What is your name and your current occupation?
Dean Yeagle – I have my own animation company, Caged Beagle Productions, and I do cartoons for Playboy Magazine and publish my own books as well. My pinup girl character, Mandy, has become known all over the world due to the Internet, and I do original drawings of her for galleries and collectors.
What are some of the crazier jobs you had before getting into animation?
Well, aside from a summer job when I was just out of high school with the Head Start program, animation was my first ‘real’ job. It was interrupted by a stint in the Navy during Vietnam, and then I went back into animation. There’s plenty of ‘crazy’ in animation, anyway.
What are some of your favorite projects you’re proud to have been a part of?
I produced, directed and largely animated the Cookie-Crisp cereal spots for eight years…they were fun, sort of like 30 second Tex Avery cartoons. I worked on various TV specials, for Warner Bros. (animating Bugs and Daffy and Elmer), and animated the Trolls in The Gnomes; I did pre-production work on ICE AGE; and I did lots and lots of commercials and worked with some great people, here and in London. And now I’m doing full-page color cartoons for Playboy Magazine.
How did you become interested in animation?
The way everyone does – watching cartoons as a kid. The Disney features were just magic to me, and I knew early on that I had to be involved in doing that. The old Disney ABC network show often had programs about the process of animation, and I knew I’d have to be able to draw, which was my favorite pastime anyway. So I decided that would be my life.
Where are you from and how did you get into the animation business?
I’m originally from Philadelphia, and I got a job at a small animation company there for the summer break from my first year in art school. It was like being an apprentice, and I got to do a little of everything – animation, design, backgrounds, layout, ink and paint. So I decided to quit art school and stay there to learn. I worked for Jack Zander doing commercials in NYC, then opened my own company, Caged Beagle Productions, with Nancy Beiman and Daryl Cagle in 1986. Now it’s just mine; Nancy teaches at Sheridan College in Toronto and Daryl runs the MSNBC editorial cartoon website.
What’s a typical day like for you with regards to your job?
Well, for the last 30 years I’ve worked for myself, so it’s pretty loose. I’m not a morning person, so I work late at night very often and get up when I feel like it, walk to the next room and start work. Oh, yes, breakfast, first.
What part of your job do you like best? Why?
Just putting the pencil to paper and seeing what happens. Still magic, still full of surprises.
What part of your job do you like least? Why?
The business part. It would be nice just to draw without worrying about making money with it. On the other hand, it’s kind of nice to see that people are indeed willing to pay serious money for my cartoons.
What kind of technology do you work with on a daily basis?
There’s that pencil and paper, to start…but I do the color for my Playboy cartoons and my books in Photoshop on a Mac, with a Wacom tablet. I’ve avoided the Cintiq so far, because I’m so used to using the pen on the tablet and looking at the screen that it seems unnecessary. And your hand stays out of the way of your work that way, too. The original pieces that I do for galleries and collectors are pure ‘no tech’, of course. Except for scanning them when they’re finished so I have them to publish eventually.
What is the most difficult part for you about being in the business?
At this point, I’m creating my own projects for the most part, so it’s the usual problem of just getting started on work that has no deadlines or pressure. Sad story, eh? But then there is the need to get a book done for the San Diego comic con, and I also have a few clients, such as Dark Horse and Playboy who may not press me for a schedule but who are waiting for work to be done. But please, don’t weep for me…
In your travels, have you had any brushes with animation greatness?
Yes, indeed. For one thing, I worked for Jack Zander for seven years. Jack was the main animator on Jerry the mouse in the great old Tom and Jerry MGM cartoons. I started there after getting out of the Navy and did design, layout, storyboards, animation and finally became a director. He had some of his old pals working for him on a freelance basis, such as Preston Blair, whose books I’d learned from as a kid (I do all my work at an animation desk I bought from Preston, in fact); Emery Hawkins, Irv Spence…and I managed to meet Ward Kimball, Frank Thomas, Ollie Johnston, Woolie Reitherman and Marc Davis. I’ve known John Musker for many years, and Ron Clements, Eric Goldberg, Gary Goldman…enough Disney people to be able to have lunch at the Disney commissary every so often. And Nathan Greno (co-director of TANGLED) is a fellow Playboy artist, too. I had a tour of the Disney studios when I was 14 (my mother’s cousin knew storyman Bill Berg) and met with someone in personnel and asked what I should do to work there. He told me to not be 14, for a start. And I saw Walt Disney’s 1961 Thunderbird parked in the lot.
Describe a tough situation you had in life.
Of course there are the things that everyone goes through in life, but assuming you mean in my career, I’d have to say I’ve led a pretty charmed life.
Any side projects or you’re working on or hobbies you’d like to share details of?
I love to travel, and since I have galleries in Paris that sell my work, I get to travel there often; this year I’ll be in Scotland, Brussels and St. Malo, the last two as an invited guest at comic cons. I have a booth at San Diego every year, and WonderCon (this year close by in Anaheim) and San Jose, and the CTN Animation Expo in Burbank. I’ve worked in London a couple of times on animation projects. I have a six-year-old granddaughter, and since I tend to like the things little kids like to do, we have a great time. And she can draw Mickey and Minnie like they can step off the page! My influence, needless to say.
Any unusual talents or hobbies like tying a cherry stem with your tongue or metallurgy?
Hmmm…I can talk like Donald Duck. Sing like him, too, but not on purpose.
Is there any advice you can give for an aspiring animation student or artist trying to break into the business?
Learn about anything and everything. You never know what will come in handy. Watch people. See how their movements illuminate their personalities. Draw from life as often as possible, people and animals as well. I go to drawing sessions with a model once or twice a week. Remember that animation is not slavish representation of movement – it’s caricature. Know how far to take that caricature depending on the style of design. You may have to animate or design in a variety of styles, but it’s very important to develop your very own style, too, that’s recognizable as your own. Understand how every part of an animated film is done – it’s a collaborative effort, and everyone’s work will affect your own in some way. The more of those jobs you can actually do yourself, the more that film will belong to you. Watch old movies…Buster Keaton, Chaplain, Laurel and Hardy, W.C. Fields, the Marx Bros. See how Ginger Rogers uses her hands, study the lighting in CASABLANCA and DOUBLE INDEMNITY, and their brilliant and witty dialogue, and how fast that dialogue is delivered in HIS GIRL FRIDAY while remaining perfectly clear. Watch them for timing, as well. Study the buildup of tension as the mice try to get the key to Cinderella or the dwarfs race to save Snow White from the witch. Study Frank Thomas’s brilliant animation of Captain Hook as he tells Smee to pick up Tinkerbell; watch the fantastic animation of the babysitter in the short JACK JACK ATTACK on the DVD of THE INCREDIBLES (notice the beautiful subtlety of her eyes as she calls the parents). So much to see, so much to learn, all of your life. Check it out. Oh, and read POGO by Walt Kelly and the Uncle Scrooge comics by Carl Barks. And LI’L ABNER and Ronald Searle and Franquin and get that Preston Blair book and…oh, just look! And perhaps most important, remember what Kurt Vonnegut once said, that the worst thing any artist can say about themselves is that they don’t know what’s good and what’s crap. In other words, develop TASTE. And have fun, too!
A list of my books and such:
SCRIBBINGS 1, 2, 3, 4, and 5
ONE MANDY MORNING
MÉLANGE (published in Paris by Akileos)
SKETCHBOOK YEAGLE (published in Paris by Comix Buro/Attakus
‘Mandy’s Bust’ sculpture by Electric Tiki
‘Suzette’ sculpture (Attakus)
‘Ribboned Mandy’ sculpture (Attakus)