Attending the Perpetual Motion Pictures Retrospective was like being given a seat at the dinner table of 6 dear friends reminiscing on all the good times and hilarious experiences they’d had together. It was a joyous look at not only a studio but also a place where lasting friendships were made, and out of which tremendous talent flowed.
On Friday, October 12, 2012, ASIFA-East and the School of Visual Arts Animation Department held a screening, panel discussion, and reunion with the artists behind Perpetual Motion Pictures. On the stage were Mordicai Gerstein (award-winning children’s book writer and illustrator who worked as animation designer/director on many commercials and also directed the first Berenstain Bears’ holiday special for Perpetual), and 4 others who started their careers at Perpetual: Russell Calabrese (Los Angeles based animator/animation director), JJ Sedelmaier (owner/producer/director of JJ Sedelmaier Productions), Thomas Schlamme (director/co-creator of The West Wing, Studio 60 and The Sunset Strip and Miss Firecracker) and Candy Kugel (co-owner of Buzzco Associates/animation director/designer. The illustrious Tom Warburton of Kid’s Next Door and Fishooks fame moderated the panel.
Being part of the audience watching all these animation veterans talk and share their memories was really enjoyable for me. I was just a child when many of the specials such as the Strawberry Shortcake in Big Apple City and the Berenstain Bears shorts came out on TV. It was really fascinating to hear the stories of a studio that employed over 70 people working on commercial spots and programming from 1970 – 1982. Many of its artists have gone to form successful studios of their own, many of which have employed the artists of my generation!
Perpetual was founded by two guys who met at Stars and Stripes Productions Forever. A producer: Buzz Potmakin, and a Designer/Director: Hal Silvermintz. They were an amazing team and it’s often thought they represented the left and right sides of the brain respectively. Many of the panelists onstage shared their impressions of Hal and Buzz, and spoke of how the studio was always up for trying something new that hadn’t been done before, even if they doubted it could be done. Everyone was very young and enthusiastic, ready to try anything. A wide variety of styles were used in the creation of the animation, in an effort to keep extending the medium.
In between clips of commercial spots and television specials, the panelists spoke of particular experiences they had working on those spots. They also shared some hilarious disaster stories, which I can’t give justice to by attempting to retell them here. But they involved a Xerox machine, electrocution, a fusing box, and a propane tank explosion. Mordicai told of how he worked on thousands of commercials in the 60’s that were a minute long, which was like working on a feature. Candy shared that some of these companies such as 3M Company and Dupont were getting a lot of grief over their involvement in helping supply the Vietnam War effort. They commissioned ad agencies that thought animation would soften their image and gave the work to Perpetual to make commercials in an attempt to bolster their image to consumers.
Perpetual also worked on a number of spots for the News, as well as NBC’s Weekend spots. They created about 200 of these over 5 years for NBC, and many of the panelists onstage took part in the story meetings and contributed ideas for the scripts. Russell in particular noticed a huge difference between the NY animation industry and the industry in LA. He recalled how he wasn’t pigeonholed at Perpetual into one specialty of animation. Rather he was encouraged and had the chance to work on a little bit of everything from writing to designing. In LA, most artists specialize in one facet of production, and jumping around between different departments and positions just isn’t seen as much there.
Of all the spots shown, I particularly enjoyed a Hawaiian Punch spot with a hilarious focus on the 7 different types of fruit that make up the punch, followed by a voiceover detailing that it only contained 10% juice. The Strawberry Shortcake special also got lots of laughs. Watching many of these clips was like stepping back into time. Many will also remember the MTV ID Spot on the moon, animated by Candy Kugel.
After the panel discussion, folks headed out to the lobby for a reception. Many of the artists from Perpetual were in attendance, Ink and Painters Rose Eng and Marilyn Carrington, Background Artists Linda Daurio and Cotty Kilbanks, Animator Doug Crane, Layout Artist Wayne Becker, former Assistants Doug Compton, Don Poynter, Editor Jon Levy, Producers David Sameth and Marilyn Kraemer, Composer and many more.
It was a really lovely evening, and in a year that saw the passing of many animation greats, it was wonderful to hear all the stories of these talented artists of Perpetual. Buzz’s widow, Rosie Potamkin and Hal’s son, Mitchell Silvermintz were thrilled to have the studio recognized and meet up with old friends. The very last clip shown was a touching tribute film to Vincent Cafarelli by Candy Kugel, with whom she’d worked with for 38 years and who was a dear friend. Vincent passed in December 2011.
Author’s note: A compilation of photos and captions may be found at the bottom of this post: https://asifaeast.com/aNYmator/2012/09/24/asifa-east-presents-an-evening-celebrating-perpetual-motion-pictures/. Michael Sporn has also written a wonderful article on our event on his Splog, with a number of great photos from the event posted: http://www.michaelspornanimation.com/splog/?p=3174. My own crappy camera yielded blurry photos which can be see on our Facebook Group, Friends of ASIFA-East.