Remembering Filmmaker Suzan Pitt (1943-2019)

Artist, animator, and filmmaker Suzan Pitt passed away recently at age 75. Through work like her Creative Capital Project, El Doctor, Pitt pushed the medium of animation film using avant-garde, complex techniques to make work that mirrored “the way we daydream.” Inspired by Mexican religion, superstition, and the tradition of treating miraculous occurrences as real, El Doctor—which takes place at the turn of the century in a crumbling hospital in Mexico—premiered in 2006, and received many prizes and accolades.

In a time when the animation industry was dominated by men, Pitt made personal and provocative films that addressed issues like depression, identity, sexuality, and mortality. Pitt’s work was acquired by the permanent collections at MoMA and the Walker Art Center, and has been exhibited at many other museums around the world. By straddling the art and entertainment industry, she leaves a lasting legacy on the animation world, using the art form of animation to express humor, thoughtfulness, and a sense of wonder.

“Pitt’s impact and influence reached far and wide throughout the animation world,” writes Cartoon Brew.

“Ms. Pitt’s animation was done without a computer,” writes the New York Times in an obituary, “each frame was hand-painted and drawn, and 12 different images were required for every second of film. Each project required years of planning, storyboarding and experimentation, helped by a team of artists paid through grants.”

We reached out to a few Creative Capital Awardees, notably animators, who were touched by Pitt and her life’s work.

Stacey Steers
Suzan was an exemplary animation artist and she worked tirelessly to express complex and deeply personal ideas in much of her work. She utilized traditional animation techniques to create films with wonderful complexity in gorgeous palettes of color, working slowly and methodically toward a highly evolved, often surreal vision. When she started creating wildly eccentric and fabulous illustrated coats, they seemed to grow naturally out of this unique vision she had built over many years.

She was very curious about, and supportive of other animator’s work. She wrote very thoughtfully and insightfully when she would see films she responded to and I treasured some of the things she told me over the years. We shared a certain interest in probing female interiority, seeking to give life to that inquiry in our work. I considered her a kindred spirit and she will be deeply missed.

Chris Sullivan
It was fall of my sophomore year at Carnegie Mellon 1979 when my roommate Ebon Fisher, lead me to a screening at The Carnegie institute of Asparagus by Suzan Pitt. At that moment my life as a strange animator was born. She showed me then, and has always shown me. It would take an amazing amount of work, a willingness to do what does not make sense, and trust in your subconscious. You must embrace horror and beauty at the same time.

Grateful for the opportunity to meet this heroin in 2015, and get to see the images that shaped so much of my notion of what animation is possible of doing. And own the one below. Carved in deep colorful stone in the superstructure of my brain is the release of the Doctor’s bag of earthy delights into the crowd in Asparagus, the growing mouse carrying the wounded woman through the streets in Joy Street, The Devil in El Doctor, and the quiet and haunting back room, and grinding of the witch, in The Visitation.

These dark images, came from this warm woman, who knew how to release her mind into the world like no other animator. I cherish all you have done on this planet.

Read more about Suzan Pitt and her work on her website.