Tuesday, April 30, 2024

The List of 1984

Here is my water-stained program from the 1984 Character Animation show, held in the tiny Bijou Theater at CalArts.  According to the math, 40 years have gone by.  Damned math!
Industry people and fans of animation may recognize some of these names. Many of these students went on to long, successful careers in animation.  Some are still at it (like me).   There are Oscar and Emmy winners - and a Pulitzer winner too!  Some went on to what the late, great Ray Johnson called  "Mystery Studios", where people drop off the map, never heard from again.  Some had great success in other artistic fields.  And some died way too young.   
We were kids, set loose in a world of 24/7 character animation.  They were glorious years that shaped us as artists and human beings.  But to say it was all good would be the whopper of all lies.  We were tight knit, but also awful and cruel to each other; creatively supportive and cutthroat competitive.  Like a cartoon Abraxis, it was simultaneously all good and all evil.  But looking back through a prism of sentiment, the shiny bits obscure the darkness, distilling the magic of that window of time.  How lucky I was to be in that mix.   
 The Way.....We......Werrrrrrrrrre........

Tuesday, April 2, 2024

Starting with a Bang

Caricatured here, a 1984 version of Steve Moore, Dan Jeup, Mike Genz, and Fred Cline

40 years ago this month, I was winding up my junior year at CalArts.  Eschewing the usual summer job, I made a grab for the brass ring - my first animation gig.  

A tip from Darrell Rooney got me in the door at David Stipes Productions, a small effects house off of Sherman Way in North Hollywood.   David is a master matte painter, Emmy winning effects supervisor, and super nice man.  His studio was a shabby 1940's California ranch house in a neighborhood swallowed up by industrial buildings.  At that time, they were doing special effects for the mini-series "V the Visitor", with a motion control camera set up in what had once been someone's living room.  

But that's not what I was doing.

Winding through the old house and out the back door, there was small yard strewn with props and film gear.  The yard was closed in on three sides by neighboring cinder block buildings, making it feel like a stage in itself.   Upstage right was a one-car garage from which, along with  Dan Jeup, Fred Cline, and Mike Genz, I animated on David's indie short about dreams and their meanings, working from vocal tracks by legends June Foray and Hal Smith.

When I say we worked in a garage,  I mean garage.  It was unfinished; dewy cold in the morning and by mid-afternoon, an oven.  When it rained, the tin roof roared louder than my Walkman could compensate.  We worked from animation discs set up on fold-out tables.  It wasn't Disney, but I was a working animator - a dream fulfilled at 21.  That I was in a garage making $5 an hour did not diminish this achievement in my eyes. Heck, that's where Walt started!

I was quick to learn three harsh realities of the professional world: 

1. I was expected to animate 8 hours a day - every day - whether I felt like it or not.

2. Working on someone else's film can be a drag. 

3. Lunch was expensive.  

About six weeks in, David let us all go after funds dried up.  To my knowledge, the film was never completed.  It's not listed on the IMDB, and only a dozen or so people even knew about it until this post.  I took no photos, have no artwork nor footage.  Like a Bigfoot sighting, you'll just have to take my word for it.  Or not. 

Aside from being my very first animation job, my experience at David Stipes Productions was unremarkable except for one very notable event.  A few weeks into it we were in our grooves, animating away, when a very large "KA-BOoOoM!" shook the garage and everything in it.  We were certain it was an earthquake.  We ran outside as David and his crew rushed from the main building.  The yard was a cloud of dust.  

"Dildos!" Dan exclaimed.  

Despite appearances,  Dan had not been stricken with Tourette Syndrome.  The dust cleared to reveal dildos - hundreds of them - strewn across the yard amidst broken bits of cinder block.  Who hath wrought yon plague of rubber dicks?

One of the crew yelled, "The dildo factory exploded!"

The dildo factory?

We looked to each other in disbelief, then fell over laughing until tears streamed.  

The wall of the neighboring building - said dildo factory - had a gaping hole in it.  Inside, through cinder dust, we could see a forklift operator looking quite embarrassed.  It was like peering through a portal into an alternate universe.  While we were toiling away at cartoons, they were toiling away at dildos.  We were at the seam where the Real World and Bizarro World met.  

Welcome to Hollywood, kid!  North Hollywood, anyway.


Tuesday, March 26, 2024

My Peeps

I went to kindergarten with a girl named Lisa.  I would sometimes go to her house after school while my mom was off running errands.  I had never hung out with a girl up 'til then, and approached this new terrain with caution - lest I catch cooties.  

We'd have milk and cookies on their formica top table in the kitchen, then head to the den where there was a color TV in a wooden console.  We'd watch syndicated shows on UHF.  I liked "Ultraman", she liked "Kimba", and we both liked "Speed Racer".   We'd draw and color - she had a pristine Crayola 64 set with a sharpener in back - so lush, compared my bucket of broken crayons at home.  We'd also watch "Winky Dink" - the first interactive cartoon where you would draw on the TV screen with crayons.  Per Winky's instruction, we drew a life saving parachute for him, unaware that you were supposed to place a special sheet of acetate over the screen first.  After her dad saw what we had done to his gorgeous Zenith,  we never saved Winky again.  

As it turned out, Lisa didn't really have cooties and I actually had fun with her - until her girl cousins would come over and want to play house.  

Late one afternoon, as Easter rolled around,  Mom called me to come downstairs.  

"You've got a visitor!"  she said.  

There, in the vestibule, stood Lisa and her mom.  

Mom sang, "Lisa's got a present for you!"

I stood cautiously, like this was some sort of trap.  Lisa shyly held out a small box of marshmallow Peeps, which I accepted as one would a ticking time bomb.  I backed away slowly, saying "Thank you." after Mom's prodding.   The two moms were fit to burst over the cuteness of this scene, their cloying grins driving the awkardness off the charts.  At last, Lisa and her mom said good-bye and mercifully left.

