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Obituaries

Derek Lamb, 69; Oscar Winner, Producer at Canadian Film Board's Animation Studio

November 16, 2005|Dennis McLellan | Times Staff Writer

Derek Lamb, an Academy Award-winning producer of animated short films and the influential former executive producer of the National Film Board of Canada's English Animation Studio, whose films often dealt with social issues, has died. He was 69.

Lamb, a longtime resident of Cambridge, Mass., died of cancer Nov. 5 at a friend's house in Poulsbo, Wash., said his wife, singer-songwriter Tracie Smart.

While serving as executive producer of the National Film Board's English Animation Studio in Montreal from 1976 to 1982, Lamb was creatively involved -- as a producer, director, writer or in a combination of roles -- in more than 100 film and video productions.

During that time, he won an Oscar for producing the 1979 animated short "Every Child," a bittersweet story about an abandoned baby co-written by Lamb. The film, directed by animator Eugene Fedorenko, was produced for UNICEF to celebrate the "International Year of the Child."

"Derek's gracious and generous nature was reflected in his films," Charles Solomon, the author of numerous books on animation, told The Times. " 'Every Child' highlighted the neglect with which children are too often treated; in that film and in his other work for UNICEF, he gave voice to countless individuals who cannot speak for themselves."

During his years at the National Film Board, Lamb also produced the 1978 animated short "Special Delivery," a black comedy about a husband and wife and their mailman, which won an Oscar for writers-directors Eunice Macaulay and John Weldon. And Lamb was executive producer of "The Sweater," which won a British Academy of Film and Television Arts' award as best animated film in 1982.

Among Lamb's other animated short film credits are "The Great Toy Robbery" (story and design, 1963), "I Know an Old Lady Who Swallowed a Fly" (director, 1964), "The Shepherd" (writer and background artist, 1970, an Oscar nominee), "The Last Cartoon Man" (writer, 1973), "The Bead Game" (producer, 1977; an Oscar nominee), "Why Me?" (writer-director, 1978), "Karate Kids" (director-writer, 1990) and "Goldtooth" (writer-director, 1996).

In the late 1990s, Lamb was instrumental in developing the Emmy Award-winning animated preschool series "Peep and the Big Wide World" for WGBH-TV, the PBS station in Boston. The series, which debuted last year, is based on a character created by animator Kai Pindal in the late 1980s.

Lamb "was very much a part of developing the [series] 'bible' and shaping it as a television program," Pindal told The Times on Monday. "It was also his idea to include an element of science education in the series."

Pindal, who worked with Lamb on "Karate Kids," "Goldtooth" and other animated films over the decades, said Lamb "was an immense talent."

"He had great ideas -- he was a fountain of imagination -- and he had an immense sense of design and story," Pindal said.

"In those years that he was executive producer for the Film Board animation department, they got Oscar nominations all the time, so he was enormously influential and inspirational," Pindal said.

Born in Bromley, England, Lamb launched his film career as an animator-writer at the National Film Board in 1959.

In the mid-1960s, he established and taught workshops in filmmaking and animation at Harvard University while continuing to direct and produce his own commercial and experimental films.

He later taught classes and workshops at McGill University in Montreal and at the National Institute of Design in India.

From 1972 to 1976, Lamb produced programming, including "Sesame Street," for the Children's Television Workshop and for PBS.

In 1980, he and Fedorenko created the titles, based on the artwork of Edward Gorey, for the PBS series "Mystery!"

Working with Fedorenko, Lamb produced the first stop-frame animation sequences made for the IMAX system -- for "Skyward," the 1985 documentary focusing on a family of Canada geese and a conservationist's efforts to restore nature's ecological balance at a seabird sanctuary in Florida.

In 1983, Lamb and his second wife, animation director Janet Perlman, launched an independent film production company, Lamb Perlman Productions, in Montreal.

From 1988 to 1998, Lamb worked with children's organizations such as Save the Children, Street Kids International and UNICEF on productions promoting health and education for poor and marginalized children around the world.

Lamb's "Karate Kids" and "Goldtooth," both made for Toronto-based Street Kids International, dealt with AIDS and substance abuse, respectively.

"He had a compassion, especially for the street kids of the Third World," Pindal said. "He liked to apply his work to good purposes of some kind."

While launching his film career more than 40 years ago, Lamb also was a folk singer in Montreal, where he once opened for then-unknown Bob Dylan. "She Was Poor but She Was Honest," Lamb's album of British music hall songs, was released by Folkways in 1962.

Returning to his musical roots in the late 1990s by singing near his home, he recently recorded a collection of British World War II songs for an as-yet-unreleased CD.

In addition to his wife, Lamb is survived by two sons from a previous marriage, Richard and Thomas; and a granddaughter.

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