Animation Inspiration

Rock & Rule

Nelvana (1973)

Rock & Rule is an acclaimed, animated rock & roll feature about an aging superstar, Mok, who plots to raise a demon and unleash its powers for his own diabolical ends. Mok’s plan to release the demon involves a search, a kidnapping, a singer named Angel, and a trip to the post-apocalyptic metropolis known as Nuke York. The action takes off when Angel’s band, led by Omar, attempts a daring rescue. Rock & Rule features original music by Cheap Trick, Debbie Harry, Lou Reed, and Iggy Pop as well as a special appearance by Earth, Wind and Fire.

Rock & Rule is a 1983 Canadian animated musical science fiction fantasy film from the animated-film company Nelvana, and it was the animation studio’s first ever feature film. Rock & Rule was produced and directed by Michael Hirsh, Patrick Loubert, and Clive A. Smith with John Halfpenny, Patrick Loubert, and Peter Sauder at the helm of its screenplay. The film also features the voices of Don Francks, Greg Salata, and Susan Roman.

Centering upon rock and roll music, Rock & Rule includes songs by Cheap Trick, Chris Stein and Debbie Harry of the pop group Blondie, Lou Reed, Iggy Pop, and Earth, Wind & Fire. The story takes place in a post-apocalyptic United States populated by mutant humanoid animals. Though initially unsuccessful at the box office, the movie has gone on to become a cult classic.

Rock & Rule was a heavily derived spinoff of Nelvana’s earlier TV special from 1978, The Devil and Daniel Mouse. United Artists was to distribute the movie, but when they were purchased by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, the new management team had no interest in it. As a result, it was never released in North America except for a limited release in Boston, Massachusetts. It received minor attention in Germany, where it was screened at a film festival. It was funded in part by the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, which had obtained the Canadian TV rights. A hard-to-find VHS was released at that time, followed by a laserdisc release. The film developed a cult following from repeated airings on HBO and Showtime and the circulation of bootleg VHS copies at comic book conventions booths (with Ralph Bakshi incorrectly named as director). In 2005, Unearthed Films released a special two-disc edition DVD of the film.

Rock & Rule was Nelvana’s first animated feature film, and it was also the first Canadian animated feature to be produced in English. Le Village enchanté, a 1956 production from Quebec, was the country’s first overall. The film spent several years in production and underwent many changes from the original concept, which was titled Drats! and aimed for children. The cost of production, $8 million in studio resources, nearly put Nelvana out of business. Over 300 animators worked on the film.

The animation was of unusually high quality for the era, and the special effects were mostly photographic techniques, as computer graphics were in their infancy. Computers were used to generate only a few images in the film.

Prior to its completion, Rock & Rule was picked up by U.S. film studio MGM/UA in April 1982. However, they did not care about the animated feature and only gave it an extremely small limited release in theaters. Due to some scenes involving adult themes such as sexuality and profanity, the film was uniquely marketed.

Leonard Cohen on Preparing for Death

The New Yorker (2016)

A month before Leonard Cohen died in November, 2016, The New Yorker‘s editor David Remnick traveled to the songwriter’s Los Angeles home for a lengthy interview in which Cohen looked both forward and back.

As a former Zen monk, Leonard Cohen was adept at inhabiting the present, one in which the shadow of death crept ever closer.

His former lover and muse, Marianne Ihlen, had succumbed to cancer earlier in the summer, two days after receiving a frank and loving email from Cohen:

Well, Marianne, it’s come to this time when we are really so old and our bodies are falling apart and I think I will follow you very soon. Know that I am so close behind you that if you stretch out your hand, I think you can reach mine. And you know that I’ve always loved you for your beauty and your wisdom, but I don’t need to say anything more about that because you know all about that. But now, I just want to wish you a very good journey. Goodbye old friend. Endless love, see you down the road.

