My Birthday Booty

Another birthday has come and gone and this one was a doozy. It was probably one of my most memorable of recent years, probably because it was simple and it was the first time with our littlest one, Ezra. The gifts I received this year were all great, and I've been stealing time away from Andrea and the kids just to go over my stuff. Here's what I got for my birthday:

The Art of The Incredibles, by Mark Cotta Vaz. I've been pining for this one even before the film came out. I got to flip through it about a week before, and then quickly shut it, not wanting to know too much about the film and also wanting to really savor the wonderful artwork and drawings once I got the book. It remained at the top of my wish list for quite some time. Thanks to Mom and Joel for this one.

Some idiot posted up on the Amazon customer comments about this book saying that this was the "worse preproduction art" [sic] he's ever seen. (He says he's an art student, by the way, so that explains it. He's got lots of learnin' to do.) Being in the industry for 8 years, I'd like to think that I have some idea as to what is great preproduction art and what is not, right? I mean, afterall, art is subjective, at the very least, right? And I know that every person is entitled to their own opinion, but fur pete's sake - the artwork in this book is GORGEOUS. That boy does NOT know what he's talking about. Takin' crazy pills, I tell ya.

Anyway, I thought that it was very interesting that the main characters, the Parr family, were pretty much established a good 1 to 2 years before Brad Bird came to Pixar. And that they pretty much retained the same look and design throughout the course of the production of the film. Only Dash went through a major change. That's saying something about the character designs of Tony Fucile, Lou Romano, and Teddy Newton. All three worked with Bird previously on THE IRON GIANT, and it looks to me that the four have established a very strong bond when it comes to developing characters. Fucile's style is so smooth and shapely - I'd kill to animate these characters, in a traditonal sense, of course. But it's interesting to see how well his designs transferred over into 3D. They had this model maker, Kent Melton, do some very detailed models of the characters for the film and they are perfect.

I have to admit that I wasn't too sure about Teddy Newton's collages, but he does explain that knowing that these characters were going to be CG, he felt that the surfaces were going to play a major factor in the overall design, so he cut out shapes from images that had textures like flesh, hair, cloth, fabric, etc. He ends up with some very stylized and very abstract (at times) shapes that somehow come together and become Edna Mode, or Dash, or Elastigirl. The more I looked at Teddy's work, the more I was won over by it and the more I realize how brilliant it is. The work's so good that if you were to look at these pieces from far away, you'd still know right away who they were.

My favorite part of the book is the fold-out of the color design for the entire film, by Lou Ramono. It looks like some of these images were the inspiration for that ultra-cool end credit sequence for the film. Lou also did some great gouache work, which is not an easy medium to master. This is a fantastic book to own and I highly recommend it for anybody interested in character design and development, set design, color studies, collage work, etc., you name it. It's a great inspirational book for any artist.

The next gift I received for my birthday was The Mischievous Art of Jim Flora, by Irwin Chusid. My wife knows me so well. She knew I'd been pining for this book even longer than The Art of The Incredibles, as I've been a big fan of Flora's work for many years now. When I found out that they had put a book together of all his work, I was a very happy boy. Jim Flora is most known for his fantastical and whimsical album covers done for Columbia and RCA Victor during the 1940's and 50's. His work was first showcased in In The Groove: Vintage Record Covers, 1940-1960, but there was only a few album covers featured. Here, you get to see Flora in all his glory, from the album covers to the work he did for Columbia's Coda trade journal to his commerical work in magazines. He eventually went on to do children's books, but this book does not focus on that part of his career.

I've been very influenced by Flora, and one time I happened to have some of his album covers pinned up at work, when Doug, my boss walked in, talking to me about some ideas for a Primal Screen t-shirt. He looked up at Flora's work and said, "You know, we should do something like that." I was all for it. You can see my homage to Flora here. I created it in Illustrator, if you're curious about those things.

There's a great childlike quality to Flora's artwork, with some ideas that seem to come out of nowhere - ones that only Flora could conjure up. Childlike, primitive, striking, distinctive, influential - all these descriptions are hard to come by for just one guy, but Jim Flora was quite the revolutionary in my book. You should give this wonderful book a good lookie-through. Much love to Andrea for this one.

