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MichaelBarrier.com Exploring the World of Animation and Comic Art

"What's New" Archives: January 2014

 

January 28, 2014:

Remembering Michael Sporn

 

January 19, 2014:

\Michael Sporn, 1946-2014

 

January 28, 2014:

Remembering Michael Sporn

There have been many tributes to Michael on the Web since he died on January 19, but one of the very best is Mark Mayerson's. He knew Michael well as both a friend and a cartoon maker, and that knowledge shaped his moving tribute. I could not agree more with what he has written: "Michael’s lack of profile with the general public will make his loss seem less than it is.  Make no mistake: we’ve lost a great film maker who managed to create art with the sparsest of resources.  Animation needs creators like Michael if it’s ever going to explore the full range of human experience."

Ray Kosarin, who also worked for Michael and knew him well, has written an equally impressive tribute for ASIFA East's website. If, after reading these tributes, you were to watch some of the films that Mark and Ray recommend, you would surely come away with some sense of just how special Michael was, and how much we have lost in his passing.

Michael's widow, Heidi Stallings, is keeping his wonderful "Splog" alive, and you'll find there more tributes to Michael from people who knew him. I'm grateful that Michael will continue to be with us through his blog, and especially through his films.

Comments

From Jenny Lerew: It's hard to read the tributes to Michael Sporn, beautifully written as all of them are, including yours. What an awful loss.

I'd returned from a day at, of all places, Disneyland, finally ready to write Sporn a long overdue email—right after I'd caught up with what he'd been writing and especially after reading his thoughts on Wind Rises, which I'd just seen. Literally the first thing I saw after logging on was a posting about his death on Facebook. I kind of detest Facebook—it seems everyone I know has it open all the time, 24/7, and never communicate anywhere else any more—but I must say, I wouldn't have known about the deaths of several people I care about save for a FB post. I just wasn't made for these times...

Anyway, I was shocked. Stunned. I had an impulse to throw the bloody computer off my lap and across the room, for all that would accomplish.

I'm an awful fool for falling off the Splog wagon—really, I'd fallen off all online wagons with the possible exception of the NY Times, but of course I knew I'd catch up any time, write those emails, get back in touch.

My loss—everyone's loss. I counted on Michael to show me inaccessible, beautiful stuff, to get me riled up (again), to get that "kindred soul" feeling that would come after reading his posts.

Of course, reading back now his illness is obvious, and I would have known if I'd just seen those posts that something was up—in all probability cancer, as it proved to be. I was wondering if I'd have mentioned anything about it to him in an email. I think absolutely not. But what bravery, what a life force—what an artist!

I base all these feelings on just a few years of exchanged comments, reading his posts, seeing his films and one in-person meeting (that was wonderful), so I can hardly imagine what you feel—though you described it so eloquently.

I immediately wanted to write about him, and it's taken me over 10 days and frankly my entire work day today to manage it. What I have to say pales next to the tributes you linked to—thank you—but it's there.

MB replies: Jenny has written at greater length about Michael on her own excellent blog, The Blackwing Diaries, in a post as deserving of your attention as the two I've cited above. It says a great deal about Michael, I think, that his passing has led so many people to express so much genuine grief and sorrow, and in such intensely personal terms.

[Posted January 31, 2014]

January 19, 2014:

Michael Sporn, 1946-2014

Michael Sporn and Heidi StallingsHe died early this morning, more than three years after he was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. He shared that diagnosis with only a few people even as he continued to work as an independent animator and an incredibly productive blogger. His widow, Heidi Stallings, sent me the following obituary, which was written by Michael's good friend John Canemaker.

Michael Sporn, an Academy Award nominee for Best Animated Short Film and the director of more than thirty television specials for broadcast outlets such as HBO, PBS, Showtime and CBS died on January 19th in New York City. He was 67.

The cause of death was pancreatic cancer, his wife the actress and director Heidi Stallings said.

Long a mainstay of New York independent animation filmmakers, Michael Sporn earned a 1984 Academy Award nomination for the short film Doctor DeSoto, adapted from the William Steig children’s book. It was one of fifteen short children’s films Sporn produced and directed for distributor Weston Woods, including Steig’s Abel’s Island (1988), which was nominated for an Emmy Award; The Amazing Bone (1985), winner of a CINE Golden Eagle; and The Man Who Walked Between the Towers (2005), winner of the Andrew Carnegie Medal for Excellence in Children’s Video and Best Short Children’s Film award from the Ottawa International Animation Festival.

Sporn’s animated HBO specials adapted from children’s books and tales include: Lyle Lyle Crocodile (1987); The Red Shoes (1989); Mike Mulligan and His Steamshovel (1990); The Marzipan Pig (1990); Ira Sleeps Over (1992, CableACE Award winner); Goodnight Moon and Other Stories (1999, Emmy winner); Happy to Be Nappy and Other Tales (2006); Whitewash (1995, Emmy winner); I Can Be President (2011).

He also created animated titles and inserts for live-action features, such as Sidney Lumet’s Prince of the City (1981) and Garbo Talks (1984), and Susan Seidelman’s Desperately Seeking Susan (1985).

On Broadway, Sporn’s animation appeared as interactive elements in two musicals: Meet Me in St. Louis (1989) and Woman of the Year (1981).

Michael Sporn was born in New York City on April 23, 1946, the second child of William and Amelia Young Sporn, and grew up in Jackson Heights. His father abandoned the family when Michael was two, and his mother subsequently had three more children with her second husband, Mario Rosco.

