Wednesday, October 27, 2010
Many years after graduating from School, Kaj met with an old class-mate of his, who then said "Drawing cartoons is silly, I do important thing, I build bridges". I think Kaj didn't appreciate the remark for a good reason, It misunderstands and underestimates what cartoons are capable of achieving. Kaj has always known that cartoons can be used for good and even crucial purposes, He is perhaps most proud of his films for public awareness and safety, especially "Karate Kids" and "Goldtooth," which were made to warn children and teenagers worldwide about the dangers of AIDS and Drugs/Substance Abuse, and most importantly, instruct how do avoid them.
In the mid 80s, As Kaj was working on the direct-to-video version of “Peep and the big wide world” at the NFB studio in Toronto, a gentleman came to see producer Mike Scott, his name was Peter Dalglish. Although Dalglish went to law school, he decided the world didn't need another corporate lawyer, so he founded "Street kids international". At the time he was working with kids in Sudan, The problem of AIDS has come along at the time, and he realized how big a problem that was. He needed to inform the kids about protection. But he also knew it wasn't easy for white westerners to deliver messages to these kids worldwide, as the kids wouldn't relate easily...but he noticed how much they liked TOM & JERRY cartoons, and seeing how fascinated the kids were with Animation, Dalglish concluded he has to warn them about AIDS through animated cartoons.
He came up to Toronto from Boston (at the time he taught Animation at Harvard). “Peter Dalglish understood that we can't just sit in an animation studio...you have to go out and research” They went to tour South America with a UNICEF group, and saw many things. In Guatemala city, they went to the city dump, Kaj vividly recalls “A huge area stinking of rotten food, dusty and ugly in every way...and there, a garbage truck backing up, and Kids, dogs, pigs and vultures, all scrambling to be the first to get the food, at the risk of being run over...All that ugly life you read about but never fully understand until you see it first hand.”
Nearby there was a school, run a young attractive, wealthy American girl, “She could have been a Hollywood movie star, but she saw this work as more important”
Kaj has attended the classrooms along with UNICEF, and recalls the tense atmosphere:
“[The kids] looked at me and I looked at them...we couldn't communicate, I speak no Spanish, they spoke no English... I noticed two girls whispering, and I asked the translator what was it...She said you look like Donald Duck!” (laughs) “So I took a piece of chalk and then I drew Donald Duck...Oh, that was a success! Then I proceeded to draw Mickey Mouse and Goofy, You have no idea what effect it had on those little kids, Just great. “
And from then on Kaj would start the class by drawing Donald Duck and all was well! “Of course we never said that to the Disney Corporation” (laughs) I don't know what would they say about it!”
Kaj and Derek did their research “I drew hundreds of drawings...and Derek shot hundreds of photographs...The problem was he kept giving them away because people wanted them...Good God! We're gonna NEED them if we're going to make the film!” (Laughs)
Armed with reference, They flew to Boston, and as Kaj was about to take his connecting flight to Toronto, Derek stopped him- “Just a second! Why don't you come home with me so that we can start tomorrow morning when everything is fresh in our minds” And they set to work.
“It was a long Haul to make that storyboard!” Kaj recalls “We made the Leica-Reel in sound and color” it was to show the producers and be tested on Kids before making the film. Needless to say, the animatic was perceived very well, and two films were made.
Below are the finished films: Karate Kids, Goldtooth, and a documentary about their success.
Street Kids intl. Documentary
When Kaj and Peter Dalglish showed the first version of "Goldtooth", There wasn't a scene in which the villain dies. The film has made such an impact on the kids, that they were enraged the villain remained alive, they started rallying, and Peter Dalglish, quick on his feet, said "Quick! Kaj! Draw a picture of Goldtooth!" Kaj swiftly drew the villain, and tossed the piece of paper at the children, who tore it to shreds!
To Kaj and Derek, making these films was just as important as "Building a bridge"!
Sunday, October 3, 2010
Monday, September 27, 2010
Monday, September 20, 2010
Friday, September 3, 2010
Even thought the film is commonly known as "The City Osaka", the film doesn't describe a Japanse city, it is made to describe Canada to the Japanese.
