Tuesday 27 December 2011

Jib-Jab's Goodbye 2011!

Jib Jab have done it again with another year ending goodbye video. I've noticed they have received a bit of flack this year for this not being as good as previous ones, I still thinks its creative, original and very clever! Well done Jib Jab!

Happy New Year!

Monday 31 October 2011

Happy Halloween!

Blists Hill Victorian Town, Ironbridge Shropshire 2011

Sunday 30 October 2011

Cosgrove Hall

Anyone who grew up in the UK in the 70's or 80's will be familiar with the work of the animation company Cosgrove Hall, whether you realise it or not! From Chorlton and the Wheelies, Jamie and his Magic Torch, Danger Mouse, Wind in the Willows or Count Duckula the list goes on and on. They produced some of the funniest 2D and technically brilliant stop motion animation of their time.

I remember being transfixed by the Pied Piper of Hamlin feature animation, all done with beautifully crafted stop motion puppets, and the Wind in the Willows was just sublime. I've always wanted to meet them both so was just over the moon to see that they were both to be part of the Saturday Schedule for the Flip Festival in Wolverhampton.
It didn't disappoint Brian Cosgrove and Mark Hall sat for 2 hours and reminisced about their days as the top animation studio in the UK, talking candidly about how they set up their first studio in Brian Cosgrove's garden in something called 'The Magic Shed' where they produced Chorlton and the Wheelies - a result of a dream Brian had, coupled with the fact that heads on wheels were easy and quick to animate! They then discussed Danger Mouse, the importance of a good voice being the essence of the character, their favourite productions (Brian's being Danger Mouse and Mark's being The Pied Piper, which he directed and produced) and the animation process in general. The morning was filled with fascinating stories; from when they collaborated with Chuck Jones to Disney arriving at the studio to discuss with them how they were able to produce cartoons at such a cheap price (the UK's animation budget being poles apart from that in the US).
After 25 years of animation production Cosgrove Hall's studio was closed down by ITV in 2009. Nevertheless once an animator always an animator and it was wonderful to hear both men talk so passionately about a subject they clearly never really retired from, so it came as no surprise when they announced that they were actually going to ressurect Cosgrove Hall the animation company and begin producing again! Two projects are already in production ('The Hero Gliffix' and 'Pip') and hopefully more to follow. It was wonderful to see both Brian and Mark talk so openly about their work and be so positive about the future. They were both so nice and approachable and I feel fortunate to have been in the audience. 

Friday 28 October 2011

Bill Plympton

Just got back from the Flip Festival in Wolverhampton - great line up this year and it started with the brilliant and amazingly talented Bill Plympton. I have loved Bill's work and style for many years so when I was looking through the schedule last month I couldn't actually believe he was going to be there, I thought I'd read it wrong and it was just the showing of the new documentary on him....but no, he was going to be there and giving a masterclass in the afternoon followed by an evening of short films and a Q&A. What a brilliant opportunity!
It didn't disappoint, I have to say Bill is one of the most pleasant, down to earth and generous (with time and advice) people you could wish to meet. In his Masterclass he talked openly about his career, the highs and the lows, how he funds his many projects and the almost exhaustive process that he goes through to create his unique animations. Working independently he funds all of his own projects and animates everything himself with a small team of people who assist in production, colouring etc. He still works traditionally in pencil (although mentioned that the Cintiq may well tempt him one day) and his work has that pureness about it that would be lost with too much digital input. If you are not familiar with his work I urge you to have a look at his website www.plymptoons.com and his blog Scribble Junkies and if that's not enough then he has a brilliant new book out 'Independently Animated: Bill Plympton The life and art of the king of Indie Animation' - I had my copy with me in the hope I might get the chance to get it signed....as soon as Bill saw I had it he took it off me and proceeded to draw my caricature inside...I couldn't believe it!! I was hoping for a signature but now I had my very own Bill Plympton caricature! Thank you Bill....look forward to seeing all of your future work.
some photos from the day/evening...

