Distel, by Børge Ring
'Distel' (Sjors #8, 1971).

Børge Ring (also written as "Börge Ring") was an internationally known Danish animator who lived in the Netherlands from the early 1950s until his death. He had a long career, working for many different studios on several animated films, TV shows and advertisements. Ring created three classic animated shorts of his own, 'Oh My Darling' (1978), 'Anna & Bella' (1984) and 'Run of the Mill' (1999), which are all characterized by strong autobiographical themes of parental love, nostalgia and loss. The cartoons won several awards, including the Jury Prize in Cannes and the Oscar for Best Animated Short. Ring was furthermore active as a jazz musician and, and together with his wife, Joanika Ring, he drew various children's comics. Among them were stories with Disney's 'Chip 'n' Dale' and Gösta Knutsson's 'Pelle Svanslös', but also original creations like 'Distel' (1970-1974), 'Kobus en Kachelmans' (1973-1974) and 'Fleurtje' (1972-1974). 

Early life and career
Børge Ring was born in 1921 in Ribe, a town in south-west Jutland. He spent most of his school years in Skårup a borough of the harbor town Svendborg, on the isle of Funen. His father was Danish composer Oluf Ring (1884-1946), who also had his own choir. He wanted his son to become a teacher, but stimulated his musical talent too. Already as a child Ring learned to play contrabass and guitar. His passion for film originated in the local movie theater, where his sister played the piano to accompany silent movies. Young Børge was fascinated by shorts with Walt Disney's 'Mickey Mouse' and Pat Sullivan's 'Felix the Cat', but also the work of Charlie Chaplin, whose comical films had a strong resemblance to animation, as he later analyzed. At age 14 he and a friend made their first animated short on 16-mm film, featuring a man whose aching tooth has to be removed by the dentist, but ends up ripping his entire skeleton from his skin. A high school dropout, Ring attended the Arts & Craft school at the Bredgade in Copenhagen, but left again after a year and a half. Around the same time, he was an apprentice in Jørgen Müller's animation studio at Gutenberghus Reklame Film in Copenhagen, called the International Colour Cartoon Company. Another one of his mentors was the advertising artist Laus Lauesen.


Börge Ring playing bass, around 1940.

Musical career
By 1940 Børge Ring earned his living through a different medium: jazz music. He first played in a trio in a seaside hotel in Liseleje, but was soon asked to become a guitarist and bass player in Svend Asmussen's band, who played in a dine & dance restaurant in the Tivoli Gardens in Copenhagen. In his autobiography, Ring recalled the quintet enjoyed themselves reworking American song titles into Danish with an acoustic similarity. He subsequently played in the orchestra led by bassplayer Niels Foss in Ålborg (1941), the Dagmar Theater orchestra in Copenhagen (1942) and in Leo Mathisen's jazz improvisation band in a local restaurant. The performances in Restaurant München were broadcast on the local radio, and a huge success, as the Germans had blocked the import of American jazz records. Together with Helge Jacobsen, Ring was regularly hired as a studio musician for grammophone recordings, while resuming his high school education at a private school in Nyborg between 1942 and 1944.

Upon graduation, he married his girlfriend, concert pianist Nanny Wegener, and settled in Copenhagen. He attended the university, but also further expanded his musical career. He played in Kai Ewans' band in National Scala (1944) as well as in Stig Lommer's Tivoli Revue (1945). He joined Svend Asmussens in his new sextet in August 1945. In the following years, the sextet toured through the Scandinavian countries, performing in theaters, parks, hotels and other venues. In November 1946 they played in an Amsterdam cinema, where Ring first came in touch with Marten Toonder through organ player Cor Steyn. The Dutch animation and comics creator was impressed with Ring's artwork, but Ring felt he should first finetune his craft. He returned to Scandinavia and toured with Asmussen until late 1947. The discovery of Robert D. Field's book 'The Art of Walt Disney' had inspired Ring to pursue his other ambitions...


Bjorn Frank Jensen and Börge Ring, around 1967.

