Practice Makes Perfect
The physical conception of your characters comes from your interest in the aesthetics of athleticism, but where does your conception of women come from?
Ohhhā¦practice, practice, practice.
Iām even more sensitive to what Iāve seen. I guess I just focus on certain areas because there are certain hang-ups or what have you, and certain things are more appealing to me, like with everybody: there are foot men and there are elbow guys [Laughs.], and there are ass men and so on. I see the whole woman, right up to her kittenish eyes. I see the lighting; I see the way the buttocks play, one against the other; I see the shape of the calf; I see the little turns of the head; I just see more. Itās all very personal; people donāt have to agree with my interpretation.
I found this interesting quote by you. You were referring to the Buck Rogers cover you did with a woman on it, and you said at the time, āI developed a hang-up, a calf fetish. I loved muscled legs.ā
When I was very young, I did have a calf fetish, of all things. I canāt explain it. I used to marvel at ballerinas with their wonderful legs. I donāt know what it suggested to me ā who can explain it? Whatās a fetish? Who knows?
When you were doing illustrations for menās magazines in the ā60s, you were drawing these incredibly voluptuous, sexy women that all looked like Kim Novak or Diana Dors. Iām wondering why you chose that particular depiction of women.
Well, I obviously like women who have got some meat on their bones. In real life of course, Iām not against a very slender, shapely woman at all. But I found that in the interpreting of it, when putting it onto the canvas or paper, it doesnāt read well. You have to exaggerate in order for it to even look like you would imagine it. In other words, if I see a very slim, shapely woman walking down the street, now, you know we can respond to that. Sheās slim and graceful and wonderful. But if you actually draw that figure, it just doesnāt create any effect on you. Youāre not getting the movement, youāre not getting the dimensions; it simply doesnāt work. I found out how much I exaggerate when I was making that movie [Fire and Ice], because we were casting for women, and I wanted these nice, kittenish characters, so we had these women try out for the part. We took shots to see how theyād photograph, then Iād have the artist trace over their outline, and most of the women with a nice figure seemed absolutely flat.
No pun intended.
[Laughs.] Yeah, exactly. No, really, it seemed as though very normal proportions didnāt work at all. We found that in order for it to be exciting even in the slightest, she had to be extreme. I realized just how much I exaggerate, as people say. But I wasnāt aware of it; I didnāt know I exaggerated that much. If you take someone like Cindy Crawford and just trace her, just so that itās an outline, you know what? Youāll ho-hum it to death. Whereas if you trace something thatās really outrageous, more like a Marilyn Monroe, that barely works. So thatās what I do with the male figures as well. If you want to take the average athletic guy and stick him into one of my paintings, he wouldnāt be very impressive.
Thatās an interesting juxtaposition between someone like Cindy Crawford and Marilyn Monroe, because Crawford seems to be all posture and fashion and Barbie doll-like, whereas ā
But I would certainly find her attractive.
Yeah, but not oozing…
But if you drew the actual outline in one of my paintings, it simply wouldnāt work. She would look even less than ordinary. So Iāve found that they have to be very extreme in order for you to look at the painting or drawing and really be impressed. Exaggeration is necessary for it to read well, to capture your mindās eye. And thatās what I do. Donāt get me wrong ā itās not like I look at big, chubby women walking down the street at all.
But sometimes they work better in the drawing.
Thereās a feral quality to your women, too, this āCome hitherā look, where it looks like youād be lucky to crawl out of a room with them alive.
Yeahā¦.Isnāt that wonderful? [Laughter.] I donāt know. Hey ā Ellieās not like any of them; sheās cute and perky, you know? What I draw is one thing; what I really like in women is another. I love my Cat Girl, but I donāt know if I could handle her in real life.
But sheās there for guys like you and me to look at her and wonder [chuckles]. But in real life, when you get down to reality, I want somebody I can look at and not tremble in my boots. I think of it as entertainment. I want people to look and get excited, have fun with it.
Right ā you want people to look at your drawings and tremble in their boots.