"What was all that?" Dad asked from the TV room.

Mom gushed, "Stevie's got a girlfriend!"  

Thus began a relentless barrage of teasing from Mom, Dad, and two merciless older brothers, that would stretch on through Mother's Day.  Mom told that story to friends, relatives, and any stranger who stood still long enough.  She reveled in laying down this golden yarn while I'd turn beet red with embarrassment.  Sure, our country was about to put men on the Moon, but in our town, the big story was "STEVIE'S GOT A GIRLFRIEND!!".

Mom would have laughed to see that, 55 years later,  I'M the one telling the story, sharing my bright yellow marshmallow shame with the World Wide Web.  

As for Lisa, that was never going to work.  I'm just not a Peeps guy.   


Thursday, January 18, 2024

The Twelve Pack

I recently had a freelance job designing labels for Forgotten Boardwalk Brewing Company of Cherry Hill, New Jersey.  When they opened in 2014, I soon became a Thursday regular, getting to know owners Jamie Queli and Seth Dolled, and bartenders Ryan, Kai, and Marysia - who challenged me to spell her name (It took months to figure out).  They were always so kind and welcoming, often topping-off my drink. They eventually had me drawing Minions on their large chalkboard menu behind the bar.   By 2016 they were talking mural, but I moved back to California instead and that was that.  

During the summer of 2022,  Forgotten Boardwalk did an Instagram call-out, looking for artists to create labels for upcoming brews.  I messaged them.  They remembered me.  Boom - I'm a label designer.  Over the next 16 months, I would create 12 such designs that I share with you here, lucky reader.

1. Tightrope Walker

Jamie would send a pdf document providing the beer's name and other pertinent information. She'd give me a character, like Pierre the Tightrope Walker seen here, as well as inspirational images - photos or illustrations, usually from the 1920's and '30's.  She'd even write a little backstory, often based on true events in New Jersey history.  Jamie wanted the characters to be villains to appeal to her main demographic - 25 to 40 year old males.  The edgier the better.  My stuff skews more whimsical than edgy, but I tried!  Pierre is my first attempt at 'edgy'. 

I would submit a sketchbook rough for feedback, then create the final art in Photoshop. I often added little side gags, "Easter eggs", or what Will Elder called "chicken fat".   The final comp would be done in Adobe Illustrator, adding their official logo, Surgeon General's warning, and assorted text. 

Sample of Jamie's pdf briefs with specs and inspiration.

Sunday, November 26, 2023

"I'm Marty."

Meeting Marty at Nickelodeon.

In January of 2017,  Nickelodeon had just finished construction on a brand new, shiny building at the corner of Olive and Lake in Burbank.  To celebrate this massive undertaking, they threw a huge wing ding, with Big Wigs from New York and celebrities I'd never heard of. 

Amidst the VIP's, I hob-nobbed with fellow common artists, enjoying the amazing spread of food and drinks.  In the courtyard, a stage was set up where the Big Wigs spoke and people clapped.   There was a hunched over old man mingling about. He was exceptionally old.  So old, he stood out in the crowd.

"Who's that old man?"  someone asked.

"Is that Sumner Redstone?"  another asked.  Sumner was the owner of Viacom, which owned Nick.  Quite ancient, he was nonetheless still alive then, so it wasn't totally inconceivable that he could be in attendance. 

Things suddenly got very loud as the rap artist Pitbull took the courtyard stage.  Being Nickelodeon, I had assumed Pitbull would be a guy in a dog costume.  Not even close. 

After a few Pitty minutes,  I went inside the shiny new building to escape the noise.  There's an old rock and roll adage: "If it's too loud, you're too old."  To that point, there was another guy in the lobby - 'Sumner Redstone'.  As I sat alone at one of the swanky new lobby seats,  he came over and sat on a matching swanky new  couch angled perpendicular to me.  He tapped me on the knee and said very quietly, "Do you work for Nickelodeon?"

"Yes."  I nodded.

"So do I." he said.  

I looked at him incredulously.  "Really? What do you do?"

"I have a couple of shows here."  he said.  He spoke so quietly, I found myself leaning toward him to hear.   He asked, "Have you ever heard of Sid and Marty Krofft?" 

"Sure." I said. 

"I'm Marty." 

Saturday, August 12, 2023

The Basement at Gimbel's

Gimbel's department store, Philadelphia, 1905.

When the calendar turns to August, my mind always goes to the back-to-school days of childhood -  to days when summer boredom mixed with creeping anxiety about the impending school year.  On the plus side, there would new Saturday morning cartoons.  On the minus side, another year of to St. Mary Magdalen School, sadistic nuns, and Fr. McGarvey, who molested altar boys (no lie!). 

Come mid-August, we'd pile into Mom's Chevy Nova for an hour-long trek from our tiny backwater town in South Jersey to the City of Brotherly Love to get new school clothes.  It was a long, boring ride through miles and miles of farmland and woods, finally opening up to crazy fast traffic on roads that split off every which-way.  At this point, Mom would turn off the AM radio and make us shut up so she could think.  Get in the wrong lane, and we'd never be heard from again.

Crossing the Walt Whitman Bridge, I was amazed by its size and length, and terrified by its height and the traffic racing past our car on both sides.  We were entering a world I only knew from TV.  Where our town center was two blocks of boarded up buildings,  Philly was packed with old colonial brick structures to modern glass towers and grey brutalist eyesores.  Turn a corner, more buildings, turn another corner, even more buildings, all swarming with people.  And parking garages!  I had never seen a parking garage before, but here we were heading up and up and up a steep spiral driveway just to find a parking spot.  

It all seemed so fast and dangerous and loud.  And it smelled like hot pretzels and vomit. 

Mom hit the big department stores: Strawbridge & Clothier, and Gimbel's.  They weren't just stores, they were multi-level shopping mansions, complete with restaurants.  The scale, the displays...they even had moving stairs!  This was not our local Woolworth's, or even Two Guys.  This was downright fancy. 

