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Commentary &Tissa David 05 Nov 2012 07:27 am


At the memorial service for Tissa David five people gave speeches. I have some of those talks and am posting them here. I also have some photos that I’ll post with them. The photos are identified at the end of the post.

The Program

The entire evening was hosted, essentially, by Tissa David, herself. A 90 minute video shot at NYU has Tissa talking about her career and animation, in general. I’ve chosen a lot of clips from this video. Our entire program starts with Tissa talking to the audience about her love for animation. Short clips then precede every section of later film clips screened, and the very last word of the evening is also Tissa’s.

John Canemaker was the first speaker:

    Sunday in the Park with Tissa.

    November 6th, 2011.

    I walk across Central Park at noon to Tissa’s residence on East 83rd Street, a cozy one-bedroom apartment that always smells of baked apples and spices. It’s where she has lived since coming to New York from Paris in 1956; and that’s the year she began working as assistant to master animator Grim Natwick at UPA Studios, then located on Fifth Avenue.

    It is a perfect autumn day: crisp and cool, trees in full-color spectrum, bright sunlight. The New York City marathon is in full swing. Barricades, crowds cheering the runners, detours to get you where you need to go. Friendly, happy people everywhere. New York City at its gridlocked best!

    Tissa is waiting patiently outside her building, age 90 and ready to go. She wears a white peaked cap, purple/pink sweater and a stylishly long, beige raincoat over wool slacks and shiny black shoes. And she holds a rubber-tipped black cane.

    She attended Catholic mass this morning, as she does every day at St. Ignasius Loyola, a church around the corner on Park Avenue run by Jesuits. As is our custom, I lean down to air-kiss one cheek, then the other, saying, “in the European manner.” She smiles and mimics me: “Yes. In the European manner.”

    She takes my arm as we walk very slowly toward the Metropolitan Museum of Art two blocks west of her apartment.

    She expresses interest in seeing the new Met galleries for “Art of the Arab Lands.” Both sides of her family are Armenian and the rugs of the Arabs stir her, she says.

    “Have ever been to Spain?” she suddenly asks.

    “Barcelona,” I answer.

    “Barcelona is not Spain,” she responds. “It is — Barcelona. I mean a city like Granada, such a beautiful city. The Moorish influence in the city’s architecture and art.”

    Tissa has strong opinions about everything, especially art. I remember some years earlier running through a gallery at the Met containing one of Damien Hirst’s dead animals in formaldehyde, trying to keep up with Tissa as she hissed like a cobra: “Diss-gusting! Disssssss-gusting!”

    Her tastes are eclectic, but she maintains a special passion for Giorgio Morandi, who once said, “Nothing is more abstract than reality.” There is something in Morandi’s quiet, reclusive, deeply thoughtful, and pared-down paintings that speak to her on both personal and professional levels.

    Today, however, instead of entering the museum she prefers that we walk; or, as she pronounces it in her soft Hungarian accent, “ve vauk.” Passing windows containing the Temple of Dendur, we pause. The slightly uphill route winds Tissa and she points her cane toward a cement wall. We sit watching marathon runners dash past, cheers erupting from the young crowd around us who greet the exhausted competitors, who have run for hours through all the boroughs and down Fifth Avenue and into the park for a finish near Columbus Circle.

    A runner in a Superman costume hobbles by. Tissa is enjoying everything about the moment and the day, and so am I.
    We talk of mutual friends. She remarks how happy she is that Michael Sporn is working on a new film. She says how much she loves Emily Hubley’s feature, The Toe Tactic.

    Emily’s father, the legendary animation designer/director John Hubley, defied sexist barriers against women animators in the 1950s and 60s by hiring Tissa to animate several prestigious commercials and shorts. Tissa loved working for him, even if, she candidly notes, he was “cheap” when it came to salaries.

    After ten minutes or so, we continue down the path and sit on a bench in the sun near Greywacke Arch, as runners gallop and limp across the bridge.

    Inevitably, Tissa speaks of her longtime mentor Grim Natwick. And soon comes the mantra that is well-known to all her friends: “I really learned everything I know about animation from Grim.”

    She learned her lessons well. After Natwick retired, she slowly became recognized as one of the world’s great animators, and a pioneer who forged a brilliant career in a male-dominated industry. Charm, vivacity, female sensuality radiates from her superbly staging and well-timed animation, which is weaved into an admirable economical style. “You don’t do many drawings, “ she often advised novices, “but you know how to use them.”

    She thinks about animation constantly. She wonders how she would animate the Met’s splashing fountains. She ponders the numbers on digital clocks, which change shape instantaneously.

    “I stare at the numbers,” she says, “and think about how I would animate the change from one to the other.”

