MorphToons: July 2015

I bowed to Bugs Bunny’s 75th birthday, dove into Oculus’ VR hole, and more, before absconding for Canada. Worth it.

Happy 75th Birthday, Bugs Bunny! Here’s 7.5 Times You Changed Cartoons Forever

Whether he’s the destabilizing force of Merrie Melodies and Looney Tunes’ glory days, or more centered in contemporary reboots that can’t measure up, Bugs Bunny remains a towering cartoon influence.

Monday marks the immortal character’s 75th birthday, so to speak: Although Bugs evolved from previous incarnations in form and style, Tex Avery’s Wild Hare premiered on July 27, 1940, marking the first time The Rabbit uttered his lasting catchphrase, “What up, Doc?”

And while the argument where the resilient, respected trickster truly begins and ends is definitively subjective, there is never a bad anniversary for memorializing our favorite cartoons in which Bugs takes over the frame. Here are 7.5 times that Bugs Bunny transformed animation culture and industry.


Oculus’ Max Planck: “We Want to Inspire the Virtual Reality Citizen Kane

Distantly descended from the Nobel-winning scientist of the same name, Maxwell Planck has instead channeled his scientific and creative smarts into shaping the future of animation and VFX.

Arriving at Pixar in 2004, Planck worked in various technical and engineering capacities on Wall-E, Brave, Up, and more, before leaving in 2014 to become the technical director of Oculus Story Studio (Oculus is owned by Facebook). A lifelong gamer as familiar with shooters like Doom as he is with more immersive, thought-provoking titles like Final Fantasy VII and Stanley Parable, Planck is fusing his experience with animated film and interactive gaming to help create the foundation for the future’s VR cinema. Those who have fond memories of the hours and days they put into the Final Fantasy series can celebrate that the final fantasy tactics rom is now available online to download and play.

It is a future we can see coming in Oculus’ new short film Henry, unveiled yesterday at a media-only screening in Beverly Hills, California. In fact, the short was made using the game production software Unreal Engine 4. It’s a promising experiment that Planck nevertheless sees as only hinting at the storytelling possibilities of the platform, which should more properly explode as hardware, software, and even artificial intelligence barriers are progressively broken down and surpassed.

I caught up with Planck yesterday to talk about Oculus, Pixar, Henry, The Iron Giant, and the Citizen Kane of VR cinema, which hasn’t been made yet but will certainly be influenced by Oculus’ formative explorations.


Oculus Creative Director Saschka Unseld: “It Feels Like We’re in Film School Again”

As a proven layout artist and director of animated shorts, including Pixar’s The Blue Umbrella, Saschka Unseld knows a thing or two about cinema. But since becoming the creative director of Oculus Story Studio, Unseld feels as if he’s gone back to film school.

Of course, he’s not alone at Oculus, which drew back the curtains on its VR cartoon short Henry this week. From the company’s overall presentation to my individual interviews with technical director Max Planck and Unseld himself, everyone at the relatively new Oculus Story Studio seems clear on the point that, for all of its charm and skill, Henry is still just scratching the surface of what VR cinema can do.


Oculus Debuts Henry, An Immersive Virtual Reality Short

On the surface, Oculus Story Studio’s new 12-minute short film Henry is a sweet story about a lovable hedgehog who just want to make friends, but can’t stop spiking whatever he hugs.

But dig beneath that surface, and you find a world of promising possibility, hampered only by the frontiers of virtual reality technology and filmmaking. From its multilevel interiors to its moving parts – which includes not just the adorable Henry, but a flying pack of balloon puppies, a splattering birthday cake, a cute ladybug and much more – Henry is a pioneering VR experiment pushing the envelope of storytelling, however slightly.


Richard Williams Joins Twitter, Animation World Rejoices

The legendary triple Oscar-winning animator and director responsible for Who Framed Roger Rabbit, The Thief and the Cobbler, and so much more has joined social media at last.


Fons Schiedon Reimagines Mozart’s The Magic Flute As A Motion Comic

In his lifetime, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s legendary two-act opera The Magic Flute was a pro-Enlightenment success, which brought its creator a measure of happiness before he passed away mere months after its Vienna premiere in 1791. Today, The Magic Flute fights for elbow room in a new century abundant with competing fairy tales.

Can reimagining one of Mozart’s greatest works as a motion graphic novel help increase the timeless allegory’s influence as time marches on?

