February 22, 2005

You realize of course...

THIS means war!

... or does it?

If you haven't already heard about it, then you're either living under a rock... or, well... living in the real world with genuine concerns and issues to address. No problem, there's plenty of us to contribute to the free publicity Warner Bros enjoys with their latest announcement--
WB seeks revitalized cartoon franchise with new look for Bugs Bunny and friends

Get this. They're not really trying to redo the same shorts with the same characters in a new, gritty style. It's worse. They want to bank on the recent success of Teen Titans and place amped up versions of the classic Looney Tunes characters in a dark future as... ugh (stomach pains)... super heros. How I wish I were joking. Check out this clip.

Anyone remember the last time a star icon underwent a major 'make-over' in order to attract the younger consumers? No, no! Not that one!

In April 1985, the Coca-Cola Company introduced a "New Coke" in response to Pepsi's "Taste Challenge." The public backlash to the change was so vocal, Coca-Cola admitted they "goofed" and returned the original coke to the shelves as "Classic Coke" in July of the same year. Do I expect Warner Bros. to say "oops! That really didn't happen!" in a couple months and quietly sweep these ink stains under the light table? Nope. Bad news and frothing bloggers are still great publicity. Warner Bros NEVER gave a hare's ass about the Looney Tunes characters. Why should they start now? They own the characters and haven't been able to do SQUAT with them in over 50 years. Oh sure, they parade them about every once in a while like a pretentious pimp with his "girls" on the street. Only this pimp is a market-driven, focus group testing, merchandising, overseas out-sourcing, written and directed by committee, mega-million dollar machine.

As Amid Amidi at Cartoon Brew pointed out, "To display anger over LOONATICS means that Warner Bros. has won yet again. The executives love hearing affirmation that people still care about these characters; when somebody likes the cartoons enough to voice concern, they know their job is safe."

The flamboyant, Leon Schlesinger managed the animation department at Warner Bros in the 1930's. Responsible for the creation of "Looney Tunes" and "Merry Mellodies", Leon had a nose for business and an eye for talent. He was a tightwad with the budget and a tyrant with production schedules. However, he knew just enough about quality animation productions to know he knew NOTHING about animation production! He gathered the talents of Bob Clampett, Tex Avery, Friz Freleng, Chuck Jones, Robert McKimson, Michael Maltese, Virgil Ross, Ken Harris, Mel Blanc, Carl Stalling, scores others and gave them a deadline. The convergence of inspired writing, endearing personalities, outrageous animation, ingenious vocal characterizations, and masterful orchestrations was possible primarily because they were LEFT ALONE TO CREATE!

Yet even this collection of crazy geniuses couldn't keep Bugs and company as fresh and inspired after 30 years of "What's up, doc?" There's only so much yarn to spin from the golden fleece. Chuck Jones went on to MGM to respin the same tired routine of the Road Runner and Wile E. Coyote in the form of a re-vamped Tom & Jerry. While Jones managed to breathe some new life into the classic duo, MGM could see the writing on the screen scrapped all production of animated theatrical shorts in 1967.

I'm exstatic Warner Bros is releasing the multiple volumes of the Looney Tunes Golden Collection. Certainly, many complain about the exclusion (or inclusion) of one or another short from the first two volumes. But, come on! I've NEVER seen any of these with the colors and details so lovingly restored. Every video release prior to this collection had undergone the "tender" mercies of a mafia surgeon in a back alley office, hacking pieces of one short into another in some vain attempt to frankenstein together a full-length title. These volumes are complete and beautifully done.

What more does everyone want from the rabbit, anyway? The suits at Warner Bros have proven several times over that no amount of "star" power and cash can turn the clock back to recreate the same magic. It's a fool's errand to take 12 minute gag reels created by legends and attempt to make it work 50 years later in a 90 minute feature farmed out to multiple studios in 4 countries with more thought put into product placement and ancillary product lines than the story itself. Bugs, Daffy, Elmer, and the rest have earned their place of honor and prestige in cinematic history. Let them retire without the cliche of Hollywood "extreme makeovers" and ever crappier sequels.

Instead, how about the suits learn from history and bring together a slew of burgoning talent, give them a huge stack of blank paper, and keep the GQ PM's from the Consumer Products Division the hell away from them! They just might create something worth animating about for the next 50 years.

