Gene Deitch responds to fan mail questions and one hate mail letter in the last excerpt from his book How to Succeed in Animation (Dont Let a Little Thing Like Failure Stop You!)
This is the final excerpt from Gene Deitchs How to Succeed in Animation (Dont Let a Little Thing Like Failure Stop You!).
Well, no one is perfect.
Hundreds of happy messages have come to me since the time AWN began publishing this book online, and only one piece of hate mail. In that one the anonymous (natch) writer ranted in heavily bleepable language that ALL of my films sucked, and wished I would promptly die.
Well, no one is perfect. I dont think that Ive achieved 100% rotten filmmaking, and Im happy to say that all the other writers felt that I do have something positive to say about animation. I thank you all for your 99.9% praiseful letters.
Most of the writers wanted to know three things:
How did I get started.
What animation schools should they go to.
How can they get started. (i.e., get a job)
After my earliest smelly beginnings as a cartoonist, as delicately described in Chapter 10, My Talent Discovered, I did go on to drawing on actual paper. Growing up in Hollywood, I soon came into the thrall of the local animation studios, and developed movie mania. My parents could not afford to buy me what I yearned for, a real motor driven 16mm movie projector, so I started out at the age of eight by making my own projector out of a shoebox.
This is a photo of it; a reconstruction of my original handmade projector. A small mirror was inserted inside, behind the clear glass light bulb, in hopes of increasing its intensity. And ordinary magnifying glass was glued to the end of a cardboard toilet paper tube, which could be moved in an out in an effort to focus on a white bedsheet, pinned to my bedroom wall. Thus I obtained a dim projected image of colored ink drawings I made on a strip of what we called onion-skin paper, slowly drawn through a slot in the box by that handle, rescued from one of my mothers flour sifters.
Well, you know there were no ready-made high-tech plastic toys available in the ancient times of my childhood. But my lucky day arrived when my mother took me to downtown L.A. Christmas shopping at The May Company. In their toyland, I spotted a device that made me wet my little pants all over again.
It was this pressed metal, green crackle enamel finished wonder toy that brought me into the world of animation! For no apparent reason, it had a decal of a little dark-skinned boy riding on an elephant, and the name Kim. It was, I supposed, Rudyard Kiplings Kim, a book I had actually read. So this became my Kim Projector, and in fact, my Rosebud! Many years later, when my first toy projector was long lost but not forgotten, I named my first son Kim. I suppose he is the only person in the world named after a cartoon projector! Today, Kim Deitch is a famous cartoonist himself, and bears the name Kim with pride.
Note that this cunning toy has two lenses. Inside the front section is a simple shutter. As you turn the crank, the four-inch wide paper strip advances, and the shutter opens the top and bottom lens alternately. On the translucent paper strip are two-position drawings. For example, a walking figure with striding legs on the upper area, and legs together on the bottom. Projecting them alternately gives a simple effect of a walking figure. There were all kinds of two-phase animation possibilities. There were some printed rolls with Popeye and other characters of the mid-1930s, but for me the real thrill was that I could actually make my own cartoon stories, and I already had a Pol Parrot figure sketched out.
Growing up and moving around, my Kim projector fell into disuse, as I finally did get a hand-cranked 16mm projector. Although I could not make films, the little Mickey Mouse excerpts it was possible to buy gave me a chance, by cranking slowly and back and forth, to work out the basis of full animation. I spoke of my Kim projector to many people over the years, trying constantly to find one, or something like it, but no one ever heard of such a two-lens device. Finally, I saw something similar one year in an exhibit of rare projection devices at the Annecy animation festival, but, after yearning and looking for more than 60 years, finally Kim found one in the collection of Glenn Bray, who was kind enough to gift it to me, fulfilling my dream of once again possessing my Rosebud.
From my Prague ashram I am not in a position to be personally knowledgeable about specific schools or courses in animation, so I cannot, in good conscience, tell you which schools to go to. Aside from whats in my own book, the next step I can strongly recommend is to read and study Richard Williams book, The Animators Survival Kit. Whereas my book, How to Succeed in Animation, lays out a general way how and understand what animation is all about, and how to think about it, Richards book is specific on the bones and sinew of animation. Everything you need to know about how to actually animate, and animate marvelously, is in Richards book!
How to get a job! Some writers want to know specifically how I got my first job in an animation studio. (UPA-Hollywood.) But hey, that was 58 years ago, as I write this! But even if it was yesterday, the timing, market conditions, connections, luck, preparation, abilities, personalities, etc. etc. will all be different. I told you in Chapter 7, Make Luck Happen, how to make out the best within the prevailing conditions. What I wrote there is really all I can tell you. Do your homework, get your name out, be ready for whatever door may open.
There is nothing sure. This is a tough line of work, and very rarely a road to riches. If you are determined to be an animator, if you love doing it, if you are really good at it, maybe a job will find you! Do I promise that? No. But your own determination will help you over the inevitable hurdles. Just go for it! But please dont ask me for what I cannot deliver. Please do write me for advice within the creative areas. Maybe I can help you there. In the meantime, I thank you all for your interest and for reading How to Succeed in Animation, and remember, Dont Let a Little Thing Like Failure Stop You!
To read more about Genes adventures in the animation world, visit Genes online book.
Gene Deitch is one of the last surviving members of the original Hollywood UPA studio of 1946 and the instigator of the CBS-Terrytoons renaissance of 1956-1958. He was also animation department chief of the Detroit Jam Handy Organization; 1949-1951, creative chief of UPA-New York, 1951-1954; director at John Hubleys Storyboard Inc., New York, 1955; president of Gene Deitch Associates Inc., New York, 1958-1960; creative director for Rembrandt Films, 1960-1968; and star director for Weston Woods Studios, Inc., Weston, Connecticut, 1968-1993. He has worked for more than 40 years with the Prague animation studio, Bratri v Triku.