We did a lot of hanging around while Mom browsed floor after floor of clothes. We'd amuse ourselves by hiding in the racks or making faces in the mirrors, as if there was some universal pamphlet from which every kid in America learned these shenanigans.

The last stop was the bargain basement at Gimbel's.  It was a step down in every sense of the word.  No escalator, just plain stairs to a windowless room with harsh florescent lights and generic tables with piles of clothes dumped on them.   Mom would rummage through the school uniforms for our requisite white sport shirts and blue pants - enough for a week.  Loaded with bags, we'd say bye to Philly for another year.  I don't recall Mom ever buying anything for herself.

Today would have been Mom's 94th birthday.  Sadly, she long gone, as are Strawbridge & Clothier, Gimbel's and St. Mary's.  Fr. McGarvey is in Hell now.  But Philly's still there, smelling of hot pretzels and vomit - the bittersweet scent of nostalgia.  


Sunday, May 28, 2023

The Legend of Bill Moore

Bill Moore, 1981.                 Photo by Chris Wahl

Thursdays at CalArts were brutal.  Getting to class early to pin our assignments on the long crit wall, we'd wait to be slaughtered by the old man.   Upon his arrival, the room would go silent.  He would casually stroll along the wall, surveying our assignments in his sport shirt and slacks  (or Jordache jeans!), cigarette propped in a bent back wrist, like Tim Gunn and Humphrey Bogart's love child.   Welcome to Bill Moore's design class.  

You could hear a pin drop as we held our breaths, each hoping the Angel of Death would pass over their assignment.  At last he'd pause at someone's piece and say, "Who belongs to this?"  The owner of said piece would then have to stand and "qualify" their work - that is,  explain what they did and why it works while he challenged everything they said.  This went on for three excruciating hours until each of us had our turn hemming and hawing in defense of our work.    

I came to CalArts right out of high school - a Catholic, art-hating prep school at that.  I had ZERO knowledge of color and design theory.  So on a weekly basis, in front of the class, Bill murdered me.  Gleefully.   He gleefully murdered me so much so, he took to calling me "Zombie".

But 40 years on, Zombie lives, as does Bill's voice when I work on any creative endeavor.  I hear him reciting his design mantras, "Repetition with variation....contour continuity....".  And I hear his cold, judgmental prodding, "Is that the best you can do?"  Of all my CalArts teachers - men who had worked with Walt Disney personally -  I would have never bet the most influential would be a guy who never worked a day in animation, and in fact, held a general contempt for it.   
Bill's profound influence is almost universally shared among my industry peers, as is their fear and love of him.  Anecdotes have been shared and re-shared to great laughter over the years from those fortunate enough to have been there.  But his life outside of school has been a mystery, beyond stories he'd share for shock value or laughs.  So I did some research and interviewed many former students then cobbled together this piece.  It's not so much a biography as it is the story of a legend.  

Bill would hate it. 

                                                                                                                       photo by Chris Wahl

Sunday, May 14, 2023

Godspeed, Allen Stovall

May 8th marked the latest premature loss to our hunched and goofy community with the death of Allen Stovall at the age of 69.  He was a veteran visual effects animator on features such as "Cats Don't Dance" and "Hercules". He always carried a gentle, mellow vibe, with a cat-that-ate-the-canary smile on his face.   

We first met in 1987 while doing 7-Up commercials at Duck Soup Produckions (yes, Produckions) a small commercial house in Santa Monica.   I recall going with Allen and a few others after hours to a sleepy little bar down the block called Father's Office.  Over beers, we started talking about strange dreams.  I shared a flying dream, where I floated up to a cloud which opened up to reveal a hilly, verdant village inside.  On the threshold of entering I panicked and backed off, waking myself up.

"You were Astral Travelling."  Allen said.

"What?"  I laughed.  I thought he was joking.  He wasn't.  

And so I was introduced to the concept of Astral Projection.  From what I could wrap my head around, you could travel to the after-life while still tethered to your earthly body by a silver umbilical cord.  But break that cord and you're dead!  Allen explained it with more nuance. 

The conversation somehow segued to the time he lived in Nicaragua during the counter-revolution. 

 "What?"  I laughed.  I thought he was joking.  He wasn't. 

Backstory: In 1979,  the Nicaraguan government was overthrown by the leftist, USSR backed Sandinistas, freaking out the US government.  In 1981 the right wing Contras (counter-revolutionaries) formed to overthrow the overthrowers with US backing under President Reagan.  It was quite a mess.  

Allen was very much bothered by Reagan's Contra policy and got involved - really involved.  He saved as much money as he could, working extra hours at his Filmation job.  In 1985,  he took his "She-Ra: Princess of Power" savings and joined a group of like minded Americans called "Architects and Planners in Support of Nicaragua" doing humanitarian work from the capital city of Managua.  He tasked himself with creating a comic book to teach impoverished locals, many illiterate, how to build their own homes complete with hiding places from the Contras.

Sample pages from Allen's "Manual Grafico"

This endeavor was not without risk.  One member of the American group, Ben Linder, was killed by Contras in 1987 while working on a small hydroelectric dam project.  Among the pall-bearers at his funeral were Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega and....Allen Stovall.   

For all his bold adventures, Allen was no raconteur, no Commander McBragg.  He seemed to prefer listening.  So when he'd break out one of these stories, they always landed as jaw-droppers.  Allen was a very smart, unique, and most humble guy.   I last saw him about six years ago, at the Union Christmas party in the Gene Autry Museum.  He'd been fighting throat cancer with great courage for many years, and was doing pretty well at the time.   But last Monday he broke his silver tether,  joining that Nicaraguan village in the big cloud.   

Adios, Amigo!  And my sincere condolences to his wife, Jennifer.

