NO one’s four-legged friends were harmed during the making of “My Dog Tulip,”
but the roar of Paul and Sandra Fierlinger’s untethered Jack Russell suggests
that two-legged strangers might not fare so well.
“Oh, Oscar, stop,” Sandra Fierlinger said, opening the door to the couple’s
tree-shrouded cottage on the Main Line, outside Philadelphia. “He’ll be fine, as
soon as you get to the other side of the room.”
He wasn’t, it turned out. But even the menacing Oscar couldn’t distract from the
room itself: a bank of computer monitors stretched across half the width of the
house; beneath them a phalanx of custom-made computers and hard drives crowded
one another along the floor. Here the couple put into motion J. R. Ackerley’s
1956 memoir about his late-life “romance” with a German shepherd, taking
computer animation into an orbit both new and retrograde: computerized yet hand
Which didn’t quite make sense until Mr. Fierlinger sat down at what he calls his
light table: as his digital “pen” moved across the horizontal surface, a line
drawing appeared on the vertical screen, creating the “motion” of two existing
images that, when run at 24 frames per second, will be cinema. About 60,000
drawings went into “Tulip.” But no paper. Or plastic.
Opening on Sept. 1 at Film Forum in the South Village, “My Dog Tulip” features
the voices of Christopher Plummer as Ackerley, the writer and longtime BBC radio
host; Lynn Redgrave, who died in May, as his nettlesome sister; and Isabella
Rossellini as a kindly veterinarian. As it happens, nearly everyone involved is
a dog lover: the Fierlingers have Gracie, a mix of shepherd and corgi, and Oscar
(whose electronically adjusted voice was used when an aggressive bark was called
for). Mr. Plummer said in a telephone interview that he grew up around dogs and
“prefers them to a lot of humans,” while Ms. Rossellini said that, of course,
she is “a huge dog person.”
“I even raise dogs for the blind,” she said via e-mail, adding: “The drawings
for the animation are very charming, don’t you think so? I love their work.”
That work has won the Fierlingers a Peabody Award (“Still Life With Animated
Dogs,” 2001), and Mr. Fierlinger earned an Oscar nomination for best animated
short in 1980 for “It’s So Nice to Have a Wolf Around the House.” Anyone who’s
grown up watching “Teeny Little Super Guy” segments on “Sesame Street” has been
watching a Fierlinger creation.
Ms. Fierlinger, 55, who has a fine-arts background, adapted her skills to
colorizing her husband’s sketches. “I paint with layers, just as I would with
traditional animation,” she said. “I make my own brushes and mix my own colors,
just as if it were a paper background. But I do it all on the computer.”
Unlike studio cartoons, which often involve computer-generated imagery, the
Fierlingers’ work is hands-on, sort of. What’s eliminated is wasted motion: the
shuffling of paper, the sharpening of pencils, the setting up of shots. That it
still took them three years to make “My Dog Tulip” almost seems surprising. It
certainly gave Mr. Plummer pause.
“He said, ‘I was told it’s going to take you three years to do this,’ ” Mr.
Fierlinger, 74, recalled, “and I said, ‘Yes, at least.’ He said, ‘I’m going to
be dead by then, I’ll never get to see it.’ I told him: ‘I’m roughly about your
age, so if you think you’re going to be dead, then so am I, and it will never
get done. You won’t miss anything.’ When we met again last year in Toronto, we
agreed the time had gone so fast.”
The heart of “My Dog Tulip” is Mr. Ackerley’s story of his late-middle-age
relationship with an Alsatian named Tulip. Bittersweet, heartfelt and rendered
in an eccentric, expressive style, the movie seems poised to draw dog-loving
moviegoers like beagles to bacon. (New Yorker Films, the distributor, is doing
grass-roots promotion to dog walkers, vets, pet food stores and bookstores; New
York Review of Books Classics is reissuing the Ackerley book.)
But Mr. Fierlinger’s story could be a movie too — and was, actually, in his
animated autobiographical 1995 film “Drawn From Memory.” The child of Czech
diplomats, he was born in Japan, relocated to the United States as a youngster
and then shipped to Czechoslovakia, where his uncle, Zdenek Fierlinger, became
the country’s first postwar prime minister, while his father worked in the top
echelons of the Soviet puppet government. A boarding-school classmate of Vaclev
Havel’s and a member (at least geneaologically) of the ruling elite, Mr.
Fierlinger fled to America shortly after his father’s death in 1967.
The Fierlingers use French software called TVPaint; the director Nina Paley,
whose “Sita Sings the Blues” was a breakthrough in personalized computer
animation, uses the more popular Flash.
“There are many ways to use Flash,” she said, “the most common being with
‘motion tweens’: creating a virtual puppet, and having Flash automatically move
the pieces from place to place. That’s commonly called ‘cutout style.’ But you
can also use Flash to draw every single frame from scratch if you want. I used a
combination in ‘Sita’: mostly cutout style, but also some straight-ahead-style
hand-drawing straight into the program.” She also “did some paintings on paper,
which I scanned in.”
