No matter how many hours of footage I’ve filmed for the documentary, there’s a narrative challenge that is virtually insurmountable: only a handful of photographs and a precious few minutes of video footage exist of Richard Amsel. How can you tell his story, aside from juggling through seemingly endless videos of various “talking heads”?
Another challenge: considering the tragic elements of Amsel’s illness and untimely death, how can you offset all that “doom and gloom”, so to speak? Surely there need to be moments of levity. It’s only fitting; many of Amsel’s friends commented on the artist’s dry sense of humor, and there are some surprisingly humorous, even outlandish moments described within the various remembrances of his life.
There’s a great documentary, FLOYD NORMAN: AN ANIMATED LIFE, made by my friend Erik Sharkey, who also did the Drew Struzan documentary. In it, Norman recalls a number of stories from his past that are depicted onscreen through some clever animations, done in the style of his sketches. This got me thinking…
As Amsel himself wanted to be an animator, and had a strong sense of doing period fashion, makeup, and style, why not try to depict some of those more humorous moments through animation?
But another problem presented itself. I studied hand-drawn animation in a year-long program under Don Bluth, so I know the basics. But even minimalist animation is extremely time-consuming, requiring a LOT of work. (Never again will I make disparaging remarks about the seemingly “crude” Saturday morning cartoons of my youth. They're masterpieces compared to my little animations.)
I simply don’t have the time to animate AND work on the rest of the film, much less do both outside of my day job.
Also, while working under Bluth I soon realized my skills were much better suited to storyboarding and backgrounds than to character design. All my characters looked too wooden, too symmetrical and stilted...so I turned to one of my friends and fellow Bluth classmates, Lex Hockman, to create some cartoon designs of Amsel. Lex's character designs for our class projects blew mine out of the water, so I was excited to see what he'd come up with.
Lex whipped up some sketches based on select photographs of Amsel, and skewed them in a style evocative of late 1970s/early 1980s’ period fashion design. I fell in love with them right away.
I then brought in Yuki Sun, another artist/animator based in New York, to prep some storyboards and an animatic of a brief “test” animation. Lex and I loved these early results.
I’m now in the process of developing longer sequences, and trying to recruit other animators to help with the in-betweens. My hope is to get these underway while I focus on other motion graphics and editing.
As always, your past donations to this project have made work like this possible. I’m now working on having monthly fundraising incentives and “thank you” promotions, so that more such work can be done.