Hayao Miyazaki’s Studio Ghibli Releases Free Backgrounds for Virtual Meetings: Princess Mononoke, Spirited Away & More

To a degree that surpasses any other studio in animation history, Studio Ghibli has created a reality of its own. All of its fans around the world appreciate the artistry of its films, directed by such luminaries of Japanese animation as Hayao Miyazaki and Isao Takahata, and many appreciate it so fervently that they'd prefer to occupy any of Ghibli's worlds to this one. The studio has responded to their desires by not just continuing to produce motion pictures — the "retired" Miyazaki is now at work on his latest, How Do You Live? — but by authorizing a wide and ever-changing range of merchandise, and even building a museum outside Tokyo and a theme park outside Nagoya.

Alas, like most museums, Ghibli's is temporarily closed. Neither the Ghibli theme park nor How Do You Live? will open any time soon, and even if they could open today, it would hardly be an opportune time to do so. With so few of us anywhere able to go to movie theaters, let alone theme parks (though we can now, at long last, stream Ghibli movies online), we have to enter the realm of Ghibli in a digital fashion.




To make this a bit more possible, the studio has officially released a set of eight backgrounds, suitable for use as backdrops on Zoom or other video-conferencing applications. You'll find them all at Ghibli's web site: in Japanese only, true to form, but even non-Japanese speakers can easily click and save the images. (For instructions on how to set one as your background, see our previous post on the subject.)

Drawn from the sweep of Studio Ghibli's history, from Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind to Castle in the Sky, Princess Mononoke, Spirited Away, Howl's Moving Castle, Ponyo, Arrietty, and The Tale of the Princess Kaguya, the backdrops show the wide aesthetic range of its work. Some of them depict memorable settings from these films (any Ghibli fan will know exactly where you "are" the moment you connect) but others capture a character, an icon, or an atmosphere.

Whichever Ghibli background you pick, it will remind your interlocutors of the formidable imagination exercised by each and every one of the studio's films, whether its characters soar across the sky, live beneath the sea, or plunge into an unseen underworld — do anything, essentially, but stay at home making calls.

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Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities, language, and culture. His projects include the book The Stateless City: a Walk through 21st-Century Los Angeles and the video series The City in Cinema. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall, on Facebook, or on Instagram.

Watch the Oscar-Winning Animated Short “Hair Love”

African-American hair has been making headlines for the last few years, usually because another black student has been deemed in violation of the dress code for sporting braids, dreads, or a natural afro.

This year’s Oscar-winning animated short, "Hair Love," about an African-American dad’s attempt to stay on top of his 5-year-old daughter’s abundant locks, is the sweet alternative to these upsetting news stories.




Little Zuri’s dad, Stephen, doesn’t have to battle clueless or unfair administrators on his daughter’s behalf, but he does need to gain the upper hand on an adversary with whose ways he’s unfamiliar. (His own hair is styled in tidy dreadlocks.)

It’s implied that tending to Zuri’s hair is not exactly something he volunteered for, and indeed we learn that the task was previously the domain of her mother

In desperation, Stephen seeks advice in the form of YouTube videos, finding a plethora, as did filmmaker and former NFL wide receiver Matthew A Cherry, who referenced some of his actual inspirations in the film, like the viral video of DJ Hines’ attempt to contain daughter Chloe’s thick hair with a ponytail holder, below.

Cherry raised the necessary funding on Kickstarter, and completed the film in about six weeks after posting a call for collaborators on Twitter:

Any 3D artists follow me? I got an Oscar worthy short film idea to go with this image. Get at me 

As Cherry points out in the trailer for "Hair Love"’s accompanying book, Zuri’s robust, kinky curls—almost a third character according to illustrator Vashti Harrison—are a marvelous excuse to bust stereotypes by placing an involved, African-American dad front and center.

The tale has also won a lot of fans in the cancer survivor community for its deft portrayal of the effects of Zuri’s mom’s illness and recovery on the family.

Read the San Francisco Film Festival’s teaching guide to "Hair Love" here.

