buses and planes.
    After deep thoughts in the dark, I'd get up just before dawn and go for a one-mile walk, while I wrote in my head. I liked being up and out while there were a couple of stars still in the sky and the street lights were still on. And, although it didn't transform me into a best-selling author, it got the day going.  So I kept doing it.
    I fret about my so-called “writing process”.  I’m not sure it is a process at all. I just write any way I can, really. Sometimes in great spurts, sometimes just a word or two. Sometimes everything I write will sing, sometimes it all sucks. Sometimes I labor over a page or a paragraph or a word, sometimes it pours out effortlessly. I rant and rave on my blog to clarify my thoughts. I tell myself that blogging is good for keeping up the writerly chops. Is it? I don’t know.
    My Twitter addiction is under control now, unlike my writing or my craving for chocolate. I find that writing requires more and more chocolate. Especially Lindt chili chocolate, not too sweet, with a little burn at the end. I like to get my tongue wrapped around a thick chunk of it and, as it begins to melt, slide it around until all the flavors erupt all over my palate then slip smoothly down my throat.
    If only I could get my writing to slide around smoothly and erupt with a little burn at the end. Perhaps more chocolate will help.

Sunday, October 18, 2009


When the Disney animation artists were banished from the studio lot to a warehouse in an industrial park they didn’t sit around wringing their hands. They started work on THE LITTLE MERMAID and on a short to accompany it: THE PRINCE AND THE PAUPER, starring Mickey Mouse.


The cotent of this post can be found in 

Wednesday, October 7, 2009


“Where are you from?” the total stranger at the elevator asks me. Inwardly, I groan and roll my eyes. This friendly stranger is, of course, oblivious of the awkwardness of this question for  someone like me and for many others. It’s an important question, part of our instant evaluation of another human being. Right after gender and age. People want to know if you’re one of them or an intruder. And if the latter, what kind of intruder, dangerous or not. It’s a primitive, tribal rite and perfectly logical, except that very few people can provide a one-word or even a one-phrase answer these days and who wants to tell their life story to someone they don't know?

The wording of the question is vague and practically impossible to answer anyway. Do you mean "where were you born?" (usually the case) or what city did you live in last? Define "from".

If I try to dodge the question, he’ll insist, if I refuse to answer he’ll be insulted. If I do answer and he doesn't know what category to put me in, usually the case, he’ll become hostile. If he categorises me incorrectly, I'll become hostile. 

He hasn't considered that many of us are not born and bred in the same place anymore. We’re peripatetic, we’re no longer colored by, infused with the qualities of, our birthplace. Some of us have never even seen it, having left as infants. Nor are we necessarily creatures of the place we were educated, nor do we live in one place very long anymore. We move around the world for jobs, adventure, vacation. We have a wider frame of reference and are influenced by far more than our birthplace. So, you're probably not going to understand many of us any better by knowing where we were born. In fact, it may confuse the issue even more. 

Time after time, I see people bending over backwards to accommodate this indiscretion, politely explaining, “I was born in A, but we moved to B and I went to school in C, then we moved to D before coming here.” And voilà, you've told your life story to a total stranger. Do you want strangers running around with your personal story?  

It’s commonly thought to be a perfectly acceptable icebreaker, even polite to ask this question. But how can it be polite to force a stranger to tell you their life story or to lie to you? Give this some thought please folks, it really is awkward to put us on the spot like this. Answering the question “Whereyoufrom?” is a bore and can lead to insults, jeers, even attacks and sabotage for giving what the asker considers a "wrong" answer, it can even endanger your life if your country is unpopular or happens to be at war with the askers'. Asking "Whereyoufrom?" can cause all kinds of trouble. 

And if you have an accent you're considered fair game as far as indiscreet questions are concerned. “You have an accent, so where you from? Where were you born?  Where does your family live? What does your father do? What do you do? How old are you? How much did your shoes cost? Do you pick your nose?"
And by the way, folks, EVERYONE has an accent no matter where you're "from".

Why don't I just lie, you may ask. Sometimes I do, as we shall see, but one lie leads to others and then it gets complicated. Besides, some of us are lousy liars, even to strangers.

Many people feel there’s something suspicious and louche about a foreigner. They don’t realise that we’re all foreigners and we all have accents, it’s just a matter of displacement: leave the country and, boom, you’re a foreigner. With an accent. The first time I got a passport, I was shocked to realise that I was one of those “foreigners”, those weird untrustworthy people. But I’m not like that, I thought. Exactly. Neither is anybody else. Being a foreigner is like being a "refugee" for Jesse Jackson during Katrina. "But they're not refugees," he protested, thinking it was a shameful thing, "They're Americans!" Yes, but they're also taking refuge, so they're refugees. Nothing wrong with that. Or with being foreign.

If, like me, you didn’t grow up in your birthplace and it had no influence on your life or character, nor did the second place you lived, but the third defined and marked you profoundly but that’s not where you live right now, how do you answer that constant question? If you say any one of the places, the asker starts jumping to the wrong conclusions, making incorrect assumptions and applying all the clichés they've seen on TV about that place to you for the rest of your relationship. If you explain, you’ve told your life story. If you lie, you may be interrogated and obliged to lie some more and feel even more uncomfortable. 

