July Issue News

Virgil Ross--In Memory

by Tom Sito

Virgil Ross Virgil Ross (left) with animator
Warren Batchelder in 1945, from
That's All Folks by Steve Schneider

Master animator Virgil Ross died on May 15, 1996 from complications of a stroke suffered in March. He was 88. His 60 year career began in 1930 at Mintz-Screen Gems, where he was hired as a trainee for $6 a week. Tex Avery made him an animator at Lantz in 1935, and Ross then followed Avery over to Schlesinger's (Warner Bros.) six months later. He became one of the legends of his profession, working at Ub Iwerks, Hanna Barbera, Filmation, DePatie-Freleng, Chuck Jones, Sam Nicholson and Marvel.

Bugs tapping
Animation drawings by Virgil Ross
from Mississippi Hare (1949)

In 1984 he was one of the first artists to receive the Motion Picture Screen Cartoonists Golden Award and in 1988 was honored with ASIFA-Hollywood's Winsor McCay Award for Lifetime Achievement. Virgil was the dance specialist. Thus, whenever Bugs Bunny tap-danced down the street to "Rosie O'Grady" or cakewalked on the vaudeville circuit, even pausing to wrestle a Japanese Sumo wrestler, that was Virgil's work (he was a darn good dancer himself). A virtuoso of timing and gesture, he animated a great deal of Friz Freleng's Rhapsody Rabbit; his other credits include Tex Avery's Daffy Duck and Egghead, Freleng's A Hare Grows in Manhattan and I Taw a Putty Tat.

Animation drawings by Virgil Ross from A Mouse Divided (1953)
© Warner Bros, Inc.

Virgil was generous with his time for young fans. While some animators at his age withdraw into solitude, he made himself available for numerous events, where, surrounded by people, he would sign autographs and do drawings. And he was never too busy to talk to people.

At the end, he was in his room, propped up in his bed, looking out at his beloved garden, surrounded by hundreds of get well cards and drawings sent by all those he made memories for.

So, as long as there are people who break into a smile at the antics of Bugs and Daffy, Virgil Ross' memory will live on.

The Mask The Mask
© New Line Productions
New Line Television Syndicates The Mask. In an effort to strategically market the CBS #1 rated Saturday morning series The Mask, the series will be stripped Monday through Friday beginning this September in addition to its weekly CBS network broadcast. The showis based on the original feature film of the same name from New Line Cinema. The series is produced by New Line Televsion and Film Roman (The Simpsons, Garfield).

DreamWorks Lights Fire Under Ash. DreamWorks has acquired the feature film rights toJoe Quesada and Jimmy Palmiotti's new comic book hero, Ash,. in which the company is targeting as a franchise for its animation unit. Ash tells the story of a firefighter who miraculously survives a blazing inferno and comes to realize he was spared by a force from the future that has given him extraordinary powers. It will be adapted for the screen by Rand Ravich.

DreamWorks And Pacific Data Images' First Project In The Works. The film,Ants, will be produced by Eron Warner, Brad Lewis and Patty Wooten through PDI. Though specific details of the story line are being kept under the wraps, Ants is described as a computer-generated animated feature similar in process to Toy Story. Warner, who is currently a Senior VP of Physical Production at Fox, is negotiating out of his contract to work on Ants.

Little Orphan Annie Finds A Home In TV. One of the most popular strips in comic art annals, Annie is being recast as a new, contemporary character in an animated, action-adventure series. Now in development, the weekly, half hour show will be co-produced by Abrams/Gentile Entertainment (Sky Dancers and Dragon Flyz) and the Fremantle Corporation (international distributor for such shows as Grace Under Fire and3rd Rock From the Sun).

Disney Campaigns With Mcdonald's And General Mills For Aladdin Video. Buena Vista Home Video is putting theatrical style promotion behind its direct-to-video premiere of Aladdin and the King of Thieves, which features the voice of Robin Williams as Genie. The co-promotion with McDonald's and General Mills is valued at $70 million.

Festival Note: Sarah Watt just won the Special Achievement Award for Animation at the San Diego Film Festival for her film, Small Treasures.

The following items are from AWM's June 7th, 1996 Email News Flash:

Colossal Pictures Files For Chapter 11 Bankruptcy. The troubled San Francisco-based studio, known for such TV shows as Aeon Flux and Liquid Television, has sought protection from its creditors while seeking to overhaul its operations. Previously, it had stopped producing TV commercials, despite being one of the top studios in the field and announced that it was concentrating on development projects. The company said that the latest move will allow it "to reorganize its business in a profitable direction." Part of the reorganization involves a shakeup of its management team. Thus, Chairman and co-founder Drew Takahashi is said to be "refocusing his efforts as Colossal's Chief Creative Director"; in addition, Jan Bauman, previously Controller at Pixar, has been appointed Chief Financial Officer; and former Pacific Data Images Executive Producer, Jana Canellos, is Director of Sales and Marketing.

Buena Vista Home Video Releases In Indonesia. Walt Disney home video will be released legitimately in Indonesia starting next month with PT Vision Interprima Pictures. Indonesia was off limits to the U.S. majors until last year. The market was 100% pirated until 1991, when the government cleared the shelves of video stores and burned stacks of cassettes. After that, the business consisted largely of imported laserdiscs. The first package contains the animated feature The Goofy Movie and Disney indicated it will start dubbing Pocahontas for sell through, once it has been able to cast suitable voice-over talent.

