[Figure 1.18] Animator Kent Burton working on a scene from I Go Pogo. (© Possum Productions/Walt Kelly Estate.)
production was a starting point for many animators still working in the industry today, including Steve Oakes, who would become head of Curious Pictures in New York, and Justin Kohn, Kim Blanchette, and Kent Burton (Figure 1.18), who all worked most recently on Coraline
. Blanchette was a university student at the time, and the rest of the crew was largely made up of other local artists, students, and amateur animators. Stephen Chiodo served as director of animation, designed the clay puppets, and supervised the many aspects of production. All of the scenery was made of Polyform Sculpey, and the puppets were a sophisticated combination of malleable plasticine clay for flexibility and painted ridged Sculpey parts for non-moving accessories. Press molds were made for creating the basic shape of the clay character, which would then be finessed with smoothing tools and texture stamps. Albert the Alligator, for instance, had a stomach plate pressed from a rubber mold that maintained the fine detail while the clay body was flexed. A genuine attempt was made to keep the surfaces of the characters smooth and hide the lumpy texture and fingerprints made by the animator; the sets were kept severely air conditioned to help keep the clay from softening too much. An attempt was made to market the film’s technique as “Flexiform,” but it was actually nothing more than clay combined with other standard sculpting materials. For the sets, trees were made of plaster casts from rubber molds, foliage from plastic craft-store arrangements, and reeds made of sheet copper. The sky backdrops were made of giant milked Plexiglas sheets covered with blue gels that were illuminated from behind and had shapes cut out of them for clouds. The characters’ plain white eyeballs were cast in resin and steel wool, and the pupils were separate pieces of rubber strip magnets. These magnetized pupils would stick to the steel wool in the eyes just forcefully enough that they could be lightly pushed around the surface of the eyes for movement. Another innovative technique used on the film was wax replacement cycles built for walking sequences, some of which were shot as silhouettes against the back-lit sky backgrounds.
The film’s story consisted of the comic strip’s regular cast of characters preparing for the Okefenokee Swamp’s election and conspiring to nominate the reluctant Pogo Possum as a presidential candidate. The voice cast was an impressive line-up of popular comedic talent, including Jonathan Winters, Ruth Buzzi, Vincent Price, and Stan Freberg. The film itself was very heavy on dialogue, but the animation team tried to enliven the screenplay with some visual gags. Stephen Chiodo recalls:
[Figure 1.19] Deacon Mushrat in a cut scene from I Go Pogo. (© Possum Productions/Walt Kelly Estate.)
In an opening sequence featuring Mr. Mole and the Deacon chatting in a cave, I animated a great scene of the Deacon leaping off a table onto a stalactite (Figure 1.19), which then crashed down onto the table. I also did a 20-second shot of Albert the Alligator (Figure 1.20), who gets his finger stuck in a knothole, and then his entire head, with his head squishing and popping through. But the director, Marc Chinoy, cut out those visual gags and left in all the heavy dialogue scenes.