Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Mickey & Me in the 21st Century

Red pants day at D-World, July '74.

I share the same birthday as Mickey Mouse - November 18th.  He is a cartoon character.  I draw cartoon characters.  I am 50 and aging.  He is 84 and not - though you could argue that he's been dead for decades.

When I was 27, I worked with a guy who had been a clean-up artist on Sleeping Beauty.  I remember thinking, "Old-timer."  Now that I have screen credits older than 27,  the term must now apply to me.

I'm an old-timer.

I take solace in knowing I have very good company, being part of animation's next generation of artists that came along, starting in the mid- ''70's, when CalArts began teaching Character Animation.  For the next fifteen years, the school brought along artists whose skills would fully mature during the renaissance of the '90's.  We were the sharp, young, creative dynamos carrying on the torch that Walt lit.

Then came the Animation Armageddon of 2000 - the end of character animation as we knew it.  In the course of  five years, we went from plying our trade with the same tools that had been used since the 1920's, to using computer graphics tools out of Buck Rogers in the 21st Century.  It was like Planet 2D was about to be destroyed by evil executives and we were all forced to board the rocket ship to Planet CG or die.

For years I  storyboarded on paper with a Prismacolor pencil.  Suddenly, I was staring at a Cintiq tablet.  It was easy enough to work, but the feel was completely different.  It took years to develop a technique.  The Cintiq has forced me out of my Prismacolor comfort zone, forced me to develop new skills, and has, in fact, allowed me to do better work.  Where I might not have tried certain drawing stunts in the past, fearful of screwing up the sketch, I can now experiment with the safety net of  "undo".

The Cintiq has changed my life on a personal level as well.  I now work remotely, from my old home town in New Jersey, where I moved to help out my elderly father.  Twenty years ago, this would have been a difficult or impossible arrangement, working on Hollywood features from 2800 miles away.  But now I upload to studios in Los Angeles and Paris at internet speed; no paper, no Xeroxing, no FedEx.  Meetings are done via Skype or FaceTime.  Buck Rogers: Animator!

The Cintiq has been a tool of discovery for me, just as pegs and 12 field paper had been for me thirty years ago.  You have to find new things, even if they're only new to you. It keeps you inspired, it keeps you evolving as an artist.

I can't stop myself from being an old-timer, but I don't have to be a boring old timer!


  1. Now I feel like a dinosaur because I still don't have a Cintiq. I still do my storyboards by hand... --- alex

    1. You accidentally hit on a popular misconception - that Cintiq sketches are not hand-drawn. I still rely on my hand skills to create the sketches, using a pen much like any other pen. If someone can't draw, a Cintiq is not going to change that. The one BIG thing I miss is being able to hang up sketches on an 8 x 4 board to get an overview. In a studio setting, it was really important to see colleagues' boards as well. I miss that.

    2. I suppose that's what I would miss, that sort of tangible presentation.