Private Project

The Burial of Natty Bumppo

What if one night the story of America as “The New World” was thoroughly interrupted? What if that story was retold as a viscerally emotional experience using aggressive imagery and a lush soundtrack keyed to the inspired music of George Winston? “The Burial of Natty Bumppo” draws on 19th-century cultural images of American innocence to reveal their grotesque outcomes: the enslavement of human beings and enslavement of the land, the genocide that accompanied colonization, and the environmental degradation resulting from industrialization. “The Burial of Natty Bumppo” conveys these themes subtly and emotionally. The film makes no attempt to narrate American history. It reimagines it visually. The viewer is propelled into a visionary landscape where American myths of the New Land shrivel and decay before our eyes. We watch as the persistent dream of American innocence embodied in Nathaniel Bumppo, the lead character in James F. Cooper’s Last of the Mohicans, crashes visually under its own terrible weight.

The Burial of Natty Bumppo begins with a flame on the horizon, suggesting the presence of Indigenous people who long preceded the so called “discovery” of America. From there, an overture of windblown trees in a cemetery introduces a dreamy mood where an enormous comet looms over the landscape. Out of this comet emerges a turn-of the century train belching smoke as it arcs across the celestial sphere. In the cemetery below, a sinister antique slide camera observes the approach of the train as anxious travelers scurry to catch it. Their path is blocked by the cataclysmic eruption of a gigantic mechanical flower that blooms into a monstrous factory. Onlookers stand in awe as a bud opens to create a Hiroshima-like blast that incinerates the people and captures their image in a vintage photographic representation. By this time the enormous flower has generated a grotesque cast-iron version of the Garden of Eden or the Virgin Land of America. A battle ensues between the voracious machine and the hopes of the bereft travelers.

In a surprising finale, the train magically takes off, leaving the earth and the destroyed monster behind. But the flame on the horizon persists.

The hand of the animator is present in the images that make up this film. The original art, done with pencil on paper, was transferred to a digital format using contemporary tools.

  • Fred Burns
  • Fred Burns
  • Casey Herbert
  • Project Type:
  • Runtime:
    28 minutes
  • Completion Date:
    April 1, 2023
  • Production Budget:
    100,000 USD
  • Country of Origin:
    United States
  • Country of Filming:
    United States
  • Language:
  • Shooting Format:
  • Aspect Ratio:
  • Film Color:
  • First-time Filmmaker:
  • Student Project:
  • N/A
Distribution Information
  • N/A
Director Biography - Fred Burns

My first attempt at animation was in the fifth grade when I made a flip book so thick I couldn’t flip it. I wanted to retell the story of the Vanguard rocket, this time showing a successful launch from Cape Canaveral placing a satellite into orbit. That took a lot of pages.
For my senior art project in college, I made a cel animated film, painstakingly drawing over 2,000 images, which I then inked, painted, and photographed, all in my dorm room. I was fascinated that I could make drawings move.
In film school, I specialized in animation, again because it allowed me to spend all day drawing with pencil on paper. I was fortunate to have been mentored by a number of senior Hollywood animators who were on the cusp of retiring and willing to impart their deep knowledge and support. Also, like me, they had been trained in fine art. Most notably, I studied with Lester Novros, who had been Grim Natwick’s lead assistant on “Snow White.” Natwick had studied art at the Academy of Fine Arts in Vienna and been influenced by the painter Gustav Klimt. Working with Novros, I felt a kind of electricity traveling from Klimt through Grim Natwick to me. Both Novros and Natwick were known as first-rate draftsmen, a skill required for the kind of animation I wanted to do.
Once my thesis film, “Roll’em Lola,” was considered for an Academy Award nomination, my career was launched. At the screening, John Hubley (of the Hubley Studio in New York) happened to be sitting next to one of my professors and asked him, “Who is this kid?” John Hubely gave me my first job.
After a successful career as a commercial animator in New York (see awards below), I taught animation production, animation history, and live action production at Duke University.
I now live in Taos, New Mexico, where I draw and paint all day.

Occidental College, B.A. in Art, 1969
University of Southern California Film School, MFA in Cinematography, 1975