I don't know how many of you actually read the article linked at the top of this post. The bottom line behind this folly? David Janollari, president of the Kids' WB said "both boys and girls enjoyed the new action figures in test runs of the show. Their parents may be a little surprised, however."

no... you think?

- Lito

Posted by Lito at 12:09 AM

December 20, 2004

Not only skin deep

Illustrator Michael Paulus assembled a delightful exhibit, combining two seemingly incongruous views of familiar humanoid forms. He proposed scientific-like renderings of the skeletal structure of popular cartoon characters.

What intrigues me the most about this exhibit is how many people find it absurd. Cartoon characters aren't "real." How else is Roger Rabbit able to endure so many takes of refrigerators smashing his head, if there were a "real" skull under those ears? But the really good animators understood long ago, that the only way to get the audience to invest in a character and believe in them, is to make the characters more-- real.

Every animation studio worth it's salt provides their animators ample opportunity to closely study human and animal form and movement. The 'guru' of life drawing for animators, Glenn Vilppu gives frequent seminars while teaching at The American Animation Institute. "The bed rock of drawing the figure is the ability to draw the figure in any position from memory. Constructing the three dimensional figure from simple volumes is as important today as it was 500 years ago to the artists of the Renaissance."

A recent "innovation" in animation tools is Performance Capture. A process Robert Zemeckis and Sony Pictures used to record and translate into digital information, the body and facial movements of an actor. The process of capturing the motion of a full body is widely used in all moving media, from TV, Film, and especially video games. The holiday film Polar Express attempted to inject a more "believable" personality into it's animation by capturing not just the body, but the facial movements of the actors. The result is less than spectacular, as the audience is left with that uneasy feeling you get seeing an ultra life-like doll with dead glassy eyes... that never blink. Why? For much the same reason. Check out CNN's review-- 'Polar Express' a creepy ride.

Compare that to the overwhelming success of The Incredibles. A film that made no attempt to 'capture' the movements or direct facial expressions of the voice actors. Instead, Brad Bird and Rick Sayre at Pixar struck a balance between outrageous characters, actions, designs and believable personalities in familiar circumstances.

I think the biggest ground that we broke was in being able to combine caricature and intentional direction, very specific things, with a base of correctness, of a physical correctness of bones, muscle, skin, all these things working on a character like Bob, so that you believe hes alive, said supervising technical director Rick Sayre in an interview for about.com. But it wasn't enough to make this character believable, they had to make him 'unbelievably' powerful and vulnerable enough to warrent the awe and concern of the audience. Now THAT'S "performance capture!"

If you haven't seen The Incredibles... check it out. It's going to be a knock-down drag-out battle to the top between 'The Incredibles' and 'Shrek 2' At this point, it's "too close to call."

- Lito

Posted by Lito at 02:17 PM

April 02, 2004

No flat toons in the maus-haus!

Disney announced 'Home on the Range' is the "last hand-painted cartoon on Disney's current film slate."

wow. Even after dismal failures, like 'The Black Cauldron' and 'Oliver and Compay', Disney still came back to produce some of the most stunning animated features seen in generations. Hell! 'Beauty and the Beast' was even nominated for a Best Picture Oscar in 1992! But check this out... 'Beauty' banked some $25m at the box office... 'Treasure Planet' made $38m and it's considered a flop. Well, yeah! When you spend some $100m to make a movie, you expect at least $100.1m back!!

So how much money is the general public willing to spend on animation? The current animated golden child is 'Finding Nemo' which net (pun intended) some $340m at the box office ALONE. Throw in rental, DVD sales, secondary marketing-- toys, clothing, games, etc and you're looking at massive-sick money. As with any film, the gamble is how much money do you spend to make money?

Disney is known world-wide for hand-drawn animated features. They don't have to try and out-do themselves every turn. They could've pulled back production from 1 to 2 films a year to 1 every 2 years and keep costs below $20m. Gee... who'dathunk? workin' on a budget! Like the rest of us stiffs!

But Eisner has sported a mad-on to bury the animation division since he took the throne. And since Pixar declined to renew partnership productions with them (woo hoo!), Disney is on their own to try and compete with them. The worst of Pixar's films still made a huge profit and buried the best of Disney's recent attempts. My hope is Pixar provides enough competition for another legendary Disney comeback.

Until then, maybe more people will plunk their hard-earned cash down to see the fantastic new animated features from far-off lands, like France's The Triplets of Belleville, Japan's Spirited Away and Spain's forthcoming El Cid.

Posted by Lito at 02:13 PM