[NOTE: Posted partially unedited due to health problems ~ Curtis]

Association International du Film d'Animation
(International Animated Film Association)

July 2013

This issue includes:

A critical look at the mindless animated features being offered this summer (including why Pixar is not making great films at the moment)

Why are CalArts and USC Exceptional Animation Schools




A note from Marv Newland

Promote yourself as having "added value"



THE "HOLLYWOOD REPORTER" CALLS "MONSTERS UNIVERSITY" A LAME, SUB PAR FEATURE The review on June 9 began, "It should be remedial school, not an institution of higher learning, for Monsters University, an alarmingly lame effort from Pixar." This marks the third sub-par film in a row from Pixar, after Cars 2 and Brave, suggesting that the brain trust in Emeryville has lost a bit of its edge. Certainly, this genial and inoffensive G-rated lark about cute characters doing their darndest to become scary monsters will play well enough with its intended audience (most members of which weren't even born when the original came out), but it will register as a notable artistic underachiever with people who expect the best from its maker."

"Inventiveness and a sense of creative inspiration are what set the best Pixar ventures apart, and these are the elements conspicuously lacking this time around, to the point where Monsters University almost feels like a film made to fill a slot in a release schedule rather than something that simply had to be made for its own organic reasons. It wasn't this way in the old days."

Editor's Note: Since reading the above review I've seen several favorable reviews that find it funny but not memorable. One called it a spoof of Animal House. While I expect the film will be a success, I suspect under Disney's ownership Pixar's high standards have been eroded. They are now milking their franchises by making sequels/prequels and Brave was the most conservative Pixar film to date.! I expect MU will make a healthy profit even if other reviewers agree with the critic from the Hollywood Reporter. The advance advertising and promotions for the film will make it a "must see" film for lots of kids. What bothers me is the decline in Pixar's uniqueness.

HAS THERE BEEN A SHIFT IN PIXAR'S BASIC VALUES? By KC As I said in my "editor's note" (previous article) I suspect Pixar is changing and not for the better due to pressure from Disney to play it safe and to make money, not art. What I think is missing now is their films no longer have a sense of having a heart or soul. Earlier films made me really care about the wholesome stars, but the last three Disney/Pixar films seem to stress light, airy, almost mindless fluff. High production values are still in Pixar films, but not the caring that made us love the toys, rats and robots.

A day after I wrote the above Ed Hooks wrote the following on his blog. "I read in the Wall Street Journal when Disney bought Pixar that Lasseter had agreed to make every third Pixar movie with a primary consideration of merchandising. The Wall Street Journal considered that to be GOOD news, which is why they wrote about it. It depressed the bejeezus out of me." Ed, perhaps Pixar has now agreed to make that every film.

SINCE WRITING THE ABOVE I FOUND THE FOLLOWING IN "THE ATLANTIC MONTHLY" "In 2008 (in retrospect, the beginning of the end of the proverbial Golden Age of Pixar), the studio's president Ed Catmull


wrote for the Harvard Business Review about how Pixar had managed to produce its now-legendary streak of animated family-film blockbusters. Catmull's piece spans several pages, but he sheds light on what, today, seems to be a telling aspect of Pixar's philosophy:

"We're in a business whose customers want to see something new every time they go to the theater. This means we have to put ourselves at great risk. Our most recent film, Wall-E, is a robot love story set in a post-apocalyptic world full of trash. And our previous movie, Ratatouille, is about a French rat who aspires to be a chef. Talk about unexpected ideas! At the outset of making these movies, we simply didn't know if they would work. However, since we're supposed to offer something that isn't obvious, we bought into somebody's initial vision and took a chance."


DOES THE WORLD NEED OVER 1000 NEW DISNEY LICENSED "MONSTERS UNIVERSITY" PRODUCTS? The new collection must be quite remarkable to number over 1,000 fine items inspired by one film. The Motley Fool announced on June 11 that, "The licensing program consists of more than 1,000 products from 125 licensees that celebrate the fun of Monsters University, which releases in theaters June 21, 2013. The product collection includes action figures, play sets, plush figures, apparel, accessories, home decor, publishing products and more. An exclusive collection from Disney Store and DisneyStore.com is also available." For more mind-boggling information about the fine items available read:


THIS SUMMER'S ANIMATED FEATURES SOUND LIKE ENTERTAINING PROMOS DESIGNED TO GET KIDS INTERESTED IN BUYING FRANCHISED PRODUCTS All this summer's crop of features seem designed to make as much money as possible at the box office and hopefully they will entice kids into wanting toys and other things related to the films. Every film is either a sequel of a successful feature or it is a thinly disguised spinoff of a past hit.

Will the most original feature be a DisneyToon Studio's Planes, a spin-off of Cars about a crop duster that wants to win an air race championship? (The aircraft have big eyes similar to those seen on the windshields in Pixar's Cars.) Or will it be Turbo from DreamWorks, a Cars inspired film about a snail that wants be the fastest snail on Earth?

How many adults are really anxious to see Turbo, Planes, Smurfs 2, Despicable Me 2 or the prequel to Monsters, Inc.? I'm sure, each will be entertaining and will sell lots of tickets, but you may feel the film's target audience is a lot younger than you. Kids love familiar characters and plot! s, but as an adult I look forward to having wonderful new film experiences, not continuations of familiar stories.

Why the big push to sell tickets and stuff now? Most school children are on vacation in the summer so parents are often quite willing to give them money to get them out of the house. (Releasing animated films for kids during the school year can be risky as kids are supposed to be doing homework after school and on weekends movies have to compete with other activities.) One place they can go to have fun is the multiplex. Since animated films made in the US are marketed to youngsters, you know pretty much what to expect -- funny, fun, exciting adventures with happy endings. And if they buy an item later that is based on characters in the film, the movie's producer is getting a royalty payment of about 10% of the wholesale cost of the item.

Unfortunately the fall releases sound no more interesting to me than the summer releases. Cloudy With A Chance Of Meatballs 2 from Sony Animation has Flint Lockwood wanting to be recognized as a great inventor, but his invention is a silly disaster. The first Meatballs feature grossed over $243 million in 2009 and was made for about $100 million.

Free Birds opens Nov. 1 and stars two turkeys that discover a time machine in a secret government lab. They decide to go back to the first Thanksgiving in order to get turkeys off the menu (produced by Reel FX, distributed by Relativity).

Disney's Frozen opening November 27 is a quest plot that stars a new Disney princess. The young girl and a mountain climber set off with an "extreme mountain man" and his sidekick reindeer, to find the legendary Snow Queen so they can end the perpetual winter prophecy that has fallen over their kingdom. It will be an epic journey to save the kingdom.

Which film will make the most profit? By next January we should know.

2013 HAS ALREADY SEEN THE RELEASE OF TWO ANIMATED FLOPS -- ONE WAS A COLOSSAL BOX OFFICE DISASTER In March Silver Circle, a film made by Lineplot Productions, an independent producer opened in Los Angeles and grossed $4,080. Apparently the computer animation and motion control, directed by Pasha Roberts, only opened in LA. In it a group of underground rebels outmaneuver the oppressive Federal Reserve while creating a guerilla currency based on silver. Rotten Tomatoes found only 6 reviews and all hated it.

Escape From Planet Earth (2/14/13 produced by The Weinstein Company) was also a flop. It grossed $56.4 million and cost about $40 million to make. The plot has an astronaut named Scorch Supernova caught in a trap when he responds to an SOS from a "notoriously dangerous alien planet." The producers hired familiar voice actors Brendan Fraser, Sarah Jessica Parker, William Shatner and others, but according to t! he Rotten Tomatoes website only 26% of the critics cared for the film and in many cities the critics didn't even bother to review it.


The Weinstein's ESCAPE FROM PLANET EARTH cost $40 million to make and only grossed $56.4 million

20th CENTURY FOX MAY BE THIS YEAR'S BIG $$$ WINNER The distributor is releasing four animated features this year, The Croods, Epic, Turbo and Walking with Dinosaurs, The Movie. None of the films have plots that make me want to see them, but the first two have already been released and were profitable for Fox.

DreamWorks' The Croods opened on March 22 and was a smash hit. It is a comedy adventure about a caveman's family taking a road trip after their cave is destroyed (they are searching for the right location for their new home). It has grossed over $576 million and it cost about $135 million to make. Rotten Tomatoes says it has a 69% favorable rating (from 129 reviews) and a viewer poll rates it at 82%. Rotten Tomatoes summed up the reviews by saying "While it may not be as evolved as the best modern animated fare, The Croods will prove solidly entertaining for families seeking a fast-paced, funny cartoon adventure."

Blue Sky's Epic, Chris Wedge director, opened May 24. (Wedge/Blue Sky created the successful Ice Age series). The plot deals with a teenage girl who enters a deep forest where an epic battle between the forces of good and evil is taking place. So far the film has grossed $150 million worldwide and it cost $100 million to make. While it has yet to turn a profit for the studio, I suspect it will as more foreign ticket sales are reported. Rotten Tomatoes said the 105 reviews by critics resulted in a 61% rating and their viewer poll showed 67% liked it. It is based on the children's book The Leaf Men and the Brave Good Bugs by Williams Joyce who also wrote the book "The Fantastic Flying Books of Morris Lessmore that was turned into an Oscar winning animated short.

Turbo from DreamWorks opens July 19. It stars a common garden snail that dreams of becoming the fastest snail in the world. Believe it or not a freak accident leaves him with the gift of amazing speed so he just might be able to realize his goal.

Walking with Dinosaurs comes out Dec. 20 and the film's directors are Barry Cook (Mulan) and documentary filmmaker Nigel Nightengale. The animation is being made by Australia's Animal Logic (Happy Feet). NOTE: Pixar will release The Good Dinosaur next May.

