What is your name and your current occupation?
William (Bill) Reed – Freelance animator, timing director, fine artist, cartoonist.
What are some of the crazier jobs you had before getting into animation?
While I was a student at Chouinard, I worked at the surf shops in the South Bay as a glosser. As a glosser I painted designs, pin stripes, panels or whatever the customer wanted on the surfboard then put the gloss coat on. I really had fun working with Gregg Noll Surf Boards, Dewey Weber and Rick Surfboards and went surfing and hung out at the beach when I wasn’t in school. What could be more fun than that!
What are some of your favorite projects you’re proud to have been a part of?My first job was in 1966 at the Disney Studio as an apprentice in-betweener onWinnie the Pooh and Jungle Book. I was there for a year and learned more in that year than I did in the four years of art school. While I was at Filmation I directed two of the animated Star Trek shows and one of them won the Emmy that year (1974-75) for best animated children’s show. How’s that for beginners luck? I also enjoyed working on Cow and Chicken with David Feiss. He has such a wacky sense of humor and his story boards are exceptional. I timed several episodes of Cow and Chicken and I Am Weasel and have worked with David on several other projects.
How did you become interested in animation?
As a kid growing up in the 50’s I was a fan of the old Warner cartoons on T.V. and The Mickey Mouse Club. Disney had another weekly show called Disneyland where he showed the classic cartoons and talked about animation and how the cartoons were made. That was it, I was hooked and wanted to work for Uncle Walt and draw cartoons. I started drawing when I was 10 or 11 and realized my dream of working for Walt when I was 22.
Where are you from and how did you get into the animation business?
I was born in Maryland but most of my youth was in New York. When I was 13 we moved to San Diego where I went to middle school and high school. I did a lot of cartoons for the junior high and high school yearbooks and got good grades in art and won a small scholarship to Chouinard Art Institute. After a couple years at Chouinard, I got into the Film Arts Lab and had some great teachers like T. Hee and Rudy Larriva. After two years in the lab, T. He told me he could get me an interview, if I would like, to work at Disney as an inbetweener. Needless to say I said yes and had an interview the next week and got the job. That’s when I found out it’s nice to know people in high places.
What’s a typical day like for you with regards to your job?
As a freelancer for over 20 years I had to learn to discipline myself. Just because I work at home, it doesn’t mean I can goof off and wait until the last minute to get the job done. I sit down at 8:00 in the morning and get right to it. When I’m timing a show I do a quick look at the board to see if I can spot any problems. Usually I spot the problems as I’m writing the sheets and may have to do a story board revision or addition to make things work. Then I call the Director, talk it over and fax my changes in and continue on. Staying in touch by phone or email is important to keeping the communication open when you’re freelancing. I never take it for granted and think I’m in charge and do what I want. A film is a collaborative effort but the boss is always the boss even if I think he or she may be wrong. It’s their call, that’s why they get the big bucks or the big boot.
What part of your job do you like best? Why?
The timing director is probably the least understood job in animation but it’s the beginning of the acting direction for the animators. I enjoy doing the little thumbnails and working out the character acting. A lot of continuity problems are worked out at this point too. When I started directing at Filmation back in the seventies I had no clue about timing flow and continuity and learned a lot from my mistakes.
What part of your job do you like least? Why?
Sometimes the deadlines are un-realistic. I work fast and make decisions on the fly but there are some jobs that I wish I had more time on. But that’s the way the business runs, everybody has deadlines, that’s just the way it goes. The old saying is, “If you don’t like the heat, get out of the kitchen.”
What is the most difficult part for you about being in the business?
Looking for work is tough these days. During the nineties and the early 2000’s, I had people calling me constantly offering me work, these days not so much. The business has changed a lot with CG animation and Flash where the directing is more on a real-time basis, they don’t use x-sheets. Although, I did do x-sheets for Mike Young’s Pet Alien which was CG but the animators they used in India didn’t have much experience with character animation so they needed the direction.
What kind of technology do you work with on a daily basis?
Most of the time I work with a 2b pencil and paper. When I do single panel cartoons I use Corel. I draw in pencil, scan the drawing in to my computer and do the colorizing with Corel Painter. I also enjoy doing digital paintings with the Corel and my digital pad.
