Robert Sledge

What is your name and your current occupation? 

Robert Sledge, I’m a Jack of all Trades But most Recent have Been a Storyboard Artist on a short film project & 2D Character Animator on” Space Jam a New Legacy” Feature film for Warner Brother. I also Have worked as a Character Designer for many projects.

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

Even Before I went to Junior High My Father who was a carpenter and Roofer for his trade would take me and my brother to work with him on weekends when he pick up extra work to put on new roofs of homes, most of my work duties early on were having to carry up the shingle that came in packs, that seemed to have weighed 40 lbs., a pack this was all well before anything the likes safety protocols for a lot of work environments. Over time though we kids got more and more experience and then My Father would give us one side of a roof to do ourselves, and he’d do the other. My brother and I always tried to beat my dad to the top of the ridgeline of the roof like it was a race, we would think well there were two of us and only one of him, however inevitably he always is at the top of the ridge finished first it kind of turned into a game for us. My Father was a super-fast and experienced roofer his ability to nail on shingles was amazing he would put them on mostly with an old fashion roofers hammer, not the air guns used today that make nailing in those 10 penny nails so easy. He went so quickly it looked like a machine as he put three nails in each shingle in a few seconds flat. We, my brother, and I took a lot more time to get those nails into those shingles. The one thing I didn’t like about the roofing jobs was when the sunlight got onto the roof at about 11-3 pm and your legs began to burn from the roofs absorbing all heat to the point pain it was an annoying issue at times, so we were always glad to get off those roofs as early as possible.

During High School I worked part-time for a construction company in their corporate Headquarters Building which happened to be right next to the Warner Brother Studio, it was Directly across the Los Angeles River Fondly known as the LA Wash, from this building you could see right into Warner’s backlot

At this Company I had a lot of different assignments from microfilming documents to the demolition of interior suites of the building and rebuilding new office spaces for incoming company needs I would get architectural plans and blueprints. And would knock down the walls and Ceilings of the old room and then rebuild them up to the new plans designs.

I even was flown to Colorado and other places to move or set up new facilities. For this company, the job called for lots of heavy lifting of furniture and other things I have to say it was crazy at times, but I worked with great people who I remember fondly.

While working there I was already busy on Animation Productions of my own and had helped to create a USC College “RUSH” Animation Intro for a sorority house it was animated put on cells with painted Backgrounds the whole shebang!

I also was working on other films with My Friends from School Lots of stuff most never completed but a good primer education for learning my craft.

Just out of High School I worked for an auto dealer in the Parts Dept. delivering Parts and materials to Auto Body shops all over Los Angeles.

This Job Was not so much difficult Just a little frustrating Knowing what I wanted to be doing was Animation. I was also working at night on developing a portfolio to submit to the Studios. So, that was my goal.

 What are some of your favorite projects you’re proud to have been a part of?

I have several things I’ve worked on that are special to me one I would say was Disney’s “The Tigger Movie” Feature film. I learned so much on that film from all the Great Talent then there. Storyboarding and Designing as well as Animating 2d traditional Disney Styled animation and character Layout for the film. My storyboarding was (Uncredited but I do have a sequence in the film, where the whole Pooh gang writes the letter to Tigger from His Family, I think it has some nice moments) I also was a Character and Vis dev 

Designer on the film, I can happily say that one design element I really wanted to incorporate into the film and that was eventually agreed to by Disney Management, was that of the Scratchy line work used for the animated characters. You see the original Walt Disney’s Featurettes were done primarily with a Black xerox line for the animation this line had a life to it and at the time you could see the Animators underdrawings or rough pass of their artwork still slightly there where it had been rubbed down and the cleanup artist went right over the roughs of the animators. I was always impressed with this look seeing some of the animators thinking behind the scenes, while not all agreed with this style approach on the later 60s and 70s Disney Films the pooh original shorts produced by Walt Disney had it, and I thought this should be maintained for consistency of the pooh style and narrative of the film. plus Pooh stories are supposed to be illustrations of a book of memories so, this line well fits will that… it is a design and stylistic detail that made those first “Winnie the Pooh films” have a certain look and charm, they felt like the Milne original children’s Book Illustrations done by 

Shepherd in his rough ink style and from 

which Walt Had developed and based these films. This approach that we decided to use was a big adjustment back to Walt’s original techniques. a Big Change to what the studio was used to for more than twenty years of Pooh products done in a smooth clean line style in the 80s 90s. I think the Tigger Movie does a fine job in most areas of delivering a touching story with the world and artistic visual look Walt Created in His first 3 pictures.

however, my first true Love was Animating, and I finally had a chance for about 8 months to focus on doing this by the time I was finally relaxed enough to truly start getting into scenes with a method to creating animation….. the production was over for us here in the States, I was heartbroken, I wanted so much to keep animating.

I was asked to go overseas to stay in Japan and help with the animation for Tigger but Having a family to take care of I couldn’t see leaving them here alone. So, I passed on that and moved on to another Show at Disney. I must Say Jun Falkenstein Was a Talented and considerate Director She created a heartfelt picture in “The Tigger Movie” not easy to do in any film and with characters that Walt Disney never really seem to see as a long-form feature project, However, I think Tigger has Heart and is one of the Best Pooh iterations to come out since Walt’s Original few were done Back in the 60s.

Great Job Jun! Of course, there was a Team there with her and all the parts came together well to make The Tigger Movie a Charming Little Picture.

On this Film, I also had the opportunity to design the film Theatrical poster for the Tigger Movie which was such a blast. I remember going to the Premiere of the Picture at the El Capitan Theater on Hollywood Blvd.

at this time the Dolby Theater was just being constructed across the street from El Capitan, so to block the construction site it was covered with Giant Banners of the Poster Characters I had drawn for the Movie to hide the construction site from the street traffic and promote the Tigger Movie Premiere at El Capitan. I was very excited about this surprise.

