Tom Waits for No One

Today, Tom Waits released a new single, and announced a forthcoming album (containing his first new material since the massive Orphans: Brawlers, Bawlers and Bastards from 2006) scheduled for release on 25th October. To celebrate, here’s a reminder of John Lamb‘s innovative animated short, Tom Waits for No One, which features a rotoscoped avatar of the singer performing The One that Got Away. Using the Oscar (Scientific Technical Achievement, 1978)-winning Lyon Lamb Video Animation System (devised by Lamb and Bruce Lyon), five cameras were set up to record 13 hours of footage; 5,500 frames were then painted, frame by frame onto celluloid acetate. Lamb and Lyon used Waits as a test subject to prove the value of their process (an advance on earlier versions of rotoscoping because it could work from video reference footage) to Ralph Bakshi, who had expressed an interest in a video rotoscoping technique; I believe he used it on American Pop, but I don’t think it was ready in time for The Lord of the Rings, which was released theatrically a month after the Waits film was shot in October 1978. The choice of Waits as a test subject was a masterstroke; he’s such a distinctive, magnetic performer, with that unmistakable alley-cat prowl, that only a technology capable of capturing some of that charisma would be worth persisting with. The fluidity of the system would be tested to its limits.

Here’s a sample of what the live-action footage looked like when shot on the La Brea stage in Hollywood, with Donna Gordon (at his live shows at the time, Waits would hire a stripper to perform the number with him onstage, but Gordon had also appeared, trivia fans, in John Cassavetes’s The Killing of a Chinese Bookie):

You can read much more about this film (and see images from its production) at the amazing Tom Waits Library.

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