And gratias, Al Holter, for your invaluable input with this post.


Sunday, May 7, 2023

Recipes for Pie - The Throwing Kind


Natalie Wood gets served in "The Great Race"

On a primal level, what's funnier than a pie in the face?  Pie fights were ubiquitous in the early days of film comedy.  But take a close look at those pies - they're not like Mom's.   They had a texture to them that stuck to a face long after impact, giving the actor plenty of time to mug.  As a youngster, I always wondered how those pies were made.  Thanks to the wonders of the internet, I have found recipes to share with you, FLiP reader! 

 Keystone Pie

An Atlas Obscura post describes The Keystone Kops' pies as "heavy-duty pastry and especially slurpy custard.”  Pie fights were such a signature part of those films, a bakery across the street from Mack Sennett's studio made nothing but custom pies for them. 

 Keaton Pie

Buster Keaton described his pies as two crusts glued together with a flour and water paste, so as not to collapse in the hand of the thrower.  The pies had a thick flour-and-water paste filling, to stick to the face.  They would add chocolate or strawberry to the mix if a particular pie tone was desired.  For instance, if the victim was light haired, or wearing white, the pie would be dark toned to show up on black and white film.  The pies were topped with whipped cream for impact spray.  

Stooge Pie

A Slate post reveals Moe Howard's secret pie recipe as  "whipped cream, marshmallow sauce and pumpkin filling".  The marshmallows made them extra sticky to the face, and the sound effect added impact. 

 Soupy Pie

Soupy Sales brought pie comedy into the Television era with his show in the 50's.  According to News from Me, his recipe was simply pie crust and shaving cream.  Being a live show, this allowed for fast clean up.  He would sell the impact with a bang sound effect ( a gun shot?) and by throwing his head back on impact.

Great Race Pie

This glorious Technicolor pie fight involved anywhere from 2500 to 4000 pies.  Because it was color film, the pies were filled with custard and various fruit fillings like blueberry, lemon, and raspberry.  It was shot over five days, with the stench of spoiled custard becoming so bad, the set needed to be totally cleaned and the remnants recreated for continuity. 

I always wished Twin Peaks did a pie fight sequence, but alas....

Okay, now get baking.  And if you've watched these clips and did not laugh once, we can't be friends.  

Happy throwing!


Thursday, April 13, 2023

PeaceTime: A Soaring Eagle


 I am quite pleased to present my new short, "PeaceTime: A Soaring Eagle".  It's the second of what I hope to be a series of such guided meditations for children.  I collaborated once again with Jess Lakin, who improvised the meditation in Ian Rees' recording studio.  From her recording, I came up with visuals and animated it using Adobe Animate.  Being a spare time project, this took two years for me to complete.  Ian then brought it all together with another charming and inventive score.  

As I said, I'm quite pleased.  And I hope you'll be too.   And check out my other PeaceTime video "A Royal Frog".



Thursday, March 2, 2023

One for the Ageism

There comes a day when, sitting for a haircut, we get a long look in the mirror and see one of our parents looking back at us.  Horrified, we look away.  But forced to sit in there, we steal glances;  that little eyelid sag, the onset of a jowl/turkey neck combo.  We're aging.  Like farting in an elevator, we can't escape it and hope to God no one else notices.    

So what's this have to do with animation, old man?

I'm fast approaching 40 years of working in the business.  I often meet with show runners and recruiters who weren't even born when I started out.  I don't have a problem with that, but I've noticed a pattern in these meetings.  After some chit-chat about their new project, they'll say, "So. You worked on A Goofy Movie?" surprised to see that I'm not only still alive, but working.   They gush about the film as a precious piece of their childhood.  I give them a couple of anecdotes, and the meetings end on smiles and laughter.  

Then I never hear from them again.   

As I said, this happens over and over, leaving me to only speculate.  Even though I'm a better artist than back then, it seems I've been designated as Ye Olde Guarde.

After actress Angela Landsbury died, there was an article floating around social media about how, on Murder She Wrote, she hired veteran actors who could no longer find work.  "Aged out" was the term  it used.  But unlike athletes who actually do age out, these actors could still act.  They hadn't aged out, they were shut out by the industry because they had aged.  The article, and those who commented on it, missed this point entirely.  They praised Ms Landsbury for doing what they saw as charity, oblivious to their own ageism.   

Yes, I worked in the 20th century, on paper, with pencils.  But when seemingly overnight the entire industry computerized,  I made the leap, as did most of my peers.  And we keep on leaping with each new software advance.  It's like a Squid Game challenge - miss a leap and die.   

Of all the prejudicial "-isms" out there, ageism is the one bias that everyone will experience if they live long enough.  Yet it is the most accepted - not only in the animation industry, but in society at large.  We dismiss our elders, perhaps to dismiss our own mortality.  

I would warn young readers that their day of sitting at the barber's mirror will come.  But who reads blogs anymore?


Monday, November 14, 2022

Bob the Dragon

The 1983-84 school year at Cal Arts was my favorite, and my student film that year, "Bob the Dragon" is a reflection of that. 

I was a junior that year when Hal Ambro came to teach animation.  Hal was a top notch animator, his work dating back to "Snow White".  Here he was, the man who animated the owl in "Bambi", at our disposal. Thank you, animation gods!  I would take my scenes to him (all on paper back then, kids) and Hal would sit at his animation desk and flip through the entire scene, going over my drawings, one by one, while explaining the importance of silhouette for clarity, or using the hands for expression, or giving the characters an implied weight.  Every visit to Hal turned light bulbs on for me and his mentoring was evident in my film that year, a huge leap from my sophomore effort.

T. Hee was another favorite of my teachers, a kindred spirit when it came to a love of whimsy.  I pitched my film in storyboard form and he not only loved it, but added the gag where the dragon encounters a goat.  Dan Jeup would voice the goat, using the goofy sarcastic laugh noise he would do when someone told a bad joke.  "Mmmahaha!".   The only other vocal was the dragon sniffing, done by the late, great Rusty Mills as only he could.  

