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Lillian Friedman Astor

March 20th, 2016 · Animation studios, Animators, Women in animation

Lillian Friedman drawings

Last year, I was contacted by the person who wrote the Wikipedia entry on Lillian Friedman Astor, the first woman animator in a major American studio.  Much of the information was erroneous and she wanted to correct it.  I then realized that there was little out there that a Wikipedia author could rely on to be factually correct. (Wikipedia does not take kindly to original research and tries to rely on previously published material.) I did refer her to Shamus Culhane’s memoir, Talking Animals and Other People, a scholarly article I wrote for Film History on the 1937 Fleischer strike where she is mentioned in passing, and most importantly a program book for the May 20, 1988 tribute by ASIFA-East  (which admittedly was hard to find).

Culhane, who first discovered her talents when he was at Fleischer, interviewed her for his book and gave me her contact information. I then spoke to her for my PhD dissertation, “Popeye the Union Man,” and The Animation Guild subsequently honored her at their 1987 Golden Awards Banquet for her efforts on behalf of unionism. However, she wrote me that she never understood what all the fuss people were making over her was about until the ASIFA-East tribute, where Culhane and Myron Waldman (the two most important men in her career) were present.

I should add that on Monday, March 28th, Cartoon Research will be posting the Golden Awards video interview I did with her the morning of the banquet, at which time I will also making some more comments.

Anyway, I thought it appropriate at this time to post an Adobe Acrobat version of the ASIFA-East program book. It includes a brief biographical sketch I wrote, along with an even briefer note by Shamus Culhane. It also includes an invaluable “Filmography & Animation Index of Lillian Friedman Astor” compiled by William Lorenzo based on her meticulous personal records.

For those who don’t want to bother with the Acrobat version, below can be found my biographical sketch (with a few typographical corrections) and Culhane’s comments,  and a skeletal version of Lorenzo’s filmography, as well as some post-tribute material from the ASIFA-East Newsletter.

Lillian Friedman Self-Caricature 1936

Lillian Friedman Astor: A Brief Biographical Sketch

By Harvey Deneroff

In 1939, Lillian Friedman Astor wrote in her diary that one of the most important things that happened to her in the last few years was “my joining and working in the interests of a Union.” In fact, Lillian Friedman’s commitment to unionism was one of the main reasons for the premature termination of her career as an animator. However, despite the real difficulties this caused her, the key to her leaving animation was the fact that she was a woman.

Born in New York City on April 12, 1912, the youngest of six children born to Daniel and Ida (Beitch) Friedman, Lillian started drawing at age 12 and later studied commercial art at Wash­ington Irving High School. In July 1930 she and a classmate, Lillian Oremland, got work at a small animation studio doing inking, coloring and inbetweening on a pilot film for a series (“a lovely little fantasy to the music of Mendelssohn’s ‘Spring Song’”). (This was a time when women rarely got to be more than inkers and opaquers.) She and Oremland then became inbetweeners at Frank Goldman’s Audio Cinema, and through Goldman’s friendship with Max Fleis­cher, were hired as inbetweeners by Fleischer’s in July 1931.

After a few months, Shamus Culhane, “a very fussy animator,” liked her work so much that he made her his assistant in February 1932. “This required,” she recalls, “some very strong persuasion, or as he put it, yelling and screaming. Culhane taught me a great deal about anima­tion, but his greatest contribution was that he encouraged me for the first time to aspire to become an animator.” In April, Culhane’s idea of having assistant animators was abandoned and she went back to inbetweening. However, he continued to encourage Lillian’s aspirations to become an animator. In 1933, Nellie Sanborn, head of the Timing Department, gave her a chance to redo a scene in a Betty Boop film, showed it to Max and Dave Fleischer “without telling them at first that it was done by a girl inbetweener,” and, as a result, in July, she was signed to a three-year contract as an animator.

After a brief stint with Seymour Kneitel’s unit, she joined a new unit led by Myron Waldman. “This was a much happier group for me because they were all younger and newer animators and they accepted me as one of them, whereas in Kneitel’s group they were all hard-bitten and they would make these sarcastic remarks about the girl animator.” Although Culhane was her initial mentor as an animator, it is apparent in talking to her that Lillian Friedman was and is very much a Waldman protégé.

Like other animators in the 1937 Fleischer strike she crossed the picket line; however, her open stand for the Union nevertheless caused her to suffer “all sorts of abuse directly or indi­rectly at the hands of the company, from catcalls from hooligans to being told I could expect no increase in salary as long as I chose to belong to the Union.” After she failed to find ano­ther job after the Studio decided to move to Miami to break the Union, she stayed on only until her husband found work. Thus, in February 1939, she quit to become “a housewife and mommy,” and moved to Troy, New York.

After Shamus Culhane contacted her about his book, Lillian renewed some old friendships in the field. These colleagues all seemed to deplore the fact that she had dropped animation. But the deplorable fact is not that she dropped animation but that animation had dropped her.

Lillian Friedman drawing from Baby Be Good

Shamus Culhane on Lillian Friedman

If Max Fleischer could be called a Victorian boss, the staff in general was just as Victorian. So, when I decided to pick Lillian Friedman out of the inbetweener pool, and make her an assistant animator, the animators rose up in wrath. Their main complaint was that she would inhibit the raunchy language which was the lingua franca of the all-male animation department.

They adamantly refused to allow women into their domain. Obviously there was more to it than their need to use bad language. There was the fact that women were inferior artists, and should be relegated to the inbetween department forever, to do what everybody recognized as non- creative work.

When I suggested that all the inbetweeners who wanted the new job of assistant animator be given the same scene to clean up and inbetween, Lillian’s scene was selected from the group of anonymous work.

Lillian Friedman went on from assistant animator to being a full-fledged animator with a salary significantly less than the male animators were getting, but with a drawing ability that competed with their best efforts.

Shamus Culhane

Lillian Friedman Astor 1987 Golden Awards interview_002

Lillian Friedman Astor Filmography

Compiled by William Lorenzo

The 42 films which Astor animated on, based on her own notes, are listed by year of release and not necessarily when she worked on them. For instance, she did the animation for the first 2 films in 1933 and the third in both ’33 and ’34.  This, I should emphasize is only a skeletal version of Lorenzo’s original filmography, which includes descriptions and length of each scene she animated, the total footage for each film and each film’s working title.

Can You Take It (1934) (Popeye)

Betty Boop’s Rise to Fame (1934)

Betty Boop’s Trial (1934)

Love Thy Neighbor (1934) (Screen Songs)

There’s Something About a Soldier (1934) (Betty Boop)

Betty Boop’s Little Pal (1934)

Betty Boop’s Prize Show (1934) (Lillian Friedman Screen Credit)

Keep In Style (1934) (Betty Boop)

When My Ship Comes In (1934) (Betty Boop)

Baby Be Good (1935) (Betty Boop)

Taking the Blame (1935) (Betty Boop)

Stop That Noise (1935) (Betty Boop)

No! No! A Thousand Times No! (1935) (Betty Boop)

A Little Soap and Water (1935) (Betty Boop)

A Language All My Own (1935) (Betty Boop)

Judge for a Day (1935) (Betty Boop)

Making Stars (1935) (Betty Boop)

Betty Boop with Henry, the Funniest Living American (1935)

Little Nobody (1936) (Betty Boop)

Betty Boop and The Little King (1936)

Not Now (1936) (Betty Boop)

Betty Boop and Little Jimmy (1936)

Hawaiian Birds (1936) (Color Classic)

You’re Not Built That Way (1936) (Betty Boop)

Training Pigeons (1936) (Betty Boop)

Be Human (1936) (Betty Boop) ((Lillian Friedman Screen Credit)

Making Friends (1936) (Betty Boop)

Bunny Mooning (1937) (Betty Boop)

Pudgy Takes a Bow-Wow (1937) (Betty Boop) (Lillian Friedman Screen Credit)

Pudgy Picks a Fight (1937) (Betty Boop)

The Candid Candidate (1937) (Betty Boop)

Peeping Penguins (1937) (Color Classic)

The New Deal Show (1937) (Betty Boop) (Lillian Friedman Screen Credit)

Educated Fish (1937) (Color Classic) (Academy Award Nominee)

Riding the Rails (1938) (Betty Boop)

Honest Love and True (1938) (Betty Boop) (Lillian Friedman Screen Credit)

Pudgy and the Lost Kitten (1938) (Betty Boop) (Lillian Friedman Screen Credit)

Hunky and Spunky 1938 (Color Classic) (Academy Award Nominee)

All’s Fair at the Fair (1938) (Color Classic)

The Playful Polar Bears (1938) (Color Classic)

Always Kickin’ (1939) (Color Classic)

Rhythm on the Reservation (1939) (Betty Boop)

Barnyard Brat (1939) (Color Classic)

The ASIFA-East Tribute

The tribute was held on May 20, 1988, at 6:00pm, at New York University’s George Barry Theatre and was hosted by Howard Beckerman, who later wrote me that,

After several months of arranging it came about last Spring. We brought Lillian and her husband [Nat] down from Albany and put them up for a night at the Gramercy Park Hotel. We had an excellent attendance at the NYU auditorium where the screening was held. We were able, through Bill Lorentz, [to] get films that she had worked on including one with screen credit. Shamus Culhane and Myron Waldman were some of the oldtimers in among many young enthusiastic fans and some people that came through an announcement in the Village Voice. It was a fine evening. After the screening we had some wine and cheese and people who had never been to an ASIFA meeting be fore went away all warm and excited about animation.

The Anymator: The ASIFA-East Newsletter, in its report on the evening said:


The May 20 Tribute to Lillian Friedman Astor was standing room only! A wonderful crowd greeted our special guest with great warmth as she shared her memories of the early animation studios of her time.


When accepting the award Lillian reflected: "I really must thank ASIFA for doing this. It’s been a very special occasion for me, but I feel a little as though I don’t deserve it, but, I think that, that young girl…who did work hard and try to succeed…and for both of our sakes, I gratefully thank you very much."

Other special guests that took part in discussions were Shamus Culhane, producer, director, animator, and Lillian’s early ‘mentor’ and Myron Waldman, Director, animator and Lillian’s director.

The Anymator also published this letter:

May 25, 1988

I’ve been on CLOUD 9 since last Friday night, and I don’t know when — or if — my feet will touch ground again. But I didn’t want too much time to elapse before I thanked the Board of ASIFA EAST for arranging such a memorable evening for me.

A combination of “Queen for a Day,” “This is Your Life,” and “Oscar Night”
comes close to describing it. In my wildest dreams I never expected there would be such a large turnout and such an outpouring of warmth and enthusiasm.

The beautiful certificate will find its place on what I call my WALL OF FAME. So far it consists of a couple of my own works, and a representation of each of my seven grand­children. I think they will enjoy seeing it and knowing where they come from, just as I enjoy seeing them grow up and turn out well.

Nat joins me in thanking the ASIFA Board.

All in all, it was well worth waiting 55 years for some­thing I never expected to happen………………………… to happen!

Best Regards,


The drawings are all by Astor and are taken from the ASIFA-East tribute book. The photo is a frame grab from the video interview I did the morning of the 1987 Golden Awards Banquet.

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Walt Disney on American Experience

September 16th, 2015 · Animation history and criticism, Animation studios, Documentary films

John Hubley Disney strike film color outtakes Walt Disney American Experience

I was rather pleased with Sarah Colt’s two-part documentary Walt Disney shown the past two nights on PBS, as part of its American Experience series. Part of it, I suppose, is that it devoted so much time to the 1941 Disney strike—one of my specialties, after all, is animation labor history. It really did not tell all the story (Colt simply didn’t have the time), but its recognition of the centrality of the event is important; one only has to compare the strike’s treatment here with that of Theodore Thomas’ Walt & El Grupo (2008), the Disney Studio’s official look at Walt’s goodwill tour of South America, which he went on so he would not have to deal with the strike’s coda.  Aside from John Hubley’s official Screen Cartoon Guild strike film (which Colt heavily used along with color outtakes [see image above]), the only other film I know which tried to deal forthrightly with the event was Imogen Sutton’s Animating Art (1988), made for Britain’s Channel 4, whose American distribution was initially restricted.