Kaj recalls the film had to be made in Black and White due to its intended method of projection: "it played around the clock for the duration of the worlds fair, on a screen made of 60 thousand individual light bulbs"
Kaj's stories about his trip around the world are so engaging, that I've decided not to edit them at all, and post them in the transcribed interview form:
KP: I've negotiated to attend the Osaka World Fair because it was the only place where my film was to be screened the way it was intended. On the way to Osaka, at first I flew to Los Angeles with my wife, and my son Lars who was 6 years old at the time, we stayed at Ward Kimball's, ran his train and had a wonderful time. Went to Disneyland and the Disney studio, then Annie and Lars went home and I continued across the pacific, first to Honolulu. I had arranged with my travel agent to be there a day, because it was March, coming from Montreal, and the opportunity for swimming in Hawaii was...ah! too much...Then the flight was delayed. so the day I should have spent swimming, I had only arrived at night, scheduled to leave to Osaka next morning, to be at the opening of the World Fair, the Emperor of Japan was going to be there, and the Emperor has never set foot of foreign soil (The Canadian pavilion at the fair was considered Canadian soil) and the first time he did, was the Canadian pavilion and it would really be a great honor for me to be there, to shake the hand of the Emperor of Japan. And against that...was the swiming (laughs) Waikiki beach in Hawaii!
AA: And you preferred the swimming (Both laugh)
KP: Later I came to Osaka and stayed at Kyoto. (former capital of Japan) After four days I was told my room was to be booked to somebody else, The Film Board Application stopped there. Actually at the World Fair, I went from the Canadian pavilion to the Danish pavilion, and signed up for my new Job (in Danish television) right there in Japan.
AA: Wow (both laugh) What a trip!
KP: I had expected to spend 3 weeks in Japan, Never having been there, I wanted to spend some time. I found it very expensive there, you see, I thought Japan was a cheap place, because you get a lot of Yens for a Dollar, but that doesn't mean that it's cheap! (laughs) It was far more expensive than I thought, I was worried about money. I was about to take the soviet steamship and railway line (to Denmark) and I couldn't change my schedule, the soviets are very strict. So I had to stay in Japan for the entire three weeks. That frightened me a little because I was so far away from home, wasn't sure I had enough to sustain myself, but it worked out quite well! I have come to like this adventure, I've always enjoyed traveling, but it has always been in Europe or north America..Japan is so far away, so strange, people spoke no english at all
AA: How did you get around?
KP: I had brought a notebook, I went to a restaurant the first day in Kyoto, and it's not so hard to point out what you want, they have wax models on display. Later, I wanted a cup of tea, so I took my notebook and I drew a teapot, gave it to the waiter, he looked at it, took it out to the kitchen...and I waited, and waited...they came out the door, and after 20 minutes or so, he came back with a napkin over his arm, the whole kitchen staff after him, placed a cup, and poured this tea, in a gesture of triumph, so I wondered...and suddenly I realized I drew a victorian teapot, and Japanese teapots are not like that at all! So they've been all over town trying to find one! (Bursts in laughter)
AA: Wow... (continues laughing) You should have drawn a tea bag!
KP: Yes! (Both laugh)
It did happen all the train station had names written in English, and there was "Japan travel beuro " nearby, there you could speak English, it wasn't much but it was enough, I looked up places I wanted to go, I would go by train, and when I arrived, I would go to the travel beuro, they'd get me a hotel and a taxi. The next day I would start walking back to the railway station, now I knew where everything was, and I would just walk, and walk, and find something to eat along the way, but just watch, and and be there, and I really traveled.
On the way back I traveled by a trans-Siberian railway, which was an adventure at itself, but on the last part of it, out of the Soviet Union, I came to sit across from a British guy, it turned out he had lived in Japan, for several years, teaching English, got married there, had a child there, and he was right now running away from it all, he couldn't take it anymore, I remember we took a ship from Finland to Stockholm,he came aboard saying "This ship is AMAZING, I never knew there were ships like this, anywhere in the world, we are always told, that the British Ships are the best there are, I've never seen ANYTHING like this..." (laughs)
4 years later, when I arrived in London to work for Richard William, there was a coal strike and bus strike, no electricity, everything went wrong, oil crisis, I hitch-hiked across the highway, a car pulled over to pick me up, and it was that guy!
AA: Oh, Wow!
KP: It was just absolutely amazing! Not only that, when I invited him home for dinner, he said he was 4 days away from returning to Japan, he's been missing it so badly, he couldn't live without it now...
AA: Who would have known.
KP: It was incredible. There's so much to tell, it's got nothing to do with animation.
AA: It's okay
KP: Once in London, I rented a boat with my 3 kids, in the park, and I rowed, the kids were saying "Daddy look out!" I tuned around...There was another boat, with a guy and a girl in it, also turning around...The Guy said "Kaj!"...It was Gerry Potrerton! (Directed "My Financial Career" at the NFB)
KP: (Laughs) and of course we went to have a beer together, his girlfriend was from Quebec, and he had just told her, that London is so big, that the chances for meeting someone you knoware really slim...and just then (laughs) he bumped into me.
