Thursday February 20th 2014, 7:43 am
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Jimmy Murakami - 5 June, 1933 - 16 February, 2014
Jimmy Murakami - 5 June, 1933 - 16 February, 2014

On the 16th of February 2014 the animation community lost another brilliant legend with the passing of 80 year old Teruaki “Jimmy” Murakami.  Jimmy leaves such a vast and varied legacy of films and such a complex personal history that it is impossible to sum up his achievements in a few sentences.

Born on 5 June, 1933 in San Jose, California in the United States, Jimmy was a Japanese-American, and at the age of 9 he and his family were interred in a WW II concentration camp along with tens of thousands of other Japanese-Americans living on the West Coast of the United States.  This tragic event left lifelong deep scars and changed his life forever, which was often reflected in his films.

He has said “I was very, very bitter to be an American citizen to be treated this way.  My older sister died in the camp and the rest of us came out pretty bad.”  Jimmy Murakami – Non-Alien, a documentary about this period of Jimmy’s life by Irish film maker Se Merry Doyle premiered at the 2010 Stranger Than Fiction Film Festival in Dublin.

After leaving the camp, the family considered moving to Japan until they found out that the family home there had been bombed to the ground.   They moved to Los Angeles instead, where Jimmy enrolled in Chouinard Art Institute in the 1950’s.  His teachers included Don Graham and Disney Animator Marc Davis.  Chuck Jones was in his night drawing class.

His first professional animation work came when he was hired by UPA Studio to work on The Gerald Boing Boing Show television series and with Fred Crippen on the Ham and Hattie theatrical series.  Jimmy went on to design the big-nosed islanders in the Jamaican Daddy sequence of the Oscar nominated Trees and Jamaican Daddy.

Jimmy’s move to New York City in 1958 was the first stop off of what would become an international career.  In New York City he worked with his former UPA colleague Ernie Pintoff at Pintoff Productions.  Ernie and Jimmy designed the 1959 Oscar nominated short The Violinist.

The next stop on his odyssey was Tokyo to work at Toei Animation.  In an interview Jimmy said “I wanted to find my roots as a Japanese. . . I worked at Toei Animation for a time as a consultant and all they did was give me grief because they wanted me to do everything their way, including using paper-clips for registration instead of pegs, so the picture would be jittery”.  While in Tokyo he also began his other life long career as an artist, selling his first watercolours even if it was, as he said “for negligible money”.  His later watercolours were represented in renowned galleries and exhibitions and painting remained a great pleasure for him.

The next move was to London where Jimmy worked at George Dunning’s TVC studio, directing the 1961 BAFTA winning short Insects.  He returned to Los Angeles in 1965 to launch Murakami-Wolf Productions.  The studio focused primarily on commercial work but Jimmy did find time to make his own personal films such as the Oscar nominated Magic Pear Tree and Annecy Grand Prix winning Breath.

In 1971 he settled in Ireland which was to become his lifelong home.  His first project there was as second unit aerial director on Roger Corman’s The Red Baron.  He went on to direct Battle Beyond the Stars and Humanoids From The Deep for Corman before setting up his own commercial studio, Quateru Films in Dublin.

The studio worked on freelance projects such as the opening sequences of Heavy Metal.  Jimmy’s ultimate desire, though, was to follow his fiercely independent streak and make films the way he wanted to make them.  Murakami’s  philosophy is summed up by Irish animation designer and director Paul Bolger, “When I first met Jimmy in 1989 I asked him how best to apply all I had learned about making animation at Don Bluth Studios and he told me “most (people) use film to make animation when it’s better to use animation to make films”.

Jimmy is best remembered for his role as supervising director on the 1982 The Snowman.  The film, based on the children’s book by Raymond Briggs, premiered on BBC on December 26th and has become a beloved British classic.  The Snowman was nominated for an Oscar.

Briggs and Murakami next collaborated in 1986 on When the Wind Blows based on Briggs’ graphic novel of the same name.  The hand drawn stop-motion film depicting an impending nuclear attack through the eyes of an elderly British couple has become an international classic.  The film also reflects Jimmy’s desire for world peace which was present in so much of his personal work.

After the closing of Quateru Films, Jimmy opened Murakami Films in Dublin.  The studio worked on Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and Christmas Carol:  The Movie as well as the television series Storykeepers.

Jimmy is regarded as the Founding Father of Irish animation and he will be long remembered not only for his impressive body of work but especially by the younger Irish animators as someone who was always happy to help them.  Paul Young, Irish producer of the Oscar nominated The Secret of Kells remembers “the highlight for Tomm Moore and myself during the various festival events we were lucky enough to attend with The Secret of Kells was a festival in Morocco where we had Jimmy all to ourselves for nearly a week.  We both remember one night under the stars listening to Jimmy – rapt.  He was a spellbinding storyteller, his life made is laugh and cry.  I’ll never forget that night and how warm he was to us”.

Jimmy with Nancy at Annecy 2012
Jimmy with Nancy at Annecy 2012

He was indeed a great storyteller who will be missed by so many of us who had the privilege to spend time with him.  I can’t believe that I will never share another drink with Jimmy while he entertains me with his stories.

At the time of his passing at his home he was preparing his new feature about Hiroshima.  My sympathy goes out to his wife Ethna and their two daughters Dee and Claire on their sudden, unexpected loss.

FROM KOSOVO TO SERBIA: Not As Simple As It Seems
Sunday October 07th 2012, 1:40 pm
Filed under: Personal, Festivals
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When I last left you I was on a bus from Pristina, Kosovo headed to Belgrade, Serbia where I was planning to meet my old friend Rastko Ciric and attend the first edition of the Festival of European Student Animation that he had organized.  It was supposed to be a six hour trip.   I knew that Serbia did not recognize Kosovo as a country and people travelling on a Kosovo passport could not cross this border but I had been assured that I would not have a problem since I was travelling on a United States passport.

As the bus approached the border crossing which was in the middle of nowhere, a Kosovo border guard collected our passports and then we waited while the guard disappeared into a small building with them.  I always have a bit of a sinking feeling whenever I see my passport vanish into an official building, but after a few minutes the guard reboarded our bus, passports in hand.

Next our bus crawled to the Serbian border where our passports were collec, this time by a Serbian guard.  We were all ordered off the bus and told to bring our luggage and all personal possessions with us.  After our luggage, handbags and the bus were thoroughly searched, we were ordered back onto the bus.

The guard boarded the bus, passports in hand.  I had made it to Serbia, or so I thought!  He walked straight to my seat and told me to get my luggage and follow him.  When we reached the building an official was frowning down at my passport and pointing at the Kosovo entry stamp.  He informed me very politely that he was very sorry but he could not allow me to cross the border.  It didn’t make any difference what I said or that I had a plane ticket with me to fly out of Belgrade to China in a few days.  My pleas fell on deaf ears. All he would say was that I could not cross that border.  When I asked how I was supposed to get back to town he just shrugged his shoulders.

I watched my bus recede into the distance and then I turned and headed back to the Kosovo border station where my passport was stamped with another entry visa.  When I asked the guard where I could catch the bus back to town he said “No bus, no taxi”.

The Kosovo/Serbian border
The Kosovo/Serbian border

There was nothing else to do but to set off back down the dusty highway in the direction I had just come from in the boiling 40 degree Centigrade (over 100 degree) heat trailing my suitcase behind me.  Two kilometres (about a mile and a half) down the road I came upon an umbrella with four chairs under it and a young man with a cooler of very cold beer.  What a very welcome sight on the roadside indeed.

As bothersome as being thrown off the bus was, I knew that the festival was not going to leave me sitting by the side of the road so it was now time to call Fiona Beqiti, director of guest services for Anibar.  While I was talking to Fiona the young man said to me in English “Don’t worry my uncle will drive you back to town”.

After a conversation between Fiona and the young man everything was settled for the ride back.  After another round of phone calls between Fiona and me, she assured me that if I retraced my steps to Pristina and then took a bus across Macedonia I would be able to cross into Serbia at the Macedonian/Serbian border.

I had been very worried about how much my two hour drive back to town was going to cost but Fiona and uncle had settled on a 25 Euro price.  25 Euros is a lot of money in Kosovo but for me it was money well spent; besides, I wasn’t in any position to quibble about the price.

Although uncle didn’t speak much English he was very nice.  He not only delivered me to the station but also carried my suitcase inside and made sure that I bought the correct bus ticket.

I enjoyed looking out the bus window at the landscape as I crossed Kosovo, and the Macedonian countryside was lovely with small villages nestled in the rolling hills.  Through both countries the buses stopped at cafes every two hours for a 15 minute rest stop, which seemed to make the hours fly by.

