Biography: Ralph Bakshi

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Birth/Death

Born: 29 October 1938 Haifa, Palestine [now Israel]

Occupation/Title

Director, Producer, Writer, Painter, Cartoonist

Bio Summary

Ralph Bakshi began his career at Terrytoons while still a student. He advanced quickly to animator and director, leaving Terrytoons to head up Famous Studios for its last couple of years. He directed a string of remarkably personal, adult features in the early 1970s- Fritz The Cat, Heavy Traffic and Coonskin. With Wizards, he introduced rotoscoping, a technique he used to keep animation costs down during a dark time for animation. He teamed with John Kricfalusi to produce Mighty Mouse: The New Adventures, which revolutionized television animation. He retired to New Mexico to teach in 2005.

Early Life/Family

Ralph Bakshi was born in October 1938 in Haifa, Israel. In 1939 his family came to New York escaping the war. He grew up in Brooklyn and went to the High School of Industrial Arts now called High School of Art & Design. Bakshi ended up graduating with an award in cartooning in 1957,

Education/Training

Bakshi went to the High School of Industrial Arts now called High School of Art & Design. He ended up graduating with an award in cartooning in 1957,

Career Outline

Bakshi went to work for Terrytoons Animation Studio in New Rochelle as a cel washer, graduating to cel painting. Practicing nights and weekends he quickly became an inker, and then directly to animator (by claiming an empty desk on the animators floor and, claiming that he was promoted to animator, asked for scenes to animate for characters such as Mighty Mouse, Heckle & Jeckle, Deputy Dawg, Foofle & Lariat Sam. By 25 he was directing these shows as well as Sad Cat, James Hound and others. At 28 he created and directed The Mighty Heroes and was made Creative Director of the studio.

Comments On Style

Improvisational and intensely personal, which is unusual in a collaborative medium like animation. Heavy use of rotoscoping, Mixes many aspects of classic animation into his films/projects.

Influences

Cartoonists: Fontaine Fox, George McManus, George Herriman, Jack Cole, Billy DeBeck, Eugene Zimmerman, TS Sullivant, Frost, Kemple, Ernest Shepard, Willard Mullin, Bill Mauldin

Painting: Edward Hopper, Hyam Soutine, Francis Bacon, Reginald Marsh

Photography: Diane Arbus, Arthur “Weegee” Fellig


Personality

Boisterous and passionate with wild mood swings. Bakshi can be a difficult person to collaborate with because his personality is so strong. But he is dedicated to encouraging and developing young talent and making a personal statement through his art.

Anecdotes

Quotes:

“Sweetheart, I’m the biggest ripped-off cartoonist in the history of the world, and that’s all I’m going to say.”

“Bakshi’s back!”

“Screw continuity! If two scenes hook up in this picture, you’re all fired!”

(On Don Bluth) “I wouldn’t leave Disney to *do* Disney.”

Steve Worth: When I first started working with Ralph on Cool World at Paramount, we’d go to eat at Nickodells and I would pump him for stories. One of the first things I asked him was how he went from Assistant Animator to Director so fast at Terrytoons. He told me it was because he was able to know what his bosses were thinking by looking them in the eyes.

Ralph started at Terry as part of a student program from SVA in New York. He inked on Tom Terrific and assisted Manny Davis and Jim Tyer. He worked his way up to assistant, and then animator… They started to groom him to be a junior director.

One day, the bigshots at the studio told him that he was going to come with them to a meeting with Fred Silverman at CBS. CBS owned the Terry library and studio, and everyone was excited that they had a shoo in for a network to sell a series to.
Ralph said that he didn’t know why they invited him… just a green kid… along on one of the most important meetings in Terry’s history, but he said that they told him to shut up and just watch and learn. A big limo arrived and with Ralph hauling the portfolios full of presentation boards, they were off for the meeting with Silverman.

When they arrived Ralph set the pitches down in order… they had them ranked from their best one to one that was to be pitched only if they were absolutely desperate. He sat down quietly and Silverman came into the room and sat behind a big desk.

Ralph’s bosses pulled out one of their “medium good” pitches. Silverman sat there completely impassive. When they finished the pitch, he blandly said, “What else have you got?” They reached down and pulled one of their “really good” concepts… same reaction. They pitched another “medium good” one and the last “really good” one. Silverman looked bored and impatient. He asked “What else have you got?”

All that was left was their “desperation pitch”. Ralph’s boss went through the motions, sweat dripping off of him. He tried to make the sow’s ear look as much like a silk purse as possible, but when he was all done, they looked to Silverman hopefully and he said, “What else?”

