Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Coolest. Dr Claw Sculpture. Ever!

Check out this amazing fan-made sculpture of Doctor Claw, done by "Kaziam" over at the He-man.org forums. I love the attention to detail... this definitely deserves being made into an official collector's figure.


...but who - or what - is hiding behind that chair? Apparently the sculptor couldn't quite resist presenting his own "conspiracy theory"...


... even though, of course, the original series present proof that Quimby and Claw were two different persons. Oh well. That's still a pretty darn impressive Chief Quimby figure, despite the manic look in his eyes.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

High Quality Gadget Pictures from THIS

The official Inspector Gadget site over at the THIS TV network has a slideshow with many high-quality images from the original series. I think most of the images are scans of original cels... they look noticeably clearer and more colorful than DVD screenshots from the episodes. And, many of them work great as wallpapers! Here are the best-looking ones:

From "Clear Case"

From "A Bad Altitude"

From "The Emerald Duck"

From "Dry Spell"

Very cool image from a pan scene in "Sleeping Gas"


From "Snakin' All Over"

From "Don't Hold Your Breath". This image is flipped when compared to the original episode.

From "Tree Guesses"

From "Amusement Park"

From "The Coo Coo Clock Caper". I love the design in this one.

From "Clear Case"

From "Winter Olympics"/"Gadget in Winterland"

From "Gadget at the Circus"

From "Gadget at the Circus"

Friday, December 16, 2011

Gadget Girl?

Taking a break from my Bruno Bianchi tributes here, as I felt like sharing this image I just came across at MovieGoods:




I'm pretty certain this never existed officially, but I find the idea both a bit crazy and strangely intriguing. Gadget Girl's design seems to be partly inspired by Agent Heather from the lousy Inspector Gadget spinoff Gadget Boy, which probably also inspired the name for this... but that's where the similarities end, fortunately. The art and concept for this "Gadget Girl" poster looks much more interesting to me. What do you think?

Monday, December 12, 2011

Illustrated Homages to Bruno Bianchi and Shingo Araki

Since the death of Gadget creator Bruno Bianchi, a lot of illustrated homages have popped up on the web... and I felt it was only appropriate to showcase some of these heartfelt tributes here. Some of the sites paying homage to Bianchi did so to animator Shingo Araki at the same time, so in those cases I have also posted the Araki tributes.

Over at a French site called Mekavolt, I found some really neat tribute art to Bruno Bianchi and Shingo Araki illustrated by site owner/animator "Bena" (who also knew Bruno Bianchi personally according to the tribute post). I really like the mood in this tribute drawing to Bianchi. Putting Gadget's trenchcoat and the Gadget hand in there is actually quite a beautiful touch.


Here's Bena's Shingo Araki tribute, too (and here's the link to the source post). Again, really nicely done.


[UPDATE (August 29, 2013): The Mekavolt site recently disappeared from the web - and so did the two tribute drawings which I had copied directly to my blog from the site. Happily, though, both drawings as well as the written tribute to Bianchi are still available on Bena's DeviantArt page (enabling me to save the images from there and re-post them from my harddrive). Here's the link to the Bruno Bianchi tribute, and here's the Shingo Araki tribute.]

The touching artwork below - from the blog of David Gilson - pays homage to both Bruno Bianchi and Shingo Araki, but also to the famous Zdenek Miler (creator of "The Little Mole") and Gilson's young collegaue Jean Vincent. 



This simple, yet effective color sketch of Gadget thanking Bruno for his achievements was done by "Nikooz" of the French blog Drink 'N' Draw Paris (click here to see the tribute post with the original black-and-white sketch as well!)


 Nikooz also did a similar homage to Shingo Araki, starring the title character from another classic DiC series, Ulysses 31 (again, click here to see the source post which also includes the black-and-white sketch).



Finally, this loosely rendered pencil drawing by "Piotr" of the French blog Mégalomine incorporates characters from both Bianchi and Araki's animated series to make a combined tribute. 

[UPDATE (February 18, 2013): The Mégalomine blog changed its internet location a while back, causing the picture I had copied from the old version of the blog to disappear. So I'm re-posting the picture from my own harddrive, to make sure it stays up this time. Here's the new link for the source post.]


