Tuesday, April 30, 2024

The List of 1984

Here is my water-stained program from the 1984 Character Animation show, held in the tiny Bijou Theater at CalArts.  According to the math, 40 years have gone by.  Damned math!
Industry people and fans of animation may recognize some of these names. Many of these students went on to long, successful careers in animation.  Some are still at it (like me).   There are Oscar and Emmy winners - and a Pulitzer winner too!  Some went on to what the late, great Ray Johnson called  "Mystery Studios", where people drop off the map, never heard from again.  Some had great success in other artistic fields.  And some died way too young.   
We were kids, set loose in a world of 24/7 character animation.  They were glorious years that shaped us as artists and human beings.  But to say it was all good would be the whopper of all lies.  We were tight knit, but also awful and cruel to each other; creatively supportive and cutthroat competitive.  Like a cartoon Abraxis, it was simultaneously all good and all evil.  But looking back through a prism of sentiment, the shiny bits obscure the darkness, distilling the magic of that window of time.  How lucky I was to be in that mix.   
 The Way.....We......Werrrrrrrrrre........

Tuesday, April 2, 2024

Starting with a Bang

Caricatured here, a 1984 version of Steve Moore, Dan Jeup, Mike Genz, and Fred Cline

40 years ago this month, I was winding up my junior year at CalArts.  Eschewing the usual summer job, I made a grab for the brass ring - my first animation gig.  

A tip from Darrell Rooney got me in the door at David Stipes Productions, a small effects house off of Sherman Way in North Hollywood.   David is a master matte painter, Emmy winning effects supervisor, and super nice man.  His studio was a shabby 1940's California ranch house in a neighborhood swallowed up by industrial buildings.  At that time, they were doing special effects for the mini-series "V the Visitor", with a motion control camera set up in what had once been someone's living room.  

But that's not what I was doing.

Winding through the old house and out the back door, there was small yard strewn with props and film gear.  The yard was closed in on three sides by neighboring cinder block buildings, making it feel like a stage in itself.   Upstage right was a one-car garage from which, along with  Dan Jeup, Fred Cline, and Mike Genz, I animated on David's indie short about dreams and their meanings, working from vocal tracks by legends June Foray and Hal Smith.

When I say we worked in a garage,  I mean garage.  It was unfinished; dewy cold in the morning and by mid-afternoon, an oven.  When it rained, the tin roof roared louder than my Walkman could compensate.  We worked from animation discs set up on fold-out tables.  It wasn't Disney, but I was a working animator - a dream fulfilled at 21.  That I was in a garage making $5 an hour did not diminish this achievement in my eyes. Heck, that's where Walt started!

I was quick to learn three harsh realities of the professional world: 

1. I was expected to animate 8 hours a day - every day - whether I felt like it or not.

2. Working on someone else's film can be a drag. 

3. Lunch was expensive.  

About six weeks in, David let us all go after funds dried up.  To my knowledge, the film was never completed.  It's not listed on the IMDB, and only a dozen or so people even knew about it until this post.  I took no photos, have no artwork nor footage.  Like a Bigfoot sighting, you'll just have to take my word for it.  Or not. 

Aside from being my very first animation job, my experience at David Stipes Productions was unremarkable except for one very notable event.  A few weeks into it we were in our grooves, animating away, when a very large "KA-BOoOoM!" shook the garage and everything in it.  We were certain it was an earthquake.  We ran outside as David and his crew rushed from the main building.  The yard was a cloud of dust.  

"Dildos!" Dan exclaimed.  

Despite appearances,  Dan had not been stricken with Tourette Syndrome.  The dust cleared to reveal dildos - hundreds of them - strewn across the yard amidst broken bits of cinder block.  Who hath wrought yon plague of rubber dicks?

One of the crew yelled, "The dildo factory exploded!"

The dildo factory?

We looked to each other in disbelief, then fell over laughing until tears streamed.  

The wall of the neighboring building - said dildo factory - had a gaping hole in it.  Inside, through cinder dust, we could see a forklift operator looking quite embarrassed.  It was like peering through a portal into an alternate universe.  While we were toiling away at cartoons, they were toiling away at dildos.  We were at the seam where the Real World and Bizarro World met.  

