What is your name and your current occupation?
My name is Debbie Bonzon and I am currently working as a free-lance timer, storyboard artist, illustrator.
What are some of the crazier jobs you had before getting into animation?
I’ve worked as a bread deliverer to stores and restaurants, landscaper, farmer, drywaller, caterer, bicycle and running gear salesperson, advertising sales, and as an illustrator for demonstrative evidence in the courtroom.What are some of your favorite projects you’re proud to have been a part of?
Most recently I am very proud to have worked as a timer on the “Curious George” tv series, 2nd movie and Christmas Special. Also, the Rugrat feature movies were a blast. At Warner Bros. I really enjoyed storyboarding on “Pinky and the Brain” and timing on “Freakazoid”. At Nickelodeon, I really liked timing on “Cat Scratch” and directing on “Oswald”. Also, storyboarding on the “Tick” was a kick! As an animator, many years ago, I really enjoyed working on the first “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles” series in Dublin. http://www.animationinsider.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/05/Debbie-reel.mov
How did you become interested in animation?
In high school, I wanted to work at Disney. I loved animation, mostly the Warner Bros. shorts!
Where are you from and how did you get into the animation business?
I was born in Albuquerque NM and grew up in Los Alamos, NM (the atomic city). After attending a few different universities trying to find a major that could land me a “real job” and I realized, like it or not, that I was an art enthusiast, I completed my BFA at the University of NM. I had looked at the brochures from Cal-Arts, but, was intimidated by the photographs of other students, who were way cooler than I ever was or wanted to be, I began to look for something here in Albuquerque after I graduated. There was a small studio that produced commercials for clients around the world and after 2 weeks of graduating, I put on my best outfit and “stopped by” to see if they needed any help. When I entered the front office, I noticed they didn’t have a receptionist and thought I could do that. As I waited for someone to come to the front, the owner of the company passed by, stopped, and asked if he could help me. I told him I had just graduated and would love to work for them doing whatever they needed. He said I could work in the paint dept. (cell painting!) They paid minimum wage, at that time $3.35/hour! I didn’t care, I actually felt I should pay them! I lived in a garage and rode a bike and didn’t need much money. Working for two years from painter to supervisor, to oxberry camera operator, editor, assistant animator and animator, I had ideas of making my own projects and left the company to work part-time at a law firm, while I completed my first film for schools on AIDS. I animated and painted the film here in NM and packed a very large suitcase with all the cells to have it filmed at a camera house in Hollywood. I tucked a few thousand dollars in my red shoes, pulling my suitcase behind and stepped into Playhouse pictures on La Brea, where I was met with a “your not from here” response. This little film sold to school districts all over the country, and opened doors to produce some other educational films, and commercial productions. My little company was growing, selling a pilot to HBO, purchasing equipment and working around the clock, loving every minute! Then came an opportunity to work in Dublin as an animator. I took it and that sent me on another course. After leaving Dublin, I went to CA and began working on the 2nd season of Rugrats as a board artist. For over a decade I worked at several studios from Klasky Csupo, Nickelodeon, Warner Bros. , Bob Rogers, Film Roman, Graz, Universal, Sony….
What’s a typical day like for you with regards to your job?
Now is completely different than 10 years ago. I work in the wee hours of the morning while the children sleep (I have 5), starting at about 2:30-3:00. Once they rise, the day shifts to meeting their needs! Later in the day, if possible, I grab a nap. If the deadline is real tight, I’ll work another couple of hours after dinner. Otherwise, I read bed time stories, clean the kitchen etc…
What part of your job do you like best? Why?
I love to draw. I also like to tell stories. As a timer and animator, I like to see things come to life, it is very satisfying and just down right fun!What part of your job do you like least? Why?
Trying to juggle everything and not letting anything or anyone suffer. Tight deadlines are always a bummer. Also, cleaning around my desk is a downer, sometimes I don’t and then I have to rummage for an eraser, pencil sharpener and my chair catches drawings I should have thrown away on it’s wheels, that bugs.
What is the most difficult part for you about being in the business?
It is an up and down business and until last year, I had never been without work. I kind of like the ups and downs as, if a certain situation is stressful, I know it won’t last long and it is always exciting to start a new project. The most difficult part for me is trying to do better than I have ever done before on the current project I am on. I really want my employer, client to be not just satisfied, but, wowed by my work. If they are not I really struggle with not letting it get me down.
What kind of technology do you work with on a daily basis?
I still use paper and pencil for timing. For animation testing I use Toon Boom pencil test. I still use an oxberry camera for filming in 35mm and even still paint on cels. I know I need to get up to date. So far this is still working… “if it ain’t broke….”
In your travels, have you had any brushes with animation greatness?
Yes, I have had the privilege of working with so many people that are big names. I really enjoyed, while at Nickelodeon, directing on first season, “Hey Arnold” recording Mark Hammil for a voice. Also, listening to Jonathan Winters at Klasky Csupo in a storyboard meeting. Working with Norm Mcabe on a storyboard for “Pinky and the Brain” was a treat. Meeting, Chuck Jones, Frank and Ollie, Glenn Keane and many more, including Mike Milo.
Describe a tough situation you had in life.
Tough situations are often, bitter sweet. Perhaps the toughest situation on a personal level was being alone in Dublin. Not having family or loved ones around caused me to have to look closely at myself and realize I wasn’t as great as I thought. However, the sweetness was coming to know Jesus Christ as my saviour and Lord. On a professional level, it was hard to leave a job that I had bombed at, wondering if I would ever work in animation again. Then 3 weeks later a friend from Warner Bros. called and I got a job on one of the funnest shows I’ve worked on, “Pinky and the Brain”.
Any side projects you’re working on you’d like to share details of?
I’m completing a film that I have been working on for over 10 years! “To Catch a Fish” and it is only 7-1/2 minutes long! Also, I just finished illustrating a book that just came out in print. I have other books in the works, too. I hope they sell.
Is there any advice you can give for an aspiring animation student or artist trying to break into the business?
Enjoy the journey! There are many twists and turns, or can be, but, stay the course! Work on projects you can pour yourself into and avoid ones that suck the life out of you.
Great interview! Thanks for posting it Mike!! I appreciate the advice at the end: “Stay the course. Avoid projects that suck the life out of you” – and hope animators and artists can avoid those projects and still keep working and providing for themselves and their families. Makes me think of persevering or enduring the hard times. Depend on God to get you through. By His grace and strength.
Debbie Bonzon truly is one of the kindest people you will ever meet. As I have traveled the world I have only met a few that love people like she does. She is know for always bringing laughter and joy to everyone she is around. She is a great example of what Jesus can do in a person’s life that is truly yielded to Him. Thanks for the article.