In 1969, Marv Newland animated a 90-second film whose popularity and notoriety has endured for more than 50 years. That short film, Bambi Meets Godzilla, has gone on to be screened in animation and film festivals all over the world and has become one of the most famous animated shorts of all time. In the 1980s, it was even included on home video release of Godzilla 1985 (1984). In June 2021, Mr. Newland answered Brett Homenick’s questions about creating one of the most iconic animated short films in motion picture history.
Brett Homenick: Going back to the beginning, when and where were you born?
Marv Newland: On March 9, 1947, I was born in Oakland, California, in the United States.
BH: Growing up, were you into monster movies?
MN: I have been a fan of Godzilla movies since I was a young man. The original Godzilla I first saw in the North American release of the film, with scenes of Raymond Burr edited into the original movie. Many of the others, Godzilla vs. The Smog Monster, Mothra vs. Godzilla, and Destroy All Monsters, I watched on television. After Godzilla 1985, I did not see as many Godzilla movies.
BH: Where did you go to college?
MN: In 1969, I graduated from Art Center College of Design in Los Angeles, California.
BH: How did you get the idea for Bambi Meets Godzilla?
MN: Bambi Meets Godzilla was based on my verbal joke soundtrack for the world’s shortest movie. The performance of the joke had a far shorter running time than the movie.
BH: I’m sure it’s not that hard to guess, but, just for the record, how would you tell the verbal joke?
MN: The verbal joke was simply asking someone if they want to hear the soundtrack to the world’s shortest movie. Whether or not the person questioned wanted to hear the soundtrack, I gave a high-pitched squeal of fear followed by a low-pitched, deep roar/growl. The recipient would ask something like, “What’s that?” I would say, “Bambi Meets Godzilla.”
BH: Did your original concept change much as the short film took shape?
MN: The original concept was stretched to last about 80 seconds longer in order to make the final 90-second-long movie. Most of this extension was made up of credits.
BH: Why did the film have to be stretched out to 90 seconds?
MN: The verbal joke/idea for the film had to be stretched to at least 90 seconds in order to be considered a film.
BH: Your short is often described as a “student film.” Is that an accurate description?
MN: Bambi Meets Godzilla was made while I attended Art Center College of Design, at that time located in Los Angeles, California. The movie was animated and recorded on film via a 16mm Bolex camera, which had to be hand-cranked after shooting every 30 seconds, or every 720 frames. That is why there are at least three major shifts of the screen image during the 90-second running time of the picture. The movie was made in a home rented from Adriana Caselotti, who was the voice of Snow White in the original Disney feature film.
BH: What kind of grade did you get for it?
MN: The film had to be made in order for me to receive a passing grade in my fourth-year motion picture production class and therefore to qualify to graduate from Art Center [College of Design]. I am not certain if there was a letter grade given. The movie received a good enough grade for me to graduate and be granted a BFA [Bachelor of Fine Arts degree].
BH: How long did it take for you to animate?
MN: The animation was around 50 crude drawings, including Godzilla’s foot. All of this artwork was made in a couple of days. It almost took more time to shoot the film than to make the animation art. The credits were made using Letraset on a long sheet of clear acetate, which was destroyed in the shooting process.
The titles of the film were created using Letraset on clear acetate. The Letraset [Helvetica] was rubbed down on the acetate to create the credits. The clear acetate was then moved frame by frame using an off-screen guide to create the rolling titles overtop the paper animation of the deer. As the titles went off-screen, they were cleaned off of the acetate, and new titles were rubbed down and moved through the frame. Repeat until all titles have been seen onscreen. This production method resulted in no title art left over after the movie was shot. All of the deer and Godzilla foot animation still exists.
BH: What did you use for reference when it came to drawing Godzilla?
MN: No reference was used. Only the visual memory of the film’s director was used, which is easily seen to be flawed, in the case of both the design of Bambi and of Godzilla.
BH: Did you really do everything by yourself, as the credits say?
MN: The credits are entirely accurate. I failed to give myself a credit for camera or craft services.
BH: Here’s something I’ve wanted to know ever since I was a child: Why do Godzilla’s toe claws curl at the very end?
MN: Godzilla’s claws curl at the end because the picture had to be slightly longer, and I wanted to give some life to Godzilla’s foot, which was only one drawing until the claws moved.