Lastly, my birthday hat-trick is complete with THE IRON GIANT Special Edition DVD. As I mentioned in a previous post, this is one of my favorite movies of all time, and I've been waiting for this special edition for about 4 years, not long after the movie was released in theaters. The DVD is no disappointment, that's for sure, with a great audio commentary by writer/director Brad Bird, story department head Jeff Lynch, Giant supervising animator Steve Markowski, and animator and character designer, Tony Fucile. Lots of props given as Bird and Co. are very well aware of the cooperative nature of the animation medium. The deleted scenes are a fascinating addition, with the Giant's dream sequence being the biggie here, as we get to see some insight as to the Giant's origin. My only caveat would be the "still gallery," as it's not really a gallery of images where you select from one to the next, but a short, 4-minute clip of character designs, backgrounds, etc. It would've been nice to be able to view the images on my own time, instead of having to press pause every 3 seconds. But HEY-I'm not going to complain here. I'm just happy to have this DVD in my grubby little hands finally. Again, thanks, Andrea. And sorry for playing this movie non-stop since the 24th.

A great birthday, indeed. After opening my gifts, and having cake and ice cream, the whole family went out to go see THE INCREDIBLES. Even Ezra popped his head up to watch at one point, but fell asleep in mommy's arms for the rest of the film. It was the first time all four of us got to see a movie together and it was great. Ava loved the movie and wants to see it again. I know I was a little worried about her being scared, but she was not fazed by it at all. It was a great ending to a wonderful birthday. Made me very proud to be a father and a husband.


Just who is this Ward guy, anyway?

I wasn't sure if I wanted to expose the "mystique of Ward" so early in the existence of this blog, but since it's my birthday today, I felt that maybe it was sort of appropriate. I know that most of you already know me personally, but there are a good many visitors to The Ward-O-Matic that have no clue who in the heck this Ward guy is. "What's his deal?" "Why should I care what he has to say?" Well, you don't have to actually care, but I do hope that you enjoy what I say. I'm having fun with this thing, and so I'm hoping that you do too.

I am an Atlanta native, but don't sound like I'm from the South. Whether that works to my advantage or not, I don't know. I'll get back to you on that. I grew up with a bad habit of getting obsessed over things. I'd get SO into something, and learn all about it, and then would move onto something else at the drop of a hat. I drove my teachers crazy, as I never could commit to a certain project, whether it be on Tutankhamen, cars, custom vans, sharks, dinosaurs, American Indians, airplanes, birds, the United States, maps, you name it. It didn't help that I pored over our World Book Encyclopedia set either, as that just fermented my desire to gather as much information out there as possible. I lived and died by that entire set.

I drew all the time. During my typical boy "gross" phase, I drew monsters, aliens, creatures, limbs and lots of blood! My parents just let me do my thang and my mom was probably praying each and every night that I would get over this crazy phase. I did...to a certain degree. I still love horror and monster films, sci-fi and special effects flicks. I'm not a die-hard fanboy for these things, but I just have a great appreciation and fascination for those types of films.

My dad took my sister and I to see ALIEN when it was released back in 1979. I was 11, she was 9. That movie gave me the most disturbing and horrific dreams imaginable. And thus, like any typical human being, once I was scared poopless by something, I instantly wanted more of it. I wanted to see it again. It was like a catharsis for me, helping me to face my fears, I guess.

My first animation I ever did was in 9th grade. It was for one of those career planning classes, as part of this IMPACT program. I was a terrible student for this, as I could never work on my project at school, so it looked like all I ever did in class was sit around and draw all day. There was practically nowhere to go for any animation help at this time in Atlanta, so my mom found this guy who was teaching an animation class to adults at nights as part of a continuing education sort of thing. Jim McLean was his name and he was very gracious in letting me borrow his camera and camera stand and lights. Why would this guy allow a 13-year old and his mother to take off with his equipment, I will never know. But, I eventually was able to produce a very short clip of a little guy walking and then having things happen to him, a la DUCK AMUCK. I loved all the Looney Tunes and whenever there was a situation where the characters broke the fourth wall and interacted with the viewer or creator, it was gold to me. I shot my project on Super 8 film, so it took forever to have the film sent off to be developed and then sent back. In the meantime, my teacher was getting furious with me, as the deadline for everybody's projects had passed and I still had nothing to show. I had to come in on a teacher's work day and set up my 8mm film projector and thread up and show my short film to my teacher personally. She flipped out. She loved it and couldn't believe that I had produced something that moved. Instead of the F that she was prepared to give me, she ended up giving me a C. This will be the first time of many where my talent saved my butt.

I dismissed art in high school because the art teacher was a fuddy-dud. When I realized that we would be doing basket weaving for the third quarter, I was out. Not for me. So I just drew Adam Ant, Billy Idol and Prince for my friends whenever they'd ask.

Throughout these years, I loved watching animation even when it was considered "uncool." This was the 80's, so animation was thought to be only for kids. There was not much to be excited about during this time, but when WHO FRAMED ROGER RABBIT? and THE LITTLE MERMAID came out in 1988 and 1989, respectfully, those films got that fire in me belly burning like nothing else.

