Archive for the ‘tv’ Category

Friday, May 30th, 2014

Theory: Our Dreams of the Future

Retro Future

THE FUTURE OF THE DISTANT PAST

Last week, I posted an article on James Montgomery Flagg’s “Nervy Nat”, a comic strip that ran in Judge magazine from 1903 to 1907. The page below was part of that post. It depicts a trip to Venus by zeppelin. For the past few days, I’ve been thinking about this comic and what it says about the way mankind’s vision of the heavens has changed in the past century.

James Montgomery Flagg

In previous generations, outer space was thought of in terms of symbolic mythology. Mars was the god of war- Venus, the goddess of love. The stars in the sky formed the shapes of the signs of the Zodiac. The concept of traveling to another planet was unthinkable- as fantastic as the trip to the underworld, purgatory and paradise in Dante’s Divine Comedy. When people of the past envisioned what the inhabitants of other planets might be like, they conceived of gods and spirits who lived lives like those of the heroes and villains found in fables and ancient myths.

In Disney’s 1957 television program, “Mars And Beyond”, director Ward Kimball explored this concept…

Retro Future

People On Other Planets
“Mars & Beyond” (Disney/1957)
(Quicktime 7 / 13.3 MB)

Retro Future

Around the turn of the 20th century, mankind’s conception of the world underwent a huge shift. Advances in technology were occurring at an unprecedented rate. These changes affected the way people lived their lives and the way they thought about their place in the universe. Technology was enabling people to travel faster, further and more comfortably than ever before. For the first time, ordinary folks were able to travel all around the globe. People began to think there might be no limit to the number of amazing changes technology was going to bring to them in the next hundred years.

They were right.

50s Future

By the midpoint of the 20th century, things that had seemed unthinkable a generation before had become commonplace… trains, planes and automobiles carried people to every point on earth. Electricity powered a wide range of household appliances. Television, phonographs and radio enabled pictures and sound to be captured and broadcast to every household in America. The lives led by the average family in the year 1950 would have seemed like wild, futuristic dreams to the generations that preceded them.

But society wasn’t through dreaming…

CHESLEY BONESTELL’S TRIP TO VENUS

Chesley Bonestell

Chesley Bonestell was trained as an architect. He designed the art deco facade and gargoyles for the Chrysler Building in New York, and was the first to create an architectural rendering of what the Golden Gate Bridge would look like spanning the opening of San Francisco Bay. In the late 30s, he created matte paintings for movies like Citizen Kane and The Hunchback of Notre Dame. But an interest in astronomy soon led him to his most well known work: illustrations depicting space travel.

Chesley Bonestell

In 1944, Bonestell created photorealistic paintings of Saturn for Life magazine that caused a sensation. This led to a series of illustrated articles which were eventually collected in an anthology titled, The Conquest of Space. Bonestell worked with George Pal as a designer on Destination Moon and War of the Worlds.

When the famous scientist, Wernher Von Braun was preparing a series of articles for Colliers on the topic of manned space exploration, Bonestell was his first pick to illustrate. Von Braun had dedicated himself to informing the American public that space travel was not just a dream- it could become a reality- all that was needed was money and will. Remember those two things… I’ll be coming back to them in a moment.

Chesley Bonestell

Here is an article from the March, 1950 issue of Coronet magazine. Illustrated by the “father of modern space art”, Chesley Bonestell, this fantastic vision of a vacation trip to Venus in the year 2500 doesn’t just offer suggestions for what sort of technology might exist; it shows how that technology might be incorporated into our everyday lives.

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ANIMATION EXPLORES DISTANT WORLDS

Man in Space

Director/animator Ward Kimball (far right) saw Bonestell’s illustrations in Colliers and encouraged Walt Disney to produce a television program based on Wernher von Braun’s vision of the future. Disney, Kimball and von Braun came together to create three episodes of the Disneyland television series- “Man in Space”, “Man and the Moon” and “Mars and Beyond”.

In this segment from “Mars and Beyond” the Disney animators speculate on the strange forms alien life might take…

Retro Future

Life Forms On Other Planets
“Mars & Beyond” (Disney/1957)
(Quicktime 7 / 11 MB)

It’s impossible to overstate how important the Disney space shows were to the American space program. President Dwight Eisenhower requested a copy of “Man in Space” to screen for his top military officers to convince them that space travel was indeed possible. Six months after “Mars and Beyond” aired, congress passed the National Aeronautics and Space Act which established NASA. The launch of Russia’s Sputnik satellite in October 1957 might have been the immediate impetus for the swift passage of the funding for the program, but the groundwork for the concept behind NASA was laid by Wernher von Braun and Walt Disney.

THE MEN WHO TOOK US TO THE MOON

Retro Future

Walt Disney and Wernher von Braun

Clearly, scientists like Wernher von Braun and politicians like Eisenhower and Kennedy were responsible for America’s space program. But it took more than science and funding to put man on the moon. It took will. The awe inspiring imaginary vistas of Chesley Bonestell and the fantastic animation of Ward Kimball and Walt Disney became our collective dreams. The day after “Man in Space” aired, every man, woman and child in America had the same fantasy in their head- the burning desire to go to the moon. The visions created by these artists and filmmakers became reality because they crystallized and energized our collective will.

Animation has the power to mobilize society to do great things.

THE FUTURE OF THE PRESENT

If you’ve read through this half century of history I’ve laid out for you, I’m going to reward you by poking pins in a few of your childhood sacred cows- the futuristic visions of the latter part of the 20th century.

Retro Future

"So Bad It’s Good?"

I’ve read several places on the internet about the concept of retro futurism. This is one of those post-modern, ironic ideologies that looks back at the visions of the future from the past as some sort of quaint, naiive thing. The problem with this outlook is that it ignores the fact that the fantasies it mocks were responsible for putting man in space.

Retro Future

"Obsolete Future?"

If the visions of Von Braun, Disney and Bonestell are now considered "camp", what sort of imagery have we replaced it with?

Our modern conception of futuristic fantasy has been dragged down to banal reality by people with nowhere near the imagination of the futurists of the past. If movies represent our collective dreams, then let’s look at what we are dreaming about…

Retro Future

"Today’s Future?"

Instead of idealistic heroes like Buck Rogers and Flash Gordon, space is populated by jaded, long-haul truckers like Han Solo and the squabbling crew of the Nostromo in Alien. Stanley Kubrik succeeded in turning a space station into a boring 21st century DMV waiting room in 2001. The world of the future isn’t a beautiful city of glass and steel where people live in climate controlled safety- in Blade Runner it’s a crowded downtown ethnic marketplace with weather that would make Seattle seem like a tropical paradise.

Retro Future

"Has our imagination gone soft?"

Retro FutureRetro FutureSpace ships are no longer sleek, chrome plated rockets with exotic tail fins- they’re flying shoeboxes with a bunch of dirty breakfast cereal glued all over them. Robots aren’t complex humanoid machines whose prime directive is assisting their owners in any way they can- they’re trash cans on wheels that make annoying beeps and blorps, or time-traveling thugs in leather jackets riding motorcycles.

Aliens aren’t fantastic creatures made of crystal that chew the landscape into wild filagrees like in "Mars and Beyond", or even super-intelligent beings who will help us solve all the world’s problems with their advanced technology. They’re medieval monsters with scales like a dragon that lurk in the shadows, or parasitic worms that crawl inside us to devour us from the inside out, or rubbery magical midgets covered with wrinkles and warts. Science has been replaced by pseudo-religious concepts like "the force". Aliens in Close Encounters don’t just have the technology to make Richard Dreyfuss mold mountains out of his mashed potatoes, they can even make toys come to life!

Cynicism and magic are the order of the day- no room for scientific inquiry and ambition…

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"Is this what life on other planets looks like?"

If these are our collective visions of the future, I sincerely hope that our dreams never come true. Perhaps we should consider dreaming a higher quality of dream. Let’s bring back the futurism we were cheated out of and start building a future that’s worth inhabiting.

Stephen Worth
Director
Animation Resources

TheoryTheory

This posting is part of a series of articles comprising an online exhibit entitled Theory.

Friday, March 14th, 2014

Animation: The History of the Chipmunks

Alvin Show

I got my start in animation at Bagdasarian Productions producing the NBC Saturday morning Chipmunks series, so I’ve always been interested in the history of the Chipmunks. It’s a real-life rags to riches story.

David Seville

Ross Bagdasarian Sr. (who went by the stage name "David Seville") was an actor who appeared in Alfred Hitchcock’s Rear Window and on Broadway in William Saroyan’s Time of Your Life. He wrote novelty dialect songs, including Rosemary Clooney’s huge hit "Come On-A My House", and released a few records but his successes never seemed to result in very much money in his pocket. He bought a tape recorder with his last $200 and played around with shifting the speeds, coming up with a novelty song titled "Witch Doctor". He got the single released and two weeks later, he found himself appearing on the Ed Sullivan Show performing the song.

Chipmunk SongChipmunk SongThe success of "Witch Doctor" gave him the idea of creating characters with sped up voices, so he quickly knocked out a Christmas demo titled "The Chipmunk Song" and took it to record executives Simon "Sy" Waronker, Theodore "Ted" Keep and Alvin "Al" Bennett at Liberty Records. The label was close to bankruptcy, but Bagdasarian convinced them that they might as well press Chipmunk singles with the leftover vinyl pucks and labels in their warehouse rather than just turn the unused stock over to the bank when the business went under. Production commenced and in just a few months leading up to Christmas of 1958, the record shot to the top of the charts, becoming one of the best selling singles of all time. Bagdasarian won two Grammy Awards, Liberty Records was saved from bankruptcy, and the Chipmunks became a household name with children all over the world.

