"The Noble Approach" at the Fredrikstad Animation Festival

Fredrikstad Animation Festival 2011
Nov. 9th-13th, 2011- Fredrikstad, Norway

"At this years seminar for professionals we are proud to present three distinct voices in animation. The industry legend behind Ren & Stimpy John Kricfalusi, director and designer Tod Polson, and Dutch independent animator Rosto." (from the Fredrikstad festival website)

-Along with being on this years film jury, I have been asked to speak about my newest project, the Maurice Noble design book; "The Noble Approach." I hope to give a brief overview of the book, show a few of Maurice's classic films; share some stories, and have a short Q & A period. This will be the first time I have talked about the project publicly, and it will be great to get feedback from an audience.

There are going to be some amazing speakers at this years festival; John K., Suzie Templeton, Rosto, and Don Hahn. I am really looking forward to hearing them.

For more information about the festival ... please click HERE.

Topaz Diary: San Francisco Sketches

Above: Coit Tower

I've decided to post a few of the San Francisco sketches that I've been working on for "Topaz Diary."  Fred Hoshiyama spent many, many years of his life in the bay area, both before and after his camp experience at "Topaz." I've made a number of mood sketches that try to capture the personality of the city.

Above: Depression era San Francisco, top... the way most people saw it, in contrast with the bottom sketch, which is how Fred described the city. "It was like heaven!" He said... "For a nickel you could get in a street car and ride anywhere you wanted in the city. With the flick of an electric switch you had lights!"

 Above:  Two views of the "Golden Gate Bridge."

I'm still searching for the exact style of this section of the film. But I know that I want it to be light, and playful.  Dreamy and optimistic... saturated, and colorful... attempting to depict the way that many young people see the world. I've planned many of my sketches to be low angles looking up. Or  set from a lofty point of view to capture this optimism.

Above: A re-post of a bridge sketch to show the contrast of Fred's world after the attack on Pearl Harbor. The palette of the film will be more somber, and the angles more grounded. This was one of the low points in Fred's life, and I hope to depict that through the art. Fred's life took on a new direction because of the war. In spite of hardship, Fred always found a way to make the best of things, and because of this, discovered  his true calling.

To read more about the "Topaz Diary" project, please visit HERE.

all art copyright 2011 tod polson / Prodigal Pictures

Prodigal Pictures launch

We are happy to announce the launch of our new company, "Prodigal Pictures."

Prodigal Pictures provides design and consulting services for a variety of projects, including animation, illustration, and space design.

The company is also focused on design education. This includes lectures at universities, and animation companies.

We will be soon holding classes in the Bangkok area, with plans for several  intensive sea-side design and animation master classes.

For more information please email us at: prodigalpictures@gmail.com

Topaz Diary: Re-visited

Above: Rough concepts from "Topaz Diary."

Last spring I received a small grant to continue development on my next short film, "Topaz Diary."  As discussed in an earlier post, the film follows the life of Fred Hoshiyama, his experiences in the Topaz concentration camp; and how that experience changed the course of his life, and the lives of thousands of children.  Topaz is a serious documentary, but charged with the visual poetry that only animation could give. I hope to present several dozen concept paintings this fall for further film funding.

Images © 2011 Tod Polson

Nine Lives: A short film teaser

For a good part of the last year I've been helping a few of the young artists at "The Monk" studio put together the pre-production on a short film called "Nine Lives." We've been honing the designs, and animatic, which at long last are now complete.

The heads of the studio liked the first animation/ rigging test so much that they decided to render it, and make a small teaser as seen above.  The animation is  by none other than the famous David Notivoli.

"Nine Lives" is being developed by Wanichaya Phraejunya and Tom Zblur at the Monk Studio, Bangkok. Watch out for these two in the future, they are going to make some waves.

Maurice Noble Design Book

Maurice Noble was arguably one of animations greatest design/layout artists. His innovative use of color and design was integral to many of the greatest cartoons of the "Golden Age of Animation", from the classic Disney features “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs”, “Pinocchio”, “Fantasia”, “Bambi” and “Dumbo”, to more than sixty Warner Bros. cartoons with Chuck Jones. These include “What’s Opera Doc?”, “Duck Dodgers in the 24 ½ Century”, and the “Road Runner” series. Maurice co-directed and was production designer for the Academy Award winning short “The Dot And The Line”. He also designed the Christmas classic “The Grinch That Stole Christmas." The influence of his work is still being felt today.

