Association International du Film d'Animation
(International Animated Film Association)

June 2008

by Karl Cohen

Local News - June 2008

MICHAEL JANTZE FROM SAN ANSELMO HAS 2 REALLY NICE SHORTS ON YOU TUBE His Mr. Lux Is At Your Service is a really nice 5-minute long retro-'50s cartoon plus there is a fun safety tip called The Norm Short. It turns out he is from Normal, Illinois and is a graduate of Cal State Northridge. On the Jantze Studio website he writes, "After college, I freelanced in film for a few years, almost getting a couple of good jobs. Then I took a corporate job as an art director. The title sounded good, the job wasn't. Basically I was in charge of the copier. It was in those dark years I began creating comics for weekly newspapers and published Normal U.S.A. the continuation of my college strip... While waiting politely to get syndicated, I worked for three daily newspapers, PC World magazine and freelanced web design. When my comic strip was picked up for syndication, I got an offer to work as an Art Director of Special Effects at ILM. Great, huh? Two dream jobs and a brand new baby at the same time. You see that's how life works. Even when you're winning you're losing. That's the Mid-western creed." He has a strip at

and a book in print. Visit

to find out more about Michael and see his shorts at

CONGRATULATIONS TO PDI/DREAMWORKS The nominations for SIGGRAPH 08's best in show prize have been announced and the only nominated work from the US is PDI/Dreamworks' Madagascar: Escape 2 Africa, a glimpse into their upcoming film. It "provides a whole new perspective on flying with animals." The other nominated films are: Bolidies, an "imaginative student film that treats us to a chaotic, hilarious, wheelchair race through an old age home" (from Supinfocom, France). Carbon Footprint is by William Rockall, Jellyfish Pictures, UK. Oktapodi is by 3rd year students from Gobelins l'ecole de l'image, France. It is about two octopi making a comical escape from the grasps of a stubborn restaurant cook. The Chemical Brothers, The Salmon Dance features "great music with hilarious animation. A new perspective on aquaria, as a tank filled with rapping, beatboxing, and dancing fish comes to life. It featurs over 300 hand-animated fish," and is by Framestore CFC, UK.

In the student competition all 5 nominated works are from Europe (4 are from France, 1 from Germany). The jury also nominated 5 works for the jury prize including The Plush Life by Timothy Heath, USA. Timothy's film was rendered entirely with NVIDIA's Gelato and it shows "what happens when you pick at something that just shouldn't be picked at: you might just imperil your trip to work." Nominees were chosen from more than 900 submissions from around the globe.

WILL PAICIUS, WHO TAUGHT COMPUTER ANIMATION AT DE ANZA, SF STATE AND OTHER LOCAL SCHOOLS, DIED IN APRIL by Karl Cohen William Julian Paicius was 58 when he had a fatal heart attack. Before getting a MFA from the Academy of Art he had worked for Atari games in both puppet animation and motion capture development, for RCA, Texas Instruments, Will Vinton and with Ron Thornton in LA.

The sentiments from his former students in a "guest book" on the Internet speak well of his abilities as a teacher. One student wrote, "You are a great teacher and I learned a lot from you. You are knowledgeable and funny. I like how you would try different methods to teach and go out of your way to help your students learn. That is why I kept taking your classes at Ohlone and had planned on taking more. You will be missed." A former student wrote from Spain, "Will... helped me a lot in becoming a professional cg artist. I will always remember his classes and the passion he had for teaching, I hope some day to teach and Will was the kind of teacher that I want to become." A woman wrote, "I'm sure that legacy continues with former students, particularly those who are now animation instructors, encouraging their students to collaborate and support each other as much we did in his class years ago."

There are lots more statements from former students. One from De Anza said, "I will never forget his ability to be patient with any student that came to his classroom. I will never forget his knowledge, his generosity, his kindness, his advice, his humor, and most of all, his friendship. Whenever you needed a favor, or advice, or help with your animation, he always provided an answer. If he didn't have one, he would find one to give you. Often times he would go out of his way to provide you with tools to assist you in your projects."

I knew Will when he ran a computer lab at SF State. He was an upbeat person and I sometimes stopped by his classroom after my morning class to see what his students were working on, to talk with him and occasionally to share with his class a tape of a new computer short. I soon discovered he was also a very sweet and generous man. He once asked why I didn't bring DVDs, which were just coming on the market. I explained I hadn't bought a player yet. The following week he had a surprise for me, an Apex DVD player. He said it was an extra unit he had in his garage. I was quite surprised and touched by his generosity.

When I gave a lecture at San Jose State a few years later we went to dinner after my talk and then he drove me back to San Francisco. We had a wonderful evening talking. I think that was the last time I saw him, but we kept in touch by e-mail. He was a special person and I wasn't surprised as I read the "guest book" that he had influenced the lives of many people who were lucky enough to know him.

RICHARD QUAN HAS PRODUCED "RUN LISA RUN" FOR COMEDY CENTRAL He writes, "It stars Lisa Lampanelli, the 'Queen of Mean' who's been a big hit on the celebrity roast circuit. She's about as un-politically correct as possible, and the
show is pretty outrageous, so be prepared to be offended." Richard was the producer and it was created and written by Lisa Lampanelli and Bill Freiberger. To see the pilot

CHANNEL 20 IN SF SEEKS SHORT FILMS, VIDEO CLIPS, ETC. Producer Brendan Moran seeks material for the launch of YourTV, a new show. It is an opportunity for exposure on broadcast TV. No pay. Their mailing suggests they are looking for short, funny, creative content. "YourTV20 is starting a new show based on a simple concept. You send us videos and we'll put them on TV. We're looking for short films, sketch comedy, weird stuff, whatever. Send us a link, a tape, a DVD. We don't care. Is it already on the Internet? Great! Now put it on TV. Send links and questions to: Send tape (any format) to: Submissions, YourTV20, 2500 Marin St., San Francisco, CA 94124, Here's a video link which says pretty much the same thing:

When asked about their contract Brendan said, "We don't pay but we're not exclusive. We agree to show a bug during the duration of your video stating who you are."

DOCUMENTARY ABOUT WALT DISNEY PREMIERED AT THE SF FILM FESTIVAL by Karl Cohen Ted Thomas' feature Walt and El Grupo had its world premiere at the San Francisco International Film Festival. It is a charming documentary about Walt Disney taking some of his staff on a two-month long goodwill tour of South America in 1941. The story is told using interviews with Latin Americans who met the visitors in 1941, relatives of the people who went reading letters from them while they were in Latin America, footage from Disney TV shows about the trip, lots of still photographs, art work created on the trip, 16mm "home movies" in color shot by the people who went and newspaper coverage that sometimes included grim reminders of the coming war on the same page as a photo of Walt. One nice design element is Ted's use of carefully registered dissolves between modern color footage and historic b/w photos of buildings the tour stopped at (often very little has changed except the landscaping). John Canemaker and J. B. Kaufman provide useful historical details and background information. The all too brief segment on Mary Blair is another of the film's highlights.

While the documentary has some important material in it, much of the film is simply about nice people having fun. I grew tired of the group socializing with upper class society in fancy nightclubs, luxury hotels and in fine homes, lovely gardens and nice ranches. The film drags at times - it seemed like it lasted at least 2 hours. (Variety said the film "feels indulgent, superficial and ponderous.")

Most, but not all of the people I spoke with who saw the film, really enjoyed it. They were delighted to see the home movies and newsreel footage as it captures the spirit of a great vacation. If that is what you expect you will enjoy it too as it shares with us the tremendous amount of adulation showered upon Walt. He was treated like a major movie or rock star and at times thousands of people came out to see him. He was still young looking at 40, charming, gracious and it seemed his hosts spared no expense in entertaining their new friends from Hollywood. I assume it will be released on DVD. Ted's first feature length documentary is Frank and Ollie.


I was disappointed as to what the documentary barely or didn't discuss. It glosses over how serious and ugly the dispute at the studio had become and the many causes of it. A long ugly strike was in progress and when Walt left for S. America he was still unable or unwilling to negotiate an end to it. I suspect his brother Roy and others welcomed this tour as a way to get Walt out of the picture so the strike could be resolved. This is briefly hinted at in the film's beginning, but almost all of the strike coverage is one-sided - ugly footage of angry workers without explaining they had very real grievances. Then the film moves on to how much fun Walt and company were having after they left the US so we quickly forget that a lot of the studio's staff was still walking picket lines. The only hints at the tension that must have existed in the minds of the travelers were brief statements in letters written to family back home. They simply say they are cut off from news about the strike and are wondering how things are going.

Another topic I wish the film had explored fully was the tour's purpose, to improve the image of the US in Latin America at a time when our government feared these neutral countries might side with Hitler should war break out. There were large numbers of German emigrants in Argentina, Brazil and other countries. The film states, but doesn't stress the serious purpose of the trip and it doesn't mention that Nelson Rockefeller was the head of our State Department's Good Neighbor Policy or that he joined the group in Brazil. It also leaves out that Walt's trip was one of several successful tours set up by Rockefeller in 1940 -'41 for the NBC Symphony Orchestra, Aaron Copland, Rita Hayworth, Orson Welles and others, or that the State Department was doing many other things to win over Latin America. Our government's concern for this issue was so great that FDR devoted his Fireside Talk to the nation on May 27, 1941 to "Pan American Unity." Why? Besides the obvious political reasons, S. America was a source of strategic raw materials, the site of important military bases, etc. As a result we invested heavily in the area (health, education, welfare, industry, etc.)

The film ends with a brief polite mention that the strike was settled while Walt was out of the country and that the labor union won just about everything they wanted. More time is given to comments by people in South America about Saludos Amigos and The Three Caballeros, the features that resulted from the trip Not all the comments are favorable. One or two people suggest Saludos Amigos is a simplistic representation of inconsequential portions of their culture to the point of being insulting. Also, there is no evaluation of the trips political effectiveness as a goodwill effort.


Cloud Eye Control

A lot more fun was Cloud Eye Control and Anna Oxygen. It was sort of a party with 3 short acts followed by a dance party disguised as Anna Oxygen leading the audience in an interactive aerobics workout. She has a powerful soprano voice and she was great at getting almost everyone on their feet and moving to the beat.

