Allan Neuwirth

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What is your name and your current occupation?
Allan Neuwirth.  Right now I’m writing and producing several different projects for film and TV… both animated and live action.

 

What are some of the crazier jobs you had before getting into animation?

Wow. I got into the animation biz at the age of 23, so didn’t have too many jobs beforehand…  but one of them was designing and re-scaling newspaper print ads for United Artists feature films, in a crazy bullpen art company called Carluth Studios.  One wall of their 3rd story office was a huge window from floor to ceiling, overlooking Times Square — an amazing view of all the hubbub — and I was the youngest artist working there (everyone else was well into their fifties and sixties and beyond).  Before that I was a salesman at the store Hammacher Schlemmer, selling very expensive toys and gadgets to the very wealthy and very famous.  Also an insane job.  And as a teen I worked as an usher in movie theaters, where I would memorize literally every line of dialogue from every film…. from the opening frame to the closing credits.  To this day I can recite some of them.

What are some of your favorite projects you’re proud to have been a part of?
Quite a few, actually.  Early on I designed and directed lots of animated motion graphics and flying logos for ABC News and Sports, HBO, NBC, and other networks.  Worked on the original show openings for “ABC Nightline,” “This Week with David Brinkley,” “20/20,” the “World Series,” and many more.  Got to design the scoreboard animation for the New York Yankees (for their DiamondVision screen, so I created them on film), working for George Steinbrenner for two seasons, during the height of his bombastic, bullying days.  (He was pretty nice to me, actually, but I watched him berate people like mad in the front offices!)  Was co-developer and animation head writer of Cartoon Network’s first pre-school series, “Big Bag,” with Jim Henson Productions and Sesame Workshop.  The network gave us an awful time slot, so the series only lasted a few years… but we broke some new ground and it came out great.  Animated and directed a bunch of award-winning TV commercials, all character animation.  Lots of fun!  Many other projects that I’m proud to have been a part of over the years, but a few that come to mind right now are “Arthur,” “Courage the Cowardly Dog,” “The Octonauts,” and two recent Hallmark Christmas specials that I’ve written, “Jingle All the Way” and “Jingle & Bell.”  Also an amazing new feature film that I’m producing right now, called “Drawing Home.”  I’ve also written some books I’m quite proud of, including “Makin’ Toons” (all about the toon boom of the 1990s and 2000s), and co-created a widely syndicated comic strip called “Chelsea Boys” that ran for nearly nine years.  Now that I think about it, it would take me a long time to list ALL the projects I’m proud to have worked on…
How did you become interested in animation?
I’ve always been a rabid animation fan, from when I first started watching “The Rocky & Bullwinkle Show,” “Beany and Cecil” and Warner Bros. cartoons on TV while I was still in diapers. (That’s children’s diapers, btw, not Depends), and my mom would take me to see every new Disney film as soon as they’d open.  Began drawing/animating my own flip-books when I was about 5 years old.  So it was my destiny, I suppose.

Where are you from and how did you get into the animation business?
I was born in NYC, up in Washington Heights.  And I got into the animation biz thanks to the recommendation of an amazing and famous designer, Joe Caroff, who liked my work and insisted I go on an interview to an animation studio in town called “The Studios of Diamond & Diaferia.”  They hired me on the spot, and I was off to the races.

What’s a typical day like for you with regards to your job?
That’s part of the beauty of what we do for a living.  There’s no “typical” day!  Every project is different, whether it’s a TV series or a feature film or even writing a book… and my work takes me all over the world.

What part of your job do you like best? Why?
Getting paid to be creative.  I would probably have done it for free (ssshhh, please don’t tell anyone), so it’s amazing to do it for a living.  The other part I love is meeting and working with so many amazingly talented people… and also getting to know so many of my heroes, people who influenced my work when I was growing up.

What part of your job do you like least? Why?
The harsh deadlines and pressure to perform.  The only way I can deal with it is to accept each deadline and demand as a challenge, and work very hard to do my best.  I know that sounds a bit corny… but it works for me.

What kind of technology do you work with on a daily basis?

 I’m not a high-tech kind of guy — usually happy to let others be hands-on — while I use my brain and hands to write and draw and conceptualize.  But I’ve worked with/been associated with cutting edge technology on many projects.  So you name it, and I’ve pretty much worked with it.

What is the most difficult part for you about being in the business?

Just the stress levels.  They can get intense.  But after a few years, you learn how to handle all that.

In your travels, have you had any brushes with animation greatness?
Many.  From going to school with/studying under friends (and future animation greats) like Eric Goldberg and Dan Haskett, to meeting everyone who’s anyone when I worked on “Makin’ Toons.”  That project brought me up close and personal with a veritable Who’s Who of the current animation world.  Too many talents to list here.  (Check out the book, it’s a fun read!)

Describe a tough situation you had in life.

There’ve been many of those, too.  Losing friends and loved ones who died way too young.  Finding myself completely unemployed right after Sept 11, 2001… which triggered a career reinvention.  Dealing with a few rampant egos in our biz.  And more.  I choose not to dwell on the negatives or hard times, though they do inform who I am at the present.

Any side projects or you’re working on or hobbies you’d like to share details of?
Not sure what qualifies as a “side project,” but for the past four years I’ve been putting together an insanely funny and tuneful musical comedy for the stage, called “Life of Briley.”  Collaborating with two mega-talented partners on it:  composer Jody Gray and Grammy-winning songwriter/lyricist Don Rollins.  Having a blast with that.  As for hobbies, I enjoy taxidermy and animal husbandry, though not at the same time.

Any unusual talents or hobbies like tying a cherry stem with your tongue or metallurgy?

I can flare my nostrils at will, but sadly, I cannot wiggle my ears.  This is the bane of my existence.  Then there’s my femur, which is the bone of my existence.  But that’s a whole other story for another time and place.

Is there any advice you can give for an aspiring animation student or artist trying to break into the business? Absolutely.  Don’t ever take “no” for an answer.  I mean, yes, you can take “no,” but then move past it, don’t seek revenge or anything.  Persevere.  Bash your head against the wall (metaphorically) as many times as it takes to break through to your goals.  The wall will eventually give way, or you’ll fracture your skull.  Hopefully the former, and again metaphorically.  Study hard and learn as much as you can.  Learn the history of your trade!  Don’t wander around like a fool, not knowing who the greats were or what they accomplished… you’ll look and sound like an idiot.  Once you get hired, work harder than you ever imagined you could.  It will pay off.  And then, keep on learning and expanding your horizons.  Travel.  Read.  Watch, listen and observe.  Move past your comfort zone.  Challenge yourself.  All that will make you a better rounded human being, and will show in your work, too.  Finally:  believe in yourself.  As a wise man once said, “Believe in yourself.”  Okay, I listed that one twice… but it’s a good one.

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