DESPICABLE ME 2" GOT AN EXCELLENT REVIEW IN THE "HOLLYWOOD REPORTER" There is "plenty to enjoy here courtesy of those zippy visuals and a pitch-perfect voice cast" an irresistible Looney Tunes-style nuttiness" in the absence of a more substantial plot line." Did they judge this film with the same standards they used to review Monsters University?

GKIDS BRINGS US AN INTELLIGENT ALTERNITVE TO HOLLYWOOD ANIMATED FEATURES GKIDS (Guerrilla Kids International Distribution Syndicate) was founded in 2008. Their office is in New York City and they mainly distribute animated features made in other countries. The same crew has also produced the New York International Children's Festival! since 1997. GKIDS offers films that would not otherwise be seen in the US. Many are foreign language films and are made available in their original language with subtitles.

The features they have released in the past include The Secret of Kells, Sita Sings the Blues, Azur and Asmar, a collection of 14 features from Japan's Studio Ghibli, Chico and Rita and A Cat in Paris. For 2013 they are making available The Rabbi's Cat, From Up on Poppy Hill, The Painting, A Letter from Momo, Wrinkles (Arrugas), Zarafa, and Ernest and Celestine. Most of these films are well made festival winners and some are serious films that are not intended for a young audience.

GKIDS is a distribution pioneer trying to expand the market place for foreign animation in the US. In the US most theatres are a part of chains that only show products from Hollywood. While some theatre owners or managers might like to screen imports, many have little or no control over what is shown on their screens. Others that can book what they want are not willing to risk showing an unknown film with little! or no advanced promotion, especially in towns and cities that don't have a history of screening foreign animation.

Disney, Sony and DreamWorks spend millions prior to the release of a film trying to drum up excitement about them. GKIDS doesn't have that kind of budget so they rely on whatever media coverage and word of mouth mentions they can get, small newspaper ads plus festival exposure to promote their features. For example I just saw Ernest and Celestine at the San Francisco International Film Festival and will certainly tell readers to see it when it opens in theatres later this year.

The global future of non-Hollywood animated features looks good. Annecy just premiered 23 features from around the world (North, Central and South America, Europe and Asia). But in the US most film goers do not know these films exist. Foreign animation does get seen in some of our bigger cities and college towns, but most Americans have yet to discover that the wonderful films GKIDS distributes exist.


Sunday, July 28, "AN AMERICAN TAIL" at 10AM, at the Castro, presented by the SF Jewish Film Festival.

SATURDAY JULY 20 AT 10AM, "WINSOR McCAY: HIS LIFE AND ART" WITH JOHN CANEMAKER IN PERSON presenting his multimedia presentation on Winsor McCay. It includes four of his films: Little Nemo (1911), the first adaptation of a comic strip to a film format; the disturbing How a Mosquito Operates (1912); the charming animation McCay designed as part of a vaudeville act, Gertie the Dinosaur (1914) and The Sinking of the Lusitania (1918). Stephen Home will accompany the shorts on the piano. Presented by the San Francisco Silent Film Festival at the Castro Theater.

Sat. Aug. 3, 8:45pm, "KENNY HOTZ'S TRIUMPH OF THE WILL" US PREMIERE, DIRECTOR/STAR KENNY HOTZ IN PERSON, Canada, 2011, 90 min., in English, directed by and stars Kenny Hotz,, at the Jewish Community Center, SF. I'm not sure if there is any animation in it, but Kenny is a former writer for South Park suggesting it will be outrageous. The festival's program notes say, "The irreverent and hilarious Kenny Hotz (former South Park writer and creator and star of the hit television series Kenny vs. Spenny and cult hit Testees) has a bold new creation". Always provocative and unpredictable, a tad crude, but never without heart, Hotz stops at nothing to succeed in a series of Herculean tasks. In one episode, Hotz tries to land his 75-year old widowed mother a boyfriend and for safe measure, introduces her to the world of vibrators. In another he throws out an olive branch by organizing Jews to help build a mosque for Muslims. In yet another" a comedy event not to be missed!"

Sun., July 21


At Oddball Films, 6:30 pm, screening and awards 8 pm
275 Capp, third floor, free, bring friends

MASTERFUL ANIME FROM STUDIO GHIBLI AT THE PACIFIC FILM ARCHIVE, BERKELEY Sun. July 7, 4:30 PM, POM POKO by Isao Takahata, 1994; Sun. July 14, 4:30 PM, POORCO ROSSO by Hayao Miyazaki, 1992; Sun. July 21, 4:30 PM, SPIRITED AWAY by Miyazaki, 2001; Sun. July 28, 4:30 PM, PRINCESS MONONOKE by Miyazaki, 1997; Sun. Aug. 4, 4:30 PM, FROM UP ON POPPY HILL, by Goro Miyazaki, 2011; Sun. Aug. 11, 4:30 PM, WHISPER OF THE HEART by Yoshifumi Kondo, 1995; Sun. Aug. 18, 4 PM, HOWL'S MOVING CASTLE by Hayao Miyazaki, 2004; Sun. Aug. 25, 3 PM, MY NEIGHBOR TOTORO 1988 and at 5 PM, NAUSICA A VALLEY OF THE WIND, 1984, both by Hayao Mizayaki.