As for the performance pieces, I was quite impressed by Miwa Matreyek's Dreaming of Lucid Living. It got the loudest and longest applause and if she ever performs near you in the future, catch her act. She is an accomplished performance artist who combines her animation, video projection and simple cardboard props with her performance abilities. It is a very satisfying piece. See her work on her website (click on white boxes on left side).

Emily Hubley's "The Toe Tactic"
Emily Hubley's first feature, The Toe Tactict is a live action with really nice animated segments. It blends fantasy, reality and lots of imagination into a satisfying, yet puzzling work, as parts of the film exist on a different plane of consciousness. (In the Q & A she said it was in fact a sort of puzzle.) What held it together for me was the excellent pacing/editing, her delightful animated surprises, a fine soundtrack, strange events within the story and other basic elements that have little to do with presenting a simple logical narrative. The story seemed secondary to enjoying the film's structure. It was so well designed that it kept moving the experience forward. I left feeling I had just witnessed a really unusual film and I felt very satisfied. I'm still thinking about why I liked it so much, yet parts of it are elusive.

Not feeling my description of The Toe Tactic would make sense to somebody who hasn't seen it, I asked Martha Gorzycki, who teaches animation at SF State, how she would describe the experience. She said, "I like how she wove a meta-narrative into the live action. The animated characters and line drawing sequences are like experiencing thought and visceral processes-- emotional, psychological and intuitive. It is not a film to make logical sense of, rather it is to be experienced and mused over. Technically it held together very well; the blending of animation with live action is very successful and believable, which is a difficult thing to achieve in film."

CONFESSIONS OF AN ANIMATION CRITIC WHO ALMOST WENT BLIND Nancy Denney-Phelps' article Finding Animation in All the Wrong Places on her blog is an unusual confession about not telling many people she had a rapidly advancing cataract condition. She was being invited to festivals to write about them and in some cases to judge them, so she put off laser eye surgery until April.

Nancy without glasses. Her vision is great again. She tells me it is sharp (20/20) and colors are once again brilliant. She no longer has to wear glasses for distance viewing or sit in the front row to see the screen. You can read the entire story on her blog. Here are a few excerpts.

"About a year ago, I began to think that the projectors at the animation festivals were getting very fuzzy and I kept moving further and further toward the front row to see the screen. It became obvious to me that the problem was not with the projectors, but with my eyes. This was a big problem, since I spend a great deal of my time in screening rooms, and what animation festival would want a blind juror, much less a "visually challenged" journalist..."

"Throughout this entire process, the nurses and my doctor laughed and joked with me, which really helped me relax. They even got into the spirit of taking the photos for this article..."

"No one prepared me for the adventure that awaited me on that operating table. First of all a very bright light was shined in my eye, and then the most fantastic animated light show began. I have never seen such intense, vivid colors, not even in light shows in the '60's at the Fillmore. The magenta and aquamarines were intertwined with olive green circles that radiated lustrous gold and orange shooting sparks that felt like they were flying out of my brain. The colors and shapes all moved in rhythmic patterns to the music on the operating room radio and I felt that I was in the middle of a Fischinger animated short. I can only imagine what I would have seen and heard if I had been given the really good drugs."

"There is no way I can adequately thank my many friends who supported me throughout this entire ordeal. I especially want to acknowledge my numerous friends who helped me look like I knew where I was and what was happening at animation festivals. I never could have done it without all of you."

When I showed her the above text she wrote me, "I hope it will help others who may be going through the same thing and calm some of their fears about the surgery. It is terrifying to think that someone is going to actually burn away your lens and replace them with plastic."

Nancy was at animation events in Germany and Portugal in May and is presently off to Zagreb and then Annecy, so we can expect a few words from her soon about new animated releases and other festival news.

WILDBRAIN HAS FANS EVERYWHERE -- EVEN IN HIGH PLACES The Mirror in London reports that Sir Paul McCartney's daughter Beatrice is a fan of WildBrain's Yo Gabba Gabba!

MARTHA GORZYCKI HAS A NEW WEBSITE It is dark and mysterious.


Sat. June 7, 1 PM, animated sequence in MUSIC IS MY LIFE, POLITICS MY MISTRESS; THE STORY OF OSCAR BROWN JR. The documentary with animation by Ed Desroches from ASIFA-Colorado will be shown at Yoshi's Jazz Club, 1330 Fillmore, SF. The film's director in-person. Part of the SF Black Film Festival.

Wed. July 9, 7:30 PM, ASIFA-SF PRESENTS A PRIVATE SCREENING FOR MEMBERS AND THEIR GUESTS. It is an extremely important film not yet in release.
32nd SF International Lesbian, Gay,
Bisexual and Transgender Film Festival
June 21 at 11 AM and on June 29 at 2 PM at the Castro, "PAT'S FIRST KISS" (Canada; Director: Pat Mills), the true story of the filmmaker's first kiss with a stranger he met overseas. In the Fun in Boys' Shorts program.

June 22 at 10:30 AM, Castro Theatre, "BUDDY G, MY TWO MOMS AND ME -- LOST RINGS" (USA; Director: Margaux Towne-Colley) Join the fun with Buddy G, his mom and mommy, in the adventure of The Lost Rings, .the premier episode of Buddy G, My Two Moms and Me. World Premiere It is in the Family Fun program.

