jules engel oral history

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A portrait of artist Jules Engel


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    Jules Engel

    Interviewed by Lawrence Weschler and Milton Zolotow

    Completed under the auspicesof the

    Oral History ProgramUniversity of California

    Los Angeles

    Copyright 1985The Regents of the University of California


    The copyright law of the United States (Title 17,United States Code) governs the making of photocopiesor other reproductions of copyrighted material. Undercertain conditions specified in the law, libraries andarchives are authorized to furnish a photocopy or otherreproduction. One of these specified conditions isthat the photocopy or reproduction is not to be usedfor any purpose other than private study, scholarship,or research. If a user makes a request for, or lateruses, a photocopy or reproduction for purposes inexcess of "fair use," that user may be liable forcopyright infringement. This institution reserves theright to refuse to accept a copying order if, in itsjudgement, fulfillment of the order would involveviolation of copyright law.





    This manuscript is hereby made available for researchpurposes only. All literary rights in the manuscript,including the right to publication, are reserved to theUniversity Library of the University of California,Los Angeles. No part of the manuscript may be quotedfor publication without the written permission of theUniversity Librarian of the University of California,Los Angeles.


    This interview is one of a series, entitled "LosAngeles Art Community: Group Portrait," funded by theNational Endowment for the Humanities and conductedfrom July 1, 1975 to March 31, 1977 by the UCLA OralHistory Program. The project was directed jointly byPage Ackerman, University Librarian, and GeraldNordland, Director UCLA Art Galleries, and administeredby Bernard Galm, Director, Oral History Program. Afterselection of interview candidates and interviewers, theProgram assumed responsibility for the conduct of allinterviews and their processing.


    Introduction viii

    Interview History xiii

    TAPE NUMBER: I, Side One (December 29, 1975) 1

    Childhood in Budapest, Hungary--Arr ives inEvanston, Illinois, at age of 13--An affinity fornonf igurative des ign--Moves to Los Angeles--Apprentice animator at Charles Mintz Studio--Interest in movement and rhythm grows out ofearly exposure to ballet--Kandinsky exhibit--Workat Walt Disney Studios-- FantasiaProfessionalconflictsA lack of sympathy for experimentationat Disney.

    TAPE NUMBER:' I, Side Two (December 29, 1975) 25

    Recollections of Walt Disney--Disney as aninstinctive entertainer--Limits of Disney'sapproach to animation--Work at the Air Forceanimation unit--Herb Klynn, an exceptional talentin graphic art3--United Productions of America(UPA)More on the limits of Disney's approach toanimation--Personalities are the merchandise ofHollywood


    TAPE NUMBER: II, Video Session (January 23, 1976) 45

    Los Angeles' shortcomings as an art center

    Comparisons with New York--More on work onFantasia- -Discusses his drawings for Fantasia- -

    Rico Lebrun's work at Disney--Animators in the1950s--Exhibits of animators' paintingsThehard-edge geometrical style of Engel'spaintingsA desire to translate qualities ofsimplicity and directness from painting intofilm Film as a developing art formMore on workat UPA--An emphasis on flat, two-dimensionaldesign at UPAThe UPA look influenced bycontemporary paintersRaoul Dufy and thedivorced lineThe use of color as aspect ofdramatic intent--Economy of gesture in UPAfilmsRobert Cannon, the greatest animator inthe business.

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  • TAPE NUMBER: III, Side One (May 19, 1976) 79

    On present position as chairman of film graphicsdepartment at California Institute of the Arts(Cal Arts) Interrelationship of film and otherart forms at Cal ArtsEarly history of Cal Arts

    Future trends in the arts--The live-action cameradepartment at Cal Arts--Cal Arts as a reservoirof young talent--A positive working environmentat Cal Arts.

    TAPE NUMBER: IV, Side One (December 16, 1977) 105

    Viewing Engel's experimental animation films--Train Landscape , a painterly approach tof ilmmaking--Engel ' s methods of conception andexecution- -AccidentShapes and Gesture s, theinfluence of dance- - Land scape , a color-fieldpainting in time- -Wet Paint--Fragments .

    TAPE NUMBER: IV, Side Two (December 16, 1977) 121

    More on FragmentsRumble--Engel ' s workingmethods--v7orki ng through instincts rather thanformulas- -SwanThe hazards of the computer film--Three Arctic Flowers- -Engel ' s work with computergraph ics--Coaraze_, a live-action film--Use ofstill photography in Coaraze- -Coara2e wins PrixVigo and numerous other awards--No commercialdistributor opts to handle Coaraze .

