Archive for July, 2007

Thoughts and Kats

Sunday, July 29th, 2007

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Here are the Kats from 9-30-1938 to 10-6. We have the conclusion of the log sequence from last week and a funny new series with Ignatz trying to do a phone-in order to Kolin Kelly. Offissa Pupp is so on the job it’s ridiculous! I love that pantomime strip of 10-1, Pupp is a smart/stupid wonder.

Cathy and I had a pretty good week. The only low point was trying to get a passport at the post office. When you have to wait an hour and a half to get waited on, with all the paper work filled out and the pictures taken, and  then give up in disgust without accomplishing anything, well…obviously the post office is not equipped for passport processing. We went to a beautiful house on Thursday morning which overlooks the Arroyo Seco in Pasadena, beautiful views of the old Vista De Arroyo hotel and the old riverbed and the San Gabriel mountains! It was such a hot day that we found ourselves gravitating to the beautiful swimming pool and pool house in the front of the property. We vicariously experienced the cool water by painting the Ultramarine and Cerulean blues in the water with the peach/orange of the pool-house for contrast. The famous Jason Situ, world-class Chinese landscape painter joined us, and turned out a good oil study of the pool. His knowledge of values and colors is always inspiring to us, he always uses Prussian Blue for his darks, he likes to avoid black. As usual, Jason was the last artist painting, he’s slow, but good! He learned to paint the hard way, by being forced to paint images of Chairman Mao as a kid! It paid off.

I didn’t get any response to my mechanics problem on Sc. 25, so I am into the first third of Sc. 26, animating Pearly’s house going through gyrations. My animation board shorted out, and I’ve had a temporary light in it for awhile, but I longed to get it back in proper operation again. So, I called an electrician! Don’t do this, folks. He charged $100.00 just to LOOK at the job, then wanted $900.00 to rewire my desk and fix a ceiling fixture in the kitchen that also fizzled out. I didn’t even pay $100.00 for my animation desk in the first place! Well, needless to say, I didn’t hire him and found a handyman through our local hardware dealer. The guy came out to the house two days later, with all the proper tools in hand and fixed everything up for $75.00! The problem with the desk was a burned-out plug, not the wiring. Also the florescent tube was at the end of it’s life. Now with a new plug and tube, the old Disney Inbetweeners desk is working like new again. So if you hire an electrician with a fancy truck who charges a century note just to look at your job, think again, there’s cheaper ways to go.

In the previous post, Craig Clark asked me what I thought of the animated versions of Krazy Kat. If you want to limit it just to Herriman’s version of the character, then the 1936 Columbia cartoon; “L’il Anjil” is the most successful interpretation. The animation is fluid, the only significant voice is Offissa Pupp. Manny Gould and the other animators really make you feel the joy that Krazy feels from being socked with a brick, through that little dance than he does. The backgrounds and the props have a real Herriman feel to them, I even like the title card, a brick with the lettering inside of it. It is not perfect, it fails at capturing the underlying gentleness and bittersweet underpinnings of the love triangle that is central to the strip. In fairness, that kind of feel is probably outside the dimensions of a six minute slapstick animated cartoon, especially in 1936. The little mewling theme song that Joe De Nat wrote for this cartoon seems to be the perfect music for Herriman’s Kat. The second most successful animated version of Herriman (a very distant second) is Gene Deitch’s series of cartoons for Hearst corp. in 1963. Penny Philips was cast as the voice of Krazy, and she almost matches the way I hear Krazy as I read the strip, except Krazy sounds more like a lower east side Jewish mother. Where Gene made his mistake was giving Krazy feminine MANNERISMS to go with the voice. Krazy should move like a boy, but sound more or less like a woman with a strange accent. Paul Frees did a creditable job as Ignatz and Offissa, sounding tough as Ignatz and Ed Wynnish as Offissa. The animation is good off and on as schedules and the talents of the crew in Prague permitted. The style is close to Herriman, but a little too rough and coarse in the outlines. Herriman’s use of values and his aggressive cross-hatching sometimes make it look like his characters are emerging from blackness. Gene’s art direction looks too sunny and open-air. He did set all the action in Coconino with the monuments from the Navajo Tribal Park in all their glory, so at least that was done right.

