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Saturday, December 03, 2005


Gizmo. Posted by Picasa

Peaches, my first pet. The picture was taken in 1969. Posted by Picasa
I know it's been a while since my last post. I've not been writing since most of my time has been spent t at work teaching, or at home writing a textbook on animation design and storyboard which will be published in 2007 by Focal Press. The rest of my not-so-copious free time has been spent with Gizmo, a small black and white cat whom I adopted on Guy Fawkes' Day, 2005.
I'd never owned a cat before but since my building does not allow dogs, a cat became necessary. It is nice to have someone greet you when you come home, and I figured that 23 years is a long time to carry a torch for a (very late) pet. Peaches was the family dog who died in 1982. I'd not had a fuzzy friend since.
Now, when you are in the market for a cat, people are as eager to fix you up with one as they once were to fix you up for a date. Except that it is far easier to find a good cat.
Emails came in from all over. Someone died and left fifteen cats orphaned. I was interested in one little girl but she went elsewhere.
There is an excellent Humane society farm here called Lollipop, but it was way out in the country and I have no car. A neighbor promised to take me there. We planned to go during the Thanksgiving break.
Then came an email at work, referred by one of the Student Services people, stating that an 'active, small, female cat' aged four, who had been spayed and declawed, was available.
Whatever one may think of the morality of declawing it is absolutely necessary if one has a houseful of Victorian antique furniture, and so I insited that prospective cat friends have this feature.
I auditioned Gizmo on the weekend of the 5th and she got the part. She is charming, well trained, very fuzzy and afectionate and generally a very good kitty. Why did the other people give her away? Well, they wanted a dog and Gizmo didn't. Their loss.
I don't know a lot about cats. Whoever said they were more independent than dogs was nuts. Gizmo is incredibly affectionate and she needs a lot of attention. She makes the late dog Peaches look like a Stoic by comparison. Then again, Peaches had four people to spoil her rotten.
Fortunately Gizmo adjusted very well to the new house and new owner; there was no problem getting her to use her (same) litterbox. After some trials in which either she or I hated the brands, I found a clumping brand of litter that did not give me allergies which she sort of liked which was biodegradable. Cleaning the box is sort of like panning for gold with less salubrious results, but the 'clumps' (which look distressingly like breaded veal cutlets) go right in the toilet and that's the end of that. There's no smell and little mess, which could have been a problem in a small bathroom.
Gizzy sleeps in my bed so there was no need for a cat bed. She's nice, fuzzy and purrs a lot.
I had trouble understanding cat language. As far as I am concerned all cats speak the same language that Grundoon the baby groundhog spoke in the POGO comic strip.
"Mxrp?"
"Gizmo, want a kitty treat?"
"Mrowppmmprrummmmmmrrrrr!"
It took a while to understand that the short, sharp. "murpp" sounds that she made were approving remarks. A dog making those noises is distinctly pissed off. Cat and dog really do speak different languages.
I am greeted each day with a a loud, long MEEEEEEOOOOOWWWWW when I come home from work. I interpret this as "Where the hell have YOU been?"
Early on it became necessary to inform Gizmo that we do not play Mouse at three o'clock in the morning. Not even if she has to.
Gizmo would first put her paw on my face at three a.m. Then she bit my nose.
When I objected to this she would set up an almighty howl outside the bedroom door. This was assuaged by the liberal dispersal of toilet paper rolls (empty) in the hallway. Kitty loves to clutch them to her bosom and wallop them with her hind feet to kill them and the sounds of 'scrabble scrabble scrabble' hopefully do not wake up Downstairs Neighbor in the dead of night.
Gizzy likes to 'knead'. This means she massages my right shoulder as often as she gets a chance to. She doesn't care if I have a sweater on or not. It's moderately painful without sweaters but if she could be trained to do this move on my back, I could hire her out as a Swedish masseuse. She's pretty strong for such a little thing. (she weighs about eight pounds and thankfully is not overweight.)
Gizzy has accomodated me on the choice of cat litter. But. She. Will. Not. Eat. Anything. But. One. Brand.Of. Cat. Food. Period.
I have tried more wholesome brands and she won't eat it even if she has no other choice. I have written to Paul Newman asking if he could market his cat food with Pizza Pie flavouring. Gizzy likes cheese and adores pizza. Since she is an adopted cat once owned by a guy I guess she grew up eating Guy Food. I haven't tried to give her any beer.
I don't eat pizza much but during a recent visit from a guest the revalation came. I had no time to cook that night so we ordered a 'white pizza'. Gizzy made noise til we gave her the box, and then she fished out a small piece of cheese which she seeemd to enjoy.
Actually most cats like cheese. I have written to Paul Newman asking him to please market his more wholesome cat food in Pizza flavour, and maybe Gizzy would eat it. Right now, she won't. The cat simply is not PC. She likes her kitty junk food and since she seems to be perfectly healthy, that is what she will continue to eat.
Cat toys are like women's fashions. They are cheaply made, overpriced for what you get, and are easily disposed of. Poor Gizzy cried when her mouse toys disintegrated after five minutes of play. I should point out that Gizzy does not play in a ladylike fashion, batting the toys delicately as cats are shown doing in the ads. Gizzy sinks her teeth into the thing and hauls backward as hard as she can, like a dog, playing tug of war with the 'fishing lines' that I use to cast the mouses around the furniture. Most of the mice don't survive a day or so of this, and some of the toys were actually dangerously made.
After the third destroyed mouse I went to the junk store, got a piece of fur from an old mink coat for a buck, wrapped it around a notebook ring that had been firmly attached to the fishing line FIRST, and tied the remaining tail in a knot. The resulting 'minky' is a great success and she can eat the fur with little hardship. Heaven knows what some of the other toys were made of. Her favorite toy was quickly destroyed and it's not possible to replace it. The remains of its fur are tied to a chenille pull in the bathtub (where Miss Kitty takes her catnip). She was heartbroken to have these toys taken away and has not shown as much enthusiasm for anything else. I have my suspicions as to the composition of the fur since she likes to try and eat the coyote fur trim on my best parka.
Sir Paul McCartney and his wife Heather are very active in urging a ban on the use of dog and cat fur for these toys, and I am wholly in agreement, even if the cat seems to like eating dog.

Anyway, Gizmo is a very, very nice cat. I feel better now that she's here.

I'll post a picture. She's also going to be on my holiday card this year, naturally!

Sunday, September 04, 2005


Mount Robson, British Columbia. Near Jasper, a lovely mountain resort. Posted by Picasa

CANADIAN CAPERS

“The trains had white linen on the tables. Crystal glasses. White Glove service and fantastic food. NOW the service on American trains would disgrace a McDonald’s! I saw a MOUSE in the dining car on my last trip!”

Animator Shamus Culhane was not a man who did things by halves, and he always called things as he saw them. I was fascinated by his stories of the Super Chief and Twentieth Century Limited trains. Trains, alas, that had stopped running long before I was born.

The conversation took place in 1991 but I had a vague notion that somewhere one could ride on a luxury train in the manner in which people had once been accustomed and that someday I would do this myself.

Then I heard about THE CANADIAN, a luxury service from Toronto to Vancouver run by the Canadian Government’s Via Rail service. Rochester is conveniently close to Toronto. It would be fun to take nothing but mass transportation for the trip; the Rochester ferry was back up and sailing after its first ignominious launch last year. I had a book to write and therefore knew that this would have to be my last vacation for a long time. The train looked lovely and sounded something like the fabulous trains that Shamus told me about. It was a trip that would travel back in time while venturing forward in space.

It was going to be a long trip, so I packed enough clothing to have a checked bag. The clothes needed for the three days it took THE CANADIAN to get across country would have to fit in a backpack along with my ancient Contarex camera--too too solid steel and glass, newly retrieved from two years in storage and in untested condition.
The camera weighed as much as everything else in the pack but I figured that it would be suitable for the subject matter on this trip and also useful in self-defense. If someone tried to grab it, I could hit them with it and break their jaw.
The wisdom of the decision to take the old SLR is reflected in the quality of the ensuing photographs, which are some of the best that I have ever taken. But I am getting ahead of myself.
The ferry to Toronto proceeded uneventfully and I met with friends there, staying in an inexpensive hotel before heading to the station the following morning. I didn’t need luxury anywhere but on the train.

I’d booked a ticket in First class after speaking with people who had gone on the trip or knew someone who had. “Comfort Class’, which had you in seats for three days with no shower and indifferent food, didn’t sound any too comfortable. And you might as well be hung for a sheep as for a lamb. Why not go across the country in style? I booked a lower berth, a Pullman, in the Blue and Silver class. This is a great deal less expensive than the ‘roomettes’ and ‘rooms’ which are in the same cars.

The CANADIAN was a vision of silver at the station. Its cars were built in 1955 out of stainless steel. When Via Rail took over the system in 1995 they refurbished the entire train, adding showers and modernizing toilets. There was also a streamlined ‘bullet car’ for the first class people at the end of the train, featuring a Plexiglas roof that would not have looked out of place on a P-51 Mustang.
Several other ‘observation domes’ were on the train, with one for every four cars.

A trainman directed me to a car, and then went off to do something else. My ticket said “2” on it, so I manhandled the backpack up the stairs and opened Door Number 2.
I was in a tiny space, looking down at an even tinier toilet.
“You have seated me in the commode,” I complained to the trainman, who had returned. An explanation made it clear that I was in fact in the Pullman berth number 2 at the other end of the car, which was a set of seats in the daytime. At night it would fold down to make a comfortable bed with curtains, which was actually larger than the bed in the ‘roomette’ I had first investigated. That ‘roomette’ had a berth that folded down from the wall, rendering the toilet unusable during the night. People paid more for a private toilet but still had to use the public model down the hall.

So if you take the CANADIAN, book a Pullman. It’s cheaper, and more comfortable.

I also found out that the best photos were taken from the windows of the car, and not from the Strathcona Bullet Car’s observation windows. These had a polarizing sheen that occasionally gave my pictures an unnatural rainbow effect, and there were a lot of dead bugs on the window on the Westbound trip. Everyone wanted to go up there so it was crowded. I spent most of my time downstairs, which was more interesting.
So, when you look at my pictures, keep in mind that you are seeing the Canadian landscape without the mosquitoes, no-see-ums, blackfly, and poison ivy. I was looking at magnificent wild vistas from a train window in my berth, which was near a flush toilet and a shower, or from an air conditioned dining car serving four course meals. This was my idea of “roughing it”.

Not all of Canada was as picturesque as the lovely British Columbia vista that you see here. We had to stop frequently to take on diesel and water for the train, and some of the stops were in places like Sudbury, which is infamous for its pollution and lack of scenics other than slag heaps and a tall smokestack. It’s the largest town in Central Ontario and so has some social importance, although you’d not believe it if you listened to some Canadian comics, who treat it the way New Yorkers once treated New Jersey. I’d have to agree with the Canadian comedians. Sudbury was not picturesque.

