Oral Histories

Interview of Jules Engel

Animator, director, and filmmaker. Co-founder of Format Films. Founding director and chair of the Department of Animation and Experimental Film at the California Institute of the Arts.
Los Angeles Art Community: Group Portrait, Jules Engel
Los Angeles Art Community - Group Portrait
Film and Television
Biographical Note:
Animator, director, and filmmaker. Co-founder of Format Films. Founding director and chair of the Department of Animation and Experimental Film at the California Institute of the Arts.
Weschler, Lawrence and Zolotow, Milton
Engel, Jules
Persons Present:
Tapes I to III: Engel and Zolotow; Tapes IV-VII: Engel and Weschler.
Place Conducted:
Engel's home in Beverly Hills, California; Engel's studio and office at the California Institute of the Arts in Valencia, California; and the Charles Aidikoff Screening Room in Beverly Hills, California.
Supporting Documents:
Records relating to the interview are located in the office of the UCLA Library's Center for Oral History Research.
Interviewer Background and Preparation:
The interview was conducted by Tapes I-III: Milton Zolotow, graphic designer; Tapes IV-VII: Lawrence Weschler, assistant editor, UCLA Oral History Program; B.A., Philosophy and Cultural History, UC Santa Cruz.Weschler prepared for the interview by viewing some of Engel's experimental films and having Engel discuss them. Further sessions focused on themes which explored in depth the range of Engel's creative activities. In several instances Engel returned to topics previously discussed with Zolotow, in particular Engel's interest in abstract art, his years at Disney Studios and UPA, and his present teaching position at Cal Arts.
Processing of Interview:
Lawrence Weschler edited the entire interview. He checked the verbatim transcript of the interview against the original tape recordings and edited for spelling, punctuation, paragraphing, and verified spelling of proper nouns. Words and phrases inserted for clarity by the editor have been bracketed.Engel reviewed and approved the edited transcript. He made no changes or deletions in the manuscript.Richard Candida Smith, principal editor, wrote the introduction. George Hodak, editorial assistant, prepared the index and the table of contents.
9 hrs.
Regents of the University of California, UCLA Library.
Series Statement:
This series includes interviews with prominent Los Angeles-based visual artists and other members of the art establishment whose careers span the period from the 1920s through the 1970s. It documents the art community of the pre-World War II period and the rise of Los Angeles as a nationally recognized art center in the postwar period. Funding for this series was provided by a grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities.
Childhood in Budapest, Hungary--Arrives in Evanston, Illinois, at age of 13--An affinity for non-figurative design--Moves to Los Angeles--Apprentice animator at Charles Mintz Studio--Interest in movement and rhythm grows out of early exposure to ballet--Kandinsky exhibit--Work at Walt Disney Studios--Fantasia--Professional conflicts--A lack of sympathy for experimentation at Disney.
Los Angeles' shortcomings as an art center--Comparisons with New York--More on work on Fantasia--Discusses his drawings for Fantasia-- Rico Lebrun's work at Disney--Animators in the 1950s--Exhibits of animators' paintings--The hard-edge geometrical style of Engel's paintings--A desire to translate qualities of simplicity and directness from painting into film--Film as a developing art form--More on work at UPA--An emphasis on flat, two-dimensional design at UPA--The UPA look influenced by contemporary painters--Raoul Dufy and the divorced line--The use of color as aspect of dramatic intent--Economy of gesture in UPA films--Robert Cannon, the greatest animator in the business.
On present position as chairman of film graphics department at California Institute of the Arts (Cal Arts)--Interrelationship of film and other art forms at Cal Arts--Early history of Cal Arts--Future trends in the arts--The live-action camera department at Cal Arts--Cal Arts as a reservoir of young talent--A positive working environment at Cal Arts.
Viewing Engel's experimental animation films-- Train Landscape , a painterly approach to filmmaking--Engel's methods of conception and execution--Accident--Shapes and Gesture s, the influence of dance--Landscape , a color-field painting in time--Wet Paint--Fragments.
More on Fragments--Rumble--Engel's working methods--working through instincts rather than formulas--Swan--The hazards of the computer film-- Three Arctic Flowers--Engel's work with computer graphics--Coaraze, a live-action film--Use of still photography in Coaraze--Coaraze wins Prix Vigo and numerous other awards--No commercial distributor opts to handle Coaraze.
Oskar Fischinger--Fischinger's isolation within the Disney Studios--Los Angeles avant-garde painters and animators in 1940s--Fischinger's last years at Disney--More on Engel's teaching at Cal Arts--Disney trustees and the founding of Cal Arts--The evolution and success of the Cal Arts animation program--Engel's teaching methods.
More on teaching at Cal Arts--Student interaction at Cal Arts--Teaching approaches--Kathy Rose, Dennis Pies, and Adam Beckett--On establishing rapport with students--Women in animation.
Preparation for work on live-action films--The Ivory Knife , capturing the environment of the painter Paul Jenkins--Collaboration with Irving Bazilon on film score--Interaction with Jenkins--The Torch and the Torso--Working with Miguel Berrocal--Structural and thematic relations between drama and painting--New York 100 , the work of John Hultberg--Light Motion--Max Bill-- Technical considerations in live-action film-- June Wayne and the Tamarind workshop--Engel's introduction to lithography--Working environment at Tamarind.
More on June Wayne and Tamarind Workshop--The Look of a Lithographer--Ken Tyler and Gemini Editions, Ltd.--Robert Rauschenberg , Jasper Johns, Claes Oldenburg, and Frank Stella work at Gemini--Cirrus Editions--Engel's lithographic work--Engel on the status of film as an art form--Is film a "medium of consequence"?
Childhood interest in abstraction--Family background--First encounters with the work of Kandinsky--Engel's working methods--Connections between the mediums in which Engel works--Engel's relations with dealers: Paul Kantor, Esther Robles, Felix Landau, and Irving Blum--More on limits of Los Angeles as an art center--Comparisons with New York.
More on interest in abstraction--The "Four Abstract Classicists" show at Los Angeles County Museum--A developmental survey of the phases of Engel's artistic career--Establishing depth with color--The straight line--Engel's love of urban life--Living and working in Los Angeles--Animation, painting, lithography, and film--Future directions for Engel--Future trends for young artists and filmmakers--The bankruptcy of magic realism.