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The Amazing Animated Life of Fred Kopietz

Fred Kopietz

If you have the slightest interest in classic Hollywood animation, do not miss this colossal 1991 interview with Fred Kopietz conducted by Michael Barrier.

Fred who? Kopietz is not a household name by any stretch of the imagination, even amongst animation historians, but he was a distinguished contributor to the Golden Age of animation who worked on Flip the Frog cartoons with Ub Iwerks, Oswald cartoons with Walter Lantz, and animated for years at Disney. Barrier’s interview with him sheds light on familiar studios, artists, and cartoons from a completely fresh perspective. Kopietz is remarkably modest throughout the interview, so much so that one might not realize how respected he was by his peers. There’s a good reason that Ward Kimball used Kopietz as his right-hand man on the title song animation of The Three Caballeros.

At nearly twenty thousand words, Barrier’s interview contains a veritable treasure trove of stories and insights, such as how Kopietz helped Chuck Jones get his first job in animation, wonderful descriptions of Lantz’s studio operations in the 1930s, Kopietz’s frustrations with how credit was doled out at Disney, why he refused to work with Woolie Reitherman, and his disastrous experience trying to direct Beany and Cecil for Bob Clampett. Amusingly, the interview is also peppered with Kopietz’s recollections about where various artists lived owing to the fact that he had a real estate broker’s license.

(Photo: Fred Kopietz on the right, with Ward Kimball)

  • Back in the sixties, Ward Kimball called again on Fred Kopietz to assist him on the Ludvig Von Drakes he was animating. Although Ward could have animated the stuff in his sleep.

    I was amazed at Kimball’s roughs. They were so simple, and yet so complete. I lucked out and was able to assist Ward on a few scenes myself, but Fred Kopietz was an amazing artist.

  • The interview is wonderful. It’s long and takes you through many studios from Ub Iwerks, to Lantz, to Disney, to Clampett, to Hanna Barbera and back several times to several of them. It’s a deliciously long interview, and you get the feeling that Kopietz is a good guy who says what he thinks of people without maliciously trying to slander them (as opposed to most people today). It’s a great read, and I’d encourage everyone to read it. Many thanks to Mike Barrier for posting it.

  • Great interview . Many thanks to Michael Barrier for sharing this transcription.

    Reading the reminiscences of Fred Kopietz I am reminded of many of the veteran animators and assistants who I was fortunate enough to meet at the tail end of their careers (the start of mine) in the mid-to-late 80’s . So many great talents who were never in the spotlight , but who were significant contributors to the Golden Age. I never met Fred Kopietz , but now I feel like I know him a little bit. The interview is a wonderful slice-of-life , giving an authentic feeling of what it was like day-to-day in an animation studio.

    Michael Barrier’s site is full of treasures like this interview and I can only hope that he continues to post more of his collected interviews with the veterans of the Golden Age studios.

  • The Gee

    One minor thing about it that is interesting is not only does he seem to acknowledge that there are specialists and generalists, he’s a generalist. He did a variety of things throughout his career. And, he seemed pleased to continue learning when he was assisting. That’s cool.

    His modesty shines through when he discusses a lot of those things. Though, obviously, the sticking point of fair pay was important. You’d think at some point, almost at any studio, his experience and versatility would have been rewarded. But, he also repeats a point about Disney and how it seemed to work there which addresses why that inequity/unfairness may have happened.

    As for the creative aspects of the business, it is great slice of history and it is always cool to find out what things were considered and considered important by the earlier animators.

    Question: there were parts of the interview which notes indicated were not included, like the bit on Chuck Jones. Does anyone know why that may have been removed? I find it hard to think he was badmouthing Jones, given the other things he says about him.

  • Jenny Lerew

    I saw this the other night and was about to post on it-came here, and voila! Scooped again! But it’s all good.

    That Kopietz interview is absolute solid gold. Everyone who works in animation should read it, not only for the priceless historical interest, but because the situations remembered by Kopietz are very relevant to anyone in the business today. Lots to learn from there.
    Michael Barrier’s site is indispensable. Awful to think what animation scholarship would be now if he hadn’t been doing these interviews decades ago. Really, we’re all in his debt.

  • The Gee

    For the love of all that is animation, this topic should get more comments. It is a completely serious topic. Completely ernest.

    Barrier’s interviews are good reads and the fact that he knows his stuff seems to make his interviews better.

    • The Gee – Totally agree with you. This interview and the new Andreas Deja blog are the most significant animation topics posted this week, but only a handful of comments compared to topics such as “My Little Pony” fans. Oh, well …