Monday, January 30, 2012


What a headache this post turned out to be! This was intended to be an easy to do parody of an article in Look magazine, but when I tried to change the captions to make them funnier everything got buggered up. Oh, well.....

BTW: I just got an interesting comment from a British actor whose internet name is "Propeler." It regards a post I put up on August 11th called, "What Is the Purpose of Acting?" Here it is:

Eddie, I am a British actor, most of my career has been with the royal Shakespeare company and I work regularly on television and film. I have had a dream career so far. I have appeared regularly in londons west end, won awards for my stage work with the rsc and acted with dame judi dench, Patrick Stewart and Ian mckellen. But, I have lost all sense of joy or purpose in it. Your piece on the purpose of acting has totally reinspired me and effectively stopped me from retiring early. The job can feel so self indulgent but you have reminded me of what is great about what we do. I thank you sincerely

Wow! I'm speechless! I don't know what to say, except that it's wonderful to know that something I said was that helpful. Many thanks Propeler for the kind words.

Saturday, January 28, 2012


That's John Maynard Keynes above, the economist who popularized the idea that government intervention in the economy could prevent slumps and depressions. Keynes is one of the pillars of modern liberalism and progressivism.

That's Keynes' opposite above...Friedrich von Hayek, the Nobel Prize winning economist who believed that slumps and depressions are made worse by government intervention. Together with Mises, Hayek became one of the fathers of the modern libertarian and conservative movements.

The two men defined the economic battle of our time: whether governments should intervene in markets.

Now I know absolutely nothing about economics, but like most people that doesn't deter me from having an opinion about it. I'm a Hayek man (sort of)...though if you disagree, and have read a comic book on the subject recently, you could probably embarrass me in an argument.

If you're a Keynesian you'll probably love the book I'm reading now: "Keynes/Hayek: The Clash That Defined Modern Economics" by Keynesian Nicholas Wapshott. I like the way the author argues. At every step he digresses to explain what his opposite thinks, at least half the time fairly, and the biographical details go a long way in fleshing the ideas out.

If I were a book writer, that's the way I'd do it. You learn more from the intelligently laid-out clash of opposing ideas than from a book advocating a single idea. My own term for this type of thing is "conflict learning." This is one way I'd teach a class if I was a liberal arts teacher. I'd debate my opposite for half the class just to air the subject, then at the half way mark invite the class to participate. This could work, even for the discussion of literature.

But I digress. Keynes believed in government intervention in the economy to create demand.  Hayek believed that intervention would lead to a deepening of economic woes, which would create the need for still more intervention til we end up with a totalitarian state. Keynes thought that was silly. Look at Sweden and totalitarian state there. Hayek pointed out the path taken by interventionist states like Germany and Italy in the thirties. That system was prevented from spreading only by war. I could go on, but you get the idea. The book is full of interesting back and forth like this.

Oddly, neither Hayek nor Keynes might recognize themselves in their modern disciples. Hayek is beloved by modern conservatives and libertarians, but he wrote an essay called, "Why I Am Not a Conservative," where he argued against nationalism, and laid out his belief that a culture should not be sentimentally attached to traditional ways of doing things. Keynes repudiated socialism as unworkable and believed that his system should only be applied at times of crisis when downturns in the business cycle brought about unemployment. Many of his modern disciples disagree and see government intervention as a constant. A fascinating book!

BTW: Who's the man in the cartoon (above)? He looks like both Keynes and Hayek.

Also BTW: Many, Many thanks to Kelly Toons and Jonathan Mastron for the great videos!!!!!!!! Both are worth watching.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012


Here's (above) some men's fashions that might be fun to draw. The first is from Life magazine circa 1949. Life liked this style, and so do I. Thin people look great in over-size clothes.

Here's (above) Glenn Gould in the 1970s. I wonder if "Lawrence of Arabia" influenced this look. It reminds me of the flowing robes that Bedouins wore in that movie.   

Here's Elvis Costello wearing the thrift store look. How do you like the "Saturday Night Fever" style on the guy on the far left?

Above, author Antoine de Saint-Exupery wearing a short, wide, hot water bottle tie.

Here's Gerry Mulligan in profile (above), looking like he was drawn by Wally Wood.

Mike sez that the "Double Cross" fez (above) is no longer available. Joe just wrote in to say that the company reconsidered, and the fez is once more for sale. Better order it fast before they chage their minds again. 

There's Ed Sullivan (above) again. I couldn't resist. How did he think of those poses?

Above, John Ford wearing the tight sweater and baggy pants that were popular in the teens and twenties. That look returned in the 70s. 

Above, the plaid jacket and saddle shoes that were popular with young "angsty" intellectuals in the 60s.

Here's (above) the way saddle shoes were worn in the late 40s and early 50s.  Interesting, huh?