The last few years of his life, Maurice had been working on a design textbook that described his approach to design. Unfortunately he passed away before he was able to complete the text. For most of the last year I have been working with Chronicle Books in putting together what I hope will be the book that Maurice had dreamed of.  It will be chocked full of his pre-production art, notes, and thoughts from the master himself  describing his process. The book will also be full of reflections from folks that knew and worked with him.

I submit the text to Chronicle Books this week, and if all goes according to schedule, Maurice's book will be on the shelves in 2012.

All above artwork was designed by Maurice Noble; Many thanks to the many collectors, and to Warner Bros, for allowing me to use the art for the book. And thanks to all the artists, friends, and fans who have given of their knowledge and time to help in this project. I will forever be indebted. Thank you- tod

Pumpkin Posters

 "The Pumpkin Of Nyefar" will be showing at the  Indianapolis Museum of Art on July 31st, 2011. Please click the link for more details.

Escape of the Gingerbread Man!!! trailer

A few of the festivals that I've entered have requested a trailer for the Gingerbread short. For those of you that haven't seen the short; hopefully this will give you an idea of what the film is like... and you can decide if you would like to see more. ☺  -tod

Howl! At the Cartoon Art Museum

The Cartoon Art Museum in San Francisco will be putting on an exhibit featuring the art from the movie "Howl"  from May 14 – September 11, 2011  

Curated by Andrew Farago, Eric Drooker and Chris Lanier

I served as the animation art director, and animation production supervisor on "Howl." 

Above: A few colorscript panels from the movie by me, and the art team at "The Monk."

San Francisco, CA: Rob Epstein and Jeffrey Friedman's film, Howl, produced by Werc Werk Works, opened the 2010 Sundance Film Festival. Featuring James Franco as the beat poet Allen Ginsberg, the film took an experimental approach to documenting the creation and performance of Ginsberg's revolutionary poem, "Howl"– as well as the obscenity trial that followed when, after undercover policemen purchased copies of Howl and Other Poems from City Lights Bookstore, the state tried to suppress its publication. The film blends glimpses of Ginsberg's personal life, recreations of the obscenity trial, and animated sequences that accompany Franco's performance of the poem, riffing on its ideas and images.
The Art of Howl gives a revealing look behind the scenes at the creative process of turning poetry into animation. The film directors enlisted Eric Drooker to design the animation; Drooker, a graphic novelist and painter, was friends with Ginsberg and had collaborated with him on the book Illuminated Poems. John Hays, a San Francisco-based animation veteran, directed the sequences, which were animated by The Monk Studios in Thailand. -from comic art news

Above: A young Allen Ginsberg modeled at The Monk Studios, based on Eric Drooker's drawing. The museum exhibit will show the process used in making the animated portions of "Howl."

 Above: Backgrounds, and concepts for billboards by the art dept at "The Monk."


A while back I was asked to create some location designs and color script for a T.V. show. This was an established show, so the director wanted to keep the basic feel of the series, but push things a little bit further for the special. The time frame was super short, so I recruited a few friends, including my wife On, to help me brainstorm.

Above: Evolution of a location.
Above, some rough sketches for the "Bear Castle" location.  I was asked to do something in sort of my "normal" style, but different. It took me a few sketches to "warm up" to the world I was trying to create.

Above: An overview of the valley.
The characters in the story were at war, so I tried to contrast two different kingdoms, but also tried to keep them in the same world. We had a wide variety of location designs to make in a very short, and intense period of time. After the initial locations were designed, I was asked to create the color script based on the storyboard. The final show was to be made in flash. So I recruited On again, who is a flash master, to help me put the color script together using pre-made flash symbols.

Above: Tree experiments.
Since a good part of the story took place in the forest, I played with various tree shapes. The art director wanted something "flat but dimensional."   The trees above were found to be "too flat", but lead to some other shape ideas.

