The only Simpsons character with 5 fingers

Today in class we talked a little bit about the Simpsons characters only having 4 fingers. I did a little research on why, and it turns out the decision was probably because it was easier, and cheaper, to animate the characters.

It just so happens that there’s 1 character with 5 fingers, God. He is always shown from the neck down or from the back, and always with five fingers per hand.

God

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A brief history of Rotoscoping

I’ve been a fan of a scanner darkly for a long time. It’s one of my favorite novels, and while the movie has its ups and downs, I think it’s successful in a few ways. One of the innovative aspects of the movie is the rotoscoping that we’ve been talking about in class. Well, I’ve done a little research into the technique, and found some interesting facts that are worth mentioning.

First off, I think it’s important to know exactly what we’re talking about when we say something is “rotoscoped”. It turns out, interestingly enough, that the technique was created by none other than Max Fleischer, who we talked about earlier in the year in context to his Classic Superman cartoons of the 1940s. How the invention works is actually pretty simple.

Max Fleischer's original patent for the rotoscope

Rotoscoping is an animation technique in which animators trace over live-action film movement, frame by frame, for use in animated films. Originally, recorded live-action film images were projected onto a frosted glass panel and re-drawn by an animator. This projection equipment is called, not surprisingly, a rotoscope.

In 1915 Fleischer patented the rotoscope after he used it to animate his series of cartoon shorts titled “Out of the Inkwell”.

Since then, the invention has become a staple in realistic animations because it’s so difficult to imagine a complicated movement in one’s head and draw it accurately. There could be a book on all of the uses of the rotoscope, so I’ll only give one example of a film that uses rotoscoping in an interesting way…

Like a lot of other technologies that made the 20th century what it was, the rotoscope is slowly becoming a relic of it’s time. Even in a scanner darkly, the original technique had been totally phased out, the rotoscoping was done on a computer. The computer is by all means a better, more efficient way to get the desired product- but I’d be interested to see more uses of the original rotoscope because of the weird humanlike movements it creates when done by hand.

Another great example of good rotoscope animation is one of my personal favorites, the 1978 Lord of The Rings cartoon directed by Ralph Bakshi- here’s a clip; notice how human-like the movements are:

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The Webcomic- a new century, a new medium

webcomic

The comic industry is a lot like any other entertainment industry in that, with a few exceptions, it’s the most talented artists and writers who make it to the top. Like movie directors and actors, writers and artists start at the bottom and work their way up, gaining knowledgable experience along the way that contributes to their success. A lot of the time, even if the motivation is there, it’s hard to get access to the materials you need to get the ball rolling. Then if you can create something it’s hard to get your creations out their for people to see- and even if you can do that, how do you get noticed?

Before the computer and the internet you had to be really great to be noticed by someone, good enough to find a way to print your comic and have it distributed. Thanks to modern technology, a ten year old can make a comic and put it out there to be seen by millions. There are two ways in which the invention of the computer revolutionized the “common man’s” ability to create a great comic. Firstly, the invention of graphic editing software such as Adobe Photoshop made it possible to draw, paint, cut, paste, and do just about anything with the click of a mouse. Secondly, and most importantly, the internet- the world wide web of people ever hungry for new content.

There are several differences between webcomics and print comics since the formal restrictions of the traditional newspaper or magazine format can be lifted, allowing cartoonists to take advantage of the web’s unique capabilities. Scott McCloud, one of the first advocates of webcomics, has pioneered the idea of the infinite canvas where, rather than being confined to normal print dimensions, artists are free to spread out in any direction indefinitely with their comics.

However, the format and style of many, if not most, webcomics is still similar to that of traditional newspaper comic strips like Peanuts consisting of three or four panels. Similar to comic books, manga and graphic novels, other webcomics come in a page form rather than a strip form and tend to focus more on story than gags (but there are a lot of gags out there).

watchmen gag

Another reason webcomics have gained so much popularity is the fact that they are not subject to the content restrictions of book publishers or newspaper syndicates; writers and artists enjoy an artistic freedom similar to underground and alternative comics. Some webcomics stretch the boundaries of taste, taking advantage of the fact that internet censorship is virtually nonexistent in countries like the United States.

On the business end, very few artists are able to work on their webcomics full-time without needing a day job to support it.

