Thursday, June 4, 2009

You Can't Tell A Hero By His Size

I believe many animators are attracted to the field out of nostalgia. How else do you explain the toy collectors? The design fetishists? Worst of all, the free passes given to questionable films?

As a child I didn't watch a lot cartoons. Much television at all, honestly. Sure I saw every episode of "Gilligan's Island", but I spent much more time running around the streets playing wiffle ball, kick the can, or card games in the Donahue's back yard while listening to the radio.

There were movies, VHS tapes. My father was an early adopter (in the future, I may write about WHT, out of Womeko New Jersey). "Jason and the Argonauts" is embarrassingly central to my philosophic system.

The animation which seeped between ears came from Children's Television Workshop and commercials. The baseball games ran mostly local spots.

As it happens "Sesame Street" and the corner bank ads shared the contributor.

Maybe this is why I have such fondness for the work of Paul Fierlinger while Termite Terrace leaves me cold.

Maybe it's just nostalgia.

But I recall getting 3/4 inch tape at The Ink Tank, and sneaking into Bob's office to watch it, becoming more and more transfixed, becoming more and more absorbed -frantically lunging to turn off the machine when Bob entered the room as though I was caught watching something risque. "What is this?" I asked him, "You have to see it."

Ron Diamond had sent him the tape after a few phone conversations on a stillborn project.

That was "Drawn From Memory", which -nostalgia or not -ranks as one of the great films of the 1990s and one of the finest pieces in cinema history to use the animation process.

A few years later he came to SVA to give a presentation of his new film "Still Life With Animated Dogs". This was in 2000. The exact date can be pinpointed if you know the day when David Blaine thawed himself from the block of ice in Times Square.

It's a vivid recollection, not simply because the film was possibly more remarkable than "Drawn From Memory" but the occasion provided the opportunity for a very memorable "date".

PBS has the entire half hour film online.

He gave a funny animator's anecdote about the scene from 8:05 to 8:10. The animation turned out weird. The character is supposed to go downstairs, but he turns oddly and the animation just doesn't work.

Loathe to re-do it (because that's like 100 drawings there) he fixed the scene by changing the background and drawing in a sort of scaffold there. Now it's "great" animation -it's motion and character which expands the scene and gives depth and insight into the situation.

Beyond those bits of trivia, "Still Life With Animated Dogs" might be the most honest, personal film I've encountered -unquestionably amongst the top of those which use animation.

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