2017 Animation Gift Guide

Is there an animation fan in your life that you aren’t sure what to get this holiday season? Or maybe you’re like me and you just want everything I’ve listed below. I wanted to give you all some options, so the range is pretty wide. Please enjoy my 2017 animation gift guide!

Art/Animation Books:

Art books were in some ways my gateway into the animation pipeline. As a kid, I knew there were different roles in making a film, but wasn’t sure where they split beyond artist, animator, and technical people. Art books showed me, if only briefly, how certain roles varied, and even what kinds of skills would be needed to pursue one. There are sort of two types of art books–the ones that are released to accompany a specific film or ones that cover an artist or time period, such as The Art of Coco or They Drew as They Pleased Vol. 3: The Hidden Art of Disney’s Late Golden Age (The 1940s – Part Two), respectively. Once you’ve looked through one ‘Art of’ book, you generally know what to expect in terms of the type of content. But that doesn’t mean they are all created equally. I especially loved the Coco art book for the higher-than-usual amount of pages that feature storyboards. They Drew as They Pleased is a very cool series that profiles specific time periods in Disney animation. You don’t need to own volume 1 or 2 to enjoy this third volume, though they make a great set.

Many art books were released in 2017 in addition to the two above. More and more are released each year, expanding the range of topics covered. The books below aren’t technically art books so much as informative texts, but are still filled with tons of art and historical photos. These are definitely good for the art book fan wanting a little more substance/text.

Two books that recently came out profile Paul Terry and Max Fleischer, two of the early pioneers of animation. These two, Terrytoons: The Story of Paul Terry and His Classic Cartoon Factory and The Art and Inventions of Max Fleischer: American Animation Pioneer are on my wish list for sure. Another that I’m really excited to read is Ink & Paint: The Women of Walt Disney’s Animation. I’ve heard amazing things about this book, from the heftiness (almost 400 pages) and the large, beautiful photos. This book highlights the oft-overlooked women who worked in animation, in the only department where women were typically allowed.

A few more books that came out this year worth checking out are–big shock–more Disney books. Disney history is the bread-and-butter of the niche world of animation books, and there is no shortage of ideas. The first one up to bat is a book about Oswald, Walt Disney’s first big star who he lost ownership of (prompting the creation of Mickey Mouse). The book, Oswald the Lucky Rabbit: The Search for the Lost Disney Cartoons is written by David Bossert, an 2D effects animator turned author who has written a number of books about Disney. Another famous Disney-alum, producer Don Hahn, wrote the next book, Yesterday’s Tomorrow: Disney’s Magical Mid-Century, about Walt’s interest and influence on mid-century design. This one seems to be a bit hit or miss with some reviews stating that they wished it was a bit more substantial with text, so maybe give this a flip through at the store before buying to see if it’s right for you. Lastly, we have Awaking Beauty: The Art of Eyvind Earle, an art book highlighting the Disney legend most famous for the beautifully detailed backgrounds of Sleeping Beauty (1959). This book is the compilation of pieces that were curated for an exhibition this year at The Walt Disney Family Museum in San Francisco. I was lucky to have seen an exhibition of his work at a different museum while in LA last year, and adore his paintings.

SWAG:

Miyazaki Club pin: Created by artist Martin Hsu, and inspired by the old Micky Mouse Club regalia, this is a super fun way to show off your love for the famed Japanese director in a slightly more subtle way, while adding to your pin collection. This pin is a nice size, and great quality; it’s soft enamel, and has two metal clutches on the back for extra security. This product’s webpage looks a little janky, but I bought this item myself and had no issues.

