You can find out more about Sally Cruikshank at http://funonmars.com/
You can see more of Sally's videos on her YouTube page
Sally Cruikshanks has been in my mind since long before I ever had any idea who she was. I watched Quasi at the Quackadero and Chow Fun when I was younger and man, did they go over with a young Chris Garcia!
Her film work spans more than 40 years, and the style of her animations has influenced two generations of filmmakers. Quasi at the Quackadero was named to the National Film Registry in 2009.
Sally was kind enough to answer my questions via eMail!
Quasi at the Quackadero was installed on the National Film Registry a few years ago. How'd you find out? What went through your head?
Hmm, I think I heard a rumor before hand, not sure. It was a great honor of course. I had to ask them to send me a pdf certificate. (shh) My husband is very involved in film preservation- only a year or two still left for films to be preserved on film- isn't that crazy? Only one lab, Fotokem in Burbank, is still printing film. I have pristine 35 prints of my animation from 1975 on stored by donation at various film archives including the Academy. I'm lucky that way.
Can you tell us about the evolution of Quasi as a character?
You caught me at a good time for answering questions. I'm going to do a film show at the Chicago Art Institute at the end of September, including an explanation of my cel animation process, since that's an obsolete process now! So I've been going through sketchbooks and art that was stuffed away in the garage, sometimes visited by rats.
What surprised me today was all the sketchbooks I filled with ideas for Quasi at the.." And although Anita's design changed a lot in the early sketches, looking pretty middle aged bossy at first, Quasi looks the same from the very beginning. I'll attach a sketch. Rollo also seems to have been "created" in form. But more than that I'm not sure about- I mean how he first evolved.
You were in Berkeley in the early 1970s animating at the same time as the beginnings of the Underground Comix revolution. Was there any influence of Comix on your work? Did you know much about what was going on in comix at the time?
I moved to San Francisco after graduating early from Smith College. I'd seen Robert Crumb's comix and thought they were so good I almost couldn't look at them. I got a job as a cocktail waitress at a bar where magicians hung out, and oddly enough so did underground cartoonists, and soon I knew many of them. San Francisco was a smaller world then. These were the people I was friendly with, outside of my job at Snazelle Films. In fact Kim Deitch was my boyfriend at that time.
You've done some amazing animated opening credit sequences, notably Mannequin and Ruthless People. How do you approach creating a sequence for a non-animated film? How much of the film do you get to see/how much pre-production work are you given to create those sequences.
"Ruthless People" was a nifty job. I already knew the directors. They screened the movie for me, and I noticed the Memphis design of the furniture and thought that was so fresh and something I could work with. They were going to do a cavalcade of ruthlessness for the titles, but I suggested doing something ruthless to each title and they liked it. Because gags were their great talent, they would throw out any gag they didn't think really worked. Really enjoyed it.
"Mannequin" was different. They needed the titles to take the store dummy from ancient Egypt to contemporary times because the script didn't really work, and they needed something to warm up the audience as well. I wasn't keen on the movie. Oh well. For a certain generation it hit the right note. The song by Brenda somebody is impossible to find without the dumb sound effects that were added to the titles. And Fox took down my youtube video. I don't really like those "through the ages" animation concepts. Used to get nice comments on my youtube channel before the titles were removed.
I did some other titles too, for "Loverboy", a stinker, and "Madhouse". I liked those titles for "Madhouse". Are they on my youtube channel? Not sure. Also did on spec title storyboards for a couple of films, grr, one was for a Blake Edwards film. Asking artists to do things on spec is just evil. Then I started working for Sesame Street and didn't care about movie titles. I never had good lettering skills in spite of what I've done. Animated titles go in and out of style. I never came back in style!
Tell me about Quasi's Caberet? Any chance of us getting to see the storyboards?
Around 1980 everything seemed possible for me, lots of fans all over the country, a hip animated feature had not been done- seemed like the right direction. I wrote a script, made the trailer of what the film would be like. Now I understand this is often done as a pitch but it wasn't then. I had a guy who tried to be my manager and set up meetings, but nothing came of it. Looking at some of the cels from that trailer today I thought, "geez, why were you trying to make all the characters so likeable?" Not that anyone would have wanted to make the film if they were less likeable, but just seemed kind of dumb to me. Came across a full scrap book of designs for buildings, details right down to the swizzle sticks. Oh well.
I wrote another script, "Love that Makes You Crawl" that would have been mostly animation but partly live action. It was much edgier. Somewhere some of the storyboards for that are on line. Two producer partners took me all around to likely or unlikely funding sources. We packaged it even with Joe Dante to direct the live action segments and Oingo Boingo to do the music (would have been totally inappropriate but seemed like an attraction).
Still, nothing went forward. Many meetings.
Tell me about working with Oingo Boingo?
The producers I mentioned above had some connection with Oingo Boingo. Maybe they'd done music in their other films, not sure. Anyway, they introduced me to Danny Elfman. He was just starting to do film scoring, computers were still so new. Danny told me Oingo Boingo used to use "Quasi at the Quackadero" at some music shows they did, as a warm up act, and agreed to score "Face Like a Frog" just for the fun of it. They had to take the credit as "Mystic Knights" because of their agent, as I recall.
Finally, in the long-game, what do you think of the state of preservation of your work? Do you see YouTube and Vimeo as a viable way of keeping your work in play?
I mentioned about the preservation of my films. What really annoys me about youtube is how fussy they are about the sound tracks, though I get the legal aspect. Before youtube, an independent film maker like me could grab some really old or obscure track and use it in animation. Now youtube flags anything that's ever been published. Okay. But worse than that is there are some greedy big corps that claim music rights on obscure music. Oh don't get me started...
On the other hand, Sesame Street has never pulled any of my animated pieces. I don't claim copyright on them, don't ask to be paid. This is where my biggest audience is: on youtube. For the generation growing up in the 90's my Sesame Street animated songs resonate still. Vimeo has never worked well on my computer, so I stopped uploading there.
Wouldn't usually be so verbose, but spent the day going through old art.
Klaus at Gunpoint
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