There have been many films and TV. Shows I’ve been part of my career and in all of them, I must say meeting new artists and Production people has proven thrilling to me. Getting to know people especially ones that are geeks about animation like myself and Particularly history Geeks of animation, those are the fun things for me to meet people with similar likes and even more exciting is meeting some of those who worked on the older shows and films that caused me to want to be an Artist in Animation. Learning from and absorbing all I could from them is what’s made the Jobs the most exciting to me.

Another Film and Tv Series I’ve enjoyed having been Part of was Tiny Toons (the first Show I ever did some Inbetweening and cleanup on and was paid professionally for.) I got my first break into Warner’s Animation Full time when was hired by Director Keith Baxter to work on his unit doing character Layout for “Tazmania ‘the Show about the Tasmanian Devil and his Family, Funny show Taz was great to work on he got into all kinds of trouble with his friends and his enemies. While on this show I meet a lot of dear people whom I still work with and talk with….. one of those guys sitting in the cubical right behind me, and we always had fun banter back and forth, during our workdays, that GUY is (Host and creator of this website Mike Milo) a super talented artist and now producer, Director, etc. Good times! we had multiple units on this show much like the old Warner Brothers’ units with its director, animators, etc. Many of these people have gone on to do amazing work Since. I also had a real learning experience on Tazmania I will never forget, you see we did character Layout on paper and so we layout the scenes by doing the key poses and positions for the animator to follow, we also had to do the camera mechanics and setup for overseas, from creating the correct Camera fielding to compose the scene. To do this we start with a field guide this is the film Aspect ratio and film cutoff they show how much of the paper you draw on will actually be shown on camera and thus seen by the audience in the theater or on tv. This is a real challenge for a new animator or layout artist because it affects every department in the animation after you, so it needs to be done right. Well as a young artist I had only a base understanding of this, so we do our layouts add the field guides as well as the camera moves and position notes showing where a camera was to be in the scene and if it was to move, we had to show where it would go and how. This meant giving camera instruction and planning for the overseas studio that would be doing the final drawings based on our instructions… Thus, at times many of us young people got something wrong and got called into the Animation Checking department that had very seasoned and knowledgeable people who trained us in the finer points of camera and animation mechanics, something I always appreciated, just not when I was going through it at the time…lol…. The ones I Remember there at Warner’s was Bunty Dranko, Jan Browning, Howard Swartz and, Karl Jacobs I appreciated the time they spent with us artist helping us to learn these mechanics. That we still use to this day in some shows. Much of these mechanics are now directly incorporated into the Programs Storyboard artist and animator’s use to do their drawing and planning work, But I have still had to in the last few years work on paper and figure out this camera mechanics by hand, so I suggest to anyone not familiar with these to look this up online and learn about it Don Bluth and Richard Williams or Erick Goldberg all go into this Subject in their books and videos check them out. I also got to know and work with so many wonderful people there at Warner’s in Sherman Oaks where the Studios Animation Dept resided for over a decade. One we already mentioned Mike Milo, Dave Kuhn, Kevin Frank, Vicky Jenson, Dan Haskett my friend and a guy the WB AND Disney owe a lot of thanks to for his long term Character design boards and Animation, he’s the Best, Chuck Harvey (amazing Animator in my opinion Fun Guy and old Disney feature Animator) Keith Baxter, Doug McCarthy, Lenord Robinson ( Cotty Killbanks Lovely person) Rich Aarons, Tony Craig,( Jason So kind Man and Artist, Friend)

(The fabulously talented Ken Boyer) Erik Mahady Leandro Martinez, Stephen Lewis, Alex McCrae, and Fred Gardner Wonderful Backgrounds and vis dev artists, We also had some Original Warner Brother artists from the 30s 40s there particularly Norm McCabe . he was a nice man, quiet and I wish I had spoken more in-depth with him about his early years at the studio. the list goes on.

I also had a great opportunity to have worked on the (“Animaniacs” original Series) that was a true learning experience for me I did Character design storyboard cleanup I also animated some when we could get the time. I did Character Layout on (One) Batman the original Bruce Timm series.

Then I frequently was hired on a freelance basis to do work for Warner’s classics, this was the division of Warner’s upstairs that was the feature arm and special projects division for Warner’s. I was hired to do animation on commercials and special projects when they were available, two jobs at the same time, wow when I had real stamina! There are lots more, But I don’t want to bore anyone, anyways fun and formative years for me.

Where are you from and how did you get into the animation business?

I started Life in the Mid-west and my father was a Carpenter as I talked about earlier. when I was young, We Traveled a lot due to his work needing to go where the new Construction was. so, I lived from one coast to the other and in many cities throughout southern California from Simi Valley to the San Diego area.

Well getting into animation seeded itself in me from about the age of 4 or 5, I can still remember at about 5 years old drawing constantly I had a binder that must have been filled with 3 inches of drawings then and I meet another kid who became a close friend and we would draw together, he had all the Mad Magazines at his home and so we would go there a read through and look at these things all the time and my love of drawing just grew at this point my parents moved us from the valley to Simi Valley which is in the Ventura county area just a stone thrown from San Fernando Valley, and I attended elementary school there I don’t remember drawing as much at this point I was more into riding my bike to the local park and going swimming at the pool or fishing in the small lake there. My brother and I would also go to the wash riverbed for runoff rainstorms, that was not far from our home and look for lizards and frogs to get as pets we also started finding fossils in the rocks in this wash, which became an obsession of mine and I still like to look for them today.

Eventually, I moved to Nevada near Las Vegas in a little town that my grandparents and great-grandparents lived. I started working on my film ideas and drawing again my goal was to be an Animator artist for Disney one day and I got others there in Nevada to be interested in film and cartoons also, (SORRY IF I LEAD ANYONE ASTRY BY THIS ) soon we were writing and making models for our films and trying to make Fan Based versions of films we admired. At this time, I started to write Disney Studios asking about their films and how cartoons were made. You have to remember the internet was not in existence nor computers to the general public in the 80s so how I learned was by going to the Library checking out the books on animation and reading and rereading and copying the drawings in those books and comic books, this taught me some,……but going back to writing Disney directly, astonishingly I have to say I don’t know what caused me to think of writing them, but I’m glad I did, they started to reply with kind letters and even typed information sheets on the questions I was asking them. To my surprise, I also occasionally received black and white glossy photos of a movie still or pictures of the rides I asked about at Disneyland which I also had a fascination with, this caused my realization that I wanted to work in animation and for Disney.

