Monday, October 1, 2012
Today, October 1st 2012, marks the 30th anniversary of EPCOT, the second park to open as part of Walt Disney World in Orlando, Florida. Though I'll always love The Magic Kingdom best of all, EPCOT runs a very close second for me, and I feel a particularly close connection to that park. You see, back on opening day, Oct. 1st 1982, I was gathered along with my parents and sister in the huge crowd of thousands patiently waiting outside the gate, incredibly excited to know that we would be among the first guests to enter this long anticipated new theme park that had such an interesting evolution.
Originally EPCOT had started out to be something far more ambitious, the "Experimental Prototype Community Of Tomorrow", the personal model of an actual working city as envisioned by Walt Disney himself. Sadly, Walt passed away before this grand experiment could be put into motion, and the plan for an actual working and living community was ultimately decided to be too great a challenge for those who were now in charge of running Walt Disney Productions. To be honest, I don't blame them a bit. It would have been a huge venture, fraught with potential problems and financial risk, and without Walt there to guide them they seriously doubted whether they could make it work.
So instead, they re-envisioned EPCOT Center as more of a permanent World's Fair, a showcase for new ideas in the area to be known as Future World, and a second area featuring a series of international pavilions circling a manmade lagoon to be called World Showcase. I would imagine that the success of Canada's own EXPO '67, that was a keystone of our centennial celebrations built in Montreal, was also a huge influence on how EPCOT Center evolved into the new theme park it would become.
I loved EPCOT in that first visit on opening day, as it was a thrill of a lifetime to see Disney history unfolding before my eyes. I have several favourite memories of that visit, including that first time experiencing The Universe of Energy, where the guests were directed to their seats in the large theatre before a film began on the history of oil formation during the age of the dinosaurs. As the film ended, the curtains parted and, much to our surprise, the "theatre" broke up into a series of huge ride vehicles that then lined up one by one to enter through the curtains into a fog-filled, musty smelling land of life-sized audio-animatronic dinosaurs. Perhaps audiences today are somewhat jaded, but back in 1982 this ride was truly state of the art!
My other very fond personal memory happened at the finale of The American Adventure show in the American pavilion in World Showcase. Aside from the technical marvel of the very sophisticated audio-animatronic historic figures that told the story of America's turbulent beginnings and evolution, what really sticks with me is what happened during the filmed portion that plays out afterward. As the attraction's theme music swells majestically, images fade in and out toward us of many key moments in the 20th Century. When filmed images of John F. Kennedy, then Martin Luther King appear, there was spontaneous applause from the audience. But when they are followed not long thereafter by Walt Disney himself, the crowd rose to its feet applauding wildly. It was one of those moments where you had to be there to feel the huge emotional response in that theatre.
Two years after visiting EPCOT, I was to begin my own career at Disney, working initially in the Canadian Merchandising Division in Toronto for 6 years, then transferring to Florida to work in Walt Disney World's Marketing Art Department for an additional 4 years. I started in WDW in 1990, and in 1992 EPCOT celebrated its 10th Anniversary. As one of the character illustrators in that department, I was asked to illustrate the article about EPCOT's 10th that was featured in The Disney News magazine. They wanted a painting that would promote the celebration show that took place around The Seven Seas Lagoon in World Showcase, but in a cartoon style featuring the Disney characters. The show admittedly had some problems that would become apparent a couple weeks after its debut. For one thing, it took place at midday, and I have to say that fireworks are not too impressive at that time - more visible smoke than light display against the sunny Florida sky! Additionally, they had performers flying around in para-planes above the lagoon, dressed in Disney character costumes. Though the character heads were constructed of a lightweight mesh, rather than solid fibreglass like the walkaround versions, the pilots found that their vision was still not that great through the coloured mesh, and Disney decided to cancel that part of the show before the possibility of some tragic accident occurring!
I enjoyed doing the illustration immensely, and the article below shows the stages of the creative process in the way an illustration evolves from concept sketch through to final painting:
Monday, September 3, 2012
Over on the blog by my friend, Kevin Kidney, longtime Disney artist, Kevin has just posted some photos of the "Big Figs" or Big Figurines that were created over the years for the Disney Catalogue and Disney Stores merchandise. Kevin and fellow artist, Jody Daily did the initial concept drawings for the figures, establishing the pose usually based on a specific moment from the film they appeared in. After that, rotation drawings would be created from the concepts in several views in order to visually aid the sculptor who would be crafting the figure dimensionally out of clay. Kevin has kindly pointed out that I did the rotation drawings for a number of them and, if memory serves, I think this is an accurate list of the ones I had a hand in that are pictured in his post:
Jiminy Cricket (in hobo garb)
Mickey Mouse Club Morty (one of Mickey's two nephews, though it could be Ferdy)
Penguin Waiter (from Mary Poppins)
Pinocchio and Jiminy
Minnie and Goofy as Disneyland tourists (Did I do Mickey and Donald as well? I can't recall!)
