Sunday, September 06, 2009

Mike Mitchell
(1920-2009)

Mike Mitchell passed away today, leaving a big eye-patch-shaped hole in the hearts of a lot of CalArtians out there. All CalArts students start their animation career with Mike's figure drawing class. It wasn't called Figure Drawing I, or Beginner's Figure Drawing, because that wasn't Mike's style. Even the name of his class had to break the mold and set the stage for some serious out-of-the-box thinking. Plus, Mike didn't think of anyone as beginner artists, he held our work with as much esteem as a peer, so he called it From Real to Reel. Cheesy? Yes. Pretentious? Maaaaybe. Heck, there may have even been a subtitle, but it eludes me now. But that truly was the intention of the class: to inspire our filmwork and to use our observations from life to fuel our animation so that our films didn't become imitations of other "cartoons."

Mike had the true artist's spirit of creativity and rebellion, and encouraged students to look at the life models in new ways, even if it meant dragging in the skeletal remains of a motorcycle or a creepy wooden gazelle for the model to pose with. His room was called the Palace, and while it was used for department meetings, guest lectures, and special events, everyone referred to it as Mike Mitchell's room. Every week of my first year at CalArts, I looked forward to Fridays in Mike's class and the silent competition to win the old master's affection and earn a spot for one of my drawings on his wall. I'm eternally grateful to have known and learned from the man. I know the eye-patch-shaped hole will never be filled, but I hope that we all strive to achieve what Mike always encouraged us to do: forge our own us-shaped niches in an industry that all too often would have us shaped like cogs instead.

Scott Bromley, Ken Perkins, and Ron Yavnieli's 2003 Producer's Show intro featured muppet versions of Mike and fellow life-drawing legend, Corny Cole. This is just a small glimpse into the respect and affection CalArts had for the man who had started them off on their road to animation greatness.

4 comments:

Highflyin' V said...

This is a very nice mini-obituary, Austin. Bravo.

Bralyollyoxenfree said...

I can't believe he's dead. I was so shocked when I saw the headline of your post, my brain didn't even register it for a full minute or so. I consider my self extremely lucky to have had Mike as my instructor for two years. He was encouraging, insightful, and ever patient.

Courtney Pearson said...

"forge our own us-shaped niches in an industry that all too often would have us shaped like cogs instead."

Your/his words are very inspiring. This is indeed a great loss.

Ian Worrel said...

Well said