Category Archives: Animation

Visual Oddysey

Ulysse Malassagne!

Lesser artists cringe, turning paint-stained pants away from the dark figure in the doorway.

Ulysse Malassagne!

He enters, returned after a long journey to find his banquet hall full of miscreants and vagabonds who merely pose at craftsmanship. He bares a shining sword. No one says a word. A few ragged beggars begin to file toward the door.

Malassagne!

I’m not sure how to transition from that gripping intro to the normal blog post. Really it was just a dumb joke based on the fact that his name sounds like Ulysses and his blog/portfolio is called Oddysey. Just forget it.

Ulysse Malassagne is an artist and storyteller from France with a wonderfully loose and imaginative style.

Malassagne_New Companions_2010Ulysse Malassagne, New Companions, 2010

He’s perhaps best known for writing and illustrating the graphic novel series Kairos, which was launched with a very cool book trailer (animation directed by Malassagne).

KAIROS Trailer from Studio La Cachette on Vimeo.

The first two volumes of Kairos are currently available, with one more to come.  To my shame, I don’t have the money to buy any of them. Hopefully I’ll scrape together some cash later this summer.

Malassagne_Kairos_2013Ulysse Malassagne, Kairos Tome 1, 2013

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Ulysse Malassagne, Kairos Tome 2, 2014

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Ulysse Malassagne, Kairos Tome 1, 2014

There’s been a movement in the past few years towards what I’ll call the “Really-Fast-And-Quick-And-Sort-Of-Crap” school of drawing, embodied and largely inspired by the show, Adventure Time.  I have a beef with this school simply because (1) it has so many followers, and (2) it’s not visually rich.

But I love loose artists. Loose doesn’t necessarily mean “Sort-Of-Crap”, any more than it indicates a lack of effort, and Ulysse Malassagne is a prime example of a loose style, executed well.

Malassagne_TheHouse_2010Ulysse Malassagne, The House, 2010Malassagne_Poster_2013Ulysse Malassagne, Poster, 2013

Looking through Malassagne’s work, I get a sense of his genius for character, setting, and tone. As he tells stories that can only be told with pictures, his work takes on some of the rampantly original flavor of Miyazaki. If we were to cut this guy open, we might find liquid creativity in the place of viscera.

Malassagne_voeux_2013Ulysse Malassagne, Happy New Year, 2013  Malassagne_The Soul of the King_2009Ulysse Malassagne, The Soul of the King, 2009
Malassagne_Searching the Plain_2010Ulysse Malassagne, Searching the Plain, 2010

Malassagne_Jade_2013Ulysse Malassagne, Jade, 2013Malassagne_Anaëlle et la gouvernante_2010Ulysse Malassagne, Anaëlle and the Governess, 2010

 

Stop Motion Monday

I realize that it’s not (technically) Monday. In reality, it’s Thursday. Or maybe even Wednesday.

Minutiae aside, I’ve brought you four awesome animated films with three common threads.

Common Thread #1: you probably haven’t seen them (with the exception of #4, maybe).

Common Thread #2: They all employ some form of stop motion.

Common Thread #3: Each one has a terrific storyline.

#1: The Fool of the World and the Flying Ship (1990)

Deep in the heart of Russia, there was a man and a wife living with their three sons. The two eldest sons were lazy and avaricious, but the youngest was good-hearted and honest.

After helping an elderly man, the youngest son finds himself embarking on a journey that will take him far from home.

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This great short film aired as an episode in the children’s TV series “Long Ago and Far Away”, and was guest-narrated by David Suchet (the show’s regular narrator was none other than James “No Luke, I am your Father” Earl Jones). I’m definitely checking more episodes out later, I hear they do a mean version of Abel’s Island.

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If it only for the colorful characters, The Fool is worth a watch. But it also has a timeless and engaging story. Check out Part 1 here!

#2: When The Wind Blows (1986)

Based on the graphic novel by Raymond Briggs, this cute, fun, romping film follows a darling British couple as they learn to cope with the aftermath of a nuclear strike.

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There are some films I watch when I need to hit rock bottom. This is one of them. What’s so great about it? I mean, apart from the opening song by David Bowie.

The message is incredibly powerful, and the story is as human as they come. It’s also a really cool use of traditional cel-animated characters on top of a stop-motion background.

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If you want happy fluff, move along. The Snowman (1982) is a friendly option, if you still need a Raymond Briggs fix without the dose of depression.

#3: Krabat (1978)

Krabat: The Sorceror’s Apprentice comes in like a lamb and goes out like a lion. When I first ran across this film in a Youtube search for Czech animation, I was skeptical. Were the characters a little too childish? Or maybe the scenes felt a little flat? My criticisms quickly dropped as I found myself drawn into a story that was as enchanting as the Sorceror’s grimoire.

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Do yourself a favor and check out this tale of friendship, love, and black magic. It’s also a fine example of cutout animation.

#4: Peter and the Wolf (2006)

Do you like Russia? Do you like Tchaikovsky? How about close encounters with ravenous beasts of prey?