Yeah. OK, so itās a sensuous female. You look at her say, āMy God, sheās beautiful! Sheās not trashy; sheās beautiful.ā Maybe sheās seductive, but sheās not trashy. Sheās flirtatious, but sheās not a tramp ā all of these things. I try to make everything I do beautiful somehow ā at least thatās what I really shoot for, big time.
The illustrations you did for the menās magazines in the ā60s were really a balancing act between trash or trampy and flirtatious.
Well, sure, look at what it was for. It was trashy stuff. Even there, the girls are still attractive and pretty and thereās a suggestion that some hanky-pankyās going onā¦
Oh yeah. They ooze sexuality.
Theyāre the sort of thing I wouldnāt do now. I had no choice. I went hungry. I had no work, and even then I kind of took it easy. If you read the text, you know what I mean! [Laughs.] The girls are still beautiful and sexy, but you donāt see any leg spreads or any of that crap. I just donāt do that.
Have you been accused of being sexist in your portrayal of women?
Yeah, but thatās silly. Ridiculous. My women are beautiful, so what if they look vulnerable? On the other hand, youāve got Cat Girlā¦ [Laughs.] I donāt think thereās anything sexist there. What should she be doing? These are beautiful women that I truly love and adore. Theyāre delicious, theyāre exciting, and I donāt think I suggest that theyāre weak or wimpy or that theyāre being taken advantage of. Certainly weāre doing heroic stuff, and generally the hero is saving the woman.
Fire and Ice
One your serious hobbies is photography, right?
How long has that been a real interest?
I can remember exactly. The year was 1959. This came about because my son was just born, and usually youāre approached by these pros to take baby pictures, so he came and he took the pictures and it seemed to cost a lot of money, like 75 bucks, and that was back in ā59. Then I found I could buy the same camera he was using for the same price. [Laughter.] I thought, āGee, thatās silly!ā I wasnāt making any money to speak of, you know? So I went out and bought my own camera ā for exactly the same price Iād have to pay him. And that started it. From there it just grew and grew and I became fascinated by it. Iāve even printed my own color slides and color prints, and of course black and whites are a cinch for me. I have a darkroom all set up, so I can take pictures right now, this minute, run into the darkroom, and within the hour Iāve got prints of any size. I love it.
So you have a tremendous collection of photographs youāve taken.
Oh my lord, Iāve just accumulated them over the years. Iām a gadget fancier, on top of everything else. Just like guys who collect cars: Do guys need 20 cars? No. But I just love cameras. I love the way they function. I like the sound of them. Theyāre kind of therapy for me. Believe it or not, we all have little hobbies like that, tinkering around. Whenever Iām feeling blue, I just get a hold of a camera and click it away. Another guy might take a drink. Some guys will take drugs. Other guys will start chewing on gum or squeezing a rubber ball, whatever it is. Iāll just grab a camera, look through the viewfinder, and click away until Iām exhausted. And it works.
What do you like to take pictures of? Landscapes or people or ā
Iāve done everything. Iāve done portraiture, action, and of course the kiddies were into everything. Iāve got thousandsā¦As a matter of fact, I took so many pictures, at one point they just sort of crowded me out of my house! [Groth laughs.] Iām not kidding! Now what Iām doing is gathering them all together and giving them to the kids, because I just canāt handle them. There are literally thousands and thousandsā¦It might be in the hundred thousands.
Do you have any pictures of yourself you could send us for the interview?
Thatās the one thing I donāt have! [Groth laughs.] What the hell, when you get to be my age, why the hell would you want to look at yourself? When I was young I was vain enough to do it, sure. [Laughs.] Oh, well. Everything good ends sooner or later.
Have you ever had any serious interest in filmmaking?
No, I never really considered it. I was approached often enough by people in Hollywood to get involved in some capacity, but not necessarily being part of the actual filmmaking. Even Francis Ford Coppola called me once, can you believe it?
