The Year Ahead

All
Hey folks! Butcher here. Been awhile since the last time I swung my cleaver, but I'm back and ready for some choppin'! It sure looks like a banner year for animation in 2006! There is no shortage of animated features due out this year. Plenty of animator's working hard to bring enjoyment to all. Sounds like the late 90's all over again doesn't it? Well, guess what? Nothing much has changed since then. There are a ton of studios out there trying to cash in on the "animation bandwagon" and make a quick buck. Don't believe me? Have a look at the following list and see what you think.

Hoodwinked - January 13th, 2006
Now remember, I am just looking at the trailers and not the films so these are just impressions of what the audience can see at this time. Hoodwinked sports some amazingly bizarre model work, some incredibly minimal jointing and some really weird lighting. The standard Warner Bros type script makes this a radio play with incidental art attached. My own sense is that this has to be a good film writing wise because the art is so unbelievably weak, right ? It's lucky trailers are short because otherwise I would have to kill myself.

Ice Age 2 - March 31, 2006
The rodent/squirrel makes me laugh. The trailer/teaser is mostly that thank goodness. Animations the same, designs the same and they don't tell you a thing about the story. Oh, who cares, it's funnier the second time, no matter what right?

The Wild - April 14th, 2006
The thing I hate most about this preview is the insipid preschool commercial you have to sit through to watch the trailer. You will actually lose brain cells watching it. The Wild is the final version of what started years ago as an early Disney CG project as I remember. Seen Madagascar ? Then you've seen this, or so it would seem. Animals escaping the zoo. The models aren't bad (if you like stuffed toy animals ) but the jointing and animation is weak. It's hard to tell as this trailer works just like lifting heavy weights. It makes me tired.

Over The Hedge - May 19th, 2006
Now I find the writing in OTH kind of typically bad (see Sharktale) but I like the models/lighting (excellent)/rigging here. And how can you lose with Shatner playing a possum playing Shatner. Brilliant !!!!!! There are some.... well, awkward lines here but .... well thats life . The squirrel saying "Wanna see my nuts"? Ha ha ! So .... funny (imagine Shatner saying that). You can expect juvenile humor like that throughout the film I suppose but DreamWorks is getting a lot of things right. Hate to say it but there is hope for them I think. Oh, the humans, well, no one is perfect. Looks good though.

The Ant Bully - Coming Soon
I had to watch this four times. I , I just couldn't believe there was so little worth remembering from this trailer. I would get to the end and it was like I couldn't remember what I had just seen. The models are better lit but remind me of Antz/Jimmy Neutron. Hey, I have a bunch of dust under my bed, I think I should make a film called "The Dust Bunnies". Ha! Thats so cute....and probably ten times deeper than The Ant Bully. If there is a film here they are hiding it... somewhere . But not in the trailer. Animation seems fine but what's it about? An ant bully?Whuuuaaaaahhh ???????????

Monster House - Summer 2006
From the people who brought you the magic motion capture of Polar Express. What this is, is a live action movie done in CG. That's all. No real surprise here. Oh yes, the models are fat cartoonier than PE but they still move like roto. You know that nice acting key framing you see in Pixar films ? Not here. Some nice art direction and lighting and Zemekis feels it's done. Please God , let there be a story with interesting characters, please!!!!! I just can't take any more films without a story. (The Butcher holding his cleaver to his throat).

Yankee Irving - August 2006
No trailer here and the web page tells you why. "Lets skip the trailer and release it before anybody gets wise". What did I ever do to you people to deserve this?! What?! I think the ugly baseball bat should work Irving over, but good. He's just a puppet, he wouldn't feel it. Trust me.

Open Season - September 29th, 2006
Ok, there's a new Open Season trailer. A vast improvement over the last one in that it has a story and it sort of makes sense. See, a bear is living in this garage, like a pet, see, and then this deer , er antalope or whatever comes to take it outdoors, away from it's owner? Then the bear is mad because it hates being out in nature and they run into nut tossing ... squirrels ? Squirrels are as big as giraffes this year in the cool characters to cast department. Everybody's got'em. Oh, hell maybe I'm just old. Nice animation in this baby anyway.

Happy Feet - Nov 17, 2006
Oh my lord in heaven, kill me. What the..... dancing penguins, voiced by, Robin Williams.... and ? story ? Is there a story ? I can feel the heaving of my gut now. No, don't look. It is too scary.

