- Last Tuesday I featured the Young Independent animators of 1977. Today let me showcase a couple of commercial producers from the same period. This article came from the famous Raggedy Ann issue of Millimeter/1976, edited by John Canemaker. It was part of their regular column:
Phil Kimmelman is a New Yorker who stayed. “My love was always animation,” says the cherubic President and Director of Animation at Phil Kimmelman & Associates. At 17, he gave up a three-year scholarship to go to work for Paramount Famous. It was the 50′s; Hollywood was doing fine; budgets were big in the New York animation departments. “I’m delighted to have been a part of that. It really did a lot for me.”
After gaining some experience at Kim-Gifford and Chad Studios in New Jersey, Phil served a stint in the army as an illustrator. In 1961, he joined Elektra as an animator and animation director. “Elektra was into experimenting. We were really into exploring new areas. I think that’s where it all began for me.”
After five years, Phil left Elektra for Focus. Four years later (1971), he opened his own shop. “Fortunately, I wasn’t enough of a businessman at the time to realize how bad things were. We staffed up rather heavily at a time when everybody was resorting to freelance … we got into some problems, but now we’re busier than ever.”
“I consider myself part of a team, the other part being Bill Peckman, one of my associates. We’ve been together through Elektra and Focus. I think Bill’s one of the best talents in this business . . . and I’m glad he’s with me.”
Phil’s other associates are Bill Hegman, designer, and Sid Horn, production manager. Morty Gerstein, a former competitor, is now affiliated as a designer/director. Working madly in the next room is Roland Wilson, a Playboy cartoonist beloved by ad folks for his New England Life campaign.
These gentlemen are just the tip of the iceberg. PK & A is crawling with creative types, and the company has recently leased additional space. “One of the things that has made us successful is the versatility of our reel. We’re great admirers of a lot of cartoonists and designers from outside. If a job comes through that we feel requires a certain look—like a Gahan Wilson or a Jack Davis—we’ll put our own egos aside and go after them. I’ll give you one example: Harvey Kurtzman. Harvey is the creator of Little Annie Fanny for Playboy. He’s best known, I guess, for starting Mad Magazine (he’s no longer with them). We’ve always been fans of Harvey Kurtzman—I think the man’s an absolute genius. Bill Peckman and I chased after him, and he was very apprehensive about working in animation. He said he had a bad experience at one time. But we got him to look at our reel, and at the end of it, he applauded and said he’d be willing to chance it again. So we had Harvey design and write some scripts for Sesame Street, which we’ve sold and produced, and we’ve won a lot of awards with them. They’re beautiful spots—and they’re one example of the ‘Kimmelman look.’ ”
Yes, but how does he work with agency art directors and writers? “When an agency board comes in, I like the option of taking the board and recreating it to our way of thinking. Generally, that’s why they come to us—for our input. I think a lot of art directors and writers are not really geared, you know, to think animation. When he or she gets involved in animation, there’s a long time period where there’s very little to do. You know, it’s difficult for the people in agencies who are making the schedules to understand the time element. Where we used to have a good eight weeks to do an average 30-second commercial, we’re constantly being asked to do it in four or five weeks. It’s what I see happening more and more today that kind of upsets me. We’re working nights—around the clock—too often. That’s what it’s become. I guess we love it enough to keep doing it. I do have a line I won’t go over. If I really feel it can’t be done, we won’t do it. I’ve been in that situation many times.”
What about Ralph Bakshi and his controversial coonskins? “Fantastic. Whether you or I like his films, there’s no question that they’re breakthroughs. He’s gotten animation into the adult mind. For that reason alone, I’m delighted it’s happening.
“I think it’s sad. So much more should be happening in this industry. I think animation still hasn’t been scratched. It’s an extension beyond what live can do. There’s no limit. There are people who think it’s a dying art. I don’t think it will ever die. I’m very optimistic about that. I think, if anything, it can only go upward.”
Jerry Lieberman says he originally “wanted to be a doctor,” and he endured two years of pre-med before allowing all the “fantasy, other-world head aspects involved in growing up in corny, carny, show-biz pizzaz-zy Atlantic City” to take over. As a kid he “always drew” and worked three summers as a caricaturist on Atlantic City’s Million Dollar Pier.
