What is your name and your current occupation?
Frans Vischer. I am an animator at Walt Disney Feature Animation. I am also an author/illustrator. I have two children’s books published, Fuddles and Jimmy Dabble, and another book being published next year.
What are some of the crazier jobs you had before getting into animation?
In high school I did weekend janitorial work at a Montessori school, and I was a lousy busboy at a Mexican restaurant, spilling trays and breaking lots of plates. I delivered pizza for a single night after my 2nd year at Cal Arts, (when thankfully an animation job came through.)
What are some of your favorite projects you’re proud to have been a part of?
“Who Framed Roger Rabbit?” “Cats Don’t Dance” “Back To Neverland,” “Back to Neverland” “Michael and Mickey” “The Night of the Living Duck,” (a Daffy Duck short.)
How did you become interested in animation?
When I was thirteen, my mother sent some of my drawings to the Disney studio. Don Duckwall, the aptly named animation department production manager, wrote back inviting us to visit the studio whenever we were in the area. We lived in Cupertino, in Northern California, and the following summer we vacationed in Southern California, and made part of our plans to visit the Disney studio in Burbank. I met Mr. Duckwall, as well as Ed Hansen, who would succeed him in the job, (and later become my boss.) I also met a number of animators, who inspired me to make my own animated films. My parents bought me a used 8 mm. camera, and my dad built a light box with a set of pegs, and I jumped right in and started experimenting.
Where are you from and how did you get into the animation business?
I was born in Rotterdam, The Netherlands. When I was eleven, my family moved to the United Sates. During high school I met Chuck Jones at a talk he gave at a junior college. I wanted to show him one of my 8 mm. animation films, and he gave me his card. I mailed my film to him, and he called our home a few weeks later, and encouraged me to attend CalArts, in Southern California. With Mr. Jones’ help, I was accepted at CalArts. After my third year, in 1981, I was offered a job at the Disney studio.
What’s a typical day like for you with regards to your job?
It varies. At the moment I am working in development, doing design work and 2D animation tests for films in development. When we are in production, I’ll be handed a series of scenes by the supervising animator, (unless I’m working in that capacity.) We’ll discuss the scenes with the director, so we’re all on the same page. Then I’ll explore the content of the scenes by doing lots of small, thumbnail drawings. I ask myself questions- what’s the character after? what’s he/she thinking? what drives the scene? etc. When I feel ready, I start animating. I work as rough as I can, hitting just a few poses, so I can show the director something at dailies early on, in case they want me to go in a different direction. We have quotas, so time matters. We are responsible for delivering a certain amount of footage each week. There are weekly meetings where we see how much as a group the animators produced the previous week, and we don’t want to let each other down. Then I go home and work on my books, writing or illustrating. I have a number of book projects in the works, in various stages. When one manuscript is with an editor, I jump on another one.
What part of your job do you like best? Why?
At Disney, once I have a scene thumb-nailed and worked out in my head, and it’s a juicy, acting scene, I love immersing myself in the character. I use a mirror both for posing and expressions, and try to get inside the character’s head. Working on books, I love both the writing and illustrating experience. Once I have a rough dummy of the manuscript working, (using Sketchbook Pro, which is perfect for laying out compositions and refining drawings,) I go over the drawings and text again and again, pushing for clarity, entertainment, staging, etc.
What part of your job do you like least? Why?
The meetings. Most are not productive and a waste of time. Also making changes I disagree with, or animating a scene that in my gut I know is wrong story-wise. Animators have little control over a scene’s content. At dailies there are opportunities to discuss scenes, but generally the directors have made their decisions and tend to stick with them. (Though there certainly have been times where an animator made a good case for changing a scene they felt didn’t work for their character, and the director agreed.)
In publishing, differing visions of a book’s look. It’s one thing to have creative disagreements at Disney, where they pay my salary. It’s another when we’re discussing my own creation that I have very specific and clear reasons for what I want.
What kind of technology do you work with on a daily basis?
I use Maya for CG animation, and Harmony for scanning and timing 2D animation. At home I use Sketchbook Pro and Photoshop CS 5.5 on a Fujitsu T901 laptop with Wacom capability, so I draw and paint on the screen. I also draw with pencil on paper, (Stabillo Aquarellable 8008 is my favorite pencil- it’s very soft for loose sketching and under-drawing, and with pressure makes pure, dark blacks.) Then I often scan the drawings and paint in Photoshop.
What is the most difficult part for you about being in the business?
The long hours can be difficult, especially if you have a family. And since I work on children’s books on my own time, it’s easy to become immersed in work and lose sight of important things, such as family. It’s important to keep things in balance.
In your travels, have you had any brushes with animation greatness?
I’ve been able to meet and/or work with some great talents in animation. Eric Goldberg currently at Disney, Glenn Keane, (who recently left,) Andreas Deja, (also left Disney,) John Musker and Ron Clements, Richard Williams on “Who Framed Roger Rabbit?”
Describe a tough situation you had in life.
My portfolio being rejected at CalArts. Chuck Jones showed an animated film I made in high school to Jack Hannah, the head of the animation department, and I was accepted into the school. “Cats Don’t Dance,” flopping at the box office.
Any side projects or you’re working on or hobbies you’d like to share details of?
I’m currently working on a second Fuddles picture book, a Christmas-themed story due out in fall, 2013. I have several other picture books and two novels in the works. I keep up a blog, related to my Fuddles book. A number of Disney animators got together to make a compilation comic book, to be called, “Flip.” Each animator contributed 6 or 8 pages of whatever idea they had, loosely using the term or theme flip, as in an animator flipping drawings.
Any unusual talents or hobbies like tying a cherry stem with your tongue or metallurgy?
I’m passionate about soccer. I play, coach, and watch. Nothing unusual there. I wish I had more time for other things I love to do, like reading, seeing movies. I’ve done some sculpting. Given some time, I’d love to take U.S. history classes.
Is there any advice you can give for an aspiring animation student or artist trying to break into the business?
The animation industry is a wonderful, exciting business. It’s not easy to get into, but if you have talent and drive, you can make it. Life is filled with ups and downs. Don’t give up! There are plenty of schools that offer good programs, and with a strong portfolio, jobs should follow. Be prepared to start at the bottom, and any experience you get, whether working on commercials, web-related material, you gain from it all. Drawing is, and always will be, the basis of animation, even for CG. So attend figure drawing classes, sketch whenever you can, observe life around you. That is the basis of animation- caricaturing real life. As for publishing, the SCBWI, (Society of Children’s Books, Writers & Illustrators,) is a great help for beginners and professionals alike. Write and draw about things that interest you, things from the heart. Don’t think about making money, think about making something interesting. The money will eventually come- don’t make it your first concern.