Daily Barks 05.05
The Daily Bark: May 2005
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May 31, 2005
Another month ends. Still without finishing the book or new web pages. But I continue on. I just get too distracted with other things. For example this past weekend we attended dog shows on Saturday and Sunday. Neither was very exciting. The judges appeared dis-interested. In fact, one ring I watched had a judge who awarded the dogs in the same order they came when there were three or less. First dog in the ring got first. Second got second. Etc. Another one was more friendly, but always spent time chatting with the professional handlers... which always seemed to win no matter what the dog looked like. Sunday night was a bit more exciting as we spent the night at Disneyland watching the fireworks, Fantasmic and riding rides. The fireworks were great. Fantasmic was not. Cannot imagine how word of mouth has not killed that waste of technology and characters. Also got to ride the "gold" Dumbo. That makes three golden vehicles to date - Dumbo, Jungle Cruise and Main Stree Classic Car. Monday was some rest, thought and lots of housework which included scrubbing the deck. (Somehow appropriate on Memorial Day.) No wonder there's never time to write!
May 30, 2005
Memorial Day. The day we honor those who have died in battle defending our freedom, or those who have died in battle for whatever reason our government sent them. The day is usually spent with barbecues, parades and ceremonies. I think the proper way should be reading banned books, watching films that question government, registering to vote, speaking freely, researching various bills before congress, and doing other things that highlight the rights and freedom those soldiers died for. For me, I didn't do anything too radical... though I did watch several films that ironically showed freedoms. L'IL ABNER is a the musical about simple hillbilly's who support the government but still have the freedom to fight back when they think Washington has made a mistake. ON A CLEAR DAY YOU CAN SEE FOREVER is a musical in which a professor comes across a possible case of reincarnation and has his career put in jeopardy by using his free speech to support the unpopular idea. SPIRIT is an animated feature about a stallion that stands up to authority in the form of the U.S. Cavalry and wins his right to remain free. On this day, I honor those who died so that such "subversive" ideas can be expressed freely. Hopefully our country will continue the right of free thinking and free speech on every level that these soldiers gave their lives for.
May 29, 2005
Late night at Disneyland. See Fantasmic... what a waste. Discover the Disneyland taffy, once made inhouse, is now brought in from Florida... and tastes terrible. Ride the golden Dumbo and watch the fireworks at the same time. Quite an experience. Not home until after midnight.
May 28, 2005
A three day weekend. I remember when I was in school, long weekends were a real treat. It meant one day less of school. It also meant one extra day to hang around and have fun. Now, though, a three day weekend seems to mean simply more work. On the job, a four day week does not mean less work. It simply means you have to finish five days of work in four. Ugh. And then comes the weekend. Suddenly, with more time, there are more demands. That extra day can now be used to add a few chores around the house, a few extra events needing attendance, and even a few unplanned surprises. Sigh. When the weekend is finally over, you seem more tired than after a standard 5-day work week and 2-day weekend. Somehow 5+2 does not equal 4+3. Well, gotta get to bed. Have a full day of things to do tomorrow. So much for a day of rest.
May 27, 2005
Stealth Animation. Every so often animated series fly under the radar of the media and (now) the web. For example, there is a show on Cartoon Network called THE GRIMM ADVENTURES OF BILLY AND MANDY. The show is about two kids who have forced the Grim Reaper to be their friend. It is really funny. At the studio we have monitors around the building that are tuned to the network. BILLY AND MANDY is the only thing on the network (besides Tom and Jerry) that will cause employees to stop, look and laugh. The series is one of the top rated shows on the network. Yet I never hear folks talk about. I never see articles about it. The creator and the crew sometimes feel they are being ignored. I tell them I know the feeling. When I worked on GARFIELD AND FRIENDS we were the top rated series on CBS, and occasionally on all of Saturday morning. We were nominated for Emmys and other awards. Yet I seldom heard word one in the press or from fan groups. In fact, when I would meet folks in the business and tell them the show I was working on, I would often get a "is that going to be a new show?" Don't know what the lesson is here... except that perhaps the experts who follow and report on animation are not always in sync with the general public who watches it.
