Tag Archives: Obituary

IMAX developer, director Roman Kroitor dies at 85

Roman Kroitor

Roman Kroitor

Canadian and world cinema lost a true giant Sunday with the death of film pioneer and former National Film Board of Canada filmmaker Roman Kroitor.

Born on December 12, 1926 in Yorkton, Saskatchewan, Kroitor made enormous contributions to film-making during his tenure at the NFB in the 1950s and 1960s, developing the IMAX giant-screen format at the NFB’s Montreal studio.

Most recently, the NFB and Kroitor were again creative partners as the NFB animation studio, led by animator Munro Ferguson, developed new creative applications for IMAX Corporation’s hand-drawn 3D stereoscopic animation technique, SANDDE.

Kroitor co-produced the 2000 Imax Corporation featurette CyberWorld. Made in 3D animation, the film opened on 21 IMAX screens, making $278,000 over its first weekend. By the weekend of September 29, 2002, it had grossed $11.2 million.

He wrote the NFB animated short It’s A Crime (1957), produced Propaganda Message (1974), and produced and directed In the Labyrinth, released as a theatrical film in 1979.

It was his collaboration on the groundbreaking multi-screen project In the Labyrinth for Expo 67 in Montreal that would set the stage for a new chapter in Kroitor’s life — as well as a new era in cinema.

Co-directed by Kroitor with Colin Low and Hugh O’Connor, and co-produced with Tom Daly, the animation was an immersive cinema experience that caused a sensation at the Montreal world’s fair during Canada’s centennial year. That same year, Kroitor chose to leave the NFB to further develop the process he helped pioneer with In the Labyrinth in the private sector, co-founding Multi-Screen Corporation.

“Roman Kroitor was a remarkable man who has made outsized contributions to cinema as a filmmaker, producer, and creative and technical innovator,” said Government Film Commissioner Tom Perlmutter, chairperson of the NFB. “He was a legend whose relentless pace of inventiveness continued throughout a long and productive career. His death is a terrific loss to the NFB, Canada and the world of cinema.”

Kroitor was a leading light in direct cinema and the new documentary approaches that would put the NFB and Canada at the forefront of a revolution in audiovisual storytelling, with works such as Paul Tomkowicz: Street-railway Switchman and the Candid Eye series.

His creative partnerships with Wolf Koenig and Colin Low resulted in some of the NFB’s most acclaimed documentaries of all time, including Glenn Gould – On & Off the Record, Lonely Boy, Stravinsky and Universe. As a producer, Kroitor was involved in the development of fiction films at the NFB, starting with Don Owen’s landmark 1964 feature Nobody Waved Goodbye.

Kroitor also played a role in the creation of the Star Wars concept “The Force.” Director George Lucas was an admirer of the work of NFB experimental filmmaker Arthur Lipsett and has credited a conversation between Kroitor and artificial intelligence pioneer Warren S. McCulloch, excerpted in Lipsett’s 1963 collage film 21-87, as part of his inspiration.

But it was a single-projector giant-screen system that held the most promise for Roman. Co-inventing the IMAX film system and forming IMAX Corporation, Kroitor and his team set about redefining the possibilities of cinema.

The NFB remained very much a part of that creative development, with the NFB’s Montreal headquarters serving as the birthplace for the new medium. The very first IMAX film in 1970, Tiger Child, made for the Osaka world’s fair, was directed by Donald Brittain. In the years to come, the NFB worked with Kroitor and Imax on such breakthroughs as the first IMAX 3D film, Transitions, and first IMAX HD film, Momentum, both directed for the NFB by Colin Low and Tony Ianzelo.

Kroitor returned to the NFB for several years, beginning in the mid-1970s, to head dramatic productions, producing such acclaimed works as Giles Walker’s Bravery in the Field and John N. Smith’s First Winter.

Roman is survived by his wife Janet and children Paul, Tanya, Lesia, Stephanie and Yvanna. Yvanna Kroitor narrated the 1979 NFB animated short Sea Dream.