I was especially pleased that the film acknowledged (in images if not words) the 1937 Fleischer strike (several of the photos used were from those saved by my father Joe, who worked at Fleischer, and which I had variously loaned to The Animation Guild and the Museum of the Moving Image. (I also had some part in getting Art Babbitt to donate his copy of the Hubley strike film to the UCLA Film Archive; I later helped expedite the donation of the film’s color outtakes via Faith Hubley.)

In terms of omissions and elusions, the film fails to follow through on what happened to Ub Iwerks, who seems to disappear from the narrative without a trace. Iwerks famously left Disney in 1930 to set up his own studio, which was big news at the time; however, Iwerks soon after gave up animating and directing in favor of “tinkering” (e.g., building the first multiplane camera used in an animated cartoon), which has led some historians to feel that he was a tinkerer at heart. I bring this up because Colt clearly shows Disney similarly withdrawing from close creative involvement with his films to build model trains. Disney seems to have  then channeled his puttering into creating Disneyland, though Iwerks’ tinkering did not have such epic results. (My wife, Vickie, and I speculated on the reasons Ub Iwerks gave up animating and directing in “The Independent Animator Model in Early Animation: The Case of Ub Iwerks,” a paper presented at last year’s Society for Animation Studies conference.)

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Goodies from USC’s Hugh M. Hefner Moving Image Archive

December 11th, 2014 · American cinema, Education, Filmmakers, Libraries and archives

King Vidor being interviewed by Arthur Knight at USC

By chance I happened on the site of the University of Southern California’s Hugh M. Hefner Moving Image Archive, which has posted a small number of items of interest in their Online Media listings. These include part 1 of an interview by film critic/historian Arthur Knight (my mentor at USC) with director King Vidor (The Big Parade, The Crowd, Hallelujah! , etc.) , (see frame grab above); there’s also a film of a talk by legendary montage specialist and experimental filmmaker Slavko Vorkapich at USC, where he once served as chair of the Cinema Department  (he’s briefly introduced by Bernie Kantor who was one his successors).  In the animation realm, there’s a 1976 audio recording of an interview by a woman unknown with animation pioneer Lotte Reiniger  (The Adventures of Prince Achmed) done in England, where she lived and worked in the years after World War II.

Boris Morkovin at USC 1937

Then there’s what the Hefner Archive mislabels as

a photocopy of an animation course from 1935 led by Boris V. Morkovin, who worked for Disney and wrote the screenplay for “The Three Little Pigs.” [sic]  It appears that this course is one of the first animation classes ever offered at USC.

According to the USC Cinematic Arts website,

Animation instruction at USC goes back to the Spring of 1933, when Cinema Chair Dr. Boris Morkovin lectured on Walt Disney cartoons and had Walt Disney himself to the campus to meet with students.

A transcript of that lecture would indeed be lovely to have, but what’s posted is actually a Disney Studio transcript and summary of the first in a series of classes Morkovin gave at Disney on “Technology and Psychology of the Animated Cartoon (Studio Course),” November 14, 1935. The lecture series is not entirely unknown, and Hans Perk previously posted material on the class from the Disney Studio Bulletin, No. 12 (March 9, 1936) here and here.  Mislabeled or not, it’s still most welcome.

(The 1937 Morkovin photo above is from Michael Goldman’s book, Reality Ends Here 80 Years of USC Cinematic Arts.)

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SAS 2015 Beyond the Frame: Call for Papers

December 5th, 2014 · Animation conferences

SAS 2015 Beyond The Frame

It’s that time when all good animation scholars and filmmakers should consider submitting proposals for papers for the 27th annual Society for Animation Studies conference, Monday, 13 July – Thursday, 16 July 2015. It will be hosted by Canterbury Christ Church University, at its Canterbury campus, in Kent,  east of London. The school has a undergraduate animation program in its  School of Media, Art and Design and also sponsors the Canterbury Anifest. The conference notes that its theme relates to the fact that,

With such a diverse range of animation activity associated with Canterbury, it seems only fitting to give the 2015 conference a theme that seeks to embrace the myriad forms that animation can take – we therefore invite you to think: ‘Beyond The Frame’.

The conference website is here, while information on the Call for Paper is here. Of course, even if you don’t submit a proposal and you’re in the vicinity come July, there’s nothing to stop you from dropping by!

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Report from SAS 26: “The Animator”

July 6th, 2014 · Animation conferences

Harvey Deneroff and Tom Klein by Charles DaCosta SAS 2014 594

Charles DaCosta at SAS 2014Last month, I was in Toronto and its suburb of Oakville for “The Animator,” the 26th annual Society for Animation Studies conference, hosted this year by Sheridan College, June 16-19th. I was there to present a paper I wrote with my wife, Victoria, on “The Independent Animator Model in Early Animation: The Case of Ub Iwerks,” as well as to enjoy the usual wide variety of presentations, this year celebrating the 100th anniversary of Norman McLaren’s birth. (Vickie and I even managed to make a reference to McLaren.) In any case, despite Vickie’s inability to attend, I had a great time meeting old friends and expanding my knowledge of animation history and theory from  scholars new and old. As is my wont, the following is a bit of an annotated photo gallery of my visit (aided with images by Charles DaCosta, SAS’s official photographer — that’s his photo of me getting ready to snap a picture of Tom Klein of Loyola Marymount University talking about “Evoking the Oracle: The Animator seeking Prophecy.”) (Click on images to enlarge.) Given that there were at least three panels presented at the same time, my impressions of what was going on was obviously very limited.

Rex Grignon, DreamWorks Animation, keynote address at TAAFI and SAS 2014

Rex Grignon after his TAAFI-SAS 2014 keynote addressThe bulk of the conference (Monday-Wednesday) was held at the Corus Quay, headquarters of Corus Entertainment, the media and entertainment conglomerate which includes Canadian animation giant Nelvana (whose success and even existence owes a lot to Sheridan’s animation program).  The conference actually overlapped that of the Toronto Animation Arts Festival International (TAAFI), which began on June 13th; thus, SAS kicked off with a joint keynote address by the Head of Character Animation at PDI/DreamWorks and Sheridan alumnus Rex Grignon. I was especially taken with his recollections of the early days of computer animation at places like the New York Institute of Technology’s Computer Graphics Laboratory.

Timothy Jones, Akshata Udiaver, Debjani Bandyopadhyay and Harvey Deneroff - photo Charles DaCosta SAS 2014 (61)

One of the pleasures of these conferences is getting to know new people from around the world. This year had a several presenters from India or talked about the animation scene there. Pictured above (left to right): Timothy Jones, an American PhD candidate in the UK who gave a talk on “Socializing the Animator: Interpreting discourses of the professional animation association,” which examined the Indian animation industry from the perspective of social practice theory (which Vickie and I also use); Akshata Udiaver, who gave a presentation on “Broadcasting Animation in India : Cracking the Distribution Code”; Debjani Bandyopadhyay talked about the “Language of Children in Animation,” which related the her and her husband’s experiences teaching animation in rural India. I had some involvement with Indian animation, having been Festival Director for the Week with the Masters and wrote an article on Famous’ House of Animation.

Harvey Deneroff and Giannalberto Bendazzi - photo Charles DaCosta SAS 2014 197

Here I am meeting up with ace animation historian Giannalberto Bendazzi. the last time we had seen each other since Annecy 2000. The new, expanded edition of Bendazzi’s encyclopedic history, Cartoons, has happily found a new publisher, Focal Press, which, if all goes well, will be out next year (initially in a pricey edition aimed at libraries, to be followed one for the rest of us). He also gave a talk on “Jiri Brdecka, a director of animated films,” who he feels has been unjustly neglected.

Terence Dobson, Kaj Pindal, Nichola Dobson and Paul Wells Photo Charles DaCosta 185

The SAS proper part of the festivities began with a Norman McLaren panel with (left to right) Terence Dobson, Kaj Pindal and Nicola Dobson, moderated by Paul Wells. Terence Dobson, a New Zealander, is the author of The Film Work of Norman McLaren (John Libbey, 2007), also presented one solo paper, “Norman McLaren Beyond 100 ,” and one with Canadian Crystal Chan, “Norman McLaren, Internationalist.” Pindal is the reknown Danish-Canadian animation filmmaker worked at the National Film Board with McLaren. Nicola Dobson, who later presented a paper on McLaren, “Behind every great man…,” is also working on a bio and was particularly enthusiastic about her exploration of McLaren’s correspondence, including his unexpected enthusiasm for living in New York City, trusting his initial sojourn to Canada would be rather brief. Wells, as is his wont, popped up several times and later introduced his new documentary on Mackinnon & Saunders: A Model Studio, as well as giving a keynote address.

Tony Tarantino SAS 2014 by Charles DaCosta 147

Conference Chair Tony Tarantino takes a quick break from his duties to take a snapshot or two. Tony and his Sheridan cohort, including numerous volunteers, did an amazing job of putting together a world-class event.



Stop-Motion Panel with (left to right) Bret Long, Nora Keely, and  Chris Walsh, moderated by Mark Mayerson - SAS 2014

The first day concluded with a panel on stop-motion animation in Toronto with (left to right) local animation artists Bret Long and  Nora Keely, and  Sheridan instructor Chris Walsh, moderated by Sheridan’s Mark Mayerson, who is actually best known for his pioneering computer animated TV series, Monster By Mistake.

Larry Cuba and Pamela Turner SAS 2014 195

Experimental filmmaker and computer animation pioneer Larry Cuba (Iota Center), almost smiling, with Pamela Turner (Virginia Commonwealth University), who very successfully finished her first year as Chair of the SAS Board.

Richard Leskosky, Harvey Deneroff and Kahra Scott-JamesSAS 2014 photo Charles DaCosta 643

Former SAS President Richard Leskosky, myself and Australian Kahra Scott-James  caught off guard at lunch. Leskosky kept up his reputation for exploring some of animation’s quirky nooks and crannies with a charming paper on “The Animator and the Ventriloquist,” while Scott-James spoke of “Authenticity in Docudrama: Capturing Displacement through Animation.” (The animated documentary, obviously, continues to be a topic of  interest.)

CharlIe Bonifacio SAS 2014 by Charles DaCosta 302

Animator Charlie Bonifacio (Arc Productions), a former Sheridan instructor and alumnus who has worked for Bluth and Disney gave the first SAS keynote address. (His talk was moved up after Corus Entertainment’s Executive Vice President Scott Dyer had to bow out.) Bonifacio made a strong plea for the relevance ’of classical (i.e., drawn) animation skills in today’s CGI environment, though I wonder if doubling down on such an approach is the complete way forward for animation education.

Ann Owen SAS 14

Ann Owen (Falmouth University), giving her presentation on “Seeing the Real: A Neuroscientific Perspective on Stop-Motion Animation Spectatorship.” I was especially interested in her talk since it related to one of my MFA students is thesis paper and film. Owen’s work is consistently interesting, including last year’s survey she presented of the latest research on the aesthetics of stereoscopic filmmaking.

Robert Musburger SAS 14Robert Musberger, SAS’ long-suffering treasurer is a steadying presence at every conference. While he did not present any paper, he did announce that he would be coming out with the 6th edition — of his  Single-Camera Video Production (Focal Press).  Like all the books he writes, Musberger always includes a section on animation.


Harvey Deneroff SAS 14Here I am giving my presentation of the paper my wife Vickie and I did on Ub Iwerks. Basically, we posited a somewhat different reading of his career and why he gave up animating and directing in favor of “tinkering.” In so doing, we identified what we call the “Independent Animator Model” of production that was widely used in the silent and early sound eras before being supplanted by today’s industrial approach championed by Disney. In chatting about our paper beforehand, I was surprised that a number of people didn’t seem to know who Iwerks was, though they certainly knew his films.



