What is your name?
What are some of your favorite projects you’re proud to have been a part of?
My favorite project of all was the 2nd season CBS “Timon and Pumbaa” series that I directed for Disney Television Animation back in the mid-90’s. At that time Judy Price still helmed CBS’s children’s programming division, and she called me in at the start of the season to “meet the new director.”
I got the word straight from her mouth tho take that show to the absolute limit, to the line of cartoon violence, innuendo, bad taste, potty humor, and sarcasm.
She said if I stepped over that line, however, she’d come down on me like a ton of bricks, but I’d better lean as far as I could over it because she was competing with a lot of
pretty “out there” stuff in those days from the competition. Well, I knew what she wanted, I knew what Disney would accept, and I set about making those cartoons with an
energy and relish I had never felt before. I remember calling a meeting of the entire crew after that meeting and telling them what she had ordered. As far as we were concerned,
we now had carte-blanche from our client to make the absolute funniest, whacked-out cartoons we could make. I remember telling everyone, “Enjoy this, we will most likely never pass this way again.” Prophetic words, because never again did I have the control or “hands-off” attitude from the Disney (or any other) execs and the network when creating or working on a show.
The closest thing was at Cartoon Network with “The Grim Adventures of Billy and Mandy” and “Chowder.” The only thing was, on those shows I was a cog in the wheel, an artist down in the trenches, not running the show like I did on those CBS Timon and Pumbaa cartoons. I have to say there are a few other things I have fondness for, most of which came many years ago. In the mid-80’s I won a Clio Award, a Moebieus Award, and several national marketing awards for a bunch of commercials I either animated or directed, and that was very satisfying. I also was nominated for three Emmys lately, and I am particularly proud of the “Chowder” episodes that were nominated.
How did you become interested in animation?
I wanted to be a cartoonist from the day I could hold a pencil. My Mom actually remembers me drawing constantly from the age of three or even earlier, but I specifically remember being four years old when someone bought me a large printed-on-newsprint book of “How to Draw Walter Lantz’s Woody Woodpecker.” It had model sheets, construction sheets, flip books, all sorts of information, and that is when I first realized that people, actual human beings actually DREW the cartoons I watched endlessly! At that moment I decided that that is exactly what I wanted to do with my life. Now, how many people can say that they decided on a career at four years of age and actually stuck to it? I know one other person who did that. He had an uncle he idolized who was a Virginia State Trooper and my friend worked his entire childhood and young adulthood to become a police officer, and he is one to this day. Getting back to that “Woody Woodpecker” book, I drew on every blank practice page, did every exercise in the book, and studied it until it was dog-eared and falling apart. By some lucky accident, for Christmas that year, an Aunt bought me another copy of the same book by mistake, but when I unwrapped it I was over the Moon, because now I could do it all over again!!! I remember my first grade teacher, Mrs. Jeter, sent home a note to my parents with my first report card telling them that they “had a budding cartoonist on their hands” and that they would be wise to nurture it. I owe it all to my folks who indulged my drawing, Mrs. Jeter for recognizing the skills and not punishing me for constantly drawing in her class, and to Walter Lantz’s book.
Where are you from and how did you get into the animation business?
I was born in a small town in West Virginia that I do not remember, but in 1963 my family and I moved to Fredericksburg, Virginia and I grew up on the edge of the Chancellorsville Civil War battlefield. That town had been home to George Washington as a boy, John Paul Jones, and James Monroe had a law office there, and still does! It was so steeped in history that I was awash with it and fairly wallowed in it, and to this day gathering historical information is one of my passions. While a young teenager in Fredericksburg I worked part time as a graphic artist and illustrator for a tiny advertising agency, and then, when I went to art school at Virginia Commonwealth University (VCU) I took a job in a small animation studio in Richmond Virginia, first as a cel painter, then as an inker, then as an assistant animator, and finally as an animator of commercials and short industrial films. I got the job because the studio was short handed and the director was my animation teacher from the school and he hired his workers from his classes.
What’s a typical day like for you with regards to your job?
My typical day right now is pretty sedate. I get a handout from the animation supervisor and take the exposure sheets to my desk where I time out the action as dictated by the storyboards, then that information and artwork is sent to the overseas studios for animation. It is pretty low-key, and not too exciting…until several months later when the actual animated footage comes back from overseas and you get to see your timing and your extra poses and ideas come to life. That is the exciting part.
What part of your job do you like best? Why?
As I said earlier, I like seeing the animated footage come back and seeing the ideas come to life. It isn’t quite as good as actually doing the animation yourself, playing “God” and breathing life into your little drawings yourself, but, it is a pretty big rush.
What part of your job do you like least? Why?
The worst part of any animation job is the end. Looking for a new job is no fun. There is nothing more stressful than having to look for your next job while you are trying to do a good job on this one.
What is the most difficult part for you about being in the business?
