Saturday, January 31, 2009
  Walkin' with Larkin #2
Ten days ago, the National Film Board of Canada launched its free online screening room of 700 films, clips, trailers and four features, promising new content weekly from the NFB's collection of 13,000 productions. Here are upcoming titles.

The catalog includes films by the brilliant and inventive Ryan Larkin (1943-2007). Larkin's Oscar-nominated Walking (1968) was one of the memorable artistic peaks of the 1960s, and it's still as vibrant as it was four decades ago. Watch full screen. We posted Larkin's Syrinx here in February 2007.

Larkin's last film, Street Musique (1972), takes flight on the wings of song with strange surprises, psychedelic morphings and magical twists-- animation akimbo and askew:

Chris Landreth's Ryan (2004) about Ryan Larkin won a 2005 Academy Award and numerous other awards:

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Wednesday, January 28, 2009
  Life itself

Photos ©2009 Time

The new Google service of the Life magazine photo archives has been active for the past two months, and it is quite impressive. To go there, click here. The subject at hand is a good excuse to borrow the title of Elaine Dundy's autobiography for our heading at top. There's also the life.com site, which we wrote about last March. It now has a link to the Google page.

Google claims it is offering "millions of photographs" from Life, an eventual total of ten million pictures from "dusty archives in the form of negatives, slides, glass plates, etchings, and prints." However, it's the "never published" angle that's the real attention grabber. According to Google/Life, 97% of these images have never been seen by the public.

I made a search for Dagmar, the first major female star of television (after Imogene Coca but before Lucille Ball). In 1950, she was hired by brash comedian Jerry Lester to appear as a dumb blonde on NBC's Broadway Open House, but when magazines and newspapers devoted pages to Dagmar and ignored Lester, he was furious. He was caught in a trap he had created. His only way out was to walk off his own show--which he did. Viewers could see the truth: Dagmar was quite clever and intelligent, while loudmouth Lester was the one who was not too bright. His trademark bit was to turn his glasses on his face at a 45-degree angle.

I've made successive screen captures to show the progression which eventually reveals 200 photos of Dagmar by Alfred Eisenstaedt and others. As some have noted, there seems to be a 200 limit on any subject; for instance, Dagmar gets 200, but so does Marilyn Monroe. I've never seen that July 16, 1951 cover story on Dagmar, but it must have displayed only about ten or less photos. Now we see her autographing still photos, on a Manhattan rooftop, in rehearsal, returning to her hometown of Huntington, West Virginia, riding a bicycle and more. It's evident why some of these photos never made it into print, with blurred movements (as in the autograph session above) or poor lighting, but even minus captions, one can connect synaptic dots to find a narrative thread throughout. Google astonishes yet again, this time unlocking a treasure trove of forgotten images. More info at the Official Google Blog.

Photos ©2009 Time

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Tuesday, January 20, 2009
  Peter Foldes' Hunger (1974)
Here is a still from Peter Foldes' Metadata (1971), one of the earliest computer animated films, made a full decade before Steven Lisberger's Tron (1982) and the Cray computer sequences in The Last Starfighter (1984).

Peter Foldes (1924-1977) was a pioneer in computer animation, which he introduced in Metadata, using the National Research Council of Canada's computer. The film was made in collaboration with NRCC scientists Nestor Burtnyk and Marceli Wein, regarded in Canada as the fathers of computer animation technology. To tackle the themes of poverty and world hunger, Foldes again used computer animation in his Oscar-nominated Hunger (1974), doing line drawings of key frames and letting the computer create the transformations from one scene to another. Note similarity of man morphing into auto in Hunger with the Tron riders merging into their light cycles. Made for the National Film Board of Canada, Hunger won the Jury Prize at the 1974 Cannes Film Festival.

Born in Budapest, Foldes moved to England in 1946 and studied at the Slade School of Art. Later, he lived and worked in Paris. His other films include
Animated Genesis (1952), A Short Vision (1956), Plus Vite (1965), Visages des femmes (1968), Je. Tu. Elles./I. You. They. (1972), Réve (1977) and Envisage (1977). He also worked on the computer graphics for the 1973 BBC-TV mini-series The Ascent of Man (1973). A Short Vision, his collaboration with Joan Foldes about a nuclear holocaust, was shown on The Ed Sullivan Show in 1956.

Below: part one and part two of Hunger:

Foldes explained his approach to Giannalberto Bendazzi (Cartoon: One Hundred Years of Cinema Animation, 1994):
The art of the 20th Century is cinema. The language of the 20th Century is technology. In my films, I made metamorphosis. Visages des femmes was a perpetual metamorphosis, created by handmade drawings. With a computer, I can still make metamorphoses, but with greater control over each line of the drawing, which I can move as I please. And I work faster, because the machine frees the artist from the fatigue of labor. A miniaturist can work for seven years on a single work; nobody says that Rembrandt’s paintings are less beautiful only because he spent less time on them.