Return to animation
Although he continued to play the guitar every now and then for the Danmarks Radio, from 1948 on most of his time was devoted to animation. Together with his friends Bjørn Frank Jensen and Arne Rønde Christensen he opened an animation studio called Ring, Frank & Rønde in the Vesterbrogade in Copenhagen. They were later joined by Kaj Pindal, Kjeld Simonsen and Ib Steinaa, and by 1950 they transferred to the Vedbæk neighborhood. The team made animated shorts for advertising purposes. Among their notable clients were distiller De Danske Spritfabrikker, Lykkeberg canned fish and washing powder company Persil, for whom they animated the cinematic short 'Fest i Skoven' ("Party in the forest", 1950). Other assignments included animated segments for documentaries commissioned by the Ministries of Finance and Agriculture, dealing with Denmark's economical recovery after the war, such as Ove Sevel's 'Tallenes Tale' (1949) and Egon Møller-Nielsen's 'Grævlingen og harerne' (1950). They also animated segments for a UNICEF film about tuberculosis prevention for the Arabian countries. Nordisk Film also wanted the team to produce a feature-length film, but the project turned out to be a financial and artistic disaster, overshadowed by bad business deals enforced by Nordisk's mogul Holger Brøndum. The only good thing was the short participation of former Disney animator David Hand, who became one of Ring's main mentors in the craft of animation, especially regarding the importance of storytelling. He also learned him the finer points of timing and the usage of visual metaphors.

Toonder Studios
Ring and Jensen decided to say Nordisk farewell and head to Amsterdam, the Netherlands. There, they joined the Marten Toonder Studios, while Ring the musician additionally played double bass with the Tony Vos Quartet, Pia Beck's trio and the Herman Schoonderwalt Kwintet. Toonder, famous for his comic strip 'Tom Poes', was the most prestigious and productive comics artist of the Netherlands. He was also the only one to have a huge professional studio. His company specialized in comics, but had a department devoted to animation too. It was his lifelong dream to once make an animated feature, but for now the studio focused on mainly commercial assignments. The Danes were working under supervision of Harold Mack and his wife Pamela, who had previously worked with David Hand in London. Toonder hired several other foreigners for practical help, such as Frenchman Philippe Landrot and English painter Alan Standen. The team produced advertising spots for international clients like Guinness (London), Lotto (Cologne) and La Vache Qui Rit (Paris), but also educational films for Philips and Shell. For the State Department in Washington, they produced a series of cartoons related to post-war Europe and the Marshall Plan.


'Distel' (Sjors #44, 1972).

Ring stated he learned a lot from these commissions, because projects like these forced an animator to analyze matter he wasn't emotionally attached to. The studios however also produced more entertaining films, like the experimental 'Moonglow' (1954), with animations made as a ballet, and 'Lokkend goud of gouden lokken' (1958), which was written by Annie M.G. Schmidt and based on an Irish ballad. In later years, the team also worked on a film which the British rockgroup Pink Floyd could project during their performances. By 1958 Harold Mack left to form his own studio. He asked Ring to join him, but the Dane declined. His wife Nanny had passed away in the previous year, and he preferred the financial security of the Toonder Studios. In 1960 Ring and Jensen were joined by a compatriot, Per Lygum. The three Danes now formed the core of the animation department of the Toonder Studios, which relocated to the castle of Nederhorst den Bergh in 1966. He occassionally helped out in the comic strip department, whenever an artist turned ill. He was for instance a fill-in penciller on a couple of episodes of the newspaper strip 'Tom Poes en de feuniks' (1959). With writer Lo Hartog van Banda, he made some test episodes of a comic called 'Stuurman Rolf', which remained shelved. Through Banda, Ring was also introduced to to another Toonder employee, the 25 years younger Joanika Zwart, in December 1969 The couple married three months later. Mister and mrs. Ring remained employed with the Toonder Studios until 1973, and then turned freelance. 

Fleurtje by Joannika and Borge Ring
'Fleurtje' by Joannika and Borge Ring (Tina, 1974).

Comics
Although mainly an animator, Børge Ring also worked on comics in the 1970s and 1980s, the majority in close collaboration with Joanika. While still at Toonder, Ring had begun working with Lo Hartog van Banda on the comic strip 'Distel' (1970-1974). It debuted in Sjors magazine in late 1970 and starred a strange-looking boy with purple hair, who lived in a fantasy jungle with talking animals. Banda left the comic in 1972, after which Patty Klein wrote four more stories until 1974. Through Toonder, Klein and the Rings furthermore co-created various stories about the anthropomorphic cat 'Pelle Svanslös' (an original creation by Gösta Knutsson) for the Swedish publishing company Semic Press. On a freelance base, the trio made the backcover gag strip with the misadventures of madcap office girl 'Fleurtje' (1973-1974) for girls' magazine Tina. Between 1977 and 1986, Børge and Joanika Ring drew over forty comic stories for the Dutch Disney magazines. The first ones, starring the two mice 'Gus 'n' Jaq', were created in cooperation with fellow Dane Freddy Milton. During the 1980s the Ring family worked almost exclusively on stories with the two chipmunks 'Chip 'n' Dale'. Some of them were written by Ring, others by Ger Apeldoorn, Ruud Straatman or Leendert-Jan Vis. Ring returned to the Disney characters once more in 1992-1993, when he illustrated two 'Bucky Bug' stories written by Evert Geradts. It was his final excursion to the comics medium.

