Nina Paley Sita Sings the Blues

3 Animators That Will Explode Your Brain

You work hard. You show kindness. You pay your taxes. You just remembered you have to pay your taxes. You deserve to meet three animators that will explode your brain. There are no fluffy 3D clouds or meet-cute plots here. But there are unforgettable images and squealing rapture.

Time Consumption Advisory: these artists’ work is often short but extremely addictive, and you may find yourself unable to do the thing you were supposed to do today.

1. Nina Paley

Wikipedia | Website | Twitter

Nina Paley Sita Sings the Blues

A cartoonist, animator, writer, and free culture (“Copying is Not Theft”) activist, Nina Paley is prolific, innovative, and engaging.

When Nina’s gorgeous, hilarious, wrenching magnum opus SITA SINGS THE BLUES reached NetFlix, I watched it. Enjoyed it. The next night, came home to find my roommate had just started it. Thought, “I’ll just sit and watch this part.” Watched the whole thing over again. It’s that good.

Nina Paley Seder Masochism

Origin story

In 1991, at age 23, Nina was already producing work this good (for Grateful Dead Comix):

Nina Paley Casey Jones

Secret superpowers

Adobe Flash, animating with embroidery, embracing technology, resisting authority

Viewing rabbit hole starts here

This Land Is Mine from Nina Paley on Vimeo.

2. Felix Colgrave

Website | Twitter

elephants-garden-felix-colgrave

Distinctive, playful, unsettling, Felix Colgrave’s work is so good it makes me angry. Every time he puts out a new short, I watch it three times in a row. Can’t help it.

He has the skill, the portfolio, and the beard-growing prowess of a man twice his age. He’s 22 right now and I can’t handle that information at all.

Felix Colgrave Fever the Ghost

Origin story

Originally from the Tasmanian Northwest, currently living and working in Melbourne, Australia, Felix produces steady freelance work, including a music video for Fever the Ghost and a short for Comedy Central’s Triptank (NSFWish). He is also pretty great at life drawing.

Secret superpowers

Adobe Flash, comic contrast, comic timing, making Melbourne as cool as Adelaide

Viewing rabbit hole starts here

3. Cyriak

Wikipedia | Website | Twitter

Cyriak Harris cat

Cyriak Harris’s appetite-suppressing, electronica-backed flights of fancy are as fun as they are disturbing. There is no creature so innocuous that he can’t turn it into a hypnotic dancing spider-beast.

Cyriak Cows

Origin story

Breakout star of British media site B3ta, Cyriak answers the cries of a hungry public with music videos, Adult Swim bumpers, and assorted original shorts.

Secret superpowers

After Effects, music composition, patience for render times

Viewing rabbit hole starts here

Enjoy, and don’t forget your taxes.

home-dreamworks-2015

Spring 2015 Cartoon Preview

This article first appeared as a “Chick on the Draw” column in Luna Station Quarterly, March 6, 2015.

This year’s animated lineup is out of control. There is no controlling it. Don’t try. You will hurt yourself. There are two Disney/Pixar movies coming out this year: INSIDE OUT (June 19) and THE GOOD DINOSAUR (Nov 25). TWO PIXAR MOVIES IN ONE YEAR.

But there’s still time to find a paper bag to breathe into. Let’s talk about spring.

HOME (March 27)

Official Trailer

home-dreamworks-2015

Based on Adam Rex’s extremely silly 2007 children’s book, The True Meaning of Smekday, the film follows a girl and a friendly, outcast alien on the journey to find her mother and save the earth. In the book, the friendly alien was named J. Lo; those missing the old name may be relieved by the movie’s actual Jennifer Lopez.

And can we talk about a brown girl main character? IS THIS REAL LIFE?

Expect silliness, flying cars, heartfelt moments, Minions-esque marketability, and Jim Parsons at 100% Parson.

Known for
Director Tim Johnson OVER THE HEDGE (2006)
SINBAD: LEGEND OF THE SEVEN SEAS (2003)
Based on The True Meaning of Smekday by Adam Rex
Screenplay by Tom J. Astle and Matt Ember GET SMART (2008), EPIC (2013)
Studio DreamWorks Animation HOW TO TRAIN YOUR DRAGON (perpetual)
KUNG FU PANDA (perpetual)

Cast: Rihanna, Jim Parsons, Steve Martin, Jennifer Lopez

UNDERDOGS (April 10)

Official Trailer

underdogs-catmandu-2015

A 2013 hit in its original Argentina, METEGOL lands in the US as UNDERDOGS. In it, Foosball players come to life to help a young man combat a childhood enemy returned to destroy their hometown. Expect adventure, pandemonium, and gags of all kinds.

