Friday, November 30, 2007

Kaj Pindal's 80th Birthday Celebration

Left to right: Kaj Pindal, Ellen Besen, Marc Glassman
(Click any image to enlarge.)

Last night I had the pleasure of attending an 80th birthday celebration for Kaj Pindal held at the Toronto office of the National Film Board of Canada. The evening was hosted by animator Ellen Bessen and cultural impresario Marc Glassman and started out with a retrospective of Kaj's work, showing clips from many of his films with Kaj constantly being invited to the microphone to provide background information for each piece.

The retrospective included work from Kaj's early days in Europe, including Inkwell Fantasy, a pastiche of Max Fleischer's Out of the Inkwell, and Stentoft, a film made in Sweden for a bank that could have passed for a '40's Walter Lantz cartoon directed by Dick Lundy. It also included some of Kaj's home movies of his trolley and visits with Ward Kimball.

Of course, many of Kaj's films for the NFB were featured as well as work he did with Derek Lamb in and out of the NFB.

Friends were invited to speak about their memories of working with Kaj on many projects. Børge Ring sent the following letter.
My name is Børge Ring. I am 6 years older than Pindal . I am a lifelong friend of Kaj and of the girl from Copenhagen named Annie who chose to join him in living a life and raising a family.

At Midnight tomorrow Kaj will be 80 years old. I have written a Birthday speech to be held at his birthday party. But somebody in Washington leaked my script to Ellen Besen, and I hear that she is mean enough to divulge the contents prematurely.
My speech says:
Friends.....There once was a man at the National Film Board of Canada. who was awful...... ......He was dictatorial. He was ponderous and abrasive. People said about him: "Nobody at National Film Board can get along with him....not even Kaj Pindal."
So now you know.

Kaj,
You and I are fellow animators and we are lifelong friends.We are buddies and we are soulbrothers. We have been that ever since you and Simon and Bjørn and I sat at the feet of David Hand back in 1949 asking his ears off: How do you do this and how did you do that?

Dave had supervised the production of Disney's BAMBI and he had kept some of the animation from the film. But he would never let us see the drawings. You asked him "why not?" He said: "Because when you guys start flipping the stuff you are going to get entranced by little things like the graceful movement of a hoof.. And what you need to learn right now, is How to tell a story properly."

Dave saw our previous films and ripped them apart. "Look..Your animation is not the worst part of it. It's all the rest.. Don't be so anxious to animate. There is SOOO much to be done before you go into that"......

Do you rermember we didn't call him Dave or Mister Hand? He preferred to be DH to us. He called you "Junior". Simon stayed Simon and I got named "Yakkie."

Years later we were spread in all directions. David Hand had gone to Alexander Films in the USA. Bjørn and I went to Amsterdam and you and Simon had moved to Sweden.

National Film Board invited you to come to Canada and make a technical film about combustion engines, something you were also good at. You accepted the invitation,performed well and National Film Board decided to keep you in Canada as their Animator Laureate in combusting rnachinery, hot water and steam locomotives.

But you combusted heftily in protest. "I am a fun animator, I am good at pixies. Let me at it, let me at it."

Your persistence wore them down, and they let you at it.

Their faces changed when they saw the first results, and The National Film Board of Canada added the inventive aspects of Kaj Pindal's talents to their already formidable palette of film makers.

You are a truly authentic artist and over the years your very original work has so often been described and praised in words and writing and I am not going to revisit all the applause. We all know and rejoice.

You and I have kept in contact all these many years. Being animation nuts we talked about the craft all the time whenever we were together.

We disagree, (and do so to this day) about certain production procedures but on the whole we see things the same way.

During the early 70es both of us worked at Richard Williams' London studio because you had talked Dick into hiring me.

You were very much against the Disney studio system with its love of perfection through specialisation. Being a Disney chauvinist at the time I was all for the system. To me it was one of the charms of the Richard Williams studio on Soho Square.

Dick ,as we know, loved perfection in all things. At one time Ken Harris had animated a scene of the Pink Panther The famous oid feline was seen from behind with tophat and a walking cane. It's tail posed vertically with a small curl at the end. Animated on twos it moved ever so slightly up and down to the rhythm of Mancini's music. Nothing else moved and the body was on a hold.

