Sunday, March 30, 2014

A Letter from Tee

I recently came across a box full of keepsakes from my days as a CalArts student.  Among the memory jogging items were sketches and a letter by animation legend T. Hee.  Tee was one of my teachers, and we bonded over our love for the skewed and whimsical.  Finding these items was a thrill, as I had not seen them in almost thirty years.

At school,  Tee would make the rounds and hang with anyone interested in his input.  He would place tracing paper over my designs and, with a few tweaks, make it work.  He would make clucking sounds with his tongue while marking little x-es on my tangents.  He would move an arm or leg a little to get balance or silhouette.   I took advantage of any opportunity to sit with him as he went over my sketches and storyboards.

T. Hee was helping me with character designs for my senior year film, Sr. Rhino, when  he did this sketch.
Toward the end of my junior year in 1984,  I got a job - my first animation job - at David Stipes Productions.  Dave Stipes is an incredibly talented matte painter and super nice guy who was doing a lot of effects for "V: The Visitor".  He had a side project that he was financing himself, and animated short about dreams and their meanings.  Mike Genz was already working on it in a garage behind Dave's studio in the industrial slums of North Hollywood.  I was told the building next door was a dildo factory, but I digress.

Dave hired  Dan Jeup, and Fred Cline, and me and for five or six weeks, we had a blast.  But when the "V" series wrapped, Dave let some of his staff go, including us.  I struggled to find work, and was living at the dorms for the summer when I wrote to Tee.  Kelly Asbury and Darrell Rooney were very generous about giving me contacts to call, but everyone wanted experienced artists.  It was a Catch-22 situation:  how do I get experience if no one will hire me?   When Tee's letter arrived, it was a very welcome boost to my sinking morale.   Here's the letter, handwritten in Tee's unique style.  

I consider this a personal treasure.  Tee would have been 103 this past week.  Happy birthday, Tee, I miss you!


  1. He really was one of a kind. Just the best.

  2. Awesome! It's thrilling to think that T.Hee took a moment out of his life to write my name (and yours, Dan's, Mike's, Joe's, and Kelly ' names as well). Thanks for sharing!

  3. I am so happy we got to experience his teaching before he stopped teaching at CalArts. I think we can twist your letter around a bit and say "Hey T, if you see Joe Ranft around tell him he's the GREATEST!"