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The House of Illustrious Animation

A gallery show lures the Miscweant away from his laptop and into a refined repository of fantabulous imagery – to watch cartoons.

New York’s Society of Illustrators has great shows focusing on great artists and genres – all of which I read about but never get around to seeing; dammit Joe, get thee ass to East 63rd Street just off Lex and check the place out. (

What finally lured me through the doors of the Society’s classy little townhouse: their March 10th show of animated commercials and music videos, curated by Laurence Asseraf and Dimitris Athos of the Be Film Underground Festival. (

Can I say ‘cutting-edge,’ or has that cliché passed its sell-through date? I’ll say it anyway; the stuff screened had a very high “wow, that was amazing” quotient.

Folks from UVPHACTORY ( Psyop (, Ghost Robot (, along with animators Willy Hartland (, Bill Plympton ( and George Griffin ( showed up to show off their work.

‘Hallucinatory’ would be an apt adjective to describe much of the program. Let’s face it, you can create just about anything that looks drop-dead tangible via CGI, but how about Uncanny Valley-ish ( creations you can’t take your eyes off:

  • Psyop’s gianthumanoid mountain fishing for people with a Renault for bait;
  • creepy,bizarre animals evolving into creepier bizarre animals to a sing-songy track(“How-will-it-be-when-you-can-choose-what-you-turn-into?”): Ghost Robot’s commercialfor the ‘Spore’ videogame their freaked-out client decided not to air;
  • UVPHACTORY’sshiny CGI robots, programmed Matrix-styleto see themselves and each other as human (produced for rapper PeteMeiser’s “Scent of a Robot”);
  • WillyHartland’s mutant kids and a come-to-life chocolate syrup jar performingto a 1950’s Bosco commercial sound track (not CGI but weird nonetheless);
  • or GhostRobot’s “Wanderlust,” a description-defying 8 minute music video fromBjork seemingly filmed in theUncanny Valley (, featuring a giant yak taking her downdangerous rapids while she wrestles with a grey-faced antagonist as anangry river god looks on – filmed in 3D.

2D commercials and videos, going more for the funny than the weird were also on the bill:

  • GaryLieb’s metamorphosing New York people and animals (seeded with recurringimages of beavers because “New York was founded on beaver commerce”);
  • Hartland’sreggae-scored, high-energy “Pick It Up” Yo Gabba Gabba cartoon and “Danny Cohen’s Ben Gay,” animatingthe comic’s stand-up routine;
  • a pair ofBill Plympton music videos: a Dutch band’s western-themed “MexicanStandoff” and an emergency, last minute piece for Kanye West (“there wasno money and we had to one week to produce it”);
  • “You’reOuta Here,” a surprisingly narrative, Fleischer-inspired cartoon fromexperimental animator George Griffin, produced for retro jazz singerLorraine Feather. (Griffin admitted the work was “different from what Iusually do,” adding “I usually don’t have clients.”)

Then there were a trio of ultra-high contrast, pure black and white pieces: Psyop’s high-def CGI crows (to introduce MTV’s HD channel)… UVPHACTORY’s “Drown in the Now” for The Crystal Method, featuring a bleached-out New York City, a legion of Roomba-like mini-robots and an anti-gravity freighter floating just overhead… and Ghost Robot’s “Destiny,” music video created for Zero 7 via the interpolated rotoscoping technology used in Waking Life.

Lest I forget, stop motion was on the bill too, via a series of cleverly conceptualized, fruit-flavored Bacardi rum spots from Pes ( Apart from Psyop’s high budget commercials for deep-pocketed Coca Cola (including their insect-filled “Heist” spot), several animators pointed out their work was done in little time and on miniscule budgets. UVPHACTORY’s Jessica Brillheart summed it up, saying that after a day of creating and revising spots for demanding ad agencies, “at night you do the stuff you want to do,” with Scott Sindorf, UVPHACTORY’s cofounder adding “it’s an opportunity to flex our muscles – it’s more about love than money.”

Joe Strike's picture

Joe Strike has written about animation for numerous publications. He is the author of Furry Nation: The True Story of America's Most Misunderstood Subculture.