MAY 04, 2010
On April 18 I lost a friend and co-collaborator of several decades. Carl Macek died of a sudden heart attack at the relatively young age of 58 years. With Carl’s passing the worldwide anime community lost one of its true pioneers and a creative fountainhead.
I write this on the “War of the Worlds: Goliath” Blog here at Heavy Metal, both to honor my friend’s memory and because Carl’s life and career has had a direct impact on “War of the Worlds: Goliath” and the Heavy Metal franchise and I wanted to share that with you.
Writer, producer, director, entrepreneur, Carl Macek was a man of many talents and careers. A fountainhead of movie knowledge and history, Carl was a trained filmmaker and movie historian. He was a highly creative man, blessed with a quick and agile mind. Any conversation with Carl would quickly turn into a creative marathon as Carl would inevitably come up with a half a dozen creative suggestions and brainstorms in his characteristic rapid fire delivery style. Such conversations were sometimes exhausting, but always inspiring.
He was an irrepressible optimist as well. Generous to a fault when times were good, Carl remained unflappably upbeat when times got rough. And through it all, he kept his energy and enthusiasm for life and people.
Carl is best known as the man who introduced modern anime to audiences in the West. He was the producer and writer who created the seminal “Robotech” series out of three different Japanese series and dubbed them with an English language soundtrack. Carl’s taken some “heat” from hardcore anime aficionados in the past for his reworking of “Macross” and the other original series, but the importance of what he did was immense.
Previous to “Robotech”, anime had made a few in-roads into the Western marketplace, notably through the classic Tezuka-directed animes of the mid-60s like “Gigantor”, “Astro Boy”, “Kimba the White Lion” and programs like “Speed Racer” and “Voltron”.
But “Robotech” was something else.
It showed that anime could reach a near-adult level of writing, drama and violence, and all in a “hard SF” setting. Watching “Robotech” in 1985 was literally a mind-expanding experience for many of my generation of animation artists and directors. The first episode alone carried a phenomenal number of strong SF elements and concepts and housed them in an edgy action universe of transforming mecha, missile storms and space/time warp jumps.
Aliens invaded. People died. And the world was changed.
For the first time we saw that you could literally do ANYTHING in animation. We didn’t have to be locked into the classic humor of Warner Brothers or the family adventure/drama of Disney or even the “underground” fantasies of Ralph Bakshi.
“Robotech” was soon followed by the appearance of the bootleg videotape of Miyazaki’s animated epic, “Nausicaa”. Together these two works completely altered the playing field for myself and my contemporaries in the L.A. industry. This was soon reflected in the early series work from the Richard Raynis/Kevin Altieri team at D.I.C. with shows like “Alf”, “C.O.P.S” (which Carl worked on as a story editor), and “The Real Ghostbusters”. It continued with the Bruce Timm Unit at Warners and the seminal “Batman: The Animated Series” and on and on into the present.
A few years after pulling together the “Robotech” epic, Carl founded Streamline Pictures with animation historian Jerry Beck. Streamline completed what Carl had begun with “Robotech”, bringing the best of anime into an American market. In quick succession, Streamline released dubbed (Carl voice directed these) versions of “Akira”, “Laputa - Castle in the Sky”, “My Neighbor Totoro”, “The Castle of Cagliostro”, “Fist of the North Star”, “Vampire Hunter D”, “Wicked City”, “Robot Carnival” and many others.
“War of the Worlds: Goliath”, an action-adventure SF story of Earth battling a powerful alien enemy and with its intense mecha action, is a creative descendant of “Robotech”, “Akira”, “Robot Carnival”, “Laputa”, and many of the other anime that Streamline dubbed and released.
But Carl’s influence on “War of the Worlds: Goliath” is even more direct. In the late 80s I developed the first of a number of original animation properties, called “Railrunners”.
Developed with co-animation artists Gregg Davidson and Jim Mitchell, “Railrunners” was conceptualized as an animated SF series of epic scale, set on a planet and culture dominated by steam power and giant battle trains.
As the project developed further, Bill Kroyer was brought in as a production partner, and then Carl came on board in 1988. Though the initial concept remained the same, Carl brought in a immense amount of his characteristic enthusiasm and inventiveness, culminating in a full development pack wherein Carl and I wrote a full feature screenplay and redeveloped the “look” of the project with Edmund Perryman, Gregg Davidson and Wyatt Weed.
As you can tell from the project’s development work, “Railrunners” was one of our first forays into the world of steampunk out of which Tripod’s separately-developed “War of the Worlds: Goliath” later emerged.
“Railrunners” was intended for a general “family” audience, while our “War of the Worlds: Goliath” is for more mature viewers, yet both projects dipped into the same steam/diesel punk gene pool.
And Carl really liked what we at Tripod Entertainment did later with “War of the Worlds: Goliath”. We had a number of long conversations to discuss various ideas he had for marketing and promoting the movie. We were in discussions about the possibility of having him novelize our story and write and edit a “making of” book on the film. In fact we were talking about those very ideas the day before he was taken from us.
Carl had a long history with Heavy Metal as well. He wrote the “The Art of the Movie Heavy Metal” book of the first movie and was seminal in developing the script and story and raising the production money for the “Heavy Metal 2000” sequel.
A final word about Carl, the man. In my experience, you can tell a lot about an individual when they “make it big” and lot about how the same person weathers a downturn in their life and fortune.
Carl was a genuine prince in both cases.
In the early 90s he was running high off the successful business he and Jerry had painstakingly built up with Streamline Pictures. Housed in a large warehouse office complex on Stewart Street in Santa Monica, Streamline was as close to anime heaven that one could get and a trip to Steamline was always an adventure.
It was all there.
Thousands of boxes of anime DVDs. Thousands of boxes of cells from the same anime DVDs. In one corner, talented model makers like Alexander Rivera and Wyatt Weed were sculpting magnificent statues and set pieces of some of Streamline’s best animes. The sculpts from “Robot Carnival” were particularly sweet, made with loving care and exquisite detail. Further into the warehouse a team of craftsmen were actually producing lines of these sculptures and packaging and shipping them.
And Carl presided over it all, like a particularly avuncular and happy maestro/uncle. And this spirit radiated from the top down. Streamline was a “friendly place” to visit in those days, staffed by a happy and hardworking crew. This success didn’t go to Carl’s head. He remained the same guy throughout. Always enthusiastic and giving. Always available for a meeting. Always willing to lend a hand.
A few years later it was all gone.
Hoping to move into a more “hands on” production role, Carl sold his company and library, but unfortunately things didn’t work out and within a year, Streamline was no more.
But Carl didn’t change or become embittered. He remained the same enthusiastic creative thinker and dreamer he always had been. He picked himself up and kept on pushing ahead, moving to Texas to work for ADV and then ultimately back to Southern California where he had a dozen different projects going.
To be generous when you’re on top of the world is one thing, to remain that way when everything Goes South is the true sign of a big-souled human being and a Class Act. Carl was both and he will be missed. The Universe is a smaller and quieter place with him gone.
R.I.P. my friend. You will be missed.
Below are links to two on-line obituaries for Carl that I think are particularly good.