June 22 at 6:15 PM, Victoria Theatre, "UNCA TRANS" (Canada; Directors: Allyson Mitchell, Christina Zielder). Set in an agrarian future, the title character pontificates about gender theory and activism back in the 2000's. It is in the Transtastic program.

June 26 at 9 PM, Roxie Film Center, the "Deep Lez Film Craft" shorts program includes Unca Trans and several films with some form of stop-motion in them. Part animated films include 4 works by Allyson Mitchell from Canada. In Candy Kisse big-eyed girls and bubble text tell a stop-motion animated tale of woe and lousy relationship negotiations. In Glitter two twits dance their fears away at a roadside farmers market. They bring lesbian glamour where it has never been. If Anything Should Happen is a meditation of female rage. A girl in various animal states is seen licking her wounds. In Pink Eyed Pet, love can cause infections even topical treatments won't cure. Also in the program is My Life in 5 Minutes. It is mostly a photo slideshow that occasionally has illustrations interspersed and animated between or over slides.

June 28 at 3:30PM, Castro Theatre, "OPERATED BY INVISIBLE HANDS" (USA; Director: Nicole Brending) is in the Dyke Delights program. Two antique dolls confront their secret feelings for each other after a night of unforgettable passion. World Premiere


IRAN HAS ONCE AGAIN WARNED THAT BARBIE DOLLS ARE A DESTRUCTIVE INFLUENCE ON THEIR CHILDREN An Associated Press story in late April said, "A top Iranian judiciary official warned against the 'destructive' cultural and social consequences of importing Barbie dolls and other Western toys." The judge was complaining that such toys smuggled into the country are "destructive culturally and a social danger." While importing the toys is not illegal, it is discouraged by a government that seeks to protect Iranians from what it calls the negative effects of Western culture.

"The displays of personalities such as Barbie, Batman, Spiderman and Harry Potter ... as well as the irregular importation of unsanctioned computer games and movies are all warning bells to the officials in the cultural arena," according to a letter from Najafabadi. The article claimed Iran is the world's third biggest importer of toys and some Iranian officials believe that smuggled imports pose a threat to the "identity" of the new generation. "Undoubtedly, the personality and identity of the new generation and our children, as a result of unrestricted importation of toys, has been put at risk and caused irreparable damages."

Why the outrage? It turns out Barbie is sold wearing swimsuits and miniskirts in a society where women must wear head scarves in public and men and women are not allowed to swim together. In 1996, the government-backed children's agency called Barbie a "Trojan horse" sneaking in Western influences such as makeup and revealing clothes. Authorities launched a campaign of confiscating Barbies from stores in 2002, denouncing the un-Islamic sensibilities of the doll. The campaign was eventually dropped.

Iran also introduced its own competing dolls in 2002, the twins Dara and Sara, who were designed to promote traditional values with their modest clothing and pro-family stories. The dolls were not able to replace Barbie as the doll young girls craved.

OH NO, "SESAME STREET" HAS BEEN CENSORED! Nothing is sacred from politically correct censors. Our beloved Cookie Monster was censored in a recently released DVD of the series oldest shows (ca. 1969). They cut Monsterpiece Theater, a spoof of the legendary PBS show hosted by Alistair Cooke. Alistair, played by Cookie Monster, was shown with his favorite pipe that gets eaten in the course of the skit. According to Carol-Lynn Parente, an executive producer of the present series, this "modeled the wrong behavior." For the DVD they tried to re-shoot the sequence without the pipe and then decided to cut the entire skit. The DVD also carries an "adults only" warning as it contains images some parents may now object to (pigging out on too many cookies, characters with bad attitudes, etc.)

POSSIBLE CHANGES TO COPYRIGHT RULES IS A COMPLEX ISSUE, NOT JUST A SIMPLE FAST YES OR NO SITUATION What is being discussed are "Orphan Works" that are or may be copyrighted (books, music, records, films, photos etc.) whose owner cannot be located. Works can become "orphaned" for a number of reasons: the owner did not register the work, the owner sold rights in the work and did not register the transfer, the owner died and his heirs cannot be found, etc. Right now one friend is dealing with a nasty problem as he sold a live action feature to a company that went bankrupt. His rights were then purchased by another small distributor who also went bust and now he has nobody to contact to get his rights back. Under the present law if he does anything with his work he could be sued. On the other hand some artists fear companies will use their work without their permission and then you have to try to collect a payment. For an intelligent quick explanation of both sides of the issue !



SYLVAIN CHOMET SHOWED CLIPS AT CANNES FROM "THE ILLUSIONIST" The hand-drawn and CG feature, scheduled for release in the UK and France in 2009 by Pathe, is budgeted at $22 million (his Triplets of Belleville had an $8 million budget). (World-wide distribution is planned.) The story is based on an un-produced script by French comic legend Jacques Tati, (Mr. Hulot's Holiday) and the Hollywood Reporter said it was a tale "of a dying breed of stage entertainers whose thunder is being stolen by emerging rock stars. Forced to accept increasingly obscure assignments in fringe theaters, garden parties and bars, he meets a young fan who changes his life forever."

