The New York animation community has had a tough few months. Several old hands in the industry have passed away, including Tony Eastman, Doug Crane, and now Vinnie Bell, who passed away February 1 at his home in Port Chester, New York.
A brilliant animator, Vincent “Vinnie” Bell started out in the ink and paint department — and soon moved into animation — at Terrytoons, then in full modernist swing under Gene Deitch’s leadership. He went on to work for a string of prominent New York studios in his half-century career, among them Pintoff Productions, John and Faith Hubley’s Hubley Studios, Perpetual Motion Pictures (later Buzzco Productions), and J.J. Sedelmaier Productions.
Bell animated and did layouts on a wide variety of projects, including countless spots, segments for Saturday Night Live, The Electric Company, and The Daily Show, series such as MTV’s Beavis and Butt-Head and Adult Swim’s Harvey Birdman, Attorney at Law, and shorts like the Oscar-nominated Sidney’s Family Tree and BAFTA-nominated The Interview.
In his Facebook tribute, J.J. Sedelmaier wrote:
Vinnie was such a sweet man and one of the head animators I met at my first professional studio staff job at Perpetual Motion Pictures. He shared a corner office with the other Vinny — Cafarelli. He was quick, funny, and warm.
When Perpetual Motion split, he freelanced, but I wouldn’t work closely with him again until the 1990s when Patrice and I opened [J.J. Sedelmaier Productions]. If Vinnie wasn’t able to come by White Plains to drop off/pick up scenes to work on, it was only a short drive from the studio to Vinnie’s apartment in Port Chester where I’d pick up his animation so that the studio could jump in on his tasty animated gems.
Vincent L. Bell was born on October 27, 1931 to the late Vincenzo Iacobelli and Mariee (DiDonato) Iacobelli. He was the second of four sons. Before entering the animation industry, Bell served in the U.S. military during the Korean War.
Bell is survived by his children Scott, Stephen (Lisa), and Leslie, and three grandchildren – Julia, Emily and Liam. He is predeceased by his brothers Michael, Anthony, and John.
Below, we’ve rounded up five memorable projects to which Bell lent his prodigious talents…
In one of his early credits, Bell animated on Terrytoons’ Sick, Sick Sidney (1958), which marked the official debut of Sidney the Elephant — one of the studio’s more popular characters in the Deitch era. Bell would also work on the second Sidney short, Sidney’s Family Tree, which was produced later the same year.
Bell animated this spot for Sugus candy while at Pintoff Productions. The studio had been set up in the late 1950s by Ernest Pintoff, a writer and filmmaker who had worked at UPA and Terrytoons. Pintoff liked his films brief and boldly designed, encouraging his artists “to just whale it out.”
With Al Chiarito, Bell animated the amusing 1960 short The Interview for Pintoff Productions. The film enacts a (staged) conversation between a prim interviewer and a disengaged beatnik jazz musician, reflecting Ernest Pintoff’s interest in jazz.
A stint at the Hubleys’ Storyboard Studios in the 1970s saw Bell animate on Dig, an educational short that traces a rock’s journey through the earth’s layers. Bonus: a quirky soundtrack by Quincy Jones.
In 1998, Bell was the directing animator on Conspiracy Theory Rock, a Saturday Night Live segment produced by J.J. Sedelmaier Productions which parodied Schoolhouse Rock! educational series. A humorous satire of corporate influence on the media, it was cut from reruns, giving rise to a theory that it had been banned by SNL network NBC for political reasons. SNL producer Lorne Michaels refuted that (see this Snopes article for more).