    “It isn’t fully metamorphic,” I suggest, “but a decision about where the animator would ease into the new change.”

    Tissa thinks about that. “I would make the inbetween drawing closer to the ‘old’ number before the change,” she decides, “so there is a snap into the new number.”

    I ask Tissa if she ever wanted to marry or was in love. “Oh yes,” she answers. “I was in love many times and wanted to marry a doctor. But I was glad that he was shot by the Russians.”

    Seeing my shocked expression, she quickly adds, “I mean that it was better that I never married him because I would have quickly been miserable and it would have never worked out.”

    What about Grim?

    Laughing, she says she loved him and he loved her, but it was never a romantic love. “He was my teacher. He was like my father.
    “The greatest love of my life,” Tissa admits, “ was the art of animation.”

    She reflects that parts of her life have been hard. I assume she’s referring to the 1944 siege of Budapest, and her daring escape from Communist Hungary, or difficulties through the years finding her way as a female artist.

    But she is thinking of more recent and personal troubles. “Between 2000 and 2010,” she explains, “I lost two brothers, two sisters, nephews and a niece. The loss of so many loved ones was almost overwhelming. I’m still angry with my younger sister Margit for dying and leaving me. She killed herself with smoking,” Tissa explains with bitter sadness.
    We make our way up Fifth Avenue, then turn eastward toward her apartment.

    “Thank you, John. It was really great to get out and valk.”
    I thank her for the opportunity to escape my cloistered work habits.

    “You’re a long distance runner,” I say, “like the marathon racers.” She smiles and reminds me that I wrote that line in 1977 as the heading of her chapter in my first book The Animated Raggedy Ann & Andy. I don’t remind her that the full title was “Tissa David: The Loneliness of the Long-Distance Animator.”

    At her apartment house, we air-kiss “in the European manner.” My offer to help her down two steps to the front door is refused.
    “I can do it,” she insists.

    And she did.

This talk was followed by clips from the Hubley films:
Everybody Rides the Carousel (the Meryl Streep sequence)

Howard Beckerman followed John Canemaker

    Tissa David

    Tissa, after working at Paris based studios, entered New York animation in 1955 at UPA situated diagonally across from the Museum of Modern Art and John and Faith Hubley’s Storyboard, Inc. It was the right place for her.

    There had been few women animators in New York in past decades but, among the men, the held opinion was that women couldn’t do the job. There was also a general attitude that the craft was dominated by Americans. To them animation was a trade for which females and foreigners need not apply. UPA, however, was a progressive studio where the staff included various minorities and nationalities. As one talented African-American artist remarked, “When you walk in here you feel comfortable and welcomed.”

    Tissa was greeted by animator Grim Natwick. His European art studies long behind him, he was the choice crew member to interview the then English challenged Tissa. Natwick was direct, ___________Tissa and Grim at Christmas
    “What do you think of animation?”
    Tissa hesitated , then replied, “Animation is animation.” That satisfied Natwick. Tissa was given a try out on a character from the studio’s popular Piel’s Beer commercials and then hired. The brief meeting with Grim was expressly important because the film that inspired her to get into animation was Disney’s Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs for which Natwick had animated 80% of the lead character. Tissa became Grim’s assistant beginning an association that lasted 35 years.

    In time, Tissa became an animator in her own right at local studios giving life to TV commercials. Later came requests from producers with a broader range of diverse characters. These included John and Faith Hubley, R.O. Blechman and Michael Sporn all who came to depend on her animation skills and unique intellectual qualities. Tissa entered a legacy laid down by earlier European animators, illustrators and designers whose influence profoundly effected American cartoons. Working at Disney and Fleischer Studios, their affinity to old world castles, cottages and colorful personalities added credibility, charm and warmth to animated features.

    Tissa also played an outstanding role in the ASIFA-East chapter. She organized and corralled the membership lists and dues collections. This was at a time when new graphics guilds were entering the field with lists of 2000 or more, but Tissa proudly managed our 250 or so enthusiatic members.

    She was a prime promoter and facilitator of the ASIFA-East Film Festival, and tabulated the voting results as well as commanding the arranging of the event’s refreshment tables. Under her discriminating gaze many of us schlepped wine bottles and tubs of cheese.

    I worked with Tissa at various studios around the city and remember a gratifying moment one rainy day when she and Grim came to one of my classes. They had gotten lost in SVA’s internal maze, arriving late and dripping wet. Though tardy, they added substance to the class by answering questions and giving weight to the realities of the field. To the familiar student concern about whether the character of Snow White was traced over live-action actors, Grim, chalk in hand, sketched Snow White to clearly illustrate why her cartooned proportions didn’t allow for rotoscoping.