I recall I sent a picture I had drawn to Disney, and I believe I asked if they had drawings I could use to copy or something like that, and to my absolute amazement they sent me Model sheets of Micky and Minnie mouse and at other times Donald and other characters, this whetted my appetite even more. Now I must say these models were the early mickey & Minnie Mouse from the 30s and the other models sent was Disney Publishing models of the 70s which were models recreated of these characters for books and merchandising, not one’s from the actual productions, However, to a 7 or 8-year-old kid these were pure Gold and Disney had given them to me! So, my friend and I continue to work on making films we did do lots of work from scripts to storyboards and even made primitive animated scenes and cells for color models I even tried painting Background’s, none of them were any good but this was my school of learning and for a kid in the middle of the desert away from most everything having to do with movies and Animation this was an island 

of hope, I found and allowed me to keep my focus on something I loved art.

When I was in 7 th Grade my Parents moved back to California to Van Nuys, where we live for many years while here I still worked on drawing and writing Disney, however, another door opened to me that allowed me to get closer to the animation world I hoped for, One evening my family and I were driving down Sherman way in the city of Reseda, I looked out the window and saw a building with a colorful sign that read Filmation and in the windows below I saw what appeared to be drawing desk they looked like they were on display as a place to buy art supplies or furniture for artist and because it said

Filmation,” I assumed it was a movie equipment supply company for film Makers. so, I remembered this and after school a few days later I’m guessing, I went for a bike ride up to this location. To my surprise it wasn’t a store ,I looked in the lower floor window a saw drawing desk and what appeared to be animation Drawings on them along with scripts, Storyboards laying there , My heart jumped with excitement I did not know the “Name Filmation” even though id likely been watching there shows for years such as “ Fat Albert and the Cosby Kids ” “Archies” and of course at the Time” He-man ” which was already in production, I went carefully for fear I being chased away from the building to the Parking lot behind the building and decide to look in the trash to see if they might had thrown out any drawings, I lifted the lid with anticipation and looked inside, Nothing but a empty can, GGGRRRRR!!!,kind of disappointed, then l looked on the ground a found a small 5 or 6 inch piece of 35 mm fil looking on it I think it had some animated frames , at seeing this I was so excited and I mean really excited, probably alittle to much for my age, but this let me know they did throw out stuff, and so I left and made plans to come back. when I did the next time, I hit the motherload of bags many full of animator and storyboard artist throwaways and roughs, along with some coffee grounds and cigarette butts, I can’t tell you how happy I was still to find those drawings among that trash!! Now the problem was how to get all these drawings out of these bags I can’t remember that day what I did but I know eventually I found certain days especially weekends when the studio was, for the most part, empty and the trash lay open to the public, so I’d go and get the drawings and art they discarded and bring them home on my Bike the some 3 or 4 miles away and this became a regular thing for me to do eventually, some friends interested in animation would join me and we all go. We expanded to do other expedition’s hunting down animation studios before the internet, but needless to say, this was my next step into the world of animation, which before seemed kind of far away and elusive as to how to become an animation artist. But these finds in the trash what I call “Trashcan Treasures” allowed me to know people were here doing this and that I could possibly be able to become one of them. My friends and I made many journeys to studios we would discover, And I have some great stories about those times but probably too much to read now so, I save those for another day.

 So, to answer your question I keep working on my art and animation design during Middle School and high school in Middle school my art teacher was taught film animation classes she was so great!! and took us on trips to see tv series filmed before studio audiences she had a movie personality Kim Fields

AKA (TUTTI E) from the tv show “The Facts of Life” visit our film class and she got us to enter an animation festival and was the one that allowed me to finish my first ever fully completed film “the Framer and the Bird” which won honorable mention in the festival.

Entering high school, I was yet again to have the help and direction to keep me on course to become an artist and animator. Amazingly my art teacher in High School “George Edwards” himself had been a Disney animation artist he had worked on Sleeping Beauty as an inbetweener or assistant, I believe and he did work for Imagineering at one point??, sculpture? or drawing? can’t remember which. When Disney was finishing sleeping beauty you may know that a great animation layoff was coming at Disney, George knew this and already decided to leave before he got caught in that layoff, however sometime later he was talking with those in charge of Disney back then who mentioned to 

George that he was one of those artists they planned to keep on and train, but he decided to pursue his art in other areas, he was a leading member in the area of forensic reconstruction meaning he would take skeletal remains especially the skull, and reconstruct through clay the measurements of the tissue and rebuild the skull, with its features and flesh restored creating an approximation of the deceased individual, amazing stuff he was amazing illustrator like Robert Fawcett and did beautiful illustration’s for magazines, and museum’s I guess? he had one displayed at school that I always remember how impressive it was. of a group of soldiers in a desert setting. He also saw my great interest in animation and would bring in for our class on animation drawing cells he saved from Disney days and inspired me with it, he made me the Teachers assistant in art class in high school and he arranged for me to get a small animation desk so I could work on animation of my scenes that he help me with during high school, I appreciate all the help those art teachers gave me. Then after Highschool, I worked for a construction company and then Car Dealership in Reseda while there I developed a portfolio and submitted it to Disney but got turned down told to do more work, so I applied at another studio and got 2 job offers to choose from one to become storyboard cleanup artist or to become a character & Prop designer, I took the Latter and was hired. I worked for Scott Shaw! and under the direction of Herb Hazeltine the lead designer for the show, both fine men and artists in their own rights. Others also helped lead me down this road of animation, but these are a few of those who helped and inspired me to continue on. Thank you to all of those who saw in me something.

I have to say no one got me a job from this group of teachers or others I met in animation, that’s something everyone must work hard for and build their skills alone to be hirable. animation is not an easy field to be in, so if you want it, you must work at it, and believe me it doesn’t end when you get the job, it’s a daily effort that you must give your best.

What’s a typical day like for you with regards to your job? 