So, what to do? I studied as much as I could on my own about this art-form by finding a copy of DISNEY ANIMATION: THE ILLUSION OF LIFE by Frank Thomas and Ollie Johnston, two of Disney's Nine Old Men. Again, I pored over this book like it was going out of style. I studied animation in motion by frame-by-framing Tex Avery and Chuck Jones shorts, as well as afore-mentioned MERMAID. The more I learned, the more I felt like this was IT for me. I was hooked.

I had gone to several colleges at this point, but did not settle into a program until I got into Illustration at Georgia State University. I could not afford to go to art school, but GSU did have some classes on animation so I took this only option available to me. I was able to take two animation classes, Non-camera Techniques and Basic Animation. There was only one guy teaching these classes. His name? None other than Jim McLean! The very same guy who helped me out back when I was in 9th grade. He did not remember me specifically, but did recall loaning his equipment out. Jim was great. He was this 60-something old codger so full of zip and life. He really believed in me and my work. I owe a great deal of gratitude to him for getting me started in this crazy world of animation.

I graduated with a BFA in Illustration in 1995, with my portfolio focused entirely on gesture drawings, paintings of figures and anything that animation companies were hopefully looking for. I got an internship the following January at DESIGNefx, a design and animation company here in Atlanta (now defunct). After my internship, I was hired as a freelancer right away and worked there at DESIGNefx until the end of July. In August I got a gig at a new company in town, Click 3X, who then hired me full-time two months later. Needless to say, 1996 was a very good year for me.

So there. You pretty much know the rest. After my 4-year stint at Click, I got a call from Primal Screen, asking me to be their newest animation director. With a new baby on the way, they couldn't have called at a more appropriate time. It was a perfect fit for me. I've done my best work at Primal and cannot wait to see what else is around the corner for me there.

I'm married to my soulmate, Andrea, whom I met while going to school up in Cincinnati. We just celebrated 10 years of glorious marriage this year. She's a dance teacher as well as full-time mother, so she deserves a break. She also collects and sells vintage and vintage-inspired items at a booth at Kudzu Antiques in Decatur. I call her my secret weapon, as she has a great eye for design and knows exactly what looks good or not. She is honest with me about my work and I can always count on her for an intelligent, insightful response. We have two wonderful kids: a daughter, Ava, who's 4, and a son, Ezra, 5 months. Ava's got a sense of humor like I've never known, and Ezra has the brightest smile that you'll ever see.

So, I apologize for rambling on. Hopefully you've gained some insight to who this Ward guy is. As for me, I'm still trying to figure that out. But I do know this: my life has been a grand one thus far and I'm looking forward to 36 more fantastic years.

Have a great Thanksgiving!



Ava got to jump on her very first trampoline at her schoolmate's birthday party a couple of weeks ago. I took some great photos of this special occasion. This is just something I did based on one of the photos. It was a wonderful moment.

Sunday a busy day

Sketchcrawl is a term devised by Enrico Casarosa, a Pixar artist, where a group of artists get together and draw all day, walking around the city and drawing or painting everything that you see. It's a great idea, but I'm afraid that it may be too late for mentioning, since tomorrow, November 21st, is considered International Sketchcrawl day. But it's worth a try. If anybody is up for an Atlanta chapter for tomorrow, contact John Bridges. (Thanks to John for the heads up.)

Also a note of mentioning again, some folks are probably heading over to The Bremen for the Golden Age Comics exhibit the very same day, Nov. 21st. Sunday seems to be a very busy day around here in the ATL. Have fun, guys.


Gerald McBoing Boing!... on HELLBOY???

In what has to be the most obvious connection for animation and comics headz alike, UPA cartoons are finally available on DVD... on the HELLBOY DVD, of course! Now, don't you see the connection? It totally makes sense, doesn't it? I mean, it's so obvious!

Okay, I can't lie. It's just as perplexing to me as for the next galoot. So I decided to do some investigatin' on this matter. It seems that the director of HELLBOY, Guillermo DelToro, is a big fan of the UPA shorts, particularly the Gerald McBoing series. (And I guess that the character Hellboy is a cartoon fan, but since I don't read the comic I'm not so sure about that one.) And it was very convenient that Columbia TriStar, who released the film obviously owns the rights to the Columbia shorts library. (Jerry Beck says they have absolutely no clue what treasures they have in their vaults. No clue. And that is sad, as this may be the only way of seeing any classic UPA shorts on DVD.)

