Johan Anton Klingler

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What is your name and your current occupation?
Allow me to introduce myself, my name is Johan (Jonathan) Anton Klingler and I am presently a FullTime Faculty Instructor with the Art Institute of Dallas. I also am a writer/illustrator in partnership with my wife, Norma Rivera-Klingler, for a series of 15 children’s books. We run our own very small freelance production business, Double Exposure Productions, from our home.

What are some of the crazier jobs you had before getting into animation?
I was a factory worker working for a company that built vender machines and in that job I saw some things one would think are only seen in war times. We used machines called break press machines which are simply machines that bend very large sheets of metal or punch holes in them. You would know them if you saw the movie “Terminator”. The machine that crushes the Terminator is a machine like the ones I’m describing. When you stand in front of it, it is massive. When you walk by others using one, the first thing that strikes you is the “tethering” lines from the machine to the wrists of the workers. It looks like some futuristic and yet dark ages contraption for torture. The purpose of the tethers is to keep people from getting their arms crushed under a ton of metal as the machine lowers its die-cut block and hydraulics press even further to cut through the plate of metal placed under the press by human hands. No hand or arm stands a change if your to slow so these lines are attached to a pulley system so that when the block comes down, your arms and hands are pulled out. To Forman this means the job can only be done at one speed, the speed of the machine. Often Forman will tell workers to not use the tethers so as to work faster that way as the press starts to come down a worker can already be getting the next sheet of metal ready for loading. If a worker is too slow pulling his or her arm out or is distracted then they lose a limb as it will be crushed or severed depending on the type of die-cut. I saw this happen a few times. I even had to pack a couple of some individuals fingers in an ice chest for reattachment so that when the paramedics came we could give them the parts to the individual. That wasn’t the craziest area there though. There was a room called the stripping room were metal sheets were lowered into a solution of cyanide based liquid formula of some kind. I was told that if a single drop of water got into it then it would produce enough gas to kill a quarter of the building’s occupants. I was a janitor on the night shift and it was my job to clean that room with water based cleanser. Now that job was crazy.

What are some of your favorite projects you’re proud to have been a part of?
All the productions I was given the privilege of working on at Disney were incredible but I think working on “Beauty and the Beast” was the production I’m most proud to have worked on. I was given the privilege of working with the most amazing people and artists at Walt Disney Studios. Every single person was amazing there. There wasn’t a single individual who was not an amazing talent of some kind. The management were people that took care of everyones individual needs. In my experience, they always cared about every detail. Nothing could compare. I was proud because it reached out to so many in the world. What a gift the Lord had given when allowing such talent to come together for one purpose. I had the same experience working at “Sullivan Bluth Studios”. What a privilege in life, I had been given when the lord allowed me the chance to work with these amazing talents.
The project I had the most fun on by far, I was only on for a short time before it was moved to Canada. This was Warner Brothers “Scooby Doo 2: Monsters Unleashed”. It was extraordinarily fast paced and the talent on it was beyond incredible. Again, God allowed me the honor of working with these amazing people. I loved it because we did such inventive creations in the Warner Animation Building.