Having a national label is not really useful. No nation has a population of homogeneous nationals as represented on television. And none of us chooses where we're born so why should it define us?

"Zanzibar," I lie to the total stranger as we get into the elevator and I know I'm in for a grilling about a place I've never seen. 

So, please folks, don’t ask people where they’re from. 
Let them tell you. 
In due course. 
At the appropriate time.

Sunday, October 4, 2009


1. Animation is fun
2. Animation is easy
3. Animation is sloppy drawing
4. There is no thought involved in animating
5. Animators are less talented than fine artists
6. Animators laugh, joke and whistle while they work
7. Bluebirds and small animals bring us our pencils
• FUN: why would 18-hour days spent animating to extremely high standards and draconian deadlines be fun?

• EASY: how is drawing a character in hundreds of positions so it moves in a lifelike way, easy?

• SLOPPY DRAWING: Both fine artists and animators study human and animal anatomy, perspective, sculpture, art history. Plus, for animators, the intricate rules of art in motion.

• NO THOUGHT: Think how much thought goes into thinking about how to make something move, then drawing it so it moves the way you want. A pencil line doesn’t move, it all comes to life in the mind.


• WHISTLING AT WORK: There is a hushed silence in a professional animation studio because animators do a lot of thinking, plus most animation is funny and comedy is hard.  It requires deadly serious thought.  And thinking requires quiet.

• NO BLUEBIRDS or fuzzy bunnies. Some tarantulas and the occasional boa, though.

Friday, September 18, 2009


Disney may not have invented animation, but they certainly refined and perfected it and should take better care of it...

 The content of this post can be found in
"ANIMATED", a novel.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009


I love to see the face of an artist creating. Whether it’s painting, animating or writing, the expression is the same. Some would say it’s concentration and it is, but it's more than that. Accountants concentrate, but they don’t look like artists do, with all due respect. Artists creating have the look of someone in another world, their body is present, but their mind is elsewhere, on the page, in the stone, the paint, looking at something we can’t see until we get the finished creation. See the eyes of Rembrandt van Rijn and Michelangelo above and Vincent van Gogh below? Artist eyes. Eyes that say I-see-you instead of Do-you-see-me?
And when I say "artist", I include: musicians, writers, sculptors, dancers etc., although I resent that they can call themselves "artists" but artists can't call themselves dancers, musicians or writers etc.. 

What sometimes transports us, is the medium itself, the toothy texture of the paper, the feel of the pencil, its angles and the smell of soft graphite flowing smoothly on to the paper leaving a slight indentation. Or watching the brush wetly pull the color along just the way you want it, just where you want it. Or the glistening thickness of oil paint plumped up with linseed oil that looks so delicious you want to lick it. Or finding the exact word that conveys a mood or a whole phrase that jumps out under your fingers, full of rhythm and life. But mostly, it's the idea, the concept, the vision that carries us away.

From my own experience, I know the finished piece is not always what I had in mind when I started. Sometimes it’s better, sometimes it’s not as good, mostly it’s different. So, whenever I see a painting or a sculpture or read a book, I wonder how different it is from the artist’s original idea and wish I could also see the original idea. But no matter the medium or the intent, the end result is the same for all creators: showing the world how to see things from your perspective.


Sunday, August 9, 2009


I’ve noticed that many people think appreciating excellence has something to do with snobbery. While the meaning of APPRECIATION is clear, the meaning of SNOBBERY seems to be a little more vague. My favorite definition of a snob is one who foolishly follows fashion and looks down on those who don’t. The OED gives several definitions of a snob and I’m mashing two together because I think it’s what most people mean when they say snob: One who admires and seeks to imitate or associate with those of superior rank or wealth and who despises those who are considered inferior in rank, attainment or taste. 
A thing can be appreciated for its quality, the value we attach to it, the amount of pleasure it gives us. Nothing to do with despising other things, everything to do with appreciating excellent things. Perhaps it’s admiring one thing more than another that leads people to talk of snobbery. And when a lot of people appreciate the same thing, it wins prizes, becomes famous and fashionable and its price goes up. That's usually where snobbery comes in.  
    We’re accused of being snobs for liking well-made books, clothes, shoes, art, music, food, wine, you name it, if it’s excellent and we like it, we’re snobs. Or worse yet, élitists. Appreciating something excellent is a matter of pleasure and passion. Feeling passionate about something is never snobbery or élitist. It’s only when you sneer at other people’s idea of excellence that you become a snob. Snobbery is foolish imitation and not worth much. The snobbery label applied to appreciation diminishes admiration and wonder.
    Appreciation of all forms of excellence should be respected and celebrated without apology or labels 
of snobbery

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 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 a glossy smoothness that slakes 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, the thick cocoa butter melting ve-e-ry slowly, lingering and releasing intoxicating 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, shiny smooth things with icing. 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 it 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 are exotic chocolatiers who make chocolate shoes, watches, chocolate phones, sausages and more manly bolts, screws and tools.
Whatever its shape, chocolate is one of life's great taste adventures.

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