Official Laika, Aardman Animations, or Cartoon Saloon Merch: This year three prominent yet smaller studios opened up online stores for fans to buy swag. Laika is the stop-motion powerhouse responsible for Coraline, ParaNorman, The Boxtrolls, and Kubo and the Two Strings. Aardman is best known for the character Morph, Shaun the SheepWallace and Gromit, Creature Comforts, the upcoming Early Man, and so much more. Cartoon Saloon created The Secret of Kells, Song of the Sea, and the newly released The Breadwinner. From Laika’s site, I’d recommend the Coraline doll, which is a replica of the doll that Coraline receives from the Other Mother (I have this one!). There’s also a great Pride shirt featuring the characters from ParaNorman. From Aardman, I think the little wooden toys are so cute to have even just sitting on your desk, or their studio art book, “The Art of Aardman,” granted studio art books become outdated quickly. For Cartoon Saloon, they have some limited edition high quality prints for both Kells and Song, but if that’s too much, they have a postcard set containing stills from all three films. Those often look nice tacked up or even with some inexpensive IKEA frames.

Mondo pins: While best known for their prints, Mondo also has a fantastic selection of enamel pins, figures, and t-shirts featuring some animated characters we know and love. Properties include Adventure Time, Labyrinth, The Iron Giant, Coraline, ParaNorman, Samurai Jack, MegamanOver the Garden Wall (pictured right), Ninja Turtles, and plenty of comic book heroes and CG characters.

Other media:

Cuphead: This new video game, which is inspired by the 2d animation of the 1930’s, features assets that were largely hand-drawn. It’s your standard platforming shoot-em-up and I am so ready to play this game. In fact, the only negative thing that I’ve heard about this game is that it’s almost too hard, which, like, challenge accepted.  It’s available on XBox, Steam, and GOG (which is DRM free).

Monstress Volume 1: Awakening graphic novel: Medieval fantasy steampunk epic set in ancient China with monsters and badass women written and illustrated by badass women. Sign me the hell up. But please note that this book is definitely ages 18+. Written by Marjorie Liu and illustrated by Sana Takeda, this series focuses on a young woman named Maika, whose mysterious powers put her in the middle of a war between humans and otherworldly forces. Monstress Volume 1: Awakening is the first several single-issues collectively bound. So far three of these have been released. I’m on volume two and am loving it so far. I’d love love love to see something like this animated.

For the Collector:

A print from Gallery Nucleus: First of all, Gallery Nucleus is amazing. They are a small store in California (and now Portland too) that sells art books, animation-related goodies and prints, as well as a gallery that hosts shows and events. Recent events there, that you can get prints of (or original work, if you’ve got the dough) are a Laika 10th anniversary exhibition, a tribute showcase to Disney directors Ron Clements and Ron Musker, and tribute shows for properties like Power Rangers, Cartoon Network, and Final Fantasy. You can also purchase signed copies of art books or artists self-published sketchbooks too. And they also have a great pin collection as well. The sheer number of prints on offer can be daunting, so maybe start by seeing if there’s a collection to a property you love (i.e. Gravity Falls, Harry Potter, Overwatch, Mary Blair). Just take some time and find something. They have original prints from some pretty famous artists in the comics and animation industry, so there may be someone whose work you love on Instagram that you can find and support. I went crazy at their physical store when I visited California last year and spent like $300 on prints (some signed!) that hang framed in my apartment. And I’d also gotten a signed copy of The Art of the Little Prince. That was the one place in Cali that I knew I had to visit and splurge at–not even Disneyland and Harry Potter World were as big a deal for me merch-wise!

Aspiring Aritsts and Technicians:

Schoolism or Pluralsight online classes subscription: Depending on what you are looking to break into, a subscription to one of these only schools could be an amazing way to supplement your current schooling, or help you jump start an entirely new path. Schoolism is a bit more geared for the traditional artistic roles in animation, such as concept artists, character designers, art directors, and story artists. These classes are taught by leaders of their respective fields. Basically a lot of pre-production. Pluralsight, which used to be Digital Tutors, is a bit more on the technical side, focusing largely on different aspects of the CG pipeline, such as character or environment modeling, lighting, look development (shading/texturing, rendering) and more. Pluralsight has a crapload of courses across multiple programs too. Both of these sites offer monthly subscriptions. They are a bit pricey, with Schoolism offering full self-paced access for $30/month while Pluralsight runs for $300 per year. So they are definitely for the disciplined person, seriously looking to up their game.

