Veteran Artist and Visual Arts Professor, Martin Abrahams Talks History of Amination

Martin Abrahams, a self-proclaimed pioneer of the music video medium and veteran animator, is an enthusiastic advocate of his students at the School of Visual Arts in New York City. He has been teaching since 1971, but is also an alumni of SVA, having studied painting and fine arts. Soon, as a way to make a living, Abrahams veered off into the world of animation, a very new field at the time.

When I first visited his classroom on Saturday, which was full of advanced graphic design and animation students, I could barely tell him apart from his pupils. Wearing dark skinny jeans, a plaid green button up and Chuck Taylors, at first glance it’s hard to believe he’s had over 30 years of animation experience.

Here are some of the highlights from our hour-long chat together:

What was working on one of ABC’s first educational children’s programs, ‘Make A Wish,’ (1971-76) like?

That particular show was a very unique show. It incorporated these kinds of little quick animation vignettes. It would mix animation with quick cut stock footage.  It was great. It allowed myself as an animator to be able to work independently, and offer what only I could do in my style, my ideas, storyboarding concept based on a script—and because it was cut so fast, you know, it was young kid quality.

You describe the style of ‘Make A Wish’ as having a ‘Garbage Film’ style. Can you describe what that is?

When I was an art student there were some experimental filmmakers, such as Bruce Conner, who was a gallery artist, he would do these films that kind of coined the name ‘garbage films.’ A garbage film was a little bit of everything thrown together. It was almost as if he had strands of film and he shook them up and however they came out was a great film. And that concept of garbage film was really what the show ‘Make A Wish’ was. It was a mixture of black and white silent film, gag stuff, mixed with the animation and live footage. So it really suited me quite well.

From your experience, do you remember a specific turning point in animation? A time when everything seemed to change?

[In the 70’s] When we started our little studio [Martin Abrahams Video] we were doing cartoons and we were doing them very well.

Suddenly someone appears on the scene named Bob Abel, who did this phenomenal commercial for 7Up, this optical dream—a girl with butterfly wings, and outer space stars—It changed the way people saw things. Just like ‘Yellow Submarine’ changed the way people saw graphics and images, this became a way people saw things. That kind of animation I also did, flying hamburgers in outer space for Burger King—very much influenced by ‘Star Wars’ at the time. That idea of working with motion graphics, fancy logos that look like they’re made out of metallic and things we did in optical printing, I discovered we could do in video.

What are the biggest differences between animation today and what it was like when you were just coming out of school?

Where there used to be a lot of freelance animation work, now people have to work at studios to do the one television show. Whereas a lot of people in my up bringing of animation could feed into things.

Animation has changed over to story-based more than personality-based. I’m a big fan of personality-based. You look at the stuff on Cartoon Network or Sponge Bob, they’re one theme but they’re based on a rise of beats and turns. Beats in animation are the main points in the story and the turns are the things that suddenly make a conflict in the story.

What do you want your students to take away from your classes and SVA’s animation program?

My main concern today is to get my students into internships and start building their careers. Not only am I their teacher, I’m their agent.


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