May 26, 2005
A sign of the times. When I worked as manager of a toy store, I discovered the world of Madame Alexander dolls. These were high priced collectible dolls, usually around 12-16 inches high. They were dressed in elaborate period costumes. Women (mostly) came and bought each new edition that came out. (There was another company, called Effanbee, that was considered a 'second rate' Madame Alexandar and often resorted to film star creations to attract attention.) While most Alexander dolls were historical, a few ventured into fantasy themes. I remember some from THE WIZARD OF OZ. There was also a series of famous fairy tales which featured Little Red Riding Hood and Cinderella. At one point they got into licensing. I remember seeing one of Annette as a Mouseketeer at a Disneyland toy shop. But that was back in the 1970s and 1980s. I just saw an ad about one of their newest editions. It is based on the shower scene from Alfred Hitchcock's PSYCHO! Yes, this exquisitely designed doll is in a shower peering out of the shower curtain. There is apparently going to be a series of dolls based on Hitchcock's female characters. From historical queens, to fairy tale princesses, to Mouseketeers, to murder victims. Welcome to collectable dolls in the 2000s. Sheesh.
May 25, 2005
A bad week for voice artists and lovers of animation. In the past seven days we have seen the passing of three giants in the world of animation voices. Probably most recognized was Thurl Ravenscroft who voiced everything from Tony the Tiger to Disney's Haunted Mansion to singing "You're a mean one, Mr. Grinch." Also gone is Henry Corden who was the second Fred Flintstone (from the 1970s through the 1990s), as well as an onscreen actor who, among other things, was the landlord on THE MONKEES. Finally, Howie (Howard) Morris was an actor (ANDY GRIFFITH, DICK VAN DYKE SHOW, dozens of others), director (HOGAN'S HEROES, GET SMART, etc.) and voice actor (Atom Ant, Jet Screamer, etc.). I actually had a chance to work with Howie who was a regular on the GARFIELD AND FRIENDS show portraying Wade the duck and many others. Funny, lively and truly outrageous, Howie was one of those unique showbiz folks who was as much fun to be around as he was to watch/listen to. For over half a decade I had the pleasure of watching him perform and hearing his showbiz stories. They often say famous people "go in threes". However with this trio, the world has lost dozens, if not hundreds of loved characters.
May 24, 2005
Politics. Sometimes you really can't win. For weeks (or is it months and years) there has been the battle over judges, filibusters and the infamous 'nuclear option'. Both parties claiming the other was usurping the constitution. Each party claimed they would not budge. Meanwhile the public sat and watched 'partisan politics as usual'. Then something unusual happened. A few senators got together, talked, compromised and came up with a solution. These brave politicians should be hailed for their courage to step up to party lines and engage the other party in real discussion. Instead, I'm seeing headlines like "senators blinked" and hearing how one side won or lost. This is not to say the compromise is perfect. No compromise is. But the fact that Democrats and Republicans could actually still come to compromise in these fevered, divided, hard-lined times is nothing short of a miracle. Democracy should not be about a majority bullying a minority. It should be about majorities and minorities working together. After all, in my lifetime I have seen a number of minorities move into majorities... and back.
May 19-23, 2005
Away at a convention.
May 18, 2005
Forever the baby.
You will be missed... but never forgotten. We will meet again where you can once again grab my hat and we can chase ghosties together.
Love forever, 'pop'.
May 17, 2005
So sleepy... but so much to do. Prep for a con. Prep for a guest. Get food for the kids. But most difficult... prepare to say goodbye.
May 16, 2005
Movie Remakes. Whenever talk turns to movie remakes, you can always be sure most folks will claim the original was better. One exception seems to be this summer's CHARLIE AND THE CHOCOLATE FACTORY. This is Tim Burton's take on the story with Johnny Depp as the notorious candy maker, Willy Wonka. The talk I keep hearing is how the Burton/Depp version will be darker and more sinister than the 1960s Gene Wilder version. The argument is that this will make it a better film. When I hear such comments, I wonder if folks really remember the original version. Certainly the film starts very slow and melancholy. But once Wonka appears in the form of Wilder, the film takes on a decidely sinister viewpoint. Despite the bright, jelly-bean color scheme, Wilder's Wonka is definitely a character with a dark side. When I see the ads for the newer version, I see Depp is playing the character as broadly as Wilder did. And though Depp is certainly able to display eccentric characters (Captain Jack Sparrow is a classic), few would complain about Wilder's wired appearance and expressions. Yes, the new version may be a darker color scheme... but I don't think Willy Wonka will be much darker, just less wilder. On a historical note, when I was working at Tom Carter Productions in the 1980s, we looked into the idea of converting the original film into a stage musical. Carter loved the film. We went so far as to contact Wilder's agent, to see if he would be interested in re-creating the role on stage. To our joy, Wilder was very interested in the project. It was one of many projects that faded when the studio went under.
