Wednesday, March 08, 2006

The Wizard Of Speed and Time: Mike Jittlov

I still think that Mike Jittlov was ahead of his time. Above I posted three shorts that he did, Mouse Mania for the Mickey's 50th Birthday show, then his classic Wizard Of Speed and Time and then an earlier short, Animato. I've seen these projected in theatres and the audience went wild. Pretty spectacular I thought.
Back in 1978, Disney aired a special on NBC called, Mickey's 50, where there were clips of the mouse's career, celebrity salutes and some then newly created film segments celebrating all things Mickey. Two of the segments entitled "The Collector" and "Mouse Mania" were created by Mike Jittlov and were the real highlight of the show. Using stop motion animation and animation effects animated on a home made multiplane set up, Jittlov starred as the collector, who slept in mouse pajamas, ate cereal in a mouse bowl and went to work in a volkswagon with giant mouse ears. This fast paced segment was only part one of the story. Part two takes place in a Psychiatrists office, where Jittlov is explaining to his shrink (also Jittlov and entirely in pantomime) how he sees everything through Mickey Mouse coloured glasses, when all of a sudden he sees a stop motion Mickey waving to him. He tries contain his feelings, when the office becomes a virtual motion wonderland of everything Mickey.
Jittlov exits the office leaving the Psychiatrist completely bewildered (The Mouse Mania section of the special is featured on Leonard Maltin's Disney Treasures Mickey Mouse in Color 2). This would be my first introduction to the work of Mike Jittlov and gradually over the years I would see much more of his personal work. Eventually I found out that most, if not all of his animated films were produced in the garage of his house in Los Angeles. They are the most joyous, magical films ever produced.
The most famous is his Wizard Of Speed and Time, which aired on an episode of the old Disney TV show called Major Effects in 1979. Later he got financing (low budget) to make a feature film (also called The Wizard Of Speed and Time) which incorporated most of his short subjects including the original Wizard, which was expanded and refilmed in 35mm.
The theme of the film was about the complications of making a film in Los Angeles, focusing on sleazy producers and impossible union and government restrictions. The film is based on his real life; even in regards to the sleazy producer. Apparently, during post production of the feature, the real producer took off with the books and Jittlov's rights to the movie are tied up in some form of limbo.
As far as the movie goes, it's very cartoonish in nature, with fast editing, lots of special effects, and loads of action. The acting isn't always of professional standard, but the energy of the film more than makes up for it. Voice artist, Will Ryan makes a number of appearances in the film along with Disney Animator, Ward Kimball, who is featured as an IRS agent! Overall it has some funny moments and is well worth checking out. There's a trailer online at jittlov's website but Mike's amazing demo reel (which includes all the Disney segments can be seen here.
Although I recently found a used DVD copy of the film at a local movie store, the film only seems to be available on VHS (used) through Ebay and Amazon. DVD's of the film were never marketed, so I'm not sure where my copy came from. There were however, 1600 laserdiscs pressed in the late 80's and occasionally one of those pop up online or in local used CD stores. I know Jittlov is promising some sort of special edition DVD of Wizard, so we'll have to wait and see. If you've never seen any of Jittlovs work, I urge you to take a peek and let me know what you think.

Friday, March 03, 2006

A trip down to Tangoland

Old friend Cynthia Petrovic sure has an interesting site at over there at Every couple of months I check in to see her unique animations and designs and I have to say that they're a lot of fun to look at. Her designs have been featured on merchandise that have been featured in stores around the country and you can order some of these through Cynthia's site.
In any case it's worth a least for inspiration.

Thursday, March 02, 2006

My Morning Ritual

Every morning now, I drag my lazy carcass out of bed, grab a huge cup of coffee and visit five sites on the internet for my animation news.....but now I add a sixth!
First up is, primarily because he has some very interesting stories from time to time pertaining to the animation medium. Second up is, because most of the people posting are animation professionals and they provide inside the industry news before it breaks (well, most of the time). Third up is, hosted by Jerry Beck and Amid Amidi, which also provides up to date information on the industry and offer surprising posts featuring artwork from past and present films. Fourth up on the list is, which compiles news and offers links to those sites on a daily basis. Normally, by the time I get to animated, I already know much of what is offered, but sometimes they surprise me. Fifth up is Al Lutz's, which is primarily a Disney Theme Park site. While other Disney Park sites were looking the other way, Mice Age had enough guts to say it like it was when Disneyland and WDW were being operated like cheap run down carnivals. Al posted up to date links when important Disney news unfolded (like the recent Pixar acquisition) and my guess is that he will continue to do so. If you're a Disneyland geek like me, his site is worth a peek every couple of days. The new one and sixth on my list, which I find myself looking at from time to time is Jenny Lerew's Blackwing Diaries (the name of the blog is a homage to the old animators' favorite pencil, The Blackwing, which are longer made). Jenny was a great artist when I worked with her at Warners back in the 90's and she's even more brilliant now!
Jenny's pics and views on the animation process are priceless and well worth reading.