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Ayun Halliday is an author, illustrator, theater maker and Chief Primatologist of the East Village Inky zine.  Join Ayun’s company Theater of the Apes in New York City this month for her book-based variety series, Necromancers of the Public Domain, and the world premiere of Greg Kotis’ new musical, I AM NOBODY. Follow her @AyunHalliday.

Peanuts Rock: Watch the Peanuts Gang Play Classic Rock Songs by Queen, Lynyrd Skynyrd, Journey & More

In a very crowded field, Garren Lazar's comical take on Queen’s "Bohemian Rhapsody" is a stand-out.

Comical in the literal sense. Lazar, aka Super G, struck a rich vein when he thought to mash the Rolling Stones’ "Sympathy for the Devil" with footage culled from Charles Schulz’s animated Peanuts specials.

And over the last six years, he’s mined a lot of gold, using Final Cut Pro to pair familiar clips of a drumming Pigpen, Snoopy slapping a double bass, and the iconic “Linus And Lucy” scene from A Charlie Brown Christmas with rock and pop classics.

Schulz, an ardent music lover, frequently pictured his characters singing, dancing, and playing instruments, so Lazar, who has an uncanny knack for matching animated mouths to recorded lyrics, has plenty to choose from.

Charlie Brown’s anxieties fuel the introduction to a 15 minute remix of Lynyrd Skynyrd’s "Free Bird," until he gets hold of the Christmas special’s megaphone…

The megaphone serves Charlie equally well on "Stayin' Alive," the Bee Gees’ disco chart topper, though depending on your vintage, the vision of Snoopy in leg warmers and sweatband may come as a shock. Those clips come courtesy of It's Flashbeagle, Charlie Brown, Schulz’s 1984 goofy spin on FlashdanceFootlooseSaturday Night Fever and other dance-based pop cultural phenomenons of the era. Although that special—Schulz’s 27th—features a rotoscoped Snoopy busting moves originated by Flashdance’s stunt dancer Marine Jahan, that old holiday chestnut still manages to steal the show.

And whenever you need a lift, you can't do better than to spend a few minutes with Lazar’s heady reboot of Chicago’s quintessential 1970s single, "Saturday In the Park," wherein the normally reserved Schroeder reveals a more exuberant side.

Begin your explorations of Garren Lazar’s musical Peanuts remixes on his YouTube channel, warm in the knowledge that he entertains requests in the comments.

via Ultimate Classic Rock

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Ayun Halliday is an author, illustrator, theater maker and Chief Primatologist of the East Village Inky zine.  Join Ayun’s company Theater of the Apes in New York City this March for her book-based variety series, Necromancers of the Public Domain, and the world premiere of Greg Kotis’ new musical, I AM NOBODY. Follow her @AyunHalliday.

Optical Poems by Oskar Fischinger, the Avant-Garde Animator Despised by Hitler, Dissed by Disney

At a time when much of animation was consumed with little anthropomorphized animals sporting white gloves, Oskar Fischinger went in a completely different direction. His work is all about dancing geometric shapes and abstract forms spinning around a flat featureless background. Think of a Mondrian or Malevich painting that moves, often in time to the music. Fischinger’s movies have a mesmerizing elegance to them. Check out his 1938 short An Optical Poem above. Circles pop, sway and dart across the screen, all in time to Franz Liszt’s 2nd Hungarian Rhapsody. This is, of course, well before the days of digital. While it might be relatively simple to manipulate a shape in a computer, Fischinger’s technique was decidedly more low tech. Using bits of paper and fishing line, he individually photographed each frame, somehow doing it all in sync with Liszt’s composition. Think of the hours of mind-numbing work that must have entailed.

Born in 1900 near Frankfurt, Fischinger trained as a musician and an architect before discovering film. In the 1930s, he moved to Berlin and started producing more and more abstract animations that ran before feature films. They proved to be popular too, at least until the National Socialists came to power. The Nazis were some of the most fanatical art critics of the 20th Century, and they hated anything non representational. The likes of Paul Klee, Oskar Kokoschka and Wassily Kandinsky among others were written off as “degenerate.” (By stark contrast, the CIA reportedly loved Abstract Expressionism, but that’s a different story.) Fischinger fled Germany in 1936 for the sun and glamour of Hollywood.