Depending on the Job of Storyboarding then I will usually be given a script to read and familiarize myself with the overall show themes and character arcs.

Then I will meet with the Director to determine which Sequences I would Like to work on, The Director will Give me any specifics to keep track of e.g. If another Board Artist has specific points that will affect my sequence whether that is screen Direction, Location Hookups, Attitude Hookups, or perhaps Costume, Background, Specifics etc… Then I will note this and match it with the other Artist or If I’m the one setting up the beginning then the reverse might happen, and another storyboard artist will hook to my setups and direction.

I have to say that each production has its own methods and way of approaching boards. I worked on an outline-driven board series for about three years that was fun to do. And Here’s why…. your given outline with just paragraph descriptions of the gist of each beat, so that leaves a lot for the storyboard artist to create and direct him or herself for the cartoon. It means trying to figure out how to time the work so that you give the show’s Editor and Director the correct amount of footage time for the episode, otherwise they are stuck with a show that ends before it’s supposed to and now there’s a big hole with nothing. Well, that can’t happen in episodic tv or most media today, they expect each show to be the same length so that the tv viewers are not just left watching a black screen for 2minute. So, if your show a 7-minute cartoons series, then you need to fill those 7 minutes with comedy and story points that drive the story logically to its conclusion with an overall story arc that gets answered in some way hopefully with a laugh or with some meaningful conclusion. This can be challenging when you must create a large amount of the business yourself and usually in a crazy short period. This process can also be rewarding as the board allows you to in effect direct each episode, before it’s handed to the editor and series director, who may adjust some of your work. the point is you get to become the creator, no story or storyboard appears from nowhere nor does it develop itself. it’s created by thought out and purposefully scenes that lead the audience logically through the message you’re trying to say, thus like the world we live in, it developed out of nothing but had a creator and is here because of pre-thought and planning.

remember you’re a creator when you board or do another part of the animation process, and you need to make it make sense. So, storyboards have a lot of work planning and logistics, to deal with, they call on the storyboard artist to be a jack of all trades. They must be a good draftsperson and competent background artist knowing perspective basics, they need to be familiar with human and animal anatomy and how to draw anything from cars to pinecones. they should be capable actors on paper able to put down emotions and expressions of a character to convey the right attitude. they need to understand basic camera and film mechanics, how to use the camera to frame, compose, and move the frame to create the right composition to tell the story point needed. So, a story artist has a big responsibility and weight. no one is perfect and has all these skills equally, but neither can they be lacking in any to the degree that their work is unable to convey the story points clearly. We all must keep improving. That’s the artist’s job. okay so with that said, I try to do these things the best I can in a board and with the time I’m given.

to continue with my process, I will at times rough in the computer using Toonboom storyboard pro, or Photoshop, or another software that’s suitable to use, to get my initial blocking pass, that’s the main shots and story setups that will be fleshed out with all the acting in the next pass. but at times especially when I’m in a crunch period or deadline, which seems to be todays normal. I will rough out on paper and scan it into the computer and use it as my rough blocking pass I still feel the paper is more natural to work on, and in many ways, my thoughts seem to flow quicker when I use paper, however for the Last 10 Years or so I have been mostly Digital Bound working in various Drawing software. There are advantages to this and some disadvantages.

Advantages: 1 No need to go to the Copy Machine to Resize, darken, lighten, or alter your artwork The software can do all that without you having to even leave your seat. (Then again you need to sometimes get up from your seat get needed exercise and eye rest from the screens this can be a downside because you have less motivation to leave your desk when all you need is right there for the job. (so, get up go for a walk something I need to do more)

Also doing your research for a new show or even episode can be much easier it’s just a click away. Google and other search engines and sites make this a breeze. However, I must say that before any artist starts a project time to research is very important whether your using good old books from your library or visiting one of the local libraries, sometime this reference is even better because much of the art and images you’ll see are not even on the web sites, so it’s giving you a secret source of info, hint hint…;). if your work is on a period piece say the 1920’s or 1450’s? then research those and take time to get familiar with the world you’re living in for those weeks you’ll be working on your board you’re drawing, and the visual library will give you more now to draw from thus, you’re bound to have more creative storyboards. I find this extra research upfront helps me be more creative with my boards. So, I always try research ahead of the handout or right after. This way I get into the world faster and have more to say because I’ve seen more info than I knew before this assignment. And even if the periods stays the same, say you’re on a series where they always just live on the same street and never leave it, well the more you look at that period’s history you’ll find there’s a lot you might never have known about that street and its time. It’s good to do a little research on the topic your story is considering, this way new ideas you didn’t consider or a different approach to it that may be new to you can be generated by that research. so, know your world. And it will; inform you of choices to take with the storyboard and story.

Disney Giants Ken Anderson, Ward Kimball, Bill Peet, to mention only a few shows in their work an understanding of what they were drawing or the story they were depicting. Look at any drawing that they did when it dealt with costumes, Machinery, props. They don’t just draw a broom or shirt they draw what that period would have had those small extra elements enhance the artwork and it feels more Believable, honest, even though they are just drawings. They put us in those worlds because they’ve researched them so thoroughly it makes us believe what they sketch is accurate EVEN though it’s not realistic, but it feels right, and I attribute this to good research.

Anyways………….. I like to research things well when given time I think it helps especially when designing and doing Boards the way we do today much of the boards on TV and Direct to Video Production relies heavily on what its Board Artist are giving to the next departments in the areas of Character Design the Background Environments the Props the Incidental Characters even costumes not to mention the acting. 

I’d have to say the board artist is almost a rough animator due in part to the companies expecting to see all the EMOTIONAL KEY Points in a storyboard today so yes even in the animation, department ………. board artist starts the ball rolling for the animator down the road to pick up and hopefully plus it further.

 I know of many Production that will take the Board Artist Storyboard Poses and use them verbatim as the keys for the Animators to go with,………. so that early research is invaluable to the Production as a whole.!

when I finally do start to do my final pass on aboard, I’m usually putting it all into a Storyboard Software and adding the Dialogue etc…

At one Job I was Directing the Show and with the advent of Toonboom and other storyboard Software’s we (Directors) were expected to take the Board, artist work put all the sequences together in the 3 software edit together the sound Syncing it up to the boards adding rough sound effects and doing all the cutting and even adding and timing and the camera moves for each scene and cutting the board to final time. Wow, !! that was a lot back then Today is still true for some studios.