Hope you enjoyed the homages... I'll post more if I find them. :) 

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Gadget's Co-creator, Character Designer and Supervising Director Bruno Bianchi Passes Away


Bruno Bianchi+an original Inspector Gadget sketch he did for a fan, at the occasion
of Inspector Gadget's 25th anniversary. Fanny's Party, November 4, 2008.

A piece of unbelievably sad news reached me earlier this week: Bruno Bianchi - the co-creator, supervising director and main character designer on Inspector Gadget - passed away last Friday on December 2.

Above and below: Bruno Bianchi surrounded by a few of his fans
while giving a joyful video interview at the occacion of Inspector
Gadget's 25th anniversary. Fanny's Party, November 4, 2008.

I first heard on Cartoon Brew Biz, which had gotten the news through Animation Magazine. According to several sad postings on French sites, the cause of death was cancer. He was 56 years old. That is just way too early to go, not least for such an amazingly creative person. Bruno is and will forever be one of my heroes within television animation. With the shock of him gone still pretty fresh in my mind, I've decided to use this post to reminiscence about my personal favorite cartoons from his impressive career. First, let's talk a little about his creative contributions to my favorite among all (yep, you guessed it): Inspector Gadget.

Another original sketch by Bruno.
Fanny's Party, November 4, 2008.

This is an appropriate place to start because, as many of you probably know, Bruno's very first directing gig major breakthrough as a cartoon director/creator came with Inspector Gadget. He started out at Jean Chalopin's French animation studio DiC Audiovisual in 1977, first as a cel painter, then working his way upwards to animator, storyboard artist and ultimately director. Aside from directing or co-directing the entire original Inspector Gadget series, Bruno also served as Gadget's leading character designer and - not least - as the third of the show's creators, after Andy Heyward and Jean Chalopin. I'm inclined to think that his important work as Gadget's visual designer was what landed him the creator credit. Because - while Jean Chalopin is credited with developing the show's scenario and universe - it seems pretty clear to me, from all accounts I've read, that Bianchi was the most important voice in defining the visual side! All the primary characters - Gadget, Penny, Brain, Dr. Claw and Chief Quimby - went through his hands as chief character designer. He established a look for the show which was a unique mixture between classic American cartoon traditions, the humous French comic book style (Asterix, Lucky Luke etc.) and Japanese animé. Think about that for a second. Inspector Gadget was a French-American-Japanese co-production... and all of these countries are represented through the designs of the main characters! Have a look:

Inspector Gadget - original 1983 model sheet (rough)
Gadget's design, his face and nose in particular, clearly has its roots in the style of French comic book series such as Asterix... which I feel pretty certain Bianchi, being a Frenchman, grew up with and was influenced by.

Brain - original 1983 expression sheet
Brain is a pure cartoon animal, closely linked to the squash-and-stretch traditions of Hollywood cartoons.

Penny - original 1983 expression sheet+screenshot from the episode "The Japanese Connection".
And then there's Penny, whose design - in the face and especially the eyes - reflects Japanese anime. The model sheets (left) don't quite show it off as well as the animation in the show (right), but the anime-ish eyes and some of her expressions are already there.

I've been fascinated for a long time by this; how each of the three main characters in Gadget actually seems to represent one of the countries co-producing the show! Makes you wonder if Bianchi planned it consciously when designing the characters... perhaps to make the show more fun to work on for the various production units across the globe.

The word fun brings me to an extremely important part of Bianchi's work as a cartoon director: a sense of pure fun. Inspector Gadget may not always be the laugh-out-loud funniest show on the planet (even though it can be hilarious at times) - but, at least during its first season, it was almost always FUN. There is a difference between the words "funny" and "fun"... and I'm mentioning it, I think, to talk about Bianchi's wonderful energy as a director. Because, admittedly, Inspector Gadget WAS his very first outing one of his earliest major projects as a director - and especially some of the early episodes have their clumsy moments revealing that the director was new at his job. But Bianchi quickly picked up steam - as the rest of the show crew probably did, too - and as Gadget's first season progressed, Bianchi's direction became much more fast-paced, loaded with energy and throwaway gags. These ingredients kept Inspector Gadget fun to watch despite the occasional clumsy timing, and despite the occasional gag falling flat or not completely making sense. In fact, I think this was part of the show's charm. Inspector Gadget is, to be honest, an incredibly silly cartoon show with a lot of logical flaws, and once you start looking for logic, everything falls apart. But the great humor and energetic execution of the show overcomes it all.