    There’s one anecdote regarding Tissa that I’ve repeated many times, but it still warms my heart, so pardon me if you’ve heard this before. I feel it’s worth repeating since it indicates Tissa’s warmth, humor and life-energizing spirit that rose above everyday twists and turns.

    Tissa often traveled to Europe to see family and to animate for small studios. She also had a country house in Southern France. In the spring of 1974, while working in Holland, she contacted Iris and I about attending the animation festival in Zagreb. Her suggestion was that we meet her in Paris a week before the event. She kept a small Volks station wagon there and proposed that we drive across Europe to Zagreb. We accepted gladly. It would be a wonderful journey with a great guide. After a night in Paris we drove south through agrarian countryside evoking the colors of Van Gogh and other post impressionist painters. We stopped in a small town so Tissa could check out her French country place and then we found a small, inexpensive hotel for the night. Tissa suggested that Iris and I take a back room and she a front room. Our lodging was simple, but when we opened the shutters to let in the good night air, we saw the shining moon behind silhouetted castle towers. We slept soundly.

    The next morning at breakfast we wondered if she had slept well. “Oh it was terrible!” she replied, “Big trucks rattling past my window all night!” We traveled on through southern France and into northern Italy. One late afternoon we arrived at a local hotel and prepared for a night’s rest before entering Venice. We agreed that this time Tissa would take a back room and we a front room. We slept soundly.

    In the morning came our question,” How did you sleep?” It was terrible!” she replied, “There were people playing guitars and singing all night in the courtyard!”

    Tissa David will be remembered as a person of taste, humor, artistic skills and a wide understanding of people and the world in general. She observed and interpreted things in a private way. She appreciated much but was opinionated and disdainful of things that didn’t meet her standards. Tissa was a dedicated animator on all manner of productions from workaday TV announcements to celebrated award winners. Though a very private person, she was a friend and mentor to many. She was a treasure in our midst. For all of us who knew and admired her, she will be missed.

Howard’s talk was followed by a clip from Raggedy Ann and Andy
her Candy Hearts and Paper Flowers sequence.

R.O. Blechman was the next speaker. His short talk was planned but spoken off the cuff, improvised. There’s no transcript of it.

He started by quoting a poem Tissa liked by T.S.Elliott in which Tissa had substituted the word “animator” for “poet”. Bob also told the story of an article about his show Simple Gifts in which he called the 5 designers, “Artists.” Bob was surprised that Tissa had confronted him by telling him that she was an “Artist” yet there was no mention of her in the promotional article.

Bob’s talk was followed by clips from his studio:
3 commercials for:
– Perrier
– Banco
– WQXR radio
a clip from a promotional trailer for Candide, a film Bob sought to make as a feature.
a clip from The Soldier’s Tale, Blechman’s Emmy winning adaptation of Stravinsky’s work.

Candy Kugel was the next speaker.

    Tissa was my role model—a pathfinder. When I entered the animation industry in the 1970’s there were no other female animators beside her and I was experiencing the same sexist attitudes as she did. And I was in awe of her ability—her fluid line and acting. And finally, I was always grateful for her introduction__________(LtoR) Blechman, Tissa, Vince Cafarelli, Candy Kugel
    to international animation and ASIFA.

    The first time I was introduced to Tissa was on the telephone in the summer of 1972. I was about to go to Italy for my last year of art school after spending summers interning at Perpetual Motion Pictures.

    My boss, the designer Hal Silvermintz, told me that Tissa knew everyone in Europe and she could give me the names of studios so that I could visit them while there. She did, and I did – in Rome, Zagreb and Budapest. And then, since Annecy would have its festival that June, she encouraged me to go and gave me the address to write for certification.

    I did go to Annecy and it opened my eyes to international animation in a way I could never have imagined before. There was no internet then, no DVDs and no video collections—the only way you could see these movies was projected in a theater. And I do remember briefly meeting Grim Natwick (who drew me a Betty Boop) and Tissa.

    When I returned to New York, it was a bad time for animation so I went to Los Angeles to try my luck there. In New York I had had the good fortune to be treated well by my bosses—my main responsibility was to help the designer.
    I had some rudimentary animation experience, but the real animation was done by experienced animators, and they came from a culture of secrecy.

    In LA I went to Disney with my “reel” and portfolio and found a whole other set of obstacles. The front gate passes had “Mr.” printed on the guest line. This was during the feminist movement and I jokingly said to the woman behind the window—“I guess you don’t see very many women here”—she scratched off the Mr and roughly handed it back to me. I met with 3 men, including Don Duckwall. They told me I drew nicely but that women just don’t have what it takes to be an animator. Women lack timing. Maybe I should consider becoming a designer or background artist.
    “But I want my drawings to ACT!” I protested. They smiled and shook their heads.

