Monday, September 22, 2008

Riley St. James Cast- Wave 1

This is a preliminary cast sketch for an animated fantasy/steampunk/sci-fi/gaslight comedy show that kind of fell through the cracks, but I like the look of these characters, at any rate.

Thursday, July 31, 2008

Caine Fest

Michael Cain

Michael Caine.

Michael. Caine.

I'm not usually partial to any actor in particular, but for whatever reason, when I hear Mr. Caine is involved in a project, I'm always intrigued. He's an actor that I love to watch on screen; he lights up whatever he's in, even recent disasters like Bewitched and Goldmember aren't without their charm because of this man's presence.

This coming Saturday (8/1/08), some friends and I are hosting the First Annual Michael Caine Film Festival, starting at 10 in the morning and going until the late hours of the night. We'll be showing five eclectic films from Caine's six decades in cinema:

1) The Italian Job, 1969, dir. Peter Collinson
We start our film-fest with a bang! I haven't seen this film (or the recent remake), but I picked up a copy at a Barnes and Noble DVD sale. From friends who have seen it, I've heard it's a fun romp with cool cars and a suave and sexy Caine as the leading man. And I can't stop hearing about how awesome the car chases are. For that alone, The Italian Job earned it's place as the exciting opener for our soon-to-be-annual festival.

2) Noises Off..., 1992, dir. Peter Bogdanovich
Our next picture is a goof-ball, ensemble comedy, featuring Caine, Carol Burnett, John Ritter, Christopher Reeve, Denholm Elliot (MARCUS!!) and Larry from Perfect Strangers. Again, I haven't seen this picture, but I've heard it's a light-hearted farce, and the only true comedy on our roster. Any chance for Caine to stretch his comedic skills is fine by me. Plus, we need something like that to lead into our next picture...

3) Children Of Men, 2006, dir. Alfonso Cuaron.
Throwing Caine Fest was the perfect excuse to go out and pick up a copy of this really haunting film. Most of us here have probably seen it, and if not, I hope you're not waiting for a Caine-Fest to watch it. Caine, a supporting player here, famously based his charater Jasper on John Lennon (a good friend of Caines). Sure to bring the mood of the room collectively down, our next picture is much lighter fare.

4) Muppet Christmas Carol, 1992, dir. Brian Henson
We built everyone up with Noises Off, we tore 'em right down with Children of Men, and I figure we need to bring them to a place that's happy and warm. I barely remember this movie, but it's the Muppets...and it's Michael Caine. There are some musical numbers I remember, and I do recall some of the puppetry being downright spooky. The funny thing about this film is the battle over it's DVD release. Here's a real gas from the user review:

"The five stars are for the MOVIE, not necessarily this 2005 DVD release . . . . (Now that I have seen the new DVD, I give it 3 1/2 or 4 stars. See explanation below.)

In Oct. 2002, Disney Home Video released its first DVD formatted THE MUPPET CHRISTMAS CAROL. The response was both pro and con. The response that was negative dealt with two primary issues:

(1) That DVD was pan-and-scan (AKA "full screen" or "1.33:1") instead of widescreen, and, in fact, unlike many DVDs, did not even offer the viewer a choice between pan-and-scan and widescreen. For fans of the movie who prefer widescreen, this was a great disappointment!

(2) That DVD also removed the "When Love Is Gone" song. Disney has not, to my knowledge, offered an explanation for the removal. I would guess that it was because the song is "sad" and someone at Disney probably decided that such a "sad" song did not belong on a DVD intended for children.

Thus, that 2002 DVD had TWO strikes against it as far as MUPPET CHRISTMAS CAROL purists were concerned. At the Amazon site for that earlier DVD, you can find more than 130 reviews, many of which express PROFOUND disappointment and which elaborate in more detail my two points above.

Fast forward to 2005, just a couple of months ago. Disney announced a new release of this film--The Muppet Christmas Carol - Kermit's 50th Anniversary Edition. Eager fans immediately assumed that this would be the long-awaited anamorphic widescreen version. However, various statements and press releases listed the movie as 1.33:1 or, in other words, pan-and-scan. When this was discovered, the fans HOWLED at what seemed like a betrayal and an absence of common-sense by the people at Disney. THEN, within a few days of the official announcement, Disney "back-peddled" and issued a new announcement that the first one was in error and that the 50th Anniversary version would be in BOTH pan-and-scan and widescreen. The ***SIGH*** of relief was like a wind that rushed across the globe!

