Monday, November 14, 2022

Bob the Dragon

The 1983-84 school year at Cal Arts was my favorite, and my student film that year, "Bob the Dragon" is a reflection of that. 

I was a junior that year when Hal Ambro came to teach animation.  Hal was a top notch animator, his work dating back to "Snow White".  Here he was, the man who animated the owl in "Bambi", at our disposal. Thank you, animation gods!  I would take my scenes to him (all on paper back then, kids) and Hal would sit at his animation desk and flip through the entire scene, going over my drawings, one by one, while explaining the importance of silhouette for clarity, or using the hands for expression, or giving the characters an implied weight.  Every visit to Hal turned light bulbs on for me and his mentoring was evident in my film that year, a huge leap from my sophomore effort.

T. Hee was another favorite of my teachers, a kindred spirit when it came to a love of whimsy.  I pitched my film in storyboard form and he not only loved it, but added the gag where the dragon encounters a goat.  Dan Jeup would voice the goat, using the goofy sarcastic laugh noise he would do when someone told a bad joke.  "Mmmahaha!".   The only other vocal was the dragon sniffing, done by the late, great Rusty Mills as only he could.  

I got to push my boundaries with the film, defying gravity, logic, and reality, with no one saying "You can't do that.".   All sound effects were interpretive, like the ricochet sound when Bob hiccups.   There's no arc of character or story whatsoever, it just ends.  I wasn't aiming to be a story guy in those days.  

Like all the Character Animation films back then, the finished product was a pencil test.  We shot our films on 16mm film using a massive old Oxberry camera from the 1920's.  Some day, I'll do a post on the dramas that unfolded around that camera as students got desperate for time.

The music is a piece called "Morning" from jazz artist Billy Taylor's LP  "I Wish I Knew How it Would Feel to Be Free".  Billy Taylor plays piano, Ben Tucker on Bass, and Grady Tate on drums.    After spending hours listening to random records in the CalArts library,  I heard "Morning" and knew I had my score.  It matched my animatic incredibly, just by chance.   I should have given credit.  I correct that now. 

I did, however, credit "The Small World".  What he hell is that?  In the A-113 suite, there was the big room, and the small room that I shared with Kenny Thompkins, Mark Rouse, Tim Hauser, Kirk Wise, Kevin Lima, Fred Cline, Carlos Baeza, and the late Ray "Supreme" JohnsonGary Conrad (of the big room) dubbed us "The Small World".   I was thanking them for their input and support, as well as Bob McCrea, who ran the department.

Some truly worthless trivia for you, but its my blog, dammit!


Monday, October 3, 2022

From My Project Graveyard: The Owl & the Pussycat


In 2001, producer and dear friend Leslie Hough called about developing a feature pitch for "The Quite Remarkable Adventures of the Owl and the Pussy-Cat", a children's book by Monty Python's Eric Idle, based on the poem by Edward Lear.   The audiobook version  includes original songs Idle wrote with his "Spamalot" collaborator John DuPrez.  There was a whimsicality about it that I liked, so I agreed to help out.

We met John DuPrez at Leslie's house in Laurel Canyon and talked about how we might adapt the story for a feature length film.   He offered up a brief history of the project - seems we weren't the first to take a crack at it, or even the second.   It's latest stop had been at DreamWorks, where it languished for some time before being killed, leaving Eric a bad taste for animation studios (at least the big ones).  Eric and John gave Leslie their blessing to pitch it, but were not going to get involved beyond that.

Monday, September 12, 2022

The "No A-hole" Policy*



I got a call from Mona Gurgley, a recruiter from Upstart Studios, feeling out my interest in working for The Next Really Big Deal in animation.  They have big plans, BIG plans.  So big, they're secret.  But she could tell me this much -  all they needed to pull off their big plans was a crew full of top tier talent.  

Sounds like a big plan!   

She dropped a few reputable names already onboard at Upstart, then sweetened the pot.  First, how's a $400/week pay cut grab ya?

