Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Looking Backward

I'm writing this as a bit of an addendum to the VANITY FAIR article on the early years of Cal Arts.

I'm pleased and honored to have been included in the list of interviewees, and think that the article is a good snapshot of that time. But like a snapshot, it only shows a few details, while others are fuzzy, and there may be distortions to the image. This post will attempt to bring one issue in particular back into focus.

One attitude that prevailed at that time was that if you weren't going to Disney you weren't going anywhere. After all, the Cal Arts program had been set up to retrain artists for the Disney studio as the older artists retired. We ate, breathed and learned from Disney films (This monolithic attitude began to crack in our second year, thanks to my classmate Darrell van Citters, who arranged visits after hours from artists Michael Maltese, Mike Lah, Maurice Noble and Ed Love as a hint of what else was out there.) Cal Arts sponsored a talk by Chuck Jones and another by Richard Williams.

So it was obvious that there was 'something else' out there that might not be such a bad thing. But I was the first to find out the third way: animation with the quality of the Disney films at their best, and the creativity and anarchy of the Warner cartoons, (in a best case scenario) and the mad atmosphere of Termite Terrace. A job that gave me the opportunity to work with Dean Yeagle, Aurelius Battaglia, Preston Blair, Selby Kelly, Emery Hawkins, and--most importantly--work as an animator at a time when very few women held the position.

I refer, of course, to animated commercials.

There were terrific animated commercials for every kind of product being made in those days, and some amazing artists made them. As Eric Goldberg (who was animating commercials for Richard Williams at the time, later co-owning his own Pizzazz Pictures) told me, "If you don't like the project, it's over in eight weeks". Some of the commercials made at that time are considerably better in quality than the feature films being produced at Disney, which we all saw as being in a bit of a slump despite the influx of 'new blood' in the early Eighties. How about taking a look at this amazing commercials for Jovan produced by Richard Williams in 1979?  Or what about this lovely little film from the Bob Kurtz studio from 1984?

New York City was a major producer of animation at the time thanks to television commercials. My employer, Jack Zander, had been producing fine commercials since leaving the MGM studio (where he was the original animator of Jerry Mouse in the first seven Tom and Jerry cartoons). He hired me before I graduated in 1979...I did my first animation for him while still a student at Cal Arts during my Christmas break in 1978. Watch for a little fox attempting to catch a baseball and missing. Here's another commercial I animated, entire, for Jack in 1980. (There were much better ones but sadly, they are not online). By the way, Dean Yeagle designed the original bee for this studio.

Jack was a man of his time, in many ways; although he liked my work, I was originally hired at trainee pay. When I asked for a raise to animator scale (yes, we had union jobs), he said "You're getting a lot of money for a girl!" "I'm not getting a lot of money for an animator, Jack, and if you hire me as a girl, I will charge you double!" (I got the raise.) He was a good boss and the studio was a fun place to work in. While women still weren't numerous in animation, there were more proportionately in New York than there were in L.A, with Tissa David, Yvette Kaplan, Candy Kugel, and Faith Hubley all creating animation for commercials, industrials, and television specials. So...while Disney animation had a proud past, and was a laudable goal, you did not fall of the edge of the Earth if you chose to work somewhere else. animation continued to evolve in many media, as it should continue to do.



  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

  2. Whoa, I sure recognize that Cheerios commercial you did...Had no idea you did it, or that I would become an animator one day myself. Small world, not just in space but also time!