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Free cartoons... part 18

Nathan Strum


Well, I just wrapped up the end-of-year shows for the Character Animation Program at CalArts. Again.


For the 18th year in a row.


And I feel like I've been sleep-deprived for 18 straight years, although it's really only been 3 1/2 weeks. But it's been a long 3 1/2 weeks, with no weekends off, a bunch of 12-hour days, and at least a couple of 18-hour ones thrown in for good measure.


I stayed home today, and mostly slept.


Our full show (the Open Show) was on April 28th, was about 6 1/2 hours long, and had 155 student films in it. We had 300 people show up to our impromptu movie theater in the Main Gallery, and by all accounts the show was a success. Canon was nice enough to loan us a spiffy HD projector for the evening, so we were finally able to have the Open Show in full HD for the first time. Nice. I didn't take any pictures, because my iPhone does a terrible job of taking pictures in an otherwise-completely-dark room with a white-hot-bright projection screen at one end. Basically, you just get a picture of a big, white rectangle.


Last night was our Producers' Show - a "best of" exhibition of faculty-juried films running just over an hour. In previous years, we've held it at the Leonard H. Goldenson Theatre in North Hollywood - which is part of the Emmys' organization (the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences). A nice theater, and where we've been for that show since 1994. But... they don't have HD equipment. Last year we had to go to considerable expense to bring in sound and video rental gear to upgrade the theater for the evening. Plus, we had another "little" problem... that theater "only" holds 600 people. Every year, we've had to turn people away.


This year, we stepped up a notch. From the Emmys, to the Oscars.


Last night, we were at the Samuel Goldwyn Theater in Beverly Hills. Yeah baby... that's what I'm talkin' 'bout! This is part of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences - the Oscars' organization - and is one of the top screening facilities in Los Angeles (a sound engineer at work who goes to a lot of screenings says it is the best one). They hold premieres there, special screenings, retrospectives, the Student Academy Awards, etc. They're one of the last places that can still show 70mm (and they'll be showing 70mm prints of Spartacus, 2001: A Space Odyssey, and It's a Mad Mad Mad Mad World this summer, among others). And now, it's home to our show as well.


The reasons we moved were twofold: First - the theater has state-of-the-art HD projection and sound. No renting or fussing required. Second - it holds 1012 people. So we didn't have to turn people away this year! And while we weren't at capacity, 850 people isn't too shabby either. That's 250 more than we ever could have had before, and I suspect we'll have even more next year.


The theater is amazing. There's not a bad seat in the house. Sound and picture were flawless. We had to rent an HDCAM deck and Dolby E gear at work to output a tape that we could use there (since HDCAM decks start at $50,000 and we don't otherwise have much call for them), but next year we're moving to a DCP (Digital Cinema Package). This is what gets played at your local movie theater now, instead of film. We had been researching DCPs, but fell about 3 days short of being able to actually create one for the show (and we would have had no way to test it). But we're working with a company that makes software for creating them (and used to make DCP recording and playback systems), so we expect to have this worked out well in advance of next year's show.


The new theater was quite different from the previous one in a whole bunch of ways. Probably the most surprising difference was the amount of security. There had to be a dozen security people there, and everyone had to go through a metal detector to get in. Very strange, but that's just how they roll in Beverly Hills. We also had to pay to have a latticework fence and hedge (yes - a real one) put up outside to block the sidewalk from the street traffic. I didn't get why, until after the show. The lobby, as big as it is, just can't hold that many people, so they need a place to spill outside onto. Effectively, it makes it into a nice patio area, and the hedge completely blocks you out from the insanity that is Wilshire Blvd.


Oh yeah... Wilshire Blvd. Just avoid that if you can. In an area renown for its crazy drivers, Wilshire is right up there. But it's all crazy people driving Bentleys. I kid you not. Also, while the theater is only about 32 miles from CalArts, it took me 90 minutes to get there for our tech run-through the day before the show. That's the one bad thing about the new venue - getting to it. I think we must have started a half hour late because of all of the people still arriving after 8:00 PM.


Anyway, the show was a success. It played without a hitch, and the audience really seemed to enjoy themselves. It's hard for me to get a read on it so soon afterwards, but all of the feedback I got last night at the reception was positive. Hopefully, this will result in jobs for our students. More hopefully, it will result in more money for the school.


So then, here are the films from last night's show. As more become available online, I'll add links to them. (I would've embedded them, but the blog software won't let me embed more than a few in a single post. Stupid software.)