Ooh!  Go on!

Though a non-union shop, they offer their own, watered-down benefits.  And a swag bag.

Benefits, schmenefits! But an Upstart Studios mug and mouse pad?  Yes, please!

And like she was saving the best for last, Ms Gurgley proudly revealed their radically progressive  "No A-Hole Policy*". 


But doesn't that foster a club-house mentality where only sycophants survive?  In my younger days, I would have expressed that thought and been deemed an a-hole on the spot.  Instead, I laughed because it seemed like that's what she wanted.  Pathetic.  

A few days later, at the appointed time, I logged on for a Zoom meeting with a half dozen Reputable Names at Upstart Studios.  One of them joined in and we had a very nice chat while we waited for the others.  And waited.  And.....waited.   Thirty minutes later, the Reputable Name apologized for the others and signed off, clearly surprised by the no-shows.  Some Really Big Deal must have kept them away.      

A day went word from the no-shows.  No apology.  Not even "we actually wanted one of the other Steve Moore's in animation".  So I reached out to Ms Gurgley.  She was surprised to hear of the no-shows, and surmised a Really Big Deal must have kept them away (called it!).

But what of their lack of follow-up?

*The No A-Hole policy does not apply to management.  


Tuesday, August 30, 2022

So Long, Eggman


I first learned of Ralph Eggleston's death in James Baker's wonderful tribute post. I didn't know he'd been ill, so it came as quite a shock.   

I first met Ralph at CalArts in 1983.  He was a 17 year-old incoming freshman.  I was a know-it-all junior with no interest in the freshmen.   However, it didn't take long for Ralph's name to get bantered about among my classmates.  Apparently, he had animated 30 seconds of full animation in his first weekend at school.  We all scoffed at this, and couldn't wait to see what kind of awfulness this kid cranked out.  

In the A-113 suite of the Character Animation Department, we shared a Lyon/Lamb video recorder to shoot our pencil tests (there were two, actually, but only one of them worked at any given time).  We crammed into the small pencil test room to see Ralph's opus, like wolves waiting for raw meat.  

We watched.  


Not bad!  

Now we had to meet this guy!  Ralph was best described as a feral nerd - skinny, shaggy, with a wild energy that was a bit hard to be around.  He was madly passionate about animation. 

Cut to 1987.  I led a small crew of mostly Americans working on "Duck Tales" in Taiwan.   Among them were CalArts alum Brian Pimental, Gregg Vanzo, Chris Wahl, Carlos Baeza, and 'The Egg Man'.   

Ralph was now a feral nerd in a foreign land.  Having sushi with the crew, he scarfed plate after plate of wasabi - just wasabi- for laughs.  His face would turn red, he'd twitch, his eyes bulge and tear up.  He'd grab our water glasses, guzzling them down.  The more we laughed, the more he'd eat.  He kept this up until the waitress cut him off.  Feral.  But funny! 

Cut to 1992.  I ran into Ralph in San Francisco.  I was working on "The Nightmare Before Christmas", and he was dating one of the young ladies on the crew.  His manner had changed drastically.  He was still Ralph, but calm, at ease, like he'd learned to harness that feral nerd energy, saving it for his work. 

I would see him sporadically over the next 30 years - usually at Sue and Bill Kroyer's Christmas parties.  We'd exchange Christmas cards, and I just assumed that he'd grow old with the rest of the CalArts gang.  He was robbed of that privilege, and we were robbed of his creativity and humanity.   There's an old Taoist saying that surely applies here, "The candle that burns twice as bright burns half as long."   

So long, Eggman!


Sunday, May 1, 2022

PeaceTime for the Ukraine

Over the past year, I have submitted my children's meditation short "PeaceTime: A Royal Frog" to dozens of film festivals all over the world.  In early April, a festival in Moscow accepted it, and wanted me to send a screening copy.   Given how things have gone out there in the last few months, I opted to blow it off.  

While doing yard work a short time later,  it struck me - "I should dub PeaceTime to Ukrainian."