ALSO AT CANNES: "KUNG FU PANDA" GETS A POSITIVE REVIEW AT CANNES The reviewer (Hollywood Reporter) said it was mainly for children, but adults will find this fast paced comedy-adventure entertaining. Articles about it in other publication also praised the entertainment value and apparently DreamWorks tossed a great party after the screening.

"WALTZ WITH BASHIR" WAS THE SURPRISE HIT OF CANNES 08!. It is an animated documentary from Israel about how soldiers repress memory of things they experienced. It concerns facts about the first Lebanon war in the early eighties. A variety of visual styles accompany the interviews with various people who participated. Gary Meyer called it, "Another fascinating and challenging work." The reviewer from Time was quite impressed and The Guardian (London) called it "vivid and thrilling filmmaking," but the Hollywood Reporter said, "Though occasionally striking visually, this animated documentary about war never really quite comes together."

COMPANY IN ISRAEL IS PRODUCING THE COUNTRY'S FIRST 3-D ANIMATED FEATURE Animation Lab in Jerusalem is in pre-production on Wild Bunch, the country's first 3-D animated feature. It will be a family comedy about a flower meadow taken over by genetically modified corn. In it a "ragtag team of common wildflowers and plants are attacked by an evil army of genetically modified cornstalks determined to take over their idyllic meadow." The producer is Jim Ballantine (Bambi II and the Ren and Stimpy Show). Erel Margalit, the Israeli venture capitalist behind the film, says he wants to make the ancient city of Jerusalem a modern day "hub of creativity." The company also has an office in Hollywood.

ANNECY ANNOUNCES THE 9 FEATURES IN COMPETITION -- LIST INCLUDES FEATURES BY BILL PLYMPTON AND NINA PALEY Held June 9 -- 14, the 32nd event will show Shinji Aramaki's Appleseed: Ex Machina and Masayuki Jokima's Piano no mori from Japan, Nina Paley's Sita Sings the Blues and Bill Plympton's Idiots and Angels from the U.S., three French films, Christian Hincker's Peur(s) du noir ..., Guillaume Ivernel's Chausseurs de dragons and Olivier Jean-Marie's Go West: A Lucky Luke Adventure, plus Hayo Freitag's Die Drei Rauber from Germany and Adria Garcia's Nocturna from Spain.

There were 1,867 films (shorts and features) submitted, 284 will be shown including 216 in various competitions (9 features, 43 shorts, 45 TV movies, 44 advertising clips and 75 student films). Organizers cited an "explosion in Japanese participation" this year with 119 films sent in.


or visit Blu's webesite at

THREE IMPRESSIVE SOUNDING EVENTS WERE HELD IN LA IN MAY The Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences hosted three major events related to animation. The annual Marc Davis Lecture was on Mentorship in Animation with animators James Baxter, Andreas Deja, Pete Docter and Eric Goldberg. They discussed the golden age animators' efforts to train and pass their knowledge on to future generations.

The second event was on The Art, Science and Psychology of Production Design with animator Bill Kroyer hosting a panel to review the psychology behind classic production design. The panel was expected to be PIXAR's Ralph Eggleston (The Incredibles, Finding Nemo), Doug Chiang (Beowulf), legendary Hitchcock Art Director Robert Boyle and academy award winning director Norman Jewison.

The third program was A Cinematic Odyssey with Tom Hanks and Star Wars effects legend Douglas Trumbull discussing and screening Stanley Kubrick's masterpiece 2001 A Space Odyssey.

The Academy also opened an exhibit in their lobby of Ink & Paint - The Art of Hand Drawn Animation. It includes examples of famous traditionally animated films (Bob Clampett shorts, 101 Dalmatians, The Iron Giant, etc.) Jerry Beck (Animation Brew) says the exhibit is a must see and it will be up through this summer. The Academy programs are open to the public and the cost is only $3 for students and $5 for the public. Thanks Tom Sito for this item.


They loved and were amazed by Roger, but had mixed feelings about Nightmare because it wasn't a children's film -- no kidding. Thanks Paul Naas for the tip.

ANIMATOR AND DIRECTOR ANDY KNIGHT DIES Andy was Colossal Pictures' overseas supervisor on Ed Grimly back in the last century. He also worked with Mike Smith on Tank Girl and later with Mike in SF on storyboard and visual development for Coppola's Pinocchio. John Hays says, "I don't think the film went into production, but they had a great time working on it." He was 46 when he died of a stroke (April 10).

Reading the memorial statements from animators who worked with him, Knight must have been an amazing talent. If you want to see examples of his work he has some unusual TV commercials on his company's website (founded in 1994).

"Andy's talents are best recognized for his expressive creative character design and innovative eye for sleek directions in visual storytelling. As an internationally recognized creative director, Andy inspires creative ingenuity while utilizing his technical savvy to drive his team towards crafting brilliant concept to completion animation and VFX for clients worldwide." For more great statements visit

"Let's change the world with animation!" KATI MACSKASSY July 12, 1942 -- March 7, 2008 by
Istvan Orosz Kati Macskassy wrote this title at the top of an essay in Feburary, 1980. The article appeared in the journal of the Pannonia Film Studio. It was a bi-monthly newsletter intended for the profession. Its mobilizing effect -- even if I imagine bureaucrats particularly alert to sentences like this -- was negligible. The writer, however, that beautiful, tall, blonde woman in a denim jacket, who by that time was not only talking about changing the world, had to be taken seriously. She had already formed her own independent film language and had made two seminal works, At The Touch of a Button, 1973 and I Like Life A Lot, 1975 and she was being recognized at prestigious festivals. (Golden Meteor prize, 1975, UNICEF prize, 1977, Melbourne-1st prize, 1978). She was already feted abroad, while at home, people hardly dared to understand the message of the films.

