Archive for the ‘biography’ Category

Wednesday, March 12th, 2014

Animation: Ralph Bakshi’s Phone Doodles

Ralph Bakshi

Today, I hope you’ll allow me to tell you about someone I have had the honor of working closely with. He’s my hero too. If anyone ever creates a Mount Rushmore of animation, his head should be right up front, grinning with a stub of a cigarette in his mouth– Ralph Bakshi.

Ralph Bakshi

I did a panel discussion with Ralph at the San Diego ComicCon a couple of years ago. You can find it linked in the article, Advice From Ralph Bakshi. The subject of our discussion was what it means to be an artist and cartoonist in today’s world. Whether you’re lucky enough to be able to make a living doodling, or if you still dream of being paid to create, you need to heed Ralph’s advice. He is the real deal.

If you’re an artist working in animation, whether you know it or not, Ralph Bakshi is the reason you’re here. Don’t believe me? Throw your mind back to 1970. Look at what the animation business had turned into… Disney was cranking out Robin Hood, a film without a single new idea. On TV, Filmation was lowering the bar so Hanna Barbera could play “quality limbo” with them. Animation was dying, animators were choosing retirement over flogging the dead carcass of the art form they loved, and it looked like it the situation would never get any better.

Ralph Bakshi

Enter Bakshi. With his first three films, he turned animation upside down. He showed that it wasn’t just a medium for big bears with Phil Harris’s voice and crappy sitcom characters in outer space. His films shocked and terrified people… they were crass and sloppy. They were made on a shoestring, and sometimes it showed. But they had something honest to say, and that got noticed. Ralph showed that animation- the most collaborative art form ever- could be an intensely personal medium.

Ralph Bakshi

Ralph’s first three films- Fritz the Cat, Heavy Traffic, and Coonskin- came totally out of the blue. They are the animation equivalent of Louis Armstrong’s Hot Fives. Great old time animators like Irv Spence, Manny Perez, Ambi Paliwoda and Virgil Ross were offered the opportunity to cut loose and make films that weren’t just cats chasing mice and dogs chasing cats. These films dealt with what it meant to be an artist, the battle of the sexes, race relations, and the unsenimentalized realities of urban life. They were improvisational and had no rules.

Ralph Bakshi

These three films, made in the darkest of the dark ages of animation, offered a glint of hope for what animation could become. If all you’ve seen of Ralph’s work is Lord of the Rings and Fire and Ice you don’t know what I’m talking about here. All of the adult targeted animation you see in the US today has its roots in Ralph’s example in these three films. They stirred up controversy and caused riots at screenings back in the day, but now they seem to us like they could have been made yesterday, not three decades ago- except for the fact that today’s world has trouble accepting brutal honesty when it comes to politically charged topics. Ralph has never been one to pull punches.

Ralph Bakshi

Ralph Bakshi

In the 1980s, Ralph did for television animation what he did for theatrical features, blowing the lid off of CBS’s Saturday morning schedule with Mighty Mouse: The New Adventures. Ralph took a chance on the ideas of a kid named John Kricfalusi, and set up the studio after the unit structure model used at Warners. Stories were written with storyboards again. Artists were cut loose to create cartoons. Without Mighty Mouse, there never would have been Ren & Stimpy or The Simpsons. The artists who worked on Mighty Mouse have gone on to lead the TV animation industry.

Ralph Bakshi

Ralph is an absolute genius when it comes to spotting raw talent. He can take a kid straight out of school and turn him into a pro faster than anyone else. Every film had its "graduating class" of kids. Those kids now populate the animation business on every level, from the hotshots at Pixar and Disney to the creative sparks at Warners. I know of Bakshi alumni who are top dogs at Dreamworks and the CGI companies too.

Ralph Bakshi

Ralph Bakshi

As a filmmaker, Ralph is one-of-a-kind. He doesn’t make films for executives… he doesn’t even make films for a specific audience. He makes them for himself. You can count the number of animators capable of using this unweildy medium for personal expression on one hand and still have fingers left. Ralph is one of them.

Ralph Bakshi

But Ralph is not only the greatest living animation artist. He is the catylist that has more than once pulled the industry out of a hole so deep people had just about given up on cartoons. For that alone, he deserves the respect of any and all animators, whether they like his work or not.

