Wednesday, December 6, 2017

Animation and Gaming Today



     It is no surprise that as technology has improved, the graphical capabilities of computers and video game consoles has also improved. Back in the day, pixels were all the rage. Everyone was excited about a tiny Italian plumber made of a small amount of blocks. They were called pixels. The little guy would run around, jumping on turtles and crushing little brown people. Today, objectives and level design alone are much more complicated.

     A number of years later, we got Wolfenstein 3D. Everyone flipped. Suddenly, everything had gone in a completely diffierent direction. You could move up, down, left, right, forward, backward, in literally any direction. It was an exciting time. Believe it or not, things were about to get much more advanced than even this with the dawn of the Nintendo 64 and Playstation 1, and all the other systems that really kickstarted the 3D gaming scene.

"Prose is an art form, movies and acting in general are art forms, so is music, painting, graphics, sculpture, and so on. Some might even consider classic games like chess to be an art form. Video games use elements of all of these to create something new. Why wouldn't video games be an art form?" -SAM LAKE, interview, April 25, 2004

    Videogames have quite a long history. Looking back at the capabilites of early computing techology, we can see we have improved a lot. Games like Uncharted 4: A Thief's End show us true photorealism. Many players forget they are even playing a videogame. With the release of VR technologies, the possibilities truly are endless. I've just started dipping my toes in VR technologies, myself. I can't wait to see what sort of adventures future technology takes us.

Written by Matthew Malone

Tuesday, December 5, 2017

Movie Reviews: "CoCo" and "Olaf's Frozen Adventure"

Reviews Written By Michael J. Ruhland

CoCoMichael's Movie Grade: A+

Review: Incredible pure Pixar magic at its best and a must see for all movie lovers.

When I was watching Cars 3 for the first time (and yes I enjoyed that movie) I could tell you each little thing that was going to happen next. This is far from the case with CoCo. Just when I thought I knew where the story was heading it did something completely different. However not only was it completely different, but it was so much more powerful than what I saw coming. This is an extremely moving movie. This is hugely because the characters and environments felt so real. I believed from the bottom of my heart every little thing I saw on screen and accepted it as real. The characters could have easily been simple movie stereotypes, but they are so much more. Each facet of their personality is extremely well thought out and come together to make a completely believable character. The environments are likewise filled with an extreme amount of detail. I can't even imagine how much work probably went into something I probably saw on screen for no less than a second. The story itself is fantastic. As I stated before, you never know what is going to happen next. Despite this though each plot twist seems to naturally flow out of the story and characters and there is nothing in this film that feels forced.

It is hard to praise this movie enough, but every movie fan out there needs to see it.

Olaf's Frozen Adventure

       Michael's Movie Grade: B+

Review: This short was a delightfully enjoyable little film, and I was happy to get both this and a feature film for my money.

The best parts of this film were the humor and characters. While I know many people seem to be tired of Olaf, I find him a great character, whose ability to detach body parts reminds me of silent era cartoon characters like Felix the cat or Oswald the Lucky Rabbit. He is extremely delightful here, as he is funny and good hearted and brings a classic cartoon energy to this film. This film is quite funny throughout much of it. While it is hard to describe why a film is funny, I found myself laughing at quite a few of these jokes. The short also gives us a greater insight to what happened when Elsa had to hide from Anna, and these scenes are very touching and flow naturally out of the characters, we already loved from Frozen.

On the downside this does feel like a story we have seen before, and Anna and Elsa's part in the story seems too brief.

I have to be honest, I don't know why people hate this short so much. I find it delightful. I know many people complained about having to sit through a 21 minute short before the feature. However to me the short felt like it went by extremely quickly. Also to me to get a longer short and a feature just made it feel like I was getting a very special movie going experience that is too rare today. Personally I would love if Disney made more 21 minute shorts before their feature films, but sadly that doesn't look like it is going to happen.

-Michael J. Ruhland

Saturday, November 18, 2017

Happy 89th Birthday Mickey

Today is the 89th birthday of cartoondom's most famous mouse. No not Speedy Gonzales, I am speaking of curse of Mickey. To celebrate we are going to look at four classic Mickey Mouse shorts.

