The animated short Ingrid Pitt: Beyond the Forest is a unique cross-generational collaboration. The subject, Ingrid Pitt, is best known as the screen beauty that starred in such films as The Wicker Man and Where Eagles Dare. But from the ages of five to eight she was a prisoner in the Nazi concentration camp at Stutthof, Poland. The actress tells her story through narration in this short directed and produced by Kevin Sean Michaels, who produced the documentary Adventures in Plymptoons! To bring Pitt's story to life, Michaels brought together two artists with more than 50 years apart in age — animation master Bill Plympton and 11-year-old animator Perry Chen.
How the collaboration between Michaels, Plympton and Chen came about is a great story as well. At Comic-Con in 2009, Chen visited Plympton's table and asked for a drawing. Plympton drew the boy a picture of his classic dog character from his Oscar-nominated short Guard Dog. Chen then drew an identical version right next to it. Michaels, who was there, thought the kid was a prodigy and they all needed to work together on this project.
Plympton's first collaboration Chen was on the award-winning Guard Dog Global Jam, created by 75 animators around the world based on Plympton’s Guard Dog. Chen created scene 41 in the film, which premiered at SXSW in March 2011 and won Best Experimental Film Award at the ASIFA-East Animation Festival in May 2011. When the Ingrid Pitt project came along, Michaels and Plympton thought the young artist could bring a childlike sensibility to the story of a young girl's escape from the Holocaust.
At first Chen, who is also a film critic at Perry's Previews, was astonished that they would want an inexperienced animator to work on the film. He said, "It’s a great honor to work with animation master Bill Plympton, I’ve learned a lot about making animation film. For me, it is definitely more fun and exciting to make a film than to review one.”
Michaels had first met Pitt during a speaking engagement in New York. He was captivated by her autobiography Darkness Before Dawn and thought she'd make a great subject for a documentary. In 2007, Michaels interviewed the actress at her home in the U.K., which served as the basis for the film's voiceover.
Plympton came on a consultant, drawing the storyboards for the film. Chen animated from those boards. Dr. Jud Newborn, founding historian for New York's Museum of Heritage and special projects curator for the Cinema Arts Centre, was brought on as a creative consultant, historical advisor and co-producer, alongside Dr. Zhu Shen, also known as Perry's mom. The Anne Frank Center USA, The Cinema Arts Centre, Toon Boom and Wacom joined as sponsors. The latter two companies provided software and hardware, respectively, for Chen to animate with.
The short starts with an adult Pitt looking out a window at a forest. As the camera zooms in on the trees, the trees transform into the boots of the Gestapo soldiers as the children walk off to the concentration camps. At the closing of the war, Ingrid and her mother join others in an escape as the Russian soldiers invade the camps.
The goal of the film is to bring the story of the Holocaust and a message of tolerance to children and adults around the world. Rena Berlin, Director of Education of the Virginia Holocaust Museum, said of the film, “I absolutely love it! I loved the drawings, the music, the story was beautifully told – wonderful, wonderful job! I would like to show it to the teachers who take our Holocaust and genocide classes as it would show what one child can do to tell an important story.”
Sadly, Pitt did not live to see the completed film, having passed away suddenly on Nov. 23, 2010 at the age of 73. However, her story lives on due to the delicate touch of Michaels, Plympton and Chen.
The film will premiere at the 15th LA Shorts Film Festival (http://LAShortsFest.com) on July 23, 2011, an Academy Award-qualifying festival for shorts, and at Comic-Con on July 24, 2011 with a panel discussion “Holocaust Through the Eyes of a Child, Animated by a Child,” about the making of this film (http://www.comic-con.org). Additionally, the short will screen alongside Adventures in Plymptoons! for ASIFA-Hollywood members on July 28th, 2011, 7pm, at Woodbury University's Fletcher Jones Auditorium at 7500 N Glenoaks Blvd., Burbank, CA 91504.
Rick DeMott is the director of content for Animation World Network, VFXWorld and AWNtv. Additionally, he's the creator of the movie review site, Rick's Flicks Picks, which was recently named one of the 100 best movie blogs by The Daily Reviewer. He has written for TV series, such as Discovery Kids' Growing Up Creepie and Cartoon Network's Pet Alien, the animation history book Animation Art, and the humor, absurdist and surrealist website Unloosen. Previously, he held various production and management positions in the entertainment industry.