Ralph Bakshi

If this business needs anything right now, it’s another go round with Bakshi. The era of shi-shi “distressed” animation desks complete with faux wormholes, and middle management producers driving Jaguars paid for by their bonus checks is over. That was great for the people lucky enough to hook up to the gravy train while it lasted. But times have changed. The people left standing will be the ones who REALLY CARE about the medium of animation.

Ralph Bakshi

You can take my word for the fact that no one loves cartoons more than Ralph. Sit down and ask him about Jim Tyer. (Ralph was Tyer’s assistant…) Listen to what he has to say about Spence or Maltese or any of the other old timers he brought in to work on his films. Ralph lives and breathes animation. His drawings are imbued with the whole history of the medium. He announces his retirement every once in a while, and swears off cartoons forever, but it’s in his blood. Just count the days till the bellowing voice out of the blue hollers “BAKSHI’S BACK, YOU BASTUHDS!” over the studio intercom again.

Ralph Bakshi
Ralph Bakshi

It’s time for Ralph to rent a warehouse, fill it full of kids with big dreams, raw talent and lots of ideas and crank out a film. It doesn’t even matter if it turns out fantastic or crappy. It’ll be a shot in the arm to the whole business, and it just might lead to something even better. I know I’d love to be a part of it. –Stephen Worth

Ralph Bakshi
Visit Ralph’s web page… RalphBakshi.com.

Buy Me At AmazonUNFILTERED: The Complete Ralph Bakshi isn’t one of those "art books" with postage stamp sized pictures floating in oceans of tasteful white space and huge text blocks of scholarly blather that crowds out the images. It’s just pictures, pictures and more pictures… along with just enough text to put them in context. The book is organized to show Ralph’s career from his earliest days at Terry-Toons, to his groundbreaking features, to his revolutionary TV work, to his most recent fine art paintings. Even if you think you know all there is to know about Bakshi, this book will grab you by the lapels and shake you and show you things you’ve never seen the likes of before. Click through the link to pick up the Bakshi book at Amazon.

Stephen Worth
Director
Animation Resources
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Monday, January 20th, 2014

Interview: Bob Givens- Grand Old Man Of Animation

Bob Givens

In November of 2008, Will Finn, Mike Fontanelli, JoJo Baptista, Michael Woodside and I were treated to nearly three hours of fabulous stories from Bob Givens relating to his half century in the animation business. I’ve included the whole interview as two Quicktime movies…

Bob Givens

You’ll notice that the kinds of stories that Bob relates here are quite different from what you might have read. When I first met Bob, I asked him if he had read any of the books written on the subject of animation history. He was blunt. “A lot of it is bologna. Those books are written by people who weren’t there… people who have never set foot in an animation studio.” This is a sentiment that I’ve heard expressed by a lot of the "old timers" I’ve had the privilege of being able to speak to. But Bob may be the last one left. We’re all lucky to have this opportunity to virtually sit at the feet of a "golden age" animator and hear about his experiences in his own words.

Bob Givens

Bob began his career as an Assistant Animator at Disney. His raw talent led him to be assigned to assist the Grim Natwick unit on Snow White. Please correct me in the comments if I’m wrong, but I believe that Bob is the last surviving member of the Snow White crew.

Private Snafu

During WWII, Bob was a part of the First Motion Picture Unit producing training films for the war effort.

Bob Givens

At Warner Bros, Bob designed the character models for the first true Bugs Bunny cartoon, "A Wild Hare", as well as providing background layouts and story sketches for countless Jones, Freleng, Avery and McKimson cartoons.

Linus the Lionhearted

Givens’ career continued to flourish throughout the television era. He worked on the first TV cartoon, Jay Ward’s Crusader Rabbit, as well as Clampett’s Beany & Cecil, Post Cereal’s Linus the Lionhearted and Hanna Barbera’s The Flintstones. Along with Bernie Gruver, Givens designed the classic "Raid Bug" spots for Cascade, and continued to work steadily into his 80s, retiring in 2001 after laying out Chuck Jones’ Timber Wolf.

