Saturday, May 24th, 2008

Show #44: Yossi Abolafia

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Yossi Abolafia (interviewed September 2007) coincidentally turns out to be a perfect transition from Andy Beall.  Abolafia has been an animator for many years before turning to writing and illustrating children’s books and print cartoons (see example down below on the right).  Abolafia has illustrated about 140 children’s books, and about a dozen of them he also wrote.  We met Abolafia at the 2007 Ottawa International Animation Festival, where I presented four UPA programs.  He came up after one of the programs, and before I knew it I was interviewing him for the podcast.

The most fascinating part of Abolafia’s story, to me, was growing up in Israel and being among only a few people animating there. Israeli television didn’t begin until 1968, and Abolafia was hired as a cartoonist and graphic designer, and that is where he began to experiment in animation for the first time.  As he says he could do just about anything and people would be happy, because there was nothing to compare it with.  He even animated weather reports.  Abolafia was one of the founders to the animation program at the Bezalel Academy of Art and Design, in fact that is why he was in Ottawa, to except an award on behalf of the unique animation program there.

As it turns out, Abolafia is no stranger to Ottawa, he came to the NFB and worked under Derek Lamb on a number of animation projects, including Canada Vignettes: News Canada, Friends of the Family, Ottawa 82 Logo, The Hottest Show on Earth, and What the Hell’s Going on up There?  Abolafia says he learned much from his experience up there, but I’m certain he brought a lot to them as well.  One of the great things about the Film Board is that they are constantly reaching out to animators around the world, learning form them and giving as well, to spreading the art of animation around the world.  Another interview coming up is with a Brazilian animator, who just may have begun that trend. 

Back in Israel, however, Abolafia’s passions began to shift to bringing up new animators through the animation program he’d developed and illustration children’s books.  It’s fascinating to me to see how different people find their niche in life, with animation itself merely being a means to an end.  Abolafia even speaks about animation influencing his illustrations, and yet how the approach to a book differs from his approach to an animated film.  I think you’ll find Yossi Abolafia, thoughtful and interesting, with an exotic other-side-of-the-world view, and yet at the same time being just one more little niche in the world-wide animation family.

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This episode is sponsored by The UPA Legacy Project

Saturday, May 24th, 2008

Show #43: Andy Beall

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Andy Beall (interviewed April 2008) I thought was just out of high school, when I first met him, but he’s in his 30s, married with two children.  Apparently I’m not alone in my initial reaction.  But, once he starts talking you realize he has a wealth of experience.  I met Beall after a UPA program that I presented at Pixar, arranged by Mark Walsh, who will be put up here in another week or so.  In every interview there always seems to be one item that knocks me off my feet, and with Beall, it’s the fact that he may have set a Guinness World record for beginning animation at the earliest age … 3 years old.  I think you’ll find the story as delightful as I did.

Beall also tells the story of how he began in hand-drawn animation and slowly made the transition to computer animation.   Although many animators have made this transition, few express it as clearly as Beall, as well as pointing out what he likes best in each medium.  This was another interview that went long, so I’m thinking that some day we should put up the full interviews.  But, for now, until our UPA documentary is finished, it gives us a chance to remove the UPA references.

Beall was Fix Animation Lead on Ratatouille and Wall*E, and has worked at Pixar since The Incredibles.  He worked on a number of hand-drawn features, such as Space Jam, but the turning point while he was working on The Iron Giant with Brad Bird.  Not only did he get a chance to work on a film that utilized some computer animation, and become quite intrigued with it, but also he thoroughly enjoyed the experience of working with Bird.  So, even though he had no experience in 3D animation, when the call came to come up to Pixar for the Incredibles, he jumped at the chance.  The third compelling reason is he wanted to bring his family up the bay area.  But, the transition to 3D, as you will hear, was not an easy one at first.

Beall ends our interview with his new venture, writing and illustrating children’s books.  He’s begun his first, and we wanted to put one of his book illustrations up here, but he feels they aren’t quite ready, but hopefully, by the time we get the Gallery up and running, and the Flip Board updated, Beall will have a couple of illustrations to add to it.  But, for now he’s very happy with his work on Wall*E, so that’s what you see on the right.

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This episode is sponsored by The UPA Legacy Project

Saturday, May 24th, 2008

Show #42: Derek Lamb

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Derek Lamb (interviewed September 2005) was the head of the National Film Board of Canada during a creative surge from the mid-70s to mid-80s.  If you listened to our interview with Kaj Pindal, you already know a bit about Lamb.  However, most of you, I’m sure, if you don’t know Derek Lamb, certainly know the National Film Board of Canada, in my opinion, the longest, most consistent, run of top flight animation using almost every technique imaginable, and usually for the first time.  But this interview with Derek Lamb was conducted several years before the one with Pindal.  It happened at the lovely home of his longtime friend, Dal LaMagna, in Poulsbo, Washington State.  We did the interview on the back veranda, looking out over the Puget Sound.  Every now and then you’ll hear our tea cups clinking, and Dal asks an excellent question toward the end of the interview.  It was difficult to cut out as much UPA references, as we usually like to do, since Lamb intertwined UPA into much of what he talked about.  But, there is still plenty of meaty stuff in here, and he has some wonderful observation about animation in general, and NFB people in particualr, plus a rather surprising comment on the future of commuter animation.

