Saturday, April 21, 2012

Disney MGM Studios, RollerCoaster Rabbit and the summer of 1989 - Part 1

Me at my Disney-MGM desk, animating a scene from Rollercoaster Rabbit

In the summer of 1989 I managed to get a job as an animator at the newly built Disney MGM Studio Theme Park in Florida, set up by "Who Framed Roger Rabbit" Production Manager Max Howard. Max was hired by Disney to build the new studio from scratch, and he quickly set about making a series of short "Roger Rabbit" films with his enthusiastic but fairly inexperienced crew. 
Kelly Asbury - loving his new jeans
Part of the Studio's production expenses were paid by the Park itself, as visitors would pay to watch the animators at work. We called it the goldfish bowl - guests would walk through the studio all day long and watch us draw. The inexperienced and the unlucky had to sit by the window - closely supervised by camera-wielding tourists.

Some of the animators claimed to be able to line up dates by gradually moving through the studio exchanging nods and winks and finally phone numbers with the girls "on the other side". For me it was heaven - my first proper animation gig since Who Framed Roger Rabbit?, a paid summer job in a sunny paradise and a chance to learn and get better at my craft.

Rob Minkoff tells Jim Beihold a thing or two
We were led by the incredibly talented Rob Minkoff - who patiently took the trouble to fix my drawings and squeezed far better work out of me than I thought I was capable of - invariably the sign of a great director.

Master Animator Mark Henn - quality and speed
Lots of extremely able artists got a head start at Disney MGM Studios. I was lucky enough to work with Kevin Turcotte, Kelly Asbury, Mark Henn, Jim Beihold and Tom Bancroft, among many others who brought their huge talents to the studio. 

It was a huge privilege to be there and like everyone else who passed through its doors I thought it was a tragedy that such an excellent studio was eventually closed down by Disney.


You can see the second part of this article about Disney MGM studios here, and read more about it in this classic FLIP article.