    In the end, I returned to work fulltime at Perpetual. I was determined to learn how to animate well. I got to know Tissa through ASIFA and she offered to help me.

    Perpetual picked up a project that had an incredibly low budget, so they gave it to me. Whatever I could manage would be enough. Vincent Cafarelli had recently started freelancing there, and although he was open to helping me, he encouraged me to seek out Tissa’s advice. They had worked together at UPA and he had great respect for her. He even told me I flipped like her.

    Tissa invited me to her home and she demonstrated some things. And gave me homework. I went a few more times—I wish I could say that I was a stellar student, but I’m afraid her criticism, although completely deserved, was too biting for my fragile ego.

    She was my idol—I loved her work – her beautiful line and her acting. I respected her immensely—but I think I must have been a great disappointment to her. At that time, I was the only girl working her way to become an animator in an established animation studio in NY. I imagine she was hoping for a protégé equal to her talents.

    But even without the lessons we remained friends. She followed my career closely and we worked together in ASIFA.
    We both understood the difficulty in working in a “man’s profession.” I was criticized by the ink and paint department for not being one of the girls—I was a guy because I used a pencil and not a brush. Outside of Perpetual there were animators and assistants who thought it wrong of me to take a man’s job. Some kiddingly said they would “break my fingers.”
    I admired Tissa even more, knowing exactly what she had been through.

    But we never spoke about it after our first meeting at her apartment: I gingerly asked her about how she dealt with the male animators—their practical jokes, the macho culture–were there rumors about her and Grim? She looked at me harshly and waved her hand. Who needed to complain—it was just part of the job.

    I will miss Tissa—her generous spirit, her biting wit and her talent. There are too few of them out there.

Candy’s talk was followed by clips from 3 films done for Michael Sporn Animation:
Lyle Lyle Crocodile
The Red Shoes
The Story of the Dancing Frog

Arlane Nelson was the next speaker.

    As Michael said, I am one of Tissa’s nieces. An interesting side note, Tissa was one of 10 children, 7 girls, 3 boys. In my generation, the next one, there were only a total of 3 girls among all the nieces and nephews.

    I’d like to begin with an email one of my Hungarian cousins sent me:
    “Tissa was known to love music, and we had talked a lot about our favorite performers: Horowitz, Goild, and many other artists. However one thing that is not common in elderly people, is to be open to new things, as Tissa had been. Once I saw a movie about the life of Manuel de Falla, which has a lot of music inserted, one even recorded during his short life. The recording is very interesting because when Falla wrote his masterpiece, El Amor Brujo, he wanted to reject it because the passion radiating from the piece is in total contrast with his deep catholic faith.

    Manuel de Falla, just as Kodaly did, collected folk music, the music of the flamenco playing gypsies. El Amor Brujo totally gives back this surreal feeling. In the movie, in order for the illustration to be perfect, two songs, that are accompanied by a large orchestra, were sung by a young female gypsy singer with the technique typical to flamenco. The passion radiating from the recording is scary. I showed it to Tissa who said that this woman is like a storm. And she started telling me stories about being in Andalusia, listening to flamenco music, and how much she liked it.

    The other memory is connected to flamenco as well. Many people think that they like this musical style, while they only meet the civilised versions. I have watched Saura’s movie, called Flamenco in which there is a part when two old gypsy men sit on a chair and sing without music. One of them has golden teeth, the other one has silver teeth. This is of course not singing according to European standards, this is rather some endless, sharp, painful, and aggressive shouting, confined among borders. As far as my experience goes, only a few can understand this deepness of art. Tissa understood it, we talked a lot about it later on, and she pointed out the complicated symbols in the text that I had missed on my own.”

    Anyway, I live in the Washington metropolitan area and as such, we used to see Tissa a lot; more than any of our other relatives. She’d be down to visit us several times a year and sometimes, we came up to visit her. I’d like to share a few of my memories of who Tissa was.

    Growing up, we kind of knew that Tissa was a famous person and we were very proud of this. I can remember, when my sister and I were small and Tissa came to visit, we had to wait until the morning, but we would go charging in and have her tell us the latest Letterman shorts she had done. So we’d know the stories before anyone else did.

