I have posted before about artistic influences, artists who I did not work with personally, but had a strong influence on my own work. This time, I write about artists of my generation. In the past 30 years, I have worked with hundreds of artists, and many have influenced me in some manner. Here is a list of five artists who, for me, had the greatest impact, in chronological order.
1. Dan Jeup – Dan was my roommate during my freshman year of CalArts, in 1981. I knew next to nothing about Disney animation, though Dan was already animating at a professional level, and was an encyclopedia of Disney animation knowledge. His passion for the medium was contagious, and I felt lucky to be asked along when he studied Disney film prints in the school library, pointing out different animation techniques. Dan taught me about editing and match cuts and animating a character with weight. And I taught him how to drink a lot of beer.
2. Jerry Rees– Jerry hired me on The BraveLittle Toaster in the summer of 1985. He has been my unofficial mentor ever since. Jerry can do it all, very well. On Toaster, he often invited me to sit in while he reviewed dailies. I got to closely observe how he directed, and he really inspired me to want to direct. I worked for Jerry a lot in the ‘80’s and ‘90’s, and I’m still learning from him today as he experiments with technology like augmented reality.
3. Brian McEntee – Another alum of The Brave Little Toaster. In the same way Jerry let me tag along and learn about directing, Brian let me tag along and learn about art direction. He was always very generous about explaining his process, and I would employ lessons I learned from him while working out color continuity on my short Redux Riding Hood, and my Christmas special Olive, the Other Reindeer. Much of what I know about art direction I learned from Brian.
4. Fred Cline – The rest of what I know about art direction, I learned from Fred. He was a classmate at CalArts, where he introduced me to the work of Mary Blair, but it was while working at Hyperion Animation that he schooled me in art. Starting on Rover Dangerfield, Fred introduced me to Regionalist Painting, specifically Thomas Hart Benton. On Bebe’s Kids, it was the HarlemRenaissance Movement. I learned to look at fine art for inspiration, as opposed to aping old cartoons. On Redux Riding Hood, I took it as far as to hire artist John Kleber, who knew nothing about animation, as production designer. That probably would not have happened without Fred’s influence.
5. Kevin Lima – The third former classmate on my list, I have worked with Kevin on several projects, but it was while developing projects together at Hyperion Animation in 1991 that we spent months and months talking story and filmmaking. Kevin introduced me to the use of motifs in color, shape, and in use of space as tools to help tell a story cinematically. It was like taking a film class and getting paid for it.
I consider myself very lucky to have had the chance to learn from these guys. On every project I have directed, there are elements that were learned from Dan, Jerry, Brian, Fred, or Kevin. I love working with people who appreciate filmmaking and see animation as filmmaking. Not everyone in the industry has this view, and even scoff at the suggestion of motifs or symbolism. There's another list for those people.