Tuesday, August 18, 2015

The Lion Guard

I had a whole other post planned, but It'll have to wait until tomorrow.

Here is a clip released at 2015's D23 Expo this past weekend.  A new animated series that premieres this fall on Disney Channel called "The Lion Guard".  I understand this might very well be a series on Disney Junior, which impresses me even more, considering the attention to detail it's being given.

I know, I know.  But this isn't some campy looking series like that "Gravity Falls" that plays into this crappy trendy animated style that is so popular right now.  No.  This has a feature animation aesthetic.  There is some gorgeous animation and feature quality effects work in play.

We all remember the train wreck that was the direct to video movie about Simba's daughter, Kiara.  Well this isn't that.  The series follows Simba's second born, his first son, Kion.  Don't judge this based on his name.  The cast list includes Sarah Hyland (Modern Family), Rob Lowe as Simba, and returning as Pumbaa and Timon, Ernie Sabella and Kevin Schon respectively.

This is beautifully animated.  The backgrounds and effects work match the feature quality.  The hyenas were redesigned for animation technical reasons, but they look beautiful despite.  I can't judge the story quality yet, and I refuse to critique that aspect based on a 3:45 clip.  It is eye candy for now.

Watch this clip to see what I'm talking about.

Andreas Deja, Disney Legend

The 2015 D23 Convention, Disney's fan convention, was held in Anaheim this past weekend.  Some big plans were revealed over the weekend.  Some of the bigger announcements were some great film plans and huge Star Wars lands coming to Disney Parks.  One of my favorite events at these conventions, however, is the Disney Legend induction ceremonies.  This year, some big names in entertainment were inducted into Disney Legend status including Johnny Depp, George Lucas and one of my heroes in Animation, Andreas Deja.

Andreas was born in Poland and raised in Germany.  His passion for animation was born at the age of eleven while watching his first Disney animated feature, "The Jungle Book".  He was especially mesmerized by the villain of the film, the tiger Shere Kahn.  He was awestruck by the way the character moved, and how it breathed life into the scenes it was in.  An animation enthusiast was born.  In time, he would learn it was Milt Kahl who animated the character and Milt became a hero to emulate after.  Andreas had written to the Disney studios in hopes to learn what it would take to be a Disney artist.  The advice given would guide him to take lots of drawing courses including life drawing and sketching animals at the zoo.

He sent off a stunning portfolio that got him hired at Disney Feature Animation right away.  His first picture was "The Black Cauldron", where Andreas did a lot of the character design work.  Later, Andreas proved the masterful animator and rose to the ranks of Supervising Animator on King Triton in "The Little Mermaid", Gaston in "Beauty and the Beast", Jafar in "Aladdin" and my favorite, Scar of "The Lion King" to name a few.

His Animation is known for broad gestures as well as reserved,  verbose as well as subtle, and  well drafted as well as fun and rubbery.  As I had mentioned before, he is a master at animating Mickey Mouse.  He was Mickey's Supervising Animator for "Mickey's Prince and the Pauper" and "Runaway Brain".  His most recent Mickey animation was briefly seen in "Fantasia 2000".  In my opinion, Andreas's animation of Mickey brought life to him not seen since Freddy Moore in the 40's.  Not comfortable with the conversion to computer animation, Mr Deja retired from the Disney studios after he completed his work on Tigger in the 2011 feature "Winnie the Pooh".

His induction as a Disney Legend is an honor well deserved.  I congratulate him on the honor and look forward to visiting his handprints in the Legends Court in Burbank soon.

As a side note: Andreas has a remarkable blog that every animation enthusiast should read.  You can check out his personal reflections at  http://andreasdeja.blogspot.com

Monday, August 10, 2015

Runaway Brain

"Runaway Brain" was released 20 years ago today.  This short subject was released in conjunction with the film, "A Kid in King Arthur's Court", and was Mickey's first theatrical release since "Mickey's Prince and the Pauper".  

The short stars Mickey & Minnie Mouse.  The premise revolves around Mickey forgetting his and Minnie's anniversary and while trying to overcompensate, he inadvertently promises a Hawaiian vacation.  To earn the money needed, he answers a want ad that leads him to volunteer to act as a test subject, switching brains with a giant monster, played by Pegleg Pete.

