Osvaldo Cavandoli, a master in the art of animated drawing and famous for his character La Linea (The Line) ,died on 3rd March 2007 in Milan, the city where he lived. Here is the posthumous message his son Sergio found in an envelope “to be opened when I will no longer be here”.
“This is the recollection of an artist who has always been able both to smile and make people smile even now that he is no longer alive” (Quotation from Massimo Maisetti).
I am honoured and sad to publish it I had the lucky chance to meet ‘Cava’ in December 2002, while I was writing my university thesis (“Drawing animation. A semiotic analysis”). I would like to quote part of a conversation we had which has never been published before, so that through the warmth and liveliness of his words the simple and practical spirit of such a great person can live again in our memory.
e.o. _ I am studying at the Faculty of Arts and I am currently writing my thesis in Semiotics
o.c._ Semiotics… let’s see it seems to me they are seeds you throw into optics*…Sight needs seeds; yes, semiotics is all right. You know, I’m not very familiar with terms
e.o. _ Semiotics studies how meaning works, how a certain meaning is perceived or not.
o.c._ First of all there’s drawing and animation. Then you add sounds. And all that stuff you are talking about, the optics seeds.
e.o. _ This is the line of time, each second is divided into twenty-five photograms; I consider significant elements those which contains differences, which progressively change
o.c._ Ah, movements! You know, I speak as a worker. Semiotics, optics seeds, I don’t So, you are writing a thesis on my Line
e.o. _ After an introduction on animation art in general, I chose The Line as a semiotic experiment, trying to understand how it works
e.o. _ Yes, trying to understand how a fragment means; for example what are the elements that allow us to say or understand that here The Line is angry, whereas somewhere else it looks happy, and so on. Besides, I would like to know what you think about computers
o.c._ I have never wanted to own a computer, I’ve had already enough with my job. There’s a friend of mine who deals with that part of the job. I give him a load of my drawings, and the directions where the times of the drawings are specified all with numbers.There are the stops and the order of shooting.What once was made with the film now is made with computers. You use medium five drawings a second. Than the story-board is created. I’ve been working for thirty years. I have always worked this way. Film or video, these are the technique and the systems. I don’t know how those who deal with three-dimentional drawing work. Now, please explain me what you say .
e.o. _ The first question I would have liked to ask was if you had ever heard about semiotics .
o.c._ I know we need seeds to sow plants. Semiotics, no, you see, difficult words are not my cup of tea.Try and explain it plainly to me.
e.o. _ Semiotics studies the systems and processes of meaning, languages.
o.c._ The languages of an activity,of a job, of what?
e.o. _ A language can be verbal, musical, visual. The concept crosses over from one field to another.
o.c._ I don’t like to cross.
e.o. _ You like to go straight…
o.c._ It’s hard to talk to me. I like going smoothly, to put it plainly.
e.o. _ I called this interview “criticism of the model” because I had imagined that you, as a skilled craftsman, would have said to me well, semiotics is words.
o.c._ A craftsman do not know what semiotics is.
e.o. _ Semiotics is the study
o.c._ You ask questions, I answer and you translate it into semiotics. Let’s speak a normal language. I’m a craftsman, I work here.
I have tried to study how to simplify things, because I’v tried all, I mean, in animation, except working with plastiline, I worked with puppets, animated drawing and so on, I had become an expert in the end; and I’d tried, I’d tried and by chance that thing came out. I tried to simplify to work more, to go faster So I tried to synthesize and synthesize and synthesize, till I got to the point of creating a story-board and to show it I had a friend who went round all the agencies in Italy and everybody said “Are you crazy? What’s that stuff?” because they saw that thing… Then there were those films…those commercials, I mean, Carosello for example… the Bible, Fabbri Editori, you know, Gamma, scenery… and they said ” What is it? That’s crazy.” Then I got to the agency that advertised Lagostina, they saw it, they said: “Well…” I remember, I went there, they saw the screen-test, I shot it in super-eight and they told me “You know, let’s have a try” . Indeed I made a little commercial, it lasted two minutes, maybe one minute and a half, can’t remember how long it lasted actually. They saw it and said “Ok, that’s not bad. All the others regretted their choice!
e.o. _ I believe you
o.c._ Half Italy. And when it came out
e.o. _ Success!
o.c._ criticism and so on; because at that time, well, everybody kept on saying, a film was shot in one way, the other was shot in another, and they watched mine, on TV, the first one, people said “The tv set is out of order!”, because they saw that line from where that little man came out: “Maybe…no!” And it was immediate success, thank God. I have to thank, I have rather to thank Lagostina’s management, when the book for their centenary was published, six pages were dedicated to Cavandoli, but once the advertisement finished I shot ninety films and in Italy no one wants them. Rather than semiotics I would say it has been a swindle. And I’m sorry for that, because nevermind .
o.c._ It was it was not planned…
o.c._ I want to do something No! It was spontaneous, and thank God, because it could have ended there, you know.
e.o. _ I often use the computer Many young people who love videos and computers, believe the Line is something special. I don’t know whether you have ever learnt about live video performances
e.o. _ Exactly. That kind of performance goes together with another live music performance, usually electronic. I projected, with a group of friends, during one of these performances, an extract of your work What do you think of that? Do you consider it piracy or a homage?
