This is a partial remake of the 1924 Koko animated short, The Cure. It’s also Koko’s last theatrical appearance.
Max Fleischer deployed a number of techniques in the service of his anarchic cinematic vision, among them rotoscoping, which he patented in 1917; integrating live action shots; and using still photographs as animation backgrounds to create the illusion of cartoon characters inhabiting a real-world space, as in the opening scene of the astounding Betty Boop short Ha! Ha! Ha! (1934). The most technologically ornate item in Fleischer’s toolbox was the setback camera.
The setback camera is often confused with Disney’s multiplane camera. Both systems evolved somewhat contemporaneously, and both create the illusion of dimensional depth, but functionally they have little in common. The setback rig consists of a forced-perspective, miniature set mounted on a turntable, serving as background to the cel art held in a vertical glass platen, and a horizontal animation camera. The turntable is rotated incrementally behind the cels, creating the effect of a “tracking shot” — the 2D animated character, in a side-view walk cycle, traverses a realistically proportioned (but still recognizably Fleischeresque) 3D environment which moves perspectivally across the background.
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.