Ava Thursday: My Birthday

All I wanted for my birthday this year was some art by my kids and a pair of retro Nikes. So, here's what I got:

Ava Thursday: Birthday Card
This is the cover to the card Ava created. I love it, of course. That's Ava with big ol' gloves and rings on her fingers.

The card has a super-special added bonus: the markers are the scented kind, so Ava's dress smells of strawberries and the sea smells of...something blueberry-ish. I think.

Ava Thursday: Birthday Card inside
This is the inside, when you open the card. Yup, all the colors here are scented and the card smells so yummy. That's a Nike Daybreak shoe up there on top. She drew this from memory. She had seen the shoe on Nike's site when Andrea was showing it to her before my birthday, and she had remembered all the details: the colors, the swoosh, etc.

Ava Thursday: Daybreak Birthday
Found inside my birthday card was this little sheet of paper, drawn by my girl. Ahh, the fabulous Nike Daybreak, a classic Nike shoe from back in the day. I was an avid runner from '77 to about '84. My dad and I were Nike geeks. He had Daybreaks, I had a pair of Terra TC's. Among others. So, when I found out that Nike was making reproductions of some of their old shoes, it was only natural for me to hook myself up with a pair.

On Saturday, Ava accompanied me to the downtown Niketown and patiently sat through me putting on three different pairs of shoes. They had the Daybreaks, but not my size. Too small. But, man, the Waffle Racers looked sweet. And better yet, they were a perfect fit:

Birthday shoes

Would you like some waffles with your morning run?

Side note: You would think that since Uncle Phil owns Laika, that we LAIKAians would receive some nice Nike discounts, right?


That's all I'm gonna say.

Big, big thanks to the wifey and kids for making my 39th a happy one. Love you guys.


Symphony In Slang

SYMPHONY IN SLANG (1951, dir. by Tex Avery) holds a special place in my heart. Back in the late 80's, when I finally realized that I wanted to be an animator, I bought some VHS tapes to analyze and study. One of them was Tex Avery's Screwball Classics, with Symphony In Slang included. I immediately fell in love with this cartoon. It was so different and opposite from the other fare that I had been watching at the time. A nice breath of fresh air. To me, the idea of visually recreating slang terms was so perfect for the cartoon realm -- most of the gags you would see in cartoons (especially in Avery's) were visual puns anyway. So it all made perfect sense to me.

Done as a one-shot, with all original characters who never appeared in any other MGM cartoon, Symphony is pretty much an anomaly in Avery's canon. What makes it even more so is the fact that Avery hired designer Tom Oreb to design all the characters and layout for the entire film. Just for this one cartoon. That's it. Why? Why did he hire an outside artist out of the blue, it seemed, to work on this one and only short for him? Oreb had been working at Disney pretty consistantly at the time, but left the company in the early-50's. To my knowledge, Oreb worked with Avery at MGM for this one cartoon and then went back to Disney where he designed characters for such projects as Toot, Whistle, Plunk & Boom, Sleeping Beauty and One Hundred and One Dalmations. I asked Amid Amidi about Oreb during this time:

"The only thing I'd say is that Oreb's history is very sketchy at this point. I believe he'd left Disney and was freelancing around. He designed a number of commercials for Ray Patin around 1952-1953, and I think he was in and out of Disney's at this time, if not completely gone. But it's not like Symphony was the only non-Disney project he did around 1950-1952. It's all a bit of a mystery at this point."

So Oreb didn't go off to do this one cartoon and then come back. He worked at some other studios as well. But what was the deal? What was Avery's intent for hiring Oreb for this one cartoon at MGM anyway? Well, here's my humble opinion on this matter:

Tom Oreb's style was unique, angular and highly stylized. It would be considered "modern" and contemporary at the time: cool, hip, new. On the other hand, most of Tex Avery's cartoons at the time were part of the MGM "house style", if you will -- Droopy, The Wolf, Red, all were products that came from the classic, rounded, traditional style of character design, along with semi-realistic painted backgrounds. These two opposing styles play an important part in Symphony, supporting the story on visual terms. When our main character (John) dies and approaches the Pearly Gates in the beginning of the cartoon, he's surrounded by lush backgrounds and well-rounded characters, such as St. Peter and Noah Webster. But he's not of this world. John's a hipster, a jazz kat. He's of the New Order, speaking in tongues with his hep-jive vocabulary. Our guy is definitely a fish out of water, designed in the flat-like stylized modern look by Oreb, while everything else is not. When we see John's life story visually played out in Webster's mind, his world is flat and angular, with bold colors. Webster is visualizing John's world in this new, modern style. John is the antithesis of the Old World. When John reaches Heaven, the two worlds collide. Just as the two opposing worlds clash, so too, does their visual styles. Hiring Oreb was clearly intentional on Avery's part, knowing that Avery probably wouldn't be able to pull off that "new look" on his own. I think it was a perfect decision; a match made in Heaven.