    Tissa loved cooking. Whenever she came to visit, she took over the kitchen; you entered at your own risk. Except for the dogs, who usually waited in endless vigil watching every step, every action with rapt attention for the treasures they knew would fall. One of the things I found__________Tissa cooking in her NY kitchen
    inexplicable was her use of
    cooking implements which would increase exponentially with availability. A dish she would make in her tiny kitchen might take 2 bowls and a pot. The same dish in our house, could take 7 bowls, 5 pots, and 3 pans. Any time you walked in to the kitchen, all burners would be going, some would even have two things on at the same time. A couple of things would be waiting on the side for a burner to free up, some other dishes would be done, there would be something at the chopping board in mid process, and usually a vegetable of some kind hanging out in a colander in the sink. Or trying to get a recipe from her was always a challenge. For example, when she was trying to explain how to make galuska to us: You started with a cup of flour and one egg. Then you added milk. Okay. So, how much? Well, as much as it takes so that if you stick a spoon straight up into the batter, it would fall over very slowly. There was another time I wanted to make Beigli for Christmas. Tissa said she would send me my aunt Dusi’s recipe because it was the best. Again, you started with 70 decagrams of flour, grated in some lemon rind and then sour cream. How much? Well, this time you had to add just enough so that the dough would behave when pinched like an old woman’s skin. Needless to say, without centuries of Hungarian cooking practices ingrained, whenever I did anything with Tissa, I ended up taking a novel’s worth of notes.

    I remember once having a conversation with Tissa in which she quite definitively stated that it was a shame Scotsmen wore kilts as they had some of the ugliest knees in the world. I want to say that she thought the Germans or Dutch would have been better suited. Despite his having ugly knees, tho, Tissa admitted to a fondness for Sean Connery.

    Tissa was also a very generous person. We were always welcome at her place as long as you did not mind the conditions. Anyone who was ever at her apartment knows it was rather small. But we would make it work. I remember one time when I was 8 or 9, there must have been 7 of us there. I can still see myself picking my way carefully across the floor of sleeping bodies to get to the bathroom. My children especially looked forward to our New York trips: the rules of living conditions were suspended and there were so many things to engage little minds. Then when my mother was sick, Tissa packed up and moved in for as long as it was going to take helping to take care of my mother so that she could have her wish of dying at home. It was this same wish of Tissa’s, I’m glad I had some part in returning.

    Another thing that was important to Tissa was her faith. She always had this quiet, laid back, do what you are going do attitude. I always thought it was part of the reason she seemed so at peace with things, even her death. No matter what else happened or changed, Tissa had this. She was very different than my mother in this way. Tissa didn’t fly off the handle, or ram things down your throat, or sweat the small stuff. She knew what was important to her and the rest didn’t bother her. Tissa also was very adamant that my sister’s memorial marker have a cross. Despite my sister’s claims to atheism, Tissa was convinced that Tamar found redemption in the end.

    Before I had children, I used to go to the movies every weekend, so, Tissa and I would compare notes on films we had seen. Very often, they would be showing in New York weeks before the artsy theaters in DC picked them up, so Tissa would let me know what to add to my list. However, we often found we had different sensibilities. One such film was The Triplets of Belleville. Tissa told me I had to see it: it was wonderful not only as an animated film but also for the story of the boy and his grandmother. After I saw it, I called Tissa and told her that yes, it had been a wonderful film, but she should have warned me about the frogs. Tissa paused a moment and then said “Oh, yes, the frogs. That was a very funny scene.” I responded “No, it wasn’t funny, it was tragic and you should have prepared me.”

    Tissa did not like technology, but accepted it as a necessary evil. However, she refused to take the time to understand how things worked. Many times when I came up to see her, Tissa would have some contraption that she needed me to install or set up: an answering machine, a VCR, an antenna, the HD receiver, a hand held sudoku game, etcetera. Once I was done tho, she didn’t want to know the details, just the buttons she needed to press. We tried for years to get her onto email, but she wouldn’t hear of it. There would be no computers, no cell phones, no tablets, nothing of that kind ever with Tissa.

    The last time I brought my children up to see Tissa – at the end of July – you could see how happy it made her to sit and watch them play. She always enjoyed the children in her life, even after we thought we had grown up. She was kind and nurturing and a mother to us all. Whether she was teaching us, encouraging us, forming us, feeding us our favorite creamed spinach, or just loving us. She was an important fixture in all our lives and one we will make sure no one ever forgets.

Arlane’s talk was followed by a long clip from a film Tissa animated for me,
The Marzipan Pig.

My speech followed. It was the last of the evening. I gave it extemporaneously, and there is no transcript of it. I tried to be as funny as I could, and that worked. The following is the original speech I walked in with. It’s not good, bathetic and inapropriate for the final talk. My changes worked. To give an indication of the final, though, I’ve decided to leave this here.
Michael Sporn

    Forty years ago, on Tuesday Oct 10, 1972, 1 had just started my second day in animation working for John and Faith Hubley. I was scheduled to work three days to help finish a commercial. Helen Komar was the only other person working on that commercial with me. She was the production coordinator. My second day there, and I was working as intensely as 1 could. 1 loved being there, I was finally doing animation and getting paid for it.