All along the way, through numerous bus changes, people were so helpful, making sure that I transferred onto the correct buses and sharing food and drink with me.  One thing my travel disasters always remind me is that there are good people everywhere that are willing to help you.  It never ceases to amaze me how well people can understand each other even if they don’t speak the same language if they try hard enough.

I felt great trepidation as the bus approached the Serbian border.  It was dark and I was trying to watch out the window for any place on the Macedonian side that I could walk back to for help if I was refused admittance to Serbia again.  For a second time my passport disappeared into the Serbian border control office but we weren’t ask to get off the bus and no one searched our luggage.

I heaved a big sigh of relief when my passport was finally handed back to me with a Serbian entry stamp in it.  The bus rolled across the border to begin our long trip to Belgrade which was very uneventful except that there was no toilet on the bus or rest stops during the 7 ½ hour trip.

I finally arrived in Belgrade at 4:30 in the morning and it was so wonderful to see Rastko there waiting for me.  After giving him a big hug all I could say was “I need a toilet desperately”.

Not only did Rastko meet me in the middle of the night, but when we got to his house he had a bottle of red wine and all sorts of goodies to nibble waiting for me. Sitting in Rastko’s kitchen, catching up on all the news since we had last seen each other, my 19 hour bus trip became a distant memory as the sun rose on a new day.

My account of the Festival of European Student Animation will follow soon . . .

Interview with Nik Phelps, Nancy Denney-Phelps & Alexey Alexeev
Monday March 21st 2011, 7:29 am
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Nancy, Nik, and The Animation Conversation guys - Will Ashurst, Morten Overlie, and Erlend Dal Sakshaug.  Unfortunately, Alexey had to leave to catch his plane.
While we were at the wonderful Fredrikstad Animation in Fredrikstad, Norway the Animation Conversation Pod Cast guys did a breakfast interview with Alexey Alexeev, Nik, and me.  Nik and Alexey also play some music during the interview.

The Pod Cast guys have a unique and interesting approach to interviewing - they buy their guests a bottle of their favorite alcholic beverage (or in our case a couple bottles of red wine) and the interview continues until the bottle is empty.  Pour yourself a BIG glass of your drink of choice, then sit back and enjoy three old friends talking about everything under the sun.

Other animation luminaries you can  listen to on their site include Paul Dutton, Don Hahn, Ralph Eggleston and Tomm Moore.

Their site is:

Thursday February 05th 2009, 1:39 pm
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Seems like I have been writing too many obituaries in the last few month and even though losing dear human friends is very painful, sometimes the loss of a treasured company is just as sad.Any of us who lived in the Bay Area during the heyday of the Orphanage has fond memories of the great work they created and the exciting young animators who were given the chance to cut their teeth and expand their wings.

There is no way I can say it better than the press release I received today:

Orphanage logo
Orphanage logo
Today I had the heart-wrenching task of joining my co-founders Scott Stewart and Jonathan Rothbart in announcing that The Orphanage will be suspending operations indefinitely. We started the company ten years ago, tripled in size each year for our first three years, and worked on some of the biggest and best effects movies made. We produced shorts and even features, we spawned a commercial division and an animation company, and we hung out in the halls with Frank Miller, Ethan Hawke, and M.C. Hammer. We did DI before it was called DI, we gave birth to Magic Bullet, and we did really, really good work.

But that’s not what matters the most.

It’s no accident that our company’s name described a place for people, people who may be thrown together, but who ultimately create their own destinies. Scott once described his vision of an orphanage as “a hundred success stories waiting to happen,” and that is exactly what came to pass inside our offices. We have had the privilege of working with many “Orphans” over the years, and watching them grow and take on new responsibilities has been the single greatest part of coming to work every day.

A message to the visual effects industry: You will never find a better employee than a former Orphan.

And to the Orphans: It has been a privilege and an honor to work with you.

Posted by Stu Maschwitz at 8:00 pm on

Holiday Greetings!
Saturday December 20th 2008, 10:43 am
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Happy Holidays
Happy Holidays

Thursday October 02nd 2008, 3:55 am
Filed under: Personal, Films, Festivals
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I arrived back home after a week at the ARSENALS Film Festival in Riga, Latvia followed by another week teaching in Luzerne, Switzerland to find e-mails from Adam Elliott and Melonie Coombs, Karl Cohen, and Merlin Crossingham.  All of them had exciting news that I want to share with my readers so please read the three new articles and enjoy.