The torch was handed on by her father. Gyula Macskassy, an emblematic figure in Hungarian animation, was the first independent, individual animation film designer and director (The Cockerel's Diamond Coin, 1951) and in fact the founder of Hungarian animation film production. He made his last film in 1971, the same year Kati made her first. Her father's legacy was important to her. In the last year and even in the weeks before her death, she was working on a monograph of Gyula Macskassy which would finally present him in a fitting manner. But we cannot say that she intended to follow in her father's footsteps. As a film director she set out, undaunted and determined, on her own independent path, or rather on a territory without a path, for she wanted to stretch the limits of the animation genre. It was not an easy task. She started in the profession at a time when Hungarian animation films really were in the vanguard in the world at large. Besides the most progressive contemporary film artists Gyorgy Kovasznai and Sandor Reisenbuchler, she was the one who had moved a very long way from the traditional story-telling, imitation Disney, romantic, sugary genre. She made most of her films with children. Naturally, these films were not at all made in the spirit that equates animation with children's films. As far as their method and aims were concerned, they were related above all to contemporary literary sociography, which was a significant factor in seventies and eighties Hungarian culture. You could even link most of them to a mental preparation for the democratic changes to come; she turned the classic formula of animation films, adults making films for children, on its head. And stylistically, the majority of the Macskassy films were close to the grotesque, working with 'supplied material'. Of course the definition of children's films was useful in many contexts and from many points of view: it was easier to have a child say or have children draw the awkward social and political subjects which would perhaps not h
ave been mentioned in more adult surroundings at the time.

She worked with children and the laughter of adults sitting in the cinema suddenly stuck in their throats and they fell silent, because they noticed that the honest childish sentences and even more so, the honest childish drawings, forced them to confront their own phony world, the lives they hid from themselves. It was clear that Kati had a very individual opinion about the world, but also that she had eyes and ears to hear and observe the opinion of others and what is more, could feel and reproduce them by transforming them into film. She tried her hand at every stage of film production; she worked as a kifesto, fazisrajzoló, animator, film editor, producer and director and in addition took on the public role of President of the Animation Section of the Hungarian Association Film Artists.

She must have been aware of the camp growing and spreading around her that consisted of school children drawings, gypsy children dreaming and of course her contemporaries, who wanted to share her belief that to be a child was not a question of age and who dared to believe her when she said that animation could change the world. She reinvented Tolstoy's formula: people do not just try to be unhappy in their own different ways, but happy too and she tried, together with the increasing numbers of her band of 'seekers for happiness', to catch the phenomenon in the act, to solve the mystery of its mechanism and maintain an openness, a sensitivity and an honest attentiveness towards the world flowing towards her. Meanwhile her collaborators on Our Holidays, Family Drawing, There are Good Things and Bad Things Here and What Would You Take With You? grew up, became parents themselves and felt a responsibility not to let the future become the past without at least attempting to change it.

Television production was almost a mission for her, in fact she gave up independent production for a while to work for it. She produced children's programmes and series for Hungarian Television (Winnie-the-Pooh Club) and Duna Television (No Getting Away from the Truth, Story to Story, Frame to Frame, Picasso and Children, One and a Half Minds?, Here and There,Here andNow), which she saw as a school for democracy, opening up a space for a new generation, which would contribute to a more open culture according to better rules or bravely accept a lack of rules, which would not copy empty forms, but give the future some flair.

I don't know whether she ever experienced the role of lonely heroine. She did things with a spontaneity that went without saying, steering the hastily folded paper boats for her kindergarten, primary school or teenage colleagues, often discriminated against and underprivileged, amongst the sinking ships of giant animation kitsch, in such a way that we forgot to wish her luck. She would certainly have needed it. She had to compete with the commercial television channels running amok with stupefying programs, with the flashy snobism of 'panel' housing estates already descredited abroad. Computerized world animation grown into a huge industry came with the tried and tested schemes of total cinema, deluding us with rose-coloured fantasies and skillful stereotypes. Will there be room in it for the creativity of children, the irregularities of the here and now, half said sentences and unfinished brush strokes, the honesty apparent in slips of the tongue and misdrawn shapes? Can any one of them hold up the mirror that appeared in all Kati Macskassy's films, all her programs, in which we could see our own world? That ever changing and always changeable world which is ours alone. Though she felt as much at home in Paris as she did in Budapest and there was no lack of commissions from abroad (That Is No Longer True, Stories of European Peoples series, 1974, UNICEF, Declaration of Children's Rights, 1978) and international acknowledgements (Fellini prize, 2003), she was still planning new projects at home.

