Monday, July 25, 2016

Animation Brat

The following is a re-post of one of my favorite articles from the old format FLiP, from 2007.  Enjoy! - Steve

by Sarah May Bates

advertising art director/copywriter/voice-over/commercial actress, and former “animation brat”.

When asked to write this, I have to admit I had no idea what the term “animation brat” meant. Animation and animators are really all I’ve ever known and are still a central inspiration and influence in my life. I grew up with “cool” parents, but when you’re a kid, you don’t know that kind of thing. It was just normal to me. For context, my mom is Carolyn Bates (former BG artist at Fred Calvert, Xerox checker at H&B, moved up from Duck Soup Ink & Paint to Disney producer), and my dad is Nick Bates (Vis FX supervisor at Pepper Films in Los Angeles)*. Everything cool about me stems from my parents, which in certain social spheres, I don’t necessarily cop to. My first exposure to Miyazaki, John K, Tim Burton, classic Sam Raimi - my parents. I was always inspired to draw, be weird, create.

When I was four, my mom did ink and paint in our home office, where I usually played next to her. I would rock out to my Chipmunks cassette, drawing on the light table next to hers, or delve into the beta collection, getting a very early education in Kubrick and Coppola. I remember my mom hunched over the light table, the sound of the rapid flicking of a paintbrush in water and her fingerless white cloth gloves, with countless beautiful colors of Cartoon Colour striped erratically across the arch of the thumb-knuckle. I would maneuver to inherit the retired cells, some of which adorned my walls. To this day I have a pencil sketch of a train station scene drawn by Corny Cole of ‘Poppy Porcupine,’ from Kelloggs Corn Pops on my apartment wall.

I remember being driven across Los Angeles to various offices and homes on weekends, the most visceral or traumatic memory being at the Csupo’s house where a psychotic cocker spaniel named “Stocky” would bark hungrily as we approached the front door. When it jumped on me I thought I was being mauled so naturally I would scream, and my mom would lift me onto a counter for safety. Still the beast would linger at my feet. One morning I remember my mom getting me in the car to deliver cells for a job—they resembled Tron—delicate and intricate graphic shapes. As we pulled out of the driveway and drove slowly down El Medio, a flurry of plastic blew about the street and across neighbors’ yards. Slowly people helped her to gather the scratched and wet frames from the gutters. She had left them on the roof.

Duck Soup holiday party, circa 1986. Pic 1: Duane Crowther, Lynn Shively. Pic 2: Corney Cole, Cathy Karol, Ed Hartley. Pic 3: Bob Seeley, Cathy Karol, Ed Hartley. Pic 4: Ed Hartley, Kunimi Terada, Bob Seeley. Pic 5: Carolyn Bates and Sarah.

Many of my days were spent at Duck Soup on Montana, on the steep front steps with the framed cell museum, no doubt playing with some grown-up’s toys. The best room of all was the paint room, where every possible color waited for me to open it and see if it were dried. When I was younger, maybe 3 or 4, it was terrifying to walk in there. My mom grinning ear-to-ear would take me through the entire studio, one desk at a time. Animators are decidedly more “animated” people. Many a man at the back of a toy filled desk would get up and excitedly greet me, rub my head, and in the case of Jean Perramon, kiss the top of my head with his prickly-French-cigarette mouth.

The top floor was usually easier. Kunimi Terada, who lived in a cool house full of pussy willows, one of which I stuck up my nose twice in the same night and had to have them removed with tweezers. Mary Measures, who was like a Pixar character: always fresh and smiling, with a melodic southern twang. We’d then circle to the offices to greet Roger Chouinard who had Godzilla paraphernalia just like my mom, and DuaneCrowther who had a funny walk. I remember thinking of him as the human version of Donald Duck, partly because of his body-type, and partly because he had ducks all over his office. There was one duck toy that would slap its rubber feet as it rolled on the ground. He’d pass it to me when I arrived and I would make my rounds through the wooden hallways. He always got up to greet me, smiling and boisterous, much like, well, maybe Mickey. I remember eating sugar cubes by the handful in the Duck Soup kitchen and him catching me twice and the most he could do was make a “tisk tisk” cartoon expression.

The tour then circled around to the back offices, where TobyBluth would inevitably scare the shit out of me. I would cry when we had to go back there, beg and bargain with my mom to let us skip it just this once. He would pretend to be a gorilla, “oo-oo”ing and wide-eyed, and seemingly catapult out of the rolly-seat in the corner. Then he would come over to attempt to hug and talk to me at which point I would be crying on my mom’s leg. The downstairs was what I waited for, because Bob Seeley was there with his dog Louise, who though was probably in his thirties, I was convinced that we would one day be married. Bob probably had an inkling of this because at the ripe age of 6 he proposed to me, at which point I rendered a comic of what this scenario would look like at my current age, and if we were to wait 'til I was of legal age.

"Marry Now" Sarah as a child bride to Bob Seeley.

"Marry Later" Sarah as adult bride to old geezer Seeley.

Next to Bob was Tanya Wilson, who let me ride her horse and gave me a copy of two of my favorite movies to date, “Family Dog” and “The Brave Little Toaster”. “Family Dog” was a pre-release VHS that I memorized verbatim 'til my mom yelled at me for unceasingly reciting aloud. At the back table sat Al Holter, who would smile warmly, seemingly just as afraid of me as I was of him. He would later publish my first book, “Horsey Tales”, at age 8. It was a series of observations about the proper care for horses, a how-to guide. Half way through the book, the people become the horses and vice-versa. That’s been my “thing” since I can remember: Horsey people. Al would next publish “The Indescribable Nth” for Steve Moore; a fancier stock and a more “polished” illustration style, but my book still came first. (ha ha)

Page from Sarah's "Horsey Tales"

“Animation Brat”, I believe, is an awesome thing for many reasons. I have lineage I can brag about to my nerd friends at Nuart screenings: My mom worked on Tron, Poltergeist, Brainstorm, and I am in part the inspiration for the Rugrats, which was based on Arlene and Gabor’s, and other parents’ “animation brats” that played while they worked. Art, drawing, and creative people are what I consider my fabric. It’s like you inherit a respect, an eye for uniqueness and the spirit injected into a line on paper. It has only served me well.

If you’re interested, check out some advertising/random/illustration work at and also check out one of my client’s site – they’re just getting off the ground and they’re a great organization that helps homeless teenagers that have just been released from foster care to get off the streets.

* Carolyn and Nick Bates are now co-owners of Buttercup Pictures.

Illustrations in this post are the property of Sarah Bates.

Photos in this post are the property of Carolyn Bates.

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