Barnyard - Coming 2006
And thats where you will wish it stayed. In the Barnyard. Oh, one thing folks, COWS ARE FEMALE!!!!!!!!!! Holy Jesus, this is dumb. The cow designs will make you want to break out your Playmobile toys to compare which has more detail. I hate the models , I hate the humor, I hate...... oh you get it. This one is the winner in the weak premise contest, hands, hoofs down. If you do not die from having every bit of your soul destroyed by it's smarmy cliche and lowbrow humor you will tear your eyes out trying to avoid it's weak design and poor execution. Damn the makers for not putting their names on the trailer! I wanted to sue them for causing brain damage. Next time, just do a film like this with hand puppets.

Now, does this really look like a list of movies that were created because of great stories and great characters? Or does it look like a bunch of suits saying "We've got to get in on that Shrek and Nemo action!" Folks, if it looks like a turd and smells like a turd, well.... you decide with your hard earned entertainment dollars. I for one will be putting my own dough into automobiles...er...um...Cars this summer.

The Butcher



Comments

Double Disney Duplicity

Hey gang.

The Butcher here, swinging his cleaver in the name of truth, justice, and the anime way. So, we've all run out and seen "Atlantis", right? Sure we have. Only some people are saying that they've seen it already, and the first time they saw it, it was called "Nadia". That's right, it's the Lion King vs. Kimba controversy all over again, except this time it takes place under water.

Just like with Simba and Kimba, fans of Japanese animation are crying foul and accusing Disney of ripping off another piece of anime. So, is it indeed a ripoff? I dunno...I'm The Butcher and I'm just here to stoke the flames a bit and make people think. Without getting really involved in the debate, and in an effort to be fair and impartial, The Butcher wants to make it clear that these accusations fly around the film industry all the time. It happens in live-action, it happens in animation, and it will continue to happen right into the digital age, throughout the universe, and in perpetuity. But yeah, it's probably a ripoff.

I mean, c'mon! Look at the character designs! Apologists are arguing that since both films are derived from the same piece of literature, that there are bound to be similarities in the individual tellings of the story. But some of the similarities in the character designs between the two films are striking. The male lead characters, Jean (from "Nadia") and Milo ("Atlantis"), look like they could be related, right down to the huge, round-rimmed glasses and bow ties. The defenders of the Mouse House say that the character is supposed to be a brainiac, and the glasses and bow ties are typical of that kind of character design. Right. And that wasn't Gary Burghoff in a dress, playing Radar's mother in that episode of "M*A*S*H" with the home movies, either.

I guess the female leads, Nadia ("Nadia") and Kida ("Atlantis") are a little harder to argue. Sexy animated babes - they all kinda look alike to me. Belle, Arial, the chick from the Stones' "Harlem Shuffle" video, you name it. Except that Disney babes usually had a style of their own. "Atlantis" definitely goes for a more anime look, and the unfortunate (and not deliberate result, I'm sure) is that Nadia and Kida look like kissin' cousins. Say, now THERE'S a movie! But I digress.

What bugs me the worst about this whole thing is that not only does Disney deny that "Atlantis" might have at least been inspired by "Nadia", but they completely deny that there are any similarities at all! "Atlantis" director Kirk Wise said that he had never even heard of "Nadia" until long after production on "Atlantis" had wrapped. Well, that I believe. I'm sure that Disney can keep a director away from outside influences just like the Secret Service keeps Dubya away from CNN. Plausible deniability. But, I'll betcha that the storyboard artists, the color stylist, and the character designer had seen it! I mean, look at it, fer pete's sakes!

So, let us assume that Disney intentionally stole this movie. It raises the question of why they would do such a thing. One possible answer is that Disney, the one studio in the world that should have it's finger on the pulse of animation trends here in the States and abroad, has fallen into the mind set of most other media companies - that Americans are xenophobic, uncultured clods and that animation is strictly kiddie fare. One cartoon looks like the next, so who's gonna know? If you don't think this is true, go to the local video store where you'll find such kiddie klassics as "Heavy Metal" and "Fritz the Cat" in the same bin with "Rugrats: The Movie" and "The Great Mouse Detective".

Or, maybe it's just a huge cosmic coinkydink. Perhaps it took a million Disney writers a million years, banging away on a million typewriters....except instead of Shakespeare, they came up with "Nadia".

The Butcher



Have a look at a side by side comparison and judge for yourself.


