One1more2time3’s Weblog: Animation Treasures

One1more2time3's Weblog
One1more2time3’s Weblog is a blog written by animated film industry production designer Hans Bacher.

Formerly based in Europe, the U.S. and Tokyo, Bacher is now in Manila, Philippines and writes about a number of animation and production art topics.

According to Michael Hirsh’s Articles & Texticles, Bacher had been blogging previously on a different platform, stopped for a time and has recently relaunched his blog on WordPress.

I don’t know if he will eventually bring his archives from the older iteration of the blog over to the new one. I hope so, because the current crop is fascinating, informative, insightful and crammed full of great illustrations (what more could you want from an animation blog?).

The most recent article (as of this writing) is about 4 masters, production artists who Bacher has had the opportunity to work with, one of whom is Alex Niño, who I recently profiled.

Of particular interest in the articles currently available are several on the nature and production of backgrounds for Disney’s classic Bambi. One of them discusses the range of greens in the background paintings, displays them as a palette, and talks about the predominance of saturated, intense colors in modern animation backgrounds vs. the more subtle and naturalistic backgrounds in the older classics. There is a related article about the rendering of rocks. (This discussion would be of interest to contemporary landscape painters as well.)

The image shown above is a screen capture of Bacher’s article about perspective, referencing a blog post by John Krikfalusi on the topic and showing backgrounds from Disney’s Clock Cleaners.

This looks to be a blog worth watching.

[Link via Articles & Texticles]


Van Gogh and the Colors of the Night

I will wander off topic for a little personal background (“local color”, so to speak) and then come back.

The town of Arles is in Provence, a region of France that borders the Mediterreanean Sea and Northern Italy, where the Romans established their first province (provincia) outside their borders (hence the name). Arles was one of the major Roman cities in France, still has a largely intact Roman theater and arena and a good bit of the city wall. Today it’s a charming and visually rich town, popular with tourists.

Provence has long had a draw for artists, who find a particular appeal in the warm light and beautiful countryside. In 1888 and 1889 Arles was home to Vincent van Gogh for two of his most productive and most troubled years.

There are none of Van Gogh’s paintings in collections in Arles, the closest is in Avignon, about 20 miles (35km) away, but there are signs of him in many places. When my wife and I traveled to Arles on our first trip to France in 2002 (and I came to the immediate conclusion that the sunlight is indeed wonderful in Provence), Van Gogh’s presence kind of snuck up on us several times.

When we arrived in Arles, after two flights, a bus and train ride and a considerable walk, we were exhausted; and soon discovered that the locals don’t seem to eat between lunchtime and 6 or 7 PM. After spending some time searching for a cafe serving food in the mid-afternoon, we were finally relieved to find a small place that happened to have outdoor seating out its back door at the edge of a courtyard with a pleasant garden.

As we were eating and unwinding, I kept looking at the garden and courtyard, which was backed by a building faced with rows of arches. I found myself fascinated with it, partly because it was attractive, but partly, I gradually realized, because there was something oddly familiar about the place, which was impossible, of course, as I had never been to France before, let alone to this courtyard in Arles.

I finally noticed there was a plaque at one corner of the courtyard and as I approached it, and the view changed slightly, I suddenly realized we were in the garden portrayed in Van Gogh’s The Courtyard of the Hospital at Arles (image above, bottom right, larger version here); which, the plaque confirmed, is intentionally maintained in a pretty good approximation of the way it looked when he painted it (photo here).

Later, after unpacking and settling in a bit, we were out for a drink in a cafe that I had chosen primarily because it had internet access, and I was sitting at the table sketching when I got a similar feeling of odd familiarity from a cafe a few steps away with a yellow front and awning; and I realized that it was the subject of van Gogh’s Cafe Terrace at Night (image above, bottom left). The cafe is currently a tourist spot, named “Cafe Van Gogh” (also here), though we didn’t notice it at first.

We had chosen to sit not in the cafe that was the subject of his painting; but, by sheer chance, in another cafe in almost the exact position Van Gogh must have been sitting while composing his well known work. The effect was even more dramatic in the night, when the awning was lit from below by the glow of lamps, and the colors were uncannily similar to the painting.

We felt the artist’s presence again when walking by “The Yellow House” and in the fields surrounding the town. In particular, when looking out over the Rhone River at night, I imagined him painting Starry Night Over the Rhone (image above, top, larger version here).

Most people are more familiar with the other “Starry Night”, the famous one, The Starry Night; but both paintings, along with The Night Cafe (the lamplit interior) and a number of other works, remind us that as much as van Gogh was a painter of brilliant fields ablaze with the Provence sun, he was also a painter of the night; more specifically, the colors of the night.