Sporn drew cartoons “right from the beginning,” he told an interviewer in 2010, and, encouraged by his stepfather, made 8mm films at age seven. A self-taught animator, he gathered advice from the few how-to-animate books available in the late 1950s and from two television series, Walt Disney’s Wonderful World of Color and Walter Lantz’s The Woody Woodpecker Show.

He attended the New York Institute of Technology from 1963 to 1967, then enlisted in the US Navy serving as a Russian language decoder in Alaska.

In 1972, he began working professionally in animation under several noted producers and directors. For John and Faith Hubley, he worked on the short film Cockaboody (1973); The Adventures of Letterman series for the 1971-77 PBS series The Electric Company; and the TV special Everybody Rides the Carousel ( 1975). He was an animator on the 1977 feature film Raggedy Ann & Andy: A Musical Adventure for director Richard Williams; and for R.O. Blechman, he supervised numerous TV commercials and the PBS special Simple Gifts (1977).

Sporn formed his own production company, Michael Sporn Animation, Inc., in 1980, and at the time of his death, was producing and directing Poe, an animated feature based the life of Edgar Allan Poe.

Michael Sporn gave a running start to many a young animator’s careers. He was not merely an employer, but a mentor, offering on-the-job lessons in the appreciation of animation history and its filmmakers, and candid, thoughtful opinions on the seven lively arts and artists of all stripes.

On December 5, 2005, not coincidentally Walt Disney’s birthday, Sporn launched a blog, Splog, which made him a teacher in the larger sense. Splog ran continuously almost every day for eight years, encompassing nearly 3,000 posts. His detailed analysis of films, their sequences, discussions and promotions of artist’s careers and new work, and his often emotional and sulfurous reviews attracted a wide international audience. The site was a tribute to Michael Sporn’s energy, imagination, and dedication to the art of animation in all its forms. “I think,” he once said, “animation has the potential of being the greatest of all the arts.”

In addition to Ms. Stallings, he is survived by his sisters Patricia Sherf and Christine O’Neill, and brothers Jerry Rosco and John Rosco.

What a sad day this is. I may once have thought that reaching an advanced age would provide some sort of immunization against the worst of grief. Not so; I cried earlier this month when my sweet mother-in-law died, and I cried when Heidi told me soon afterwards that Michael was very close to death. Tears insisted on barging into my life again today. Michael was a wonderful friend, a dedicated artist, and one of the very best people in a field, animation, that he loved with a consuming passion. Michael's genius, and his curse, was that he could do so much with such tiny budgets. I will never cease to wonder what he might have accomplished with the money that always seems to be available to people with only a fraction of his talent and none of his integrity.

Michael and I were continually in touch for almost forty years. We certainly didn't agree about everything; for instance, he loved UPA (I don't), and he once remarked to me that he couldn't remember ever laughing at a Warner Bros. cartoon. But disagreeing about such things was always a source of pleasure for us, not of rancor. I cannot recall a time when I did not enjoy his company.

I've written about Michael's films any number of times here, and in reviewing those commentaries I feel a certain satisfaction with a couple of pieces about the 2007 Sporn retrospective at the Museum of Modern Art (the linked item is a preview of the retrospective; scroll up for a report I wrote after the showings), and also with a page I devoted to the DVD releases of some of his films. But more than reading about his films, you should try to see some of them. You might start with The Marzipan Pig and The Man Who Walked Between the Towers. If you open yourself to such films, which are so unlike most animated fare these days, you may share some of my intense regret that we will see no more like them.

Comments

From Thad Komorowski: Profoundly and unspeakably sad. I think I should have read between the lines when he made those posts about how he was finally reading The Illusion of Life. Really, the fact that he made a career as one the of the most esteemed, talented, and inspirational animators of this age without looking at that pretentious doorstop speaks volumes.

From Roberto Severino: This is very sad news indeed. Michael Sporn's blog had been one of my favorite animation sites that I would often visit regularly. It was great being able to interact with a veteran of the business who really cared a lot about his work and the history of the medium. I was getting kind of worried when he posted less often because of the "weird stuff" he was facing at the time. I never thought his problems were that bad, though and it astounds me how he was able to keep posting until he burned himself out. I am very grateful for all the great things that his blog provided on top of so many model sheets and drawings to study and learn from. He will be missed dearly.

From Gunnar Andreassen: I was very sad to read about the passing of your friend Michael Sporn on your page today. His "splog" was a daily joy for me for many years, and I also bought a collection of his films a couple of years ago. A great man!

From Mark Sonntag: I found your post about Michael very moving. Sorry for the loss of such a great friend. He seemed to be a true gentleman in an industry that seems to be losing its soul. I found him generous with his knowledge and I can't thank him enough for his support of Bounty Hunter Bunny, my short. His kind words meant a great deal, especially coming from a man of such experience who had no fear in telling us what he thought.

[Posted January 20, 2014]

From Kevin Hogan: Visiting and commenting on Michael’s Splog was one of my daily pleasures. He was always insightful and specific in his writing, the second part being perhaps the rarest trait I have found in animation circles. Plenty of people write about animation, few shared Michael’s ability to be specific in identifying his reasoning for various things. He will be sorely missed.

From Bill Benzon: I just read the notice at Splog. Michael's death is a major loss for animation. His encouragement and acceptance of my work on animation meant a great deal to me.

[Posted January 24, 2014]

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