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Michael Sporn (1946-2014)

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by Jerry Beck
January 20, 2014 11:30 AM
20 Comments
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Michael Sporn (right) with Richard Williams during the production of "Raggedy Ann and Andy" (1977). Sporn was Assistant Animation Supervisor on the film.
John Canemaker Michael Sporn (right) with Richard Williams during the production of "Raggedy Ann and Andy" (1977). Sporn was Assistant Animation Supervisor on the film.

Academy Award nominated animation director Michael Sporn has passed away.  A champion and staple of the New York animation scene since the 1970s, Sporn’s presence – both behind the camera and online through his “splog” – will be missed by the entire community. He died Sunday morning from pancreatic cancer.

Animating professionally since 1972, Sporn worked closely with animation directors John & Faith Hubley and Richard Williams (Sporn was the Supervising Assitant animator on Williams 1977 feature Raggedy Ann & Andy). After supervising many commercials and a PBS Special ("Simple Gifts") for R.O. Blechman, he formed his own company.

From the bio on his website:

The first films included: an animated short for children, "Byron Blackbear & The Scientific Method"; titles for a Sidney Lumet feature film, Prince Of The City; and animation for the Broadway musical, Woman of The Year.

Work produced for the non-theatrical distributor Weston Woods included a number of successful short films: MORRIS' DISAPPEARING BAG, THE AMAZING BONE, THE MYSTERIOUS TADPOLE, and DOCTOR DESOTO. All were adaptations of renowned children's books.

Doctor DeSoto was nominated for an Academy Award, and Sporn's studio found its niche producing films for television and home video. Some of these are children's book adaptations, which exactly reproduce the illustrators' styles. Others are adaptations of tales, designed in the studio, and still others are wholly original.

Better known titles of his films include: THE RED SHOES, ABEL'S ISLAND (Emmy Nominee), THE DANCING FROG (CableACE Award Winner), LYLE LYLE CROCODILE, WHITEWASH (Emmy and CableACE Nominee), THE LITTLE MATCH GIRL, IRA SLEEPS OVER (CableACE Award Winner), THE COUNTRY MOUSE & THE CITY MOUSE (CableACE Nominee), MIKE MULLIGAN AND HIS STEAM SHOVEL, and THE POKY LITTLE PUPPY'S FIRST CHRISTMAS (CableACE Nominee).

The award winning films Champagne and Whitewash represented a different direction - serious animation which presented issues of social relevance.

Recent titles include adaptations of the books Good Night Moon (Emmy Winner), Happy To Be Nappy (Emmy Winner), and a Grandma Moses version of The Night Before Christmas.

The Man Who Walked Between The Towers, completed in 2005, is a 10 min. short film adapted from the book by Mordicai Gerstein.

Sporn was in production on a feature length film based on the life and works of Edgar Allan Poe at the time of his passing. He was 67 when he died and is sur­vived by his wife, direc­tor Heidi Stallings. 


More about Michael's work can be found on his blog. John Canemaker and Michael Barrier offer their recollections and tributes here

Michael Sporn (second from right), as I'll remember him, on a panel at The Animation Block Party 7/28/13, with Jerry Beck, J.J. Sedelmaier and Emily Hubley
Michael Sporn (second from right), as I'll remember him, on a panel at The Animation Block Party 7/28/13, with Jerry Beck, J.J. Sedelmaier and Emily Hubley

"The Man Who Walked Between The Towers"
"The Man Who Walked Between The Towers"
"Whitewash"
"Whitewash"
Michael Sporn 680

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More: Michael Sporn

20 Comments

  • De | August 12, 2014 11:48 PMReply

    Wow... i found this blog after looking up the previous owner of an antique hohner guitar in new orleans. I fixed it up and ive been playing it for 4 years, coast to coast. I dont know if its the same Sporn, but it would make sence now for the price they had asked originally... idk if it was his but regardless i was a fan and didnt even know it, and i may have his old guitar... regardless blessins to em and all. Rip ye shall be missed

  • John R. Dilworth | January 21, 2014 12:18 PMReply

    He liked blueberry muffins, puppets and cats. And if one were lucky to make him laugh, his face would fold into itself to make room for his smile. My friend... colleague... mentor. How lucky I am!

  • Kim | January 21, 2014 6:09 AMReply

    Sad news, may he R.I.P

  • Kevin Kidney | January 21, 2014 12:36 AMReply

    Oh gosh, how sad.

  • Floyd Norman | January 20, 2014 9:43 PMReply

    I never had the opportunity to meet Michael Sporn but I felt like I knew him. I was a regular visitor to his blog because it provided inspiration. I recall he didn't particularly care for Disney's The Jungle Book. His dislike for the film never bothered me because I had such respect for his animation expertise. Some years ago, Michael reviewed my blog and he thought it was good. I was totally blown away because those kind words came from Michael. Honestly, I couldn't think of a greater compliment. He will indeed be missed.