Nadia vs. Atlantis

or

Nadia vs. Atlantis

Comments

"And the Oscar goes to..."

Hey folks.

The Butcher here, taking another swing of the cleaver at our friends over at the A.M.P.A.S. According to a story published in the Calendar section of the September 28th, 2000
Los Angeles Times
, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences introduced it's first new Oscar Award category since 1981. The new award category is Best Animated Feature.

Well, lah-de-frickin'-dah!


Sixty-five years after the birth of feature animation, the Academy is finally getting around to making a small effort to legitimitize animation as a filmmaking art. Granted, when
Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs
was released in 1935, the Academy did indeed give Walt Disney a special Oscar for having completed the first feature-length cartoon. It was one big Oscar with seven little Oscars. It was presented to him by Shirley Temple. How precious. With that, the Academy turned it's back on feture animation for the next sixty-five years, until finally enough of the right people lobbied sucessfully for recognition. Well, I congratulate those who fought long and hard for this "honor", but let's look a little more closely at what we've won here.

First of all, for a film to qualify for this award, it must be at least 70 minutes in length. Okay, no problem there. However, a film must also be "primarily animated". This throws films the likes of "
Space Jam
" and "
Stuart Little
" into a kind of gray area. Academy spokeman John Pavlik even admits that it will be tricky to decide what actually constitutes a "primarily animated" film. Also, it must be noted that animation has played large in special effects in the last several years: although movies like "
Jurassic Park
" and "
The Phantom Menace
" are not thought of as being animated films, animation played a major role in both - the latter even featured a main character that was completely animated....maybe overly so. Anyway, it will be interesting to see what they define as a "primarily animated" film.

The big catch is this: for any film to qualify, there must be
eight or more animated features released in that calendar year
for the award to even be given out. Eight! When was the last time there were
four
animated films released in a single year, let alone
eight
? What sort of research did the Academy do when they conjured up this rule? A lot of animation-type folk greeted this news with anticipation that the current slump in animation production would turn around as studios would doubtlessly want to compete for that coveted golden knick-knack, and the only way to ensure a chance was to make sure that eight films got released that year. Well, I hate to burst your bubbles, but when was the last time any studio made a film (animated, live-action, or otherwise) with anything but profits on their minds? Hey folks, wake up! The whole reason for the "animation renaisance" of the 1990s was that "
Lion King
" came out and made a buttload of money and everyone jumped on the bandwagon expecting the same. Sorry, cousin - an Oscar ain't gonna do it.

The Butcher thinks the Academy has overlooked something. The sheer labor intensity of animation dictates that there's never going to be as many animated features in release as live-action. I don't think there's ever been eight animated features in release at once. Of course, there has to be more than one film to choose from, and the current rule is that of eight animated films in release, the nominees will be narrowed down to three. So under the current rules, an Oscar for Best Animated Feature Film will be presented the next year that there are eight animated features to choose from. Don't hold your breath, people. Especially with the recent scaling back at Disney, the continuing dissolving of Warner Bros., and the cycle of hiatus-and-rewrite at DreamWorks. At the current rate, we'll be lucky to see the release of eight animated features over the next
two
years.

Or, given the fact that the Academy, the industry, and the public don't seem to take animation terribly seriously, perhaps this rule is no accident.Here's another problem. Let's say that every single out-of-work animation artist gets employed and for the next year and a half, everyone is fat, dumb, and happily cranking out eight animated features spread amongst four studios. Let's call the four studios A, B, C, and D. All eight films are slated for release between September and November of the year, thus making them all qualified for Academy consideration. Let us further suppose that the animation industry grapevine still works the way it always has, and everyone knows that one of the films that studio B is working on is totally kick-ass and is sure to win that Oscar for Best Animated Feature. C'mon folks, we all know that the Oscars are fairly predictible. When Cameron's "
Titanic
" came out, we all knew that the race for visual effects was over.

So let's say that studio B has the lock on Best Animated Feature.Given that situation, let's say that one of the other three studios, studio D we'll say, has been around a long time and doesn't want studio B to get that Oscar before they do. All they need to do is to delay release of their film so that there's only 7 films in release for that year. Wouldn't be just like studio D to do something like that?

Well, The Butcher applauds the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences for finally giving long-overdue recognition of the animated feature film as an art form. However, the rules of qualification for Best Animated Feature are skewed at best and full of holes. They've also closed the barn after the horse has gotten out...where was this award in the mid 1990s when it might have given a thriving animation business the shot in the arm that it needed to boost production? With only one stable feature studio in town, it doesn't seem likely that the award will be given out anytime soon unless the conditions are changed.

