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Buzz Potamkin, R.I.P.

May 3, 2012

Photo via Jerry Beck
Buzz Potamkin

I was heartbroken to hear that Buzz Potamkin, one of my earliest animation and production mentors, died of pancreatic cancer on April 22. My thoughts are with his widow Rosie. 

Details on Buzz’s animation career are at Cartoon Brew and Animation Magazine, but I thought I’d share a few of my great experiences. It’s fair to say that I wouldn’t have the animation career I have today without his tutoring, support and depth of knowledge and wisdom.

“One Small Step” from fredseibert on Vimeo.

Buzz and I met in late 1980 through my once-in-a-lifetime media guide Dale Pon. At that time, my creative partner Alan Goodman and I were trying to figure out how we should present the look and feel of a not-yet-named cable music channel. Dale had already intro’d us to Colossal Pictures in San Francisco, soon to be one of our early animation partners, but when he mentioned Buzz’s company Perpetual Motion (soon he spun off as Buzzco) we remembered them as one of the few animation reels that had made a quality impression out of the hundreds we’d reviewed. Buzz quickly won our trust and, in his inimitable way, guided two neophytes through a grueling 24 hour editing session on his studio’s execution (directed by Candy Kugel and produced by David Sameth) of my one and only creative idea for the MTV launch, where a 1969 Buzz Aldrin is facing, not an American flag, but the MTV flag in 1981. The piece went on to be played more than 75,000 times and became an icon that helped define our careers ever after. Buzzco went on to make a number of animated MTV IDs for us, and that was even before Dale conceived the I Want My MTV! advertising campaign for Alan and me a couple of years later. Buzz produced them all with director Tommy Schlamme, and then the peak of the campaign with Candy again.

I Want My MTV!  Produced by Buzz Potamkin 1982-1983 from fredseibert on Vimeo.

It was during those days that Buzz and I first started talking cartoons. He shared stories with me about the characters who ran the business and his point of view about what made the business work and what made it flop. He gave me lessons in the small and the large in everything from production to real estate management, and why the animation business was stalling; we continually improvised what we thought could happen if things were looked at a little differently. We talked creative, media, philosophy, art, politics, you name it. We eventually realized we had even more to talk about and we kept doing it for 15 years. 

Alan and I formed a partnership with Buzz for a few years after we left MTV in 1983 (it was his encouragement that gave us the courage to quit our amazing jobs when we were itching for more entrepreneurial challenge) and we even made a few shows together. But, Buzz was itching too, and he soon decamped to Hollywood to form Southern Star to make cartoon series for the broadcast networks. We kept in touch and several years later I’d improbably moved out for the cartoon biz myself to run the legendary Hanna-Barbera studio.

Bruno Bozzetto’s Help! from Hanna-Barbera’s What A Cartoon! Executive Producer: Buzz Potamkin

My first call and my first hire was Buzz Potamkin. 

Buzz was instrumental in helping figure out how to launch the first of our shorts incubators, What A Cartoon! in 1994. He’d given me plenty of insight about the theatrical shorts of the mid-20th century and when he came on as my head of production we plotted the program together and he cajoled a number of legendary filmmakers like Ralph Bakshi and Bruno Bozzetto to give this crazy idea some gravitas.

Buzz Potamkin was a unique soul. He was the kindest man you could imagine, always ready with help and inspiration. He admired creative people of all kinds, especially artists, and he could smell out smarts in anyone in a room. He had a curmudgeonly crust, but with a quick smile and wit, and always a twinkle in his eye. 

I owe Buzz a lot. Many people do. He’ll be missed.

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