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Posts Tagged ‘Dean Mullaney’

A page from the Lost Notebook showing work on Fantasia

A page from the Lost Notebook showing work on Fantasia

Two newly released books qualify as treasures: The Lost Notebook: Herman Schultheis & the Secrets of Walt Disney’s Movie Magic by John Canemaker and Genius, Animated: The Cartoon Art of Alex Toth by Dean Mullaney and Bruce Canwell.  The arrival of Canemaker’s new book is the cinephile’s equivalent of a newly unearthed Tutankhamen’s tomb.  Many of the details of the techniques developed by the Disney studios in crafting their groundbreaking first animated features have remained shrouded in mystery until now, and the discovery of the meticulously compiled notebooks of cinematic craftsman Herman Schultheis is an major event in the history of animation.   Suddenly we are offered this looking glass view into the unparalleled work of the Disney teams of creators during a period in which they were forging breathtaking new visions in media communications.  It’s truly astonishing.  Another inspiring and instructive new work is the final installment of biographies devoted to the œuvre of Alex Toth: Genius, Animated.  In an earlier post, I wrote about this pioneer in animation and comics, and this ultimate volume in a trilogy devoted to his work reveals new aspects to his achievements.  In particular, his storyboards are a revelation.  I have to say that authors Canwell and Mullaney understate the case when they say, “While fine in and of themselves,” when introducing storyboards for the Saturday morning cartoon “Superfriends.”  In particular, the boards to the episode “Battle of the Earth’s Core” highlight the depth of thoughtfulness, visual storytelling skills, design acumen, and complete mastery of motion picture language that Toth brought to work that many others would have just phoned in.  I bring these books up as suggestions for some inspiring summer reading and for great examples of pre-production tales from which young filmmakers can learn many lessons.

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On this standard Toth Black Canary comic page one can see a distinctively cinematic story board

Alex Toth was certainly one of the most compelling and dedicated visual storytellers working in comics and television animation during the second half of the 20th century.  His stylistic and narrative prowess was formidable, and a study of his artistic development during the 1950’s and 1960’s provides some of the most inspiring and informative lessons that anyone working in visual communications can hope to encounter.  Genius, Isolated, the first volume of a comprehensive biographical trilogy on Toth by Dean Mullaney and Bruce Canwell, came out last year, and the next book – Genius, Illustratedis due out in a few months.

Space Ghost by Alex Toth

Having worked in a wide variety of comic genres in the 1950’s, during the 60’s Toth shifted to working mostly in the medium of television animation, and he created some of the most strongly designed cartoons ever to hit the airwaves, including Space Ghost, Birdman, The Galaxy Trio, and The Herculoids, and he contributed to Doug Wildey’s influential Jonny Quest.  Throughout his life, Toth loved movies, and he consistently talked about the impact of cinematic storytelling on his work and approach to layouts, pacing, and character design.

Toth model sheet for animated Three Musketeers

A few years ago, Hanna-Barbera released some of the Toth cartoon series on DVD, and a highlight of those discs was the inclusion of some excellent documentaries on Toth’s life and complicated personality, artistic impact, and working methods.  One moment that stuck out for me among those biographical pieces was a reference to a series of “How-To” comics that Toth produced during the 70’s when he was working on the popular Super Friends Saturday morning cartoon.  I was overjoyed recently to see on the Toth website, run by his family, that they had posted these pages among their archives.  They are stunning and engrossing to anyone interested in animation history, professional draftsmanship, and television production traditions and techniques.  I certainly hope they are going to appear among the pages of the second and third installments of the “Genius” books chronicling the dramatic life and vibrant artistry of Alex Toth.

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