Producer John Coates Passes Away

John Coates

John Coates

John Coates, one of the producers behind the animated feature adaption The Beatles’ 1968 film Yellow Submarine, has passed away. He was in his eighties. He died at home in Kent, England on Sunday following a battle with cancer.

Starting his career in film as a distributor in Asia, he went on to become one of the most respected figures in animation after working on the Fab Four’s psychedelic hit in the late 1960s.

He worked with bosses at Britain’s Channel 4 on The Snowman, which became a Christmas favorite and was nominated for an Animated Short Film Academy Award in 1983.

Coates also oversaw the production of an animated film version of classic children’s tale The Wind in the Willows for U.K. ITV and brought Beatrix Potter’s animal characters to life for a small screen series.

At the time of his death, he had been working on an updated version of The Snowman to celebrate its 30th anniversary. The new film will air in Britain this December.

Land Before Time actor John Ingle Dead at 84

John Ingle

John Ingle

Actor John Ingle, who portrayed Cera’s father in many incarnations of The Land Before Time, died Sunday in Los Angeles. He was 84.

Ingle took over the role of scheming patriarch Edward Quartermaine on the soap opera General Hospital in 1993. He made his last appearance in an episode that aired last week.

He voiced Cera’s father and/or the narrator in the direct-to-video movies The Land Before Time II: The Great Valley Adventure (1994), The Land Before Time III: The Time of the Great Giving (1995), The Land Before Time V: The Mysterious Island (1997), The Land Before Time VI: The Secret of Saurus Rock (1998), The Land Before Time VII: The Stone of Cold Fire (2000), The Land Before Time IX: Journey to the Big Water (2002), The Land Before Time X: The Great Longneck Migration (2003), The Land Before Time XI: Invasion of the Tinysauruses (2005), The Land Before Time XII: The Great Day of the Flyers (2006) and The Land Before Time XIII: The Wisdom of Friends (2007).

In addition, he provided the voice of Cera’s father in the 2007 animated series The Land Before Time.

Ingle was Wise Paw in the 21-episode 1985 syndicated series Paw Paws, a segment of the animated block The Funtastic World of Hanna-Barbera.

In Animaniacs, he voiced the Judge in the 1993 episode “La La Law.”

He was in the voice casts of the 1981 series Smurfs, in addition to the 1997 Extreme Ghostbusters episodes “Seeds of Destruction” and “Deadliners,” and the 1985 The Jetsons episode “Elroy in Wonderland.”

Ingle’s career lasted for over 30 years. He was seen in such live-action TV series as Days of Our Lives, ‘Big Love and The Drew Carey Show. His films included Batman and Robin and Heathers.

Born in Tulsa, Oklahoma on May 7, 1928, he graduated from Occidental College. He taught at Hollywood High School, UCLA and Beverly Hills High School before turning to acting.

Grace-Lynne Martin, his wife of 57 years, died on February 11 this year. John Ingle is survived by their five daughters, nine grandchildren and three great-grandchildren.

Geoffrey Ammer, 62, was Disney marketing executive

Geoffrey Ammer

Geoffrey Ammer

Longtime Hollywood marketing executive Geoffrey Ammer, who worked with such animated films as Toy Story 2, Mulan and A Bug’s Life, died Sunday morning at St. John’s Health Center in Santa Monica, California. He was 62.

He died after being rushed from his home, where he had suffered a heart attack.

The Toledo, Ohio native recently founded his own independent marketing and distribution company, Clarius Entertainment, serving as its president and CEO. Based in Beverly Hills, Clarius Entertainment had a number of projects in early stages, but had not yet financed and released a film.

Friend and former former 20th Century Fox colleague Tom Sherak, former president of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, said that Ammer was set on making the new firm work.

“They were finally getting ready to start. There is an animated movie that will be released in December. He was finally starting to enjoy the fruits of his labor in putting that company together,” he said.

Ammer held a series of top marketing posts at Disney and other studios.

He helped release the live-action Disney films The Insider, The Rock, 101 Dalmatians, The Insider, Armageddon and The Sixth Sense.