PeterAndTheWolf_03 templeton-peterwolf SuzieTempleton_PeterandTheWolfIf you answered “yes” to any of the above, you simply must watch Peter and the Wolf, a visually stunning musical film directed by animation master Suzie Templeton. It features gorgeous sets and icy blue Russian eyes.

That does it for my little list! What are your favorite stop-motion films?

Composition: Who Cares?

“Yeah, I remember those pictures. I remember looking at them as I listened to the music.”

Mom was sitting across the table from me, reminiscing.

The album in question was the Point, by Harry Nilsson. Its accompanying booklet, with tiny grayscale illustrations, was spread out in front of me.

“I didn’t really like the illustrations. They were actually kind of scary,” she went on.

She was right. Gary Lund’s illustrations for the vinyl sleeve of Harry Nilsson’s 1971 concept album were not exactly inviting.  But they grabbed me nonetheless.

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Gary Lund, Sleeve art for The Point, 1971

These are some of the most beautiful panels I’ve ever seen, and I’ve been poring over these since Saturday.  Is it the amazing draftsmanship at work? No. Is it the use of tasteful colors? Nopers.

Composition.

Look at that composition! These loose, energetic panels are actually playing together, leaking into each other, and letting the story flow organically. It makes for a visual experience that even my Mother, initially turned off by the art style, couldn’t resist.

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Gary Lund, Sleeve art for The Point, 1971

What a wild, wonderful way to present an album! It’s so much fun to let your eye wander over the landscape of broken frames, vibrant colors, and funky shapes.

Sleeve art like this almost entirely supplants the movie, as fond as I am of its cheap lovableness.

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Gary Lund, Sleeve art for The Point, 1971

Gary Lund shows us just how glorious it can be, breaking the rules and thinking outside the visual box.

This is the sort of thing that happens all the time with sleeve art- the fact that there’s no “standard” for this marginal application of illustration really frees artists up.

What’s your favorite sleeve art or album cover?

Double Feature Friday

I’ll bet you pickles to nickels you haven’t seen either of these very cool animated movies. Go ahead, prove me wrong.

The first, and the one I’m really into, is Grendel Grendel Grendel. It’s Australian in origin, and is that country’s second full-length animated feature.

1981 australian animated film directed by Alexander Stitt

1981 australian animated film directed by Alexander Stitt

1981 australian animated film directed by Alexander Stitt

1981 australian animated film directed by Alexander Stitt

Grendel Grendel Grendel (1981), directed by Alexaner Stitt,is a romp in the mysterious world of proto-medieval Scandinavia. The main character is a lovable and sophisticated green creature, Grendel from the epic poem Beowulf.

1981 australian animated film directed by Alexander Stitt

1981 australian animated film directed by Alexander Stitt

What makes this one so great? The humor is goofy, the art is lush and vivid, and the story builds itself methodically and intelligently. This movie sits squarely between juvenile and adult storytelling, having fun with the silly, colorful characters while also striking deep chords of loneliness and curiousity in Grendel’s personal life.

1981 australian animated film directed by Alexander Stitt

1981 australian animated film directed by Alexander Stitt

1981 australian animated film directed by Alexander Stitt

1981 australian animated film directed by Alexander Stitt

It also stars Peter Ustinov as the voice of Grendel- how can you beat that?

The second film is even a little further off the deep end. Angel’s Egg (1985), directed by Mamoru Oshii, is one long animated question.

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In a hauntingly beautiful 70 minutes, a young girl and a soldier wander a eerie landscape locked in eternal night. The plot, featuring mystifying references to the Biblical Flood, centers around a mysterious egg which the girl carries.

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If slow pacing makes a movie painful to watch, this is the Spanish Inquisition of animated films. But don’t let that stop you- it certainly has its moments. I would love to hear what you think it means, because even after watching it a second time, I’m still absolutely in the dark.

I’m always on the hunt for obscure animated classics! What are some of your favorites?

Cartoon Modern and Eyvind Earle

There are two principal directions in visual art: Realism and Abstraction.

Actually, they’re not “directions” as much as “flavors”.  You can mix flavors; you can’t mix directions.  Or maybe it’s a spectrum.  I really don’t know.

Cartoon Modern was a style which came into being in the 1950’s; a child of the Swiss-inspired push for minimal design and the art world’s general shift towards Abstraction.

The characters that emerged from this style are loose and gestural, constructed of a few clean lines and vivid colors.  Saul Bass was a champion of Cartoon Modern (see the opening titles for It’s a Mad Mad Mad Mad World), but that’s a whole ‘nother post.  Maurice Noble’s backgrounds for Looney Tunes and many of the characters in earlier Rankin Bass films are also great examples of Cartoon Modern (see Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, Mad Monster Party, etc.)

All of that rabbit-trailing aside, I think the best thing about Cartoon Modern is not the characters, but the use of color.  Suddenly, animators decided it was ok to give characters purple skin and paint trees red.  There was freedom.  And nobody used that freedom like Eyvind Earle.

