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Rotoscoped Memories: An Interview with Ralph Bakshi

Judge Patrick Naugle

August 2nd, 2004

In the land of animation, Ralph Bakshi is considered a king. From his work on the 1960s cartoon shows Spider Man and Hulk to the underground X-rated hit Fritz the Cat and the animated film version of Lord of the Rings, Bakshi's animated film career have appealed to children of all ages...and dirty old men looking discover what a naked animated female cat looks like.

In 1977, Bakshi created the fantasy film Wizards, now available on DVD care of Fox Home Entertainment. DVD Verdict sat down and chatted with Bakshi about his thoughts on Wizards, Peter Jackson's epic trilogy, and what it was like punching a famous movie producer in the face...

Patrick Naugle: How was conceptualizing and working on Wizards, which was your first more or less mainstream film, different from creating underground films like Fritz The Cat and Coonskin?

Ralph Bakshi: I didn't find it much different for a few reasons. First of all, the messages, for lack of a better word, the things that I wanted to say in my other films needed the R rating because of the subject matter. The things that I wanted to say in Wizards were very important to me but didn't need the R rating. Basically I wanted to talk to younger kids. That didn't bother me at all. Sex and violence might be necessary for other films but not for Wizards because it was a fantasy. So, I didn't find it very different at all.

PN: How was Wizards influenced by Lord of the Rings?

RB: I wanted to make a film for the J.R.R. Tolkien audiences. Certainly Tolkien had a strong anti-war message in his Rings books. I wanted to do another kind of version, kind of an American pulp comic version, then I went on to do Lord Of The Rings.

PN: If you could remake Wizards today, do you think you'd still use the rotoscoping and hand-drawn style or computer effects?

RB: CGI is sensational for machines, a fascist kind of equipment that brings life to inanimate objects in a strange way. But when it comes to character animation, I'd stick with old fashioned animation. Wizards was a homage to old fashioned animation.

PN: Where did you get the idea of combining rotoscope footage with hand drawn animation?

RB: Panic? (laughs) We had a very low budget and I wanted to keep my freedom. We were totally independent in the real sense. The low budget kept the studios away from me; they really didn't care with those budgets and I was able to make my film. But when it came to certain sections the rotoscope certainly affected the amount of people I could put on the screen and the amount of energy I could use.

Rotoscope was a very primitive CGI. A lot of CGI is rotoscope techniques except for the rendering, which is totally computer. So CGI is totally rotoscope, the only difference is that CGI has the ability to render fabric and shine, and that's what makes it look so good. But CGI is rotoscope.

PN: Who were some of your artistic influences?

RB: Where do you want to begin? Wally Wood, early, early Disney when he was pure and beautiful. The list goes on forever. As an artist, I'm always looking at other artists. I love art. Every artist I've ever studied with influenced me.

PN: Did you intend for Wizards to be more accessible?

RB: Sure. I wanted to prove that adult animation had nothing to do with sex and violence. Adult animation had only to do with the ideas. A PG rating wasn't an interference at all to tell my story about fascism and the moralistic view on God, don't trust machinery because it will kill magic, etcetera. I think a lot of that's going wild. But no, the rating didn't bother me at all.

PN: What did you think about director Peter Jackson's Lord Of The Rings movies?

RB: I never saw them. I just wish I'd had a film to look at, like he did. He certainly looked at mine. I wish I had the CGI that he had. But I'll stick with my characters and characterizations. I've gotten a lot of emails basically saying how much they thought my characters were more alive. Jackson had a five hundred million dollar budget and I had a four million dollar budget.

PN: Were you disappointed by the box office of Cool World and getting into the Hollywood mainstream?

RB: Well, Cool World blew me out of the business, if you want an honest answer. When I went to Paramount I wanted to do the first animated horror film. I hadn't done a film in a long time and basically the original script I handed in was a cartoonist, live action, who goes to bed with a cartoon girl and they create a girl, a bastardized child, half live and half real. Paramount bought that script and when I was on location and they gave me a new script. Frank Mancuso, Jr. had the script rewritten in secret. I had a huge fight with the guy and punched Mancuso, Jr. in the mouth. But Mancuso's father ran Paramount Pictures, he was Frank Mancuso, Sr., so I had nowhere to go. Then Kim Basinger, who I never wanted in the picture -- I wanted Drew Barrymore and Brad Pitt at that point -- Kim wanted a PG film to show in hospitals so she could get a good reputation. She told Alec Baldwin that on the set and I told her she was out of her fucking mind. It was a total disaster.

I should have quit but I had a lot of animators there that I'd brought in and I thought that maybe I could just have fun animating this stuff, which I did. As far as the script, the one that I wrote that I sold, that's out of the window. I think that was the beginning of the producer becoming powerful in Hollywood. There was a time when the directors were making the movies. Then it shifted back to producers. Most directors are traffic managers, but very well paid. (laughs)

PN: It's not about what's good, but what will sell.

RB: It's about what they think will sell. It's about Coca-Cola. The companies have grown so big, so huge. A good fifty million box office gross would make you the hero of the world. Now unless it's two hundred and fifty million, you haven't done anything.
PN: What's your next project on the horizon?

RB: I'm trying to coax Fox into doing Wizards 2, but they're not listening. They'll see how the DVD sales pan out.

But not really, I paint a lot of pictures. I have some stuff I'm thinking about. I'm having a very good time painting in New Mexico and not having to punch young producers in the mouth. (laughs) I'm 65, so in a way it's a very good life. I have no regrets; I was able to make the films I wanted to. My daughter is putting up an Ebay site, we're selling film cels on ralphbakshi.com, there's the commercial, that's how we eat.

PN: Ralph, thanks for talking with us today!

RB: Have a good time and thanks!

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