Her last film Gypsy Neverland (2004), despite being only eight minutes long, is considered a great film. Those in the profession valued it as an important, mature film pointing the way towards a continuation of her oeuvre and it won several prizes at festivals (Kamera Hungaria -- Best dramatic work, Cairo International Children's Film Festival -- Golden Cairo prize, Pécs Short Film Festival -- Main prize). The film is based on the tension between two worlds that are intertwined; concrete grey, hard social photographs and colourful winged imagination, reality and dreams, the bleak and dramatic here and now and the otherworldliness of stories and myths embrace each other on the cinema screen. Kati Macskassy created the animated legend, at once ancient and brand new, of the origin of the gypsy world, blessed and afflicted with the fate of the wandering bird.

It is is sad to say, but also brings a certain feeling of acceptance, that this work is indeed an appropriate one to bring her career to a beautiful close. Its lyrical tone is a spiritual summing up of a dynamic life's work.

An era has ended with Kati Macskassy which we might call Pannonia by another name. There was a time when the name of the first animation studio was synonymous with Hungarian animation, it was part of European culture and was considered one of the world's most prestigious film institutes. It was created by Gyula Macskassy's little team and it finally disappeared in the days surrounding Kati's death in the muddle of today's bureaucracy so unresponsive to spiritual values. When they write in the annals of animation about the decades from 1951 to 2008, they will talk of the Pannonia era as being synonymous with the time of the Macskassys.

Note: I'm publishing this article to honor somebody whose career and work made a difference, but sadly most of us never saw it or met her. It reminds me that animation as a great medium exists far beyond our shores and that for various unfortunate reasons we in the US rarely have a chance to discover how important this art form is in many of the countries that have ASIFA chapters. Special thanks to Vivian Halas for sending this article to us. KC


THE SUBTLE LESSONS EMBEDDED IN "HORTON HEARS A WHO!" AND OTHER STORIES BY DR. SEUSS by Karl Cohen One of the joys of learning to read for many children is discovering the whimsical world of Dr. Seuss. The good doctor wrote and illustrated Horton Hears a Who!, The Cat in the Hat, The Grinch Who Stole Christmas, Green Eggs and Ham and over 40 other children's books. He filled his tall tales with wonderful strange animals, impossible events, bizarre looking inventions that did crazy things and funny sounding made-up words that usually rhymed. His wonderful sophisticated humor is something that both children and their parents love.

Before sharing the hidden meanings in Horton and in Dr. Seuss' other delightful books that were turned into animated films, it might be helpful for readers unfamiliar with Dr. Seuss' background to know a little about this unusual man. His childhood was certainly unconventional. His real name was Theodor Seuss Geisel (1904 -- 1991), he was raised in Springfield, Massachusetts and his father and German grandfather were brew-masters. In 1909 his father was made a board member of Forest Park that included a small zoo, so he grew up with tales of strange animals and behind-the-scenes visits to the zoo. His father was also an inventor, resulting in his love of wacky inventions.

In 1921 he entered college. At Dartmouth he worked on the school's humor magazine as editor; that is until a wild drinking party in his final year of college (1925) resulted in the police being called. Since the sale and consumption of alcohol was illegal from 1920 -- 1933 in the US, the school punished him by saying he could no longer contribute to the magazine. Instead of obeying, he signed his contributions to the publication with different names including Seuss, his middle name and his mother's maiden name. After graduation he added the Dr. title.

During the 1930s Dr. Seuss made a successful living doing cartoons for magazines and humorous ads for Standard Oil, Flit (a bug spray), NBC, General Electric and other corporations. From 1941 to 1943 he turned his wit to anti-fascist humor and worked as a cartoonist for PM, a left wing newspaper. There his work allowed him to speak out against racism, Hitler, pro-fascist politicians in the US and "people who pushed other people around." An interesting paradox is that some of his drawings of our enemy in Japan and some of his propaganda art for the US government (1943-'45) contained ugly racist caricatures and remarks. He later admitted, "I was intemperate, un-humorous in my attacks... and I'd do it again." After the war those offensive images disappeared from his work, but not his need on occasions to speak out about injustices he saw in the world.

The Subtle Message of Horton Hears A Who!

As a children's writer, Seuss was subtle in the way he used his pen to speak out about his social and political views. Horton Hears A Who! can be viewed as an allegory about civil rights for minorities. One can interpret Horton as saying minorities no matter how small deserve rights. It was published in 1954 just as President Eisenhower was enforcing a Supreme Court decision to desegregate our public school system, but it would be incorrect to say the book was influenced by those events as he began writing it in 1953. Dr. Seuss says he was influenced by visits to Japanese schools in the early 1950s where the importance of the individual was viewed as a novel and exciting concept. He was seeing how democracy was taking hold in their postwar society and how important it was for a society to respect the importance of the individual if democracy was going to work there. In Horton it is important that everyone's voice is heard. The book was turned into an animated short by Chuck Jones for MGM in 1970.

In Horton friends of the elephant think he has lost his mind because he hears voices coming from a speck of dust. Although Horton's neighbors refuse to believe the microscopic world of Whoville exists and they ridicule him, he persists in his diligence to safeguard the tiny town and its inhabitants. By refusing to believe the Whos are figments of his imagination, he saved the lives of individuals too small to be seen and grants them equal rights.