A pixelated John Dilworth opens Chris' trip into the subconscious

CHRIS LANDRETH WINS THE ANNECY CRYSTAL AWARD FOR BEST SHORT Chris, who created the Oscar winning Ryan, has a wild new film for us to experience. His Subconscious Password is a comedy about absent-mindedness. It is in stereoscopic 3D, features ! a pixilated John Dilworth, Nina Paley's friend Sita is an extra and it had its world premiere at Annecy. It is a most unusual, bizarre trip through a man's mind. Credits include the National Film Board of Canada, Marcy Page producer in collaboration with Copperheart and Seneca College. I hope Ron Diamond shows it when he returns to SF in Oct. See an amazing trailer and clip at:


Other awards at Annecy include Theodore Ushev of the NFB of Canada winning the Fipresci Award (the press prize) for Gloria Victoria, the feature grand prize going to Rio 2096: A Story of Love and Fury by Luiz Bolognesi from Brazil, a special distinction prize to the feature My Mommy is in America and She Met Buffalo Bill by Marc Boreal and Thibaut Chatel from France and the audience prize for most popular feature going to O Apostolo by Fernando Cortizo from Spain. Annecy showed 23 features this year with four being from the US (independent productions including Don Hertzfeldt's It's Such a Beautiful Day).

JAMAICA IS EXPLORING BECOMING PART OF THE WORLD'S ANIMATION INDUSTRY The AP reports they are working with the World Bank to develop a low cost animation labor supply. Can they undercut China, India, etc.?

GEORGE LUCAS HAS FINALLY WON AN EMMY! It was for Cartoon Network's Star Wars: The Clone Wars, which he is the executive producer. He was previously nominated twice for Primetime Emmys for Ewok-themed children's series. Lucas said in his acceptance speech that it was only the second award he's ever won, following on the heels of an NAACP Image Award for the movie Red Tails.

SIMPSONS FANS REJOICE! YOU WILL SOON BE ABLE TO EAT A KRUSTY BURGER AND BUY A BEER AT MOE'S TAVERN, BUT ONLY IN ORLANDO, FLORIDA Universal's theme park in Orlando is expanding the area around The Simpsons Ride into a "real" Springfield complete with a section known as Fast Food Boulevard. Some of the fast food restaurants opened in June. When this commercial area is fully operational you will be able to consume stuff at Moe's Tavern, Krusty Burger, Cletus' Chicken Shack, the Frying Dutchman, Luigi's Pizza, and (drum roll please) Lard Lad's gigantic donuts. So now you have another reason to fly to Florida. And you will even be able to quench your thirst in the only place on earth that will serve a "Krusty-Partially-Gelatinated-Non-Dairy-Gum-Based-Beverage."

GEORGE LUCAS HAS FINALLY WON AN EMMY! It was for Cartoon Network's Star Wars: The Clone Wars; which he is the executive producer. He was previously nominated twice for Primetime Emmys for Ewok-themed children's series. Lucas said in his acceptance speech that it was only the second award he's ever won, following on the heels of an NAACP Image Award for the movie Red Tails.

"PERSEPOLIS" HAS BEEN BANNED FROM CHICAGO SCHOOLS The board of education of the 3rd largest school district in the country banned the book in April 2013 on the grounds it contains graphic language and inappropriate images. The decision was made without consulting students, teachers or the public and didn't follow any guidelines. The National Coalition Against Censorship reports the ban is similar to a case in 1976 that went to the Supreme Court. The school district on Long Island lost their case in 1982 so kids there can once again read Slaughterhouse Five and the other books the district considered offensive.

BAD NEWS FOR TOM AND JERRY FANS Warner Home Video has cancelled their release of the Tom & Jerry Golden Collection Vol. 2 due to the backlash from fans when they discovered titles previously announced for this set were no longer included due to their racial content. Fans! responded to WHV deciding not to release anything potentially offensive by asking everyone NOT to buy this release, so WB apparently decided that if fans won't buy it then why try to sell it. Since a lot of time and money went into restoring the films, making masters, etc. it is probable all or some of the titles will appear on discs in the future. The backlash has also postponed the Looney Tunes Platinum Collection Volume 3.

OSKAR FISCHINGER'S "RAUMLICHTKUNST," A 3 PROJECTOR FILM PERFORMANCE RECREATION IS BEING SHOWN IN PARIS Fischinger (1900-1967), a pioneer of abstract animation and painting, began performing light shows in Germany in 1926 using five 35mm film projectors, color filters and slides. His pioneering shows have been recreated over the years and presently the Center for Visual Arts in LA has created! a HD three projector version using restored 35 mm footage transferred to HD. It has been shown in major art museums including the Tate in London and Whitney in NYC. It is presently being shown in Paris through Sept. 9 at the Palais de Tokyo.