Trevor Jones and others - Opening Titles

Eusong Lee - will (2012 Walter & Gracie Lantz Animation Prize winner)

Toniko Pantoja - The Crayon Dragon (2012 CalArts Peers' Pick Award winner)

Brian Carter - Princess of the Magical Tears

Sabrina Cotugno - Kagemono

Tahnee Gehm - Can We Be Happy Now

Louis Thomas - le ballet

Hannah Ayoubi - Story Time Confessions pt. I-III

Theresa Latzko - Days without accident

Jisoo Kim - The Bathhouse

Michael Piazza - Under a Big Tree

Zesung Kang - In This Grave Hour

Jacob Streilein - Swelter

Mallory Dyer - Lapsena

Taylor Price - Below

Jasmin Lai - When I Grow Up

Sun Jae Lee - The Princess Who Never Smiled

Jason Reicher - The Red Tide

Paul Flores - Camping Chaos

John Kim - You’ve Been Mimed

Natalie Wetzig - Royal Pain

Tom Law - Love (aka Cactus Film)

Sam Kremers-Nedell - Know Me


You can check out even more of our films from this year on our Vimeo channel.

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Crayon Dragon is amazing. The characters appear hand-drawn (I think), and the range of motion was impressive. I don't know the technical language to describe the technique, but the character's entire body was moving with each frame, not just the head or the arm like in 80's Saturday morning cartoons. Very impressive.

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Hand-drawn, yes. But not on paper. Toniko and many others used TVPaint and a Wacom Cintiq tablet to do their work this year.


The distinction you're looking for is "limited" vs. "full" animation. Limited animation was used by Hanna Barbera, Filmation and other studios creating episodic TV series to cut costs (although it could be argued its origins started out as a stylistic approach much earlier than that). Basically, they had libraries of characters, expressions, body parts, etc., that could be combined and reused over and over to create "new" animation. Full animation is more along the lines of what Disney did for their theatrical shorts and feature films, where animation was generally (but not always) drawn new for each character and scene, and for each cartoon.


Classic Warner Bros. cartoons are generally considered full animation, but used a mix of both methods so effectively, you never really noticed it unless you were looking for it. They often made use of keeping a character completely static except only for what had to move. It was efficient animation, but also served a comedic purpose. For example, watch the characters not talking in this short:




The director wants the audience to focus on who's talking, so there's no purpose in moving anybody else very much. If you think about it, how often do you really move around when you're standing around listening to someone?


Hanna Barbera and others took this to an extreme in limited animation though, where they'd often cut to a close-up of the person listening, and not even show the person talking at all.


Flash and other animation programs make it a lot easier to shortcut some of the animation process by having the computer do some of the work. The trick is, unless the artist is still effectively going through a frame at a time and telling the computer what to do, it ends up looking pretty lifeless and artificial.

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Thanks for the info, Nathan. Of course I watched cartoons as much as any kid, but recently I've developed a new fascination with hand-drawn animation ever since finding The Thief and the Cobbler. I wasn't interested in Disney much in my late teens and 20's, but now I'm catching up on all the Renaissance movies I missed in the 90's.

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Your school sure has a lot of talented students, and it's fun to see such a variety of styles. My favorite 5, in order of the presentation, are Crayon Dragon, Kagemono, When I Grow Up, The Princess Who Never Smiled, and Royal Pain.

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Hey Nathan, have you seen The Princess and the Frog? I bring it up because in the audio commentary by John Musker, Ron Clements, and Peter Del Vecho, they mention your school several times. It seems that quite a few alumni worked on the movie, and the ending credits sequence was described as "kind of like a CalArts film".

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I haven't seen it. Can't say I had much interest in it, although maybe I'll rent it on Blu-ray someday. There are quite a lot of our alumni working in the industry. I'll have to dig up a spreadsheet I put together on how many feature films had been directed by CalArts alumni. It's quite a few.


Added link to: Sam Kremers-Nedell - Know Me

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Ah yes... here we go. Pretty sure these are all Character Animation alumni, but one or two may be from the Experimental Animation program here.


Edit: Okay, I give up trying to get this impossibly stupid, useless blog software to post simple space-delimited text inline.


Here's a link to the text file instead.

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Nice list. Tim Burton? Who's that? :D


But seriously, the directors of The Princess and the Frog are apparently alumni too, so that explains why they talk about CalArts so much.


There are lots of private art schools out there, and the general public may not understand how yours stands out, being so connected to some of the biggest films in the history of animation. Thanks for posting the list.

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According to the list, every hand-drawn film by Walt Disney Animation Studios since The Little Mermaid, except Brother Bear, was directed or co-directed by a CalArts alumnus.


So too for every Pixar film except Toy Story 3.

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Yeah, John went here, but that was well before my time. I've met him a few times. Ron didn't go to CalArts, but the two are joined at the hip, directing-wise.


One of the Experimental students recently managed to interview Tim Burton, but he really hasn't had much to do with CalArts since he left, as far as I know. I don't recall ever seeing him here. Unlike, say Paul Reubens. He's come to our Open Show at least once. He's an alum of the Theater school (as are Katey Sagal, Ed Harris, Laraine Newman and yes... The Hoff).


Our most visible "alumni" isn't even really a person. We should really get them to use a different number now though, we haven't used that room since the early 80's.


Hmm... from the "better late than never department", it looks like CalArts' own blog finally posted about our show from last week. :roll:

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