Up first is probably the most famous Mickey Mouse short ever created, Steamboat Willie. This was not the first Mickey cartoon made but the first one to get a wide release. The first Mickey cartoon made was a silent short called Plane Crazy. However distributors did not want the cartoon (as well as the second Mickey made, The Galloping Gaucho, also silent) and he was turned down flat. With sound film catching on it became clear in the film industry that soon silent film would be a thing of the past. Walt as an artist who was always looking forward decided to make Steamboat Willie as a sound film. Though sound cartoons had been made before hand, none of them were very successful. Walt knew that for the audience to accept sound in an animated cartoon it had to be perfect. Wilfred Jackson one of the studio's animators prepared a bar sheet of music, while Walt prepared his usual exposure sheet. They did this simultaneously and with close work together to make sure the sound would be synchronized just right. Even with this they weren't sure the illusion of sound accompanying moving drawings would be accepted by the audience. Because of this after enough animation was made, the crew had a test run, with Wilfred Jackson on Harmonica and the rest of the crew making sound effects. The result worked and work on the film as a sound picture moved forward. When this film made its premiere at New York's Colony Theater, it was a huge hit and ushered in the era of sound cartoons. So without further ado here is the one and only Steamboat Willie. After the success of this film soundtracks were added to the two previous Mickey cartoons and they got the wide theater release they deserved.

Next up is one of my favorite black and white Mickeys 1929's The Karnival Kid. The reason I love this cartoon so much is that it is a pure cartoon in its purest sense. In later Disney animated films, it was decided that characters' bodies always had to stay intact and that characters couldn't take off parts of their bodies for their own uses as that would break the reality of the films. With all due respect, I disagree with this. It is a cartoon and if I believe the characters then I will also believe their bodies are detectable and retractable. Some of my favorite gags in this short involve how the cats avoid the things being thrown at them and how Mickey takes off the top of his head like tipping a hat to greet Minnie. This film also has the immortal first words of Mickey Mouse, "Hot Dogs". Though his voice sounds quite different here than later films, it is still Walt providing it.

Last up is two perfect cartoons for the occasion, a 1931 cartoon called The Birthday Party and a 1942 cartoon called Mickey's Birthday Party. The reason I am putting both of these cartoons together is that one is a remake of the other. The differences are clear. The latter one has Donald Duck, Goofy and Clara Cluck in it. These characters were not yet created in 1931, so they couldn't be included here. There is also the obvious fact that the later one is also in color. Still these cartoons are extremely similar and both delightful. So sit back and enjoy them.

Now let's close this post by all singing Mickey's favorite song together.

-Michael J. Ruhland

Resources UsedThe 50 Greatest Cartoons edited by Jerry Beck
Hollywood Cartoons: American Animation in its Golden Age by Michael Barrier.

Tuesday, October 31, 2017

The Looney History of Witch Hazel

Happy Halloween fellow cartoon lovers. On a day like this there is only one cartoon character to discuss and of course that is Witch Hazel from the classic Looney Tunes films (she was not used in a Merrie Melodie oddly enough). Today I will provide you with a brief and basic history of cartoondom's favorite witch.

Even with how well remembered and beloved this character is today she was only actually in 4 of the classic cartoons. The first of these was a 1954 Chuck Jones cartoon called Bewitched Bunny. Despite the fact that today we remember her being voiced by June Foray. Instead here she was voiced by Bea Benaderet. This cartoon was a parody of Hansel and Gretel. Bugs Bunny sees that the witch is planning to eat the children. Bugs saves Hansel (Hansel?) and Gretel but Witch Hazel decides instead to eat Bugs. Her next appearance would be a 1956 cartoon Broomstick Bunny also directed by Chuck Jones. This was the first time she was voiced by June Foray however it was not the first time June Foray voiced a cartoon witch named Witch Hazel. She had previously voiced a character with the same name in the 1952 Donald Duck short Trick or Treat in that film Donald gives his nephews a trick instead of a treat. With this a much more kind Witch Hazel get her revenge on Donald using magic. This was also not the only time June Foray would replace Bea Benaderet as the voice of a Looney Tunes character. She had also done the same with Granny, who Foray had just voiced for the first time the year before in This is a Life?. In Broomstick Bunny Bugs Bunny goes trick or treating dressed as a witch. Witch Hazel takes great pride in her ugliness and asks her mirror who is the ugliest of all is happy whenever it answers she is. However when Bugs knocks on the door, the mirror tells her "that creep" is uglier than she. Witch Hazel decides something must be done about this. Her next film was her first time not being directed by Chuck Jones with 1959's A Witch's Tangled Hare. This cartoon was instead directed by Abe Levitow. Abe Levitow had been one of Chuck's main animators and even co-directed some of Chuck's later films for Warner Brothers. After Chuck left the studio, Levitow would take over the director's chair for a few cartoons. These cartoons would feature Chuck's usual team of animators and writers,, as this one does. In this short Bugs and Witch Hazel fight using many references to Shakespeare's plays and with a Shakespeare wannabe watching. The last of her classic cartoons was released in 1966 and called A-Haunting We Will Go. This short was her first film not to feature Bugs Bunny. Instead her she works with Speedy Gonzales and Daffy Duck. Daffy Duck and Speedy were strangely paired together in a series of films at this time. This was just one of quite a few with this duo. Witch Hazel wants a vacation and so she casts a spell to make Speedy look just like her. Daffy on the other hand is trying to prove to his nephew that the woman in that house is not a witch. This film was directed by Robert McKimson. 