In your travels, have you had any brushes with animation greatness?
When I was at Disney’s in the 60’s Walt was still alive and we used to see him around the studio a lot. He was always friendly and had a smile and a hello for everybody. In the beginning I worked in the “Bull Pen” with a bunch of guys and at lunch we used to go out on the back lot and watch the live action filming. We’d see Walt on occasion and we saw actors like Edgar G. Robinson, Dean Jones and others. It was great fun. After a few months I was promoted to “in-betweener” and they moved me to Eric Larson and Milt Kahl’s wing and I did in-betweens on their stuff. Eric was working on Winnie the Pooh so I did a lot of in-betweens on that and then Milt needed help so I worked on Sher Kahn the tiger. I was in awe of the way Milt Kahl could draw. What a master, but I can still hear him yelling and throwing stuff around his office. He had anger issues to say the least but, my God, what a talent. Eric Larson had an old fashioned style of drawing, it kind of reminded me of the way the animators drew in the 20’s and early 30’s but his assistant Burney Mattinson cleaned up his stuff beautifully and put it right on model. Eric was a really nice grandfatherly type gentleman and his door was always open for visiting and a chat. I started directing at Filmation in 1972 at the young age of 28 and handed out work to LaVerne Harding (a sweet lady), Virgil Ross, Otto Feuer, Jack Ozark and a bunch of guys that were animating in the 30’s. They were the pioneers of the business and some of the older guys held it against me and wouldn’t pick up from the young punk kid. I think they were jealous of me because they had more experience, and I agree, but Hal Sutherland picked me, I think, because I was young and had a lot of energy. Whatever, I learned how to direct from that gig and it kept me working for the rest of my life. I’m still very grateful for the experience. In 1982, I got a job with Hanna-Barbera working in Madrid, Spain on the Lucky Luke movie as an animator for five months. That’s when I met David Feiss and we got to be friends. After work we played pool in the billiard hall and drank beer and ate tapas with Claude and Roger Chiasson. Bill Hanna was the Director and he wrote the sheets in L.A. but did come over for about a month to get some hands on in the editing and re-take department. He treated us all to dinner at his apartment one night where he cooked his favorite fava beans. He was a great guy but always the boss who treated his pals well. I thought it was odd working on a Belgian cartoon in Spain with a bunch of Canadians, funded by the French and produced by an American company. Funny how the animation industry works.
Describe a tough situation you had in life.
During 1980 and 1981 there was a drought in the animation business so I wound up going to Korea for Ruby Spears Prod. to oversee production on a few of their shows. I really didn’t like leaving my family and going so far away but desperate times require desperate measures. I also didn’t like having to go to another country and teach them how to take American jobs, but it was the only job available to me and it beat starving.
Any side projects or you’re working on or hobbies you’d like to share details of?
I love painting with oils, watercolors and acrylics and I have a wall at the Sutter Roseville Hospital that I hang and sell my work. I also have a couple of my paintings Kaiser Hospital bought and hung in the children’s wing. I am also a member of the Roseville Arts and show my work during the membership shows at the Blue Line Gallery. I’m getting ready for a show called “Beach Bash” in June and will show my beach and surf paintings and will do a painting on a surf board that will be raffled off. I will also be showing and (hopefully selling) in September in the Bay Area at a Hot Rod show called Billetproof. I like hot rods and classic cars so this will be fun.
Any unusual talents or hobbies like tying a cherry stem with your tongue or metallurgy?
I still like to go surfing when I can and when the surf is good. It’s a fickle sport that relies on the tide, the swell and swell direction and size and wind, but when it’s good, it’s the closest thing to flying I can think of. Adrenalin rush anyone?
Is there any advice you can give for an aspiring animation student or artist trying to break into the business?
Don’t give up. It’s not an easy business to get into and there is a lot of competition, but if you have to, take any job you can to get in the door. Once you’re in, it’s your chance to meet the people who are doing the job you may want. Talk to them and show them what you can do. I know people who started in Traffic and wound up as Producers. Keep your portfolio up to date with only your best work. Draw the human form (nudes). When I showed my portfolio to the people at Disney they didn’t care about my cartoons, they wanted to see the nudes to see if I could draw. Have fun and keep drawing.