But now comes the TRICKY PART that tries to answer your specific question. Some fans who have contacts within the industry or have means of mining the Internet, discovered that the CONTENT of the pan-and-scan and the widescreen versions that would be on the same disc would be different in that one would have the afore mentioned song and one would not. As mentioned HERE in these reviews for this new release, apparently the version to contain the song is the pan-and-scan version--which, if it's true--is a totally incomprehensible creative decision. (Why would the the version that was TRUE to the widescreen format be missing the song, thereby compromising that version?)

Right now, as a GIANT FAN of MUPPET CHRISTMAS CAROL, who has longed for a widescreen DVD since the advent of DVD, I am hoping that there has been some miscommunication going on (for example, look above at the official aspect ratio listed in the Product Details. On today's date of Oct. 13, it's listed as 1.33:1, so the facts about this release seem to be unfortunately garbled!)

Incidentally, there exists a WIDESCREEN (though obviously not anamorphic) Laserdisc version of the film that INCLUDES the song "When Love Is Gone." I know because I own it . . . and it is among my most precious possessions!!

All we can do is wait until November 29 to find out what this new release will truly hold. I personally hope there will be an anamorphic widescreen version that also includes "When Love Is Gone."

ADDENDUM: Well, yesterday was November 29 and I picked up this DVD. There's good news, bad news, and some qualified good news. The anamorphic widescreen image far exceeds any previous video or DVD version. However, the rumours are TRUE that the widescreen does NOT include the wonderful song "When Love Is Gone," and that the fullscreen version DOES include it as "Extended with Deleted Scene." However, for the diehard, there is this awkward-but-workable compensation: The two versions are on the same side of the DVD, thus when the widescreen version comes to the point when the song should be sung, you can use your remote to go back to the menu, choose fullscreen, go to chapter 5, listen to the song, and then go back to widescreen to view the rest of this glorious Christmas movie. It is a pain and an unfathomably poor decision by the suits at Disney!

Since a complete widescreen version obviously does exist in the Disney archives (the Laserdisc version in the mid 90s was both widescreen AND complete), one can only wonder how and why Disney made this very insensitive and unprofessional decision!

Neverthless, FINALLY having MUPPET CHRISTMAS CAROL in anamorphic widescreen is definitely a plus. It is the best resolution (though not perfect) that has ever been available in any home media format, and the Dolby Digital sound is quite acceptable.

Since this is likely to be the last DVD version of this movie for quite some time, we should (1) continue to ponder Disney's callous obliviousness and its clear childish stubbornness to do what's right, while (2) counting our blessings that at least we are nonetheless PART way to the ideal MUPPET CHRISTMAS CAROL DVD.

Talk about MIXED emotions! I think that one problem is that nobody at Disney is clear that the film is a true work of art, instead of "just a movie stamped out for kids." I think nobody there realizes that the film deserves far more respect than the grudging, lackluster, shoddy efforts they have so far foisted on the public. I am very pleased to see the many astute reviewers for this new edition over and again make this point exceedingly clear! THE WORST OF IT IS THAT IT DOESN'T MAKE ANY SENSE!

BTW, on November 29, Garan Grey posted a review mentioning several EXCELLENT points underscoring Disney's faulty decision-making--especially about the lackluster special features, recycled menu design, and so forth, in what is supposed to be a very special "special edtion"! However, this reviewer says: "By the way, it seems that the "widescreen" version is just matted down from the full 35mm 1.33 frame, so the fullscreen version is not missing any of the picture." In point of fact, ALL pan&scan versions that I have seen (INCLUDING the pan&scan on this very disc) SQUISHES the titles, cuts Muppets off the sides of the movie, and even sometimes squishes scenes so the characters look tall and skinny. Which is WHY I have been waiting for the widescreen for years! In general, I'd say that Garan Grey is definitely incorrect on this point.

Carl Cannella, too, has made some fine points!"

