Thursday, February 11, 2010

My Beautiful Career Installment 11

In the fall of ’86.I left D.I.C., moving to Kushner-Locke where I worked on “Spiral Zone”. D.I.C. wouldn’t give me a raise to $850 a week. Kushner-Locke was paying the amazing-for-the-time sum of $1300, but they wanted half an episode in 2 weeks. The director, Warren Greenwood, let us work at home if we wanted. I got into the bad habit of procrastinating most of week 1, getting into gear in week 2, and doing the bulk of the board in the last 2 days. I’d start in Sunday morning and work around the clock without sleeping to meet the late Monday afternoon deadline. I liked it in a lot of ways; the work would flow from my pencil, as Alex Toth once said, “like water”.

However, it ended up giving me carpal tunnel syndrome at the age of 27, and I’ve been struggling with the condition ever since. Typically, my hand would start to bug me in the last couple of hours before deadline. On that fateful Monday morning in the spring of ’87, my hand started to hurt around 8:00 am. By the time I handed in at 5:00pm, I could barely hold a pencil, and I didn’t snap back the next day. I had to go on Disability, in fact, unable to work for over 2 months. I wasn’t fully recovered by the time I started at Bakshi Productions on the first season of “Mighty Mouse”.

Since then, I’ve had to gradually change my working style. I can no longer afford to blow off when uninspired, since I know I won’t be able to make it up on the back end. I have to put in the pencil mileage, 8 hours a day, whether I like it or not, whether I think it’s good or not. Actually, it’s turned out pretty well; I’ve done most of my best work since then. What I hate at the time turns out to be mostly usable in retrospect.

Following the advice of a chiropractor, I got a timer; every 20 minutes I would stop and do some form of exercise or stretch. This keeps me functioning. I also avoid doing free-lance while I have a day job. I use my spare time to do my own projects; when I do overtime freelance I risk relapsing my hands. It seems weird, by I’m certain there’s a psychological component to over-use syndrome, at least for me.

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Thursday, January 28, 2010

My Beautiful Career, Installment 8

Kevin Altieri

Eddie Fitzgerald

Storyboard Panel From Kid Video

I fell in with fellow board artists Eddie Fitzgerald and Kevin Altieri. Before meeting them, I’d taken it as a given that American TV animation had to suck. They were adamant that there was no reason why it couldn’t be as cool as the classic WB stuff (Eddie) or the anime starting to emerge from Japan (Kevin). I caught their fire; why SHOULDN’T American animation be good? It wasn’t a budget problem; anime demonstrated that one could do amazing things on micro-budgets. It was a mind-set issue; one had to think outside the box, get past network executives and Standards and Practices. We were warriors fighting the animation good fight, like members of a WW2 bomb-crew as we worked for Richard Raynis’ unit, producing “Kid Video” and “The Real Ghostbusters”.

I also continued to work on “Rainbow Brite”, “The Littles”, “Pole Position”, “Robotman”, “Jayce and the Wheel Warriors”, “Dennis the Menace”, and “COPS”, among other projects.

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Monday, January 25, 2010

My Beautiful Career Installment 7

With trepidation, I left my job at Norton Simon. I’d been afraid to quit previously, and averaged 4 hours of sleep per night for the past 2 months. Also, my relationship with Denys was on the skids. I broke up with him in October, right after my father died of his third heart attack. I moved to Silverlake, and my life truly began.

At D.I.C., I realized I could DO this, that I actually had the stuff to make it as a cartoonist. During my 8-month layoff, I’d come to doubt it. One of my fellow new-hirees at Ruby-Spears was a character designer the crew nicknamed “Scruffy” behind his back; he was clearly self-deluded about his abilities as an artist and the question was why he got hired in the first place. Was I self-deluded like Scruffy? What was MY secret nickname? My self-esteem was so low that, at D.I.C., when anyone complemented my boards, I wondered if they were playing a game on me.

I became Bernard’s fair-haired boy; he was my mentor. He saved my life, even if he didn’t know it.

I also acquired a work ethic; eight months of no work put the fear of God in me. Before the layoff, I would step away from projects when I ran up against something I didn’t know how to draw. It took me forever to accomplish anything. Now my attitude was, “Tough, draw it anyway”. I worked 60-hour weeks, grateful for the chance to prove myself.

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Thursday, January 21, 2010

My Beautiful Career Installment 6

I finally got a freelance board in April ’84, from D.I.C., on the “Rainbow Brite” TV show. D.I.C. was the first American animation studio to use Japanese animation; it was a 3-way partnership between American, French and Japanese corporate interests. My director was Bernard Deyries, part of the French contingent. When I showed him my roughs, he asked if I wanted to do the changes. I said “yes”; what I really meant was, “YES, PLEASE, THANK YOU!” I’d been working blind at Ruby-Spears and Hanna-Barbera, receiving no instruction or feedback beyond, “long shot-medium shot-close up”, “don’t jump cut” and “don’t flop screen direction”.

Bernard changed 2/3rds of my first board, mostly to play out the action, accentuate the mood, and make it more cinematic in general. I’d been trained in the flat, left-to-right H&B style, and indoctrinated that the script was sacred. I objected, “It wasn’t that way in the script”. “But is this not bett-air?” he rejoined.

The light went on in my head. “Wow—I get to actually make this good”. My dawning awareness seemed to work for Bernard as well; he only changed a quarter of my second board, and then offered me a staff position.

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