Charles DaCosta SAS 14 02

Charles DaCosta all gussied up to give his talk on “Animating Homeland: Toward a Definition of the Notion of Home and Place.” Charles and I have been friends since I recruited him to take my place in Savannah when I moved to SCAD-Atlanta. I quickly realized he had relatives all over, including Toronto, which represented something of a one-family diaspora from Ghana, where his father had been politically unwelcome. Thus, the topic of homeland (or heimat, as he likes to put it) is something he comes upon quite easily. (For the last few years, he’s been teaching at Swinburne University of Technology in Melbourne.)


Cinzia Bottini SAS 2014 by Charles DaCosta 432

This year there was a small but vital Italian delegation led by Giannalberto Bendazzi, including Cinzia Bottini, who presented on “The orchestration of emotions in Jerzy Kucia animated films.” A student of Bendazzi’s at Nanyang Technological University in Singapore,” she also helped him with the writing and research for the new edition of Cartoons.

Elisa Bertolotti SAS 2014 by Charles DaCosta 424

I found the talk by Elisa Bertolotti, of the Politecnico di Milano, on
“Doing animation today. An ethnographic research on the animators practice” especially interesting. Not only did this fit in with the use of social practice theory my wife Vickie and I have been using, it more specifically relates to Vickie’s PhD dissertation, which involved an ethnographic study of a high school science teacher. We both look forward to seeing the results of her work.


Nancy Bieman and Alex Williams SAS 2014 by Charles DaCosta 373

I knew former Disney and Warner Bros. animation artist Nancy Beiman (here sitting next to Alex Williams)  a bit  in Los Angeles before she  started teaching — she’s now at Sheridan — and writing books on animation. She always had a strong interest in animation history, so it wasn’t surprising for her to give a paper on “The Animated Tramp: Charlie Chaplin’s Influence on American Animated Film 1916-2014,”  which went beyond the usual observations on the topic. In the Q&A that followed, Donald Crafton noted that Buster Keaton had appeared on the same vaudeville bills as Winsor McCay, while Beiman added that Keaton had discussions with the Fleischers about doing animation for his Three Ages (1923). (She later pointed out to me that Three Ages was the source of  the classic Wile E. Coyote falling off the cliff gag.)


Robert Wilson SAS 14Robert Wilson, one of my students at SCAD-Atlanta, is seen here defending his paper, “Proper Naming, Rigid Designators, and Hayao Miyazaki’s Spirited Away.” Something of a philosophy nerd, Wilson’s attempt to apply the theories of philosopher Saul Kripke and literary theorist Uri Margolin.

Pierre Floquet SAS 14Pierre Floquet, author of Le Langage comique de Tex Avery  (L’Harmattan, 2009), recipient of the SAS’s 2011 McLaren-Lambart Award for the Best Scholarly Book on animation, talked on “The Haunted World of El Superbeasto: an Animated Exploitation of Exploitation cinema,” which dealt with Rob Zombie’s 2009 movie.

Chris Somerville (moderator), JoaoPaulo Schlittler, Alex Williams and Dallim Park SAS 14

The only micro-talk panel I went to was moderated by Chris Somerville (left) and featured 5-minute talks by American-Brazilian João Paulo Schlittler, who talked about “Motion Graphics and Animation,” Alex Williams on “Flipping the Classroom – a better way to teach animation,” and Korean Dallim Park on “Animated Sound as Generative art.” As Editor of Animation World Magazine, I once commissioned an article by Williams but hadn’t seen him since I left Los Angeles 10 years ago; a top animator whose credits include Who Framed Roger Rabbit and The Iron Giant, he seems to have drifted into teaching full-time (Buckinghamshire New University) along with doing his Queens Counsel comic strip; I too have been toying with the idea of flipping my History of Animation classes, and found his experiences helpful. In talking with him later about mocap, he compared his job of animating on  Monster House (2006) to that of an assistant animator, something he could do while listening to music on his earphones.

SAS Toronto Conference Cruise Ship

The days at Corus ended rather spectacularly  with a dinner cruise on Lake Ontario. Here’s the boat coming in to pickup conference delegates.


Paul Ward at sunset on SAS 14 dinner cruise

Here’s a sunset view enjoyed by one and all. That’s SAS President Paul Ward at right.



SAS 14 dinner cruise

Dinner was on the first deck, while there was dancing above on the second deck.



Susan Ohmer and Michele Leigh on SAS 14 dinner cruise

I had the pleasure of dining with Susan Ohmer (Notre Dame) (left) and her husband Donald Crafton, who did not present papers this year. However,  Michele Leigh (Southern Illinois University Carbondale) did give a talk on “Gendering an Icon: Sterling Archer and 21st Century Masculinity.”

Harvey Deneroff and Donald Crafton on SAS 14 dinner cruise

I couldn’t resist including a selfie. That’s Donald Crafton next to me. Anyway, the next day it was on to Oakville and the campus of Sheridan College.






Kay Kane SAS 14

An interesting addition to the discussion of the role of life drawing in animation training was made by Australian Kay Kane (Griffiths University), who presented on “Animation as Conservation: Classical values in Contemporary Practice.” Among other things, she pointed out that traditional life-drawing skills is largely absent from most art schools, with animation being one of the last areas where it is still considered central.



Jeremy SpeedSchwartz SAS 14

Jeremy SpeedSchwartz  (Alfred State College) gave a talk on “Technique-Focused Teaching of Animation History,” in which he related how he introduces production techniques to his students. This differs from my classes, where animation students already have had some production experience before they take my History of Animation classes.



Kaj Pindal and Michael Fukushima SAS 14The last keynote address was given by Michael Fukushima, Executive Producer of the NFB’s English Animation Studio, which brought everyone up-to-date on what Norman McLaren started. Here he is with Kaj Pindal after his talk.





Norman McLaren's Now is the Time

The grand finale, so to speak, was a screening of digital restorations of 3D stereo films produced by Norman McLaren in 1951-52 for the The Festival of Britain. The SAS screening was ahead of the official world premiere of the restorations a few days later at the The Edinburgh International Film Festival. The films included two directed by McLaren: Around is Around (1951) and Now is the Time (to Put on Your 3D Glasses) (above), as well as Gretta Eckman’s Twirligig (1952) (shot in 2D and put into stereo by McLaren) and Evelyn Lambart’s  O Canada. Eckman’s career was cut short because of the Red Scare that swept North America; as a result, McLaren took both Eckman’s and his credits off the film, though they have now been restored. I asked Terence Dobson earlier about McLaren’s interest in stereoscopic animation, who replied that yes, he was very enthusiastic about it, just as Oskar Fischinger had been before.

Anyway, after the Annual General Meeting and a Canadian barbecue dinner, there was little do but wait for next year in Canterbury Christ Church University, near London, in July 2015. And if all works out, then it will be on to Singapore!

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ASIFA-Atlanta’s Roll Yer Own 2014

July 2nd, 2014 · American cinema, Animation Festivals, Independent animators, Student films

ASIFA-Atlanta's Roll Yer Own 2014 Flyer

The 12th Annual Roll Yer Own, ASIFA-Atlanta’s showcase of local, independent short films will be screened Monday, July 14th at 8:00 pm at the Plaza Theater,
1049 Ponce de Leon Ave NE, Atlanta, GA 30306. Admission is $5.00 at the door and  $3.00 for ASIFA-Atlanta Members and students with ID. For more details, including a list of films, check out the ASIFA-Atlanta website.

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Frank Terry: An Interview at CalArts

February 25th, 2014 · Animators, Education, Filmmakers, TV and Film Commercials

Frank Terry at CalArts 19 September 2000

Animation producer and educator Frank Terry passed away on February 11th. I must admit to not having really known Terry, and would refer you to the Animation Scoop blog post about him here, which include comments from people who knew him, as well as the CalArts blog post here. However, I did have the pleasure of interviewing him for a story for Animatoon, the Korean animation magazine, in his role of Director of the Character Animation program at the California Institute of the Arts.  It was one of a series of stories I did on CalArts over the years on both the Experimental and Character Animation programs. The interview was conducted on September 19, 2000 in his office. What follows is an edited version of it. I started the tape as we began talking about the school’s Community Arts Partnership program.

Frank Terry: When I took over the directorship, I was extended the opportunity over the animation side of the Community Arts Partnership CalArts has with various partners. In other words, various community and cultural affairs sites who contract with CalArts, provide the space, go out of their way to attract the community. CalArts provides the faculty, the curriculum and the training at no cost to the community members. They can receive virtually university training, for heavens sake, for free. A lot of times, the programs are tailored to the age groups and experience levels

Harvey Deneroff: Are you having a session in Canoga Park, too?

FT: We used to have a session in Encino, at the Encino Media Center; in fact, we were the ones who put the Media into the Media Center over there. Which then became the bedrock, or the guiding principal for the Los Angeles City Electronics Arts Academy that they installed all over the place. But we have well regarded programs running at Inner City right now Mondays and Wednesdays for the elementary school kids; and then on Saturday as well down at Inner City for the high school students who are …

HD: My daughter’s 11 years old and there’s very little arts training available for kids.

FT: Extraordinarily little.

HD: She takes cello lessons and has a Russian émigré teacher who used to be vice president of the Conservatory, but you can’t get that sort of quality in art teaching.

FT: Yes and on top of that it, of course, impacts us here at the university level, because the portfolios that come to us reflect that absence of very early childhood training. And the students are working doubly hard to try to catch back up. In many cases, it’s an almost insurmountable battle, simply because of the fact that a great deal of foundation needs to be laid at in their childhood.

HD: Do Europeans do better at this?

FT: Much better, much better. The students that come from Korea, the students that come from Europe, so on and so forth, they’re always far better, as far as the product they’re offering for submission for entering the department.

HD: How early should students be training?

FT: Right from day one.  From the earliest day on they should be slowly but surely simply walking … more and more discipline, more and more control. There shouldn’t be a 6th grade start, there shouldn’t be a 11th grade start, or whatever. You just simply cannot start them too soon. The arts are a part of our natural self. We pay the penalty. We get a lot of portfolios that [where] you can see the desire of the student, but they have no skill. And we have such a large demand on such few spaces that even with the best intention, we simply can’t trust ourselves to them. So those folks are suggested to go back to the community college level or find art training themselves and resubmit their portfolios the following year. It’s a big problem and it it gets more profound every year as the students are really now starting to hit us from that period of time when American education completely ignored the arts.

HD: I’m lucky, in a sense, my daughter is starting middle school this year and is in a school where they have one period a day devoted to music. But art is not a full blown program.

FT: It’s a thorny problem, because eventually it’s going to affect everything that’s done. The justification for this was that old silly nonsensical thing where you really have to concentrate on the sciences, because that’s the primary sort of export, if you will, or the primary sort of reputation that the Americans have to the rest of the globe. They completely overlook the fact that entertainment is the number two export for God’s sakes.

HD: My wife is an artist who going for her Ph.D. in Science Education, but she feels very strongly that arts are extremely important for science education.

FT: Well, they are.

HD: There’s a lot of creativity involved in science.

FT: On top of that, it is such a predominant export now, that we’re having to turn to citizens outside of the United States to provide the technical support to get the work done, and that doesn’t make sense.

HD: Yesterday, I got an email from some parent whose son or daughter is going to go to college, and his main concern is which school has the best deal in terms of recruiting, to which I wanted to say, if that’s all you really think about, then you’ve lost it.

FT: Yes. Quite honestly, our response to the students now, as they come in, is simply, If you’re thinking of a good salary, then please go back to admissions and find yourself something else to do. You have to really enjoy the art to the point of loving it to be able to survive and advance and succeed, simply because it’s not money-based, it’s not these outrageous salaries.

HD: I think it’s the parents, I hope it’s the parents.

FT: So do I.

HD: Tell me a little bit about yourself.

