What is your name and your current occupation?
Ed Bell. I’m an animation artist and currently an affiliate director with Special Agent Animation, in the Bay Area. I’m building a short film at the moment. I also teach character design and mentor aspiring animation artists at CCA. Recently, I’ve started painting, and developing a gallery show.
What are some of the crazier jobs you had before getting into animation?
None. My first real job was in animation.
What are some of your favorite projects you’re proud to have been a part of?
“ Bring Me The Head Of Charlie Brown” was a short my classmate Jim Reardon made, that we took around to festivals with Spike & Mike. Awesome experience. Then there was the “Ed” trilogy by Richard Moore, also made at Cal Arts. I think of “Roger Rabbit” and “The New Adventures of Mighty Mouse” from the 80’s. But at Collosal Pictures, “The Big City” for Liquid Television because it was my first short as a director, and “King Tut,” with the great John Stevenson and Jerry Juehl with Quincy Jones helping us pitch, those are cherished memories, (even if Tut never made it to the screen). As a Warner Cartoons fan I’m amazed I got to contribute to some Warner Brothers cartoon shorts with animators I learned a great from.
How did you become interested in animation?
I’m a child of the “golden age” of T.V. or whatever, and grew up glued to the TV set, or glued to movie screens whenever and wherever I could. Every aspect of entertainment seemed to mesmerize me, nearly as much as it entertained me! Animation’s hand-crafted nature, and animation’s rich sense of spectacle and inventiveness attracted me right away. And, something primal to do with the fact that the worlds depicted always felt so real, and yet our minds know that we are seeing an artifice at the same time we are responding with physical and emotional responses to this artifice. So convincing. So art and animation seemed without limits, because they were dream landscapes that only our human responses could truly bring to life. In 24 Frames per second.
Where are you from and how did you get into the animation business?
I grew up in Los Angeles. An L.A. city kid with a beatup black and white TV set since before I can remember.
What’s a typical day like for you with regards to your job?
In the morning it’s all networking and marketing tactics. After that, I’m building an illustrator portfolio and business, so most days you’ll find me making pieces for that project. Mid-day is usually for freelance jobs.
What part of your job do you like best? Why?
In animation: I like the creation and crafting and release of an idea to it’s audience, the thrill of accomplishment when a production is complete. I like every aspect of making animation, but if pressed, my favorite part of the job is visualization of the ideas. On the other hand, I love Teaching. I like best the teaching act itself. It’s hard to describe, but I’m new to it, so it hits me hard right now. Passing these great traditions and principles down to others puts one in balance with one’s good fortune and life of experience.
What part of your job do you like least? Why?
In a word, Time. Teaching and freelance are very rewarding and diverting time-suckers that prevent me from pulling the long hours required to finish one of my films, or book projects or art-shows. Any time I’m not in the studio feels like hard time, but of course half of my problem is with time-management itself. Which for me is like the Rubiks cube: a puzzle I’ve never solved, even while those around me somehow got all the sides complete while I wasn’t looking.
What kind of technology do you work with on a daily basis?
Primarily I work on a Power Mac and an Intel Mac mini at my office. I’ll typically dip into Acrobat, PS CS3, Word, Garage Band, Toon Boom Storyboard Pro, TV Paint and Flash. Occasionally I get to play with Illustrator, Z-Brush and Maya. I love my occupation indeed.
In your travels, have you had any brushes with animation greatness?
Have I? Hah! The record of my absurdly rich good fortune in this business is long. I don’t know how, but I got into California Institute of The Arts at a moment when luminaries to be were everywhere I looked. Brenda Chapman, Ethan Canfer, Andrew Stanton, Richard Moore ( Futurama/The Criric”) , Jeff Pidgeon, Russ Edmonds, Eric Pigors ( Dir. “Megamind”; “Madagascar”), Steward Lee ( Clone Wars), Chris Sanders. All were in my class or a class above me, and I was able to work on many of their first films with them, and watch their artistry first hand. What a gift! At school we were able to sit and be lectured to by Tee-Hee, Darryl Van Citters, Kevin Lima, Joe Ranft, Glen Keane and Terry Gilliam. To me, my teachers themselves were greatness: Bob McCrea, Hal Ambro, Louie Godall and Ray Aragon, Mike Giamo and the amazing Bob Winquist. They were the bomb. One time at Cal Arts I had the chance to show Chuck Jones a pencil test I was struggling with, and get his encouragement to do my research and keep pushing the poses. During my stint on “Mighty Mouse” for CBS, we worked in the Bakshi studios L.A. office. Ralph himself presided over the production crew, so we were treated to the tales and teachings of the greatest trickster figure in the American animation world. On Mighty Mouse, our crew was young skinny and hungry nerds like myself, willing to do what it took to succeed with this show or go down in glory. I have been an animator, assistant, episodic director and concept artist for Bruce Smith over the years. His talent and personal values have shaped who I am as an animator.
Describe a tough situation you had in life.
My family kind of fell apart when I was about four. My Dad abandoned the family to avoid child-support after he my Mom got divorced. He’s never been in contact since. The years that followed were fairly rough for me in my struggling LA community. Crack was a new way of escape in the late 70’s and early 80’s in South LA. The media’s many depictions of my neighborhood are now too many to count, so I won’t bore you with that. It’s hard to describe what it’s like to watch things go from bad to worse around your neighborhood, while you try to nurture your emerging talents and interests that seemed to have no place there. But, I saw as much human triumph as I did human decline, and in my travels I came to recognize what a fortunate existence we had in our little hood, compared to my visits to Kingston, or the Bottoms of Georgia, or New Orleans’ 8th ward.
Any side projects or you’re working on or hobbies you’d like to share details of?
I’m an advocate for literature and cultural arts in schools, through 826 Valencia (Dave Eggars’ Foundation), leading storytelling workshops with 1st, 2nd and 3rd grade kids.
Any unusual talents or hobbies like tying a cherry stem with your tongue or metallurgy?
I’m a former LA street dancer lodged awkwardly in the body of a middle age man. I sing some Jazz and Soul but came out of Gospel tradition. And compose a little — more lately, than ever. I like to make my kid’s costumes whenever he’ll let me.
Is there any advice you can give for an aspiring animation student or artist trying to break into the business?
Remember the people you’ll be interviewing with and showing your work to are just people. Usually, nice people at that. Don’t wait for some “dream” job to bring your best effort. Work it like it’s the last gig you’ll ever have — trying to amaze yourself. Expect to return to figure-drawing continually, forever. While you’re building your skills, also nurture your relationships. Keep your sense of humor no matter what happens!