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.


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