Ever wish you could see Frank Frazetta’s sword & sorcery paintings come to life in an animated motion picture? Me, too.
Fire and Ice does not do that, but it’s the closest thing we have so far. As director Ralph Bakshi explains, they had neither the budget nor the technology to accomplish that miracle in 1983, and strove instead to create a vision more in line with Frazetta’s work on the 1950s comic book Thun’da.
This Bakshi/Frazetta collaboration is a familiar tale of a buxom, big-assed princess (Teegra) who’s abducted by a tribe of subhumans in the employ of an evil sorceress and her sorcerer son. On the side of good, though are three (count ‘em, three) thinly-veiled incarnations of Conan of Cimmeria.
First up is a wet-behind-the-ears barbarian named Larn, distinguished from the young Cimmerian only by his blond hair. Next we meet Teegra’s brother Taro, who looks exactly like a twenty-something Conan (but we know it’s not him because he is, after all, a prince). And finally there’s Darkwolf, a thirty-something barbarian who wears Conan’s trademark furry shorts. There’s no doubt he, too, looks exactly like Conan, but he never takes off his wolf hoodie.
There are no surprises in the story, but it’s nice to watch. Though nothing ever looks exactly like Frazetta, his presence is always hinted at - by the backgrounds, character design and the framing of each scene. In an accompanying documentary about Frazetta’s life and work, Ralph Bakshi says the film artists were so much in awe of him that they were almost ashamed to draw. Bakshi assured them that Frank did not expect them to draw Frazetta, but merely to do their best.
For the most part, their best is pretty good. The backgrounds are never up to Frazetta quality, but they suggest it, and evoke the magic of his vision. The most Frazetta-like of the characters are Princess Teegra, the dusky subhumans, and Darkwolf, who poses like the grim reaper from the paperback edition of Flashing Swords! #2.
The animation was done by rotoscope, meaning they filmed live actors, then drew over their images frame-by-frame. Frazetta reportedly helped out with directing, sometimes running up an down hills to show the subhumans and others how they should move. There must be film of that somewhere, and it would be a kick to see.
By today’s standards, the animation of Fire and Ice is pretty primitive, but the design is great, and based on the technology of the time, it’s an impressive achievement. I’d sure like to see the technology of today turned loose on a project like this.
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