While this Software gives lots of possibilities for the artist, it put the Production artist into a difficult position, The Management now thinks that with these new features they can get an animatic perfectly cut and posed out to their heart’s content, Great!! but they expect all this with little or no more time added to the already stressed artist and Directors giving a greater workload. Believe me if the time was given to do this Great! I’m sure most artists would jump at the opportunity to finesse their work but, in many cases, the time is not there………….. and we see individuals working late into the night, or early morning hours before 9 am to satisfy clients and management who don’t seem to see this added workload as problematic. Hmmm.?

One nice thing is some of the studios now have moved the editorial departments over to Toonboom and they put together the sound and dialogue into the storyboard pro file this is given to the board artist to start with, and that sure is a help, then the editors will add in most of the SFX and even music bites to punch up the animatic to show to the Director an Executives for approvals, So things are changing in the pipeline for board artist for the better, Time will tell if that is going to make the job less stressful or not?

What part of your job do you like best? Why? 

I like learning so new shows and styles that are great to be challenged with. I should say if the styles are something fun to draw and a show, I can feel morally proud of and comfortable working on, then that’s a great time for me creatively and emotionally. However, A lot of stuff out there today is troubling to me I got into this business because I loved Animation and I Love children’s films those of Disney Don Bluth and Old MGM, UPA, and Hanna Barbera Cartoons, sprinkled with some DePatie Freleng and Warner Brothers fun.

So, I like the character’s that can be wild and Crazy, e.g. “Bugs Bunny” “Humphrey the Bear’,….. but don’t need to be out severing people’s heads with gushing blood flowing everywhere or using curse words, and so-called mature content trying to be gritty or doing all kinds of dark and foul behavior. I think Good stories are told without all the hardcore clichés and innuendos used today that have downgraded the artform to me.

this is not what I loved as a kid and, I certainly think doesn’t help our kids and families any today. so, my best-case scenario in animation is finding properties where characters can be funny witty and take us on journeys that leave me excited about something, maybe seeing a point of view I never considered before. I guess I like story’s that build me up and inspire me to be a better person in my life and teach me how I can do that.

I like films that are rich in color and environments and characters that truly have personality traits and are real individuals in themselves if that makes sense? they are specific personalities not just moving flowing forms. animation is bringing to life an object, character, person, with traits we all know have and can sympathize with or recognize in others, so my best days are when I’m animating or drawing a character’s emotions. that’s the kind of thing I enjoy best.

What part of your job do you like least? Why? 

well, one area is having to let the animation itself go to other studios to be done, elsewhere rather than doing it right at the producing studio. I know many studios in town here are using adobe animate and harmony other software, to do animation and that’s great!! I just would like to see more stay in the studios and be produced by the studio that’s producing the show or film. I also have animated in harmony recently on “space jam and new legacy” and I would like to see more feature 2d films be done in the states, like production used to be done in the past. The beautiful style and lush color lines we can get today with hand-drawn character animation IN SOFTWARE TODAY is amazing and a returning to what Disney was doing before the production cost supposedly made feature 2d projects too costly are gone in my opinion. I know that the cost isn’t the factor it’s been something else,….. but what I would say is the computer allows us to create the colors and inked lines and effects that Walt Disney and others sought in those early films like “Bambi’ or “Alice in Wonderland. we have the ability now to create similar effects and animation along with a greater ability to move the camera in unthinkable ways from the past. Creating 3-dimensional worlds to explore, all this lends to storytelling and so what I like least about our business is it left the roots of its appeal traditional Human-made hand-drawn films and cartoons. We know many places around the world continue to make 2d hybrid films and even here we see some returning. But I want to see full 2d hand-drawn animation return and utilize the computer to give the worlds those characters reside in dimension volume and depth but keeping what made me love the animation in the first place, The Idea and knowledge That a person drew this, and it made me feel something sadness, laughter, fear. That’s what I miss. I think the departure from 2d animation a decade or more Ago, need’s to returning and I think it’s time for American animation companies to get back to it and make the medium what it was Artistically in the 30 -60s stylish artistic worlds that were each unique and different, and coming from human hands! they drew it all !!! that’s the real feat in my opinion that just amazes me!!! we have a great artistic community here that could do this, why not give them the opportunity? (Sorry I lost control of myself lol)

then on a different subject of things I dislike about my job,…… is well the issue of time frames and schedule they are set up to favor the producer and his buyer of the product. And all the weight to meet the unrealistic schedule presses everyone to the brink of chaos at times, this is not a fair way to do it. I could go on, but I won’t, we just need better schedules realistic schedules.

what kind of technology do you work with on a daily basis, how has technology changed in the last few years in your field and how has that impacted you in your job?

well generally I work on a Wacom Cintiq with a duel monitor I use Toonboom storyboard pro and Harmony based on the company needs and workflow or show requirements, I am also regularly using adobe suite most often used to rough out animated poses for scenes ill import into other software to finish, Adobes Photoshop timeline has come along. and I’ve been learning it. I’m also learning Blender and have used it in productions already for certain needs where 3d materials are part of the setup in a 2d scene that I’m working on. I also use Sketchup for some storyboard and animation work.

