Tuesday, March 16, 2010
After his service in the Danish military, Kaj proceeded to make explanatory films for the public sector. A film he made to explain the inner works of a steam engine caught the attention of the National Film Board of Canada (NFB for short).
Having been commissioned by the Royal Canadian Air Force to make a film explaining the inner works of a Jet engine, the NFB knew that Kaj was the man for the job.
In 1959 , the NFB wanted Kaj to stay on staff for more explanatory films. Not keen on being type casted Kaj returned to his original ambition- making cartoons.
Ensuring the interest of the CBC, Kaj went to work on a TV pilot featuring his character "Peep". in the inventive spirit of the NFB, he developed a set-up to animate "Peep" on adding machine paper. During that time, a young talented British man named Derek Lamb arrived in Canada hoping to find work for the NFB. Soon enough, Derek started making a film based on the children's nonsense song "I know An Old Lady Who Swallowed A Fly". It took a while for this project to take off.
Why is that, you ask? It turns out it was missing a bit of Pindal. Here's the story, in Kaj's own words:
"At a party one Saturday evening, Derek cornered me, and I guess we all had something to drink, but he made me promise that I would be the new animator on "The Old Lady" (laughs). So the following Monday when everybody was sober, I was pulled into the office of Wolf Keonig, who was now the head of the animation department, and he told me bluntly, that I was now responsible for this film. Not only that, I had to see it carried out, within reasonable time and budget. Further more, I was now made responsible for the money that has been wasted on it up to now (laughs).
So I wasn't too happy with it in the beginning, but I was moved into a large office, together with Derek. He brought in his guitar everyday, he knew that I have been kind of drafted on to this job, so he really checked my mood everyday. If he felt I wasn't in a good enough mood he would strike on his guitar, and sing a very funny song, and you can't help getting in a good mood with something like that! We became very good friends, because it turned out to be a wonderful experience to work with him.
I want to say I think both of us learned from one another, I had much longer experience with animation than he had. But he was a musician, he was a performer, he had this showmanship about him, that I could learn from. Derek had an ability to spot talent in people, not just for drawing and animation, but also for voice, he never went to an agent to find talent, he went out in the park, and could spot a good voice. That's a good quality to have! Derek had an enormous strength at the sound side of the film. I should tell you that his father was a gentleman farmer, but his hobby was to play magician on Saturdays and Sundays. Derek was in the audience, and he learned so much about making animation from his father, because of the play with the audience. He wanted you to see certain things, not to see other things, mislead you to believe that magic happens, which it doesn't. In a way, to go to a magician school is probably a very good school for an animator (laughs)."
Kaj and Derek continued to collaborate with each other, most notably on the films "Karate Kids" and "Goldtooth" which will be posted soon.
Tuesday, March 9, 2010
Born in Copenhagen, Denmark, Dec 1, 1927. In the 1980s, out of respect for International AIDS Day that was established on this same date, Kaj pulled his birthday back to November 31st.
Since then, Kaj is always one day younger than he used to be!
Cartoonist and Animated Filmmaker.
“I very strongly feel the difference in the way people react when I tell them I'm an animator. 40 years ago there was a lot of prestige about it, animators MADE animated films, today it's more like a link in an assembly line”
In school Kaj was the class cartoonist (as popular as Hockey players today). At age 18 he started working in an advertising agency, making animated commercials. This brought the attention of famed animator Borge Ring, and eventually David Hand, former supervising director of Snow-White and Bambi.
Kaj proceeded to make explanatory films for the Danish army and motor companies. So in 1957, when the National Film Board of Canada (a.k.a 'NFB') were commissioned to make an explanatory film about jet engines for the Royal Canadian Air Force, Kaj was invited to NFB bureau in Montreal, where he animated his way through their first golden age.
Kaj proceeded to make delightful cartoons which revived the rubber-hose animation style of the 1930s. Many of his films were made to deliver important messages, including public safety, anti-smoking, and even AIDS prevention.
Kaj also worked for Richard Williams in London and for Korty Films in San Francisco. He created "Peep and the Big Wide World" at the NFB, which was developed into an Emmy Award winning TV series.
Kaj has been teaching at Sheridan College for the past 3 decades, continuously inspiring those who are passionate about Animation.
Below is rare footage from Kaj's collection: Ward Kimbal demonstrates how to rotate Mickey Mouses' ears! As well as operating Mr. Pindal's electric train.
Monday, March 8, 2010
In 1951, Sweden was very prosperous, and its residents were among the most movie-going people on the world.
Sweden had more money to spend on commercials than Kaj's Native Denmark. His friend Kjeld Simonsen was invited by an advertising agency to pitch storyboards for an animated commercial. The intended commercial was for a Swedish savings bank. Kaj, Kjeld and Ib Steinaa teamed up to make an album of storyboards and cel models that would far exceed the client's expectations.
The ad agency offered them a contract to produce the commercial. Since it had to be produced in Sweden, Kaj and his friends set up their studio in Stockholm.
Kaj animated the main character, Kjeld Simonsen animated the rest of the bees, Ib Steinaa painted the backgrounds and composed the music.
Their leisure time had also proved to be beneficial, as it helped them become better animators- while Danish theaters exclusively screened Disney and Popeye cartoons, Swedish theaters would run the rest of Hollywood's Golden Age output, Looney Tunes and Tom & Jerry to name a few. Can you imagine the excitement that ensued?
It was also thanks to their patron, Mr. Cederroth that Kaj was first introduced to Norman McLaren's films from the National Film Board of Canada, where Kaj would later make some of his finest films.
Friday, March 5, 2010
Kaj had invited Zack Schawrtz to teach at Sheridan College, and Zack became one of the most popular instructors of the 80s and early 90s. At the time , Zack had written a wonderful book called "And Then What Happened? A Story-teller's Handbook for Animators" elegantly explaining the mechanics of story-telling with examples from many great cartoons. In his book, Zack makes the important distinction between story and plot, and stresses the importance of Character.
This book is in the process of being converted to PDF format, and we hope to later provide it on this blog.
Last summer, Kaj asked me to carry a gift to Zack's widow, Drora, who lives in Ramat-Aviv, Israel. I was astonished by Drora's generosity in sharing wonderful stories as well as artwork from Zack's collection. She graciously allowed me to make high resolution scans of these precious works, which are now documented in the ASIFA-Hollywood Animation Archive. Here are a few formatted favorites to share with our readers: