What is your name and your current occupation?
My name is Tad Stones and what I do pretty much depends on the hour of the day. Currently I’m a storyboard artist at Bento Box Entertainment. I just finished an episode of the new Fox series, ALLEN GREGORY, and will soon be returning to board on the second season of the wonderful BOB’S BURGERS.
However, I’m also in written development on a new series for Disney Junior. I’m past the written pitch and am waiting for word on which of my premises will move into outline so you can call me a writer. The series is based on a Disney property and if it makes it into production I’ll be the Executive Producer.
But catch me between drafts and I’m finishing the board on my own pilot for Cartoon Network. Hope to move it into animatic soon. That will give me the triple crown of EP, Story Editor and Creator.
What are some of the crazier jobs you had before getting into animation?
I started three days after college graduation so I hadn’t had many jobs. I was a scooper then an unofficial assistant manager at a Baskin Robbins 31 Flavors. I was there during the moon landing (with instructions to pull Lunar Cheesecake if anything went wrong at Tranquility Base). For two summers in college I was a camp counselor for WoodCraft Rangers at Lake Arrowhead. Then, for the summer of my Junior year, the last year before “real life”, I worked eight hours a day trying to sell gag cartoons to magazines. The closest I got was that the Saturday Evening Post held one for further consideration. The brainstorming I did that summer paid off in spades when I moved into story at Disney Feature Animation.
What are some of your favorite projects you’re proud to have been a part of?
I’ll say that my favorites were DARKWING DUCK and HELLBOY ANIMATED for completely different reasons. With Darkwing I was able to chase the funny more and play with all the comic book tropes I loved. With Hellboy I was trying to create true suspense. Mike Mignola and I wrote a third picture which would easily be the best of what we did. That’s definitely a project I’d like to return to.
How did you become interested in animation?
I always loved it. I remember an animation exhibit at Disneyland and bought Bob Thomas’s book, THE ART OF ANIMATION. My dad had wanted to be a cartoonist but didn’t pursue it after graduating. He did, however, keep buying art and cartooning books which included Preston Blair’s book that he did for Walter Foster. However, as I got older I thought that the only place doing full animation was Disney and they had all their guys. Which, at the time, was absolutely true. Luckily they decided to train more animators when I started college.
Where are you from and how did you get into the animation business?
I was born at St. Joseph’s Hospital in Burbank, across the street from the Disney Studios. The suite mate of my girlfriend (now wife) in college was the daughter of X Atencio, a Disney legend. She mentioned there was a training program and the guy to call was (seriously) Don Duckwall. I called for information and he assumed I wanted an interview. I suddenly had to come up with a portfolio in a week! Yikes!
What’s a typical day like for you with regards to your job?
I get up too early, drive to far, work too long, eat too much and sleep not enough. In detail, I spend the day drawing on a Cintiq screen using Storyboard Pro for both Bento Box projects and my own. My director on Bob’s Burgers has been Jennifer Coyle who storyboarded on my Hellboy Animated movies. I’ve learned an incredible amount from her being on the receiving end of her notes.
What part of your job do you like best? Why?
Easily the best part of my job is working with a crew of really talented writers and artists. I enjoy the creative process, weaving together the talents of dozens of people to create an entertaining story. I laugh a lot and when I solve some creative problem I get a sense of victory.
What part of your job do you like least? Why?
Currently it’s all the hours at a Cintiq. I enjoy using it and after so many hours a day of continuous boarding, I’m anxious to use it a some comic book ideas I have. But I enjoy the variety I had in my days as a producer. Plus, when I storyboard I feel everybody else is doing it better. I’m told that’s not true but I have high standards when looking at my own work and I never seem to meet them.
What is the most difficult part for you about being in the business?
The golden age of The Disney Afternoon spawned contracts that were negotiated for several years rather than just the length of a show’s production. I went to work worrying only about creative challenges, not about lining up my next job. I went through two years of near unemployment except for a few scripts and a few pages of board. I was not alone. The industry can be quite a roller coaster. The higher up you are in the chain of command, the fewer spots there are available.
