Wall-E (2008) is one of the strongest films to come out of the big US feature animation studios. I would argue that it might be one of if not the most important animated feature to come out that decade, including internationally.
Even with the leaps and bounds we’ve made with animation in the last decade, I still feel like if an animated feature at a major US studio with no dialog and a slow, meditative pace for the first 30-ish minutes was pitched it would get turned down immediately or green lit until it drowned in notes and was averaged out to look more like the gag or dialogue driven, quick paced snappy visuals we’re used to. While those are not inherently bad things, their complete takeover of the medium at large just makes Wall-E stand out that much more. (Honestly I’d love to go back to opening weekend now and watch people watch this film in theaters. Did kids get impatient? Or were they fixated on the screen? Were parents confused? Who knows!)
There are so many factors that are out of a director’s control, especially at a big studio, that it’s a miracle when any film gets made, full stop. That Andrew Stanton’s film seems to have come out relatively unscathed and different from any film before (or after) it is a testament to how unique and thematically strong it is.
This post will contain full spoilers for Wall-E and Princess Mononoke.
It will contain slight spoilers for Nausicaa.
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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 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.
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 Sheep, Wallace 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, Megaman, Over the Garden Wall (pictured right), Ninja Turtles, and plenty of comic book heroes and CG characters.
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.
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!
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.
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.
What a time to be alive and in love with animation. This year saw a record number of film qualify, and I know that we’ll just continue to see each year yield a larger pool of contenders. We’re seeing more diverse films, more innovation, bigger budgets, smaller budgets and a more global representation. Not saying that in previous years we weren’t, as indie films have been cracking the nominations a number of times in the award category’s sixteen-year history. That’s a whole other post I’m excited to dive into! But for now, let’s take a look at the 2017 Oscar nominations.
I have to be honest. I love the Oscars. But it’s also one of my biggest pet peeves as an animation fan. There have been a lot of debates about the validity of the animation categories, particularly feature animation, and how votes are cast. They have tried to fix this by adding more voting members, but one can’t help but continue to be a little cynical about it all. Again, I do enjoy watching the Oscars–for me personally, growing up, it was always a yearly motivation. It’s a very self-indulgent night for film. It also tends to be a fun night to poke fun at animation, either by having a comedian introduce the section with disparaging jokes, or have a director whose film is 95% VFX win and then thank everyone except for the artists who literally made it. It’s also been dominated by the same company for years, which, as the article I linked previously highlights, does have you asking questions. And that issue doesn’t just plague the Oscars, but rather every awards show. Even the Annie Awards–a show specifically for animation–has had its share of controversy in the past, and like the Oscars, have taken steps to remedy it, such as revamping the voting and adding an Independent Animated Feature category, a debatable move in itself.
Another thing that often irritates me during awards season is, sadly, the fans at times. I have had enough debates with animation fans of forums such as ASIFA-Hollywood president Jerry Beck’s Cartoon Research Facebook group to know that there are many self-proclaimed “Disney purists” out there who will blindly support the company. I think we’ve all seen that in some degree, whether someone says they loved the new Star Wars because they just love Star. And we are all very guilty of it too. I love Disney, but I’m not so blinded that I can’t criticize it.
I think the thing that frustrates me about these types of people is that their mind is made up before it even gives any other options a chance. Or even worse, they pick their clear winner without having actually seen all of the nominated films. That, in my mind, immediately invalidates your opinion. You can’t be a fully-informed voter if you are NOT fully informed. You can’t judge based on some of the information. You may have loved Moana, but perhaps The Red Turtle will blow you away. You can’t know that unless you see it. I remember sitting with friends after seeing Inside Out wondering how any Disney/Pixar film could top that, and then Zootopia came along and knocked me completely on my ass. I saw pictures for My Life as a Zucchini and didn’t know what to make of it at first, but gave it a try, only to realize that it was one of my favorite films–animation or otherwise–of the year.