Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Walt Disney: a brief history

Walter Elias Disney was born in Chicago, Illinois on December 5, 1901 to Elias and Flora Disney.  His father was of Irish and Canadian decent, while his mother was of German decent.  The name Disney was anglicized from the french name d'Isigny.

In 1906, Elias had moved his family to Marceline, Missouri, where Elias purchased farmland.  It was there where Walt discovered his fondness for drawing.  They remained there for only four years until Elias decided farming was too difficult for the family.  They then moved to Kansas City where Elias purchased a newspaper delivery route for the Kansas City Times.  Walt and his older brother Roy had to deliver all 700 of their newspapers on the routes owned by their father.  Regardless of the weather, the two boys delivered in rain, sleet and snow.  The soles of their shoes worn through, they would stack cardboard inside, as money was too tight to replace them.  They would return home, just to head out to school.  Once their studies were through for the day, they would head back out to deliver the evening edition of the paper.  This would continue for six years.  While exhausting work, it earned Walt a strong work ethic what he would demand from his future employees.

While in high school, Walt took night art classes at Chicago Academy of Fine Arts, and became a cartoonist for his high school paper. Dropping out of high school at the age of 17, he joined the Red Cross and drove ambulances in France for a year in World War 1.  When he returned to Chicago in 1919, he got  job as a cartoonist for a local paper where he illustrated political cartoons and ads.  It was there where he met a very talented artist Ub Iwerks.  He and Ub started a cartoon business called Iwerks-Disney Commercial Artists.  It proved to be short lived, so they joined the Kansas City Film Ad Company where Walt grew an interest in animation.

In those days, animation was very crude.  Walt didn't merely want to continue the way cartoons were made, but he saw the potential in evoking emotion from their audiences.  He began Laugh-O-Gram films, where they produced animated cartoons with a minimal team, but proved quite popular in Kansas City.  When it wasn't proving financially successful, Walt then decided to pack up and urge his fellow artists to move to Hollywood California.  

More on his beginnings in Hollywood to come...

Sunday, June 28, 2015

Inside Out - 100% Spoiler Free Review

My wife and I have just screened Pixar's Inside Out, and can I just say, "WOW"!  What a terrific film.

The story begins with the birth of Riley, the little girl in which the story revolves, and the five emotions that help her through life's trials and tribulations.  The main cast are composed of Amy Pohler (Joy), Phyllis Smith (Sadness), Bill Hader (Fear), Mindy Kaling (Disgust) and Lewis Black (Anger). 

The story sets up as Riley's father gets a new job, and causes her family move halfway across the country to live in San Francisco.  Life appears to be in complete chaos as their new house is in shambles, their belongings are held up by movers and all the while, Riley must start in a new school.  Meanwhile, in Riley's head, Joy has her hands full, keeping Riley's emotions in check and keeping an eye on Sadness, who can't help but get in the way.  

The story picks up speed when Sadness can't help herself and accidentally causes some turmoil, sending Joy and Sadness on an adventure to try and repair Riley's mental wellbeing and make their way home.

The Pixar team had their work cut out for them on this story.  Pete Docter, the director of UP and Monsters Inc, and co writer of the Toy Story films, Monsters Inc, Wall-E and UP took up his most challenging film yet when he agreed to helm this project.  The story was in development for over 6 years.  With all of the story's complexities, and all of the subtle nuances, this story is one of my favorites to come out of their Emeryville studio so far.  They wink and nod to all kinds things we deal with everyday, like deja vu, and how a song gets stuck in your head.  The way they handle how dreams and memories work is genuis.

The animation and visuals are breathtaking.  The idea of their shapes in character design is described by Pete Docter, "Each emotion is based on a shape.  Joy is based on a star, Sadness is a teardrop, Anger is a fire brick, Fear is a raw nerve, and Disgust is broccoli."  If you study animation and visuals the way I do, you can't help but notice that the emotions are collections of floating particles.  The effect was originally intended for only Joy.  It is said that after 8 months of animating the effect on Joy, the crew decided it was too time consuming and too difficult to continue.  They decided to reanimate Joy without the effect until John Lasseter saw the footage in dailys and insisted they keep it, and apply it to all five characters.  It is breathtaking to behold. 

At post time, this film has already pulled in huge Box Office numbers.  But if you are considering waiting for it's Blu Ray release this fall, I highly recommend you think twice.  This film is beautiful on the big screen.  Go see it tonight!  I'll be seeing it again before it leaves theaters, for sure!

On This Day in 1987

On this day in 1987, Snow White was bestowed her very own star on Hollywood's Walk of Fame.  It was the famed sidewalks' 1,850th star, installed during the film's re-release, commemorating it's 50th Anniversary.