I smell a rat.

The Butcher

Comments

Buzz Words

Hey folks, The Butcher here with a few words about words.

Specifically,
buzz words
.
Buzz words
irritate me.
Buzz words
serve no other purpose than to allow people who are basically unfamiliar with a process to sound cool by using imaginary lingo instead of the accepted terminology. It's redundant, pretentious, and irritating to me, The Butcher. And if it irritates The Butcher, it's gotta go. Just to show you how
buzz words
have infiltrated our consciences and industry, for the remainder of this article, all
buzz words
will be in italics. Note that even the term "
buzz word
" is a
buzz word
in and of itself. Dammit, that's irritating!

Perhaps the most annoying
buzz word
to surface recently is
tweening
. A recent article in a nationally published animation magazine (*ahem*) described the entire processes of creating the drawings in between key poses as
tweening
. The drawings themselves were even referred to as
tweens
. Not once were the terms "inbetweening" and "inbetweens" used - not even to show where these annoying
buzz words
came from. People, there is no need for new words to describe the process of in-betweening and the inbetweens themselves! Changing the word does not make it more interesting, or easier to understand for the masses. It's less descriptive than the proper term: an "inbetween" intrinsically sounds like something that goes in between two other things - in this case, two other drawings. The only proper use of the word
tween
in cartooning is as a sound effect for a bullet bouncing off of Superman's chest.
Tweeeeeeeeeeeeen!

Computer technology has completely replaced certain processes. Before computers, if an artist needed to see one drawing overlaid on top of another, they'd either hold the two sheets of drawings up to the light, or place the drawings on a lightbox. In the
digital realm
, you don't have
physical sheets
to shine a light through, but the computer can simulate the effect. What is this called when done on a computer? Lightboxing? Nope. Transparency? Nope again. They call it
onion-skinning
. To "lightbox" two drawings might be a little vague, and to "put them on transparency" gives an idea of what might be going on. But onion-skinning is something you do in the Army when you're on KP.
Onion-skinning
is culinary, not cinematic. Keep it in the kitchen, okay?

Animation is a process. It is NOT the finished product. Thus, I'm getting sick of hearing people talk about "
animations
for the web". "I make
animations
".....oh, shut up - that really sounds lame. No one says that they like watching saturday morning
animations
. Call it cartoons, or call it Quicktimes, or call it AVIs, or call it quits. You can not express the word animation as a plural!! So there.

As long as we're on the topic of software, here's an annoying expression that comes up alot especially where tech support is concerned:
twenty-four-seven
. STOP THAT!!! It's overused faux hipster-speak. Just knock it off.

Equally annoying is the term
toons
. We can trace this one back to "
Who Framed Roger Rabbit
", a movie in which the cartoon characters that lived in the real world were referred to as
'toons
. However, somehow the word
toons
became a substitute for not only cartoon characters (as in "Goofy is my favorite
toon
"), but for animation itself - as in "I work in
toons
". It's another over-used expression, and as such I hereby undertake to refuse to recognize it as a legitimate term, except for when it refers the animation production software made by SoftImage, which is spelled with a
z
instead of an
s
, anyway.

It's great that technology is now making possible for the average joe to create animated projects on a scale ranging from a short piece for the internet to a feature-length film. However, it seems totally unnecessary to invent new terms for the benefit of those who are unfamiliar to the technical and artistic aspects of animation. If you want to learn animation, then learn animation. If you want to teach it, then teach it, but don't re-invent or reverse engineer the wheel in the process.

Remember folks, The Butcher swings his cleaver in anger because he cares. But say the word
tween
in my presence and you'll find my cleaver swinging towards your neck. See ya.

The Butcher

Comments

What's in a name?

Hey folks, the Butcher here.

Well, I know a lot of you are out there looking for work. And I'm sure that a lot of you are aware that in the last few years, animation has become inextricably entwined with computers. So I hope you're out getting some computer experience and not just reading my goofball articles. Surfing the web doesn't count for getting computer experience, gang.