And after we've exhausted the Michael Caine with Muppet film category, we're wrapping the evening up with one of my personal favorite pictures:

5) The Man Who Would Be King, 1975, John Huston
By Caine's own admission, they don't make movies like this anymore (and he said that in 1975). This picture, based on a Rudyard Kipling short story, is all adventure, and co-stars the equally affable Sean Connery. The DVD was a bit hard to come by, and many people kind of squint and turn their heads when I tell them it's a favorite, so I encourage all who haven't seen it to try and find it. The adventure it stirs in it's viewers is the perfect way to close the night.

I'll give updates on how the Michael Caine Film Festival is received on Sunday/Monday, but until then, I encourage you guys to throw together a Caine-Fest of your own, or take the opportunity to discuss some of this fine actors' fine work.

Monday, March 10, 2008

The Creative Process: Influences 1

The cause of my late night and the subject of several confusing thoughts, Jackson Publick

Let this be a warning to all of you out there; do not listen to The Sound of Young America podcasts before bed. You will not be able to fall asleep; you will only lay awake, looking at the ceiling, and be generally inspired-like.

I was listening to an interview between Jesse Thom, the host of said radio show, and Jackson Publick, co-creator, co-star, co-writer, director, voice over guy, etc. behind The Venture Brothers, an AdultSwim cartoon which is among my very short list of "Favorite TV Shows Ever." Jackson said some pretty impressive, inspiring things, but what struck me the most was how he incorporated his childhood influences into the tapestry of Venture Brothers. There's Johnny Quest, there's Hardy Boys, there's the Space Race, there's Johnathon Swift. It's all there, and it makes for a really genuine, personal show.

Now, this is really inspiring to hear, because I happen to be working on an animated pilot of my own, which is very much influenced by Venture Bros. But where else can we go? In order to make a real and personal universe for our pilot, we should go back and see where our own creative ideas bloomed from. This won't benefit strictly the pilot, either; by knowing where I come from, I can better shape where I'm going in all of my creative endeavors.

So, for the sake of my own creative therapy, I'm going to try to list where I drew from the well of inspiration throughout my life. Bare with me, and I promise next time I'll update with some pretty pictures of my own.

When I was really young, my dad used to read abridgments of classic stories to me and my brother. I particularly remember the stories of Moby Dick, The Tell Tale Heart, and The Call of the Wild, Treasure Island. These books told tales of adventure and excitement and that has appealed to me ever since.

Moby Dick inspired me to love adventure stories as a child and probably gave me my current
fear of whales

Other than that, cartoons pretty much ruled my life. Garfield was a staple of our family, as was Snoopy, and reading the colorful comics page of the newspaper always excited me, even if I only looked at the pictures. I also watched a whole lot of Looney Tunes, and especially loved Bugs Bunny (with an admiration I hold to this day). I was also fortunate to grow up with some very respectable Looney Tunes homages, Tiny Toon Adventures and Animaniacs. These were all old fashioned, classic, fun comedies.

I was always a Bugs fan, my brother liked Daffy. I clearly made the better choice.

Around this time, I started getting into superheroes, and this transition was much easier considering the fantastic Batman: The Animated Series. My dad took us to see the animated Batman movie, and my dad wouldn't take us to ANY movies we wanted to see. This opened the floodgates to Superman, the Green Lantern, Spider-Man, all the greats. The ironic thing is I never really picked up a comic book. So I got my love of comic book heroes from animated versions of them. Considering the material, however, it's no surprise I garnered a love for the genre.

Bad. Ass.

Then came Calvin and Hobbes, the event of my life. I really can't say much I haven't said before, but it became the template of my whole life and continues to bring me such real and immense joy. I don't know where I'd be without it.

I mean...c'mon, duh.

The next big jump for me, though, came in 1997, when George Lucas became my God. I lost myself in Star Wars and didn't find my way out until around 2001, when I realized that the prequels and the re-mastered originals were pretty lame, but AT THE TIME...I was hooked something fierce. It lead me to another current love, Indiana Jones, and more surprisingly, a LucasArts adventure game called The Curse of Monkey Island. Monkey Island was all the coolness of an Indiana Jones adventure with a more goofy sense of humor. Plus it was about pirates! I must've played through that game 50+ times.