Born in Ammer graduated from Start High School in 1968. He received a degree in business from the University of Florida at Gainesville in 1977, moving that year to Los Angeles.

Ammer left Fox in 1994 to join Cinergi Productions and head that studio’s worldwide marketing. He then moved to the Walt Disney Company to become co-president of marketing.

Geoffrey Ammer is survived by wife Mia Ricchiuti Ammer; son Geoffrey George II, 7; daughter Annie, 5; and sisters Connie Ulmer and Bonnie Ammer.

A memorial service was held Friday morning in the ballroom at the Beverly Hills Four Seasons Hotel.

Director, “Asterix” actor Pierre Mondy dead at 87

Pierre Mondy

Pierre Mondy

French film and theatre actor and director Pierre Mondy, heard in two 1980s Asterix cartoon movies, died Saturday morning at Pitié-Salpêtrière hospital in Paris from a relapsed lymphoma. He was 77.

Mondy had been ill for three years and had been hospitalized since late August.

He voiced Caius Obtus in Asterix et la Surprise de Cesar (Asterix vs. Caesar; 1985) and Cetinlapsus in Asterix Chez Le Bretons (Asterix in Britain; 1986).

Born Pierre Cuq in Neuilly-sur-Seine on February 10, 1925, he first appeared on screen in Jacques Becker’s Rendez-vous de juillet (1949). During his career, he was seen in over 140 films.

He received international recognition in 1960 for portraying Napoléon Bonaparte in the movie Austerlitz, directed by Abel Gance. Between 1992 and 2005, he appeared in the French TV series Les Cordier, juge et flic.

Mondy directed over 60 theatre productions, including many at the Théâtre du Palais-Royal in Paris. In 1973, he directed the first production of La Cage aux folles, starring Jean Poiret and Michel Serrault (it was adapted into the English-language movie The Birdcage).

He directed four films and 13 television episodes, in addition to writing two TV screenplay adaptations.

His first three marriages, to actresses Claude Gensac, Pascale Roberts and Annie Fournier, all ended in divorce.

Pierre Mondy is survived by his wife since 1991, actress Catherine Allary. He had two children with Fournier, including writer Laurent Mondy.

Services will be held Thursday afternoon at Saint-Honoré-d’Eylau church in Paris.

Lance LeGault was Junior in Home on the Range

Lance LeGault

Lance LeGault

Longtime character actor Lance LeGault, the voice of Junior the Buffalo in the 2004 Disney movie Home on the Range, died Monday at his Los Angeles home, his daughter Mary said.

Although his official Web site indicated that he was 75, the Internet Movie Database gives his birthdate as May 2, 1935, making him 77.

One of his best-known roles was as Col. Roderick Decker on the hit 1980s series The A-Team, his daughter said.

In cartoons, he voiced Yank Justice in the nine-episode, 30-minute 1985 series Bigfoot and the Muscle Machines, part of Marvel Productions’ Super Sunday block.

He also voiced Cletus McNabb in the 2006 cartoon movie The Legend of Sasquatch and the Chief in the 2005 animated video Tugger: The Jeep 4×4 Who Wanted to Fly.

Often playing stern colonels, the low-pitched, gravelly-voiced actor portrayed Col. Glass in the 1981 comedy Stripes, starring Bill Murray and John Candy.

A stunt double for Elvis Presley, he had uncredited appearances in the King’s movies Girls! Girls! Girls! (1962) and Roustabout, Viva Las Vegas and Kissin’ Cousins (all 1964). His voice was used for a while to narrate tour audiotape at Presley’s Graceland mansion.

LeGault also appeared in such movies as Coma and TV series including The A-Team. He had a recurring role on Dynasty in 1980 and 1981.

He did commercial voiceovers for such products as Burger King, Dodge and 7-Up, his daughter said. Glen Larson, creator of the television series Knight Rider, observed that LeGault’s voice was “four octaves lower than God’s,” she added.

Born in Chicago, LeGault grew up in Chillicothe, Illinois.