How did you become interested in animation?
Where are you from and how did you get into the animation business?
I’m gonna answer both of these together. I became interested in animation young. I’m from New Jersey and I did Illustrations. I went to Michigan State University for a concentrated wildlife Illustration study one summer and I think I realized I wanted to be animation when I saw how many you can reach with your love and care of every little detail. That was for me. The movie that influenced me the most was “Bambi” and the artists who changed my life were Greg Hildebrandt, Walt Sturrock and Frank Frezetta. There words and teachings to me changed me the most. It was Greg Hildebrandt who made me realize that still art wasn’t enough for me. He doesn’t remember but I met him once when I was very young and his words influenced me to put my drawing to good use. I then met him years later when I went to “The Joe Kubert School of Cartooning and Graphic Design”. There I earned my Animation Certificate for the trade. It is interesting because life there was like another world for me. I was at the number one school in the nation for comic art. To this day I don’t know quite how I qualified to get in. I remember being overwhelmed by all of the outstanding talent around me and I was probably the worst artist there. I knew I had to work twice as hard as anyone just to keep my head above water. Milt Neil, a Disney Legend, was the head of the Animation Department and he told me straight out that I was the worst he had seen and I would never make it so I should consider another field of study. He put up with me though as he would work with the other artists. I would look at my classmates in awe of their shear talent. Everyone around me was an art god and I was this little no talent somehow just getting by. I felt honored for my classmates and instructors to even acknowledge that I was there. When I graduated I realized I needed more so I went to CALARTs were again each and every one of my classmates were incredible animation gods with their talent and I couldn’t believe I was even in the same room. So I just worked harder and with even greater determination. I remember when Disney asked Milt Neil to come to California and sign and hand print the sidewalk of Fame on the Disney Studio main lot, he came to me to talk. He had just been presented his award in the studio theater and he saw me in the audience as I had been working for Disney for a little while now. There in front of all of these incredible talents of art he said, “Thank you Johan for proving me wrong. You made it,” and he gave me the gold mickey pin they had just given him and stated, “I’m passing the Legacy on.” He passed away soon after. I had a similar experience with Chuck Jones. I first met him at CALARTs. In my first year he had come to the student art show. He walked through the halls like one of those mythological legendary lords from greek lore. Everyone looked as he passed. He went through giving signatures to students and being taken around by the head of the department, Bob Winquest. They then left the department. Everyone followed. I stayed at my desk working on my animations. About an hour later he came back alone. Somehow he slipped away. He wondered through the department now in a very different way. The first time he was standing tall, proud and commanding. This time as I saw him he was somehow sad with a great longing as he walked to each desk looking at the drawing and sometimes stopping to pick up and flip through a stack of some students animations. I went back to my work with vigor as I soon after heard his voice behind me, ” You don’t stop for anything do you?”, he had asked. “That reminds me of the old days,” he said. I didn’t know what to say. He then asked if I would like to show him my work. I said yeah if he wouldn’t mind. It turned out that he visited the campus a lot, almost once a week for the Experimental Animation Department lead, Jules Ingles. He invited me to show him my work on a regular basis even though it wouldn’t be for any CALARTs class. I did any time he came and had time for me. He taught me a lot each time. Many years later he gave an art show where I was teaching and he gave my students his very last lecture before he pasted away. He was in a wheel chair in his tan blazer and light tan western hat. I was made to think of my life with enormous difference when, after the lecture, he looked up to me and asked, “Did I do OK?” It makes you rethink everything when a god like he asks such a thing. I realized then that I needed to pass on every little piece of knowledge to everyone I can and thus I focus on teaching now in my life whenever possible.

What’s a typical day like for you with regards to your job?
 What part of your job do you like best? Why?
I’m going to answer these together as well. I Instruct classes one after another each day. Well, I’m an Instructor now and its pretty special. You see I’ve always been on productions creating assets for film or gaming but now it seems like I’m doing something so much more important being I am helping to influence new amazing talent to do what I did, just much better. Instead of my helping a part of one or two productions at a time, now I influence dozens of productions at a time to a better quality level through the quality of my students as they become the industries new incredible talent. To say I am honored is an understatement. Every day I’m with my students is very special as I see them grow. In all of my experiences nothing is more wondrous than seeing a student click with the material and all of a sudden excel in their talents.

What part of your job do you like least? Why?
The one thing I hate most in my present job is the times I can’t get through to one of my students. I feel like I’m losing a great talent from the world each time and to me that’s a sin. Amazing talent took the time to teach me and help me become a talent in the industry for most of my life and I feel it’s my responsibility to do the same. Each of these students have parents backing their beliefs in becoming something just as my older brother and mother did for me. Anotherwords, people trust and invest in talent so when I lose one, I lose one for the world and my heart sinks.

