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!



  1. Wow!!! Haven't seen that in, what, 38 years??? So fun and charming. Love the shots where he's trying to fly with his teeny little wings.

    1. Thanks Kirk! Watching it triggers so many memories from those days.

  2. Still delightful...and so---Steve! Thanks for posting!

  3. Superb film Steve, great seeing it again. A "small world" origin story: along with Leon Joosen and Chris Sanders, we had dubbed our corner of the big room “The Ghetto.” As we were settling into our space at the start of that year (i.e. painting and wallpapering) we took a break to stroll next door to invite you guys to our “Ghetto-warming” party and to see how you were settling in to your own digs. We arrived to find you all not wallpapering but singing an enthusiastic round after round of “It’s a Small World After All” (led most loudly by Tim, as I recall). And thus the moniker “Small World” was born (a collective decision by the Ghetto I we returned to finish our corner decorating). Love the blog, thanks for jogging that particular memory, great times….ah the glory days of ol' A113.

  4. P.S. I too loved Hal Ambro, he was great. And yes, PLEASE do tell the story of the dreaded Oxberry, ugh, the stuff of nightmares (I shiver just thinking about it…)

  5. Love seeing these Cal Arts pencil tests. And more so reading your memories of the people from those days.

    (One thing: that Oxberry camera couldn't have been from the 1920's , because John Oxberry didn't start manufacturing his animation cameras until the 1947 . )