Thursday, August 26, 2010
Tuesday, August 17, 2010
In order for an action to register with an audience, other action should not overlap with it. We need to use timing to our advantage.
We can prepare the audience, and use their expectations to amplify the effect.
Back when Scott Caple was a student of mine, his class was making a Western.They wanted the biggest explosion in movie history, but were disappointed by the limitations of the sound department.
I told them what would really make the explosion big, would be the action leading to it. Imagine a barrel of of gun powder with a lit fuse, let the fuse burn right in through the hole and into the barrel of powder. No move, no sound. The characters in the film hold their breath. Hopefully people in the movie theater do the same.Just when you start wondering if the gun powder is wet...BANG!
I remember when popcorn kernels were first introduced in Denmark. A few friends and I took a single kernel, put it on a teaspoon, and held it over candle light to heat it up. We were anxious for it to pop. Although the spoon kept getting warmer, nothing happened, It really started to test our patience, and just when we least expected it…BOOM! The kernel popped. I have watched a lot of popcorn pop since then, but that's the only single kernel I remember.
Tuesday, July 13, 2010
Wednesday, June 30, 2010
Wednesday, April 14, 2010
When Kaj graduated from school in the summer of 1945, it was hard to get into animation. He didn't know a grown man in the whole country who knew anything about it. His only way to learn was go to theatres, watch Disney and Popeye cartoons, and work it out in his head.
In 1946, Kaj started working in an advertising agency, making animated commercials for theatres. He made seven films, in zigzag order: one ambitious, one safe, some to impress himself, some to avoid trouble.
These black and white films are highly influenced by the Fleischer Popeye cartoons. They brought the attention of Kaj's mentor-to-be, Borge Ring. Shortly afterward, Ring set up an animation studio in Vedbek and Kaj came on staff.
Eventually Ring got in touch with David Hand, former director on Snow White and Bambi. In 1949 Hand finished working at the J. Arthur Rank studio in England, and Borge Ring invited him to Denmark as his guest. Hand could stay as long as he wished, under one condition: he had to lecture about Disney animation.
Kaj vividly recalls David Hand saying that “For every 10 thousand drawings you see on screen, another 10 thousand had to be made to find the finished drawings.”
Monday, April 12, 2010
Tuesday, March 16, 2010
After his service in the Danish military, Kaj proceeded to make explanatory films for the public sector. A film he made to explain the inner works of a steam engine caught the attention of the National Film Board of Canada (NFB for short).
Having been commissioned by the Royal Canadian Air Force to make a film explaining the inner works of a Jet engine, the NFB knew that Kaj was the man for the job.
In 1959 , the NFB wanted Kaj to stay on staff for more explanatory films. Not keen on being type casted Kaj returned to his original ambition- making cartoons.
Ensuring the interest of the CBC, Kaj went to work on a TV pilot featuring his character "Peep". in the inventive spirit of the NFB, he developed a set-up to animate "Peep" on adding machine paper. During that time, a young talented British man named Derek Lamb arrived in Canada hoping to find work for the NFB. Soon enough, Derek started making a film based on the children's nonsense song "I know An Old Lady Who Swallowed A Fly". It took a while for this project to take off.
Why is that, you ask? It turns out it was missing a bit of Pindal. Here's the story, in Kaj's own words:
"At a party one Saturday evening, Derek cornered me, and I guess we all had something to drink, but he made me promise that I would be the new animator on "The Old Lady" (laughs). So the following Monday when everybody was sober, I was pulled into the office of Wolf Keonig, who was now the head of the animation department, and he told me bluntly, that I was now responsible for this film. Not only that, I had to see it carried out, within reasonable time and budget. Further more, I was now made responsible for the money that has been wasted on it up to now (laughs).
So I wasn't too happy with it in the beginning, but I was moved into a large office, together with Derek. He brought in his guitar everyday, he knew that I have been kind of drafted on to this job, so he really checked my mood everyday. If he felt I wasn't in a good enough mood he would strike on his guitar, and sing a very funny song, and you can't help getting in a good mood with something like that! We became very good friends, because it turned out to be a wonderful experience to work with him.
