Cartoon Brew TV #5: Hairyman

Steven Subotnick‘s film Hairyman began as an interpretation of an American folk tale from the South, but the idea evolved in an unexpected fashion that weaves back and forth between narrative and abstract imagery. The film’s striking images were created on underlit etched cels rubbed with lithographic ink, as well as some scenes that are simply ink-on-paper.

Subotnick, an independent filmmaker and a teacher at Rhode Island School of Design, is a graduate of the experimental animation program at CalArts, which was run by the late Jules Engel. In this video interview with Engel, he talks about how he came to accept Subotnick specifically into the school’s animation program.

Here is some background about Hairyman from an interview that Subotnick did with Lumen Eclipse:

‘Hairyman’ was shot on film. By the way, I had to shoot it three times, because there was a burr in the camera’s transport mechanism which kept scratching the negative. The film was inspired by a folk tale from Appalachia called ‘Wiley and the Hairy Man.’ It was about a wild, half-devil, wild man, who lives in the forests and eats children who wander in. A little boy named Wiley, with the help of his grandmother, tricks the Hairy Man three times, which magically makes Wiley safe. I developed three characters based on the folk tale: Hairyman, of course, and I changed the boy to a little girl, and the grandmother. And, rather than tell the story — I did actually storyboard the story several times, but I realized I was more interested in what the characters were rather than the folk tale. I began animating the characters improvisationally – like improvisational theater. When I accumulated enough scenes like this, I began editing them, and working with sound. I kept rearranging sequences until particular cuts began to suggest a narrative flow. So the narrative was woven out of the original improvisational scenes.

For the sound, I worked with Caleb Sampson. He was a sound designer who had worked with other independent filmmakers, like Flip Johnson and Amy Kravitz. He was one of the founding members of the Alloy Orchestra. I met with him actually for an earlier film. I went to his studio with my film, and he said ‘I found this zither recently.’ It was missing strings and it was all out of tune, but he began strumming the zither. We played the film, and the two of us just kept making noises with the zither and our voices, watching the film. At one point, he started screaming and grunting while he played. Well, it didn’t work for the film I was scoring, but later, when I was working on ‘Hairyman,’ I pulled out Caleb’s screaming and zither. His sound was a crucial element to ‘Hairyman’.


  • http://michaelbedard.com michael bedard

    Very inspiring! I love how the characters spin into an alternate universe of pure creativity that transcends the story and need for a moral closure. The music and sound drove the visuals nicely.

    Thanks, I needed that.

  • TStevens

    I like the look and the design: it works for the concept. However I need a little more to hang my hat on. Either you completely break from traditional storytelling or you go for a more dreamlike, surrealistic approach. This felt like it was stuck somewhere in the middle: all of the pieces are there but they don’t seem to amount to much.

  • http://www.elliotelliotelliot.com Elliot Cowan

    Hairyman is ME!
    Goodness!

  • William Ansley

    I haven’t particularly cared for any of the Cartoon Brew TV films so far. I think I may have enjoyed Hairyman the most. But I am delighted to have been given the opportunity to have seen all of these films and I applaud the concept of Cartoon Brew TV. I hope it continues for many years and is eventually able to get access to copyrighted animated works which are currently almost impossible to see, such as George Dunning’s “Damon the Mower” which blew my mind when I saw it on PBS many years ago. (It was on a program along with Norman McLaren’s “Neighbours” and Sally Cruikshank’s “Face Like a Frog”. I have no idea what the title of the program was anymore.) Please keep up the variety. There is nothing wrong with showing “non-cartoony” animated works such as “Doxology” on Cartoon Brew, in my opinion. I greatly enjoyed Jerry Beck and Mark Kausler’s commentary on “Dinner Time” and am eagerly looking forward to more “Brew Vault” episodes.

    I would love it if CBTV could grow into a successor to the wonderful PBS program “The International Animation Festival”, which was hosted by Jean Marsh, and was my first glimpse into the world of animation beyond Disney movies and American network television.

  • Mark H.

    Loaded with politically incorrect images. I love it!

  • Saturnome

    Oh yes! I’d love to see Damon the Mower, it’s one of the 4 films of the animation olympics of 1984 list I haven’t seen, and I’m a sad completist. Who knows what CBTV could bring up the future :)

    I liked Hairyman and it’s dreamlike quality, Though I was looking for at straight-foward story at first and left me confused. I went to see Subotnick’s other shorts on his website.

  • Nick Lakiotes

    Reminds me of the Molly Bang book : Wiley and the Hairy Man. Another interpretation of an American folk tale from the South. Great film!

  • http://gavinball.blogspot.com Gavin Ball

    I too was a bit confused by this, I kept waiting for something to happen that would tie it all together. I did like the use of animation though. Maybe it’s just too early in the morning…

  • tim!

    Super rad! i love the loops!
    is there a place where animators and students can upload morph and loop works? that would be super great, this was really great, but i would love to see a place to watch experiments and works in progress!

    Thanks for another heads up CB kids!

  • http://langanfilms.com Michael Langan

    My favorite film by one of my heros. It’s also great to see the video of Jules Engel describing his selection process at CalArts in the link within the film description.