What is the most difficult part for you about being in the business?
Every day I feel I need to learn more and learn faster. I have felt that way all of my life that is why I’ve been to 14 Universities and Trade Schools. I never can learn faster because my brain only learns as fast as it can. The second I stop learning I think I’ll die.

What kind of technology do you work with on a daily basis?
I’m a computer artist and traditional artist combined. In short I am a hybrid. This of course requires my working with 2D materials and computer software. I most work with Maya, Softimage, SketchBook Pro and Painter.

In your travels, have you had any brushes with animation greatness?
Everyday of my life in this Industry. It would take to long to list them all. Just a few; At Bluth Studios there was Linda Miller, John Polmeroy, Don Bluth to name a few. At CALARTs and Joe Kubert School there was every classmate. At Disney there was Sarah McArthur, Peter Schneider, Don Hahn, Glen Keane, Andreas Deja, Glen Keane, Vera Lanpher, Bill Berg, Kathy Bailey, Ed Gertner, Dan St. Pierre, Lorenzo Martinez, Sheri Weinhart to name a few. (all of them amazing in every way) Some of the nine old men of Disney. In Illustration and comics, there was Greg and Tim Hildebrandt, Frank Frazetta, Boris Vallejo, Frank Miller, Bernie Wrightson, John Burn to name a few. In Film, Steven Speilberg, George Lucas, Ron Howard and Robert Zemekis who all were enormous influences on my growth as an artist.  I have been given the enormous privilege of working with a great many incredibly famous people in both the work place and as I studied under a great many at the schools I’ve gone to. I have been living a blessed life in the world of art. When I was young just starting out I thought it would be amazing if I just met one great artist out there. Little did I know what the Lord had planned for me. This journey of life has taken me to incredible people and places with artistic gods like Ray Harryhausen, Ray Bradbury and Joe Ranft.

Describe a tough situation you had in life.
Becoming an artist others considered worth hiring has always been the tough thing for me and I solve it through simple hard work and great dedication.

Is there any advice you can give for an aspiring animation student or artist trying to break into the business?
Don’t ever take “NO” for an answer, especially from the person looking back at you through the mirror.  There are so many who look at the glass as half full in their attitude but it has never been anything less than completely full at all times being it always has some portion of water and the rest is filled with air and we need both to live. You don’t always know what you need but rather just what you want. The good Lord Provides so trust and you will get both what you want and what you need in the right balance. Trust in yourself and trust in the Lord.

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  1. I wanted to add this note to my interview to express how truly wonderful being part of the legend of animation has been for me. Disney 2D Feature Animation just let go of almost their entire crew as is described in the following link.

    Though Animation is a commercial art for Feature Studios, it is truly a High Art when such talents as those Disney Features had as a team are brought together. Their films educate, archive knowledge and help to design the future of our society. Animation is an art form that requires pooling together the talents of every High Art in society to create the singular High Art of the Animated Feature Film (2D and/or 3D). It is hard to hold any studio responsible for such high ideals as the High Arts, being it is business and a commercial art, Disney did achieve High Art during it’s renaissance. Disney did this because of the choices made by the collaboration of incredible talent brought together at the time. We, the artists, felt responsibility for our creations and a love for the art and those people who enjoy it. I and my amazing wife, Norma, had the incredible privilege of being part of the legend. The legend was the team, the amazing pool of creators we belonged too. To us, they are family. Whether we got along or not doesn’t matter because we all wanted the same thing. We wanted to achieve greatness in our art. We loved the same things and decades later we still love the same things. We are family. The journey of Beauty and the Beast, Alladdin, Lion King, etc. etc. was historic to our art form but what was most amazing was the legendary team we were. The amazing talent working and struggling through the trenches of production, accomplishing the seemingly impossible, “Building Dreams”.

    I met my wife at Disney. We were married during the production of Beauty and the Beast. I was an artist on The Beast and she was an artist being used by The Bell team at the time. While she was drawing Bell and I was drawing The Beast, we worked in a building called The Heart Building. Teams, Dreams …Disney… made our future.