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Eyvind Earle, Three Horses, 1987

Earle was a concept artist for Disney in the 50’s.  One of his early projects with the studio was Toot, Whistle, Plunk and Boom (1953), on which he did the backgrounds.

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Disney Studios, Toot, Whistle, Plunk and Boom, 1953

He supervised the backgrounds on many golden-era Disney films, and is best known for his art direction on Sleeping Beauty (1959).

Sleeping Beauty c. 1959

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EyvindEarleSleepingBeauty_ c. 1959

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Eyvind Earle, Concept Work for Sleeping Beauty, 1959

Ending his career at Disney, Earle turned to painting and screen-printing; his work from the 60’s onward was dominated by fantastic landscapes.

winter-1981Eyvind Earle, Winter, 1981

big sur and branch_1974Eyvind Earle, Big Sur and Branch, 1974

Three-Horses-Grazing_oilEyvind Earle, Three Horses Grazing, (date unknown)

Earle had a knack for blending the picky details of Realism with the geometric grace and vivid color of Abstraction.  The results are stunning- maybe Abstraction and Realism are two sides of the same coin?  When they come together… is that where Beauty comes from?

the_wave_1990Eyvind Earle, The Wave, 1990

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Eyvind Earle, Black Oak, 1982

santacruzmountains_1999Eyvind Earle, Santa Cruz Mountains, 1999

It’s Good to be British

The glorious island of Great Britain is the mother of my all-time favorite things.

For instance, the rock band Queen.  And C.S. Lewis.

This empire on which the sun never sets has also produced some fine animators.  I’m not going to make an exhaustive list, but here are some of my favorites:

George Dunning.  He directed Yellow Submarine (1968), a trippy album-turned-film featuring the music and members of the Beatles.  This movie sums up the entire psychedelic art movement of the 60s, all in a dazzling and disjointed 89 minutes.  It could be a slow experience for a non-Beatles fan (which I am not), but it certainly has its moments!

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George Dunning, Yellow Submarine, 1968

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George Dunning, Yellow Submarine, 1968

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George Dunning, Yellow Submarine, 1968

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George Dunning, Yellow Submarine, 1968

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George Dunning, Yellow Submarine, 1968

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George Dunning, Yellow Submarine, 1968

And… (insert drum roll) there are Yellow Submarine action figures!  NO WAY, you say? YES WAY, I say!

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Richard Williams: the man responsible for Who Framed Roger Rabbit (1988).  He also directed The Thief and the Cobbler (1993), which is a better movie, for my money.  Although the project was stolen from him to meet deadlines and satisfy corporate concerns, it’s still pretty good.  Worth a watch, if only for the zany, lavish art style.

It’s also worth noting that the main villain, Zig Zag, is voiced by Vincent Price.  How cool is that?

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Richard Williams, The Thief and the Cobbler, 1993

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Richard Williams, The Thief and the Cobbler, 1993

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Richard Williams, The Thief and the Cobbler, 1993

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Richard Williams, The Thief and the Cobbler, 1993

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Richard Williams, The Thief and the Cobbler, 1993

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Richard Williams, The Thief and the Cobbler, 1993

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Richard Williams, The Thief and the Cobbler, 1993

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Richard Williams, The Thief and the Cobbler, 1993

Gerald Scarfe: although this fellow mostly does cartoons (by which I mean static cartoons, ones that don’t move), he did supervise the animated segments in Pink Floyd’s The Wall (1982).  I would argue that his sequences for The Wall are the most terrifying, evil animations ever made, hands down.  Golly, I love The Wall.

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Gerald Scarfe, The Wall, 1982

And I haven’t even mentioned Terry Gilliam.  Until now, that is.

You crazy British animators!  Keep it up.

Classical Music Monday

Happy Monday!  And Happy Columbus Day, although apparently he was a terrible person.

Just a real quick post today, highlighting Italian animator Bruno Bozzetto.

Bozzetto has had quite a career, directing a number of shorts, as well as 3 feature films starring his popular character, Signor Rossi.  More recently he’s turned to Flash cartoons, which I’m not as big a fan of (but to each their own).

Where does the Classical Music come in, you ask?

Just you wait, you lucky reader.

In my opinion, Bozzetto’s greatest work is the musical film Allegro Non Troppo (1971), in which classical pieces are accompanied by animation.  In fact, the film was intended as a parody to Disney’s Fantasia.

The film is composed (HAH!) of six animated segments.

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Bruno Bozzetto, Valse Triste from Allegro Non Troppo (1976)

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Bruno Bozzetto, Prélude à l’après-midi d’un faune from Allegro Non Troppo (1976)

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Bruno Bozzetto, Bolero from Allegro Non Troppo (1976)

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Bruno Bozzetto, Bolero from Allegro Non Troppo (1976)

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Bruno Bozzetto, Valse Triste from Allegro Non Troppo (1976)

The best of the bunch is Bolero, by a mile.  It’s a jaunt on the wild side, to the tune of Maurice Ravel’s invigorating work of the same name.  Here’s a link to the segment.  Enjoy!