The problem was that Hollywood was really not ready for Fischinger. Producers saw the obvious talent in his work, and they feared that it was too ahead of its time for broad audiences. "[Fischinger] was going in a completely different direction than any other animator at the time," said famed graphic designer Chip Kidd in an interview with NPR. "He was really exploring abstract patterns, but with a purpose to them — pioneering what technically is the music video."

Fischinger’s most widely seen American work was the section in Walt Disney’s Fantasia set to Bach's Toccata and Fugue in D Minor. Disney turned his geometric forms into mountain peaks and violin bows. Fischinger was apoplectic. “The film is not really my work,” Fischinger later reflected. “Rather, it is the most inartistic product of a factory. …One thing I definitely found out: that no true work of art can be made with that procedure used in the Disney studio.” Fischinger didn’t work with Disney again and instead retreated into the art world.

There he found admirers who were receptive to his vision. John Cage, for one, considers the German animator’s experiments to be a major influence on his own work. Cage recalls his first meeting with Fischinger in an interview with Daniel Charles in 1968.

One day I was introduced to Oscar Fischinger who made abstract films quite precisely articulated on pieces of traditional music. When I was introduced to him, he began to talk with me about the spirit, which is inside each of the objects of this world. So, he told me, all we need to do to liberate that spirit is to brush past the object, and to draw forth its sound. That’s the idea which led me to percussion.

You can find excerpts of other Fischinger films over at Vimeo.

Optical Poems will be added to our list of Animations, part of our collection: 1,150 Free Movies Online: Great Classics, Indies, Noir, Westerns, etc..

Note: An earlier version of this post appeared on our site in September, 2014.

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Jonathan Crow is a Los Angeles-based writer and filmmaker whose work has appeared in Yahoo!, The Hollywood Reporter, and other publications. You can follow him at @jonccrowAnd check out his blog Veeptopus, featuring one new drawing of a vice president with an octopus on his head daily.  The Veeptopus store is here.

Cooking with Wool: Watch Mouthwatering Tiny Woolen Food Animations

Our fascination with tiny food can be traced to the mouthwatering illustrations in Beatrix Potter’s The Tale of Two Bad Mice.

Just like the dollhouse-sized comestibles that so confounded the titular rodents, Tom Thumb and Huncamunca, animator Andrea Love’s miniature pasta with red sauce is as inedible as it is appetizing.




The self-taught stop motion specialist’s medium of choice is wool.

In an interview with Dragon Frame stop motion software’s company blog, when they featured Cooking with Wool: Breakfast, above, Love explained:

I like to make short personal projects experimenting with the different ways to animate wool. The technique is called needle felting and it involves shaping wool with a barbed needle. I love the fuzzy aesthetic, and feel like the possibilities are endless. Everything in this video is made out of wool or felt, and is built over rigid insulation foam. This was a weekend/evening project, done over the course of three days… It is very challenging working with tiny bits of wool, but also amazing how much detail can be achieved on a small scale when you consider that it is just tiny clumps of fur.

Forget the showstoppers—the melting butter, the fried eggs flipping in the pan, the steam rising from cup and kettle…

Let’s take a moment to admire the attention to detail that went into the background aspects—the rubber spatula, the bananas, the cheery flecked wallpaper…

The only thing missing is a potholder to handle that piping hot cast iron skillet.

Perhaps she ran out of wool?

The Port Townsend, Washington resident, who graduated from Hampshire College with a concentration in film studies and sustainable agriculture, whips up her teeny weeny wooly meals in the same basement studio where she crafts promotional videos for local businesses, including the yarn shop where she sources her wool rovings.

View more of Andrea Love’s fiber-art stop motion animations, including a “digital” banana painting created with a woolen tablet and stylus, on her website and Instagram page.

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Ayun Halliday is an author, illustrator, theater maker and Chief Primatologist of the East Village Inky zine.  Join her in NYC on Monday, February 3 for New York: The Nation's Metropolis the 21st installment of her book-based variety show, Necromancers of the Public Domain. Follow her @AyunHalliday.

