Tuesday, December 14, 2021

The Sinking of A-113

S.O.S. to all CalArts Alum on land and sea!  If you're looking for an end-of-year charitable donation and want to support the arts (yes!), consider the CalArts animation programs.  I started giving a few years ago, in appreciation for the student aid that provided a lifeboat to start my career in animation.  And even though my donations are not Earth-shattering, I always get a personal thanks from Gwen Strong, the Director of Leadership Giving. 

This time around, she told me that many of the animation labs were damaged this year when a water-pipe burst in A-block.   "Insurance will cover most of the cost of repairs, but there were unavoidable inconveniences to the students as they returned to campus."  She said.  "Thankfully our students have been able to continue their work and the energy they are bringing back on campus is palpable.  As always, CalArts won't let the vagaries of the "real world" get in the way of imagining and creating art."

Help the animation department dry out, and provide the students with their own 'lifeboats' with a tax-deductible donation! 

Go to: https://calarts.edu/about/giving-to-calarts/how-to-give

Click "Online gift".  A new window will open to input your information.  Click 'select designation', then type in "Animation Department", or choose your own designation.  In the 'special instructions box, write "to be directed toward areas of greatest need in the animation program."

Pretty easy.  But for you luddites out there, mail a check to:

Office of Advancement
California Institute of the Arts
24700 McBean Parkway
Valencia, CA 91355 

Add a note to instruct the designation and there you have it.  

OR skip all that and donate to a real person by calling 661-222-2745.

If CalArts changed the course of your life the way it did mine, then why not invest in the next generation of artists? 


Tuesday, October 12, 2021

Sweet Dreams, Katie


Kathleen Quaife, one of the best 2D effects animators that ever lived, passed away in her sleep last week, way too young.  I first met Katie in the late eighties, doing commercials for Duck Soup Produckions in Santa Monica.  We would work together again on the feature Rover Dangerfield, on which she headed the effects department.  Katie was the adult in the room full of goofy animators.  Did she enjoy our antics, or did she just tolerate us patiently?  There was a little glint in her eye that makes me think the former was the truth.

After Rover, I would run into her now and then, either at Dave Spafford's Friday night house parties, or Bill and Sue Kroyer's Christmas parties.  She was part of my animation family, back when the industry was small and everyone knew each other.   I last saw her in 2018, at Rebecca Rees' art show at the Animation Guild.  She was there with her boyfriend, Mike Cedeno, and she seemed so happy, still with that little glint in her eye.   

My condolences to Mike.  And godspeed, Katie.  


Wednesday, September 22, 2021

Jill Daniels' Art in the BAG

Awesome art director Jill Daniels has personal art on display now at the Baldwin Avenue Gallery, a.k.a the BAG in Sierra Madre.  Between her art show, her day job, and her Emmy's work on the Academy (whew!), she answered some questions for FLiP.  

Jill, 2nd from left, at her gallery reception.

FLiP: How did you first discover painting, and who were your earliest influences?

Jill: I was one of those kids who was born creative and loved painting and drawing from a very early age.  My dad was an architect and also a very creative person …. he really inspired me and he and my mom where both very encouraging. 

The budding artist and self-portrait.

FLiP: Where did you study?  Was there a mentor who had a big impact on you?

I got an BFA from Pepperdine University and also studied through some overseas programs for a couple years in conjunction with the University of Heidelberg in Germany and in Florence Italy.  Then moved to Pasadena and studied at Art Center College of Design.  When living in Italy became a big fan of the minimalist work of Morandi .. was refreshing to see his work in the midst of an abundance of Renaissance paintings.  

FLiP: What subject matter are you drawn to?  Has this varied over time?  

For many years I only focused on a career art directing in animation.  It took me along time to figure out what I wanted to say with my paintings and move forward with the work …  I believe emotional human connection is truly what is most important in life … and knew that was what I wanted to show with my paintings … but didn’t want to default to depicting that through portraiture.  It all came together when I decided to use common furniture pieces or objects as a vehicle to showcase the power of the unseen … capturing human emotional stories with my work.  It’s all about the negative space and relationship of the objects to each other.  

