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Amsel's Lost Art: Amsel, the Animator…

I’ve previously shared a few posts highlighting some of Richard Amsel's unused and rarely seen works. Over the years I’ve acquired many hundreds of images, including art that has never been published. They’re a fascinating look into the work and talent of an artist who had many unfulfilled dreams.

I’ve held onto a few particular images for ages, but now I want to share them. They’re special, and for a special reason.

Richard Amsel was more than a world-class illustrator. He was a photographer, a designer, a makeup artist, movie collector, film buff…and an aspiring animator.

That’s right. Animator.

Amsel passionately loved the films of Walt Disney. He’d screen 35mm prints to friends in his home. He’d collect animation cells. He’d also do pencil tests animating different characters, a sort of self-taught personal home schooling.

Some of the people I’ve interviewed elaborated on Amsel’s animation work. Chief among them was a short animated pencil test of Lily Tomlin’s Edith Ann character from Laugh-In, done to Tomlin’s own voice. (Years after Amsel’s death, when Edith Ann was later developed into a short-lived Saturday morning cartoon series, Tomlin even mentioned Amsel’s work in an interview with The New York Times.)

Unfortunately, I’ve never been able to track down that footage. I can only assume it’s lost, along with so much more of the artist’s work.

Amsel had tried several times to break into the animation world, even through Disney itself. He visited Los Angeles often, and finally moved there in mid-1985 a few months before he died. But this was a time when sophisticated Hollywood studio animation had long been in a decline. The Disney Studio’s cost-cutting methods following Walt Disney’s death eventually lead to a much-publicized exodus of over a dozen animators in 1979. Disney’s would-be rebound effort, THE BLACK CAULDRON, was a big-budget animated fantasy that became a notorious financial disaster. For television cartoons, a new wave of animation companies, largely based in Korea and Japan, were creating work much more cheaply – and of noticeably lower standards.

Amsel undoubtedly had the talent, but perhaps the animation landscape of the time just wasn’t ready for him. One can’t help but wonder if, had the artist lived, he would have thrived during Disney’s animation renaissance at the close of the decade.

Here are some examples of unproduced animation layouts, backgrounds, and character designs Richard Amsel created:


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