Animation history enthusiasts will enjoy jokes that will go over others' heads, including the name of the mad scientist, Dr. Frankenollie.  The name is a play on the names of two of Disney's greatest animators and of the Nine Old Men fame, Frank Thomas and Ollie Johnston.  The doctor was voiced by Kelsey Grammer to perfection.

Directed by Chris Bailey, "Runaway Brain" was almost entirely animated in Disney's then new Animation studio in Paris, France.  The animation is as inventive and creative as the storyline, and the humor will keep the adults as entertained as the children.

Mickey Mouse's supervising animator is one of my contemporary animators heroes, Andreas Deja.  Andreas, in my opinion, is the best animator to bring life to Mickey since Fred Moore.  Mr. Deja is being honored later this month, at the D23 Expo, as a Disney Legend for all of his beautiful work as a supervising animator.  Watch for blog posts honoring him in the near future.

You can find "Runaway Brain" in the Walt Disney Treasures Collection DVD, "Mickey Mouse: in living color, vol.II

 (Animation drawings courtesy of Andreas Deja)

Saturday, August 8, 2015


Bambi premiered in London on this day in 1942.  It would be released in the US five days later.

Walt Disney's 5th animated feature film had a major set back in the aftermath of Japan's attack on Pearl Harbor.  Walt reported to work one morning to find that the government had commandeered the studio to use it as a new base.  Walt, ever the patriot, decided to work with them and allowed his studio to be used for whatever the country deemed fit.  The animators were well under way on their follow up to Dumbo.  Bambi was close on the heels of it's deadline, so Walt had made arrangements with the powers that be.  He agreed to create all of the training films and propaganda pieces that the military requested, so long as his animators were also free to finish their next film and any other shorts the studio needed to create to stay afloat.  It was the begining of a partnership, for better or worse that would span for much of the rest of the 40's.

It was a trick to keep his top animators on track in finishing up Bambi, as the generals on site only cared about the training films his other animators were creating.  Walt would give everyone projects for the military, and have them finish up Walt's animation on the down low.

The art direction on Bambi was to match the feeling of the novel the film was based on: "Bambi, A Life in the Woods" by Felix Salten.  The drawing styles used for Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs felt much too cartoony for the subject matter.  Walt brought in instructors from Chouinard Art Institute, and regularly brought live animals for the animators to use as reference.

Background paintings were created under the art direction of Cantonese painter Tyrus Wong.  His beautifully delicate oil paintings gave the film the quasi realism it needed.

Bambi lost money during it's initial release.  It grossed just under the expense budget for the film.  With the limited European release due to the war, there just wasn't enough support by movie goers.  Fortunately, rereleases would assist the studio in regaining it's losses in subsequent years.

In 2008, the American Film Institute ranked Bambi 3rd place in the top 10 classically animated features.

Friday, August 7, 2015

The Animated Feature

Walt's studio didn't invent animation, but they did take it to the next few levels and make it a respectable art form.  Sure, cartoon creations like Felix the Cat and Popeye the Sailor would have happened regardless, but I highly doubt anyone would have had the courage to create full length films if Walt hadn't done it first.

During the mid 30's, Hollywood started grumbling about a crazy idea that was being brought forth by Walt's studio.  A full length feature was in the works.  Walt had to take out loans and seek out investors to finance this dream of his.  That kind of action doesn't happen without creating a buzz around town.  In those days, the only animation being shown were the 6 minute shorts playing before the films, between news reels.  It was popular thought that no one would want to sit still for a full length animated film.  It was also suggested that watching a full length film would cause blindness.  The film was dubbed "Walt's Folly" and it was believed it would be Walt's undoing.

Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs released at the Graumans Chinese Theater on December 23, 1937 to great success, both critically as well as financially.  By the end of the film's release, the studio raked in a whopping $8 million profit.  That was Great Depression money.  With the profits, Walt built a new studio in Burbank in which the company still resides.  What became of the neigh sayers who felt Walt's film would fail?  They publicly requested a sequel.  The headlines wrote, "More Dwarfs".  Go figure, right?