NEW BOOKS - 2006 reviews
Paul Wells, The Fundamentals of Animation (Lausanne: AVA Publishing, 2006). 176 pages. ISBN 2-940373-02-7 (paper) US$29.95. Reviewed by Victoria Meng.
Intelligently organized and lavishly illustrated, The Fundamentals of Animation is distinguished from most how-to-animate guides for being multidimensional in approach and multivalent in function. Animatorsprofessional, student, aspirantwill find practical guidance for learning their art and craft from the first stages of conceptualization, through a panoply of animation methods, to the rarely concretized but all-important skills of professionalization. Researchers and teachers will take note of the book as a treasury of original interviews with animators of all persuasions. Indeed, the abundance of outstanding pictures and explanatory captions will engage lay readers who are looking for a comprehensive view of contemporary animation practices.
Like many filmmaking guides, Wells book contains three main sections respectively on pre-production, production, and post-production, preceded by an introduction and followed by a brief but comprehensive bibliography and index. Each of the three main sections is divided into dozens of specific topics such as Layout and Thinking Cinematically, The Merits of Flash, and Festivals. These sub-sections may be read out of order and independently: animators who would like to find out more about 3D stop-motion animation could refer directly to the sub-section with the same title. There they would not find a recipe-like list of materials and steps for assembly. They would first encounter instead a succinct history of stop-motion animation that recommends many influential filmmakers and films in this tradition. Yellow boxes next to the main text note theoretical ways to relate stop-motion animation to other art practices. This contextualizing introduction is followed by in-depth profiles of five stop-motion animators speaking from a range of experiences: as independent, commercial, and student filmmakers. They give specific tips (Barry Purves on lip-synch: concentrate on the eye acting [more] than over-synched mouth shapes) and more general advice (Michael Frierson on clay: start loose. Dont try to be slick with it at first.) Wells book teaches its users not only to do, but to think animation. This attention to methodology over method means that the book is less likely than many other guides are to become dated.
Even more so than Wellss other works, The Fundamentals of Animation is dense and heterogeneous: this is not a book that can be quickly read or apprehended. Wells admirably incorporates his background as an animation scholar: the bibliography and webography alone represent in-depth research seldom seen in this genre of animation writing, and the quality of his interviews is consistently outstanding. However, the books considerable strengths do bear drawbacks. The unusually small font size will challenge readers with weak vision. Moreover, the dazzling breadth of Wells subjects can make it difficult for readers to keep the proverbial forest and trees in mind simultaneously. The book pushes the limitations of the print format, and one could imagine the advantages of turning it into an interactive CD-ROM or television documentary series. Ultimately this work represents the latest step in Wells longtime and celebrated investigation of animation as a unique form of creative expression and of the symbiotic relationship between animation practice and theory. Indeed, given animations increasingly diverse and popular applications, The Fundamentals of Animation provides a timely and possibly galvanizing compendium of animation practices.
Tim Hollis and Greg Ehrbar, Mouse Tracks: The Story of Walt Disney Records (Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 2006). 221 pages. ISBN 1-57806-849-5 (paper) US$25; ISBN 1-57806-848-7 (unjacketed cloth) US$55. URL: www.upress.state.ms.us. Reviewed by Maureen Furniss.
University Press of Mississippi has taken a strong interest in animation, publishing a string of titles in recent years that have broadened the boundaries of scholarship in our field. Among the most recent is Mouse Tracks: The Story of Walt Disney Records (2006), written by Tim Hollis and Greg Ehrbar. The authors explain that their primary focus is why and how Walt and Roy Disney got into the record businessmainly looking at the vinyl records produced by their company, though cassettes and recordings from outside labels are included to some extent. CD production is condensed into a single chapter.
The underlying structure of the book is an informative chronological narrative divided into chapters by film or subject matter, such as Mickey Mouse clubs, Annette Funicello, and Mary Poppins, or more general headings. These chapters are substantial, but written in short segments and at a level that will appeal to a broad range of readers. One of the co-authors, Greg Ehrbar, has twenty years experience writing for Disney in various contexts, including Disney Records; his background probably informs the texts reader-friendly construction. The flow of information is punctuated by sidebar articles on individual recording artists, period illustrations, and numerous black and white images. Also included is a list of Grammy nominations and awards, a bibliography, and an index.