FT: I came to CalArts simply at the invitation of the Director who was here at the time, because I had taught her — that directly. A young woman by the name of Rebecca [Becky] Bristow. I taught her how to animate. She came to me as a very talented student in a studio I was working at at the time. I sat her down and had a lot of work that was going on, sat her down and had her start animating, and suddenly realized that she had an immense amount of talent, but that she didn’t know how to animate. I spent quite a bit of time with her trying to get the conceptual idea of what animation is all about under the belt, so that she could really bring these characters alive, and especially in doing what I had done all my life, which is short film, which is television commercial work. And she did! Boy, one day she suddenly sat back and said, "I got it!" I understand what you’re talking about."

So, she gave me a call and said, “I’m looking for somebody to do a character design class. Would you be interested?” And at the time it was just at an odd enough period where the workload at the studio was not so profound.

HD: What studio were you working for? Was it your own?

FT: At that time, I was working on my own, Terry X2.

HD: Did Marv Newland work for you?

FT: Yep. Marv came out of the Spungbuggy days, when I was partner with Herb Stott, as did Bill Kroyer, as did, oh, a whole raft of folks:  Randy Acres, who now is teaching at Savannah College of Art and Design, Gary Katona, who the last time I touched base with him, was still down at Disney Special Events, on and on and on. I mean, there was a raft of really bright young men that came out of that period.

I’ve been in the industry since ‘64. I spent a brief amount of time exploring TV production, but found that I really preferred being a participant with a lot of the shots that use up my time and ended up with a small commercial advertising production house in the Netherlands; actually, because I had started off doing work on the old Beatles cartoon series; actually, I was a student. The studio I was working with was picking up overload material from TVC [in London]. So, there were about 6 or 8 or 10 of  ‘em that were actually produced in Holland for London and subsequently for the Americas, out of which I got my fingers into about 4 of them.

Then I came back and spent virtually all the time since then exclusively doing television advertising work, out of preference. Preference because I like the pace; I like the design challenges; I like the sense of hand-on directorship that we used to have. It doesn’t quite exist anymore. And the studios we ran really attracted a lot of good people and that was a lot of fun.

Six years ago, Becky called. I came up and started teaching. Second semester, I ended up teaching two classes. Then she left and I was offered the directorship and I thought,” Oh, well, why not?” So, I have been running the shop up here for the last four years, this is starting my fifth year. So, as a professional educator, and I must admit that it’s getting to be that, because the demand in this office is such that I’ve had to almost completely ignore the studio, far more than I would like.  Somebody had to give and I felt a moral obligation to this place, for the students’ sake, rather than going back into the studio and trying to get it back up and running. So this ended up being a full-time preoccupation for me.

So, as a professional educator, I’ve got a grand total of 6 years, but I’ve always taught. Everybody used to always say, “Oh, you should be a teacher.” Nonsense! I’m not a teacher! But I’ve found, apparently, that I can indeed do that, have the the understanding that it takes to get that abstract information across. So, it’s turned out to be a very comfortable thing to do.

HD: How old is the Character Animation program?

FT: The program actually started with Jack Hannah, the first director in 1975. 

HD: And everybody had to draw …

FT: … Donald Duck. Yes, that’s right, because he was a Disney shorts guy. That was 1975 to 1984. After him came Bob McCrea, who ran the shop until ‘86. Then from ‘86 to ‘91, Robert Winquist came on board and basically turned it around from being predominantly a training ground for assistant animators into more of a traditional art school environment that he was more comfortable with. (Actually, he was  responding to what the university was asking of him.) He left in ‘91. Glen Vilppu ran it from ‘91 to ‘94, and then Becky picked it up from ‘94 to ‘96. And I’ve been here since I started in that ‘96 semester. So, it started in ‘75 as a character and traditional feature …

HD: And it was the Disney organization that …

FT: Yes. It very definitely was. There were two and continues to be two programs here at CalArts. One is Experimental and one is Character. The differentiation between us continues to be there, although narrowed substantially. We’re not primarily a training ground for feature films anymore. Feature has been under such a profound pressure from the marketplace.

There was an insightful thing that happened to me when I first took over the department. I was invited to go down to a fair that was being run at the Disney Studios. I saw the material they had on their development board, all the planned work that they had ahead for themselves. I realized that they were confronted, as advertising was, with having to come up with a different look, different feel, different image, different approach, etc., etc., that the marketplace would not tolerate. Just simply the same old product being produced. In that respect, it was a very comfortable environment for me. That’s exactly what I had spent all my life doing was finding and staying connected to what the society was doing and what it was looking at and how it would respond to certain imagery. So, taking over the directorship from that kind of a venue was an easy task for me, rather than having to come from feature and understanding what the pressures are and what the influences were. The pressures in feature is no different than in commercial work. In fact, animation is animation, period, whether you’re doing festival films or whatever, it’s identical. It really is.

So, coming up and getting started then was a fairly easy transition. The difficult thing, of course, was learning the school, the environment, the politics,  how the administrative aspect ran, and so on and so forth. But the differentiation between Experimental and ourselves really can be articulated more as to what it has evolved into for myself.

Character animation for me is not character animation so much as it is narrative theater. We really are here to help storytellers. We’re here to devise ways that stories work better. We’re here to literally have animation be not merely motion art, as perhaps Experimental would in its more traditional approaches. Experimental animation indeed comes out of the exploratory periods of experimental work, out of the ‘50s —  the whole intellectual exercise of image progression constitutes, and indeed it does, constitutes the appropriate process for the viewer. We continue to come out of the preeminent sort of reconfiguration of what it takes to tell a story.

While to tell a story, especially with a drawn image, is not just a simple thing where you just sort of write it and present it. You really do have to know what you’re writing. You do have to know how you’re going to illustrate it. You have to know the interconnectabilities of the process. In fact, we’re now getting to the point where I’m insisting that we reconceptualize where the idea of style or design comes from for narrative theater. Indeed, I’ve begun arguing that the design look for narrative theater comes out of acting, and that acting is a direct ramification of the story; and that is a direct ramification of the way you actually draw something. So, the interconnectability of these three indeed become where the style comes from. But in practical fact, it comes from acting first.

If you have a charming piece of storytelling and good acting, you could almost get away with any kind of style that goes along with it.

HD: Like reading the telephone book?

FT: Yeah. Right. So, it is indeed the energy of understanding how to make that thing come alive that is really the push this year. I have quietly challenged the students not only to stick their necks out to try different approaches, but very definitely get deeply into acting. Make the actors really come alive, so that we have an opportunity to see too much, too little, just right. As a department, we have the opportunity to explore the medium better than anybody else does. We don’t have the market pressures. We don’t have the fail/succeed pressures. This is a unique kind of lab configuration — any university is where things can be tried, so try ‘em. Get out there and help your industry along. Do some exploring. That’s really where we are at the moment. 

HD: I’ve known Jules Engel [founding Director of CalArts’ Experimental Animation program] for many years and the last time I spoke to him about this, he  complained about the disparity; but he almost said the same thing as you, that the differences have become very narrow, which he thinks is for the best.

FT: Yes and they should be narrow. There really should be only one animation department. If you want to have two secondary configurations, that’s perfectly fine, and absolutely appropriate. A certain amount of festival film activity should be focused in on.

HD: It’s hard to break with a tradition that’s been around so long.

FT: Once it’s in place …

HD: I’ve seen it in so many walks of life, where somebody comes in and says, ‘”Let’s change this” and it’s institution, it’s in the bones. And you can’t break that.

FT: Too many agendas. Too many reasons. There’s too many this, that and the other thing. I’ve tried for three years now to put animation under its own roof, under its own guise, because I really have come out of a whole professional career that had been very involved with live action and animation; and quite honestly, as much as they deliver in the same medium, they are two completely opposed sides of the pole. And you can’t have one governing the other. As a matter of fact, the animation departments really need to be a school unto themselves [rather than being part of CalArts’ School of Film/Video], because they are such a profound different part in everything else.

HD: There’s too much water under the bridge.

FT: Much too much and everything else that goes along with it.

HD: What’s your enrollment these days? It’s mostly an undergraduate program, isn’t it?

FT: Character Animation is totally an undergraduate program. We have been trying to conceptualize and put together some sort of a graduate program, because we’re slowly getting to the point where it can take the Character student, as it does the Experimental student, on into a masters’ degree program.  We do have students right now in the Experimental. We do have students right now in Directing for Film, which is kind of character or narrative theater in live action. And their programs, in many respects, are live action extensions of the ones we have here. So, it is that kind of natural progression for some of our students to attempt to get their masters’ through that, rather than through Experimental.

Currently, our enrollment is very much the way it has been, the mid-150s to the very low 160s. But I must admit, and this is completely unofficial, I really would like to see the department drop down to about 120 people, 30 to a class. Simply so that we can increase the instructor-to-student ratio to the point where you do have real close one-to-one contact.

Right now, if you look at the roles, we probably have the best student-to-instructor ratio going, but to me it’s still too distant. Classes are still just a fraction too big. So, I really do want to get the size of the department down. We’re trying to do something that will take an undergraduate student and really turn them into a very valued employee when they leave here. To do that, requires us working very closely with each one, because each, as good as they may be to get in here — and the portfolios have to be exceptional — each one is different; and each one needs a different amount of focus from the faculty. And you can’t do that when you have a class of 30 or more students around. You can’t see where their weaknesses are and be able to spend the time to get them to strengthen those areas. I do really want to increase the skill level, as well as the conceptual level of the graduates. The program really is an odd mixture between the practical training as well as the conceptual; an odd configuration between the arts school and a trade school.

HD: Any art school has to do that.

FT: Yes. We cannot turn our back to the trade. At the same time, to focus only on the trade is to do the students a disservice, because then why are they spending the money when they could go to Sheridan for a fraction of the cost and get the same training and the same opportunity. We’ve had to really seriously analyze where we were, what we were structuring. So, it’s really important to us to stress both sides of it. It’s also a nightmare to do it that way. We walk away from a formalized way of doing it — this is what layout is, this is what a field chart is, this is where your margin notes go, and so on and so forth.  What are you doing with that picture? How are you telling a story? How do you get it to cross? Why are you going to cut to a close-up? You walk into a form of education that is less able to pin something up on the wall and say, Look how brilliant we are!, which a trade school can do, because everybody is following the regimen and the program, to something where you’re trying to pull out of an individual a real serious core understanding, a centrist understanding, so they can be creative. That doesn’t necessarily always lead to an easy way for the instructors or the students. I honestly believe and the majority of the instructors agree with me, it does deliver a better student to the industry. We have a few instructors who really think we ought to be stressing the trade side of it far more and ignore the rest.

HD: You can have an evening school for that.

FT: We definitely do have an evening school. We have an evening school and a day school. In fact, the curriculum here is exhausting. It starts at 9:00 in the morning and goes to 10:00 at night. And therein lies the conundrum of this department, because it really does put a strain on me trying to keep day and night school as one school, without it suddenly becoming separated. It’s real easy for the student to think in terms of the day school being the art and the night school being the trade. What I’m trying to do is get even the instructors to reinforce the conceptual, reinforce the thinking, reinforce the fact that [you] draw a square around us, but what does that square represent and how does this scene going to affect the viewer? Think about it. Don’t just simply learn the processes of story morning, noon and so on and so forth. It is a profoundly complex curriculum because of the daytime/nighttime. The nighttime is here specifically to draw the best out of the industry to teach, because I have found that when you find academicians trying to teach, they’re not necessarily aware of what’s going on in the marketplace as acutely as somebody who’s trying to survive there.

The way the first year curriculum is constructed is to try to give the student as a broad a base exposure as possible. The second year we start tightening them up a little up on skill level. By the time they get to the third year, they not only should have mastered lip synch, better acting and more profound storytelling, but they’ve also got to be able to apply that to somebody else’s character.

You take a tramp, or whatever character you want. Go to the book of character models that we’ve got, pick a character. Now you have to animate that character. The same assignment that an animator would get in a real place and make it believable, make it convincing — do the acting, do the storytelling, stay on model, etc., etc.