CHINESE BUREAUROCRATS ARE HINDERING AMERICAN CORPORATE DESIRES TO HAVE UNLIMITED EXPLOITATION RIGHTS TO THEIR MARKETPLACE! THE RUN OF "THE CROODS" WAS TERMINATED AHEAD OF SCHEDULE China ended the run of the film to give Switch, a new Chinese produced action/adventure gangster feature a better chance to succeed at the box office. It opened June 9 during a holiday and grossed $7.8 million (3rd highest opening day box office in China). The Croods had already made about $64 million so it seemed fair to the Chinese to end that run before the holiday so a film made in China had a chance to benefit. During the Croods seven week run three Chinese produced animated features opened and collectively grossed less than $16.3 million. The Croods run ended June 7, but it was supposed to end June 23. It had originally been scheduled to end May 21, but it was held over due to its success. That irked protectionists, causing the Chinese film regime to kickstart what locals call "the protection of domestic production month," an informal period during which authorities keep cineplexes clear of Hollywood fare. This was not the first time films from the US have had their runs cut short.

ADDITIONS TO RECENT ARTICLES ABOUT EMPLOYMENT: Marv Newland who runs Rocketship in Vancouver, writes, "Your article concerning animation schools, pursuit of a career in animation/special effects is well done. You hit all of the main points and I have added your insights to my keeper animation file."

"In the end it is all on the individual. You require real skill. Once your lines are drawn and your work begins to take life you can not bullshit anyone in the animation business. You are good enough to do the work, or not. It is hard to disguise this fact. After that you have to be either a real good independent animator! who consistently turns out a new motion picture every few years, or you have to be a good team player and have an optimistic attitude so a studio will hire you and keep you around. Most important, you must love what you do, or be helplessly addicted to making animation."

Promote yourself as having "added value"

The NY Times (June 9) article "The Internship: Not the Movie," included possibly helpful tips. It stressed how internships have become increasingly important due to the economy and he noted colleges don't necessarily teach what employers are looking for. He felt experience is just or more important as having a degree since an internship can suggest you have the needed experience. He pointed out paid internships are becoming almost as hard to get as a job when he said, "Goldman Sachs just hired 350 paid investment banking interns out of 17,000 applicants."

The main point of the article is companies don't just want generalists who just can do the job, when they review resumes and cover letters now they pay more attention to people who sound exciting because they have "added value." Added value suggests you can bring to the job something special such as design skills, innovation, sales or marketing skills, that can't be easily replaced by a piece of software, a machine or a cheaper worker in India.

Presenting yourself as having added value is important, especially for people who have been out of work for six months or longer (that could suggest to employers nobody wants to hire you). Added value suggests that while you were unemployed you filled that time with useful learning experiences like working on unpaid animation projects, taking online tutorials, etc. "Show you have! not been slacking off." Staying involved in some way with animation shows you have the incentive to want to improve your talent/skills and it can make you sound like an exciting candidate to interview.

Don't list things unrelated to the company's line of work in a cover letter. Stress you have some form of added value that the company can benefit from. Explain your added value if you think employers may not understand how you can be a better asset for them if they hire you.

Another tip --"If you can't find a job, invent one." Employers appreciate candidates who start their own projects. Even if it fails, "employers can see that you have passion and motivation — and it teaches a set of skills that have universal value: marketing, sales and product development."

TWO FORMER INTERNS WIN THEIR LAWSUIT AGAINST FOX. THE JUDGE'S VERDICT ALLOWS FOR A CLASS ACTION SUIT AGAINST FOX TO PROCEED There have recently been high profile lawsuits about unpaid internship programs violating the rules governing them. PBS' Charlie Rose settled quickly out of court, but Fox chose to fight. They have lost the first round (they say they will appeal). The judge ruled their use of interns was not training, but was set up for the benefit of Fox and was there for exploiting unpaid labor as the internship. They were doing the work that paid employees should have been doing and it was for the immediate advantage of Fox. For an internship to be unpaid it has to be educational and of little utility to the employer. His summary judgment allows for a class action case against 20th Century Fox to proceed.

Recently a related class action suit has been filed on behalf of interns who worked for Warner Music.

RINGLING AND CALARTS STUDENTS WIN THE 2013 STUDENT ACADEMY AWARDS IN ANIMATION The winners in animation were: Gold Medal to Dia de los Muertos by Lindsey St. Pierre and Ashley Graham, Ringling College of Art and Design; the Silver Medal to Will by Eusong Lee, California Institute of the Arts and the Bronze Medal to Peck Pocketed by Kevin Herron, Ringling College of Art and Design.

DISNEY IS DEVELOPING A NEW "FANTASIA" PRODUCT Disney is turning Fantasia, made 73 years ago, into a video game. It will use some of the original classical music along with at least five pieces by rock stars and contemporary artists. The five songs Disney announced are Bohemian Rhapsody by Queen; Loc! ked Out of Heaven by Bruno Mars; Settle Down by Kimbra; Levels by Avicii; and Some Nights by Fun. Fantasia: Music Evolved is scheduled for release in 2014 on Microsoft's upcoming Xbox One and Xbox 360 platforms. It will be controlled by using Microsoft's motion-sensing Kinect system.