    That day, 1 continued to work through my lunch break; I wanted to get it right. That’s when T heard this voice with a sharp Hungarian accent say loud enough, “Who has been doing such HORRIBLE inbetweens?” Sheepishly I looked up and had to admit that we all knew she was talking about me. Especially since I was the only one doing inbetweens. That’s how I met Tissa David.

    Tissa proposed I come to take lessons from her; she would help teach me what she could about animation. This meant I spent a lot of time doing homework that Tissa would give me inbetweening over and over and over again animation drawings that were usually from a scene that Grim Natwick had animated. Back then, Tissa had a sharp way of telling you how bad you were. It didn’t take me long to find the humor in what she had to say, especially since 1 was even more of a critic of my own work than she was.

    Things changed a bit over the years. Tissa grew more and more reserved with her opinions. She made an obvious attempt to moderate herself when she thought it was too harsh. However, I always tried to encourage her to fully express what she thought about my work, and I like to think she was honest with me throughout.

    Somewhere along the line I stopped asking for help with animation. Slowly we became more friends rather than teacher and student. When she left the Hubley studio to work for Richard Williams on Raggedy Ann, knowing full well that I was a big fan
    of Dick Williams’ work, she maneuvered a job for me on the production. Starting as an inbetweener, I worked my way up to the position of head of Assistants and Inbetweeners.

    After that, I was hired by Bob Blechman to be his Asst Director working on a Christmas Special. Before we got to that we did a number of commercials together. Once Bob had difficulty finding an animator, and 11 talked loudly and enthusiastically about Tissa’s work. She soon started working with Bob in a relationship that lasted years.

    When I formed my own studio, I directed a number of half hour shows. Tissa was happy to work for me in many capacities. She did storyboard, layout and sometimes animation. We helped each other often by just being there. That made a lot of the jobs more fun, and helped me feel even more proud of the work I was doing.

    The last couple of years weren’t about animation, really. Yet the two of us were able to keep laughing throughout. And talking. Talking about museum shows and films that we saw. Sharing books we’d read or just sometimes talking. I was never much of a phone person so it had to be face on.

    Tissa in her Living Room
    Photo by Mate Hidvegi

    In the end 1 learned that Tissa had developed a brain tumor. Of course, I didn’t know whether that meant she would have a long slow death or a quick one. 1 went one Saturday afternoon and laughed quite a bit with Tissa. When I brought up old names and places and events, she remembered them clearly. If she tried to remember something, she couldn’t, and the conversations would end flat. It meant I had to keep talking.

    I left that afternoon and expected to return five days later. But that day I got a call from Susan Davis telling me that Tissa had died that day. She didn’t feel well in the morning, lay down for a while, and didn’t wake up.

    I think her passing won’t really hit me for a while. I’ve been spending a lot of time editing this footage. Now this memorial is done, and I think the reality won’t hit home until Christmas. Every year, I’ve received a wonderful fruit cake from Tissa. In fact, I still have a couple unopened. I know that one won’t arrive this year, and I’ll miss my fruitcake this year.

This talk was followed by the last animation work Tissa did,
part of the animatic for my feature, POE.


Some Photos of Tissa

a 1942 drawing by Tissa’s close friend, artist,
Judit Reigl. The drawing is in the collection
of Tissa’s sister, Katalin David.
Thanks to Mate Hidvegi, Katalin’s son, for sending it.

Tissa far right

Tissa in an Art Gallery in the 60s

At Grim Natwick’s 100th birthday
(L to R) Duane Crowther, Tissa, Grim Natwick
in front of them: Frank Thomas, Virgil Ross

Tissa on her 90th birthday celebration dinner

Tissa with John Canemaker

(L to R) John Canemaker, Tissa, Me, Heidi Stallings

Tissa in St. Ignatius Loyola Church, 84th St, Madison Ave.

Tissa with Aron Hidvegi, her grand nephew

Tissa exiting her building

Tissa with Mate Hidvegi, her nephew

Tissa in her living room

Tissa looking out toward the East River.

4, 5, & 6 photographed by Joe Kennedy
7, 8, 9, 11 & 12 photographed by Mate Hidvegi
10 photographed by Aron Hidvegi

Daily post 01 Aug 2009 07:37 am

My movies: free or otherwise

- Time for me to promote me.