Tuesday, January 24, 2012


That's Ed Sullivan (above), the TV variety show host who first introduced The Beatles to American TV. Um, well actually it's George T., a Sullivan impersonator. I couldn't find a good picture of Ed, so this'll have to do.

Anyway, I'm a big Ed Sullivan fan. Poor Ed was the world's stiffest man. It's as if he had rigor mortis while still alive. Amazingly, he was able to use that to his advantage...on him it actually looked good!

Sullivan was the king of awkward. He never knew what to do with his arms. He was always folding and unfolding them and, when he got tired of that, he'd pull on his face or stand with his hands on his waist like Superman.

How do you like the impersonation Jerry does here (above)? The coat hanger shoulders, the "really bigs," the hands-glued-to-the-side when he's all there. How do you like the way Jerry plugs the sponsor's products?

Here (above) Jackie Mason further refines the Sullivan walk. The film begins badly, so you might want to skip the first 10 seconds. The sound's bad too, but don't let that deter you from watching. This is a brilliant parody.

Okay, one more impersonation (above), this time by Paul Terry. Do you see how the jacket rides up when he puts his hands on his waist? That's because the arm holes are cut low, so all the shoulder padding is pushed up when he lifts his arms. My "Wrinkle Jacket" does that. I did a whole YouTube video about it.

Sunday, January 22, 2012


Most female expressions are the same as men's (above). Nothing mysterious here, just the same expressions of joy and sadness that men have, only on a smoother, sexier, more easy to read surface.

But hold on...there's some expressions that don't get on charts like this. We all know that some expressions are unique to women, so unique in fact, that men have difficulty understanding them. Let's take a look at a few.........

 Okay, this expression for example....what the heck does it mean? My best guess is that it's saying, "I don't know whether I'm attracted to you or not, but here's a low intensity sexy look to keep you interested while I make up my mind."

Or this one (above). Is that a neutral expression? Is she irritated? Is she murderous? Is she daydreaming? She doesn't seem ecstatically happy, but that's about the best I can say.

What is this woman (above) saying? I feel silly for asking since she's obviously striking a model's pose and not trying to convey a real emotion...yet there is something else going on there, I just can't figure it out.

 Here's a girl (above) who's shocked by something unpleasant that she's just seen. The basic emotion is easy to read...what makes it noteworthy is that a secondary emotion seems seems to be overlayed on it. Taken all together she seems to be saying, "Oh, my God! My neighbor's been chopped up with an axe...and, er... doesn't my horrified expression look pretty?"

Man, you gotta feel sorry for women. They're what Norman Mailer called "prisoners of sex." They're doomed to be constant spectators on their own exterior lives. It's nice to be a guy, where you can tune out that self-awareness sometimes, and just relax.

How about this picture of a friend taken when she was a teenager? It's charming and doubly interesting when you realize that no man except Robert Pattinson would ever strike a pose like that. It's a girl thing. There's nothing wrong with that; actually I like the idea that girls have their own expressions. It's just interesting that expressions can be gender specific.

By the way, some girls have their own dialects too. In the late twenties and early thirties it was what we would call today, "Telephone Operator." Today it's "Valley Girl." Girls have their own textiles, color palettes, glasses, bottled water, cigarettes, recipes, candy, philosophy, books, cable channels, movies...even their own pencils and pens.....even their own science. It's a different culture.

Friday, January 20, 2012


You must think I'm nuts for reposting these two videos so soon after I'd posted them before. I'm doing it because I really do have something new to say about them. They've pointed me in a new direction and I'm so happy about it that I can barely contain myself.

What I see in them is a personal style of acting that's been simmering in my head for a long time. I'm picturing how this live action style would look in animation. If I could draw it the way I act it out, then I'd have a style that would be completely my own. Isn't that what every artist prays for...a unique style?

To see what I see in this video (above) imagine the roles of the little girl and the stern schoolmaster combined in one person. I picture a little girl who obsessively acts out what other people say to her, so there's lots of opportunities for back and forth acting in the same person. I love the idea of writing for the acting, something that few animation writers do.  If you want to see what I mean, watch the video from 4:10 to 6:05.

On a different but related topic, I wonder why animation took the path it did, where animators learn general skills then apply those skills in whatever way their employer directs them. That's a good plan for most animation, but does it all have to be done that way?

Why can't I have a character that I animate particularly well, and shop him (or variants of him) around to the studios for use in their own projects? The studio would own the variant of my character that I do for them, but I could animate other variants for other studios. It's as if Clark Gable were a free agent who played many roles for many bosses, but was always recognizably Clark Gable. Does that make sense? Am I explaining it right?

