- What school/college did you attend and what inspired you to pursue traditional animation?
I attended Boston University School of Fine Arts, and received a BFA in Painting in 1979. I recently received my Master of Fine Arts in Painting from Savannah College of Art and Design under the guidance of two wonderful and very talented Serbian artists, Natalija Mijatović and Blazo Kovačević.
However, my desire to pursue animation stemmed from the simple necessity to find a job and perhaps tell a story or two. I could avoid the conceptual art world of the time, and draw the figure in motion, something that I was just learning to do. I can be a “serious” artist, but it is a lot more compelling to me to be able to be a funny artist, and animation can live comfortably in both worlds.
- When did you meet Richard Williams? Can you describe your animation training with Richard?
In the summer of 1976, I was lucky to work for a Chicago Photographer, Jim Braddy as a summer job during my freshman and sophomore years in college. Jim’s sales representative, Tom Parker was also Richard Williams sales rep. I was interested in Photography at the time, but was pursuing a Painting major at Boston University School of Fine Arts, I began to feel that animation might be a great combination of the two art forms.
Richard came to Chicago for pre-production meetings and Tom knowing I was beginning to tinker with the idea of animation invited me to meet with him. We drank beers at a local Chicago pub, “The Knight Cap” and Richard enthusiastically talked about all aspects of animation. He is a very animated man himself and a natural teacher. I was hooked. I made sure that every time he came back to Chicago, we would go out drinking and I would listen intently to every animated word. I learned more about animation during those talks than I could have ever imagined; I already knew how to drink:)
- How did Richard affect your career and could you share any advice you got from him?
Besides just the idea of studying motion, learning anatomy, Richard emphasized “drawing”. Almost every correspondence with Richard ended with the phrase, “Draw, Draw, Draw”. Animation is not rocket science, it takes a dedication to a craft and hard work, so the “Draw, Draw, Draw” method for any artist is not a bad way to go.
- Your excellent short film Lazar received several animation awards. Could you tell us more about the movie?
Well, even though I was an enthusiastic young artist that had the unique opportunity to learn some animation tips from an animation master, I had no real animation ability whatsoever. Once I graduated Boston University with my painting degree, I knew I had a long road ahead of me. I was newly married, a short stint in Chicago looking for any creative job was unsuccessful so I wrote Richard for advice and along with his usual drawing mantra, he prodded me to just go ahead and make a film. So “Lazar” began. My wife and I moved back to Boston, she worked as a nurse, and I found a job working the 2 am until 7am shift at a baking company so I could work on “Lazar” during the day. Six and a half years later, even after throwing the first year of the production literally in the garbage, I was finished. “Lazar” won many awards and was a true labor of love. I had taught myself well enough to be considered by Richard, interviewed by Glen Keane at Disney and I had finally gained the confidence to actually go out and find an animation job.
- What was your first job in the industry?
I was hired as an animation director for Bajus-Jones, a Minneapolis animation company. It was the best offer for my wife and I. It kept us relatively close to our families, and offered the creative challenge of producing and experimenting with various animation techniques and styles, something a larger studio with a distinct style does not offer.
- How did you start Knock Knock Cartoons studio?
While I was at Bajus-Jones, I met an extremely talented artist, Todd Myers. After less than a year, I left Bajus-Jones and worked for Katlin Productions in Minneapolis and Todd also left to freelance. Todd and I worked more and more together. Todd assisted me on my second film, Pre-Hysterical Daze”, a tribute to Tex Avery and many other commercials and animated projects. In 1994, we moved our studio to Cleveland, and Knock Knock Cartoons was formed. I guess I was one Knock and he was the other. Todd is so gifted as a director, animator and especially as a designer. I am sure if technology hadn’t changed 2d animation so drastically we would still be working together. I certainly miss not working with him, but we remain close friends.. Unfortunately it became a necessity to go our own separate ways in 2002.
Knock Knock was blessed with some amazing talent. Tom Parker, Richard Williams sales rep who first introduced me to Richard, became our sales rep. Dave Fedan, a truly gifted artist was just a young lad out of college when we were lucky enough to snatch him up. Ben Smallridge, Valerie Totire, Cody Wood, Ed Zimmer, Anthony Judge, Sarah Curry, Bev Chiara, Mike Chipchak and Aaron Sechrist are not big names in animation lore, but they should be.
