Lock Wolverton

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What is your name and current occupation?
My name is Lock Wolverton, retired animator and animation instructor from the Walt Disney Co. I am currently an animation instructor at Tulsa Tech.

What are some if the crazier jobs you had before getting into animation?
Many, many years ago I was an attack dog handler for the US Air Force, guarding 100 megaton nuclear weapons on a tiny island somewhere in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. This was during the Cuban middle crisis. Few people know how close we came to a nuclear exchange between the US and the former Soviet Union. The world leaders during that time took the human race dangerously close to extinction.

What are some of your favorite projects you are proud to have been a part of?
During my time with Disney I had the privilege of designing and directing a series of annual animation events which featured such epic films as Mulan, A Bug’s Life, the re-release of Fantasia, Atlantis the Lost Empire and A Tribute to the Disney Villains. These events drew animators and students from all across the country and around the world. Those in attendance would observe chalk talks and lectures from directors, lead animators and producers who brought these great films to life. We were gathering the who’s who of all of Disney animation. For many it became a life changing experience. I met and taught animation to hundreds of aspiring animators, many of which I still maintain contact to this day.
Where are you from and how did you get into the animation business? I am from Orlando FL, currently residing in Tulsa OK. I was born at an early age and immediately got into trouble for drawing cartoons all the time. Now I get into trouble when I am NOT drawing cartoons all of the time. I suppose it would be fair to say I have come full circle.

What’s a typical day like for you with regards to your job?
Since I have retired my days are not as busy as they once were. I spend my time teaching classical animation each week as well content development for new classes such as, Stop Motion Clay Animation, Lip Sync for Animation, Storyboarding for Film TV & Games and The Art of Drawing With Markers.

What part of your job do you like best? why?
When I am working on an animation project of any kind I feel the most alive. It is the reason I exist and roam the earth. Animation has literally taken me around the world, case in point when I was supervising animation production offshore in Taiwan, Hong King, Thailand, Singapore and Manilla, as well as a special project in Munich.

What part of your job do you like least? Why?
When I am NOT working on a project I feel the least alive and very insignificant. This is when life sucks. I have to be working.

What kind of technology do you work with on a daily basis, how has technology changed in the last few years in your field and how has that impacted you in your job?
The main technology I rely on today is a software called ToonBoom, which is fantastic to say the least. Having worked in the animation industry for over thirty years, I have seen advances in technology that is mind boggling and awe inspiring. I don’t know how we did it the old way except to say it was the only way to accomplish animation at the time so we did whatever it would take to make it happen on the screen. It is hard to believe we used to hand paint animation cels and film them on a five thousand pound animation crane. Today you can create the same productions, only better and do the whole thing on a lap top. I have seen the evolution of animation up close and personal and it has been an adventurous journey that has far exceeded anything I could have ever imagined when I was a young animator just starting out.
What is the most difficult part for you about being in the business?
My love and passion for animation knows no bounds. When I am not producing animation I am teaching it. If one is teaching animation one is forced to dwell in a horrible place called academia. It has become bitter sweet for me personally over the past five years or so. In this modern age of education, the higher ups have decided through their infinite wisdom that teaching animation at the college level now requires an MBA and zero to three years experience. In my humble opinion I have to ask, what on God’s earth can someone with zero experience teach aspiring animators? Almost everyone knows how expensive a college education can be, but with this new dynamic one has to wonder what are these kids being taught?

If you could change the way the business works and is run, how would you do it?
I have never considered myself powerful enough to change the course of business, but in the education arena I could certainly advocate for colleges and art schools to lower the degree requirement and elevate the experience aspect exponentially. Since I no longer have the Disney clout I resign myself to sit in the park, feed the squirrels and think about something less frustrating.

In your travels have you had any brushes with animation greatness?
There is not room enough in this publication to cover the many brushes with greatness during my years with Disney, so I will limit it to just one, which was the highlight of my long career. It all goes back to when I was just five years old and sitting in a movie theater with my grandma, watching “Bambi”. My favorite character in the movie was a rabbit named Thumper. He was the coolest thing I had ever seen. Thumper was animated by the legendary Marc Davis, one of the original Disney ‘Nine Old Men’. If I had to pick the greatest moment in my journey it has to be when I was working on a trailer featuring Tinkerbell in a segment where she was christening the Disney Magic cruise ship with pixie dust. Tinkerbell was, of course created by Marc Davis as well. During production I had the unique opportunity to sit down with Mark on two separate occasion to get pointers on how to animate Tinkerbell effectively. Marc was certainly getting on in years and made his way around in a motorized wheel chair with an oxygen tube in his nose but he still devoted his time to being one of the greatest animators of all time and always willing to share his knowledge with others. His advice to me was an eye opening experience and remarkably logical as well as extremely helpful. His direction made a measurable difference in bringing Tink to life the way she deserved. A few months after wrapping the Tinkerbell project I learned that Marc had passed away peacefully in his sleep. It was a sad moment realizing I would never see him again. Farewell good friend. I will never forget you and I am eternally grateful for your kindness and generosity in sharing your vast knowledge with not only me but everyone you encountered during your magnificent run.

Describe a tough situation you had in life.
I am a cancer survivor. God is awesome… enough said.

Any side projects you’re working on that you’d like to share the details of?
I am constantly developing new animation class content and teaching innovations. Computer capabilities are continuously opening new windows of opportunity but it is vitally important, especially in the case of young aspiring animators to be rooted in the basic foundation of how animation has evolved and where it came from. It appears I am devoting the time I have left in this life to do everything I can to teach young animators to use the computer as a tool as opposed to a crutch.

Any unusual talents or hobbies, like tying a cherry stem with your tongue or metallurgy? (I’m going to have to pass on this one.)

Is there any advice you can give for an aspiring animation student or artist trying to break into the business?
One of the most important things any animator must perpetually develop is drawing ability. As an animator drawing should be as second nature as handwriting. The best way I can illustrate this (no pun intended) is to imagine yourself trying to write an essay in a note pad having not yet learned hand writing. You would obviously become so preoccupied with writing letters your subject matter would be compromised because your mind was not free to communicate your thoughts. Drawing is much the same. The most effective animators have developed the ability to draw naturally and are free to depict what the character is doing without struggling over how to draw it correctly, or drifting off model. The best way to learn to draw is life drawing classes and drawing sessions from the human figure. A young animator should never be without a sketch book and should be drawing all the time.  No one can guarantee success. There is one small piece of advice, however that might prove helpful. As an animator starting out or still in school try to remember this. The assignments will never get easier but you will get better at doing it… if you put in the work.

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