Saturday, January 3, 2009

Voices From The Past

Hearing Maurice Sendak on the other end of the telephone line was a bit of a let down. This was several years ago and I was trying to convince him to do some illustrations for a Japanese commercial (a story for another time).

He did not have the booming voice of cross-hatched monster. He just sounds like an old guy from Brooklyn.

Sitting down in the Museum of Modern Art's archive I prepared for similar disappointment. I don't think I had ever heard John Hubley's voice (maybe clip in a documentary, but nothing I recall). I certainly never heard the sound of Fred Mogubugub's voice.

The MoMA has a recording of a panel from February 2, 1966 called "The Art of the Animated Film" moderated by Hubley and featuring Mogubgub, Len Glasser, Henry Hopkins (from the LA County Museum of Art), Lou Dorffman and Jerome Snyder (credited as from "Scientific American").

These voices didn't let me down. Hubley had a rich baritone, slightly mid-Western, all-American and assured. Mogubgub had a twinge of Cagney. Street smart. Even Lou Dorffman lived up to expectation, the sound of a smart man with great taste and the ability to shape the world around us.

They screened several films.

The Tender Game by John and Faith Hubley (animation by Ed Smith, Bobe Cannon, Jack Schnerk and Emory Hawkins)

The Young Lady and The Cellist (la demoiselle et le violoncelliste)
by Jean-Fran├žois Laguinonie.

The Hand by Jiri Trnka

Howard by Len Glasser

Norman McLaren's Mosaic

What sounded like "Prelude for Voice and Orchestra" by Alexeieff, although I can't find any record of this film. If it is Alexeieff, I can only guess that it was an excerpt as a work-in-progress from his Mussorgsky film.

and Mogubgub's Pop Show

Some interesting points:

They all hated The Hand. Hubley was moderator, and kept his opinion unvoiced but he did sum up the panel's opinion: "The general opinion of the panel was they felt The Hand was, uh, heavy."

Jerome Snyder showed a C. G. film by IBM. The computer vs. human debate was already well under way and the first C. G. films had barely been made. He made the point: "The 1966 revolution -the 1970 revolution -will be as important as the industrial revolution. Animation will be a part of it."

Dorffman: "Utter simplicity being the one aspect of of animation that brings out the best in it."

Dorffman: "I'm not aware of anything I've ever seen on the animation screen that was as evocative as so many paintings, so much architecture, so much music, or so much poetry... McLaren is closest to what I'd consider art."

The panel also agreed with my feeling that The Tender Game loses charm when the figures become more realistic.

Much of the discussion was devoted to character animation and the future of character animation. Glasser: "The future of character animation is dead."

Snyder: "There's a strange paradox going on now. We now find that people are becoming animals or strange figures. The return of Batman, Superman and any other 'Man' except the REAL man."

First question from the audience was posed by (an obviously agigtated) Bill Tytla. Hubley refers to Mr. Tytla, and I think "did he say 'Tytla'", rewind it -he did. Someone the panel says "He's gonna shoot us!"

Tytla goes on a little tirade and says (get this): "animation is going to belong to a select group of guys..." Ownership of a process, interesting -fortunately he was wrong, despite all he learned at the knee of Uncle Walt.

Tytla and Mogubgub throw down. Fred: "Isn't it just one frame after another?" Also: "The things I do are the same as the things you do, they're just done a different way."

Tytla insists these should be different "categories". While I agree that Fantasia (and other mouse films) belong in different category than Pas de Deux (and other McLaren films) it's not due to their process but their content. They differ in function, not form.

The panel wraps up with this thought from Len Glasser on the independent animator:

"He could've bought a boat or built a house. Instead he's shoved all his money into a film that somebody's will to pay him fifteen bucks a week to at a theater if he's lucky."

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