May 15, 2005
Ants! As the temperature shoots up, the ants have filed out. They seem to have their scouts everywhere. I fear this could all be a set-up for a very buggy summer. Due to the heavy, and at times seemingly unending rain, there a plenty of swampy areas still around. Local officials have warned this could be a bad year for mosquitos and thus West Nile Virus. Oh well, bugs are part of living in the mountains. And so is the small family of woodpeckers who have moved into a dead tree on the property. We see the adults flying in and out, and hear the small ones 'trilling'. Good thing they eat bugs.
May 14, 2005
Gold Rush at Disneyland. Seems the Disneyland Resort is taking their golden anniversary to heart. They have applied gold paint to everything from Main Street lamp posts to their original attractions. From the Carousel to the Jungle Cruise to the main street vehicles, all feature at least one golden "carriage". On the Carousel, it is the lead horse, Jingles. On the Jungle Cruise it was the Congo Queen. So far we have gotten to ride Jingles, the Congo Queen and the horseless carriage. Also took time to watch the special presentation on the first 50 years of Disneyland. Housed where Mr. Lincoln has been for decades, the new exhibit has original concept art, sculptures an final photos of the origin and growth of the park. Quite nice. The theater features a movie hosted by Steve Martin and Donald Duck. Considering the evolution of the Park was frequently covered on Disney's TV show, there is plenty of footage. In fact, at the end, one gets the feeling too much Martin & Duck, too little Disneyland. Still, it was fun to see so much rare footage and memorabilia from what might be the true 8th wonder of the world.
May 13, 2005
Spending MY money. One of the favorite claims of our current administration is that citizens can spend their money wiser than the government. It is the basis for the tax cuts and the attempt to alter social security to individual accounts. There are times I think the government is right. For example, the cost of the war in Iraq is now reaching around $250 billion. And what have I got for my money? Do I feel safer? No. Did I get a secure Middle East? No. Has the oil supply been made steady? No. Now imagine what I could have done with that $250 billion. I could have given each state $5 billion for more police, firemen and emergency responders. Perhaps I would have used the money to pay for better security at airports, sea ports, trains and subways. Yes. No doubt about it. I could have spent that money much more wisely than the current government. Heck, I might have even put it all into development of alternate fuel and the enforcement of better gas mileage vehicles.
May 12, 2005
computer issues... ugh!
Oh. Happy Birthday, Casey.
May 11, 2005
More on animation legend Iwao Takamoto. As discussed in yesterday's bark, Iwao made a lunchtime visit to the studio and spoke for a little over an hour. A major part of his talk was how he developed the look of Scooby Doo. But the most interesting part was his insight into his designing style. He mentioned how he designed for animators. That is why Scooby has eyebrows. It gave the animators something to work with. He discussed fellow designer Ed Bennedict, who was the original designer of the Flintstones. Iwao said how he loved Ed's original designs because they showed natural shape, such as in the houses which were mostly circles with some speres and flats. As he put it, they never looked constructed, rather that they just occured in nature. Iwao mentioned in later years the designes strayed from this look, adding a more standard structural look, as if the homes and buildings had been built out of walls, 2x4s and such. When Iwao was done he took questions from the audience. Most were from me or a director at the studio. After the talk a number of folks approached me, surprised at my knowledge of animation. As one put it, "whenever Iwao mentioned an artist, you knew who it was." They also thought it was odd that I was so in tune with Iwao's design comments. I informed them that I had some design experience, having designed covers for magazines, books and videoboxes. Again, the time with Iwao was most enlightening. The only sad side was that the audience was largely production people, like myself. Only a handful of artists were there. Those who could have gotten the most out of Iwao's experience spent their time playing basketball, watching tv, or chatting among themselves. Their loss.
