June/July, 2008

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June/July? What Gives?

After completing my first year of FLIP, I came to a conclusion: I needed to limit it to ten a year. Heck, Mad Magazine used to do eight (do they still do that?)! I have chosen January and July as hiatus months/ I've had a great time doing this little side project and want to keep it fresh.

More than one person has asked me how I have time to do a web-zine. I'm kind of amazed it gets done too, to be honest. I usually start chipping away at it during the second week of the month, contacting people, getting things lined up.

By week four I'm holding my breath as articles come in. I'll make graphics, edit text, and layout the pages on my Mac G5 laptop while channel leaping from Jon Stewart to Olbermann. I try to keep it simple and work within my time limitations.

The writers and featured artists of FLIP have broadened my horizons and hopefully yours as well. Enjoy this issue and check out some of the back issues. Here's some reader favorites:

Back to Neverland, Fla.
The making of the Back to Neverland short for the Disney/MGM Studios in Florida.

Sprocket Head
Jerry Beck's strange sideline.

Visiting 2A-6
Dan Jeup on his visits to Eric Larsen in the early 1980's

The In-Between Zone
Strange Animation Tales

Cartoon Carcinogens

Tobacco smoking in cartoons.

And there's heaps more, so here's your chance to catch up on your FLIP reading. See youse in August!

-King Steve of Flip

Dave reviews two from
Fleischer / Famous Studios.

Gulliver’s Travels

Walt Disney said of this film, the first non-Disney animated feature to hit theaters (just 2 years after Snow White, the first animated feature), "We could have done better than that with our B unit of animators." Well, that may or may not be true, depending on how one looks at the film. True, the animation overall, but particularly the incidental and secondary characters, is a bit on the crude side. Also, the character designs, as a whole, seem a bit more dated than the earlier "Snow White".

Still, one of the things I have always loved about the Fleischer Studio is that they were, seemingly, the one studio that never tried to be Disney. MGM, Universal and even early Warner Brothers tried to emulated the lush quality of Disney cartoons in many of their earlier efforts and, for the most part, they always fell short because by the time they got to where Disney was, Disney was already far ahead of them.

But the Fleischer cartoons were always different. They always had a brazen quality all their own. There is no mistaking a Fleischer cartoon from the 1930s to around 1942. They have a unique, eccentric look and way of movement that no other studio had. A quirky, imaginative, jaunty quality that was bold, innovative, and unashamed. Once the studio changed over to Famous Studios all that changed and the studio output became more mainstream. But during the great Popeye, Betty Boop and Superman era, the Fleischer cartoons remained original.

And even with the rather rubbery Prince and Princess and the somewhat stiff Rotoscoped looking Gulliver, this feature embodies all the wonderful Fleischer qualities of their shorts, pushed up a notch and embellished with lavish backgrounds and dimensional sets or "setbacks", great songs and a wonderful rich score by Victor Young. Don't miss Gulliver and, if you like that, add "Hoppity Goes to Town", (the second and final Fleischer feature) to your list of must sees. It is also very enjoyable. And, of course there is the wonderful Popeye set that has since come out. That one is a must HAVE. I consider it one of the best animated cartoon DVD sets ever released and I am thankful that Volume 2 is on it’s way!


Lost Cartoons

I LOVE the Hollywood Cartoon. I always have, and that is why I became an animator. I grew up on cartoons, such as the ones compiled in this collection, and so it was natural that I would want to see these again after so many years of being "lost", though buried might be more accurate. For, now that I have seen them, it is my contention that they remain so.

These cartoons are really not at all good. There is just something off about them. Unlikable characters, odd sound effects and timing, annoying voices, mediocre animation for the most part, (with an occasional highlight here and there) and story-lines that range from cloying to disturbing.

Whereas the violence in a Tex Avery or Tom and Jerry cartoon of the same era may have been stylized and surreal, the violence in the Famous Studios cartoons comes off as mean spirited and downright painful. When Tex's character's eyes pop out it is graphic and funny, but when a Famous Studio character's eyes pop out one can almost imagine an optic nerve attached to the vein ridden orbs. Brrrrrrr.

Worst of all, these cartoons are touted as being completely restored when they are terrible transfers of worn out, scratched and faded prints with jump cuts galore. One cartoon is so faded that I would have assumed it was sepia tone save for a hint of red on a jacket and a bow tie. And BTW- this disc is Volume 2 of the series (Volume 1 does not seem to be available through Netfilx) and some of the cartoons mentioned in the content description are simply not on this disc at all. Go figure.

So, if your looking for novelty you may want to check this disc out. If you're looking for quality, then I'm afraid you'll be lost, too.

c.2008 Moore Studios, Inc


I've Never Eaten Dog Food

by Dan Jeup

My first animation assignment at CalArts back in 1981 was to learn how to "in-between".   A large table stacked with xeroxed scenes from the Disney classic features was there for the class to pick from.   I chose a scene from Peter and the Wolf featuring the star character sitting down in a huff, kicking the snow.   I loved the appeal of his design, the rhythm in his poses, the elasticity of his action and the way his face squashed and stretched.  

As I carefully in-betweened the scene, a waft of tobacco smoke blew over my shoulder, from our instructor Bob McCrea's pipe.   Bob looked like a bald owl wearing suspenders.   "That's Ollie's scene", he said delightedly.   He ought to have known, Bob was Ollie's assistant for over forty years.   "Ollie was a damn good animator and a helluva' sweet guy", he added before laughing his trademark "hiss" and waddling off to blow smoke over someone else.  

