Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Kevin Klis, R.I.P.

When you're a child, you hold to this idea that only elderly people die.. But as you get older, you realize that this isn't the case. And as I rapidly approach my own half-century mark, I've begun to lose some very dear friends! One of those, was an artist named: Kevin Klis. He passed away last month at the age of 46, after a lengthy struggle with lung cancer..

Kevin was a couple years younger than me, but we found we had many similar interests. We first met in 1983, when we both attended Sheridan College's 'Classical Animation' program.. As 1st Year students, we were assigned neighboring animation desks. So it's no surprise that we became quickly acquainted. Rather than live in Oakville, we both chose to travel to-and-from college, via the GO Train. Myself, from Scarborough. And Kev from a little further east, in Pickering/Ajax. As a result, we spent most our school days together..

Initially Kevin told me that he had little interest in animated cartoons.. He was only interested in how the program would make him a better comic-book artist. Sheridan had shut down it's own 'Cartooning' program a few years earlier, much to his chagrin..
I had pretty much forgotten about comic-books, myself. But still had fond memories of the ones I once owned as a kid. Kevin was a huge Neal Adams fan! Particularly, Adams' work on 'The BATMAN' title.. Kevin knew where all the good comic-book shops were on Queen Street West. So, when we both didn't have afternoon classes (and sometimes when we did! hah), we'd both agree to make a book shopping junket, before continuing on to Oakville.
I spent most of my money re-buying all of the old comic-books I'd once owned. In addition, we both became pretty excited by the more-adult stuff published in 'HEAVY METAL' and 'EPIC' magazine..

Through some scheduling quirk in Sheridan's 1st Year programming, students were allowed to work on a Group Film. Usually a project reserved for 2nd Year students.. Kevin and I decided that we'd try to make a short film using the characters we'd seen in 'EPIC' magazine: Arthur Suydam's 'CHOLLY & FLYTRAP'..
We came up with a contrived storyline entitled: "The Repercussion"; about 'CHOLLY' shooting a few snail characters. I can recall that Kevin did an amazing Run Cycle, that I did a BG for.. Kevin had taken the time to cel-paint these cycled drawings, using a white oil-based house paint. Shooting it all toplit under the camera, it all looked very good. But in short order, the oils began seeping out of the applied paint. And Kevin found all of his cels gummed together!
I have very little of Kevin's artwork.. But here are a few of Kev's layout sketches from that project:

That's 'CHOLLY' in the last panel, in the cockpit of his flying vehicle.. Kevin added a few tourist stickers. One, from a trip to Florida. And along the dash, ones for Hollywood and Disneyland! hah

By the time we got to our 2nd Year Group Film project, we were a little more serious about things.. Disney-style cartoony animation, wasn't really our thing. We both preferred the Fleischer 'SUPERMAN' shorts.
On top of that, we were both huge Frazetta fans.. In 1983, the animated 'FIRE AND ICE' feature made with Ralph Bakshi, came out.. And a year before that, Milius' 'CONAN' came out.. We still had Frazetta on the brain, so we decided to try and make a film about a gladiator-styled "Pit Fight"..
Kevin not only designed our "hero" character. But had the audacity to sculpt himself a small maquette to help him draw the character from multiple angles! I don't have a photo of the sculpture, but here's what Kevin's model sheet looked like:
Kevin always spent a good deal of time deciding on a character's "name".. I didn't think it was a big issue, but I could tell it was very important to him. Perhaps because his character was a bit Germanic-looking and had long blond hair, Kev settled on: "Kruger"..
I was supposed to handle scenes with our "villain". And was less-interested in what he'd be named. Perhaps that's why we never called him anything beyond: "the Brute".. My designs for "Brute" don't have Kevin's flair, but here's basically what he looked like:
We knew that the amount of work involved to get everything finished, would be gargantuan. Even so, we felt like if we could get enough of the film done to show our teachers the "potential" of our project, we'd pass the Review process at year's end. We didn't spend too much time on plot/story. But we knew the sequence of the scenes needed. And the choreography necessary, for what was essentially an animated "fight scene"..
Here's a page of Notes that I unearthed:
I couldn't find any model sheets showing the scale between these 2 characters.. But I suppose it's important to mention that "Kruger" was literally supposed to be about half the size of "Brute". We wanted to establish early on, that the cards were heavily-stacked against our hero! Kev had some great shooting ideas for playing with this sense of contrast.. Here are a few of his layout sketches:
Now somewhere along the way, our production got sidetracked with (what we concluded) was an innovative foray into "rotoscoping" technology.. Occasionally during our lunches, we'd make a trip over to a nearby Oakville mall to go shopping for toys & videos, etc. During one of these junkets, we came across some Fisher-Price Viewers that would allow you to pop in a plastic cartridge and view short animated clips from various studios. I can recall buying a couple Disney ones. I think "Clock Cleaners" was one. Another was about a "Haunted House"..
Having been an avid Super-8 filmmaker in high school, I guess my curiousity got the best of me. And I wanted to find out how the damn things worked.. So, I slowly pried one of the plastic cartridges opened. And was amazed to find that the Viewers used super-8mm clips, in a closed loop. Maybe 30 seconds worth total..
I suggested to Kevin that if we could shoot some live-action reference of each other, portraying the action we needed for our scenes.. it'd be really helpful! I already had the super-8 camera. All we needed was to build a few flimsy props & simple costumes..
Here's a rough tracing of me, from live-action. With the translated animated version of "Brute", for comparison:

Anyhoo, long-story-short.. We actually did shoot all the live-action film in a spare room at the college. And used it all for direct reference. But the time wasted on this ambitious venture, really put us behind the 8-Ball, schedule-wise. Basically, we just envisaged a grand meal that was just a little too big for our plates! But isn't that what college kids do best?.. Imagine & Dream..
While our teachers admired the scale/scope of our ideas.. There simply wasn't enough finished animation footage available to assess, for them to allow myself and Kev to graduate to 3rd Year. To our great disappointment, we both would have to repeat our 2nd Year.
Halfway thru my "repeat" year, my interest in animation was waning. I dropped out to work at a comic-book shop in Toronto. Kev continued on, and eventually graduated the program. Later on, I helped him get a job at 'Andromeda'; a comic-book distributor. Eventually, he'd return the favour and get me a Layout Test opportunity at Nelvana. Where in 1989, we both got our start in the Animation business, working on their "Beetlejuice" cartoon series!
In 1995, I began working as a Freelance artist, under my own company name. Kevin continued on at Nelvana; but would often "moonlight" doing work for the same studios I worked at. We remained good friends, though I saw him substantially less than I once did. I know he had many other friends too, as attendance at his funeral clearly attested.
Kevin was always a friendly and helpful guy. If there was a bitter side to his personality, then I never saw it. On top of that, his artwork was always top-notch and superbly executed. I've seen a lot of fellow artists "hack" out work; especially as they got older. I never saw evidence of that with Kevin. He took pride in everything he commited himself to. I will miss him, very much..