We got into the ‘cottage country’ of Ontario shortly thereafter, and the scenery improved dramatically.
Canada appears, from this train, to have a population of 25 people. Huge vistas pan outside the train window in one take like a Warhol movie, with relatively few intrusions by human houses or people during the day. Most stops for water and fuel came at night. The train runs well away from most major population centers, and in some cases is built on the only solid ground in areas prone to ‘muskeg’ swampland. “Muskeg” was so unstable that when the track was being laid, they had ties sink out of sight in the muck before they could lay the rails. Thousands of men and horses and sled dogs worked and probably died to complete this route; like the Americans they used Irish and Chinese immigrants working inland, starting from opposite sides of the coast. They finished, somehow, having bested black fly, mosquitoes, disease, horrible heat, and the Canadian winter, in 1905.

There was a very obvious natural demarcation line between the provinces. Canada has far fewer divisions than the USA and Ontario takes up roughly half of the journey, since it is wide enough to reach past Iowa. It took us 32 hours to cross the mass of birch forest, lovely little lakes, and occasional farmstead.
Curiously, the appearance and character of the landscape changed so abruptly when passing from one province to another that I ventured the opinion that when they divided the country, they didn’t do it so much by province as by Scene.

The food on the train was outstanding. The Dining Car was a charming pink and grey vision with real napery and silverware. Shamus would have been pleased. The car also had huge picture windows that afforded a view of the scenery, and sometimes I had to get a shot of something pretty during dinner, though the pictures often carried the reflection of the lights in the car.

The train was an awesome sight at night. My berth was in the last sleeper car, giving me a view of the rest of the train when it went around a curve. The headlights illuminated the track for nearly a quarter mile, and red and green lights from passing signals reflected off the stainless steel skin of the fire breathing dragon as we rushed through the night. No wonder we saw so few animals en route; we announced our presence in terrifying fashion miles in advance, and only a few curious deer were in evidence even in this remote place though there was a rumour of moose and bear.

Our progress was more of a sedate trot than a rush. Freight engines had priority and there were many times when the train had to pull onto a siding to let the freight car by on the single track, which had us running pretty late on the return trip. We got into Toronto seven hours late and the line put a few of us who had lost hotel confirmations, up at the Sheraton for the night.

The advertising for the CANADIAN states that ‘you will be rocked to sleep’ in the berths. They neglected to say that the rocks would be provided! Sometimes the ride was rather rough and bouncy and there were creaks and wheezes incident to the train’s age. I must confess that a sleeping berth on a train is one of the few places on Earth that I CAN’T sleep in, but this insomniac tendency gave me an opportunity to see some breathtaking sights through the windows at night. The most amazing came on the return trip, where I was wakened by a strong light coming through my window. (So I DID manage to sleep a bit, sometimes.) Thinking that we were near a town, I looked out the window, to find myself staring at a huge mountain, with snow on top, and a crown of white fire dancing on its head; occasionally the entire sky was lit up by the white lights, which danced and shimmered on diagonal patterns for nearly an hour. Falling stars punctuated this ballet. Imagine the most spectacular special effects show, entirely in black and white, and you get the idea.
(I am still not entirely convinced that the owners of the CANADIAN weren’t running movies on the outside of the train—it was all very cinematic!)

Our car attendant provided a nightly ballet when she made up the berths. The uppers had to be folded down from the ceiling, and the mattress for the lower berth taken down; the lower seats folded inward to form a box spring. Curtains hung from the top extended to the lower berth as well. The attendant had to stand on the arms of the lower berth to manage all this, since the ladder for the upper berth could not be used when setting up. Imagine having people called to dinner passing you on a madly swaying train while trying to execute these maneuvers. Still, our attendant managed it very well; swinging legs right or left, as the case might be, to facilitate the other person’s passage. Sometimes, though, ‘the young men run through’.


Not all the sights were salubrious. We passed the remnants of a freight train wreck on a lake; the driver had taken a curve too fast the week before, and 43 cars had derailed, miraculously without any fatalities.
But, like the hurricane that missed New Orleans, the real tragedy was in the aftermath. One of the cars leaked a large oil spill onto the lake, which is visible in my photos. A few days after we passed it was discovered that there had been toxic waste in another car; this had leaked into the lake, and poisoned it.
And the owners of the freight train had not notified the people on the lake about the toxic cargo until someone actually noticed a spreading pool of green goop two weeks after the wreck, so that there had been cleanup underway without protective clothing for some time before the news broke.

The owners of the freight line were American. They also owned the track. This did not lead to good relations with the Canadian government or the people who lived near that lake, though the Canadians traveling on the train (a goodly number) were too polite to mention this or the scandal about the softwood duties that America was charging Canada in violation of the NAFTA treaty.

It’s hard traveling when you are embarrassed by your government’s behaviour, but at no time did I attempt to conceal my nationality or pretend I was something other than what I was.

There were honeymooning couples on the train, and some who were just taking the train part way to or from Jasper; one set of elderly ladies got on the train in Toronto, went to Vancouver, looked around, then got right back on the train and went back the same day! (They were doing it ‘because our husbands are too sick to go.’ This made a certain amount of sense at the time.)

Many Australians and Britons were on the train, and there was even a South African lady who was in the upper berth in my section for part of the trip. It is a famous train and there are folks from many nations on a typical trip, with Canadians predominating on the Jasper/Vancouver leg of the run.


The CANADIAN arrived in Vancouver precisely on time on August 9. My friends the LeDucs had invited me to stay with them at their new home in Burnaby. But there were complications.

“You are buying and renovating a new home while simultaneously moving your furniture from L.A. across the Canadian border in a U Haul Trailer with a hired driver from Los Angeles. What could possibly have gone wrong?” I said, when my friend phoned me to describe the delays.

Their driver was deported, the U.S. Customs impounded both their automobiles at the border, the carpet man arrived JUST after they had unloaded 200 boxes from the U Haul that the husband had driven to Vancouver by himself and the workman installed the carpet anyway; the plumbing was not working, and after they had settled most of that they still had to deal with the curious refusal of any U Haul lot in Vancouver to accept the van after the rental was theoretically over. Just the usual.
So I stayed at the University of British Columbia for three days until they were ready to take on the additional distraction.

UBC has a famous museum of First Nations art on the campus, with a marvelous collection of totem poles. Some of the poles had once been coffins for chiefs, though there were placards emphatically stating that the bodies had been removed from the boxes and the disposition in the museum was permitted by their descendants. I hoped that this was true.

The two Haida men carving wood in back of the museum near some long houses were also a little surprised to see coffins on display.

“These anthropologists put skeletons on display…thousands of them,” one man said as he hacked at a piece of alder with an adze. He acted out a small scene as he worked.

‘“Why are you taking our bones?”’

‘“To see what you eat.”’

“Why not just ASK us first?”

The man pretended to cogitate for a minute. “Uh, let’s see. “Fiiiiiiiish….and the occasional deeeeer….”

I asked if they came regularly to carve in the back of the museum. It seemed that this was a special occasion.
“The wood is free and I didn’t want to see it going to waste”, one man said, indicating a neat pile of alder logs. “I couldn’t sleep nights, you know?”

He was carving a feast dish for a potlatch. As he worked with the adze, which was locally made, he skillfully scooped out the centre and drew decreasing circles with a pencil which he worked to, changing the log into a canoe shaped bowl.
A solemn child watched and asked what it was for. “Dinner tonight, and I’d better finish!” the man said. “We’re having stew!”

He then explained to the child that this was a joke.
No finish is ever put on Haida wood carving. The oils from the fish dishes preserve the bowls. The average totem pole only lasts a hundred years due to the weather.

I ask about potlatches and why they were banned.

“It was our government, you know? Nothing was central. You gave one when your daughter became a woman, or to show how cool you were, lots of reasons.”

The ‘hamatsa’ ceremony which got the Potlatch banned from 1926 to 1964 in Canada was their equivalent of a Bar Mitzvah.

“White Was Right, and we all had to assimilate.”

I ask about the wood.
”This is Alder. There’s some Red Cedar in the parking lot; you can take some.”
So I went and liberated a small wedge of cedar. The men showed me how to work my Swiss Army knife under the bark and wrench it off, dislodging several annoyed ecosystems as I did so.
“The red cedar, the bugs like. The YELLOW cedar, they don’t eat.”

They continued to work and talk among themselves.

“I met Hal in the street, you know? He has a line; he sees a pretty girl, and here’s how it goes—(he leaned forward with a hopeful expression which he held for a long time.)

“…Your place?”

“I ask him, ‘Does it work?’”

“Sometimes.”

“It can’t be YOUR place, I told him, since your PLACE is under a viaduct at the railway embankment.”

The bowl was roughed out in about two hours’ time, while the other man’s Wild Woman mask had not yet taken shape. Finer carving could be done later.
I was never able to find out the name of one of the men, whose picture actually appears in the Frommer’s guide to Vancouver Island. He apparently was artist in residence at the Museum of British Columbia when the book was written, but neither the book nor other Indians could give his name.

Maybe I should have just asked him first.

After three days in the Kitsilano area of Vancouver, which resembled a greener Greenwich Village and which I adored, I relocated to Burnaby. This town is served by a “Sky Train” which runs to many suburbs and into downtown Vancouver. Vancouver itself has admirable public transit. Even the remote UBC campus had ten bus lines and two trolley lines running directly to it. I was jealous.

I met up with my Disney colleague Bill Matthews at Van Arts. Bill was a guest lecturer every summer, and I had moved up my trip by a week so that I would be there at the same time he was.

I attended the Van Arts graduation ceremony and their reception. It was held in the life drawing room, so I suggested that the skeleton in the corner be moved forward and posed as a bartender. The others enthusiastically set the scene.
Word of this was rapidly noised about the school, particularly after I put a rose in the skeleton’s teeth.

“I said I would behave. I lied.”


Granville Island is a former industrial centre in Vancouver that was reincarnated as a tourist and artists’ mecca. There are whale watching tours, kayak tours, galleries, and street performers. It also hosts the Emily Carr art school, a cement factory, and a famous farmers’ market.

I photographed some Mutant peaches in the marketplace; the ‘noses’ are actually ‘siamese twin’ peaches that normally drop off.

Right near the market was the Pacific Culinary Institute, a school where you eat your own homework.
The Institute offers lunch, brunches, and dinners that the general public can book; the cuisine is Affordable Four Star since the pupils are still in training. Serving dinner is part of the lesson and you review the meal after you have finished. It is one of the best bargains in Vancouver. I had lunch there and invited my friends for a dinner. Their five year old daughter brought along a Rolly Bear, which she operated on the table. Fortunately the Pacific Culinary Institute is cool about having Rolly Bears on the table. The server wanted to try one but forebore since she was being graded.
A Rolly Bear is a bit of folk art carving; the bear, when pushed from behind, performs one or more tumbles. It is a charming toy and predictably I bought too many of them to give as presents and a Three Bear Family of different sizes for myself. Of course this is Animation Research!

