Roscoe Arbuckle and Burlington Bertie

roscoe

There is no real link between these two in reality but I love Arbuckle’s work – one of the great masters of silent cinema and treated appallingly by the early studios and by history. I think the shape of our Bertie and “Fatty” Arbuckle is similar. I need to make Bertie as agile frankly. Here is a drawing of a dance done by Arbuckle

 

and below is the progress reel for Bertie…

 

 

Regarding Arbuckle- there were plenty of other scandals that frankly were worse than anything he was involved in, and he was made the scapegoat for the industry at a time when moral crusaders, hot with the success of prohibition, had the “flickers” in its sights and probably planned to close hollywood. Arbuckle spent three weeks in gaol awaiting trial on a case that had been concocted by a woman known for racketeering, fraud, and extortion. Though acquitted of Murder after three trials, Arbuckle had admitted to possessing drink in a city that had a reputation for being fairly lax in applying the principles of Prohibition anyway. Under the Volstead Act, Arbuckle paid a small fine for the alcohol but I think that was sufficient in the end to damn him, and he was brought almost to bankruptcy by the legal expenses. Nominally innocent of the charge of murder, his films were, nevertheless, banned when he was credited by the Hollywood moguls as a man with “bad morals”, and less than a week after he was completely acquitted of murder in 1922,  he was forbidden by Will H Hayes from working in cinema again. While he got round this and made a comeback of sorts in the 1930s, he died before he was able to fully realise his potential. This was a truly great performer and his treatment by the cinema industry was despicable.

Aubade

fei_bigger_jpg reduced smaller

 

alternative titles
alternative titles

 

The end of last year, Henry Astor asked me to do a title sequence for his film “Aubade”. He is an old friend and I was very happy to get involved. The film was beautifully put together telling the story of the making of a guitar, a song that is written specifically for that instrument and the performer playing it.

 

Here is the Youtube link and a screen capture:

aubade 4

 

The following frames are from an earlier version with a more elaborate font

 

aubade1

aubade 2

 

 

 

Paul_bigger reduced 42 nothing

There was an initial screening in the theatre at Chipping Norton where once we did Figaro- more on that very soon.

More Burlington Bertie

Some progress this week in animating a walk cycle for the Burlington Bertie film.

 

 

 

bert walk cycle

 

side view theatre1 SMALLa

Much of the walk is hidden behind stage scenery, but the process of getting that movement right is still necessary. Two things emerged in the week- firstly trying to get a walk working makes some very odd shapes in a 2d drawing that perhaps would look very wrong in 3d, and secondly, drawing up background scenery, I realise how important it is to draw a building to fully understand it. So I have now spent 3 days struggling with Big Ben and the house of Parliament. One thing I should add is that animation is genuinely easier with Toonboom/ Harmony, but these big tracking shots remain tough.

Pugin

Pugin provides such complexity. Next week we are off to Ratcliffe to sketch the new prep school that is being built there. Oddly, the architect is a distant relative of the original Pugin. It is some sort of poetic justice. Here is an image of the cloisters at Ratcliffe and of the Pugin facade. I will post images of the new Prep school shortly of course.

ratcliffe cloisters

3 ratcliffe

Robin Williams RIP

robin_williams_

When I began teaching, people called me Robin and began to say “Nanu nannu” in class. I had no idea what they were on about until I saw “Dead Poet’s society” which was quite shocking. It was like looking in a mirror. Both the actor and the story were horribly familiar. Already, I had asked students to stand on their desk to see things from a different perspective, so I knew in an instant, as I watched that film, that my teaching career would be brief and that I was somehow linked to this bewitching man called Robin Williams.

animator awakening

As an animator, spending hours at my desk, there are times when I feel I am walking off the set of “Awakenings”. Also, on animation- the Genie in Aladdin. While this character and the film owe so much to Richard Williams earlier work on “the Thief and the Cobbler”, the Robin Williams voice allowed for a huge range of activity on screen. Often an animator tries to mimic the actions and moves of the actor providing the voice, but in this case Eric Goldberg notes that Williams tended to be fairly static when recording, so what we see on film is a representation of the zany spirit that must have been in Williams’ head. The face is a loose caricature of  Williams nevertheless.

Now, back to my story. In 2004, some twenty years after my adopted mother died, I finally located my “birth-mother”, a woman with the improbably Dickensian name of “Cobbledick”. She had been to a supermarket in Derby around Christmas-time and had bought some flour there that in her words “was riddled with mites”. She had put the flour in her kitchen cupboard and later, opening the cupboard, she found the insects had spread. “I could not go into the kitchen without weeping. The flour decimated Christmas.”

mother and the mitesa

Once we read this story on the internet, we knew that we had found my birth-mother- a lady of remarkable theatricality. We learnt perhaps too late that she was also someone who was sadly malicious, deceptive and divisive. She seemed to take pleasure in dumping each of her many children often in a particularly cruel way and those I made contact with remain quite bruised by the experience. I was lucky, I think, to have been adopted. She visited us on a few occasions, intending to stay for a couple of days but lingering for a week or more each time. On one occasion she turned up unannounced having had a tiff with her 5th or 6th husband who she claimed on and off to have divorced or lost. She claimed that he was beating her, but he was the one with the bruises. And he was there till the end.

