Spike & Mike Film Collection Donated to UCR

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May 13 screening will celebrate gift of Festival of Animation archive

By on April 21, 2014

RIVERSIDE, Calif. — When Bambi met Godzilla in a 90-second cartoon in 1969, the fawn survived barely longer than the film’s credits. Craig “Spike” Decker and Mike Gribble feared that their Festival of Animation might share the same fate when it debuted in Riverside several years later. The festival flourished, however, creating a multigenerational following of fans devoted to animated shorts and a venue in which to showcase animators whose work now is known worldwide.

Many of those films — including the classic “Bambi Meets Godzilla” — will screen at UC Riverside on Tuesday, May 13, in a celebration of Spike’s gift to UCR of hundreds of 35mm films that appeared in Spike and Mike’s Festival of Animation over the years, including the adult-themed Sick and Twisted Festival.

Spike and Mike’s Festival of Animation will begin at 6:30 p.m. in University Theatre. It is free and open to the public, and seating is first come, first served. Parking permits may be purchased at the kiosk at the University Avenue entrance to the campus. Doors open at 6 p.m. The festival will conclude with a question-and-answer period with Spike and animators, moderated by Derek Burrill, associate professor of media and cultural studies.

The Spike and Mike Festival of Animation collection is an important archive for scholars examining the role of animation in American culture and film since the 1970s, Burrill said.

art of two heads

Bill Plympton’s “Your Face” (1987) earned an Academy Award nomination.

“It represents the biggest and longest-running festival of animation in the world and has the largest collection of animated shorts in this country,” he explained. “The impact for UCR in acquiring this archive is that it puts us on the level of other schools like UCLA and USC with major media archives. I’ve already had conversations with scholars who are interested in coming to Riverside to look at it.”

The collection is an important addition to a growing number of archives at UC Riverside that provide unique research opportunities for students and scholars in the arts, said Stephen Cullenberg, dean of the College of Humanities, Arts and Social Sciences.

“UC Riverside and the community we serve are becoming known as a destination for the arts,” he said. “This archive adds to our reputation as a center for research in the arts and humanities. The Spike and Mike Festival of Animation is a valuable resource for scholars studying the history of animation in North America and its impact on American culture, and we are grateful to have it.”

Access to original films is important to researchers because of the ability to see frame by frame features that are not as visible when film is digitized, Burrill added.

“Animation isn’t just for kids. It never has been,” he said. “This festival was the place that recognized that. It gave animators early in their careers a space to present their work and push the boundaries of taste and maturity.  Spike and Mike showed great foresight. We are incredibly thankful to Spike that UCR is the place where his and Mike’s legacy will be honored.”

American cultural history

The collection captures a moment in American cultural history in a medium that was gaining popularity with adult audiences globally but in the 1980s had not achieved the same respect among U.S. filmmakers, said Toni Lawrence, director of development for the UCR School of Public Policy. “We are honored to have it.”

Among the films in the collection are: “Bambi Meets Godzilla,” Marv Newland (later directed or worked with animation on MTV, Nickelodeon, “Sesame Street” and Fox Studios);  “Your  Face,” which won an Academy Award nomination in 1987 for Bill Plympton (whose work as appeared on PBS,MTV and the Cartoon Network); “Lupo the Butcher,” Danny Antonucci (later known for “Ed” and “Ed n Eddy”); “A Close Shave” and “Creature Comforts,” Nick Park (creator of the Wallace and Gromit characters) and Peter Lord (co-founder of Aardman Animation); “Bunny,” which won an Academy Award for Chris Wedge in 1998 (who later directed “Ice Age”); “Whoopass Stew,” Craig McCracken (“Powerpuff Girls); “Family Dog,” Brad Bird (later “The Incredibles” and “Ratatouille”); and “Leas Press on Limbs,” Chris Miller (later known for “The Lego Movie”).

Other animators whose early films appeared in Spike and Mike’s Festival of Animation: are John Lasseter, now chief creative officer at Disney/Pixar and known for the “Toy Story” films, among others; Tim Burton, later known for “Vincent,” “Beetlejuice” and “The Nightmare Before Christmas”; Mike Judge, creator of “Beavis and Butt-head”; Trey Parker and Matt Stone, who later created “South Park”;  Andrew Stanton, now of Pixar and known for “Finding Nemo”; Pete Docter,  who later wrote “Up” and “Monsters, Inc.”; Jan Pinkova, later known for “Ratatouille”; Ralph Eggleston, now an animator at Pixar (“Finding Nemo” and “Up”); and Rich Moore, creator of Disney’s Oscar-nominated film “Wreck it Ralph.”

drawing of two people

“The Queen’s Monastery,” by Emma Calder

Spike said he gave the film archive to UCR in part because of his Riverside roots. His mother grew up in the city, and he was born at March Air Force Base.