In the lead role of Jake (née Amadeo) appears Nicholas Hoult, who is off to a hell of a busy year.

Known for
Director Juan José Campanella AVELLANEDA’S MOON (2004)
SON OF THE BRIDE (2001)
A huuuge amount of TV
Studio 100 Bares, Plural-Jempsa and Catmandu Branded Entertainment The first feature from Catmandu, who proclaims METEGOL “the largest Ibero-American CG production to date”

Cast: Ariana Grande, Nicholas Hoult, Matthew Morrison, Katie Holmes

SHAUN THE SHEEP MOVIE (April 24)

Official Trailer

Shaun the Sheep the Movie

Fixture of the BBC that reached US audiences through NETFLIX streaming, Shaun the Sheep arrives in his first feature to hit the city and rescue a lost Farmer. Expect rampant adventure, puns, visual gags, and startling emotional moments.

Shaun the Sheep listener advisory: extremely catchy theme song.

Known for
Directors Richard Goleszowski, Mark Burton First time at the helm
Story Richard Goleszowski, Mark Burton GNOMEO & JULIET (2011)
MADAGASCAR (2005)
THE CURSE OF THE WERE-RABBIT (2005)
CHICKEN RUN (2000)
Studio Aardman Animations WALLACE & GROMIT (perpetual)
CHICKEN RUN (2000)

Cast: Justin Fletcher, John Sparkes

Other Items

Originally slated for May, new Paramount feature from director Chris Wedge (ICE AGE, EPIC) MONSTER TRUCKS, has been pushed to a Christmas release. No poster. No trailer. No worries?

The release date for the RATCHET & CLANK movie remains unannounced. So if you need a throwback Sony fix, you need to dust off the PlayStation.

SNL Gap Girls

Drawn in Drag: Examining Male Voice Actors Cast in Female Roles

This article first appeared October 3, 2014 in my Chick on the Draw column at Luna Station Quarterly.

Sometimes animation is sort of like SNL in the early 90s–it assumes men dressed as women are funnier than actual women.

SNL Gap Girls

I’m not saying Cross-Dressing Voices is always men-as-women. Where would animated boy roles be without June Foray, Nancy Cartwright, Yeardley Smith, Christine Cavanaugh, E. G. Daily, Laura Torres, Tara Strong, and Cree Summer? Not every show dares to let their male kid lead grow up –as Avatar: the Last Airbender and Adventure Time did.

And I’m not saying men posing as women can’t be funny or subversive. Divine as Edna Turnblad, the Kids in the Hall as their lady counterparts, and Jordan Peele as Meegan are all comedy gold. But what’s vital to their success is that the funny comes from the characters and situations, and not simply the drag itself.

And I’m not saying the male performers don’t deserve the part. Many of the cases I’m about to describe are actually male show creators who took on female roles in development and never let go. Who could say a show creator doesn’t know the character?

What fan would single out one not-entirely-satisfying drag performance in an otherwise satisfying movie or show?

Who could ask a show creator to give up their sweetest plum?

Who could suggest the character might take on a new dimension in the hands of, say, a professional female performer with decades of experience?

That person would have to be a bit of a nit-picky dirtbag.

Let this dirtbag say it: unless a man-in-drag voice performance is damn funny or damn subversive, it’s frustrating to see.

Jack and Jill movie theater still

And maybe just a bit tired.

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Rick and Morty Something Ricked This Way Comes

5 Best Current Animated Series That Pass the Mako Mori Test

This article first appeared in Luna Station Quarterly’s Chick on the Draw column on August 1, 2014.

Maybe you’re out of the cartoon loop. Maybe you don’t have cable TV. Maybe you’re a former fan who got super distracted by Breaking Bad. Well, there’s been no better time to reconnect. We live in a golden age of television, and animation is no exception–plus shows are passing the Mako Mori Test left and right (in most episodes, at least one female character has her own narrative arc distinct from any male characters’ arcs.)

If you have the time, these shows are ready to tickle your nucleus accumbens.