The story is simple: A young man, John, dies and is approached at the Pearly Gates by St. Peter who is baffled by his strange use of language: "What's cooking? How's tricks?" Obviously unaware of current slang, Peter asks Noel Webster what he can make of it. When Webster asks John to proceed with his life story, we witness Webster imagining every single slang term (along with other expressions and sayings) that this guy utters. From being "born with a silver spoon in my mouth", to "hanging out with the boys", to "going through a bunch of red tape" while trying to get out of jail, we witness these things literally. By the end of it, John has "died laughing", bringing us up to current. He then asks Webster, "So, what'dya think?" When Webster finds it hard to answer, John then asks, "What's the matter? Cat got your tongue?" Sure enough, the camera pans over to a little cat (with a halo, of course), holding a pink tongue in his paw. It's a simple concept, but brilliant through Avery's direction. With the use of limited animation, the movements are executed in a simple manner, basic and to the point. The concept is the main star here, with every gag being visually presented verbatim. The pacing is not as quick as Avery's usual fare, with the dialogue being very straight forward. As John says his line, the scene is presented thusly. No quick cuts, no complicated camera moves. Save for a few pan shots, and the occasional zoom out, the camera is mostly stationary.

Below, I have put together the entire cartoon of Symphony In Slang through frame grabs of each and every scene. Some scenes have two or more frames, if there was a camera pull out, for example. I put all these frames together so I can see Symphony in its entirety, to see any patterns that may be evident, to see the choices being made for layout, composition, character posing, camera positions, and so on. It's fascinating to see it all laid out. There were much more scenes in this cartoon than in your typical cartoon of the time, because of the nature of the story. I think that I counted over a hundred and twenty frames (not including the multiple ones for the same scene). That's quite an undertaking for our man Oreb. But if you notice, every background is executed with style and panache, only in the way that Oreb could do it. It's also interesting to see just how much the animators kept to Oreb's original designs. That's unusual for that time. By the time the director gets the characters and adds his two cents and then passes them off to the animators who add their two cents, the overall designs most likely become watered down. But not here. This is pretty much Tommy's baby, through and through.

The stats on the film:

(Released June, 6th, 1951)
Direction: Tex Avery
Animation: Michael Lah, Grant Simmons, Walter Clinton
Layout and Design: Tom Oreb
Writer: Rich Hogan
Music: Scott Bradley
Producer: Fred Quimby
6 minutes, 43 seconds
Released by MGM

Here are the frames (click on each to view larger):

Symphony In Slang 1

Symphony In Slang 2

Symphony In Slang 3

Symphony In Slang 4

Symphony In Slang 5

Symphony In Slang 6

Symphony In Slang 7

Symphony In Slang 8

Symphony In Slang 9

Symphony In Slang 10

Symphony In Slang 11

Symphony In Slang 12

Symphony In Slang 13

Symphony In Slang 14

Symphony In Slang 15

UPDATE: I've since uploaded more images from this cartoon in the Flickr set: Symphony In Slang. Total number of images: 77.

These images taken from a VHS copy of the French laserdisc version of the cartoon. I have reason to believe that these colors are not correct. They're too contrast-y and the whites are too white (or, as we say in the biz, the "whites are too hot").

Until someone gets smart and releases a bunch of Tex Avery stuff on DVD (remastered, please -- and no DVNR either), the only way to view Symphony In Slang is to view it on YouTube (ugh...) or simply order it on VHS:

This is the first part of a series on Symphony In Slang here on The Ward-O-Matic. It's all part of research I'm collecting for a super secret side project I'm currently working on, paying homage to the great cartoons of the past. A short film that's being concocted down in the basement right now. More to come soon.