I got to push my boundaries with the film, defying gravity, logic, and reality, with no one saying "You can't do that.".   All sound effects were interpretive, like the ricochet sound when Bob hiccups.   There's no arc of character or story whatsoever, it just ends.  I wasn't aiming to be a story guy in those days.  

Like all the Character Animation films back then, the finished product was a pencil test.  We shot our films on 16mm film using a massive old Oxberry camera from the 1920's.  Some day, I'll do a post on the dramas that unfolded around that camera as students got desperate for time.

The music is a piece called "Morning" from jazz artist Billy Taylor's LP  "I Wish I Knew How it Would Feel to Be Free".  Billy Taylor plays piano, Ben Tucker on Bass, and Grady Tate on drums.    After spending hours listening to random records in the CalArts library,  I heard "Morning" and knew I had my score.  It matched my animatic incredibly, just by chance.   I should have given credit.  I correct that now. 

I did, however, credit "The Small World".  What he hell is that?  In the A-113 suite, there was the big room, and the small room that I shared with Kenny Thompkins, Mark Rouse, Tim Hauser, Kirk Wise, Kevin Lima, Fred Cline, Carlos Baeza, and the late Ray "Supreme" JohnsonGary Conrad (of the big room) dubbed us "The Small World".   I was thanking them for their input and support, as well as Bob McCrea, who ran the department.

Some truly worthless trivia for you, but its my blog, dammit!


Monday, October 3, 2022

From My Project Graveyard: The Owl & the Pussycat


In 2001, producer and dear friend Leslie Hough called about developing a feature pitch for "The Quite Remarkable Adventures of the Owl and the Pussy-Cat", a children's book by Monty Python's Eric Idle, based on the poem by Edward Lear.   The audiobook version  includes original songs Idle wrote with his "Spamalot" collaborator John DuPrez.  There was a whimsicality about it that I liked, so I agreed to help out.

We met John DuPrez at Leslie's house in Laurel Canyon and talked about how we might adapt the story for a feature length film.   He offered up a brief history of the project - seems we weren't the first to take a crack at it, or even the second.   It's latest stop had been at DreamWorks, where it languished for some time before being killed, leaving Eric a bad taste for animation studios (at least the big ones).  Eric and John gave Leslie their blessing to pitch it, but were not going to get involved beyond that.

Monday, September 12, 2022

The "No A-hole" Policy*



I got a call from Mona Gurgley, a recruiter from Upstart Studios, feeling out my interest in working for The Next Really Big Deal in animation.  They have big plans, BIG plans.  So big, they're secret.  But she could tell me this much -  all they needed to pull off their big plans was a crew full of top tier talent.  

Sounds like a big plan!   

She dropped a few reputable names already onboard at Upstart, then sweetened the pot.  First, how's a $400/week pay cut grab ya?

Ooh!  Go on!

Though a non-union shop, they offer their own, watered-down benefits.  And a swag bag.

Benefits, schmenefits! But an Upstart Studios mug and mouse pad?  Yes, please!

And like she was saving the best for last, Ms Gurgley proudly revealed their radically progressive  "No A-Hole Policy*". 


But doesn't that foster a club-house mentality where only sycophants survive?  In my younger days, I would have expressed that thought and been deemed an a-hole on the spot.  Instead, I laughed because it seemed like that's what she wanted.  Pathetic.  

A few days later, at the appointed time, I logged on for a Zoom meeting with a half dozen Reputable Names at Upstart Studios.  One of them joined in and we had a very nice chat while we waited for the others.  And waited.  And.....waited.   Thirty minutes later, the Reputable Name apologized for the others and signed off, clearly surprised by the no-shows.  Some Really Big Deal must have kept them away.      

A day went by....two....three....no word from the no-shows.  No apology.  Not even "we actually wanted one of the other Steve Moore's in animation".  So I reached out to Ms Gurgley.  She was surprised to hear of the no-shows, and surmised a Really Big Deal must have kept them away (called it!).

But what of their lack of follow-up?

*The No A-Hole policy does not apply to management.  


Tuesday, August 30, 2022

So Long, Eggman


I first learned of Ralph Eggleston's death in James Baker's wonderful tribute post. I didn't know he'd been ill, so it came as quite a shock.   

I first met Ralph at CalArts in 1983.  He was a 17 year-old incoming freshman.  I was a know-it-all junior with no interest in the freshmen.   However, it didn't take long for Ralph's name to get bantered about among my classmates.  Apparently, he had animated 30 seconds of full animation in his first weekend at school.  We all scoffed at this, and couldn't wait to see what kind of awfulness this kid cranked out.  

In the A-113 suite of the Character Animation Department, we shared a Lyon/Lamb video recorder to shoot our pencil tests (there were two, actually, but only one of them worked at any given time).  We crammed into the small pencil test room to see Ralph's opus, like wolves waiting for raw meat.  

We watched.  


Not bad!  

Now we had to meet this guy!  Ralph was best described as a feral nerd - skinny, shaggy, with a wild energy that was a bit hard to be around.  He was madly passionate about animation. 

Cut to 1987.  I led a small crew of mostly Americans working on "Duck Tales" in Taiwan.   Among them were CalArts alum Brian Pimental, Gregg Vanzo, Chris Wahl, Carlos Baeza, and 'The Egg Man'.   

Ralph was now a feral nerd in a foreign land.  Having sushi with the crew, he scarfed plate after plate of wasabi - just wasabi- for laughs.  His face would turn red, he'd twitch, his eyes bulge and tear up.  He'd grab our water glasses, guzzling them down.  The more we laughed, the more he'd eat.  He kept this up until the waitress cut him off.  Feral.  But funny! 

Cut to 1992.  I ran into Ralph in San Francisco.  I was working on "The Nightmare Before Christmas", and he was dating one of the young ladies on the crew.  His manner had changed drastically.  He was still Ralph, but calm, at ease, like he'd learned to harness that feral nerd energy, saving it for his work. 

I would see him sporadically over the next 30 years - usually at Sue and Bill Kroyer's Christmas parties.  We'd exchange Christmas cards, and I just assumed that he'd grow old with the rest of the CalArts gang.  He was robbed of that privilege, and we were robbed of his creativity and humanity.   There's an old Taoist saying that surely applies here, "The candle that burns twice as bright burns half as long."   

So long, Eggman!


Sunday, May 1, 2022

PeaceTime for the Ukraine

Over the past year, I have submitted my children's meditation short "PeaceTime: A Royal Frog" to dozens of film festivals all over the world.  In early April, a festival in Moscow accepted it, and wanted me to send a screening copy.   Given how things have gone out there in the last few months, I opted to blow it off.  

While doing yard work a short time later,  it struck me - "I should dub PeaceTime to Ukrainian."

Gardening came to a sudden stop. 


I must do this.  

How do I do this? 

I paced around a bit, as if to coax the details out of hiding.  How do I find a Ukrainian actress?   

I starting texting industry friends - most had no leads.  But good ol' Trace Konerko, who left the industry 15 years ago, connected me with her friend - casting agent Jon Beauregard.  We talked.  Jon loved PeaceTime, totally got what I was trying to do, and offered to put out a casting call - no charge! 

Monday, April 25, 2022

The List of 1982

Program for the 1982 show, designed by Fred Cline.

Forty years ago this week, I took part in my first CalArts Character Animation Show.  Through the course of the school year, I had managed to fool myself into thinking I was good.  But seeing my film next to those of Dan Jeup, Chris SandersKelly Asbury, Bruce Smith, Rob Minkoff,  and a couple dozen other better skilled artists, a hard, hard reality hit me like a brick from Krazy Kat.  I sucked.

I did not make the cut for the Disney show, where all the old timers came up to watch.  At the post-show reception, I got to hob nob with Frank and Ollie, Ken Anderson, and Marc Davis.  It was a comfort to know they did not waste a minute of their shortening lives watching my mess of a film.  Marc Davis cut me to the quick anyway, because apparently, he was good for that.  You can read about it in an old post here.

Monday, February 21, 2022

Diversion con Rinones!

In my last post, Fun with Kidneys!, you heard about the new informational short I produced for the non-profit Renal Support Network, featuring the animated Kidneys Neff and Nuff.   Pleased with the results, Lori Hartwell at RSN asked to have it dubbed into Spanish. 

Actor and comedian Sandra Valls was brought in to translate the script and to do the voice of Neff.  She, in turn, brought her friend - actor and one-time Mr. Colombia (no lie!) Andres Mejia to voice Nuff.  

I booked time at Outloud Audio in Burbank for last Thursday.  Because of COVID protocols, only one actor at a time was allowed inside.  The closest I could get was a bench in their parking lot, where I set up my laptop to Zoom into the session.  The Outloud folks were super helpful in getting me set up, even scrounging up a power cord when the session went overtime and my battery was running out. 

The session itself consisted of a line-by-line recording to picture with timecode.  Engineer Kyle provided a three beep lead-in cue to each line.  Through Zoom, I could see both the footage and the actor, and we could speak to each other.  Sometimes there was a bit of a delay in playback because of wi-fi connection, but it was never a major problem. 

Before the session, Sandra wanted to go over the scripts, because some of the lines ran much longer in Spanish.  She brainstormed with Andres about shorter translations.  It was fun watching them hash out the differences between his Colombian Spanish with her Mexican variety.  There was a comical chemistry between them, Sandra being quite hilarious.  For my part, I sat nodding my head, understanding none of it.   Needless to say, I could not have done this session without their collective input. 

Gratias Sandra and Andres!


Thursday, January 6, 2022

Fun with Kidneys!

How does one make the subject of kidney disease entertaining?  That was the challenge when Lori Hartwell approached me about making a short educational film for her non-profit Renal Support Network (RSN), an organization she founded in 1993 to help those with kidney disease manage their care. 

Lori wanted to make an animated version of their illustrated booklet "Share Your Spare", where two kidneys, Neff and Nuff,  explain how they function, etc.   Using the booklet and Suzette Maffi's main character designs as a springboard,  I altered the relationship between Neff and Nuff to be comically tempestuous, then added cutaway segments to illustrate some of the informational bits.  

The cutaway segments were influenced by a Bell and Howell educational film I saw in Mr. Carll's 6th grade science class when I was 12, called Hemo the Magnificent.  Produced by Frank Capra in 1957,  it features live action Richard Carlson (Creature from the Black Lagoon) and briefly,  Sterling Holloway (Winnie the Pooh!).  The animated segments, directed by Bill Hurtz and animated by Seamus Culhane, are a funny and charming precursor to Osmosis Jones and Inside Out.

Tuesday, December 14, 2021

The Sinking of A-113

S.O.S. to all CalArts Alum on land and sea!  If you're looking for an end-of-year charitable donation and want to support the arts (yes!), consider the CalArts animation programs.  I started giving a few years ago, in appreciation for the student aid that provided a lifeboat to start my career in animation.  And even though my donations are not Earth-shattering, I always get a personal thanks from Gwen Strong, the Director of Leadership Giving. 

This time around, she told me that many of the animation labs were damaged this year when a water-pipe burst in A-block.   "Insurance will cover most of the cost of repairs, but there were unavoidable inconveniences to the students as they returned to campus."  She said.  "Thankfully our students have been able to continue their work and the energy they are bringing back on campus is palpable.  As always, CalArts won't let the vagaries of the "real world" get in the way of imagining and creating art."

