[Editor’s note: Fandor Data Integrity Specialist Jasmyn Wong took the opportunity of Acapulco Gold‘s 4/20/2015 premiere on Fandor to ask her father, who’s animated Tony the Tiger and Dora the Explorer, a few questions about his work on this particular time-capsule of a marijuana movie.]
As a young kid in the early eighties, I used to see my father’s latest surf cartoons and I recall this one being slightly different. I thought the cartoon was funny, but I honestly didn’t quite get the gist of what this animation was really depicting. Though it was my first introduction to the psychedelic pop band Rainy Daze, who accompanied the soundtrack for my dad’s sequence, and maybe that inspired me to become a musician in my later years. (Sixties pop music was something both my father and I shared great interest in.) But my father has always had a rebellious creative jester-like sensibility to how he approaches the world; and that’s apparent in this project. I admire his patience to execute such beautiful painstakingly detailed animations as well as his passionate drive to surf the treacherous San Franciscan waves every morning. My impression was that my father—who was very much into hippie free-spirit counter culture—was super excited to be a part of creating this controversial film. I was curious to hear more, so I asked him three specific questions. He answered none of those at first, but offered this instead: a bit of backstory for Acapulco Gold, made in a time when the world was going up in smoke…..
Arne Jin An Wong: It was in the summer of 1971. A man asked me to create an animation from a song by the Rainy Daze that was banned off the airwaves in the late sixties for being considered dangerously subversive material to the public. He had seen my first surfing cartoon in a surf film called A Sea for Yourself by Hal Jepsen. I asked him what his budget was and he said that he didn’t have one but he could pay me with as much weed as I could smoke. It took about a sec before I blurted out ‘I’ll do it!’ I was 21, young and hungry, willing to do anything to do what I love—to animate!
I immediately went down to Kelly’s Cove, my home surf break in San Francisco, and enlisted anyone who could draw or hold a brush, I had no shortage of volunteers.
I had a full studio of very stoned artists working on this project for about six months, seven days a week. I spent all my spare time working on this film between surfing and going to City College.
My contact would arrive every month with another brick of Acapulco Gold, and drop it onto the table in the center of my art studio. We would be working till the wee hours of the night, laughing hysterically for no reason, rolling gigantic doobies, inking and painting on the wrong side of the cels, listening to epic albums blasting into our memory banks forever. For me, it was Traffic—The Low Spark of High Heeled Boys—we played that album over and over until I knew every word and note to every song.
When the feature film was completed, it was shown in local junior high school auditoriums. This film could not be shown in the cinemas in those days. There were no venues for such films, the only way this could be seen was underground and by word and mouth. Flyers were posted at the beaches and wherever teenagers hung out. These schools never knew what the film was about; they thought it was a movie night for the local community. The audiences were primarily teenagers screaming and hooting throughout the movie, stoned out of their minds.
Through that purple haze of smoke, I saw my whole life before me; surfing by day and making cartoons by night. I was freaking out with joy!
From that moment on, I spent every minute of my life making animation.
For the next thirty years, I ran my own animation company along the beaches in Topanga, Santa Monica and Venice Beach, surfing every chance I got, and working on my animation projects.
Projects that I was fortunate to be working on: the first Tron, the first Heavy Metal, All Dogs Go to Heaven, Tom & Jerry the Movie to name a few. I animated Tony the Tiger, The Toucan in Fruit Loops, and many other animated TV commercials. My most memorable project was developing the character and animation style on Dora the Explorer at Nickelodeon Cartoons. I secretly modeled that character after my daughter, Jasmyn. I still chuckle whenever I see Dora smiling at me on some product.
Forty-six years after making Acapulco Gold, I was directing Tales of the Maya Skies, an animated full dome planetarium film at Chabot Space and Science Center, and creating the ancient temple pyramid of Kukulkan, deep in the forests of the Mayan Yucatan.
I knew I had come full circle, as I marveled at this 3D pyramid, it looked strangely familiar. Then it hit me like a giant brick of Acapulco Gold, the last scene in my cartoon is identical to this pyramid!
Life is stranger than anything you can imagine. . . .
More of Arne Jin An Wong ‘s work can be found here: jinanwong.com/html/animation.html.
Jasmyn Wong was born and raised by the California coast. She graduated from the Broadcast and Electronic Communication of the Arts program at San Francisco State University and worked at the Bay Area Video Coalition for four years. She worked on the curation team for Pandora for seven years prior to working at Fandor. She plays in three local psychedelic rock Bay Area bands.