The shorts available are: the original Gerald McBoing Boing short, written by Dr. Suess, How Now Boing Boing, Gerald McBoing Boing and Planet Moo, and for a darker touch, The Tell Tale Heart, from the short story by Edgar Allen Poe. The transfers are the best I've seen of these films, which is not saying much, as these short films have not been given the restoration treatment that they deserve. Plus, I've only seen two of these four on a crappy VHS tape of Columbia short classics released sometime in the 80's (I think), and also in streaming video at this site. The Planet Moo short is in glorious Cinescope, which shows off the stylized backgrounds very well, but cannot save the story one lick (It seemed at this point they were searching for story ideas, and what was big at this point in time? Space! Hey! - I know, let's put Gerald in space! Yeah, that's it!). Just check out the very cool background here (full aspect ratio):

And I really loved checking out The Tell Tale Heart, which I'd never seen before. It's amazing how much tension and suspense the filmmakers created here with hardly any animation. Very cool. Worth checking out.

To find these wonderful gems, put in HELLBOY disc 1, and go through the menus until where it says: From the Den: Hellboy Recommends. (NOTE: This is for the 2-disc Special Edition. Not sure about the just-released Director's Edition.) Enjoy!

Gathering links

As you can see in the right column over there, I have an on-going list of links. I have a regular section of Linky links for animation resource, artists who've inspired me to get this blog going, and anything that I deem interesting and unique enough to warrant a mention. And then I have a list of links devoted to Atlanta Animation and Artists. Strictly local fare. I want to put up more links in this section, as I would like for The Ward-O-Matic to be a place of resource for local talent, where you can prop your feet up, grab a big fat cup of coffee and read some words and do some internet surfing, revelling in the sheer wonder that is Atlanta and its fantastic animation community. It's a grand vision, but I don't think that it's too hard to attain.

And so, I need your help to attain this goal. Know if any local animators or artists or studios with a website? I'd like to post their link. David Strandquest's Strangetoons does an excellent job of displaying a gallery of area artists, but I don't have the same capabilites. I would like to offer a one-stop resource for the Atlanta animation community. It's up to you to do your part in keeping this unique community alive and thriving! Contact me and you're halfway there.

Thank you and now get back to work.


Golden Age Comics at The Bremen

There is an exhibit at The Bremen called Zap! Pow! Bam! The Superhero: The Golden Age of Comic Books, 1938 - 1950. You can go directly to the page for it here. It's an ongoing thing from now through August 2005, with special events and programs to coincide with the exhibit, including....cooking classes? Umm, okay....anyway, there are some folks checking it out this Sunday, the 21st. I'm not sure if I can go, but if you would like to hook up with some (somewhat) respectable characters, contact me and maybe we can work something out.

I wish I had known about this, but Will Eisner was there last Saturday, at the Atlanta Jewish Book Festival, as part of this exhibit. That would've been something to check out. For more information about the Superhero exhibit at The Bremen, you can contact Phyllis Lazarus at 404-870-7684 or email her.


Make it an IRON GIANT day

For those who know me well, then this post will come to no surprise. Today is a day that I've been waiting for YEARS! Today is the day that Brad Bird's previous effort, THE IRON GIANT comes to DVD. Now, I'm not talking about the paltry 1-disc version that came out some 5 months after the movie's initial release in 1999. I'm talking about the Special Edition version, complete with 2 discs! This is something that I've known about since hearing of the first rumor floating around in late '99. The following year, there were more rumors flying around that Bird had completed recording his audio commentary to the film wherein many IRON GIANT fans began to drool profusely. Year after year, the Special Edition was delayed for no apparent reason (Warner Bros. are complete idiots, if you ask me) - we're talking about 4 long years, people. So now, FINALLY we have this wonderful DVD set available here on US shores for the first time, obviously delayed the most recent time just to coincide with Bird's THE INCREDIBLES. Warner Bros. are using "From the director of The Incredibles," tag line on the advertising, of course. But HEY - I'm not going to complain. That just means that more people will get to check out this amazing film.

Hmm, maybe I should do a multiple-post review about THE IRON GIANT, eh? Nah, I won't subject you guys to that. Anyway, go buy this DVD. Your inner Superman depends on it.



Last Thursday night, I attended a nice soiree at Crawford Communications for the guys of DAGNABIT! They were celebrating three years of being in existence and as anyone in this business knows, that's like 10 in animation-years. Quite an accomplishment. Congratulations, guys.