Bob Givens

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John Wayne & Judy Garland in Lancaster, CA
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David Swift at IMDB
History of the First Motion Picture Unit

Many thanks to Bob Givens for sharing his experiences with us, to Mike Fontanelli and Will Finn for taking time out of their busy schedules to speak with Bob, and to Michael Woodside and JoJo Baptista for producing this video.

Will Finn posts his impressions of the interview on his blog, Small Room.

Stephen Worth
Director
Animation Resources

Animated CartoonsAnimated Cartoons

This posting is part of the online Encyclopedia of Cartooning under the subject heading, Animation.

Wednesday, December 4th, 2013

Exhibit: Grim Natwick- The Greatest Animator Who Ever Lived

Grim Natwick

Grim Natwick with his "kid assistant",
Chuck Jones (Iwerks/1933)

PART FOUR: GRIM’S STUDIO GAG DRAWINGS AND CARICATURES

Like most animators, Grim Natwick had a unique sense of humor. He was famous for his limericks, scribbled in on the margins of his animation drawings. Here are a couple of doozies by Grim…

CaricatureCaricatureI’ve broken my friendship with Babbitt
Because of his slovenly habit
Of eating out loud
And I’ve never been proud
Of his nibbling bones like a rabbit!

"It’s true!" said the painter to the prude
"I sketch all my ladies in the nude
A dress is OK
For a window display
But on my girls, it wouldn’t improve."

A nail sitting Hindoo said "I
Have perched here and gazed at the sky
Till I’ve punctured my hide
Fillagreed my back side
I’m damned if I’ve ever known why!"

Grim Natwick

Grim prized his studio gag drawings above all the others in his collection. He described how they came to be for me one day…

Grim Self CaricatureGrim Self Caricature"At Lantz, we all worked very hard. But occasionally, we would need to take a break and have fun. One of us would draw a quick caricature of one of the other animators, or do a cartoon on a funny situation that had taken place. He’d tiptoe out into the hallway and pin it up on the board and sneak back to his desk. Pretty soon, someone else would come along and see the drawing and run back to his desk to answer the gag, pinning up their sketch on the board alongside the other one. By the end of the day, the board would be covered with funny drawings. We’d pull them all down and start all over again the next day."

Lu Guarnier
Grim’s most treasured folder of drawings was the gag
sketches involving Lu Guarnier’s window at UPA New York.

THE ANIMATOR & HIS ASSISTANT
A Series Of Studio Gag Drawings From UPA NY (ca. 1955)

As an "animation historian", I’ve never been as interested in the dates and figures related to animation as much as the process- and how it felt to be a part of a golden age studio. These sketches give a clear indication of that, better than words could ever tell…

Animator and Assistant UPA NY
Animator and Assistant UPA NYAnimator and Assistant UPA NY
Animator and Assistant UPA NYAnimator and Assistant UPA NY
Animator and Assistant UPA NYAnimator and Assistant UPA NY
Animator and Assistant UPA NYAnimator and Assistant UPA NY
Animator and Assistant UPA NYAnimator and Assistant UPA NY
Animator and Assistant UPA NYAnimator and Assistant UPA NY
Animator and Assistant UPA NYAnimator and Assistant UPA NY
Animator and Assistant UPA NYAnimator and Assistant UPA NY

CONCLUSION

CaricatureCaricatureWell… It says "conclusion" up there, so I better get to telling you why Grim Natwick was the greatest animator who ever lived. I don’t know how many readers of this blog have had a chance to digest all of my articles from this week. It certainly has been very difficult to summarize a career as long and varied as Grim Natwick’s. I had always intended to write a book on Grim, but the weblog may actually be the best format for telling his story.

Books on animation history are usually organized by studio. If you read Leonard Maltin’s great book, Of Mice & Magic, Grim Natwick’s name is sprinkled throughout six chapters. That might give you the idea that Grim was a marginal figure who moved around a lot. But when you read his life story chronologically- not inserted into six separate chapters- you realize that Grim’s life story IS the story of the history of animation. The history of animation isn’t the story of studios and characters- it’s the story of the artists whose talents created the magic up there on the screen.

Grim Natwick was the greatest animator who ever lived. But I still haven’t told you why yet!