The White Rabbit
Dumbo and Timothy
The Three Caballeros
I'd previously posted the rotations for Pinocchio and The White Rabbit a few years ago here. More recently I had posted the ones of The Three Caballeros here.
Here are several of the others that I've managed to find among my files of past Disney work:
Saturday, August 25, 2012
Sunday, August 19, 2012
Frequent commenter, Ricardo Cantoral, pointed this Blu-Ray box art out to me in the comments on my last post. I am likewise appalled by how lackluster (and plain ugly) the art direction is on this box cover. Especially when you consider how rich the colour was in the original version of True Grit, as evidenced by the still I've included below.
Unfortunately, a lot of recent Blu-Ray releases of classic films from that era are suffering the same fate when it comes to the way the idiots in the various home video departments are choosing to market them to the consumer. It's quite obvious from the way recent films look that Hollywood has turned its collective back on real colour, preferring to sap it all out through digital desaturation technology and replacing it with what amounts to a blue, brown or gold monochrome with a few key areas pumped up with a complementary colour for contrast. I personally find the process ugly and maddening, resulting in me shunning most films released today.
Therefore, I think it's terribly ignorant of modern Hollywood to foist their tasteless choices onto older movie buffs, by way of marketing classic colour films of the glorious past with this repugnant box art. Here are some more examples of this obnoxious trend:
|Not only is this devoid of the movie's colour, but look at the lousy composition, with the image cut off in the middle of Ratso Rizzo's right eye!|
|Though Hitchcock shot this classic caper in vivid Technicolor, it appears that Cary Grant and Grace Kelly are consoling each other over having both been stricken with jaundice!|
|Judging by what they've done to poor Popeye Doyle here, I think there is more likely a French's Mustard Connection.|
And finally, here's one that I find unforgivable. This new seven disc set on Blu-Ray of the films of Marilyn Monroe is being marketed with this washed out black and white still (against a sterile white background), slightly accented with very muted colours, when most of the films in this collection are some of the most gorgeous Technicolor films of all time! I'll probably end up purchasing it for the (presumably) sharp, vivid colour prints of these great films, but I'll be doing so DESPITE this awful marketing decision on the box art. Seriously, why couldn't they take a cue from the box art of the DVD collection pictured below and present Marilyn in all her Technicolor beauty?
I think I need to clear my mind of all this modern Hollywood tastelessness by watching Marilyn's iconic Diamonds Are A Girl's Best Friend number from Gentlemen Prefer Blondes:
Thursday, August 9, 2012
A couple months ago, after much debate, I made the decision to phone in a cancellation order on my cable TV service. That cancellation took effect a few weeks ago, so I am now without TV reception whatsoever. Fact is, I haven't liked what TV has offered for many years now, so I really couldn't justify paying the exorbitant monthly fee for it anymore. There are numerous reasons as to why I no longer enjoy TV, but for now I'm just going to specify one of them. (With more rants to undoubtedly follow!)
Take a look at the DVD cover shots I've posted above of a cross sampling of several current TV dramas. In my opinion, based on these cast pics, they might as well all be from the same show. Note the similarities throughout:
- The cast members are all rather stand-offish from each other, with no interaction among themselves. The poses are pretty stiff, straight up and down (with a few exceptions). They all seem very self aware, caught up in their own presumed self-importance, hands on the hips and crossed arms all geared to intimidate. These cast shots all remind me of the way contemporary rock bands pose in their publicity shots. Ugh!
- Aside from a central figure who may be an older character actor, the ensemble casts are all blandly attractive young hipsters, all obsessed with looking cool and aloof, the young men usually sporting several days of facial hair, the gals all trying to be as badass in attitude as their male counterparts. They all seem so devoid of individual personalities and mannerisms that they are pretty much indistinguishable from each other!
- None of these shows feature real colour. I've posted about this ugly trend of desaturation before, but it's become the default look for all television dramas as well as most dramatic films these days. They all use their silly computers to remove all the natural colour and give everything a blue-grey tinge or tamper with it in various other ways. Additionally, all these shows are as dark visually as they are in tone, with foreground characters kept mostly in shadow, yet being backlit with unpleasant florescent light or strong blue-grey window light. Despite some of these shows taking place in hot, sunny climes, the warm colours of a hot sunny day are never evident.