DAGNABIT! consists of John Ryan and Robert Pope, both of whom I worked with at my previous animation gig, Click 3X. The three of us flipped animation bond paper for about four years, until I left for Primal Screen in 2000. Ryan and Pope stayed at Click for an extra year before venturing out on their own with DAGNABIT! Before Click 3X, both Ryan and Pope were directors at DESIGNefx, where in the 90's, a large amount of the animation population in Atlanta had gotten some sort of experience there. (It's where I got my first internship and freelance gig.)

It was interesting working for those two guys, as I pretty much cut my teeth under their direction. John had more of a moving, illustrative style going for him, mastering Corel Painter, and at times could be found inking with real camel hair brushes. Robert was from the WB/HB/UPA/Marvel school, being the go-to guy for anything that required a clean, tight line. You would think that with such diverse styles that Pope and Ryan would mix as well together as oil and water, but they do make a good team, with both having a great knack for dealing with clients (of which I got to witness first-hand while at Click), and each owning a great appreciation for each other's talents.

So, here's to many more, guys. You done good.


The Imaginary World

I am a BIG fan of 1950's to 60's style, mostly if it is in the form of ads and commercials. There is something in the simplicity of the design that is so intriguing to me.

There is a great website, The Imaginary World, that showcases a big collection of pop culture artifacts from the 40's to the 70's in the Archives & Galleries section, and it was in there where I found this great collection of stills and storyboards from the Ray Patin Studios, a studio I had never heard of before. They did commercials in the 50's on into the 60's. It's especially nice to see the rough pencils and pastels of storyboards for these spots as most studios never really saved a lot of that work.

It's some pretty cool work to check out.


Nightmare Before Christmas: Revisiting (conclusion)

This is part 2 of "Revisiting an Old Bony Friend." Click here for Part 1.

More about the Design: (I'm such a geek for this film.)

Listening to the audio commentary on the film, director Henry Selick and director of photography Pete Kozachik talk about what movies they watched for lighting reference, as well as overall feel for the film, and NIGHT OF THE HUNTER was the biggie mentioned. Watching old black & white film noir was also a must, as well as classic horror films of the 1930's and 40's. And with this being stop-motion, the classic 1933 film KING KONG was mentioned as being practically a requirement to watch at least once a year for anybody within that particular industry.

And the influences show. The black shadows are a deep, dark BLACK, and the sets come across as some sort of German Expressionistic-meets-Tim Burton-meets-classic-Frankenstein amalgam. The lighting is sparce, but effective and very personal, as each character has their own lighting effect.

One thing I noticed, too, about the composition of the shots, was that they really played around with the camera, which was unheard of for stop-motion at the time. You watch Rankin Bass Christmas specials from the 60's and you'll see that the camera is very static, if not stationary at all times. Here, Selick and Co. moved the camera with almost ballet-like moves (thanks to motion-control cameras where the camera moves are programmed into the computer - this process was developed in the 70's, starting with Star Wars). The camera swings with great fluidity around characters, swooping up and over sets, gliding gracefully through this fantastical environment, with nary a glitch or snag in the movement. The camera itself becomes a character.

They also placed characters in extreme set-ups, like placing one character very close to the camera, with another far in the back. (See Sally and Jack above.) Sometimes hands or heads may move towards the camera in extreme close-ups, giving a very dynamic feel to the scene. You forget that you are watching puppets on a man-made set. (Although Ava did say at one point, "They look like Play-Doh, Daddy.")

There are a lot of up-shots, too, where the camera is looking up at the characters. To achieve this effect, sometimes they used forced perspective in the backgrounds, where they "cheated" the look by making the tops of the buildings seem farther from the camera than they really are.

The Characters.

(I just love that guy shown above. He's one of my favorite characters in the movie. Who is he? Why, he's the Harlequin Demon, voiced by Greg Proops, he of "Who's Line Is It Anyway?" fame.)

Bony skeletons, patched-together rag dolls, vampires, evil scientists, werewolves, demons, ghouls, all somehow coexist in this fantastical Halloween Town, and they all somehow feel like real flesh-and-blood people - like the creepiest neighbors that you've ever had. And that is very important for the filmmakers to establish here - that these fabricated puppets with latex foam and clay actually act and feel like your closest neighbor. And these neighbors are of the sweet, misunderstood monsters kind, similar to the monsters of those old Hollywood horror films from the 30's and 40's. They don't mean any harm, just like to scare, that's all.

And this is where it gets good.

One of the strongest story arcs in this movie is with Sally's love towards Jack. I've hardly found a more intense relationhip in an animated movie, and the fact that the characters are not drawn speaks volumes about the skill and hard work done by the animators. Now, we've all experienced a secret crush towards someone, haven't we? But would you actually jump out of window for this person? Before she commits this act, we see Sally (voiced by Catherine O'Hara) standing at her window, staring out at Jack's house. You can sense her yearning for her unrequited love, by her eyes and that certain tilt of the head. The animator for this scene did an excellent job in conveying this emotion, as Sally stands there, without a word. (Danny Elman's score adds excellent support to this scene as well.)