Mouse Tracks is recommended for general libraries, as well as those specializing in animation, music, or performance. While its content is perhaps too specialized for general classroom use, the book is likely to appeal to a broad range of readers at the high school level and above.
Kathy Merlock Jackson, Walt Disney: Conversations (Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 2006). 143 pages. ISBN 1-57806-712-X (cloth) US$50.00; ISBN 1-57806-713-8 (paper) $20.00. URL: www.upress.state.ms.us . Reviewed by Maureen Furniss.
I am mildly jealous of Kathy Merlock Jackson, who edited Walt Disney: Conversations. It is the latest in a series of books from University Press of Mississippi (series editor M. Thomas Inge) to focus on important figures in the fields of comics and animation. Like Merlock Jackson, I edited a book in this series (Chuck Jones: Conversations, 2005), which presents interviews from throughout the career of the individual concerned. Im jealous because she was able to use the Disney studio archive to research and gather her interviews, with access to the knowledgeable staff there. It all sounds so nice and organized.
Many years ago, I went to the Disney archive for research, when it was accessible to anyone who had a related research agenda. Because I was an newcomer and outsider, I suppose, I was only given clipping files, press books filled with publicity information, and the card catalog to call up the most general of printed resources. Meanwhile, Disney-payrolled researchers were using the good stuff at tables around me. Some time later, I returned as a writer for a Disney licenseeI was creating copy for a collectible coin set (not the worst of my graduate student employment opportunities)and was in fact able to request this good stuff to some extent . . . as long as it could in some manner be linked to Disney collectible coins, of course. One of the documents I casually called up was an early-1940s speech given by Walt Disney to his employees as the studio strike loomed on the horizon. Id never seen it before, but I took notes, knowing it would be useful for my real research.
Now you dont have to promote collectible coins to see this interesting speech, Talk Given by Walt to All Disney Employees (1941), since Merlock Jackson has done us all the favor of publishing a significant part of it in her anthology. My personal favorite part of this talk, which Merlock Jackson classifies as a (one way) conversation between Walt and his employees, is where Disney denies the ugly rumor that we are trying to develop girls for animation to replace higher-priced men. He goes on to say, girls have the right to expect the same chances for advancement as men, though we can surmise they did not have the right to expect the same pay! And this is about the only place youll find Disney being so magnanimous about the careers of women; almost all female applicants were shuttled directly to the ink and paint department.
While the Talk is my favorite entry in the book, there is value in each of the other 18 interview-based articles, which span from 1929s How Silly Symphonies and Mickey Mouse Hit the Up Grade (by Florabel Muir, New York Sunday News) through 1966s The Wonderful World of Walt Disney (Bill Ballantine, Vista II). Topics covered include the major achievements of his career, as well as several references to his family life: his parents, children (and grandchildren), and wife. Though Disneys testimony to the House Committee on Un-American Activities (HUAC) has been published and discussed elsewhere, it makes a welcome (in fact necessary) addition here as well, representing Disneys involvement in one of the most significant events of the American post-WWII era (especially in terms of the film industry).
Merlock Jackson points out that Disney was always savvy about the promotional opportunities afforded by an interview, but the essays she selected are substantial and collectively present a balanced view of their subject. A well-composed introduction provides an excellent summary of their content, and a chronology lays out the release of films and other historical details that help contextualize them. Walt Disney: Conversations is highly recommended for all libraries and will appeal to the researcher as well as a more casual reader from the high school level upward (though the inclusion of only four black-and-white film stills might deter some).
Thomas Andrae, Carl Barks and the Disney Comic Book: Unmasking the Myth of Modernity (University Press of Mississippi, 2006). 306 pages. ISBN 1-57806-857-6 (unjacketed cloth) US$50.00; ISBN 1-57806-858-4 (paper) $20.00. URL: www.upress.state.ms.us. Reviewed by Maureen Furniss.
Several years ago, Thomas Andrae published an essay on Carl Barks in Animation Journal. This writing, expanded immensely, was developed into his recent book, Carl Barks and the Disney Comic Book: Unmasking the Myth of Modernity. A densely thorough discussion of the artist and his work with Donald Duck, the book is split in focus between animation and print comics, and can be described as textual analysis informed by in-depth industrial, historical, and theoretical perspectives.
