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.

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.

Yomo Toro Sounds

One of my favorite projects from the Asterisk days is this short film we did for Nickelodeon.

The film is the largely the work of Matthew Stoddart who conceived it, storyboarded and designed it.

He also made the single most important decision leading to the film’s success.

“Origami” from Ace & Son MPC, LLC on Vimeo.

He called Yomo Toro and asked him to create the music track.

If this is a good little film -and I’ll contend that it is a very good one -it’s because of Yomo’s beautiful and haunting soundtrack.

He passed away over the weekend. Here’s the New York Times obituary.

The recording session was a little tricky. We consented to record at his friend’s place in Jersey City. They had a nice home set up, but it wasn’t really state of the art. Fortunately, JZ Barrell, who did the mix and the sound edit, came along. He’s pretty familiar with old school recording techniques and was able to ensure we got what we needed from technical standard.

The track was an original composition by Yomo and each instrument was laid down in separate takes to the same 1/4 inch tape master.

The session started in the evening and went late into the night. The later it got, the better the guys played. Looser, more playful.

He was a terrific musician and that was a fun recording session.

The animation on this film was done by Ed Smith. Winnie Tom did the 3D animation of the origami