The fish in Vancouver deserves a whole letter’s description; let’s just say that if you like fish, it’s your kind of city. The salmon is particularly fine although the fish were few this year. Despite my guilt feelings I still got ‘em while I could.

Vancouver is home to some odd fashion timewarps. Perhaps their teenagers never liked the Twenty First Century and have decided to rewind to the Twentieth. I saw Seventies Punks complete with Krazy Glued hair, the occasional Goth, and a few white kids trying to dress hip hop style with varying degrees of success. There are relatively few Blacks in Vancouver compared to an American city.
The strangest sight was the Chinese Valley Girls, who were able to prattle idiotically in two languages simultaneously. The burbling dialect inspired one of the more memorable films in the Van Arts senior reel this year.

Canada is a civilized country literally built in a howling wilderness. My friends' little dog, a Pomeranian-terrier mix that I dubbed the ‘pom de terre’ could not be left out in the yard at night. Their property backed up on a nature preserve and nature was making its presence known.
Coyotes were already starting to dig a hole under the fence, which had a loose gate with a low top.
The gate was repaired immediately, the top was extended as well; heavy weights were dumped into the hole, and most importantly the dog stayed in the house. One mutual friend had lost two cats to the coyotes, much farther into central Vancouver, right on English beach.

Halfway through the trip I got word that my old college classmate Joe Ranft was dead in an awful car accident. I didn’t do much else that day. Joe was one in a million, and will be sorely missed.
Internet access was in the new Public Library, which looks like an unraveling Coliseum. They provide free terminals for half hour sessions. Other than this, and terminals at UBC, I had no access to news or mail for the trip.
I rented a bicycle with a too small frame and a seat like an anvil which still managed to carry me around Stanley Park, which was absolutely charming. There is a fine Aquarium in it, some nice trails, and a lot of rocks and landmarks that appear in local First Nations lore. A Canadian writer named Pauline Johnson, “The Mohawk Princess” wrote them up in her LEGENDS OF VANCOUVER, which I read before taking the trip.

We went to Vancouver Island by ferryboat. The scenery was nice but after that which I saw on the train trip, it looked almost sedate.
The Empress Hotel is “more English than England” and serves high Tea, which was deemed too expensive to attend. While my friends went with their daughter to Miniature World, I booked a hotel so that I could stay a night or two on the Island. The Hotel Victoria was ugly yet functional, like its namesake; and I was delighted to see that it was directly across the street from the Royal Museum of British Columbia, which had two longhouses out front that were actually open and displaying regalia.
Drumbeats outside the longhouse announced a silent auction of art that was taking place that night. I went in and noted that the Kwak’Wak’L people appeared to be buying the art from one another, which seemed to work against the fundraising idea. After some spirited bidding I got a necklace and a wonderful seal sculpture, purchased directly from the people who made them.

The next day was the high point of the trip. After an unsuccessful trip on the ‘Eagle Wing’ in which we had to sail to Washington State to see a whale, I decided to take a tour around Victoria on the Grey Line. There was an ancient English double-decker bus loading up, and an elderly lady in a walker getting in with some difficulty.

When we came to a ‘break stop’ and everyone else got off the bus, I asked the lady if I could get her something to drink.

That would be most kind,” she said in a very refined accent. “Orange juice, please. And I fancy a dry martini in the Bengal Bar of the Empress Hotel afterward.”

“Sure, I’ll go. I wouldn’t go there by myself.”

“You’ll have to find me a wheelchair,” she said decisively. “Ask at a particular door. Tell them that I am a guest at the hotel”.

When we got back, the wheelchair was obtained from the concierge, who pushed the lady to a flight of four steps, then carried the wheelchair up it as she struggled on a cane. Damndest thing I’d ever seen but the lady refused help.

We headed toward the Bar, which had a tiger skin spread-eagled over the fireplace.

Let’s sit by the fireplace. There is always a nice fire there,” the lady said. Since it was August, there wasn’t.
A young couple already in front of the nonexistent fire immediately got up and left as she sat decisively on a nearby sofa. The wheelchair was removed and, I nervously figured, we would be, too, in a few moments.

A manager came over hurriedly. “The other couple….”

“I must have nuts!” the lady announced in stentorian tones. Then, in an aside to me—“
I’m being imperious, like Queen Victoria!”
She turned back to the manager. “Bring me a bowl of nuts, and a dry martini with vermouth!”

The manager went away.

Ask the server to bring some nuts!”
I went off and asked the server for some nuts. Eventually we had two martinis, and three bowls, on the table before us.
I found out a little about my companion, among other things that she was eighty years old (her face was that of a much younger woman) and that she had taught English Literature at Iowa State in the Forties or Fifties. Despite her accent, she was American. (“I had elocution lessons years ago.”) I tried to remember which American writer was sponsored by Iowa State--Flannery O’Connor, wasn’t it? I didn’t have much time to pontificate and none to ask questions.
The Professor also had lived in L.A and ‘known the English writers’.

“Did you know Aldous Huxley?”

“I had tea with him.”
She became a bit brusque as the nuts and martinis were disposed of.
“I will have to have the wheelchair and a taxi for precisely six thirty. My older sister will be furious if I am late for dinner.”

The wheelchair arrived propelled by a different staffer, a smiling blond girl.
Then followed a merry chase through the Empress Tea Room and other rooms of varying degrees of magnificence; the wheelchair was in the lead and I brought up the rear with the walker. We reached the taxi and as the lady was getting in I realized I had made the same mistake I made with the Haida carver.

“Who are you?” I asked her.
She turned with a wry sort of half smile and gruffly said, “Professor Audrey!”
Then the taxi door closed.
I proceeded to the Longhouse by the Museum for the Kwak’Wak’L Potlatch.
This was a marvelous show. I’d waited years to see the wonderful animating masks of this tribe in action; the Dance of the Animals featured dancers of all ages performing in replicas of famous masks, museum pieces all carved by one man, Mungo Martin (whose real name translated as Ten Times Chief.)
One of the masks, a deer, opened to ‘transform’ into a human face. In a smoke filled long house, by firelight, the illusion would be devastating.
My favorite dancer was the five year old boy who came out in the Sea Otter mask. He carried a small wooden sea urchin. The dance had him taking a few steps, and then lying on his back with the urchin on his chest for a few minutes before getting up again.

One character at a Potlatch is the Intruder, also known as the Wild Woman.
The Intruder appears ‘when It likes’ and does ‘what It likes’.
Despite the Wild Woman Mask, Its sex is uncertain. “We try to get all the important business done before ‘It’ appears,”a Chief said helpfully.
The Intruder was posing as a tourist, with a shopping bag and a map that It appeared to have trouble reading. It took a better map from a tourist. Then, walking with a distinctive rolling motion rather like that of an animated character, It sat near a small girl to read it better. There was a loud squeak from the girl and a frantic scrunching along the bench in the opposite direction.
The Intruder flirted outrageously with men in the audience, waved a feather boa, vogued, did Disco dance poses, and in short was very funny.
When the dance was over, I saw two Crees in full Grass Dance regalia heading into the Queen Victoria hotel. “This is not an Aboriginal Traffic Jam,” one of them told me. “Some rich people flew us here from Alberta to perform as a corporate incentive.”
“I’ve heard of those but never met one before,” I said.

My last view of Victoria that night was of its Parliament building, ablaze with white light bulbs, exactly like the old Luna Park in Coney Island, or a Disney parade float.

The train ride back a few days later wasn’t as smooth as the first, though it did feature the outstanding celestial light show described earlier in this letter. I was able to meet with friends in Vancouver and had a wonderful time during the three weeks, and if I ever doubt that it all ever happened—there are Rolly Bears and seal sculptures and the photos to prove that it really did.

And if you ever can travel on the CANADIAN, either part of the way or all across Canada, I suggest that you do. It’s a far more civilized way to travel than a plane!








Wednesday, August 10, 2005

The Train's Most Sane and Better than the Plane

I am a backward person in some ways. That is to say, I don't believe that every new thing is necessarily an 'improvement' on things that went before.

Travel is definitely one of the things that was better once upon a train.
Shamus Culhane used to tell me of the beauties of the Super Chief and the Twentieth Century Limited.

"They had crystal on the table and linen tablecloths. Outstanding service and civilized travel. NOW you have plastic and paper and the food would discgrace a MCDONALD'S. I saw a MOUSE run across the floor the last time I took an American train. And DON'T change in Chicago, you'll never get your luggage back."

Well it seems that there is one Glamour Train left in the Western Hemisphere.

After enduring the indignities of plane travel once too often I opted to take the CANADIAN from Toronto to Vancouver, stay in the city with friends, and then take the CANADIAN back to Rochester.

The CANADIAN features Pullman style bunks, of which I had one, or private cars; the food and scenery were both outstanding.
At this point I'm in Vancouver and I'll be writing up more about this trip later on, but since computer time is rationed here I'll keep it short for now.

But I did make the right decision. This is my idea of roughing it: all the grandeur of waterfalls, the Rocky Mountains, and the occasional bighorn sheep,viewed from the comfort of a Streamline Moderne dining car with observation decks and four star restaurant service and without the blackfly, mosquitoes, and poison ivy (although you can name your poison at the bar).


Sunday, July 31, 2005

FEATURING ROBERT LOUIS STEVENSON ON THE UKELELE

In the words of George Bernard Shaw:

'I don't know what to say about this book.'

Shaw is one of the few celebrities of the 19th and early 20th centuries NOT quoted posthumously in

THE TWENTIETH PLANE A Psychic Revelation
Reported by Albert Durrant Watson, Fellow of the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada and President of the Association for Psychical Research of Canada (this is the entire title, and the date is1919)

Of course, Shaw hadn't died yet.

"I am not an author. I am a reporter", Albert Watson announces crisply.
Should anyone doubt the truth of this remark, Watson has written a lengthy preface to disabuse you of the notion that he, or his friends, wrote any of the material.

"The contents of this volume as quoted were received under the conditions set forth in the Intention. We do not, in a final sense, know anything about their source...No labour of authorship on our part was involved. They were evidently sent from somewhere."

Mr. Watson used an "Instrument" named Louis Benjamin to channel voices from the Twentieth Plane via his Ouija board. Watson claims they have 'long since given up using the Ouija", and that the group, one of whom is identified only as "The Scholar-Girl" use a completely different method involving a heart shaped planchette upon which fingertips are rested, and a board with the alphabet and numbers and symbols on it. They also sprinkle a little talcum powder and use rose colored lights.

And it works! Messages are received from so many important people, even that old rascal Oscar Wilde (even though Wilde initiates one of the meetings, he isn't quoted once--serves him right for being so naughty).
Literary and political lights all attend. Even Jesus drops by, though he is quite rightly saved for last.