Gardening came to a sudden stop. 


I must do this.  

How do I do this? 

I paced around a bit, as if to coax the details out of hiding.  How do I find a Ukrainian actress?   

I starting texting industry friends - most had no leads.  But good ol' Trace Konerko, who left the industry 15 years ago, connected me with her friend - casting agent Jon Beauregard.  We talked.  Jon loved PeaceTime, totally got what I was trying to do, and offered to put out a casting call - no charge! 

Monday, April 25, 2022

The List of 1982

Program for the 1982 show, designed by Fred Cline.

Forty years ago this week, I took part in my first CalArts Character Animation Show.  Through the course of the school year, I had managed to fool myself into thinking I was good.  But seeing my film next to those of Dan Jeup, Chris SandersKelly Asbury, Bruce Smith, Rob Minkoff,  and a couple dozen other better skilled artists, a hard, hard reality hit me like a brick from Krazy Kat.  I sucked.

I did not make the cut for the Disney show, where all the old timers came up to watch.  At the post-show reception, I got to hob nob with Frank and Ollie, Ken Anderson, and Marc Davis.  It was a comfort to know they did not waste a minute of their shortening lives watching my mess of a film.  Marc Davis cut me to the quick anyway, because apparently, he was good for that.  You can read about it in an old post here.

Monday, February 21, 2022

Diversion con Rinones!

In my last post, Fun with Kidneys!, you heard about the new informational short I produced for the non-profit Renal Support Network, featuring the animated Kidneys Neff and Nuff.   Pleased with the results, Lori Hartwell at RSN asked to have it dubbed into Spanish. 

Actor and comedian Sandra Valls was brought in to translate the script and to do the voice of Neff.  She, in turn, brought her friend - actor and one-time Mr. Colombia (no lie!) Andres Mejia to voice Nuff.  

I booked time at Outloud Audio in Burbank for last Thursday.  Because of COVID protocols, only one actor at a time was allowed inside.  The closest I could get was a bench in their parking lot, where I set up my laptop to Zoom into the session.  The Outloud folks were super helpful in getting me set up, even scrounging up a power cord when the session went overtime and my battery was running out. 

The session itself consisted of a line-by-line recording to picture with timecode.  Engineer Kyle provided a three beep lead-in cue to each line.  Through Zoom, I could see both the footage and the actor, and we could speak to each other.  Sometimes there was a bit of a delay in playback because of wi-fi connection, but it was never a major problem. 

Before the session, Sandra wanted to go over the scripts, because some of the lines ran much longer in Spanish.  She brainstormed with Andres about shorter translations.  It was fun watching them hash out the differences between his Colombian Spanish with her Mexican variety.  There was a comical chemistry between them, Sandra being quite hilarious.  For my part, I sat nodding my head, understanding none of it.   Needless to say, I could not have done this session without their collective input. 

Gratias Sandra and Andres!


Thursday, January 6, 2022

Fun with Kidneys!

How does one make the subject of kidney disease entertaining?  That was the challenge when Lori Hartwell approached me about making a short educational film for her non-profit Renal Support Network (RSN), an organization she founded in 1993 to help those with kidney disease manage their care. 

Lori wanted to make an animated version of their illustrated booklet "Share Your Spare", where two kidneys, Neff and Nuff,  explain how they function, etc.   Using the booklet and Suzette Maffi's main character designs as a springboard,  I altered the relationship between Neff and Nuff to be comically tempestuous, then added cutaway segments to illustrate some of the informational bits.  

The cutaway segments were influenced by a Bell and Howell educational film I saw in Mr. Carll's 6th grade science class when I was 12, called Hemo the Magnificent.  Produced by Frank Capra in 1957,  it features live action Richard Carlson (Creature from the Black Lagoon) and briefly,  Sterling Holloway (Winnie the Pooh!).  The animated segments, directed by Bill Hurtz and animated by Seamus Culhane, are a funny and charming precursor to Osmosis Jones and Inside Out.