o.c._ If it is not sold, that’s all right for me. Copyright is violated when you use somebody’s else material to make money. If someone takes a film, copies it and then sell it, it’s millions for his pockets!
e.o. _ No, no selling. Just enjoying your stuff.
o.c._ That’s all right, everything’s allowed, unless it is traded, otherwise my agent’s gonna rush you.
e.o. _ I think digital translation of human creations makes them similar to nature, thus independent from their creator, and liable to free transformation…
o.c._ I ask you one thing: do not use difficult terms, because I’m a craftsman.If you talk about semiotics to a shoemaker, he says “So what?”
e.o. _ The core of my thesis analyzes a 3-second fragment of one of your animation, in which The Line pulls faces. Those three seconds are my farewell to university. Trying to produce many words in few seconds I disassembled with a video editing programme and a musical sequencer these three seconds, frame by frame.Later I carefully analyzed the data I gathered and visualized them with a graphic designer. I’ll show I tried to think about the work For example, I wrote the visual important fragments, actually those in which the mutation occurs, are not exactly synchronized with the sound fragments, those in which the wideness of sound track varies significantly .
e.o. _ That’s clear.
o.c._ Because if the Line gets pissed off his expression will be pissed off, or whatever. Everything is made later on, according to what I mean. Music is in the background, it has nothing to do with it. And everything gets synchronized later on: I explain to my friend ” Here the Line gets angry, here it turns against and so on.” So, got it? The character is being created…I do what I’m supposed to do according to the story, the subject, so it speaks, it gestures according to the situation he’s in. Nothing is planned, everything is made after I expressed my ideas with drawing.
e.o. _ You add! Another method I used was to separate video and sound within the fragment. The result was three different descriptions of the same thing, sound, video and audio-visual.
There are meaning effects which can be easily understood, thus they’re redundant. Yet, sometimes the effects diverge to the point they deform each other. All this complicated explanation is useful to overcome a little gap: the difficulty in analyzing compound languages, and synaesthesia. What is extremely important, at least as far as my work is concerned, is that the Line can be understood in all languages, in all countries.
o.c._ That’s one of the advantages
e.o. _ no matter what the native culture is
e.o. _ That’s interesting for the study of signs, since, let’s see for example an image in which the Line gets angry:
e.o. _ we’ll have the drawing, the sign which will show us an angry expression. That can be linked to physiognomy, the science that studies
e.o. _ face expressions, and gives them a meaning.
o.c._ Oh, well yes!
e.o. _ And if these drawings can be understood by all cultures and languages thus meaning the same thing every time, that proves the Line…
e.o. _ is universal!
o.c._ because nothing is said or written.
e.o. _ While from a scientific point of view physiognomy has always been considered
o.c._ Don’t mention science because I don’t give a damn. I have never I have never…ah ah!
e.o._ it has never been considered seriously, while the Line is a proof since if an expression tells us it is angry, if another makes us understand it is laughing
o.c. _It laugh, it cries All the expressions are in profile because in front you cannot see them.
e.o. _ it’s clear that’s evident…
o.c._ It’s clear for us, we don’t need to explain.
e.o. _ Yes, no need to explain between us. With the term “syncretism” I mean multimedia As we said yesterday a language is syncretic when it uses different ways. The gap I’m referring to is a problem regarding semiotics
o.c._ Well, ok, but .
e.o. _ let’s go on.
o.c._ you are using difficult words. Just talk plainly and I’ll reply to you plainly!
e.o. _ Let’s say that
o.c._ Because it’s not This is the first interview I have with all this mess! Try and read
e.o. _ Synaesthesia is a poetic effect, as when someone refers to a smell and describes it with a colour
o.c._ The expressions are not much. The Line has five, six, ten expressions, corresponding to what is happening, to what has to be said or expressed. It’s simple, there is no I don’t think about all the strange things you…ask me. The Line let me synthesize with few signs what in actual life is complex and, sometimes, incomprehensible. Since everything’s extremely simple, I can’t see the point in explaining what happens in my films.
e.o. _ Let’s go on what do you think about Artificial Intelligence?
o.c._ That’s crap. That’s how I Sorry, you know! That’s how I answer because this is the first time I’m having this kind of interview
e.o. _ You were born in 1920 How, in short, do you experienced the war?
o.c._ Well, I didn’t go to war because
e.o. _ Better so!
o.c._ I have to say war spared me and my family.
e.o. _ Can you list a couple of differences between the war you experienced in the past and the never-ending conflict we are experienced nowadays?
o.c._ Today war is underhand because it is not declared. In the past it was well defined. Now it’s hard.
e.o. _ Now it’s always there! It has a thousand disguises.
o.c._ I look at my grandchild and I wonder what kind of world they are going to find, really. Because, you see, there are no more limits. One arrives, drops a bomb and that’s the end.
e.o. _ I would like to get an inheritance from you that I can transmit to posterity, maybe the usual testament for the new generations, or just a simple suggestion Something you feel compelled to say to young people Try to explain that to me. Drawn suggestions are accepted, words are not ‘conditio sine qua non’.
o.c._ “Take a pencil, (less demanding than a pen) and draw whatever your mind and, most of all, your imagination creates on a white sheet of paper. Draw it again and again until your thought is realized, no matter if imperfect.”