We’ve loved digging around the treasure trove of interviews that is the Pacifica Radio Archives. Brian DeShazor and his team have been great to work with as we created the John Coltrane and Dustin Hoffman episodes.
Then we came across the tape of Kurt Vonnegut giving a lecture at NYU in 1970. It’s actually more of a talk. Or really a monologue that he delivered with the help of some notes scrawled on a few sheets of paper. Beyond his wise ramblings on family, growing up, being an artist in not-artist-friendly Indianapolis, keys to writing, WWII and life in the infantry, and, of course, The Big Space Fuck…. we loved to hear the response of the students in the room that day. It’s like being a fly on the wall.
Anyway we got the WAV file of the recording from Brian and set to work on the episode.
Animator/director Pat Smith and I ping-pong a bunch of ideas when production begins on a new episode. Here’s what was going through Pat’s head when he first listened to Vonnegut:
“When I sat down to start drawing Kurt Vonnegut, for some reason I kept thinking about this mixture of Albert Einstein and Mark Twain. Vonnegut struck me as this brilliant, kooky, genius who, maybe, was a tad messy. Like you’d see him with papers coming bulging out of his briefcase. On the tape, you can actually hear him shuffling through his notes as he spoke to the class at NYU.”
“Vonnegut also has that cool signature and he was known as a doodler and an artist, so that was also in the back of my mind.”
“Physically, he has a number of great design elements: the mustache, that messy hair, a bony face, big cheek bones, and his eyes are very far apart, but round and deep.”
“As I started building scenes, so many images from his books started pouring in, things I recalled from reading his books when I was a kid. Like the plungers from Slaughterhouse-Five, the aliens [the Tralfamadorians] were shaped like plungers with a hand on the shaft. And, of course, “so it goes”, that famous line from Slaughterhouse, which found it’s way into the scenes talking about his parents after they died. So, yeah, you could say I had a lot of fun drawing Kurt and creating this character.”
Our audio producer, Amy Drozdowska, had a great idea for music to accompany the interview: Glenn Gould-esqe music in the vein of the Slaughterhouse-five film soundtrack (Here’s a gem of Gould playing Bach). It’s great to be able to collaborate with some smart musical minds over at APM who came up with a batch of ideas, “mostly experimental solo piano pieces that don’t get too disjointed or angular, and wouldn’t interfere with the voiceover.”
Pat works with a printed transcript of the episode and he starts drawing out scenes, noting action verbs and vivid imagery.
With initial sketches on paper, Pat maps out the scenes matched to the audio. He works in flash. Here you can see the before and after versions of the scene in which Vonnegut says:
“Well nothing means anything except the artist makes his living by pretending, by putting it in a meaningful hole though no such holes exist. You need paranoia for energy too. You must be terribly worried and secretly full of hate.” – Kurt Vonnegut
So it goes, so it goes.
Nina Simone is up next.