Tuesday, April 17, 2012

CalArts Time Warp

Last week, I was in Hollywood visiting friends and taking in some sights with my family.  One of our last stops was a trip north to my old alma mater, CalArts.  It had been at least twenty years since I last set foot on campus.  At the gatehouse, I showed the guard my old ID.  He laughed, said "This was three years before I was born." and opened the gate.  Asshole.

Seeing the campus was like taking a time warp from 1985 into the 21st century.  There's the original buildings, same old parking lot, same old eucalyptus trees, but it's dressed up with new stuff.  There's a funky performance hall for the music department with a small outdoor amphitheater just to the left as you drive up.

The main entrance steps are where I once met Terry Gilliam, who was screening his new movie "Brazil" at the tiny Bijou theater on the second floor.  I couldn't get in, there was such a crowd.  But Gilliam was standing out on the front steps having a smoke.  He chatted with me and a couple of other guys about his battle with Universal over the film cut. I thought my geek head would explode.   That's the kind of cool stuff that happened at that school - geek moments with great artists.

Walking through the main building, its almost exactly the same - same signs, same color coding for the different floors.  The sub-level was still covered with graffiti.  The students still had that unfed, unbathed look.

The second year Character Animation room still had sophomores in it, but no animation desks. They were working on Cintiqs atop two rows of fold out tables. It was Sunday morning, so only a few students were up and working - they had clearly been up all night.  One student was asleep on her desk.  Another student  was nice enough to listen to me yammer on about "Well in my day, we used an Oxberry!" while thinking, "I have to finish my film by Friday, please shut up, old dude."

The dorms were mostly the same.  The jacuzzi's been filled in - no doubt by the health department.  One the east side parking lot, the sprawling lawn has been replaced by ugly, pole barn style buildings with industrial metal siding.  They're small sound stages.

Driving off the lot, I thought of my old teachers: Jack Hannah, Bob McCrea, T.Hee, Hal Ambro, and Elmer Plummer, all gone now.  They worked with Walt Disney himself, and often treated us to personal anecdotes about The Man.

As I drove down Lyons Ave, to the strip mall where Vincenzo's Pizza  and Mongolian Barbecue still catered to student appetites, I thought of my classmates: Brenda Chapman,  Fred Cline, Butch Hartman, Tim Hauser, T. Dan Hofstedt, Mark Kalesniko, Dan Jeup, Kevin Lima, Rob Minkoff, Kirk Wise, and many others who have gone on to be industry leaders.  CalArts was as much a growing up experience as anything else.  I didn't fully appreciate it then, as I was too busy being a "stupid animator" as we were often called by the other departments.  We were goofy, travelled in packs, and totally immersed in character animation, 24/7.  Paradise, man!


Read more about CalArts life in this classic FLIP article!