In the summer of 1992 I was looking for a short story to animate. Nothing seemed to click, until I read “Gimpel The Fool” by Isaac Bashevis Singer.
I realized that the characters, beliefs and conflicts in this wonderful story were related to me, my family and people I knew—Eastern European Jews who emigrated to Israel after the second world war.
I found Gimpel’s passive attitude towards the people who took advantage of him and towards key events that shaped his life to be disturbing. Was he blind to the ‘truth’?
As a young secular Israeli Jew, I found Gimpel and his world simultaneously foreign and intimate. Thus began my two-year voyage to the core of my own heritage.
The first year was dedicated to the adaptation process. My wife Orit and I spent hours debating various aspects of the adaptation. There were many conceptual and practical issues to debate and resolve with Chris Sullivan, my advisor at the School of the Art Institute.
Throughout, I had a sense of great responsibility towards Singer’s work. It felt as if I was given a very delicate and beautiful treasure to work with, one that could not be harmed by irresponsible handling. At the same time, I had no interest in merely creating an illustrated version of the story.
The more I read the story, the more I realized how complex and rich it is. I was not happy with the ending, and yet did not want to change it. Thus I chose to end the film with the Gimpel’s conflict unresolved, so that each viewer would have the chance to wonder about Gimpel’s choice, and maybe reflect about their own resolution.
Casting for Gimpel was easy. His character practically drew himself the first time I started sketching for the film. He was part of an unconscious visual dictionary that was suddenly exposed. Later I discovered Mark Chagall and was very much inspired by his ideas and work.
With less then a year to do the actual animation, I first sat down to do some calculations, using the Storyboard and a stop watch to play the film in my mind, and time each scene. Since it is necessary to have at least twelve different drawings for each second of film, I then multiplied the length of the film in seconds by twelve. With each drawing shot twice, you get twenty-four frames per second, which is the screening rate for film projectors.
Then I multiplied the number of drawings with the time it will take me to work on each one. I estimated about five minutes. Added up all the hours I need to spend on sleep, school (I was a full time graduate student then), work and other necessities of life, including time to bum out, and subtracted it from my previous score. This result was the framework that governed my schedule during the next eight months..
Gimpel is made of about 10,000 paper frames. Each frame is made of several layers of letter size typing paper. The top most layer is an ink drawing. The layers underneath have some areas cutout. When all layers are assembled and the frame backlit, the light passes through varying paper densities to create shades and texture. This technique enabled me to be very flexible and quick in building the scenes. Over all I used about 80,000 sheets of typing paper. In the future I plan to create films that are more environmentally friendly through the use of technology. Gimpel however, is very low tech.
I was privileged to have Stuart Rosenberg create the music and sound tracks for Gimpel. People always tell me that the music seems to resonate with them long after they watched the film. This is not a trivial accomplishment: The music and sound effects were written and recorded before the animation was shot. Stuart had only the story, the storyboard and our conversations to work with and I am always amazed by the combination of his intellectual and intuitive ability to sense the role I had for the music in the film. Indeed, I found that collaboration with an artist who works in a different discipline adds an incredible amount of energy to the creative process.
My family was the greatest source of spiritual encouragement and financial support throughout the process. Orit was my chief advisor and critique and her contribution paramount to the success of the film. Towards the end of production she also assisted with the preparation of artwork. Without her I would have never made this film.
As the film’s ‘Artist’ I usually get most of the credit, but many people supported me and helped with advice, critique, labor, and love. I am very fortunate to have had all that.