September 17, 2017

New Look GIFs

Here are some animated GIFs from yesterday's new Sublo and Tangy Mustard episode 'New Look.'





September 16, 2017

Sublo & Tangy Mustard #6 - New Look

Here's your September episode of Sublo and Tangy Mustard, in which Sublo embarrasses himself again trying to explain what he is, and decides it's time for a makeover. Everybody else is concerned by his new appearance.

When I was writing this one I really hoped nobody would take it the wrong way. Already one person on Youtube has asked if this episode is meant to be a metaphor for gender transitioning, and I want to be clear that it's not. The idea is more that Sublo's obsession with his costume is so weird that nobody (including Sublo) knows how to approach it, so they're using some of that language to talk around it. If anything, it's more inspired by extreme body modification, like that guy who cut his ears off so he could look more like a parrot. But it's really not meant to have any serious commentary or subtext. It's just a guy who's really into his submarine costume!

September 11, 2017

Crayon Shin-Chan - Adventure in Henderland (2 of 2)

More images from Henderland. The first three are from an expository sequence in a fun child-like drawing style.



 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 


I love that they're so willing to go dark in these night-time scenes. Western animation rarely does night as well as anime.






These gritty 'realism' moments are at this point probably a staple of the Shin-Chan series. They show up in many of the movies and even occasionally on the TV show.

 
And now we come to the Masaaki Yuasa-animated climax. I want to steal the funky way this gassy spirit is animated in an upcoming project.
 
Yuasa loves his CG diagrams and maps.
 
Obviously images can't really capture the energy of this sequence. I'm sure it's all up on Sakugabooru somewhere or in a Masaaki Yuasa animation compilation on Youtube. I recommend finding it.
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
This is just the final logo from the credits, but I thought it was pretty cool-looking.
 

Crayon Shin-Chan - Adventure in Henderland (1 of 2)

I'm sure I've mentioned here or elsewhere how much I love the long-running Crayon Shin-Chan series. I've been a guest on the Dynamite in the Brain anime podcast to discuss Shin-Chan films a few times. When I was in Japan last summer, I bought the 1996 Shin-Chan film Adventure in Henderland. I'd seen many of the annual films in the series online previously but this particular film has one of my favourite animated sequences ever by Masaaki Yuasa, so I decided to grab a hard copy while I had the chance. I already had a bunch of Japanese Shin-Chan DVDs, and luckily the stories are so simple, and told so well visually, that it's mostly easy to follow them even with just the small amount of Japanese that I understand.

As with any long-running franchise, the series' early boldness and experimentation has congealed into a set style, far from the soft lumpiness of the comic it was originally based on. The mid-90s were the high point of the series visually, in my opinion. This was when the artists seemed to be having the most fun, coming up with delightfully bizarre designs and hilarious animation ideas like Shin's wiggling dances and cartoony takes. In the visual department, Henderland is maybe the best of this peak period.

It's not the strongest of the Shin-Chan films from a story perspective-- that's probably The Adult Empire Strikes Back from 2001, which has a reputation as a sort of 'auteur' piece by Keiichi Hara, but in fact the more Shin-Chan films I watch, the more I realize that Adult Empire is pretty typical in many ways. It's more cohesive thematically, but it does a lot of the same things other movies in the series had done-- among the recurring Shin-Chan elements it shares with Henderland are a sinister amusement park, Shin's parents mysteriously turning evil and a climax involving villains chasing Shin up a tower.

Henderland seems to be one of the films with the most involvement from Masaaki Yuasa, who regularly did character and environment designs, and animated key sections in most of the early movies before leaving the series to direct his own projects. He has returned to the franchise in recent years, now producing film segments from his own own studio Science Saru.

Here, and in the next post, are some of my favourite images from Henderland.

 

 
The design of this face, and the way the nose opens up, is reminiscent of Yellow Submarine, which Yuasa has cited as a key influence.





 
  
  
  
  
 
 
  
  
  
 

August 16, 2017

Some Thoughts on Robot Carnival

I watched Robot Carnival last night. I was excited to see another piece of high-budget rich 80s anime for the first time, in the vein of Akira, Venus Wars and a few other OVAs and films from that late 80s-early 90s era. It's certainly lush, with lots of polished character animation and intricate effects work among the best I've ever seen. In terms of entertainment value, it's a little weaker though.

