Get Thee to the Library

I’m thinking of getting a driver’s license. That’s not to say I’ve never driven a car, but only a few times in questionable circumstances under the intense looming gloom of the surveillance state. I don’t know if you ever seen people driving in this country. They don’t know what they’re doing. And yet, licenses.

When I get my license, I plan to drive to Rockland County to visit Ed Smith.

Ed Smith (right) with Vincent Caffarelli, early 1990s image from http://www.michaelspornanimation.com/
Ed Smith (right) with Vincent Caffarelli, early 1990s
image from http://www.michaelspornanimation.com/

I told him this last month. He responded by telling me something that happened over half a century ago. John Hubley was moving to New York (from under the cloud of Hollywood McCarthyism). I found it hard to believe that a guy from Los Angeles hadn’t driven a car, even harder to believe that LA once had a state of the art public transit, but I’m writing the footnotes, just going with it. So Hub, he’s calls him “Hub”, rings up Ed and says “take me out driving”. So he does. I think there was a punchline here but I’ve forgotten it. To me, the point of the story is that Ed Smith is the guy you call when you something done.

I can’t yet drive a car, so a couple weeks back I took the bus to the New City Library to see some drawings of Ed’s they have on exhibit, and to visit with Ed who was there for the afternoon. He’ll be there again this Sunday April, 23rd. The man’s a brilliant treasure, seeing him is worth more than the bus ride.

Here’s a bit he wrote for the show.

“Scrambled Leggs – Or, ‘Life as I Know It,’ by Ed Smith

I created these drawings in ink directly from my mind to the paper without preplanning, research, models, or penciled-in guides. There are no erasures or white-outs.

Outside of my workaday animation, I tried to find my own style. I emulated other artists, but not to my satisfaction. As time went on, I continued my animation on other people’s projects. Much had to be done under pressure, demanding tremendous numbers of drawings and impossible deadlines. Often, I experienced long periods of unemployment. During and after these trying times, I relaxed by drawing. I found pleasure in doing so, not for a job but for myself.

Much later, when I look at them, I saw things in them which gave them more meaning and nuance than I had purposely planned. Perhaps the difficulties and forced efforts had relieved the pressure of the right side of the brain, the conscious guardian of thought, and allowed the left side, the creative side, to emerge.

Sometimes we think too much!

_________

This reminds me of my most re-told exchange with Ed. We were doing a commercial in the style of Ed Koren.

Ed Koren drawing

He sends in his animation -exquisite work. He had done every drawing, every little hair and line, in ink perfectly on model. No work left for an inbetweener or clean up artist. So I asked him, “You do all those little lines in ink without any underdrawing, what do you do when you make a mistake?”. “Well,” he replied, “I’ll let you know when that happens.”

A minute later he described the various techniques he used to salvage drawings. He threw most of them away. It’s not until now that I realize, twenty years and twenty recounts later, he understood that if one part of an animation drawing isn’t working the whole thing won’t work.

The New City Library is a quick drive, if you can drive, across the Tappan Zee Bridge or very nice Sunday trip via Rockland Coaches.

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.”
hunting-of-the-snark1
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.

Masks

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.

coolkid

 

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

cow

 

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

clown

 

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.

cat

 

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

redcat

 

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.

basement

 

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.

Mixtape

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.”

Puppet

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.