Archive for the ‘biography’ Category

Monday, March 24th, 2014

Animation: John Sutherland’s Rhapsody of Steel

John Sutherland Rhapsody of Steel

Today we scanned a read-along storybook adaptation of John Sutherland’s industrial film, Rhapsody of Steel (1959). Sutherland’s studio was very influential in the mid-1950s, employing some of the best designers in the business. This film is no exception. Legendary stylists Eyvind Earle (Sleeping Beauty, Pigs is Pigs) and Maurice Noble (Duck Dodgers, How The Grinch Stole Christmas) collaborated on Rhapsody of Steel, and you can see evidence of both their hands everywhere in these pages. (Earle in the landscapes and textures, Noble in the bold primary and secondary colors…)

Time Magazine said of this film…

Rhapsody of Steel, a 23-minute animated cartoon that cost $300,000, is one of those rare industrial films with enough specific quality and general interest to play the commercial circuits. In the next few months it will be shown as an added attraction in several thousand U.S. movie houses. Made by former Disney Staffer John Sutherland, Rhapsody sets out to tell a sort of child’s history of steel from the first meteor that ever hit the earth to the first manned rocket that leaves it, and most of the time Moviemaker Sutherland proves a slick entertainer and a painless pedagogue. Unhappily, the music of Oscar-Winning Dmitri Tiomkin, who is probably the world’s loudest composer, bangs away on the sound track like a trip hammer. But the picture’s pace is brisk, its tricks of animation are better than cute, and the plug, when the sponsor slips it in on the final frame, is modestly understated: “A presentation of U.S. Steel.”

I have included a Quicktime of Rhapsody of Steel at the bottom of this post, and you can find many other John Sutherland fIlms at Archive.org. This book suffers from little tiny pictures and oceans of white space, so I’ve enlarged a bunch of the pictures so you can see them better.

John Sutherland Rhapsody of Steel
John Sutherland Rhapsody of Steel
John Sutherland Rhapsody of Steel
John Sutherland Rhapsody of Steel
John Sutherland Rhapsody of Steel
John Sutherland Rhapsody of Steel
John Sutherland Rhapsody of Steel
John Sutherland Rhapsody of Steel
John Sutherland Rhapsody of Steel
John Sutherland Rhapsody of Steel
John Sutherland Rhapsody of Steel
John Sutherland Rhapsody of Steel
John Sutherland Rhapsody of Steel
John Sutherland Rhapsody of Steel
John Sutherland Rhapsody of Steel
John Sutherland Rhapsody of Steel
John Sutherland Rhapsody of Steel
John Sutherland Rhapsody of Steel
John Sutherland Rhapsody of Steel
John Sutherland Rhapsody of Steel
John Sutherland Rhapsody of Steel
John Sutherland Rhapsody of Steel

Courtesy of Animation Resources supporter, Kevin Kidney, here
is a video of the film for you to view…

Rhapsody of Steel (Sutherland/1959)
(Quicktime 7 / 22 minutes / 50.5 megs)

Here’s a great post by Michael Sporn on Eyvind Earle.

Stephen Worth
Director
Animation Resources

Animated CartoonsAnimated Cartoons

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

Wednesday, March 12th, 2014

Animation: Ralph Bakshi’s Phone Doodles

Ralph Bakshi

Today, I hope you’ll allow me to tell you about someone I have had the honor of working closely with. He’s my hero too. If anyone ever creates a Mount Rushmore of animation, his head should be right up front, grinning with a stub of a cigarette in his mouth– Ralph Bakshi.

Ralph Bakshi

I did a panel discussion with Ralph at the San Diego ComicCon a couple of years ago. You can find it linked in the article, Advice From Ralph Bakshi. The subject of our discussion was what it means to be an artist and cartoonist in today’s world. Whether you’re lucky enough to be able to make a living doodling, or if you still dream of being paid to create, you need to heed Ralph’s advice. He is the real deal.

If you’re an artist working in animation, whether you know it or not, Ralph Bakshi is the reason you’re here. Don’t believe me? Throw your mind back to 1970. Look at what the animation business had turned into… Disney was cranking out Robin Hood, a film without a single new idea. On TV, Filmation was lowering the bar so Hanna Barbera could play “quality limbo” with them. Animation was dying, animators were choosing retirement over flogging the dead carcass of the art form they loved, and it looked like it the situation would never get any better.

Ralph Bakshi

Enter Bakshi. With his first three films, he turned animation upside down. He showed that it wasn’t just a medium for big bears with Phil Harris’s voice and crappy sitcom characters in outer space. His films shocked and terrified people… they were crass and sloppy. They were made on a shoestring, and sometimes it showed. But they had something honest to say, and that got noticed. Ralph showed that animation- the most collaborative art form ever- could be an intensely personal medium.

