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Tangled, Tattooed, Tattered and Torn! A Tale of Turning Tides and Illusions….and Walt Disney

The dreaded Disney curse strikes again, deep into the heart of a jaded old animation fart who tries not to care about animation any more! Stick a fork in him and turn him over, he's done!

Well, it’s been a long, long time since I posted anything on this AWN blog. I would use the excuse that I have writer’s block, except for the fact that I’ve been writing my butt off, trying to finish up the second volume of my book on special effects animation, ‘Elemental Magic ll, The Technique of Special Effects Animation’. Writing books is hard work, let me tell you. When I started writing my first book a few years back, I never would have guessed it would be such an arduous journey. Hell, after working on several big-budget animated films, I thought “Surely this will be a piece of cake compared to that!” But no, no, no, no. No such luck. Books are tricky, persnickety things, and they’ll wring you out, really wring you dry. I love it! But I think some of my anal retentive book writing habits rubbed off on my blog writing habits. Rather than just spew out a couple of hundred words with a simple, relatively unstructured writing style, just to make some kind of blog-esque commentary about animation, I have had a tendency to try and write blog epics. Earth shattering revelations of profound insights, critical prowess and yes, social commentary, interspersed with elegantly designed and well thought out illustrations and photos. And since I really did spend a lot of time and effort on my first few blog postings here, I seem to have avoided writing any blogs at all since my last one, thinking I had to follow up the last ones with more deep, over-worked brilliance. Well, the hell with that. Let me just spew out a few shallow and animated thoughts here and get on with it. I need a break from writing my book, and to tell the truth, I’ve had a lot on my mind lately.


My first reaction, like that of many people, was “Why the hell did they change the title?” Rapunzel seemed a perfectly good title that has stood the test of time. It felt so familiar, like ‘Rumplestiltskin’ or ‘Little Red Riding Hood’. So I assumed that they must have changed the title for all the wrong reasons. Perhaps to try and mend a broken film, and give it some sort of modern, hip appeal to a younger generation. And then I saw the trailer, and it looked to me like Disney had once again gone with the MTV generation’s idea of what is funny, and or hip, slick and groovy. Couple that with the fact that I haven’t really liked any of the Disney CGI product in the last few years, and I was thoroughly prepared to despise this film. However, I also knew the whole story behind the making of Rapunzel, and I was extremely curious to see what Glenn Keane, whom I admire immensely, might do given creative freedom with a film. 

Recently I attended the outstanding CTN Animation Expo in Burbank, and we were treated on the last night to a very sneak preview of Tangled, presented to us at the Disney Feature Animation movie theatre in full, glorious 3D (a phenomenon that seems to be  getting all the animation media’s attention these days that I’m not yet entirely enamoured of just yet) The seats in Disney’s theatre are fantastic, and after leaving the company back in 2002, it felt creepily comforting and familiar to be back within the Disney ‘world’. So I settled in and prepared to watch a film that I was quite certain I wouldn’t like.

Well I’ll be damned if ‘Tangled’ didn’t completely work its magic on me. After a slightly slow start, wherein the storyline is set up for us, the film hit its stride pretty quickly, and before long I was hooked 100%, thoroughly enjoying the film, and it stayed with me all the way through. A damned well told fairy tale, reasonably modernized, funny as hell, with good emotional hooks and music that didn’t kill the buzz for me. Those of you who read my ‘Harsh, opinionated and unfair review of The Princess and the Frog’ might remember that I was revolted to find myself watching the fourth over-the-top full blown musical number with a cast of thousands that did nothing to drive the story, in the first twenty minutes of that film. I was thinking, “Why the hell does Disney feel like big musicals are the way to go?” But with Tangled the music was handled with a lot more finesse. None of the songs felt gratuitous or meaningless, or too long. The film kept rolling right along and never got bogged down in an over-effort to make everybody happy, my major complaint with most Disney fare.

Disney's latest fairy tale 'Tangled' is a refreshingly well done film. What a relief! I knew they could do it....I mean, I thought they could.

So, my take on ‘Tangled’? Damned fine film. Truly a classic, a winner, and a lot of fun to boot. Huge KUDOS to Byron Howard, a sweet guy who I worked with for many years at Disney Feature Animation in Florida. It is so great to see someone who was a hard-working second tier grunt in a big machine, rise up and have such a stellar directorial debut! And his directing partner Nathan Greno as well, and Glenn Keane too! Way to go Disney. It’s about time you created a great film. All that talent being wasted for so many years. Sheesh! 

Well now, the next section of this blog gets back to my intriguing title, the second part of which is;  ‘Tattooed’.

Over the last couple of years, for some bizarre reason, tattooing and tattoo art has become a main focus of mine. I even took the plunge and bought all the gear, and asked around for a long time before I finally found someone willing to apprentice and old fart like me. So I’m into it now, still learning a lot, and I’ve only tattooed one real human being so far. I’ve tattooed a couple of dozen grapefruits though, and I can say with confidence that I’m an accomplished grapefruit tattooer. Quite the accomplishment eh?

A couple of dozen grapefruits have fallen prey to my tattoo gun's fury!

