Today marks what would have been the great Ray Harryhausen’s 100th birthday. To film and animation aficionados, Ray’s name is highly praised, and rightfully so. He was a brilliant stop-motion animator who, following in the footsteps of Willis O’Brien (the man behind the original King Kong), Ray elevated the world of visual effects in live-action movies that set new standards for decades. His work was often a part of science fiction and fantasy movies, but even if a film itself wasn’t necessarily great, Ray’s work on its own was groundbreaking.
My favorite of Ray’s work, and the favorite of many, is the skeleton sword fight from Jason and the Argonauts. It was made in 1963 , which means there were no computers involved. It was just little skeleton puppets moved one frame at a time, lit to look like it was outside, and large real human actors were filmed separately from the skeletons to look like they were interacting with them. Insanely difficult to pull off, but done so brilliantly. Here’s the scene:
I feel very privileged to work in the animation business, and was thrilled to have had the chance to meet and talk with Ray a number of times before he passed. His tales of working in this business inventing techniques and trick along the way were fascinating. They were especially fascinating because while I usually work on projects that are completely animated, Ray’s objective was to have the make-believe stuff appear to be real by having it interact with real things.
Perhaps the most unique brief chat with him came from bumping into Ray on a sidewalk here in Burbank, CA one day. Most people walked by without giving him a second look, but then a young animation guy like me knew who he was.
Ray passed away at the age of 92, but what an amazing legacy he left behind.
I belong to the National Cartoonists Society, and specifically am a part of the Los Angeles Chapter called NCS LA. Affectionately, our chapter is known as The Order of Cornelius.
Cornelius is a bear who reportedly saved the life of California cartoonist George Herriman from hurtling over a cliff on a runaway toboggan. He later saved the lives of several other cartoonists, too, and thus earned his place as the patron saint of NCS LA after his passing. He’s now remembered as an angel bear who continues to look after the well-being of LA cartoonists.
Under the leadership of The New Yorker Magazine cartoonist Matt Diffee, NCS LA began giving annual awards for career achievement and for volunteerism to our members. We began giving the awards without actually having the physical awards to give. After a couple of years, I was tasked with designing The Cornelius Award (the one for volunteerism), while Diffee and Spencer Ramsey set about designing The Dingy (given for career achievement).
I looked to classic Art Deco medal designs of yesteryear to attempt to give The Corny an aged provenance of sorts. Cornelius was depicted in a more realistic manner, with his stylized angel wings and halo. Add a few lightning bolt accents, and we had our design!
The next step was getting the medals made, which proved to be challenging. One of our members, Drew Aquilina, found a Los Angeles based maker of custom medals, so I reached out to them only to discover that while they had an LA office, they were actually based in the Philippines which is where the sales representative was.
There was much back and forth via e-mail to make sure the specifics of the design were met with their production people, and then the order was placed. The medals turned out beautifully! They measure a large three inches across, and came with a plaid ribbon of our design long enough so this can hang around the recipient’s neck.
Of course, you have to take a look at The Dingy Award, too! Named after NCS LA founder Ding Daniels, it is given once a year to the member who has T.I.U.A.N. – Taken It Up A Notch – in their career. Diffee and Ramsey did a nice job on this one, too.
Earlier this summer after both medals were completed, NCS LA had a special medal ceremony to give the medals to the six people who had earned them over the past few years. The three recipients of The Dingy were children’s book illustrator Marla Frazee, cartoonist of the online comic BaconLonnie Millsap, and former MAD Magazine editor-in-chief Bill Morrison.
The Corny was given to Spencer Ramsey, Frank Hansen, and as a big surprise, yours truly. It felt kind of weird to be given the medal I designed, but it’s neat to have one.
This week, one of the bastions of my childhood chose to retire. Caroll Spinney, the Muppeteer behind Big Bird and Oscar the Grouch for much of the past 50 years on the show Sesame Street, filmed his final scene yesterday.
I have been fortunate to have chatted with Caroll a number of times right here in my town of Burbank, California. He told me that when he was a young man, his aspirations were to be an animator, and even applied to Walt Disney’s studio. He said Walt offered him a job, but not very much pay, so Carroll turned ol’ Walt down. Not long after, he got into puppetry which led to meeting Jim Henson, and the rest is history.
Caroll still enjoys drawing, and I am proud to have five pieces of his in my collection, this one being my favorite. My very best to Mr. Spinney and his wife, Debra. Thank you so much for filling my childhood mind with wonder, and broadening my imagination.
Be sure to seek out the wonderful documentary I Am Big Bird to learn about Caroll Spinney’s fascinating life.
I had a super fun time this past weekend drawing for the kids at a fundraiser at Walt Disney Elementary School in Burbank, CA. I know, it sounds like the Disney company is running a school now, but no, it is a public school just named after Walt Disney the man, just as schools are named after Thomas Edison or Abraham Lincoln.
Tom Caulfield (director on the Tangled TV series) and I spent a few hours sketching whatever the kids asked for. Somehow, I got schnookered into drawing the Leviathan from Disney’s Atlantis for one boy. Now, I did work on Atlantis, but I reminded the young art patron that the Leviathan had been animated on the computer because it was so complicated. People didn’t draw it in the movie. Maybe this statement from me caused him to be extra worried that I wouldn’t do things right, because the whole time I was sketching it from an image on a phone, this kid was art directing me making sure I was drawing it correctly. It was pretty funny, and daunting.