May 10, 2005
Today at lunch the studio had a session with animation icon Iwao Takamoto. Iwao's career began as an animator on Disney features in the 1950s, but his biggest fame came from his time at Hanna-Barbera where he designed hundreds of characters including Scooby Doo. I was going to ask where the design from Scooby had come from, but he beat me to it with a great story. Seems he had grown tired of drawing small dogs, especially Bandit on JONNY QUEST. So when it came time to design a dog for a new series about teens solving mysteries, he chose the biggest dog he knew of, a Great Dane. One of the ink and paint ladies at Hanna-Barbera raised show Danes, so he had her describe all the elements of a show Dane. "She listed several things," said Iwao, "and then I broke the rules to make it funny". For example Danes have noble chins, so Iwao had Scooby's chin drop down. "Show Danes have real straight backs", he continued, "so Scooby's sloops down." He made the erect ears a bit floppy. The lady had fawns, so Scooby was brown. The spots? "Those were added by consumer products" (so that he would be distinctive on toys and such.). He also talked of how his knowledge of anatomy, learned at Disney, worked with Scooby. At Disney, the artists were taught to see animals with human joints. So even a four-legger would have shoulders, knees and such. In fact, he always felt Scooby should walk somewhat duck-like, with large flat feet. However, to his dismay, some would animate Scooby walking on his 'toes', making it too human. So Scooby was based on real show Danes, from a breeder at Hanna-Barbera. Through the skilled eye of a master designer, who tweaked the pomposity of the breed, the Scooby all Dane lovers love was born. Lunches like this are "Rooby-dooby-doo!"
May 9, 2005
Over the weekend hit the "Disneyland Resort" and saw their two new parades. Disneyland has a "Dreams" parade which featured a number of units based on several animated features including ALICE IN WONDERLAND, PINOCCHIO and LITTLE MERMAID. The parade was lively and full of costume characters. Best part was the return of the main LION KING float from that classic parade. California Adventure has "Block Party", an allegedly "interactive" parade. It is full of young dancers and acrobats. The parade stops at three different points in the park. At each stop, the troops go through a variety of attempts to get the audience to shout, dance and jump. Near the end, viewers are pulled into the route to dance a bit with the other dancers. Oh, there are some characters in this parade too, from Pixar films, but they mostly remain on floats, jumping and dancing when commanded by the parade soldiers (from TOY STORY). Whereas the Disneyland parade is full of memories, characters, songs and all things classic Disney, the California Adventure is just a lot of noise and motion. I'll take Disneyland... anytime.
May 8, 2005
Happy Mother's Day!
May 7, 2005
Mention any creative output and there will be talk of a "golden age". Animation had a "golden age" that ran from the 30s through the 40s. Comics had a "golden age" in the 40s and 50s, with a "silver age" in the 50s and 60s. Sometimes there are more than one "golden age". Disney had a "golden age" of shorts in the early 30s, a "golden age" of features from the late 30s to the early 40s, and a second "golden age" of features from the late 80s the early 90s. However, the other night I thought of Disney's... well... "copper age". It was a period from Walt's death to around the early 1980s. This is when Ron Miller was running things. You had a variety of live action films come out that were not great... in fact, were kind of flat. But like a copper penny, when shined up a bit looked pretty good. I admit to liking films like THE HAPPIEST MILLIONAIRE, THE LOVE BUG and THE BLACK HOLE. These films almost have as many faults as they do virtues. But they have a quirky feel that makes them fun, for me, to watch. I mean to see the quality, one has only to view such horrors as ONE OF OUR DINOSAURS IS MISSING or SNOWBALL EXPRESS. P.U. But HAPPIEST MILLIONAIRE has a few neat musical numbers and ideas, even though it looks like it was directed in slow motion. THE LOVE BUG has an inner charm that all the cheesy effects and lame comedy can't conceal. THE BLACK HOLE... well, take away the "hole" and you have a plot worthy of Hitchcock and some atmospheric scenes. Sadly ithas a cast worthy of a Sid and Marty Krofft show. Oh well. There are plenty of better films than these copper popcorn diversions... but I'll put these copper classics up against some of the overbearing special effect binges that pop up in movie theaters these days.
