Saturday, October 26, 2013

Dumpster Diving with Bill Kroyer

Whenever I run into Bill Kroyer, our dumpster diving story inevitably surfaces.

In the summer of 1984, I was working one of my first animation jobs, on an animated Star Wars knockoff called Starchaser: The Legend of Orin, a forgettable film except that it used a lot of early computer generated animation.    Most of the production was done at Steve Hahn's Korean studio, Mihahn, but when they also had a  crew of Americans working in an office complex in Woodland Hills, California.  Bill Kroyer was the head of that crew, which included Chris Bailey, Craig Clarke, Darrell Rooney, Tom Sito, newbies Greg Manwaring and Eric Pighors, and old timer John Sparey.  I learned years later that the writer, Jeffrey Scott, is the grandson of Moe Howard of The Three Stooges.   

I was an in-betweener, struggling to draw these not-at-all cartoony characters.  I worked under a Korean animator who did not like my attempts to truly in-between his scenes.  He introduced me to the shift-and-trace technique, where you turn on your light box,  line up the keys - not on pegs - and trace out an in-between drawing.   It was a completely fucked way to do it, but that's how he insisted I do it.

The in-betweeners had a 23 drawing-a-day quota, which was not easy given the tons of pencil mileage, tight work, and our inexperience.  Making it even more complex was the 3D element.  While hand drawn, the movie was filmed in 3D.  John Sparey's department figured out how to offset each level, which was shot twice.   It was actually the coolest thing about the film, like watching an animated View Master.  But what this meant for the animation people was that sometimes a forearm would be on a separate level from the rest of the body to get 3D depth; in short, extra levels to keep track of. 

At some point, I got a 23 foot long scene with multiple characters; a ton of work.  I had levels everywhere.  For extra desk space, I placed the scene folder over the top of my trash bin and stacked finished levels on it.  At the end of the day, I placed those levels in the folder, and atop the desk.  I did this every day - except for one.  

After a month working on this behemoth scene, I had left the stack of completed levels - at this point most of the scene - on top of the trash bin.  When I returned in the morning, it was gone.  Gone!  I was in a state of panic.  Surely, I would lose my job, my first big job, over this.  I ran down the stairs to the back of the building where the dumpster sat - empty.

With my tail between my legs, I told my supervisor, Bill Kroyer, what happened.  He looked at me as if I had I totaled his car while running over his cat.  He got on the phone to the maintenance guy, who told him their small dumpster is dumped into the very large dumpster at the Mobil gas station next door.  

You know where this is going.  Moments later, I was inside a full dumpster with Bill, tearing open bags of office trash - not just Mihahn's trash, but everyone's trash in the office complex.  We knew the scene was in there - somewhere.  I was just hoping to find it all together, and not scattered in the wind.  After several stressful minutes up to my waist in waste, at last I found it - my massive scene, covered in coffee grounds, but intact.  I kept my job, was able to afford to finish my last year of CalArts, and got my first screen credit, a real thrill.

But what if we hadn't found that scene? Would anyone have ever noticed if this scene were cut from the movie?  No.  Starchaser: The Legend of Orin was not even a blip on the pop cultural radar.  But I would have been that kid who got fired and ended up dumpster diving for food.

Talk about a fine line!


  1. Thanks for sharing your experience. I'm glad you found your scene. The whole film is on youtube.

    If it's not too much trouble, could you tell us at what time the scene is? Thanks.

    1. It was a long pan, characters on ones. The long haired Luke Skywalker with the Marty McFly vest was in it. Beyond that, it's a blur. That was almost 30 years ago.

    2. Still for what you've been through on that mess, I'm only glad it wasn't a total loss.

      And while the film may not mean much to us around here these days, I can't help but notice someone back in Korea went out of their way to apparently promote this film anyway, not sure if it's being shown in 3D at some Seoul theater or not but that's more than what MGM does with the film themselves since they own it these days, I'd be happen if a Blu-ray ever does show up (whether it will be in 3D or not is another matter I guess). (in Korean)

      Sorta like to learn more of this "Mihahn" studio myself but information on it is pretty hard to come by it seems. I sometimes get the studio name mixed up with another one Hahn apparently worked with called Hanho Heung-Up (or maybe it's the same studio?). This old AWN article from 17 years ago is a good starting point on the history.