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Cartoonist Gene Deitch in San Francisco

Last Sunday morning I ended my tour of the San Francisco International Animation Film Festival with a retrospective of animator Gene Deitch's work for children. Deitch and his wife Zdenka who reside in Prague, were in attendance for the screening.

The showing included Oscar Winning Monroe, The Three Robbers, TomTerrific, Maurice Sendak's In the Knight Kitchen, and Where the Wild Things Are, Sylvester and the magic Pebble, Why Mosquitos Buzz in Peoples' Ears, and Tom and Jerry.

Seeing these works was an interesting way to end the Festival because all of Deitch's works are hand drawn animation, while most of the other stuff I'd seen over the weekend was digital. In fact, Deitch and his wife are advocates for hand -drawn animation when it comes to children's entertainment.

Though he acknowledges the magic Pixar creates Deitch said, "Animation comes down to the story. With computers, unfortunately a lot of the characters look like plastic...and the computer is shutting out hand drawn animation, unfortunately erroneously called 2D..."

It could be argued well that hand drawn animation, the artist's hand to pen to paper rather than hand to mouse to computer, is more subjective, more of a reflection of the artist's. On digital animation, Deitch said he doesn't understand the path many 3D animators seem to be on of trying to imitate reality. "I don't think we should be in the business of trying to animate real live action. It's a dead end. There's no way to do it exactly, so why should we try?"

Deitch's wife Zdenka, a less than 5 ft woman who he described as small but feisty, had a lot to say about this matter as well. "Done with computer, it has no heart. I prefer hand made animation because it has heart...The animator gives a life, a feeling to it..."

While watching the hand drawn animation pieces of Gene's, my thoughts were along these same lines. The morals of the stories stood out to me. When the animator draws everything her/himself, it means the artist's point of view and perspective are completely reflected in the characters, giving the experience of watching a real feeling, perhaps that could be called soul?

I talked to Gene, a man who looks about 25 years younger than his age, more about the digital versus hand drawn idea after the screenings. "There's so much competition out there now for childrens' attention," he said. "We try to make something of lasting value." Deitch said he has grandchildren who live in the U.S., and he's not even sure they would be entertained by his works, compared to what he called, "The splash bang of the stuff children watch on TV today... We're trying to create something real, with meaning," he said.

I asked Zdenka if she felt that hand drawn animation is not just for children, but adults too. "We make these not just for children...There is a lot of junk in the world. It is important to broaden the mind," she said, referring to adults watching too.

Elisabeth Bartlett

Gene Deitch and his wife, Zdenka, with Festival Programmer Sean Uyehara and daughter Asta.
Photo credit Hilary Hart San Francisco Film Society

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