Following the production struggles of The Lord of the Rings, Ralph Bakshi decided that it was time to work on something more personal. He pitched American Pop to Columbia Pictures president Dan Melnick. Bakshi wanted to produce a film with an extensive soundtrack of songs which would be given an entirely new context in juxtaposition to the visuals in a film. While the film does not reflect Bakshi’s own experiences, its themes were strongly influenced by individuals he had encountered in Brownsville. The film’s crew included character layout and design artist Louise Zingarelli, Vita, Barry E. Jackson, and Marcia Adams, each of whom brought their own personal touch to the film. Bakshi once again used rotoscoping, in an attempt to capture the range of emotions and movement required for the film’s story. According to Bakshi, “Rotoscoping is terrible for subtleties, so it was tough to get facial performances to match the stage ones.”
The score for American Pop was composed by Lee Holdridge. As the result of his reputation as an innovator of adult animation, Bakshi was able to acquire the rights to an extensive soundtrack, including songs by Bob Dylan, Jefferson Airplane, Janis Joplin, The Doors, George Gershwin, The Mamas & the Papas, Herbie Hancock, Lou Reed, and Louis Prima, for under $1 million in permissions fees. Due to music clearance issues, the film was not released on home video until 1998.
Ralph Bakshi originated the idea for Tattertown in high school, where it was originally a comic strip called Junk Town. The strip made light of the human condition by showing the value of things we throw away.
Bakshi worked with Nickelodeon to bring his strip to life as a regular television series, which would have served as Nickelodeon’s first original animated series. In 1988, they commissioned him to create a pilot, which aired on December 21, 1988 during the network’s Nick at Nite block of programming.
Fritz the Cat is a 1972 American adult animated black comedy film written and directed by Ralph Bakshi in his directorial debut. Based on the comic strip by Robert Crumb and starring Skip Hinnant, the film focuses on Fritz, a glib, womanizing, and fraudulent cat in an anthropomorphic animal version of New York City during the mid-to-late 1960s. Fritz decides on a whim to drop out of college, interacts with inner city African American crows, unintentionally starts a race riot, and becomes a leftist revolutionary. The film is a satire focusing on American college life of the era, race relations, the free love movement and serves as a criticism of the countercultural political revolution and dishonest political activists.
The film had a troubled production history, as Crumb, who is politically left-wing, had disagreements with the filmmakers over the film’s political content, which he saw as being critical of the political left. Produced on a budget of $700,000, the film was intended by Bakshi to broaden the animation market. At that time period, animation was seen predominantly as a children’s medium. Bakshi envisioned animation as being a medium that could tell more dramatic or satirical storylines with larger scopes, dealing with more mature and diverse themes that would resonate with adults. Bakshi also wanted to establish an independent alternative to the films produced by Walt Disney Animation Studios, which dominated the animation market due to a lack of independent competition.
The intention of featuring profanity, sex, and drug use provoked criticism from more conservative members of the animation industry, who accused Bakshi of attempting to produce a pornographic animated film, as the concept of adult animation was not widely understood at the time. The Motion Picture Association of America gave the film an X rating, making it the first American animated film to receive the rating, which was then predominantly associated with more arthouse films. The film was highly successful and also earned significant critical acclaim for its satire, social commentary, and animation innovations. The film’s use of satire and mature themes is seen as paving the way for future animated works for adults, including The Simpsons, South Park and Family Guy. A sequel, The Nine Lives of Fritz the Cat (1974), was produced without Crumb’s or Bakshi’s involvement.
Director: Ralph Bakshi Producer: by Ralph Bakshi Writer: Ralph Bakshi Starring: Bob Holt, Jesse Welles, Richard Romanus, David Proval, Steve Gravers Narrator: Susan Tyrrell Music: Andrew Belling Cinematography: C. Bemiller Editor: Donald W. Ernst
The film is notable for being the first fantasy film by Bakshi, a filmmaker who was previously known only for “urban films” such as Fritz the Cat, Heavy Traffic, and Coonskin. The film has since become a cult classic.
Ralph Bakshi had long had an interest in fantasy, and had been drawing fantasy artwork as far back as 1955, while he was still in high school. Wizards originated in the concept for Tee-Witt, an unproduced television series Bakshi developed and pitched to CBS in 1967. In 1976, Bakshi pitched War Wizards to 20th Century Fox. Returning to the fantasy drawings he had created in high school for inspiration, Bakshi intended to prove that he could produce a “family picture” that had the same impact as his adult-oriented films.
The film is an allegorical comment on the moral ambiguity of technology and the potentially destructive powers of propaganda. Blackwolf’s secret weapon is propaganda, used to incite his legions and terrorize the fairy folk of Montagar; but Avatar’s willingness to use a technological tool (a handgun pulled from “up his sleeve”) destroys his evil twin. Bakshi also states that Wizards “was about the creation of the state of Israel and the Holocaust, about the Jews looking for a homeland, and about the fact that fascism was on the rise again”.
British illustrator Ian Miller and comic book artist Mike Ploog were hired to contribute backgrounds and designs. The crew included Vita, Turek, Sparey, Vitello, and Spence, who had become comfortable with Bakshi’s limited storyboarding and lack of pencil tests. Artist Alex Niño signed a contract with Bakshi to work on the film, and was granted a work visa, but was unable to gain permission from the Philippine government to leave for the United States until two months afterward, and later found that by the time he had arrived in the United States, not only had the film’s animation been completed, but Niño’s visa did not allow him to submit freelance work on any other projects.
The film’s main cast includes Bob Holt, Jesse Welles, Richard Romanus, David Proval, and Steve Gravers. Bakshi cast Holt based on his ability to imitate the voice of actor Peter Falk, of whom Bakshi is a fan. Welles, Romanus, and Proval had previously worked with Bakshi on Hey Good Lookin’, where Romanus and Proval provided the voices of Vinnie and Crazy Shapiro, respectively. Actress Tina Bowman, who plays a small role in Wizards, has a larger role in Hey Good Lookin’. Actor Mark Hamill auditioned for and received a voice role in the film. Bakshi states that “He needed a job, and he came to me, and I thought he was great, and Lucas thought he should do it, and he got not only Wizards, he got Star Wars.” Bakshi had wanted a female narrator for his film, and he loved Susan Tyrrell’s acting. Tyrrell performed the narration for the film, but Bakshi was told that he couldn’t credit her for her narration. Years later, Tyrrell told Bakshi that she got most of her work from her narration on the film, and that she wished she had allowed him to put her name on it.
John Grant writes in his book Masters of Animation that “The overall affect of the animation is akin to that of the great anime creators – one has to keep reminding oneself that Wizards predates Miyazaki’s The Castle of Cagliostro (1979), not the other way round. The backgrounds are especially lovely, even the simplest of them; and in general the movie has a strong visual brio despite occasional technical hurriedness.” Notable artists involved in the production of Wizards include Ian Miller, who produced the gloomy backgrounds of Scortch, and Mike Ploog, who contributed likewise for the more arcadian landscapes of Montagar.
Bakshi was unable to complete the battle sequences with the budget Fox had given him. When he asked them for a budget increase, they refused (during the same meeting, director George Lucas had asked for a budget increase for Star Wars and was also refused). As a result, Bakshi finished his film by paying out of his own pocket and using rotoscoping for the unfinished battle sequences. According to Bakshi, “I thought that if we dropped all the detail, it would look very artistic and very beautiful. And I felt, why bother animating all of this? I’m looking for a way to get realism into my film and get real emotion.” In his audio commentary for the film’s DVD release, Bakshi states that “There’s no question that it was an easier way to get these gigantic scenes that I wanted. It also was the way that showed me how to do Lord of the Rings, so it worked two ways.” In addition to stock footage, the film used battle sequences from films such as Zulu, El Cid, Battle of the Bulge, and Alexander Nevsky for rotoscoping. Live-action sequences from Patton were also featured.
Vaughn Bode’s work has been credited as an influence on Wizards. Quentin Tarantino describes Avatar as “a cross between Tolkien’s Hobbit, Mel Brooks’ 2000 Year Old Man, and Marvel Comics’ Howard the Duck” and Blackwolf as physically similar to Sergei Eisenstein’s Ivan the Terrible. In Jerry Beck’s Animated Movie Guide, Andrew Leal writes that “The central figure, Avatar sounds a great deal like Peter Falk, and clearly owes much to cartoonist Vaughn Bodé’s Cheech Wizard character.”
As War Wizards neared completion, Lucas requested that Bakshi change the title of his film to Wizards in order to avoid conflict with Star Wars, and Bakshi agreed because Lucas had allowed Mark Hamill to take time off from Star Wars in order to record a voice for Wizards.