Most of the other attempts at Krazy cartoons missed Herriman completely. Some, however, succeed at being good animated cartoons anyway. I like the looseness of Bill Nolan and Grim Natwick’s animation in the early 1920s releases such as Bokays and Brickbats, which has Krazy fighting a whole army of Ignatz like-alooks. “Making Good” has some great Grim Natwick tall girls in it, and some nice animation of Krazy looking for a hair ribbon. The silent Ben Harrison and Manny Gould efforts such as Sleepy Holler that were recently uprooted from the British Film Institute look good and show Krazy as a dad with a bunch of little Krazys in a cradle. The animation is good, but not as good as the Bill Nolans. I love the early thirties sound Columbia Krazys, not because they evoke Herriman, but because they are noble cartoons with the even nobler music of Joe De Nat to support them. Have you seen “Farm Relief” from 1929? This was apparently made in New York, as some of Friz Freleng’s animation is in evidence with very Harman-Ising style chickens laying eggs in a great hatching-to-maturity cycle. Harrison and Manny Gould tried a lot of story concepts which no other studio attempted, like trying to explain Wall Street in LAMBS WILL GAMBLE (1930), I love the bear sequence in that one, Joe De Nat underscores it with the old “Grizzly Bear Rag” song. BIRTH OF JAZZ (1932) is one of my favorites as Harrison/Gould’s version of Krazy is dropped down a chimney by the stork and emerges as a Ted Lewis bringing “St. Louis Blues” to life on his licorice stick. He then hops a plane with all the instruments and brings jazz to the whole world. 1935’s THE HOTCHA MELODY is one of the few cartoons that shows the life of a creative person, in this case a composer of popular music (Krazy Kat), in the actual process of getting an idea. He is literally tempted by the devil to steal Robert Schumann’s “Traumerai” and turn it into a popular song called “The Hot-cha Melody”. Krazy is delighted to hear his song on all the radio stations sung by Kate Smith, Bing Crosby, the Boswell sisters and Cab Calloway. He pays the price though, when the spirit of Schumann appears to him and beats him up for stealing his melody. There is satiric commentary about Tin Pan Alley and the whole process of popular music marketing in the thirties that I’ve never seen in any other cartoon. I’ve always liked 1936’s THE MERRY CAFE too. It’s about poor Krazy starving amid plenty in the “Eat-O-Mat”, a cartoon version of Manhattan’s Automat restaurant of the 1920s and 1930s. The whole concept of “automatic” dining works well as cartoon backdrop and the fantasy sequence with the various foodstuffs coming to life is a lot of fun. My favorite scene is the hot drops of chocolate emerging from an urn and turning into little black dancers. I think Joe De Nat uses the “Muskrat Ramble” to great effect in this cartoon. A few peaches sing “Music Is Magic” by Arthur Johnston, from the 20th Century-Fox musical “Music Is Magic” introduced by Alice Faye.

I’ve always imagined Columbia’s Krazy to be a Kat apart. He was the first character I was exposed to as a kid with the name Krazy Kat, so I thought he was the “real” Kat. Then when our local TV station ran “L’il Ainjil”, I thought something was terribly wrong! What happened to Krazy? Who were that weird dog, duck and mouse? Well, thanks to Coulton Waugh’s “The Comics”, I found the answer, the comic strip! It was love at first sight, ever since then I’ve read Krazy Kat where ever I can find it. The strip is really a pure thing, it can’t successfully be interpreted in any other media. Of course, I’ve never seen the John Alden Carpenter ballet, but for that I’d need a time machine! So long until next time.

HIYA

Saturday, July 21st, 2007

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Here’s Krazy, 9-23-1938 through 9-29.  This week, the bank sequence from last week winds up with a rubber check gag, and Garge starts a “transportation” cycle this week. I love the pose of Krazy skating in 9-26, and the wagon with a sail in 9-28 reminds me of the Disney limited animation cartoon: “Windwagon Smith”.

I almost finished Sc. 25 this week of “There Must Be Some Other Cat”. I have a mechanics problem. I know how to pan north and south on a conventional 90 degree tilt set-up. How do you pan north and south on a conventional 12 field center set-up? Do you use floating pegs? Pearly, the cat’s “girl-friend” picks the cat up by the scruff of his neck and then lifts him up north. Consequently, the BG should move about 3 inches south and hook up with a new BG that will pan to the right. Any of you geniuses out there have a suggestion about how to prepare backgrounds for moves like that? Sorry, computer devotees, this is for conventional camera mechanics experts only.