At the time, I knew of Ollie's name but not much about the specific scenes he'd animated.   This however, was all about to change, because in a matter of months, Frank Thomas' and Ollie Johnston's book Disney Animation:   The Illusion of Life was released.   Like everyone else in my class, I couldn't put it down.

A year later, a group of my peers and I were lucky enough to appear on a show about Disney animation for the Disney Channel featuring Frank & Ollie.   The show centered on their amazing careers, their book, and their desire to pass on their knowledge to a new generation of animators.   Of course, I was completely honored to be part of this and was totally awed by their presence.  

The show was taped at Charlie Chaplin's former studio (which in of itself was pretty mind-blowing) then the home of A & M Records, now Henson Studios.   A mock classroom was set up on one of the sound stages where us "students" were taught about acting and observation.

For the next hour or so, I sat hypnotized by Ollie discussing his craft, showing scenes he'd animated of Pinocchio, Thumper, Cinderella's step-sisters, Mr. Smee, Alice, Pongo & Perdita, The Wizards Duel, Baloo, Mowgli, Sir Hiss and many more.   He explained how he used to observe the way people walked, and then gave a hilarious performance imitating a variety of people he'd worked with over the years.  This of course was incredibly interesting to me. I was so captivated by Ollie's wealth of knowledge and ability that I felt like I was in a trance.  

Now to understand my state of euphoria, as great as CalArts was at the time, us students never had an animator for an instructor. We had Jack Hannah, who directed shorts and Bob McCrea who, as noted, was Ollie's assistant.   All of Ollie's advice on observing character, behavior, and emotion, and inserting it into one's animation, was brand new information. I felt like a bolt of lightning had hit me.

At one point during the taping, Frank Thomas read from a cue card, "Now we're going to watch a funny film made by a CalArt's student named Dan Jeup".   My film was about a dog that refused to eat his dog food. 

Frank turned, looked me straight in the eye, and asked, "So what kind of observation did you do for your animation?"  

Nobody told me I was going to have to talk!!  What is happening?!  Why does Frank sound like a record player that's just been unplugged?!   Why was he talking to me ?!   And why did I feel I was going to vomit all over him?!  

Snapping out of my stupor, I blurted out some the most embarrassing words of my life,  "Uh...well, I...uh, didn't observe anything."



Frank and Ollie look at me like I had six heads.  

I then ignorantly proceeded to blow their whole theory on observation,  "Uh, I never had a dog before and I've never eaten dog food."  

Frank and Ollie look at each other befuddled, blinked twice with precision cartoon timing, and then looked back at me.    Frank nervously quipped, "Oh...uh, I thought maybe you had some personal experience of some sort."    He moved on to someone else, while I sat there like an idiot.  

During the lunch break, I asked both Frank & Ollie if they had any advice for a young animator like myself.   Frank seemed annoyed, like he didn't want to be bothered while eating his sandwich.   I think he might have been a little put off by my seemingly aloof on-screen blunder.   I couldn't help but think I'd totally insulted this master animator who'd spent his entire career carefully studying life and caricaturing it for the big screen.

Frank's words of wisdom took me by surprise.   "Work with people you like.   And remember...there's always someone behind you coming up the ranks."  

Ollie had this to say:   "Don't animate for animation's sake.   Animate to give a performance and strive to make your characters sincere and believable.   Otherwise, there is no point of doing it.   You'll just be moving a bunch of stuff around."

Despite the fact that I hadn't observed much before animating my film. and that I'd made a total jackass of myself in front my heroes, I'd learned a tremendous amount from that experience.   Instead of just diving into a scene and animating it intuitively or trying to emulate something from a Disney film that had already been done, I thought, observed and planned a lot harder than I'd ever done before.  

Over the years, I was fortunate enough to meet Ollie and Frank several times for lunch.   Frank had forgiven my blunder as if it had never happened, and Ollie opened his home and showed me his trains like he'd done with so many others who admired him.   Both men continued to be generous with their knowledge and were always supportive.  

On one of those occasions, in an attempt to complement Ollie's animation, I told him how much I loved the elusive quality of his work,  as if he'd animated his scenes straight-ahead and with no extremes. Once again, he looked at me like I had six heads.  

"But there are extremes!" he replied defensively.  

Not meaning to, I had hurt his feelings.   I didn't know why that bugged him so much until I read Brad Bird's recent Ollie tribute on CartoonBrew.   Brad notes how Milt Kahl criticized Ollie for supposedly never using extreme poses. 

I insisted to Ollie, that that was precisely why I loved his work so much.   His animation was so subtle. Something about it seemed more alive, to me, than some of the other nine old men's animation.   His characters never had any clichéd action or acting - each had their own individual and distinct personality.

The last time I spoke with Ollie, he repeated the advice he'd given me years earlier, "Strive for sincerity and believability in your characters.   Otherwise, there's no point in animating."   Ollie certainly knew what he was talking about.   Every character he animated was loaded with sincerity and believability.

Thankfully, his work will live on forever.   As will my memory of Bob McCrea blowing smoke over my shoulder as I struggled to in-between Ollie's scene from "Peter and the Wolf".    To me, no one's said it better than old McCrea:   "Ollie was a damn good animator and a helluva' sweet guy."  

Dan's film Rex, based on nothing.