What kind of technology do you work with on a daily basis?
At home and at work I use an iMac and Cintiq. The programs I use are Storyboard Pro, Final Draft, Word and Manga Studio Debut 4. Sketchbook Pro is another kickass program but I don’t have a reason to use it much.
In your travels, have you had any brushes with animation greatness?
I started at Disney when many of Walt’s Nine Old Men were still there. My lifetime regret is that I was too self-conscious to make the most of my time with them. I hardly spoke to them at all unless it was at a meeting. The big exception was that I worked in an 8 x 12 room with Ward Kimball for about 9 months at WED (now Disney Imagineering). That was fantastic and I should’ve kept a diary.
Describe a tough situation you had in life.
Aside from that two years of unemployment? I don’t really remember any. As to the unemployment, that was pretty rough. It was like the industry had decided I had retired and nobody remembered to tell me. My wife thought I should leave the business altogether but frankly the only jobs I felt I was qualified for paid even less. I wish I had as much faith in me as she does. Even now, things feel shaky to me and will continue that way until I’m running a show again.
Any side projects or you’re working on or hobbies you’d like to share details of?
If you’ve paid attention you’ll realize I’ve got no time for any of that. I still have a potter’s wheel in my garage that I swear I’ll set up again. I was the teaching assistant to the Ceramics teacher at Loyola University. I was lucky that the department head took a sabbatical in my senior year and he became the acting head. He allowed me to sit in on life drawing class to create the art portfolio that Don Duckwall asked for. I love graphic storytelling and intend to self publish a comic when I get through my development crunch. I enjoy telling a story through the relationships of panels on a page and the page as a whole. I absorbed tons working with Mike Mignola, the creator of Hellboy. I enjoy telling stories with pictures, moving or not. I have two blogs that animation professionals have told me were cool. The first is the HELLBOY ANIMATED BLOG which I wrote as the projects were in production. You get a good behind the scenes about what we were trying to do. That was so much fun that I started another blog, JUST A TAD, to give the behind the scenes of the projects I’m working on. I quickly realized that I wasn’t allowed to talk about the stuff I was working on. Oops. So I posted old pitches of mine, a comic I had tried to sell and, the thing I’ve gotten the most positive feedback on, several posts on HOW TO PITCH AN ANIMATED SERIES. Be sure to check the archives for my old pitches.
Any unusual talents or hobbies like tying a cherry stem with your tongue or metalurgy?
I actually took metalwork and jewelry making at Loyola. All the wrong art classes for my profession.
Is there any advice you can give for an aspiring animation student or artist trying to break into the business?
Draw all the time. Draw cartoons, draw from life, draw cartoons from life. Take some acting classes if you can, especially improv. You want to be able to generate lots of ideas through free association and learn the vocabulary of your body. Try coming up with a half dozen gags every day on any subject. Then finish something. Whether it’s a script, a comic, a gag cartoon or a painting. Start, continue and finish it. I talk to plenty of kids who have grand ideas of the series they want to write or the features they intend to direct. But my patience wears thin when it becomes obvious that it’s all talk. Sit down and tell a story. Publish on the internet. Get feedback and, instead of debating why a critic is wrong about your work, listen and see if you can rewrite or redraw your piece using the criticism to make it stronger. Use deviant art as a support group if you draw but don’t just copy your favorite characters. Create your own world! Seriously, the younger you are, the more you can make of this. You want to write? Who’s stopping you? Do it? Draw, paint, animate, create origami, anything. This is the chance you can try things without having to deliver an audience to a commercial. Try something, but FINISH IT! Then do another thing. Good luck.
Great interview! Tad, I think you may have been my summer camp councilor at Lake Arrowhead a lifetime ago. No kidding. Thanks for your insights. My interview should be up in a month or so and I also advised all up-and comers to write constantly (I am a composer).
All the best,
This is a great interview!
I always looked fondly about Tad Stones– he was the creator of Darkwing Duck. I wish I could work with him, whether it be his new CN pilot he’s putting together, or maybe even check out his new pilot for Disney Junior. 🙂