Wednesday, October 27, 2010
Many years after graduating from School, Kaj met with an old class-mate of his, who then said "Drawing cartoons is silly, I do important thing, I build bridges". I think Kaj didn't appreciate the remark for a good reason, It misunderstands and underestimates what cartoons are capable of achieving. Kaj has always known that cartoons can be used for good and even crucial purposes, He is perhaps most proud of his films for public awareness and safety, especially "Karate Kids" and "Goldtooth," which were made to warn children and teenagers worldwide about the dangers of AIDS and Drugs/Substance Abuse, and most importantly, instruct how do avoid them.
In the mid 80s, As Kaj was working on the direct-to-video version of “Peep and the big wide world” at the NFB studio in Toronto, a gentleman came to see producer Mike Scott, his name was Peter Dalglish. Although Dalglish went to law school, he decided the world didn't need another corporate lawyer, so he founded "Street kids international". At the time he was working with kids in Sudan, The problem of AIDS has come along at the time, and he realized how big a problem that was. He needed to inform the kids about protection. But he also knew it wasn't easy for white westerners to deliver messages to these kids worldwide, as the kids wouldn't relate easily...but he noticed how much they liked TOM & JERRY cartoons, and seeing how fascinated the kids were with Animation, Dalglish concluded he has to warn them about AIDS through animated cartoons.
He came up to Toronto from Boston (at the time he taught Animation at Harvard). “Peter Dalglish understood that we can't just sit in an animation studio...you have to go out and research” They went to tour South America with a UNICEF group, and saw many things. In Guatemala city, they went to the city dump, Kaj vividly recalls “A huge area stinking of rotten food, dusty and ugly in every way...and there, a garbage truck backing up, and Kids, dogs, pigs and vultures, all scrambling to be the first to get the food, at the risk of being run over...All that ugly life you read about but never fully understand until you see it first hand.”
Nearby there was a school, run a young attractive, wealthy American girl, “She could have been a Hollywood movie star, but she saw this work as more important”
Kaj has attended the classrooms along with UNICEF, and recalls the tense atmosphere:
“[The kids] looked at me and I looked at them...we couldn't communicate, I speak no Spanish, they spoke no English... I noticed two girls whispering, and I asked the translator what was it...She said you look like Donald Duck!” (laughs) “So I took a piece of chalk and then I drew Donald Duck...Oh, that was a success! Then I proceeded to draw Mickey Mouse and Goofy, You have no idea what effect it had on those little kids, Just great. “
And from then on Kaj would start the class by drawing Donald Duck and all was well! “Of course we never said that to the Disney Corporation” (laughs) I don't know what would they say about it!”
Kaj and Derek did their research “I drew hundreds of drawings...and Derek shot hundreds of photographs...The problem was he kept giving them away because people wanted them...Good God! We're gonna NEED them if we're going to make the film!” (Laughs)
Armed with reference, They flew to Boston, and as Kaj was about to take his connecting flight to Toronto, Derek stopped him- “Just a second! Why don't you come home with me so that we can start tomorrow morning when everything is fresh in our minds” And they set to work.
“It was a long Haul to make that storyboard!” Kaj recalls “We made the Leica-Reel in sound and color” it was to show the producers and be tested on Kids before making the film. Needless to say, the animatic was perceived very well, and two films were made.
Below are the finished films: Karate Kids, Goldtooth, and a documentary about their success.
Street Kids intl. Documentary
When Kaj and Peter Dalglish showed the first version of "Goldtooth", There wasn't a scene in which the villain dies. The film has made such an impact on the kids, that they were enraged the villain remained alive, they started rallying, and Peter Dalglish, quick on his feet, said "Quick! Kaj! Draw a picture of Goldtooth!" Kaj swiftly drew the villain, and tossed the piece of paper at the children, who tore it to shreds!
To Kaj and Derek, making these films was just as important as "Building a bridge"!