                                           

When I first started watching Inspector Gadget, of course, I was a little too young to analyze it like that. But the show always meant great fun to me... and it represented a unique form of entertainment. I remember that when I first came across Inspector Gadget at age 11, I had never seen anything quite like it before. Great characters, funny gags, an idiotic but yet brilliant premise - and, not least, all the cool touches! (Gadget and Claw's awesome vehicles; the fact that Dr. Claw's face was never seen; the fact that Gadget was really an idiot, though a lovable one; Penny's action scenes; Brain's never-ending and highly sympathetic struggles to save Gadget...) So much was going on in almost every episode - and the show also made a habit of throwing in additional quirky gags which not really added to the plot, but added fantastically to the entertainment value and the characterizations. I instantly loved the fast-paced, gag-filled nature of the show. It was a wonderful blend of action and humor, and I think Bianchi's contributions as a director had a lot to do with that.


The first time I ever came across Inspector Gadget was on television way back in 1999. 
I accidentally changed the channel to it midway through the episode "Monster Lake" - 
and was hooked immediately. Skip to 2:05 in the above video to watch the great 
scene that introduced me to Gadget, Dr. Claw, Penny, Brain and M.A.D. Cat...

Speaking of weird touches: why the heck
is there a human face on that bathing ring at bottom left?!
I have no idea,but I love it! From the episode "Sleeping Gas". 



















While Bianchi's direction and design work on Gadget would in itself make him a legend, he will probably be remembered just as much for the long line of other shows he did in the 80s, 90s and 2000s. Personally, my first exposure to Bianchi's work came long I had even heard about Inspector Gadget... when I was about nine, I think... through a delightful show called Heathcliff (better known today as Heathcliff and the Catillac Cats) from 1984-86. It was partly based on Geo Gately's delightful comic strip, of which I was a fan as a kid. This cartoon show - like Gadget - has gone on to become one of the best-loved collaborations between Bruno Bianchi and Jean Chalopin. Aside from directing, Bianchi also co-created the stars of the show's second segment, The Catillac Cats, who became popular in their own right. (The videos I rented as a kid only featured the Heathcliff parts, though, so back then I only knew those of the Catillac Cats who occasionally appeared in the Heathcliff 'toons.) Heathcliff doesn't hold up for me today quite as well as Gadget does... but it was still a pretty enjoyable show, with lots of gleefully cruel slapstick violence and, again, a great feeling of fun. Below you'll find the intro, as well as one of my favorite Heathcliff episodes from way back when (although I initially watched it as part of Heathcliff: The Movie):





A few years later - at the same time as I first discovered Inspector Gadget on one of my Norwegian channels, and forever fell in love with it - I simultaneously became a fan of one of Bianchi's other shows (which usually aired right before Gadget): Iznogoud (1995), about the grand vizir who wants to become sultan instead of the sultan! Bianchi produced and directed this series, that was an adaptation of the famous French comic strip created by René Goscinny (of Asterix fame) and Jean Tabary. But Bruno Bianchi's cartoon adaptation from the 90s made me a fan of Iznogoud long before I read the comic! In fact, even though the original comics are ultimately better, the cartoon series captures the strip's quirky humor and satire to an impressive degree... as do the excellent character designs and animation, even if they're not quite as free-wheeling as Tabary's ink lines. And I just love the intro. Below is the first half-hour episode in English (I still distincly remember watching the second half's cartoon, "Hat's Off!").







I hoped you enjoyed some of my personal remembrances of Bruno Bianchi's cartoons. Although I haven't seen anywhere near all the series he's done, I have fond memories of all the above-mentioned shows. This has been a bittersweet post to write. Sweet because I've long had in mind to do posts about Inspector Gadget's creators, and it felt good to talk a little about the personal impact Bianchi's work had on me. Bitter because I wish this hadn't happened at all. Bruno shouldn't be gone.... he should still be with us, out there, creating new cartoons for new generations to enjoy! Thankfully, though, his best work will live on forever. What more can I say? Well, this, for one thing: Thanks, Bruno - for everything. I'll never forget all the fun.


