What is your name and your current occupation?
Betsy Baytos…..Illustrator/Animation Choreographer/Filmmaker & Eccentric Dance Historian.
What are some of the crazier jobs you had before getting into animation?
Performed & created the ‘Betsy Bird’ & puppeteered on the Muppet Show…..trained over 250 clowns in a ‘character movement’ workshop for Ringling Bros. ‘Clown College Alumni’…..toured the country in a vaudeville/burlesque show ‘Baggy Pants & Co’ as the featured eccentric dance act.
What are some of your favorite projects you’re proud to have been a part of?
Working as a Disney animator since 1976, then coming full circle as ‘animation choreographer’ for Disney’s ‘Princess and the Frog’…..Consulting for Cirque Du Soleil…..performing eccentric dance as the ‘Betsy Bird’ on the Muppet Show and performing physical comedy in the Broadway run of ‘Stardust’ in a featured eccentric dance act as ‘Maurice’, but most importantly, bringing this film, which I have researched & worked on for the past 20 years, ‘FUNNY FEET: The Art of Eccentric Dance’, to fruition for the next generation.
How did you become interested in animation?
I have always drawn and danced since I can remember. I discovered eccentric dance while working as an animator at Disney, then discovered they used eccentric dance as models for our characters, I knew I had found a very powerful link between the two visual arts.
Where are you from and how did you get into the animation business?
Youngstown, Ohio…..after one semester at CCAC, Eric Larson hired me as an animation trainee at age 18, and following 2 personal tests, was hired to work as an inbetweener on ‘The Rescuers’. I was then assigned to an animator that best suited my style, and was fortunate to work along side Cliff Nordberg, a great character animator know for his over-the-top, crazy & exaggerated animation ( ‘The Three Little pigs, the crocs in ‘Peter Pan’, Evinrude in ‘Rescuers’ and many more classics). I then assisted Don Bluthe & John Pomeroy on ‘Pete’s Dragon’ and began choreographing animation. I was soon dancing as ‘Elliott’ in the parking lot at Disney, with a foam tail pinned to my arse, then worked with Bluthe again on ‘Banjo’, dancing for the cat sequence. This opened the door for choreography on additional features (‘Emperor’s New Groove’) and ‘character movement’ training for the animators through Artists Development.
What’s a typical day like for you with regards to your job?
There is no typical day when you juggle so many hats…..research, illustration, typing, dancing…..and lots of interviews & travel. Hanging with vaudevillians & Music Hall artists. Never a dull moment….HA!
What part of your job do you like best? Why?
All of the above! I am blessed to love everything I do and the beauty is, it’s all connected!
What part of your job do you like least? Why?
Typing gets a bit difficult…..alot of writing, which is difficult to switch gears when you want to draw or dance.
What kind of technology do you work with on a daily basis?
Not very tech savvy yet, so my MAC does it all. When not on the computer, dancin’ on the floor serves me well! Pretty basic!
What is the most difficult part for you about being in the business?
Creating your own niche. But in many ways, it is the most rewarding as it is a challenge and makes you push the envelope. Not many eccentric dancing animators out there!
In your travels, have you had any brushes with animation greatness?
I have worked with most of them and interviewed others for the Documentary ‘FUNNY FEET: The Art of Eccentric Dance’! Eric Larson was my first mentor, and Cliff Nordberg, my second. Mel Shaw & Ken Anderson were wonderful and I would spend a great deal of time with them both. While at Disney, my first roommate was John Musker and other colleagues were Randy Cook, Brad Bird, Andreas Dejas, Dan Haskett, Dale Baer, John Lassiter & Tim Burton. For the ‘FUNNY FEET’ Documentary, I was able to interview our most celebrated visual comics and animators who were inspired by these performers: Al Hirschfeld, Joe Barbera, Chuck Jones, Joe Grant, Frank & Ollie, Myron Waldman, Richard Fleischer, and Ward Kimball.
Describe a tough situation you had in life.
Moving on from animation and taking a huge risk…..moving to the Big Apple. But risk is vital to any artist and there are no mistakes, just detours and lessons to learn.That is how we grow as individuals and artists….life experience & learning everything we can!
Any side projects you’re working on that you’d like to share details of?
My Documentary was always on the back burner and is now first & foremost! I realize how important it is for me to finish ‘FUNNY FEET: The Art of Eccentric Dance’, for researchers, dance, film & animation enthusiasts, bringing back the inspiration and process of how the masters created, to a new generation and opening communication once again, between dance & the animated cartoon. I have launched a kickstarter campaign to complete the critical research left to do in Europe…. http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/1724245617/funny-feet-the-art-of-eccentric-dance
Any unusual talents or hobbies like tying a cherry stem with your tongue or metallurgy?
I love the original Dr. Doolittle 1920’s books & memorabilia and have become a big fan of Annie Oakley, whose screen test I discovered when transferring a film collection for the Documentary. I love discovering new things!!!
Is there any advice you can give for an aspiring animation student or artist trying to break into the business?
Learn everything….try everything. Dance, act, improv, learn theater and film, get out and enjoy life. Keep learning & you will stay young forever. Take risks….Everything you do will impact your work in a positive way!