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Michael Sporn: An Interview

January 21st, 2014 · American cinema, Animators, Directors, Independent animators

Michael SpornAs a number of my readers know by now, Michael Sporn, a long-time fixture of New York animation passed away on January 19th. I recall him describing himself (I believe it was at a Walter Lantz Animation conference in Los Angeles) as something like an independent animator working in a commercial environment. That spirit of independence and his love of good filmmaking infused not only his many wonderful short films and TV specials, but also his invaluable Splog.

I don’t think I met Michael more than once or twice, and then only in passing. However, I did occasionally exchange emails and he was always supportive of my own blogging efforts. I feel rather helpless in trying to evaluate him with the same authority of many of his friends and colleagues; for now, I strongly recommend Mark Mayerson’s remembrance. What I can do is post a slightly edited transcript of a phone interview I did in preparation for my profile of his studio, Michael Sporn Animation, Inc., for the September 1993 issue of The Animation Report, an industry newsletter I published in the ‘90s.

The interview was designed to fill in the blanks for information I needed on his studio, how he ran it and his production philosophy beyond what he had sent me, and was not meant to stand by itself. However, I thought it might be of some interest. It was done on Monday, 19 July 1993 starting about 1:00 pm. (The images are taken from Sporn’s website and Splog.)

Doctor De Soto

Harvey Deneroff: Where were you born?

Michael Sporn: New York.

HD: Manhattan?

MS: Manhattan. I was raised in Manhattan and The Bronx, and I’ve lived here all my life, except during the service, I guess, I was everywhere but New York. [Laughs]

HD: What high school did you go to?

MS: Cardinal Hayes Memorial High School for Boys.

HD: And you went to the New York Institute of Technology?

MS: Right.

HD: Is that the only college you went to?

MS: Yes, it was the only school at the time in New York that offered a degree with animation courses. Other schools offered animation courses, but no degree connected with it.

HD: When did you graduate?

MS: I graduated in ‘67. There were no animation courses, as it turned out, when I went there, but I liked the Fine Art teachers, so I stayed in Fine Arts.

HD: That’s before they started developing their computer [animation] program?

MS: Right. I ended up going back there to work, I guess, when they produced Tubby the Tuba [1975], an animated feature. And I worked for the first six weeks on that until I decided they were so incompetent I walked.

HD: Johnny Gent [John Gentilella] was there?

MS: Yes.

HD: Johnny worked at Fleischer with my father.

MS: Yeah, I had actually interviewed him with Mike Barrier quite a while ago and he spent all his time talking about the Van Buren Studio, which was kind of fun.

HD: Has the studio always been at your current address?

MS: No, in fact, we moved quite a bit. It keeps getting larger. It started out on 30th Street and 5th Avenue and I always stayed within the 30s, right off 5th Avenue. So, the other three locations were there, and then found that by moving downtown I could double the space for about half the rent.

HD: How much space do you have now?

MS: I have 2,500 square feet.

HD: Do you own the studio by yourself?

MS: Yes. I did have a partner [Maxine Fisher], who was the writer and an officer of the company. She still does all the scriptwriting, or predominantly. She had 30% of the company.

HD: She still does?

MS: No, up until April of this year, then I took over the whole thing.

HD: How much of a staff do you have on a full-time basis?

MS: I usually keep about 12 people on staff and it’s gotten up, if I have like 2 films going, it’s about 25 people.

HD: Do you do everything in-house?

MS: Everything except camera. I have a service I’ve worked with since 1980.

HD: Is the company a corporation?

MS: Yes, Michael Sporn Animation Inc.

HD: What sort of equipment do you have in-house?

MS: We have complete editing facilities for both 16mm and 35mm film. We have a Lyon Lamb, of course, and a lot of drawing tables mostly art production.

HD: Do you use computers at all?

MS: Not at all, except for word processing and office, financial aspects, projecting costs and that type of thing

HD: What kind of computers do you use?

MS: IBM. We’ll probably be going into using Macs, because I just want to play with it for a bit — more visual graphics ability.

HD: So the only thing you subcontract out is camera, then?

MS: Camera generally. There were a couple of films we’ve subcontracted ink and paint, two half-hours.

HD: Locally?

MS: Yes. The company has moved down to Virginia, though, Chelsea Animation. She did Santabear’s High Flying Adventures [CBS, 1987] she did while she was in New York and she did Earthday Birthday [HBO, 1990].

HD: I wanted to ask you about your techniques. Traditional cel animation is not the common thing you do. How would you describe your animation?

MS: Well, I describe it as cel animation, but it’s more illustrator-oriented. So that, where you’re trying to get more of a graphic look to it, with textures, a lot of textures involved in the final look. And we do this with any medium available to us. So, from film to film, we’ll change from watercolor to colored pencil to colored chalks or oil paint.

HD: Do you use it all eventually on cels?

MS: It’s all done on paper and then cut out and pasted to cel, predominantly, yes.

HD: It looks like cut outs, a lot of it.

MS: Yes.

HD: It’s very New York, or East Coast.

MS: Right.

HD: I could guess that you worked for the Hubleys before even reading your bio?

MS: I worked with them from 1971 through ‘76, I guess, through John’s last film. I was sort of a production manager, animator, assistant, whatever they needed at the time. I coordinated their studio, pretty much, for those years.

The Red Shoes

HD: I must say, seeing The Red Shoes [HBO, 1989] over and over again, you really do have a New York … I mean, it makes me nostalgic for New York.

MS: Well, I mean, I actually try to blend the urban landscape, and since I live in New York, I feature New York; I blend it into my films. So, The Red Shoes became an urban film, just because I did it, I guess.

HD: Well, Hans Christian Anderson lived in Copenhagen?

MS: Yes, Copenhagen. But the original story is more in a village. But, I mean, I try to bring New York into a lot of the films, though.

HD: There’s also, the sort of approach to animation which is the sort of distinctly New York , which is developed I guess, by the Hubleys, who were the key in that respect.

MS: John was an enormous influence on my life.

HD: Even [R.O.] Blechman, in a sense, has that sort of very graphic, illustrator look. That’s a really good way of putting it. There’s also an approach to your use of Broadway-style music and songs, which is different from the musicals that are written out here [in L.A.].

MS: Right.

HD: There are other aspects, you know, John Canemaker has this sort of feel too, and a lot of others. You’ve never made a co-production with any studio before, have you?

MS: No, I guess not. I can’t think of any offhand.

HD: I assume, in terms of animation, you’re nonunion.

MS: Correct. I started out, actually, sort of bordering on the union fence, and it ended up my just staying nonunion.

HD: I assume you use SAG for your actors?

MS: Yes, SAG or AFTRA, depending on the project.


MS: Yes, HBO has the AFTRA contract, I guess. In New York, you can get away with that more than in California. I mean, we’re a signatory of all acting unions, anyway.

HD: What are your budgets on your films? I mean, they’re obviously not high end.

MS: Yes, they varied from about $135,000 to maybe $300,000. I don’t think you’ve seen anything for $300,000. Santabear’s High Flying Adventure was up there. But The Red Shoes was $135,000.

HD: These are for half hour films?

MS: Yes, yes. They vary. They’ve increased now. We just did The Country Mouse [and the City Mouse: A Christmas Tale (Random House/HBO, 1993)], that was $265,000, I think.

HD: OK. So, you’re sort of middle, somewhat low middle.

MS: Yes.

HD: I usually ask nonunion places how their salaries compare to union shops, but they’re not many union shops left in New York.

MS: Mine are actually comparable to minimum wages in the union. I obviously don’t offer the pension and welfare benefits, but the salaries are equal to the union minimums in New York.

HD: But they haven’t gone up in five years.

MS: Yes, I know, right! But we have a 35-hour week.

HD: . You still maintain that?

MS: Yes.

HD: That’s interesting. The 35-hour week came about because of all the overtime that was going on during the heyday of commercials, when overtime would go on forever.

MS: Right. I’m not even sure the union still maintains the 35-hour week, but, I sort of like it.

HD: Well,  if you work in any job in New York, you sort of expect a 35-hour work week, anyway.

MS: Right.

HD: Are you doing anything right now?


MS: We’re doing one half hour for HBO, which is a docudrama based on an actual incident of two children that were whitewashed, they’re black children who are painted white by a gang and how they adapt to this horrible situation. [Whitewash, 1995.] And we just started five 6-minute films for UNICEF [A Time Of Adventure] and scripting six half-hours for HBO.

HD: So, you’re really busy?

MS: We will be once the six half-hours go into production; they are actually going into production in ‘94. I’m hoping to do the voices prior to that. But there are other things which are going to probably bury us.

HD: I know you have a small studio, but do you have any sort of particular approach to managing it and working with the artists?

MS: Yes. The studio, overall, is very tightly run. I mean, the people, Masako Kanayama is a production coordinator, so every drawing is used; because the budgets are tight, we have to very closely, closely control every aspect of it. The people have been here awhile, so they know how we do everything. I tightly watch how the animation is done, but at the same time, I give the animators a lot of freedom. They get very loose layouts, for the most part, so that they can act their way out of the paper bag that I give them. And they have as much control as they want, really, given the restrictions of the storyboard.

HD: You’re obviously not organized along department lines in the studio.

MS: Not really, I mean, it’s very personal, because it’s small. It’s a big open space, too, so, everybody knows what everybody else is doing, rather than have rooms or partitioned off.

HD: You were mentioning how much Weston Wood was giving you per minute on a film. It doesn’t seem to be enough to cover your production costs, is it?

MS: No, it’s not.

HD: So, what do you do?

MS: I’ll feed my own money into it. The thing with the Weston Woods projects is that I have as much time as I need to make them. So, I’ll put them into between the half-hours; so whenever things are quite in the studio, people will work on those. Since they’ve been paying so little, I’ve actually, with the last film I did, Monty [1992], I just bought the rights to the book myself, and just did it myself, and then offered it to them, and got a better percentage, a residual from them, to distribute it. So, I’m hoping to ultimately make more money from that than I would on the other films.

HD: In one of the stories, you said you wanted to make features. Is that still an ambition for you?

MS: Oh, yes, yes, very much so. I feel like I started in shorts and keep getting longer, so that hopefully, I’ll just make a feature, whether I finance it myself or have other people do it.

HD: How much do you think you would need to make a feature?

MS: I certainly can do it for a million.

HD: You and John Matthews should get together, another the million dollar name.

MS: Well Paul Fierlinger, in Philadelphia, is actually doing one for American Playhouse [Drawn from Memory.] His studio is actually somewhat similar to mine.

HD: How much did Blechman spend on his one hour special, A Soldier’s Tale?

MS: He spent about $1.25 million; that’s a guess, but I’m pretty sure it’s accurate. And I think he had like $550,000.

HD: It’s hard for some studios in Los Angeles to do it all in Los Angeles.

MS: I think if they wanted to do it, they could do it. They don’t want to do it. And that’s why it has to go overseas.

HD: Well, some of it is going overseas to places like A-Film in Denmark, which is not necessarily cheaper.

MS: Right. I had a talk with a number of the Hanna-Barbera people. They came to my studio a little while ago. I just think there’s too much fat in a company like that. They just waste the money, more than… they can keep it tightly run.

HD: You’re comparing it to yourself?

MS: Yes, of course. But at the same time, I think if you’re talking about $12 million, you’re talking about a lot of that $12 million being wasted. I mean, you certainly could do it in California for that.

HD: What is it. Michael Jackson and David Kirschner are partnered to make films for Turner Films, it’s sort of an adjunct to Hanna-Barbera, and their budgets are $40 million.

MS: Apparently, they’re talking about involving computer animation and all this stuff. I mean, as soon as you mention the word computer, you’re talking about …

The Little Match Girl

HD: I know, it’s very fashionable.

MS: I mean, they just did the first season of Beavis and Butthead for MTV and they computer-colored it. I mean, the whole thing is two drawing cycles. What the hell do you have to color that by computer? It’s fashionable. That’s the only reason they wanted it. I prefer noncomputer stuff. It’s just my…

HD: I can see computer ink and paint coming on eventually. It offers more advantages than just inking and painting.