Not so at Chez Fierlinger, where the forward-thinking animators are cutting
themselves loose not just from graphite and cameras but also from traditional
avenues of financing and distribution: a children’s film they wanted to make —
and are in fact making — centers on Joshua Slocum, the first man to sail around
the world solo. It was turned down for financing by the public-television
production arm ITVS.
“We thought we could do whatever we wanted,” said Mr. Fierlinger, who is
returning to his teaching job at the University of Pennsylvania this term.
“Everything we’ve done for PBS has been a success. But they said, ‘We can’t see
why children would want to watch this for an hour.’ ”
So they’re doing it in installments, like a graphic novel, and selling it
online. “We realize we could do this all on the Internet, for the iPad or
similar devices,” Mr. Fierlinger said. “We don’t need a distributor. We don’t
even need actors. And the technology is developing so fast that by the time
we’re done, there are things we’ll be using that people aren’t even talking
November 16, 2007
Filed at 9:08 a.m. ET
By THE ASSOCIATED PRESS
The New York Times
LOS ANGELES (AP) -- The tagline for Disney's upcoming ''Enchanted'' could
well be the motto for the latest push in animation: ''The real world and the
animated world collide.''
Not simply colliding in the slapstick tradition of 1988's pioneering ''Who
Framed Roger Rabbit?,'' but in the more fundamental sense of transforming actors
into animated characters and vice versa.
The technique is seen in Charles Schwab TV ads and Richard Linklater's bomb from
last year, ''A Scanner Darkly.'' Peter Jackson and Steven Spielberg are
collaborating to make three comics-based movies blending performances with
The lines have been rendered so blurry that even close observers of the industry
are asking what seems an easy question: What is animation?
The director of ''Roger Rabbit'' has created a film that challenges whatever
your answer may be. Robert Zemeckis' ''Beowulf'' marries filmed actor
performances, animation and special effects to create a unique,
semi-but-not-quite-realistic look that many identify more with video games than
On Friday, it arrives in IMAX and regular theaters nationwide, accompanied by
3-D glasses and the stamp of ''animation'' from the Academy of Motion Picture
Arts and Sciences. ''Beowulf'' qualifies under Academy rules -- revised several
months ago to require ''frame by frame'' work -- to compete for an Animated
Feature Oscar against the likes of ''Ratatouille'' and the black-and-white 2-D
Iranian film ''Persepolis.''
But because of its hybrid nature, few in the animation world expect it'll
actually become one of the three nominees.
That possibility distresses traditional animators.
''It's a little bit odd when they're being put in the category competing in the
same way for awards,'' said Kevin Koch, a longtime animator of DreamWorks films
like ''Into the Hedge'' and ''Shrek 2.'' ''Some of us are kind of scratching our
heads a bit.''
The intricate detail of ''Beowulf'' is what sets it apart, but it was created
with a motion-capture process inherently similar to those used in recognizably
cartoonish movies. Child actors overacted before a green screen to form the
basis of last year's animated Oscar nominee ''Monster House,'' and dancer Savion
Glover supplied the penguins' smooth moves for winner ''Happy Feet.''
There has been push-back. ''Ratatouille'' director Brad Bird, one of the most
visible CG animation purists, is believed to be behind a good-natured jab at
competitors following the credits on that film's DVD. A cartoon businessman is
pictured smiling proudly as text proclaims the movie was made with ''100 percent
genuine animation'' and ''no motion capture or any other performance
''If you ask the average animator what they think, they'll tell you they don't
think motion capture is animation,'' said Jimmy Hayward, an animator on ''Toy
Story'' and other Pixar films.
Yet there have never been bright lines. The technique of rotoscoping --
capturing human movement in images and then tracing those into the cartoon world
-- was invented by Max Fleisher in the 1910s and even incorporated into key
early Disney cartoon features like 1937's ''Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs.''
So what's the problem with that? And who are today's animators to talk, anyway?
They long ago traded in pen and paper for customized computer rendering
''The essence of caricaturing life is an art form, and it's its own art form,''
said Hayward, who is now directing an animated Dr. Seuss feature, ''Horton Hears
a Who,'' due in March. ''Motion capture is outside of all the craft that goes
into the other parts of it.''
''Most animators feel there's a charm to see a drawing come to life, or to see
these computer puppets come to life, because they clearly exist in their own
universe,'' said David Silverman, who directed the 2-D ''The Simpsons Movie.''
''When what you're doing is trying to replicate life 100 percent, you could call
it animation, but it's puzzling. I just sort of get puzzled.''
It should be said: The creators of ''Beowulf'' don't call it animation, nor do
they intend to replicate real life.