As Andrae explains, scholarship on print comics is relatively limited, and work on his topicthe funny animal genreis virtually non-existent. However, there is one relatively well-known analysis related to this topic, How to Read Donald Duck: Ideology in the Disney Comic, written by Ariel Dorfman and Armand Mattelart, and published in Chile in 1971. Andrae takes this text as an initial point of departure, analyzing the criticisms in light of these authors circumstances, as well as Barkss particular approach to the Donald Duck stories and other factors affecting production of the work.
After this analysis, Andrae moves into lengthy chapters addressing the artists work on both Donald Duck animation and comic books. The author brings this information alive with his thorough knowledge of the contexts in which Barks was working. Within the chapter on animation, for example, he brings in historical information about the Depression era, details about the development of the Disney studio at the time, factors affecting the development of series characters, writing from other authors offering perspectives on the topics of his work, and much more. The chapter is packed with references to individual films, integrated in a way that reflects Andraes deep knowledge of them.
As the text progresses, it moves into the themes and content of Barkss work to an even greater extent. Andrae points out how his approaches were affected by not only public concerns about the content of child oriented comics during the 1950s, but also merchandising strategies that resulted in removal of panels to accommodate the placement of advertisements. Though all these discussions are thoroughly contextualized, to get the most out of this book, the reader would have to have watched the many examples Andrae references. That goes without saying, I know, but my point is that the book is not written as an introduction. It is detailed scholarship, accompanied by a relatively small number of black and white images (compared to the scope of the book). Andrae points out that the Donald Duck comics were broad in their appeal, unlike many other comics that were more clearly boy or girl oriented in content. This books appeal will not be so universal, though it undoubtedly will be of great interest to Disney and comic scholars, who are likely to greet it as an important addition to literature in the field and a model for future work.
Carl Barks and the Disney Comic Book is recommended for animation and popular culture libraries. Though it is probably too narrow in its focus for use in courses dealing with Disney or a broader animation history, Disney scholars should consider it required reading. Its content will appeal to those at the graduate level and higher.
Amid Amidi, Cartoon Modern: Style and Design in Fifties Animation (San Francisco: Chronicle, 2006). 200 pages. ISBN 0-8118-4731-4 (hardover) US$40. URL: www.chroniclebooks.com. Reviewed by Maureen Furniss.
Only one word emerged from my lips as I opened the package containing Amid Amidis book, which arrived unexpectedly at my home. That word was wow, and it was repeated several times as I leafed through the books pages. So beautiful were the images to my eyes that I couldnt even stop to linger on them. I had to keep flipping through the book, almost entranced by the colors, the streamlined figures and their exquisitely simple charm, the lovely layout, and more.
Maybe this reaction seems a bit extreme, but I truly was astounded by the books collection of so many remarkable images documenting an important but greatly overlooked period of American animation. Included are such companies as Academy Pictures, Creative Arts Studio, Elektra Films, Fine Arts Films, Grantray-Lawrence Animation, Hanna-Barbera, John Sutherland Productions, Keitz & Herndon, MGM, Pintoff Productions, Playhouse Pictures, Ray Patin Productions, Shamus Culhane Productions, Storyboard, Terrytoons, United Productions of America, Walt Disney Productions, Walter Lantz Productions, and Warner Bros. The book also includes a relatively small section on The International Scene, which includes information on Zagreb, the UK, and Canada. In all these chapters, youll find both pre-production art (concept paintings, storyboards, model sheets, layouts, and more) and stills from finished films.
But bring your reading glasses folks, if you want to read the text, whichin visual termsplays a definite secondary role to the artwork. Yes, its tiny. Thats unfortunate, since Amidi writes well and includes valuable information (you might be familiar with his longtime publication Animation Blast). A nice introduction sets the scene for design in the 1950s and includes images from modernist artists who influenced the animation discussed in the book. Some of the chapter summaries are brief, but a number of them are quite well developed; UPA and Disney each get several pages, whereas Walter Lantz and MGM get a scant page, largely because they did not produce the kind of work Amidi is showcasing.
