Monthly ArchiveOctober 2006

Daily post 31 Oct 2006 09:29 am

NY Tricky Treat

- Coming up out of the subway, at 7am this morning, I was greeted by the specter of Halloween. An adult video store just at the mouth of the subway exit/entrance had a skeleton dressed in a natty tuxedo – the doorman to its own hell. (It looked highly varnished – I’m not sure if once a real person might have occupied those bones or if I was not awake enough to recognize that it was made of plastic.)

But then NY has become Halloween central these past dozen or so years. Now that I am situated in the West Village, I notice that it dominates the area for a few days. Streets have already been cordoned off with those blue wooden horses Police use. There’s going to be an extravagantly excessive parade marching all around this area tonight.

This parade of costume wearers used to be the provenance of the gay crowd in this arty neighborhood. It used to be more fun back then with its low-budget creativity designed to make you smile. Now, it feels as if the New Jersey crowd crosses over to participate. Lots of teens and young twenties, drinkers and parents come to make noise and crowd the streets in preparation for a party night. Somehow, it also seems to have lost its innocence. At least, there doesnt; seem to be as much laughing.

Regardless, the streets are set up for a lot of police to inhabit the neighborhood and a lot of people to come fill those streets at sundown. It’s funny, now, that this morning I’d thought the extra police in the subway were a sign that another terror alert had taken place. (It is a week before the election, and the Republicanistas do like scaring some of us.)

Silly me, it isn’t an Amber Alert; it’s orange and black.

Animation 30 Oct 2006 09:12 am

More Fierlinger

- Since visiting with Paul & Sandra Fierlinger last Thursday, I’ve been obsessed with their films. I can’t stop thinking about them.

Almost immediately upon meeting him, I was given a DVD copy of the most recent work he’d done on his feature, My Dog Tulip.

(Click any image to enlarge.)
I had planned to look at it immediately on my return, but I held off a bit. It was like getting a gift you wanted and were slow on opening the package. The thrill comes, really, only once. So it took until Friday night before I put it into the player.

The film starts out as most Fierlinger films do, placing you right into the story. His introductions to the characters is always so painless. There they are, find out what you can.

Tulip is a German Shepherd belonging to an elderly British man, living alone.

In some ways, it seems to be the doppelganger for the voice on Paul’s other dog film, Still Life With Animated Dogs. That voice was, of course, Paul’s in what was one of his autobiographical films.

In Tulip, the narrator is voiced by Christopher Plummer. Paul was upset at the way these recording sessions went, but I find the voice extraordinarily beautiful – it just pulls you into the film with a vulnerability and an intimacy that would have been hard to get with most actors.

Sandra Fierlinger is painting some very atmospheric background paintings. They’re taking the style to new extremes in a very very finished and lush style. They’ve always used muted coloring to good effect; here there’s a rich look which goes beyond the wash/watercolors used in the past. (The buses above look almost as though they’ve been painte with acrylics.)

There’s no doubt that this is going to be a masterwork.

I was interested in how the Bauhaus/Mirage system has affected the animation Paul is doing.

After watching the clips from My Dog Tulip several times, I went back to Still Life With Animated Dogs. That film was done on cel and photographed.

There seems to be more of a looseness and more sophisticated coloring done on the paperless system. I’m sure this is a choice they’ve made in exploiting the system.
Paul gave me bits of pencil test and animatic on Tulip, and the look of that PT is definitely digital – as I think all line tests done digitally are, but it loses that feel when it’s painted and cleaned up. I’ve been convinced that I have to try the software again.

Paul’s the best salesman for the product – not through the high praise he gives the software, but through his films. I’m taken.

(In NY, Still Life With Animated Dogs will air at 3AM on Nov. 30th on WNET. Go to the ITVS link to find out about your area’s screenings.)

Photos 29 Oct 2006 08:40 am

More Lyle Pics

- Continuing with the photo display I put up last Sunday, I wanted to show off two more corners of the room in my 38th Street studio, back in 1988.

Greg Perler had a particularly crowded corner of the studio where he edited all of the films we were producing. You’ll note that he was using an upright movieola. (I prized those two uprights and have kept them to this day, though they’re used predominantly for holding things upright.)