Mr. Watson is properly introduced to all of these worthies by his Mother, who is much beloved by the group. Shakespeare in particular has taken quite a shine to her.

The preface is written by Abraham Lincoln and Samuel Coleridge, and all chapters 'revised' by the Group Publication committee consisting of Lincoln, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Walt Whitman, and Robert G. Ingersoll. A special chapter, or 'nook' is requested by the group for Mother, by popular acclaim.

There were, apparently, those who Doubted the Truth of this Message.

"Did the communications come out of the minds of myself and the circle? In no case had we been reading about the matters that came over", Watson writes peevishly.

Did Mr. Benjamin perhaps write the book? The "Instrument" could not have written in so many different styles because, Watson says, "His limited range of thought and reading, his innocence of academic training, preclude the adoption of this theory. ..he is incapable of producing such a book...This is simply begging the question and wrenching the facts to make them fit a theory."

Mr. Benjamin has 'read widely' but Watson assures us that he is a near-illiterate otherwise. He is also 'Of Hebrew parentage" though he's apparently seen the error of his ways. He is 'well acquainted with the public addresses of Lincoln, DIsraeli, and Ingersoll' but has 'a limited acquaintance with other literature'.

And the writing must be true since it is given 'spontaneously and rapidly'. "Now I submit that none of us could have created these styles in an off-hand, ready way...the Instrument is not a writer...none of the styles is mine...but the book contains forty different styles."

And that, as far as Mr. Watson is concered, is that. He is annoyed that anyone would claim that the writings are similar to those in his other books (including THE SOVEREIGNTY OF IDEALS, THE SOVEREIGNTY OF CHARACTER, THE WING OF THE WILDBIRD, and LOVE OF THE UNIVERSE). He says that it isn't. Have you read his other books? Has anyone?
It must be true. In the words of the Great Criswell: "Can you prove it didn't happen?"

So what do these folk talk about on the Twentieth Plane?

The living conditions: a Precious Moments palette of pastel pinks and blues. The occupants live in glass houses and furnish them 'by thought'. "Beds shaped like shells, chairs like a sunflower, window sills like sands golden-heated by the intense sun, cheffoniers all glass-like with drawers that open as noiselessly as the fall of a flower petal. We have rugs something like a blend of fur, silk and the kasmir of Arabia". (William Morris states this, without swearing.)

Their appearance: Pink shrimplike incorruptible.
Q: "What does Booker T. Washington look like there?"
A: (Dorothy Wordsworth) "As we. No difference in soul. Sometimes one wears a brown suit, others in white. We are nearly all here the pale pink of sea-shells."

Food: "We absorb chemicals".

There is advice for the Earth Bound Spirit from Samuel Coleridge: Eat More Vril. "This element is cosmic, a part of life, vril, the most soul-nourishing substance of your plane. It is found especially in lettuce, tomatoes, and eggs."

(This copy of the book has this paragraph set in pencilled parentheses. I can imagine the reader--a Miss Mary E. Evier of Honeoye Falls, New York--rushing out to buy egg and tomato sandwiches in quantity.)

Shakespeare visits from the Thirtieth Plane at the special request of Mother.
He is asked his opinion of Canadian drama and answers that "TECUMSEH has merit."
(An excerpt, full of references to "stony ribs of mountains hoar" and "the congealed north" and "sunburnt savages free" can be found here.)
And it's no longer necessary to inquire about who wrote what, and who was the Dark Lady of the Sonnets. It's all revealed here. Shakespeare mentions nothing of Mr. W. S, but of course they didn't ask him.

What else is revealed? Well, some of the Plane Dwellers are now 'specialists' and they only talk about one subject.

Lincoln (The Wisdom specialist) felt no pain during his assassination. "Not near as much as Mary Todd."

William Morris: (The Art specialist) "Stevenson, when he left the Islands of Hawaii to come to this plane, brought with him the ukelele. He brought also the native song of the isle but improved it, and often we here him when alone. His tonal pictures pierce us to the quick".

Elbert Hubbard (the founder of Roycroft who died on the LUSITANIA) is now the War Specialist. He confidently predicts the outcome of the War in a caricatured American dialect. It's all wrong, but he claims "Blame the Huns, not me."

There are painters there, but since the book has no illustrations, the paintings are described in the text, with somewhat unsatisfactory results and even Rembrandt appears to now paint like Maxfield Parrish.

Jesus states: "I bend before you to sprinkle the water of my love on your brows. Good-bye."

But there's so much more. Much too much to write about here.
This is either one of the greatest (and least convincing) literary hoaxes of the Twentieth Century, or else the outpouring of an already unusual mind that became unhinged by grief.
It's very touching to see how he writes of his Mother revered by the great ones in the afterlife...and of course Spiritualism was very popular then due to the great blood-letting that had not ceased, allegedly, when the book was written.

I feel sorry for poor Elbert Hubbard, if he really is there. I recommend reading a copy or two of THE PHILISTINE to indicate how he actually wrote and spoke; this book portrays him as a sort of vaudeville-patter American caricature.

It turns out that copies of THE TWENTIETH PLANE are plentiful--so there's still time to Receive the Message!

I read it with open mouth and glazing eyes.
Hoping you are the same.

Tuesday, July 26, 2005

LIMBO or How Low?

Word came through the Blogosphere this morning that the 'Disneytoons' studio in Sydney was to close sometime in the next few months, with staff layoffs of over 300 people.
This studio was originally a Hanna Barbera studio, which was then purchased by Disney's Television division which recently transferred them to Feature animation and gave them the name "Disneytoons".

They were doomed.

Features Management, like all American business today ever seeking the lowest level, only considers cost, not quality for its direct-to-dvd product. The audiences will never know the difference.

The Australians, with their excellent labor benefits and labor-friendly labor laws, simply can't compete in the 'global market' even when working long hours of overtime with no compensation.

It's nothing personal, a company spokesman insisted.

It's just business.

The Philippines and China can produce animation that looks the way the management likes it to look even if it may not move much, and they can do it for half the cost of the Australian studio. (Their quotas are 100% higher and they have cheaper real estate and no pesky labor laws.) There are eager Indian studios waiting in the wings to undercut them if they don't turn out even more work for less money.

Some studios in impecunious countries have been known to produce pilot films for free when submitting bids for series.

There's no way that a studio in any other part of the world can compete with subsidized outfits like this. "Subsidized" is the nicer word.

Where will it all end? The logical next step is to eliminate the artists completely. The cost-conscious Disney management doubtless will use the clever and terribly convincing cartoon motion-capture program described in an earlier edition of this newsletter to recycle the action from the original features directly onto the 3D figures. They figure that audiences will never know the difference, just as they haven't minded the obvious falling-off in quality of the animation in the direct to video products. These films were turned out four times faster than the equivalent feature animation product so it's amazing that some of them turned out as well as they did.

What amazes me is that this news should have come as a surprise to anyone. Disney has shut down all of its studios in countries where the currency has risen against the American dollar. Check the currency rates to see which country will lose the business next. The business news is a surer guide to the fortunes of your average animation studio than the artists' grapevine.

Australian Disney is the victim of their country's healthy economy and sound currency.

The last few direct-to-videos have also made far less money than the LION KING II: SIMBA'S PRIDE, which apparently is the grand champion of direct to video films. It's not a bad picture either. But perhaps it's the weak stories in some of the later pictures; perhaps it's just the familiarity of the product that breeds contempt--overproduction, overkill, competition--but the home video market is in a slump and has been for some time.

I'm also amazed that some animation websites feature artists wishing loudly for jobs from the very same people who are putting them out of work. Excuse me, but when someone is kicking you out the door, you don't offer to crawl back in through the sewer.
The big studios will not hire the artists back except on a temporary basis. They consider the artwork nothing more than piecework, easily turned out by machines or people trained to work like machines. Computer animation is better than drawings because it can be outsourced ANYWHERE and the characters will ALWAYS Look the way they should. That's the real reason for the death of so much cartoon animation production. Why worry about shaky lines and off-model animation when it can all be made mechanically perfect if you do it on a computer?

And management consider themselves the true creatives. Artists are just there to produce the brilliant ideas of the executives--and the executive's jobs are immune to outsourcing!
That is such a comforting thing to know.

If the artists want better treatment, they have to look for more pleasant working conditions and stop feeling loyalty for a system or a company that hasn't existed for many years now. There are decent places out there, some run by former artists, some by enlightened executives, that are doing something rather than sitting on their 'animator's spread' waiting for the crumbs of work to fall from the big studios' tables.

Artists should be reading the business news more often.

It's all just business now. The art part died a while back.

Tuesday, July 19, 2005

The Best Silent Movie Scores

I'm adding an addendum to yesterday's post--
Carl Davis wrote the best scores to any silent films I've seen.

He scored NAPOLEON in 1983 for the Radio City screening. Have you ever seen a huge building shake and vibrate when a 60 piece orchestra AND the Mighty Wurlitzer go into action? It was interactive cinema with a vengeance.

Davis' score for Buster Keaton's THE GENERAL is also outstanding. I was listening to it yesterday on a CD which I got from goodness knows where. What wonderful accompaniment...just the right use of period tunes, excellent leitmotifs for the characters, and sparing use of 'effects'--you can visualize the action as the music plays.

Sadly, the superb print of this film shown at the National Film theatre has only been released on VHS.
You can get it from the Damfinos website, the ultimate source for all things pertaining to Buster Keaton.

But I do wish someone would release this on DVD!

Monday, July 18, 2005

SOUNDS OF SILENCE

I have been a fan of 'silent' movies ever since my parents took me to the Museum of Modern Art to see
Harold Lloyd's THE FRESHMAN when I was five years old.
I had just learned to read and the audience had a grand time as I read the titles to my little sister and she and I both led the reaction in laughter.

There's a participatory quality to silent comedy that is unique; this is probably because they are films that require a degree of outside participation to be 'complete'. They were never meant to be shown 'silent'. A good live musical accompaniment can make the films seem fresh and new.
A bad score can distract from the film and break the illusion.

Many new collections on DVD feature outstanding musical tracks.
The special edition of Roscoe Arbuckle's films released this year by Laughsmith Entertainment is easily the best of the lot; the music is invariably right, and the films feature everything from solo piano to small orchestra. The music is well timed to the action and never distracts from the action.

Other silent filmmakers have not been so fortunate in their accompanists. Buster Keaton, my favorite of the lot, has been very poorly served in the Kino releases of the "Collection".
They have the superb Gaylord Carter score for STEAMBOAT BILL JUNIOR, at least, but what is it that compels anyone to use the "Alloy Orchestra" at all?
I have heard them live, and heard them on this collection, and on the Arbuckle/Keaton collection--and I am invariably driven to get a portable CD player to play anything else as accompaniment for the films.
This group does not complement the film they play for; they compete with it. Their score for SHERLOCK JUNIOR is completely unlistenable.