1976 interview with Marceli Wein about Hunger:

What kind of computer and hardware were used?

The computer was an SEL 840A - SEL later became Gould. It had wordlength of 24 bits, because it was a realtime computer for command and control and data acquisition. The 24 bits were well suited for 2 analog quantities such as 12 bit coordinates. Memory was 8K words or 24K bytes with 1.75 microsecond cycle time. The computer's realtime strength was in its interrupt system. There was no command line interpreter and all control was from the display, an IDI point plotting display (Carl Machover was VP of IDI). The graphics controller was home grown design and built in the lab at the National Research Council of Canada (NRC).

Were there parts where inbetweening was manual and not computer done -- this seemed the case where the woman was dancing?

All in-betweening was by software. The dancer was rotoscoped (traced from actual film) every 12th frame and then software interpolated. They actually filmed a gogo dancer in their building for the occasion.

When exactly was the system and the film done?

The project was started in 1969 and Nestor Burtnyk was the senior person reponsible for much of the software. Because he changed career directions he disappeared from the scene in the graphics community. The paper describing computer assised key frame animation was presented at the Fall 1970 SMPTE conference and appeared in the SMPTE Journal in March 1971. They made an experimental film with the National Film Board of Canada (NFB) and Peter Foldes in 1971 - Metadata - then started working on Hunger. The work was completed in 1973 but the optical work at NFB continued until the release in 1974. Peter Foldes commuted from Paris for three-week stints leaving the technical people to work on software enhancements between visits.

What were the prizes that it won and were any related to the technology as opposed to for the film in general?

The major prizes included: Cannes Prix du Jury, Academy Oscar Nomination, a prize at the Berlin Festival and five others. All were for artistic achievement. The Ontario Science Centre and the Film Institute gave them an award just last fall for the technical side of the work.

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Monday, January 19, 2009
  Civil Defense
In 2001, A Space Odyssey, Dr. Heywood Floyd (William Sylvester) examines operating instructions for the Zero Gravity Toilet. Click to enlarge. Possibly Arthur C. Clarke had the 1962 Civil Defense Drinking Water/Commode military-style instructions in mind when he wrote the Zero Gravity Toilet copy. Around 1976, after food was discovered rotting in fallout shelters, they were cleaned, and supplies were removed. At that time, I grabbed the Civil Defense can seen below, and I've been using it for a trash can ever since.

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Sunday, January 18, 2009
  George Herriman self-portrait
George Herriman's Krazy Kat is one of the ten vintage comic strips available from King Features' inexpensive daily email service, DailyINK. Not long after Jay Kennedy took over as the King Features comic strip editor in 1997, I suggested to him that he make classic King strips available online, and eventually, he managed to launch DailyINK in the months prior to his death by drowning during a 2007 vacation in Costa Rica.

DailyINK vintage strips include Krazy Kat, Bringing Up Father, Buz Sawyer and Brick Bradford. Now if only King would double the number of classic strips. It's great to wake up and read King Features strips in email, almost like opening a morning newspaper in the 1940s. Amazingly, the annual fee for this excellent email service is only $15.

Click to enlarge this self-portrait by George Herriman. It comes from Craig Yoe's new Krazy Kat site, launched on Thursday (1/15). Go here:

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Thursday, January 15, 2009
  Wood Chips 7

Vehicular visions by the teenage Wally Wood

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Sunday, January 04, 2009
  Origin of word "fanboy"
Last year the term "fanboy" was added to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary with 1919 given as the year of origin. Back then, it meant: a boy employed to continually keep a potentate cool by constant fanning. (One has to wonder how long a modern-day fanboy would last at such a job.) However, both Merriam-Webster and Wikipedia (as of this writing) have created confusion by incorrectly juxtaposing the 1919 date with the modern meaning.

Also in 2008, it was announced that the long-awaited movie Fanboys is scheduled to open February 6, 2009. Kevin Spacey is one of the producers. The film's storyline, set in 1998, follows a group of friends who break into Skywalker Ranch to steal a print of Star Wars Episode I prior to the premiere. During their road trip, they meet Kevin Smith and William Shatner, plus various bikers and trekkies.

