Articles on Animation 07 Nov 2008 09:05 am
- An article chronicling the life of John Oxberry appeared in the April, 1975 issue of Animation Magazine. Oxberry was quite an interesting figure in the technical history of animation. He used some experiences in the Signal Corps to create a company around a series of animation cameras he developed and perfected. For so long, he was just a name built around the “Oxberry Camera” or “Oxberry pegs.” I think the articles worth reviving for your possible interest.
The man behind the machine
John Oxberry deserves more than the cursory glance afforded him
by the industry he served during a lifetime.
by Gary Comorau
Everyone in the film business has heard of an “Oxberry.” But other than the fact that it is bigger than a breadbox and that it has something to do with animation, much about this specialized equipment eludes the awareness of the average filmmaker. Even more shrouded in mystery remains the singular figure of the inventor and innovator who gave his name to an entire family of animation stands.
- “The well-known film inventor and developer, John Oxberry, passed away last week reportedly at the age of 58. His best-known achievements were in the animation field with the Oxberry stand, an industry standard.”
Millimeter Magazine was in the process of preparing an article on John Oxberry at the time of his untimely demise, which is why this interview ends so abruptly. Though we cannot hope to do justice to the memory of this pioneer in animation, nonetheless, by acquainting our readership with the life and work of this unassuming master-craftsman, we hope in some small measure to pay tribute to the man and the legacy he___John and June Oxberry, at
eft for future generations of filmmakers and movie-goers.____their wedding in Aug 1942.
It’s hard to say anything about John Oxberry without stumbling upon superlatives which to most listeners would sound exaggerated. He was unpretentious, yet incredibly knowledgeable; a pleasure to meet and a joy to talk to. Though considered by many to be a genius in his field, his wife describes him as “a simple, simple man.” He was a man who followed his heart, and he cheerfully invested his energies in animation, because of his fondness for this matchless medium and the people working in it. Thirty-five years in the business brought him many successes and failures, but he never sounded bitter about his setbacks. And after having opened many new vistas for exploration in his younger years, he embarked upon a personal quest to broaden the horizons for future animators by providing the possibility for sophisticated, but inexpensive Super-8 animation to anyone who wished to give flight to his imagination.
The scale of Oxberry’s business had changed in later years, but not his attitude towards it. At one time he built some of the most expensive and complicated animation equipment, and then, with the same enthusiasm, some of the least expensive. Producing quality equipment and having his name known throughout the industry did not make him rich and his modest ambition extended but to owning a boat, sailing and relaxing.
John Oxberry was born in 1918, in New Rochelle, N.Y. and spent most of his life in that area. His interest in film began at an early age, and when World War II broke out, he “got mixed up in the Signal Corps and worked on training films.” Eventually, the operation moved from Fort Monmouth to Astoria, New York, “…and we started doing animated films showing how to clean a rifle. It was your life…and we used to make these pictures for the Armed Service’s musicals once a month. Top talent would come in from studios and do that, and the medical stuff, like the sex pictures, which showed what one was supposed to do or not. We used to have to go see them every month…and then here we were making the damned things. So from that point on I wanted to get out of that mess, and thought it would be a good idea to make a piece of equipment that would top all that junk that we had had to work with. After WWII I decided to start a little
John Oxberry at Signal Corps______._company in New Rochelle.”
Photo Center, 1942.
Oxberry Products had been manufacturing top animation equipment since that time, under the ownership of John Oxberry, and during this time his name became synonymous with the best that the industry had to offer. Following a few bad business breaks, John sold the company to Berkey Photographic in 1970. He stayed with the company for awhile, but eventually decided that, “I didn’t want to stay there anymore…! didn’t like it. They gave me a contract, and money-wise it was very nice, but I didn’t like the work…I didn’t do anything, so I left. Then the company was sold to Richmark; they just bought it for the name. You know, I never did get paid for my name…Dick McCarthy over there says, “You know, you can’t use that.’ And I said, ‘Yeah, are you going to pay the rent? I have to sign John Oxberry every month. I’ll go along with you; you can call me Joe Schitz if you want, but you’ll have to pay for it.’ ”
From that time on John was on his own again, doing design work for friends and developing new products. One of these is the Supermation stand, a small unit selling for around $100, and now manufactured by Ox Products, in Ma-maroneck, N.Y. He hoped it would introduce animation to people who would have had little possibility otherwise to experience for themselves the joy and satisfaction it provides. “I decided to get back into things again. I think it will foster interest in an entirely new group of people who haven’t the slightest idea of what went into it originally. A hundred dollars is a joke. Just the lens to collect light for the operable burner cost four hundred. This whole damn stand would sell for $98.50.”
For this amount and with a Super-8 camera anyone could animate. It was not designed for professional work, but for families, schools and filmmakers who wanted a stand to play with. An animation kit was also being assembled to familiarize neophytes with the tricks of the trade. It would explain the rudiments of animation, how to work with cycles such as a person running, walking, etc., and other effects which could be achieved easily and economically.
John Oxberry was interested in animation as an art form, as a means of recreation and self-expression, not just as a business. His knowledge of film in general was amazing, and he continually worked toward furthering his understanding. He didn’t care much about becoming famous; he just wanted to work, to learn, and to enjoy whatever he was doing. His basic grasp of concepts and their relation to each other enabled him to keep things in perspective. “I always avoided getting involved on the subject of lights. Everybody has his own idea of how lights should be, and you can argue about them till the year one. It’s a peculiar thing…a lot of people don’t realize it, but when taking a picture in animation, it doesn’t make a difference whether your color temperature is right or wrong. But they think, ‘Gee, it’s got to be just right for the platinum glass.’ They call it an optical flap. An eight-by-ten piece of optical flap costs around $25,000, and they don’t even know what it is. If you put down a background, any background, nobody knows what color was originally chosen. They only see what’s on the screen. What are they going to compare it with? Now if we had a pretty girl with pink cheeks, and we could make a Turner girl out of her or something like that, we could see the difference; everybody would know. You could look at the face, the pink cheeks, and the little blonde hairs on the eyebrows, and you could compare with a memory. But in animation, you haven’t seen the original so there’s nothing you could compare it with. I would like to see the color temperature of a light that’s practical to use. But down at the hardware store, I could buy two showcase lamps, and the color temperature may be 2700, way down at the bottom. Things will look a little redder, perhaps, so I think a little bluer when I’m drawing. Now they last for one year, and cost a dollar and a half, so I think a little blue…that’s all.”
John Oxberry was a quiet almost solitary individual in the film industry. His name was never up in lights and some will say that his achievements have been sorely neglected. But if a man’s work is any measure of his greatness or importance, then John Oxberry’s prominence as an artist and craftsman is undoubtedly beyond question.
Details of an “Oxberry Animation Stand”
from Eli Levitan’s Animation Art in the Commercial Film