I leave you with a list of some of the better known webcomics around:

http://xkcd.com/
http://www.penny-arcade.com/
http://www.mspaintadventures.com/

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Classical Music in Classic Cartoons

I’ll be honest, when I was younger I wasn’t a fan of classical music. I hated the opera, and the classical music station might as well have been white noise. the only time I could or would enjoy “old people” music was when it was pulling the strings of some of my favorite cartoon characters. In time the notion that composers like Bach, Tchaikovsky and Stravinsky are telling us a story spurred my imagination, and the way I listened to classical music changed for the better. Not only that, but I, along with everyone else who watched these cartoons, became familiar with a lot of the most well known classics out there.

Merrie Melodies cartoon featuring “Tales from Vienna Woods” (Geschichten aus dem Wienerwald, Op. 325) and “Blue Danube” (An der schönen blauen Donau, Op. 314) by Johann Strauss the Younger. A classic in animation.

In 2008 NPR interviewed Robert Greenberg, a music historian who talked about classical music’s influence on cartoons of the 40’s and 50’s. Here is a link to the full article.

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TIL (Today I learned) Mickey Mouse tried to kill himself.

The Reddit community is a great one, an ever-growing ocean of knowledge, randomness and hilarity. The internet defines Reddit as “a social news website on which users can post links to content on the Internet. Other users may then vote the posted links up or down, causing them to become more or less prominent on the reddit home page.”

It’s more addictive than crack, and if you visit this site every day you’ll soon find yourself not able to be at a computer for more than a few minutes to check the current homepage. What’s so special about Reddit is that users may create their own topical sections, known informally as subreddits and officially as communities, for which to submit their links and to comment, while appealing to a specific niche.

One such niche is titled TIL, todayilearned. This subreddit is home for random factoids that people absorb every day- some are stupid, some are interesting, and some change your life irrevocably.

Today I learned Mickey Mouse tried to kill himself.

Mickey Mouse contemplates suicide

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Why “Batman: the Animated Series” was so good

1992 was a huge year for the dark knight. Tim Burton’s 1989 blockbuster was still on peoples minds, and the character had never been so popular. It was time for a new adaptation in the same vein as Frank Miller’s masterful  ”Batman: The Dark Knight Returns” and Tim Burton’s movie. The chosen medium: a cartoon series inspired by the timeless Fleischer Studios Superman cartoons of the 1940s.

Bruce Timm and Eric Radomski designed the series by closely emulating the Tim Burton films’ “otherworldly timelessness,” incorporating period features such as black-and-white title cards, police blimps, and a vintage film noir artistic design. Danny Elfman, who wrote the score for Tim Burton’s Batman, and later Shirlly Walker, wrote the opening score.

Then came the voice acting. Kevin Conroy was chosen to do the voice of Bruce Wayne/ Batman, and has since become synonymous with the character. Mark Hamill of Star Wars fame was picked to voice The Joker, and has also become the trademark voice of the character. Batman: the Animated Series would not have been the game changer that it was without the voices of Conroy and Hamill. The voice recording sessions were recorded with the actors together in a studio, unlike most animated films, in which the principal voice actors record separately and never meet. various interviews have noted that such an arrangement (having the cast record together) was a benefit to the show as a whole, as the actors were able to ‘react’ to one another, rather than simply ‘reading the words’. This method would later be employed for all subsequent series in the DC Animated Universe.

The program was much more adult-oriented than some previous typical superhero cartoon series. It was the first such cartoon in years to depict firearms being fired instead of laser guns. Also key, and perhaps the most important thing that the show did differently, was to redefine all the characters in Batman’s universe. Of course all of the same villains and allies were more or less the same, but there were subtle changes in their character and appearance that made them more attuned to the cartoon’s “Dark Deco” approach. Another important contribution the cartoon made to Batman’s universe was the introduction of The Joker’s assistant, Harley Quinn, who gained such popularity that DC Comics later added her to the mainstream Batman comic book continuity.

In the end, the animated series had a good run and and Emmy award to boot. Along with a long-lasting impact on the DC universe, the show was responsible for a whole new era of DC character cartoons. From 1996 to 2000 “Superman: the Animated Series” was a major hit, and from there “The Justice League” cartoons we all know were born.

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