  • bob kurtz | January 20, 2014 8:59 PMReply

    very sad news. michael was one of the good guys. he will be missed.

  • Kris Boban | January 20, 2014 5:38 PMReply

    Incredibly sad. I've known his work since I was young and only realized it when I began studying animation roughly 10 years ago. I had seen a lot of his work as a child, especially the Sesame Street segments coming to mind. Although I've never met him, I've been reading his blog just after he began writing since early 2006 and feel like I know him on a personal level. I've learned a lot from him and grateful he was able to share his knowledge and opinions which will stay up for future animation enthusiasts to absorb. My thoughts go out to his family and friends. He will be missed in the animation world.

  • Nic Kramer | January 20, 2014 4:12 PMReply

    ........I don't believe it. I know our opinions differ, but he did so many stuff that I enjoyed including his animated segments from "Sesame Street" and his William Steig adaptions. He will be very deeply missed.

  • Frank Mouris | January 20, 2014 3:33 PMReply

    this is such sad and tragic news. our hearts go out to heidi, and to all in our animation community. michael put together a wonderful show at the lighthouse several years back,
    featuring academy award nominated and/or winning animated shorts. he had some of us talk about our films after they were shown. his astute selections subtly made clear that the difference between being nominated and winning was pure luck. it was an evening of excellent films, including ''doctor desoto''. but the best part was going out for burgers afterwards with michael and heidi, and other filmmakers, and academy staff. there he was truly in his element, a most gracious and vivacious host. he was the heart and soul of new york animators, and will truly be missed by caroline and by me, as well as all of you in and far beyond new york city.

  • Dave Kirwan | January 20, 2014 3:31 PMReply

    Horrible news! This guy was a giant. I'm having trouble thinking of anyone in animation so richly talented as an artist AND critical historian. What a loss! That I will never read a new entry on the Splog saddens me beyond words!

  • Justin | January 20, 2014 3:30 PMReply

    This is shocking. Michael was a great animator and his blog is awesome. I highly recommend you check it out.

  • Dan Haskett | January 20, 2014 2:22 PMReply

    This just hit me between the eyes. Many years ago, Mike was my immediate supervisor on RAGGEDY ANN AND ANDY. I believe it was the first feature film for both of us. He'd been thrown into the deep end of the pool on that, for sure. Yet he ran interference for a large group of nervous apprentices, and did it with grace, knowledge...and an unfailing wit. He brought those same qualities to his films, and ultimately to his blog, one of the finest resources of animation art, history and criticism on the internet. I don't think anyone loved this art form more than he did.

    You left too soon, Mike.

  • Rhett Wickham | January 20, 2014 2:03 PMReply

    A generous giant with both a rare appreciation for the legacy of animation's pioneers and his own truly unique and wildly original personal vision. Artists with such integrity and character are rare and he shared with everyone and anyone willing to approach animation history and animation's fragile future with similar respect. We will not see his likes again and his passing leaves a great hole in the fabric of the larger film community. God's speed and immeasurable thanks for the gifts you gave us.

  • Tina Price (CTN) | January 20, 2014 1:49 PMReply

    This news took my breath away. No words to say about such a generous who man shared his passion and wealth of knowledge about animation so freely for all. My condolences to his family and loved ones.

  • Steve Segal | January 20, 2014 1:27 PMReply

    This makes me so sad. He was a brilliant animation director, a true fan of all things animated, and a really nice guy. I'm so glad I got to see him last summer on a visit to New York.

  • Paul F. Etcheverry | January 20, 2014 1:23 PMReply

    While I did not have the pleasure of meeting Michael in person, he corresponded with me way back when I started investigating film and animation history in the 1970's and was both generous and gracious with me. Tough to lose the likes of Michael, Earl Kress and (now a few years back in the rear view mirror) Joe Ranft.

  • Stewart Patton | January 20, 2014 1:01 PMReply

    I will truly miss his blog. He was a great animator with a knowledge and passion that was truly extensive. Thank you for your art and more!

  • Richard O'Connor | January 20, 2014 12:37 PMReply

    He's an all time great, an artist for everyone to emulate.

  • Ignacio Ochoa | January 20, 2014 12:15 PMReply

    A really sad news. I visited your blog daily. I'm from Argentina, here is very expensive to get books on animation, and all the material that Michael shared on his blog every day was like gold to me. I learned a lot with their publications, and even, I sent him material from here that he then posted on his blog. He was my favorite animation critic. All my respects to Michael Sporn. Rest in peace.

  • Oscar Solis | January 22, 2014 1:22 AM

    My favorite animated film ever is Abel's Island. It's beautiful like most of his films were. He will be missed. My condolences to his wife and friends.

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