The message of Horton Hears a Who! can be universal, at least in countries that believe in democracy. An interesting twist is that the message "A person's a person no matter how small" has been used by the anti-abortionist movement since the 1980s. This is a cause Dr. Seuss was not connected with and it began years after the book was written. As a liberal Democrat he supported the rights of women and probably would have been upset that anti-abortionists were quoting him. When the CG feature opened in 2008, anti-abortionists praised the film and gave away T-shirts with Dr. Seuss' quote on them. Their using the quote became national news. A lawyer for Dr. Seuss Enterprises told National Public Radio, the company doesn't approve of those who "hijack Dr. Seuss characters or material to front their own points of view."

Other Books with Serious Messages in Them

Several other books by the good doctor take on serious issues in light humorous ways and many have been turned into animated movies. The Sneetches and Other Stories, 1961, teaches tolerance and opposes racism and anti-Semitism. In 1998 NATO distributed 500,000 copies of the book in Bosnia and Herzegovina. (They were translated into Serbo-Croatian.) It was part of an information campaign (positive propaganda) to help encourage racial tolerance. In 1973 DePatie-Freleng produced Dr. Seuss on the Loose, a half-hour animated TV show that included The Sneetches as one of three stories in the program.

The book is about two groups of Sneetches; one with gold stars on their bellies and the other without. The star bellied Sneetches discriminate against the others and don't invite them to marshmallow roasts and other social events. The star bellied Sneetches sing, "If there's one upon your tummy, that's just yummy; you're a chummy. If there isn't you're a crummy, slummy, gummy, bummy dummy." After a man named Sylvester McMonkey McBean comes along with a wild looking machine that can put stars on the bellies of Sneetches without stars and remove them on bellies with them, he makes tons of money until the Sneetches run out of it. At that point nobody can remember who originally had a star and who didn't so they realize stars or no stars they are really just the same. When Dr. Seuss wrote the book he was recalling Hitler forcing Jews to wear yellow stars. When the book was published some of the public saw it as a statement about racial discrimination in the US.

Dr. Seuss' The Lorax, 1971, is a book that DePatie-Freleng turned into an animated TV show the following year. When the book came out President Lyndon B. Johnson invited the author and his wife to his ranch in Texas to congratulate him. It was humorous propaganda for the ecology movement with straightforward messages about pollution, the dangers of clear cutting of forests, greed and other unwise practices. The lumber industry responded by trying to have it banned in libraries in areas where they had logging operations and to have it removed from mandatory reading lists in public schools. In 1991 the hardwood industry even published Truax, a book that explains the virtues of logging.

There are several other books by Dr. Seuss with messages in them for those who care to see them there. The Butter-Battle Book, 1984, was written as a reaction to President Ronald Reagan's escalation of the cold war's arms race. The book deals with silly conflicts that can escalate into dangerous situations. To some the book contains a statement about how nuclear proliferation might result in our planet being destroyed. Dr. Seuss said the animated version directed by Ralph Bakshi for TV in 1989 was "the most faithful adaptation of his books."

The Cat in the Hat, 1957, takes on middle class conformity in comfortable suburbia. It was DePatie-Freleng's first TV special (1971) and it was also made into a live action feature in 2003 starring Mike Myers. Audrey Geisel so disliked the 2003 version that she told the Dr. Seuss Corporation not to license more live action adaptations of her late husband's books.

A story about power corrupting (the rise of Fascism/Hitler) was the subject of Yertle the Turtle, 1958. Yertle is the leader of a small pond of turtles and he decides he should have a much higher throne. He has his subjects form a stack of turtles so he can climb to the top. That causes pain to the hundreds of turtles under him in the stack. Then along comes a small turtle that burps and bumps into the giant stack resulting in Yertle falling headfirst into the mud.

My favorite animated version of a Dr. Seuss story is the Russian film Welcome, 1986, directed by Alexei Karaev. It is an adaptation of the book Thidwick, the Big-Hearted Moose, 1948. It is a wonderful story about various lazy creatures in the forest taking advantage of good-natured Thidwick who couldn't say "no" to their requests. It was animated by Aleksandr Petrov; the first important film made using his impressive paint on glass technique.

Newsletter Editor: Karl Cohen
Contributors: Istvan Orosz, Nancy Denney-Phelps and other friends of ASIFA-SF.
Cover illustration by Ricci Carrasquillo
Proofreader: Pete Davis
Mailing Crew: Tara Beyhm, Shirley Smith, Denise McEvoy
Webmaster Joe Sikoryak, assisted by Ricci
Special thanks to: Mo Sutton for the surprise footage of her husband Richard Williams, to our vice-president/secretary Tara Beyhm, to our treasurer Karen Lithgow, to The G Man for sending out our e-mail updates, to Nancy Denney-Phelps for representing our chapter on the international ASIFA board and to Patricia Satjawatcharapjong who posts excerpts from our newsletter on the International ASIFA website --
ASIFA-SF is a chapter of: Association Internationale du Film d'Animation with almost 40 chapters around the world.
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2008 IS THE 100TH ANNIVERSARY OF EMILE COHL'S "FANTASMAGORIE" one of the important animation milestones. To see a tribute to this historic work by Rastko Ciric, a professor at University of Arts, Belgrade, Serbia. visit

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