I first met E. Michael Mitchell when I arrived in the Character Animation program at Cal Arts in 2005. When I first went into Mike’s class my eyes were opened to the world of drawing. It’s the first time I realized how powerful drawing was. For the next five years I mentored with Mike, he showed me the importance of fusing observation, drawing, and imagination.
You will not find much info on him, after all he was the one who suggested to the infamously elusive J.D. Salinger to “avoid the press at all costs”.
This is what I know about him.When he was a teenager he left Canada to join the Royal Air Force in Great Britain. I remember something about his age being an issue, but I don’t remember why, the point is he was very young. After the war. Mike and another fellow he flew with were toured across the UK and Canada heralded as war heroes. Mike expressed extreme regret over this. He said it was a horrible thing to be rewarded for.
Catcher in the Rye was written by J.D. Salinger in the small guest house behind Mike’s house. Salinger would come in to the house everyday and read to Mike what he had written. Salinger said that Mike was the greatest writer, that didn’t write, he had ever known. Mike was the best man at Salinger’s wedding. Salinger’s short story De Daumier-Smith’s Blue Period was inspired by Mike.
Mike was part of a small group of artists which ruled the fine art world. He said only about 1% of the people in the world could afford their paintings. He had a studio next to Henry Moore. He ran in the same circles as Lucian Freud, Francis Bacon and the like.
He said he hated it, that they were essentially just trophy guests at parties for the very wealthy. He felt he was at the mercy of the wealthy benefactors.
Yellow Submarine was Mike’s first film project. The original art director was having some trouble with substance abuse. A man who bought one of Mike’s paintings offered him the position. It was then he saw Corny Cole’s work for the first time, he saw what was possible, this prompted him to take the job.
Mike had an large art studio in NYC. He could hear Dizzy Gillespie playing in the club across the street at night. Meryl Streep would hang out in the coffee shop below his studio. She caught his eye as an unusually focused student from theater school. He loved finding out that this same studio space recently (this would have been 1998) sold for $40 million.
Mike developed and sold a film idea with drawings. He developed the story completely visually, no words, no text. Gorgeous pastel drawings. What the film became was so much less than the art conceived it to be. The film was Fern Gully. The original tree cutting truck as Mike envisioned it, was a mile wide.