Here's a quote from someone who knew a thing or two about scoring silent movies. The people who rerelease these films should read it and take it to heart. Comedies from the masters don't need the music's 'help' to be funny.

"Elegant music provided an emotional dimensionn to my comedies. The musical arrangers seldom understood this. They wanted the music to be funny. However, I explained to them that I did not want competition, but that the music was to be a counter-point of grace and charm; that it should express feeling, without which, as Hazlitt said,a work of art remains incomplete....Whatever the music expresses, the rest is only accompaniment."
--Charlie Chaplin

Wednesday, July 06, 2005

SELBY KELLY INTERVIEW, 1983

2005 is a sadly memorable year for the cartoon world. We have lost Joe Grant, Vance Gerry, Roland Wilson, Marie Johnston, and most recently, one of the pioneer woman animators, Selby Kelly.

I met Selby Kelly when we both worked at Zander’s Animation Parlour on the GNOMES special in 1980; we were close friends for over twenty years. This interview originally appeared in slightly longer form in CARTOONISTS PROfiles’ December, 1983 issue. I am publishing a slightly edited version of my original article as a tribute to a great artist and great friend.
There is another interview with her from 1980 which I have yet to transcribe…and which may be put here in future.
Til then, this will have to do; and even though we spent most of the time talking about Walt Kelly and not of her own remarkable career in animation, Selby’s wit and intelligence shines through.

SELBY KELLY INTERVIEW © 1983, 2005 by Nancy Beiman

Originally published in CARTOONIST PROfiles December, 1983

----------------------------------------------

Q: What was Kelly’s job at Disney’s?

Selby Kelly: He started as a story man. One day he went to Walt Disney and said, “I think I would be able to write better for the animation if I knew more about animation. I’d like to try animating.” Disney said, “Sure, go right ahead.” He wound up doing the Ringmaster in DUMBO, among other things.

Q: I’d like to ask whether you ever met Walt Kelly at the Disney studios, since you were there at the same time in the 1930s.

Selby Kelly: No, I didn’t meet Kelly there. In fact, while I was there I didn’t even hear of him. After the strike of 1940, when I got to know a bunch of the people who worked there, I heard about him; particularly when he put out the comic books. They would say “Have you seen this? He’s one of us.”

Q: So it was the people at the MGM studio who first brought his work to your attention?

Selby Kelly: Mostly Disney people who had gotten together during the strike. We had little groups. In California, you lived so far apart from each other that you didn’t fraternize once you moved to a different studio unless you lived somewhere close.
My first husband, Roger Daley, and I used to get together with Pat Matthews, Frank Smith and others and read the Pogo Books. We’d have “Pogo Evenings.” We’d all get together, have spaghetti and meatballs, and sit around—each one of us would be assigned a character—and we would ‘read’ our characters, saying what they were saying in the books.

Q: I’d like a little background on the film WE HAVE MET THE ENEMY AND HE IS US. How did you get involved in the project?

Selby Kelly: Well, first there was the MGM Pogo special directed by Chuck Jones. At that time, I was President of the Cartoonists’ Guild, and I was working as a freelancer out of the Guild office. Frank Braxton, the first Black animator, called me up and asked me why I didn’t work in the studio instead of freelancing. I said okay, that sounded like fun; I’d been in my ivory tower for quite a while. So I went to MGM to the Chuck Jones unit. I worked as an assistant animator to Frank Braxton, but he had cancer. They thought they had it in remission, but shortly after I got there he had to go back into the hospital. So I was at MGM without any particular person to work with. Kelly and I met and he asked that I should be his assistant.

Q: Was Kelly actually animating on the picture?

Selby Kelly: Yes. He did the layouts; of course, he wrote the story; and he animated a lot of scenes.
Now, MGM had three different films in production at the same time. On the same day, sometimes, the animators would work on “PHANTOM TOLLBOOTH” and “HORTON HEARS A WHO” and the POGO BIRTHDAY SPECIAL. So they didn’t draw Pogo the way Kelly did it. They’re very subtle characters, anyhow. There’s another problem because of the amount of footage that has to be put out on a television special.
The animators didn’t add any ‘extra’ little things. If you’re working at home, and you want to cut in on to your own time, you can take as much time as you want to and you’re paid by footage. But when you’re working in a studio, you have to put out a certain amount of footage per day, or per week. If you stop and juice it up a little and add a lot of extra personality bits so that it makes a nice scene, you’re not getting your footage in. So most of the action in the scenes was down to the bedrock. They just did EXACTLY what was called for. Kelly was very disappointed in the picture.
So he said to me one day as we were sitting at the bar upstairs: “What do you say that we do a picture ourselves, and show them how it should look?” I said, “Fine, wonderful, I’d like that.”I didn’t know it at the time, but Kelly had already talked to a producer, who wanted to do this pollution thing. Kelly decided that this would be the perfect opportunity; he would have total control; so we did it ourselves. But the producer had a partner who was enamored of live action, and who talked him into getting involved in a production with the “Burtons” (Elizabeth and Richard.) They went over to England to see them, and what with this and that and the other they used up all the money. It left Kelly and me without a studio to work for, although we used the offices where we had already established ourselves. We finished the picture under shoe-string operating conditions because Kelly didn’t have a great deal of money at the time to invest in anything. His wife Stephanie had just died after a prolonged and expensive illness.

Q: Was that why the film was cut from 30 minutes to 15? (a 30 minute story reel exists of the longer production)

Selby Kelly: Originally the storyboard was for a full half hour. The man who was to sell it to the networks said he could sell it better if it were two 15 minute lengths, so that it could be shown on different days, or could subsequently be shown with other films if they wanted to. Kelly rewrote the story a bit, and did the first fifteen minutes, but never did get around to doing the second. It is a complete picture, but it leaves out a lot that was in the original half hour. At first Kelly did the film storyboard-fashion. Then, as we had time on our hands, he’d add a little more to the scenes as they were trying to sell it. He was waiting for the money so that we could do it in really full animation. He’d redo scenes; some of them were redone six times, adding more action each time. We never did get full animation in the whole picture.

Q: Did you assist on the drawing of the comic strip?

Selby Kelly: Not while Kelly was alive. I drew the strip for a year and a half after Kelly died. That wasn’t meant to be the case. In 1973 Kelly had been too ill to draw for some time, and the syndicate was after him to get a ‘crew’ together. He didn’t know anyone in New York who could draw the characters (it turned out that one of his assistants, Henry Shikuma, could do quite well) but Kelly hired someone who farmed it out to someone else…I couldn’t continue to use his work if it was going to be farmed out, so I started doing it myself.

Q: I’ve heard about the legendary speed at which Kelly worked. While cataloguing some work, I checked the dates: he was SIMULTANEOUSLY drawing a comic strip, doing political cartoons, illustrating books, writing a political column, writing and illustrating five different comic books, AND taking trips with John Lardner to report for magazines on issues in different parts of the world! How did he manage to do all this?

Selby Kelly: He was very fast. But if you really stop to think about it, a drawing originates in your mind, and if you don’t have it in your mind, you can’t expect it to flow out of your fingers. Kelly had a very fast, brilliant mind, and he was thinking all the time and making little notes about what he was going to do. When it came time to put it on paper he already had it ‘drawn’ in his mind, so he would just sit down and whip it out. He didn’t have to stop and hesitate or ponder. He had so many story ideas that he would have two or three of them going at once.
He asked me once when he was starting to get back into the work after a trip to the hospital, to go through some of the more recent proofs and try to come some story that he had discarded and not ‘carried on’. With so many characters in the strip, you could have two or three doing one thing, and two or three doing another, and they would branch out and go their own way. Sometimes he wouldn’t go back to see what they were doing, follow them up.
John Horn, a man who worked with Kelly in many of his escapades with television newspapers, and magazines, once said that he and Kelly were going to go out to lunch. Kelly batted out his political column, handed his week’s worth of strips to someone to carry to the printer’s, and started to go out the door. Suddenly he said, “Oh, just a minute!”, went back to his desk without even taking his coat or hat off, sat at the typewriter and batted out a sheet of words. John looked over his shoulder and saw that it was a fairy story, one that he wasn’t even going to illustrate. It was being done for a breakfast food company, to go on the back of a cereal box.

Q: He wrote those, too?

Selby Kelly: yes, and in addition to that he did a lot of charity work. At the National Cartoonists’ Society’s REUBEN dinners, he used to do beautiful drawings for Pan Am airlines. Pan Am would buy a page in the Reuben dinner book and donate the money to the cartoonists’ welfare fund. Kelly would illustrate them and they never paid him for it.

Q: I’ve heard that Kelly never actually visited the Okefenokee Swamp until years after starting POGO. What made him decide to go with the southern animal strip instead of developing the African animal stripi (GOOZY) that appears in some of the same comic books as POGO?

Selby Kelly: Kelly grew up in Bridgeport, which had a large amount of people from different countries. He liked to say that he and all his buddies ‘had more foreign languages that they could say that no one ELSE had any use for.” I guess he must have meant swear words. He was interested in languages.
His health wouldn’t allow him to be in the service during the Second World War, so he went into a branch of Government work that had him illustrating dictionaries. He traveled with various USO groups, and he was interested in talking to the people from different parts of the United States, comparing their accents, et cetera. Also his father liked to read him things like UNCLE REMUS, and he picked up a lot of the Southern accent and ‘fun talk’ from his dad.

Q: That would also explain the ‘playing with the language’ in the strip, where one word is meant but a similar one used in its place. You once mentioned that he ‘would think like a child.’

Selby Kelly: When people are very old and can’t hear well, or very young and all words are new to them, they misinterpret them a lot. You think you hear something you don’t hear, and you get a lot of fun out of those by twisting things round.

Q: A little talk about Politics would be in order. How did political caricatures get into POGO? The early strips are ‘funny animal’ gags, and then all of a sudden you have Joe McCarthy as a major character.

Selby Kelly: He was enough to make ANYBODY political. People were really frightened of him. This was the first time that any comic strip had political comment in it. Comic strips were just supposed to be funny and amusing. People pretended that they were for children, although the adults read them more than the kids did. Having lived through that era, I must say that it was a really, really terrible time. Anybody who did anything against the establishment was harassed.

Q: Did Kelly have any threats made or actions taken against him?

Selby Kelly: Kelly’s phone was tapped. He was threatened with all sorts of things, mainly with removal of his livelihood. Many papers dropped the strip. (Note: The Freedom of Information Act recently released Kelly’s files: it was revealed that the Government was corresponding with a civilian reporter who was sure that the ‘lingo’ used in POGO for the "Grundoon" baby groundhog, a character who spoke only in consonants-- was a secret Russian code.)
To prevent the papers dropping POGO, Kelly used to draw TWO strips. They are a lot of fun to look at. One set is called the “Bunny Strips” and most of them were really about bunnies; though some were also about the Okefenokee people. Kelly would send the ‘Bunny Strips’ along with the regular dailies to papers that expressed disapproval of the politics. This way, they didn’t have a big hole in the paper where POGO usually was. Some newspapers had the guts to print BOTH strips at the same time. On their editorial page, they would say something like ‘certain parts of the country won’t print one of these strips’ and make it into good filler for themselves.