Welcome to Hollywood, kid!  North Hollywood, anyway.


Tuesday, March 26, 2024

My Peeps

I went to kindergarten with a girl named Lisa.  I would sometimes go to her house after school while my mom was off running errands.  I had never hung out with a girl up 'til then, and approached this new terrain with caution - lest I catch cooties.  

We'd have milk and cookies on their formica top table in the kitchen, then head to the den where there was a color TV in a wooden console.  We'd watch syndicated shows on UHF.  I liked "Ultraman", she liked "Kimba", and we both liked "Speed Racer".   We'd draw and color - she had a pristine Crayola 64 set with a sharpener in back - so lush, compared my bucket of broken crayons at home.  We'd also watch "Winky Dink" - the first interactive cartoon where you would draw on the TV screen with crayons.  Per Winky's instruction, we drew a life saving parachute for him, unaware that you were supposed to place a special sheet of acetate over the screen first.  After her dad saw what we had done to his gorgeous Zenith,  we never saved Winky again.  

As it turned out, Lisa didn't really have cooties and I actually had fun with her - until her girl cousins would come over and want to play house.  

Late one afternoon, as Easter rolled around,  Mom called me to come downstairs.  

"You've got a visitor!"  she said.  

There, in the vestibule, stood Lisa and her mom.  

Mom sang, "Lisa's got a present for you!"

I stood cautiously, like this was some sort of trap.  Lisa shyly held out a small box of marshmallow Peeps, which I accepted as one would a ticking time bomb.  I backed away slowly, saying "Thank you." after Mom's prodding.   The two moms were fit to burst over the cuteness of this scene, their cloying grins driving the awkardness off the charts.  At last, Lisa and her mom said good-bye and mercifully left.

"What was all that?" Dad asked from the TV room.

Mom gushed, "Stevie's got a girlfriend!"  

Thus began a relentless barrage of teasing from Mom, Dad, and two merciless older brothers, that would stretch on through Mother's Day.  Mom told that story to friends, relatives, and any stranger who stood still long enough.  She reveled in laying down this golden yarn while I'd turn beet red with embarrassment.  Sure, our country was about to put men on the Moon, but in our town, the big story was "STEVIE'S GOT A GIRLFRIEND!!".

Mom would have laughed to see that, 55 years later,  I'M the one telling the story, sharing my bright yellow marshmallow shame with the World Wide Web.  

As for Lisa, that was never going to work.  I'm just not a Peeps guy.   


Thursday, January 18, 2024

The Twelve Pack

I recently had a freelance job designing labels for Forgotten Boardwalk Brewing Company of Cherry Hill, New Jersey.  When they opened in 2014, I soon became a Thursday regular, getting to know owners Jamie Queli and Seth Dolled, and bartenders Ryan, Kai, and Marysia - who challenged me to spell her name (It took months to figure out).  They were always so kind and welcoming, often topping-off my drink. They eventually had me drawing Minions on their large chalkboard menu behind the bar.   By 2016 they were talking mural, but I moved back to California instead and that was that.  

During the summer of 2022,  Forgotten Boardwalk did an Instagram call-out, looking for artists to create labels for upcoming brews.  I messaged them.  They remembered me.  Boom - I'm a label designer.  Over the next 16 months, I would create 12 such designs that I share with you here, lucky reader.

1. Tightrope Walker

Jamie would send a pdf document providing the beer's name and other pertinent information. She'd give me a character, like Pierre the Tightrope Walker seen here, as well as inspirational images - photos or illustrations, usually from the 1920's and '30's.  She'd even write a little backstory, often based on true events in New Jersey history.  Jamie wanted the characters to be villains to appeal to her main demographic - 25 to 40 year old males.  The edgier the better.  My stuff skews more whimsical than edgy, but I tried!  Pierre is my first attempt at 'edgy'. 

I would submit a sketchbook rough for feedback, then create the final art in Photoshop. I often added little side gags, "Easter eggs", or what Will Elder called "chicken fat".   The final comp would be done in Adobe Illustrator, adding their official logo, Surgeon General's warning, and assorted text. 

Sample of Jamie's pdf briefs with specs and inspiration.