Marian Levine Lipow: January 3, 1956 – May 20, 2010
Sometimes an internet search for someone we’ve lost touch with brings bad news.
If we’re lucky, we have a teacher (and sometimes teachers) who makes a big difference in our lives. Marian Levine Lipow was mine. She gave me my career. One of the reasons I wanted to go to Tyler School of Art was because they had a television design class. Unless you were in design school in the early 1980’s, you can’t imagine how avant-garde this was. The field was really just beginning as cable was exploding and channels began to realize (after MTV) that design could really help them stand out. Marian, the professor for the television design class, was the art director for ABC News in New York City. It’s not easy to convey in a time when practically anyone can start their own channel or make their own movie, how mythical television was to me — THE ABC News, the one that comes over the TV all across the country and she works in NEW YORK CITY! This was like the Emerald City to me.
Even though I was first in line when registration opened, I was told her class was already full (Hmm). I had to have this class and I had waited so long to take it —you had to be a senior. I decided to go on the first day and beg her to let me in; I had watched other students do this for other classes with mixed success. Two other students where also trying to get in her class, so I pretended to leave and come back in so I would be closer to the door when she came in. Marian was shorter than me (which would make her very short). She looked like a pixie. I told her I had been waiting for this class my whole life, to which she replied: “Awesome!” and signed the form to let me in. I was beyond myself. I must have looked deranged.
Her class was superlative; she may have looked like a pixie but she was really the Glinda from the Wizard of Oz as she guided us down the yellow brick road. Her own work, which she brought in to show us for examples, was remarkable and, I fear, probably lost to time. No one will ever have the chance to see her work in the light of hindsight (which is how all great things are seen). She used all sorts of stuff to create effects: toothbrushes, velum, ripped paper, turkey basters…. as these were the analog days. She taught us that the visual not only had to be eye catching, but it also had to support the story: the news graphic for a shooting of gang member would not look the same as for a shooting in a domestic dispute. This may seem obvious, but at the time most TV stations would have one gun graphic depicting a standard police revolver that they would use for anything that even remotely involved a gun. We learned how to design storyboards for animated graphics, which were already somewhat computerized using the Oxberry animation stand, and the importance these animations played in pacing, setting the tone for a show, or changing the subject within one— visual cues. She also taught us all the technical terms so we wouldn’t look like idiots if we did go into television design. I’ll stop on this now; it was a really great class and I could go on with every detail because she made every detail interesting with her wry delivery.
At the end of the semester, she brought in another television designer to look at our portfolios and give us real-world feedback and THEN she handed us a long list of contacts: art directors and creative directors— at all the top places in New York City. And she handed this list to everyone! I was so used to professors doing stuff like this for their favorites (which I never was). It’s hard to express just how difficult it would have been, in the days before internet and email, to gather this kind of intel. I asked her “how do I do this?” She put her hands on my shoulders, looked into my eyes and said “call them up, drop my name, tell them you want an interview.” I was a little skeptical that one could get into the Emerald City this way. But it worked. Every time. I managed to snag sixteen interviews the first week and by Monday of the second week, I had a job at Filigree Films in NEW YORK CITY. Within two years, I was an art director designing for HBO, USA Networks, A&E, Paramount Pictures…. I don’t know if any other students used her list, I never saw anyone from school at industry events, but I did see her and we would try to catch up. When I left work to home school my kids, we lost touch. I was thinking about her and thought I would search for her; that’s when I found she had passed away. I wish I could have thanked her again. The world lost one of those rare species, a good witch.
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