Q: Did the political harassment discontinue as the strip got older; say when he was doing (President) Johnson as a steer?

Selby Kelly: There were a lot of pro-Wallace papers that didn’t like what Kelly had to say about him. He drew him as a little rooster, the Prince of Pompadoodle. Everything in life is politics, you can’t just ‘stay out of it.’ That’s pretty much the way the ‘political’ part of the strip was; instead of doing a gag-a day kind of thing, Kelly poked fun at what he knew best, because he was a reporter. He started out as a reporter long before he became a cartoonist, and was very proud of that fact.

Q: POGO first started in ANIMAL COMICS comic books, didn’t he?

Selby Kelly: Kelly did quite a few comics actually. There was OUR GANG comics, BROWNIES, ANIMAL COMICS and many others. He would get more money if he wrote the story in addition to illustrating it, as he was paid for two different jobs. He started this little group of characters in the swamp. Because what he wanted to do was have his own little town, a microcosm of the whole world. The swamp is surrealistic, away from everything, a little mysterious. In a way, the animals did have a town. They had a store, a newspaper, and a variety of things. At first Kelly’s Okefenokee Swamp bunch of animals were friends with a little boy named Bumbazine. The comic book was called “Bumbazine and his friend Albert”, then just “Albert” and then it was “Albert and Pogo”, finally just Pogo. Kelly dropped Bumbazine rather early because he decided that while it is possible to imagine animals talking to each other, you know they don’t really say things that a human being can understand when ‘talking’ to them. The animal might understand the human being, but the human can’t really have a conversation with the animals. Bumbazine also looked very realistic and the animals were drawn like cartoons. Pogo was in from either the first or the second story; and he sure looked different from how he looks now. Long pointy nose with little pieces of wire sticking out of it.
Kelly just got really going on the comic stories. He was doing reporting, but needed more money, so he kept doing comic books on the side. He was just going into high gear on POGO when they stopped publishing ANIMAL COMICS. At the same time he was given an opportunity to take over a post in management of the NEW YORK STAR, which is what PM MAGAZINE turned into when it folded. Kelly was Art Editor, and he had to buy artwork for the paper, so he decided to put the strip in there.

Q: Very clever.

Selby Kelly: Well, it WAS clever, but the newspaper didn’t last very long. When the STAR folded, POGO was out of business again. It was then picked up by the Post-Hall syndicate, but eventually Kelly held all copyright to the strip himself.

Q: He would have been one of the first artists to own his own strip. Could you give me the reasons for discontinuing the strip?

Selby Kelly: The newspapers started giving less and less space to the comics. If you remember POGO, it’s got a lot of words and lines, and every bit of space was taken up with the design of the strip itself. So when they got smaller and smaller, down to the size of a postage stamp, people couldn’t really read it. A lot of the dramatic continuing strips have fallen off too because of this. The Newspaper Comics Council had a meeting, where it was revealed that the papers had no intention of giving more space to the comics; even though the ‘paper crisis’ that had precipitated the shrinkage was over; and I said that there was no way that I was going to continue POGO then. The quality would eventually fall off too far. However, now that I’ve started to do comic strip BOOKS there’s plenty of space in them. We design the pages the way we want to, with nobody tampering with them and making them small and unreadable.


IN MEMORIAM MARGARET SELBY DALEY KELLY
1917-2005

ALL MATERIAL COPYRIGHT 1983/2005 NANCY BEIMAN

Another Giant Leaves Us

This morning I received the news that Selby Daley Kelly passed away over the 4th of July weekend.

Selby was a pioneer woman animator and a tireless campaigner against the discrimination that relegated her and other talented female artists to the anonymity of the Ink and Paint pool at the Disney studio.
Selby was the head of the paint mixing department at the studio at the time of SNOW WHITE. She is pictured in the original 1938 program from Radio City Music Hall.

Selby is also pictured in many of the 'strike' photographs at Disney in 1941; at the time, she was dating Art Babbitt and so was very active in the union.
She was once President of the Screen Cartoonists' Guild and ran her own animation studios in the USA and Mexico with Roger Daley, her first husband.

Selby was a published children's book illustrator when she applied to Disney in 1936 as an animator. "They laughed at me and told me to go across the street to the Ink and Paint department."

A conversation:
Selby: "They paid me $15.00 a week."
me: "It was the Depression."
"Well, I gave up a job at the drugstore that paid twenty."
She described Walt Disney as a 'benevolent despot' toward the women and told me that if a woman walked into the Animation Building for any reason, she would be fired. Animators could visit Ink and Paint.

"We were told that women can't animate."
"Why?"
"We just can't."

Inkers could not afford the commissary on their low salaries, so they had a 'sandwich wagon' instead.

"I met my first husband in Chuck Jones' unit, and I also met my second husband in Chuck Jones' unit."

Walt Kelly apparently used to watch Margaret Selby walk to the Ink and Paint building, but though they worked in the same studio, they never met until thirty years later.

Selby told me something once that I have never forgotten.

"My first husband was as talented as my second husband. But he was a perfectionist and was never happy with the result. Kelly was satisfied to get it 80% right, and leave it at that."

(Arguably, 80% of Walt Kelly is 150% of most of our efforts...the man was a drawing dynamo.)

Selby was a very good friend of mine for many years after we met at Zanders'.

I interviewed her in 1983 for Cartoonist PROfiles magazine. The interview will be posted on this blog.

Farewell, Selby. I hope in the Big Studio in the Sky, the women can and do work with 'the boys'.


Tuesday, June 07, 2005

Ace Holes

They're ba-aaaaack!
Or at least, redrawn....
Would you believe I preferred the others?

And Buzz Bunny is now renamed "Ace".

Saturday, June 04, 2005

Getting ready for the move....

There have been some Interesting Events associated with the move to the new apartment. Most Interesting was the leak found in the bathroom just as I was about to start bringing books and such over to the new place...
Note to the wise: Never hang pictures in the bathroom without checking with the management to see Where the Pipes Are. "Someone" --presumably the couple who lived in the place for six years--punched a hole in the water line and the resultant slow leak managed to damage the living room wall as well as the bathroom plaster.

The workmen scraped away the bad plaster and showed me the leaking mass inside, which looked rather like a burned and suppurating limb. I had visions of Edgar Allan Poe's corpse in the wall from the BLACK CAT. Would my furniture arrive only to react in horror as the walls of the Apartment of Usher fell into the deep tarn that would appear in the place where the tub used to be?

Apparently not.
A day later there was a reasonably neat hole punched in the wall with a new pipe bisecting it. I didn't think that the 'picture window in the bathroom' would be a popular decorating item but it could be good for a few laughs. I could bandage my hand and apologize for my hot temper. "I just get so upset at the news sometimes".
Maybe it would be even better to bandage my head.

The hole and the pipe looked like a suitable entry for the Tate gallery art competition; the pipe representing solidity, the stone of the wall both solid and transparent, stone and air; symbolic of the illusion of material things; pipe and wall together forming the Greek letter omega...
I've never been very good at keeping a straight face while writing stuff like this. But the hole and pipe would have looked good in some art galleries I've been to.

I decided that I could take the bus and bring over some little things that can be stashed in closets while workmen are in the place, so I took the hangers and some miscellaneous objects over at 8:30 on a Friday night.
I am hoping that my social life will improve after I move to the new location.

A woman busily talking on a cell phone nearly slammed the elevator door in my face as I was hauling the bags of stuff up Norma Desmond's staircase. "Excuse ME," I said, and the elevator door ceased to close. "I didn't see you, I'm SORRY!" came the startled reply.

Now, this is a great start to my tenancy. If this woman should turn out to be the next door neighbor...

Sod's law. Of course she was.

Fortunately for me, she was also genuinely sorry and came over a few minutes later to apologize. I said, think nothing of it. We went out for tea and I got a rundown of the other tenants on the floor: one museum curator, one historian at the George Eastman house with a film collection that might complement my own; one lady whose occupation I have forgotten; and one mysterious gentleman who probably lived on another floor since you never saw him in the little studio next to the elevator.
And there is one other cartoonist living in the building.

I got the impression that I had chosen the right place to move to.

Monday, May 30, 2005

UPDATES AND DOWNTIME

"So, you're moving to "Party Central"? my colleague asked.
I asked him what he meant by that. The old, brick apartment building with the lobby straight out of Norma Desmond's mansion in SUNSET BOULEVARD looked positively sedate.
"The building is fine. It's that neighborhood."
It still seemed pretty puzzling. Oxford Street glories in a row of magnolia trees in a fine green mall; one independent record store; a cellular phone shop; one coffee house, one upscale bar, and a Japanese restaurant. This hardly seems the sort of place which would have the police responding to drunken revelers at 2 AM.
To a New Yorker, Rochester is pretty sedate, period; but it all depends on where you are coming from. My new apartment is right around the corner from the Science Center, and a block away from the George Eastman house, so there will be opportunities for pleasant outings.
The building also has a fine roof terrace with picnic tables and a cooker. It is an open area where the tenants hold parties. Since my apartment is nowhere near this terrace, I should do all right (and most likely I'll be at the parties anyway.)

Other news: I'll be traveling a lot this summer, once the apartment is fully set up; one trip that I've always meant to take has been booked and paid for (through the nose, but it should be worth it.) I'll be taking the "Canadian" train from Toronto to Vancouver in August and staying with friends in that city. So watch this space for updates.
In the meantime, a happy Memorial Day to you all.

Sunday, May 15, 2005

CHANGE THE SANDWICH ORDER TO....

My father reports that there is a serious historical error in the Russian interview.

He went to "The Lodge" in Cranford, New Jersey, for special double crust Italian pizzas, NOT for shrimp salad sandwiches. I was the one who liked to order the sandwiches.

They were certainly good. So was the pizza.
There has been no outraged comment on the animation side of the interview, so it'll be left standing.

I'll post more once classes and final screenings end next week.

Saturday, May 07, 2005

JOE SENT ME: A tribute to Joe Grant, 1908-2005

Joe Grant was the spirit of the old Disney studio incarnate.
He was ‘the old guy at the end of the hall’ who sat for months, and years, in an office on the third floor of the Disney studio, working on ideas for new animated pictures.
One of his ideas was made into a short film called LORENZO which was nominated for an Academy Award when its creator was 96 years old.

