Thursday, August 23, 2012

TISSA DAVID (1921-2012)

The NYC animation community has lost another brilliant star from it's sky.
Tissa David passed away yesterday at the age of 91.

Here's a bio from Michael Sporn's website:

Tissa David has long been the foremost woman animator on the East coast; her career spanning more than sixty years. Born in Transylvania, Ms. David escaped to Paris in 1950, where she worked for Producers Jean Image and Paul Grimault. In 1955 she moved to New York where she worked as Grim Natwick's assistant at UPA.
Her animation for John Hubley included commercials, shorts and a feature.CockaboodyEverybody Rides The Carousel,EggsDig, and Of Men and Demons were some of the illustrious projects she animated for the noted animation director.
Tissa, along with Art Babbitt, Grim Natwick and Emery Hawkins, was one of the master animators of the feature film Raggedy Ann and Andy, directed by Richard Williams in 1977. In 1978 she began work with R.O.Blechman, animating on his PBS specials Simple Gifts andA Soldier's Tale.
Her animation for Michael Sporn Animation includes the entire half hour of The Marzipan Pig. She did storyboard and animation for The Red Shoes, storyboard and layout for Ira Sleeps Over, and animation for The Man Who Walked Between The Towers. She has worked on many of Michael's other films as well.

I had the honor of meeting Tissa when I started working in animation in 1990.  
I sat in on classes she taught.
We both served on the ASIFA-EAST executive board.
And we worked on assorted projects together.

Other more eloquent folks will have much more beautiful and poignant things to say about this icon,
but I thought I'd recount some of my personal memories of Tissa:


Tissa was generous enough to give weekly animation classes at the venerable Ink Tank back in the day. I was honored to sit at the feet of the master to learn whatever I could but it was always scary to lay your homework before the woman. She'd flip through your drawings with one of those elegantly knotted hands while the other brandished a pen, thrashing crimson ink atop your drawings, smothering your wimpy posing and weak line of action, and gradually cauterizing them with better, stronger lines. She was vicious and sugar-coated nothing. "No no no!" she'd spit. "What is this?!"  "Who told you to draw like that?" "This is terrible."  Eventually, thankfully, her disgust with your work would peter out and she would cock her head with the tiniest sliver of approval, "But you're getting BETTER. That's good."  

I lived for those moments.


Tissa once asked if I would come help replace her Lyon-Lamb machine. These were, at the time, the industry standard for pencil testing your animation.  It was really just a glorified VCR that could capture single frames.  You pegged your drawing under a cheap, overhead video camera, chose the number of frames you wanted and clicked.  Rinse. Wash. Repeat.  You only got one shot at it because you couldn't erase or look back at your work until you were done. 
 If you screwed up 
("Wait... did I shoot drawing D-23!") 
you had to start over.  
They were a pain in the butt but way better, faster (and cheaper) than shooting tests on film.

When I got to Tissa's small, yet warm uptown apartment, she showed me into a tiny, sparsely appointed room.  The only things in there were her animation desk, tilted in her signature "how the hell do you draw like that" vertical style, a tiny cot-like bed, and her sooper old-school Lyon Lamb built into an enormous old wooden cabinet.  I had never seen one of these antiques and was amazed that she still had it.  Unfortunately, the reel to reel tape machine inside was dead so I was there to replace it with a newer VCR-type. Afterwards, I gathered up the packaging,
 all the tiny baggies and rubber bands and threw them in the trash.
Tissa almost had a heart attack. 
 Why would I throw away those things?! 
Coming from war-torn Europe, the idea of throwing anything away was an anathema, 
and there I was just being stupid.

I never stood near a trash can when Tissa was around ever again.


J.J. Sedelmaier Productions is located in White Plains, about 45 minutes outside NYC.  On my way back home I'd often drop off scenes and/or supplies to animators that lived in the city, like Tony Eastman and, of course, Tissa.  They always needed a steady supply of animation paper which, of course, needed to be punched with the Acme registration holes using one of these:  

You could only punch a couple sheets at a time so it was a dull, laborious process. 
And Tissa liked her paper to be punched PERFECTLY.  
If you jogged the ream of paper evenly you should be look 
straight through the middle hole as if a laser had cut through it.
And if it wasn't....
Once I had an intern punch her some paper and deliver it.
I foolishly neglected to warn him about how Tissa liked her paper.
Fortunately, the intern escaped before she noticed.
But when she DID notice,
guess who she called?
I think I broke the land speed record for punching 
a ream of paper and getting it into the city that day.


The ASIFA-EAST USED ANIMATION ART AUCTION I used to run was originally put together by David Ehrlich.  The first one I ever went to included around 10 lots of pencil roughs 
Tissa had done for the Raggedy Ann feature.
They were gorgeous, each envelope containing 4 sooper strong roughs that 
demonstrated Tissa's gift for posing.
I couldn't bid on any since I was rather financially embarrassed at the time, 
being only a freshly minted intern on the NYC animation scene.  
So how psyched was I, when after the auction was over, 
Tissa gave me a set that hadn't sold.
And I still got 'em.

So long, Tissa.
The animation world is already 
less animated without you.

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