Kobus en Kachelmans, by Borge Ring (1973)
'Kobus en Kachelmans' (Sjors #1, 1974).

Ring's comic art has a dynamic schwung, which clearly reveals his background in animation. He named Walt Kelly's 'Pogo' and Floyd Gottfredson's 'Mickey Mouse' stories as the main inspirations for his comics work. Despite their obvious charm, most juvenile readers considered Ring's comic somewhat of an "acquired taste". 'Distel' always turned up at the bottom of the annual readers' polls of Sjors magazine. Patty Klein recalled chief editor Frans Buisink chose to keep the comic nonetheless, because otherwise another feature would become the least popular! His 'Chip 'n' Dale' stories were deemed too offbeat for the regular Donald Duck weekly, so the Disney editors usually printed them as back stories in the monthly title Stripgoed/Donald Duck Extra. In later years, the Ring comics have earned their rightful spot in Dutch comics history. 'Distel' and 'Kobus en Kachelmans' were already featured in two black-and-white albums in the Oberon series in 1988. In 2016 the publishing label Favoriet began reprinting Ring's Sjors comics output in color.

Animation work for other studios
In his final Toonder years, Ring had worked on films like 'It's the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown' (1966) by Bill Melendez, based on Charles M. Schulz' comic strip 'Peanuts'. He also contributed to 'Asterix et Cléopâtre' ('Asterix and Cleopatra', 1968), the second animated film based on René Goscinny and Albert Uderzo's popular comic strip 'Astérix'. After turning freelance he was hired by Studio Idéfix as key animator on further 'Astérix' films 'Les 12 Travaux d'Astérix' ('Asterix and the 12 Tasks', 1976), 'Astérix Chez Les Bretons' ('Asterix and the Britons', 1986), 'Astérix et le Coup du Menhir' ('Astérix and the Big Fight', 1989) and 'Asterix in America' (1994). Other comics-inspired animated films were 'La Flûte à Six Schtroumpfs' ('The Flute with the Six Smurfs', 1976), featuring Peyo's 'The Smurfs' and 'Johan and Peewit', and 'La Ballade des Dalton' ('The Ballad of the Daltons', 1978), based on Morris' 'Lucky Luke'. During his freelance years, he further animated commercials for Richard Williams' animation studio in London.

Chip 'n Dale, by Borge Ring
'Chip 'n' Dale' (Stripgoed #24, 1985).

Despite having left Toonder in 1973 he still contributed to the studio's long-anticipated animated feature film 'Als Je Begrijpt Wat Ik Bedoel' (1983) starring Tom Poes. This was the first Dutch feature-length animated film to be released in theaters. He also continued to freelance for the Toonder Studios on commissions from German clients. A year later Ring worked on the first Flemish animated feature film 'Jan Zonder Vrees' (1984) by Jef Cassiers. His talent was also lent to the animated opening credits of 'Curse of the Pink Panther' (1983), the final film starring Peter Sellers as the bumbling inspector Clouseau and the final 'Pink Panther' movie to star Friz Freleng's 'Pink Panther' cartoon character while Freleng was still alive. Ring furthermore worked on 'Valhalla' (1986), an animated adaptation by Jakob Stegelmann of Hans Rancke Madsen, Peter Madsen and Henning Kure's eponymous comics series. He was a help on 'Käpt'n Blaubär - Der Film' (1999), based on Walter Moers' 'Käpt'n Blaubär'. 

Apart from children's movies Ring also worked on animated films for mature audiences, such as the segment 'So Beautiful and So Dangerous' in Gerald Potterton's cult classic 'Heavy Metal' (1981), and for Picha on 'Le Chaînon Manquant' ('The Missing Link', 1980) and 'Le Big Bang' ('The Big Bang', 1987). He was involved with several animated features based on cult cartoonist Brösel's comics series 'Werner' ('Werner - Beinhart', 1990, 'Werner - Das muss kesseln!!!!', 1996, and 'Werner - Rooäää', 1999) and Walter Moers'  'Adolf das Kleines Arschloch' ('Kleines Arschloch', 1997). For the National Film Board in Canada he animated sequences in two UNICEF films by Kaj Pindal and Derek Lamb about sexual education and AIDS prevention for African countries. In 1990 he worked with Steven Spielberg in his Amblimation studio as supervising animator for a film about dinosaurs who come to Manhattan, called 'We're Back! A Dinosaur's Story' (1993).