An Animated Look at the Charade of the Global Elites: Claiming They Want to “Change the World,” They End Up Preserving the Unjust Status Quo

From Peter Kropotkin to Leo Tolstoy to Noam Chomsky, some of the most revered anarchist thinkers have exhausted page after page explaining why power over others is unjustified, no matter how it justifies itself. To those who say the wealthy and powerful benefit society with charitable works and occasionally humane policy, Tolstoy might reply with the following illustration, which opens Time editor Anand Giridharadas’ talk above, “Winner Take All,” as animated by the RSA:

I sit on a man’s back, choking him and making him carry me, and yet assure myself and others that I am sorry for him and wish to lighten his load by all means possible… except by getting off his back.

The author of Winners Take All: The Elite Charade of Changing the World, Giridharadas doesn’t make the case for anarchism here, except perhaps by the slightest implication in his choice of epigraph. But he does call out the “winners of our age,” no matter how much they determine to make a difference with humanitarian aid, for being “unwilling to get off the man’s back.” Unwilling to pay taxes, close loopholes and tax shelters, pay higher wages, or stop lobbying to slash public services. Unwilling to reinvest in the communities that made them.




“What does it look like to imagine the kind of change,” Giridharadas asks, “that would involve the winners of our age stepping off that guy’s back? Or being made to step off that guy’s back?” Here, he leaves us with an ellipses and moves to critique the idea of the “win-win” as a means of making change, rather than just exchange.

The market economy has imported the criteria of exchange into politics and social action. Everything is transactional. But in order to address the gross inequities that result in people figuratively sitting on the backs of others, some must gain more power and others must have less. The parties do not meet in a state of ceteris paribus.

One might take issue with the very terms used in "win-win" thinking. Rather than winners, some would call powerful capitalists opportunists, profiteers, and worse. (The term “robber baron” was once in common circulation.) To claim that good works and good intentions obviate massive power imbalances is to presume that such imbalances are justifiable in the first place. Answering this theoretical question doesn’t, however, address the practical problem.

In the current system of corporate misrule, says Giridharadas, “when everything is couched as a win-win, what you are really saying… is that the best kinds of solutions don’t ask anyone to get off anyone’s back.” Unfettered capitalism has brought us the “privatization of public problems." That is to say, companies profit from the same issues they help create through pollution, predatory schemes, and undue political influence.

You don’t have to be an anarchist to see a serious problem with that. But if you see the problem, you should want to imagine how things could be otherwise.

via Aeon

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Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness

A Brief Animated History of Alcohol

Almost anything can be preserved in alcohol, except health, happiness and money…

Roderick Phillips’ Ted-Ed lesson, a Brief History of Alcohol, above, opens with a bon mot from early 20th-century quote maven Mary Wilson Little, after which, an unwitting chimpanzee quickly discovers the intoxicating effects of overripe plums.

His eyes pinwheel, he falls off a branch, and grins, drunk as a monkey’s uncle.

And though the subject is alcohol, this primate is the only character in Anton Bogaty’s 5-minute animation who could be hauled in on a drunk and disorderly charge.

The others take a more sober, industrious approach, illustrating alcohol’s prominent role in early medicine, religious rituals, and global trading.

Ancient Egyptians harvest the cereal grains that will produce beer, included as part of workers’ rations and available to all classes.

A native of South America stirs a kettle of chicha, a fistful of hallucinogenic herbs held at the ready.

A Greek physician tends to a patient with a goblet of wine, as a nearby poet prepares to deliver an ode on its creative properties.

Students with an interest in the science of alcohol can learn a bit about the fermentation process and how the invention of distillation allowed for much stronger spirits.

Alcohol was a welcome presence aboard seafaring vessels. Not only did this valuable trading commodity spark lively parties on deck, it sanitized the sailors’ drinking water, making longer voyages possible.

Cheers to that.

Educators can customize the lesson here.

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Ayun Halliday is an author, illustrator, theater maker and Chief Primatologist of the East Village Inky zine.  Join her in NYC tongight, Monday, January 6 when her monthly book-based variety show, Necromancers of the Public Domain celebrates Cape-Coddities (1920) by Roger Livingston Scaife. Follow her @AyunHalliday.

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