MS: Sure. I mean, at the moment, I don’t think they’ve got it down pricewise, anyway. Unless you’re doing shading and airbrushing and whatever, I mean the way Disney has been doing it on their features, and if it’s part of the look.

HD: The advantage I see, initially, is that once you feed you’re animation in their, you build up sort of a data bank of animation, which you can then modify or change, which, especially, on a series, can be very time …

MS: Also, the camera move ins and you have the multiplane look that was really nice.

HD: Do you have any particular project in mind for a feature?

MS: I’ve had a couple. The stuff I’m interested in is more adult. I did a modern version of Thumbelina, which I was trying to sell through WGBH for awhile, called Thumbelina Potts, which is her last name in the show. And I guess we sort of abandoned it when Don Bluth finally got back together.

HD: At one time there were actually three different versions being planned.

MS: I know, that was sort of what led me away from it.

HD: I saw some of the sketches for the Hyperion version, which wasn’t too bad, actually.

Ira Sleeps Over

MS: I know, and they had William Finn, who had already done Ira Sleeps Over [HBO, 1992]  for me and was doing The Puppy [The Poky Little Puppy’s First Christmas (Showtime/Western Publishing, 1992)], he was writing the songs. He was trying to talk me into teasing one of his songs from Thumbelina that he had written and had been dropped from the film.

For years, I tried to get the John Gardner novel, Grendel made into a feature, and then that was taken by some Australians, I think, Grendel, Grendel, Grendel [1981]and destroyed that book. I stayed friends with John Gardner and we were pushing In The Suicide Mountains for awhile, another novel of his which was actually getting very close with United Artists, until they split up. It was The Heaven’s Gate period and everything. So, I mean, you just try and develop these things. You have to ride with the film business, I suppose.

HD: So, you want to make a feature for theatrical release?

MS: Yes, of course. I mean, the most likely way I can see doing it is by doing it for television somehow. Right now, we’re doing these six shows for HBO that are taken from great American literature: an Edgar Alan Poe story, a Nathaniel Hawthorne, for six different authors, and adapting these for half hour shows. I actually thought of taking one of them and building it, so that maybe doing a half hour version of Moby Dick, which for theaters could be a feature and sort of finance it myself.

My prime interest, I think, when I do these things, because they are low budget, is to concentrate on the story. And that is where the problems have been on every feature I think done in the last 10 years.

HD: Nobody knows how to write. There’s very little teaching of it in animation schools.

MS: Well, to me, the problem is that most people writing for animation are either sitcom writers or they are animators who really aren’t writers, they’re cartoonists.

HD: Steve Hulett, who’s the business agent of the union in L.A., used to be a writer for Disney. When he went over to work at Filmation, he says he used to sneak into to see the layout people and some others, so he could get an idea of what the visuals were, because the writers there were just compartmentalized and most of the writers didn’t know what they were doing. As a result, he said his scripts were better. Now there’s a tendency with people like John Kricfalusi to try to get storyboard artists, at least, team up with writers from the very beginning.

MS: I know Disney was doing that with the jungle feature they’re doing now.

HD: Although, Michael Eisner still doesn’t like to look at story­boards.

MS: Yeah.

Abel's Island

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ASIFA-Atlanta International Animation Day 2013 Screening: Best Shorts of 2013

December 6th, 2013 · Screenings, Short films

ASIFA-Atlanta Best of 2013 Poster

ASIFA-Atlanta is celebrating International Animation Day tomorrow at the High Museum of Art, which is a bit late (it usually takes place on or about October 28th, to commemorate the opening of Émile Reynaud’s Théâtre Optique in 1892), but it is nevertheless always welcome. The screenings promise “an inspiring line-up of stop-motion, 3D, mixed-media and clay-mation shorts from Atlanta and beyond. All screenings are free and open to the public.”

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Tünde Vollenbroek on the USC Society for Animation Studies Conference

July 24th, 2013 · Animation conferences

Tünde Vollenbroek and M. Javad Khajavi at Society for Animation Studies USC ConferenceTünde In my last post, I gave a rather chatty, scrapbook-style report of the recent Society for Animation Studies conference at the University of Southern California, in Los Angeles. Now, Tünde Vollenbroek, whose first SAS conference it was, provides a more substantive account, including a few kind words about the paper my wife, Vickie, and I wrote. I must say I very much enjoyed Tünde’s presentation about her delightful graduation film, Flashing By; she’s pictured above right afterwards, with  M. Javad Khajavi sitting behind her.

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Report from SAS 25: “Redefining Animation"

July 3rd, 2013 · Animation conferences

Harvey Deneroff at the SAS 25 Membership Meeting

I recently returned from a week in Los Angeles, which was mostly spent at the Society for Animation Studies conference, which was hosted this year by the University of Southern California’s John C. Hench Division of Animation & Digital Arts (part of its School of Cinematic Arts).  Congratulations are in order to Lisa Mann, Christine Panushka and Kathy Smith of USC for being such gracious hosts; kudos are also in order for the Society’s continuing leadership, which seems to get along just fine, thank you, without my butting in.


The conference was something of a homecoming for me, as I got my M.A. in Cinema and Ph.D. in Communications (Film Studies) at USC. The Cinema program and facilities have changed considerably since I first went there in the 1960s, when it was only one of two schools in the country that offered a PhD in film (the other was Northwestern). I struggled through their production-oriented program, which eventually stood me in good stead in pursing my real interest, which was film and TV studies. At the time, there was only one full-time animation professor, Herb Kosower, who, I believe was one of the founders of ASIFA-Hollywood and seems to have served as mentor for George Lucas and John Milius.

Vibeke Sorenson with Donald Crafton in background at SAS 25USC’s animation program did not gain much traction until the 1970s, when an MFA in the field under Gene Coe was finally offered; however, it was only when experimental filmmaker and educator Vibeke Sorensen was hired to become Chair of the new Division of Animation and Digital Arts in 1994 did it gain much traction. (Sorenson, pictured at right [with Donald Crafton, University of Notre Dame,  in background] showed up from her current gig as Chair, School of Art, Design and Media,  Nanyang Technological University, Singapore. By the way, she was a pioneer in using motion capture before the term became a dirty word. )

I dropped out of USC in 1968 after I got my MA and returned in 1979 to finish my PhD. By that time, Lucas had helped fund a new building ostensively modeled after the funky bungalow-style facilities of yore; the new building didn’t really prove satisfactory, so Lucas then funded a new building complex, where the conference was held. (The new facilities do seem to be an improvement.)


Jeffrey Katzenberg's video talk at SAS 25Given USC’s high-powered connections to the industry, it was perhaps not surprising that DreamWorks Animation’s Jeffrey Katzenberg spoke (via video) at the opening reception (after all, the Marilyn and Jeffrey Katzenberg Center for Animation was just next door). This was followed by a live talk by Bill Damaschke, the studio’s Chief Creative Officer. (DreamWorks previously sponsored Donald Crafton’s keynote address at the 2002 SAS conference held at Glendale’s Brand Library, which was presented at the studio itself.)

Geena Davis giving her keynote address at SAS 25

The other glamour speaker, so to speak, was actor Geena Davis, who spoke strongly about the work of the Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media. In particular, she talked of the chronic problem of women being underrepresented in the film and animation industry, as well as the lack of female roles. One comment that struck home with me was when she felt that a major problem was that male screenwriters often hesitate to include women in their scripts for falsely fearing they do not know how to write that type of role; a number of years ago, I was offered a free option on a novel by a woman author but hesitated to follow through for exactly those reasons.


The following pictures were mostly taken at the opening reception, with a few at the annual membership meeting. I would have included more, but I’m afraid my photo-taking capabilities and cameras were not always up to the task. (I’m especially embarrassed by the lack of good photos of two of my students, John-Michael Kirkconnell and Maureen Monaghan, who did themselves proud with papers on “Stylistic Dissonance as a Narrative Tool in Mixed Media Animation” and “Memories and Perceptions: Creating Emotional Resonance Using the Child’s Gaze.”)

Charles daCosta at SAS 25

No SAS conference is complete without Charles daCosta, the Society’s historian and photographer. He was also my colleague at SCAD and bravely took over the reigns of the 2009 conference when I stepped down for medical reasons. He’s now based out of Melbourne’s Swinburne University of Technology, where he’s just set up an animation program. His paper was called, “Cracking the Frame: Oral Tradition as a Reflection of Non-cinematic Animation in Sub-Saharan West-Africa.”

Cheryl Cabrera at SAS 25

Cheryl Cabera, another former SCAD compatriot, now working at the University of Central Florida’s Orlando campus. She came to give a micro-talk about The Animation Hall of Fame, which she is a Board member (I’m on its Advisory Board). If she has her way, UCF will host a future SAS conference.


Tony Tarantini at SAS 25

Tony Tarantino of the Sheridan Institute of Technology and Advanced Learning was present to give a micro-talk about next year’s conference, “The Animator,” which will be hosted by Sheridan in Toronto and on campus in Oakville, Canada.  Sheridan College, of course, is a legendary animation school which was, along with CalArts, a key factor in the emergence of the current animation renaissance. Canada seems an obvious locale for next year’s event, since 2014 is Norman McLaren’s centenary.

Rose Bond SAS 25 114

Experimental filmmaker Rose Bond, of the Pacific Northwest College of Art,  is a perennial at SAS conferences. This year she gave a paper on  “Poetics & Public Projection: Layered History – Redrawn Memory,” a part of a spectacular panel mostly concerned with what might be called environmental or site-specific animation.  In fact, there seemed to be a heavier-than-usual focus on this sort of motion graphics/motion media design, which reflected some of the interests of the USC animation program.

Yvette Kaplan & Jerry Beck SAS 25 116

Animation producer Yvette Kaplan and historian/blogger Jerry Beck dropped by for the opening reception. Jerry has a long history with SAS, having programmed a memorable screening of films from the UCLA Film & Television Archive for the first conference in 1989.

Paul Ward at SAS 25

Paul Ward, Arts University Bournemouth, is the current SAS president, whose paper was called “Paratexts and Participation: The Off-screen World of Dirtgirlworld.” Like my wife Vickie and myself, Paul has a strong interest in social practice theory. (Is there something about being SAS president and SPT?)

Nichola Dobson, Timo Linsenmaier & Paul Ward at SAS 25 Nichola Dobson, University of Edinburgh, Timo Linsenmaier, currently based in Belgium, and Paul Ward. Nichola, whose talk was “Dancing to Rhythm of the Music: Norman McLaren and the Performing Body,” is the former editor of SAS’s Animation Studies journal and is now doing similar duties for the Society’s Animation Studies 2.0 blog. Timo, who gave a micro-talk about “The Dissident’s Kitchen 2.0,” i.e., web animation in the former Soviet Union,  is SAS’s webmaster extraordinaire.

Michael Frierson at SAS 25

Michael Frierson, University of North Carolina at Greensboro, at a break between sessions. Michael’s expertise is clay animation, as per his talk, “Tim Hittle/Jay Clay: One Person Making Artwork as Authentically as Possible.” Like Paul Ward and Nichola Dobson, did yeoman duty as a past SAS conference organizer.

Susan Ohmer at SAS 25

Susan Ohmer, University of Notre Dame, another long-term SAS veteran and Disney maven during a break. She  gave a paper on “Mass-Production and High Art: Disney and the Courvoisier Gallery c. 1940.”




Tom Sito at SAS 25

USC Professor, long-time friend Tom Sito and former president of The Animation Guild, prior to giving the “Harvey Deneroff Keynote Address” based on his new book, Moving Innovation, A History of Computer Animation. Naming the talk after me was the Society’s way of honoring my role as founder. I must admit to be a little uneasy about the whole thing, but then my wife, Vickie, noted is was better than calling it the Harvey Deneroff Memorial Keynote Address.

