ANIMATION ANECDOTES
January 16, 2015 posted by

Animation Anecdotes #195

Unproduced Don Bluth Films. Here are two more pitches that the Bluth studio prepared to pitch back in the 1980s and 90s – two projects that might have been.

SATYRDAY. Prior to the start of An American Tail (1986), Don Bluth bought the rights to the book Satyrday by Stephen Bauer. It was a strange tale of the last human, living in a world of mysticism and darkness. A giant owl steals, with the help of ravens who are his minions, the moon , which is depicted as a young girl in a glowing, glass sphere. The owl hopes to keep the world in darkness and thus rule it.

The story is about a young boy along with his Satyr friend and a beautiful werefox who all journey to rescue the moon and discover the fate of the human race. Even though Bluth stated that most of the book would not transfer well, he was fascinated by the relationship of the owl, the darkness and the boy and stated that it was similar to the relationship of Shere Kahn and Mowgli from Disney’s The Jungle Book (1967).

satyrday1satyrday-pencil satyrday2

KANDU, SONG OF THE ICE WHALE. Kandu, Song of the Ice Whale was a never produced feature from Don Bluth based on the real life incident in 1989 where three gray whales were caught in the rapidly forming ice at Point Barrow, Alaska. Countries around the world spent millions of dollars to free the whales before they could perish. Bluth finally abandoned the project in the early 1990s.


Groening Thoughts. “It’s very tempting,” said cartoonist Matt Groening, creator of The Simpsons in 2007, “to put my hand on an animator’s shoulder and go, ‘Why don’t you just try….?’ You can just feel the muscle tension ripple through the shirt. So I try not to do that, except when absolutely necessary. We do jokes that we love for the first 150 times and then we suddenly go, ‘Eh, change it’.”


Who Was Brenda Banks? The first black Female animator may have been the mysterious Brenda Banks from Georgia.

As animation legend Ralph Bakshi remembered: “This young girl, her name is Brenda Banks, okay? I’m doing Wizards, she comes in off the street…she comes in and says, “I want to animate.” Just like that.

“[I asked her] “Why’d you come here?” “I like your movies,” [she said]. “Did you ever animate?” “No.” “Did anyone ever let you animate?” “No.” “Why do you think you can animate?” “I want to animate.”

“[I asked her] “Where you’re from” [and she replied] “Georgia, somewhere.” “How’d you get here?” “Walked. Train.”

Ralph asked what she liked to animate and she said “funny stuff”. He assigned her to work on some of the goons in Wizards (1977) because he felt that the main characters had to be animated perfectly but with the goons it was okay for her to make mistakes on them.

“I figured if she can’t do that then she can’t do anything. So I sat her down at desk figuring she was going to fail miserably. She was one of the most hysterically funniest animators I had ever worked with actually. She was such a naturally gifted girl that anything she did on the goons was the gooniest thing you ever saw in your whole life. She became the star of the goons at the studio.”

Actually, Banks had had a handful of previous professional animation credits before walking into Bakshi’s studio.

She continued working on other Bakshi’s features from The Lord of the Rings (1978) to Fire and Ice (1983) before leaving to work at Warner Brothers on the Looney Tunes characters for television specials, Hanna-Barbera on The Pirates of Dark Water and The Smurfs and even Fox’s The Simpsons.

She has quite an impressive resume of work. She disappeared after doing animation layout for the television series King of the Hill from 1997 to 2005 and no biographical information other than her work itself seems to exist.

I have recently done some research and Brenda Banks may not be the first black female animator although there is no doubt that she was incredibly talented and prolific. Apparently a Jackie Banks (who died in 1995) may have done some animation work for Bob Clampett and Dr. Ayoka Chenzira supposedly did some animation in her earliest films back in 1971.

I am posting this piece in the hopes that those knowledgeable folks who read this column may have some more insight on Brenda Banks and Jackie Banks in particular.


Walter Lantz Overseas. According to the Stars And Stripes newspaper from December 8, 1969, animation legend Walter Lantz and his wife Gracie were on a whirlwind thirty-one day tour set up by the USO and Special Services Department to visit Japan, Korea, Okinawa, the Philippines, Guam and Hawaii.

Walt and Gracie. The  photo on top from Seoul American School.  The photo below from an American hospital.

Walt and Gracie. The photo on top from Seoul American School. The photo below from an American hospital.

