Meet Rufus Butler Seder, a filmmaker, inventor, toymaker, and author of moving picture books including “Gallop!” • “Swing” • “Waddle” and more!
By Hope Katz Gibbs, founder, Inkandescent PR + Publishing Co., for the Costco Connection — “I’m mostly interested in finding ways to make magic,” says Rufus Butler Seder, a filmmaker, inventor, toymaker, and author of several moving picture books published by Workman Publishing including Gallop! (2007), Swing! (2008), and his 2009 newest release, Waddle!
What is scanimation?
“It is a technique that combines the eye’s ability to use parallax perception with moiré-style multiple-line patterns and a sheet of acetate,” Seder explains. “Ultimately, the brain thinks the images on the page are moving. But the only thing happening is what is going on between your ears. It’s a wonderful, patented optical illusion.”
Open the cover of Waddle!, for instance, and the penguin on the page appears to slip, slide and swoop. The frog on the second spread leaps and flips, flops, flops. A pig prances, a snake slithers, and so on until the climax, which (shhh, it’s an alligator) is certain to make a 4-year-old scream with delight.
Making kids giggle and grown-ups grin — then say, “how’d he do that?” — is exactly the goal for 56-year-old Seder, who credits his parents for helping him become the artistic inventor he is today.
“My mom was a piano teacher, and my father Eugene (Gus) was a journalist and photographer who took me to see Fellini movies, wrote news stories about inventors, and was himself an inventor and a capable electrical and mechanical engineer,” shares Seder, who dedicated Swing! “To Mom, who made things fun, and Dad, who made things work.”
Seder took it all in and, starting in elementary school, began turning out work that was sophisticated beyond his years. By the time he hit high school, he’d won numerous art awards, including Kodak’s prestigious CINE Golden Eagle award. (He had collaborated on a film with high school friend Tod Gangler, who himself went on to become the world’s leading carbon printing photography expert.)
In the mid-1980s, Seder made his mark on the independent film industry when he founded the Boston Black And White Movie Company. Judges at the Cannes Film Festival Medal recognized his work, and he also received funding from the National Endowment for the Arts. Among his films was Phantom Subways, a study of an underground railway station; Sun Run, a pixilated animated short about a sunbather reading Kafka whose attempt at getting a tan is thwarted by the shadows thrown by nearby buildings; and Live in Fear, the story of giant eyeball living atop a human body who battles a giant cat and an enormous parrot.
“Admittedly, these weren’t big box office smashes, but we were definitely making a contribution to the artistic side of the independent film business,” offers Seder, who attended the American Film Institute as a directing fellow during this time. For nine years he taught filmmaking for nine years at the School of the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston.
In 1990, he was inspired to take moving pictures to a new dimension. He figured out how to create murals that used no electricity, moving parts or special lighting — but still appeared to move as the viewer walked by. After some experimentation, Seder developed a 3-pound, 8-inch square, lens-ribbed glass tile that appears to move. He calls it LIFETILES.
These “movies for the wall,” as Seder explains it, became a new revenue stream. He continues to design and install these moving works of art, which range in price from $50,000 to $200,000, at Union Station in Washington, DC, the Miami Seaquarium, museums, and other public spaces worldwide.
What tickles Seder most, he says, is watching people react to his work. “Some people walk or run back and forth, making the pictures ‘move,’ while others stop, stare, smile to themselves, and sway from side to side. The people can be as fun to watch as the work itself.”
By 1999, Seder was ready for a new adventure. He, his then-bride, and business manager, Penny Sander, decided it would be fun to marry Seder’s passion for antique toys with his love of moving pictures. They opened Eye Think, Inc. (www.eyethinkink.com). They designed Seder’s first toy, the CineSpinner — an animated sun-catcher that comes to life and animates continuously as they gently rotate in a window: dancers dance, horses gallop, and monkeys swing from vine to vine.
He also began designing Smart Move greeting cards — elaborate paper gifts with images of hearts, ballroom dancers, piano hands, penguins, and more, that move when you open the cover.
Then, during a trade show in 2006, a book buyer for Workman Publishing named Raquel Jaramillo happened to walk up to Seder’s booth where he was selling those cards. She spent a lot of time examining the drawings and playing with them to see what they’d do. Soon after, she called Seder to ask if he’d like to turn them into a book.
“I was tickled at the offer, although slightly hesitant at first because I didn’t want to give away the secret to how I make them work,” Seder shares. “But it’s very hard to say no to Raquel.”
Three years later, he is working on book number four for Workman Publishing, which uses the Star Wars characters. Although he didn’t get to meet George Lucas, he admits it was challenging to create R2-D2 and C-3PO in scanimation. Nonetheless, Seder found a way to make it happen.