Kenny Mirman, one of Robert Abel's long time co-workers and friends, shares with us his eulogy of the special effects pioneer and visionary.
Robert Abel's memorial service was held at Hillside Memorial Park in Los Angeles on September 25, 2001. There were approximately 150 people there. The family asked me to write and deliver the eulogy.
I was a director at Robert Abel and Associates for the last 8 years the company existed. Bob and I remained close friends from the time he hired me in 1979 until his untimely death on September 23, 2001.
Bob's passion, vision, creativity, wisdom and pioneering spirit not only touched and ignited the beginnings of countless careers, but birthed an industry.
The following are excerpts from handwritten cards sent to Bob while he was in the hospital attempting to recover from his heart attack of August 20th. These words might simply begin to paint a primitive sketch of the impact he had. Each sentence is from a different person, many of whom are presently leaders in the computer animation and visual FX community:
"Lord knows how many careers and lives you've jump-started..." "You demonstrated what it meant to be a real pioneer..." "You have mentored an entire generation...." "Your dedication to quality inspired me for life..." "You showed us what we are made of...." "You made an indelible sacrifice to cut the path for the rest of us..." "You fostered hundreds of young creative talent..." "You saw our gift and believed in us..." "Because of you, now we're following our own vision...." "I hope you know how influential you've been...."
Eulogy to Robert Abel
Bob's beloved family Marah and Josh, Judi, Jerry and Kirsten, and to Bob's dear friends, colleagues, students.....DREAMERS.
We've lost the man carrying the torch. The Navigator. The one who lit the way. Sometimes by wildfire. Sometimes by light alone. Sometimes by the seat of his pants.
It was Faith.
This Visionary, he was in the front, always, and his torch treated us to a view of remarkable beauty, wisdom and truth. He showed us the way, and it was magic.
Bob Abel endeared us, gifted us, inspired us, blessed us, revived us, guided us, to BE something we never thought possible.... True to our hearts.
Bob inspired us to not only dream, but to make our dreams reality. And he taught us by example of his passionate life.
It borders on incomprehensible how Bob Abel, this man of such unspeakably passionate creative vitality and wisdom, could be taken from us so swiftly and so soon. It's an indescribable loss. Yet I have to believe it's some kind of mysterious beauty. Life's way of perfection. And so I celebrate Bob Abel's life today....
This True Artist of a human being. The one carving the path.
The Maverick. The Rebel. The Inspirer! The Myth Maker. The Huckster. The Storyteller. The Humanitarian. The Manipulator. The Gunslinger. The Pitchman. The Filmmaker. The Pioneer. The TEACHER. The Godfather.
There are many more on your own list, I'm sure of it. But one thing is certain. I bet that on all of our personal lists of "Who he was," in capital letters it says....
Bob Abel was THE VISIONARY.
A guiding light to not only an industry, but to art, to education and to history.
He moved us. And I miss him deeply.
The Mentor of all mentors...he was Obi Wan Kenobi with a twist.
Picture this: a tall glass of Obi Wan Kenobi, with a cup of Albert Brooks, two shots of Frank Capra, a half pint of Joseph Campbell, an ounce of the Wizard of Oz, three heaping capfuls of Akira Kurosawa, a cup of Rumi's poetry of the divine, and a spritzer blast of Cal Worthington and his dog Spot.
I say Obi Wan, because Bob's truest gift was as mentor and muse. He had the uncanny sixth sense to hand pick the truest, keenest talent, hire them on the spot, and then inspire them to be more than they ever dreamed possible. He was a builder of dreams. He used us. I know he used me. And I loved him for it.
We all have our stories of Bob. Our cherished memories. What he meant to YOU. How he touched YOU.
One of the most cherished memories I have of Bob was on his birthday a couple of years ago. We were having lunch at Chaya, and in walks this little white haired man, dashing in black overcoat and scarf, shuffling with a cane and two assistants helping him make his way over to a table. Bob then proceeds to tell me that this was Billy Wilder and he then explained, gushing with enthusiasm, how Billy had been such a key influence in Bob's life as an artist. He told me about every one of Billy's films and everything they meant to him. I just listened, and received a lesson in cinema, and a lesson in life.
When Billy was leaving, I begged Bob to go tell him how he felt...that he would never have another chance. Bob said, "No....no, no, no." He was so bashful.
Finally, I stood up and literally pulled Bob out of his chair. We went out and reached Billy on the sidewalk, and with tears in his eyes, Bob explained to Billy how he had inspired him to become an artist and a filmmaker. Watching MY mentor, Bob Abel, meet HIS mentor, brought me to tears too. We both stood there crying, for two different reasons.
Bob loved nothing more than to be hanging from his nails on the further side of the cutting edge, and it was FUN being there with him. Wasn't it?
At RA&A, formally known as Robert Abel & Associates and affectionately called "Abel's," he provided a paradise for creative expression. It was 24 hours a day experimental filmmaking of the highest integrity. We all had endless passion to follow the example he set. What a thrill it was to be making it up as we went along.
Many times he didn't have the money to pay us, but we worked anyway. Remember those days in the screening room he'd announce, "Half salaries!?" But Bob would always come through for us. He'd go off into a rage about how they were going to come and padlock the doors if we didn't get this project or that. He was a NUT! But he loved it this way. That was the key to him, flying blind, through a forest.
Bob spoke about this in an old interview: "The essence of what I do is that I take risks. That's what film and special effects are all about. Every time I set out to do a project, I go out to do something never done or seen before. That means there's a great deal riding on everything I do."
And there was nothing scarier than Bob Abel pitching one of your ideas. Oh God. Hold on. He was the absolute king of salesmen. He'd make stuff up on the fly, serve every sentence with topspin, shoot ideas from behind his back blindfolded, quote poets, classic films, and passages from great authors, half the time he'd make them up. Then make outrageous promises about using technology that hadn't yet been invented, quadruple the complexity of what you had taken a leap designing, and promise it sooner than what you had already said was too soon.
He'd fight for the integrity of our ideas. He'd do anything for them. These IDEAS; they were Bob's gold. He'd bankroll them himself. He'd mortgage his house, he'd lay down whatever he had, to maintain the integrity of the film, to keep the company alive.
Bob was a "one of."
I love Bob Abel. I love and admire him so dearly. I loved him for his insanity! I loved him for his humor and his sharp, crack WIT. I loved him for his true caring; he was a mensch. For his kindness. For his endless soul and compassion, and his understanding of the human spirit. I loved him for his wisdom; deep and true. I loved him for his heart; huge. What a remarkable tribute he was to being a human being. What a lucky break to having worked with him. What a blessing to call him my friend.
How did I luck out? Where was the fork in the road I took that led to him? Where was the signpost I picked that said, "This way to Beauty. This way to Truth. This way to inspiration. This way to unbridled creativity. This way to dreams actualized. This way to raw humanity. This way to mass communication of absolute SOUL and love."
And now where are the signposts leading? Where does the fork in this road go? Who are our mentors? Who are our soul guides? Who are our torchbearers?
And so I dare us....to use Bob's life as an example, by picking up this torch he lay at our feet, and raising it high above our heads, as a tribute to him, to us, and to those who follow. And maybe, if we're lucky, we'll catch a glimpse once again, of who we are.
"The Magic Never Stops."
Thank you Bob Abel. You will live forever.