“While in Japan we visited seven hospitals and saw all the boys back from Vietnam,” recalled the cartoonist. “At first I thought this was going to be hard to take, all the wounded and everything, but after seeing their smiling faces and their friendly greetings, it was a joy to be there,” stated Lantz.

"Guess Who?"

“Guess Who?”

“I guess the key to them knowing us was Woody Woodpecker, although most of them didn’t know Gracie did the voice. But they all recognized it when she chimed out the famous call. One boy, who had a stomach wound, asked her not to do it anymore because he laughed so hard he was afraid his stitches would come out.”

“It seems like they all had tape recorders and wanted to tape me doing Woody’s call,” Gracie recalled. “One soldier said he was going to play it at four o’clock in the morning to give everyone a start.”

When asked by one of the soldiers why she was wearing dark glasses, Gracie replied, “I wear them so everyone will know I’m from Hollywood.” “I wear them to cover up the bags under my eyes,” quipped Walter.

“You see, we’re not entertainers or movie stars. We don’t put on an act or anything like that. We just came over to tell the boys what we think about them and appreciate what they’re doing for us,” said Gracie. “We see as many of the boys as we can everyday. On Thanksgiving they tried to give us the day off to rest, but I told them if we wanted a day off we would have stayed in Hollywood.”

19 Comments

  • One of my favorite Walter Lantz “fun facts” is that his brother, Michael, was a very talented sculptor who, among other things, created the famous “Man Controlling Trade” sculptures at the FTC building in DC: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Sculpture_%22Man_Controlling_Trade%22_1_by_Michael_Lantz.jpg

  • Not sure where she is these days, but Brenda left Bakshi’s prior to Fire and ice while we were working on a couple of shorts while the F&I script was being written and re-written.
    She had a tremendous amount of natural talent and we’d often hear her guffawing at her own work as she drew

  • If I remember correctly Brenda Banks had been a student of Jules Engel at the Film Graphics program at Cal Arts before 1975. Jules had kept some of her cleaned-up animation on a wall. You could try contacting the school to find her home information during that era.

  • I knew Jackie Banks when she worked as a checker at H-B. A sweet, smart and lovely woman, but she never mentioned doing any other function in animation. The Clampett reference is interesting, though, because Bob believed in hiring minorities and Jackie was not only a woman, she was black.

    • I remember Jackie Banks at HB on Cahuenga Blvd, in 1964. She was a painter then.

  • Evil owls and eternal darkness . . . shades of Rock a Doodle.

    • It does definitely feel like a proto-Rock-A-Doodle that way, at least Don knew how to keep these ideas for later.

    • Although I’m guessing “Satyrday’ might have turned out better than “Rock-a-doodle” ultimately did.

    • Although I’m guessing “Satyrday’ might have turned out better than “Rock-a-doodle” ultimately did.

      I bet it would. Somehow I wanted to go spoil myself with seeing how Satryday ends, turns out nothing online like a Wiki article. Still, if the boy found out the ugly true of his species’ end, he can at least take into consideration the good friends he has and can live a happy life through that (or maybe he could test his virility and mate with one of these other species later, at least to keep the genes alive, however way they’ll mutate over the coming centuries and millenniums. Of course I’m going too far here and that’s probably not what happened (but it is fodder for certain groups out there that love those kind of stories of hybrid furries).

  • I knew Brenda Banks back in 1971 when we both worked at Bosustow Productions in West LA. She seemed to me to be a ‘natural’ animator. She was quite eccentric and left work early every day to watch the Three Stooges on TV. Apparently, she had a sort of fixation on them. She also liked drawing shoes, as I recall.

  • I think Bluth should make another pitch for SATYRDAY. There’s something very furrie-esque about it that might do well right now.

    • Wow, don’t even start! They would so crowd-source this one for Don.

  • Even though Bluth stated that most of the book would not transfer well, he was fascinated by the relationship of the owl, the darkness and the boy and stated that it was similar to the relationship of Shere Kahn and Mowgli from Disney’s The Jungle Book (1967).

    Still for a what-if, that would’ve been something at least. Were would he have gone with the story I suppose will remain a mystery to use, though I’m sure the budding furry community of the time would’ve ate it up. Satyrs and werefoxes galore!

    KANDU, SONG OF THE ICE WHALE. Kandu, Song of the Ice Whale was a never produced feature from Don Bluth based on the real life incident in 1989 where three gray whales were caught in the rapidly forming ice at Point Barrow, Alaska. Countries around the world spent millions of dollars to free the whales before they could perish. Bluth finally abandoned the project in the early 1990s.

