Thursday, January 13, 2011

Exclusive Interview with MY DOG TULIP Filmmakers Paul and Sandra Fierlinger

By Meredith Slifkin

The holidays may be over, but there’s no reason to get the winter blues when there are such great events at BMFI! On Wednesday, January 19 at 7:30pm, there will be a special screening of My Dog Tulip followed by a Q&A with the filmmakers, Paul and Sandra Fierlinger. The Fierlingers will also teach a FREE Master Class at 2:00pm about animation in the digital world.

My Dog Tulip is the story of a man, his dog, and the extraordinary nature of canine-human friendship. This animated adaptation of the memoir by J.R. Ackerley has already earned widespread praise for filmmakers Paul and Sandra, who reside on the Main Line.

Paul and Sandra Fierlinger will teach a free Master Class at 2:00pm and
answer questions after the 7:30pm screening of My Dog Tulip on January 19.

Paul began working in Czechoslovakia in the 1950s, where he became the state’s first independent producer of animated films. In 1968 he escaped the Communist regime in Czechoslovakia, seeking solace in Holland and eventually the United States, where he continued to create animated films for television and the big screen. Paul was awarded the PEW Fellowship in the Arts in 1997 for his body of work.

Sandra is a native of Wayne, Pennsylvania, and graduated with highest honors from the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts. She has collaborated with her husband, Paul, on many projects, including short and feature films for Sesame Street and PBS.

I caught up with Paul and Sandra via email. Keep reading for their take on My Dog Tulip, animation, and their exciting new project!
My Dog Tulip features the voices of Christopher Plummer, Isabella Rossellini, and the late Lynn Redgrave.

Q: What drew you both to My Dog Tulip? Has it been a “pet” project of yours for awhile, or did you come across the Ackerley material recently?

Paul: The book has been with us since it first came out in the New York Review of Books Classics series. Soon after reading it I began to make notes which I stuck between the pages with a possible theatrical film in mind. After a few weeks we got busy with other projects and the whole idea just vanished from our thoughts and conversations. When the two producers who became the actual film’s producers first called us—this happened years later—I had no recollection of ever thinking of Tulip as a movie and was immensely surprised when I discovered my notes between the yellowing pages. Mind you, the producers called us to make Tom Sawyer, not Tulip, but as we talked about all sorts of other ideas, the four of us on that conference call agreed that My Dog Tulip was a good one.

Q: The animation in My Dog Tulip has such a distinct look to it. Would you tell us about the method of hand-drawn computer animation used? Will this technique play a prominent role in the future of the animation art form?

Paul: The computer software we used is called TVPaint (made in Metz, France) and it has been our primary production tool since its inception, twenty years ago. We have been their beta-testers for about fifteen of those years now. It has gone through a slow recognition process mainly because the world wide market for such an application is incredibly miniscule, and these five Frenchies, who are still together after twenty years, had both zero marketing skills and money. TVP is now a household name in any 2-D animator’s family, and all the prominent animation schools around the world; this happened by word of mouth only. The software has grown in those twenty years, too, of course, and has finally reached the well-deserved status of the best there is for handmade (or computer assisted; take your pick) independent productions of art films. Hand-drawn films are coming back in a big way.

The Fierlingers created My Dog Tulip using hand-drawn computer animation. 

Q: Was your style of animation at all influenced by the Czech cartoonists and animation artists from the golden age of Kratky Film?

Paul: That yes, and by the way I grew up in the United States during WWII, and by the dreaded boarding school in which I had to spend my first four years in Czechoslovakia, by my father’s insistence that I drop the idea of becoming an animator, by the fact that no one had ever thought possible that one person alone could draw films, by my first and second divorces, the dogs I had owned, the despair I had fallen into that I will be forever locked within the barbed wire borders of that horrible place ruled by a tyrannical Soviet system, by my escape back to the West, by every advertising agency I had ever done work for, by my third and final marriage on a boat off Ordinary Point on the Chesapeake Bay, and by my 41 years of life on or close to the Main Line.

Q: Sandra, when did you become interested in animation? How do your skills as a painter influence your work with computer animation?

Sandra: Animation was never in my vocabulary as an artist growing up on the Main Line. Then Paul hired me as a colorist, married me, and what else am I supposed to do? The garden is so small.

Q: Are you working on any new projects?

Paul: The film we are working on now is being done in a way no one else has ever done before us, unless you count Charles Dickens, but he was not an animator. Sandra and I have embarked upon the serialization of an animated graphic novel to be released in installments on an e-magazine website, yet to be determined. This work in progress will be screened as the core of our Master Class earlier in the afternoon. We will also be discussing the explosion of hand drawn animated illustrations and tiny art films made by tiny cameras all over the pages of internet e-readers, a new publishing phenomenon which already is beginning to happen.

Exclusive image from Paul and Sandra's new project, Slocum at Sea with Himself.
Excerpts will be featured in the free Master Class taught by the Fierlingers.

Thanks, Paul and Sandra! 

If you have questions of your own for the Fierlingers, join us at BMFI's Master Class or the My Dog Tulip screening.

The Master Class is free and open to everyone, but there are only a few spaces left! To register, email or call 610-527-4008 x109.

You can purchase tickets to the My Dog Tulip screening and Q&A by clicking here or visiting the Box Office.

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