To be fair, the only one of these shows I've actually seen is Criminal Minds (and a bit of one episode of Warehouse 13, which was wretched), but I'm certain that I've probably witnessed bits and pieces of most of these and numerous other likeminded shows, so I really don't think I'm off-base with my overall assessments. In the case of these contemporary crime dramas like Criminal Minds, CSI, NCIS, etc, they all seem to feature ever more grisly criminal acts shown in nauseating detail. The main characters are all just ciphers, not really personalities at all, every last one of them acting in the exact same manner in every episode, one by one putting in their two cents worth of analytical deduction in those roundtable scenes. And the overall tone of every episode seems to be one of unrelenting grimness!
In contrast, the crime dramas of the 60s and 70s that I grew up with, kept the violent imagery to a minimum, instead building the shows around the charismatic personalities of the detectives, and allowing some light, joyful moments to break up any chance of slipping into grim monotony. Detectives like Joe Mannix, Jim Rockford, and Lt. Columbo seemed far more human and likable than any of their counterparts today. And from the colour and lighting, you knew all three of these particular shows took place in sunny LA!
So, there you have it - the first of what may become several more rants about what television has deteriorated into. Sorry, but that's how this self-confessed curmudgeon feels about it.
Tuesday, August 7, 2012
I was first aware of Marvin Hamlisch when the Paul Newman/Robert Redford film, The Sting premiered back in 1973. Marvin didn't actually compose the music for that particular film, but he adapted the ragtime songs of Scott Joplin into a highly appealing score. Coincidentally, I'd just watched the blu-ray of The Sting last week, after having not seen the film in many years, and it was as entertaining a caper as I remembered it to be.
Hamlisch composed many film scores, such as The Way We Were and Sophie's Choice, yet was perhaps even more renowned for his stage work, especially the now iconic musical, A Chorus Line, which probably inspired many a music theatre student over the years. He also worked as a conductor and arranger for such notable song stylists as Barbra Streisand and Liza Minnelli. From the TV of my youth, I recall many times seeing Marvin Hamlisch on The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson, as well as the various daytime talk shows hosted by the likes of Mike Douglas, Merv Griffin and Dinah Shore. He would always play samples of his music on these shows, back when one could actually hear real music on TV, before everything turned to rubbish in the 90s (about the time Carson retired and Jay Leno took over). His affable, "nerdy" persona was always a delightful addition to any show he appeared on.
With the loss of Marvin Hamlisch, there is one less great composer to create movie magic, although the number of great film composers being steadily utilized has been declining steadily for years now. Only John Williams (and mostly due to Spielberg) and a handful of others seem to get regular work these days. Unfortunately, Hollywood prefers to throw a bunch of inane pop/rock tunes together and call it a film soundtrack, rather than hire a real composer to create an evocative music score. Anyway, I'm real sorry to see Marvin Hamlisch leave us, as they sure don't make them like that anymore.
Here's an interesting little piece where Marvin describes the process of what led to his song, The Way We Were:
Thursday, August 2, 2012
Yes, today The Cartoon Cave pays tribute to the great Peter O'Toole on his 80th birthday. This colourful Irish actor always seemed to make decadence look good. Yet despite a lifetime of smoking, drinking, and other excess, this ol' rascal is still going strong today!
He made his indelible mark on American film early on in his career when he portrayed T.E. Lawrence in Lawrence of Arabia in 1962, which garnered him an Oscar nomination that year, although he didn't win. He could play drama and light comedy equally well, spoofing his "pretty boy" matinee idol looks in What's New Pussycat? (1965), where he uses a line repeatedly throughout the film as a running gag: "It may sound funny to you, but when the light hits me a certain way, I'm handsome!"
One of my personal favourite roles was when he costarred opposite Audrey Hepburn in the comic heist film, How To Steal a Million (1966). Their onscreen chemistry is delicious as Audrey's character ropes Peter O'Toole's (supposed) art thief into helping her steal a statuette from a museum exhibit, all in an attempt to prevent the authorities from discovering that the figurine is actually a forgery sculpted by her eccentric artist father, played by Hugh Griffith. I've seen this film many times over, yet it never fails to delight me.