Williams secretly abducted Ken's celluloids of the scene and was busy inbetweening the panther tails to make them animate on ones. I asked him why he did that. With Ken working in the next room Dick whispered: "Ken is a Warner Brothers man and they do everything on twos."

Dick had discarded Ken's sensible hold of the body and personally transported it as trace backs onto all the tail cells in order to have the scene on one single cell level.He said he didn't trust his inkers to make the tracebacks perfect.

Next morning we all saw the scene projected. The Panther's body never flinched. Turning to his inkers Disk said quietly: "This was a traceback on ones". Kaj winced at the remark and I couldn't resist the temptation to tease him later that morning. On the way upstairs I stopped briefly at his open door and asked him sweetly: "Did you see those tracebacks this morning?" feigning that they somehow confirmed the studio system.

Film Board's friendly Pindal took the bait, grabbed his desk with white knuckled hands and sputtered towards the doorway and me: "Yaa-aah..him ferry goot animator. Him a drawing can let stand still on ones."

Kaj, you loved pranks and occasionally the two of us behaved like the Katzenjammer Kids. A certain group in the studio were fervent vegetarians and used to take their lunch in a vegetarian restaurant with glasswalls. Kaj and I went over to the Danish shop in Conduit street and bought ten meatballs in a tall paperbag. We ate them standing outside the glass wall near the inside table of the sectarian health seekers..

During the 80es we sometimes had occasion to work together on feature films in Paris and Cologne or Copenhagen .Early on we had made a pact to try and meet once a year either in Europe or in Canada festival or work situation Derek Lamb had Kaj lure me over to Toronto for 3 days to pick up homework animation of some of Kaj's designs for a UNICEF production named "Karate Kids".

Derek Lamb was a gifted, somewhat paternal man of great sensitivity Like many artists before and after him, he felt insecure about his real values. Kaj and I hadn't met for some while and we spoke Danish together all the time and laughed a lot,
Derek became uneasy."They are probably talking about me in their damned mother -tongue."

When we sensed that, we switched back to English..

I drew a small comicstrip of Kaj and me lifting Derek Lamb up on a throne carrying the inscription "Agnus Dei" (God's Lamb) while we sing "For he is a jolly good fellow".

On the second frame Derek looks relieved."Maybe they weren't talking about me after all". On the third frame he walks along smiling. Then he stops abruptly and demands: "WHY NOT?"

Kaj, your mother came from a dynasty of railway people Your father was a fine arts painter. You inherited from her a love of steam trains and railroads, a passion you shared with your friend and fan Ward Kimball. But like Ward you opted for the thing you do best, which is: Being an authentic comic animator with keen intelligence and several strings to his bow.

Happy Birthday,Kaj.
Several presentations were made to Kaj, including a card from the students and faculty of Sheridan College's animation program, which featured a caricature of Kaj by Peter Emslie. Another presentation was made by student Allesandro Piedimonte of a sculpture of Kaj that he'd made.
Allesandro and Kaj
The reception afterwards gave everyone a chance to talk to Kaj and Annie as well as catch up with old friends and compare notes on animation happenings around Toronto.

Some of Kaj's artwork was on display in the reception area and two TV monitors ran his work continuously.


Annie and Kaj Pindal

6 comments:

Michael Sporn said...

It sounds like it was a great event. Thanks, Mark, for sharing it with us. I'd not have heard about it any other way.

TempleDog said...

I'm just uploading the anijam we here at TAIS put together for Kaj's birthday! Truly a treasure of the NFB and the world. Go Kaj! Here's the link on MyToons:

http://www.mytoons.com/animation/play/10151

Anonymous said...

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warren said...

Well, for what it's worth, Happy Birthday, Kaj!

Himself and Ellen Besen were the best Sheridan teachers I ever had. I still hope to work with him one day...

Boris Hiestand said...

What a great letter from Børge.
Thanks for sharing-
happy birthday Mr. Pindall!

Steve Schnier said...

I wish that I could have attended. It looks like it was a great celebration. Happy 80th Kaj!