Cathy and I went out to the old E. Waldo Ward jelly factory in Sierra Madre last Thursday and painted with our Thurs. morning group. E. Waldo Ward Co. make a great orange marmalade and import and stuff olives from Spain. Cathy did a study of their orange grove (one of the last standing groves in Sierra Madre, Ca.) in oil and I did a watercolor of the old jelly factory itself, which is a corrugated tin building. Cathy’s painting has beautiful colors in it, orange, green and violet shadows, it looks very inviting. It was a hot day but a great day for cast shadows and creating an image from the color temperature of those shadows. If I ever get a #$%^&* scanner going, I’ll display some images of our paintings to make these posts more stimulating. Speaking of computer geniuses, my brother-in-law’s in town now on vacation from his teaching job in Edwardsville, Illinois. Maybe he can give me some ideas on preparing scans for blogging. Hope ya’ll have a great week ahead!

Of Kats and Painting

Sunday, July 15th, 2007

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Here are the KKs from 9-16 to 9-22-1938. Mostly bank and money jokes this week, maybe Garge had some banking altercations that inspired the gags. Look at all the different ways that Krazy’s head and body are constructed within the same strip, 9-21, yet he remains Krazy. Cathy and I managed to get to Buster’s coffee house in South Pasadena for our Thursday paint-out on July 12th. We painted Buster’s from across the street, and  had fun doing it while the new “Gold Line” trolley cars ran by. We were critted by our mentor Walter McNall, who keeps advising me to always paint the shadows first in a composition, and put people or animals in the picture to keep it interesting. He’s a tough critmaster, but fair. Walter has been painting many years, and almost always sells his stuff, often to casual passers-by.

I have two ideas that could help save the world we live in, someone please invent a miniaturized solar battery! If they can miniaturize computers into the Iphone, why can’t somebody shrink the solar battery to a more manageable size with increased storage capacity? Then we can finally run our cars directly with sun power!  The other idea: read aloud to your kids, and do it often! If we are going to develop oral tradition and a love for storytelling, we should all read aloud our favorite stories to children, both our own and at your local public libraries. Pry ’em away from all the electronic squawk boxes, grab your copy of “The Curious Lobster” and read it aloud! Read it well, make it interesting and you’ve hooked a new generation on story telling and the wonders of books.

Use the link to the right to get to Tom Stathes’s blog and take advantage of his big 50% off DVD sale. This offer is good up to August first. Just tell him I sent you. Three of my favorite Stathes DVDs are # TS-21, Bonzo the Pup, a rare collection of Studdy’s famous British dog character. This DVD includes some titles transferred from 9.5mm prints including Aladdin Bonzo, a Stathes exclusive, and Dog-Gone, in which Bonzo drinks a bottle of Bass Ale at the finish. TS-17, Felix the Cat, Vol. 3, has a rare excerpt from the early 30s Felix: Hootchy Kootchy Parlais Vouz, which uses that wonderful toy-like design. Felix’s body is the shape of a bowling pin in this one, there is a great scene of Felix marching along, leading a big parade of cats. This fragment is all that survives from this rare Felix cartoon. T.S. 04: Rare Silent Cartoons Volume 1 has such rarities as Kat in Chinatown, a live action/animation combo cartoon featuring Tad Dorgan’s Cat. Speaking of Tad Dorgan, there is also on the same DVD, the animated version of Tad’s “Indoor Sports” comic strip, featuring the Joys and Glooms animated by Bill Nolan! This is a very inexpensive way to get viewing copies of under-circulated silent animation, and help Tom out on his crusade to rescue and help preserve early cartoons. C’mon now, git yer onery hides over there and cough up! You’ll be glad you did.

Here’s to ya!

Sunday, July 8th, 2007

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It’s not often that Garge references animated cartoons in his strip, but take a look at 9-9-1938 and 9-10.  In the finish to last week’s sequence, Ignatz tries to convince Offissa Pupp that the brick is actually an animated drawing! Pupp comes up with an animated rejoinder in 9-10 with his rolling jail. I love the gag in 9-14, it feels like Garge might have used in earlier years; it sort of ties in with the animation theme this week. Take a look at the drawing of Ignatz socking Krazy in the 9-15 strip. I think it’s the happiest Krazy that Garge ever penned. Once again, Ignatz tries to fool Offissa Pupp into thinking that the brick is a hallucination, but this time it doesn’t work. By the way, did you know that if you click on the strips, they will display larger in a seperate window? Some people don’t know that.