Happy Birthday to me

Today I turn 39. One last gasp before I hit the big 4-0. I'm not scurrred, nosiree. Bring it on! I don't feel 39 and, really? That's all that matters. I feel at least 6 years younger. (But I still should get out and run some, just for insurance.)

39 and lovin' it. What a better way to start off my birthday than by getting a present for myself? Because I deserve it, right? So... I saddled over to my Amazon Wish List and bought me something that I've been pining for a very very VERY long time. Didn't tell Andrea. She knew that I was going to get it, but didn't know exactly when to expect it.

On Monday, she calls me to tell me that there's this huge box from Amazon in our living room. The FedEx guy struggled with it while going up the steps to our front door she says. Really? I reply. Hmmmm. I'll be home right away.

Ava takes the big Amazon box out for a spin. What's inside? Besides my daughter?

What could it be?
Inside the Amazon box was this big, beautifully detailed cardboard box.

Happy Birthday to me
Ta DAH! Charley Harper: An Illustrated Life, by Todd Oldham. It's an incredible book. Massive. Humongous. Amazing.

Yes it's that big
Yes, it's that big.

Beautiful endpages upon opening up this massive book. The artwork just knocks you off your feet, it does.

The Harper Family of Cincinnati
The Harper Family of Cincinnati. That's Edie, Brett, and Charley. Wife, son, artist. Both Edie and Brett are artists in their own rights. Runs in the family. You can see the contents of the book on the right there.

Charley Harper interview
Todd Oldham conducts an interview near the front of the book. Haven't read it all, but from what little I've read, it's inspiring.

The Animal Kingdom spread
Each chapter is layed out like this. Big, bold, beautiful. Oldham did a fantastic job in the overall layout and design for this book. The Neutra font by House Industries is perfectly used throughout the entire book. Nice.

The back of the book
One last one before we go. This is the back cover. Good to the last drop.

My thoughts on this book? I'm speechless. Charley's work was amazing by itself, but Todd Oldham did an amazing job in presenting it here in a large format, with thick paper. I swear I could probably tear each of the pages out of this book and have them framed. The quality here is that good. Two hundred bucks is a mighty steep price to pay for a book, but Charley's work is totally worth it. If you're willing to splurge this Christmas, go for it. You'll be glad you did. I am.

Previously: RIP: Charley Harper.


Happy Thanksgiving

Happy Thanksgiving

Wishing you all a very happy Thanksgiving from the Jenkins Family. This is the first time ever in our lives where we are not spending this holiday with our extended families. Missing everyone back east, but having the best time creating new traditions here in our new home. We had a wonderful day today. How was yours?

And, to my Canadian brethren, how was your regular Thursday?

Image taken from Man On The Land, a 15 minute short film by the legendary UPA studio in 1951. I had a still from the same film with a pilgrim family at a table, but they weren't eating, so I opted not to use it here. Plus, the dad looked kinda mad. I did some color correction on this image, although I'm sure that it's still not even close to what the original looked like.


A breast from my past

I drew this in high school

Okay, that's a lame title there. Sorry. Well, my past has come to haunt me. My old pal from high school, Brad, sent me an email with two scanned images of drawings that I did from back in the day. 1985, to be exact. Funny that I would draw Madonna, since we were so into that new thing called rap, as well as classic rock (although it wasn't called "classic" at the time, just "rock"), Zeppelin, Floyd, The Stones, Billy Idol, U2, etc.

Ah, but I think Madonna's cleavage did us in. Darn you, Boy Toy! With your sleazy outfits, exposed midriff, bangles and bracelets, and permed side-swiped hair!

A note about the drawing: I don't remember drawing this, but one thing I was adamant about back then: I didn't trace. I did this while looking at the album cover. I never traced -- tracing was taboo to me, a big "no-no". I considered it "cheating." Little did I know that it would take me being a professional animator to actually use tracing as a helpful tool. (And I'm okay with that.)


The Human Body

The Human Body

Found this incredibly colorful and wildly imaginative science book several years ago in a booth at an antique mall, I believe just outside of Chattanooga, TN. The place was a regular stop for Andrea and I whenever we'd take the trip up I-75 to Illinois to visit her parents. Sigh. Guess it'll be some time until we visit that place again. The booth I bought this book from was filled with wonderful old books, with a healthy section on textbooks and readers. Bought many a book from that seller.