    TAPE NUMBER: V, Side One (December 22, 1977) 138

    Oskar Fischinger--Fischinger ' s isolation withinthe Disney Studios--Los Angeles avant-gardepainters and animators in 1940s--Fischinger '


    last years at Disney--More on Engel's teaching atCal Arts Disney trustees and the founding of CalArts--The evolution and success of the Cal Artsanimation program--Engel ' s teaching methods.

    TAPE NUMBER: V, Side Two (December 22, 1977) 163

    More on teaching at Cal Arts--Student interactionat Cal Arts--Teaching approaches--Kathy Rose,Dennis Pies, and Adam Beckett--On establishingrapport with students--Women in animation.


  • TAPE NUMBER: VI, Side One (December 30, 1977) 191

    Preparation for work on live-action films

    TheIvory Knife , capturing the environment of thepainter Paul Jenkins--Colla'oorat ion with IrvingBazilon on film score--Interaction with Jenkins

    The Torch and the Torso- -Working with MiguelBerrocal--Structural and thematic relationsbetween drama and painting- -Mew York 100 , thework of John Hultberg

    Light MotionMax Bill- -Technical considerations in live-action film--June Wayne and the Tamarind workshop--Engel '


    introduction to li thography--Working environmentat Tamarind.

    TAPE NUMBER: VI, Side Two (December 30, 1977) 219

    More on June Wayne and Tamarind V7orkshop

    TheLook of a Lithographer- -Ken Tyler and GeminiEditions, Ltd. --Robert Rauschenberg , JasperJohns, Claes Oldenburg, and Frank Stella work atGemini--Cirrus Editions--Engel ' s lithographicwork--Engel on the status of film as an artform--Is film a "medium of consequence"?

    TAPE NUMBER: VII, Side One (February 16, 1978) 246

    Childhood interest in abstraction FamilybackgroundFirst encounters with the work ofKandinsky Engel's working methods--Connect ionsbetween the mediums in which Engel works--Sngel '


    relations with dealers: Paul Kantor, EstherRobles, Felix Landau, and Irving BlumMore onlimits of Los Angeles as an art center

    Comparisons with New York.

    TAPE NUMBER: VII, Side Two, (April 1, 1978) .....273

    More on interest in abstractionThe "FourAbstract Classicists" show at Los Angeles CountyMuseum--A developmental survey of the phases ofEngel's artistic career--Establishing depth withcolorThe straight line Engel's love of urbanlife--Living and working in Los Angeles

    Animation, painting, lithography, and film

    Future directions for EngelFuture trends foryoung artists and filmmakersThe bankruptcy ofmagic realism.

    Index ........300

    VI 1

  • I



    Jules Engel (born in Budapest, Hungary, 1913) came to

    the United States when he was thirteen years old. He began

    painting in a hard-edged geometrical style while a high

    school student in Evanston, Illinois. "I already had a

    very definite idea," Engel states in the following

    interview, "that, for me, going out and drawing landscapes

    or still lifes was not quite the idea what drawing or

    painting should be. Now, if you ask me where this idea

    comes from, I have no idea. But my feeling was then that

    if I would take an empty piece of paper and draw a line or

    two on it, even if I put a circle in a square on the paper,

    that that could be a drawing, and that could be enough.

    And that should be enough." (p. 7)

    Immediately after graduating from high school in 1937,

    Engel came to Los Angeles. He worked briefly for Charles

    Mintz Studios, then Engel apprenticed at Walt Disney

    Studios. The studio assigned him to work on Fantasia , and

    he choreographed the Chinese and Russian dance sequences

    for the Nutcra cker Suite section of that film. In these

    two sequences, Engel innovated the use of black-background

    animation. He v/as then selected to do color continuity and

    color keying on Bambi. Engel, however, was not happy with

    VI 1 1

  • what he considered the restrictive creative environment at

    Disney and left to join the armed services after the United

    States entered World War II. Engel spent the war years

    assigned to Hal Roach Studios in Culver City, making

    training and educational films for the Air Force Motion

    Picture Unit.

    After the war Engel went to work for the newly formed

    United Productions of America (UPA). He began as a

    designer but by 1950 he had become art director for all UPA

    productions. He teamed up with the late Robert Cannon to

    create Gerald McBoing-Boing , Madeline , Christopher Crumpet ,