Palomino Blackwing Pencils (12 Count): Blackwings are an animation staple, and just frankly a damn good pencil. They are super dark, but smooth, and the grain is perfect for toning and blending. They have a pretty fun history too, if…you want to learn about…pencils…? These pencils are items that you don’t need to spring for, but could be a nice gesture to an artist who might otherwise never consider spending the cash on themselves and their own works in progress. And while Blackwings can be bought by the box (as I’ve listed), you can also often purchase them for around $3 a pop, as well as extra erasers at art, craft, and stationary stores (I get mine at Kinokuniya in NYC). There are a few types of Blackwings, but I’d start with the proper black ones, and then maybe try the others in-person before committing, as their leads are different and not as dark.

Wacom Intuos digital art tablet: If you’re looking to up your skills, consider getting a tablet. Nowadays you can get a small one for around $100–the surface will be smaller, but these make a great starter tablet. You can of course spring for a slightly larger one at around $250, especially if you aren’t ready to commit to a $2k Cintiq. A graphics tablet is definitely a fantastic way to expand your digital art toolset if you are already working towards goals. But don’t feel like you have to buy one, or that you need a tool to be good. Do some research and find the one that suits your needs and price range. The one I listed is the one that I have for digital art and storyboarding, and it’s the perfect size. I’m not ready (artistically or financially) to spring for a Cintiq, so this serves my needs now.

MovieS:

Fantastic Mr. Fox (Criterion Collection) (Blu-ray + DVD)As much as I love the offerings from the Criterion Collection, I can’t help but also hate them a little as they have very little to offer in terms of animated films. It’s like they’ve been ignoring this entire section of film because of the choice of medium. Fantastic Mr. Fox is a notable new addition. It was added by default when ALL of Wes Anderson’s films were collectively added. I imagine that means we’ll eventually get a Criterion blu-ray for his upcoming Isle of Dogs too. I have this blu-ray, and the bonus features (and picture quality of course) do not disappoint. This is one that you want to see in all its glory, as Anderson really leans into the medium with such a variety of textures and materials used.

Cartoon Roots: Halloween Haunts (Blu-ray/DVD Combo): This blu-ray is a collection of newly restored old cartoons all themed around Halloween and the spooky. It’s the third compilation to be released from animation historian and restorer/archivist Tommy Jose Stathes. I’ve had the pleasure of hearing talks from him at an event at the Brooklyn Historical Society and at the Brooklyn-based film festival Animation Block Party, and each time his enthusiasm, knowledge, and reverence is clear. This is one of the best ways you can support someone who is working to preserve the work of creators like Fleischer, Terry, and Disney, all of whom I mentioned in books earlier!

Momotaro: Sacred Sailors + Spider & Tulip Movie (SUB Only) (Blu-ray/DVD Combo): This blu-ray features Japan’s first feature length animated film, and if that isn’t enough I’m not sure what is. I attended a few panels at cons discussing the early history of Japan, as I find it interesting. This is definitely not for the casual fan. Maybe the trailer can help convince you?

Academic:

Animated Film in Japan Until 1919: Speaking of Japan, how about a super fun and dense book about early Japanese animation history? The blurb on Amazon sold me:

In 2017 Japan celebrates 100 years of anime. 1917 indeed saw the first Japanese animated movies being released in Tokyo cinemas, reflecting years of imports of Western animated movies and knowledge. Yet even earlier local printed animation, inspired by German models, had already been available in Japan for home projectors. This study presents, for the first time in English, a detailed and up-to-date account of foreign and local animation in Japan in the first two decades of the 20th century, also including biographical information on the three Japanese anime pioneers of 1917.