In 1931, Walt Disney hired a young newspaper cartoonist named Joe Grant to design caricatures of Hollywood movie stars for a Mickey Mouse cartoon, MICKEY’S GALA PREMIERE. Joe designed caricatures of Wallace Beery, Charlie Chaplin, and Greta Garbo and liked the work so much he stayed on at Disneys for the next seventeen years.

Joe noticed that characters would change shape and volume from scene to scene in the early shorts. He created the Character Models department at Disney and introduced the concept of maquettes—three dimensional statues of the cartoon creatures that would enable animators to draw them correctly from all angles.

A list of Joe’s accomplishments would be far too long to include here. He designed the Queen and the Witch in SNOW WHITE. He wrote the story for DUMBO.
Some of his best work can be seen in THE RELUCTANT DRAGON, whose BABY WEEMS sequence, done entirely in storyboard, revolutionized animated storytelling.

In 1948 Joe had a falling out with Walt Disney over credits on the films and he left the studio for forty years.
During this time, he and his wife produced elegant ceramics and graphic art.

In 1988 Joe Grant was called back in to Disney’s to work on concept art for THE LITTLE MERMAID.

This time, he never left.

Joe continued to turn out concept art for every Disney film made since 1988. He sat in the office that he shared with Burny Mattinson and drew elegant pictures of cats and elephants and Indian gods and monsters. His colleague Vance Gerry, who also left us this year, worked just down the hall.

The younger animators were a little afraid of Joe. Most of it was awe of what he’d done. And there was always the notion in the back of our heads that this old guy could draw rings around any and all of us. It was a notion that was perfectly true.

“I know what will break the ice,” I told a friend.

I went straight to Joe’s office, knocked on the door, introduced myself, and said “I bet I’ve got some cartoon books that you don’t have.”

“Like what?”

“SIMPLICISSIMUS, a Munich satirical magazine—the 1975 museum catalogue.”

“I’ve got the complete run of SIMPLICISSIMUS right here!” Joe said, indicating a row of browncoated, dusty books on a nearby shelf.

“I’ve got some Ralph Bartons and T. S. Sullivants that I don’t think you have. I’ll trade copies.”

“Bring ‘em in!”

So I did, and the ice was well and truly broken. We became friends and I would often stop by to see how things were going with Joe’s projects, and discuss my own.

I once asked Joe why he continued to work at Disney’s. We would often discuss the current state of the studio. Joe thought that it definitely had once been better.

“The old man doesn’t work here any more!” he said brusquely. “As for me, coming in here beats staying home looking at the dog!”

When the DUMBO special edition disc came out, I phoned Joe to tell him that I’d seen him onscreen doing an interview with Leonard Maltin in the ‘extra features’.

“WAS I ALIVE?” Joe asked brusquely.

“You photographed better than Leonard did.”

We were discussing 3D animation a few weeks ago and Joe was terribly excited to hear that a system had been invented in Rochester which did not require special red and green glasses for the three dimensional effect, and one of the systems was installed on the campus of RIT.

“I’ve been predicting this thing for forty years. I have to read about it!” Joe said.

And I got the paperwork that I had promised him and had it all ready for download this weekend. But it’s too late to mail it to him now.

Joe was working right up to the end, which came on May 6, 2005, a few days short of his 97th birthday.

I feel privileged to have known him for ten years and to have been able to work with, and learn from, a damn fine artist who was also one of the last living links with the early years of the Disney studio.

And I imagine that Joe’s getting proper credit, now that he’s working with the Old Man on his next picture.

Friday, May 06, 2005


The original Character Animators, in what was then our only classroom. 1976. Posted by Hello

My design for Mehitabel the Cat. I studied cats all summer long and designed her based on an Abyssinian cat. Posted by Hello

The Russians are Interviewing

Here's the English text of the interview that Alexey Kobelev is publishing in Russian on his website.
I wasn't able to read the Russian translation, but was amused to see that Ken O'Connor's name translates pretty literally into Russian!
This was a lot of fun to do, and it also come nearly thirty years after I first went out to Cal Arts to learn how to draw animated cartoons, so it's sort of a commemoration of that event. To coin a phrase.
I am leaving Alexey's idiomatic English in place because I find it charming; I hope he does not mind. It's certainly better than my Russian.

Nancy, I'm immensely glad to an opportunity to have a talk with you! So my first question. Many artists become animators absolutely casually. For example, Glen Kean and John Pomeroy wanted to go into painting and never really planned to be in animation. How it has turned out that you became animator? Who was your first teacher in animation?


Dear Alexey,
I became an animator because of two English teachers, and the Zagreb Studio, and my father's love of shrimp salad sandwiches, and an Egyptian animator, and a very very good post office in Cranford, New Jersey. This may sound very strange but it is all absolutely true.

In America in the Seventies, film was taught as part of most American high schools English department. It was considered important to know something about Media. I had a fine teacher who gave us an assignment to do a "Media Project" which was to be film or slideshows. I had always enjoyed drawing and cartooning--
I even passed a Geometry class because I was able to draw cartoons of the other kids for the teacher so she gave me a better grade than I deserved!
So for the Media Project it seemed logical that I should do an animated cartoon. I had no idea how to do it, but with the help of the Kodak animation book and my father (who bought me a new 8mm camera) I shot a cut-paper animated film, OH FOR THE GOOD OLD DAYS, and decided that this was something I was interested in doing for a living.
My father would go for shrimp salad sandwiches and play pool at a nice local bar. He bragged about this little film. One of his friends there worked at an optical effects house in New York City that was owned by a woman (INCREDIBLE OPTICALS)
I was invited to see this studio, and then they said that 'there was a guy up the street who taught animation'. I was able to meet with Egyptian animator Ray Seti, of Sunflower Films, who ran a small animation program from his studio in midtown Manhattan. I was his youngest student, just 16 years old. So I went into New York City on the bus every Tuesday during my summer break, to study with Ray Seti.
Ray was a good teacher. I still use some of his exercises with my own students.

When I got back to school I told my film teacher, Mr. Ed Roberts, that I wanted to be an animator. Mr. Roberts hated animation but he had surprisingly established contacts with the Zagreb studio. So when the Zagreb people came to New York City in the spring of 1975 to show their films at the Museum of Modern Art, they actually stopped off at this little high school in Cranford New Jersey to show us their animation. (New Jersey is the next state over from New York)

Now here is where the excellent post office becomes important. Cranford had such a good post office that the Walt Disney Company located its entire East Coast operation for 'Educational Media' there--this was a branch of Disney, now long gone, which marketed their films on 16mm for the schools. Disney's people heard of the Zagreb show and came to the high school to see it. While they were there they told Mr. Roberts to get 'any interested seniors' who wanted to be in animation to contact Disney, since 'something was going on at the Studio'.

I first showed my Ray Seti work to the people at Disney Educational Media, who told me to send it to Mr. Don Duckwall at Disney. When my father got done laughing, he said "Where else could the man work with that name?"

I was very young and foolish so decided that the little pencil tests that I did for Ray Seti were not possibly good enough to send to Disney, so I made another film called GET A HORSE, which was on cel and in color. I thought, it was in color, so it must be better!

When Disney's got the film and the few drawings I sent with it, they sent the materials to Jack Hannah at the California Institute of the Arts. Jack was heading up the school's new Disney animation training program. Jack Hannah called my parents and told us that they could offer me a full scholarship, with the Disney family paying the tuition to this school that no one had ever heard of.
My parents were so excited to hear about my being offered a scholarship in California that they actually had a party and put a story in the local newspaper!

I had already been accepted to New York University but decided, wisely as it turned out, to go to Cal Arts instead. That is how I got to be the only member of the original class who was not already in contact with the Disney Studio from a very young age, and one of only three girls to be accepted. By the end of year one, I was the only girl in the class.

This story is incredible! I wonder what was further? I believe you should be employed by Disney right after the end of education!

Unfortunately this did not happen, Alexey. I wasn't hired because of the very conservative policies in place at Disney's at the time.
Being a woman animator -- at a time when women were routinely directed to inking, assisting, or inbetweening jobs -- was a terrible handicap. That's why I went to Germany in 1988: I never had any discrimination for any reason while working in Germany and England or Denmark.

I was hired before I graduated by Jack Zander of Zander's Animation Parlour in New York City. Zander was a veteran of the TOM AND JERRY cartoons at MGM and had a very successful commercial studio known as the "Disney's of the East". It was a great place to start in and I made a lot of good friends there too. I recommend commercials since they are a great way to stretch your stylistic wings...the more styles you know, the more commercials you can do!

Anyway, before to discuss your European career I would like to talk about details of training in Cal Arts. As far as I know the people who have determined the face of modern American animation studied in Cal Arts simultaneously with you. At that time the school has presented such talented people as Bill Kroyer, John Lasseter, Brad Bird and others. It was unusual splash! What was so special in Cal Arts program?


In the 1930s, Walt Disney sent all of his animators to the Chouinard Art Institute in Los Angeles to learn how to draw the human figure successfully. Without this training, SNOW WHITE would have looked more like THE GODDESS OF SPRING, a SILLY SYMPHONY that was actually a training film for this feature. Disney was so disappointed in THE GODDESS OF SPRING that he paid the tuition for the entire studio. It was free, but they HAD to go to school for retraining to keep their jobs.

When Walt Disney died he left half of his personal fortune to the California Institute of the Arts, a school formed by merging the Chouinard Art Institute with the Los Angeles Conservatory of Music. He wanted this to be his memorial; and it was his original idea that it be a school where an art student could take music courses, a dancer could try cartooning, and all the arts would merge. Cal Arts officially opened in 1971. Disney's idea did not work in practice. Cal Arts was a typical art and design school in every respect save one--it had a world class animation program from the start headed by Jules Engel.

In 1971 the Disney studio had its first post-Walt Disney hit: THE ARISTOCATS. It was decided that the studio would continue with the production of animated cartoon features. Originally they had planned to finish this film and then close down the animation department; but THE ARISTOCATS' popularity showed that there was an interest in this type of entertainment and that it could do well even after the studio founder had died.

Since the original animators were beginning to retire, it was decided that a new animation training school be set up specifically for Disney style animation at the California Institute of the Arts to bring young animators into the studio.

The Character Animation program was to be separate from Jules Engel's experimental program. It featured a highly structured system of courses that emphasized classical art training.

All but one of the original faculty were Disney studio veterans. The exception was William Moore, legendary (and foul-mouthed) design teacher from the Chouinard Art Institute.

The program chair and animation teacher was Jack Hannah, (who is not related to Bill Hanna of Hanna Barbera) who storyboarded and directed Donald Duck cartoons for forty years. Elmer Plummer, story man on DUMBO and many other films, taught life drawing. Caricaturist and director (PINOCCHIO, FANTASIA) T. Hee taught Caricature, and layout man Kendall O'Connor (SNOW WHITE and too many other credits to list) taught Layout.

The first class was largely made up of young people who had been in communication with the Disney studio for many years. Some, including myself, were found at the last minute and accepted into the original class.