If you’d like to see some of my 1/2 hr. shows on HBO, you can go HERE for the schedule. They play weekly and the schedule changes every month.
Note this month on Saturday, Aug 22nd, HBO is screening a bunch of them back to back.
However if you’d like to buy the DVD’s here’s some info:

Here are the cheapest prices I found on line for buying some of the films I’ve done:

YouTube has a number of my shorter flms available for viewing. The quality of all of these available is pathetic.

    The music video I did for the group Liquid Liquid is there. It was an experiment in video editing.
    I financed it and got it on a couple of national programs at the time. I was trying to use the music to say something about the little bits of random violence we all go through on a day-to-day basis.
    I did this in 1983.

    Designer Richard McGuire was the bass player for the group. He seemed to be the only one in the group who was interested in the video. The group broke up shortly thereafter, though their devotees stayed loyal following everything about them.

    A number of Sesame Street spots are there. Maxine Fisher wrote them all. I did about forty spots for them:
    Crocodile Smiles – an operatic spoof on dental care
    The Curious Cat features music by Jeremy Steig, son of William. We had a great relationship until his wife and he started writing obscene letters threatening me. They wanted more money for Abel’s Island‘s score, though they agreed on a price I paid them. Ultimately, I left them behind and hired a new composer.
    Plan Plan Plan features a great song with music by Ernest Troost. He and I did many of my early films together.
    Chicken Crossing was one of my earliest Sesame Street spots. It’s also one of my favorites. Harrison Fisher did the great score.
    I did a number of Bellhop bits for Sesame Street. Steve Dovas did the animation for all 20 of them. Some of them are viewable here:
    #2, #8, #10, #12, #14, #16, #18, #20

Music &SpornFilms 12 May 2007 08:43 am

Ernest’s Tadpole

The Mysterious Tadpole was another of the films I’ve done for Weston Woods which was also scored by Ernest Troost.

In 1984 Doctor DeSoto was nominated for the Oscar. For a full year from the date of the announcement I was without work except for one job from Weston.

The Mysterious Tadpole had a budget which totaled about $15000. That was it for the year. So much for the glory. The budget was such that I had to do the entire film with help from only Bridget Thorne, who helped render the artwork and prepare it all for camera.

As a result, I got particularly close to this film. When it came time for the music, I had formed a lot of specific ideas. I’d thought about it a bit too much. This made the job for Ernest particularly difficult; I was going to be hard to please.

When the music arrived it sounded completely different from what I’d expected. This was in the days before synthesized music, so the only way I’d heard it played was on a piano. It was a complete surprise to hear those final tapes. The orchestration was not what I’d heard in my head, and I’m afraid my disappointment was obvious.

After spending a bit of time placing the music into the film with Paul Gagne, who was co-producing the film and editing it, I started to warm to the score. By the time I’d heard it in place and watched the film with its score two or three more times, I’d fallen in love with what Ernest had done. My ideas were so simple, and he had done something complex.

That was a lesson to learn. When you’re working with someone whose talent you respect, trust that person. So often when hearing music for my films or when hearing an actor reading the script, I’ve had a surprise jolt getting something completely unanticipated. I have to say 90% of the time I’ve immediately recognized it’s positive. That other 10% of the time it’s often just an attitude adjustment I’ve had to make.

That’s not to say that there aren’t those times when I know it doesn’t work as well as it might have, but that doesn’t happen too often if I’m working with people whose talent I respect.


– Continuing to look at a couple of Sesame Street spots Ernest Troost scored for me, my favorite, by far, is Crocodile Smiles. This was done in 1981. Edith Zornow was the producer of animation at Sesame Street, and I saw her as my guardian angel. (I’ve said that before.) She always seemed to show up just when things seemed bleakest. The first three spots I did for her included this film and it really sold me on Ernest’s work.
I wanted opera, and he gave me more – cartoon opera. It really feels like this group would be playing in some 30′s cartoon. Again, the budgets for Sesame Street was always low. These two films had about $5000 total for everything from script/board to completion.

This film is available on YouTube, but I don’t like the resolution of that copy, so I’ve put it up here as a QT movie.

Crocodile Smiles

The Stranger was done a couple of years later. This is from one of the last films we did for Edith Zornow. She died soon after of Parkinson’s Disease. Since my father was also suffering from the disease at the same time, I was comfortable with it, though she seemed obviously uncomfortable. It didn’t stop her from going on right to the end.

The Stranger

Animation &Music &SpornFilms 08 May 2007 07:32 am

Ernest Does DeSoto

- I think music is as important to animation as any of the drawing. (Even the lack of music, to me, is a musical choice in film.)

I’ve been very lucky to have worked with some incredibly fine composers in the films I’ve done. To that end I’ve come back to work again and again with the same few composers.

