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Jayne Mansfield Documentary Evokes Classic UPA ‘Toons

Elroy Simmons and Dr. Sarah Bowen lead a team of Northern Film School students at Leeds Beckett University to create classic UPA-inspired visuals for the news documentary feature ‘Mansfield 66/67.’

‘Mansfield 66/67’ © 2017. All images courtesy of the Ebersole Hughes Company.

Billed as a true story…based on rumor and hearsay, Mansfield 66/67 is a new documentary feature from the Ebersole Hughes Company about the last two years of movie goddess Jayne Mansfield’s life and the speculation swirling around her untimely death being caused by a curse after her alleged romantic dalliance with Anton LaVey, head of the Church of Satan.

The high-camp look at the myths and legends that have swirled around Mansfield since her tragic and untimely death fifty years ago blends archival materials and classic documentary interviews with the likes of filmmaker and writer Kenneth Anger, actress Tippi Hedren, cultural icon John Waters, and others, with experimental dance numbers, performance art and animation.

“In lieu of recreations, we attempted to blur the lines of realness by having over fifty actors and dancers portray Jayne in various fantasized interpretations of her life,” Mansfield 66/67 directors and producers P. David Ebersole and Todd Hughes comment. “This approach gave us the freedom to create imagined nights on the Sunset Strip, secret meetings between Jayne and Anton, conflicts between her lovers, and even whimsical period animation to illustrate two key moments that otherwise only live on in memory and retellings of events in her life circa 1966/67.”

The decision to employ animation for Mansfield 66/67 was an obvious choice for the filmmakers. “It has become a fairly common practice in documentary to use animation to illustrate events or situations for which little existing film or photographic evidence exists,” Ebersole and Hughes continue. “The tragic event of Jayne Mansfield’s son being mauled by a lion at a private zoo in 1966 was one such incident. Another was that Anton LaVey laid claim that he performed an incantation atop a mountain on a stormy night to save Jayne’s son’s life. Although the use of animation to bring these moments to life could have been played for laughs, we achieved some of the most dramatic moments in the film.”

Designed and directed by Elroy Simmons and produced by Dr. Sarah Bowen, Head of Animation at the Northern Film School at Leeds Beckett University, the animated sequences evoke a classic UPA aesthetic. The animation for both the two-minute “Jungleland” sequence featuring Zoltan’s attack and the one-minute “Anton on the Mountain” sequence was produced by students at the Northern Film School.

Bowen asked Simmons -- a visiting Animation lecturer at the Northern Film School with extensive experience in cartoon animation -- to work with students on the animated sequences for the film. “One of the main intentions was to offer participating students the opportunity to learn by working on a traditional production, with actual dope sheets, etcetera,” they recount.

Simmons directed a team of ten artists during the animation production stage, laying out or keying all of the scenes in both sequences before handing them out to students. “Some undertook one role and others more,” Bowen and Simmons explain. “For example, James Gandy was Animation Assistant, Animator, and worked on Sound Breakdown. Venla Linna was Animation Assistant, Animator and Principal Background Artist. More students worked on the ‘Jungleland’ sequence, than the ‘Anton’ sequence.”

Calling on a traditional animation aesthetic, virtually all of the animation was created using pencil, paper and lightbox. Adobe Photoshop was employed to scan storyboard images, model sheets, background sketches and layouts, as well as background art. “There was a lot of animation to scan and color in Animo before having it composited in [Adobe] After Effects,” Bowen and Simmons recall. “Very occasionally, where characters walk into/through a shot, the animation would be ‘slid’ into position/hook-up position during the composite in After Effects and Animo.”

Adobe Premiere was used to construct animatics and break down the sound. “Scrubbing back and forth through the sound is easy in it,” Bowen and Simmons comment. Early tests, including a lightning strike for the Anton sequence, and the original design of Anton’s car, were produced in Adobe Flash.

The inspiration for the visual design of the animated sequences is immediately apparent to any fans of classic animation. “We looked for animation references from 1950s to mid-1960s; Jayne’s era. The initial inspiration for the visual style came from UPA productions. We love Mister Magoo and Gerald McBoing Boing (the main reference for the kids). Anton was developed as a kind of Mister Magoo’s younger, more handsome, and much more ‘wayward’ brother,” Bowen and Simmons relate.

“Todd and David found us a lot of research images but ultimately, Jayne was inspired by Hanna Barbera’s Penelope Pitstop,” Simmons continues. “Jayne’s massive bow came from a photo of her and her ‘reputation.’ The other characters were based on recollections of other DePatie-Freleng or UPA characters. Elroy is very interested in mixing drawing styles where possible, so was glad to call on a variety of references.”

The character designs went through an extensive development process. “All of the character designs were approved by Todd and David,” Simmons recounts. “For example, there was a lot of refining of Anton. Todd and David were keen that he possessed ‘swagger.’ They also explicitly requested Jayne’s lipstick and dress be bright/deep pink, and her boyfriend’s suit be brown to match the colors worn by dancers in the live-action sequences.”

As with many independent productions, both time and budget proved the be the biggest challenges. “At one point, Todd and David asked if Anton could wear a ‘pentangle necklace’ throughout his sequence on the mountain,” Simmons recalls. “I refused on the grounds of its impracticality -- extra drawings -- within the production time rather than any nervousness surrounding its satanic portent.”

Simmons animated to a soundtrack replete with sound effects, constructing sequences that utilized the sound effects which gave the impression the sound had been “fitted-to-the-picture,” rather than the other way around. “For the students, there was a lot to learn about animating in someone else’s style. We applaud their work on the sequences,” she says.

“We wanted the effects to look authentic – in that they don’t feel too contemporary -- and the animated sequences to be effective ‘evocations’ of an era,” Simmons continues. “The compositing was done over five weekends, with Elroy still animating up to fourth weekend. However when he sent the WIPs to Todd, David and they were pleased, he says it all felt worthwhile! The positive reaction to the film (and the animated sequences) at festivals only adds to the sense of this having been a thoroughly worthwhile project.”

The voiceover work for the animated sequences was performed by the venerable Ann Magnuson alongside Richmond Arquette of the Arquette family. “Funny, both Ann and Richmond were friends and former neighbors of ours in Silver Lake,” Ebersole and Hughes recall of the casting decision. “We had always wanted to do something with them and this was the perfect project. Ann is a complete chameleon who can channel pretty much anything. Richmond has a sexy, gravelly voice that was prefect for a character of Anton. They both listened to the real people and without imitating them did fabulous interpretations.”

Also perfectly evoking the era, the colorful poster for Mansfield 66/67 was designed by painter and illustrator Shag. “Another case of being geographically desirable,” Ebersole and Hughes chuckle. “We dreamed about having our poster done by either Shag or Coop (who actually did recruitment posters for The Church of Satan). We moved full time to Palm Springs three years ago and Josh Agle (Shag) actually lives down the street from us and has a groovy boutique in town. We asked him if he would be interested and to our great delight, he was! This is Shag’s first movie poster and the themes of 60s and spooky are right up his alley. We really wanted something more fun than sinister and his take on it was spot on perfect.”

Jennifer Wolfe's picture

Formerly Editor-in-Chief of Animation World Network, Jennifer Wolfe has worked in the Media & Entertainment industry as a writer and PR professional since 2003.