Yeah, he called me up out of the blue from L.A. and he stated he was a big fan and all that. He claimed he had been showing one of my art books to Brando and Robert Duvall, Martin Sheen, and all the actors in Apocalypse Now, and they were flipping out over the books. Brando went bananasā¦.They wanted me to come to the Philippines. I couldnāt imagine what for; he was pretty vague about it. I realized later when I saw the film. He probably wanted me to get involved with that weirdo last scene. That was really strange! So I imagine thatās what he wanted me to contribute something to. But anyway, I said, āGod, I canāt just go off to the Philippines! Holy mackerel, it takes forever!ā Anyway, he was going to call me again, but then they had a lot of trouble out there and it screwed up everything. He actually wanted me to do the poster for it too, but it never came to pass. Other movie stars and movie people used to call me wanting to make a movie, and theyād get back to me, etc. I said, āOK, OK.ā Others just wanted me to sit there and do the storyboards; it didnāt seem to be a hell of a lot of money. Then Bakshi came along and gave the offer I couldnāt refuse.
He made you co-producer. Before I forget, let me just ask you, did you like Apocalypse Now?
Oh, I thought it was great. Strange: a work of art, really.
How did Bakshi get a hold of you?
Bakshiās been a fan of mine his whole life, he claims. He just called up out of the blue and said, āI want to make a movie with your characters.ā He wanted to use all my established characters, like out of my paintings. Cat Girl and all the superheroes. I said, āWow, that sounds good. Whatās the deal?ā He told me, and boy, was it great. All we had to do was to have had a successful movie and I would have been rich. [Laughter.] It wasnāt bad, but it wasnāt perfect. I think it was more than good enough to at least get the kids out to see it. It certainly had tremendous action. And where have you ever seen a babe animated looking like that? [Laughs.] That was too much. But it never got out.
So you were made co-producer. What exactly did that entail?
It means youāre involved from Day One; from the casting, to the script, developing charactersā¦.Thatās the least of it! Even when we got all that done, then we had to shoot the movie, and of course I was right there on the set. Heās giving them direction. Iām giving them direction. If I didnāt like the way they moved or if the action was kind of silly ā and I gotta tell ya, some of those stunt men are hot dogs. I mean, I was trying to get a real nasty moving-type action, and they were trying to make these karate moves, which was ludicrous. Karate! What the hell is that?! Weāre talking about primitive Neanderthals, and here they were doing karate! Give me a break. [Groth laughs.] Theyād say, āOh, itāll be great, itāll be great.ā I said, āIt wonāt be great.ā I wanted it simple and deadly.
So Iād always do the action. Theyād always confront me: āShow us what you mean, Frank,ā ha-ha, chuckle-chuckle. So the adrenaline gets going, and I found myself doing action that I havenāt done since I was 18. It was incredible. I had them amazed ā and I had myself amazed! I donāt know where it came from. Itās interesting, you know? Iāve heard Stallone say that. He says when he makes his movies, the adrenaline gets pumping, and he found himself doing one-hand pushups and heād never done it before. Adrenaline can make you do things that you canāt imagine you could do.
You were in your early 50s at that time?
Yeah. I jumped from high places, and theyād scream as if I was killing myself, and I landed like a cat, just like I used to. It was really quite remarkable. I felt really good about myself ā naturally, considering my age! [Laughs.]
Did they use the rotoscoping technique for that?
Were you pleased with that technique?
Oh sure, thereās no other way to do it. They just couldnāt animate it, no way. Itās a lot faster and itās a lot more accurate. But the problem was, the artists left something to be desired. There were a couple who were really good, but most of them were really terrible. When they started working on his thing, Iād supervise and go back and forth between the 40 people there and check out the key drawings ā the one in-between drawing out of maybe 13 frames ā so theyād have a guide. So I worked hard. I was giving art lessons and Iād bring in my paintings once a week. Theyād get all fired up ā particularly the background guys, you know? Theyād get really excited. They caught on to do very well, as a matter of fact. One guy named Gurnsey, in particular, heās doing just great, doing his own stuff now.
Even at that, there was a lot of inconsistency. I sculpted those three little heads of the main characters, plastic cats were made, they each had one so they kind of knew how to turn it and understand it. I mean, listen: If they were great artists, they wouldnāt be sitting there.
[Laughs.] You worked with an artist named Debbie Tucker who you said was pretty good.