Of course, I'm also a fan of O'Toole's later work, when he successfully transitioned to character actor roles after his classic good looks had faded, sadly due to his hard partying ways as much as age. He won rave reviews when he starred in The Stunt Man (1980) as a megalomaniac movie director who manipulates his actors as if he were some diabolical god-like puppeteer. However, my favourite role was when he played the faded swashbuckling movie star, Alan Swann in My Favorite Year (1982). The character is modeled on Errol Flynn, of course, who had lived a life of debauchery that probably outdid O'Toole's own, and O'Toole plays him to the hilt. The film is also a loving nod to live television of the 50's, with Joseph Bologna playing a Sid Caesar-like host of a weekly sketch comedy show. The film was directed by Richard Benjamin and the executive producer was Mel Brooks, who started his career writing for Sid Caesar on Your Show of Shows, and on whom the character, Benjy Stone, played in the film by Mark Linn Baker is based.
Unfortunately for his many fans though, after a lifetime of memorable work, Peter O'Toole just last month decided to announce his retirement in the following letter:
“It is time for me to chuck in the sponge. To retire from films and stage. The heart for it has gone out of me: it won’t come back. My professional acting life, stage and screen, has brought me public support, emotional fulfillment and material comfort. It has brought me together with fine people, good companions with whom I’ve shared the inevitable lot of all actors: flops and hits.
However, it’s my belief that one should decide for oneself when it is time to end one’s stay, so I bid the profession a dry-eyed and profoundly grateful farewell.”
While I'm sad to know there won't be any more wonderful performances forthcoming, I wish Peter O'Toole a happy retirement, and I treasure the film legacy he has left us.
Here is the trailer for How To Steal a Million to enjoy:
Tuesday, July 24, 2012
Lynda had only had a handful of small parts on TV and in film before being chosen to play Wonder Woman, but she turned out to be just perfect for the role. Having won Miss World USA pageant in 1972, Lynda was a statuesque beauty with a swanlike neck and big blue eyes. However, it was more than just her good looks that she brought to the role of Wonder Woman. Lynda was smart enough to know that the key to the character was in playing her with absolute sincerity (just like Christopher Reeve would do with Superman three years later). Despite there being an element of humour to the show, it was not what I would consider to be high camp, however. It tried to remain pretty true to its original comic book roots, including having an animated title sequence and text boxes to indicate where a new scene was taking place.
The character was an ageless Amazon, born and raised on the uncharted Paradise Island (set somewhere within the Bermuda Triangle, according to the pilot episode), and populated solely by females. So having made the journey from Paradise Island to America, Lynda Carter played the role as a wide-eyed innocent, not completely naive mind you, but initially unfamiliar with the ways of modern man in the outside world during World War II. Since the series was created in the 70's when the Women's Liberation movement was in full swing, there was some feminist leanings to the show. However, the feminism of Wonder Woman was of a gentle variety, as the character would often be aghast at the cruelty and warmongering of mankind, while extolling the virtues of her own female populated society that preached kindness and lived a harmonious and peaceful existence. It should be noted that Wonder Woman uses her powers only in the role of a peacekeeper, never becoming a fierce aggressor. Her desire to protect mankind is not unlike that of a mother doing all she can to protect her children. This is the aspect I appreciate about the show's particular brand of feminism - that compassion for others shows a greater strength of character than to wield force over them. How refreshingly different this is from today's female superheroes and forensic detectives etc, who all sneer cynically and aspire to be every bit as bad-ass as their male counterparts.
Incidentally, I'm happy to hear that Lynda Carter is still enjoying great success today in her other career as a singer, which is what she started out doing prior to pursuing acting. In fact, my caricaturist colleague, Sam Gorrie, who also does cosplay as Wonder Woman in Las Vegas, just recently got to see her idol in concert at the Suncoast Hotel, seen here. Pretty neat, huh?
So, once again, a very Happy Birthday to lovely Lynda Carter. I hope this classy and elegant woman continues to enjoy success while keeping her legion of fans entertained!
Sunday, July 8, 2012
I heard the sad news that Ernest Borgnine died today at the ripe old age of 95. What with this and the passing of Andy Griffith last week, we've lost two major stars of the classic TV era. Of course, apart from his starring role on McHale's Navy, Ernie was even more well known as a veteran character actor from the movies, earning an Academy Award for his poignant portrayal of the lonely New York butcher in the heartbreaking Marty, scripted by the brilliant Paddy Chayefsky.
It was just two years ago that Ernest Borgnine was a special guest at the Toronto Fan Expo, where he was signing autographs and chatting with his fans. Though I am certainly an avid autograph collector, I've made it my policy to only seek out celebrities that I actually really admire, which is why I attended the event that year specifically to meet Ernie, as well as Julie Newmar (the Catwoman on TV's Batman). As is often the case at Fan Expo, the longest line-ups of fans are usually found at the tables with the current crop of young actors and actresses from various sci-fi/fantasy movies and TV series. I feel sorry for the veteran performers who don't usually get as much traffic at their tables, although it works out well for me, as these are the only performers that I truly wish to meet.