A difficult task is for people to learn to think outside the box and create original work that goes beyond what they see on TV and on the World Wide Web. Animation can be anything one wants it to be and it can go anywhere the mind can imagine. Unfortunately many young animators don't take advantage of those creative possibilities.

Getting people to go beyond their preconceived concepts of what their animation might be can be quite difficult. Too many films end up depicting a world that can also be created with actors. If an idea can be made into a live action film, why bother to do all that animation?

While we can see lots of animated narratives of human dramas and comedies on TV, rarely do we have the opportunity to see other possibilities of what animation can be. Animated films can be wonderful creative experiences, unique works that explore new approaches to design, techniques and storytelling. These films can stimulate our imaginations and they win prizes at animation festivals.

Unfortunately the public rarely sees them. Even the annual programs of the five Oscar nominated animated shorts are seen in relatively few places in the US compared to the number of places you can see the latest animated feature. Each year the program of Oscar nominated shorts takes in more money which is good news. The box office gross this year was over $2 million so 200,000 to 300,000 people saw the program. Meanwhile the gross for The Croods is about 182 million at present and $5! 77 million worldwide. So what percentage of the population sees the nominated shorts?

When I present animation history to animation majors I don't stress esoteric facts, titles and dates. I feel my main responsibility is to expose them to as many excellent works as possible, introducing them to unfamiliar styles, techniques, different approaches to comedy and drama, a variety of storytelling formats, etc. Students need to understand how things developed, changed, the conflicts between businessmen and labor, the rise of new forms of animation, why animation is used successfully for propaganda, etc. Students need to see and hopefully understand that animation is a remarkable multi-faceted form of art and communication.

When it comes to animation most students simply don't know what they don't know. By showing them alternatives to what they are familiar with hopefully they will start thinking about other possibilities of what animation can be. I hope that in some cases something seen in class will inspire them to explore a different way to approach their work.

It is a daunting task to decide what films will best inspire students as the class only meets 3 hours a week for a total of 45 hours (and screening time is lost due to tests, breaks, lectures, etc.) There are thousands of hours of films to select from.

Every time when I meet a class for the first time I ask what they think the class will cover. Most are surprised to learn I will not be saying much about the things they are familiar with including anime, Disney and DreamWorks features or episodes of The Simpsons or Family Guy. Instead they learn about the pioneers, the early forms of surreal animation, the rise of Disney's approaches to storytelling, alternative directions at Schleshinger, MGM and eventually UPA. We see the influences of modern art on animation and how animation has been used to promote war, peace, commercial products, political causes and other! things. In the second half of the semester the focus is on other approaches including turning animation into a personal form of art using different kinds of techniques and storytelling methods.

It is hard to evaluate how successful my approach to inspiring students is, but last year a student I taught in the 1990s sent me an excellent mature looking work that he said was inspired by seeing UPA animation in my class.

Perhaps a future article will be on how studio teachers encourage students to explore their creative abilities. I know some present unusual problems for students to think about and solve. One teacher told me about an assignment for students to think about using symbolic shapes, colors and textures to represent the content of the film. Another introduces them to works by Dali and other surrealists. If you have a suggestion about how one can open up minds to creative ways of thinking send your comments to karlcohen@earthlink.net

Why are CalArts and USC Exceptional Animation Schools? by KC

Ever wonder why the animation programs at CalArts, the University of Southern California and a handful of other schools are so highly regarded? Why do so many of their graduates seem to be distinguished animators in the film industry when there are over 100 institutions in the US training students to become animators. What sets these top rated schools apart from the other schools? To find out I asked people who teach at two of the celebrated schools and remembered things John Lasseter talked about when he was active with the Bay Area animation community and ASIFA-SF.

Cal Arts' instant rise to prominence

CalArts (California Institute of the Arts) was established in 1961 by Walt and Roy Disney as the first accredited school of higher learning for both the visual and performing arts. Its founding principles stress an exciting collaborative interdisciplinary atmosphere for the arts where people with different skills can work together.

Unlike most schools that judge applicants by their grades and diagnostic SAT scores, admission to CalArts is based solely on the applicant's creative talent and future potential. Applicants are judged on their written statements and their portfolio or audition. The school wants to admit people that they believe will be exceptional students and will go on to be successful in their chosen discipline.

Ben Ridgway who graduated from CalArts is an independent animator and professor as SF State University. He told me, "CalArts is in an ideal location. It's close enough to downtown LA to attract adjunct instructors who are working on cutting edge work in the animation world. My 3D lighting instructor was Jeremy Birn who is now a technical director for Pixar. My introductory animation instructor was Steve Hillenburg who was the creator and director of SpongeBob SquarePants. Being able to learn from professionals of this caliber had a tremendous impact on my growth as an artist.

I asked Gary Schwartz, who graduated from CalArts and teaches animation in Michigan, about why CalArts is considered great. He replied, "First and foremost the school exercises the gate keeper prerogative. They have the luxury to be choosy. Once inside students create in an environment of open ended creativity with high expectations. The students are surrounded by other very talented, ambitious artists."

