What are some of the crazier jobs you had before getting into animation?
I had two jobs before getting into animation: the first – lasting less than a month – was as a gas station attendant in Canoga Park, CA. The next – which figures heavily into how I got into animation (see below) – was as an apprentice editor at Columbia Pictures Television in 1974. I coded film, ground out leader and mag-track and carried dailies in a bike basket across the TBS (now WB) lot for shows like Police Story, Police Woman and Born Free – getting laughed at, yelled at and occasionally entertained by the likes of David Carradine, Yul Brenner, Angie Dickenson and The Doobie Brothers along the way. I was 17- 18. The job lasted 5 months until I was rightly jettisoned for confusion, inertia and chronic boredom…
What are some of your favorite projects you’re proud to have been a part of?
The projects I’m most proud of having been involved with: The Tick animated series for Fox which I produced and directed from 1995-96; Enchanted, which I boarded on for Kevin Lima at Disney and most recently the new Road Runner theatrical shorts for Matt O’Callahan at Warner’s.
How did you become interested in animation?
Around Christmas of ‘67 my mother dragged me to Disney’s The Jungle Book. I had hated Disney films more or less up to that point, being either scared or depressed by most of them and preferring Bugs any day of the week. But when I saw that tiger over-night I became Disney obsessed and fascinated by the art, technology and history of the craft to the limits a 10 year-old could be.
Where are you from and how did you get into the animation business?
Originally I’m from Maryland. Following my Disnification and a couple years of reading about animation, drawing and making flip-books, I made a Dad-funded 40 second 16 mm animated film to enter into the new KCET Young People’s Film Contest. My Dad had a partner living up the street from video editing pioneer Art Schneider (Laugh-In, Sonny and Cher, etc.) who agreed to look at my film. Art saw and liked it and said he had a friend at Universal who “likes to help young people.” The friend was Chuck Silvers, at the time (1970) head of editorial there. We met with Chuck who also liked it and became my mentor for the next ten years getting me my first job out of High School when he moved to Columbia (the disaster mentioned above), and my next two jobs: Filmfair, a commercial house in Studio City (that one clicked) and later at Disney Features where I inbetweened on The Rescuers and Pete’s Dragon. Two years later, thanks to a recommendation by Art Vitello (who I’d befriended at Bakshi’s on Lord of the Rings), I became a story board artist for Ruby and Spears on Thundarr The Barbarian. That was 1979 and, with a few breaks to produce and direct, I’ve been boarding ever since.
What’s a typical day like for you with regards to your job?
I first work out as many excuses as I can for not having finished my sequence the night before. So armed, I read back over the script or notes and try to think of a way of doing it better than anyone would have ever imagined. With that guiding sentiment it usually ends up being pretty good to quite good; everyone’s happy (not depressed, at any rate) and I keep my job.
What part of your job do you like best? Why?
I like the moments when the whole effect we’re trying to achieve hits me. I laugh, or I feel sympathy or empathy for lines on paper or pictures in my head. The “Why?” is hard to account for. It goes back probably to something that made me want to do this in the first place; something about that tiger in the Jungle Book. It’s hard to say…What part of your job do you like least? Why?
I do not dislike any aspect of my work; not even the schedules. How could anyone…sitting, drawing fuzzy animals all day?
What is the most difficult part for you about being in the business?
The difficult part for me in this business is what Art Vitello refers to as the “tent-goes-up / tent-goes-down” aspect of animation which, face it, is a branch of Show Business. It’s always been there but now I’m 54 and the fear of being out work has been growing exponentially as the years pass and I see so many fine young talents enter the business. I’m being very nice to them…
What kind of technology do you work with on a daily basis?
I use an HP tablet laptop and Alias Sketchbook (with Photoshop at times).In your travels, have you had any brushes with animation greatness?
A year before my first job in animation I attended the animation classes taught by Benny Washam at his home in Laurel Canyon. Great man; great teacher; great lessons. There were many others, but this one would be the ultimate: While inbetweening on Pete’s Dragon I used to amuse myself and a few others by animating “gross out” flip-books – decapitations, car-wrecks, etc. One of the Amused, Heidi Guedel, was entertained enough to bring a “friend” by my room in A-Wing to have a look one Wednesday night. It was 5:55. I was just turning out the disc light and I hear a knock, look up, and there’s Heidi standing in the doorway smiling wickedly saying she’s brought someone to see my gross-outs. She steps aside and into the doorway looms Milt Kahl in trench coat and fedora…also smiling wickedly. Recently retired, yet still attending the Wednesday night employee screenings, there he was standing in the doorway waiting to see my gross-out flip books. “Hank, Milt. Milt, Hank. Okay, get ‘em.” ”Those?!!” “Get ‘em!” Then Milt, “Let’s see ‘em.” So I get ‘em and hand them to the master, thinking, “Well my career’s toast here anyway…” He starts flipping…heads start rolling….guts start flying and…he starts to laugh, actually hopping up and down like a hulking Easter bunny. I was relieved, but wary. “Y-you don’t actually like these?” Then the real meaning of the exchange, and everything he felt about the place suddenly came out. He he backed into the hall, swept his hand around at the Rescuers art on the walls and – still laughing – LOUDLY shouted, “Well, it’s better than this Saccharine shit!!” He thanked me (thanked me!?), wished me well and barreled down the hall with Heidi, laughing all the way out of A-Wing. The guy who did that tiger…
Describe a tough situation you had in life.
One tough time I had relating to this business was very recent: the sudden shutdown of Imagi Feature Animation where I was boarding on both the Gatchaman and Tusker features. They just walked in one day and said, “Everybody go home; we can’t pay you.” First time that ever happened to me in animation. We’re still recovering from the financial fallout. Show biz – red in tooth and claw.
Any side projects you’re working on or hobbies you’d like to share details of?
I’m writing a period script. Details are a no-no for now, sorry. I’ve written two others, one of which – a medical satire – nearly sold to Zoetrope in 2003. We can always try. There’s also a comic I keep threatening to finish. One of these days…
Is there any advice you can give for an aspiring animation student or artist trying to break into the business?
My main advice would be the generic “Be Excellent”. There are many paths if you keep your eyes peeled and you’re humble (meaning, maybe “that crap” you’d never be caught dead working on is more challenging and gratifying to do than you think.) Also, get married and have kids. It’ll give you something to fight for should your passion to be the next Clampet occasionally fizzle…