However, you can look for work here on the web. The only trouble is, as an animator, you will find a wide variety of definitions of that word. Some companies are looking for traditional animators, some for 3D animators, some for Flash animators, while others still are looking for people to make animation for videogames which may or may not apply to the aforementioned types of animators. A big problem is that a lot of the companies that are trying to hire people have no idea what an animator does, so you end up seeing ads like this one:

Animator Wanted
Must be proficient with Unix, C++,
Java, and have at least 5 years
experience. No phone calls,

send resume/reel to....


(For actual proof search for "animator" @ DICE.COM)


Huh? That doesn't sound like an animator to the Butcher. What these people seem to fail to realize is that animation is a combination of different skills. Traditionally speaking, before one can animate, one must be able to draw. Learning to draw is a process in and of itself. Then, once you can draw, you may not necessarily be able to animate. Animation is a whole new learning process. Once you can animate, it doesn't necessarily mean that you can do it on a computer, too. Computer knowledge is yet again a whole new learning process. And if you can operate a computer or an animation software package, it doesn't mean you can animate. Making an image move is not the same as bringing it to life.

Animation is still a mystical concept to most people outside of the business. And I'm sorry, but these hot shot, start-up dot-coms are not in the business of animation. They need animators, but they are in the business of web commerce and need to find out what an animator is before advertising for one. Little do they know it, but unless that rare individual that exactly meets the needs of the above ad actually exists, they probably need two people. Oh dear, then they'd have to pay two people! But they should look at it this way - let's say you needed a liver transplant, and to get it, you had to be flown to some clinic in the mountains during horrendous weather. Would you prefer to save some money and find a surgeon who is also a skillful pilot? Also, do you want your pilot/surgeon to have at you with a knife after flying through that nerve-wracking storm? Wouldn't you rather get the best pilot and the best surgeon you could?

Well, you can span the globe, looking for that all-in-one ingenious pilot and brilliant surgeon, but your animation is going to look like shit. You get what you pay for, and while it makes sense to find someone that can wear a lot of hats, you don't want the person's work to suffer because he/she is buried under 5 fedoras, 4 yarmulkes, 3 top hats, 2 baseball caps and a big sombreo with those dingle-balls around the rim.

Know thyself, and know thy job. Happy hunting.

The Butcher

Comments

Magic Box Disease

Hey, people. The Butcher here with some more fodder for The Chopping Block. Today, I wanna talk about what I call Magic Box Disease. This malady seems to infect an awful lot of animation industry executive-types. The main symptom is a prevailing belief that since animation is "all done by computers now", that a lot of the work process has been relieved and "the computer will fix everything". For example, we all know that if a character is a bit off of registration, in the old days (of 6 or 7 years ago) you would have to take each cel for that level, cut off the strip at the bottom that contains the peg holes, offset that strip to fix the reg problem, and then tape the cel back together. Now, since it's "all done in the computer", realigning an entire character level is a simple point-and-click operation that takes only a few minutes.

Unfortunately, the suits heard about this and took it as meaning that the computer (not a human being) fixed it. A Magic Box! You shovel shit into one end and it spits out gold bars at the other!

Now, when
anything
in a scene is deemed in need of change, they expect it to take 5 minutes. If it takes longer, the suits ask what the hell they spent all that money on computers for. I imagine the same thing goes on in live action effects. I can picture a suit saying things like, "Have the computer make a dinosaur, and then have it make the dinosaur eat the car. We need to see it tomorrow for the pitch."

Admittedly, some suits have absorbed the fact that it still takes a person to do the work, although the Magic Box allows them to do it faster. Thus, a new strain of Magic Box disease evolved where suits take advantage of the fast results to re-work a scene to death. This has also lead to the rather obnoxious use of soft-edged core shadows on each and every character. Originally, we first saw extensive use of core shadows in "
Who Framed Roger Rabbit
", and the shadows were there for a reason: the animated characters were interacting with live-action actors to a degree of complexity that had never been done before. Therefore, to make the characters visually integrate with the live action background more convincingly, the soft-edged shadows were added to give the characters more depth and "weight". However, "Roger" was made just before the digital revolution, and all of those shadow mattes as well as the traveling mattes to reg the characters to the actors were done in a good old fashioned optical printer.

The look of the characters in "Roger" was so appealing (at least to suits) that core shadows started showing up more frequently. For a while, the term "Rabbitization" was even used to describe the use of soft-edged core shadows on 2-D characters. Then, when the digital revolution hit and this process became easier to do, the shadows not only started showing up on everything, but started being over-used. Even brightly lit, dramatically upbeat scenes had more shadows than a old George Raft movie. Why did they do it? Because they could. Why did box office receipts start to drop? Because it sucked.