It is inevitable that a book like this makes you wonder, Where can I see this animation? Unfortunately, that question is all too often answered with You cant. Im not even sure how Amidi found all the stills he ended up using, though I am guessing it was through some admirable connections. Anyone who has tried to publish images from commercial studios will understand that the production of Cartoon Modern was an incredible feat.
If no part of this review has made you say wow, Im sorry I guess youll just have to pick up your own copy of Amidis book and see for yourself. Cartoon Modern is a most highly recommended resource for any animation library, and it will be equally at home on your coffee table. Amidis work will be of interest to scholars at the undergraduate level and above, or anyone with a broad, serious interest in the history of American animation.
Daniel Goldmark, Tunes for Toons: Music and the Hollywood Cartoon (Berkeley: University of California, 2005). 225 pages. ISBN 0-520-23617-3 (cloth) $24.95/£15.95. URL: www.ucpress.edu. Reviewed by Maureen Furniss.
The path taken by many animation researchers is fairly linear, building on previous work to bring us further in our understanding of animation history and theory. On this path we cross intersections where different topics and approaches help to illuminate our study in various ways, but essentially we still move in a linear trajectory. Once in a while though, these intersections serve a particularly important purpose, which is to bring scholars across disciplines. Daniel Goldmark seems to have entered animation through one of them, bringing perspectives on music that have not only enriched our understanding of animation, but forged links between disciplines.
Of course there has been discussion of animation and sound of various types (particularly music) for many years. Chuck Jones was writing on it by the mid-1940s, when his work appeared in the first issue (1945/1946) of the journal Hollywood Quarterly (which eventually became Film Quarterly). In 1992, Scott Curtis published on sound in early Warner Bros. cartoons within Rick Altmans important anthology Sound Theory, Sound Practice. Certainly, other writing appeared along the way, but relatively little; animation scholars have been more concerned with the visual aspects of animation production. Goldmark explains how his interest in the topic developed when he realized that he recognized pieces of classical music because he had heard them while watching cartoons. This realization spurred his study of music and a desire to integrate this knowledge with analysis of animation. It is not hard to imagine that his interests made him somewhat of an outsider to music scholars; those of us within the field of animation studies are probably much more appreciative of the insights he brings.
Goldmarks book is divided into a number of case studies, as he calls them. He begins with chapters on Carl Stalling at Warner Bros. and Scott Bradley at MGM. He acknowledges that the approaches of the two composers were fundamentally opposed, with Stalling being broadly popular in his approach, having learned his craft in the trenches as a silent film accompanist, and Bradley having formal training in composition and a love of contemporary classical or concert hall music. Whereas Stalling tended to create interpretations of well-known standards, Bradley preferred to use original compositions.
The third chapter of Tunes for Toons focuses on the use of jazz music and swing culture in animation, providing an opportunity to discuss images of black characters (and some white) and address stereotyping in various contexts, including work of the Lantz, Fleischer, and Warner Bros. studios. Chapter four takes on classical music and the performance hall, looking at interpretations of these contexts in various works. Chuck Jones films play a significant part in this discussion, though Disneys Fantasia is among the other productions given some focus. Jones is even more central to Goldmarks next chapter, which is concerned with the film Whats Opera, Doc? and cartoon depictions of opera. This chapter presents a bit of pre-history dealing with Stallings use of music during WWII, and also details the components of the films score. Analysis explains how narrative is developed on the levels of both music and visuals, and how the styles of Wagnerian opera and Warner Bros. humor are expertly intertwined. Though all the chapters offer interesting insights, this final one offers the greatest depth of analysis, focusing as it does on primarily one production.
As Ive already suggested, Tunes for Toons offers a valuable addition to animation literature by looking at an aspect of our field that generally has been overlooked. The varied topics and approaches to analysis of its subject provide readers with a range of interesting insights, inviting additional work in the field. Those with an interest in Warner Bros. will find this book particularly helpful, since much of its content relates to that studio and Carl Stalling, in particular. Tunes for Toons is recommended for all university animation and music libraries. It offers valuable information using language that is accessible to the general reader at the upper division undergraduate level and above.