bigamy

At some point in the 1960s, I discovered that she had been prosecuted for bigamy. I simply did not think that sort of thing happened, but it is all over the bits of my family tree I could piece together. My grandfather fought in the Somme, survived and returned to a wife in Ireland, and another one in Manchester, never letting on that there was a third thriving somewhere in Paris. With a family like this, is it little wonder I still think there may be a direct link to Robin Williams? In the end, while I was recovering from a botched appendectomy arising from haemophilia complications, one of the few things my mother must have given to me- she went away and we never saw her again. She died a few years ago. Ironically she died on a day while I was filming the Edward Lear film in Albania and discussing my bizarre family with some Albanians. They could not get round the idea that she had given birth to 9 children and abandoned them all. She might have been an appalling mother but she was a great yarn!

animator awakening 2

I was one of three children born during a relationship she had with a man called Erik Williams- there is the Robin connection (I know it took a few paragraphs to get there)! I think my parents had eloped from Ireland or something. Although my mother claimed to know the addresses of my two siblings, she never let on and took the information to her grave. All I know is that Ronald joined the Navy, served in Malta and married a Maltese girl. I know next to nothing about my sister except that she spent time in Nottingham.

Anyway, that is the peculiarity. After being identified as a Robin Williams’ lookalike in school, I found that my real family was also called Williams. How strange is that!It is odd that two of the men I have come most admire over the years, Robin Williams and the animator Richard Williams should both share the name of my birth parents! We look for connections in life but frankly they do not need to be biological. Whether there is any real link between me and Robin, therefore, I cannot tell. But today, learning that Robin Williams had died and apparently had killed himself, I feel quite bereft. It is like loosing a member of the family!

There are many sweet stories appearing about Robin. Some of the nicest are linked to the help he gave to Christopher Reeve after he fell off his horse. Williams turned up in hospital pretending to be Russian (he had perfected a Russian accent for “Moscow on the Hudson”) and offering  an anal probe. It made Reeve laugh at a time when he thought there was really no point in going on. More than that, Williams covered his medical expenses. Here is some of that story from a news report and interview with Chris Reeve:

 

It is awful to read stories of his fears of bankruptcy and of the details of his death. More awful perhaps are the tales of bile and prejudice that have come out from people who should know better or who should shut up – suicide is an illness and often a terminal one. It is something that calls out for greater care from friends, medical professionals and the wider public, particularly of those who survive a suicide bid and those who are left behind when the attempt is, as here, evidently successul. Poor Robin.

Here is a picture in his memory. Such a gifted man and a kind man too.

Cartoon opera

yumyum

Gilbert and Sullivan is about as cartoony you can get- though Offenbach comes very close. I think animation probably lends itself to music that has distinctive rhythms and an interesting orchestration. The words seem to me to be less important than what is happening musically. Though of course the words tell the story. When the Disney people were animating “Fantasia”, the better animators trawled the score to identify the incidental tunes that lay under the main melody. There is a sequence in the Chinese dance in the Nutcracker where Art Babbitt has talked about “those nasty little notes underneath”. But Babbitt uses those “nasty little notes”! It is precisely this fact that makes the sequence stick out as something remarkable. Culhane references this in his book on Fantasia. It is worth looking at the dance in detail because the perspective goes all over the place and it still seems logical. In the same way, the instruments used to orchestrate a particular sequence will dictate a particular image.

Eric Goldberg animates on the beat and repeats a rhythm with the Carnival of the animals in FANTASIA 200o and Andreas Deja does it too in the same film with the barrel organ in Rhapsody in Blue. But I think Babbitt’s mushrooms still have the edge precisely because they take note of the intricacies of the orchestration and the repeated visuals (a visual ostinato) are not necessarily based on something obvious…

You can find a link to it here: (the interesting points are at.46 and the bow at the end)

and here is the flamingo scene by Goldberg:

I was playing around with the Three Little Maids from School piece at the beginning of the MIKADO.

This is the text: “Three little maids from school are we,Pert as a schoolgirl well can be,Filled to the brim with girlish glee–Three little maids from school.” David Watson has done a very clever arrangement.

I will post more on this shortly because it is an excellent example of a tune that does a great deal. The three voices (Yum yum, Pitti Sing and Peep Bo) are quite distinctive and the whole thing gallops along at quite a pace. Here are some sketches mostly of Japanese hair-styles…

3 little maids
Below is a page from the notebook on Trial by Jury the storyboards for which move slowly forwards…

trial by jury

Here in order of development: the first thoughts:

and a more restrained version (music arranged by David Watson, Kanon)

interrupt

3a 4 5 6 7 8 1 2

Screen shot 2015-06-10 at 12.15.45

University Education

moleskin university complaints

There is a man I would like to meet. His name is Dan Lever. I saw him on the TV this morning and he was almost unable to speak because of the blustering nonsense of his adversary, a rather nasty piece of work called Simon Renton. Of course, Renton may be a perfectly agreeable man but he he was there to explain why University teachers were coming in for so  much criticism. Instead, he tried to savage the present Government’s spending. Rather ridiculous as the rot really set in with the last Government and there has been a long steady decline in investment. A cannot imagine that Renton is a Conservative after this rant, but does he not realise that his socialist comrades look pretty feeble too? Dan Lever, in contrast, seems to be doing something about the problem and good on him! He has started a site called “Student hut” which aims to put students in touch with one another and to ensure as best he can that those who are new to university life are not completely abandoned. I have added a few comments to the sketchbook above which indicates what I think Renton should have said in response to the criticism of University teaching/tutoring. And a bad tutor may not necessarily be a bad researcher and vice-versa. there is room for the most appalling people on University staffs! It is just a matter of finding out where best to pl;ace them, but listening to student feedback is helpful and the Government does not have all the answers or indeed bear all the responsibility for the current mess.