CaricatureCaricatureGrim loved to tell long, convoluted stories that would inevitably ramble back around to his point. Here’s a story like that…

Antran Manoogian, president of ASIFA-Hollywood heard that Grim was in town and was celebrating a birthday, so he threw a party for him. As he was blowing out the candles, Grim announced that he was pleased to spend his 100th birthday in such fine company. Everyone in the room gasped. No one had any idea that it was Grim’s 100th birthday. The room burst into applause. Antran drove Grim home after the party. In the car, Grim was uncharacteristically quiet and sheepish. He finally said, "Young man, I have a confession to make… I told everyone that I was 100, but I’m only 97." Antran laughed and promised Grim that ASIFA would throw him an even better party in three years- the best birthday party ever.

Antran kept that promise. when Grim turned 100, ASIFA threw a huge celebration at the Sportsman’s Lodge in Studio City. Hundreds of people attended, including co-workers from every studio Grim ever worked with. Grim described it as "the most illustrious gathering of animators since Winsor McCay’s testimonial dinner in the late 1920s". At the end of the evening an announcement was made for all of Grim’s former coworkers and assistants to gather on the stage for a photo. Animator, Michael Sporn recently posted this photo…

Grim Natwick's Birthday Party
Grim Natwick's Birthday Party

Grim By ChuckGrim By ChuckThree of Grim’s former assistants were chosen to address the audience that evening… Walter Lantz (Hearst), Chuck Jones (Iwerks) and Marc Davis (Disney). All three spoke of Grim’s generosity and friendship. They credited Grim with teaching them their trade and inspiring them to become better artists. Those three men weren’t alone in that. Dozens of other great animators… Bill Littlejohn, Irv Spence, Willard Bowsky, Berny Wolf, Tissa David, Shamus Culhane- too many to mention- all traced their own accomplishments back to Grim’s example when they were just starting out. Grim’s "kid assistants" went on to form the artistic core of every major animation studio in the United States.

Grim is the greatest animator who ever lived, not just for his own accomplishments, but for what he shared with the people he worked with. Animation was never just a job to him. It was his passion. He instilled that passion in his assistants, and those assistants went out into the world and became great themselves. Grim Natwick was the catalyst who made the entire history of animation possible. That’s why he is the greatest animator who ever lived.


EXHIBIT CATALOG: GRIM NATWICK’S CARICATURES & GAG DRAWINGS

Grim Natwick
Top Row: Caricatures of Grim (left to right) Self caricature* (ca.1926/Hearst) / Self caricature with assistant, Chuck Jones* (1933/Iwerks) / Caricature of Grim on studio outing to Catalina by Chuck Jones (1933/Iwerks) / Caricature of Grim in his fancy suit (ca. 1942/Lantz) / Caricature of Grim at his "studies in Vienna" possibly by Art Heinemann (UPA ca.1955)

Middle Row: (left to right) Two sketches depicting the love/hate relationship between Emery Hawkins and Grim Natwick* (ca. 1944/Lantz) / Bill Nolan at the Krazy Kat Studio* (ca. 1926) / Studio gag drawing (ca. 1959/Robert Lawrence) / Studio gag drawing* (ca. 1936/Disney)

Bottom Row: Tony Sgroi and "Bugs" Hardaway (ca. 1947/Lantz) / Manny Gould* & Sammy Stimpson* (ca. 1926/Krazy Kat Studio) / Bill Nolan with a cold* (ca. 1919/Hearst) / top: Dick Lundy* (ca. 1936/Disney) bottom: Freddie Moore* (ca. 1936/Disney) / Studio gag drawings* (ca. 1929/Fleischer) / Caricatures of Jack Carr* (ca.1923/Krazy Kat Studio)

* denotes a drawing by Grim Natwick


Grim Natwick Exhibit
Assistant Archivist, Joseph Baptista views the exhibit.

GRIM NATWICK’S SCRAPBOOK

This travelling exhibit has appeared at the ASIFA-Hollywood Animation Archive in Burbank, CA and at the South Wood Historical Society Museum in Wisconsin Rapids, WI, birthplace of Grim Natwick.

Stephen Worth
Director
Animation Resources

TheoryGrim Natwick

This posting is part of an online exhibit entitled Grim Natwick’s Scrapbook.