Wednesday, March 01, 2006

Ward Kimball's Firehouse Five Plus Two

Here's a picture of the garage that held Ward's Firehouse Five Fire truck and other souvenirs, which was located toward the right side of the Grizzly Flats train depot.
Ward had some career with his Dixieland Jazz Band (made up of Disney staffers including animator Frank Thomas), which traveled to gigs dressed as firemen in a real fire truck!
They were very popular for 22 years recording over 20 albums that sold worldwide (you can still buy their music on CD at!). I asked Ward how he got away with having a professional jazz band at night while working at Disney during the day. Ward's response, "Walt didn't mind as long as you got your work done."
If you want to catch a visual sample of the band at their best, take a look at the supplemental material on the Frank & Ollie DVD.

Ward and Grizzly Flats

Ward Kimball had a ton of hobbies. Besides being a Producer, Director, Writer and Animator for Disney, he also led a famous jazz band, did illustrations for a publication called Asinine Alley, taught classes at Art Center, collected miniature trains and toys, and......
had the only private full sized backyard railroad in the United States. Yes, Kimball really loved trains. Here's a picture of Ward's backyard train layout, complete with roundhouse and train station.

The train station was originally a facade used for the Disney movie, So Dear To My Heart (1948). After the movie was made, Walt Disney gave Ward the facade for his backyard layout. However, the structure was more trouble than it was worth since it was only propped up plywood; there had to be a real building behind those walls. Eventually, Ward turned that facade into the real thing (with the help of some major league construction equipment) and when Walt came back to see Ward's finished Train station, he was truly impressed.
Years later when building Disneyland, Walt wanted Ward's train station for the park. One night Walt called Ward asking for the station back! Ward told the head mousetro no.
Walt had to settle for building a replica of Ward's train station, which became the Frontierland train station that is still in the Disneyland park today.
The engine here is Grizzly Flats Chloe; at the time, the only full sized train that Ward owned.
Ward's other two large engines had already been donated to a museum in California, and the Chloe was a smaller train that had once worked sugar plantations. It was actually more appropriate for a backyard railroad set-up. Some neighbors would complain to Ward about the smoke from this engine, but Ward would tell them that it didn't give off any more smoke than a barbeque. Chloe sure was a beautiful train and at the time of our visit was temporarily out of commission.
Here's a picture of Ward in front of a Giant foam monster train (about two stories high in the roundhouse), complete with arms and legs! Don't know who made this but it sure was an impressive sight.
I'm still impressed by the guy and his amazing career and there isn't a day that I don't think of him and his work.

Disney's Bob Iger

You know, frankly I'm amazed at all the wonderful things that Disney C.E.O. Bob Iger has done for the Disney Company since he's taken over. He eliminated a micromanagement division, Strategic Management, brought back Roy Disney to the Company, made nice-nice with Pixar bringing them into the fold, Delivered on a promise with Diane Disney to make Oswald The Lucky Rabbit a Disney property again and now I hear that Ron Clements and John Musker are returning to Disney as employees! Could it be that classic 2D animation returning to Disney isn't far away? Minutes ago, I read that Alan Menken has been signed to a Multi Picture Disney deal!

The events that have been going on at Disney over the last couple of weeks, have left me with a smile on my face.
It may look like Iger's the real deal who truly gets what Disney is all about.

Warner Bros. Animation

I figured I'd throw up a photo of yours truly from 1989 at Warner Bros. Animation in Sherman Oaks. I forgot who took the picture, but here I am hunched over an old Filmation animation desk doing layouts for Tiny Toon Adventures. I was not all that enthused by having a photo taken at the time, but in 2006, am glad to have it. It was actually a fun time in my career when everything was exciting. A few months later, I would leave Warners to work with Don Bluth on another forgettable movie.

Tuesday, February 28, 2006

More Kimball

Here's some more pics of Ward Kimball from that day in 1994. The first pic of is of Ward and I walking back from his train roundhouse. Also posted is his famous politically incorrect Mickey Model sheet from the early 90's. Enjoy.....