Once she jumps, there a macabre shot of Sally on the ground, broken in pieces. Quite a morbid visual, but since we know that she's a rag doll, Selick says that it was important for the camera to pull down rather quickly so we could see her eyes open and realize that she's okay. But that initial shot, of Sally broken apart, is a particularly strong image, as it is almost a literal interpretation of someone who experiences a crush and realizes that her love may not be reciprocated. We all go through personal moments in our lives where we "fall to pieces" over someone special, whether it be a simple crush or a whole 9-yards type of relationship.

The most intriguing character in NIGHTMARE is, without a doubt, Jack. From his opening woes about being tired of doing the "same old thing," to finding Christmas Town and getting a rush of excitement from that magical place, Jack Skellington is the one character who goes through the most emotional issues. I love it in the town meeting sequence where he tries to get to the "heart of the matter," as Selick describes, to explain Christmas to the townspeople. He wants them to feel the same sweet, warm emotions that he felt while in that special town, but, alas, they do not get it. And when he envisions himself as Santa, Selick says that "he doesn't have to understand it, he just has to do it." He wants to take over Christmas and do it better than Santa.

Well, we all know that it doesn't go as planned. Oh sure, Jack has the best intentions - he gets all the people into it with the decorations, the musicians, making the presents, going through all the right motions to provide the best Christmas ever. And what a great sequence that is, "Making Christmas," eh? Great gags of the Halloween Town inhabitants getting ready for the Big Holiday intercut with the busy-bee workers of Christmas Town. It's in the townspeople's nature to make those presents scary - they don't know any other way! Henry Selick said that Burton's original intention regarding the Halloween Town characters was that they are well-meaning, but misguided individuals. Much like the movie monsters of old.

But Jack is blind to the reactions of the "real" world to their special Christmas gifts. After he is shot down by the military as an "imposter," we see Jack draped across a graveyard statue in a cemetery, providing the film with the most poignant image. Here, he laments about his failure as the New Santa, that he just wanted to give them something great. And who doesn't have this desire for themselves? We all want to do our best in life, whether it be at work, at home, personal goals, or whatever. Here, Jack is bared and beaten and he's not used to such feelings. After all, in Halloween, he's the best, the king, and he always delivers. Here, he's been humbled and now open, he lets it all out, questioning himself, "What have I done?" I love this scene. It is my favorite of the film after all these years because of Jack's vulnerability and the ability to figure out what he did wrong and to get back out there and do better. What great pathos and turmoil for a "mere" cartoon character. I love his "moment of truth," as he realizes that after going through this fiasco, that he now can give it all his might for next year. It's all a part of the artistic process that no matter what you go through during the process, it will greatly impact the final outcome. It's all about learning from your mistakes, and to gain knowledge and to forge through any machinations of creativity, whether it be doubt or fear of failing, and then producing something that lays testament to your experience. Jack is now a "new" Jack, not at all bored with he being just the Pumpkin King, but filled with new ideas that will scare the pants off the people for next year. What a great invigorating testimony.

I hope you enjoyed enduring my long discourse on THE NIGHTMARE BEFORE CHRISTMAS. It's been something that I've always wanted to write about and now hopefully you'll be able to watch the movie in a new, if not different, light. If you haven't seen the film recently, it's always worth revisiting an old bony friend.


Nightmare Before Christmas: Revisiting An Old Bony Friend (part 1 of 2)

This post was supposed to be my first initial entry for this blog, aside from my introduction post, but after seeing THE INCREDIBLES the other night, it was immediately bumped from my list. Something to be said for gut reaction, I guess. But I must say that it seems appropriate to write about NIGHTMARE BEFORE CHRISTMAS right after writing about Pixar's newest flick because I had the exact same gut reaction back in 1993 when Tim Burton released this wonderful little gem to the masses.

When NIGHTMARE came out, I was working as a booth projectionist at our local movie cineplex, and I was the only one there who had any remote knowledge of this film and what it was all about. We did a big promotional campaign, complete with a 14-foot Jack Skellington towering over the hallway entrance (constructed by yours truly, of course). Anyway, on opening weekend, the film actually SOLD OUT several evening shows, which blew us all away. No one saw that coming. It was such a different movie that no one expected it to do so well opening weekend. Looking back on it now, I can see that it probably did so well because it was so different. Nothing was quite like it at that time, and now, I can honestly say that there is still nothing quite like it.