Some splurges:

Ema figure from Shirobako: I’ve recently become a figure collector and was thrilled that one of my favorite shows released a figure. You HAVE to watch Shirobako if you’re interested in animation production–it’s available to stream on Crunchyroll. Shirobako follows five friends on their journeys into the animation industry. The girls work to become a producer, voice actress, CG artist, 2D animator, and screenwriter. This figure is Ema, the 2D animator. I bought this for $130, a splurge for me, but I can’t say that I wouldn’t want the other four girls if they ever released the set. 😛

A Sculpture from Andrea Blasich: Andrea is a sculptor who has over 20 years of experience across many of the largest animation studios in the world. I found him through his Robin Hood sculptures, which are based on Milt Khal concept art. His sculptures run from $40-$500 but the Robin Hood ones fall between $200-$350. He offers Robin, Friar Tuck, Sheriff, Lady Kluck, Little John, a rhino guard, and the rooster. I absolutely adore Robin and the Rooster, so I’m having a hard time deciding. At the very least, give his Instagram a follow:

So there you go! Hopefully these will give you some ideas!


There are no sponsors or endorsements in this post. Purchases made from the Amazon links earns me a small commission if made within the first few days of posting. Earnings go towards site upkeep and future books for review and research.

ren and stimpy animation documentary

Crowdfunding Animation Campaigns Worth Backing

There are a number of large-scale crowdfunding efforts underway that benefit the animation community, and I couldn’t help but want to highlight them all in a post. Maybe in the future this will become a series. But for now, please consider checking out these different campaigns. Each title links to that project’s Kickstarter or IndieGoGo.


19th Annual Animation Show of Shows (Attempt #2)

The Animation Show of Shows (ASOS) is an annual film festival that tours in theaters around North America and showcases animated short films. Curated and run by Ron Diamond, the organization recently became a non-profit and has gotten involved in helping to restore old films while hosting these screenings to help further the art. While this program is family-friendly, it aims at showing a more nuanced side of animated filmmaking than what many audiences (especially in the US) are used to. The films, which are from all over the world, range from the light-hearted to a few MA shorts (shown at the end with a disclaimer), and range from student works, independent artists, to big studio pieces from staples like Pixar.

A few days ago, the ASOS’s Kickstarted ended just short of their $100K goal, but I’m happy to see that Ron, undeterred, has launched a new one with a smaller goal that has quickly been surpassed. While the goal this time around is unrealistically small, I know that Ron is depending on all of us to help get as close to that initial $100K as possible–so don’t let the success of this smaller goal fool you. It costs an arm and a leg to do what Ron does, and we’re all better off for it. I personally have been fortunate to see the ASOS for the last six years, and I’ve even helped him out by working at the table he sets up where he sells boxed collections of the works on DVD. You can also get DVDs with a few shorts on them, as well as a few other DVDs. When I was an animation student trying to think of a short film, it was invaluable to watch through these award-winning films (my school had the box-sets in their resource library) and see how so many different creators told their stories.

What I appreciate the most about this larger and ambitious campaign is the fact that more than a quarter of the funding goes towards securing the rights from the filmmakers, as most of the films will then be distributed on DVD. While this should be the norm, I imagine it can be tough to earn money from short films. This program offers lots of people the chance to see animation that they normally wouldn’t get a chance to, and that in itself enough to get my support.

18th Annual Animation Show of Shows

Some of the films from last year’s festival. A mix of student films, larger studio works, teams, individual creators, and all mediums. We also saw our first VR entry into the festival’s 18 year history.

The Kickstarter for the Animation Show of Shows only has 4 more days, so back soon!


Spike and Mike’s Festival of Animation Documentary

Full disclosure: I was super unfamiliar with this festival until a couple weeks before this crowdfunding campaign to make a documentary about it. I found out about this effort through an email from a co-worker who knows someone on this project, and spoke highly of the cause:

“I fell in love with this festival while I was working on Nightmare Before Christmas, when you still had to go to the theater to see cool, non-commercial animation… Spike and Mike are two very cool guys who have devoted their lives to sharing amazing animation with the world and their story deserves to be heard and preserved.”

Good enough for me.