Trial Date Set For Betty Boop Cartoon Copyright. Harvey Entertainment sued Fleischer Studios and its attorney Stanley Handman, charging that they failed to pay Harvey royalties for the use of Betty Boop. Harvey seeks to void a 1980 agreement that gave Fleischer the rights to the cartoon character in return for managing them and paying Harvey 10% of the profits. Harvey further charges fraud, breach of contract and copyright infringement. Court date is set for December 3rd, 1996.

New Line Cinema Selects Screenplay For Cross, A Dark Horse Comic Book. New Line has added Cross to the list of comics being developed into features due to the drive of acknowledged comics fanatic Michael De Luca. Other projects include, Avengelyne, Blade, and Spawn. The studio's last hit The Mask which grossed more than $300 million worldwide, was also based on a comic. Cross which is based on an unpublished novel by Andrew Vachss and James Colbert called Cross Genesis, is about a family of misfit mercenaries and childhood friends who fight urban crime.

John Canemaker Has Three Animation Books For Fall Release. John Canemaker will have three books dealing with the art and history of animation published later this year; Before the Animation Begins: The Art and Lives of Disney Inspiration Sketch Artists (Hyperion Books) chronicles, the lives and work of Disney concept artists from the thirties to the present; Tex Avery (Turner Publishing) presents a candid assessment of the innovative animation director during his work at MGM Studios from 1942-1955; and Felix: The Twisted Tale of the World's Most Famous Cat (Da Capo Press), which is a paperback reissue of Canemaker's 1991 account of pre-Disney animation as seen through the most popular silent cartoon character of the 1920's. Canemaker, who heads the animation program at New York University, is also an accomplished filmmaker and frequent lecturer on the art and artists of animation.

Film Roman To Produce Richie Rich TV Series In Association With Harvey Entertainment. The 13 half-hour series will be syndicated by Claster Television. Film Roman will be producing new shorts for each episode, which will also feature films from the Harvey library. This is a similar strategy Harvey followed in their popular Baby Huey Show. Richie Rich, known as "the richest kid in the world," is, of course, a popular comic book star and recently was the basis of a live-action feature starring McCauley Culkin.

Steven Spielberg To Produce Dramatic Animated Series For The WB Network. The fledgling network announced that it will be adding Invasion America, a new prime time animated serial to its schedule. The show is the maiden effort from DreamWorks's new television animation division, in which Spielberg is closely involved with. WB programming head Garth Ancier described the show as, "an animated dramatic series with theatrical scope and primetime quality."

Invision Entertainment Joins Production Team Of Sandbox Entertainment On Pillow People. InVision, the new startup company that recently took over production of USA Network's popular Street Fighters show, announced that it will be working closely with BananaMation, Sandbox's newly formed animation subsidiary. The project will use traditional cel animation (provided by Invision) as well as 3-D computer animation (by BananaMation). The series will debut nationally in syndication in September 1996.

Casemiro To Head Creative Affairs At Klasky Csupo, Inc. Eryk Casemiro comes to Klasky Csupo following his work at Broadway Video as Director of Creative Affairs, where he participated in the development of Wayne's World and produced the CBS holiday special Frosty Returns with renowned animator Bill Melendez. His responsibilities at Klasky Csupo will include managing development of television series, specials and special projects.

The following items are from AWM's June 21st, 1996 Email News Flash:

Hahn Gets Animated Deal. Disney-based producer Don Hahn, who worked on Beauty and the Beast, Who Framed Roger Rabbit and The Lion King, has entered into an exclusive seven year agreement with Walt Disney Feature Animation.. Hahn who has been associated with Disney for 20 years, produced the current animated musical The Hunchback of Notre Dame. Under terms of the new arrangement, he will continue to produce animated fare on an exclusive basis for the studio, but he will also venture into live-action or live-action/animation combos on a first look basis.

Pipkin Promoted To Vice President Of Production By Klasky Csupo. Margot Pipkin in her new role, will oversee the production of the company's TV series: Rugrats, Duckman and Aaahh! Real Monsters. Pipkin, who was previously producer on Duckman, will oversee budgeting, talent and studio relations with Paramount Television Group. Pipkin joined Klasky Csupo in 1987 as a producer of the prime time series The Simpsons.

Disney Pacts With Creative Capers. Disney Interactive has signed an exclusive multiyear deal with Creative Capers Entertainment, the Glendale-based animation and design studio. Capers principals Sue and Terry Shakespeare and David Molina have been associated with Disney on a number of film, TV and consumer products over the years. Under the pact with Disney's year-old interactive division, Creative Capers will continue to work on projects with other divisions at Disney.

Toy Story Distributed To Chinese Audience. Shanghai Film Studio will distribute Disney's Toy Story next month, making it the first Chinese film studio to distribute a foreign movie. China has decided to allow its studios to do so as a trial scheme to boost their coffers. Actual film imports are still controlled by the state-run China Film Import and Export Co. Disney's Lion King earned about 30 million yuan ($3.6 million) at the Chines box office.

Nickelodeon To Produce First In-House Project For
The cable network has made a 20-episode commitment for the computer animated Blue's Clues, a show in which an animated puppy helps solves the day's puzzles, with the help of host Steve Burns using non-verbal clues. It will be shown as part of the network's Nick Jr. Programming block, which is targeted to the 2-5 age group.

Comedy Central Makes Deal With Fox For The Tick. The agreement, which will include 10 new episodes, involves airing the shows on The Comedy Channel the day after they air on Fox Children's Network. The deal is the latest example of giving cable exposure to a series shortly after its broadcast run. While The Tick is a Saturday morning children's program, the takeoff on the cartoon superhero genre has a large young adult following, which Comedy Central believes can make an attraction in prime time.

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