Cathy and I saw “Ratatouille” at the Sam Goldwyn theater last week. No film involved, an all digital presentation of an all-digital film. The image was very clean, no scratches or cue marks, looked almost flawless, although a shade under-lit. We all were really watching extremely high-class projected television. I must admit that I wasn’t thinking about whether it was film or digital projection until about half-way through the film. There was no hard-edge film “strobe” or chattering in the image, and that’s when it dawned on me that I wasn’t watching film.

“Ratatouille” is a pretty good looking (digital) “film”, we were both entertained by it. We are both fans of cooking and the Food Network, so the subject matter was appealing. Brad could have spent even more time in the kitchen cooking and less time with the romantic subplot, which didn’t seem believable. Preparing the actual ratatouille dish for the food critic, and his reaction to it, was the highspot of the picture for me. I’m glad Brad didn’t succumb to temptation and made one of the chefs a caricature of Emeril Lagasse, or something, though Emeril (Food Network chef) is quite a cartoony guy.

I used to animate for Brad, I worked on “The Family Dog” episode of Amazing Stories that he directed. I worked free-lance, one of the scenes I did was the Family Dog dropping his dog dish on the floor at the feet of the housewife. Brad was a good director and very intensely involved in telling the story. Sometimes he was so dedicated to, and emotional about the picture that I feared for his health. All of us who worked on the episode received T-shirts from Brad that said “Birdworks Animation Guerillas” on one side, and “Die, Mediocrity, Die!” on the reverse. Brad, was then and still is determined to purge his films of all “mediocrity”. You can never say that Brad doesn’t care about his work. Now that digital puppeteering has replaced the animated drawing as his performance medium, he can no doubt do corrections and changes and additions to scenes more easily than ever before. For the most part, this works in favor of the acting and against “mediocrity”. The only thing that bothered me even a little bit, was the sameness (not mediocrity)  in the expression of anger by most of the characters, be they rats, big chefs or little chefs. When one character gets angry at another one, they usually get nose to nose, teeth clenched in anger, usually with big gestures and Milt Kahl headshakes. The lady chef certainly acted that way in her early scenes with Linguini, and the head chef (the little guy) expressed anger in a similar way. Even the restaurant critic, voiced by Peter O’Toole let his anger boil over at least once that I recall. All of this isn’t really that much of a flaw, as it is a reflection of Brad’s personality through his characters. Brad can be a very intense (even angry) guy at times. Anger is a very “felt” emotion, and is fun to animate. Happiness, love, tenderness can be fun to express as well, but don’t involve the whole body as intensely as anger can. Maybe these scenes needed just a little more thought about how that SPECIFIC character would feel and express anger.

I thought the art direction and lighting in the movie were outstanding. I think Michel Gagne (it certainly looked like his stuff) animated the Oskar Fischinger-esque spirals and grawlixes to show visually how food tastes to a gourmand. They accompanied Remy talking about mixing flavors. When Remy’s pal, the fat rat, becomes aware of flavors, the grawlixes are there, but less intense in value and color to illustrate his amateur standing as a food fancier. The mobile camera is a very flexible tool in the hands of digital puppeteers, with the dimensional character, the camera can move all around, in front, behind and inside the character quite fluidly. Sometimes, this works well, as in the scene where Remy is throwing ingredients into a pot and the camera slowly circles him as he does it. Animating a scene like that with drawings would be a very difficult acting and technical challenge. I felt a bit less comfortable with several sequences in a row of Remy scrambling up and down buildings closely followed by the digital camera. One sequence like that would have been impressive, two or three in a row become disorienting on the big screen, and after awhile the audience takes them for granted. Does camera movement like that really advance the story? Sometimes simple camera pans over well-designed sets work just as well. Of course with such a Pandora’s box of tricks and tools as digital puppeteering provides for the filmmaker, the question is often: “I know I CAN, but SHOULD I?” “Ratatouille” is really enjoyable, though, although some folks, like Mike Sporn, were repulsed by a lot of rats in the kitchen. Well, at least they sterilized themselves in the dishwasher before working with the food, Mike. (I liked how fluffed up they were when coming out of the steamer.) I found myself more bothered by a cartoon cliche like a single-shot rifle (fired by the old lady), being able to fire many times in succession without being reloaded! I’m going to shut up, now. Expressing any kind of opinion on the internet can be troublesome and doing reviews of friends’ work can be dangerous. Fortunately, relatively few people read this blog. ‘Bye til next time.