I told this to John and he thought the idea was completely hair-brained, just the dumbest thing he'd ever heard. In his view having an independent artist come in would undermine the director's vision and make it difficult for other animators and designers to get on the same track. Maybe, but in my view John's putting too much emphasis on the independence of the animator. Clark Gable still took direction wherever he went, and so would my hypothetical artist.  Anyway, I wouldn't recommend this way of working to John because the way he does things made him the funniest animation director of his time. Why mess with something that works?

Mike Barrier stirred up a big controversy when he suggested something similar to what I'm saying here. You should have seen the letters he got! People were outraged. Me...I think there's something in it.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012


Everybody loves a beautiful face, but be honest...don't you love pretty faces (above) more?

Pretty isn't quite as mathematically perfect as beautiful, and it may be a bit nerdy, but it's more likely to include friendliness and character. 

Beautiful is for magazine covers and the movies. Pretty is accessible. It's what you find in the real world if you're lucky.

Some women (above) straddle the line between pretty and beautiful. That's okay, I'll accept them as honorary pretty types. 

Pretty entitles the possessor to giggle and be fun to be with.

Of course pretty women can have flaws just like anyone else. I'll bet the pretty girl above has a depressive disorder.

Here's (above) a pretty woman that strikes me as positively dangerous. Men would be well advised to walk the other way, but it would take an exceptional man to do that.

Monday, January 16, 2012


Weeell....if you weren't at Steve Worth's last night, TOO TOO BAD! You missed a chance to meet ace Twilight Zone writer, George Clayton Johnson (that's Steve on left and  George on the right, above). For readers who are unfamiliar with George, here's a yeoman introduction cribbed from Steve' blog, Animation Resources:

Mr. Johnson was one of the principal writers on Rod Serling’s “Twilight Zone”, writing both stories and screenplays for such legendary episodes as “The Four of Us Are Dying”, “Kick the Can”, “A Game of Pool”, and “Nothing in the Dark”. He also was the writer of the first regular episode of Star Trek to air, “The Man Trap” and the feature films “Logan’s Run” (he co-wrote the novel the film was based on) and “Oceans 11″. He was part of a group of Southern California science fiction writers that included Richard Matheson, Ray Bradbury and Charles Beaumont. He collaborated with Ray Bradbury on the story for “Icarus Montgolfier Wright”, an Academy Award nominated animated film produced by Format Films.

I came to the event with a bunch of questions for George, foremost of which was this: how does a dramatic writer fill in the details of a story without being boring? In George's Twilight Zone episode "A Game of Pool," the whole extended middle was a pool game. Now how do you make a thing like that interesting? 

The answer isn't obvious. I'd just seen the episode and there wasn't a single second where the film was less than fascinating, even though there were no fights, shouting matches, power outages or third characters. How did George keep the interest level so high? You're going to die when you hear what he said.

The answer in paraphrase was...personality...character friction...two appealing ideas in conflict...the gradual unveiling of an overriding great thought...and. of course, suspense about the outcome of the game and how the story's going to end.

Fine, I reply, but what kind of character conflict could possibly keep our interest for so long? One man's a seasoned pro and the other's a talented usurper. So what? What can you do with that, that hasn't been done a million times before?

George's answer was that I hadn't done my homework. I should have paid more attention to the human relationships on display in the street. It's not enough to characterize people as pro or usurper, or shy or extroverted. You have to try to understand why they're that way. Their outward actions are a manifestation of their inner ideas about the world. Exactly what are those ideas? What happens when those ideas are challenged? It's not anger, it's something more interesting. 

Holy Cow! When all those things come into play, the task of filling up the middle of the story seems like fun. In fact, the middle now becomes the most interesting part. Thanks, George! I'll never look at that problem the same way again!

BTW: are these theories relevant to animated comedy? Mmmmmm...maybe not exactly. Cartoon comedy has its own rules. But they're still very, very interesting, you have to admit.

Sunday, January 15, 2012


Gee, I couldn't finish this post (above) about date rape before it was time to rush off to Steve's place to person...a wonderful screenwriter, George Clayton Johnson. It was a terrific night! I'll tell you all about it after I get some sleep, I'm just too...

Wednesday, January 11, 2012


Thinking about the opening back shot in "Miracle on 34th Street" (see the previous post) got me thinking about the subject of back shots in general. I'm a big fan of back shots (actually back acting, not just isolated poses) in live action, but you don't see them much in animation. That's a shame. Back shots are funny. Where would "The people of Walmart" site be without back shots like the one above?

I understand why animation people avoid them.  You can't easily study yourself in a mirror when you're drawing the back. You could draw somebody else's back, but they're not likely to act the scene right. I guess you could act it out yourself in front of a digital camera and play it back.

 I wonder how the dancers in the video above did it. How did they know how their dance would look to us? That's a nice dance, isn't it? 'Very effective from behind.

I can't find any ready-made clips of good animated back acting, which is what I meant to discuss. I can't even find any good live action reference for it, apart from Chaplin. I'll return to this subject later when I have better visuals.