 The biggest difficulty was the transitional change from traditional pencil and paper to computer drawing. This change was not mainly because of the lack of knowledge of a computer. I had been on computers at home for some time, it was trying to get used to the lack of quality of the brushes that this software’s started with. the brushes for Toonboom early on were very poor in my opinion, it was either an ink brush that was just not capable of doing nuance work, kind of like drawing with a sharpie which wasn’t the problem but it didn’t allow me to get the precision I needed. Also, the one brush Toonboom storyboard pro had that I liked had a texture on it and, the studios hated me using it! because of the memory load it caused and file size it created, To go up quickly this frustrated me for a long time until I found workarounds and the computers and software became more robust .to me the software is not the issue as much as getting your head away from drawing with the control and finesse you’d like. otherwise, I like the computer and software for allowing me lots of options and the ability to add a lot of effects I couldn’t have done as quickly with traditional art. I know for some artists there was an unwillingness to move into the computer world of animation, perhaps because of feeling they lost the love of it when they couldn’t draw it the way they always had. for others, I think the learning curve turned them off to this new toolset. also, an obstacle for some is that all studios seem to use different software’s thus the artist is forced to move from one studio to another constantly trying to learn new software something that’s expensive time consuming and leaves one feeling always behind the time’s,…. but you just need to push through the hard times and not give up, it will become easier as you get familiar with it and eventually you won’t think about the software it will come naturally, and you can focus on the art you need to create. 

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

the constant concern for the next job when I started in the business I think it was on a high point it was moving into the 90s and cartoons where big business and production was everywhere, kind of like today with HBO, Netflix , and Amazon searching and creating massive amounts of content to feed their audiences, this is helping create the large uptick in animation world today but we all know that the pendulum moves both ways and there have been years when things have been tight and little production work can be available. so, it’s always wise to save something for a rainy day.

anyways when I came into the business, I was an 18-year-old kid fresh and opened to possibilities and with a few life drawing classes behind me. Due to the animation business boom, it seemed I stepped in at a good time generally I never left a studio unless I wanted to move on.

 back then at least from my perspective, the studios seemed eager to set you up for the next series or film, they were working on producing and you seemed to be part of the company and would move on with them there were no layoffs as such, Today that still happens but I think less so for most artist thus a constant worry about his or her financial situation and next gig to find always looms its nasty head. I remember a well know director I knew back in the day who told me when we discussed this subject said: “Robert, we’re all Gypsie in this business, and you’re going to always be moving around to find a new place “she was right it seems.

 in your travels, have you had any brushes with animation greatness?

I think so many people in this business are worthy of mention and never get the recognition they should for their talented abilities and just for being great people. I’ve valued each person I’ve had the chance to get to know and work with. One that was so kind and giving to me was a background painter I meet on my first Job in the studios his name was Phil Lewis he was a tall outspoken man but loved art and when he saw my efforts to learn painting he went out of his way to help, during the production I remember he bought me a Henrich Kley book and gave it to me just as a gift, I guess he saw I loved art and what a book to get and learn from I still have it to this day. Well, some of the others I meet interacted with are first Bill Hanna and Joe Barbera, while I never got the chance to just hang out with these men, I did work with them at Hanna Barbera when it was on Cahuenga, Studio Building. I remember going to a meeting in the main building when a new production was starting up on a feature I believe? and in that meeting was Joe Barbera pitching some story stuff to us animator next to me sat Irv Spence the great Tom and Jerry animator of the MGM shorts wow. I would also occasionally see walking by Hanna Barbera studios Virgil Ross one of the original Warner Brothers animators a great dance animator too. He lived up above HB STUDIOS somewhere, he was a nice man, and we were animating on something, I asked why don’t you come to pick up some animation to do? Virgil said basically “he wanted to be remembered for the work he did in his prime “I completely respect that.

also at Hanna Barbera, I can’t believe all the greats there that unfortunately as a 19-year-old by then I didn’t have the knowledge or history behind me to understand all about who I was working with, for example, Jerry Eisenberg fine animation artist director, and comic strip artist, by the way, he was also the son of famed comic strip artist of Yogi bear comics Harvey Isenberg…….. I was such a scared kid then I talked to some of them more than others, but I wish I had asked them more about the past. true regrets… Then there was Bob Singer a REAL Artist there was also lefty O’Callaghan, Joanna Romersa, Dave Mitchener who had assisted Milt Kahl by animating all the stripes on the Sher Kahn scene for milt in Jungle Book and was a great animator and story artist himself. he was a fun easy-going guy I picked up a lot of freelance animation from him on tv series work. there was also Toni Sergori great artist and draftsman Lenord Robinson great cleanup artist and animator who I roomed with at Hanna Barbera for a while and was amazed at his work. there were so many more! Owen Fitzgerald was an old-timer who worked a long time and drew girls beautifully I think he drew the Bob Hope Comics? He was doing boards I believe. Then I also worked with Charles Grosvenor, Davis Doi , Scott Geralds, and others, Talented People.

I also was contracted by universal during my time at HB Studios, to start doing a lot of limited edition cells for Walter Lantz characters in the 90s I would go to universal studios after work or during lunchtimes to pick up work or drop off work, to the Lantz people at universal studios I remember this so clearly I went to pick up a piece that had notes to be given me to do, as I entered the building the producer told me you just missed Walter Lantz but he did do note on your drawing to do a couple of correction, I was so upset at missing that meeting but, I can say Lantz worked with me on some of his character’s, I even drew Oswald the rabbit for Lantz before he died to be used in a photo of him with this character this was before universal traded the Oswald character back to Disney

I at one point took a job at Disney consumer products I was involved in many classic Disney properties one Project was for the live-action movie “101 dalmatian” so and Jeff Schroeder great man good friend and artist were put in charge of developing a character style guide along with other artists. This style guide would be used to give licensees artwork they could purchase from Disney and use to produce products that would be brought out to sale during and after the movie’s release.

one day we were informed that one of the original artists for “101 Dalmatians” was coming and I was assigned to take him through the artwork and show him around the studio and all its departments, this artist proved to be one of my favorite of the 9 old men Marc Davis I had the opportunity over the years to speak with him and Alice his wife and fellow Imagineer for Disney but, this time it was me showing him our proposed artwork for this new film release Style Guide.