    It is sad to see the Traditional Animation team broken up and some may consider it the loss of a legend. I don’t see it quite that way. You see our art form is a fine balance of funding/budget, quality and time. Most think of it as just an issue of quality. Recognizing that the team we were at Disney was a pool of some of the best talent in the world, I also realize how important it is to seed the world with the best to, in fact, raise the art form of animation as a whole. This is actually what is happening now as a result of Disney releasing so much of their talent. We are now seeing a great thing happen though it may feel, to some, like the rose flowers have been cut off the plant. Disney has always been masterful in bringing the most incredible talents together to create, as a business and commercial art, some of the most lasting High Art Animations in world history. It is very likely they will continue to do so no matter what path animation as an art form takes in the future. They will build legendary teams and those individuals will spread the knowledge and art throughout the world. As they do so, new legendary teams will form in other places as funding is raised. This is the miracle of our business and the wonder of animation. To continue having gorgeous flowers, the rose must be trimmed, nurtured, and cared for, and you must even dump some manure on them otherwise it’s just a thorn bush. The world of animation is a multitude of colors and tones when it grows everywhere. 2D animation will never die but rather take root in different forms. If the world truly wants the old art style of 2D animation, funding will come together for it at some amazing studio and audiences will flock to the films again. The art must evolve with the audience though just as the audience evolves with the art.

    The artists of Disney are legends because the art form is legendary. Having been granted the privilege of being part of the team during those legendary times has been an honor, a wonder, an incredible journey and one of the most amazing parts of my life so far. My best wishes to every artist and creative talent of Disney who are part of molding our world. You are the Legend. The artists of all Feature Studios like those I’ve worked for; Sullivan Bluth, Kroyer, Amblimation, etc. ect. are the true legends. We build the dreams that build the world. Hope grows in the heart of art.

    Johan Klingler

  2. Norma and I actually worked in the same studio together once before but never were introduced to each and never met directly. We were ships passing in the night you might say. When I was at Joe Kubert School, I did some freelance for Broadcast Arts in New York. She was there. 3 years later, about 3000 miles across the continent from coast to coast, fate brought us together. It was our destiny and she is truly my soulmate and better half.

  3. Mike,

    Here is a “callout” to all Q-Bees who had The Legend of Milt Neil as a mentor and instructor in Joe Kubert School as you and I did. It’s good to remember our roots and most important to realize how Disney spread talent in the past seeding new talent like us. Milt Neil is an example of someone who left Disney and he built the sparks of new talent as a teacher. It’s a full circle raising the bar of quality in each new generation. History is repeating itself. Here is a memory I found on YouTube of Milt teaching at Kubert school. If you,like I, enjoyed and honored his incredible inspiration, spark of life and fatherly love for us his students you will be overwhelmed by memories watching this. We were so lucky to have the Legends of Milt Neil and Joe Kubert as our teachers. They are gone now but their influence lives on forever. Their amazing influence will live always through us and our art and be infinite as we pass on our knowledge to the next generation of amazing talent. Q-Bees enjoy!!!!!!! And thank you to whoever posted this.,or.&cad=b&sei=egdvUclHxIGLAoiTgMAO

  4. The last link gave you multiple Milt Neil videos of his career and influence. Here is one just to the class video of him.

  5. Mike and Johan, the Milt Neil videos were put together by Vincent Potuto, a mentor of Milt’s in his later years, and an animation instructor at Bloomfield College & Cicely Tyson MS/HS of Performing and Fine Arts.

