emily and georgia hubley
of the royal family of animation
many of you know georgia hubley from yo la tengo, but you may not know that she came from a family of famous animators. emily and georgia’s parents, john and faith hubley, made tons of supercool animated shorts back in the day (meaning for john, the 30s through the late 70s, and for faith, until she passed away in 2001). their beautifully crafted, impeccably scored films incorporated such themes as racism and feminism, vivid jazz-era images, and the voices of their children as well as jazz greats like dizzy and ella. john worked at disney in the 30s on some films you may have seen (dumbo, pinocchio, fantasia, snow white, etc.) later, at upa, he designed mr. magoo.
the hubleys won oscars for three of their works: moonbird (1959), the hole (1962), and tijuana brass double feature (1965). we are inspired by tales of faith busting down the man-made doors of hollywood, by her bold autobiographical film, and by her amazing liner notes for a jazz cd of works they’d commissioned, journey to next. emily and georgia both continued the family franchise; emily recently did the animated parts in hedwig and the angry inch, and she teaches at the school of visual arts in nyc and yale. georgia also has done animation work too, and she and ira kaplan often supplied musical accompaniment to the family films. we interviewed the hubley sisters at fez in new york city. if only we all could grow up in a family of artists like the hubleys. (note: dawn sutter and gail o’hara originally conducted this interview a few years ago for dawn’s mag, moxie, which still hasn’t published a second issue.)
rent some hubley animation from your local video store; and see their next exhibition at the museum of modern art in nyc, which now houses the hubley studio collection.
chickfactor: who’s older?
emily: I’m a few years older.
cf: was there ever any sibling rivalry between you two?
emily & georgia: [laughter]
georgia: I think so. there was definitely a short period where we had some. when we were older we got along — i think there was just a tense period at that 10-11 age.
emily: oh when we fought all the time.
georgia: we were not friends. it didn’t really last very long. I remember because we had two brothers, and I remember one of them being on my side for awhile.
emily: well, then our oldest brother went away to school and sort of became too big to hang out with us. then there was that three. the biggest reason why I will never have three kids. that three dynamic. so it was always like two against one. georgia was always on ray’s team or my team. she was never by herself. but that three dynamic is really hard to do. I don’t really remember — apart from those fights. I don’t really remember too many physical fights. there were some pretty funny diary entries.
georgia: “emily is a bitch.” I spelled bitch wrong.
emily: there was this whole thing where it said, “georgia read my diary.” and then the next day it said, “georgia is so full of shit, she wrote in her diary that she had a bad day.” we had this whole diary war. I remember hiding my diary and knowing exactly where georgia was hiding her diary. and we were both completely reading each other’s diaries. we were really small then. if you look at the writing. it’s really funny to look at that.
georgia: that was just sort of that pre-teen era. once we became teenagers…
emily: …we became allies.
cf: when did you know you were an artist?
emily: I never did.
cf: did you go to art school?
emily: you went to art school. you had that art thing down more.
georgia: I went to art school for a couple of years and I just sort of fell out of it.
emily: georgia does beautiful paintings.
georgia: the last time I did a painting…it’s been so long. I can’t wait to do some. it’ll be like, after twenty years, saying, “this is what I like now.” it will be pretty interesting.
emily: I really enjoyed the film we made together. that was just a joyful thing for me to work on, because I love georgia’s paintings and I loved her animation. and I loved working with those. georgia, why don’t you draw more?
georgia: I could make the time. I should. I’m lazy by nature and I probably….
emily: I don’t think you’re lazy, I think you’ll do it when you feel like doing it. you’re very busy. I think that creative gas is a finite thing. you’re using up a lot of creative fossil fuel on your band work.
georgia: it is funny, though, that before I got involved in music, when I was painting and drawing, clearly my mom — my dad was already dead at that point — really wanted me to go in that direction. I mean, I think she’s happy the way everything turned out, but I think she would have preferred I go that way.
cf: so there might be some element of that’s what she wanted…
emily: that’s pretty interesting, I never thought of that. someone was talking about “the tower” the other day, asking when we were going to make another movie together. I said, when there’s time.
cf: is your stuff autobiographical?
emily: uh, yeah. it’s all sort of through the lens of your memory. things are stretched.
cf: is georgia the annoying little sister in the girl with her head coming off?
emily: no. no. and I don’t think she’s an annoying character. in a way the bigger girl in that piece, the older sister, is in awe of the stuff her younger sister can still do, and the sureness with which she expresses herself. she’s more stuck in that what-does-everyone-think-of-me [mode]. her younger sister doesn’t have that by way of her personality or by way of her age, or both. I think she’s envious of it, and that comes out as making fun of it, but I think it’s really that feeling that I wish I could be that free or that unquestioning of what I do. but that character is partly from my memory of feeling that georgia sort of struck me as knowing who she was or what she was doing.