So, Jeff and I took him around I know there were others there with us, but we introduce the art that had been put up on style boards on the walls along with the graphic designers works we spent like an hour or more taking him through this, marc was so kind and listened and looked at our presentation, while I can’t remember everything, he said two things though stand out to me still.

first, he said, “when I came here today, I wasn’t sure what to expect… but I think you’ve sold me on it.” needless to say, I was so relieved and happy it didn’t offend him I’m sure he could have been a lot more critical, but his kindness and reassurance were so much appreciated and never forgotten by me. The second thing that really floored me was that Marc stopped by my office as he was on his way out, I had drawings all up from the 101 dalmatian guides we were still working on including a large Cruella DE VIL Drawing I had drawn of her with some puppies, I think? Marc said his goodbyes and, as he turned to leave the doorway he motioned to the Cruella and said “her heads too big “then without a word walked away… I was so amazed and not at all offended that he had playfully given me this young upstart some critique to my drawing of his character, I was like yesssss!!! that was so cool, I’m sure after I calmed down, I went and fixed the Cruella head right away lol.

Another time I had the privilege to work with Burny Mattinson and we had Joe Grant both well-established Disney figures for over 50 years each I believe? Joe was consulting on the early Disney toon studios Dumbo Sequel they were producing, while Burny was heading story and directing, I came in as a character designer and did a few small pieces of storyboards. I worked with another artist to beat out and draw the roughs for this one sequence between dumbo and his mother very emotional sequence. Joe was a consultant because he had developed and worked on the original Dumbo for Disney and he was still at Disney feature Animation working so, he would come by and give input since we were then on the Disney main lot in the frank g Wells bldg. he stopped by for an animatic review of our sequence.

 After having watched the animatic with the crew, Joe replied that this sequence was nicely done and had the feeling of the original film, I was very happy to have had his input and seen that our work was passable to joe and the head of story Burny Mattinson .while I’ve always wished Disney toons studios had worked to make their own original feature as they did with the Goofy movie yet they seemed to focus on their well-known brands and didn’t venture to often into unknown territory that often. However, this gave me the chance to share time with these guys on this production and was all worth it. the sad ending of this film is that while it was fully boarded and designed and was into moving forward it failed to finally be green lite to go into full animation production and before that even happened, I had been asked to move over to the Bambi Production unit to start Storyboarding and designing for it. Later the Dumbo moved to features to be worked up there I guess and eventually, Tim Burton did it as a CGI live-action mix… This happened with several Disney TV, and DisneyToons productions including the original Tarzan and Pirates of the Caribbean films Both had originated at Disney Tv or toons studios.

Describe a tough situation you had in life. 

Well, I think we’ve all had plenty of these, One I like to share is that when I was young and a little green still artistically regarding my drawing ability, I thought I could draw well and was a good artist at 19 I assumed I had made it already lol. Yet I was in for a big wake-up call This happened at Hanna Barbera I had to work under a few artists who I today very much appreciate for what they did for me. They May not even realize it., I will not mention names to safeguard individuals. I was doing Models and I thought I’d been drawing for over a year at my first job professionally and had been hired by Hanna Barbera to be a Model Designer I had learned everything by then right? WRONG, when I started to turn in work assignments to these character leads they would cover them with notes and redline 80 percent of the drawing this was for many of the models I did and after a few weeks of this I began to feel doubtful of my abilities to draw at all it seemed nothing I did was acceptable and I started to see all the flaws and lack of structure in my drawings, that their redraws so clearly showed. I had some hard knocks to learn over the next few months and it was difficult, and Scarry. I did not know if they would keep me on or fire me, truly a fearful time for me personally.

After having a good long cry quietly in my office, I had to pick myself up and sit at my drawing table and start thinking about the drawing in terms of structure, shapes variety, and interest. I Had to ask myself, do the lines I draw say what there suppose to? I had to start thinking of perspective, ground planes, overlap, and line of action !!!! had to do more than draw I needed to think about what I was drawing and why. I also had to learn to think in terms of characters as a designer your creating character’s not just designs, but a personality, these are the keys to getting better at your craft in my opinion.

However, I’m so glad for the experience, at the time it was painful something I wanted to run and get out of it, but I couldn’t, it was my job now, not just something I did for fun. And I had to make it work for those guys and Hanna Barbera Studios. HB EXPERIENCE WAS ONE OF THE BIGGEST OF MY ARTIST GROWTH, I THINK. In the end, I stay at Hanna Barbera for about 3 years then I was put on a show that totally was going against what the last2 ½ years had been teaching me. The show’s design where not structurally sound they were weak and lacked the principles I was learning from the other production, and it scared me that I might revert to where I had been when I first showed up at Hanna Barbera as a 19-year-old punk kid who thought he knew art more than he did. so, within 3 months I resigned and left from that show and Hanna Barbera… for that very reason of wanting to learn to Draw better. I was hired By Warner Brother’s Following dropping off my Portfolio a few weeks earlier, and there began to work for Keith Baxter on Tazmania and there I was allowed to grow some more. every job I go to I look for the challenge to try and improve my skills. If there no learning to grow artistically then why do it? (I know the Money, right?) 

Well, I know sometimes we need work and may have to take an assignment just to eat, but I honestly first see if the assignments going to make me grow and be something I can be proud of. If I can’t meet at least one of those then I’m likely going to keep looking.

Any side projects you’re working on that you’d like to share details of?

Well, I have many projects in the works I have 1 storyboard I’m currently finishing up on, I have about 100 more panels to finish then I will be putting it into Toonboom and editing and finishing the board it will be a 2d 3d hybrid film and deals with a circus, I’m hoping to get this one in some film festivals.

I also have a short that’s based on an old fable with a twist that I think is funny. That one was initially started to learn Adobe Animate, however, I’m thinking of another option for it now that I learned another software that might help this production better. I think it could be done in a very stylized simple way, and possibly into a series. And I have lots of partially finished things that if I ever get time to give it the attention it needs, I’m going to. I’m also focusing on learning the Blender Software and using it in my pipeline to make films I’ve already had success with the test I’ve done. I even used it on Space Jam a New Legacy to get my 2d scene to work better.

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

Can’t say I’m doing anything too exciting down that road right now. I love to Snowboard and Hike and collect old 1950 60s toys.

Is there any advice you can give for an aspiring animation student or artist trying to break into the business?

first learn to draw that’s the basis and key, to you working in animation effectively, Learn animal and human anatomy. then make personal small projects that you can do easily and quickly to learn basics like how to build a short story how to find its overall story arc in the story and, then how to execute and create the scenes boards and animation as well designs to color and methods of producing it as a traditional or digital CGI or 2d or combination of both?

