Michael Sporn, an Academy Award nominee for best animated short film and the director of more than 30 television specials for outlets such as HBO, PBS, Showtime and CBS, died of pancreatic cancer in New York City on January 19. He was 67.
Long a mainstay among New York-based independent animation filmmakers, Sporn earned a 1984 Oscar nomination for the short film “Doctor DeSoto,” adapted from William Steig’s children’s book. It was one of 15 short children’s films Sporn produced and directed for distributor Weston Woods, including Steig’s “Abel’s Island” (1988), which was nominated for an Emmy; “The Amazing Bone” (1985), winner of a CINE Golden Eagle; and “The Man Who Walked Between the Towers” (2005), winner of the Andrew Carnegie Medal for Excellence in Children’s Video and best short children’s film award from the Ottawa Animation Festival.
Sporn’s animated HBO specials adapted from children’s books and tales include “Lyle Lyle Crocodile” (1987); “The Red Shoes” (1989); “Mike Mulligan and His Steamshovel” (1990); “The Marzipan Pig” (1990); “Ira Sleeps Over” (1992, CableACE Award winner); :”Goodnight Moon and Other Stories” (1999, Emmy winner); “Happy to Be Nappy and Other Tales” (2006); “Whitewash” (1995, Emmy winner); and “I Can Be President” (2011).
At the time of his death, was producing and directing “Poe,” an animated feature based the life of Edgar Allan Poe.
He also created animated titles and inserts for live-action features, such as Sidney Lumet’s “Prince of the City” (1981) and Garbo Talks (1984), and Susan Seidelman’s “Desperately Seeking Susan” (1985).
On Broadway, Sporn’s animation appeared as interactive elements in two musicals: “Meet Me in St. Louis” (1989) and “Woman of the Year” (1981).
For a November 2007 exhibition of his films at the Museum of Modern Art, MoMA described Sporn as “a vital creative force in New York animation.”
Sporn was born in New York City and grew up in Jackson Heights. He made 8mm films at age 7. A self-taught animator, he gathered advice from the few how-to-animate books available in the late 1950s and from two television series, “Walt Disney’s Wonderful World of Color” and Walter Lantz’s “The Woody Woodpecker Show.” He attended the New York Institute of Technology from 1963-67, then enlisted in the U.S. Navy, serving as a Russian language decoder in Alaska.
In 1972, he began working professionally in animation under several noted producers and directors. For John and Faith Hubley, he worked on the short film “Cockaboody” (1973); “The Adventures of Letterman” series for the PBS series “The Electric Company”; and the TV special “Everybody Rides the Carousel” (1975). He was an animator on the 1977 feature film “Raggedy Ann & Andy: A Musical Adventure,” directed by Richard Williams; and at R.O. Blechman’s The Ink Tank studio, he supervised numerous TV commercials and the PBS special “Simple Gifts” (1977).
In 1980 Sporn formed his own production company, Michael Sporn Animation, where he mentored young animators, offering on-the-job lessons in the techniques and principles of animation and an appreciation of the art’s history.
On December 5, 2005, not coincidentally Walt Disney’s birthday, Sporn launched a blog called Splog, which made him a teacher in the larger sense. Splog ran continuously almost every day for eight years, encompassing nearly 3,000 posts. His detailed analysis of films, their sequences, discussions and promotions of artists’ careers and new work and his often emotional and acidic reviews attracted a wide international audience. The site was a tribute to Michael Sporn’s energy, imagination, and dedication to the art of animation in all its forms.
He is survived by his wife, the actress and director Heidi Stallings; two sisters; and two brothers.