The New Yorker has never shied from over-the-top physical descriptions. The courteous, highly verbal young poet, who’d evinced “a kind of Michael Corleone Before the Fall look, sloe-eyed, dark, a little hunched” was now very thin, but still handsome, with the handshake of “a courtly retired capo.”

In addition to an album, You Want It Darker, to promote, Cohen had a massive backlog of unpublished poems and unfinished lyrics to tend to before the sands of time ran out.

At 82, he seemed glad to have all his mental faculties and the support of a devoted personal assistant, several close friends and his two adult children, all of which allowed him to maintain his music and language-based workaholic habits.

Time, as he noted, provides a powerful incentive for finishing up, despite the challenges posed by the weakening flesh:

At a certain point, if you still have your marbles and are not faced with serious financial challenges, you have a chance to put your house in order. It’s a cliché, but it’s underestimated as an analgesic on all levels. Putting your house in order, if you can do it, is one of the most comforting activities, and the benefits of it are incalculable.

He had clearly made peace with the idea that some of his projects would go unfinished.

You can hear his fondness for one of them, a “sweet little song” that he recited from memory, eyes closed, in the animated interview excerpt, above:

Listen to the hummingbird

Whose wings you cannot see

Listen to the hummingbird

Don’t listen to me.

Listen to the butterfly

Whose days but number three

Listen to the butterfly

Don’t listen to me.

Listen to the mind of God

Which doesn’t need to be

Listen to the mind of God

Don’t listen to me.

These unfinished thoughts close out Cohen’s beautifully named posthumous album, Thanks for the Dance.

Dianne V. Lawrence, who designed Cohen’s hummingbird logo, a motif beginning with 1979’s Recent Songs album, speculates that Cohen equated the hummingbird’s enormous energy usage and sustenance requirements with those of the soul.

Read Remnick’s article on Leonard Cohen in its entirety here.

  • by Ayun Halliday

Robert Crumb: A Compulsion to Reveal

From Fritz the Cat to Mr. Natural – meet the cult cartoonist Robert Crumb, whose artistic world is full of anti-heroes and demons from modern America and his own subconscious. In this rare interview, Crumb talks frankly about refusing to adhere to political correctness, and about his never-ending urge to unravel the layers of delusion in the world – as he says: “I’m still digging.”

“I was so alienated when I was young, that drawing was like my only connection to society. That was the only thing that I could see was going to save me from a really dismal fate of God knows what.” Crumb describes his social skills as a young man as being “completely nil.” At the same time, he was driven by his “fucked-up ego,” and he had to balance those two sides. Drawing became a way for him to deal with reality, and in the 1950s, where “being a comic-book artist was the lowest level of commercial art,” he pushed toward a more personal use of the medium: “At a certain point I decided I don’t want to be America’s best-loved hippie cartoonist. I don’t want that role. So I’ll just be honest about who I am, and the weirdness, and take my chances.” Consequently, Crumb alienated a lot of people with his often provocative content: “It was just too disturbing for most people, too weird.”

Crumb has an urge to question things and is acutely aware that he’s going to get hell for what he’s doing – even lose friends – but he is willing to take the heat for it. He feels that he plays with images, emphasising the word “play.” Nowadays, he argues, there’s a tendency to take everything at face value – including his artwork: “The artwork I did that used those images and expressed those kinds of feelings, I stand by it. I still think that that’s something that needed to be said and needed to be done. It probably hurts some people’s feelings to see those images, but still, I had to put it out there.”

Putting down anything that stands in the way of political correctness, he feels, becomes extreme and suppressive: “I can even lead to censorial policies in the government and stuff like that. They don’t realise that they’re playing into the hands of some very bad people.”