 Once someone’s worked on a few of these projects either with others or by themselves they will probably begin to see areas they enjoy and others they don’t like so much. This may start to help you determine a specific area of production that best fits your abilities and or your passion.

. So, make films that you can make easily and quickly and keep them simple. The process of making them is important the ideas of how to tell stories that have an opening, middle, and end, as well as something important to say in that story you create. Remember to you may make mistakes while you do this film and that’s okay it’s the key really to growing. It’s like learning to ride a bike or Snowboard, few people just grasp those skills the first time we usually fall and fall and fall until finally, we figure out the balance, etc., and were off and riding. Getting better more proficient and becoming a professional requires some failure at a time’s, why even Walt Disney went Bankrupt a couple of times before he figured out how to become a filmmaker and animator. So, if you fail get up and learn from it and start again.

Another important decision I think is the choice of medium is it computer or 2d? then what actual position within that medium and discipline, do you do well at and enjoy?

I think that for anyone entering any field of work, it’s best to first do your research.

 this animation field is very wide when it comes to areas to work. You may like computers and computer animation, but what part of it? animating? designing? Color? Lighting? Effects? rendering? Modeling? Rigging? Perhaps even writing code and programming new software and addon?

Or if you’re a hands-on drawing individual then the field again is wide to choose from. Is it designing? Animating? background? painting color keying? Inbetweening? effect animation? 

BG layout? animation timing? or directing? perhaps you want to work in producing and show running? You get the idea.

So, this can take time to figure out, I suggest start making your own films read books on Animation 

Books like “Disney’s the illusion of Life” by Frank Thomas & Ollie Johnston, “The Animator Survival Kit” by Richard Williams or ‘Cartoon Animation” by Preston Blairs or “Animation from Script to Screen” by Shamus Culhane. These are all older books, but these guys know what they’re talking about and Animation Principles, and even on the business end of things these books get into areas still valuable true, and accurate for today’s animation world. So read or listen to these books via audio recordings but get the gold they give into your heads. Next produce a short film and go through all the steps that Shamus Callahan discusses in his book. I think he even shows the whole production of an animated commercial he did in the book and the steps and process taken, there still relevant today. right down to creating a budget, which you’ll still need to figure out even if you’re in school or learning on your own. Everything costs to do it. Remember animation hasn’t changed that much from the 1930s 40s when most of the animation principles and mechanics were fully realized, so reading and watching older animation from those times will give you a wealth of insight and into how to animate and make great films. The key to success is getting the knowledge and using it. The tools you use are less important and can be learned by anyone, it’s the animation principles that you should be learning most about.

this next piece of advice, I can’t stress enough be Humble and work to Learn from those you may be privileged to work with. don’t come into a place with a chip on your shoulder or think that you are already ahead of the game because you know some software or finished 4 college films. Or maybe a great draftsperson already. Those are great accomplishments, but you’re going to likely have to relearn lots of things that are done differently in a production Studio.

So be a hard worker and try to learn from others you’ll appreciate it if you do. And unlike me go up and talk to those older guys and girls you see at the studio. You know the one who worked on the first season of a show you watched as a kid. They probably love to talk and tell you things that you might find valuable and helpful in your career.

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2 Comments

  1. reading the interview of Robert Sledge, really relates to what many of us Creatives had to do for LIFE, before we get/got to where we are today. Robert’s being a roofer with his dad… i was a roofer/carpenter with my oldest sister’s late/great husband (by brother-in-law) and i also worked at “Texarkana’s Spring Lake Park & Zoo, where my Daddy was the 1st Black Head Zookeeper for a City within these United States and Daddy was In Charge of Making the “4-STates Fair & Rodeo” a Success each year for 17 years. at 6/Six years old, I knew that I wanted to Write and Create Comics-Novels, to Convert into Animated Cartoons and Films make toys of them, eventually. Robert’s major fortunes is that He was exposed to The Entertainment Industries, early.. I have to Love That! Me, I had to Detour to Raise my 5 Sons by becoming an Nationally Certified Master Automotive Mechanic/Technician/Tech Specialist, Automotive Parts Specialist, and a Lifetime member of the SAE/Society Of Automotive Engineers. Then Once all my Sons were Grown, and out of the House; I started Publishing All of my Files and Many Unpublished to that point Manuscripts and converting them into “Comics-Novels” and sooo Robert is a Refreshing Story to Read and Relate to…AWESSOOMMEEE!!!! I WOULD TRULY LOVE TO WORK WITH ROBERT AND “JOIN-FORCES” ON A FEW THINGS..THAT’S A WISHFUL PRAYER..LOL/SMILE!! ROBERT IS 1ST CLASS, ALL THE WAY!!!

    • Thankyou Terry, yes sometimes you don’t get things put in your lap, I appreciate your dad did something groundbreaking, that’s very cool. I had a friend who lived in Texas and he’d go to the fair each year and there was a large Texan statue I can remember its name at present , he said it would talk as you entered the State fair, wonder if this was the same place or event, NEEDLESS TO SAY YOUR dads SOUNDS LIKE A GO GETTER. Yes there challenges You just need to keep focused keep things as simple as you can and use your time wisely to direct you efforts. Glad you reached being a Auto Mechanic expert,. I use to take my Son to the Car show every year when he lived with us still, He’s Grown and Married at this point, But we would talk to the Mechanics there and they explained to my Son, who was very interested in cars that. They had to go to many certification classes each year and keep up-to-date but that If someone wanted to they could make a fine living at that career. So very proud of you,…. that takes initiative and great effort, especially raising many children’s wow! I had One and thought it was challenging 😉 Well glad to hear your still working at your art and writing, the best thing about art and writing is its something you can do even when your not sitting at a desk your thought can go over and over things coming up with and solving story points, so yes keep it up you may find that one of those older story comic ideas may be a good fit for reworking today. thanks for taking the time to read my Interview, Really appreciate it. Kind Regard’s Robert

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