- In 1998. you successfully pitched the show Longhair and Doubledome to Cartoon Network. Could you tell us more about the show and the pitching process?
I just recently negotiated with the Cartoon Network to do another episode of Longhair and Doubledome as a Kickstarter campaign. They own the property, but are allowing us to give it another pass.
Longhair and Doubledome was the easiest show I ever pitched. I sat across from the head of development, Linda Simensky at lunch in Atlanta, and gave her the logline, she sat back and said, “That’s a show”. We did the full development together and produced an episode for the Cartoon Cartoon Summerfest of 2000. We were chosen among three other shows, Billy and Mandy (which later became “Grim and Evil”) and Robot Jones. Although we had fantastic focus groups, a 95% percent approval rating among 5 to 6 grade boys, who asked to watch the short a second time unsolicited, something the focus group company had never seen, but we lost the internet vote. We were able to produce another short in 2002 for the Network, but again, didn’t make the cut. I still believe in the concept and the show and that is why we are continuing to get it out there anyway we can. I don’t quit.
- Your studio Horrendous Fiasco Cartoons has many impressive animation projects done. Tell us more about the studio.
Horrendous Fiasco Cartoons was formed after Knock Knock Cartoons stint in Cleveland had ended, another casualty in the transition from traditional cell to technological 2d. Horrendous was a reinvention for me, I am a believer that you must reinvent yourself every once in awhile to stay relevant. It is difficult for any artist, musician or animator to have a long career without a little luck and a little reinvention.
Horrendous Fiasco focused more on an older audience, we still produced the occasional commercial but we were interested in creating a different kind of content. We produced, “Shadow Rock” for Comedy Central, the brainchild of a fantastic humorist and artist, Max Cannon who created the alternative comic strip, “Red Meat”. That was fun.
However, when my Mother-in-Law got ill, my wife and I along with our children moved to Boston for her care. I went into freelancing , went to school for my Masters and taught animation at Massachusetts College of Art, so I shelved both companies (Knock Knock and Horrendous).
Then I was contacted by the USCRI (United States Committee for Refugees and Immigrants) to do a 20+ animated video teaching undocumented children their rights in the United States (in five languages) so I started Knock Knock back up again. Horrendous Fiasco will soon again be our adult content company.
- Are there any interesting projects you’re expecting to start in the future?
I have several active pitches with various networks currently, I am soon launching my Kickstarter for a third episode for Longhair and Doubledome. I am working on a short film called “Snow Angel” and I have several other projects lurking in the shadows.
- What was your favorite project and character you worked on?
I really don’t have a favorite, I try to make every project a special one. It doesn’t always work, but I always try. I am still learning and still growing as an artist and a director, so my favorite I hope is somewhere in my future and not my past.. I always try to innovate and keep things fresh.
- Tell us more about the new short film projects?
Well I am presently working on “Snow Angel”, a winter story with twist. I am just about done with the animatic and hope to be in animation production by the first of the year (2016). I am writing the script for “Man Story”, another prehistoric adventure. I do love cavemen and women.
I am also working on a concept called “Scribbleman in Doodletown”, but it’s just beginning to take shape. I have also toyed with the idea of redoing “Lazar”, especially with all the things I know now…Just a thought.
- Where do you find inspiration for your animations and short films?
I wish I knew and I wish the voices in my head that present these stories to me would just shut up. I have always looked at creativity as a curse, I never wanted to lay sleepless thinking of cartoons in the middle of the night, but I do.
- Do you have any advice to young artists who would like to pitch their animation project or send it to festivals?
“Draw, Draw, Draw.” (Richard Williams main advice to me works here too). But I would say the most important need presently in 2d animation is innovation. 3d has always innovated, year after year, whether creating “clouds” or “fur” or more realism, they have continued to discover and grow. 2d stopped for a while, not knowing where to go. There are so many great tools now, innovate with them.
The other thing I would say is become a “filmmaker”, a storyteller, not just an “animator”. Many great animators are horrible storytellers, they think everything is movement, and arcs. They marvel at their great achievements in making things move beautifully but who cares if the film is terrible. I know that Beavis and Butthead is not great animation, but it is damn funny and the style of the art fits in the pants it is wearing. That is the goal.
Also check Richard Williams’ book – The Animator’s Survival Kit