What I Liked About Mike

I would never call Michael Sporn that -“Mike”. Other people did, and he seemed to have no problem with it but to me its like calling a high school teacher by their first name after graduation.

Last month I bought a new guitar tuner. Now, I’m worse at guitar playing than I am at drawing or animation but at least I try to stay in tune. The shop only carried one brand -“The Snark”. “Like the Lewis Carroll poem,” I said, and went into a lecture on doggerel which concluded with “and there’s an absolutely fantastic film of it by Michael Sporn.”
The next week I showed the film in class at University of the Arts.

It is a magnificent film.

Michael animated it himself and produced it over the course of several years. His cannon is full of excellent work but even amongst them “The Hunting of the Snark” stands out. The artist’s lyricism pervades the film, its lighthearted and whimsical but smart and emotional. It testifies to the power of a singular vision.

From my first encounters with him, I thought he was a cold guy -and I wasn’t crazy about some of the stuff he was doing at the time. We were both working on the same specials for the great Amy Schatz at HBO and I thought our stuff (directed by Maciek Albrecht and Santiago Cohen) was much better. And then I saw some of the work he did with Tissa David -“The Red Shoes”, “The Marzipan Pig” -and discovered that he was one heck of a filmmaker. Then I began to speak with him socially -not just about Letterman and John Hubley but film and literature -and learned that his coldness was shyness and that he was an unusually open and generous person.

He read more than anyone in animation. There’s no doubt in my mind to that. A book a night he once confessed, largely due to insomnia.

He was generous with knowledge.

He gave opportunities to young artists and kept alive the work of those who came before them.

He was tasteful and opinionated and didn’t mind when someone disagreed with him.

He built a legacy of beautiful, intelligent films and encouraged us all to do the same.

His friendship made me feel like I belonged in this world, like I had something to contribute.

I hope to contribute a small fraction of the good he brought to us all.


A few weeks back we took a trip to Lancaster to photograph some Mexican masks for a Sesame Street project.

Bob Ibold, who runs Masks of the World has a fantastic collection and was extremely gracious in sharing it with us.

Here are few masks that didn’t make the film.



This guy has a great face, but his beard was too long.  And we shouldn’t be encouraging beards.



Looking at it now, the cow could’ve worked with some touch ups.  She’s a little on the worn side.



Most of the masks we used came from Guerrero where there is still an active mask-making culture.  Many of the masks are made for the tourist trade, these are sometimes higher quality -and almost always more ornate -than the carnival masks like this one.



This is a tourist mask.  Mirrors for the eyes.  Too heavy to wear.



This mask is from a different region (Hidalgo?).  We wanted to use him in the Sesame film, but we all felt this coyote was a little devilish.



A Not Particularly Illuminating Review of the Quay Bros. Show

There’s something unnerving about the Brothers Quay.

Not their work so much, but them.  But their work is tied so closely to their work some of that inscrutability might transfer.


Ron Magliozzi, Associate Curator at the MoMA where “Quay Brothers: On Deciphering the Pharmacist’s Prescription for Lip-Reading Puppets” opens this week, introduced them with the claim that their work is “indecipherable”.

Lenica, Borowczyk, Joseph Cornell, Bourgery & Jacob, and the rusting flotsam of 19th Century genius can provide a more than sufficient cypher to break the code.

Some of these influences are presented at the MoMA.  The Brothers generosity in citing work they like -Alexander Alexieff, Yuri Norstein, Igor Kovaleyev, Pritt Parn -contributes to a very personable engaging show.

Wall Array

Typically, the personal life of an artist doesn’t particular interest me.  The twins are so synchronized, for such a long time, examining their work -especially the illustration, painting and prints -constantly calls back the question of penmanship.  Film, their primary medium, demands many hands.  A two headed author of a film is common.  All of the work is signed under the “Brothers” name, with no clue into the division of responsibility.

They did give one insight when discussing disagreements.  They don’t argue, never have disagreements.  Collaboration is process of “distilling differences.”


The show runs through January with all sorts of screenings too.

Happy Returns

An Independence Day promise to send last year’s Christmas “card” prompted me to rustle up the returns.

After diligent cross checking of the mailing list there weren’t too many.