Yeah, she was nice, and she was really good. There were a few guys who were good, and she was very good. Others were kind of sloppy: they just did a bad job. If you really watch the movie, you can see where it looks terrible. I guess the average person wouldnāt notice it, but I could see it. They slipped through, you know? I couldnāt catch them all. But I did a lot to at least make the action spontaneous. Bakshi did his thing ā he likes another look, he likes strange, weird stuff. Heās out in left field and I think Iām just a little more conservative, thatās all. But through it all, it was all right: it was fun. Good entertainment. Certainly Iāve seen worse movies.
Is there any difficulty rotoscoping women to make them look like Frazetta women?
Oh hell, we exaggerated like crazy. I didnāt realize how much I exaggerated them until they just tried to trace her outline, and it simply didnāt look very impressive, even though she was a very attractive girl and had a nice figure. But God, when you traced it ā itās flat, obviously, you donāt have the lighting and three-dimension ā it looks very weak. So Iād get in there and add muscle and shape these characters. They did the best they could to keep it going. The problem was, though, some of their outfits were very limited. I wanted all kinds of things to go on and I found out there are a lot of things you simply canāt do. For instance, the heroine was supposed to have curly hair and they said, āYou canāt do that because it will jiggle.ā There was no way they could keep repeating those curly, little hairs. So I had to simplify that. For the garments, I wanted fur and a lot of things that would add something wonderful to that, and they couldnāt do that either, so they had to cut that down and keep it as simple as possible. Even jewelry. I wanted all kinds of great stuff on them, and they said, āNo. See what happens? If theyāre just a little off from one frame to the next, youāll get this horrible jiggle effect on the screen.ā One has to keep it as simple as possible. So if it looked overly simple, thatās the reason. Or theyād be at it for 10 years. I found out it had a lot of limitations. Right from Day One I told Ralph, āYou know, you could do this live.ā He thought it was impossible because my characters looked so superhuman and all that. But when we got into it, he watched the way I made these guys move, and he said, āGoddamn it, Frazetta, we could have done it! You were right!ā So he said, āNext time.ā My characters look and act a certain way, even in the paintings. He felt that human beings canāt do that ā but I had them doing it, by God. Actually, we filmed it in a big studio without the outdoors, without scenery and everything. And you could just tell: you could freeze-frame jumpingā¦it was just wonderful. So he realized we could have done it.
What year was this?
Did Bakshi do any of the drawing?
No, not at all. I did many of the keys. In some cases I did an awful lot of drawings. For example, the scene where the wolves appear, I did a lot of drawings for the giant lizard scene ā anything that required a little more know-how. Because none of those people even began to know how to draw a wolf. So I did all those close-up headshots when they first appear. After that you see the small shots and you can see a sudden change in the art. I also had a lot to do with the selection of music. Ralph wanted hard rock. Maybe Iām too conservative ā I wanted classical music. So we got a guy to do that, and I even described to him the composers I liked, what kind of technique and style, and he did a good job. I think it lends a little more seriousness to it. The rockā¦I could be wrong, maybe the rock approach mightāve been cool, who knows?
Youāve never been a rock fan.
No. Come on! Goddamn, Iām an old man! [Groth laughs.] Even if I was young, I doubt that Iād like it. Even as a kid I liked the most serious stuff. I like talent. You know? Talent. If a rock star shows me he has honest-to-God talent, Iāll listen. But 99 percent of them are terrible. Thatās the way I feel about it. I like pop music and classical music, and I donāt think I was very unusual for back then. I was not an Elvis Presley fan. He had talent, I guess, but I didnāt think he had any kind of voice.
You were never taken by him. But when Presley came on the scene, you were in your late 20s.
I was 21 or 22.
A pretty young guy.
Yeah, I was young.
You should have been perfect for him.
Yeah, but I wasnāt. I was a Sinatra fan. Theyāre quite different! [Laughs.] I grew up loving Sinatra in the ā40s. He had a magnificent voice. There were many good singers. Then in walks this guy: wiggling his hipsā¦I never thought he had much of a voice to speak of. He was a great looking guy and I could see why the girls were screaming, but I didnāt.