Stylized genre locals were only one of many draws Monkey Island had over a boy like me.

I think it's fair to say a good dose of humor and a good dose of grandiose adventure (with a slight hint of fantasy) got me through those turbulent years of the 1990's. When my influences are boiled down into that easy to digest sound byte, it becomes fairly clear that my taste's really haven't changed much. Of course, my list of influences goes on (especially so once I hit college), but considering how long this post actually is, and considering it's 3AM, I think I'll save it for another day.

Be creative, be happy.


Thursday, March 6, 2008

Probably a Waste of my time- The Traveling Wilbury's Comic

Two weeks ago, my sketch group, Wilhelm, had an hour long performance at the Student Union. It was a lot of fun and we were received really well. And although I'm sure I can fill a whole update with how our show went, that's what the Wilhelm blog is for!

Anyway, prior to our sketches, we decided to do some longform improv to warm the audience up. So myself, Dan Emmons, and Sean Rose opened the show as The Traveling Wilbury's, UConn's newest longform troupe. And what was fun was drawing the little caricatures of the actual Wilbury's on our show flier.

These little sketches, of course, turned into talk of transforming the Traveling Wilburys, pop. musics greatest supergroup, into a gritty, Justice League of America/League of Extraordinary Gentleman type comic book. Sean and I plotted some of it out: George Harrison would be the leader, the mystic guru, Jeff Lynne would be the techno/computer wiz, Roy Orbison would be the veteran coming out of retirement, Bob Dylan would be a violent vigilante, and Tom Petty would be the new guy with everything to prove.

And here are two little sketches I drew when I was bored.

Tom Petty and Bob Dylan. Bubbles read:
"Weren't you a little hard on him?"
"You can't be too hard on criminals. Welcome to the Wilbury's, kid"

Bob Dylan and Tom Petty as Good Cop/Bad Cop.

I'm currently trying to work out a George Harrison and a Jeff Lynne, although I have no idea what I'm going to do with Roy Orbison.

In a perfect world I could spend all day drawing a Wilbury's comic book.


Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Graduated Cylinder: A Jaded Look Back

In the third grade, I read Calvin and Hobbes for the first time, and was immediatly and permanently changed; I was to draw cartoons from that point out. The next great experience for me was finding an AOL Kids Only community called Blackberry Creek. I was in the 6th Grade, and found the place very compelling; and the best part of all was a little subsection called 'Comics By Kids'. There, kids around my age would make shitty comic strips in MS Paint, upload them to the site, and read and comment on each other's really shitty, elementary school MS Paint comic strips. It was like discovering fire; finally, a whole community of kids who loved comics as much as I did! I took to it like glue, and for the next two or three years drew countless comic strips for my internet buddies.

Blackberry Creek died a painful death at the hands of the Government (something about publicly showing screennames of kids under 13 being 'illegal' and 'dangerous'), and whimpered back and forth from oblivion occasionally, never fully restored to the thriving kid-cartoonist commune of old. It was a real influence on me; I read a lot of comics there, good and bad, and emulated a lot of the 'cool' kids. To this day, I can look at my artwork and sense of humor and pick out various parts that are clearly influenced by other cartoonists there. So, a few months ago, I decided to see if anyone else was still around, and made a Facebook group, 'Comics By Kids Alumni'. Turns out a lot of people were still around. Seeing all those people again really did put a smile on my face. I need more real life friends.

Anyway, one of the topics of discussion that came up was 'What would your old comic, from when you were a kid, look like now?' It sounded like an interesting idea, so I dusted off an old chestnut, 'Graduated Cylinder', a comic about a crazy scientist and his talking robot sidekick. Here is the result:

It struck me that I really didn't care for Professor Smultz, the non-robot. His character really didn't have much going for him when I drew this way back when. It seemed pretty logical, then, to make him an angry scientist, playing God, who could create and destroy life without seeing any of the consequences. This new direction made Y-Bot, the non-human, a more conflicted character; yes, he has morals and objections to Smultz, and yet...he was given life by Smultz.