Here we go, in no particular order:

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Rick and Morty Something Ricked This Way Comes

4 Reasons Why Cartoons Matter

This article first appeared in Luna Station Quarterly’s Chick on the Draw column on July 4, 2014.

It’s a pleasure to join Luna Station Quarterly’s new content lineup. I’ll be your friendly neighborhood animation commentator and theorist. Why? I’m so glad you asked. Of all popular media, animation is the truest mirror of our culture. Hold on to your caboose, because I brought the proof.

1. Cartoons gain amplification through simplification

As described by cartoonist and theorist Scott McCloud, this principle applies to every element of moving art, from character design to backgrounds to lighting to animation to the beats of the story being told. There is room for Miyazaki’s lack of baddies and Richard Williams’s compulsive detail, but generally speaking, the broader the strokes, the broader the appeal. Speaking of…

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Hiccup Toothless How To Train Your Dragon 2

5 Beefs with How to Train Your Dragon 2

What oh my God what.

Hiccup Toothless How To Train Your Dragon 2

There will be beefs

Let’s be clear. The original How to Train Your Dragon (2010) is excellent, structurally and emotionally. Both it and its sequel are gorgeous, imaginative, and animated by some of the greatest hands in the business. Each individual frame of How to Train Your Dragon 2 deserves nothing but high-fives down every cubicle row in Glendale.

But the story is a head-scratching mess.

Since 2010, the franchise has kept in fighting form with holiday specials and Riders of Berk on Cartoon Network. Though I’m not familiar with this series, I wonder if some of the best sequel ideas got spent there (a local studies dragon-training for his own nefarious purposes!), or whether an episodic story approach infected this script, because this story doesn’t have just a woman problem. This story has all kinds of problems.

Spoilers abounding.

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Frozen kristoff fixer upper

Another Defense of Frozen: The Subversive Appeal of Disney’s New Breed of Fairy Tale

I dug Frozen. I laughed. I cried. I gasped at the third act reveal. In the wake of Dani Colman’s essay for Medium asserting the film has a problem with false feminism, I feel the need to tell you why. I hope you can stand another defense of Frozen.

(You may also enjoy the original Defense of Frozen.)

Elsa Frozen strut triumph

Because here it comes

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American BESM Frozen Tangled

In Defense of Frozen

Frozen

Hero character design, homogeneity, and the BESM-ing of American big-studio computer animation.

(You may also enjoy Another Defense of Frozen: The Subversive Appeal of Disney’s New Breed of Fairy Tale.)

Disney’s animated feature Frozen, which opens Thanksgiving, has received some attention for 1) its nearly indistinguishable female leads and 2) the interview in which its head of animation, Lino DiSalvo, dared to mention the difficulties of animating two characters who look so much alike:

“Historically speaking, animating female characters are really, really difficult, ’cause they have to go through these range of emotions, but they’re very, very — you have to keep them pretty and they’re very sensitive to — you can get them off a model very quickly. So, having a film with two hero female characters was really tough, and having them both in the scene and look very different if they’re echoing the same expression; that Elsa (Idina Menzel) looking angry looks different from Anna (Kristen Bell) being angry.”

Let’s remind ourselves that Lino DiSalvo is not credited with the designs of these characters.

Let’s set aside that a studio’s characters have a certain overall look to help brand the studio’s films–for example, the longer middle-third of DreamWorks faces:

DreamWorks face middle third

DreamWorks middle third face

Behold the DreamWorks middle third

Let’s set aside that the difficulty Lino DiSalvo describes–keeping a human hero character appealing, on-model and expressive–has applied since Milt Kahl sketched his first Prince (and got stuck with princes the rest of his life.)

Madam Mim

Among other gigs, of course

Let’s save for another day how hero characters remain the same color and physical type. These choices are driven by studio biases with such deep roots that they heave up the sidewalk of good sense.

Turbo DreamWorks diverse cast

It will be 2030 before a cast this diverse plays cartoon humans. Then that movie will be studio-meddled into a mud pie, under-marketed, overlooked in theaters and used as reason not to feature such diversity again until 2055.

I expect the animators are as stumped by the parade of light-eyed, fair-skinned characters as anyone, which is sort of exactly the point DiSalvo is making.

The question that remains is, why do human female leads in American big studio computer-animated features look so dang much alike?

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