Greg, at the time of these photos, was editing Abel’s Island. There was a hurried rush for the mix which was fast approaching, and I was encroaching on his day to take these snaps.

Greg left NY to go to LA. He started as the Asst. Editor on Beauty & The Beast and became top dog on Tarzan. Currently, he’s editing Enchanted for Disney.
(Click any image to enlarge.)

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1. Greg’s corner from another angle
2. Greg and Ray Kosarin, an assistant in the studio. who worked with Greg in assisting him in the rush to the mix.

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3. Ray Kosarin drawing on Abel’s Island.
4. Bridget Thorne‘s corner – diagonally across the studio from Greg’s – where she did backgrounds. Bridget, Greg and Ray.

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5. HBO threw a party to screen Lyle Lyle Crocodile. Pictured here L to R: me, Liz Callaway (the singing voice of Mrs. Primm), Bernard Waber (the author, illustrator of the book), and Arnold Stang (the voice of a parrot – he was also the voice of Top Cat among hundreds of voices he’s done over the years.)
6. Pictured L to R: Rick Parks (multiple voices), me, Arnold Stang, Bernard Waber, Carole Rosen (an Exec from HBO with whom I did many films), and someone dressed as Lyle.
We’re about to cut a cake shaped to look like Lyle, the crocodile. The knife was given to Bernard Waber who said he couldn’t cut into his own creation. We had the costumed Lyle cut himself – the cake, I mean. (The head went first!)

Animation 28 Oct 2006 08:29 am

Svankmajer in Person

– The BAMcinématek is presenting a special treat for fans of Jan Svankmajer. The director will be in attendance for a Q&A on November 3 at 7pm following the screening of his most recent feature, Lunacy (Sílení) (2005).

Their press release reads:
In Lunacy Svankmajer mixes elements of Edgar Allan Poe and the Marquis de Sade for a combination of live action and animation that explores how society deals with power and insanity.

Variety remarks, “what could be more natural than cult helmer Jan Svankmajer pairing the poetic twins of decadence, Edgar Allan Poe and the Marquis de Sade,” while Premiere Magazine says “Lunacy is exactly what it’s called, raucously inventive and completely out of its mind.”

The Q&A with Jan Svankmajer will be moderated by Mike Maggiore, Film Forum programmer.

BAM Rose Cinemas (30 Lafayette Ave.)
Tickets: $10 per screening for adults $7 for students 25 and under (with valid I.D. Monday-Thursday, except holidays), seniors, children under twelve, and BAM Cinema Club members
Tickets available by phone at 718.777.FILM (order by “name of movie” option)
Call 718.636.4100 or visit

- While down in Philadelphia signs were posted everywhere for the appearance of the Quay Brothers. They will be visiting the University of Pennsylvania School of Design next week, Wednesday Nov 1st and 2nd. Many of their films will be screened.

Paul Fierlinger said that he’d heard of someone who questioned Svankmajer as to whether he’d seen their films and noticed the influence. According to the story, Svankmajer said he’d not been able to notice the relationship. This is might be an interesting question to ask of Svankmajer.

Animation 27 Oct 2006 09:18 am

Paul & Sandra Fierlinger

Yesterday, I went to Philadelphia to the University of Pennsylvania School of Design (or Penn Design) to meet with students, talk about my work, show a couple of films and answer any questions. I went as the guest of Paul Fierlinger who has set up a beautiful preparatory school for 2D animation. Because Paul is an ardent supporter of the Bauhaus Mirage system, he is teaching his students to animate on that program. (I only saw a couple of small examples, but I was impressed with the work.)

The highlight of the trip, for me, was to meet up with Paul and his wife, Sandra. I have been a long and enthusiastic lover and supporter of their work.

After seeing so many of his films and knowing a lot about him, I finally met Paul back in 1985 at Annecy. We found that we had a lot in common. (My first short was done for a company called the Learning Corporation of America – LCA. Paul had already been producing a number of films for them. One of them, It’s so Nice to Have a Wolf Around the House, had been nominated for the Oscar in 1979.)

