David Wachtenheim


What is your name and your current occupation?
My name is David Wachtenheim, and I am an animator/director/producer at W/M Animation which I own with my partner Robert Marianetti.

What are some of the crazier jobs you had before getting into animation?
Crazy?  I don’t know about crazy.  I worked as a P.A. on some furniture commercials which was mainly like working for a moving company.  I also worked as a P.A for matte painters Bob Scifo and Ken Allen at the now defunct Dream Quest Images.  The craziest thing there was working with James Cameron on some preliminary work for The Abyss and watching so many people fawn all over him and tripping over themselves to do his bidding.  I got fed up when I was told to hold the slate for the shots and getting yelled at for not getting the slate out fast enough.  I also worked in a pharmacy for a Summer for my brother which was a little insane.  He can be pretty intense.  You should never work for your brother.  Actually, I can’t say that, I don’t know your brother.  What I meant was, you should never work for MY brother.

What are some of your favorite projects you’re proud to have been a part of?
I’m glad you asked what am I ashamed to have worked on.  Most of the stuff we have done at our studio has been adult oriented for Saturday Night Live, Comedy Central and Adult Swim and I am pretty ashamed of all of it.  Well, not so much ashamed but I can’t show my kids much of it.  The stuff we have done for Sesame Street and Cartoon Network I am pretty proud of.  To be honest,

I am proud of most everything I have worked on as long as I feel that I am able to make the project better by my contribution.  If I am able to add to the comedy or the artistic integrity and make the client happy then I am happy.

How did you become interested in animation?
I had gone to the School of Visual Arts to study Illustration but realized I didn’t want to be an illustrator because the competition was way too fierce.  I had always dreamed of being involved in film but never even considered I could combine my artistic abilities with my love of film until I was introduced to someone in animation.  Of course, I always loved animation especially the Looney Tunes but as a kid I also watched Popeye, Speed Racer, Kimba the White Lion and every other animated program on in the early 70’s.  Although, I never really cared for Scooby Doo or Tom and Jerry.  I don’t know why.

Where are you from and how did you get into the animation business?
I am from Los Angeles originally and went to college in NY.  After graduation, i went back to LA for a year and needed to work.  A friend of mine in NY had given me the name of someone in LA who would be able to possibly help me out to find work.   That person was David Steinberg who is currently Head of Production at Starz Animation in Canada.  He had worked for Don Bluth in Ireland and was at a producer at Hanna Barbera at the time and he gave me the bright idea of getting into animation.  I kept in touch with him and when he later started working on the feature film Rover Dangerfield, he told me there was an opening for a production assistant and I jumped at the chance.  I was so happy to be involved with that production and was fascinated by the art of animation which I really had not ever considered before.  I showed a lot of interest to the directors Jim George and Bob Seeley and Jim was gracious enough to give me animation lessons after hours.  A year later I moved back to NY with a new skill and no job.

What’s a typical day like for you with regards to your job? 
Well, when we are in the midst of a project, I start the day off answering emails which consists mostly of questions or work from our animators, clients asking us how for along we are, and notices that we won the UK lottery.   Then between looking at work, making and giving notes to animators I try to squeeze in some animation myself.  I am very hands on with every aspect of production.  I storyboard, design, and animate.  I enjoy being involved and don’t like just sitting back and waiting for the work to come in.  I can get in there and roll up my sleeves and animate with everyone else.
What part of your job do you like best? Why? 
I like when work comes in from other animators and I am surprised.  I love when a shot comes back so much better than it went out and when I see things that i never would have thought of or could never do.  That is more satisfying to me than doing my own animation.  And when a shot comes in that needs some help, I enjoy getting into it and making notes, sketches, or retiming things to make it better.
What part of your job do you like least? Why?
Since it is my own studio, I have to wear many hats.  I don’t like being a producer.  Not all of it, but I hate talking budgets.  Talking money is always uncomfortable to me and negotiating is painful.
What is the most difficult part for you about being in the business? 
See above
What kind of technology do you work with on a daily basis? 
As we all have to adapt with the times, we have completely given up paper and pencil that we worked with exclusively when we started and now mostly work in Flash.  I work on a cintiq and will draw in Sketchbook Pro and do animation in Flash and some After Effects.   I took a course in Maya a couple of years ago and am trying to work on my CG skills as well.
In your travels, have you had any brushes with animation greatness? 
My closest and most favorite brush with animation greatness was going to Friz Freleng’s apartment in Westwood.   My Father was a furrier (no letters from animal activists please) and my brother was working for him.  Friz had bought a coat for his wife and I went with my brother to their home to deliver it.  I hadn’t started working in animation yet and didn’t know much about the business.  Friz was so gracious to talk to me about the business a bit and took a look at my illustration portfolio.  I think the greatest compliment I ever got was from Friz, when he asked me why in the world I would want to get into animation when I had such a beautiful portfolio of illustrations.  I was floored.  He even said he would let me do a background for his limited edition cells he was putting out.  Unfortunately, that never came to be, but meeting him and his wife, admiring the animation artwork on his walls, seeing his Oscars and chatting about animation was the thrill of a lifetime.
Describe a tough situation you had in life. 
Hey, this is getting kind of personal, isn’t it?  I think the toughest thing I’ve had to deal with in recent years has been the death of my Father four years ago that came a few months after the death of my Mother-In-Law.  After that, the writer’s strike happened which cut into our TV business and then the economy collapsed which totally crushed our business completely.  Then a year later my partner lost his Mother.  Emotionally it has been hard to muddle through all this and we are still struggling to get our business back on track.  So I am still going through a tough time as is much of the country right now.  Geez, thanks for bringing us all down with that question.
Any side projects or you’re working on or hobbies you’d like to share details of?
Not really.  Robert and I have been developing some live action projects for TV and features but that is all I am willing to say right now because the people tapping my phone and spying through my computer are dying to steal my ideas.
Any unusual talents or hobbies like tying a cherry stem with your tongue or metallurgy?
How did you know I can tie a cherry stem with my tongue?  I can also play piano, I happen to be pretty good at impressions, I fiddle around on the guitar but I do not guitar around on the fiddle.  I’m double jointed in my thumbs and my shoulder and I’ve done some acting in college but my favorite hobby is being a Dad to my three kids.
Is there any advice you can give for an aspiring animation student or artist trying to break into the business?
Well, these are tough times.  A lot of people are looking for work but I think the best thing to do is work on you CG skills.  There seems to be the most amount of work in features, and the gaming industry where CG is king.  I think it is hugely important that you work on your drawing skills.  The best animators even CG animators are great artists.  I don’t think you can truly be a great animator in Flash or Maya or anything unless you can draw.  Now I am sure there are plenty of people out there working on computers that can’t draw very well but the ones that are better draftsmen will do better overall.   Also, as any good animator would say, you have to observe and absorb movement.  Watch people, animals, leaves in the wind.  See how they move, how they act and react.  Find the subtleties which is what will make your work that much better.   Mostly, when breaking in, don’t be embarrassed to take a PA job or an internship.  The idea in the beginning is to get in to a studio somehow.  Don’t go around as a recent graduate thinking you are going to walk in and animate from day one.  Be humble and know that there is always more to learn.
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