Sunday, September 06, 2009

R.I.P. Mike Mitchell

Mike did the first edition cover for his friend's famous novel.
I got a text this afternoon informing me of Mike Mitchell's passing, and I forwarded the news to some of you, because I've always felt like CalArts is a second family and everyone should be in the loop with these things. I was just talking to Nate and we both agreed that he led an amazing life - very full. I'm not sure what the memorial arrangements will be like, but I would guess that it would feel like a celebration of his life, rather than something more somber. I mean, let's face it, he lived a very long life! I learned a lot from Mike. Even though he could be polarizing with his views (who isn't though, right?), he helped me creatively in ways no one could ever measure. He and Corny together railed on mainstream animation and rejected the medium as mere 'cartoon.' He berated 'the industry,' but I, for one, think it was only in the same way Bill Cosby berated the black community for using the n word - he berated mainstream animation only because he loved the medium so much and thought it could be even better. What can I say, this man was amazing. He barely slept because he was always working, he led four or five-hour life drawing sessions at CalArts. "That's the stuff" he'd say, when you do something he likes. He'll hang that up on the wall and encourage a flurry of first and second year competition. Shadows, shape, form, times it wasn't even about looking at the model anymore as it is using him/her as a launchpad for your own individual interpretation. Mike hung out with the likes of J.D. Salinger and Ray Bradbury. I can't even begin to imagine filling in the rest of his story before I met him as an old man. There's so much to the guy. He had both his followers and detractors. And he made it personal with his students. I recall a time when he learned I was taking Corny's class my second year instead of his (which was against the curriculum) and chewed me out for it. He cared that much. (Or was that insulted - either way, he was passionate.) I have to admit, he was sometimes 'cliquey.' Mike at times played the favoritism card and his followers (often referred to as Mitchellites) were often accused of being arrogant (I can personally say, yes, sometimes they can be, but they're also very sweet people. And, let's not forget we're all on the same team guys). Despite this, no one can deny his brain was on fire. It was white hot. He encouraged being 'loose' and 'open' in the artistic sense like no other instructor I've encountered. Mike's influence opened the flood gates for the new talent that's in the animation industry today, and we have yet to feel the full effects of it. On top of that, he was a lovely man and someone who I am thankful I got to spend some time with and soak up his wisdom. Long live Mike Mitchell. -v