MorphToons: September 2015

My continuing bow to The Iron Giant, Brad Bird’s timeless masterpiece of war and peace, commandeered my September.


Ken Duncan On Creating New Scenes for The Iron Giant: Signature Edition

The Iron Giant: Signature Edition, director Brad Bird’s remastered masterpiece of war, peace, and paranoia, returns at last to theaters, with new scenes courtesy of Duncan Studio.

“Working with a director who understands character, and is supervising from the standpoint of how a character should work, isn’t always pleasant,” Duncan told me. “Sometimes it doesn’t even result in a good film. But working with Brad was pretty amazing.”

Duncan also worked with veterans of the original film, including some — like animation supervisor Chris Sauve, who reprised his role animating Dean and brought his original model sheets for the job — who have been working with Duncan Studio for years. Duncan and Suave joined Annie’s supervising animator Wendy Perdue, effects animator Michel Gagné, original background department head Dennis Venizelos, animator Sandro Cleuzo, and a crew of about 20 in upgrading The Iron Giant for its signature edition iteration.

“When the opportunity arose to produce new scenes originally planned for The Iron Giant, my first thought was Duncan Studio,” said Bird in a press statement. “Beyond the fact that Ken Duncan himself is a brilliant animator, his staff was blessed with several veterans of the original Iron Giant team, which helped immeasurably in our effort to have the new scenes blend in seamlessly with our original footage.”

I spoke with Duncan by phone about how his studio’s work on The Iron Giant: Signature Edition came to pass, and why hand-drawn animation, after years of laboring beneath CG’s towering shadow, is on the comeback trail.

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Brad Bird Confirms The Iron Giant: Signature Edition Blu-Ray

Warner Bros. confirmed The Iron Giant: Signature Edition Blu-ray release, noting that the studio doesn’t yet have an official date and reminding us that Bird’s remastered masterpiece of war and peace, which includes two new scenes animated by Duncan Studio, will be available digitally in the fall.

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A Conversation With Genndy Tartakovsky About Hotel Transylvania 2, Popeye, Can You Imagine? — and Samurai Jack

The animation community, artists and fans alike, need no introduction to the singular Genndy Tartakovsky.

But the same perhaps cannot be said of Sony, which this week releases the visionary director’s sequel to his highly successful feature film debut, Hotel Transylvania. From the infamous Sony hack that revealed creative interference from Hotel Transylvania 2 writer Robert Smigel and star Adam Sandler (whose execrable Pixels was one of the worst, and most offensive, films of 2015) to the studio’s removal of Tartakovsky from his beloved Popeye reboot, Sony still doesn’t seem to understand that it has a cartoon visionary in its midst.

Fortunately, this tumultuous industry backstory doesn’t necessarily come through in Hotel Transylvania 2, which despite its uneven pacing and story still manages to offer more cartoon creativity and hilarious gags than pretty much anything else in animated film’s blockbuster marketplace. But speaking by phone from Sony, it doesn’t take long (at all) for the stubborn and refreshingly frank Tartakovsky to hold forth on his frustrations with the way Hotel Transylvania 2 and Popeye were handled. They are, of course, balanced out by Tartakovsky’s persistent optimism for his next fantastic Sony project, Can You Imagine?, although it is still only in development, as well as the growing certainty that his poetic, timeless Cartoon Network series Samurai Jack will make an inevitable comeback.

And while the same may not be said about his baby, Sym-Bionic Titan — smothered too early in its crib by a short-sighted Cartoon Network, a cancellation that compelled Tartakovsky to abscond to Sony — the Dexter’s Laboratory auteur is nevertheless holding his head high and hoping for the best as Hotel Transylvania 2′s box office returns will come in during a Halloween season in which it has no real competition for the hearts and minds of the all-ages demographic.

I spoke with Tartakovsky about all of these subjects, and why animated feature films, despite perennially appearing in the top five most financially successful movies of the year (any year), are still maddeningly treated like second-class citizens in a cinema industry running short on original ideas.

