Emmys, MTV and Buzzco: Interview with Animation Icon Candy Kugel

Candy Kugel
Candy Kugel recently discussed her experiences working with Buzzco Associates, a New York based animation studio that produces animated television shows, independent films, web series, and commercials for clients ranging from MTV, to Nick Jr., to Playboy.

Buzzco Associates is a New York based animation studio that produces animated television shows, independent films, web series, and commercials for clients ranging from MTV, to Nick Jr., to Playboy. From comedies, to dramas, commercials, and both educational and experimental films, Buzzco Associates is not afraid to approach various kinds of content, subject matter, and artistic styles. They are also proud to serve as an independent film company specializing in animation.

Candy Kugel is one of the founding members of Buzzco Associates which was established in 1985 from Buzzco Productions which came after the breakup of Perpetual Motion Pictures in 1983. Known for an innovative mixed-media approach to projects, Candy is an Emmy-award winner whose films have been screened at major venues such as the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) and international film festivals including The New York Film Festival, Tribeca, and Sundance. Since 1992, Candy has also served as a voting member of AMPAS which is the film academy that awards the Oscars. She is currently serving on her branch’s Executive Committee.

Candy started her animation career as a young woman. She studied at the Rhode Island School of Design and made animation there before any such degree program, or any such classes, existed (the school administration was encouraging and accommodated her with a custodian closet as a workspace; specifically her advisor, Tom Sgouros, who was the head of the Design Department made a deal with the head of the Film and Video Department for the space). At Perpetual Motion Pictures, aside from creating a one-minute political cartoon each month for five years for an NBC news program called “Weekend” that aired from 1974 to 1979, from 1979-1983, Candy worked on five “Berenstain Bears” holiday specials as well as “Strawberry Shortcake in Big Apple City” and the “Wacky Wallwalkers Christmas Special.” She was proud to be the youngest animator— and only female—working these shows. One of Candy’s first big jobs was also one of the most iconic in TV history—the creation of the “MTV Moon Landing” which is synonymous with the early days of MTV and the era of the 1980s in general.

“Honestly, in retrospect it was big, but at the time, it was just another job— the “I Want My MTV” campaign was big—especially since that happened as we were forming our studio, Buzzco Associates,” Candy explained via an exclusive interview. “Back in 1981 MTV was a startup and there was no indication that it was going to get as big as it got. MTV found us right before their public launch and I got assigned to working on their logo project. They wanted to use the NASA moon landing images because they were in the public domain and somehow interject the MTV logo into the original footage. We replaced the American flag with hand-drawn logos. I only had one week to do it which was tough because it was technologically challenging needing film exposures, lab requirements, etc. Today it would be easy, but back then technology wasn’t digital and it all had to be made with old craft like matting, film, etc. Still, we got it done, they aired it, and the rest is history.”

MTV was very impressed with Candy’s work and she went on to animate additional projects for them as they launched their famed “I Want My MTV” campaign which was aimed at convincing cable networks to pick the station up.

“In 1981 to up to around 1984 cable was still a fairly new industry” Candy stated. “MTV had to pitch their wares along with USA Network, HBO, and Showtime for which we also did animation. Though, MTV was particularly fun and unique. They were very open to innovative ideas and I was able to mix live action footage with traditional mediums like magic markers to get these really cool effects that grabbed viewer’s attention. We were able to directly use a brand-new type of Kodak photographic paper to capture the rock stars performances on all the I Want My MTV ads. I got to work with Hall and Oaks, Billy Idol, Def Leppard, and Cindy Lauper—she was great! Her segment was really memorable since she had to sit on a table and open a champagne bottle. You can still watch that old commercial on YouTube.”

Although Candy enjoyed the work she did for MTV, educational television and learning through animation is a special passion of hers. Hence, she was delighted when she had the opportunity to work with “Sesame Street.” In the 1980s, Edith Zornow of “Sesame Street” programming actively sought out independent animators with unique stylistic sensibility. With “Sesame Street,” Candy created animations such as “It’s Hip to Be a Square,” “Jake the Snake,” “Redwood Tree” and more. From there, Candy went on to work with Nick Junior and eventually won a Daytime Emmy for her contributions to the WGBH children’s show “Between the Lions” for which she created the “Polly and the Pirate” series. Finally, in 2009, Candy with Buzzco created “It’s Still Me! A Guide for People with Aphasia and their Loved Ones”— a 17-minute animated film helping people newly diagnosed with aphasia (the inability to use words) learn more about their condition and techniques to facilitate communication. It is being used by aphasia centers around the world and was translated into Spanish. You can see it here: www.buzzzco.com/Educational/Aphasia.htm

Candy Kugel
Candy Kugel has been an animator since the 1970s but she found true success in the 80s and beyond.

Although television and commercial work paid the bills, Candy was always drawn to creating independent animated films, something which she continues today. By 1985, Candy was a partner at Buzzco Associates and the firm dedicated themselves to making independent films in between paying projects. All of the scripts and films were developed in-house and were somehow connected to something happening in the lives of the animators. For instance, “A Warm Reception in LA” was based on Buzzco Associates co-founder Vincent Cafarelli, when an idea of his was pitched by his boss to the networks. He told Vinny that his idea had gotten a “warm reception” which Vinny took as gospel.  The statement was turned into a catchy song which was accompanied by an animated short film that employed painting on a black background; something that was innovative at the time of its release. “Fast Food Matador” was another film they produced which was inspired by witnessing fast food delivery boys trying to navigate crossing the street through traffic. “Archie Foley” was a far more somber movie about a man who lay dying. The range of themes and styles in these films is the personification of Buzzco Associates.

As time went on, Candy found it increasingly difficult to find well-paying work in the field of animation, especially for independent productions that specialized in experimental animation styles. In 2016, after a particularly bad year, Candy decided to create one last personal film entitled “I, Candy.” The 22-minute animated piece tells the story of Candy’s life through the deconstruction of a drawing that she created as a child where she depicted herself wearing a sailor’s outfit standing in front of an easel painting a self-portrait. The project was a labor of love and took approximately a year to complete. It received rave reviews The Museum of Modern Art in New York City honored it with a premiere.

“I really thought that was going to be my last movie but I had so much fun making it that I couldn’t stop and it wasn’t,” she said with a laugh. “I actually just finished my latest movie right before the coronavirus shut down the world. I’m still waiting for things to reopen so I can premiere it.”

That latest film is entitled “Miracle on Central Park West” which is based on a true story and was created using found object models and a mixed-media animated style. During the Covid lockdown Candy stayed busy working on yet another film based on her life titled “A Tale of Two Weddings” which describes her experience attending two weddings within 48 hours…one in America and the other in Israel.

“I look at the films I’m making now and realize that they are part of a trilogy called Stories I Would Have Told my Children,” Candy said. “I’m really happy that I still have the ability to keep working even though things are very different now than they were in the 80s. I’m working alone. No partners. No employees. I miss that family feeling but I still have people who I can show my works in progress to and get their reactions and for that I am very grateful.”

To learn more, visit the official website of Candy’s animation company, Buzzco Associates. To watch an interview with her, see here. “I, Candy” can be found on Vimeo.