title. Bakshi biography
date. 1938 - present
city. New york
Ralph Bakshi began October 1938 in Haifa, Palestine. In 1939 his family brought him and his sister to New York, escaping the threat of war. He grew up in Brooklyn, attending the High School of Industrial Arts, now called the High School of Art & Design. After graduating in 1956 with an award in cartooning, Bakshi went to work at Terrytoons Animation Studio in New Rochelle as a cel polisher, soon graduating to cel painting.
Practicing nights and weekends, he quickly became an inker, and then moved directly into animation of characters such as Mighty Mouse, Heckle & Jeckle, Deputy Dawg, Foofle & Lariat Sam. By 25 he was directing these shows as well as James Hound and Sad Cat. At 28 he created and directed The Mighty Heroes, and in 1966 he was made Creative Director of the studio.
THE EARLY YEARS
In 1967 Bakshi accepted the position of Producer and Director of Paramount Cartoon Studios (aka Famous Studios) that originally had been the Max Fleicher Studio. There he did four theatricals: Marvin Digs, Mini Squirts, Super Basher and Bop, and the Fiendish Five. Here he hired Mort Drucker, Wally Wood, Jack Davis, Joe Kubert, Jim Steranko, Gray Morrow and Roy Krenkel.
When the theatrical market abruptly disappeared, the studio closed. Then Bakshi was hired by Steve Krantz Productions to go to Toronto to take over a Rocket Robin Hood TV series in production at Al Guest Studios that was having production and creative problems. When that studio collapsed, Bakshi returned to New York. Grant Ray Lawrence was doing Spiderman for Krantz in LA. They too were having problems with the series.
In 1967 Krantz asked Bakshi to produce and direct the following Spiderman season which he did in a little studio off of Herald Square. At this time Bakshi started Ralph’s Spot where he worked with Peter Max on various spots and did commercials for such companies as Fanta and Encyclopedia Britannica. He sold the idea of Fritz the Cat as a feature film to Steve Krantz in 1970. They flew out to Oakland to find Dana Crumb and secure the rights; Crumb was only too happy to join them in the venture.
In the spring of 1971, almost halfway through the production of Fritz the Cat, the entire studio moved from New York to Los Angeles because the East Coast Cartoonists Union refused to cooperate with the studio production. Instead of shutting the film down, they moved to the coast where the Los Angeles Union was happy to have the work. Fritz was done completely in 2D animation. The audio track was recorded almost entirely on the streets of New York, with the exception of Fritz and the girls, and Big Bertha.
In April of 1972 Fritz the Cat opened in LA and New York to rave reviews. Bakshi was invited to Directors Week at the Cannes Film Festival. The Museum of Modern Art screened Fritz the Cat and added it to their collection. That year Bakshi wrote Heavy Traffic, and went back into production still working with Steve Krantz as producer.
Bakshi met Al Ruddy at UCLA in 1972 where they were screening The Godfather and Fritz the Cat the same evening. They became instant friends. He sold Ruddy on making the first black animated feature based upon the “Uncle Remus" characters. It was called Coonskin No More.
Bakshi Productions, Inc. was created in 1973, and they began pre-production. Heavy Traffic was still in production at this time with Steve Krantz, who locked Bakshi out of the studio when he heard the news that Al Ruddy and Bakshi were working together. After two weeks they asked him back to finish the picture, quickly realizing no one else could handle the job. Live action was shot for Heavy Traffic and was married with the animation but not rotoscoped. In 1973, Bakshi’s second feature, Heavy Traffic, was screened at the Museum of Modern Art where it shocked and awed the public.
In 1973, the production of Coonskin No More began at the new Bakshi Productions Studio on Melrose Avenue in Hollywood. Live action was also used in this film and joined with the animation. Here he enjoyed working with artists such as John Sparey, Jim Tyler, Virgil Ross, Irv Spence, Manny Perez, Bob Carlson, Johnnie Vita and Ed Barge. Coonskin opened in 1975 with a screening at Museum of Modern Art in NYC. There was so much controversy that Paramount soon withdrew its release. Bryanston Distributing Company quickly attached itself, and released it in theaters to continued controversy. Today it is one of his most highly acclaimed films.
Wizards, written, directed and produced by Bakshi, was begun in 1975, and released in 1977 to great reviews. It is an all animated anti-war film with original Nazi war footage.
In 1977, production was immediately started on JRR Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings. Saul Zaentz agreed to a two-part version of the story. Bakshi shot the entire film in live action first, and used rotoscoping technique to animate it. In 1978, The Lord of the Rings was released. The second part, which was already in production, was halted, and never completed, because of a budget dispute.
In 1980, Hey Good Lookin' was released. It was written and directed and produced by Bakshi. This film was entirely animated, and also contained some live action footage. This film was started in 1974, but was held up by Warner Brothers. The original Lookin' was a marriage of live and animation characters that Warner thought would never be accepted by the public. They insisted the film must be completely animated, and refused to pay for the changes. It took 6 years to complete independently. Years later, Who Framed Roger Rabbit became a huge success using the same technique.
In 1982, created and directed by Bakshi, American Pop – about five generations of a gifted musical family – was released to popular acclaim. In 1983, Fire & Ice, a sci-fi fantasy collaboration between Frank Frazetta and Bakshi, was released. Both American Pop and Fire & Ice were rotoscoped. Bakshi’s main motivation for doing film after film was not to lose his artists.
1985 - Present
At this time Bakshi moved back to New York State with his family, and began painting full time. Since 1982, Bakshi has had nearly a dozen gallery exhibitions showcasing his oil and acrylic paintings. He takes small breaks to go back into production on such projects as the Harlem Shuffle video for the Rolling Stones in 1985, and then in 1987 a live action short for PBS called This Ain’t Be Bop with Harvey Keitel. Be Bop was a poem to the beat generation.
In 1986, Bakshi was back in Los Angeles, producing the cartoon series The New Adventures of Mighty Mouse that aired in 1987 and 1988.
Tattertown, a Christmas special for television, was completed directly following Mighty Mouse. Then on to The Butter Battle Book in 1989, where Bakshi had the pleasure of working exclusively with Ted Geisel (Dr. Seuss).
The Cool World story was created by Bakshi and sold to Paramount in 1990. Both the live action and animation was directed by Bakshi. It starred Brad Pitt, Kim Basinger & Gabriel Byrne. The live action movie The Cool & the Crazy, with Alicia Silvertsone and Jared Leto, was written and directed by Bakshi and filmed in LA in 1994 for Showtime.
In 1995 in New York, Bakshi wrote, directed and produced two cartoons for Hanna Barbera: Babe He Calls Me and Malcom and Melvin. And then in 1996, he created a science fiction detective series for HBO called Spicy City.
Ralph Bakshi has created controversy in all his films while continuously breaking new ground in his art form. He has encouraged the public to look at animation in a new way by creating worlds that are sometimes familiar and sometimes strange, always challenging. He pioneered animation with adult themes using political commentary and satire.
The Museum of Modern Art has added his films to their collection for preservation. We eagerly await the future which will hold a new Bakshi adventure called Last Days of Coney Island that he is animating personally and painting the backgrounds. When asked, "Why are you doing all your own animation?", he says, "All the guys I loved and respected are gone".