    Oh I remember when that story broke, I think I was still in the 6th grade and we were all hoping the whales would be freed. Of course, looking back, I’m not sure if I would’ve wanted to have an animated movie based on that, knowing what Don or whoever would’ve done to get it made at all (throw in a few songs and additional sidekick characters, probably give us a clear villain to boot). This is something that would’ve worked as a TV special I feel.

    Actually, Banks had had a handful of previous professional animation credits before walking into Bakshi’s studio.

    I noticed she was on a few things for DePatie-Freleng prior to Wizards like my favorite Dr. Suess special, The Hoober-Bloob Highway. Perhaps she was desperate to animate for Ralph if she didn’t have anything else to do at that time (sorta like Mark Kausler bouncing around studios doing freelance then).

    She has quite an impressive resume of work. She disappeared after doing animation layout for the television series King of the Hill from 1997 to 2005 and no biographical information other than her work itself seems to exist.

    It is a shame she just kinda dropped off the face of the earth here. I suppose she simply got burned out after 30-some years.

    I am posting this piece in the hopes that those knowledgeable folks who read this column may have some more insight on Brenda Banks and Jackie Banks in particular.

    it would be nice if something does come up for either (especially Brenda if she ever does get contacted somehow and gives her side of the story on how she got into biz at that point in time). I’m sure she has quite a lot to tell there.

  • I knew Brenda Banks pretty well back in the day. She was, indeed, a natural talent. I always thought she was a little backward socially, but very sharp when it came to timing and thinking up ideas for her scenes. We both worked on a compilation feature for Warner Bros. called “Quackbusters”, and she did the animation of Egghead for a little sequence, with me doing my Joe Penner impression for his voice. I wanted to animate Egghead myself, but Brenda got the assignment and did very well with it. She also did an independent short about an enchanted frog, but I can’t remember the title. (Might have been “The Story of the Prince Frog” or some such.) Brenda got pretty far in the industry for somebody who didn’t communicate especially well verbally. She apparently didn’t survive the digital era, like so many old friends from the time when cartoons were living drawings. I hope she is alive and well someplace.

    • I knew Brenda Banks pretty well back in the day. She was, indeed, a natural talent. I always thought she was a little backward socially, but very sharp when it came to timing and thinking up ideas for her scenes. We both worked on a compilation feature for Warner Bros. called “Quackbusters”, and she did the animation of Egghead for a little sequence, with me doing my Joe Penner impression for his voice. I wanted to animate Egghead myself, but Brenda got the assignment and did very well with it.

      That was such a cool moment both of you did there, Mark (it really stood out the most). It was great to see Egghead used in something at that time as well. It was the only one of those Looney Tune compilation movies I could tolerate due to the creative approach they went with stringing the new footage together with the classic shorts. I always felt Ford and Lennon knew these characters in and out when they were doing their projects with them.

      She also did an independent short about an enchanted frog, but I can’t remember the title. (Might have been “The Story of the Prince Frog” or some such.)

      Too ad there’s no IMD entry for that or I would’ve seen if I could track it down somehow.

      Brenda got pretty far in the industry for somebody who didn’t communicate especially well verbally. She apparently didn’t survive the digital era, like so many old friends from the time when cartoons were living drawings. I hope she is alive and well someplace.

      Hopefully. I know I’d be said to learn one day of her passing if or when that comes up, hopefully she is set for life at this point. I noticed she did do a couple of projects involving video/computer games like “Boogerman” and “The Simpsons: Virtual Springfield”, but I guess it was not enough, though I do wonder who she would’ve handled Flash.

  • As to the Ice Whale idea, it DID become a movie! Big Miracle starring Drew Barrymore. Bluth is a tragic figure in animation. So much potential….

    • That’s always been his fate, really. Usually it’s a matter of getting the right parties to finance his endeavors.

  • It should be noted that the IMDB entry on Brenda Banks isn’t 100% up to date. She worked on King of the Hill through its final season- her name appears in the credits of the 2009 episode “The Boy Can’t Help It” as a storyboard revisionist. Granted, that episode aired a few years ago by now, but it’s more recent than 2005, at least.

    • That’s always the case with IMDB, I’m sure it takes a lot of research to add that info in, nice if she made it that far to the end.

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