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Running to a Different Drummer

On film, Mike Jittlov can go 500 m.p.h.; but in real life, he can't quite break into Hollywood. SPECIAL-EFFECTS FILMMAKER

By Simson L. GarfinkelStaff writer of The Christian Science Monitor / January 8, 1990


CLAD in green robes, Mike Jittlov races at 500 m.p.h. through the Northern California hills, across an inlet of the Pacific Ocean, and horizontally along the wall of a downtown Hollywood building. He moves so fast that when he slips on a banana peel, he flies into orbit. Better known to some as ``The Wizard of Speed and Time,'' Mr. Jittlov is a struggling independent filmmaker in Los Angeles. In recent years his animation shorts have wowed audiences - from colleges and film festivals to IBM business meetings. This summer marked the debut of his first feature-length special effects movie, released as a video this month.

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``The Wizard of Speed and Time'' tells the story of an independent filmmaker, played by Jittlov, who is recruited by a Hollywood director to make a special-effects tour de force for an upcoming television special.

The catch is that the TV special is just a few weeks away, though Jittlov complains that he needs months to do the job right. Since he is fronting money for the project and selling it back to the studio, everything has to be done on a shoestring budget. As an added twist, the evil producer has made a side bet with the director that Jittlov will never finish, and the producer sets out to sabotage Jittlov's efforts.

``It's fresh and it's charming,'' says George Mansour, co-director of the Boston Film Festival. The film has ``innocence and charm, and that is so unusual in movies these days,'' he says.

The reason may be that Jittlov is a very unusual filmmaker - one who acts, directs, does his own special effects, and demands total control over his works. It is that recipe, say some, that has all but cut him off from Hollywood's mainstream filmmakers.

Jittlov got his start at the University of California, Los Angeles, in 1969. In ``Speed,'' one of his student projects, he filmed a running man with a slowed-down camera, creating the illusion that the man was running very fast. Jittlov's projects won awards.

``Mike is one of the best people who has gone through the animation workshop at UCLA, one of the very best,'' says Dan McLaughlin, Jittlov's mentor and a professor in the department of film and television at UCLA.

After graduation, Jittlov animated several short films and commercials, but he became increasingly discouraged with the film industry. ``Every film kept getting less and less creative. Normally in Hollywood, people want you to do what you did before, but do it with half the money and half the time,'' he recalls in a telephone interview.

Finally, in 1977, he embarked on his own project of making six short films, each to showcase a different style of animation. In one short called ``Animito,'' Jittlov animated models snipped from fashion magazines using a technique partly pioneered by Mr. McLaughlin called kinestasis.

``I show the film ... to my classes two to three times a year, and it is always one of the best received and appreciated films,'' says McLaughlin.