 FLiP: Is there something you’d like to try as a painter but haven’t yet done so?  A different medium?  Larger/smaller scale?  

I really enjoy both large and small scale and so everything from 4 inch by 4 inch to 6ft by 4ft - the current pieces on exhibition are large in scale.  I am playing around with adding text into the pieces …

FLiP: Is there a theme to your show?  When and where can people see it?

With the pieces that are exhibiting currently at The Baldwin Avenue Gallery located on the main town square in Sierra Madre I created work to give the viewer an emotional healing experience for people who have experienced loss … it’s been quite a couple years we have all been through and felt really called to create work to help.  It is going to be exhibited for two months.  Such a lovely town and the first time I have exhibited locally … over the last 15 years I have been creating this body of work I have been really fortunate to have had shows in Laguna, Culver City, New York and overseas in Asia … really feels great to be able to support the local arts and share this work in a place that is so close to home.  

Thursday, September 9, 2021

The Freshman

CalArts I.D., 1981

40 years ago this week, my journey in character animation began.  I've been thinking about it recently, like looking through a dusty box of memories in the attic.  

I went to CalArts right out of high school, sight-unseen, putting full faith in my decision to become an animator; a decision not exactly met with enthusiasm back home in southern New Jersey.  Back there, dreamers and artists are kooks, so I was a double-whammy.  My high school guidance counselor strongly advised against pursuing animation (yeah you, Fr. Nick).   But I had been dreaming and working toward this for years, and at last it had all fallen into place. 

On the long drive to the Philadelphia airport, I nearly chickened out.   The reality that I was about to leave everyone I knew, go to a place I'd never been and fend for myself, chilled me to the bone in the back seat of Mom's car.  I came very close to telling her to turn back, but I did not want to give the naysayers the satisfaction of being right (yeah you, Fr. Nick). 

I clearly recall the drive up the 5 freeway to Valencia and seeing the school for the first time.  Then the intense joy and nausea I felt as we turned off on McBean Parkway, turning right into the driveway just past a round concrete planter with "California Institute of the Arts" emblazoned across its front.  In the movie version, this scene will be in slow motion with very cool acoustical music.

We parked in the dorm lot, then wandered around until we found the office, where we met Liz McColl - a beautiful Scottish woman (think Stevie Nicks) who ran the office and truly loved the students.  There, we got the key to my room - 251, right off the main lobby.  It came with modular furniture from 1971.  The bed had groovy chrome pipes that supported a sheet of plywood with a mattress on top.  I remember the smell of the air,  a mix of sage and smog; dry air that gave me nose bleeds for the first couple of months.  

We dropped off my suitcases, then drove around town. Pre-Google, you may recall that the way to find things in a strange town was either through the yellow pages of a phone book or by just driving around.  Fortunately, in 1981 Valencia, there wasn't much town to be seen.  We found the K-Mart, where Mom filled a cart with the necessities; a pot, pan, knife, fork, spoon, plate, bowl, cup,  a small black and white TV, a pillow, sheets, a comforter, and, to top it off, a mini fridge.  

Shopped out - we looked for a place for lunch.   There were taco places around - but what was a taco?  I'd heard of them in Speedy Gonzales cartoons, but what were they?  Tacos were not a thing in South Jersey,  just like subs were not a thing in Southern California  (still aren't, really).  We settled on a small hot dog joint.  Looking out the window, the reality that Mom would be leaving me soon chilled my bones once again. 

After meeting with the financial aid office and taking a tour of the school, we returned to room 251, where I met my roommate, Dan Jeup.  Dan was from Michigan, and with his mid-western friendliness, we hit it off right away.  Dan invited me to tag along as he and a few other classmates went to open bank accounts at Security Pacific (remember them?). That was Mom's cue to leave, and we said goodbye - quickly, the South Jersey way.  Many years later, she told me she cried on the freeway back.  I had done the same when I had a moment alone.  Dan caught me, and I made up an excuse about my contacts bothering me. 

