Saturday, June 26, was a major day for hand-drawn animation as ASIFA-Hollywood presented its first 2D Expo at Woodbury University in Burbank, Calif. The brainchild of animation historian and board member Jerry Beck, the all-day event brought out high profile artist-advocates like Eric Goldberg (Looney Tunes: Back in Action), Donovan Cook (Disney’s The Three Musketeers) and Pixar story artist Jim Capobianco (Toy Story 2), as well as a large number of animator attendees.
The Expo opened at 9 a.m. and a capacity crowd quickly filled the trade room which featured the DigiCel and Bauhaus software companies, sketchbook signings with artists Stephen Silver and Bob Harper, collectible bookseller Stuart Ng and ASIFA’s own Animation Archive Project where Steve Worth showcased a breathtaking display of original drawings by the likes of Ub Iwerks, Irv Spence and, an extreme rarity, character designs by Terrytoons master, Jim Tyer.
At 10 a.m. the trade hall cleared out for the first panel discussion on the future of hand-drawn animation. Moderator Beck was joined by panelists Goldberg, Cook and producer John Andrews (Beavis & Butt-Head Do America) of Klasky Csupo’s commercial production division, Ka-Chew. This highly opinionated and lively group expressed their deep love of the 2D format and compassion for its current status as hiding “underground,” waiting, as Cook put it, “for a major box office success,” to bring the medium back into the good graces of studio execs.
Cook himself has experienced the painful realities of studio disinterest in 2D. His new movie, featuring no less than Disney’s three biggest icons, Mickey, Donald and Goofy, will go direct to DVD rather than receiving a theatrical release. Yet, he was positive about the production experience, explaining that even though he and his team had to work from the written page (instead of a wholly drawn story), they were able to improvise and have fun within the set framework of the locked-down script. Cook said that one of the best parts of production was seeing the gags and fun ideas that his story artists brought to their boards.
Goldberg agreed that one element that seems to be missing in the world of modern hand-drawn animation is a true sense of fun and entertainment. “My default position,” he said, “is lying in front of the TV, as I was just yesterday, watching a Looney Tunes marathon. I just can’t get over the energy of those cartoons, but it’s just that sort of energy that has fallen out of favor. There’s no sense of exuberance anymore. We need to rethink that and get visual kinetics back into our films again.”
All agreed that getting studios to accept downright side-splitting fun from cartoon animation is an uphill battle. Goldberg explained that Hollywood’s lack of interest in hand-drawn feature animation has driven him to take matters into his own hands. “Many of us feel we’ve had to become entrepreneurs in order to survive. And in a way, that’s kind of good news. As hand-drawn goes more underground and independent, more interesting things will see the light of day.” Goldberg revealed that he is working on his own feature with a budget of about $30 million to be animated on U.S. soil. Of course, the toughest part of his project is finding the financing, but he is looking to other-than-entertainment angels for investment, particularly in the world of real estate. Cook admitted that he is also developing his own projects rather than immediately returning to the studio mindset.
Another top-notch panel that showcased some fantastic hand-drawn short animation and discussed the pitfalls and glories of filmmaking for oneself was moderated by Tom Sito (Osmosis Jones) and featured animator/directors Jim Capobianco, Raul Garcia (The Lion King), Milt Knight (Cool World), Mr. Lawrence (Rocko’s Modern Life), Bert Klein (LOTR: Return of the King), Mark Kausler (The Lion King).
Capobianco treated the audience to a pencil test version of his upcoming short, Leonardo, art directed by fellow Pixar artist and indie comic hero Ronnie del Carmen. This sweetly funny and superbly animated tale depicts the master artist as he dreams of, and grapples with, the art of flight. Knight brought another crowd-pleaser, two-minutes of his jazzy and highly stylized upcoming short, Caprice Teen of Tomorrow. Klein showed his politically incorrect and wonderful short, Boys Night Out, which features a man taking his step-son to a strip joint: again, just some great animation and hipster art direction. And, Kausler stole the show with his little retro masterpiece, It’s The Cat. Perfectly set to a 1927 recording of “The Cat” by Harry Reser’s Syncopater’s, this jolly affair is packed to overflowing with of some of the best and most rascally fun classic animation many have seen in years.
The main question posed to the panel, “Why make a short?” got a nice answer from Bert Klein. “You get tired of studio productions, of them costing an arm and a leg for no reason and all the endless meetings about nothing. I wanted to make the kind of film that I would want to see. And, you want to have fun making a film; that’s something I forgot. Of course, I’ve asked myself ‘Why make a short?’ many times, especially considering the money. I can’t honestly say I’ve made something I want. I still cringe at some of the timing and cutting, but nothing is as terrible or as wonderful as making your own film. I don’t think you should make a short as a stepping stone either. Don’t let that be your incentive. Making your film is just going to be as good as [life] gets.”