I recall a joke from the 1990s, a period when Disney and other animation studios were expanding rapidly. I was told the best animation students at CalArts never graduate. They get hired away by big studios with job offers they can't refuse. When I asked Maureen Furniss, who is on the animation faculty at CalArts, if that still happens she replied, "It happens now, too, but not at the same pace. One thing is that we often get students who already have a BFA and are on their second one (character animation doesn't offer an MFA here, though experimental does). These students are generally quite happy to start working."

And whom do they admit? I've heard John Lasseter say on several occasions that the first class of CalArts students (admitted in 1975) consisted of animation nerds who grew up wanting to be animators. As a young teenager he and other classmates were corresponding with Disney animators about how to improve their drawn animation skills. That was long before there was an animation program at the school. When he applied he was already known by some of his future teachers including Disney veterans Eric Larson, Frank Thomas and Ollie Johnston. His classmates included Tim Burton, Brad Bird, John Musker and Henry Selick.

John said as a student he would examine film prints of Disney classics using a viewer and rewinds and study details frame by frame to understand how a character moved and conveyed an action or emotion. He said he practically wore out the school's print of "Dumbo" (I think that was the feature) examining scenes over and over.

We know his determination to excel paid off, but you might not know that the public's first awareness of his genius was his winning not one, but two student Academy Awards. Both his "Lady and the Lamp" (1979) and "Nitemare" (1980), were student winners. He is still the only student to win twice and the Academy's website calls him the Student Academy Awards program's most honored alumnus.

I asked Maureen Furniss what makes the school so special. She replied, "In my opinion, there are several possible reasons. The most important, to me, is having a strong vision of our objectives and accepting students who have compatible goals. We primarily accept students based on their portfolios, unlike a lot of other schools that let students in based on grades and test scores. Another important reason is that the mix of students we get through that process adds to the intensely creative atmosphere we strive for. Because they are all so talented, they create a very dynamic learning environment. We highly value the concept of mentoring and students who come to CalArts find that the faculty are, on the whole, very much available for consultation and to provide additional opportunities based on each individual's strengths and interests."

"Also important is our strong alumni network, since our animation teachers (especially the adjuncts in character animation) often attended CalArts and are eager to come back and engage with the new generation of animators coming out of the school. Since we are located in a major hub of production, Los Angeles, our students tend to stay in the area and are able to ! benefit from the social and professional connections they make at CalArts."

"Another contributing factor is, for the experimental animation program, the legacy of Jules Engel, who created a very strong creative culture in the program that we try to maintain. Also significant, from a purely material standpoint, is our large stop-motion faculty, which is probably the biggest in the country, if not worldwide (in respect to educational institutions)."

If you are wondering about how successful some of their graduates have been, The Los Angeles Times ran "CalArts' animation alumni top $26 billion in box office grosses" on Nov. 7, 2012. In the article they mention alumni who directed successful releases in 2012: Rich Moore (Wreck-It Ralph), Tim Burton (Frankenweenie), Genndy Tartakovsky (Hotel Transylvania), Kyle Balda (Dr. Seuss' Lorax) and Brave co-directors Mark Andrews and Brenda Chapman. A few other alumni that have directed animated features are Lasseter, John Musker (Aladdin), Kirk Wise (Beauty and the Beast), Gary Trousdale (The Hunchback of Notre Dame), and Henry Selick (Coraline and Nightmare Before Christmas).

Steve Anker has been dean of the School of Film/Video at CalArts for 11 years. He told me, "There are now lots of competitors, and that several programs turn out better qualified entry level CG specialists. Brilliant talent can turn up anywhere, but overall CalArts still attracts the most talented original thinkers in the field, and the ones who most likely will make their mark on both the independent and industry animation worlds." On the success of their graduates he says, "It's an indicator of how much we have served as an engine for the industry and how much our alumni have contributed. Our alumni have revolutionized the industry."

The University of Southern California's animation program

Former Disney director Tom Sito (Little Mermaid), who now teaches at USC, tells us, "The School of Cinematic Arts at the University of Southern California is the largest, oldest film school in the world. It began in the era of Silent Film (1929) and has been supported by Hollywood royalty like Cecil B. DeMille, Walt Disney and George Lucas. USC has been teaching animation courses since 1942, teaches both undergraduate and graduate programs, and hosts scholars from around the world."

"Students not only have access to the newest in state-of-the-art digital equipment, but a faculty of veteran animation filmmakers specializing in character animation, visual effects, and experimental film. In addition, USC has the largest school of interactive games in the U.S. Those gaming students, as well as animation majors, are free to take advantage of courses in the live action school, a building full of Oscar winning film professionals. For foreign students, USC has the most students from other countries in the USA, with extensive support resources for the Korean, Chinese and Japanese student community." Sheila Sofain, an independent animator who teaches documentary animation at USC says, "USC is one of the few schools that has a strong animation program housed in a research institute. This allows us to take advantage of very strong programs in science (hence our new Science Visualization minor) and other areas. In addition, the USC animation program employs a wide variety of faculty who specialize in specific areas: Character Animation (both 2D and 3D), Documentary Animation, Experimental Animation, Visual Effects, and more. Students can concentrate in any one of these areas and work with a mentor who is a recognized expert in that area."