It reminds me of an observation someone once made. Back in the early 1900's, it took a housewife a certain amount of hours to do all the housework for one week. This was before the advent of the dishwasher, the clothes washer and dryer, the microwave oven, self-cleaning ovens, drop-in toilet bowl cleaners, vacuum cleaners, and amphetamines. Now, a hundred years later we have all of these technological time-saving devices, but it STILL takes nearly the same amount of time to do the housework. It's almost as if with every time-saving device that came along, we found more things to do with it.

In animation, the more time saving technology that we've had, the more we've overused it, resulting in films that are visually distracting and difficult to watch, not to mention that they take just as long to make and cost twice as much. Yet, films come along with a distinct lack of "Rabbitization" and over use of technology ( to wit, "South Park" and "Rugrats"), that are made for peanuts and yet turn millions in profits.

The lesson here is that it's not what you've got - it's what you do with it.

The Butcher

Comments

Hollywood's Prom Night

Hiya folks, the Butcher here.

Well, it's almost Oscar time. Not that I give half a damn about the Oscars. Personally, I find the Oscars to be a rather meaningless popularity contest among Hollywood's "in crowd". I never went to my high school prom for the same reason. However, the Oscars do serve as a useful barometer to illustrate the prevailing attitudes toward film. It's not that I feel that every person or film that was awarded an Oscar didn't deserve one, but there are several examples of skewed Oscar voting. Henry Fonda's Best Actor Oscar for "
On Golden Pond
" wasn't for his performance in the film - it was given to him for all the films he didn't get an Oscar for. His performance in "
On Golden Pond
" was touching, well-acted . . . and served to remind the Academy that he was an old man not long for this world, and he had never gotten an Oscar. So he got it. Likewise "
Citizen Kane
", generally referred to as the best American film ever made, was completely snubbed at the 1941 Oscars for political reasons. Not only did the Academy not want to piss off Hearst, but the Hollywood establishment hated Orson Welles' guts because he was a smartassed kid from the east coast who not only got full control over his very first film and used mostly non-Hollywood talent, but had the audacity to make a brilliant film on his first try. How dare he.

So, the Oscars are skewed. Not fixed necessarily, but skewed. This is further illustrated by the fact that in seventy-odd years of Academy Awards, no animated feature film has ever won an Oscar in any category besides music, and only one film has ever been nominated for Best Picture. The only time an animated film has remotely been honored by the Academy was when Shirley Temple gave Walt Disney a special Oscar with seven tiny Oscars for "Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs", in acknowledgement of completing the first feature-length animated film. The only other venue for animation in the Oscars is the specific category for "best animated short" - but it seems that the Academy doesn't want animation sitting at the big table with the adults at Thanksgiving.

However, the Academy is not solely to blame. The United States has a unique attitude that animation is strictly a medium for children. As such, it is not recognized in this country as a legitimate art form. Animation is highly regarded in Japan, with as many animated films made for adult audiences as for children. By the way, when I say "adult audiences", I don't mean pornography - I mean mature, dramatic stories presented in the form of animation. The National Film Board of Canada considers animation such a part of national culture that it devotes as much support to animators as it does to live-action filmmakers. Is there any such support of animation in the US? Nope. Not even from the animation industry itself, as far as the big studios are concerned. All of them, with the exception of Disney, seem to regard animation as filmmaking's ugly sister and do little to promote their animated projects. Even worse, many studios don't even take their own projects seriously, cranking out mediocre-to-awful projects like "
Quest for Camelot
" and "
The King and I
". Meanwhile, Disney takes a minimum of effort to create formulaic but nonetheless well-crafted successes like . . . well, do even have to name them?

I'm not even sure how this whole animation-is-just-for-kids attitude got started, but I think that it might have something to do with when TV stations started running the pre-1948 Warner Bros Looney Tunes and Merrie Melodies cartoons on saturday mornings. Ironically, these films weren't even originally meant strictly for kids - if you watch them as an adult, there's some really sophisticated and even suggestive humor in these things. These cartoons were added attractions to round out the whole moviehouse experience when you'd get a feature film, a cartoon, a newsreel, and maybe even a mini-travelogue thrown in to the mix. The cartoons were there for the kids, but they had to appeal to adults as well. And they did. But somehow since that time, if you were an adult who liked cartoons, something was wrong with you. And if you were a cartoon that liked adults, you were trying to subvert America's youth. Case in point - people still freak out over "The Simpsons", saying that it's bad for children, despite the fact that it has been in a prime time slot for ten years now, airing against all the other "adult" dramas and comedies that no one complains are turning kids to Satan. However, because it is a cartoon, it's must obviously be aimed at children. God forbid that our kids should learn the words
hell
and
damn
from Bart Simpson rather than the cast of "
Friends
".