Monday June 30th 2008, 4:32 am
Filed under: Personal, Films, Educational, Profiles
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As I watched noted director and film critic Natalia Lukinyk’s touching moving documentary film Alexander Tatarsky, Or How To Embrace The Immense . . . I found it hard to believe that it has been almost a year since one of the biggest hearts in Russian animation stopped beating. Natalia’s touching celluloid portrait began as part of her new trilogy of films about creative Russian and Ukrainian artists in three different fields titled The Restless Talents. Sadly the film was completed as a labor of love after the untimely death of her close friend.

Alexander Tatarsky
Alexander Tatarsky

Natalia gives us a warm and insightful view into the early life that shaped a true artistic genius. Humorous moments of Alexander playing with his beloved toy collection which he said every grown-up child needed and pictures of him with his dogs and cats that played an important part in his life from early childhood show one side of this very complex man. Most beautiful of all are the pictures of him with his wife and of him holding his young son at home in Moscow.The great director and animator went on to found Pilot Studios, the first private animation studio in the new Russia, turning it into one of the world’s leading animation studios. Pilot is world renowned, winning awards at festivals the world over and mentoring several decades of animators and script writers that now work in all corners of the world. Speaking of his dear friend and colleague at Pilot, Valentin Telegin said “He took up a flag and led the troops.” This quote complete summarizes the great man’s life.

For those of us who had the privilege to know Sasha, Alexander Tatarsky, Or How To Embrace The Unembracable . . . brings back wonderful memories. Even though my Russian is limited to a few words I can recall afternoons on the KROK boat, sharing drinks and laughter with a man whose humor and delight of the world knew no boundaries geographically or linguistically. For those who were not lucky enough to encounter this amazing man or his films, Natalia’s documentary serves as a perfect introduction to his amazing world.

Saturday April 19th 2008, 3:10 am
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I recently found an animated world in my hometown of Gent, Belgium in a most unexpected place: the Campus Volkskliniek Hospital operating room where I had eye surgery. I can’t say that I felt no anxiety; after all, I was lying on a hospital gurney with an IV in my arm and an oxygen tube up my nose, knowing that an incision was about to be made into my eye and that I wasn’t even going to be given good drugs or knocked out. But with impending blindness as the alternative, I chose my only option.

About a year ago, I began to think that the projectors at the animation festivals were getting very fuzzy and I kept moving further and further toward the front row to see the screen. It became obvious to me that the problem was not with the projectors, but with my eyes. This was a big problem, since I spend a great deal of my time in screening rooms, and what animation festival would want a blind juror, much less a “visually challenged” journalist.

Over the next 12 months, my eyesight rapidly deteriorated. By the time I took my 7 week “Grand Festival Tour” in November, I knew that I was in real trouble. Traveling alone was quite a challenge. It was very unsettling to stare at the arrival and departure screens in the airport and train stations without being able to read a thing, not to mention managing my arrival at an airport in London and taking the tube across town while pulling a very heavy suitcase. I really related to Blanche DuBoise, as I too relied upon the kindness of strangers.

Once I arrived at the festivals, there was always a friend on hand to help me get down the theatre aisle. This simple walk had become a challenge since my night vision was almost gone, and a dim theatre was like entering the belly of the beast. It’s amazing how conspicuous you feel sitting in the front row of a partially full theatre, but I was lucky to have friends offer to escort me down to the front and sit with me.

Enter into my life Doctor Jan Poelman. When he first diagnosed my vision problem as cataracts and said that there was no way to tell how rapidly they would progress, I was horrified. My next thought was “how long can I put surgery off”. I had a busy festival schedule through February, and no matter how silly it seems, spring sunshine and flowers sounded like a much better time for an operation than during the cold and rainy months.


Over my next few visits to Doctor Poelman, I discovered that he had a keen sense of humor, an absolute necessity for any doctor that is going to cut me open anywhere. He was straightforward in explaining what was going to happen to my eyes. He answered all my questions, and most important of all, he laughed, qualities that I usually found lacking in my U.S. surgeons (although Jeri, my GP/Nurse Practitioner in San Francisco also possessed these qualities).

Doctor Poelman made me feel secure enough about the entire process so that when I went to the hospital to have my right eye cut open and fitted with its new plastic lens I felt amazingly calm. I was astonished to find only a ten minute wait at the hospital to check in, and then it was right upstairs, where the nurses checked my blood pressure and dilated my eye. Each eye is operated on a week apart just in case something should go wrong and to give you time to recover and adjust.

