Archive for the ‘bakshi’ 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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Tuesday, December 17th, 2013

Story: Louise Zingarelli’s Cool World Storyboards

Louise ZingarelliLouise ZingarelliRecently, there’s been a flurry of posts around the blogosphere about development executives and the impact they have on the cartoons you see in theaters and on television. See John K’s post, Why Rock Stars Should Be Animation Executives and the shocking AWN article he links to, Development Execs: Who They Are And How They Got There. It’s an eye-opening read.

Today, we digitized a section of storyboard from one of the biggest flops in recent times, Ralph Bakshi’s Cool World. This film could be the poster child for devastating executive interference. Paramount bought a hard-R, gritty, sexy, noir horror/thriller from Bakshi and proceeded to revise it into a low-rent Roger Rabbit aimed at teenagers. By the time the film was completed, it bore little resemblence to Bakshi’s original concept.

But I’m not going to talk about that sorry story today… Instead, I’m going to tell you about an artist who worked on Cool World who you might not know about, but should… Louise Zingarelli. Louise was a very good friend of mine, and I’d like to share my personal take on her along with this section of storyboard that vividly illustrates her amazing talents.

Louise Zingarelli
Louise Zingarelli

Louise Zingarelli was the toughest individual I’ve ever met… and one of the sweetest. If she loved you, man! she REALLY loved you. If she hated you, Boy! you better watch out.

"Hate" isn’t a strong enough word for what Louise felt if she didn’t like someone. She had a special word for it… SKIEVE. To skieve something was to hate it to the point of physical revulsion. Louise skieved REAL GOOD. She skieved lots of things… parking tickets, Canadian animators, dentist appointments, Jesse Jackson and even Charles Soloman.

Louise Zingarelli
Louise Zingarelli

Charles made the mistake of criticizing Louise’s scenes in The Chipmunk Adventure in the L.A. Times. He wrote that they were "heavily dependent on the crutch of rotoscoping". When she read that, Louise flew into a rage. She hollered, "There wasn’t a single frame of roto in the whole goddamn picture! I didn’t use a CRUTCH! I used my HEAD, which is more than I can say for Charles friggin’ Soloman!" Louise brewed and fumed about that article for years, and finally got her chance for revenge at Grim Natwick’s 100th birthday party. When Charles got up to speak, Louise made a noise like a leaky radiator. The Canadian animators on the other side of the room picked it up, and pretty soon she had the whole place going. Charles never knew what hit him.

Louise Zingarelli
Louise Zingarelli

Louise always reminded me of the tomboy girl in Our Gang- the one who was small, but when her big brother got picked on by the neighborhood bullies, she would roll up her sleeves and wipe the floor with them. Louise was short, but if she was coming at you with THAT look in her eye, you’d swear she was ten feet tall.

Louise Zingarelli
Louise Zingarelli

Louise hated a lot of things, but she saved special hatred for "The Business"… those words would come out of her mouth dripping in vitriol. "THE BIZZZZZZNESSSSS!" You would need a rug doctor after she said it to clean up all the slime. If Louise knew I was writing about her here in a blog read by people in "the business", she would kick my ass all the way to hell and back.

Louise Zingarelli
Louise Zingarelli

Now I don’t want to make Louise sound like an unpleasant person. On the contrary, she was one of the most thoughtful and considerate people I ever met. I spent many evenings at her house, sharing in her gracious hospitality. She made the most amazing chicken in her Weber grill, and she taught me the value of keeing a bottle of good Russian vodka in the freezer, "just in case". If Louise loved you, you never had the chance to doubt or forget it. She loved just as passionately as she hated.

Louise Zingarelli
Louise Zingarelli

Louise was a great artist. She could paint with Prismacolors like nobody else. She would build up layers of colors that glowed on the paper. Her characters had an indefinable sense of "ugly-cute"… never cloying, always real. Some animators complained, saying her character designs were unanimatable, but by the time they ended up on the screen, her unusual shapes and true to life personality gave them extra life.

Louise Zingarelli

Louise was the fastest artist I ever met. On Cool World, she single handedly laid out all the girl scenes, keying out the poses until they almost animated. Her average footage on layout was over seventy feet a week.

At Bagdasarian, we shared an office. I think I was the only person who ever survived sharing an office with Louise. One day, I gave her an incidental character to design. She sat around sipping her coffee and smoking casually. I finally asked her if she was going to get around to doing the drawing, because the deadline was looming. She said, "Here’s a good bet. Get your watch out. I’ll design this character in one minute. You take the sketch to Ross for approval. I betcha two bits he not only approves it, he says he LOVES it." "You’re on!" I said.

So looking at my watch, I called out, "Ready… set… GO!" Louise just sat there smiling at me. I said, "Time has started." She nodded and set her cigarette down… smoothed out her paper… "Twenty seconds." I called out. She sat down and set in to work on the drawing. Her pencil flew over the paper- beautiful sweeping lines, completely original shapes. She finished the character with time to spare and tore it off her pad. I took the sketch next door to Ross’ office. He was on the phone, so I left it on the corner of his desk and went back to Louise. She was smiling like a Cheshire Cat. A couple of minutes later, we heard from the other side of the wall, "FAAAABUUULOOUSS!" Louise casually raised an eyebrow and quietly said, "Pay up."

Louise Zingarelli

After Cool World wrapped, Louise moved back to her hometown of Chicago. I heard from her a couple of times, but we lost touch. I later found out that she had moved back to Laguna Niguel and was undergoing kemotherapy for cancer. She fought it as bravely as all of her other battles, and for a short time it seemed like she had licked it. But it came back hard. She was very ill at the end. For weeks she lay in a coma. She was so private about her battle, her best friends didn’t know she was gone for a month afterwards. She chose to spend her last days quietly with her cats painting at the ocean.

I owe Louise big time. She championed me when I was just starting out in animation, and she never wavered in her faith in me. She was a great friend and I miss her a lot.

Stephen Worth
Director
Animation Resources

Animated CartoonsAnimated Cartoons

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

Wednesday, February 6th, 2013

Bakshi on Truth

All directors and writers lie. They make movies about lying. They try to tame the masses. They write about what they think will make money. They are writing to entertain people in theaters. They are not writing about what they really feel. I never thought in those terms. I just wanted to write about what I thought was right. Pandering to an audience never entered my mind. I was not sitting there thinking about who is sitting in the theaters watching my picture. My whole attitude has been, “I hope you like my picture. I really want you to like my picture. But, if you don’t, I don’t give a shit.” I did lie to the motion picture companies about what the pictures were about. I told the studios that Heavy Traffic would be another Fritz the Cat. My sell for the movie companies was nothing like the end result. I didn’t mind if I didn’t tell the truth to the motion picture companies. – Ralph Bakshi

Bakshi in the Brooklyn Rail
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