Robert Crumb is an American cartoonist. Crumb, a counterculture comic book artist and social satirist, has enjoyed cult status for his underground comic strips, full of anti-heroes. Among these is a wide range of popular characters including Fritz the Cat and Mr. Natural. Much of his work has also appeared in Weirdo magazine (1981-1993), which he founded himself, and which was one of the most prominent publications of the alternative comics era. Crumb has received several accolades for his work, including his induction into the comic book industry’s Will Eisner Comic Book Hall of Fame in 1991 and the Angoulême Grand Prix in 1999. Crumb was also among the artists honoured in the exhibition ‘Masters of American Comics’ at the Jewish Museum in New York (2006-2007). In 2012 a retrospective of Crumb’s work was exhibited at the Musée d’Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris. He has frequently collaborated with cartoonist Aline Kominsky-Crumb, with whom he is married, and the couple have made a joint comic strip based on their life together through four decades. A collection of the comics, ‘Drawn Together’, was published in 2012.

Robert Crumb was interviewed by Christian Monggaard in connection with the Louisiana Literature festival at the Louisiana Museum of Modern Art in Humlebæk, Denmark in August 2019.

George Condo: The Way I Think

George Condo was part of the 1980s wild art scene in New York. In this video, recorded in his New York-studio, the iconic artist shares his life-long love of drawing and thoughts on his artistic expression, which he describes as “artificial realism.”

”I kind of draw like you’re walking through the forest, where you don’t really know where you’re going, and you just start from some point and randomly travel through the paper until you get to a place where you finally reach your destination.” Condo studied music theory at college, but soon realised that it was too formal and rigid for him, and that he needed an art form that would give him more freedom. However, he still approaches his art like a musician, working fast and following the rhythm of the drawing or painting without “missing any of the notes.” The tempo, he feels, is very important when it comes to art.

Condo wants his work to contain clear references to the different artists – from Picasso to Velasquez – they’re inspired by, but with a twist. His painting or drawings are about finding a way in which one can capture a person’s humanity through a portrait – capturing not just the outside but also the inside. Moreover, Condo aims to “turn negatives into positives”, portraying “the ordinary characters that make up our lives, whether it’s the janitor or the bus driver or the school teacher or the principal or the mailman or the truck driver. These are not the glamorous people that you see on the cover of Vogue Magazine, but they are what the world is composed of. And to give them a spot in the world is what I always admired about Rembrandt to a certain degree.”

“I love drawing as much as painting, so why not make your paintings from your drawings, but literally have there be no defined sort of hierarchy between the two mediums?” Condo started making “drawing-paintings”, where you can’t distinguish paint from pastel, or a line made with a paintbrush or a line drawn in from and thus making the two mediums equal: “There’s no real difference between figurative painting or abstract painting, ‘cause it’s all painting to begin with. You don’t have to follow any rules as a painter. If you’re making an abstract painting it doesn’t mean eventually it can’t morph into a figurative one.”

When a famous art historian asked Condo what he called the form of work he did, Condo thought of the description “artificial realism”. Artificial realism gives the painter the opportunity to go back and paint something in a realistic way while still portraying all that which is artificial in our world. In continuation of this, he finds that now everything seems to be “artificial realism” with the fake news that is all around us: “Art is the truth, and everything else is a lie.”

George Condo is an American contemporary visual artist working in the mediums of painting, drawing, sculpture, and printmaking. Condo mixes input from art history’s masters – such as Velasquez, Manet, and Picasso – with elements of American Pop Art. He distorts and renews this material so that it stands out and becomes his own: a kind of strange hybrid that blurs boundaries between the comic and the tragic, the grotesque and the beautiful, the classic and the innovative. As part of the wild art scene in New York in the early 1980s, Condo was close to painters such as Jean-Michel Basquiat and Keith Haring, and worked for Andy Warhol’s Factory, applying diamond dust to silkscreen. Condo’s work is in the permanent collections of MoMA, the Whitney Museum, The Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum and the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, the Broad Foundation in Los Angeles, Tate Gallery in London, Centre George Pompidou in Paris and Astrup Fearnley Museum of Modern Art in Oslo, among others. He is the recipient of an Academy Award from the American Academy of Arts and Letters (1999) and the Francis J. Greenberger Award (2005). Condo lives and works in New York City.