After a few minutes, off I went to the pre-op room for my IV, which was a mild relaxant, and a local anesthetic for my eye. The nurses gave me my fashion accessories to go with my hospital gown: a blue plastic hat and blue plastic shoe covers. Yes, I was amazed that I got to wear my shoes into surgery and it was somehow very comforting – the adult version of taking my Teddy Bear to bed with me. My entire face was eventually covered in the operating room, with a cloth leaving just a small space where my right eye was exposed. Throughout this entire process, the nurses and my doctor laughed and joked with me, which really helped me relax. They even got into the spirit of taking the photos for this article. The gurney ride to the operating room was only a few feet away from the pre op room. Although we were joined by my smiling doctor, I was pleased that the minute surgery began, everyone became very serious and professional. As much as I love to laugh, this was my eye, and I didn’t want Dr. Hugo Z. Hackenbush operating on me no matter how much I love Groucho Marx.


No one prepared me for the adventure that awaited me on that operating table. First of all a very bright light was shined in my eye, and then the most fantastic animated light show began. I have never seen such intense, vivid colors, not even at the Fillmore light shows in the ‘60’s. The magenta and aquamarines were intertwined with olive green circles that radiated lustrous gold and orange shooting sparks that felt like they were flying out of my brain. The colors and shapes all moved in rhythmic patterns to the music on the operating room radio and made me feel that I was in the middle of an Otto Fischinger animated short. I can only imagine what I would have seen and heard if I had been given the really good drugs.


The week between the two surgeries was a bit schizophrenic. One eye had 20/20 vision and the other one had zilch vision, and by the end of the seven days my weaker eye had lost the battle and given in to my stronger eye. I began to have glimpses into the wonderful world of colors and sight that I had lost. Now that round two is over, I can see the world even without my rose colored glasses (although I still need them to read) and it looks like my world is a pretty good place to be right now.

There is no way I can adequately thank my many friends who supported me throughout this entire ordeal. I especially want to acknowledge my numerous friends who helped me look like I knew where I was and what was happening at animation festivals. I never could have done it without you all.

Nik and I leave on 1 May for the Trickfilm Festival in Stuttgart, where we will give a workshop and I will watch and write about films from anywhere in the theatre that I feel like sitting. From there we travel to Lisbon for Monstra where I have the honor to be on the Student Film jury and Nik will perform with the fabulous musician/animator Rasto Ćirić. Nik will also give a three day workshop. I will, of course, send you full reports of these events.

Nancy’s November travels
Thursday November 01st 2007, 3:16 pm
Filed under: Personal, Festivals

I am about to set off on an animation odyssey that will rival my last years trip to Russia — if such is possible!

5 through 11 November I will be at Espinho, Portugal at the Cinanima Animation Festival

13 through 19 November I am very pleased and honored to be a juror at the Bradford Animation Festival

19 through 21 November I will visit friends in Riga, Latvia

21 through 25 November I will attend the Black Nights Animation Festival in Tallinn, Estonia

From there I fly to Rome for the I Castelli festival where Nik finally joins me and we give a presentation and workshop, from 28 November to 2 December

3 December to the 6th Nik will be conducting a workshop and I will be writing about the Bournemouth School of Animation in Bournemouth, England

I am afraid that I will have limited e-mail access during my travels but Nik will be at home until 28 November fielding responses. I look forward to seeing many of you during my travels.

AWN launches my new blog
Thursday October 11th 2007, 2:08 pm
Filed under: Personal

AWN has invited me a initiate a weekly blog space on their web site. I will primarily write short reviews of animations that I like, interviews with animators, my observations about the animation world and of course, my usual long articles about festivals that I attend. Any of you who have been reading my articles for the past few years know that I will also throw in whatever is on my mind when I am writing along with observations about my life in Europe. The powers that be at AWN say that it will take a little bit of time to convert my e-mail list to my blog spot so until then you will continue to receive my musings direct from me.

Nancy - Cheers!
Nancy - Cheers!

Nancy - Serious
Nancy - Serious

I will be happy to receive comments from any readers as well as question and of course I expect to get e-mails from those who don’t agree with what I say. I welcome all of the above.

My first two entries will be my article about KROK 2007 and an interview with Joanna Quinn and Les Mills when they visit Gent this weekend.
I hope you all have as much fun reading what I write as I will have writing it.