Excerpt from the Ralph Bakshi Art Book titled 'UNFILTERED - THE COMPLETE RALPH BAKSHI' By Jon Gibson and Chris McDonnell. Published by RIZZOLI

 

(cont'd)

Ralph Bakshi Art Book
Unfiltered - The Complete Ralph Bakshi

Adding to the production pressure was the high-profile nature of the

project. Rings was all over the trades, enticing fans like Mick Jagger to tour

the studio, if only for a chance to play even a small role in the film. "It's a

miracle the crew kept on going - the production could have shattered at

any moment," Ralph says.


"But my guys were as passionate as you could

get - it wasn't a job to them, it was pure art. Animator Carl Bell loved

his Aragorn so much, I gave him the live-action costume and he wore it

everyday while he drew. He even changed his middle name to Aragorn.

Everyone at Bakshi Productions worked their asses off."



Yet devotion wasn't enough to keep Rings on schedule. United Artists'

November 15, 1978 release seemed impossible, and the studio refused

Ralph's pleas for more time.'

"We were backed up, behind. But it was a

holiday picture - and only a holiday picture, in UA's eyes - so they didn't

care that I only had two weeks to edit a two-hour animated epic!"



Ralph also lobbied hard to keep the film's subtitle, Part 1, since there had

always been the intention to complete a second. "I knew it would drive

audiences nuts if you said, 'to be continued' without warning at the end

of the film, but no one else cared. And, hell yes, the audiences went nuts

- they had every right."

"It was time for me to get back to something personal again."






 




Excerpt from the Ralph Bakshi Art Book titled 'UNFILTERED - THE COMPLETE RALPH BAKSHI' By Jon Gibson and Chris McDonnell. Published by RIZZOLI

 

(cont'd)

Ralph Bakshi Art Book
Unfiltered - The Complete Ralph Bakshi

By the time Ralph returned to the States, the cost of developing a blown-

up print of each frame of film had risen from three to eight bucks. "At that

rate, it would have cost me millions to finish the picture - and that's just

on the developing and printing!" Ralph remembers. The nontraditional

method of rotoscoping used on Wizards created only high-contrast

graphical shapes on long spools of paper that had to be manually cut,

aligned, pasted onto punched animation paper in just the right location,

and finally photocopied onto cels in order to work; it couldn't be repeated

for the facial and physical details Ralph sought for his Rings' cast of

characters.



Luckily, camera technician Ted Bemiller was around. '

"He was a genius,

optically and mechanically. He would build his own cameras,

Ralph says.

Luckily, camera technician Ted Bemiller was around. "He was a genius,

optically and mechanically. He would build his own cameras,"Ralph says.


"I was worried and upset. I asked Ted if his Oxberry camera could also

project images. He said, Yeah, that's how we make sure we align each

scene correctly - it projects a field guide down."

So Ralph and Bemiller went to work, rifling through a camera shop to

find an old 35 mm beater, configuring it onto tracks laid on the foor.

Across the room, a plate was set that could hold photographic sheets of

paper at the size needed. Taking up the span of two dark rooms in the

studio, the duo created a huge photographic enlarger on rollers. The focus

was adjusted by moving the camera along the tracks. "We shot nine or ten

frames, ran down to get the sheets developed and nearly started crying,

Ralph recalls. "It worked perfectly!"






Next, Bakshi Productions needed to become an officially-recognized

development lab to get bulk photography paper from Kodak, and

promptly became an excellent customer. "Accounting for supplies and

development, we brought the cost per frame down to about 85 cents. We

did the entire picture that way - over 100,000 frames of it!"







Rings' visual effects also threatened to overwhelm the budget. "We weren't

a big house like Disney," Ralph explains. "When the secretary went on

her lunch break, I'd answer the phone. I'd watch my newborn son Edward

crawling around the office while I drew. The same goes for departments

- we didn't have the luxury of specialty artists that only drew water really

well, so I used live-action techniques that saved us those salaries."



One of those tricks was relying on live-action analog optics to create the lighting

for Gandalf's magic, the moody smoke effects during the appearance of

Nazgûl, and even little touches of weather, like rain and snow. "We saved

a bundle in cash and time and using real light sources gave the two-dimensional drawings a third dimension. It became more real.”






 





Excerpt from the Ralph Bakshi Art Book titled 'UNFILTERED - THE COMPLETE RALPH BAKSHI' By Jon Gibson and Chris McDonnell. Published by RIZZOLI


 

(cont'd)

Ralph appealed to Saul Zaentz, whose Fantasy Records helped finance

Fritz the Cat and Heavy Traffic with soundtrack deals and whose Fantasy

Films had just won an Academy Award for One Flew Over the Cuckoo's

Nest. "Zaentz wrote MGM a check to cover their debt, and then agreed to

foot the entire $8 million budget for my film."

"I didn't own the rights to the bible, but now we had the rights to the other

greatest story ever told, " Ralph laughs.



Before starting, Ralph and Zaentz insisted that the Tolkien estate receive

residuals and got the blessing of Tolkien's daughter, Priscilla Anne Reuel.

"Priscilla was a doll," Ralph says. "She said that her father would be proud

of how I was approaching the film, and she even showed me his writing

studio at Pembroke College. It was untouched since his death. As an artist,

that was a surreal experience."




Ralph knew audiences wouldn't buy into a broad, cartoon version of Rings,

because Tolkien's world demanded realism in its rendering - but even the

best artists have difficultly animating believable human movement. Using

the knowledge of rotoscoping he gained on Wizards, Ralph planned to

shoot the entire picture in live-action, then animate over his actors.




In earlv 1977, Ralph was off to shoot the live-action footage in Spain

- making use of its massive, standing castles, the best horseback riders

in the world, and rolling, majestic, endless landscapes. Plus, it was cheap

He left behind a crew of trusted and new artists - Ed Hirth, Mentor Huebner, Carol Keiffer Police, Crystal Russell, Joseph Zucker - including background artist Barry Jackson to continue visual development. "Ralph

put me in a room and just said, Make art!" says Jackson.




Ralph would review character designs, model sheets, and various

production paintings assistant director John Sparey would send to him via

Federal Express and fax - but only after 18 to 20-hour days on set. "He'd

be lucky if he slept two hours a night," says wife Liz. "He was in rough

shape."




The Spanish union bosses were sticklers, bull-horning lunch breaks in the

middle of massive setups, herding hundreds of actors dressed like ores

towards craft service while cameras rolled (a scene that Ralph secretly shot

and used in the film). And Ralph nearly got trampled after falling thirty

feet from a camera crane into a horde of oncoming gypsy riders.

But that wasn't the worst of it.


The Spanish film development lab, after discovering telephone lines,

helicopters, and cars in the distance of Ralph's shots, nearly incinerated

weeks of footage. "They told my first assistant director that if that kind of

sloppy cinematography got out, no one from Hollywood would ever come back to Spain to shoot again. The entire industry would shut down. They didn't want to risk it, so they'd rather burn the film and take the heat. They didn't understand that I was shooting an animated picture, and we just weren’t going to trace all the stuff in the background - we were going to paint mountains and castles to replace'em."

TBC.....