The event itself was centered around a screening of Disney’s Big Hero 6, so we had lots of requests for Baymax drawings. And just about anytime someone asked for Rapunzel, I sent them to Tom! Kids kept asking for all these things I hadn’t drawn before, and I was itching to draw something I knew – specifically, Goofy! I kept asking each kid who came up if they would like me to draw Goofy. “No” was a common answer as they asked for Miguel from Coco or Belle from Beauty & the Beast or Pikachu from Pokèmon. Finally, towards the end of the night, one kid surprised me by saying “yes!” So he got a very exuberant Goofy.
My friends Jennifer & Bert Klein (check out their Pups of Liberty animated shorts on YouTube and Amazon Prime!), who I’ve known since my days at Disney Feature Animation, organized our part of the event. Jen even got into sketching with us for a little while! It was a fun evening!
After three caricature posts in a row, perhaps it is time to return to the animal world. How about this Respectable Reptile?
A little over a week ago I saw the original 1960s Doctor Dolittle on the big screen (Rex Harrison was the star – not Eddie Murphy), and came away with animals on the brain. This dapper fella is a hand-inked specimen that came forth in my sketchbook, then colored in Photoshop.
By the way, if you ever wondered what John Hammond from Jurassic Park looked like singing and dancing, do yourself a favor and check out that 50-year-old version of Doctor Dolittle. He’s the circus ringmaster. You’re welcome.
One of the highlights of the screening I went to was that the author of the screenplay and writer of the songs for the movie, the legendary Leslie Bricusse, was there for a Q&A along with Samantha Eggar, one of the stars of the film. It was so great to hear their tales from this film they spent a year making oh so long ago. Below is my favorite photo of the two of them that I took that day. What a treat!
Last week I mentioned the Tim Curry Tribute art show that the Creature Features gallery in Burbank, California, was hosting. I even teased a small portion of my painting that is in the show. Well, the show opened this past Saturday and was a SMASH!
Before I continue about the details of the show, let’s just reveal the full image of my painting called Tim Curry – A Portrait of Villainy. Seems like all the best roles we’ve come to love from this actor are those of villains. He has just been so good at chewing up the scenery with his parts. No one can deliver his lines with more panache and conviction, be over the top about it, and still be so believable as those characters. So, I chose not to focus on a character he played, so much as just portraying him as being a character of himself.
Word got out a day or two before the show that LA Weekly, a local newspaper that talks about all the hip events going on around Los Angeles, named the Tim Curry show as their “Event of the Week.” The show didn’t open until 6pm, but as I drove past the gallery a little after 4, there were already two lines forming. One line to the left of all the pre-paid customers (it was $10 to get in on opening night), and a line to the right of stand-by. The gallery changed their hours for the show from 6-9pm to be from 6-11pm to try to accommodate everyone. By the time I arrived for the artists’ entrance at 5, there must have been 500-600 people waiting in line. It was crazy insane!
Of course, the biggest reason folks came to the show was to hopefully get to say hello to Tim Curry who was in the house! Tim had come earlier before the gallery was open to see all the art, which was a good thing. It allowed him freedom to move around, and not be disturbed by everyone wanting a picture with him. He went to dinner, then later came back when everyone was there, and was willing to sit in a roped off area where folks could walk by and greet him.
Inside the actual gallery rooms, it wasn’t too crowded. They allowed in enough people to make the show navigable, and as folks left, more could come in. A lot of originals were being sold, as well as lots of prints of some of the art. I didn’t stay the whole night, so I assume that my painting is still available for sale, and if you aren’t into having a huge piece of art hanging in your home, they are selling modestly sized prints that I hand-signed. Feel free to contact the gallery if you are interested in getting one. CLICK HERE to access Creature Features’ website.
So, without further ado, below are some photos I took of the show to give you a little taste. The show will be on display until March 11, and it is free to attend now after the opening, so if you are local to Burbank, stop on in and check it out!
About a week ago, I went to lunch with my pal and Disney animator Kevin MacLean over at the oldest Bob’s Big Boy in the country located in the Toluca Lake section of Burbank, CA. Now, there’s no real point to this tale in specifically mentioning Bob’s other than it is part of the drawing, because this could have happened anywhere.
Kevin and I were returning to his car in the parking lot, and sitting on a park bench in front of the car with his back to us was a man who was wearing a strange headband with a cloth draped down the back of his head, and he was reading a newspaper and talking to himself. Kevin said, “I think he’s wearing a dress.” So, we backed out, and drove around to the exit where we had a clear view of him. Sure enough, he was sitting there nonchalantly reading the paper wearing a low-cut dress in Bob’s parking lot.
Later, when I got home, that image was still mulling around in my mind, so I let it spill forth onto some paper, the results of which you now see before you. Sometimes real life is stranger than anything one could imagine.
You aren’t going to believe this, but Kevin and I were over in Hollywood this past weekend, and we saw the SAME GUY there again, passing us in a crosswalk. Kevin said, “Are you sure that’s the same guy?” I said, “I’d know that dress anywhere!”