Honestly, the thing I dislike the most about this business, and have the most difficulty with, is the amazing disrespect shown by so many studios, producers, executives, and sometimes even other artists to individuals who have given their amazing talents and their best years to this industry. People who have made corporations and individuals above them rich beyond comprehension and only asked for a paycheck and an opportunity to do what they love best, are turned out in their prime, ignored and passed over for ʺthe next new thingʺ no matter if that ʺnew thingʺ can actually deliver or not. There used to be a respect for older artists in this business, with capable individuals working well into their old age, sometimes doing some of their most creative work at an age sometimes DECADES past when many people retire from other industries. I trained under much older animators and directors, people who had been in the business for 30 and 40 years, people with awards cases bulging with statues, and I can remember as a young animator sneaking into their offices after hours and sitting with all the other young animators flipping their drawings, shaking our heads in amazement and taking notes, and learning, learning, learning. We’d run their pencil tests repeatedly and study them late into the night, soaking in the decades of experience that surrounded us, hoping one day to be able to do what these guys did so easily. It seems that that is not valued any longer. When ʺPersonnelʺ became ʺHuman Resourcesʺ a lot of that respect went right out with the garbage. People seem so often to be treated as a ʺresourceʺ like paper and pencils, and not as human beings with lives and skills. Companies that say they are like ʺfamilyʺ often show skilled workers the door with nothing more than a 40 hour notice and a vacation payout. This doesn’t happen to just older workers either, it happens across the board. Young people eager to work for lower wages who work late into the night, doing amazing work, and sometimes saving the company millions are just as likely to be turned out and forgotten at the end of a production. An artistic medium like animation, which encompasses so much heart, feeling, humor, and unbelievable creativity should not have it’s creators treated like they are line workers at GM screwing on lugnuts. I could go on and on, but if I did, I’d probably start naming names and we don’t want that, now, do we?
What kind of technology do you work with on a daily basis?
I regularly work with a PC with a WACOM Cintiq, or a tablet PC of my own. There is a lot of plain old pencil and paper too, but the computers are a must.
In your travels, have you had any brushes with animation greatness?
I have been lucky to work with some very well known individuals. I worked with the twice Oscar nominated producer/director/animator Michael Mills for many years. I worked with the director of the “Fractured Fairy Tales” and “Super Chicken” cartoons and animator of some “Mighty Mouse” and “Heckle and Jeckle” shorts, Jim Hiltz. I worked with Bill Melendez of “Peanuts” fame for several years, and loved him to bits. Of course, while working in Montreal, I had numerous occasions to meet with, work with and socialize with several National Film Board of Canada animators. In Los Angeles I worked regularly with great animation voice talents like Jim Cummings and Maurice LaMarche, not to mention such Hollywood voices as James Woods, Dom DeLuise, and Sandra Bernhardt. Oh, here is a “brush with greatness” for you: I do remember meeting “Frank and Ollie” (two of the original Disney Nine Old men), way back when I was a kid fresh out of college and they had just put out their book, “The Illusion of Life.” Even then, in 1980, that book cost over fifty bucks and weighed about 3/4 of a ton. I went to the big Ottawa animation festival and they were there signing their book for all comers. I waited in line, but did not have my book with me, because I had not wanted this precious tome hauled all over the country, onto airplanes, in and out of hotel rooms, getting banged up and dirty, or worse yet, lost! It took a lot of my money and work to be able to purchase it and I was not going to damage it. In those days I was working as a cel painter for minimum wage making less than two hundred bucks a week and that book stood for a huge slice of my income. Anyway, I stood in line with a piece of paper for them to sign to slip into my book when I got home. When it was my turn Ollie said, “Where is your book?” I told him I left it at home in Virginia, that I had indeed bought it, but had not hauled it with me. He pursed his lips, scowled, and angrily and loudly said, “Yeah, sure, like YOU bought it.” They refused to sign my slip of paper and I was forced to move on, totally embarrassed in front of my friends and hundreds of strangers. Honestly, I have rarely touched that book since that day.
Describe a tough situation you had in animation. Any side projects you’re working on you’d like to share details of?
Nope, not going there. I have had some hair-raisers but the people involved are still alive and able to read.
Any side projects you’re working on you’d like to share details of?
I have developed a show and a comic book called “Steve, the Last Cockweasel” that I am trying to flog, and I am trying to get some sketchbooks published. Later this year I will have a gallery showing of some of my art as well.
Is there any advice you can give for an aspiring animation student or artist trying to break into the business?
My advice to anyone interested in this industry is to ask yourself if you really really really want to do it. Is it a passion, or a passing fancy? Just because you CAN do it, doesn’t mean that you WANT to do it…forever. It takes over your life in many ways, and the business is fickle. You can ride a high for many years and the next day be forgotten. Be prepared for that by learning every single aspect of the business. Learn computer animation, learn traditional animation, learn layout and storyboarding and design and color and get an actor’s guild membership and learn to do voices. Learn editing, learn scheduling. If you have more tricks in your bag, the more likely you will stay employed. Don’t waste your money when you are riding on the highs, it spends very quickly when you have a layoff for over a year…or two…or more.