After Annecy, I went down to Wynnewood, Pennsylvania in the suburbs of Philadelphia to spend a day with Paul and his family. We went out on his boat for the day, and we had lots of long conversations about animation and our working methods. It was a memorable day for me just spending the day in such enjoyable company. Both of us talked about our ambition to make longer films.

In 1993, Paul succeeded on the highest level with the American Playhouse show Drawn from Memory, an animated autobiography Paul wrote, directed and animated. (See the AWN interview with Paul here or the NYTimes review here.)

His next film, a half-hour show for PBS called Still Life With Animated Dogs became his most successful. He and Sandra Fierlinger won the Peabody Award for this work, and they deserved quite a few more awards as well.

A Room Nearby premiered on PBS in 2005 (though it actually premiered at the Margaret Meade film festival November 2003.) This told the stories of five people and how they dealt with loneliness. It’s a beautifully animated, and, I think it’s the deepest of the works of the Fierlingers. this is a magnificent film which has deservedly won lots of awards but not enough.

Currently, they’re working on an animated feature length film, My Dog Tulip, which is adapted from the book by J.R. Ackerly. They expect to complete this theatrical in 2008 with the two of them doing all work on the film, themselves. Paul adapted the book, is directing and animating. Sandra is doing all rendering and backgrounds.

Once again, I had a wonderful time with Paul. Sharing moments with a real artist enables you to embrace the films all the more. I can’t wait to check out the dvd he gave me showing some clips from the feature in progress. It was an inspiring day.

SpornFilms 26 Oct 2006 07:38 am

Garbo Talks

- One of the pieces done in my studio which still leaves me proud is a title sequence done for the Sidney Lumet feature, Garbo Talks. In the film, the character played by Ann Bancroft has had a life that, in some small way, was shaped by Greta Garbo’s feature films. This is a small bit of backstory in the live action film, until the end.

(Click any image to enlarge.)

For the credits, I chose to develop this aspect of her story, and Sidney agreed on the approach. We told her life in a caricature of Ann Bancroft‘s character, growing up. The sequence ends with her at her current age, an elderly woman, and the live action begins. Hence, we were giving the life story of the film’s lead character before the film started.

The idea was to use the device that had been developed for TV in the 50′s & 60′s of the caricatured characters whisking through the sitcom titles. (See Bewitched or The Carol Burnett Show.) However, it was our intent to treat it in a serious way.

Tissa David did a stunning, tour de force of a brilliant piece of animation. It was a dance that the character went through, and the credits played off the animation, which played off stills of Greta Garbo’s films.

There was a small crew on the piece, which ran about 2 ½ minutes. Tissa animated, I did whatever clean up was left. Robert Marianetti single-handedly colored everything; Janet Benn and Christine O’Neill did additional I&P. Gary Becker filmed it, and Edith Hustead edited.

We worked with the film’s composer, Bob James (a great jazz musician and the man who wrote the Taxi theme song), developed a piece of music that Tissa animated to. He developed a beautiful waltz, and Tissa animated to every beat, every note.

After a preview screening, that didn’t go well, I expected my credits to be dumped. No, only Bob James was dumped and replaced by Cy Coleman. His music for the opening ignored most of the beats, and he wrote a lush waltz to replace it. It never quite matched in the eyes of Tissa and me.

Animation Artifacts 25 Oct 2006 07:45 am

Art Lectures

– At the beginning stages of production on Raggedy Ann & Andy, Art Babbitt was brought in to conduct a week’s worth of classes for the small (at the time) staff (and anyone else in the NY animation industry who wanted to attend).

He basically taught principles of inbetweening. This is much the same material he taught at Dick’s studio in Soho Square. About 50 people attended and we all kept our own notes. There were also Dick’s lecture notes from the London classes. These were handed out, behind the scenes, to anyone who wanted them.

Dick and Art also wrote a joint article for Sight & Sound in the Spring 1974 issue. In it, Art analyzes the character of Goofy, and Dick analyzes the character of Art. That article follows:

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(Click on any image to enlarge.)

Animation Artifacts 24 Oct 2006 07:33 am

Imagination Machines

– Yesterday, I noticed on-line a toy that I had as a kid. It was a praxinoscope that was designed to play on your phonograph. You placed a record on the turntable (called a hi-fi back then) and over the spindle went this mirrored object. As the childrens record played, you watched the animation play out in the mirrors.

