Tuesday, March 27, 2012

How It Felt to Be Rotoscoped By Frank Frazetta

When my agent said Ralph Bakshi was casting an animated movie to be co-directed by Frank Frazetta, I thought, ho hum. It was called Fire and Ice and they needed a queen of the Fire Planet. Bakshi's blue cartoon Fritz the Cat had been a huge success, but in the early '80s, doing the image and voice of an animated character was not considered a coup... despite how respected Frazetta and Bakshi were.
It was 1983 and animated films were not being sold with a star doing the voice as they are today. In fact if stars did do voice-overs they were quiet about it because everyone knew the star was doing this work for the cash. And carry. In and out work.
Today being a voice in a Disney or Pixar film is considered quite the achievement and ballyhooed until the banks come home.
We have Puss and Boots with Johnny Depp... Eddie Murphy and Cameron Diaz in Shrek. Angelina Jolie in Kung Fu Panda and Kung Fu Panda 2... and on and on. Doing a voice-over means you can work in your bedroom slippers. Not sit in a makeup chair for hours. And not face the aging process which Hollywood frowns on. Throw tinsel at those who count crow's feet.
But in 1983, I was happy to have the opportunity to meet Ralph Bakshi and Frank Frazetta who was recently ignored in the PR campaign for John Carter even though its author, Edgar Rice Burroughs, had chosen Frazetta to draw his book jackets.

To peak Bakshi's interest, my agent sent the enclosed photo of me in a crocheted bikini taken by Sherman Weisburd who had taken it as a test shot when I was learning how to be a model. Weisburd was known for having photographed Marilyn Monroe.
"That photo of you in the crocheted bikini proved you are right for an image in Fire and Ice," Frazetta said to me when we met. Frazetta was known for drawing images of pin ups. He was a mild spoken man and sensual like the images he drew.

"I want to rotoscope you."
"What's that? " I asked.
'We'll film you and then I will draw on the film and create a cartoon image of you."
I thought that sounds like fun as I looked into Frazetta's smiling eyes. Despite the fact that their casting call was for a sexy woman, never once did Frazetta come on to me. This was refreshing in Hollywood with casting couches looming behind audition doors. Frazetta was not a player. Nor was Ralph Bakshi. For an actress to look sexy was business to them as it was to me.
When I met Bakshi who had a dark complexion and was burly, he was stern. No nonsense. "We will film you with objects that will symbolize mountains, houses, animals, people but you will be on a closed set and will have to use your imagination that these things are in front of you. We want your movement, voice and image, and then Frank will draw you on the film. Will you do this?"
And thus I was cast in Fire and Ice. The filming took about two weeks and was done in the valley. The cast of male characters was terrific. We even had to use a jeep and imagine it was a mountain.
This reminded me of studying acting as a third grader in Swarthmore, Pa. I had to sit under a table and pretend it was a stagecoach. The floor was dirty. I hated every moment and thought how silly it was.
But now I was an actress and discovered working with Bakshi and Frazetta was fun. Though Bakshi could be bellicose, he treated me with respect. "Be aware of the mountain in front of you," he yelled. Of course, there was no mountain and I knew his shouting was from the pressure he was under due to budget restraints.
"Beware of the herd of lions behind," he shouted. As it turned out around there was no herd of lions, but a Chevy pickup truck.
When lunch came, we ate at a long table on the set as food was ordered from a local delicatessen. I took the opportunity to chat with Frazetta.
"What was your favorite cartoon character to draw? I asked.
"Tarzan and Jane. But I always preferred to do women."
"Why is that?'
"Their voluptuousness, curves. Let's just say I'm a ladies' man with the pen. And there was Daisy Mae."
"She was a great. Did you work for Al Capp?"
"I ghosted some of his images and Daisy Mae was one of them."
When filming was complete, Frazetta gave me one of his books filled with his art work and autographed it for me. He was a generous spirit. He made me feel appreciated. A kind man.

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