Still from 'Oh My Darling'.

Personal animation work
Børge Ring is, however, best remembered for his independent and award-winning short films 'Oh My Darling' (1978), 'Anna en Bella' (1984) and 'Run of the Mill' (1999), which he not only directed, but also composed most of the music for. All films have a strong focus on parental challenges and the melancholia of ageing. In 'Oh My Darling' (1978) a young couple is excited about their first-born daughter. They love her so much that they overprotect her. By the time she is a young woman and meets a nice boyfriend with whom she decides to live together her parents still has trouble letting her go. The short was nominated for an Academy Award in the category "Best Animated Short", but lost to Eunice Macaulay and John Weldon's 'Special Delivery'. Yet it did win the Jury Prize at the Festival of Cannes. In 'Anna and Bella' (1984) two sisters who spent the majority of their life together have reached old age. They page through an old book with family photos and share memories about all the fun and sorrow they had in the past. It won the Academy Award for "Best Animated Short" and the Grand Prix Hiroshima. 'Run of the Mill' (1999) is the deeply moving story of two parents who see their son grow into a drug addict. It was largely based on Børge and Joanika's experiences with their own son, who had begun using hash at age 11. The short won the UNICEF Children's Award at the Annecy Festival in 2000. Following his success with his award-winning shorts, Ring was often asked why he didn't move to Hollywood? But the level-headed Dane simply answered "Paper and pencils are the same all over the world."

Later Ring made the animated TV series 'Anton' (2001) for Palm Plus Producties, based on his own early childhood memories. The central character Anton is a seven-year old who, as most kids of his age, doesn't understand the grown-up world. Therefore he and his hobby-horse fantasize their own answers, which leads to many funny moments. The show was broadcast by the Dutch broadcasting company KRO, with Gene Deitch as production-supervisor. It was an unexpected success in Japan too. 


Still from 'Run of the Mill'.

Final years, recognition and legacy
During his freelance years, Ring still found the time to occasionally perform jazz. During the late 1970s he played with Danish pianist Bent Schjaerff and Dutch piano player René van Helsdingen. In 2003 Ring was knighted in the Order of the Dutch Lion, while in 2011 he received the Winsor McCay Award, a US award given by the International Animated Film Society to individuals in recognition of lifetime or career contributions in animation. His life was subject of a documentary, 'Børge Ring - Filmanimator og jazzmusiker' ('Børge Ring - film animator and jazz musician', 2006) by Jørgen Vestergaard and another docu, 'Børge Ring, A Natural Born Animator' (2011) by Willem Wisselink. He remained in good health until old age, and well into his 90s he remained a reliable source of information for researchers of the history of animation and the Toonder Studios. He was a lifelong friend of his former colleagues Patty Klein, Jan van Haasteren and Thé Tjong-Khing. In 2009 and 2010 he wrote his autobiography, which was published in Denmark by Wisby & Wilkens in 2011. Personalia published the Dutch edition under the title 'Børge Ring - Een weergaloos leven in muziek en tekenfilm' in 2015, and simultaneously released the art book 'The Art of Børge Ring' (2015), which was compiled by Jan-Willem de Vries

In 2012, the Ring family made the news with a tragic event. On 1 February their farmhouse in the Brabant town of Overlangel went up in flames, taking all their belongings with it. Gone forever were his Academy Award, his original artwork and Joanika's sculptures, in short their entire artistic legacy. They found refuge in Joanika's atelier, while their daughter Anne-Mieke launched a crowdfunding campaign to finance the rebuilding of their home. The redesign of the farm's interior was documented in an episode of the the KRO-NCRV TV show 'BinnensteBuiten', broadcast on 3 March 2016. The veteran animator, cartoonist en musician passed away peacefully on 27 December 2018, at the age of 97. His name lives on in the annual Børge Ring Award, which was established in 2007 by the Danish Film Academy. Jan van Haasteren once named Ring "the Rembrandt of all animators." 

Børge Ring

www.borgering.com
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