Decker and Gribble met in Riverside, where they attended Riverside City College. Spike sang in a band — Sterno and the Flames — and the two rented a house near Riverside City College that became known in the neighborhood as Mellow Manor. When the band broke up, the popularity of cartoons featured in concerts prompted the pair to begin promoting a series of animated short films. UCR hosted one of those early festivals.

“The first show we did at Landis Auditorium at RCC we were sweating because we didn’t know if anybody would show,” Spike recalled. “When that first show sold out, we said we can do this anywhere in the world.”

When it became clear that there weren’t enough animated shorts to fill a 90-minute show, the pair produced approximately 50 films, some developed for the Classic Festival of Animation — which featured more intellectual  films with a message and that demonstrated animation as an art form — and some for the edgier Sick and Twisted festival. Among the early animators whose work they produced were Marv Newland, creator of “Bambi Meets Godzilla”; Michael Grimshaw, “Quiet Please”; and Mike Judge, Pete Docter and Andrew Stanton.

“You could see how prolific these people were and their sheer genius as students,” Spike recalled. “That’s why we hooked up with them when they were 19 years old.”

Festivals launched careers

In the 1970s and ’80s, Spike and Mike’s Festival of Animation was the only venue for struggling animators to display their work, Burrill said. And for many years the festival qualified as a venue from which to earn an Academy Award nomination.

“It’s hard to overestimate the impact of these festivals,” he added. “Spike was always very inclusive, and this was a place that could create buzz about your work and get you employment. The way animation is respected now is so different from the ‘80s. Then it was regarded as a strange subculture.”

drawing of motorcycle rider

“1300cc,” by Eion Clarke

Animator Bill Plympton, whose work appeared in nearly a dozen Festivals of Animation, said the events provided opportunities for animators to meet and discuss their work in an atmosphere he likened to attending a circus.

“It really was a mad party with balloons and jumping dogs and crazy games and surprise guests,” he recalled, adding that the film festivals helped grow his fan base. “It was a new way to show films I had never seen before.”

The festivals also brought animators together with their audiences, said Marilyn Zornado, whose award-winning “Insect Poetry” screened in the 2001 event.

“Animators were pretty broke for the most part. Spike and Mike would fly them in and put them up,” she recalled. “People who went to Spike and Mike festivals love animation, and they got to see the people who made the films. Spike and Mike made animators feel special.”

Fan loyalty turned John Lasseter’s “Toy Story” into a box office success when Walt Disney Studios initially declined to promote the film, believing there was no market for computer-generated graphics, Zornado added.

“Because people had seen his work in Spike and Mike they all came out the first weekend,” she said. “They were so happy for John. Disney Studios was shocked when they saw the box office for that first weekend. The festival created an audience for him, and for a lot of films.”

Animated shorts may not get the respect they deserve in the film industry, Plympton said, but they remain popular with the public. “It’s like having one dessert after another; indulgent, but really fun,” he said. “There are different techniques, different types of stories. It’s a feast of great little stories.”

The most important prizes at animation festivals today are for animated shorts, not feature-length films, Zornado said. “With animated short films you have artists with personal expression. You don’t get personal expression in features. You have producers. Spike and Mike’s shows were audience pleasers, but their films also had artistic merit that you just didn’t see other places.“

illustration

“One Day a Man Bought a House,” by Piotr Sapegin

While Spike worked behind the scenes, Mike was “the front man” who loved entertaining. Plympton recalled when Spike and Mike brought their festival to Portland, where he lived at the time, and Mike invited himself to play golf with the animator’s banker father and his buttoned-up colleagues.

Mike arrived in costume, with brightly colored hair and half of a mustache. “Here comes Mike with his golf bag, with these conservative bankers, and they got along so well,” Plympton said. “No matter where he went he fit in. He knew how to treat people and how to entertain people. They both were good people.”

When Mike Gribble died of cancer in 1994, Spike was determined to continue the film festivals.

“What I am most proud of is the fact that we did it first and we did it right and we created a genre where one didn’t exist, especially with Sick and Twisted,” Spike said. “We showed that animation was not just for children and wasn’t just family fare and could be kind of edgy and unlimited. … It can take you on a trip and take you places you’ve never been. It’s very cool, like no other medium.”

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