Wednesday 5 October 2011

Saturday 1 October 2011

We Bought a Zoo

Just finished reading Benjamin Mee's 'We Bought a Zoo' in which he talks about how he and his family purchased Dartmoor Zoo and turned what was a run down park on the verge of closure into a success. Its a really well written book (Mee was a journalist before becoming a Zoo owner/director) and its been a pleasure to read. Quite sad at times as he talks about coming to terms with the grief of his wife's death, but also quite inspiring when you think of the challenges he and his family took on suddenly taking care of the welfare of 40 odd wild animals, several staff and the responsibility that comes with a Zoo (electricity bills average £6,000 a month). I had seen a little of 'Ben's Zoo' the documentary series which was shown on BBC 2, but reading the book painted a far more vivid and entertaining viewpoint. I'd recommend it.
The book has now been made into a film due to be released in the US this Dec. Benjamin Mee is played by Matt Damon (I'm sure he's very flattered.... Ben not Matt) and the Zoo has moved to California rather than Dartmoor....still it saved them having to do daft British accents. Seems like they have added the mandatory mushy romance, Mee falls for one of the female keepers, but looks like it has potential....

Saturday 24 September 2011

Happy Birthday Jim Henson!

Well my last blog post was about Jim Henson so as this is Sept 24th and would have been his 75th birthday it only seems fair that I do another, especially as Google have done such a brilliant interactive tribute today....

There's also a great video about the process here....

and a Google Blog by Brian Henson about his father here 

I've already posted about the time I met Jim Henson and how he kept in touch right up until his death (for that blog post click here). He really was a wonderful person and I feel very thankful I was able to meet him. 

Happy Birthday Jim I wonder what amazing creations you would have come up with by now....you really were ahead of your time!

Me, Jim and Kermit (1986)

Monday 29 August 2011

New book - 'Jim Henson - The Guy Who Played with Puppets'

I've just received a new book 'Jim Henson - The Guy who Played with Puppets' by Kathleen Krull. Released last Tuesday (Aug 23rd) it's a well written child orientated book which covers the milestones in Jim Henson's life. Kathleen Krull has a nice approachable writing style and its a good introduction to Jim's life for children. However its not the words that impressed me about it. The moment I opened the package I was stunned by the absolutely gorgeous portrait on the cover. The illustrators, husband and wife team Steve Johnson and Lou Fancher, have created the most wonderfully soothing and beautiful illustrations that I have seen in a long time, and certainly in my opinion the best illustration/caricature of Jim Henson that I have ever seen.
Throughout the book are page after page of warm and almost nostalgic illustrations that illuminate Krull's text and seem to somehow fit the ethos of Jim Henson and the Muppet's perfectly. They create the atmosphere of this calm nature that Henson was so known for and set the mood for a life that was filled with imagination and creativity. The style of Johnson and Fancher fit the Muppet's like a glove, they remind me very much of the beautifully illustrated Muppet books by Bruce McNally - he understood the ethos and theme behind the Muppet's also; that aside from all the craziness, deep down there is that rooted sentimentality and sense of family and happiness. The illustrations in this new book capture that perfectly and if you are a fan of Jim Henson's work or just good illustrations I urge you to get this. You won't learn anything new about Jim but you'll love looking through it.
Steve Johnson and Lou Fancher have illustrated over thirty books to date and you can see more of their work here . Jim Henson - The Guy Who Played with Puppets' can be bought here  

Though not many caricaturists seem to have attempted Jim Henson as compared to other famous faces, there are still a few out there which I have collected over the years. Some are very clever, some work well and some slightly miss the mark - see what you think from the selection below....

Wednesday 17 August 2011

It's all about Mona.....