The first of those who seemed indispensible to the films we did together was Ernest Troost. We met way back on my first short film for Weston Woods. Ernest was on staff there, and we quickly became good friends.

That first score he did for me was the delicate Rosemary Wells Morris’ Disappearing Bag. This quiet little film was successful, but it wasn’t until our second collaboration that things took off – Doctor DeSoto.

Doctor DeSoto was an Oscar nominee in 1984, and I think it was as much for the music as it was the William Steig story, or Ian Thompson’s droll reading, or any of our artwork. The film was a hit and won a lot of awards and, to this day, still gets a lot of exposure.

As we were about to go into this film, Ernest had to write a score for an slide version of the book which Weston Woods was going to distribute. I suggested he listen to Stephen Sondheim‘s score for the film, Stavisky. It was built around an infectious waltz and had a peculiar arrangement.

Ernest came up with something that took me by surprise. It was built off Stavisky but was so totally original in its sound that I had the first little shock that I’ve always gotten when music I didn’t expect but was excited and challenged with comes into my hands. This moment is always a great surprise and one of the pure delights, for me, of filmmaking. The only other experience it resembles is when an actor gives you a line reading that is totally unexpected, one you never would hear in your own head when reading the line. This is usually the best possible reading because it indicates pure character.

Ernest’s orchestral arrangements for this music reminded me of some small cartoon cabaret in Vienna in the early 1920′s. It worked perfectly for the cartoon Brooklyn in my mind for the film’s setting.

This is the pure character of a good composer scoring your piece.

Having the luxury of this original score prior ot the animation isn’t always a luxury an Independent filmmaker is given. It costs too much. But Weston had their score for the slide film, and I saw that this was going to be a great score for my animation. I worked with that waltz tempo.

When the fox was off screen, the camera moved in time with the waltz tempo and the limited animation also hit those beats. When the villain was onscreen, there was little to no camera movement cutting the picture to the tempos. Paul Gagne, editing, certainly helped out here.

The music not only was allowed to dominate the overall film, it was enhanced by this decision.

To hear the opening theme to Dr. DeSoto click here.


Ernest Troost also wrote about a dozen Sesame Street spots for me. Many of them were songs which he wrote with Maxine Fisher who did the lyrics. Two of these spots are featured on YouTube. I like the Crocodile Smiles spot which played at Annecy and is in the MOMA collection. Pirate Plan is a good song but my graphics don’t quite work.

Here’s another spot that is built around the music. For the very low budget, it was a big track for us, but Ernest pulled it off brilliantly. Obviously, he was parodying the John Williams’ scores for Indiana Jones.

Play Adventure above.

Daily post &SpornFilms 31 Jan 2007 08:18 am

Cheep, cheep, cheap

- Yesterday I pointed to some Casper shorts on line. I was amused to find two of my old Sesame Street spots on YouTube.

Chicken Crossing here.
Crocodile Smiles here.

I did both of these after just starting my company. These are two of the first three spots I produced for Sesame Street. I think they were done in 1982. Edith Zornow was the genius at Sesame Street who did magnificent work with all the different animators. For the longest time, I considered her my guardian angel. Just when business had gotten at its worst, she would call out of the blue with a half dozen spots to do. I had lots of freedom in all of them and really learned my business doing them. She died in 1991, and I still miss her.

Maxine Fisher wrote lyrics and stories for both of these spots (and about 30 more.)

Chicken Crossing has a funny soundtrack that Harrison Fisher put together for me.

Crocodile Smiles has a great score by Ernest Troost. He mimicked grand opera as if it were recorded in 1936, and it’s hilarious. Ernest and I have teamed up many times; I’m a big fan.


- Animator, Larry Ruppel brought an interesting little find to me last week. When we met after the panel session at the Museum of the Moving Image, he showed me three dvd’s (one of them is pictured here.)

Apparently, some of the stores, called generically “99 cent stores,” have been selling some interesting video finds. I’m going to quote Larry who sent me a follow-up letter:

    you have to be careful and only get either the “Cartoon Craze” series from Digiview Productions (these are the best – they have a great Superman series as well), or from East West Entertainment.

    It’s quite a crappy minefield in the 99 cent DVD world, you really have to be careful. Felix and Popeye cartoons are most likely their 60′s TV incarnations – always check the titles.

    I always treat my search as a treasure hunt. You never know what you’ll

There are two links with information that Larry sent me, and they’re worth sharing. Accelerated Decripitude and Community Live Journal which gives titles.

If your local community doesn’t have a “99 cent store,” check out Walmart. Apparently a lot of these can also be found there.

Talk about Happy Feet. Here are some frame grabs from the first of the Van Buren shorts on this “Tom & Jerry” dvd:

(Click any image to enlarge.)

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