In attendance besides the costumed characters of Snow White and her seven little friends, were animators Marc Davis, Art Babbit and Ward Kimball, as well as Snow White's voice actress Adriana Caselotti.

This would be the third animated character to earn their star after Mickey Mouse and Donald Duck.  You can find it directly in front of the theater that houses Jimmy Kimmel's late night show today.

Monday, June 22, 2015

Welcome home, Hatbox Ghost

It isn't exactly common knowledge that the hatbox ghost dates all the way back to the beginnings of Disneyland's Haunted Mansion.  That's right, the ghost was in the attraction when it first opened.

The hatbox ghost was an invention of Yale Gracey (pictured above left). Yale was an Imagineer with a penchant for special events. Among other contributions he devised how to pull off the effect of the disappearing-reappearing ghosts in the ballroom scene.  (Hint: contrary to popular opinion, it's not done with holograms)

The concept of the ghost's gag was to have his head disappear from his shoulders, then to reappear in the hatbox hanging from his left hand. The effect worked very well in the shop, however when located to it's place in the attic, the illusion was shattered, as the heads never darkened enough to "disappear".  The problem was in its proximity to the doom buggy track.  It was too close to the guests, thus the lighting could never darken enough to make the heads vanish.  it was removed within the first couple days of operation.

Disney had long denied it's existence, having destroyed the figure long ago, as were the molds created for it.  It wasn't until the Internet made it a legend, creating a cult following, when Disney began rolling out merchandise, T-shirts, collectible figures, and other merchandise.  Fans started petitions, wrote letters, and made phone calls to Disney, demanding that hat box goes return to the mansion.  

And that brings us to the present. Where lighting failed the ghost in the 60s, and newer technology made it possible today. Mr. hat box made his official debut last month in the mansion. He now resides just outside the attic window, and is magnificent.


Friday, June 12, 2015

Welcome to my blog!

This is a blog about the art of cartooning and animation.  The blog will focus on my love and knowledge of the animation business and it's past.  My knowledge consists mostly of the Walt Disney company, as it is the majority of animation's business, but it won't be soley devoted.  I have never run a blog before, so you'll have to bear with me while I get this started.  Well, that's not true.  You don't have to.  Anyone in the business knows that you only have a mere few seconds to grab someone's attention before they move their mouse to the back button.  Fortunately for me, I know enough about a few mice that will be sure to keep you interested enough to visit again.  But, a little about me before we get started...

My name is Paul.  I come from the magical place called Massachusetts.  Being a cartoonist, long before I could form sentences, I was forming cartoon characters with my Crayolas.  Copying from coloring books and Saturday morning cartoons (back in the day when we had such things), I learned the basics of cartooning.  I learned what I could from school art classes, but the real teachers came after school.  I had some moderate success designing t-shirts and newspaper advertising, when I could get the gig, but I always felt my art seemed stiff and lacked life.  That brings me to that day my good friend and neighbor introduced me to a regular customer of his office supply shop.  

A cartoonist for Warner Bros. that worked freelance, Kirk would come into the shop to utilize the copy machines and pick up drawing supplies.  We met and he took genuine interest in my goals of being a professional cartoonist myself.  An honest to goodness Warner Bros. artist took an interest in little ole my talents and me.  We met up at his home studio later that afternoon.  I was instructed to bring my sketchbooks and whatever else showed him where I was in my training.  He went through my work and displayed genuine confidence in my abilities, but saw where I needed some instruction.  I was all too to listen and take whatever constructive criticism he had for me.  I took a drawing of mine and copied it.  He used his sketch to show me where I could go with it, and explained concepts like I had wished my teachers did long before.  He sent me away with homework assignments that I couldn’t wait to get home to.  Within a few short months, my drawings were looser, and appeared to live on the page.  I couldn’t believe the progress I had made in such a short period of time.  T-shirt design jobs came a little more frequently as did mural requests.  The real thrill came about one day, when he asked me to assist him in an art piece for Warner Bros.  He had an assignment for a gallery piece that involved musical instruments.   He had been telling me that the business is all in who you know, and it was my time to be given a chance to show what I could do.  A few months later, he and I flew out to Burbank for his art signing, my portfolio under my arm, I had been bitten by the bug.

I’m in California now.  Working professionally in the art world.  I have done work for small business offices and restaurants, small organizations as well as Warner Bros. and Disney. 

I have big plans for this blog.  Discussing art is primary one, but I fully expect my love and passion for Disney and it’s history to invade more often than not.  I hope you find this blog entertaining as well as educational.  I promise to keep it interesting.  Certainly more interesting than this into post.  If you are still reading this, I thank you for putting up with me, and look forward seeing you in my next post!