Just got back from a fantastic trip to Paris The city really is beautiful - the parks, the architecture, the shops, even the French language naturally oozes sophistication and culture. The Louvre museum is Paris’s most famous museum/gallery and its most famous exhibit is without doubt Leonardo Da Vinci’s Mona Lisa or Portrait of Lisa Gherardini, wife of Francesco del Giocondo to give it its full title. Now I’ve seen the Mona Lisa before, many years ago on our last visit to the Louvre. I remember walking in to a quiet gallery side room and it was there on the right hand wall, quite inconspicuous, my first thoughts being like many people ‘it’s smaller than I expected!’. There weren’t any particular crowds; a few people stopped for a little while and looked, there were obvious mutterings from those of us who were in awe of such a famous painting but nothing really earthshattering. You stopped, admired such a famous piece of art work and then moved on to the next.
This time however it was a whole new experience. The painting has moved to a new location within the museum's Salle des États. It is displayed in a purpose-built, climate-controlled enclosure behind bulletproof glass. Clearly the vast majority of the visitors come to the Louvre just to see her, an estimated 6 million people a year, and the buzz as we got closer to the entrance to the room was very noticeable. Throughout the Louvre were small signs with a black and white image of the painting and a simple arrow pointing you in the direction (I imagine these were at the instigation of the sour faced gallery attendants who were sick of being asked). And crowds of Japanese and blue rinse Americans on their European tours would eagerly follow these signs like the yellow brick road to their mecca. As we got closer to the room you could hear the noise of people and the click of multiple cameras. However even that didn’t prepare me for the huge crowd of people all swarmed around this painting madly taking pictures and jostling their way for a better position. As we stood there, yes adding ourselves to the crowd I am astonished by, more and more tour groups flooded in making the huge curve of eager photo hungry tourists swell to about 20 - 30 deep. Yet its hard not to get caught up in it all, you find yourself equally in awe of this painting and start taking multiple pictures that you will never look at again (especially as you get a reflection off the bullet proof glass!). You can’t help it you get carried away like a cork in a river with all the hysteria! (I had to take a panoramic picture just to get them all in!)
The crowd facing the Mona Lisa click to enlarge
And yet you look at it and you wonder why? In my opinion it’s not a particularly inspiring painting. It doesn’t really fill you with happiness, sadness or any other emotion (unlike the work by Monet, Rodin or Van Gogh at the Musse d’Orsee) yet it attracts these huge crowds of people. Yes, it’s a well-articulated painting and she has the ‘enigmatic’ smile that intrigues many people, but really does it warrant this fame and attention? In my opinion, no.
The next day the realisation hit me. We were at Disneyland and there on Main Street USA I watched as hundreds of people queued (just as we have in the past) to have their picture taken next to Mickey Mouse. That exact same hysteria whether it be a singer, actor, cartoon mouse or a painting – we all crave to see and be seen next to something that is famous or  ‘known’. Whether that person (thing) warrants it or not…it’s no different really to how tabloids make celebrities out of people that don’t warrant it, yet, like sheep, people follow. In fact the Mona Lisa herself would make a good tabloid front page – there’s continued speculation about who she really is, one such story being claimed that ‘she’ is actually da Vinci's male apprentice (and probable lover) Gian Giacomo Caprotti! Whoever she may be she now has one of the most famous faces in the world, quite an achievement considering nobody really knows why!

Saturday 16 April 2011

Happy Birthday Charlie!

Today April 16th is the 122nd birthday of Charlie Chaplin, one of the greatest comedians of all time, if anyone wants to witness his genius look for the 'Unknown Chaplin' documentary made many years ago. Here are some very rare pictures of Chaplin in colour outside his studio on La Brea Avenue Hollywood (now owned by the Jim Henson company)L http://tinyurl.com/3nn8hsc
and here is one of my favourite videos of Chaplin:
Happy Birthday Charlie!

Sunday 13 March 2011

Marionette Master Class

On Sunday 10th April 2011 The British Puppet and Model Theatre Guild will present a day of ‘The Marionette.’ This unique Master Class will include an in-depth discussion on such subjects as construction, costuming, stringing and control with training on how to facilitate optimum movement and effective manipulation, culminating in an open discussion on the future of the marionette. 

Throughout the day there will be demonstrations and opportunities for training and hands on practice in the art of marionette manipulation. A manipulation rehearsal regime will be offered, incorporating common problems and tips and tricks towards a solution. The particular problems of solo performers and two person companies will also be covered. (Handouts forming an informative training pack will be given throughout the day).

The Workshop will be led by Chris Somerville of the Harlequin Puppet Theatre; Ted Beresford Marionette Maker and Performer; and Michael Dixon current winner of the Harlequin Award.

Date: 10th April 2011
Venue: Newhampton Arts Centre, Wolverhampton
Cost: £30

For more information or to book your place please contact : Michael Dixon archivist@puppetguild.org.uk

Saturday 1 January 2011

So Long to ya' 2010 - Jib Jab Style

Happy New Year! 
The annual review of the American year from the brilliant guys at JibJab has been done with puppets, great as always! See it below and behind the scenes here. Hope 2011 is a good one for you all!