Van Gogh and the Colors of the Night is the title of a new exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art in New York. The exhibition promises to be a small (23 paintings, 9 drawings and some letters) but insightful look into Van Gogh’s interpretation of the night, of which he said: “I often think that the night is more alive and more richly colored than the day.”

The exhibition should prove that with some of his most renowned works, including The Night Cafe, The Dance Hall in Arles, The Potato Eaters, Gauguin’s Chair, Starry Night Over the Rhone and the iconic The Starry Night, which is in the MoMA’s permanent collection, along with several less well known works. (The Courtyard of the Hospital at Arles and Cafe Terrace at Night are not in the show, I just included them here to illustrate my story.) There is a catalog accompanying the exhibition.

Van Gogh and the Colors of the Night runs until January 5, 2009 at the Museum of Modern Art in New York and then will be on display at the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam from February 13 to June 17, 2009 (English link here). Advance tickets are suggested.

The exhibit should demonstrate that even though the light for artists is indeed special in places like Provence, it is even more special in the eyes of the artist, day or night.


Robert Crumb Exhibit in Philadelphia

Robert Crumb Exhibit in PhiladelphiaJust a quick note that there is a new extensive exhibit of works from demented genius cartoonist and underground comix pioneer Robert Crumb at the Institute for Contemporary Art here in Philadelphia.

I’ll write a post about the show, and Robert Crumb, in more detail after I’ve had a chance to see the exhibit, but I wanted to give a heads-up about it now for those within traveling distance.

The ICA site has a list of events and public programs related to the show, including tours, a showing of the film Crumb, and a lecture by cartoonist Charles Burns.

The exhibit is called “R. Crumb’s Underground” and features over 100 works. It runs until December 7, 2008.


Thomas Paquette (update)

Thomas Paquette
It’s always a treat for me to get to meet and talk to some of the contemporary artists I write about. This past Friday, I had the opportunity to attend an opening of a new show at the Gross McCleaf Gallery here in Philadelphia of works by Western Pennsylvania artist Thomas Paquette.

I wrote about Thomas Paquette back in the Spring of 2007 on the occasion of another show at the same gallery, but I just made it to that show before it closed, and missed the opening.

At the time I was fascinated with his small works in gouache that I had seen in reproduction, and since then in a beautiful book, Thomas Paquette: Gouaches, that is available directly through the artist’s site, or though Amazon. The pieces featured in the book are also available as archival prints.

Though the gouache paintings weren’t part of the show that time (or this time), I became fascinated with some of the gouache-like characteristics of his much larger scale oils, that seem to carry some of the same feeling.

This time I had a chance to meet the artist and talk with him about his work and technique. Though still pursuing many of the same subjects and approaches that were evident in his work before, he is pushing with some of his new paintings in new directions, notably in paintings in which large color filled skies dominate the composition.

You can see some of his recent work on his own site, and a selection of additional work on the Gross McCleaf site.

In asking about his working methods, I found out that Paquette often works over his oils in layers, painting and repainting areas, partly building up texture and placing areas of color within areas of color, and partly searching out the forms and colors, almost like an additive sculptor working back and forth in clay. It reminded me that there is actually a sculptural quality to his work, in which the surface texture of his paint is one of the appealing elements of the painting; unfortunately, one that is lost in reproduction.

Paquette’s work strikes me as a delightful blending of seemingly contradictory elements, impressionistic in its color and open brushwork, yet academically strong in the drawing and composition. Close up, the shapes and areas of color seem abstract, in the true sense of that word, meaning to extract the essence of something, but also in the sense that you could crop out a small section of almost any area of his paintings and have a vibrant non-representaional composition, filled with lively variations in color and texture.

That texture itself, layers of richly applied paint, well raised above the surface in places, is also a contrast with the apparently flat nature some of his shapes take on from a middle distance. Step back more and that graphic quality, a sense of line and color that reminds me of colored woodblock prints, resolves into a lush naturalism.

The surface character of his paintings, and the nature of the areas of color close up, seem so different form the naturalistic appearance of the works from a distance that I asked him if he does a lot of stepping up and back as he paints; something I’ve been curious about in regard to a number of painters in who exhibit similar characteristics, like Sargent or Daniel Garber.

In Paquette’s case, the answer is no. He told me that it is more of a mental grasp of overall work, maintained while working close, than a technique of constantly viewing the work from close up and back.