Marian Quigley, Women Do Animate: Interviews with 10 Australian Animators (Mentone, Victoria, AU: Insight, 2005). 160 pages, plus DVD. ISBN 1-921088-14-1 (paper) AU$39.95. URL: www.insightpublications.com.au.
With this book, Marian Quigley provides information on two infrequently documented topics within our field: Australian animators and female artists. In chapter one, Quigley presents an overview of the book, including her aims and methodology, as well as background information on animation in Australia and the situation of women working there. She discusses the role of the Melbourne International Animation Festival in promoting Australian production and attracting the attention of a worldwide audience, and makes a case for increased governmental support and additional exhibition opportunities. In this chapter, Quigley also summarizes some of the responses of the women interviewed, though to a relatively small extent, considering the collective length of the artists responses.
These responses are featured in chapters two through eleven, each of which focuses on a single artist: Anne Jolliffe, Jill Carter-Hansen, Lee Whitmore, Antoinette Starkiewicz, Ann Shenfield, Lucinda Clutterbuck, Kathy Smith, Wendy Chandler, Sharon Lee Parker, and Susan Kim. Each chapter begins with an introduction to the animator, and then moves to first person replies on similar topics, such as training, influences, techniques used, womens issues, marginalization, and uses of technology. Each chapter is organized slightly differently. A filmography ends each chapter. At the very end of the book, Quigley includes a list of related resources.
The only images within the book are photos of the artists themselves, which seems like a missed opportunity. However, the book includes a DVD containing images of the artists talking and brief clips from their works. The whole of Kathy Smiths film Indefineable Moods (2001) appears there, but no recorded interview. Women Do Animate will appeal to readers at the undergraduate level and above. It is recommended for all animation and womens studies libraries.
Chris Robinson, Unsung Heroes of Animation (Eastleigh, UK: John Libbey, 2005). 263 pages. ISBN 0 86196 665 1 (paper) £17.95; distributed in North America by Indiana University Press, US$27.95. URL: www.johnlibbey.com. Reviewed by Maureen Furniss.
There should be no doubt about the type of content one will find in Unsung Heroes of Animation. If the title and cover imagethree grotesque heads from JJ Villards Son of Satanarent enough, the author name Chris Robinson surely provides a clue. Dont look for unknown Disney artists here, or even a fuzzy animal character. Robinson, who heads the Ottawa International Animation Festival with Kelly Neall, is well known for his intimately personal writing style that does more than scrape the surface of the animation worldquite often it plunges nails deep within and dredges up all manner of things. Unimpressed by the pretty status quo, Robinson has made it his mission to seek out raw creativity, stark in contrast to the technically proficient, highly manufactured product so often seen today. He has done so by applying his own criteria in selecting work for the Ottawa festival, sometimes rejecting sure winners in favor of edgier films or lesser-known artists, making no apologies for his manner or personal vision. The same is true in his writing, which can be blunt, crass, and at the same time remarkably astute.
Unsung Heroes is a collection of Robinsons writing on many of his favorite artists. These individuals include George Griffin, Igor Kovalyov, Priit Pärn, Jan Lenica, Andreas Hykade, Phil Mulloy, David Ehrlich, Koji Yamamura, Stephanie Maxwell, Signe Baumane, Dennis Tupicoff, Ruth Lingford, Villard, and a number of others. The articles range in their approach to the artists and their works, in part reflecting Robinsons evolution as an author from the beginning of his career to a later, more reflective period and mature writing style (in recent years, Robinson has authored a number of books outside the realm of animation as well). In some cases, while reading an essay I felt I was receiving too much information, as the saying goeswhile learning about a particular artists personal relationship with his body parts, for example. However, on the whole, these essays contribute greatly to our understanding of important individuals in our field. As my recommendation on the books cover suggests, Robinson clearly has done his research, in part by knowing these artists on a personal level. Each essay is illustrated with a range of black-and-white and color images, and accompanied by a filmography at the end.
The essays in Unsung Heroes will appeal to individuals at the undergraduate level and above (some content might make it unsuitable for younger readers). This book would make an excellent text for a survey of experimental animation course, as it includes figures likely to be discussed in that context. It is highly recommended for all animation and art libraries.