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Exhibition celebrates Rankin’s genius

Animator, producer and director Arthur Rankin

An exhibit displaying the works and creative tools of distinguished Bermudian animator Arthur Rankin Jr will open on Saturday at the Masterworks Museum of Bermuda Art.

The exhibit, “Arthur’s Galaxy”, honours the local filmmaker just as he celebrated the holidays with his timeless animated films.

Mr Rankin, who died at King Edward VII Memorial Hospital on January 30 at the age of 89, has infected people of all ages with a sprightly holiday spirit, through his animated specials at Christmas, Easter, Thanksgiving and Halloween.

Mr Rankin started his career as an art director at the ABC television network in the late 1940s after seeing service during the Second World War.

“The exhibit is called Arthur’s Galaxy in reference to the world around him. In other words, in reference to Arthur’s huge imagination,” said Tom Butterfield, founder and creative director of Masterworks Museum.

Mr Rankin, with his partner Jules Bass, produced more than 1,000 television programmes using both “stop-motion” animation techniques employing articulated puppets, as well as traditional hand-drawn animation.

Their company Videocraft Productions, later Rankin/Bass Productions, made such world-famous specials as Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, Frosty the Snowman, The Little Drummer Boy, Peter Cottontail, and Jack Frost. Many of their holiday specials, produced between 1964 and 1985, remain among TV’s most popular seasonal programming.

“Little was known about Arthur because he was such a modest guy,” Mr Butterfield said. “He never bragged about the work he was doing.”

The American-born animation genius lived in Bermuda from the early 1970s and always referred to himself as “a Bermudian by choice, not by chance” who looked on his adopted home with pride and reverence

“He wanted every detail right. Also, he had exquisite taste,” Maury Laws, former musical director of Rankin/Bass productions, told the New York Times following Mr Rankin’s death.

Named an “animation legend” by The Hollywood Reporter, Mr Rankin devoted his life to the creative and often tedious process of producing the animated films that everyone enjoys.

Mr Rankin was married to Bermuda lawyer Olga Rankin and the couple lived at Harrington Sound. Two live-action ABC-TV movies he wrote and produced, The Bermuda Depths and The Ivory Ape, were shot entirely on location on the Island in 1978 and 1980. He also taught courses in film and entertainment at the Bermuda College.

“I could go up to Broadway and run up and down the street and scream, ‘I want to write and direct a play!’ They’d put me in the nuthouse. If I say that (in Bermuda), everyone springs into action, ‘Oh, please, please,’” Mr Rankin said about his love for Bermuda.

“Arthur’s Galaxy” is “about his life’s work,” Mr Butterfield said.

“It will show a lot of artefacts, dolls and images that he used to produce his creative works. We’re having the exhibit now because July 19 would have marked his 90th birthday.”