Created and animated by Ralph Bakshi in 1981, American Pop is an animated story of a very talented and troubled family starting with 19th-century Russia and moving through several generations of musicians. The film covers American popular music from the pre-jazz age through rhythm and blues, 1950s rock ‘n’ roll, drug-laden psychedelia, and punk rock, finally ending with the onset of New Wave in the early 1980s.
American Pop is a 1981 American adult animated musical drama film starring Ron Thompson and produced and directed by Ralph Bakshi. It was the fourth animated feature film to be presented in Dolby sound. The film tells the story of four generations of a Russian Jewish immigrant family of musicians whose careers parallel the history of American popular music in the 20th century.
The majority of the film’s animation was completed through rotoscoping, a process in which live actors are filmed and the subsequent footage is used for animators to draw over. However, the film also uses a variety of other mixed media including water colors, computer graphics, live-action shots, and archival footage.
Following the production struggles of The Lord of the Rings, Ralph Bakshi decided that it was time to work on something more personal. He pitched American Pop to Columbia Pictures president Dan Melnick. Bakshi wanted to produce a film with an extensive soundtrack of songs which would be given an entirely new context in juxtaposition to the visuals in a film. While the film does not reflect Bakshi’s own experiences, its themes were strongly influenced by individuals he had encountered in Brownsville. The film’s crew included character layout and design artist Louise Zingarelli, Vita, Barry E. Jackson, and Marcia Adams, each of whom brought their own personal touch to the film. Bakshi once again used rotoscoping, in an attempt to capture the range of emotions and movement required for the film’s story.
“Rotoscoping is terrible for subtleties, so it was tough to get facial performances to match the stage ones.”
The rock band Fear appeared in the film, Fear lead singer Lee Ving acted under the name Lee James Jude. And actor Elya Baskin performed in the film in an early role as a tuba player.
The score for American Pop was composed by Lee Holdridge. As the result of his reputation as an innovator of adult animation, Bakshi was able to acquire the rights to an extensive soundtrack, including songs by Bob Dylan, Jefferson Airplane, Janis Joplin, The Doors, George Gershwin, The Mamas & the Papas, Herbie Hancock, Lou Reed, and Louis Prima.
If you enjoyed American Pop, please check out this other wonderful creation by Ralph Bakshi entitled THIS Ain’t BeBop by clicking on the link below:
THIS Ain’t BeBop is Ralph Bakshi’s first live-action short, starring Harvey Keitel and featuring Ron Thompson (Tony & Pete of American Pop) as the beatnik poet and Rick Singer (Benny of American Pop) as Jackson Pollock.
Mark Bakshi produced the film; his first professional collaboration with his father. Ralph Bakshi wrote a poem influenced by Jack Kerouac, jazz, the Beat Generation and Brooklyn that served as the narration, which was spoken by Harvey Keitel.
After a car crash, Bakshi completed the post-production in stitches and casts. Bakshi said of the work, “It’s the most proud I’ve been of a picture since Coonskin — the last real thing I did with total integrity.”
In the cheap glitter and glow of a fading Coney Island a group of characters live out their sordid, strange lives trying to get somewhere fast – any way they can. Desperately trying to love and be loved. These cops, call girls, mafia hoods, transvestites, fortune-tellers, clowns, and freaks are all intertwined, heading on a crazy roller coaster ride into a black hole they think is life.
All of these characters are totally removed from the 60s America that, at the same time, is violently changing its values, fast. It is how hard they try, with the deck stacked against them, that we root for them in amazement. The film is done in funny hand drawn animation which makes their story even more amazing to watch. We invite you to enjoy the show.
Last Days of Coney Island is a 2015 American adult animated short film written, produced, directed and animated by Ralph Bakshi. The story concerns a NYPD detective, the sex worker he alternately loves and arrests, and the seedy characters that haunt the streets of New York City’s run-down amusement district.
Ralph Bakshi had previously pitched the film to major studios such as Pixar and DreamWorks, but was unable to find anyone who wanted to take on the project. When technology began advancing to the point where Bakshi could begin the project on a lower budget, he decided to take on the project himself and produce it independently working with a small development crew in New Mexico. Bakshi is quoted as saying that the animation is “probably higher quality than anything I ever made, at a cost so low it’s embarrassing. Everything I used to do in my old movies that required hundreds of people and huge salaries is now done in a box. It took 250 people to make Heavy Traffic, now I’m down to five. I kiss the computer every morning — f—–‘ unbelievable!”