“Traditional comics are great at leaving things to the imagination; readers fill in blanks, and that’s exciting,” Fons Schiedon, director and designer of The Land of the Magic Flute, told Cartoon Brew via email. “But I think there is a tricky balance when comics and animation come together, because you have to be careful about the expectation you create. You can easily run into a disconnect when you give voice and movement to still characters. It emphasizes stillness rather than enhancing it, so I didn’t want to do that, which is why The Land of the Magic Flute’s sound design and animation are mostly limited to backgrounds and effects, which serve to create atmosphere and life, but leave it to the reader to do the same for the characters.”


Happy 60th Birthday, Disneyland! Here are Your Best (and Worst) Animation-Based Attractions

Walt Disney’s dream of imagineering a magical wonderland for the public came true six decades ago, opening on July 17, 1955. So let’s spend a few minutes today talking about Disneyland’s most, and least, notable animation-specific attractions.

This highly subjective list is based on my many warm memories of the park, thanks to the annual passes my family once had, and will hopefully resonate with both old-schoolers and new adopters. Of course, it’s by no means exhaustive, so please jump in and offer us your own choices for Disneyland’s best and worst attractions based on their animated shorts and features.


How to Produce A One-Man Web Series: Pat Smith on Making Blank on Blank

Almost singlehandedly, Patrick Smith transforms previously unreleased interviews of well-known cultural figures into thought-provoking animation in the intriguing PBS digital series, Blank on Blank.

“We’ve done forty episodes now, which is 160 minutes of animation,” Smith recently told me. “I never thought that would be possible for my little set-up, but working in a limited style and having creative control speeds things up, allowing each episode to be finished in a week.”


Avatar, Korra Co-Creator Michael DiMartino to Write Geniuses Novel Series

Another day, another Avatar: The Last Airbender and The Legend of Korra co-creator leaves animation for publishing.

Like his fellow collaborator Bryan Konietzko, Michael Dante DiMartino too has joined the ranks of publisher Macmillan, but instead of a competing comic, DiMartino will write a book series. Geniuses is a fantasy about artists whose respective creative geniuses are actual living creatures in danger of being destroyed by an oppressive regime which views their power as existential threats. Its philosophical and sociopolitical explorations – anchored by the young artist Giacomo, who leads a group of fellow students on a quest to find the mythical Creator’s Compass – are similar to Konietzko’s Threadworlds, announced earlier this week.

While Konieztko’s comic won’t be available until 2017, DiMartino’s first installment of Geniuses, The Creature and the Creator, arrives from Macmillan imprint Roaring Brook Press in fall 2016. That gives Avatar: The Last Airbender and The Legend of Korra fandom something to look forward to, now that their brilliant yet underrated favorite shows are no more.


The Iron Giant Will (Finally) Return to Theaters

At long last, Brad Bird’s animated masterpiece of war and peace is back.


Will Aardman’s Smart, Cheeky Shaun the Sheep Translate Stateside?

Aardman Animation’s wordless, stop-motion wonder Shaun the Sheep Movie, a spin-off of its brilliant Wallace and Gromit franchise, is one of the most clever shows on television. So how many Americans even know it has a feature film coming out in less than a month?


Cuba’s Animation Industry Filled With Challenges and Promise

With President Obama’s historic declaration that the United States and Cuba will resume normal diplomatic relations, as well as animation’s increasing growth and popularity in Central and South America, now is a better time than ever to explore the tiny island nation’s animation situation.

“The biggest challenges facing today’s animation industry in Cuba is the lack of technology, and the obstacles that exist to obtain it,” Cuban-born animator Jerzy Perez told me.


Avatar and Korra Co-Creator Bryan Konietzko Weaves New Graphic Novel Threadworlds

Hurry up and wait, benders! Bryan Konietzko’s debut graphic novel series Threadworlds, acquired by Macmillan imprint First Second, arrives in 2017.

Like Konietzko’s Peabody-winning animated series Avatar: The Last Airbdender, and its feminist sequel The Legend of Korra, co-created with Michael Dante DiMartino, Threadworlds explores what happens when the natural universe meets technological progress – or regress, depending on the planet. Threadworlds has five of them sharing a single orbit, each in its own stage of technological development, all of them Earth-like analogues “teeming with life,” according to First Second’s announcement this morning.

But those with questions about whether or not Threadworlds will soon be adapted into an animated series should probably slow their roll.


GKIDS Will Bring Phantom Boy to North America

GKIDS has acquired the North American rights to the next film from the makers of the Oscar-nominated French film, A Cat in Paris. The indie animation distributor plans to push Phantom Boy into American theaters sometime in spring 2016.