I want to say I think both of us learned from one another, I had much longer experience with animation than he had. But he was a musician, he was a performer, he had this showmanship about him, that I could learn from. Derek had an ability to spot talent in people, not just for drawing and animation, but also for voice, he never went to an agent to find talent, he went out in the park, and could spot a good voice. That's a good quality to have! Derek had an enormous strength at the sound side of the film. I should tell you that his father was a gentleman farmer, but his hobby was to play magician on Saturdays and Sundays. Derek was in the audience, and he learned so much about making animation from his father, because of the play with the audience. He wanted you to see certain things, not to see other things, mislead you to believe that magic happens, which it doesn't. In a way, to go to a magician school is probably a very good school for an animator (laughs)."
Kaj and Derek continued to collaborate with each other, most notably on the films "Karate Kids" and "Goldtooth" which will be posted soon.
Tuesday, March 9, 2010
Born in Copenhagen, Denmark, Dec 1, 1927. In the 1980s, out of respect for International AIDS Day that was established on this same date, Kaj pulled his birthday back to November 31st.
Since then, Kaj is always one day younger than he used to be!
Cartoonist and Animated Filmmaker.
“I very strongly feel the difference in the way people react when I tell them I'm an animator. 40 years ago there was a lot of prestige about it, animators MADE animated films, today it's more like a link in an assembly line”
In school Kaj was the class cartoonist (as popular as Hockey players today). At age 18 he started working in an advertising agency, making animated commercials. This brought the attention of famed animator Borge Ring, and eventually David Hand, former supervising director of Snow-White and Bambi.
Kaj proceeded to make explanatory films for the Danish army and motor companies. So in 1957, when the National Film Board of Canada (a.k.a 'NFB') were commissioned to make an explanatory film about jet engines for the Royal Canadian Air Force, Kaj was invited to NFB bureau in Montreal, where he animated his way through their first golden age.
Kaj proceeded to make delightful cartoons which revived the rubber-hose animation style of the 1930s. Many of his films were made to deliver important messages, including public safety, anti-smoking, and even AIDS prevention.
Kaj also worked for Richard Williams in London and for Korty Films in San Francisco. He created "Peep and the Big Wide World" at the NFB, which was developed into an Emmy Award winning TV series.
Kaj has been teaching at Sheridan College for the past 3 decades, continuously inspiring those who are passionate about Animation.
Below is rare footage from Kaj's collection: Ward Kimbal demonstrates how to rotate Mickey Mouses' ears! As well as operating Mr. Pindal's electric train.
Monday, March 8, 2010
In 1951, Sweden was very prosperous, and its residents were among the most movie-going people on the world.
Sweden had more money to spend on commercials than Kaj's Native Denmark. His friend Kjeld Simonsen was invited by an advertising agency to pitch storyboards for an animated commercial. The intended commercial was for a Swedish savings bank. Kaj, Kjeld and Ib Steinaa teamed up to make an album of storyboards and cel models that would far exceed the client's expectations.
The ad agency offered them a contract to produce the commercial. Since it had to be produced in Sweden, Kaj and his friends set up their studio in Stockholm.
Kaj animated the main character, Kjeld Simonsen animated the rest of the bees, Ib Steinaa painted the backgrounds and composed the music.
Their leisure time had also proved to be beneficial, as it helped them become better animators- while Danish theaters exclusively screened Disney and Popeye cartoons, Swedish theaters would run the rest of Hollywood's Golden Age output, Looney Tunes and Tom & Jerry to name a few. Can you imagine the excitement that ensued?
It was also thanks to their patron, Mr. Cederroth that Kaj was first introduced to Norman McLaren's films from the National Film Board of Canada, where Kaj would later make some of his finest films.
Friday, March 5, 2010
Kaj had invited Zack Schawrtz to teach at Sheridan College, and Zack became one of the most popular instructors of the 80s and early 90s. At the time , Zack had written a wonderful book called "And Then What Happened? A Story-teller's Handbook for Animators" elegantly explaining the mechanics of story-telling with examples from many great cartoons. In his book, Zack makes the important distinction between story and plot, and stresses the importance of Character.
This book is in the process of being converted to PDF format, and we hope to later provide it on this blog.
Last summer, Kaj asked me to carry a gift to Zack's widow, Drora, who lives in Ramat-Aviv, Israel. I was astonished by Drora's generosity in sharing wonderful stories as well as artwork from Zack's collection. She graciously allowed me to make high resolution scans of these precious works, which are now documented in the ASIFA-Hollywood Animation Archive. Here are a few formatted favorites to share with our readers:
Saturday, February 27, 2010
Warning others to stay away from tobacco has been a recurring theme in his work, most masterfully and entertainingly shown in the NFB cartoon "KING SIZE"