Paquette is, after all is said and done, a realist; but his rendering technique pays attention to paint as paint, areas of color as individual abstract elements; and texture as an exploration in itself.

The tension between these opposites, along with his strong sense of value and color and the dynamics of his compositions, are what make his work so fascinating.

The show at the Gross McCleaf Gallery runs until September 27th, 2008.


Harry Grant Dart

Harry Grant Dart
Harry Grant Dart was an American illustrator and comics artist active in the late 1800’s and early 1900s.

He worked for the Boston Herald and then the New York World, where he eventually held the position of Art Editor. He was one of the newspaper sketch artists who sketched important events for newspapers prior to the use of photographs (see my post on The Illustrators of La Domenica del Corriere). He also maintained an outside career as a magazine illustrator, working for titles like Life and Judge.

As a cartoonist Dart created a comic strip called The Explorigator, about a an airship staffed by a crew of adventurous kids. Meant to be a competitor for Winsor McCay’s spectacular strip Little Nemo in Slumberland, The Explorigator only ran for 14 weeks in 1908.

There aren’t a lot of resources on Dart that I could find, but there is a treasure of an archive of The Explorigator on the Barnicle Press site; sadly, not in color, but still a stunning example of this detailed, beautifully drawn and wildly imaginative strip.

The strip featured Dart’s penchant for drawing fantastic Victorian era aircraft, which also showed up in his other illustrations, like the image above (large version here on Flickr), done for a magazine called The All-Story.

I love the fact that he’s given us a liberated, fashionably attired Victorian era woman pilot, years before women could vote.


Alex Niño

Alex Nino
There are a number of strong communities of comics art (those of you in the expensive seats read: “graphic storytelling”) in various parts of the world, each with its own stylistic leanings. Some, like Japan, France and Belgium are more familiar to us here in the U.S. than others, like Italy, the UK, South America, China, Korea and the Phillipines.

Unlike comics artists in China, Korea and most other countries in the Western Pacific rim that produce comics, artists in the Philippines took their primary influences not from Japanese Manga styles but from Spanish, South American and North American influences.

In the early 1970’s established artists from the Phillipines, many of them with with their own studios and publishing endeavors, like Alfredo Alcala, Nestor Redondo (a personal favorite), and Tony De Zuñiga began to do work for American companies like Marvel, DC and Warren.

I don’t know the details, but it may have had a lot to do with the crackdown and sanitization of the comics medium that resulted when the Marcos government declared martial law and began to outlaw or control all mass media in the country.

In the U.S., the Filipino artists’ unique styles and intense, detailed rendering brought them the immediate attention of publishers and readers, and had a dramatic impact on the American comics artists working at the time.

The elder Filipino comics artists (in the Phillipines, is was “komiks”, as there is apparently no “C” in the alphabet), soon began to bring some of their younger contemporaries into the American market. One of the most notable of these was Alex Niño, who would become a star comics (and komiks) artist in his own right.

Niño illustrated over 300 stories for publishers in the Phillipines; and in the U.S. did work for Marvel, DC, Warren, Byron Preiss and Heavy Metal magazine.

Drawing on influences that ranged from his fellow Filipino artists to golden age pen and ink illustrators like Franklin Booth and Joseph Clement Coll and science fiction illustrators like Virgil Finlay, Niño created a synthesis of pen and ink styles that he used to propel his highly imaginative flights of fantasy.

His work ranged from quietly elegant renderings to over-the-top, wildly stylized fantasies that had some of the manic energy of American underground comics.

His rendering style combined the calligraphic thin-to-thick line work common to American comics with the intensely textural rendering of pen and ink illustration, to unique effect.

In the late 80’s and early 90’s Niño’s decorative style and fertile imagination led him to doing production and design work for Disney Studios, contributing to feature animation like Treasure Planet, Mulan, The Emperor’s New Grove and Atlantis.

Auad Publishing, who I have mentioned in the past as the publisher of terrific books on Franklin Booth, Alex Toth and other illustrators and comics artists, has just released The Art of Alex Niño, a 160 page labor of love into which Auad had crammed page after page of Niño’s lavishly rendered illustrations, drawings and comics pages, including several complete short stories.

The book covers a wide range of Niño’s styles, and includes a healthy sampling of color work (perhaps a quarter of the book). As much as I enjoy his color work, it was in his black and white work, particularly in the Warren magazines, that I think Niño was able to utilize his drawing and rendering strengths, and his dramatic sense of page design, to best advantage.

The Gallery of Niño’s work on the Auad site is small, and the is no official site for Niño or large single repository of his work in the web that I’m aware of. I’ve tried to line up some other resources for you below.