The team plans on using classic 2D cel animation, stop motion animation and computer generated animation to set the scene for a 90 minute documentary about the impact of two very unlikely heroes of animation. Though, to be honest, having each of the three acts of this documentary told via a different art style sounds cool in theory but tough to pull off. I’d have liked to have seen some tests footage from each act, especially the CG at the end. While I appreciate and love that they want to use different animation mediums for this documentary, I hope that it doesn’t become a distraction, since, although the IndiGoGo is only for $100,000, the description budgets the entire film at $550,000 with no mention of where the rest will come from. The interviews, which will likely be the tentpoles of the doc,  will ideally include all different kinds of participants of the festival since 1977, from directors to the flyer and poster artists, fans and film critics. Seems they got quite a few interviews at San Diego Comic Con last week!

Another co-worker who has attended past screenings added:

“They show weird stuff.”

Also good enough for me. One quick look at their website confirms this, of course. This fest seems perfect for fans who grew up loving the kookier, oft-forgotten underbelly of animation. For an American animation festival to have been around as long as this one (over 30 years) it has to have some interesting stories, apart from the animated ones that they showed. And it sounds like they’ve helped some big names get their earlier work out there. So I would love to learn about how this festival grew into the strange, strange event that it is remembered as.


Happy Happy, Joy Joy – The Ren and Stimpy Story

Speaking of kooky and underbelly, we have what may be our most mainstream example: Ren & Stimpy. Despite the fact that Ren & Stimpy absolutely GROSSED ME OUT as a kid, I’ve come to appreciate that strange, strange show for what it is, what it did, and what it continues to do. For so many people, Ren & Stimpy was a gateway drug to more subversive, often independent animation. It’s also one of the first shows where I, as someone interested in the physical production of animation, heard not-so great stories, and vastly different takes depending on if you hear a story from Nickelodeon, show creator John Kricfalusi (or simply John K), or anyone on the crew or voice talent. Regardless of whose (if any) side you’re on, Ren & Stimpy and creator John K, much like Walt Disney and Oswald the Lucky Rabbit serve as a cautionary tale to creators who lose their characters to studios (for one reason or another).

I’m curious how this tail will be spun, as I’ve heard some horror stories from a co-worker who worked on the production. It’s also just common knowledge in the industry that this was an at-times tumultuous work experience. Similarly, a 2013 book on the very subject–one of those “unauthorized” matter was re-released a few days ago and I’m excited to get my hands on that to get the dirt on what sounds like roller-coaster production in every way.

I was happy to read that the documentary would focus on the artists who brought this ground-breaking and controversial show into existence, and expand on its lasting impact on TV animation in the United States. So many of the artists involved in the show will be back to be in and help out on this film, including with some of the perks, like a private lesson with Jim Smith, one of the artists largely responsible to the stylization of the show.

It’s worth noting that while John K has turned down interviews for this doc, he has okay’d several people close to him for interviews. It’s also worth noting that while Nickelodeon is not backing this film, they did grant the filmmakers permission to use the characters (available at the $150 tier).


Hair Love (Animated Short Film)

There’s always a slight risk when going in on a short film or game where the creator doesn’t have previous experience in the area they are working in. But a very quick glimpse at this campaign removes any doubts: writer and director Matthew A. Cherry, an experienced live-action director, certainly did his homework when it came to finding a team to support him and his existing team, including bringing on a co-director, Jason Marino, who’s animated short film Tamara, caught Cherry’s eye.

Two other notable names in animation that Cherry has brought onto the project are Peter Ramsey and Frank Abney, who will serve as executive producers!! Peter Ramsey became the first African American director of  a feature animated film when he made DreamWorks Animation’s Rise of the Guardians. He’s also currently co-directing Sony’s new feature-length animated Miles Morales (finally!) Spider-Man film. Frank Abney, one of Variety’s 2016 10 Animators to Watch, is an animator who has worked at Disney, DreamWorks, and Pixar.

Cherry’s efforts to seek out experienced artists–particularly artists of color–is a responsible and fantastic display of good leadership. I’ve seen enough attempts at crowdfunding animation, video games, comics and more amount to nothing, so starting off on the right foot will do wonders for Hair Love.