Production was announced in 2006, attracting much interest, but no official funding, and according to Bakshi, “I had about eight minutes of film and a completed script. I thought budget was a slam dunk. For a Bakshi comeback film, it seemed like a no-brainer. […] I asked one guy [in Hollywood], ‘Should I have a budget of $150 million and pocket the rest?’ He said, ‘Yeah, but you have to make it PG'”. Bakshi ended the production to rethink his approach towards the film. Its production status was left uncertain.
On October 20, 2012, at Dallas Comic-Con: Fan Days, Ralph Bakshi participated in a Q&A where it was stated that he would take Last Days of Coney Island to Kickstarter in an attempt to crowdsource the funding.
A Kickstarter campaign was launched on February 1, 2013 to complete funding for the first short in the film. On March 3, the film was successfully funded and raised $174,195 from 1,290 backers, and Bakshi confirmed production had begun.
When the project was first announced on Kickstarter, voice actress Tina Romanus, who had previously worked with Baskhi on Wizards and Hey Good Lookin’, was confirmed to play the role of Molly, the main character’s love interest. In February 2013, actor Matthew Modine was cast in the film after coming across the film’s Kickstarter campaign online in the role of Shorty, described as “a 4-foot-tall mafia collector who thinks he’s Elvis Presley and sings like Chet Baker”.
Omar Jones ended up replacing Matthew Modine in the lead role of Short. Other voices include Ralph himself, Eddie Bakshi, Jess Gorell, Jonathan Yudis, Joey Camen and Ron Thompson.
Much of the production was aided with the use of Toon Boom Studio, computer software designed to assemble 2D animation. Ralph Bakshi is quoted as saying “Eddie [Bakshi’s son] began some coloring and refining of artwork in Photoshop then gradually moved over to doing this in Toon Boom Studio. The crossover was relatively painless. The programs worked well together. […] I set up the picture in a traditional manner then Eddie uses Toon Boom Studio to do everything else. My animator Doug Compton also uses Toon Boom Studio to assemble and send pencil tests and animatics. Toon Boom Studio essentially becomes the studio.”
Early on, Colleen Cox was announced to be the lead animator of the film. Tsukasa Kanayama was also hired as a storyboard artist, with Joseph Baptista helping with the storyboarding and also helping with some of the character designs. Animator Elana Pritchard was also hired to contribute a sequence in January 2014. British illustrator Ian Miller was hired to help with the background art for the film; Miller had previously worked with Baskhi on Wizards and Cool World.
Last Days of Coney Island premiered on Bakshi’s 77th birthday on October 29, 2015 on Vimeo. Bakshi released the film for free on YouTube on October 13, 2016.
Fritz the Cat is a 1972 American adult animated comedy film written and directed by Ralph Bakshi, based on the comic strip by Robert Crumb and starring Skip Hinnant. The film focuses on Fritz (Hinnant), a glib, womanizing and fraudulent cat in an anthropomorphic animal version of New York City during the mid-1960s. Fritz decides on a whim to drop out of college, interacts with inner city African American crows, unintentionally starts a race riot, and becomes a leftist revolutionary. The film is a satire focusing on American college life of the era, race relations, the free love movement and serves as a criticism of political revolution and dishonest political activists.
Coonskin is a 1975 American live action/animated crime film about an African American rabbit, fox, and bear who rise to the top of the organized crime racket in Harlem, encountering corrupt law enforcement, con artists, and the Mafia.
The film, which combines live-action with animation, stars Philip Thomas, Charles Gordone, Barry White, and Scatman Crothers, all of whom appear in both live-action and animated sequences.
Coonskin makes reference to various elements from African-American culture, ranging from African folk tales to the work of cartoonist George Herriman, and satirizes racist and other stereotypes, as well as the blaxploitation genre, Song of the South, and The Godfather (which was another film produced by Albert S. Ruddy).
Heavy Traffic is a 1973 animated film written and directed by Ralph Bakshi, based on the 1964 novel Last Exit to Brooklyn. The film — which begins, ends, and occasionally combines live-action — explores the often surreal fantasies of a young New York cartoonist named Michael Corleone. The film uses pinball imagery as a metaphor for inner-city life. Heavy Traffic was Bakshi’s and producer Steve Krantz’s follow-up to the film Fritz the Cat. Krantz made varied attempts to produce an R-rated film, but Heavy Traffic was given an X rating by the MPAA. The film received positive reviews and is widely considered to be Bakshi’s biggest critical success.