-Michael J. Ruhland       

Monday, October 30, 2017

Hubley Family Films

Today we are going to look at some films, involving the Hubley family. John Hubley had been a Disney background artist working on films like Snow WhitePinocchio, Fantasia, Dumbo, and Bambi. He would leave during the Disney strike of 1941, and became one of the founders of UPA. There he would direct the first Mr. Magoo cartoon. However he would be blacklisted during the Cold War era for his communist beliefs. He would then create his own studio called Storyboard. His partner would be his wife Faith Hubley. Faith had not had a career before this, but this would be the beginning of a great career for her. Animator Shamus Culhane wrote in his autobiography, Talking Animals and Other People, that he felt Faith brought a lyrical quality to these films. This is true, the films they made together are beautiful and remain unique in the world of animation, and even film today. The 3 films we are looking at today, have the voices of their own children. They would record a conversation of their kids and than build an animated cartoon around that.

Our first film for today is an Oscar nominated cartoon and a great work of art in it's own right, 1968's Windy Day. This was built around a audio recording of John and Faith Hubley's daughters, Georgia and Emily Hubley at play. Those familiar with the indie rock band Yo La Tengo, might know Georgia Hubley as the drummer for that band. Emily would later be the associate producer and one of the animators on her mom's only solo directorial feature film, The Cosmic Eye. She would also have her own career in animation, directing such films as the feature length, The Toe Tactic, and the shorts The Pigeon Within, Rainbows of Hawai'i, and The Girl with Her Head Coming Off. She would also be the animation designer and an animator on the animated segment in Hedwig and the Angry Itch. Windy Day is a lovely film. The dialog between the two girls is very charming. Towards the end of the film the conversation turns quite profound and beautiful. This is a great reminder of how much more intelligent kids can be than we we give them credit for. The whole film is lovely though and the whimsical animation fits the kids conversation perfectly.

  Next is another film that was based around a recording of Georgia and Emily at play this film is called Cockaboody. The whole film was animated by a woman named Tissia Davis. Who would also work with the Hubley's on the feature length animated documentry Everyone Rides the Carousel, and with Faith and Emily on The Cosmic Eye. She had previously been an animator in France working for directors like Jean Image. The animation ranges from Whimsical to more realistic depending a the mood of the dialog (a great device).  The kid's conversation captures perfectly the feeling of childhood. Overall this 1973 film is another lovely film from these four Hubley's and another work of great art.

Last is the earliest of these films, Moonbird from 1959. This film centered around an audio recording of John and Faith Hubley's sons, Mark and Ray Hubley, at play. Mark Hubley would later become an animator, working on two of his parent's films, Dig and Voyage to the Next, and would be a layout artist on two Hanna-Barbera TV shows, The Smurfs, and Monchhichis. Ray Hubley would become an editor on live action films such as Scarface and Dead Man Walking. The animators on this film will included one of John's fellow UPA directors, Robert Cannon, who had before joining UPA than the Hubley's studio had worked at Warner Brothers as an animator (as part of Chuck Jones' unit), and on Disney's feature length Melody Time (also as an animator). The other animator was an animator who began and spent much of his career with the Hubleys, Ed Smith. This is quite an imaginative and fun film and it won the Oscar for best animated short film.