Of course, I made my own animations, too. They didn’t work as fluently, but they gave an indication of what was possible.

Somehow, back then, all our toys seemed more designed to develop and exploit our imaginations.

As a matter of fact, that goes for movies too. These days everything is told to us, nothing is designed to use our imaginations. Take a look at Flags Of Our Fathers. Every simple idea in that film is driven home a dozen times. The message at the end of the film is told us by a VoiceOver narrator. There’s nothing left for us to think about. Animated films are the same; any substance is on the surface.

Where are the terror of Snow White, or the desperation in Pinocchio, or the tears of Dumbo in modern animation?

Open Season, Over The Hedge, Cars, The Ant Bully, Monster House, Hoodwinked. Do any of them leave anything to the imagination for the children in any of us? (The only animated film I remember from this year that left anything for me to expand on was A Scanner Darkly with the veil of invisibility the characters wore.) The last 2D film that gave me something more was The Iron Giant. That’s a long time.

Don’t get me wrong; it’s not just an animation thing. It’s a sign of our times where every move by a child is plotted out in some video game. Everything is black and white. There’s the Axis of Evil, the Good Guys, and the French. There don’t seem to be any shades of gray anymore.

Animation Artifacts 23 Oct 2006 08:02 am

Grim Article

- For my amusement, I’m posting an article written by Grim Natwick for the November 1969 issue of Cartoonist Profiles. Following the article, I’m posting the original typescript & handwritten finish by Grim. The manuscript is a carbon copy, the handwritten done in pencil.

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(Click on any image to enlarge to a legible size.)

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(Note: I’ve crossed out Grim’s address & phone number)


Photos 22 Oct 2006 07:59 am

Photo Sunday: Lyle Crew

- As I said last Sunday, I’m going to use Sunday posts for photos. I have a lot of shots of crews from many of my films. Everyone worked enthusiastically over the years, and I like giving attention.

So, this is the group in 1987 on Lyle Lyle Crocodile: the House on East 88th St. that worked in house. The studio at the time was located between Fifth & Sixth Aves, and I was there from 1985 thru 1988.

These are, Back row L to R : Lisa Crafts – animator, Tom Repasky – coloring, Susan Tremblay – coloring, Madeline Fan (full pic w/T-shirt) coloring, Caroline Skaife (leaning on Madeline) – coloring, Mark Baldo (w/puppet Lyle) coloring, Doug Vitarelli (leaning on Caroline) runner, Theresa Smythe – asst. animator.

Front row, sitting, L to R: Caroline Zegart – coloring, Steven Dovas – animator, John Schnall – Prod. Coordinator/Animator, Ray Kosarin – Asst. Animator/coloring, Michael Zodorozny – Layout, Bridget Thorne – Art Director/Bgs.

Some of the others who worked in the studio and not pictured in the group are: Elizabeth Seidman – ran the rendering and supervised the production, Greg Perler – editor, Kit Hawkins – studio coordinator, and me.

Working out of the studio on the artwork were: Tissa David – animator, John Dilworth – animator, John Canemaker – animator. Of course there were also actors, musicians, camera guys, and engineers.

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(Click on any image to enlarge.)
1) Lisa Crafts animating at her desk. Steve Dovas behind her.
2) Me at my desk with Mark Sottnick a producer of Santa Bear. Theresa Smythe on the right.

The studio was a good one. It was just over a music rehearsal studio where Tito Puente’s group practiced every afternoon. All we could hear was the endless bass line over and over and over and over and over and over. At one point, late night, we heard Bob Dylan and Mark Knopfler rehearsing the new album they’d just done.

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Unfortunately, the large skylight made it easy for people to break in. It happened three times in one month, and all that was stolen were walkman radios from the crew. Ultimately, I gave up, and we moved downtown.

A shot of the whole studio from the door. (Things were tight.)
In the BG from L to R: Mark Baldo, Steve Dovas, Lisa Crafts, Ray Kosarin.
At the center table L to R: Susan Tremblay, Madeline Fan, Doug Vitarelli, John Schnall – behind Doug and Liz Seidman (in pink).

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