Yeah, tattooing is sickenly popular these days. It’s unbelievable how many young (and old) people are suddenly willing to shell out thousands of dollars for a piece of art on their bodies. Amazing. It is truly a phenomenon. I chalk it up to our sad rootlessness, especially in North America, where we are all immigrant orphans without a whole lot of history, community or ‘tribal’ spirit. People are desperate to belong to a tribe of some sort, and tattooing satisfies that need. Suddenly we ‘belong’ to a tribe of painted peoples. Like big time sports fans putting war paint on their faces, but without the corporate sheen of major league sports. Tattoos say “I’m on a team that moves to the beat of its own drum!” Funny though, in trying to express the fact that they aren’t ‘followers’ millions of people are becoming just that. Spend some time around tattoo parlours and you’ll be blown away by the numbers of people flowing in the doors to get their first tattoo.

I was 48 years old and still clean, and now this? Well, it's a great way to learn!

Well, I am seriously bitten by the bug, and I’m going for it. There are some truly amazing tattoo artists out there, far better than I thought. But frankly, far too many tattoo artists can’t draw their way out of a wet paper bag, and there’s a need for a level of professionalism and respectablity in the tattoo world today, that I hope maybe I can help out with. I’ve seen too many friends getting ‘bad’ tattoos and exclaiming how good they are. What they don’t know won’t hurt them I guess, but I’m hoping I can do some fine work eventually, for folks who might otherwise get tattooed by Joe Schmoe and get a piece of crap cut into their flesh till death do they part!

tattooing myself late into the night.....

So there. It also is a reasonably good way to make a few bucks, but, like animation, I am getting into this because it interests me deeply, not to try and ‘get rich’. That is just not a priority of mine any more. Not in this life…. 

Tattered? It sounded really good with Tangled and Tattooed. 

Torn? I seem to be torn these days, between a whole life of animation, and another, different life that is slowly taking form. Will I ever consider myself ‘out’ of the animation industry? I cannot even begin to imagine that, no way. It is deep in my bones, my mindset, my heart and soul. I breath animation, but she has been like  Cinderella’s cruel bitch of a stepmother for the last few years. Making me work late and scrub floors for pennies, abusing me, paying me less and less and expecting more and more. Animation has been pissing me off the last few years too, and that really tears me up! So I’ve been a little unfaithful, but here I am, working around the clock on a book about classical animation principles, the same stuff that made my eyes grow wide and my heart quicken when I was just a little animation tadpole. Yeah I’m torn, but I’m not going any where….

Arrggghhh! Take THAT!

Turning tides would refer to the fact that I am actually allowing a different skill set to slowly take over my life. I have made my bread with animation for over three decades now, and to change gears at this point in my life is, well, I guess in some people’s eyes, an unexpected turn of the tide. But I think it’s exciting. To actually try to get good at something I don’t know squat about, it’s challenging, interesting and fun. Oh yeah, after over two decades I had to wrestle computers to the ground and try to squeeze something creative out of them. That was certainly something new. I suspect that my now turning towards something as aggressively organic and analog as tattooing is in some way, a rebellion against the cold, souless techno-hypnotic mind freeze of the computer game. I’ve paid my dues playing with computers and you know what? I’d much rather interact with a flesh and blood creature with a soul. Something that talks to me and twitches when I poke it. Something that bleeds. And when I look deeply into a living organism, I see a miracle so complex and miraculous, it makes the greatest super computer look like a pair of rusty pliers.

Illusions, well that would refer to Sylvain Chomet’s most recent masterpiece ‘The Illusionist’, another new animated feature film that I was lucky enough to see a sneak preview of while at the CTN Expo recently. Wow. Hard to believe anyone would make such a film in this day and age. Undoubedly a modern day masterpiece of sorts, ‘The Illusionist’ is definitely a must see for any one interested in animation. The attention to detail and the subtle character acting is sometimes truly masterful. Period. I won’t say too much more about it, except that, notice I was careful to say “a must see for any one interested in animation”, but not for everybody. It is a stultifyingly slow film, with no regard whatsoever for thrill factor, or any of the overblown tricks that it seems to take these days to catch the attention of our media saturated youth. I have to admire Monsigneur Chomet greatly for ignoring the mainstream media’s obsession with overkill. Too bad I’ve heard from several people whom I trust, love and admire that he is a seriously difficult fellow to work with. Oh well, I still admire him. Greatness is a hard thing to rise to these days, and he’s bound to piss somebody off!

'The Illusionist' is a must-see serious piece of animation work!

One last thing. It is still happening. Everywhere I go I meet young people who are obsessed with good old 2D animation. Like, really into it deeply. They want it more than anything else, and they want to work on it too. They didn’t get in to animation because they want to sit with rows of artists staring into computer monitors with headphones on. That doesn’t interst them at all. They want to DRAW, and animate with their bare hands, and tools made of organic, yummy stuff. They want paper cuts and flipping, and eraser shavings and light tables and peg bars. And you know what I’ve been telling them all? If you want it, MAKE IT SO! You are the next generation of animators. If you want to make 2D films, do like Sylain Chomet and force the issue. Make it happen kids! It’s your world to shape. Don’t let the techo-worshipping geeks win the game! GO FOR IT!

Make a good old-fashioned cartoon with no regard whatsoever for whether or not it makes money. Like that sort of famous guy who did just that once upon a time, many many years ago…what was his name? Oh yeah, Walt Disney.

Don’t aspire to work for Walt Disney. BE the next Walt Disney!