May 6, 2005
One often hears of "links to the past". It has only recently occurred that I am such a link. It happened when several network execs came to town to discuss new projects being created. Afterwards, several folks talked of the creators from the "golden age" of animation. I made a few comments about some of those creators and suddenly realized I am the only person in our studio who has sat with, talked with, and even worked with such animation legends as Chuck Jones, Bob Clampett, Ward Kimball, Frank Thomas, Ollie Johnson, Joe Barbera, June Foray, Daws Butler, Don Messick, Walter Lantz, Grim Natwick, Bill Scott, and Osamu Tezuka to name just a few. Like a resident from Ray Bradbury's Fahrenheit 451, I hold dozens and dozens of stories from these men about how they did what they did, and why. I guess I should try to spend more time putting down their stories in my frames. Besides just being fun to do, I guess younger creators and even those in the future might be interested.
May 5, 2005
There is an old joke/saying that there are two types of people, those who like the Three Stooges and those that do not. I think a new dividing line could be FAMILY GUY. I admit to enjoying the series. It has a fast paced, wacky, Bob Clampett-ish edge that is missing from that 'other' animated family. True, it may not be the funniest show around, but it often gives me at least one laugh-out-loud moment per half hour. Sometimes more. What makes the series similar to the Stooges divide is that folks who do not like FAMILY GUY really do NOT like the series. They put up websites. They use any reference to prime time animation as an excuse to deride the show. They complain the show uses too many media cultural references (*cough*simpsons*cough*). They say it has plots that wander (*cough*simpsons*cough*). They say the show resorts to freezing the action and/or repeating actions (*cough*simpsons*cough*). But no matter what these vocal critics say, I think the show is funny. I even liked the new episode. Oh... and for those who have been pushing the fact that this is the first time a series was cancelled and then came back years later, I have one word. DRAGNET (cancelled in the 1950s, returned in the late 1960s). Oh, yeah. Sure, say it isn't exactly the same. Well, as Peter might say, "kiss my freakin' white ass". Or, as Moe might say, "Pick two."
May 4, 2005
I never took many business classes in school. I come from the 'taught through experience' class. Through the years, I have been to dozens of business seminars held by employers. I found them interesting, and usually pulled one nugget of new information out of each. However, I am now discovering most of what they teach is not true. Statements as "don't sweat the small stuff" or "focus on the bigger picture", which are from some very successful millionaires, are as true as "there are no stupid questions". Modern business is really all about the 'small stuff'. When I got into animation, I could run a show like the classic directors at Warner Brothers. There was a big schedule and a budget. If you kept within the guidelines, no one really cared. Chuck Jones could spend twice the time and money on a mini-epic like WHAT'S OPERA DOC as long as he did a Road Runner cartoon in half the time and money. It was the same in the early 1980s. If one episode went over budget or was late, it didn't matter as long as I could get a different episode under budget and early. As long as neither the final budget or schedule line was crossed, it did not matter and all were happy. I am still producing shows within the budget (and usually under) and on time. But today's producers find themselves more and more having to explain why a task cost $100 more than officially budgeted, no matter what the final outcome. It reminded me of later days at Film Roman. A new manager had been brought in. We were under an impossible deadline for a special and could not get additional animators due to the manager's footage rate. I solved the dilemma by increasing the rate we paid, bringing it to a more mid-range rate. We got the needed animators, reduced overtime for our inhouse staff and the show was done on time! At the end of the project the manager bragged "we" had brought the special in under budget by nearly $50,000! I joked about getting a bonus. The manager shot back that if I hadn't "overpaid" for animation, we could have been $55,000 under budget. Saving $50,000 and bringing a project in on time meant nothing to him. I did not know it at the time, but it was the start of a new era in animation accounting. The new rule would soon be, "Forget the big stuff, just spend every moment worrying about the small stuff."
May 3, 2005
Back from up north. Lots of memories. Of course it was similar to other dog shows. Friendly folks. Snobby clicks. Cranky breeders. Happy pups. But still different. The drive up found us at an Elk viewing station for a break, and later Eagle herded some bales of hay. The location, a kennel, was great and even had a play area that Star loved. The people and dogs were almost totally new to us. The grande dame of Great Danes was there. She suggested she might be interested in one of our pups if we are blessed. A judge stated our first born had great shoulders. He also said that he was envious at Roku's great condition at eight years. Several had seen us on the Animal Planet. The days were long and tiring. The hotel was nice, though limited in TV selection. The drive home was quick and filled with acres and acres of roaming cows, calves, horses and foals. Not a groundbreaking weekend. No big awards... just nice times, kind words, and some new adventures.
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