The Kickstarter does a great job of breaking down this project, including a summary of it:

Hair Love, is a 5 minute animated short film that centers around the relationship between an African-American father, Stephen, his daughter, Zuri and her hair. Despite having long locks, Stephen has been used to his wife doing his daughter’s hair, so when she is unavailable right before a big event, Stephen will have to figure it out on his own. This sounds simple enough, but we soon come to find that Zuri’s hair has a mind of its own.

This story was born out of seeing a lack of representation in mainstream animated projects, and also wanting to promote hair love amongst young men and women of color. It is our hope that this project will inspire.

The short initially was seeking $75k but now are shooting for $200,000 in the hopes of making a Pixar-quality short, with the budgets for most steps in the pipeline ranging from $5-15k, with the largest chunks going to administrative/auxiliary services. It also looks like they are partnering with Nimble Collective, which will hopefully remove much of the guess-work out of their pipeline. It’s always wonderful to see animated short films being used to showcase underserved stories and groups of people.


The Animation Show of Shows has been operating under this crowdfunding method for a few years now, and since the show is annual, I know that I will be seeing it soon. I’m curious when the other three projects will deliver. As long as the creators supply consistent updates to backers, I don’t mind the occasional hiccups that come with production. Best of luck to all the projects! I encourage you to lend them your support if possible. And if you can’t, I’m sure even a retweet would be appreciated by them.

Welcome to Animation Complex

Welcome to Animation Complex. This is a newly created site intended to be a resource for people who want to learn more about animation in  historical and cultural context. Animation is an amazing medium–it can tackle literally any subject matter, be targeted at any age group or type of person, and convey any type of emotion. It can be a powerful tool for education and instruction, to inform and to entertain. But it often doesn’t get that type of credit. More often than not, animation is seen as a genre. Fodder to distract children with, or toilet humor targeted predominantly at adult men. Animation has received little serious attention over the years. There have been valid attempts, with more books available now, and more offerings to the public in the form of talks with film scholars and dedicated museum exhibitions. But it’s still something that goes largely unnoticed in the larger film community.

That’s where Animation Complex hopes to bridge a gap. It is my sincere intention to introduce a more critical and educational perspective on the animation we know and love, while also keeping things entertaining and accessible. Although we will get into deeper topics, we hope to present them in a way that people who aren’t steeped in cinema studies can digest and enjoy. Through articles on this site, videos on our YouTube channel, and a podcast, we aim to shed light on animation culture. Additionally, we also look forward to diving into other related forms of sequential art, like video games and graphic novels!

To learn more about our goals, please listen to our introductory podcast:


A lot can be learned from a cartoon, starting with the actual production of it itself: was is mass-produced in the studio system? Created with a grant from a supportive government? Toiled away at for decades? Was it done with resources the creator invented themselves, or used with open-source technology? Who made it? How was it funded? Why was it made? Then of course, there’s the content of the film, which can of course be affected by all of the above questions, and more: how was it exhibited and distributed? How was the story conveyed? Who was the target audience? And beyond: what does the film say about race, gender, and class?

We sometimes ignore the deeper questions when it comes to animation, but it’s important, just as it is important to analyze any other piece of art. Viewed through an academic lens, animation can help us understand more about the intersection of politics, education, and entertainment. It is especially important because animation is so often one of the earliest forms of media we expose children to. We want to know what is being reflected in these films and shows, we want to understand how our current culture–how race, gender, sexuality, and so many other topics are being introduced, and we also enjoy seeing how it is presented or critiqued in animated films meant for older people.

Not only do I think it’s important to view ALL of the media we consume with a critical eye, but for me, it’s just fun. I honestly enjoy it. Some times of course, the information is depressing or angering, or sobering, but it’s amazing to be able to look at this amazing and beautiful and constantly evolving artform and want to see and expect more out of it.

So please feel free to stick around and join me on this journey. We’re just getting started!  : )

You can check out our first podcast here, or our first YouTube video here.