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Hotel Transylvania 2 Talkback

As far as the critics are concerned, Genndy Tartakovksy’s frenetic second cartoon installment of Sony’s Hotel Transyvlania franchise flies safely down the middle. But risk-taking doesn’t matter to studios, a refreshingly frank Tartakovksy hinted to Cartoon Brew this week. In Hollywood’s final analysis what audiences will pay to see is what counts as success in the industry. And audiences paid plenty this weekend, propelling Hotel Transylvania 2 to a September box office record…

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Torill Kove On Winning A Norwegian Honor, Her Next Film, and Personal Identity

Oscar-winner Torill Kove didn’t really consider animation as a career until her thirties. But that didn’t stop her from recently winning Norway’s top cultural prize for a growing body of impressive work. Nor did moving from Norway to Canada in 1982, where Kove has continued to create compelling, personal animated shorts for the National Film Board of Canada.

From award-winning short films Me and My Moulton, The Danish Poet, and My Grandmother Ironed the King’s Shirts, to her next film set in an “imaginary place that could be anywhere,” the Montreal-based animator is accruing recognition for poignant animated films that make audiences think and feel across geographical boundaries.

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Torill Kove Receives Norway’s Top Cultural Prize

It’s not often that animators receive recognition from governments for their artistry, but the country of Norway is honoring Torill Kove with one of the highest honors it can bestow upon an artist.

Kove, a native of Norway, is receiving the Anders Jahre Culture Prize at a ceremony in Oslo this evening. Although Kove, 58, has resided in Canada since 1982, the Prize is awarded to Norwegian or foreign individuals and institutions making outstanding contributions to Norway’s cultural life.

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Disney And Others Bet on Virtual Reality With $65 Million Investment in Jaunt

Jaunt’s forthcoming pro-grade camera system designed for capturing the 360-degree VR experience is called Neo. You can bank on Jaunt knowing that’s the name of the VR superhero who sacrificed his life in The Matrix franchise to unplug humanity from a digital hallucination on a shattered Earth. The company creates end-to-end solutions for VR that includes custom production tools, hardware solutions like the Neo, and content creation services.

Jaunt’s Neo joins Facebook’s Oculus, Google’s Magic Leap, and further virtual reality explorers charting the next universe of experience, cinematic and otherwise.

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Paramount Acquires Charlie Kaufman’s R-Rated Anomalisa

Viacom’s Paramount Pictures announced today at the Toronto International Film Festival that it’s picking up Charlie Kaufman and Duke Johnson’s decidedly adult stop-motion animated film Anomalisa.

Thanks to the distribution deal, which Deadline reported was over $5 million, the film will arrive in theaters soon: Paramount will release it on December 30 in New York and Los Angeles, before rolling out nationwide. A24 and Sony Pictures Classics also bid on distribution rights for Anomalisa, which has impressed critics and festival audiences alike during the busy fall festival season.

Co-directors Kaufman and Johnson’s Anomalisa recently won the Venice Film Festival’s Grand Jury prize. The film premiered at the Telluride Film Festival earlier this month.

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Charlie Kaufman’s Stop-Motion Anomalisa Earns Raves

VPutting the lie to the argument that stop-motion is a kids-only affair that can’t compete with CGI animation, Charlie Kaufman’s Anomalisa debuted last week at Telluride, with an eye toward shaking up this year’s animation Oscar race.

It would be a fitting accomplishment for the unorthodox Kaufman, whose singular psy-fi masterpieces Being John Malkovich and Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind were respectively nominated for and awarded Oscars for best original screenplay. Based on his 2005 play presented under the pseudonym Francis Fregoli, the R-rated Anomalisa marks Kaufman’s sophomore feature film directorial effort, alongside co-director Duke Johnson, who helmed Adult Swim’s irreverent Mary Shelley’s Frankenhole and Community’s stop-motion holiday episode, “Abed’s Uncontrollable Christmas.”

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Don Hertzfeldt’s World of Tomorrow Leads Fantoche 2015 Awards

Pin another award on Don Hertzfeldt’s heavily decorated sci-fi short, which cruised into Switzerland’s largest animated film festival and came out a winner for best film in international competition.

Hertzfeldt’s film has been a hit on the 2015 festival circuit, winning prizes at major gatherings including Sundance, Annecy, Zagreb, and SXSW.

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Palestine Enters The Wanted 18 into Foreign-Language Oscar Race

A partially stop-motion animated film about a herd of cows and “lactivists” considered to be a national security threat, Amer Shomali and Paul Cowans’s The Wanted 18 has been submitted to the 88th Academy Awards for competition in the Foreign Language Film category.

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