-Michael J. Ruhland

Sunday, October 29, 2017

"How to Play Baseball" With Goofy

So it seems like baseball has been all people have been talking about lately. This is great for people who like baseball, but these conversations can be intimidating for someone like me who heavily prefers cartoons to sports. How am I supposed to know what the heck these people are talking about? Luckily for me and my fellow cartoon lovers who are bored by sports, there was a very instructional film made to explain all the subtle nuances of the game perfectly for us. And to make this film all the more accessible to us it was done by the Disney studio and features Goofy himself.

Released in 1942, How to Play Baseball was the first "How to..." short staring Goofy that the Disney studio released as a stand alone short. Technically audiences saw How to Ride a Horse first. How to Ride a Horse was a segment in the Disney feature film The Reluctant Dragon. That feature was released in 1941, however How to Ride a Horse would not be released as a standalone film until 1950. However this short did introduce something new to the idea of these "How to..." films with every player being Goofy. How to Play Baseball came about in a rather interesting way. Samuel Goldwyn was producing The Pride of the Yankees and was very proud of how that movie was coming along. He contacted Walt Disney about making a cartoon specifically to accompany that picture. According to some studio documents Walt said he saw Goofy as the animated counterpart to the live action Gary Cooper. So production on the cartoon began. Jack Kinney was chosen as the film's director as he had also directed How to Ride a Horse. Jack Kinney was the perfect choice for a cartoon like this. He was easily at this time the director of the zaniest Disney cartoon shorts. His films were fast paced, funny and featured a wise guy sense of humor that the other Disney directors didn't seem to have. Probably Kinney's biggest competitor as the zaniest Disney cartoon director would be Jack Hannah who would make some similarly very funny and zany cartoons. However Hannah wouldn't began directing for the studio until two years after How to Play Baseball was released. Assigned to animate on this film were some of the studio's best animators. Les Clark, Ward Kimball, Ollie Johnston, Marc Davis and Bill Tytla all animated here. Tytla animated much of Goofy pitching in this film, Ward Kimball animated the batter being hit with the ball and Marc Davis animated Goofy biting the baseball instead of the chewing tobacco.

This is a fantastic short film and just a lot of fun to watch. It is often said that Warner Brothers and MGM made the funny cartoons while Disney made the cute cartoons. However this short shows that this wasn't always the case. There is nothing cute here but lot that is really funny. Also the humor is just as slapstick and satiric as what Warner Brothers or MGM were doing with their cartoons at this time. There are plenty of laughs here and I am certain any fans of slapstick comedy cartoons will enjoy this cartoon a lot.

So sit back enjoy and for those of you who (like me) don't like to watch sports learn about what everybody around you is talking about.


(I have been alerted that the video I linked to has been taken down, so I redirect you to this link: Sorry for any trouble. -Michael J. Ruhland)

-Michael J. Ruhland

Resources Used

Saturday, October 28, 2017

My Little Pony Friendship is Magic: Shadow Play Parts 1 & 2

The two part season finale this morning was an excellent way to end this season though it does have one major problem. These episodes were written by Josh Harbor (who started with the show in season 4) and Nicole Dubuc (who this is her first episode. According to the Friendship is Magic Wiki, the idea to bring back the pony of shadows came from Joanna Lewis and Kristine Songco. The first part was storyboarded by Kaylea Chard and Jae Harm, while the second part was boarded by Cory Toomey and Thalia Tomlinson.

This is an excellent episode and easily one of the highlights of this season. Every character is given something to do here and there time to shine, despite this though none of it feels rushed but just flows naturally from the story. The new characters are very well written and I am excited to see what they are going to do with this in the future. The world building (one of the best things about this show) is excellent and makes one excited for what will happen next. The episode does have one big problem though. This is that Twilight simply seems like too smart of a character to not realize what might happen if she preforms her spell. The idea that she is surprised by these consequences doesn't make sense as the seem like something obvious that she usually would take into consideration. Despite this though if you can get past this one big fault, this is an excellent episode.

-Michael J. Ruhland

Animation and Gaming Today

          It is no surprise that as technology has improved, the graphical capabilities of computers and video game consoles has als...