Time to revist an old bony friend. Once NIGHTMARE BEFORE CHRISTMAS came out, it immediately became one of MY movies. A movie that friends and family members would know right away that, yup, that's a Ward movie. Unmistakably quirky, wonderfully designed and completely full of heart, I knew right away that this movie was going to be one of my personal favorites. (I ended up seeing that film in the theater about 8 times.) So why am I taking this trip down memory lane? Well, you can thank Ava for that one. Last year I introduced her to the movie, but being just 3, she didn't get past the first 10 minutes. Bored immediately. Round two, I showed her the DVD box of NIGHTMARE this year, and she's interested. Yes, it's a go! She liked it so much, she ended up watching that movie about 5 times a day up until Halloween. (Sorry, Andrea.) This gave me a chance to take a really good second look at this gem of a film, one that I've held so close to my heart for just over a decade.

And what is it about this movie? Why is it a slow evolving cult classic, now being shown at various theaters across the nation during Halloween? Why is there more merchandise now for this film than when it was first released? Well, I would say that the allure of NIGHTMARE is strong on two fronts: design and overall look of the film, and the endearing quality of the characters.

The Design.

Coming from the mind of Tim Burton, from an old short poem he wrote while at Disney in the 80's, NIGHTMARE BEFORE CHRISTMAS has the unmistakable style that is pure Tim Burton: creepy and macabre yet filled with wit and whimsy. As a child, I LOVED Halloween. Not just for the candy alone, but for all the ghouls and ghosts, the creatures, the skeletons, the horror, the blood! I got overly-creative in some of my costumes at times, but what 8-year old does not go over-the-top for Halloween? It was all in good fun, of course. And here, Burton was able to retain that very same enthusiaism and fun that 8-year old boys have for the holiday and convert it into a full length animated film. Having Henry Selick direct the film was a very wise decision, with Selick sharing some of the same quirky ideas towards Halloween and animation in general as Burton. (Selick did a lot of those odd stop-motion animated intersitials for MTV back in the 80's, and Burton, of course, started his career in stop-motion animation. Kindred spirits, indeed.) With spiral hills, tendril-like trees, wonky buildings, character-shaped homes, all have that classic Burton style. The production designer for the film was Deane Taylor, and he, along with Barry E. Jackson and their crew were able to incorporate a graphic black and white storybook style into real, three dimensional sets and characters. No small feat. And they made it look so authentic, that I swear this world of Halloween Town and Christmas Town could actually exist. So believable and so tactile. And every single prop, character and set was made exclusively for the film. Nothing was ordered or bought from a speciality store, everything was handmade! (I guess there is no Stop-Motion Mart around.) There's something to be said for good ol' fashioned ingenuity and talent, huh?

End of part 1. Click here for Part 2.


Mad Props

I'm forcing my brain to focus on something other than THE INCREDIBLES right now, (I've already seen it again!) as I feel I must give some props to Jerry Beck and Amid Amidi for mentioning The Ward-O-Matic on their most excellent website Cartoon Brew. I've been a big reader and supporter of their respective individual sites, Cartoon Research and Animation Blast for a long time now, and when these two combined forces to create Cartoon Brew, I knew that it was a good thing. I've corresponded with both several times throughout the years, and I finally got to meet Amid at the Ottawa International Animation Festival, earlier this September. (Despite what you may hear, he's a really swell guy.) Both are incredibly busy men, writing books and organizing ASIFA screenings, etc., so I am very very honored that they took the time to plug a widdle ol' fledgling blog like mine. A big hearty thanks, guys.


The Incredibles: One Incredible Film

SWEET MOTHER OF CINEMA! I just got back from a midnight screening of Pixar's THE INCREDIBLES and my head is still swimming from all the eye candy that was projected up onto the screen tonight! This is what movie-making is all about, people. This is what movie-goers want to see: a full onslaught of pure movie magic. The boys and girls of Pixar have been cutting their teeth on previous endeavors all for this film, my dear friends. And I can honestly say that they have now graduated to the next level. In my opinion, they have reached that peak of animated brillance and bliss that it would be difficult for them to fall. My only fear now is that they may not be able to top this film. The pressure is on now for Lasseter and Pixar's next animated feature, CARS - slated for release in 2005. Whew! Whadda ride, folks. I cannot stress to you how much fun I had at this movie! I think I gotta take a moment to regain my composure....