He admired John Hubley’s Moonbird (1960) and Saul Bass’ titles and he constructed his own make-shift 16mm camera stand to “experiment with stop-motion, and even some professional work for WCAU-TV in Philadelphia doing promos for a local kids’ show.”
After studying design and graphics on a scholarship to the Philadelphia Museum’s School of Art, and a brief stint in the Army, Jerry came to New York City in 1964. “My first year in New York,” says Jerry today, “I made a storyboard six feet by ten feet long with 200 panels. It was my portfolio and it used to knock people over when I unfolded it.”
He managed to get work right away doing animated films for NBC-TV’s Exploring, “but I learned success doesn’t come easy. There were times when I walked the pavements going from one local production house to another for six months before getting work. One time my portfolio was so severely criticized by one potential employer, I stopped seeing people and had a phobia about work and my talent.
“I worked very hard; I paid my dues; eventually I made a lot of money in a short time and went to Europe. I thought foreign influences might be good for my work.” In London, Jerry met George Dunning who told him “the best place to go for work is Italy.” In Rome, Jerry was hired by American Harry Hess, a former UFA animator, and he worked for a year doing storyboards, design and animation for Italian commercials both in Rome and Milan. He even acted in a few live-action beer commercials.
Jerry returned to America with an excellent reel and his next big break was to be hired by Jack Zander at Pelican Productions as a designer. “Because animation does include every form of art, I wrote to Lee Strasberg and asked to join the Actor’s Studio Directors Unit, and I was accepted and studied there for two years. After a year at Pelican, he freelanced on educational films and was, for a short hilarious time, Phyllis Diller’s painting instructor.
“In 1968, Art Petricone, Howard Basis and I got together and started Ovation Films, Inc.,” says Jerry. “Howard and Art met at Kim and Gifford, and I had worked with Howard on a job. We started our business during the decline of the ‘Golden Years’ of TV commercial production, but we didn’t know that at the time. We had our reputations, things built up slowly, and in March of ’76 we’ll have been in business for eight years.”
Ovation is one of the top commercial houses on the East Coast, a successful studio whose award-lined walls attest to their excellent work done for clients who include Eastern Airlines, Volkswagen, Levis, American Cancer Society, Clairol, and Children’s Television Workshop. At first, duties at Ovation were sharply defined, with Jerry doing designing, Howard handling the animation, and Art the super salesmanship, but today Jerry explains that “each of us get involved in producing and directing different commercials. Sometimes we work separately, sometimes we work together. We are now doing a little live-action work, and we are interested in doing a feature animated cartoon. Creativity, budgets keep getting tightened up, but we manage to maintain quality in our product.”
In 1973, Jerry enjoyed “a great personal success,” as La Cinematheque Quebe-coise directrice Louise Beaudet describes it, at the Annecy Animation Film Festival. “His films were so American and he looked so American when he took a bow that he was a big hit with the French,” says Madame Beaudet. Ovation’s Yes My Sweet took a prize at Annecy that year, as their Parrot and the Plumber had at Zagreb the year before.
“I admire live-action directors who are interested in the visual aspects of film,” says Jerry as he ticks off the names of favorites Warhol, Fellini, Russell, and Hitchcock. “But I love animation because you have to be so multi-talented and involved in so many fields. It’s very demanding, always a challenge, and very satisfying.”
- For a short period in 1973, I worked for Phil Kimmelman’s studio PK&A. I was an Asst. Animator alongside Larry Riley. We had a brilliant time for a period, until work got a bit shy. The studio was very tight, and the mood was one of searching for the highest quality. Rowland Wilson was a designer of many of the Schoolhouse Rock pieces I assisted on. Phil was a pleasant guy to have for a boss, and I certainly enjoyed the experience.
He retired a few years back, but he’s back producing more Schoolhouse Rock episodes for Disney. I’m glad to see it.
Jerry Lieberman was someone I came into contact with frequently. We never worked together. Somehow I think he always saw me as a rival – I don’t know if that’s a reality, but it’s my perception. The last couple of times I met him he was directing theater and loving it.