September 10th, 2018

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

Alvin Show
Alvin Show
Alvin Show
Alvin Show
Alvin Show

ALVIN SHOW GREETING CARDS

Alvin Show
Alvin Show
Alvin Show

Stephen Worth
Director
Animation Resources

Animated CartoonsAnimated Cartoons

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

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Posted by admin @ 12:28 pm

September 7th, 2018

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Learning To Animate: Simplicity vs Complexity

simplicity vs complexity

We had a question from a Facebook follower… It was in reference to the motion studies Nicholas John Pozega has been posting every day… “What kind of relevance do the the motion and principles of cartoons like Popeye and Mickey Mouse hold to contemporary cartoons or cartoons with more realistic designs with anatomy and different styles of motion?”

That is an excellent question, and it goes to the heart of how we as human beings learn.

When you start out to master any difficult skill, you should learn it in a progression from simple to more complex. If you try to juggle too many complexities when you are just starting out, you end up making a high splat on the wall and you end up learning nothing.

The great jazz pianist Bill Evans discusses this idea in relation to musical improvisation in this video. Please watch this video before reading further. Don’t just skip by this video. It’s very important to what I am trying to explain here, and it gives an astoundingly clear demonstration of this particular principle in practice…


Bill Evans: The Creative Process and Self Teaching
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5MSCReTIeH8

When you begin to play a musical instrument, you start with scales. You don’t start out playing Bach or Liszt. Animation is no different. Drawing volumetrically and solidly is difficult. Drawing a complex realistic human form volumetrically and solidly is extremely difficult. Animating a realistic human form volumetrically and solidly is completely impossible for someone just beginning to develop their animation skills.

The animators who created Snow White and Pinocchio all started animating in the rubber hose style. Using simple forms allowed them to focus on learning how to convey the spirit of a walk cycle or express personality through rhythms, gestures and expressions. The simplicity of the model allowed them to refine and perfect their basic principles… line of action, clear silhouettes, control of volumes in space, appealing proportions… without having to add the compounding difficulty of complex planes, anatomy, musculature and turning highly organic shapes in three dimensions.

When you have learned the principles one by one through experimentation and practice using simple forms, you can begin to add complexity a little at a time, and over a period of years, perhaps you will have the experience and understanding to attempt to animate a realistic human form. Milt Kahl and Mark Davis weren’t born with the experience and draftsmanship to be able to animate realistic human characters the way they animated them in Sleeping Beauty… They worked their way up to it by animating characters with more basic shapes and built their chops. They animated rubber hose characters. And the rubber hose animation in the early 30s Mickey Mouse and Popeye cartoons is drop dead brilliant. If you can’t see the genius in the Popeye walk cycles Nicholas has been posting, go back and look at them again and analyze them for the principles of motion, posing and staging they embody. I bet you’ll find that you were looking at the surface level- the model of the character- and not even considering the way it’s posed and animated.

Students are always impatient and they want everything now. That’s only natural But if you allow your impatience to prevent you from learning in a logical, orderly progression, your impatience can cripple you. Keep your eye on the ultimate goal, but keep putting just one foot in front of the other until you get there.

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Posted by Stephen Worth @ 10:08 am

September 6th, 2018

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STUDENTS! Join Animation Resources and SAVE During Our Back to School Sale!

STUDENT MEMBERSHIP SIGNUP: https://animationresources.org/membership/levels/

Back to school time is time to save when you join Animation Resources as a student member! For the month of September our Student Membership will be discounted to only $50/year! Best of all, you will continue to get that savings every year you renew as a student for up to three years! This applies to full time educators too. Why should you join? Each week we’ll be highlighting another reason!

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Posted by Stephen Worth @ 10:45 am