Tuesday, February 24, 2009

My Lunch with Eddie

I met the fabulous animation blogger and Populärekulturmeister Eddie Fitzgerald Saturday, over lunch at Lido Pizza in the San Fernando valley. We talked for about three and a half hours. I’m afraid I uncharacteristically babbled on a great deal and missed opportunities to get more of Eddie’s unique perspective on the world, but I was so excited to be in The Presence that my impulse control was impaired.

[Any quotations below are approximate, being from memory only. Also, my apologies for the quality of these telephone pictures -- I forgot to bring my camera.]

The first thing we talked about was the elephant in the room – Los Angeles. It was all around us, in all its exhilarating philistine vulgarity!* I told Eddie I still think of something my father said when I was a kid, driving through identical ‘urbs with exotic-sounding names: “You know, these places look like they were built last night, in the dark.” Eddie said the real reason to live here is the people, it's got incredible numbers of the most interesting, creative people you can find. He talked about the brilliant Harlan Ellison, who can be seen banging on the hoods of cars that he sees driving unsafely. I talked about what a genius Rod Serling was.

Eddie has worked at every level of the animation art: drawing animation cels, storyboarding, writing scripts, directing. Like so many people with honest jobs (ie., in the private sector), he has worked for quite a number of different people. Right now, he works for an education company. His favorite work experiences were working for Ralph Bakshi and, on another occasion, John Kricfalusi (of Ren and Stimpy fame). His favorite sort of work environment is one that is dominated by a single creative imagination, a coherent and passionately conceived vision of the group's mission. His most horrific work experience was the Nickelodeon, having taken over Ren and Stimpy fired the brilliant John K. from the show he himself had created. Eddie was shocked that many of the employees failed to stand behind John and try to convince Nickelodeon that what they were doing was insane. He suffered mental scars from these events that he still has, he says, "to this day."

Eddie does some teaching, both at Cal Arts and Laguna College of Art and Design. In fact, he was going to give a lecture that evening, on animation. He rehearsed the little preface he intend to give, which would go something like this: "I'm going to tell you about animation as Eddie Fitzgerald does it, because that's the only kind I know. But I can tell you that no one else in the world knows as much about that as I do!"

About teaching: "Isn't teaching wonderful? You know, in the past, when you wanted to become a shaman, you had to have an uncle who would take you under his wing. Now, there's this stranger who knows all about something you want to know about, and he's willing to just tell it to you -- right now!" Yes, I suppose teaching is a peculiar sort of education that only exists in an economy with a division of labor. The Marxist would point out that it greatly depersonalizes the educational relationship, but it also greatly enhances the freedom (size of the choice-set) of the student. It also promotes equality. In the old system, to be a learner (or "apprentice") was a position of grovelling subservience. You would wait on your mentor hand and foot, and you had to call him "Master" (Maestro, Meister, etc.).

Eddie gave me a new and better reason to dislike what he calls “3 D” animation – ie., what I think of as computer animation. "You say, 'Okay, now the character takes his hat off' and they'll say 'He can't do that.' 'Why not.' 'His arm isn't long enough.'" It turns out computer animation has to work consistently and logically. "When you saw Daffy Duck's bill from the side, it was bent up at the end, because that's funny. From the front, it wasn't -- and they would do little cheats so you wouldn't notice it changes shape when he turns his head. Now, you can't do that, unless you have a huge budget, like Pixar, so you can afford a bunch of different programs for the same character."

One of the things I liked about old, hand-drawn animation is that it can escape from consistency and logic -- because that's funny! If 3 D can't do that except at great expense, that's another reason to regret it.

We also visited the site of the old Ayn Rand house on Tampa road, but I'll have to post about it later. Eddie blogged about our visit here.
* Here is the Ali Baba Motel, which was near the house I stayed at in Costa Mesa. Do you have an Ali Baba Motel near you? Neither do I.

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