In the middle of a dark cluttered studio in a garage in Crystal City the Okefenokee Swamp has come alive with Pogo, his friends and enemies cavorting as they did in the famous comic strip created by the late Walt Kelly.
Stowmar Inc., a combination of Kerry H. Stowell, president, and Marc Chinoy, vice president-director, has been working on a movie about Pogo for more than a year and is expected to bring the $2 million mini-extravanganza to the screen this summer.
Having known Walt Kelly for many years, both as my boss and a close friend before his death in 1973, I felt he would have loved the finely detailed crate-size sets and the 3-to-inch high figures of the lovable possum Pogo and his gang.
Pogo, created by Kelly in the late 1940s, was primarily a humorous political and social satire as he sent his swamp characters into nearly every major political situation.
For over 20 years the strip appeared in 300 papers in the United States and Canada and in 150 papers in 13 foreign countries.
His books sold more than 3 million copies.
During the life of the strip, Kelly introduced at least 150 characters but the people at Stowmar, who are making a full length, 90-minute movie, have limited their cast to about 20 of the more prominent swamp denizens.
"The idea to do a movie of Pogo came to Kerry and myself while having dinner one night," Chinoy said. "We called Selby Kelly, Walt's widow, and flew to New York the next day, met for lunch and signed the agreement to film Pogo."
Selby Kelly, a former Disney animator, carried on the strip for two years after Kelly's death and retained the rights to Pogo.
"I became interested in Kelly's strip while working on the Muppets for "Sesame Street," that's all they talked about on the set," Chinoy said.
"They would read it every day and discuss it until I finally became hooked."
He is the creator of "Flexiform," an advanced table-top system capable of showing full-animation in the round.
"It took 13 years in its development," Chinoy said.
Holding up a figure of Pogo, Chinoy said "They're a combination of plastic, clay, magnetic metal and sundry other bits and pieces and would not hold together for long, so there is no resale value in the figures.
"This is the first time an attempt has been made to shoot a full length production using three-dimensional figures, Chinoy explained. "It's not a new technique, the movie 'King Kong' showed the art form possibilities."
Working on the movie looks like fun for the forty-five technicians brought in from around the country to Crystal City who work in several crowded rooms that make up the studio.
In one small room artists sit at a table sculpturing, painting and dressing the perfect Pogo, Albert the alligator and other swamp stars.
"I wrote the script based on the original characters by Kelly," Chinoy said.
"A cartoonist interprets from the script and draws the scenes on a story board. The designer creates from that, we set the models down and are ready to shoot.
"Of course it is not as simple as that," Chinoy explained. "We shoot one frame at a time and 24 frames will make one second of action.
"To show action, the arm of a character is moved a fraction of an inch, shot, then moved again and shot." Chinoy said, "There are thousands of minuscule adjustments. It sometimes takes five frames to mouth one letter."
In order to cut production costs Chinoy has been buying up used film to splice between live action. He laughed as he said, "We never quite know what we are getting and one day while viewing a quiet scene we were suddenly watching a segment of pornography extremely out of context with the innocence of Pogo."
Lined along many shelves are lots of Alberts, whose wide egg-shaped eyes are empty. An eyeball can later be fitted in at some angle to show emotion.
Other shelves have only the legs and feet of the many characters all set up in a walking sequence.
The sets for the most part are pretty still except for a flickering candle to set a mood or for lighting up a sky.
"Kelly's animals were easy to copy," Chinoy said. "If you studied Kelly's drawings as I did, you would find he used a hundred different shapes of trees in his swamp scenes and we have duplicated them all.
In his figures, maybe because of his animation days with Disney, he showed excellent views, turning them around in each panel, to show backs, sides, several different angles, they were not flat like a lot of comic strip drawing is today," he added.
The props used on the sets, chairs, tables, utensils, all are adapted from the strip.
If Pogo fans laughed at the condition of Albert's refrigerator, it can be seen again, crummy, dirty, the door hanging open with food falling out.
The three sleazy, comical, derby-wearing bats play a working miniature pinball machine a bit smaller than a cigarette package, using the numbers they ring up for a voters poll.
Pogo buffs will be delightful to see in fine detail the beat-up coupe that was used to take Pogo to the political convention in L.A. years ago.
The dialogue Kelly used in his balloons was a mixture of Georgia "cracker talk" and Old English fairy tale dialect.
Jonathan Winters is the voice of the Mole. Deacon, who always spoke in Old English letters, is dubbed by Vincent Price.
Jimmy Breslin is the voice of P. T. Barnum. Kelly always depicted him speaking in circus poster lettering.
Stan Freberg, will lip-synch for Albert the Alligator and a few more characters, while Ruth Buzzi and Arnold Stang fill in for voices of the other swamp people.
"We're about halfway there," Chinoy said. "The voices are finished, now we have to fit them to the movements of the models."
Although Stowmar is planning on releasing the movie prior to both presidential nominating conventions, candidates can relax because Pogo has announced that he absolutely and alphabetically will not run for president. CAPTION: Illustration, Pogo, Albert and Congersman Moop; Copyright (c) 1979 Estate of Walt Kelly