As there were only a handful of people in line before me, I was able to meet Ernie fairly quickly. He greeted all of his fans with that familiar big gap-toothed grin and he was just so warm and inviting with everyone who came up to meet with him. Whereas some of the stars were not permitting photos to be taken (due to paid for photo ops being organized later in the day), Ernie was only too happy to pose for photos with his fans. I always ink up two originals of my caricatures so that I can present one to the star as a gift and get them to sign the second one for me, so that is what you see here in these pics that accompany this post. Ernie seemed genuinely delighted with my caricature of him in his role of TV's Quinton McHale.
Saturday, June 9, 2012
I thought I'd acknowledge Donald Duck's 78th anniversary by posting some of the Disney merchandise that I had a hand in helping to create a few years back. Though most of my Disney work was in the form of traditional cartoon illustration, there were also many figural projects that required a series of rotational drawings in order to help the sculptor visualize it in three dimensions before going to work on it.
|MMC Donald Duck Rotations|
This piece was to celebrate The Mickey Mouse Club TV show from the 1950s, and I did rotations for both this Donald with the gong and a Mickey figure in bandleader costume, as the two were featured in the opening titles of that show.
|Mickey Mouse Club Donald Duck Figurine|
I was quite happy with the way this figurine turned out, and the pic above was taken of the actual piece that I'd bought at The Disney Store at the time it was made available for purchase. I only wish I'd bought the one of Mickey as well!
|Snow Globes Rotations|
|Donald Duck Snow Globes Figurine|
|Three Caballeros Rotations|
|Three Caballeros Big Figurines|
Anyway, I hope you enjoyed seeing the process behind creating these sculpted figurines of Donald Duck. I have other examples of my rotation drawings of various Disney characters that I'll continue to post from time to time.
Thursday, June 7, 2012
The Dean Martin Variety Show was a great example of the long popular variety show format that has sadly been missing from network TV for too many years now. I personally feel that the variety show was an integral part of the TV schedule, as it brought together top entertainers from TV, movies, and the music business. The benefit was that it kept all popular entertainers of that era very much in the public eye, creating a shared culture for all viewers to enjoy together. We really don't have that today, what with the severe fragmentation of the television audience due to the "500 Channel Universe", where no single show gets much of a market share. Frankly, I was a lot happier back when there were no more than about two dozen TV channels and just the three big U.S. networks creating shows that were genuinely entertaining. Not so anymore, in my opinion.
While most of the variety shows were rehearsed laboriously every week until the day they were taped in front of a live audience, on Dean's show only the guests rehearsed all week. Dean's contract stipulated that he didn't have to show up until taping day if he didn't want to, as Dean liked to keep his image real loose, even stumbling over his reading of the cue cards to add to the comic effect and his on-screen image of being a bit tipsy with the booze. It was an individual approach that worked so well for Dean, as he knew that his natural charm would suffer if he had to adhere to a tightly scripted format.
It also helped when he had just the right chemistry with his guests, as I think is evident here in this clip alongside cute and adorable Goldie Hawn, who was then one of the stars on the very popular comedy review, Laugh-In:
Wednesday, May 23, 2012
Yes, it's been a long time since I last posted something. Anyway, here's something I've done as a result of playing with Photoshop CS5. Admittedly, I'm not likely to ever be a "digital painter" in the truest sense, as I find that my efforts to paint without benefit of a containing outline just don't seem to look very good. While it's frustrating to try and achieve the fully rendered approach that others do so well, I suspect that I'd never be totally happy with it even if I could do one to my satisfaction. I am a cartoonist who happens to love the power and graphic boldness of a line drawing, so I'm always going to prefer working like that.
It's for this very reason, actually, that I'll always prefer traditional hand drawn animation to CG, as I still believe that you can make a bolder visual statement through outline describing the illusion of solid form than you can with the fully rendered CG approach. While it's true that I'm adding in all the highlights and shadows in my drawing similar to the look of CG, I find that I really need that outline to hold it all together and make it pop. Anyway, I'll continue to experiment with CS5, since it does seem to give a huge improvement in the way the brush tool handles a controlled line compared to what I was achieving with CS3.
Monday, April 30, 2012
On Saturday, April 28 2012, I once again participated in Sheridan College's Open House, drawing caricatures of the visitors to the event to help raise money for the Animation program, in which I teach 2nd Year Character Design. Here's most of the ones I drew that day: