Sally Cruikshank is a self-taught animator whose distinctive style is fairly well known, despite her moniker being far from a household name. Her art is instantly recognizable for its whimsical, nondescript
characters, bright colors, and surreal environments that often give life to inanimate objects. (Not surprisingly, Cruikshank holds Max Fleischer
cartoons among her biggest influences.) Her first forays into animation
produced several successful underground
cartoon shorts in the mid-to-late 1970's, and although it has been nearly twenty years since the last of these cartoons, she still has a devoted fan base
Rather than setting out to find fame and fortune as an animator, Cruikshank first tried her hand at animation at the urging of a friend. Ducky, her first cartoon, appeared in 1971 while she was still attending college. The 3-minute short was culled from Cruikshank's habit of drawing ducks, and although it wasn't widely shown, it did encourage her to keep drawing. Fun On Mars followed later that same year and was described by Cruikshank as "my reaction to California in 1971".
After Fun on Mars, Cruikshank began producing longer and more complex cartoons. The first of these was 1972's Chow Fun, which drew upon "Chinese food and firecracker packages" as influences. In addition to pushing past the 8-minute mark, Chow Fun introduced Quasi, a character that would go on to star in several more shorts. Quasi, a yellow, diminutive fellow who wears a cape and large eyeglasses, and his girlfriend Anita, a vaguely human character, remain Cruikshank's two most recognizable creations. (Although she recorded the voice for Anita and has placed her in many cartoons over the years, Cruikshank insists Anita is not a self portrait.)
The release of Chow Fun attracted the attention of Snazelle Films, which brought Cruikshank onboard as the head of its animation department from 1972 to 1981. In addition to pursuing her personal projects during this time, she also oversaw the creation of award-winning commercials for clients such as The Gap and Levi's.
The most successful of Cruikshank's cartoons was 1975's Quasi at the Quackadero. Quasi, Anita, and their robot friend Rollo take a trip to the Quackadero, a bizarre amusement park that features attractions such as the Tunnel Of Youth, Think-O-Blink Paints Pictures of Your Thoughts, and Madame Xano and her Fabulous Dream Reader. The short became popular at midnight screenings in smaller theaters and helped spread Cruikshank's reputation as a talented animator.
Although Anita's attempts to bend the will of those around her (using a device from a novelty store) were chronicled in the notable Make Me Psychic (1978), Cruikshank had even bigger plans for Anita and Quasi. Quasi's Cabaret, a feature-length animated movie, was far enough into production that a trailer was created in 1980. Unfortunately, the needed money did not materialize and the cartoon was never completed. A fully realized idea was the 5-minute Face like a Frog (1987), an expressionistic Halloween-themed piece that is best remembered for the song "Don't Go into the Basement", performed by Danny Elfman and Oingo Boingo. In the time between Quasi's Cabaret and Face Like A Frog, Cruikshank produced an animated sequence for 1982's The Twilight Zone: The Movie and did the hilarious "Pac-Man gag" in the Val Kilmer flick Top Secret! (1984).
In 1988, Cruikshank began a 10-year working relationship with the Childrens' Television Workshop. Among other things, the collaboration resulted in a series of memorable shorts for CTW's popular Sesame Street program. Cruikshank's colorful, quirky style fit perfectly into Sesame Street's repertoire, and as of 2006, these segments are still in regular rotation on the show.
Perhaps the most memorable of these cartoons is "Above it All", a short that tells the story of an anthropomorphized female alligator who flies around the world with the help of a propeller-powered hat. The classic Cruikshank animation bonds seamlessly to a catchy pop-rock tune that would've been right at home on Top 40 Radio circa 1990, and "Above it All" remains one of the best Sesame Street segments ever produced.
Face Like a Frog proved to be the last of Cruikshank's animated shorts, at least for the time being. The artist found work in other aspects of movie-making and designed the titles and credits for hit films such as Mannequin (1987) and Madhouse (1990). Although she occasionally returns to the drawing board (but now prefers using Flash instead of ink), Cruikshank's days of producing independent cartoons are mostly over.
While she continues to ply her trade as an artist and animator, Cruikshank's been busy in other fields as well. In addition to becoming skilled in Flash and Java, she's tech edited a number of instructional books for programmers and designed several websites. She also does booming business selling a DVD compilation of all her cartoon shorts on eBay and through her own website. Today she makes her home in Northridge, California.
Despite the fact that her cartoons have been confined mostly to limited runs at art cinemas and film festivals, Cruikshank has managed to make quite a name for herself in the world of animation. Leonard Maltin has biographied her on television several times, and Quasi at the Quackadero was ranked as #46 in Jerry Beck's The 50 Greatest Cartoons book. Although her recent output has slowed to a trickle, Sally Cruikshank's contributions to the world of independent and commercial animation cannot be ignored.
Much of the information for this writeup came from the excellent www.funonmars.com, Sally's personal site.