Jan Svochak (1926-2006)

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J.J. Sedelmaier sends us this sad news:

I just wanted to let you and others know that Jan Svochak passed away yesterday afternoon. He was 80 years old. Most people know Jan’s work from the years he put in on the Hawaiian Punch campaign. He was the head animator from the 60′s up to the early 90′s. His hand also steered the design consistency.Jan Svochak was born in Czechoslovakia, moved to the U.S. in the 30′s and then returned to Europe to fight in WWII (he was in the tank corps that liberated Dachau). After the war, he worked at Famous Studios in NYC and assisted Marty Taras on series like Baby Huey, Little Audrey, and Herman & Katnip. He also freelanced for Pelican Films, Byron Rabbitt, Zanders, Perpetual Motion Pictures, Buzzco, Ink Tank, Jumbo, and here at JJSP. While at Perpetual Motion Pictures, Jan, Candy Kugel, (i think Vinnie Caffarelli) and Russel Calabrese did the “Mr. Hipp” series of cartoons for NBC’s Saturday evening “Weekend” program in the early 1970′s, a precursor to SNL. He, his wife Cheryl and their two sons had recently moved to Florida. He’ll be terribly missed. . .

Addendum from Buzz Potamkin:

I was very saddened to read of Jan’s passing; he was truly a prince among animators.It was more than 30 years ago when I first brought Jan to Perpetual, at the time BBDO took over the Hawaiian Punch account and brought Punchie back to life. Jack Zander had always touted his talents to me, but didn’t prepare me for the wisdom and wit that came along with Jan.His belief in his art and craft were such that soon I got to know Punchie as a real live entity; the agency creative group soon got tired to me saying “Punchie wouldn’t do that” when Jan grumbled about some piece of business or another. And that belief in his characters went beyond commercials.Mr. Hipp grew out of a joke from Reuven Frank at NBC News. He was brought to life by Hal Silvermintz’s design and direction – and also by Jan’s ready identification with the character. For nearly 5 years, and 26 or so shorts, Jan breathed life into the character – true animation (“bringing to life”). Hal and I may have written them (with help from Reuven), and David Morris, Vinnie Caf, or others may have had input, but I always knew that Jan would straighten it out and make it work for Mr. Hipp.Jan was one of the true princes, and I for one will miss him.

Candy Kugel (of Buzzco) sent in these memories:

May I add a couple of words about Jan Svochak? Jan Svochak came to Perpetual Motion Pictures around the time it was expanding its offices on E. 48th Street. By the time the office space and personnel doubled, he was put on permanent staff, and he and I were placed in adjacent cubicles behind the ink and paint department. We had to share a telephone, so there was a little window cut into the plasterboard where we could pass the receiver from desk to desk. I was the youngest (and only female) animator there – Jan was a veteran. To say we had different outlooks on life would be an understatement. His favorite story, usually repeated when I brought tour groups of young students around, was his beginning at the inbetween department of Famous Studios. He said that on that first day, he started with another young man. They sat next to each other and, sweating bullets, attempted to make the inbetweens of a seemingly endless folder of extreme drawings. Came lunch time, this other young man adjusted his necktie, put on his jacket, wiped his brow and said, “I’m leaving”. Jan imagined that he became a great success in some other field. And he would end with this piece of advice: “Get out of this racket!”But despite his gruff manner, we became good friends. He taught me about physics (watch the weight!) and through his listening to Danny Stiles (we also shared the radio) I was introduced to standards of the 40′s and 50′s, including our favorite, Spike Jones. We were both working on the Weekend pieces – Buzz was right, I generally did not work on the Mr. Hipps (there were a couple of exceptions when deadlines were tight) but was responsible for the “other” one-minute piece for the month – but as we both had the same rhythm of work due, found camaraderie in that.
After Perpetual was no longer “perpetual” and we formed Buzzco Associates, Jan continued to work with us until poor health made that impossible. After that, he and I found ourselves on the Annuity and Welfare Board of Local 644 (who took over the the animation union after Screen Cartoonists 841 folded). No matter how frail, Jan was always in there kicking– his keen mind never losing focus. His memory never failed him. He came to many of our Christmas parties and continued to talk to Vinny and me by telephone. I find it hard to believe that these calls won’t happen again. My heart goes out to Cherie and the kids.

Check out one of the first HAWAIIAN PUNCH commercials from 1961 (though this one was animated by Rod Scribner).