Lance LeGault is survived by Teresa, his wife of 35 years; daughters Mary and Teresa; and sons Marcus and Lance.

Funeral arrangements were pending.

Bob Lambert, 55, led Disney’s digital transition


Bob Lambert

Bob Lambert

Former Disney senior executive Bob Lambert, who helped the Mouse House move from film to digital production, died suddenly Friday of unnamed causes at his Glendale, California home, his family announced Monday night. He was 55.

No other details were available concerning the death of Lambert, a technical strategist at Disney for 25 years.

While working for Disney Feature Animation, Lambert realized a method to replace cel animation with CGI production. He chose Steve Jobs’ Pixar to design the software and supervised the collaborative process between the companies.

Lambert initiated Disney’s longterm successful collaboration with Pixar and the development of a completely new digital film production process, which brought Disney an Academy Award for Scientific and Technical Achievement.

As senior vice-president for worldwide technology strategy and development, he was challenged with looking “down the road and around the corner” to help guide one of the world’s most innovative and forward-thinking companies to successfully engage in new business strategies. His group drove innovation in content production and distribution.

He and his team pioneered award-winning digital landscape transitions and strategies in film, television, e-commerce, social media and emerging consumer media, often partnering with competitors and parallel industries to create new sea-change opportunities.

Lambert began at Disney in 1985, leaving in May 2010 as part of a corporate restructuring.

European Digital Cinema Forum CEO David Monk described Lambert as a “courageous visionary.” Lambert and Disney colleague Phil Barlow, Monk remembered, were behind the pivotal European digital-cinema release in 2000 of Toy Story 2.

Lambert served as president of technology operations and licensing and chairman of Disney’s interdivisional technology board, mapping technology and innovation approaches in new media with Disney’s worldwide business units and technology partners. He served as Disney’s senior tech executive in strategic planning, M&A diligence, intellectual property and patent strategy, inter-industry relations, standards and regulatory issues, and tech talent recruitment.

He was chairman emeritus of the University of Southern California’s Entertainment Technology Center, a 17-company consortium dedicated to consumer media trends, and had served as chairman and CEO of USC/ETC.

Lambert was a founder and term chairman of DCI, the six-studio consortium that successfully pioneered the transition of more than 40,000 theatres from film to digital cinema worldwide. In his role as a digital cinema industry leader, he served as a co-author of Understanding Digital Cinema, a comprehensive resource on all aspects of finishing, distributing and displaying film digitally.

Prior to Disney, Lambert was executive director of development for Paramount Pictures. He also directed development for Western Technologies, a consumer products and entertainment technology design firm.

As an inventor, Lambert held 30 domestic and international patents in media technologies. He was named an Industry Pioneer by the ShoWest national film and television industry conference, outstanding alumnus of Virginia Tech, and received an Astrolabium Award from the International Electronic Cinema Festival. He lea symposia on innovation and cultural change, and keynoted international trade events in Asia, Europe, and the United States.

He served on the board of directors of start-up ventures and non-profits, including LLE, Inc, a firm pioneering eco-friendly laser-based lighting systems. He served on advisory boards of USC, Virginia Tech, the American Film Institute, the National Academy of Science and the Starbright Foundation, and supported InventNow, an organization devoted to promoting innovation, creativity and invention in elementary and high school students.

A Virginia native, he most recently was CEO of The Digital Firm, an Los Angeles-based technology investment company. He was executive vice-president of strategy and innovation for The World Technology Network. Last year, he helped launched CityWorks (X)po, the first national conference to examine the rise of small cities.

Requesting privacy, the family said that it has no immediate plans for a memorial service. It asked that contributions in his honor be sent to the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals.

“Chicken Run” executive producer Jake Eberts dies

Jake Eberts

Jake Eberts

Montreal-born producer Jake Eberts, whose movies won 37 Oscars — including four for best picture — died Thursday morning in his hometown after a brief illness. He was 71.

He was executive producer of seven theatrical animated feature films, including the 2000 hit Chicken Run, on which he partnered with Jeffrey Katzenberg.