Help the animation department dry out, and provide the students with their own 'lifeboats' with a tax-deductible donation! 

Go to: https://calarts.edu/about/giving-to-calarts/how-to-give

Click "Online gift".  A new window will open to input your information.  Click 'select designation', then type in "Animation Department", or choose your own designation.  In the 'special instructions box, write "to be directed toward areas of greatest need in the animation program."

Pretty easy.  But for you luddites out there, mail a check to:

Office of Advancement
California Institute of the Arts
24700 McBean Parkway
Valencia, CA 91355 

Add a note to instruct the designation and there you have it.  

OR skip all that and donate to a real person by calling 661-222-2745.

If CalArts changed the course of your life the way it did mine, then why not invest in the next generation of artists? 


Tuesday, October 12, 2021

Sweet Dreams, Katie


Kathleen Quaife, one of the best 2D effects animators that ever lived, passed away in her sleep last week, way too young.  I first met Katie in the late eighties, doing commercials for Duck Soup Produckions in Santa Monica.  We would work together again on the feature Rover Dangerfield, on which she headed the effects department.  Katie was the adult in the room full of goofy animators.  Did she enjoy our antics, or did she just tolerate us patiently?  There was a little glint in her eye that makes me think the former was the truth.

After Rover, I would run into her now and then, either at Dave Spafford's Friday night house parties, or Bill and Sue Kroyer's Christmas parties.  She was part of my animation family, back when the industry was small and everyone knew each other.   I last saw her in 2018, at Rebecca Rees' art show at the Animation Guild.  She was there with her boyfriend, Mike Cedeno, and she seemed so happy, still with that little glint in her eye.   

My condolences to Mike.  And godspeed, Katie.  


Wednesday, September 22, 2021

Jill Daniels' Art in the BAG

Awesome art director Jill Daniels has personal art on display now at the Baldwin Avenue Gallery, a.k.a the BAG in Sierra Madre.  Between her art show, her day job, and her Emmy's work on the Academy (whew!), she answered some questions for FLiP.  

Jill, 2nd from left, at her gallery reception.

FLiP: How did you first discover painting, and who were your earliest influences?

Jill: I was one of those kids who was born creative and loved painting and drawing from a very early age.  My dad was an architect and also a very creative person …. he really inspired me and he and my mom where both very encouraging. 

The budding artist and self-portrait.

FLiP: Where did you study?  Was there a mentor who had a big impact on you?

I got an BFA from Pepperdine University and also studied through some overseas programs for a couple years in conjunction with the University of Heidelberg in Germany and in Florence Italy.  Then moved to Pasadena and studied at Art Center College of Design.  When living in Italy became a big fan of the minimalist work of Morandi .. was refreshing to see his work in the midst of an abundance of Renaissance paintings.  

FLiP: What subject matter are you drawn to?  Has this varied over time?  

For many years I only focused on a career art directing in animation.  It took me along time to figure out what I wanted to say with my paintings and move forward with the work …  I believe emotional human connection is truly what is most important in life … and knew that was what I wanted to show with my paintings … but didn’t want to default to depicting that through portraiture.  It all came together when I decided to use common furniture pieces or objects as a vehicle to showcase the power of the unseen … capturing human emotional stories with my work.  It’s all about the negative space and relationship of the objects to each other.  

 FLiP: Is there something you’d like to try as a painter but haven’t yet done so?  A different medium?  Larger/smaller scale?  

I really enjoy both large and small scale and so everything from 4 inch by 4 inch to 6ft by 4ft - the current pieces on exhibition are large in scale.  I am playing around with adding text into the pieces …

FLiP: Is there a theme to your show?  When and where can people see it?

With the pieces that are exhibiting currently at The Baldwin Avenue Gallery located on the main town square in Sierra Madre I created work to give the viewer an emotional healing experience for people who have experienced loss … it’s been quite a couple years we have all been through and felt really called to create work to help.  It is going to be exhibited for two months.  Such a lovely town and the first time I have exhibited locally … over the last 15 years I have been creating this body of work I have been really fortunate to have had shows in Laguna, Culver City, New York and overseas in Asia … really feels great to be able to support the local arts and share this work in a place that is so close to home.  

Thursday, September 9, 2021

The Freshman

CalArts I.D., 1981

40 years ago this week, my journey in character animation began.  I've been thinking about it recently, like looking through a dusty box of memories in the attic.  

I went to CalArts right out of high school, sight-unseen, putting full faith in my decision to become an animator; a decision not exactly met with enthusiasm back home in southern New Jersey.  Back there, dreamers and artists are kooks, so I was a double-whammy.  My high school guidance counselor strongly advised against pursuing animation (yeah you, Fr. Nick).   But I had been dreaming and working toward this for years, and at last it had all fallen into place. 

On the long drive to the Philadelphia airport, I nearly chickened out.   The reality that I was about to leave everyone I knew, go to a place I'd never been and fend for myself, chilled me to the bone in the back seat of Mom's car.  I came very close to telling her to turn back, but I did not want to give the naysayers the satisfaction of being right (yeah you, Fr. Nick). 

I clearly recall the drive up the 5 freeway to Valencia and seeing the school for the first time.  Then the intense joy and nausea I felt as we turned off on McBean Parkway, turning right into the driveway just past a round concrete planter with "California Institute of the Arts" emblazoned across its front.  In the movie version, this scene will be in slow motion with very cool acoustical music.

We parked in the dorm lot, then wandered around until we found the office, where we met Liz McColl - a beautiful Scottish woman (think Stevie Nicks) who ran the office and truly loved the students.  There, we got the key to my room - 251, right off the main lobby.  It came with modular furniture from 1971.  The bed had groovy chrome pipes that supported a sheet of plywood with a mattress on top.  I remember the smell of the air,  a mix of sage and smog; dry air that gave me nose bleeds for the first couple of months.  