''It's a new art form that is performance-based,'' producer Steve Starkey said,
echoing comments Zemeckis made about his 2004 effort, ''The Polar Express'' (a
performance-capture movie that had many traditional animators shuddering for its
characters' lifeless eyes and stilted movements.)
''If one were to call it traditional animation, I think it would be a disservice
to the brilliant animators of the like that worked on 'Roger Rabbit,' that
brought those characters to life. I also think it would be a disservice to the
performers like Ray Winstone, whose performance lives on-screen.''
Jerome Chen, visual effects supervisor for ''Beowulf,'' oversaw some 500
animators and worked on the project for three years. He argues that it should be
included in the animation category.
''An artist still has to tune this software program. We use 3-D animation tools,
but an animator still has to slave over key frames,'' Chen said. ''The computer
program is really just a sophisticated brush in that sense.''
Chen said animators regularly tweaked the facial expressions or movements of
actors depicted in the film.
Just don't try telling Winstone, who plays the title character, that somebody
changed his acting. ''To me, I can't see where performances were changed,'' he
said. ''We all played our parts.''
Winstone is credited on IMDB as the ''voice'' of Beowulf.
''No, I beg to differ. No way. That's a performance,'' he said. ''It wasn't just
voice, believe me. I broke two ribs doing this film. Probably the most physical
job I've ever done in my life on a film.''
Starkey predicts the familiarity of working primarily with actors will continue
to draw high-profile filmmakers to performance-capture animation.
James Cameron is using the technique -- with advanced camera technology -- for
his ''Avatar'' movie, coming in 2009. Spielberg and Jackson announced in May
that they'd direct and produce three 3-D animated movies based on Belgian comic
artist Georges Remi's adventuresome Tintin character.
''Both Steven and Bob (Zemeckis) love to be able to do things that in their
mind's eye they could see but physically they couldn't accomplish,'' Starkey
said. ''It's spreading.''
That's all well and good with traditional animators. They just wish there were
more room for recognition of their work among Hollywood's elite. The Oscars
animation category was created in 2001 and no animated film has ever won overall
''The problem is animation isn't considered in enough categories,'' Hayward
said. ''With the amount of box office that CG animation represents, it's really
ridiculous that we're all relegated to one category. ... It's about 15 years out
of date, really.''
December 20, 2006 03:11 PM
I've long believed that the cartoon shorts
produced in Hollywood in the 1930s, 40s and 50s, mostly outside the baleful
Disney gulag, are among the greatest achievements of western art.
These five-minute long essays in mayhem, featuring Bugs Bunny or Daffy Duck or
Droopy, and directed by the likes of Tex Avery, Friz Freleng and Chuck Jones are
(albeit silly) symphonies of joy. Right up there at the top stand Tom and Jerry,
created by William Hanna and Joe Barbera, who's just died aged 95.
When you watch those Tom and Jerry cartoons, you don't just get all the
victimless violence you could ever want, but also, frequently, a beauty which
can rival anything in the movies. These little films won seven Oscars, and would
often take up to a year to make. The technique was painstaking and very
expensive (which was why in 1956 MGM closed its animation division where they
made Tom and Jerry). The cartoons of that Golden Age should stand as a fitting
and enduring monument to Joe Barbera and Bill Hanna, and almost excuse their
later crimes. But not quite.
In his Guardian obituary only about seven lines are given over to Barbera's
post-Tom and Jerry career, despite the fact that it took up most of his
professional life and made him his millions. That strikes me as fitting.
Although everyone born in the last 60 years might imagine that they have happy
childhood memories of The Flintstones, Yogi Bear, Huckleberry Hound or, God help
us, Scooby-Doo, the truth of the matter is that they're crap. Complete and utter
crap. Worse, they're shoddily made crap, after Hanna-Barbera devised what they
called "limited animation", more than halving the number of drawings from 26 per
second to 3000 for five minutes, the better to fill the empty moments on TV
between the ads. And thus they effectively destroyed animation for at least two
generations, before it slowly began to claw its way back to respectability in
Worse, this tat debauched not only its audience but also people within the
profession. The great Mel Blanc, the voice of Bugs Bunny, Daffy Duck, Sylvester
the Cat and Porky Pig, ended his days voicing Barney Rubble. Friz Freleng, who
directed some of the best Bugs Bunnies in the 40s, bent the knee to market
forces and spent the 60s and 70s churning out The Pink Panther. Great theme, for
sure, but those cartoons, too, were crap.
As a culture we're now wilfully infantile, and we tend to dignify anything from
our childhoods, such as Barbera's entire output from Huckleberry Hound onwards,
with the benefit of the doubt. Don't. It's crap. If you doubt me, just remember
The Banana Splits. Or The Hair Bear Bunch. Or Shazam. I could go on, but I can't
stand it. All I can suggest is that you get hold of Johann Mouse: in five
sublime minutes it's worth more than everything Barbera knocked off in the next
40 years, and almost redeems his memory. But, as I said, not quite.