There were no more pitches. The group of animators looked at each other terrified. Ralph said that he looked around the room and saw in his boss’s eyes the realization that after 70 someodd years in business, Terrytoons might be no more. He saw people out of work and no hope for more. There was a pause for a second that seemed like an hour.

Without thinking, Ralph jumped to his feet. “Andy Warhol is big! And superheros are popular… What about pop art superheros? But they wouldn’t be powerful, they would be neurotic and messed up, just like modern people… There’d be a Cuckoo Man and a Rope Man and a Tornado Man and a…” He thought of his son who had been just born… “BABY man!” Silverman laughed and said, “Tell me more about this…” Ralph proceeded to ad lib and free associate the whole concept of the Mighty Heroes right there on the spot.

Silverman dismissed the Terry guys, telling them that he would call at 5 that afternoon, and let them know what his decision was. They all trooped back to the limo. Ralph said that all of his bosses were in a daze. None of them spoke a word all the way back to the studio. When they got there, everyone went to their office and shut the door.
Ralph crept back to his desk among all of the kid assistants and animators. One of them asked how it went. “Not good.” Ralph replied. The time passed. At 5 on the dot the phone rang. The Terry guys were gathered in the producer’s office to take the call.

Silverman said, “I’ll buy ONE of your shows under ONE condition… I want Mighty Heroes, but only if that Bakshi guy directs it.” Ralph went from kid artist to lead director in one afternoon. Ralph said that at first he was worried that his bosses would begrudge him moving up so fast. But again, he could tell by looking at them that they didn’t care because Ralph had pretty much saved their jobs.

John K. tells a funny story about when Ralph sold Mighty Mouse… Ralph was meeting with the head of children’s programming at CBS, Judy Price. He had a few pitches that John had helped him put together… After he was finished pitching, Price told Ralph, I don’t want any of those shows, but I like you Ralph. I want to do business with you. We need something pre-sold… established characters. Have you got anything like that? Ralph thought for a second and his mind went back to his old Terry days. “SHORE! I got MIGHTY MOUSE!” Ralph launched into a big spiel about how great Mighty Mouse was and how much kids loved him. Price said “I love it. Let’s do it.” Ralph shook hands and left the meeting. As soon as he got to the street, he ran for a pay phone… He dialed the studio. “Hey Johnnie. You gotta do me a favor. I just sold Mighty Mouse to Judy Price… you gotta find out who owns him!” John got on the phone and made a call. It turned out CBS still owned Mighty Mouse and Judy Price didn’t know it! Ralph sold CBS a show they already owned!
Ralph is the King of Pitches.

Miscellaneous

Was the inspiration for both Homer Simpson (Angie from Heavy Traffic) and the “Comic Book Guy”, both characters from the Simpsons. Caricatured by John Kricfalusi in the Ren & Stimpy episode, “Firedogs II”

Filmography

Spicy City – Producer 1995
Malcolm & Melvin and HB Babe He Calls Me – Writer, Director, Producer 1995
The Cool & the Crazy 1994
Cool World Director 1993
Dr. Seuss The Butter Battle Book – Director 1989
Tattertown – Writer, Director, Producer 1988
Mighty Mouse: The New Adventures – Producer 1987
This Ain’t Be Bop – Writer, Director, Producer 1986
Harlem Shuffle – Director 1985
Fire and Ice – Director, Producer 1983
American Pop – Director, Producer 1982
Hey Good Lookin – Writer, Director, Producer 1980
The Lord of the Rings – Director 1978
Wizards – Writer, Director, Producer 1977
Coonskin – Writer, Director 1975
Heavy Traffic – Writer, Director, Producer 1973
Fritz the Cat – Writer, Director, Producer 1972
Spiderman – Director 1967-68
Fanta Commerials (selected) – Creator & Director – Commercials w/ Peter Max 1968
Rocket Robin Hood – Director 1967
Marvin Diggs, Bickersons (Paramount Cartoon Studios) – Director 1967
Mighty Heroes (Terrytoons) – Creator & Director
James Hound, Sad Cat, Spiderman, Deputy Dawg (Terrytoons) – Director
James Hound, Heckyl & Jeckyl, Lariat Sam, Foofle (Terrytoons) – Animator

Honors

Annie Award: Winsor McCay Award 1988
Several films inducted into the permanent collection of the Metropolitan Museum of Art
American Cinematheque: Egyptian Theater Retrospective


Related Links

www.ralphbakshi.com
Ralph Bakshi IMDB Entry
Ralph Bakshi on CGI Part I
Ralph Bakshi on CGI Part II
Bakshi Phone Doodles

Bibliographic References

Buy Me At Amazon

Contributors To This Listing

Brother Rabbit, Stephen Worth

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