Ward Kimball

Here's a piece of art that Ward Kimball did especially for me.....
Actually it's the envelope that he mailed me for directions to his house. I should have it framed.
Long story short, I was a huge Ward Kimball fan back in the early 70's (still am), having loved all his work from the old Disney TV show. His name kept popping up on things I liked and I figured that he was the genius behind those films. Sure enough he was.
When I was 16, I was asked if I'd like to appear on an ABC television show called Kids Are People Too. The show would have a segment focusing on Mickey Mouses' 50th Birthday, and I would be the aspiring animator/Disney buff and Ward Kimball would be the Guest Disney Animator. I was more excited about meeting Ward than doing the coast to coast TV show. Unfortunately, my part of the segment was cut well before taping and I was crushed.

Fast forward about ten years, working on the Bakshi Mighty Mouse show in LA, I was invited to Ward Kimball's annual railroad steam up by a friend of the family (yes, he had full sized Trains in his backyard...more on that later) ...and I was all geared up to go, when I was stricken by acute tonsilitis. I was laid up in bed for over a week. So, I missed that second opportunity. Other near misses would occur between 1988 and 1994, when finally, I decided that I was going to contact Mr. Kimball and invite him out to lunch. I managed to get his number and gave him a call. Obviously, he didn't know who I was and he wanted me to send him a letter on official Warner Bros. Animation stationary so that he knew I was on the up and up.
About a week later, he calls me at home and leaves a message on my answering machine asking me to call him back. While dialing, I'm thinking of places we could meet for lunch, but during the conversation, Ward suggests meeting at his house.
With four others from Warner Bros., we spent six hours with Ward, talking to him about his career, his paintings, his trains, toys and his jazz band, The Firehouse Five Plus Two. It was an amazing day to say the least....after a long fifteen year wait.

Above left to right, Phil Mosness, Joey Banaskiewicz, Ward, Brian Mitchell and Kexx Singleton.
Cynthia Petrovic is behind the camera.

Friday, February 17, 2006

New Website Address

Finally, after years of people telling me that my old website on AOL was a real piece of crap, I finally registered for my own domain name and will be posting new webpages there over the next couple of weeks. Currently it's under construction. Thanks to Kevin O Neil for pushing me over the finish line.
New site is $#@!#$, so keep it on your favorites list.

UPDATE!!!! AUGUST 17th, 2011
Actually with this blogger account, there is no need for a separate website anymore.
And BTW,
that other site hasn't existed for a couple of years now....

Wednesday, February 01, 2006

What's going on....with me...

Some people have been asking me what I have been up to at late. Well, just after my storyboard and design gig at IDT ran out, I did a bit of work on some TV cartoons and private development projects, which I am still actively working on.
I also managed to pitch a couple of show ideas last summer which went absolutely nowhere, but I still believe in them, at least as one shot projects.
So is that it? Well, not exactly.
I've decided to start producing my own animated shorts on my down time. For the last several years, I have been actively pitching shows and feature ideas to anyone who would see them. Since my ideas resemble real cartoons and not sitcom-like versions of cartoons, I haven't sold a thing. Many kind folks at these pitch sessions have complimented my professionalism, patted me on the back on the way out the door and let me know that they'd be happy to see anything else I might develop down the road. Of course, that does little to put food on the table.
Believe me, I appreciate the opportunity to go in and pitch ideas. 99.9 percent of the people I have pitched to have been wonderful, but I can see that most are afraid to say yes to an idea.
I know that's the way the business operates but it's hard to put in that kind of time on something to please someone else, knowing full well that all your effort boils down to the words yes or no. Yes, it's an investment of your time and effort and sometimes it really pays off, but most of the time it's back to the old drawing board.
It really makes more sense to just produce the thing myself.
It'll be my idea, my investment, my cartoon and my property. It will reflect my tastes, my sense of humor and timing. And if someone is interested in buying it, they'll have to take it as is, just the way I present it.
Perhaps, I'll see some monetary return for my efforts.

Thursday, January 26, 2006

Disney Buys Pixar: A Day Of Rejoicing

Tuesday was a day of miracles; of rejoicing. Finally, Disney had done something totally different and unexpected in that it found a way to preserve the heritage of Walt Disney while acquiring another company that is so important to it's future. I'm hopeful, that ramifications of this deal will be felt in very positive ways years down the road. Having John Lasseter and Ed Catmull of Pixar head up Disney animation is like returning the spirit of Walt Disney back into the Disney company in one fell swoop. While some may see this as the death of Pixar, I don't believe that Steve Jobs or John Lasseter will allow this to happen.
Pixar has many, many dynamic creatives in it's midsts and all that John Lasseter has to do is oversee that things run smoothly and let these guys do their thing. You can't have a million people in charge of each production, because it doesn't work. Just look at Disney's films for the last ten years and you'll see the result of that kind of thinking. What Jobs, Lasseter and Catmull will do for Disney is allow the creative culture to come back to that company and in doing so, I believe there's a Great Big Beautiful Tomorrow to look forward to.