Back acting is different than front acting. It's not just a question of making good silhouettes...back acting is more about timing and context. You have to make the audience delight in imagining what the face they can't see is thinking and doing.

Oh well, I have plenty of back-of-the-head reference. I'll talk about that. For me, back of the head means big ears (above), whether the person has them in front or not.

For the purpose of drawing, the small-eared girl in the upper right (above) should look like the girl in the lower left when she turns her head.

I call your attention to the wispy little neck hairs in the picture. I thought only guys had neck hair! I wonder if girls shave it. Maybe they just let it grow. Imagine what a girl would look like if she cut off all her normal hair but kept her long neck wisps. 

A good back of the head (above) is a thing of beauty, even on a guy. The two dots aren't mine.

I love over-the-shoulder shots, especially when the actor facing front has an extended acting scene. Laying bare your emotions to an impassive lump of hair and tweed in the foreground strikes me as funny. I tried it out in this video from a couple of years ago.

BTW, The best acting moments here come close to what I would have put into similar scenes if I'd been an animator working on an animated film. I really need to assemble a small reel of rough animation showing how I would animate characters using my own style of acting.

Monday, January 09, 2012


Which do you prefer: the old 1947 version of "Miracle on 34th Street," or the newer 1994 version? It's not a fair comparison because the older version had a bigger budget and some of the best stars and technicians of the day. Good writing, too. Even so, comparison is still possible.

I maintain that the biggest advantage the old version had was a philosophical one. People in those days had a more interesting way of seeing the world. We see things through a depressing Post Modern filter, or at least we did back in 1994 when the remake was made.

Let's take a look at some examples.....

Here's the start of the 1947 version: the titles are superimposed over a traveling backshot of Santa walking along Manhattan streets.  Introducing a robust, confident character with a backshot is a great way to create suspense, and the immersion in the life of the city alerts us to the film's subtext, which is that the modern world (and specifically New York) is a wonderful place to live.

The titles finish and Santa, who we'd only seen from the back til now, rounds a corner and stops to kibbitz when a shopkeeper goofs up his reindeer display. The back and forth between the two men establish Santa's personality. It works fine.

Now here's (above) the 1994 version. It starts with a frontal shot of Santa walking down a single street. The shot is made with a long lens, which flattens the background and robs it of its character.  No reveal, no subtext, and no color. Why is everything brown? I understand that it's cheaper to shoot this way, but is this really the best the director could do? What went wrong?

What went wrong is that the producer handed off a sentimental 40s story to an unsentimental Post Modern director. Unlike Woody Allen, the director just couldn't bring himself to cast New York in a positive light.

In the newer film Santa's character (above) is established by having him react to an astonished kid who recognizes him. It's not a bad way to go, but the handling was unimaginative. Too many close-ups, too long lenses, too few extras and pedestrian dialogue. And that's not all. 

Also at fault is the flat, deliberately deadening Post Modern way of staging.  Like atonal music, it's a bleak style that's deliberately meant to be flat and unsettling. Flat anesthetizes the senses. It's a style that fights the sentimental story it's trying to tell. It's a shame because you can tell that Richard Attenburough (Santa) had real enthusiasm for the role.

Here's the old version again. Santa (unseen here) discovers that the parade Santa is drunk , and storms off to report the problem to the coordinator, Maureen O'Hara, pictured above. It's all staged perfectly and there's plenty of extras. Everybody's looking at O'Hara...she's the center of attention, which is a good way to introduce a star. 

Here's (above) how the Post Modern version introduces its star. She's in a dark media truck loaded with video monitors. What gives? The parade coordinator is our star, and we can hardly see her.  

Okay, it's a cheap way to shoot, but it also fits with the Post Modern, Phillip Glass, trance rhythm of the film. The Post Modern style looks for broad patterns, and resists the notion of making scenes stand out. That's an odd style to choose for a classy story that begs for virtuoso scenes.  

I'll add that video monitors are a Post Modern symbol of alienation. How depressing!

Here's (above) the old version showing Natalie Wood and John Payne watching the parade from O'Hara's apartment. Seeing the parade reminds us of the exuberance and grandeur of the city. What the characters say has extra weight because the visuals connect them to the grand adventure below. 

Here's (above) a similar shot in the new version. No grand adventure here. Why is everything so dark and flat? And why is the parade reduced to shapes passing by the window? Couldn't the filmmaker afford to rent some stock parade footage? 

The bleak graphic treatment makes me feel that the parade is either menacing or uninteresting, and that the foreground figures are hiding out to avoid it. How odd for a film that's supposed to be glorifying Christmas. You get the feeling that the director doesn't really care much about the holiday or about the city. What was the studio thinking? 

Do you agree? Rent both versions from Netflix and make the comparison yourself.