One trend I noticed in the film was that many of the shorts had very solid drawings and smooth movement, but the action and timing felt weird and somewhat clumsy. Maybe because the animators weren't used to such full animation and detailed designs? It's most noticeable in Franken's Gears and Presence, but a little bit everywhere.

Strange Tales of Meiji Machine Culture was a ton of fun, easily my favourite short. I wish there was more of that to watch. So much fun character animation, and great designs too! This short still had beautiful animation but it was more in the vein of Tatsuyuki Tanaka, Hayao Miyazaki or Yoshinori Kanada (not that either of them worked on this)-- very snappy and dynamic, rather than focusing on the smoothest movement possible like some of the others in the film. After a few serious shorts in a row, this light-hearted comedy was a breath of fresh air and right up my street. I also really liked the anthology's opening and closing segments with the giant Robot Carnival machine.

Chicken Man and Red Neck also had great character animation and effects but not much of a narrative. It was still pretty entertaining, but I don't know if I could really describe the story.

My least favourites were Deprive, which just felt like watching an AMV of a generic 80s action anime; and Presence, which was too creepy for my taste and had unpleasant character designs. Although at least that one did have pretty nice backgrounds.

Let's see, what else was there... I almost forgot that Cloud existed, it was so tedious. It seemed like its goal was to test the viewer's patience, but not in any interesting or subversive way. Just very monotonous. I wanted to fast-forward through it.  Star Light Angel was cute and the Disneyland setting was neat, but generally speaking that short was pretty forgettable.


I was pleased with myself for recognizing Joe Hisaishi's music before seeing his name in the credits. As I'm sure most people are by now, I'm more familiar with his orchestral scores, but I also really like his 80s electronic work in Nausicaa and Venus Wars. It reminded me a bit of Ryuichi Sakamoto's soundtrack for Royal Space Force in its unapologetic synthetic nature.

Overall I thought Robot Carnival was good but when I finished it, I was slightly unsatisfied--as with many anthologies I was left wishing there was just one more really solid segment to elevate the entire thing. Not that there weren't good shorts in it, but it's just sort of a greedy optimism I tend to feel with anthologies. You keep waiting for the piece that really makes it great, and often it doesn't come or as with Meiji Machine Culture, it feels so different from the rest of the film that it doesn't really help to unify it. That said, I wish there were more animated anthologies out there! It's a dream of mine to participate in one someday but I guess they're difficult to organize, and not very lucrative? There's probably not much of an audience for anthologies, in animation or live action, but artistically it's such an appealing format.

August 05, 2017

Sublo and Tangy Mustard #5 - Opposites

When Katy tells them they're too similar, Sublo and Tangy Mustard try to prove how distinct they are from each other.

This is the first cartoon of a new batch/season! I'm hoping to release S&TM more frequently, ideally one a month or so. Right now I'm already halfway through animating the next episode. It'll be longer like the previous ones, but to start things off I wanted to do something really quick and simple. I'd had the premise for this one in my head for a while, but I didn't think it was enough to base a whole episode around. Then after rewatching a bunch of old Jake and Amir sketches I was inspired to do it, but just make it really short like theirs are. In general that series has always been an influence on Sublo and Tangy Mustard-- I like the way it steam-rolls through logic to get to a ridiculous premise before you even realize what's happened, which is what I tried to do with this episode.

July 28, 2017

New Sublo & Tangy Mustard on the way!

I'm working on a big batch of Sublo & Tangy Mustard episodes. Scripts are all done; voices are all recorded except for a couple of side characters; backgrounds and rough animation are underway. The next new episode will only be a minute long, but it should be out within a couple of weeks!

February 09, 2017

Quotes from Absolutely On Music

A couple of weeks ago I finished reading Haruki Murakami's recent non-fiction book Absolutely On Music, which is made up of interviews with the conductor Seiji Ozawa. In reading the book I hoped to find some discussions of art that could also be applied to my own interests. Not necessarily tricks that could be directly translated from conducting an orchestra to animated filmmaking, but just generally inspiring artistic ideas and philosophy. Here are some of the sections I noted:

"Perhaps one reason we never talked seriously about music until recently is that the maestro's work kept him so fully involved. As a result, whenever we got together to have a drink, we'd talk about anything other than music. At most, we might have shared a few fragmentary remarks on some musical topics that never led anywhere. Ozawa is the type of person who focuses all his energy on his work, so that when he steps away from it, he needs to take a breather. Knowing this, I avoided bringing up musical topics when I was in his company."
(from the introduction, vii)

"Whatever differences there might be between making music and writing fiction, both of us are happiest when absorbed in our work. And the very fact that were are able to become so totally engrossed in it gives us the deepest satisfaction. What we end up producing as a result of that work may well be important, but aside from that, our ability to work with utter concentration and to devote ourselves to it so completely that we forget the passage of time is its own irreplaceable reward."
(from the introduction, xi)
I really relate to this. Nothing is as exciting or fun as when I'm really engrossed in making a cartoon, either writing, storyboarding or animating.

"M: In Japan we talk about ma in Asian music - the importance of those pauses or empty spaces - but it's there in Western music, too. You get a musician like Glenn Gould, and he's doing exactly the same thing. Not everybody can do it -- certainly no ordinary musician. But somebody like him does it all the time.
M: Ordinary musicians don't do it?

O: No, never. Or if they do, the spaces don't fit in as naturally as this. It doesn't grab you -- you don't get drawn in as you do here. That's what putting in these empty spaces, or ma, is all about, isn't it? You grab your audience and pull them in. East or West, it's all the same when a virtuoso does it."
(p.22)
This is something very applicable to animation (at its most basic level, a held pose so that the audience can process something), or film storytelling (a pause to provide tension, or the opposite, such as an Ozu 'pillow shot').

"M: He's like an old master of classical rakugo storytelling, just going along with his instincts.
O: Yes, he's completely at ease, not the least bit concerned if his fingers stumble a little. That part where you said he was flirting with danger -- he really was. But that just adds to the overall flavor when you're that good.
M: When I first heard this recording, I was worried that his action or touch or whatever you call it was just a bit slower than it used to be -- but, strangely enough, the more I listened to it, the less it bothered me.
O: That's because a musician's special flavor comes out with age. His playing at that stage may have more interesting qualities than at the height of his career."

(p.57)
This is a much more appealing view of aging as an artist than what you usually hear in western pop culture, which is generally that people lose the vitality and energy of their early work, becoming repetitive or irrelevant.

"O: Look, Beethoven himself changes a lot in the Ninth. His orchestrations were quite limited until he got to his Ninth Symphony."
(p.89)
I just found this an encouraging thought, that one of classical music's most famous composers had a creative breakthrough that late in his work.

"M: The sound is unified, and the quality of the playing is high.
O: Yes, but it could use a little more flavor.
M: I think it's expressive, and it really sings.
O: But it's missing a certain heaviness - a feeling from the countryside.
M: You mean it's too clean and neat?
O: The Boston Symphony may have a tendency to make sounds that are too nice."
...
"M: Listening to their sound, I can see exactly what you mean. This is very good-quality, high-level teamwork.
O: No one does anything to depart from the orchestra's overall sound. But that's not necessarily the right way to play Mahler. Getting the proper balance between the two is extremely hard."
(p.215)

I feel this way about nearly all modern commercial animation. Everything has a tendency to be too clean, too stiff, too restrained and neat for fear of creating a moment of genuine surprise or showing the audience the dreaded 'artist's hand.' But I think getting to see some of the individual artist seeping into the work is one of the most exciting things about animation. That's why my favorites tend to be the ones whose personal stamp is strong - Rod Scribner, Jim Tyer, Yuzo Aoki, Masaaki Yuasa, Shinya Ohira, etc.

[Ozawa talking about seeing Louie Armstrong live in the 60s]
"O: That special style of Satchmo's was indescribable. You know how we talk about artistic shibumi in Japan, when a mature artist attains a level of austere simplicity and mastery? Satchmo was like that. He was already getting along in years, but his singing and trumpet playing were at their peak."
(p.235)
Again, this is a nicer view of aging than the typical line of thinking in rock music, which is that everybody made their best stuff when they were in their early 20s and it's all downhill from there.

I found a lot of inspiration in the book, and I recommend checking it out if you like these quoted passages.

February 02, 2017

Movies I Watched Recently

A quick round-up of movies I've seen in the last couple of months (at least, the ones I can remember). Probably spoilers ahead, but most of these aren't new movies anyway.

Tampopo
I caught the newly restored version of Tampopo during my Christmas trip home to Toronto at my favorite theater, the TIFF Lightbox. I had such a delightful experience watching it that I'm now seeking out more of Juzo Itami's work. I liked the way it alternated between a main story and mostly unconnected vignettes on the overall topic of food. There were also a lot of entertaining filmmaking ideas in it. I really need to get the upcoming Criterion release and watch this one again.

Under the Skin
I saw this at the Lightbox too. I don't know if I would've quite had the patience to sit through it at home, but seeing it late at night in a big theater allowed it to wash over me and command my attention as it deserves to. I was expecting more of a traditional narrative, but it's really more of a surreal mood piece. There are haunting images in the film, and beautiful scenery. I appreciated the way it combined a horror/sci-fi element with weird Scottish slice-of-life scenes.

Help!
My mother introduced me to this a long time ago. It was one of her favorite movies. The Beatles' second movie gets a bit of flack for having such a loose narrative and generally being overindulgent, but I still have a soft spot for it. There are a couple of moments in it that make me laugh harder than just about anything, and I think it probably had a big hand in shaping my sense of humor. I can't honestly say that it's a great movie though. Having also watched The Knack for the first time recently (which I also liked but felt conflicted over), I noticed that about 15% of the 'humor' in Dick Lester's movies is just two conversations happening simultaneously, which isn't really ever that funny to me.

Planet of the Apes original film series (1968-1973)
Man these are depressing, and mostly awful. The original isn't amazing but at least it works on its own terms. My main beef with it was that in every situation, Charlton Heston's character does the stupidest thing possible. But that bothered me less as it became more clear that he's doomed no matter what he does... which is the general message of every film in the series except maybe the final one, and probably why I had such a hard time liking any of them. I can handle stories where individuals go through sad experiences, but larger stories about humanity's bleak future just hit too close to home for me. I have very little hope for the future, and honestly the only way I can function is to try not to think about it.
The Apes series are relentlessly miserable, unpleasant films, with the second one being the worst in that and many other respects. It suffers from a drastically lowered budget, missing key players from the first film both on- and off-camera and a mishmash of terrible ideas at every level. The third one is the least miserable but feels like an average TV movie at best. The fourth and fifth filmls are devoid of much personality, feeling like vague plot synopses blown up into movies. Oh, and apart from the first film, they all have ridiculously ill-conceived endings.

Ocean Waves
I caught this at the Egyptian theater in Hollywood. It's definitely a B-tier Ghibli production, conceived to give the younger staff something to do, but I like it a lot. In fact it's probably one of my favorite Ghiblis. The low-key story is charming and refreshingly doesn't follow much of an arc. Possibly because of that, the ending was somewhat underwhelming to me, but it's worth it. The weird turns the story takes make it feel like real life, for example a trip to Tokyo where they just stay at the hotel rather than going on some wild adventure like you'd expect in a movie. I want to watch this again, now with a better understanding of what the movie is, and maybe adjusting my expectations. I might like it even more. Definitely picking up the GKids release when it comes out.

The non-Miyazaki movies from the 90s are some of my favorite Ghibli films. Miyazaki is obviously a great filmmaker and I love his stuff too, but his movies all feel pretty similar in tone and characters. I'm drawn more towards Takahata's unpredictability and variety, which was probably helped by the fact that he was a non-animator -- an outsider in the medium unbound by conventions. And although Miyazaki wrote and storyboarded Whisper of the Heart, the fact that it's largely grounded in the real world makes it feel different from most of his films, which is maybe why he chose not to direct it.

Tokyo Story
My first Ozu movie. I bought it at the Kinokuniya bookstore in Little Tokyo. It's awe-inspiring in its simplicity. Very moving storyline, and relatable universal characters. I'm looking forward to seeing more Ozu. It's obvious why he was such an inspiration to so many other filmmakers including notably Isao Takahata (whose brilliant Only Yesterday I saw earlier this year). I think reading on the Ghibli Blog that Ozu was a major influence on that film is what finally made me want to seek out his work.


The Red Turtle
Very interesting film. The turn from survivalist realism to fantasy/fable was a bit hard to swallow for me, since I was so on board with the storyline so much up to that point. I continued to enjoy it, but in a different way. I'm not sure I totally understand the film, or if I'm even supposed to. But it's good.

Letter to Momo
A very direct hybrid of My Neighbor Totoro and Spirited Away that doesn't reach the levels of either. Letter to Momo is cute but also quickly forgotten. I didn't find the goblin characters as funny as I was clearly supposed to, but there were some nice set-pieces with them. My favorite element was the Japanese island village setting, which thankfully the film puts to good use.

Trolls
Ah, it's fine I guess. It's for kids and kids like it. I used to care more about the formulaic nature of mainstream American animated films, as if I might enjoy them if they just did one or two things differently, but now I've pretty much given up on them. This one was okay, especially compared to the shit Illumination puts out. I'm not big on musicals, or fake musicals that needle drop the first few seconds of a pop song to get a laugh from recognition alone rather than actually making a joke. "Check out our music licensing budget! Isn't that funny?" Sometimes cheap laughs really annoy me.
But this is still probably better than Sing.




Supermarket Woman
Another Juzo Itami film, from 1996. This one has a very similar basic plot to Tampopo - someone steps in to advise a potential romantic partner on how to improve their food business to serve the customers better. I think this one was missing some of the creative spark that filled Tampopo, but there are some very fun performances in it. It's about 20 minutes longer than it needs to be though.

January 31, 2017

The Internet Sucks Now.

I more or less abandoned this blog as it seemed like blogs were a dying format, replaced by less interesting social media like Twitter, Tumblr etc. I do enjoy Twitter as a place where I can expel whatever trivial thoughts are currently in my head, and these sites are useful for promotion, but me and my girlfriend were talking at lunch today about how much we missed the more personal, substantial internet that seems to have died, or at least withered significantly. The personal homepages, forums and independent information sites have been supplanted unsatisfactorily by a handful of bland behemoths like Facebook, Tumblr, Youtube, Twitter, Wikipedia, etc along with all the news sites. If much else still exists, I'm not aware of it. I appreciate that the internet is now easier to use for the average person, but I was having a great time with it growing up in the late 90s-early 2000s, and the fun seems to have largely disappeared. The 'newsfeed' format discourages significant discussion or dwelling on any given topic, and I find it annoying how quickly things are forgotten or missed. It's also much harder to search for old content on these social media sites.

A confession: I used to frequent many forums and message boards devoted to animation in general, specific cartoons, independent game creation, model railways and a few other topics. I enjoyed the in-jokes, kinship and history that developed in these communities, and the format was ideal for archiving past discussions, which could always be re-ignited. At least for me personally, it felt like a valuable use of time as opposed to the new social media which are often rightfully criticized as addictive but empty wastes of time.

Maybe nothing has changed except me-- the main reason I don't visit forums anymore is that as an adult I don't have the time (same reason I wasn't maintaining this blog). Another key factor is that I used to visit forums and write a blog because nobody in my real life shared my weird interests. Since I entered the animation industry, that was no longer an issue as I was surrounded by like-minded people. There's a couple of forums I still check in on every once in a while, because to this day I don't know anyone in real life who geeks out over British narrow gauge model trains and Lupin III like I do. But I just lurk these days.

I've started posting my cartoons on Newgrounds. I appreciate Newgrounds more now, probably because it did start during that internet golden age and fights to hold onto what made it special. Newgrounds has barely changed, and I love it for that much more than I did in its heyday. I also love Red Letter Media and their website. I hate the newsfeed format, and prefer to be able to seek out a site's entire contents at my own leisure rather than just scrolling endlessly in reverse chronological order.

Blogs occupy a middle ground between the classic 'table of contents' websites and the modern newsfeed era. The best-designed blogs offer both the standard reverse-chronological feed, and menus so you can find specific content in a more direct way. My favorite animation blogs are Anipages, The Ghibli Blog and Cartoon Research. All three have that well-organized hybrid format. It's also probably not a coincidence that they're all written by non-animators who view the medium in a different way, offering a refreshing outsider perspective.

A Quick Update

It's been a while since I wrote anything here but obligatory posts sharing my new cartoons. Time to blow off the dust, at least temporarily.

I've been working at ShadowMachine since I moved to LA in 2013, and I'm currently a director on Bojack Horseman (we're in the middle of making season 4). I'm engaged to an amazing woman I met shortly after moving here. We got engaged in Japan, on the second of two trips I've made there. I also got to visit Portland, San Francisco, Chicago, Orlando, New York and Austin, as well as returning home to Toronto whenever I can. There are some good things in LA, but I still don't really like living here very much. Every day I resent that the city is designed for cars rather than people. I wish I knew more people outside of the animation industry here, but I don't do anything about that. On the whole I realize that LA isn't so bad, it's just that Toronto is really really good.