We made a film and used a piece of original production art from it as the “card”. Philosophically, the idea was to make the card a gift of “value” by personalizing it, making each unique. Each is unique, and has “value” at the same time each is completely worthless. It all depends on the recipient’s own attachment. Further, these images -as art in the film -are fleeting. They’re here and gone. Only their context within a stream of other images give them importance. These ideas mesh with some of the themes of the film.

Practically, I’m less than thrilled with the a near ton albatross of production art accumulated over the years. This is a way of getting rid of it without destroying it. And its sort of a commentary on “crowd-funding” (which gives me an idea for a future post).

Here’s the film for reference’s sake.

Sympathy For The Fish: A Holiday Story from Ace & Son MPC, LLC on Vimeo.

Strange Fates

Last week Brent Green invited me to a sneak peak of his show, To Many Men Strange Fates Are Given, at the Andrew Edlin Gallery before it opened this week.


I didn’t read the press release he sent, so I didn’t know precisely what the show would entail.  On a sunny Friday I dragged Kelsey and Liesje over to Tenth Avenue.

I’ve already written about his last major film, Gravity Was Everywhere Back Then.  Over a year since last seeing it, it still haunts me.  The MoMA added the film to its permanent collection in February, so I’m not on an island with my profound appreciation.

This new show…  and stop.

It’s a show.  An art show.  A picture show.  A peep show.  Show and tell.  A showcase.

The exhibition is a single room with two standing viewing stations and an elevated bench.     These stations have polarized screens and speakers.  Another polarized screen distances the main projection screen.  The effect is a multiplane of images which takes some adjusting to.  Moreover, the effect is magical.  It’s an understated “wow, that’s really cool!”

Show of shows -an auditory experience.

Considering how we view art, especially at commercial galleries, To Many Men Strange Fates Are Given is wildly inappropriate.  What other venue is there?  A train station? The back room of a bar?  A highway rest stop?  Where is there a space to encounter treasures which ask for your time and undivided attention as fare?

The exhibit insists you pay attention, spend time with it, go on a personal journey (in public, no less).   It’s rhythm and it’s poetic narrative infuse power beyond single images.

It’s a thoughtful, lovely piece.

I’ll be visiting again on the next sunny day.


Collaging A Collage

We’ve been contracted to do the graphic for the NEH/PBS initiative “Picturing America”.

This has mostly been the title sequence and typesetting with a couple other things here and there. That’s in addition to the handful of full subjects we’ve produced.

Last week we began discussing with Gail Levin a way to illustrate the construction of Romare Bearden’s “The Dove”.  The impetus behind this idea was the voice track of his niece describing the artist’s thought process.

We thought it would be interesting to document the process as we go along.

Today we got the audio cut.

Step One: Listen to the voice over a few times.

Step Two: Type the transcript.

Step Three: Verbally run our idea by Gail.

This little bit is deceptively difficult.  When it’s complete it should easy and obvious, but getting there might be tricky.

The primary concern in creating illustrative graphics about art is to be “true to the subject.”  At least in these educational films.  Reverence is appropriate.

What is difficult here is that we’ll need to show the construction of the collage without the benefit of pulling apart the layers from the original. 

Our next step will be to sketch a rough concept board.

Things You See

Last night I went to Hine Mizushima’s opening at Gallery Hanahou in the Cable Building. It’s actually a group show, four craftsy felt artists.

Hine did an updated version of “Why Does The Sun Shine?” for They Might Be Giants Here Comes Science DVD.

We did a version for Ka-Blam! a million years ago.

What I didn’t know going in is that the gallery is affiliated with CWC-International, the terrific artist agency.  It’s been a long time since I’ve seen Koko, the director (or whatever her title is) -since we did the Parco/Blythe project for Japan, probably -so it was great to make the reconnection.

New York Dolls

I hadn’t been to the Museum of the Moving Image since its renovation.

That was a few years back. I remember it being more friendly, less airport-y. I also remember the permanent exhibition to be more interesting, less Hard Rock Cafe.

That’s how time distorts memory. Things seem better then than they are now.

This weekend they’re doing a series on Manhattan Cable Access. It sure makes New York City seem like a much cooler place 30 years ago than it is today. Even the woman obsessed with “clubs” seems like a genuine weirdo and not a pseudo-socialite on a shoe shopping mission.

The other impetus for the visit was to take in my pal Martha Colburn’s new film, “Dolls vs. Dictators” and the adjacent installation. The museum commissioned it.

I saw a version in progress a little while back. The color of the project here looks great.

The show runs through April 10.