Others were The Nutcracker Prince (1990), The Thief And The Cobbler (1993), James and the Giant Peach (1996), Doogal and Renaissance (both 2006), and The Illusionist (2010).

Born John David Eberts on July 10, 1941, he grew up in Montreal and Arvida, Quebec. He attended Bishop’s College School in Lennoxville, Quebec and graduated from McGill University (Bachelor of Chemical Engineering 1962) and Harvard Business School (MBA 1966).

Eberts’s working career began as a start-up engineer for L’Air Liquide in Spain, Italy, Germany and France. He then spent three years as a Wall Street investor. He moved to London in 1971, where he joined Oppenheimer & Co., rising to the position of managing director of the British brokerage and investment company in 1976.

With no apparent prior interest in film, he turned to film financing in about 1977, and joined David Puttnam in founding Goldcrest Films, an independent film production company, for which he served as president and CEO. His first venture was the 1978 animated movie Watership Down, directed by Martin Rosen.

He produced or financed over 50 films, including Chariots of Fire, Gandhi, The Killing Fields, Dances with Wolves, Driving Miss Daisy, The Dresser, Local Hero, A River Runs Through It, Black Robe, Ocean and Grey Owl. He worked with such famed actors as Robert Redford, Ben Kingsley, Morgan Freeman, Bruce Beresford, Richard Attenborough, Pierce Brosnan and Albert Finney.

“He was an extraordinary film producer and an extraordinary man,” said his close friend, Montreal director and frequent tennis partner Denys Arcand, a close friend and frequent tennis partner of Eberts. “He took filmmaking seriously. He felt cinema should be used to better mankind. This is a lofty standard in an age where movies are being adapted from comic books. He had such noble ideals and morals.”

“He was such a smart and eloquent man, yet he was also such a humble man and such a generous man — he gave to so many causes,” said producer Denise Robert, Arcand’s wife and film collaborator. “He brought out the best in everybody. It’s a great loss for us, but it’s also a great loss for the world.”

“It’s a huge loss for the film community, but also for members of his extended family,” said the producer’s brother, Jay Eberts. “He touched the lives of so many and brought so much light into the world. He was an inspiration to us all.”

Montreal film producer Kevin Tierney described Eberts as someone scarcely seen nowadays in the movie business: “A great entrepreneur with a great esthetic sense. They just don’t make them like him any more.”

In 1985, Eberts founded Allied Filmmakers, based in London and Paris, an independent feature film development and production company.

Eberts served as media advisor to Participant Media and the Abu Dhabi Media Company. He sat on the board of the Sundance Channel.

A resident of London and Paris for 50 years, Eberts was chairman of National Geographic Films (which distributed March of the Penguins) and trustee emeritus of the Sundance Institute.

In 1991, Eberts published My Indecision Is Final, his autobiographical study of the film industry. In 1992, he became an Officer of the Order of Canada. Eberts was awarded honorary doctorates by McGill University in 1998, Bishop’s University in 1999 and Trent University in 2005.

Eberts’s most recent project, the IMAX 3D documentary Jerusalem, is scheduled for release in 2013.

“I could never be a director because I could never stand focusing all that time on just one project,” he said last year in a Montreal Gazette interview. “I’m much more the executive producer.”

Eberts began, oddly enough, as an engineer.

“People wouldn’t think of someone with a chemical engineering background to end up in the movie world,” he said. “But life can take you down these wonderful paths.”

Besides his brother, Jake Eberts is survived by his wife Fiona and their adult children: sons Alex and Dave and daughter Lindsay.

The funeral is private. Plans for a memorial will be announced soon.

Dobie Gillis actor Steve Franken dies at 80

Steve Franken

Steve Franken

Comedic character actor Steve Franken, who portrayed braggart rich kid Chatsworth Osborne, Jr. in the 1959-63 TV series The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis, died Friday in Los Angeles. He was 80.

The cause was cancer, his wife Jean said.

The second cousin of Minnesota Senator and humorist Al Franken, he portrayed Bud in the 2001 theatrical cartoon movie The Trumpet of the Swan.