We dropped off my suitcases, then drove around town. Pre-Google, you may recall that the way to find things in a strange town was either through the yellow pages of a phone book or by just driving around.  Fortunately, in 1981 Valencia, there wasn't much town to be seen.  We found the K-Mart, where Mom filled a cart with the necessities; a pot, pan, knife, fork, spoon, plate, bowl, cup,  a small black and white TV, a pillow, sheets, a comforter, and, to top it off, a mini fridge.  

Shopped out - we looked for a place for lunch.   There were taco places around - but what was a taco?  I'd heard of them in Speedy Gonzales cartoons, but what were they?  Tacos were not a thing in South Jersey,  just like subs were not a thing in Southern California  (still aren't, really).  We settled on a small hot dog joint.  Looking out the window, the reality that Mom would be leaving me soon chilled my bones once again. 

After meeting with the financial aid office and taking a tour of the school, we returned to room 251, where I met my roommate, Dan Jeup.  Dan was from Michigan, and with his mid-western friendliness, we hit it off right away.  Dan invited me to tag along as he and a few other classmates went to open bank accounts at Security Pacific (remember them?). That was Mom's cue to leave, and we said goodbye - quickly, the South Jersey way.  Many years later, she told me she cried on the freeway back.  I had done the same when I had a moment alone.  Dan caught me, and I made up an excuse about my contacts bothering me. 

During the next four months I would learn as much about character animation from Dan as I did my teachers, many of whom had worked with Walt Disney personally.  Unfortunately, Dan was just as clueless as me when it came to nutrition.  We ate crap food; canned, frozen, plastic wrapped, processed garbage.  Just what was in those salisbury steaks?  Eating became a bit of a sport.  We would cruise the art shows around campus, filling up on their hors d'oeuvres and Almaden wine. And when our bi-weekly work-study checks arrived (eighty buckaroos!), we'd treat ourselves to Shakey's all-you-can-eat buffet.  On my weekly calls to Mom from the pay phone in the dorm lobby, she'd always ask if I was homesick, and I always answered "No."  Being at CalArts was a dream come true.  I had found my people. 

Five years ago, I moved back to the area, where it all started. Mom's gone now, as is the K-Mart.  The hotdog joint is now, ironically, a taco joint.  The trees around CalArts have grown so you can no longer see it from the freeway.  Whenever I drive past the round planter out front, I think about that first time, with Mom, and get an urge to pull in.  I see Dan on occasion, and it's like old times - though I've learned how to cook real food since then.  And 40 years on, those CalArtians are still my people. 


Wednesday, May 5, 2021

The Ogre, the Mogul, and Me

 By Kirk Wise

Was it the incessantly farting ogre that first tipped me off? Or the flat plywood sets that looked like a poorly-lit episode of H.R. Pufnstuf, minus the whimsy and imagination? Perhaps it was TV funnyman Howie Mandel, capering and lisping his way through his role as a glitter encrusted genie? I suppose if I had to choose, I’d say the penny dropped when the head of the production company went to prison.

But I’m getting ahead of myself...this the story of my ill-fated, almost-debut in the world of live-action.

In early 2002, I left Walt Disney Feature Animation after a 16-year run. Though I loved my friends and colleagues there like a second family, 10+ years of directing big-budget animated features had left me exhausted. I was ready for a sabbatical. And I was ready for a new challenge once I felt rested and my creative engines were re-engaged. Other animation directors had successfully transitioned into live-action filmmaking, so why not me?

My newly hired and well-meaning agents booked dozens of general meetings which consisted of me sweatily twiddling my thumbs in a series of fancy (and not-so-fancy) production company lobbies, and engaging in vapid chitchat with a series of smiley (and not- so-smiley) studio execs. Eventually, all the meetings began to blur together like carnival spin-art. But still, I soldiered on. Apparently, this was how things were done.

I soon learned that my extensive animation experience wasn’t a surefire ticket to live-action fame and fortune. Far from it, in fact. A music video or TV commercial on your resume opened a lot of doors. An Academy Award-nominated 2D animated feature from ten years ago? Not so much. And plenty of live-action execs weren’t the least bit shy about offering this somewhat belated bit of career advice.

Then I had a meeting at a tiny production company just down the road from Universal’s fabled Black Tower. I’d grown so accustomed to rejection at that point that I was floored when they expressed what seemed like actual enthusiasm for my work. It made it easy to look past the cheap looking Photoshopped posters on the walls; family-friendly fare with unfamiliar titles, featuring a roster of C and D-list celebs. One did catch my eye: a live-action Hansel and Gretel starring Delta “Designing Women” Burke and Gerald “Major Dad” McRaney. Alrighty then, I thought.

Saturday, April 17, 2021

LinkedIn Coyotes

 My old pal Jeff texted me last week, asking if I'd heard of a certain boutique animation studio, one that Wile E. Coyote might hire to make his commercials.  Jeff had applied for a marketing director position at this studio through a post on the LinkedIn site.  He was then contacted via e-mail, congratulating him for getting the job, and when could he start.

Surprised by the incredible leap of faith this company seemed to be taking - they had not so much as spoken on the phone, Jeff asked for more details about the job.  This person, who exists on the company website, wrote back they would be sending Jeff a check to set up an office, then give him daily asssignments.  Now, Jeff has worked in advertising for 35 years, none of this made sense.  His wife believed it to be a scam, so he reached out to me.  

"The number for the studio's owner is on the site, give them a call."  I suggested. 

Jeff e-mailed instead, and sure enough, his wife was correct.  The owner explained that one of their employees had been hacked and their profile 'spoofed' - someone pretended to be them.  The owner said they were trying to get LinkedIn to do something about it, apparently not having much luck yet.  

Fortunately for Jeff, he had not shared any information that was not already available on the site.  Imagine had he filled out an I-9 form.  Eek!

So be warned, FLiP friends, the coyotes have LurkedIn!