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.