This was great fun to do, and I hope to find some time to do it again. I already have an idea for the next one:

Y-Bot: Uh, Professor Smultz?
I was wondering if...well, you can install an Emotion Chip in me, so I can feel love, understanding, happiness...?
Smultz: I don't make no FAG robots

You're gonna have to trust that I'm not homophobic, I just think that 'Fag Robots' is a very funny combination of words.

Thanks for reading,

"Ghost Fun Adventures" Cast- Take 1

Considering in my last post, I proudly displayed some of my most poorly drawn comics ever (albeit one of my favorites), I figured this time around I should probably show you guys something that actually took me a little bit of time and effort.

So I've been working now with Andrew Ford, Ben Vigeant, and Mike Antonucci on a short, animated pilot. As of now, we've been tossing a few ideas around and have been trying to establish the characters and the story. If all goes well, at the end of this tunnel we'll have a nice 5 minute piece of animation that we can shop around. Right now, it's tentatively titled "Ghost Fun Adventures" until we can come up with a real, usable name. The pitch is, what Venture Brothers did for Johnny Quest, "Ghost Fun Adventures" will do for Sherlock Holmes. In the late 1880's, a young paranormal detective, Reilly St. James, and his curmudgeonly biographer, George Eves, get themselves into scrapes all over the world with ghosts, monsters, demons, and petty arguments over pretty much everything.

These drawings are from the summer of 07, and as such, a few changes have been made. Reilly has been almost completely redesigned, and I'm in the process now of redesigning Carla Trantollo, the gypsy-looking, love interest one. But I'm definitely excited about this project, and I'm especially excited that my drawings are going to be animated by a competent animator.

So, yeah, here goes.

From left to right, Reilly St. James, the paranormal detective, Carla 'Gitana' Trantolo, a Miss Cleo/'Crossing Over with John Edwards' parody and one time love interest to Reilly, George Eves, a Civil War vet and reporter, now Reilly's biographer, Bryon "Bingo" St. James, a mix between Mycroft Holmes and Buster Bluth, Reilly's mentally disabled, fatass brother, Ignatious Steelehart, a charming Southerner and head of a secret government agency whose job it is to cover up the paranormal, and Captain Charles Cutlass, a villianous ghost pirate who really doesn't seem to like Reilly.

More updates soon, I promise.

With love,

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Phil, Week 1-Camp

These were the first Phil comics to appear in The Daily Campus, UConn's newspaper.

Phil was created by Ben Vigeant about ten years ago, while Ben was in Middle School. Since then, Phil's been through some pretty drastic transformation. It started as an innocent little comic, then in High School, it became an outlet for awkward nerd rage, and in college, it warped into a bizarre and dark comic strip enjoyed by Ben and his friends down at the University of Mary Washington. Soon after that, however, Ben found himself a little too pre-occupied with school and studies, and put Phil on the back burner for a while.

Meanwhile, at UConn, I was having some issues of my own. The stresses of writing a comic for the Daily Campus was taking its toll; my cartoon Randal's Bar took me so long to draw, I was fired for missing too many deadlines, and my next cartoon, Slick Slack, slowly deteriorated into a soap-box preach-fest. I ended Slick Slack in Spring 07, with every intention of returning to the comics page, but with no idea how.

I casually mentioned this to Ben during the summer break; "I'd love to do another comic for the paper, but I need something that I don't really have to write, something without too much stress on the artwork." To which, Ben responded, "How about Phil?" So started Phil's ascension into The Daily Campus. Ben and I would brainstorm ideas, Ben would write out the scripts, and I would draw the comics.

It has been the most divisive cartoon I've ever been a part of, and it's been the most enthusiastically received up at UConn, possibly because of this. A lot of people try to explain Phil; maybe it's Anti-Humor, maybe it's Ironic. Maybe these are true, but I think Ben and I are getting far too much credit. We wrote Phil because we thought it was funny; it made us laugh. There's not too much more to it than that.

I won't be posting every Phil ever on this blog, just a few that really resonate, for good or bad. The ones reproduced on top were done without Ben's involvement at all; I realized when I got to campus, we'd need a shortened week, only two comics, not the usual three. I guess it represents the early days of this Phils' incarnation; dry dry dry. It wouldn't be until a little later on that we started having some weird fun with obscure Presidents and long storylines.

In the meantime, hope you enjoy these very, very dry comics.