Chipmunk LP

In 1962, the string of successful Chipmunk LP records led to a television series produced by Format Films. Story man Leo Salkin was the Associate Producer, working closely with Bagdasarian and a team of story artists to sketch up animated adaptations of the record routines and new stories featuring the characters. In his youth, Bagdasarian would take road trips across country with his cousin William Saroyan, singing songs and coming up with wild stories the whole way. One eccentric character they came up with on one of these trips was Clyde Crashcup, an inventor who only invented things that had already been invented. Salkin expanded on the premise and created a regular feature for it on the show.

Record Cover

Ross Bagdasarian Sr. sat alongside Music Director Johnny Mann on the piano bench humming out tunes for Mann to pick out on the piano and write down as musical notation. Jules Engel was the Art Director for the series, creating simple stylized backgrounds that set the tone for the whole series. Alan Zaslove, Gil Turner, Rudy Larriva and Osmond Evans directed the series, substituting clever rhythmic timing and spirited poses for inbetweens and smooth animation.

Jules Engel The Alvin Show

Even though it only ran for one season, The Alvin Show was one of the best television cartoons of the era. It was unique because it didn’t rely on the crutch of dialogue to make up for the limited animation. Instead, the show was built around music, clever timing and design. Like UPA’s Gerald McBoing Boing Show, many of the musical segments featured abstract animation and modern background paintings. But unlike the Gerald McBoing Boing Show, The Alvin Show always remained entertaining and fun- never didactic or self important. The voice cast included Bagdasarian as David Seville and the Chipmunks and Shepherd Menken as Clyde Crashcup. along with June Foray, Don Messick and Joe Besser as incidental characters.

Alvin Show

Ross Bagdasarian Sr. retired the Chipmunks in 1969, but by then he was a very wealthy man with a booming grape growing business. At one point, Bagdasarian’s fields were the largest supplier of grapes to Gallo Wines. He passed away from a heart attack in 1972. His son, Ross Jr. took over the franchise in 1980, creating more records- including the album "Chipmunk Punk", an NBC television series, prime time specials, and an animated feature- The Chipmunk Adventure. The character designs have varied widely over the years. The current CGI models look similar to the first incarnation of the characters, which appeared on record covers in 1958 and 1959. This Christmas, Fox will be releasing a new Chipmunks movie, Alvin and the Chipmunks: The Squeakquel.

"Are you all ready, Chipmunks?" "OOOOOoooooKAYYY!"

ALVIN SHOW PRESSBOOK

Alvin Show
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Alvin Show
Simon may have read the dictionary,
but he still can’t spell "incidentally" correctly!

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ALVIN SHOW GREETING CARDS

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Stephen Worth
Director
Animation Resources

Animated CartoonsAnimated Cartoons

This posting is part of the online Encyclopedia of Cartooning under the subject heading, Animation.

Monday, January 20th, 2014

Interview: Bob Givens- Grand Old Man Of Animation

Bob Givens

In November of 2008, Will Finn, Mike Fontanelli, JoJo Baptista, Michael Woodside and I were treated to nearly three hours of fabulous stories from Bob Givens relating to his half century in the animation business. I’ve included the whole interview as two Quicktime movies…

Bob Givens

You’ll notice that the kinds of stories that Bob relates here are quite different from what you might have read. When I first met Bob, I asked him if he had read any of the books written on the subject of animation history. He was blunt. “A lot of it is bologna. Those books are written by people who weren’t there… people who have never set foot in an animation studio.” This is a sentiment that I’ve heard expressed by a lot of the "old timers" I’ve had the privilege of being able to speak to. But Bob may be the last one left. We’re all lucky to have this opportunity to virtually sit at the feet of a "golden age" animator and hear about his experiences in his own words.

Bob Givens

Bob began his career as an Assistant Animator at Disney. His raw talent led him to be assigned to assist the Grim Natwick unit on Snow White. Please correct me in the comments if I’m wrong, but I believe that Bob is the last surviving member of the Snow White crew.

Private Snafu

During WWII, Bob was a part of the First Motion Picture Unit producing training films for the war effort.

Bob Givens

At Warner Bros, Bob designed the character models for the first true Bugs Bunny cartoon, "A Wild Hare", as well as providing background layouts and story sketches for countless Jones, Freleng, Avery and McKimson cartoons.

Linus the Lionhearted

Givens’ career continued to flourish throughout the television era. He worked on the first TV cartoon, Jay Ward’s Crusader Rabbit, as well as Clampett’s Beany & Cecil, Post Cereal’s Linus the Lionhearted and Hanna Barbera’s The Flintstones. Along with Bernie Gruver, Givens designed the classic "Raid Bug" spots for Cascade, and continued to work steadily into his 80s, retiring in 2001 after laying out Chuck Jones’ Timber Wolf.

Bob Givens

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Many thanks to Bob Givens for sharing his experiences with us, to Mike Fontanelli and Will Finn for taking time out of their busy schedules to speak with Bob, and to Michael Woodside and JoJo Baptista for producing this video.

Will Finn posts his impressions of the interview on his blog, Small Room.

Stephen Worth
Director
Animation Resources

Animated CartoonsAnimated Cartoons

This posting is part of the online Encyclopedia of Cartooning under the subject heading, Animation.