Derek Lamb was born in England, and began his career in London, but he is most remembered for his guiding influence during his yeas as the Executive Producer of the National Film Board of Canada’s English Animation Studio.  He’s a multi-award wining filmmaker and producer, producing the Oscar-winner “Special Delivery”, directed by John Weldon and Eunice Macaulay, plus, he produced and scripted Eugene Fedorenko’s “Every Child”. In 1983, Derek and former wife, animator Janet Perlman, formed an independent production company. Lamb and Fedorenko collaborated on the first animation sequences for an IMAX film, “Skyward”, first presented at Expo ‘85 in Tsukuba, Ibaraki, Japan.  With Fedorenko and Perlman, Lamb created the animated title sequence for the PBS series Mystery!, based on the art of Edward Gorey. 

Other great Derek Lamb films include, The Great Toy Robbery, a frame of which is seen on the right, There was an Old Lady who Swallowed a Fly, talked about by both Lamb and Pindal, and History of Communications, a typical dry subject, supplied by the Canadian government, which Lamb and his NFB crew, turn into a delightful and creative animation masterpiece.  I hope you find Derek Lamb as gracious and insightful as I did, a true giant in the industry.

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This episode is sponsored by The UPA Legacy Project

Saturday, May 24th, 2008

Show #41: Frank Mouris

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Frank Mouris (interviewed June 2005) is probably best known for his remarkable 1973 Oscar winning animated short film, Frank Film, a frame of which is on the right.  My daughter and I took the train up the Hudson River to his home in Nassau, New York where he lives with his producer/wife, Caroline, and a kennel full of beautiful wire fox terriers, a couple of whom you hear now and then.  

Although this is another interview from our UPA collection, I met Frank back in the 70s, when I had him as a guest on a weekly program I used to do for the Los Angeles Cinématheque, called Filmmaker’s Connection, where we invited guest filmmakers to show their films and talk about them with the audience.  I recorded them all, so I should try to find those.  There were a number of animator’s among them, a kind of forerunner to this show, I suppose.  One I remember vividly was Walter Lantz.  A couple of us went over to his historic studio on Seward and Willoughby to pick out some films, and decided on showing his politically incorrect jazz series.  But, that’s another subject, which we will pursue, nonetheless.

Anyway, Mouris is not a traditional animator, either hand-drawn or computer generated, but a stop-motion filmmaker renowned for his work with collage.  Frank claims that “Frank Film” was the “one personal film that you do to get the artistic inclinations out of your system before going commercial”.  Much of Frank’s work is directly interconnected with his wife, Caroline’s, working side by side on every project.  In my view, Frank is the dreamer and Caroline is the practical one.  Their innovative film work can frequently be seen in mainstream commercials and various short works for groups and companies like Levi’s, PETA, Nickelodeon, Sesame Street, and Cartoon Network.  In 1999, Frank and Caroline did a near-reprise of “Frank Film” together, producing “Frankly Caroline”.

Some of their other films include, Coney, Screentest, Tennessee Sampler, Impasse, Making it in L.A., Beginner’s Luck, plus constant freelance work with clients including, Disney Television, 3-2-1 Contact, Nighttime Entertainment, VH-1, In Flight, Nick at Nite, Behind The Scenes, I Am A Promise, Share the Music, Musical Instruments, Pure Nick, Toad The Wet Sprocket, The Film Makers Company, Share The World, HBO Family Cable, and ITVS Kids.  But, like so many of these interviews, it’s not so much their work that shines through, but their unique perspective on animation.  Every one seems t have a different view of the same animal, and Mouris is no exception, although it may be even more unique because his films are so unique.

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This episode is sponsored by The UPA Legacy Project

Saturday, May 24th, 2008

Show #40: Michael Sporn

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Michael Sporn (interviewed February 2006) is one of the most creative and prolific animation filmmakers today.  We interviewed Sporn at his sous-sol studio in New York City, one cold winter day, shortly after a snow flurry, memorable only to this California weather wimp.  The desk you see behind him he purchased from animation cameraman, George Davis, 35 years ago for $20, with an even older Fleisher disk.  He talks a lot about his first film, Hunting of the Snark, pictured to the right.  This is another one of our interviews for our UPA documentary, so we dropped most of those references, and other stuff as well, because we went over an hour on this one.  Those of you who know Sporn, know that he’s a very articulate, passionate, and knowledgeable spokesman for animation, so we just kept rolling.  Our questions were off mic, so we only left in the ones that were necessary to understand his answers.  He talks a good deal about his mentor, John Hubley, and others in the New York animation scene, one of the most vibrant in the world.

Some of you may know Michael Sporn more through his many wonderful animated films, including, Doctor Desoto (an Oscar nominee), Abel’s Island, What’s Under My Bed, The Little Match Girl, Ira Sleeps Over, White Wash, Mona, Mon Amor and The Man Who Walked Between the Towers.  Most of his films are multi-award winners, and animation festival favorites.  Sporn has also received a number of Emmy nominations for his television work, and in 2007 the Modern Museum of Art in Manhattan held a Retrospective exhibit of his body of work, no mean feat for an animator.

Like many of the interviews we did for the UPA documentary, focusing so much on UPA, I would love to go back some day and talk to Sporn more about his own work.  But, even what we have here, we think you will find very interesting.  His dedication comes through, and we particularly enjoyed a story he tells about the importance of being persistent.  So many of us give up after the first NO, but not Michael Sporn, as you will soon discover.

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This episode sponsored by The UPA Legacy Project