Tissa David

Tissa David lived a life -was a person -worth eulogizing in heartiest way.

Her fans would create opportunities to sing her praises, as we have for the past few decades.

From “The Great Frost” based on Virginia Woolf’s “Orlando”. Design by Seymour Chwast

The canon of work bears repeating. The first woman to direct a hand drawn animated feature, “Bonjour Paris” for Grimault (Lotte Reininger’s cut out films preceded it). A string of marvels with the Hubley Studio: “Eggs”, “Cockaboody”, “Dig”. Her sequence in “Everybody Rides the Carousel” will bring a man to tears. The titular heroine of Richard Williams’ “Raggedy Ann & Andy”. Michael Sporn’s “The Red Shoes” and “The Marzipan Pig”. Her elegant take on “A Midsummer Night’s Dream”.

I knew her from working together at R. O. Blechman’s The Ink Tank. There she did stellar work with his delicate line, “The Soldier’s Tale” being a stand out.

Self Portrait as Fossil from Hubley’s “Dig”

At The Ink Tank, as with Hubley, she animated commercial after commercial.

She easily could have been a journeyman animator. There are dozens of highly skilled men who knocked out commercials of quality for everything from Apples to Zebras. These are artist who should be celebrated for the skill they brought to the craft. Tissa, though, she brought artistry. To the corniest bank commercial, she infused the stuff with soul.

Her artistry, that’s what we’ve raved about for ages. Her life, that’s what is truly amazing.

She could tell stories of walking (WALKING) from Budapest to Paris at the height of the Cold War, sneaking past the borders without papers or passport. She could tell you how her first job, her dream job, in New York at UPA came in part due to her lack of English. When Grim Natwick asked her, “What is animation?” She responded in pigeon, “Animation is animation.” The Swede laughed, “I’ve been asking people that question for 30 years and that’s the best answer I’ve heard.”

The events are something, to be sure, they are the result of the way she chose to live her life.

When I first started work with R. O. Blechman, he was somewhat paralyzed. A commercial was coming in and he needed Tissa to animate it. Tissa was on vacation. In Hungary maybe, or Paris, or Holland. Or maybe just Virginia. Or some other far flung corner of the globe.

She would take maybe four months out of the year to travel. Visit family. Visit friends. Live a life away from the lightbox and the pencil test screenings.

Upon her return to work she was fully dedicated in a way unlike anything I’ve seen. She could create a complete and vital film from an exposure sheet and a stack of paper. Then she would explain to you how she did it.
Classroom notes
I doubt there has been any greater teacher of the art in the past 30 years.

Her primary attribute, in my opinion, is devotion. Just as she would attend morning service daily (my Jesuit upbringing bridged an immediate connection), she was fully devoted to her craft. She was fully devoted to her family. And she was fully devoted to living a fruitful and productive life.

Even twenty years ago, Tissa would talk with an Old Transylvanian weariness about how she would soon be dead. First I’d say, “You animators live to be 100”. And she would reply something like, “Why would you curse me with such a thing?”. Soon I’d say, “So when you die, can I have your apartment?”

“I would love for you to have my apartment. But you know, it’s not that simple.”

From John Canemaker’s book on Raggedy Ann and Andy

Tissa left this world last night. The treasures she has given us.

  • http://www.facebook.com/janet.benn Janet A. Benn

    Thanks, Richard – This is wonderful. I wish I had been able to see her as often as you did. A loss we share.