Select List of Professional Film Awards
EMMY Award, Outstanding Individual Achievement for Animated Programming: “A Soldier’s Tale” (1983), directed by R.O. Blechman
Academy Award Nomination for Best Animated Film: “A Doonesbury Special” (1977), directed by John and Faith Hubely and Gary Trudeau
CINE Golden Eagle Award: “Wither Weather” (1977), directed by Faith Hubley
Blue Ribbon Award, American Film Festival: “Everybody Rides a Carousel” (1976), directed by John Hubley
Select List of Personal Film Awards for “Roll’em Lola” (1974), conceived, animated, and directed by Fred Burns
Considered for Academy Award nomination (1975)
Included in the 11th International Tournee of Animation (1977)
Chosen by the American Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences to
represent the United States at the Cannes Film Festival, 1976; Awarded the
Bronze Medallion
Shown at the Museum of Modern Art, New York, and the Hirshhorn Museum,
Washington, DC (1977)
CINE Eagle Award (1975)
Bronze Hugo Award, Chicago International Film Festival (1975)
Gold Praxinoscope, Third New York Animated Film Festival (1975)
Grand Prix, Le Touquet International Film Festival, France (1976)
First Prize, Baltimore Film Festival (1977)
Select List of Film Festivals in which "Roll'Em Lola" was shown
FILMEX: Los Angeles International Film Festival, The Art of Animation (1975)
The FOCUS Finds, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, DC (1986)
The Lincoln Center Animation Festival, New York Film Festival (1977)
1976 World Animation Competition, Ottawa, Canada (1976)

Select List of Grants
American Film Institute, Independent Filmmaker Grant (1992-93)
National Institute for the Arts, Film Production Grant (1989)
National Endowment for the Arts, Public Media Grant (1976)

Add Director Biography
Director Statement

Making of “The Burial of Natty Bumppo”
The impetus for this film was actually a book, which I discovered
in the family garage when I was a kid. The book is a collection of
illustrations from Harper’s Weekly Magazine from the second half of
the nineteenth century. The illustrations were wood engravings, which
fascinated me because they were intensely graphic, and they
represented a world of sailing ships and steam engines among other
wonderful inventions.

When I was about 9 years old, I would go into the garage, crawl
into my dad’s fishing boat, open the book, and enter the rich world of
its illustrations. I felt like I was traveling in the boat through those

Many years later, after attending film school at the University of
Southern California and specializing in animation, I began to work on a
hand-drawn, hand-painted film that eventually became “The Burial of
Natty Bumppo.” I still carried in my mind the illustrations that had so
affected me as a child.

That was around 1980. I worked on the film for many years,
actually many decades. To produce one minute of animated film in
those days required a minimum of 720 drawings. “The Burial of Natty
Bumppo,” which is 25 minutes long and includes a number of scenes
with many layers of animation, required something like 28,000

I happily did all those drawings because I loved the feeling of
touching the pencil to paper and physically making an image. The
physical contact between me and the paper has always been essential
to my engagement with animation.

But by the time I had completed roughly 80% of “The Burial
of Natty Bumppo” traditional animation technology was beginning to
vanish. Photographing animation art on 35mm film had become impractical
and very expensive. Many professional camera services had
disappeared. So had the technology of editing on film. Almost all
theaters had switched over to digital projection.

The years of work I had put into the film, assisted by a team of
loyal graduate students, who had done most of the painting on cels,
came to a standstill. As the world of animation shifted toward digital,
we couldn’t see a path forward.

Then, everything changed in the summer of 2019, when my long-
time friend and digital animation expert, Casey Herbert, visited me in
Taos, NM. Casey has owned and operated the animation studio, Flying
Foto Factory in North Carolina.
Flying Foto Factory had provided camera services for the film 1980's
and 90's as scenes were being completed. Shooting them on 35mm
using the studio's Oxberry Master Animation Stand.

To my utter shock, Casey offered to finish the film for me. I was
incredulous. He literally wanted me to send him all the artwork I
had completed over the years. So 2000 pounds of drawings and painted
cels were loaded on a pallet and shipped to Casey's company in North Carolina.

The film was back in production.

During the first two years of the pandemic, Casey captured the tens of
thousands of pieces of art, creating, in the end, 130,000 separate digital
files. The original art for my earlier "Roll 'em Lola" was scanned as well,
and served as the test for the 4K digital pipeline to be used on "The
Burial of Natty Bumppo".

Casey painstakingly restored some art that had been damaged and completed
key scenes that had been animated and color-keyed, but never inked or
painted. Casey managed to ink and paint them digitally. A few others were
created from scratch, true to my original vision.

Additional key digital effects were added at points where they could enhance
the image along with digital camera work providing results unavailable
with traditional 35mm film imaging.

Original storyboards, layouts and shooting
sheets aided in the final digital assembly. A talented sound designer
and editor, Jim Haverkamp, joined the team. And my dear friend
George Winston gave us the rights to use tunes I had selected from his
albums. By May 2023, astoundingly, the film was finished.

What you see in “The Burial of Natty Bumppo” is art that was
originally hand-drawn. I hope you can tell by the quality of the line that
this is animation before digital. Even though the film was rescued,
restored, given new life, and finished using contemporary technical
tools, hand-drawings are its core.

What you see and feel when watching “The Burial of Natty
Bumppo” is the hand of the artist.