Friday, February 29, 2008

A Boy and his Pencil

You may wonder when I first realized I was mad. When I realized that I was "different" from normal people. That I saw the world in a different way. I was born of humble and legally married parents in a small meat-packing town in the Northwest Territory. My arrival was no doubt the result of enthusiastic "coupling" that immediately followed the Second World War. The first awakening of my artistic madness was confirmed the first day of school. The Kindergarten teacher made the mistake of praising my fledgling artwork to my overly emotional Bohemian grandmother. With wails of joy, Grandma related the story to my mother who, unlike her stolid German background, broke down and joined her mother-in-law's tearful happiness. I was only five years of age and was thoroughly confused. I realized I was somehow responsible for the weeping going on around me yet I remained unpunished. I knew when my father and grandfather returned home after work to a household in emotional turmoil there would be hell to pay. But no! Once told, the parental males responded in family pride, handed out cigars to the relatives and ice cream to the budding young artist. This incident had a profound effect on my greed. If scribbling on a piece of paper could be exchanged for ice cream, I was definitely going into that line of work!

And so I drew my way blissfully from ice cream after ice cream throughout my normal and healthy childhood. I drew comic books about toy soldiers bayoneting rats attempting to steal gifts from under the Christmas tree. I drew graphic covers for my elementary school folders of G.I.s bayoneting Nazis. I drew a regular comic strip in my High School newspaper, sans bayonets. Then, ignoring the advice of my high school career counselor, I decided to pursue art as an occupation. Finding Walt Disney's name on the board of trustees of the California Institute of the Arts, I figured what was good enough for "Uncle Walt" was good enough for me. The following September after graduation I found myself in the "movie capitol" of the world majoring in Cinemagraphics at Cal-Arts. In spite of many distractions, like the Vietnam war, student protests and an unsuppressed sexual drive, I managed to graduate with a Bachelor of Fine arts degree. I was now a madman with a college degree! Now, the real education began.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Stage Stop Starlette

Every now and again, depending on the financial climate, some enterprising financier will step off the stage at the dusty town of El Pueblo De La Senora La Reina De Los Angeles looking to invest in the Animation Biz. Sometimes they have a personal vision driven by religious faith or a family story to tell. Sometimes they've read a positive article about "gold in them thar Hollywood Hills" and seek an exciting investment opportunity. They arrive with a satchel full of money and with little or no knowledge of where to go or who to go to, to implement their dream. I liken their experience to the little farm girl who runs away to Hollywood to become a movie star. The very first person she meets when she steps off that stage in downtown L.A. will dictate how the rest of her life will go.

So it is with the financier. Unless the moving picture business has been your business in general and animation an interest of yours in particular, you must be very careful whose hand leads you away from the stage stop. It truly is amazing how the cost of animation goes up in direct proportion to how much money you have in your satchel! Animation is still a "hand-drawn" product. Technology has added fancy tools and overseas artists have provided a deeper talent pool but there is no "magic formula" to making an animated film. It's just simple math. It always surprises me how complicated this seems to venture capitalists. If an artist takes X amount of time to do a drawing for Y amount of money per drawing and you need Z number of drawings to complete your movie, it should be simple enough to multiply Y by Z to see how much the picture will cost and X by Z to see how long it will take.

Yet, time and time again I see budgets squandered on items unrelated to the manufacture of the product being sold and schedules being wasted on uninformed or ill-informed changes. Soon, there is no money, no product and no prospects for either because simple math was complicated by "hidden costs" that were no fault of the "expert" hired to guide the way. As a result, the disillusioned investor hangs a "Busted!" sign on his "California or Bust" ambitions and turns his wagon around to where he came from. Once he spreads his sad story among his fellow capitalists, you can bet that no more money will be spent on Animation speculation for a long time. Such a pity and so unnecessary. Research, education and good old-fashioned "due diligence" could have placed him on the right trail with a proper guide. I met the stage once when a naive entrepreneur stepped off and I couldn't believe his good luck!

Thursday, February 21, 2008

The Way West

Starting out young and naive in the animation business, as I did, only requires courage and the belief that you have a talent for it. Common sense has little to do with the decision. Still, attaching yourself to an outfit that claims to know the business multiplies your chance of survival. I recommend higher education. I am often approached by parents who try to get me to apprentice their artistic child right out of high school. In school, this neophyte did badly in everything else but art so naturally he should be just right for a professional career in animation! I always ask the hopeful parent if they would entrust themselves to a vital operation by a surgeon right out of high school just because he was good in Biology. I expect a graduate to enroll themselves in an art school that specializes in animation education before I invest time and money on them. In forty years as a professional artist and film maker, I only hired two people directly out of high school. They are the exception that proves the rule, "hire experienced artists not students".

Anyway, that's what I did. I spend good money on education in order to get a good start at earning all that money back. A good school has former professionals as teachers and former professionals know current professionals. It all starts with a recommendation. In my case, my first job came from a recommendation from an employed underclassman who always admired my work. The first job allows you to make money and get the second job, etc. As an artist, you will find the mere ability to spend the day drawing rather than "working" enough inducement to continue in the animation business. People come west just for this opportunity. I didn't come west for the "opportunity". I came for the ice cream. But that's another story...

Saturday, February 16, 2008

Pilgrims in the Desert

Hail, ye Pilgrims to the Desert of Cartoon Programming! Seek ye a guide? Be ye here for riches or fame, beware the poisoned wells, frozen mountain passes or the mirages of golden cities that abound in this media wasteland. The natives here seem friendly but they lust after the goods that reside in your caravans or saddle bags. The golden plains of this beautiful land cover the bones of the ill prepared artist or naive financier who came seeking the success and wealth they read about in the dime novels back east. Before you outfit your wagon train for the journey to California, choose wisely your guide across the perils that infest this sacred pursuit. Forty years I have toiled for gold and glory and have found my share amidst the hardships and pitfalls of this difficult employ. Take ye the advice of a Mad Animation Prophet? My services are not free but I'll allow no pilgrim to wander off to certain destruction ill informed. I welcome all those with passion, talent and a dream. This be the place! But here there be dragons as well. I would spare you my scars, privations and broken dreams if I could, but will allow you the dignity to fail miserably alone if that be your desire. If I mark your fall, be comforted in knowing you will not go unburied but no stone will cover your failure. This is a harsh landscape that makes no allowances for the weak and ignorant. Wealth, talent and hard work alone cannot support the uneducated, arrogant or naive. Education lies in this weathered face and work weary hands just as it came to me from my mentors of the Golden Age. I long to pass on the knowledge but will not suffer it to fools. Be ye a student again? If not, fare thee well. Ye be warned.