Thursday, September 29, 2011

Part 3. Fire & Ice: Tom Kinkade

The other background painter on the movie Fire and Ice was Tom Kinkade (misspelled Kincade in the credits). This was several years before he became Thomas Kinkade, “The Painter of Light.” At the time I knew him he was painting gritty city scenes and Indian teepees. 

That’s me on the left and Tom on the right, working at Ralph Bakshi’s animation studio in Burbank, California, I believe in 1981.

Here’s the painting I have on my board in that photo, an establishing shot of “Fire Keep,” the castle of the good guys in the movie.

Tom and I had been assigned to each other as freshman roommates a few years earlier in 1976 at the University of California at Berkeley. He headed down to southern California to go to Art Center College of Design, and I followed there later.

At the point where we started at Bakshi Studios, we were each 21 years old. He had a lot more painting experience than I did, having painted hundreds of canvases since he was in grade school. I had drawn a lot, but hardly painted at all.

To answer Arnaud’s question yesterday, we walked in Bakshi’s door together and sold ourselves as a background painting team. But my skills sucked at the time. Tom helped me get the job, and I learned a lot by watching him paint. We had to match styles so that the backgrounds were interchangeable. So you might describe the Fire and Ice background style as by “Gurkinzetta.”

OK. Stories. One thing about Tom and me was that we both enjoyed pulling off practical jokes on the rest of the crew. Once, when the production coordinator came by to check on our progress, I grabbed a razor blade and start scraping the paint off the porcelain palette. I had made a fake thumb out of latex and I filled it with red paint.

Just when I turned around to tell her that the backgrounds were coming along fine, I pretended to slice off my thumb. The chunk of thumb bounced over on the floor next to her feet. She threw down the backgrounds she was holding and screamed. We took turns doing this stunt on just about everyone on the crew.

Tom and I were always thinking of how we could create an interesting diversion for the animators. They slaved away for countless hours in their dark cubicles, bored out of their minds, looking around for any distraction.

We found a roll of brown paper and unspooled a 100-foot-long piece. Tom grabbed the front end and I grabbed the back end. He started down the hallway, dragging the long piece of paper, and I followed along way behind. We snaked that piece of paper through all the hallways, past the open doors to the animation rooms.

The animators looked up from their work and waited and waited for the piece of paper to go by. It was a long time before I came along holding the tail end, waving and saying, “Long pan shot!”

All of our paintings were done in cel-vinyl acrylics, the same paints they used for painting the cells.  They are remarkably small. Most are about 9x12 inches. This establishing shot of Nekron's glacier was about 11x14 inches.

Cel-Vinyl acrylic is very opaque and great to work with, but it it clogged the airbrushes, and it destroyed the Winsor and Newton Series 7 brushes that we used. Those brushes were beautiful and expensive, and I felt bad that they only lasted a few weeks. But we were each on a quota of 11 finished paintings a week.

Other posts in this series:
Part 1: Fire and Ice -- Rekindled
Part 2: Fire and Ice -- Frank Frazetta
Part 3: Fire and Ice -- Tom Kinkade
Part 4: Fire and Ice -- Ralph Bakshi
Part 5: Living Inside PaintingsWikipedia on Thomas Kinkade
Wikipedia on the original Fire and Ice.
Cartoon Color Cel Vinyl official site


Phil Kapitan said...

Are you and Kinkade still in touch as friends? I know there has been some hullahbaloo over his business practices in the past, but there's no denying that he made his work instantly recognizable. I think my woman has a jigsaw puzzle with one of his cottages as the eventual picture. It really surprises me that you both got to work on that movie. Ralph Bakshi is one of my favorite directors because of Fire and Ice as well as Wizards. Frazetta has been one of my favorite artists since I first saw his work when I was a young comic reading geek. Very cool.


Shane White said...

I've only used Cel Vinyl paints once for animation but always wanted to try them for other things.

Steve Rude uses them in his sketchbooks and they are very smooth.
Though fluid acrylics seem like a pretty alternative.


James Gurney said...

Phil, yeah, I'm still friendly with Tom, though I've only seen him once in the last 10 years. He's not easy to get in touch with. We went on a few plein-air painting junkets in the '90s. I've actually kept in closer touch with Ralph Bakshi, who deserves a ton of credit for being a maverick in the animation business.

Shane, Cel-vinyls are great if you love opacity. I like them much more than any commercial artist's acrylics.

Daroo said...

11 paintings a week! Zowie!
That's some canvas mileage... or illustration board mileage.

I think I got a bad Gurkinzetta at a deli once... great stories!

Aaron said...

I noticed in the picture, it looked like you guys were using syphon feed airguns. I bought one when I first started playing around with airbrush in my mixed media stuff, and eventually switched to a gravity feed with the cup on top, because it clogged less often and seems to handle opaque paints better. That might handle the cel vinyl paint better, just have to refill more often.

Kurt said...

Love the history and the time travel with you. What ever happened to all the background paintings?

Chris Vosters said...

Interesting how one became the Painter of Light while the other one turned out to be the scholar of light!

James Gurney said...

Chris, Yeah, and how we were both working under those crappy fluorescent lights.

enb said...

What a great series of anecdotes with an all star cast of characters.
Very special to hear this kind of stuff!

Unknown said...

Jim, you might not have considered yourself as good a painter as Tom at the time, but it became clear to all of us (including Ralph and Frank) that you were the one that was doing the best work.
I've been working on a blog about that time as well and been kind of lazy about it.
I'll have to get moving now that i see yours.

David Yanchick said...

I found this on youtube, with a cameo by those crazy guys who painted the backgrounds!

Brett W. McCoy said...

Great stories! I've heard animators say Bakshi was a great guy to work with.

I believe Ralph McQuarrie used cel paints for his Star Wars production design paintings. They look so thick and make nice textures... probably hard to find these days, though...

Anonymous said...

Thanks for that video link, David - really fun to see how involved Bakshi is with the physical perfomances.

And James, that airbrush picture nearly sent me back into artist PTSD therapy... *shudder*

Stephen James. said...

Fascinating stories James.

Tiger vs lion the facts said...

Yeah you need tough bristol brushes for Acrylic, you can put the acrylic in Tupperware containers, and keep a bottle of water and spray a mist over your colors as you mix them from the container or on a plate, when your not painting put the cover over the container making it air tight. Also before you squeeze in your colors in the container, wet a bounty paper towel, and put it in the bottom of the container, then put your colors on top of the moist paper towel.