This post may be updated during the next days with additional pictures, videos and thoughts. For now, though, I just wanted to get these thoughts about Bruno out there. I also hope (if I get the time) to do more posts about him, showcasing drawings, photos and even more videos and other shows he's done. Last, but not least... if any of you would like to share your own memories of Bruno Bianchi - either of him as a person, or as a fan of his work - I'd love to hear them.

EDIT (February 19): This post has been modified slightly. I originally wrote that Inspector Gadget was Bianchi's first work as a director... but this proves not to be true. Check out my post about a cartoon show he directed three years before Gadget at this link.

Friday, December 9, 2011

Rest In Peace, Bruno Bianchi and Shingo Araki

 A sad start to December: Last week, two key artists behind the original Inspector Gadget series passed away... strangely enough only a few hours apart. On the night of Thursday, December 1, Japanese animation veteran Shingo Araki (animator on season 1) passed away. French animation veteran Bruno Bianchi (co-creator and director) followed on the morning of Friday, December 2. I've actually known about this since Monday, but only today did I find the time to blog about these artists.


BRUNO BIANCHI (1955-2011)

Bruno Bianchi... where do I begin? This man was not only Inspector Gadget's co-creator. He also directed the entire original series (1982-86) and served as chief designer of all the main characters. In short, Bruno was one of the leading creative forces on the show. The fact that he is gone came as a great shock to me (he was only in his mid-fifties, for crying out loud), and it's hard to describe in few words the impact he had on my childhood, not only through Inspector Gadget, but also various other shows like Heathcliff and Iznogoud. That's why I've decided not to write much about him here, and instead post a longer tribute to him one of the next days. Now, then... Read on (below Bianchi's credits) to get to Shingo Araki...

----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

SHINGO ARAKI (1939-2011)

Original Gadget animator Shingo Araki was a guy I really didn't know much about... but the Imdb site on his work reveals quite a legacy! Since 1965, this versatile animator/animation director/character designer had been continuously at work in Japan on a number of famous anime series... including Yu-Gi-Oh!, The Rose of Versailles, Lupin III Part III and Saint Seiya, among many, many others. Imdb's overview of his work, not to mention its Mini Biography (below), probably sums up his career better than I can:
"Graduated in Aichi Prefecture. Semi-professional debut as a cartoonist in the "Machi" adult comic magazine in 1955. Joined Mushi Production as animator in 1965. Founded Studio Jaguar in 1966. Debuted as animation director in 1970 with the TV Series "Joe of Tomorrow". Met for the first time also animation director and future collaborator Michi Himeno in 1973. Founded Araki Production in 1975. Debuted in a long-feature film as animation director in 1978's "Goodbye Battleship Yamato: Warriors of Love". Celebrated the enormous success for duet Araki-Himeno with the TV series and later three animated films "Saint Seiya" (1986-89), followed by new film of the saga "Saint Seiya Overture" from 2004. Illustrated the novel "Burai". Did tasks of Creative Consultor of Video Games' Brey saga."
In addition to the shows fully produced in Japan, Araki also worked for the famous studios Toei Animation and Tokyo Movie Shinsha (TMS) as an animator on outsourced American productions. It was through TMS he got assigned to Inspector Gadget, which he animated on during the show's first season... meaning the season which generally had the best animation in it. Presumably, he served as one of Gadget's key animators, as his name is the second one (of a long list) mentioned in the animation credits.


The fact that famous veteran artists such as Araki were assigned to work on Inspector Gadget really shows the ambitions DiC had with the show during its first season: the animation was far above average for TV cartoons at the time. Not every Gadget episode had good animation, of course (as they were outsourced to various Asian studios), but I'll choose to believe that Araki worked on some of the episodes with the best-looking animation. The fact that he was working on Gadget through the legendary TMS studio is a quality indicator in itself!

I thought it fitting to end this post on a Japanese note... so below, you'll find the original Inspector Gadget episode which actually takes place in Tokyo, Japan! I'll just assume that Araki animated on this one, because "The Japanese Connection" is one of my all-time favorite episodes... it's top-notch in practically every way, not least in terms of animation and design! Also, it shows off Bruno Bianchi's fun direction at its best. So I'm just gonna dedicate this embedded video to both Bruno Bianchi and Shingo Araki...