Kathy Smith, Chair of the John C. Hench Animation & Digital Arts department of the School of Cinematic Arts at USC, read Sheila's comments and added, "The integration of an experimental, critical theory and industry facing curriculum helps to produce artists who are innovating as well as producing high quality work. Strong faculty and an evolving curriculum are key, without leaving behind the traditional foundation of organic media converged with the cutting edge digital. This is what the program is founded on at USC and all these aspects cut across research areas such as the ones Sheila mentioned, experimental, character, visual effects, documentary, visual music sound design and science visualization."

"We expect our graduates to be thinkers, artists, researchers and scholars who can problem solve as well as produce an animated work from beginning to end. It is a comprehensive education. At the undergraduate level we designed a BA because we wanted to have our students get a strong liberal arts education as well as the core in animation and digital arts."

"We are both an experimental program and a professional industry school; we strive to create the best and most innovative work with the highest possible production levels. We continue to strive to get better and better and produce graduates that can excel across industry, academia or the arts."

She also says they have "a creative and innovative program that pushes the boundaries of what animation can be in all its forms from traditional character animation, installation animation, visual effects, motion capture and stereoscopic animation, visual music, documentary animation and science visualization."

"The BA includes a semester of study abroad in Italy -if they choose which is integrated into the curriculum so they still graduate in 4 years, again being part of a greater research university exposes the BAs to so much more and taking a language requirement helps them be more prepared for an international career. Our new website hosts a lot of information


There is also an interesting interview with Sheila Sofain about scientific visualization at:



Both USC and CalArts are noted for accepting outstanding students they assume will go on with animation careers after graduation. Both schools have outstanding faculties that inspire students to excel as creative artists. Both schools believe in teaching students over a four year period the entire process of making an animation film, from conception to completion rather than have students that focus their studies on one aspect of the process. Also both schools have weekly animation and digital arts programs where they invite speakers from industry, academia or the arts to show their cutting edge work or present technical workshops. There are differences between the two programs. One is that CalArts focuses the course of study on becoming a successful versatile character, experimental animator or animation scholar while USC provides their exceptional education as part of a liberal arts program. See the schools' websites for admission details and costs. Both have scholarships available.

Ed "Acting for Animators" Hooks says, "Worthwhile training programs are picky about the students that are accepted. The two schools you mention have high academic standards in addition to offering good instruction on a professional level. Seriously, that is the primary distinction between the really good schools and the rest."


Come celebrate, network, eat, drink and laugh.



6:30 pm Socialize
8:00 pm Present Awards and Screen the Winners

At Oddball Films
275 Capp, third floor
free, bring friends and special treats to share with others
ASIFA-SF will provide some of the basics for this party



Best in Show
David Chai, A Knock on My Door

Independent Animation

First Place - Corrie Francis Park's A Tangled Tale (exquisite sand animation)
Second Place (three way tie) - Ben Ridgway, Cosmic Flower Unfolding (exceptional visionary art)
Michael Langan's Choros (remarkable experimental visuals)
Peter Parr's Summer Dream (exceptional drawings)
Best Original Music - Greg Holgate's Cosmo with music by Nik Phelps
Best Kid Friendly Animation - Mark West's The Little Red Hen
Bizarre Visual Humor Award -- Bill Plympton's Drunker Than A Skunk


First Prize - Edith and the Bear by Hillary Bradfield, San Jose State
Second Prize - Tamara by Jason Marino & Craig Kitzmann, San Jose State
Best Designed - Dance for Your Life, Puny Human by Justin Connolly, Univ. of Southern Calif.
Most Provocative - Palestine by Martin Segobia, SF State

Young animators

Certificates of Merit to students of Tim Harrington at BayCat

Oddball Films is located at 275 Capp St. between 17th and 18th Street. It is a giant 3rd floor warehouse loft full of rare 16mm films. Stephen Parr provides historic footage to filmmakers and runs a great film series in this space. Capp runs parallel to and between Mission and Van Ness. The warehouse is near Muni, the 16th St. Bart Station and the Victoria Theatre.

Volunteers are needed to clean up after the party


Cover illustration by Ricci Carrasquillo

Special thanks to the Randall Museum for hosting our June Spring Animation Festival

ASIFA-SF is a chapter of: Association Internationale du Film d'Animation with almost 40 chapters around the world. Local membership is $26 a year or $42 for joint local & international membership.

Our website and blog is: www.asifa-sf.org
Mail can be sent to: karlcohen@earthlink.net
or to PO Box 225263, SF CA 94122

OUR NEXT ISSUE COMES OUT ABOUT SEPT. 1. It will include two articles about Annecy and one on a festival in Lebanon. We never publish an issue in August.