· Partnership with Hanna lasted more than 60
· Tom and Jerry won duo seven Academy Awards
Tuesday December 19, 2006
Joe Barbera, one half of the creative duo that
delighted generations of children with the homicidal spats between a cat and a
mouse, the ranger-baiting activities of a delinquent bear and the adventures of
a ghost-hunting great dane and his pesky friends, died yesterday. He was 95.
In partnership with Bill Hanna, Barbera gave
the world such classic cartoon characters as Tom and Jerry, Yogi Bear,
Scooby-Doo, the Flintstones and the Jetsons.
As the hugely successful animation team Hanna-Barbera, it was Barbera's
sketching skill and comic ability, combined with Hanna's warmth and keen sense
of timing which saw the pair conceive some of the best-loved cartoon characters
of all time. Tom and Jerry won seven Academy Awards, more than any other series
with the same characters.
Barbera died of natural causes at home on Monday with his wife Stella by his
side, a Warner Bros spokesman said.
Hanna, who died in 2001, once said he was never a good artist but his partner
could "capture mood and expression in a quick sketch better than anyone I've
Neither intended to go into animation. Barbera, who grew up in Brooklyn,
originally went into banking and Hanna, who had studied engineering and
journalism, got involved with animation because he needed a job.
Joseph Barbera was born in Italy in 1911 and began his career as a tailor's
delivery boy. He spent the early 1930s trying to become a magazine cartoonist on
The NY Hits Magazine, but never managed it.
He first met William Hanna amid the blocks of MGM studios in the 1930s and
together they began to bring to life a cast of characters that included
Huckleberry Hound and Friends and Touché Turtle.
The cat and mouse format was first attempted in Puss Gets the Boot and earned
them an Academy Award nomination. As they continued to experiment, these
characters grew into Tom and Jerry, and their argumentative antics went on for
17 years. When MGM closed its animation unit in 1957 the team were forced to go
into business themselves. After Hanna's death Barbera remained active as an
executive producer at Warner Bros and continued to work on What's New Scooby
Doo? and Tom and Jerry Tales.
Critic Leonard Maltin wrote in his book, Of Mice and Magic: A History of
American Animated Cartoons: "This writing-directing team may hold a record for
producing consistently superior cartoons using the same characters year after
year - without a break or change in routine ... [their] characters are not only
animated superstars, but also a very beloved part of American pop culture."
Barbera is survived by three children from a previous marriage,
"Dumbo," coming to the New Gallery on Sunday, is Mr. Disney at his most
irresistible. It is certainly the most satisfying Disney since before or after
"Pinocchio," and some will even prefer it to that masterpiece of puppetry.
"Dumbo" lasts sixty-five minutes, and for once in a way it seems neither a
minute too long nor a minute too short. It is enchanting, and as gay as a rondo
Dumbo is a blue-eyed baby elephant with abnormally big ears. May one dare to
suggest to Mr. Disney that his eyes are one shade too light in colour?
Elephants' eyes, baby or adult, are the colour of the periwinkle or wild
clematis. Dumbo's eyes have, in Tennyson's phrase, "the little speedwell's
darling blue". However, the major point about this lyrically charming person is
his ears and not his eyes. They make him the butt and the joke of the circus.
But Timothy Mouse is a valiant though tiny sympathiser. Together they drink a
bucketful of champagne, have an elephantine nightmare (a fantasia far more
exciting than "Fantasia" itself), and wake up at the top of a tree. Six amusing
black clowns with Negro voices laugh at their plight.
But Timothy has a notion. Dumbo, in his accidental cups, can have arrived there
in only one way. He must have flown. He must be able to fly. He must be the
world's new wonder – a flying elephant. His fortune is made as quickly as his
Dumbo is a joy, but Timothy Mouse is still more. He is a complete and rounded
character. We are concerned about him, whereas we were only amused by his
progenitor Mickey. It is the difference between a personage and a figment.
Timothy must have a whole short Disney to himself. So must Casey Junior, that
delightful live railway-train which whoops with joy and relief when it reaches
the top of a gradient.
Meanwhile, we have "Dumbo" for Christmas, with all these pleasures in it. It is
rich in imaginative fun, it is often witty, and even its inevitable piece of
slop – a zoological lullaby – does not last long.
Fresh troops sent to meet Japanese. Fresh troops with mechanised equipment have
been sent to Kedah to face the Japanese thrust into North-west Malaya. The
thrust is now a serious threat to Penang. It has reached the River Muda, about
sixteen miles north of Butterworth , an air base and railhead. From Butterworth
there is a railway across the narrow strip of water to Penang. If they seize
Penang the Japanese will gain a base for operations in the Indian Ocean.