BH: Could you talk about sampling The Beatles’ “A Day in the Life” when Godzilla’s foot appears?
MN: The slowed-down note from “A Day in the Life” was sampled from a vinyl LP at the sound recording company where the optical track was made. It may have been Cinesound. They were very kind to a know-nothing student moviemaker who did not realize at the time how soundtracks had to be recorded, edited, mixed, and then made into optical tracks. All of this was kindly done at the sound production company.
BH: Where was its first public screening?
MN: The first time Bambi Meets Godzilla was seen by the pubic was on local Los Angeles television, The Lohman & Barkley Show.
BH: How was it initially received?
MN: The film seemed to take on a life of its own from the initial exposure. It made people laugh and was included in many animation shows and theatrical packages. Today, it would have a two-week viral life on the Internet.
BH: When do you think it started to take off in terms of popularity?
MN: Bambi Meets Godzilla was made popular in independent cinemas in North America via a theatrical package put together by Specialty Films in Seattle, Washington. They combined a feature film, King of Hearts, and two animated shorts, Thank You Mask Man and Bambi Meets Godzilla. The film was also screened in other animation packages such as Festival of Animation and Spike and Mike’s Sick and Twisted animation compilations. Pyramid Films and Coe Films distributed the picture to schools and universities, and there were television sales all over the world. Bambi Meets Godzilla was made before I knew about animation festivals in Europe, Japan, and Canada. It was never entered into festivals and won no prizes.
BH: Did you ever receive any complaints from either Disney or Toho regarding their use of their characters?
MN: No complaints from Disney or Toho. They may see the animated short as a promo for their grander productions.
BH: On the other hand, did you get any positive feedback from either studio?
MN: The only positive feedback from Disney or Toho has been their lack of response to the film.
BH: I’ve read that Godzilla’s foot may have inspired the similar gag used in Monty Python’s Flying Circus. What could you tell us about that?
MN: Terry Gilliam took me out for lunch in London, England, years ago and confessed to having lifted this foot stomp gag from Bambi Meets Godzilla for the Monty Python animation. This simpleminded gag has since been lifted multiple times by TV commercials, TV shows, and multiple other motion picture situations.
BH: In 1976, [there was] a sequel, Bambi’s Revenge.
MN: The 1976 movie Bambi’s Revenge was not my creation. One hundred percent of all sequels to Bambi Meets Godzilla are the works of other moviemakers.
BH: In the mid-1980s, Bambi Meets Godzilla was included on the home video releases for Godzilla 1985. How involved were you in this process?
MN: I was thrilled to have Bambi Meets Godzilla included in the home video release of Godzilla 1985. Not only was my movie in the same package as a real Godzilla live-action feature, but the people who were supposed to sue me paid me for the use of my film.
BH: Could you talk about the Academy Film Archive’s decision to preserve it in 2009?
MN: Ron Diamond in Los Angeles, who presents the Animation Show of Shows compilation on a yearly basis, approached me regarding possible interest from the Academy of Motion Picture Arts in including Bambi Meets Godzilla in their archives. My first impression was that the Academy only preserved mainstream feature motion pictures.
We met with Michael Pogorzelski, who was then working at the Academy archives. He took us into the room where the original film negatives and printing negatives were examined and restored. On a light table was a 16mm reel of a Stan Brakhage movie.
Seeing that experimental film being carefully prepared for the archive made it clear the Academy was also interested in independent and abstract movies. I was honored to have them include Bambi Meets Godzilla in their archive. They have also archived three more of my films.
BH: What’s your favorite Godzilla movie?
MN: My favorite Godzilla movie is the first Godzilla movie. My favorite Godzilla movie title is Godzilla vs. the Smog Monster.
BH: Do you have any closing comments for this interview?
MN: If Bambi Meets Godzilla had not achieved the success it received from the time immediately after it was released up until today, I feel certain I would not be living a life in animation. The movie helped me to get my first job in the movie-making business and has provided an ongoing patina of notoriety which has allowed me to obtain grants or funds to make many more animated pictures. None of this do I take for granted. The fact that Vantage Point Interviews is requesting this interview 52 years after Bambi Meets Godzilla was made astounds me and makes me laugh.