The curriculum was tough and the teachers acted more like directors. They weren't there to make you feel good; they were there to help you work. When Elmer Plummer told me that I wasn't drawing as well as the boys, I was mad--but not at him--and decided I was going to make sure that I caught up. I worked two hours a day on my sketchbook and did a minimum of ten pages each day, and I did improve.

Mr. Moore's design class was a particular torture since none of us had any training at all. Moore was brutal in his critiques, which sometimes led to a student (this one) having to leave the room suddenly. Once again, I was mad...but not at him. (Well, sometimes at him.) I worked until I understood the basic principles of design that he was describing. It was ultimately the most important class of them all; if you don't know good design, you can't do a good pose or background. It's the core of everything else.

Ken O'Connor and T. Hee were not as aggressive in their critiques but could be just as determined. All of them loved this art form and did not want to see it die with them.

Frank Thomas and Ollie Johnston were frequent visitors and were genuinely helpful and approachable. They became good friends of many of the students.

Chuck Jones was also invited to all of our screenings. These started in a basement room in the school. They have now evolved into the Cal Arts Producers' Show, a lavish production in a real theatre that is attended by scouts from all the major studios.

Cal Arts was originally only supposed to have its Disney program for a few years. The studio no longer funds the program, but the tremendous interest in animation since 1975 ensures that the Cal Arts Program is consistently ranked as one of the best animation schools in the world.

Nearly all of the students in the original class of 1975 went on to work in animation or live action film. A picture taken in 1976 in Elmer Plummer's class is enclosed, which shows all but one of the original students.


Nancy, you earlier said, that you went to Europe in 1988. In what countries you worked? What production you enjoyed the most? Whether you had any language troubles?

I went to work in Germany in 1988 since I liked Berlin, liked the project, and preferred Europe to Los Angeles. At the time there was no animation work in New York City, where I lived, and I decided to go East rather than West. I have also worked in Denmark, England, and France.
I liked all the countries equally well and each studio featured talented coworkers. I never liked living in Los Angles but stayed there for eight years because I liked working for Disney. I left because I was in a bad car accident and so no longer drive cars. You can't live in L.A. without a car. You can see that my wanderings make sense...all the cities I liked living in had good public transportation! I am not ambitious enough to live badly for my art.
There were never language problems. I speak a little German, understand it well, and can read French and Spanish; though I can't speak French I understand it reasonably well. It's easy to live in a big city anywhere in Europe; it resembles New York more than Los Angeles (I got more culture shock in Los Angeles than in Berlin or Hamburg.) The German films were animated in German but we had translators since there were many nationalities on the project and everyone could understand the storyboards anyway. The French and British jobs were on American films so they were in English.

I wonder did you ever animate a character which you didn't enjoy animating?

Some commercial characters weren't too appealing, but then, as Eric Goldberg once said, it's all over in a couple of weeks, if you don't like it, something better will come along afterward! I've liked working on all my feature assignments though some were naturally a lot more challenging than others. A powerful voice actor with a strong personality makes it easy for the animator to give a fine performance. A poor voice actor with no real emphasis on their lines makes more of a challenge.

I don't know whether it is a surprise for you, Nancy, that from all features in which you took the part the most favorite in Russia is the "Goofy's Movie". Though the "Goof Troop" series was not so popular here, the full length feature really touched the hearts of Russian animation fan. And I'm talking not about commercial success but about emotional recognition. The theme of relations between father and son has appeared very close to the most different people.

Certainly, Alexey, I was on this film for several years. It is a good little movie. I am glad that this is a popular one! And the crew really enjoyed the movie. It was known as the 'little movie that could' since it just went on being popular despite not being a big budget Disney feature!

I said already that from all your animated features "A Goofy Movie" is the most favorable in Russia. But my personal favorite is the "Hercules" nevertheless. I believe that this film is perfect on most of levels. Nancy, as far as I know, you have animated the Fates and Thebans in that movie.I have a pretty silly question. I never forget the scene where one citizen narrates "We lost everything in the fire. Everything... except old Snowball here." It was so funny! But I have noticed that poor Snowball had appeared many times on the screen and each time he causes a smile on my face. I wonder is it was the director's idea or you have drawn this cat on your own?

You are correct that I worked on the Thebans as well as the Fates, though I did not do the scenes on the Thebans that you mention.
The burned cat was the director's and story men's idea, and they had Gerald Scarfe draw a design for the cat. The animator for that particular scene was Mike Show. I did all the other scenes where the cat is behaving very strangely.

The next question is the technical one. There is a scene where Thebans carried the Herc on their hands. Can you tell us how the scenes with interaction of different characters were created at Disney?

Usually someone in the HERCULES unit would animate him after the Thebans animator had done the group of characters carrying a 'place holder'.
There is a scene where the Thebans ask Hercules "Ever saved a town before? Ever dealt with a natural disaster?" I animated the Thebans and Hercules (but did not do Hercules on model). After I finished the Thebans, Andreas Deja animated Hercules reacting. The 'lead animator' would go first; in this case, it was me.
In another scene where a woman says, "Young man, we need a professional hero, not an amateur!" I animated the woman first, and Eric Goldberg animated Hercules and Phil.There is a scene where Hades says "Did you cut your hair? You look like a Fate worse than death." I animated Hades as well as Clotho the silly Fate, since they were touching.Most studios do not break up scenes the way Disney does. It took longer to animate under their system.

The same interaction was in the "Treasure Planet" also when Jim helps Billy Bones. In the director's audio commentaries were said that you had imagined the whole own world for the Billy Bones species. Can you tell us about it?

Billy Bones is a SPECIES I made up. But since I'd left Disney's by the time they recorded that track, they made up a lot of stuff for the DVD. It wasn't necessary to give Bones a planet; in this film, he's a fugitive who crash lands on Jim's planet and dies there after giving him the map.
I did have a lot to say about Bones' design. The orignal drawing that I used was a concept drawing by German artist Harald Siepermann. I then added a lot of material, including a 'high cocked' hat, and a novel way of painting the bags under his eyes so that they would appear to be deep set and glowing. Art director Ian Gooding was kind enough to use my suggestions about this.
Billy Bones is a dinosaur/tortoise with turtle feet and hands, the neck of a bird, fish gills (from a Sockeye salmon, a fish whose face gets hideously deformed before it dies) and he has a double hinged jaw like a snake. Even though the film is flawed I like his performance.
The gills were there so we could see his labored breathing and see them shut down when he dies. Every design element has a purpose.
The American DVD has the out takes of the animation--about fifty per cent of the Bones animation was not in the final movie.

Then I must ask what Bones animation was not included into the final version? Whether it was the flashbacks with Flint? And do you animate any other characters in "Treasure Planet"?

As for why Billy Bones was cut, it was because the character of Jim Hawkins needed to be changed. Originally he walked away from the injured Bones as the creature repeatedly asked him for help and actually grabbed at his pants leg (Bones was lying on the ground.) Since this is not a nice thing to do Jim now helps Billy up immediately. Jim Hawkins was not a standard character but we didn't want to make the audiences hate him.
I don't know why the footage did not show up on the European discs. To see it on the American one, you must play a game where you locate golden balls on the ship. When you find all the golden balls, there is an 'easter egg'--you get to see my original animation for Billy Bones, which is longer than in the finished feature. I believe that few people know about this footage, but it is there.


When artists speak about the director, they usually express set of compliments. Sometimes I feel that the person thus dissembles or simply says lies. But in all honestly whether you can choose the most talented and pleasant famous director of animated feature from those with whom you worked?

I've been lucky to work with a great many pleasant and talented directors. I've had relatively few directors whom I'd consider untalented and unpleasant, and that's a remarkable achievement in an industry with so many temperamental artists in it! Rather than single any one out, I'd say that my definition of a good director is someone who knows what they want. A director who is always changing their mind and making the artists redo things, and isn't able to communicate what they REALLY want from a scene, is a very poor director. Sadly, I've worked with a couple of these.
Even if the picture isn't that great, if the director knows what he or she wants, that's all I am interested in as an animator, director or producer.


Nancy, can you give the definition for the bad animation? What is the bad animation in your opinion?

Bad animation is animation that has no purpose; it can be 'full' or 'limited', computer, or hand drawn, or puppet-- if it has no purpose, it is just stuff moving around on a screen. The very worst animation I have seen is the type that appears to be made only for other animators. It stresses technique over storytelling or acting or artistic statement. Any film that has its technique showing or glorifies its technique is just an academic exercise; it's not a film that would take you to a new world or introduce you to new characters. Eventually the technique becomes dated, or even tiring, or the audience becomes jaded. Audiences, ultimately, respond to story and character and not exclusively to technique.
Live action films are also victims of this worship of technique. There are vast numbers of them that do this now that they can play with the computer effects!


Obviously there are bad animated features with a very good animation but whether there are good films with a terrible animation? If yes it is then what for to aspire to create good animation and to improve technics if it is possible to manage with mediocre?

There are a lot of bad features with good animation since more time is spent on the technique than on story. Films frequently go into production with the story in nebulous or poor condition.

As for good features with bad animation: This is perhaps a too strong word to use. Most good animation features are greater than the sum of their parts. In other words, not all the animation is sublime, some is okay and some can actually be weak from a professional standpoint; but if the story point is made and the pacing and the characters are good the audience will be forgiving of small defects. Only animators note the disappearing raccoon cub in BAMBI (now corrected in the DVD print after sixty years) or the sometimes shaky line on a drawn character, or other imperfections that the artists notice since they are there in the middle and cannot see the forest for the trees. Good animation and good storytelling and good production values combine to form a harmonious whole in a good animated film.

The traditional animation (Disney-like especially) has not the best times right now. Of course everyone understands that the deal is with the stories actually. And audiences are awaiting the new hand drawn films. And nevertheless there are very few traditional animated features in production. Nancy, do you believe that all will change someday or hand drawn animated features will become rarities just like clay animation?

I don't think there will be as many, but there will be, proportionately, many more good ones! Remember all the bad features that came out in the Eighties? People now will consider story when making a cartoon film, and that is all to the good.
Clay animation is some of the most successful in the world right now--think of WALLACE AND GROMIT. Aardman's CURSE OF THE WERE RABBIT is the first feature with these characters and Tim Burton's CORPSE BRIDE is also coming out this year. I think that the Aardman film could be the biggest animated hit of the year.
As for the computer films, they are already getting away from the boring 'realistic' look that so many aspired to--incorrectly, I feel, since if you want a realistic person, just film one! MADAGASCAR and CHICKEN LITTLE feature all animal casts that are cartoon characters.
We shall see. The only sure thing about film is that it is in a state of constant 'animation'.

Nancy, I think that the interview turn out to be amazing! Certainly, till now there was no anything similar in Russian Internet or press either.

Thank you, the interview has been fun.

Thank YOU!