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Book Review: 'Unsung Heroes of Animation'

Carolyn Giardina reports on the growing popularity and importance of the eDIT 9. Filmmaker’s Festival in Frankfurt, Germany.

Chris Robinsons new book of essays Unsung Heroes of Animation delves into the work of artists he loves. These are people who animated for adults and worked outside the mainstream.

Chris Robinsons new book of essays Unsung Heroes of Animation delves into the work of artists he loves. These are people who animated for adults and worked outside the mainstream.

Chris Robinson has written a book called Unsung Heroes of Animation about people you perhaps have never heard of. Perhaps you should have. These are essays written over a nine-year period about artists in animation who, for the most part, never went the cute little bunny Disney route. Artists who animated for adults. Artists who considered their animation to be individual art works, with little of the production house mentality.

A Work of Love

It is obvious that Robinson loves these peoples' works. He says he knows it is, by no means, a complete survey, and he did not update some of the older essays. He says, "The independent animation community is small and intimate. At times, it's like living in a village. Everyone seems to know what everyone else is doing The main reason I got into the strange little world of animation was because of the people. I simply found them, for the most part, very warm, humble and outgoing human beings."

Robinson has the background to thoroughly cover this subject. He is an author, freelance writer and the artistic director of the Ottawa Intl Animation Festival, where he views more than 1,000 animated films a year. He authored the column, "The Animation Pimp," for Animation World Magazine. A prolific author, his writing has appeared both in the U.S. and internationally.

Fiercely Independent

The essays gathered here, some of which were originally written for AWN, have different rhythms some poetic, some straightforward, some philosophical or provocative. All of them are entertaining and informative. As John Canemaker says on the back cover blurb, these artists inhabit, "a world of little known, fiercely independent contemporary animators." This is a well-researched and well-written book about 31 and more artists beyond the mainstream. They worked at the Film Board of Canada, a Moscow TV station, Klasky Csupo, Norway's Studio Magica, Latvia's Riga Animation and a lot more, scattered over the globe. Animation is not, as some people think, an American art form.

Robinson says; "We often lose sight of the fact that the earliest animation films were made for adults and were minimalist (pencil and paper) in approach. These early artists worked directly and intimately with their medium. Today technology has increasingly become a mediator between creator and material." That is definitely not the case with any of these artists.

A Lot of Animators!

The first essay is about Raimund Krumme, outlining his contribution to animation, giving a short bio and then listing several of his films and why they are influential. A filmography is boxed at the end of the article. This is the general pattern of all the essays that follow. These include Stefan Schabenbeck, George Griffin, René Jodoin, Igor Kovalyov, Priit Pärn, Pjotr Sapegin, Paul Fierlinger, Michèle Cournoyer and Ryan Larkin.

Then we have the Quickdraw Animation Society, which covers several artists, followed by the Brothers Quay, Jan Lenica, Piotr Dumala and then Studio Filmtecknarna. Pierre Hébert, Andreas Hykade, Phil Mulloy, David Ehrlich, Steven Woloshen, Mati Kütt, Koji Yamamura and Martha Colburn are next. The last eight are Stephanie Maxwell, JJ Villard, Signe Baumane, Paul Bush, Dennis Tupicoff, Gianluigi Toccafondo, Chris Sullivan and Ruth Lingford. Not a bunny in the lot.

Illustrations Have a Wide Range

Most of the essays have a picture of the artist, and several examples of his or her work. These stretch from the purely graphic designs of Jodoin, to the puppets of Sapegin, to Toccafondo's mixture of painting and animation, with everything in between, if there can be a "between" of those art forms. They make you want to see the films they have been taken from. The cover is one of Villard's well-known images.

This book should find its way into every animation library, whether for the illustrations or for the history outlined within. It makes you realize how wide-ranging the subject matter can be for animation, and how diverse the styles that can be gathered under that umbrella. The book tells of struggles and privation, but these people got their work out there and made a difference.

Unsung Heroes of Animation by Chris Robinson. Bloomington, IN: John Libbey Publishing, 2005. 265 pages, with b&w and color illustrations. ISBN: 0-86196-665-1 ($27.95).

Libby Reed started out at Walt Disney Studios in the 50s on Sleeping Beauty as a painter. She has worked at numerous commercial studios, spent 16 years as a fashion illustrator and wound up at Film Roman as a color designer under Phyllis Craig. Libby has two children, (one is Alex Reed, animation producer at Electronic Arts) and four grandchildren.