  6. In addition, there’s also a Facebook page devoted to Milt –

  7. Im happy for this interview…i’ll have to say,this is one of the most inspiring interview i have read at animation insider…i am an artist and animator,and im aspiring to be great…i found out in this interview that you are everything i want to become in this creative industry,i love animation and at the same time i love drawing and painting(which im not good at yet)..i love the fact sir that you take your christian life so are really a great inspiration,im from nigeria and we lack good art schools here,i have been self studying trying to be good at my life drawing(i love cartoon art style more,but its obvious it all came from life drawings)..i have couple of life drawing books im reading..but sir,i will like you to mentor there a way i can always ask you for advice through the net and i will recieve answers…if its your mail or your site something sir,thank GOD you said you don’t like it when new talent go astray…thanks sir…

  8. I am glad to have inspired you John. You can reach me through my LinkedIn Profile.

    I am happy to pass on what I know to as many as possible. I was incredibly lucky to be accepted in The Joe Kubert School and it was amazing to study there with true Legends. Then I got accepted at Michigan State for a condensed wildlife illustration study. Only 15 students were accepted and again I studied under true Legends. A week after finishing that, I got accepted into CalArts which was known for only taking 25 students a year. Once again, I studied under some of the most amazing Legends of our time. I took a job at Sullivan Bluth Animation working on Feature Films to help pay the CalArts tuition and my time there was as amazing as the school because every artist there was one of the best in the world. Then I started my amazing journey walking with Legends at Disney. I was and am just a little tiny artist with average talent and I’ve been blessed to have been granted the times I’ve had. I am just a mouse and life is an incredibly vast tapestry of art that I run through and spring up creations. I credit and thank every artist who took time to fill my head with dreams, worlds and life experiences. My classmates, co- workers, supervisors, students, family and friends, I enjoy the wonder of creation in art thanks to you all and it is a true honor to have all of this to pass on to others who want to learn.


    • You too are a legend now sir…thanks for the link…im the happiest guy on earth now(can’t believe a disney artist culd reply me)…i really appreciate your love for upcuming artist…we will meet at linkedin..lolz…GOD bless you sir..

  9. In the past, many have asked me, IS 2D ANIMATION DEAD? I’d answer, “NO, it will reinvent as Disney artists spread across the world, create new forms of high art that archive knowledge, teach and design the future of our society in some way. You just need to be patient. You see a form in Maya’s “Grease Pencil”. Now Glen Keane an incredible LEGEND and close friend to Norma and I has done JUST THAT. He has created the “NEW FORM OF HIGH ART”. 60 frames per second animations. 2D LIVES FOREVER!!! enjoy his film directed and created by Glen Keane, “Duet”. AMAZING!!!! THE FUTURE!!!!
    Glen, Norma & I send you the warmest hugs ever. We miss you.


  10. Glen Keane Legendary- 60 frames per second- 60 drawings per second

  11. This is the most amazing new form of 2d digital animation.


  12. Johan?

    Is it possible to contact you for information about a Belle Production Drawing? I would love to know if you drew this specific frame. Please let me know

  13. No, sorry. Bound by Non Disclosure Agreements with my prior Disney and all my Studio contracts. It’s what professionals all must respect.

  14. Well Both I, Johan Klingler, and my wife Norma Klingler no longer teach anymore. We only do Production work. Yep, we are production junkies because producing art is just too gratifying.

    Any Animation school Advertising that we teach there or Animation School offering Scholarships in our name is mis-leading you. We have not endorsed any Animation School for Scholarships. DO NOT GO TO ANY SCHOOL THAT MIS-LEADS YOU. CALARTs is the best Animation School there is. If you want to go to a fantastic Animation School, go there. It’s worth the money. Both Norma and I went there. They accept students from anywhere in the world.

  15. Just wanted to add a 2023 update. Norma & I, Johan, loved teaching. Most of all for the school we founded in Burbank. The magnet program for gang kids called The School of Media Arts where we taught kids for free using our earnings from Disney and Warner Brothers for well over a decade. We then took the students right into Studio jobs. It was perfect. We don’t teach anywhere now, not since 2021. We only work on productions. We love producing the art too much. So any college, university or school posting our info and photos OR offering scholarships in our name is misleading you as we DON’T TEACH ANYMORE. The best school of animation is where Norma and I, Johan, both went and that is CALARTs in Valencia California. Enjoy.

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