Anyway, the illustrations in this 1959 book were all done by one guy: Cornelius De Witt. Nothing much comes up on the guy -- I did find this page on him. He was able to live to the ripe ol' age of 90. It would've been great to meet the guy and ask him about how he worked. I mean, just look at his work featured throughout this amazing book (click on each to view larger):

The Human Body
The endpages.

The Human Body
The nine systems of the human body. I put this image together from three different pages. Just got rid of the text. Looks nice to see all the illustrations together.

The Human Body
Just look at how unafraid De Witt was with his use of color: purple with bright green. And it works somehow.

The Human Body

The Human Body
What De Witt does perfectly is simplify the various organs and allows us to focus on what we need to look at without compromising the integrity of the subject matter.

The Human Body

The Human Body

The Human Body
The colors clash, but not too much. Just enough to pique our interest.

The Human Body
Definitely view this larger. There's some interesting things going on here.

The Human Body

The Human Body
In the middle of the book, there's this fold-out that opens up into four pages. This is the entire spread. Brilliant. Just brilliant. View larger to fully appreciate the work.

All of Cornelius De Witt's work on this book exemplified the notion of communication -- to take what the doctors and specialists were saying in the text and visualize in easy to read and understand images. Because he was trying to make a mundane subject more intriguing, he experimented with color choices, often going far beyond the typical notion of what real organs and muscles should look like. Good thing the editors allowed De Witt to go to town with this project. I doubt that any illustrator today would have the luxury of depicting the innards of the human body the way that De Witt does here in this book. There were so many pages to choose from, I couldn't possibly scan them all. If I have more time, I'll try and scan some more later on.


The Day of the Dead Show

It was a good night
Andrea took this one.

Hi, folks. Got some photos to share for ya. I would've posted them sooner but this past week was a little wonky for me. Got sick on Monday and still going through some of the yuckiness as I type this out. No fun. But last week's trip to Astoria to check out the Icons: The Day of the Dead group show opening was definitely fun! This time, Andrea went with me and the kids -- we didn't have as much time to hang out as I did with the kids the previous weekend when I dropped off the painting, but that's okay. It was just enough time to do some exploring around the small town and especially to check out the show itself.

The Gallery

We didn't get an early start, so by the time we got into Astoria, it was about 5:15pm -- basically dusk, thanks to the shorter days and the recent changing of the clocks. There was a great deal of activity on Commercial Ave., where Lunar Boy Gallery was located. Found out that there was an art walk happening, with various galleries in the downtown Astoria area open later in the evening. I thought it was cool that the people at Lunar Boy worked it out that the Icons show would open on the same night. It brought some extra foot traffic into the gallery.

We checked out the entire show, chatted with a few people (not many, though), but then headed out quickly with the kids to go eat.

Front wall


After an hour and a half, we came back to the gallery and saw that it was more busy than before. Lots more people, and this time, some people that I recognized from LAIKA.

My untitled piece and its neighbors
My piece with its neighbors. That's Tony Merrithew's piece on the right, with the skeleton holding the woman's face mask.

Even more skulls
Ben Burch did the two paintings on the left there.

Hello i'm dead
I like these ceramic skulls. They were painted by several artists.

Back wall
Dick Daniels did the painting with the white background on wood. When I drove up to Astoria the previous weekend to drop off my painting, the gallery owner had just received in the mail those dolls over on the right there. I was very curious to see just how she was going to present them in the show.

Two Bens and a Lady
I didn't know who that woman was with Ben Burch and Ben Adams, the two Bens who organized the show, but then found out that it was Ben Adams' mom. She created those ceramic skulls you see behind them. (She painted the colored ones, too!)

Rock N' Roll
Me and the 2 Bens. We weren't trying to look like gangstas, it just came out like that. Ben A's got the power guitar stance going on.

Andrea took this one.

Lunar Boy Gallery
That's the back of Andrea's head there, buying something at the cash register.

So, yes, the opening was a blast -- the kids had a great time, nothing was broken, no one got hurt or sick -- a success for us! OH, and this gave us the perfect opportunity for us to take our brand new Nikon D40 out for its first stroll. Whee! To see more photos from our evening, check out the entire set HERE.

Art Opening Tonight

Hope you enjoyed the photos! Looking forward to doing some more painting, now. We'll see.