Harvey Deneroff at SAS 25

Here I am presenting my paper, “Rethinking the Metanarrative of Character Animation,” in which my wife, Vickie, and I attempted to rethink the conventional wisdom of how character animation developed and how this has affected animation education. One of our main points is that the master narrative of personality animation has unfairly ignored the contributions of stop-motion filmmakers.  Vickie, unfortunately, could not be there, but the presentation seemed to go over well.

Maureen Furniss at SAS 25

Past SAS president and outgoing chair of the Board of the Directors Maureen Furniss, California Institute of the Arts, at the Annual General Meeting. She gave a micro-talk on “Direct Film Paradigms,” and also acted as conference consultant. She was one of the original members of the Society and talked herself into a seat on the Board of Directors when she was a graduate student at USC, saying there was a need for a student representative. The Society honored her years of service during the meeting through a donation to an animal shelter. Maureen was the third USC alumni to be SAS president after myself and Bill Moritz.

Larry Cuba & Pamela Turner at SAS 25

Computer animation pioneer and experimental filmmaker Larry Cuba. who is Executive Director of the IotaCenter, sitting next to Pamela Turner, who is also involved with Iota.




Pam Turner SAS 25 225

Filmmaker and scholar Pamela Turner, Virginia Commonwealth University, was at the membership meeting to take over from Maureen Furniss as the Society’s new Board chair. Like Furniss, she has a strong interest in experimental animation.  Congratulations Pam.


Next year in Toronto!

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Off to L.A. for SAS

June 20th, 2013 · Animation conferences

On Saturday, I’m off to Los Angeles to attend the annual conference of the Society for Animation Studies. This year’s event, “Redefining Animation,” is being put on by the John C. Hench Division of Animation & Digital Arts  of the University of Southern California’s School of Cinematic Arts. (I got my M.A. and PhD from USC.) The dates are June 23rd – 27th, with the conference proper beginning on Monday; the paper my wife Vickie and I wrote on “Rethinking the Metanarrative of Character Animation” will be presented on Wednesday, which is actually the last day. However, the festivities begin on Sunday with afternoon screenings of USC student films and a cocktail reception featuring remarks by DreamWorks Animation CEO Jeffrey Katzenberg and Chief Creative Officer Bill Damaschke; on Thursday, there’s an optional field trip to DreamWorks Animation, in Glendale, which I understand is sold out.

I always look forward to these conferences where I can enjoy the company of friends and colleagues, as well as meeting other scholars and filmmakers from around the world. If you’re at all interested in animation history and theory, it’s the place to be.

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Ray Harryhausen

May 14th, 2013 · Filmmakers, Special effects, Stop motion animation

Jason and the Argonauts

Ray HarryhausenThe recent passing of special effects animation master Ray Harryhausen has been widely noted. I must admit to having little to add to the many well-deserved hosannas. A disciple of Willis O’Brien, he was able to one up his mentor by gaining a measure of creative control that enabled him to produce a greater body of work than O’Brien could hope for. His films, whose epic storytelling seems  to have been inspired by the Korda version of The Thief of Bagdad, were designed to showcase his spectacular talents, especially the skeleton fight in Jason and the Argonauts and the Medusa sequence in the original version of Clash of the Titans. Alfred Hitchcock also seemed to structure his films around a series of set pieces, though Harryhausen’s seem more resistant to the fatigues of repeated viewing. Why this is so is the subject of “Harryhausen and the Expressively Imperfect World,” by The New Yorker’s art critic Adam Gopnik, who rightly compares him to Georges Méliès, noting:

What was odd about Harryhausen’s work was that it was obviously “fake,” fabricated—even in its heyday, its invented, articulated falseness was as evident as it was bemusing. One wasn’t convinced by his skeleton warriors; one was amazed by them, a different thing. His sword-fighting skeletons didn’t look like skeletons come to life; they looked like models of skeletons, painstakingly animated. And yet something about that truth spoke to some part of us deeper than the merely deluded eye—so that it is the rare lover of fantasy who does not much prefer Harryhausen’s “Clash of the Titans” to the elaborate C.G.I. remake. Indeed, in the many obituaries he received this week, a good number of people, and not all of them oldsters moved by nostalgia, made the case, or registered the feeling, that something in Harryhausen’s work, for all its obvious effort, was better than anything of the kind that came after. Tom Hanks, George Lucas—so many spoke up, or had spoken up before, about how mind-altering and enthralling Harryhausen’s underpowered and underfinanced spectacles remain.

Jason and the Argonauts

Images: Frame grabs from Jason and the Argonauts from DVD Beaver. The photo of Harryhausen is a frame grab from the John Landis interview on the Jason DVD.

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Film Histories, Part 2: Animation and TV in Context

April 20th, 2013 · Animation history and criticism, Feature films, Film history and criticism, Television history and criticism

Several years ago, I did a posting which promised to be the “first in a series of posts in which I would evaluate some of the one-volume histories of film in English.” For various reasons, I neglected to follow through on it, though I never stopped thinking about it. For instance, I recently wanted to write about the importance of Mark Cousin’s documentary series for Britain’s Channel 4, The Story of Film: An Odyssey, which is something of a game changer. Right now, though I want to comment on “the way [film histories] deal with (or ignore) animation and television.”

William MoritzAmong the assignments I give my graduate animation students is to write critical analyses of papers on film and animation history and theory; this is part of their preparation to do the written part of their MFA thesis (the other part is their thesis film). Basically, it’s part of an effort to shift their thinking out of term paper mode to original, scholarly research.) One article I recently assigned was William Moritz’s “Concerning the Aesthetic Autonomy of Animation and Why the Short Film is Not Just a Shorter Feature,” which he presented as a keynote address at the 1995 Filmfest Dresden. It is  something of a rant on the problems faced by independent animation filmmakers, especially in getting their works seen. It is also, at heart, a tirade against the conventional feature film (live action or animated) and in favor of “artists’ Animations.”

He begins by noting:

For the last thirty years, at least, the live-action feature film has been considered an artform — joining written Literature in College curricula, becoming sections of Art Museums, and celebrated in thousands of books, most of which have little to do with Art, and a great deal to do with Sociology. Since the live-action feature, by and large, is a representation of some particular social reality, critics can easily decipher the symbolism of Ingmar Bergman, dissect the melodrama of Douglas Sirk, decode the syntax of Robert Bresson, dismantle the narrative strategies of Orson Welles, or dismember Alfred Hitchcock’s intricate plots to find behavioral patterns, prejudices and assumptions, struggles between races, classes, creeds and sexes. For the Marxist, the Feminist or the Semiotician it is almost irrelevant that cinema happens to be the current vehicle, for the same proofs of conviction can be found in novels, opera, television series, MTV video clips, comic books, or any other medium with a social-based narrative structure.

Animation has been almost completely neglected by film critics, and when it has been treated, only the industrial cartoon and feature-length animations (from Snow White to the hybrid Who Framed Roger Rabbit?) have been considered, precisely because they also yield to analysis for sexism, racism, excessive violence, and audience demographics.

One might be tempted to dismiss this tirade as a rather naïve piece of special pleading on behalf of some of his favorite independent filmmakers, including Oskar Fischinger, whose biographer he was. However, despite all this, Moritz does bring up an important issue: why do the standard film histories largely ignore animation? (Similarly, I would also ask why they also ignore television, but more about that later.)

Moritz’s focus on short animations may actually be a good part of the reason animated films have often been marginalized. From a conventional film historian’s point of view, though, this makes perfect sense. After all, aside from pre-World War I era, the comedy shorts of such comedians as Chaplin, Keaton and Lloyd, early Disney, and experimental films, the history of cinema is the history of feature films; no,  let me amend that, it’s the history of the theatrical features. It doesn’t matter that some of those who write these histories don’t like animation (some have even written quite eloquently about it in other contexts), it just doesn’t fit into their discourse (or their publisher’s expectations).

Moritz’s article strongly resonates with my students, who eager to make short animations; this sort of enthusiasm is not uncommon in animation, especially  as seen in their glorification by the major animation festivals such as Annecy, Ottawa and Hiroshima, as well as the nostalgia for the Golden Age of American Animation when Looney Tunes and Silly Symphonies were in flower.

The Situation in Television

The situation with television is, in a way, more serious. Though the Society for Cinema and Media Studies, the central organization of film scholars is “dedicated to the study of film, television, video & new media,” television is treated as a separate discourse from movies. Though some critics love to point out the superiority of their favorite TV shows over the current cinema and the technological breach that historically seemed to divide film from TV seems no longer relevant, film histories continue to ignore the tube unless a bona fide auteur, such as Ingmar Bergman or Rainer Werner Fassbinder, worked in TV.

This is compounded by the fact that there doesn’t really seem to be a good international history of television. Instead, we have the likes of Gary Edgerton’s The Columbia History of American Television, whose focus seems rather different than say Kristen Thompson and David Bordwell’s Film History. Even if Thompson and Bordwell wanted to expand their 780-page tome to include TV on the same terms they treat film, they would easily end up with a 2-volume book, which I suspect their publishers wouldn’t like. (Both are not unsympathetic to TV matters, as seen in Thompson’s book, Storytelling in Film and Television.)

While some animation histories, such Giannalberto Bendazzi’s Cartoons: One Hundred Years of Cinema Animation, may have consciously ignored television, more recent efforts (including the forthcoming second English-language edition of Bendazzi’s book) have attempted to remedy this oversight. However, animation histories, at least in English, mirror some of the errors of the standard film histories by often marginalizing live action cinema and television. That, though, is not a mistake Moritz did not make.

Photo: Center for Visual Music.


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Sites Searched

March 19th, 2013 · Uncategorized

Alphaville: Journal of Film and Screen Media. Peer-reviewed online journal published by Film Studies at University College Cork, Ireland.

Alternate Takes. British film review site that provides two reviews of each film, one introductory and the other in-depth.

American Film. Monthly online magazine published by the American Film Institute that began as a print journal.

American Society of Cinematographers. Includes some articles from American Cinematographer and John Bailey’s Bailiwick blog.

Americana: The Journal of American Popular Culture, 1900 to Present. Published by The Institute for the Study of American Popular Culture.

Animation Magazine. Trade magazine with an appeal to a more general public. Limited access.

Animation Studies Online Journal. Peer-reviewed journal of the Society for Animation Studies.

Archives of American Television. Oral-history video interviews with American TV “legends and pioneers.”

Art of the Title. An “online resource of title sequence design, spanning the film, television, conference, and videogame industries.”

Audiovisual Thinking: The Journal of Academic Videos.  A “journal of academic videos about audiovisuality, communication and media” published by the University of Copenhagen.

Animation World Network. Site includes Animation World Magazine and VFXWorld Magazine.

Artforum. The magazine’s film section.

BBC. Website of Britain’s public service radio and television broadcaster.

BFI Screenonline The British Film Institute’s “guide to Britain’s film and TV history.”

Bright Lights Film Journal. Film journal based in Oakland, California which started out in print.

Cine-Excess eJournal. Published by Cine-Excess. the annual  international film festival and conference based in the UK.

Cine-Files. Peer-reviewed journal published by the Cinema Studies Department of the Savannah College of Art and Design.

Ciné-Tracts: A Journal of Film, Communication, Culture and Politics.  Archive for journal edited by Ron Burnett, 1977-82.

CineAction. Sample articles from Toronto-based journal featuring “essays and reviews by film critics and scholars.”

Cineaste. American magazine “on the art and politics of the cinema.” Limited access.

Cinema: Journal of Philosophy and the Moving Image. A refereed online  journal published by the Philosophy of Language Institute, New University of Lisbon.

Cinema Scope Magazine. Selections from the print version of the Canadian magazine.

Cinética (English). English versions of articles selected the archives of the Brazilian online magazine.

Confessions of an Aca-Fan. “The Official Weblog of Henry Jenkins,” Professor at the University of Southern California, Los Angeles.

Criterion Collection Current. Video distributor’s blog that mixes publicity and essays for the company’s DVD and Blu-Ray discs.

Criticine. Online Philippine journal devoted to Southeast Asian cinema

CST Online . Critical studies in television.

DFI-Film Digital Issue. Published by the Danish Film Institute.