Franken voiced Professor Eugene Atwater in the short-lived 1996 Warner Bros. animated series Road Rovers.

He guested as the voice of Rundle in the 1993 Batman episode “The Mechanic,” and was Mr. Beal in the 1999 Detention episodes “Little Miss Popular” and “Comedy of Terrors.” In 2000, he guested as Mr. Janus in the Static Shock episode “Grounded.”

Franken provided additional voices in Smurfs (1981), The Adventures of Don Coyote and Sancho Panda (1990) and Todd McFarlane’s Spawn (1997).

He was born Stephen Robert Franken in Queens, New York on May 27, 1932. A Cornell University graduate, he began acting in New York City in such plays as Inherit the Wind, the fictionalized drama about the Scopes “Monkey Trial.”

He appeared six times in different roles on the sitcom Bewitched.

Franken guested in 1963’s “The Case of the Deadly Verdict,” the only Perry Mason episode in which the famed fictional lawyer had a client who was convicted.

In 2004, his role in The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis won him a TV Land Award nomination for Favorite Fashion Plate – Male.

His first marriage, to Julia Carter, ended in divorce.

Besides his wife, Steve Franken is survived by their daughter, Anne; two daughters from his first marriage, Emily Franken and Abigail Glass; and two grandchildren.

Ken Walker, 91, was animator for Disney and H-B

Ken Walker

Ken Walker

Animator and director Kenneth David “Ken” Walker, whose work for Disney included such memorable films as Alice in Wonderland and Fantasia, died August 18 in Laguna Hills, California. He was 91.

A member of the Directors Guild of America, he worked for Disney from 1940-42 and 1945-52. He was filmed as one of Disney’s leading animators on the “Disney Cartoons” episode of You Asked For It, which can currently be seen on YouTube.

Walker also worked for many other notable companies, such as Columbia Pictures and Hanna-Barbera. He was the founder and sole owner of N.Y.C. Totem Productions from 1965 to 1971. In 1981, he founded Funnybone Films in Hollywood, California, where he remained owner for 20 years.

In TV, he animated Milton the Monster (1965), Bailey’s Comets (1973) and The Great Grape Ape Show (1977). He animated the ABC Afterschool Specials The Incredible, Indelible, Magical Physical, Mystery Trip (1973) and The Magical Mystery Trip Through Little Red’s Head (1974).

Walker animated the TV specials The Bear Who Slept Through Christmas (1973) and The Grinch Grinches the Cat in the Hat (1982), as well as the TV-movie Clerow Wilson’s Great Escape and The Mad Magazine TV Special, both made in 1974. He was a production designer for the 2000 special It’s the Pied Piper, Charlie Brown and a timing director for the 1994-94 series Skeleton Warriors.

He was a character animator for the 1982 H-B feature film Heidi’s Song and an animator for the 1992 hybrid movie Cool World. As well, he animated the theatrical 1974 short Trail of the Lonesome Pink and was animation director of the independent 1966 short Seeds of Discovery.

Born in Salt Lake City, Utah on May 4, 1921, Walker graduated from North Hollywood High School in the winter of 1940. He served in the United States Navy in the Pacific Theatre from 1942 to 1945.

Ken Walker was predeceased by his first wife, Sally Harriet (Sheppard) Walker, and second wife, Helen (Jacob) Walker.

He is survived by his wife, Carolyn Vera (Phillips) Walker; son Kenneth Alfred Walker of Murrieta, California; daughters Sue (Walker) Bingham of Veradale, Washington and Lynne Sperry (Walker) Bladergroen of Savannah, Georgia; brother George August Gewehr of Tucson, Arizona; grandchildren Glenn Michael Walker, Tiffany Cole Moss, Lindsey Suzanne (Bingham) Skinfill, Ian and Kyle Bladergroen; and great-grandchildren, Brooke and Tyler Walker, Gabriella Rae Skinfill and Aubrey Bladergroen.

A service will be held at 12:45 p.m. Monday August 27 at Riverside National Cemetery.