I always find it a fun challenge to build a graphic world for characters to live in.

"Escape of the GingerBread Man!!!" premieres in America

Above: Stills from my new short film "Escape of the GingerBread Man!!!"

The first screening of Gingerbread will be at the 

"L.A. Cinema festival of Hollywood." 

April 6th 2011. Whitefire Theater, 13500 Ventura Blvd.
Sherman Oaks, CA 91423

A huge thanks to everyone who helped make this film possible.  Particularly "The Monk Studios" Bangkok, and the "Animation Workshop" in Denmark.  I'd also like to thank the numerous friends who have so generously given their time, and talent over the last few years.

The festival marks the films first public screening, and first festival win! Thanks again- tod

Burgers a go-go

A number of years ago, I was asked to come up with some ad ideas for a popular fast food chain. In the mid 1990's I had worked with some shadow puppets on the island of Java, and thought it would be fun to make a commercial using "American" shadow puppets. Designing characters with simple shapes and colors, working digitally and traditionally I imagined making a "super" shadow puppet theater. To my surprise the client liked the idea too! Some development was made, but ultimately it was decided to go another route.

Flea N' E.Z.

A concept I've been kicking around for a few years. A tug of war between good and evil, heaven and hell in the animal kingdom. Some fun story ideas... but recently I discovered that there might be a similar concept currently in production in Europe. This will be the second time this year that a concept that is similar to something I've pitched recently has been put into production elsewhere! Frustrating? ... Yes! But... C'est la guerre!

Al Tudi Tuhak in digital format

At long last I have a digital copy of "Al Tudi Tuhak," my student film from Cal/Arts! For years I've only had the 35mm prints, and some old video tapes. This last January I was invited to show "Al Tudi Tuhak" at the Bay International Children's Film Festival. A huge thanks to Jim Capobianco, who offered to make the digital transfer from 3/4" tape for me. Jim is a really great guy, and talented director, animator, and artist. Check out his website . He and his group are doing some really interesting things.

"Al Tudi Tuhak", is an original story inspired by the art and culture of the natives of the northwest coast. The film was made under the guidance of my mentors Jules Engel (UPA, Cal-Arts), and Maurice Noble (Disney, Warner Bros). With narration by Maurice, and music by Bill Benson.

Jules and Maurice were both wonderful, passionate, designers; with two very different approaches to design. This film marks an amazing, yet confusing time for me. It was a huge step in helping me develop my own design philosophy.

Above: Development art presented to the board at Cal-Arts in order to get "Al Tudi Tuhak" approved as my thesis.

The art is a mix of latex house paint on cels, and cut-outs.

I shot "Al Tudi Tuhak" on 35mm at Stokes/Kohne in Los Angeles. Dan Kohne was nice enough to let me use his Oxberry camera on the nights they weren't using the studio. And he and Billy Robinson were extremely patient with all my late night camera questions. I learned that it's hard shooting on black! Dust, fingerprints, everything show up under camera! The water effects were shot using double exposure with a ripple glass. Maurice sat in quite a few nights as "camera assistant." He taught me how important it is for a designer to know the capabilities of the camera.

Ben Jones, and Mike Polvani were kind enough to help me out with a few scenes of animation.

Bernadette Gonzales helped supervise the ink and paint.

... and a big thanks to my friends in the Philippines who helped out along the way.

"Al Tudi Tuhak" toured the festival circuit for a few years, winning the student "Oscar", and receiving an "Annie" nomination.

To read more about the film, click here or here

Dark Forest

A friend of mine contacted me a few weeks ago, and asked if I had any "Dark, scary, forest" reference I could give him to show a client for a potential job.

Above: Going through some of my old files, I came across a development sketch from a few years ago. I was working on a film about an elephant... and this character was the villain. I'm not sure why his eyes are glowing now... just seemed right at the time :)

Above: Variation on a theme... trying out a few lighting schemes... from "Secret of kells"

Above: This sketch is from my early 20's when I was working at Chuck Jones! I believe the studio was developing some sort of "Film Noir" story with a cat. I'll have to dig up the rest of the sketches someday. Was a fun project... but like most of the stuff we were developing at Jones... it never got beyond the development stage.