Famous animators behind ‘Beavis and Butthead’ take on different direction with new documentary

After 16 years of working together in comedy, two New York animators decided to change gears and create a poignant documentary that captures what it is like to experience depression.

On Wednesday, Sept. 10, the cinema department, along with ACME Filmworks, hosted David Wachtenheim and Robert Marianetti for a screening of their works and an evening of questions from audience members.

Guest speakers David Watchtenheim (left) and Rob Marianetti (right) visit the SF State cinema department to do an early screening of their latest work, a short cartoon documentary dealing with depression Wednesday, Sept. 10, 2014. Helen Tinna / Xpress.

Guest speakers David Watchtenheim (left) and Rob Marianetti (right) visit the SF State cinema department to do an early screening of their latest work, a short cartoon documentary dealing with depression Wednesday, Sept. 10, 2014. Helen Tinna / Xpress.

Wachtenheim and Marianetti are a New York-based animation duo that got their start working on the hit MTV show “Beavis and Butthead” in the 1990s. They then went on to animate 52 classic SNL cartoons, among other projects, such as “Journey To The Disney Vault,” “Ambiguously Gay Duo” and “Saddam and Osama,” which they screened Wednesday along to the sounds of laughter from the modestly-packed Coppola Theater.

Ron Diamond, emcee of the event and executive producer for ACME filmworks, attested to the duo’s work ethic and genius.

“Dave and Robert contributed fantastically to the Drew Carey green screen show we did in 2004,” Diamond said, speaking to the animators. “I had a blast. I mean the work that all the directors turned in was fantastic, but (Wachtenheim and Marianetti) were hysterical.”

Following the animated shorts, Wachtenheim and Marianetti screened “My Depression,” a new animated documentary that tells the story of Elizabeth Swados, an off-broadway composer, writer and drama professor at NYU who has depression.  To raise awareness on how depression affects people, Swados published a picture book of drawings detailing her struggles with the disease.

Although she originally intended to show the book to friends and family, Swados later chose to publish the collection, which has gone on to win awards and is used in doctors offices to help people with depression, according to Marianetti.

“The (pictures in the collection) weren’t connected,” Wachtenheim said.  “They were just little affirmational things about what she goes through, and with her help we tried to give it a narrative flow.”

After receiving a positive reaction to the book, Swados teamed up with Wachtenheim and Marianetti to turn the story into a half-hour animated documentary. The film features voice acting from Sigourney Weaver, Steve Buscemi, Fred Armisen and Dan Fogler.  Wachtenheim and Marianetti said they hope their work can educate the public on how depression affects those who experience it.

Following the screening, the animators answered questions from the crowd and spoke about the process of “My Depression,” as well as working on SNL, the new “Hotel Transylvania 2” movie and “Beavis and Butthead,” which Marianetti admits they didn’t think would become the hit that it is today.

After working together for over 16 years, Marianetti describes the duo’s partnership as almost a marriage.  Wachtenheim deals mostly with the actual process of drawing the characters and their movements, while Marianetti deals with the layout and production of the animations.

“It really is a good collaboration because we both do separate things,” Wachtenheim said.  “We overlap in certain areas, like the overall vision, but the specific jobs we really do separately.”

The animators decided, however, that it was time to take a new direction with their skills and make their animated documentary.

“We got to work on something completely different,” Marianetti said. “Something serious with a good humanitarian heart behind it.”

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