We know that the word "trekkie" was coined in 1967 by science fiction editor Art Saha at the 25th World Science Fiction Convention (Nycon 3) when he saw some fans wearing pointy ears and said, "Look at the trekkies." But what is the origin of the word "fanboy"? Matthew J. Pustz, author of the scholarly study, Comic Book Culture: Fanboys and True Believers (University of Mississippi Press, 2000) incorrectly believed the word might have been launched when Bill Griffith drew the cover for Jay Kennedy's The Official Underground and Newave Comix Price Guide (Boatner Norton Press, 1982) showing shirts with "Fanboys of America" emblems. In truth, the current usage got underway a decade earlier than Griffith when the word was introduced by the writer-artist Jay Lynch in 1972. Then Robert Crumb took Lynch's word and inserted it into a 1973 "Mr. Natural" strip for the
Village Voice. It spread from there into various tributaries of the mainstream.

After writing for Mad, Cracked and Playboy, humorist Lynch recently moved into the children's book field with his book Otto's Orange Day (Toon Books, 2008), illustrated by
Syracuse Post-Standard political cartoonist Frank Cammuso. Lynch followed with another 2008 Toon Book, Mo and Jo Fighting Together Forever, illustrated by Dean Haspiel, who recently did "Snow Dope" for The New York Times. For other Toon Books, go here.

Below is an email Lynch wrote ten years ago explaining how "funboy" became "fanboy". The text mentions someone named Killeen. This is a reference to Bill Killeen, who was editing Charlatan magazine in Tallahassee in the early 1960s. Prior to that, Killeen was the editor in Austin of The Texas Ranger humor magazine at the University of Texas, where he wrote the first Wonder Warthog strips for Gilbert Shelton. One appeared in Kurtzman's Help!, followed by others written and drawn by Shelton. Underground comics pioneers Lynch, Shelton, Art Spiegelman, Skip Williamson and Jack Jackson (1941-2006) appeared regularly in Charlatan from 1963 to 1966. Here's Jayzey:

Back in Florida, when I was a youth—we used the disparaging term “funboy” to put down our more supercilious friends. In Charlatan mag, Killeen and I often used this term. In 1972, when Al Judson and Bill Beasley announced their plans for a new fanzine, I suggested the title Fanboy—as kind of a cross between fan and funboy.

Although I originally suggested it as a joke, Bill and Al either didn’t get the gag—or thought the title apt, as they used it as the title of their zine. Bill and Al published their fanzine on schedule—and put this new term into the lexicon.

Today I do a search for the word “fanboy” on the Internet—and get thousands of pages. Yet when I limit the search to include the names of Bill Beasley or Al Judson (plus fanboy), there are no results at all. I know all Al wanted out of life was a little piece of comix immortality. When he was lettering for Marvel (or was it Atlas at the time?), the letterer never received any credit. When Al passed on a few years ago, there was no mention of his death in
The Buyer’s Guide or Comics Journal. Yet the word that he and Bill put into the lingo of comix is used daily by all comics fans. How sadly ironic and poignant.

Al never lived to see himself credited for the term “fanboy,” which appears in the current
Oxford English Dictionary. Well, such is life. But Bill Beasley is still very much with us. What can we do to see that justice is done? What can we do to secure Bill Beasley his richly deserved place in comics history? 

As the modern vultures descend upon Bill’s contribution to comix (inventing the term “fanboy”), by putting out dozens of books using Bill’s title as their own, and without a speck of recognition for Bill and Al, the injustice of the whole situation is a black eye on the countenance of the comic book industry. Since very few copies of the original
Fanboy have survived, it well may be up to us (who have bagged these precious issues of the original Fanboy) to put things aright and see that Bill and Al get at least a “special category Harvey Award” for their contribution to this industry.
                      --Jay Lynch (January 7, 1999)

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Friday, January 02, 2009
  Alicia Minor
All art ©2009 Alicia Minor

"Cannibal Holocaust" is an animated tapestry by spiritual Vermont artist Alicia Minor with music by Mister Rourke. Alicia's artworks, animations and fabric designs are a splendiferous salmagundi of Mayan mandalas mushrooming into a psychedelic afterbirth.

Watch full screen for complete cartwheeling ecstasy. Earth to Sun Ra: Please return to this astral plane ASAP.

Alicia Minor, aka A.Minor, is a seventh generation Vermonter and artist who specializes in psychedelic poster art, reviving the revolutionary artistic attitudes of the 1960s with a tech touch both modern and mystical.

Since the early 1980s, she has created vibrantly colored wall hangings, art quilts and scarves from her own hand-dyed fabrics. In the late 1990s, she began working with digital imagery, incorporating ancient Mayan designs, sacred geometry and fractal theory, then applying her experienced quilting eye to deconstruct and reconstruct her work into kaleidoscopic, prismatic patterns for the 21st Century.

Minor is currently at work on new animations and a graphic novel based on the autobiography of her great-great-great aunt, Marie Louise Menard Clemens, who was born in 1863 in St. Albans, Vermont.

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Masquerade of the albino axolotls

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