Filmmaker and special effects guru Tom Smith remembers his years working with cinematographer Isidore Mankofsky:
On March 11, 2021, Hollywood cinematographer Isidore Mankofsky died at the age of 89. I worked with Isidore on more than 10 films. Our working relationship began with my first Encyclopedia Britannica Films production: Life Cycle of the Lady Bird Beetle (1965). Though most of this life-cycle film was shot in Japan, I asked Isidore to film additional ladybug scenes in California. I wondered if he could catch one in slow motion flight. He succeeded with an amazing slow motion shot of a ladybug unfolding its wings and taking flight. He used a special camera that roared at 250 frames per second. He had to shoot 2,000 feet of 16mm film to capture the perfect shot. It was the highlight of the film. We later collaborated on many films and I regarded him as not just a director of photography but a co-creator. I was, therefore, very saddened to hear that he passed away at the age of 89.
In the academic field, Isidore shot many films for directors: Larry Yust, Charles Finance and Stan Croner. I would have used him on more of my films but he was so respected that it was hard to find a time when he was available.
He shot the following 16mm films that I either directed or produced:
Life Cycle of the Lady Bird Beetle (1965)
Looking at Mammals (1967)
Lemonade Stand (1969)
Newspaper Story (1972)
He shot the following feature-length films I produced for Lucasfilm and ABC:
Ewoks I: Cavavan of Courage (second unit)(1984)
Ewoks II: The Battle for Endor (1985)
For Walt Disney Parks, he shot a 3-D attraction in 65mm using two cameras, one for each eye Ė MuppetVision 3-D (1991). Alas, it was Jimís last film as he died just as the production was wrapping. Isidore had been Jim Hensonís DP on Hensonís first Muppet feature film The Muppet Movie (1979) so he seemed the most qualified even though this was his first 3-D film.
He served on the second and Visual Effects Unit for the feature film The Arrival (1996, dir. David Twohy)
There were many occasions when I was asked to oversee a test for the Walt Disney Studio; usually it would be a one-day job. Isidore was always willing to direct the photography. A competing studio had shot a film entirely in 65mm. Before its release, there was an industry buzz that it looked outstanding. So, the Disney studio was interested to see how 65mm film compared to one on anamorphic (wide screen) 35mm. I called in Isidore, he borrowed the cameras from Panavision and we shot for a day at the Disney Ranch. Once the 2 film stocks were printed and ready to be viewed, Isidore and I took them to a Disney facility that could project both formats. A Disney executive was scheduled to join us. He would be the last word on quality. The films were loaded into the two projectors and Isidore and I waited for the executive. After a delay of 20 minutes, I called his office. He said some other matters had come up and he would not be viewing the test. ďJust send me a VHS transfer of the two. Thatís all I need.Ē What? He was going to see it in his office TV set on tape. It seemed the studio had lost interest in the test since the recently released 65mm film flopped at the box office.
In my film career, there is no cameraman that I worked with more often or trusted more than Isidore Mankofsky. Many will miss him.