Further proof that all animation is lumped together in people's minds as kiddie flicks: Go to almost any video store, find the "animation" section (or in some stores, the "Disney" section), and I'm sure you can find such children's classics as "
Fritz the Cat
", "
Heavy Metal
", and "
Akira
" right alongside "
All Dogs Go to Heaven
", "
The Lion King
", and "
Rugrats
".

Where am I going with all of this? I don't know. I'm The Butcher - I'm just here to rant. But I can tell you of at least two critically acclaimed, well-received films that won't even be mentioned within a few miles of the Shrine Auditorium when Hollywood comes out to honor it's best and brightest: "
The Iron Giant
" and "
South Park: Bigger, Longer, and Uncut
". "
South Park
" is one of the most biting social satires to come to the big screen in a long, long time. It's also one of the few films I've been to in my life where the audience was laughing hysterically out loud. Oooooh, but the Academy can't even mention such a film! It's so obviously designed to twist the impressionable minds of our children! Yeah, right. That's why it was rated R and not shown in matinees. I also haven't seen a whole lot of kiddies in the school yard singing the "Uncle Fuka" song. The film was never meant for kids, dammit! "
The Iron Giant
" was certainly suitable for the entire family. It had a bit of edginess to it: the occasional hell and damn, not to mention the dose of cold war paranoia and the specter of nuclear holocaust. Sound like a strictly-for-the-kiddies film to you? I didn't think so. Will it get any recognition from the Academy? We'll have to wait and see. But don't hold your breath.

The Butcher

2/3/2000




*POSTSCRIPT FROM THE BUTCHER

Well, sprinkle my words with brown sugar and call 'em breakfast - I stand partially corrected. A week or so after my last rant was posted, the Academy released their list of nominees for this year's Oscars, and - I'll be damned - the song "Blame Canada" from "
South Park: Bigger, Longer, and Uncut
" was nominated for Best Song. Still, I saw no mention of "
Iron Giant
", which could conceivably been nominated for best adaptation...

I don't think that it has a hope in hell of actually winning, just as the unpopular kid who comes to the prom alone wont get to dance with anyone, but at least it will be amusing to see how the crowd at the Shrine reacts when they announce the nominees. Maybe there's hope.....but probably not.

The Butcher

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The Truth About Cel Collection

Hi folks, The Butcher here.

Lemme set you straight on something. A lot of you are buying "animation cels" for their collectable value, or because of fondness for a certain animated character or film. And I'm sure a lot of you know exactly what you're doing, but I'm equally sure that a lot of you don't. It's the later half of this crowd that I want to address, so listen up and remember that The Butcher cares.

Many people seem to think that by buying a cel, you are getting a piece of the film - a one-of-a-kind piece of artwork. Some of you are, but a lot of you aren't. Digital techniques have, in most cases, replaced the ink-and-paint process. Disney hasn't used cels since before "
The Rescuers Down Under
" , which was their first film to be done all digitally. If you've bought cels from "
The Rescuers Down Under
" or any Disney feature made afterward thinking that you had purchased a piece of the film itself, you got screwed. There were no cels for that movie or any made afterwards. What you bought was a "Limited Edition" cel, which is for all appearances an "animation cel", but was made exclusively for the purpose of selling as artwork. These are also sometimes referred to by the sickening and pretentious euphemism, "a cericel" (pronounced like sara-sell).

Cel collection and the market it serves are a fairly recent phenomenon. When I was a Little Butcher, I remember going to Disneyland and seeing cels from old Disney shorts and features being sold for a few bucks. People just didn't realize that they were getting a piece of the film - indeed, a piece of animation history - for a few clams. These were gooooood cels, too: Black-and-white "
Steamboat Willie
" cels, Mickey in his sorcerer's apprentice outfit, Donald, the Goof, Chip and Dale....these things are worth thousands of bucks now. What happened? Well, someone must have realized that there were selling a piece of the film - indeed, a piece of animation history - for a few clams. Also, someone figured out that cels were an endangered species, as digital ink-and-paint lurked just over the horizon.