emily: that was my sense, I was full of self doubt. I’m sure that georgia had that too, but I just didn’t see it. and also my daughter is like that. at this point she completely has no…she’s younger, she’s only five. it’s about that quality, it’s not georgia per se.
cf: do your kids do animation?
emily: they are always talking about their movies. that sort of gets back to our parents. my kids are a lot more aware of what I do cause it’s in the same place. they’re always talking about their things. I think that’s a nice benefit of what I do — they can witness it. my son has all these projects. this is going to be this movie and they’re coloring all the time. it’s a nice thing that they don’t feel daunted. so many people would say, ‘oh I could never do that.’
cf: have you [emily] ever thought of doing music videos, and have you [georgia] ever thought about having an animated video for yo la tengo?
georgia: you know that is interesting. um, I think it’s probably. I think I’ve thought about it, but um…I don’t know. it’s never really come up actually.
cf: what sort of tv stuff are you doing now, emily?
emily: I’m doing another girl with her head coming off although I’m not producing it, I’m only directing it. the tv show kablam wants to maybe make a pile of those so I’m sort of trying to figure out how to make those. I take a long time, I color everything, I draw everything, I take too long. so there’s an animation house where a friend of mine, we’re sort of feeling out what it looks like when he does that. so we’ll see how that works. they came to me and said, ‘what would you like to do for us?” but I’ve already been through this tv thing and I’m happy with these characters. but the video thing…
georgia: I know when we’ve made videos they have to be ready immediately.
emily: and animation takes so long. I love having yo la tengo’s music on my movies. I hope that will continue. that seems to me more of a true and good way to collaborate.
cf: did your parents meet through animation?
emily: no. they didn’t. my mother didn’t do animation then; she was a film editor. they actually met on a film where he was doing animation and she was editing.
georgia: they worked on it together, but they already knew each other.
emily: they met through mutual friends. but my dad was married, so they met in a friendship context. they worked together later. she was assigned to work on a project that he was going to be the director of. she was sort of going to be his assistant — help keep him on schedule. that’s sort of when their relationship took off.
cf: when you were kids, what did you think of your parents’ job? did you think that it was pretty normal?
georgia: no, in fact it took me a really long time to figure out really what they were doing. because it is kind of confusing, because as animated filmmakers people would always think they were animators. but they weren’t actually physically animators, and that was always really hard to describe. that was my problem.
emily: oh really?
georgia: I couldn’t really explain exactly what they were doing, because they weren’t literally drawing every single picture. after awhile I finally grasped it.
emily: hmmm I don’t really remember thinking it was. I remember feeling happy that they were doing something that I was remotely interested in. when they finished a movie or something you’d be interested in seeing it, and it had things in it you could talk about. you could just understand, unlike a lot of [parents’] jobs where they just disappeared and then came back [in the evening.]
cf: in what capacity did they use you guys?
georgia: well, I guess the first time I was aware of them using us [it was] as voices, but because I was the youngest it kinda took me a while to figure out what was going on.
emily: you remember those milk mates, don’t you?
georgia: I do remember aspects of going and doing reading for commercials or whatever. we did a couple of those. and one of their films, which is about emily and I, windy day, I remember the taping and the making of that. I just remember I wasn’t really so happy.
emily: well, it was sort of horrifying to hear your own voice back in that context. the thing that’s cool about that movie — apart from the fact that georgia and I don’t like listening to it or watching it, just cause it’s us.
georgia: I know how good it is.
emily: all the reasons that we can’t watch it, are all the reasons that it’s good. because it’s so realistic, that it does enter that children’s world and it does reveal a lot about us.
cf: what happens in the movie?
georgia: loosely, it’s kind of like they just stuck us in a room with a tape recorder. there were some sort of guidelines.
cf: how old were you?
georgia: I was six and emily was eight. but there was a whole premise where we were doing a play. for a while emily was really into doing plays and making me do them with her. [laughter]. which i’m sure I enjoyed on some level.
cf: did you often go along with the plays reluctantly?
emily: I think you enjoyed doing the plays, more than you enjoyed doing the play for the movie.
georgia: yeah. absolutely.
emily: we used to just have fun making up these plays on weekends and doing them for people. they wanted us to reenact that [for the movie]. so in the taping, in the recording studio, georgia was getting bored; we had already done it a couple of times. she didn’t want to do it anymore — now I get to set the record straight — and my parents kept telling me that we had to do it again. so in the sound check it’s me going “come on georgia, we have to do the play now.” and georgia’s going, “i don’t want to, I don’t want to.” and I’m making her do it. it makes me look like such a nag.
georgia: but while all that’s going on, there’s a lot of other stuff going on.
emily: they sort of had a list of questions that prompted us to talk about things. you know it’s a really nice portrait of girls that age, and of us, it’s just sort of embarrassing to have it etched in people’s memories.
georgia: it is really beautiful though, if you ever get to see it.
emily: it’s really all encompassing. we talk about sex, we talk about birth and life.
georgia: yeah, my parents really…
emily: my favorite thing is georgia talking about this dream that she had that scared her. it’s really nice. it really is a good thing. it’s just that it’s us. no one really likes to listen to themselves on tape.
cf: do you have a favorite thing that your parents have worked on?
emily: I have a lot of favorites.
georgia: yeah, a lot of the films are really great. maybe my favorite might be the hole, but I love a lot of them.
emily: there really aren’t many that I couldn’t say…
georgia: that I don’t like.
cf: did you like them when you were a kid, or were they something that you grew to like when you were older?
emily: I had favorites as a kid. there were one or two that I didn’t understand until later.
georgia: but we also, when we were pretty young, I remember them kind of involving us in coloring and stuff. and that was really fun, too. I remember doing some of that.
cf: how old were you when you started doing that?
georgia: I don’t think we were too old, ’cause it seemed like someone else was having to redo it all. pretty young I think.
cf: do they encouraged you to draw when you were pretty young?
georgia: oh yeah we would have…
emily: … family drawing classes. going out in the winter, freezing out on the beach in the middle of winter, drawing, like, a stick on the beach. you’d have all the sand blowing over your pad. can we go inside yet? oh no we’re not done yet. our parents’ stuff would be all beautiful and we’d all stomp back to the car going, “mine really sucks!” everyone would be in a horrible mood cause they hated their pictures. then we’d have to do the critique, we’d put them up.
georgia: for all the encouragement to express yourself, the amount of self-loathing that was going on…
emily: I don’t remember, I think there was one picture that they ended up framing and hanging up. I only remember one experience of liking what I did. and every other time was like, ugh.
cf: how do you feel about your work now?
emily: well i’m finally, after doing this for twenty years, i’m finally remotely enjoying drawing. I feel like it took me so long to find a natural enjoyable aspect of it that wasn’t a total struggle. for all the bellyaching I do about windy day, I do end up talking in my movies. but I don’t make myself do it over and over. my drawing style, I don’t demand too much of myself. I seem to go with what works.
cf: in the liner notes to journey to next [comp of jazz commissioned for john & faith hubley’s films] your mom says something like, “words kill the cinema.”
georgia: oh did she say that?
emily: well she certainly feels that way on one level.
cf: how so?
georgia: well, all her films now tend to be very non-verbal.
emily: she really likes the universality that comes with a non-verbal film. it sort of connects her to some sort of pre-speaking utopia that she envisions. but I think that she thinks too much narrative structure is imposed.
cf: she talks a lot about the relationship between jazz and animation.
emily: that’s what that record is about.
georgia: but it is true, if you see a lot of those films, the music plays such a big role in the film. they really did take it very seriously.
emily: well [our parents] were both huge jazz fans.
cf: do you think they helped shape your view of music?
georgia: I don’t really think so. I don’t really know how that happened. I don’t think it happened directly. my being drawn to music, I don’t feel is any different than being drawn to art. so in that respect, I might have been influenced by their way of thinking.
emily: but it wasn’t poo-poo-ed.
georgia: no, but rock music was.
emily: not as much as country music.
georgia: which is probably why it took me so long to really…
emily: to get into it.
cf: some of your music now is film related or it’s been used in films.
georgia: I don’t know how that relates to them really.
emily: I think it’s just a whole different process. their films were shaped very specifically to achieve a certain purpose and I feel like, I could be wrong, what georgia and ira do is more explorational, you know. it strikes me as a different artistic processes. I know with faith’s films and with faith and john’s films they were very planned, very structured.
georgia: but I would say, that the way our life is is really similar.
emily: yeah. that’s one of the answers I give when I get asked, “how do your parents influence you?”. people want me to say, “oh I saw that film and I knew I wanted to copy that forever and ever.” but really, what I feel like that we got is the life of artistic pursuit.
georgia: and being independently minded.
the hubley studio: moma.org/filmvideo/hubley/hub_essay.html