Directors Guild of America Visual History Program. Video “interviews with directors and director’s team members discussing their careers and creative processes in film, television and other media.”

Documentary Box. A  journal “covering recent trends in making and thinking about documentaries,” 1992-2007.

Experimental Conversations “Cork Film Centre’s online journal of experimental film, art cinema and video art.”

Film and Media Studies. “An International Scientific Journal of Sapientia University [Romania].”

Film Comment. The magazine of the Film Society of Lincoln Center, featuring  “in-depth reviews and critical analysis of mainstream, art-house and avant-garde filmmaking from around the world.” Limited access.

Film International. English-language Swedish magazine that “overs film culture as part of the broader culture, history and economy of society.”

Film Quarterly. Published by the University of California Press. Limited access.

Film Journal. Quarterly online journal and blog based in Central Ohio, 2002-2006.

Film-Philosophy Journal. “An open access peer-reviewed academic journal dedicated to philosophically discussing film studies, aesthetics and world cinema.

Film Reference. Online encyclopedia with contributions by academicians.

Film Studies For Free. Reference site for film and moving image studies resources.

Filmlinc Daily. Film Society of Lincoln Center’s blog.

Filmmaker Magazine. Published by The Independent Filmmaker Project, whose site also contains material of interest. Limited access.. fosters the development, production and promotion of hundreds of feature and documentary films a year.

Films in Review. Online continuation of the American journal originally published by The National Board of Review, which is in the process of digitizing its “archives.”

Flow. An “online journal of television and media studies” published by the Department of Radio, Television, and Film at the University of Texas at Austin.

Forget the Film, Watch the Titles. An “online resource dedicated to film title design.”

fps. Canadian animation journal; no longer published.

fxguide. American online special effects magazine.

Frames Cinema Journal.  Online publication of the Film Studies Department at the University of St Andrews, Scotland, on film, media and screen studies.  Autumn issue publishes work by members of the British Association of Film, Television and Screen Studies (BAFTSS).

Framework: The Journal of Cinema and Media. Peer-reviewed journal published by Wayne State University Press covering “theoretical approaches to literature, film, the visual arts, and related media.”

GreenCine Daily. Film review blog published by the Los Angeles-based GreenCine DVD rent-by-mail service, 2003-2013.

Guru: GreenCine’s Official DVD  Review Blog. Published by the Los Angeles-based GreenCine DVD rent-by-mail service, now inactive.

Hollywood Reporter. Entertainment industry trade publication (limited access).

Image Magazine Online. The first 47 years of the George Eastman House’s journal of photography and film, 1952-1997.

Images: A Journal of Film and Popular Culture. Published out of Raymore, Missouri.

Incite: journal of experimental media. 2008-11.

Independent Film Quarterly. News, reviews and interviews about independent films. Limited access.

Independent Filmmaker Project. American membership organization that “fosters the development, production and promotion of … feature and documentary films.” Publisher of Filmmaker Magazine.

Indiewire. Film and television blog network that includes Leonard Maltin’s Movie Crazy, Peter Bogdanovich’s Blogdanovich and Jerry Beck’s Animation Scoop, plus reviews.

InMedia: The French Journal of Media and Media Representations in the English-Speaking World.  “The journal focuses on the press, photography, painting, cinema, television, video games, music, radio and the Internet among other fields of study.” The Screenworks section “is a peer-reviewed online publication of practice research in film and screen media,”

Intensities: The Journal of Cult Media. Online, refereed journal based at Brunel University that “addresses all aspects of cult media” from TV and film to anime and manga.

Joan’s Digest: A Film Quarterly. New York-based, online feminist film journal.

John Bailey’s Bailiwick blog. Cinematographer’s wide-ranging blog on all things related to cinematography, cinema/TV and whatever strikes his fancy; hosted by The American Society of Cinematographers.

Journal of e-Media Studies. A “peer-reviewed, on-line journal dedicated to the scholarly study of the history and theory of electronic media, especially Television and New Media,” published by the Dartmouth College Library. No longer published.

Journal of Religion & Film. “A peer reviewed journal which is committed to the study of connections between the medium of film and the phenomena of religion” and hosted by the University of Nebraska, Omaha.

Jump Cut: A Review of Contemporary Media. Online journal  which “publishes material on film, television, video, new media, and related media and cultural analysis.” Formerly a print publication.

Just TV. Blog by Middlebury College professor Jason Mittell on television.

Kamera.  British online film journal.

Kinema: A Journal for Film and Audiovisual Media. Online version of the University of Waterloo print journal on the “history, theory and aesthetics of film and audiovisual media from an international perspective.” English and French.

KinoKultura: New Russian Cinema. Peer-review journal “on contemporary Russian visual culture, especially cinema.” Hosted by the Watershed Media Centre in Bristol. Darcy Paquet’s site which aims to provide an “introduction to Korean cinema.”

Los Angeles Times: Entertainment. Paper’s Entertainment section.

Los Angeles Times: Movies. Paper’s “Movies Now” section.

Limina: A Journal of Historical and Cultural studies. “A refereed academic journal of historical and cultural studies based in the Discipline of History at The University of Western Australia.”

LOLA. Film journal edited by Australian film critics Adrian Martin and Girish Shambu.

M/C  — A Journal of Media and Culture. Peer-reviewed journal for “analysing and critiquing the meeting of media and culture” published out of Queensland University of Technology.

Matte Shot — A Tribute to Golden Era Special FX.  Auckland, New Zealand-based blog “intended primarily as a tribute to the inventiveness and ingenuity of the craft of the matte painter during Hollywood’s Golden Era.”

Media Fields Journal: Critical Explorations in Media and Space. Online journal of the “Media Fields research collective formed at the University of California, Santa Barbara in 2007 to advance scholarship on the spatial aspects of a range of media forms, including film, television, radio, and digital media.”

MediaCommonsPress. “An in-development feature of MediaCommons, promoting the digital publication of texts in the field of media studies, ranging from article-to monograph-length.”

Mediascape: UCLA’s Journal of Cinema and Media Studies. Attempts to provide “an interdisciplinary approach to visual cultural studies.”

Michael Historian Michael Barrier’s blog about animated films, comic books and comic strips.

Midnight Eye: Visions of Japanese Cinema. English-language online Dutch site “intended to spread knowledge and appreciation of Japanese cinema.”

Movie: A Journal of Film Criticism. Peer-reviewed journal, a s a joint venture between the Universities of Warwick, Reading, and Oxford, and successor to Movie, the print journal that was edited by Ian A. Cameron.

MovieMaker. International, bimonthly publication devoted to “the art and business of making movies.”

movieScope Magazine. British trade publication which tries “cover the process and business of international movie making from an insider’s P.O.V.”

Moving Image Source. New York’s Museum of the Moving Image website that includes “Articles on film, television, and digital media by leading critics and scholars,” as well as a gateway to “online resources related to film, television, and digital media.” – the Movie Review Query Engine.  Site which claims to have links to over 100,000 “published and available reviews, news, interviews, and other materials associated with specific movies.”

Museum of Modern Art Inside/Out. Museum blog that includes program notes for film screenings.

NECSUS: European Journal of Media Studies. An interdisciplinary “peer reviewed journal of media studies connected to NECS (European Network for Cinema and Media Studies) and published by Amsterdam University Press.”

Networking Knowledge: Journal of the MeCCSA Post-Graduate Network.  MeCCSA (Media, Communication and Cultural Studies Association)  “is the subject association for the field of media, communication and cultural studies in UK Higher Education.”

NPR. National Public Radio network website.

Observations on Film Art. Blog on film history and theory by University of Wisconsin professors Kristin Thompson and David Bordwell. Site also includes extracts from some of their books.

Offscreen. Canadian film journal with special emphasis on local filmmaking, especially in Montreal, but within an international context.

Only the Cinema. Ed Howard’s blog focusing on film critiques.

Other Voices. “An independent … electronic journal of cultural criticism published at the University of Pennsylvania.”

p.o.v. English-language Danish journal of film studies, 1996-2009.

Participations. “An on-line Journal devoted to… audience and reception studies.”

Post. Postproduction trade journal.

Post Identity. Refereed humanities journal published in partnership with the University of Michigan’s Scholarly Publishing Office. 1997-2007.

PsyArt: An Online Journal for the Psychological Study of the Arts. A peer-reviewed journal, which is archived by the University of Florida library.

Reel Culture. Daniel Eagan’s film history blog for Smithsonian Magazine, now on indefinite hiatus.

Refractory: a Journal of Entertainment Media. A “peer-reviewed, e-journal that explores the diverging and intersecting aspects of current and past entertainment media … published by the Screen Studies Program, School of Culture and Communication, University of Melbourne.”

Reverse Shot.  Independent online film journal formerly a print publication, though these issues are being digitized.

Revue LISA / LISA e-journal. French bilingual journal dealing with  “cultural ?studies, literature, philosophy or the history of ideas, the visual arts, music, media studies, ?sociology, history and anthropology within the English-speaking world.”

Rhizomes: Cultural Studies in Emerging Knowledge. “Independent peer-reviewed online journal … born at Bowling Green State University, Department of English, Bowling Green, Ohio. Reviews and commentary by the late Chicago film critic Roger Ebert. Hosted by The Chicago Sun-Times.

Rouge. Australian online journal of film history and theory, 2003-2009.

Scan: Journal of Media Arts and Culture. “An online journal, magazine and gallery, devoted to the media arts and culture, hosted by the Department of Media, Music, Communication and Cultural Studies at Macquarie University, Sydney.” Began as print journal.

Scope. Online journal of film & TV studies published by the Department of Culture, Film and Media, University of Nottingham, UK.

Screen. “Journal of academic film and television studies” published by Oxford University Press. Limited access.

Screen India.Online edition of weekly Indian magazine featuring, news and reviews of Bollywood, Hollywood and regional movies and TV.

Screen International/ScreenDaily. British trade journal focusing on “covering the international film markets.” Limited access.

Screen Machine. “A left wing online film magazine.”

Screening the Past. A “refereed, electronic journal of screen history” published with the support of La Trobe University, Victoria, Australia.

Senses of Cinema. Online journal published by RMIT University, Melbourne, Australia.

Sight and Sound. British Film Institute’s “international film magazine.” Limited access.

Static Mass Emporium: The Essence of Film.   “An independent film journal based in the UK” focusing on “research grounded in film history and theory, the philosophy of film and not least modern cinema.”

Skwigly Animation Magazine. British online magazine that presents “news and views on all aspects of animation.”

SYNOPTIQUE – The Journal of Film and Film Studies. Peer-reviewed journal of “film and moving image studies.”

Transformative Works and Cultures.  A “peer-reviewed journal published by the Organization for Transformative Works [which] publishes articles about transformative works, broadly conceived; articles about media studies; and articles about the fan community.”

TV Worth Watching. News and reviews about what’s on American television.

Undercurrent. “A magazine of and on film criticism” published by the International Federation of Film Critics (FIPRESCI).

Variety. The famed entertainment industry trade publication (limited access).

Vectors. Online, peer-reviewed, multimedia journal focusing on the  “intersection of culture, creativity, and technology.”

Vertigo Magazine. Published by London’s Close-Up Film Centre.

VIEW: Journal of European Television History and Culture. A "peer-reviewed, multi-media and open access e-journal.”

Views Reviews Interviews: Journal of Cinema and Cultural Theory.  Indian online journal.

Web Otaku USA.  "The online component of Otaku USA magazine,” which covers “manga, anime, videogames and Japanese pop culture … from an American point of view.”

Who’s Who of Victorian Cinema. “A guide to over 300 leading figures in Victorian cinema, defined as filmmaking in its broadest sense from the first glimmerings in the 1870s to the death of Queen Victoria in January 1901.” Edited by Stephen Herbert and Luke McKernan and is “based on the book  … published by the British Film Institute in 1996.”

Wide Screen: A Peer-Reviewed Open-Access Journal. UK journal.

World Picture. Interdisciplinary journal.

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