Thus the value of cels went up. Rightly so, I suppose. But then, something else happened. Someone figured out that if cels were an endangered species, that they would run out of product to sell. What to do? Make more! We could even make them better! Pose the characters as if they were publicity shots! Make them in limited runs to increase their value!

Who is the
they
that I refer to? Is it Disney? Probably, but I don't have any proof. Don't get me wrong - business is business and it was a pretty smart move. However, they also played on the public's general ignorance about cels and digital production to make sure the product kept selling. That's where I get a bit irritated. The companies selling these things did the bare minimum of disclosure to cover their asses legally, but you'll notice that the difference between cericels and actual production cels is kept quiet.

There are even some unscrupulous characters who revel in this ignorance. Your friend The Butcher almost got the shit kicked out of him at the last San Diego ComicCon by an enraged cell dealer. I normally mind my own business, but I overheard a conversation between a cel dealer and a prospective sucker. The sucker was interested in a "cel" of the ballroom scene in Disney's "
Beauty and the Beast
" and was about to shell out almost 1,000 bucks for this meaningless piece of cellulose triacetate. I wasn't going to intervene until I heard the sucker ask for the dealers assurance that this was, "an actual production cel used in the movie".

"Oh it certainly is," assured the dealer.

"Oh it certainly is not," I interrupted.

Both the dealer and the sucker looked at me as if I were some kind of freak (which is considerable given most of the crowd at the ComicCon), and I explained to the sucker that "Beauty and the Beast" had been inked-and-painted digitally and that the closest that this "cel" had come to being on film was when the truck that brought it here passed a Fotomat. The sucker stopped in mid checkwriting and asked the dealer if I was correct. The dealer said, "Well, who are you gonna believe - an art dealer or some guy?"

The sucker looked at me for some kind of signal, and I said, "Well, believe who you want, but I don't see you writing me a check."

The cel went unpurchased, and the dealer went for my throat. Luckily, I managed to quickly disappear into the crowd of Furries, Trekkies, and sloppy comic book store clerks.

At this point, let me explain a few things. First, I certainly don't want to single out Disney for the cericel phenomenon. Hanna-Barbera, Warner Bros, and about a half dozen television production companies are all participating. Also, the example of the dealer at the ComicCon was an extreme negative example. Not everyone that tries to sell you a "Limited Edition" cel is a crook. I doubt that the teenage clerks at The Warner Bros Studio Store know a cericel from a Sara Lee coffee cake. I'm also damn sure that the management has made no effort to explain the difference to them. As the old adage goes, buyer beware. Here's a few tips to help you tell cericels from actual production cels.

1. Production cels often have a lot of information (usually written with a Sharpie) around the edges of the cel, particularly down near the peg holes. Most of this info is scene and frame numbers.

2. Another dead giveaway that a cel was actually used in production is if you see that the lower inch of the cel, containing the peg holes, has been cut off and taped back onto the rest of the cel with tape. This is called "re-pegging" and is used to correct previously unnoticed registration problems.

3. Look at the characters. Do they look like they're posing for a vacation snapshot, mugging for the camera? Are they looking directly at the camera, smiling for no apparent reason? Betcha that's a cericel.

4. Actual production cels, especially for television cartoons, will often have a partial character - just the head, or body, or arms, or mouth. This is an artifact of "limited animation". In this process, if a character is just standing there talking, only the mouth is animated while the rest of the character (the head, body, arms and legs) are just held still. In this case, a separate "mouth level" of cels is created, and perhaps a single cel of the character's body is used for several frames. "Limited animation" is mostly used in TV production. In some cases, an entire set-up is offered for sale, where all of the character's levels have been framed in registration to each other. These can be pretty expensive, but they are actual production cels.

5. Finally, most cels that are offered for sale from studios will have some kind of stamp or embossed logo in one corner. Most of the time, this stamp or logo will identify whether the cel is an actual production cel, a "limited edition", or a cericel. Learn the lingo, and if in doubt, find out if there were cels used on that particular production before you buy.

I'm not trying to tell you that cericels are a rip-off. If you want to collect cericels, then do so by all means. Hell, there are people that collect thimbles! But do so knowing exactly what you are getting, otherwise The Butcher will lay awake nights worrying about you and your money. That's it for now - happy collecting!

The Butcher

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