George Condo was interviewed by Kasper Bech Dyg at his studio in Soho, New York City in September 2017.

Order From Chaos

Max Cooper (2016)

I’m really excited about this video project, after the first live show it was the part that everyone was asking about – It is a beautiful humanised exploration of life and emergence, by Maxime Causeret. I hope you enjoy it as much as I do!

The idea for this part of the story started on a day when there was really heavy rain hitting the roof window at my old flat. I got out my binaural mics and put my head right up by the window with the big raindrops hitting all around. They made nice individual percussive noises, with great spatial positioning, so I decided to use them to seed a piece of music.

This track is the most explicit representation of the idea of emergence in the album, because the rhythm of the track is created by the raindrops in an emergent manner – I took the audio samples, mapped the transients for the raindrop hits, and then forced the mapped points towards the nearest drumming grid positions. This meant that the random raindrops were pushed into a quantised grid, and the result was that a percussive rhythm emerged, one that I hadn’t created myself, but was the closest rhythm to that particular section of rain.

I then played the sansula over this rain rhythm, and added lots of pads and saturation layers, finally with some vocal snippets from Kathrin deBoer to complete the track. Maxime Causeret selected this track to work with, under the brief to map the emergent rhythm to an exploration of emergence in living form.

His video shows the raindrops initially, then going into simple cellular forms and then showing the important idea of cooperation between simple cells to form more robust colonies of life. This develops into a visualisation of the idea of endosymbiosis, where simpler smaller organisms can live inside larger cells, each providing a benefit to the other, and eventually forming parts of the same organism as they evolve to be entirely dependent on each other. The video also shows competition between organisms for resources, which spurs on their evolutionary development, as each species tries to keep up with the innovations of the others. He also visualises the emergent ideas of flocking behaviour, where groups of individuals form beautiful dancing-like patterns.

Maxime also shows us a section of animated reaction-diffusion patterns, where simple chemical feedback mechanisms can yield complex flowing bands of colour – these forms of system were originally thought up by Alan Turing, and were part of the early seeds of the field of systems biology, which seeks to simulate life with computers, in order to better understand the systems producing the complexity we see in the living world. They were also the starting point of my main research area many years ago before I got lost in music! (where I began with the question of what patterns could be produced via reaction-diffusion forms of system as opposed to gene-regulatory network controlled patterning).

So it’s a rich visual treat from Maxime on many levels, I can see why so many people were asking about it after the first live show. Lots more amazing video content to come over the next few weeks.

Some words from Maxime about his process (translated from French):

I firstly made a lot of small experiments with dynamic systems around my main idea of living micro organism. It was hard to then put everything together. It was now time to experiment with editing. I also ask for opinions, ideas and tests of few friends, specially Leslie Murard. Then i just have to do the real shots from my experiments.

In terms of tools, I work with Houdini. It’s a software which gives you a lot of freedom. You can easily customize tools or build your own tools. It’s famous for vfx but you have the same freedom with modelling or animation tools for cheap when you’re a freelance. I always start with few sketches on paper for ideas. I also search for références drawings/photos/painting. In Houdini i try to setup something fast to Cook or at least fast to preview in order to animate the shots in good conditions.

The major challenge was to put everything together. There’s nothing very hard but it’s never easy to get something who “works” so it needed time to adjust things. This production was made this summer on 4 months but not at full time. I also had few other projects.

When I Was Done Dying

Dan Deacon (2015)

For this special episode, Off The Air brings together nine of their favorite animators to each animate one section of Dan Deacon’s song “When I Was Done Dying” off his latest album Gliss Riffer.

Animators in order of appearance:

  • Jake Fried
  • Chad VanGaalen
  • Dimitri Stankowicz
  • Colin White
  • Taras Hrabowsky
  • Anthony Schepperd
  • Masanobu Hiraoka
  • Caleb Wood
  • KOKOFREAKBEAN