During the next four months I would learn as much about character animation from Dan as I did my teachers, many of whom had worked with Walt Disney personally.  Unfortunately, Dan was just as clueless as me when it came to nutrition.  We ate crap food; canned, frozen, plastic wrapped, processed garbage.  Just what was in those salisbury steaks?  Eating became a bit of a sport.  We would cruise the art shows around campus, filling up on their hors d'oeuvres and Almaden wine. And when our bi-weekly work-study checks arrived (eighty buckaroos!), we'd treat ourselves to Shakey's all-you-can-eat buffet.  On my weekly calls to Mom from the pay phone in the dorm lobby, she'd always ask if I was homesick, and I always answered "No."  Being at CalArts was a dream come true.  I had found my people. 

Five years ago, I moved back to the area, where it all started. Mom's gone now, as is the K-Mart.  The hotdog joint is now, ironically, a taco joint.  The trees around CalArts have grown so you can no longer see it from the freeway.  Whenever I drive past the round planter out front, I think about that first time, with Mom, and get an urge to pull in.  I see Dan on occasion, and it's like old times - though I've learned how to cook real food since then.  And 40 years on, those CalArtians are still my people. 


Wednesday, May 5, 2021

The Ogre, the Mogul, and Me

 By Kirk Wise

Was it the incessantly farting ogre that first tipped me off? Or the flat plywood sets that looked like a poorly-lit episode of H.R. Pufnstuf, minus the whimsy and imagination? Perhaps it was TV funnyman Howie Mandel, capering and lisping his way through his role as a glitter encrusted genie? I suppose if I had to choose, I’d say the penny dropped when the head of the production company went to prison.

But I’m getting ahead of myself...this the story of my ill-fated, almost-debut in the world of live-action.

In early 2002, I left Walt Disney Feature Animation after a 16-year run. Though I loved my friends and colleagues there like a second family, 10+ years of directing big-budget animated features had left me exhausted. I was ready for a sabbatical. And I was ready for a new challenge once I felt rested and my creative engines were re-engaged. Other animation directors had successfully transitioned into live-action filmmaking, so why not me?

My newly hired and well-meaning agents booked dozens of general meetings which consisted of me sweatily twiddling my thumbs in a series of fancy (and not-so-fancy) production company lobbies, and engaging in vapid chitchat with a series of smiley (and not- so-smiley) studio execs. Eventually, all the meetings began to blur together like carnival spin-art. But still, I soldiered on. Apparently, this was how things were done.

I soon learned that my extensive animation experience wasn’t a surefire ticket to live-action fame and fortune. Far from it, in fact. A music video or TV commercial on your resume opened a lot of doors. An Academy Award-nominated 2D animated feature from ten years ago? Not so much. And plenty of live-action execs weren’t the least bit shy about offering this somewhat belated bit of career advice.

Then I had a meeting at a tiny production company just down the road from Universal’s fabled Black Tower. I’d grown so accustomed to rejection at that point that I was floored when they expressed what seemed like actual enthusiasm for my work. It made it easy to look past the cheap looking Photoshopped posters on the walls; family-friendly fare with unfamiliar titles, featuring a roster of C and D-list celebs. One did catch my eye: a live-action Hansel and Gretel starring Delta “Designing Women” Burke and Gerald “Major Dad” McRaney. Alrighty then, I thought.

Saturday, April 17, 2021

LinkedIn Coyotes

 My old pal Jeff texted me last week, asking if I'd heard of a certain boutique animation studio, one that Wile E. Coyote might hire to make his commercials.  Jeff had applied for a marketing director position at this studio through a post on the LinkedIn site.  He was then contacted via e-mail, congratulating him for getting the job, and when could he start.

Surprised by the incredible leap of faith this company seemed to be taking - they had not so much as spoken on the phone, Jeff asked for more details about the job.  This person, who exists on the company website, wrote back they would be sending Jeff a check to set up an office, then give him daily asssignments.  Now, Jeff has worked in advertising for 35 years, none of this made sense.  His wife believed it to be a scam, so he reached out to me.  

"The number for the studio's owner is on the site, give them a call."  I suggested. 

Jeff e-mailed instead, and sure enough, his wife was correct.  The owner explained that one of their employees had been hacked and their profile 'spoofed' - someone pretended to be them.  The owner said they were trying to get LinkedIn to do something about it, apparently not having much luck yet.  

