We are sad to report that pioneering experimental animator Robert Breer passed away on August 12 at the age of 85. Born in Detroit, Mich., Breer, moved to Paris after graduating from Stanford in 1949, began his career as a painter, and was heavily influenced by the European artistic movement of the early 20th Century. He made his first stop-motion films using an old Bolex 16 mm camera, based on his own abstract paintings. After he returned to the U.S. in the last 50s, he filmed pieces on European art shows for David Brinkley’s Journal.
Several of his celebrated avant-garde shorts such as A Man with his Dog Out for Air (1958) and Inner and Outer Space (1960) were inspired by the work of Swiss artist Paul Klee and relied on simple line techniques or 4 x 6 cards. During the 1970s, he began contributing animated shorts the PBS children’s series, The Electric Company.
“His popular Gulls and Buoys relates back both to the poetry for William Carlos Williams and the early rotoscoping techniques devised by Max Fleischer,” wrote documentary filmmaker Jackie Leger in a 1996 article in AWN. Sparkill Ave!, A Frog on a Swing, LMNO, TZ and Swiss Army Knife with Rats and Pigeons were among his 40-plus projects that whimsically experimented with various techniques and paid homage to the classic animation pioneers such as Emile Cohl. As Leger noted in her appreciation, ”At the heart of his work is the imagination of the artist mixed with the inquisitive mind of the mad scientist, delving into lost archives of cinema to revive forgotten art forms and giving them new life for generations to come. This is the secret to Breer’s unique world.”
Breer taught animation at Cooper Union in New York City and was the recipient of AFI’s Maya Deren Independent Film and Video Artists Award in 1987.
Here is Breer’s Swiss Army Knife with Rat and Pigeon (1980):
You can also view a great interview with Breer on The Screening Room (circa 1976) here: