Animator Draws on Life; Marina Zurkow Is Taking Cartooning to a New Level. Mike Chapple Reports

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Byline: Mike Chapple

`AS I GET older, I get freer to get younger - or at least more playful and grotesquely sincere. '' So speaks native New Yorker Marina Zurkow, one time horror movie production designer turned animator whose cutting edge work has won her a host of awards.

Now she's on her way to Liverpool and FACT with her latest creations Pussy Weevil and Nicking the Never. Poached by FACT supremo Eddie Berg on a trip to the Big Apple, they are making their UK debuts and are guaranteed to entertain and furrow brows at the same time.

Pussy Weevil is a reactive 2-D screen character, a puce green frog-like creature with gaping toothless maw, bulbous black eyes and teddy bear ears, who is alternately bold or cowardly depending on how the viewer decides to approach it.

``He knows where you are in the room but is very near sighted - if you keep your distance, he derides you and mocks you but if you come near him he runs away, '' says 42-year-old Marina, whose inspiration for the character came from George W Bush after his decision to ignore the concerns of the United Nations and invade Iraq.

This disarming concept of using apparently innocent cartoon animation to convey concepts with a deeper, darker undercurrent is also reflected in Nicking The Never. Using a labyrinth of 3 x 2 metre screens it tells the story of a young girl's attempts to overcome the human struggle with the pitfalls of need, jealousy, complacence, aggression, desire and ego as epitomised in the Tibetan Wheel of Existence.

``Each screen has a different view of this character and what she has to face, '' says Marina, an honours graduate from NYC's School of Visual Arts who says the 10 minutes of animation took eight months solid work to complete.

``Whether she's crawling through the sea or boxing with a spectre of herself, each of them is a mini allegory of the social entrapments that she has to face.

Marina is speaking from her apartment in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, ``where it is oh so tragically hip , '' she says ``you have to dress consciously to fetch a carton of milk. ''

She grew up ingrained in art. Her mother was the pianist child prodigy Hilde Somer who at the age of ten made her debut with the Vienna Symphony Orchestra and two years later came to America and stayed after playing with the New York Philharmonic. She pioneered Latin American 12 tone music, as well as working with the Grateful Dead's light show which she put to the music of the synaesthesist 19th century composer Alexander Scriabine.

It brought an eclectic circle of friends and collaboratives into Somer's circle ensuring that the young Zurkow grew up in a background where the radical thinking of the 60s and 70s was always close at hand.

Indeed Mom was so `out there' she used to sleep with an electrically conducive metal pyramid suspended above the bed to channel the vibes.

``But I didn't get on with her at all because she had never been an adult, '' explains Marina, whose Dad, conversely, was a corporate lawyer who worked on the first Truth in Advertising case, on which the film Quiz Show was based.

Marina was only 17 when Hilde died in 1979 but it was only afterwards that her influence and guidance was recognised, she confesses.

``It was only later that I realised I'd picked up on all the valuable lessons she taught me from her own experience - about being a pioneer and sticking to your guns. ''

After graduating in 1985, she embarked on a three year career that will endear her to every geek boy on the block set designer on a spate of legendary horror B movies including Matt Riker: Mutant Hunt, Breeders, and who could forget Robot Holocaust. …