Fortunately for Jeff, he had not shared any information that was not already available on the site.  Imagine had he filled out an I-9 form.  Eek!

So be warned, FLiP friends, the coyotes have LurkedIn!


Saturday, April 10, 2021

For Ralph's Sake

Here's a brilliant short that is bound to make you question your choice of eye drops.  Produced by the Humane Society International, "Save Ralph" features the voice of Taika Waititi as Ralph, a laboratory rabbit who tries to be positive about his job while sporting visible scars of the torture he has endured in the name of product testing.   The resulting film is both darkly hilarious and heartbreaking.  

From the short's YouTube page, director Spencer Susser says, “It's so important that Ralph feels real because he represents countless real animals who suffer every day.”   By anthropomorphizing the rabbit, Susser invites us to relate to Ralph's predicament, driving home the horrible absurdity of animal testing.  Brilliantly, the short makes us want to help Ralph, and by extension lab animals.  

I seriously switched shampoos after watching this.  Check your products.  If they test on guys like Ralph, do him a favor and give them the heave ho. And join the cause by clicking here.


Saturday, April 3, 2021


After two years of working in fits and starts, I am very pleased to present "PeaceTime: A Royal Frog". 

I got this idea a while back (2017-ish?) as an answer to the loud and obnoxious programming that is fed to kids, ad nauseum, through 24-hour cable and streaming video - yes, the stuff that pays my mortgage.  I wrote the idea down in a sketchbook and let it ferment.   

At some point, I talked about it with my old friend Winter Reign, a far-out progressive gal with two small kids and no TV.  She loved it, somewhat surprised it came from such a Three Stooges loving, blue collar guy.  She invited me to a Kundalini yoga class deep in the heart of Topanga Canyon.  It seemed like a dare, and so I went. 

Wednesday, February 17, 2021

And Now, A FLiP Editorial Cartoon

Since the election ended, I've had this idea rolling around in my head. Rolling, rolling, in perpetual motion. The only way to stop it was to let it out.  It has been a very long time since I've done caricatures, something I prided myself on back in my school days and early career.  Finding that place in my mind that interprets someone's looks into odd shapes was like finding a long lost favorite toy.  

Once I finished the cartoon, of course I had to find an audience, however small.  And so I post FLiP's first ever editorial cartoon. Hopefully it makes you laugh (unless you're part of the problem, then by all means gnash your teeth in ire). 


Tuesday, February 2, 2021

Seeing Tony Bennett

Reading that Tony Bennett has Alzheimer's Disease turned my thoughts to Long Beach, where I saw him perform one year ago today.  I had seen him twice before at the Hollywood Bowl, in 1993 and 1995.  He was getting up in age back then, so I was surprised to find he was still at it and jumped at the chance to see him for what would likely be the last time. 

Tony Bennett and his band at the Terrace Theater in Long Beach, February 2, 2020
 This was a smaller, more intimate venue than The Bowl, and once Tony stepped on stage, it was a love fest with his largely white-haired audience.  I wasn't sure what kind of show to expect.  I had seen Peggy Lee and John Lee Hooker (not together, but that would have been awesome) near the end of their lives and it was sad to watch as their skills were shot.  Would Tony still be able to sing?

Wednesday, January 20, 2021

Speaking of What Worms Leave Behind...

Worms composting.  If you stare at this image long enough, you will see the pouting face of Donald Trump.

I can think of no better way to personally commemorate the end of Donald Trump's presidency than to write about worms and their poo.  Last summer, I sought to buy a composter for my vegetable garden.  While looking online, I discovered worm composting.  

It seemed simple enough:

1. Put worms in a bin of garbage. 

2. Worms eat garbage. 

3. Worms excrete castings as compost.  

After much browsing, I bought a 'worm hotel' - a series of stackable tray bins with mesh bottoms which I furnished NOT with casting couches, but with garbage and shredded paper.  One hundred hotel guests arrived by mail in a sack from Uncle Jim's Worm Farm in Pennsylvania.   I made a little sign, "The Wiggle Inn", and waited for compost to happen.