Okay, first off, I'm a father of two: a 4-year old daughter, Ava, and a 4-month old son, Ezra. My girl has seen her share of animated films in her short lifetime, all thanks to me, of course - but I must say that this movie is not for the young kiddies. The director, Brad Bird, he of THE IRON GIANT fame (need I say more? This guy needs to be cloned so we can have more movie directors like him making more honest-to-goodness great films), has been quoted as saying that THE INCREDIBLES is not for young kids. If you think that your kids will be easily scared in action films like STAR WARS or RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK, then they will not dig this film. There are major moments of peril, several with children involved. The enemies are real and will kill the protagonists - just keep that in mind. Most likely, there are still going to be parents out there that will go and take their wee-ones to this film, just because it's animated. Because, let's face it - animation=children's films, right? Um, NO, and that's what Brad Bird is trying to do here. Starting with the FAMILY DOG short back in the 80's and then with his work on THE SIMPSONS and then, triumphantly, with THE IRON GIANT. He's been trying to break that preconcieved mold that many in the animated film-making biz fall prey to. What Bird made here is a legitimate FILM. Not just a "family film," but an action film that just happens to be animated. (Check out a great interview with him at The Onion here.) And I feel bad telling Ava that she can't see the movie as she's got a little crush on Dash, the young boy Incredible. "I like him, Daddy. I like Dash."

As for the look and design of the THE INCREDIBLES, you can almost feel all the sweat and toil that went into the art production for the film. From the grey mundane suburban life that Mr. Incredible must endure, to the brilliant, saturated colors of the remote island, everything looks like the filmmakers poured their heart and soul into it. And I'm buying The Art of The Incredibles book as soon as possible. (A detail of the cover is seen at the head of this post.) Go get it now. There's some fantastic artwork in it, but a word of caution for the virginal-movie-types - the ones who don't want to know any major plot points and surprises when watching a film - there are some spoilers in the book that may ruin it for you. So just buy the book after seeing the film. I highly recommend it.

Everything about this film was top-notch: the character design and development, the animation, the special effects, the story arcs, the action, the ambiance of every set,... I could go on and on about this film. (And with this being my first review for a film on The Ward-O-Matic, it's making me look like the WORST reviewer EVER. I almost feel like one of those no-name reviewers from podunk nowheresville, whom film companies quote repeatedly, especially if the movie is a big fat stinker.) I'm almost gushing like a little schoolgirl here about her latest crush. And in reality, I AM gushing about my latest crush. I've got such a film crush on THE INCREDIBLES right now, I find it hard to think about anything else.

There are moments in this film where I was so excited that I actually wanted to giggle with glee! What kind of movie can make me do that? (Answer: not many.)

For the few that may not like this movie, I must say, what more could you possibly want? At what level of perfection do your movies need to be? I had so much fun that I absolutely must see this film again right away. Now, how am I going to convince my wife this, when we barely get the chance to see ONE film a month? Hmmm....

I want to write so much more about THE INCREDIBLES, but I'll have to hold off until everybody's had a chance to see this truly amazing film. Last thought: I guess that every animator's goal in his career is to have a character so loved that it would possess someone to actually dress up in full costume at a midnight screening of your film. And to the crazy chick who dressed up as Elastigirl at the screening last night: good for you! It just made the night all the more...uh, appropriate? odd? well, fitting for us animation freaks. Thank you.

RATING: (Movie as a whole) 5 out of 5. (Repeat factor) Oh, you betcha. Very VERY high.


This is The Ward-O-Matic

So, I know what you're thinking: another stinkin' blog??? But I figured, hey- since everybody's doing it, why not me? I've got some interesting things to say about the world I see around me, I'm sure that somebody's bound to be interested in reading about what I have to say, right? Well, that remains to be seen, but I'm willing to take the chance. So here goes...

This is The Ward-O-Matic, an account of art, animation, music, movies, books, design, illustration, and the aesthetics of modern culture as viewed by me, Ward Jenkins, an animation director here in Atlanta, Georgia. I'll focus on what interests me, what influences me. I also plan on focusing on the animation community here in this town, as I feel that there's not enough exposure in that regards. Like most cities I've found, the local animation establishment is a very close-knit group, not quite unlike a "family" of sorts. Even in a smaller animation city like Atlanta, however, this family often preys victim to weak communications, so with this blog, I hope to alleviate that problem.

Another arena I plan on focusing on is my family. I know that most blogs are either one of two things: personal or news/informative. I don't see the two mixing that much, (at least the ones that I read) so I want to try something different here by incorporating these two together. Because the way I see it, my family plays a big factor in what influences me and plus, they are aesthetically pleasing to my eye. Biased, yes, but afterall, this is my blog.

Things that interest and influence me. What interests and influences you? I'd like to know, and I'd like to showcase it here. Please feel free to contact me here at the Ward-O-Matic and let me know what you dig.