Ralph Bakshi

Ralph’s first three films- Fritz the Cat, Heavy Traffic, and Coonskin- came totally out of the blue. They are the animation equivalent of Louis Armstrong’s Hot Fives. Great old time animators like Irv Spence, Manny Perez, Ambi Paliwoda and Virgil Ross were offered the opportunity to cut loose and make films that weren’t just cats chasing mice and dogs chasing cats. These films dealt with what it meant to be an artist, the battle of the sexes, race relations, and the unsenimentalized realities of urban life. They were improvisational and had no rules.

Ralph Bakshi

These three films, made in the darkest of the dark ages of animation, offered a glint of hope for what animation could become. If all you’ve seen of Ralph’s work is Lord of the Rings and Fire and Ice you don’t know what I’m talking about here. All of the adult targeted animation you see in the US today has its roots in Ralph’s example in these three films. They stirred up controversy and caused riots at screenings back in the day, but now they seem to us like they could have been made yesterday, not three decades ago- except for the fact that today’s world has trouble accepting brutal honesty when it comes to politically charged topics. Ralph has never been one to pull punches.

Ralph Bakshi

Ralph Bakshi

In the 1980s, Ralph did for television animation what he did for theatrical features, blowing the lid off of CBS’s Saturday morning schedule with Mighty Mouse: The New Adventures. Ralph took a chance on the ideas of a kid named John Kricfalusi, and set up the studio after the unit structure model used at Warners. Stories were written with storyboards again. Artists were cut loose to create cartoons. Without Mighty Mouse, there never would have been Ren & Stimpy or The Simpsons. The artists who worked on Mighty Mouse have gone on to lead the TV animation industry.

Ralph Bakshi

Ralph is an absolute genius when it comes to spotting raw talent. He can take a kid straight out of school and turn him into a pro faster than anyone else. Every film had its "graduating class" of kids. Those kids now populate the animation business on every level, from the hotshots at Pixar and Disney to the creative sparks at Warners. I know of Bakshi alumni who are top dogs at Dreamworks and the CGI companies too.

Ralph Bakshi

Ralph Bakshi

As a filmmaker, Ralph is one-of-a-kind. He doesn’t make films for executives… he doesn’t even make films for a specific audience. He makes them for himself. You can count the number of animators capable of using this unweildy medium for personal expression on one hand and still have fingers left. Ralph is one of them.

Ralph Bakshi

But Ralph is not only the greatest living animation artist. He is the catylist that has more than once pulled the industry out of a hole so deep people had just about given up on cartoons. For that alone, he deserves the respect of any and all animators, whether they like his work or not.

Ralph Bakshi

If this business needs anything right now, it’s another go round with Bakshi. The era of shi-shi “distressed” animation desks complete with faux wormholes, and middle management producers driving Jaguars paid for by their bonus checks is over. That was great for the people lucky enough to hook up to the gravy train while it lasted. But times have changed. The people left standing will be the ones who REALLY CARE about the medium of animation.

Ralph Bakshi

You can take my word for the fact that no one loves cartoons more than Ralph. Sit down and ask him about Jim Tyer. (Ralph was Tyer’s assistant…) Listen to what he has to say about Spence or Maltese or any of the other old timers he brought in to work on his films. Ralph lives and breathes animation. His drawings are imbued with the whole history of the medium. He announces his retirement every once in a while, and swears off cartoons forever, but it’s in his blood. Just count the days till the bellowing voice out of the blue hollers “BAKSHI’S BACK, YOU BASTUHDS!” over the studio intercom again.

Ralph Bakshi
Ralph Bakshi

It’s time for Ralph to rent a warehouse, fill it full of kids with big dreams, raw talent and lots of ideas and crank out a film. It doesn’t even matter if it turns out fantastic or crappy. It’ll be a shot in the arm to the whole business, and it just might lead to something even better. I know I’d love to be a part of it. –Stephen Worth

Ralph Bakshi
Visit Ralph’s web page… RalphBakshi.com.

Buy Me At AmazonUNFILTERED: The Complete Ralph Bakshi isn’t one of those "art books" with postage stamp sized pictures floating in oceans of tasteful white space and huge text blocks of scholarly blather that crowds out the images. It’s just pictures, pictures and more pictures… along with just enough text to put them in context. The book is organized to show Ralph’s career from his earliest days at Terry-Toons, to his groundbreaking features, to his revolutionary TV work, to his most recent fine art paintings. Even if you think you know all there is to know about Bakshi, this book will grab you by the lapels and shake you and show you things you’ve never seen the likes of before. Click through the link to pick up the Bakshi book at Amazon.

Stephen Worth
Director
Animation Resources
.

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

RELATED MATERIAL

John Wayne & Judy Garland in Lancaster, CA
The Lake Norconian "Orgy"
Mentor Huebner’s Film Concept Work
David Swift at IMDB
History of the First Motion Picture Unit

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.