Dale and Robin Hood

I’ll be speaking at California Institure of the Arts this evening. I’ll be joining my old pal, Dale Baer in the classroom. In case you don’t know this amazing Disney animator, I can tell you that he began his Disney career in the seventies and in the years that followed, Dale managed to become an exceptional animator. When I returned to Walt Disney Animation in the early seventies I shared an office with Dale. He was a kid with long hair and full of ambition. Though new to Disney, he had finally been accepted into Disney’s animation training program and was making great progess. By the time I arrived, Dale was already an animator on the current feature film in production. That film, in case you’re wondering, was “Robin Hood.” I would be doing clean-up work on the film even though I had returned to Disney hoping for a shot at animation. Alas, this 38 year old was simply too damn old to be accepted into Disney’s animation training program. It doesn’t make a lot of sense, I know. But, without Walt, few things at the seventies Disney Studio made sense.

As I’ve often said, had the Disney Company not shut down traditional hand drawn animation, Disney’s hallowed “Nine Old Men” would have had some serious competition. Think I’m joking? I can honestly say that the new generation of animation professionals at the Disney Company was pushing animation to a whole new level. Working from the foundation established by the Disney Masters, these new, young animators were just hitting their stride. Given a few more years, they could have eventually achieved the level of Disney’s Masters. A few more years - they might have even surpassed it. We’ll never know that, of course. The company began by marginalizing hand drawn animation before completely destroying it. Naturally, they knew what they were doing. Some might say that Disney traditional hand drawn animation simply died on its own. Perhaps that’s true. However, I’m inclined to think that it wasn’t “Brutus” acting alone. There were many others wielding daggers when it was time for the “assasination.”

In time, Dale Baer like many of his Disney colleagues learned to manipulate the cyper puppet and he did it quite well. If you’ll pardon me for saying so, I’d prefer watching Dale’s hand drawn animation any day over his work on what I often call, “the digital puppet show.” Perhaps we’ll talk a bit about this tonight. I’ll give fair warning. This animation old timer is pretty outspoken and opinionated. Of course, you already knew that, didn’t you?

Back in the seventies, Dale Baer and I worked on this Disney feature film. People seem to like the film despite its lackluster story. I had left story for a shot at animation. Clearly, that was a mistake.

Back in the seventies, Dale Baer and I worked on this Disney feature film. People seem to like the film despite its lackluster story. I had left story for a shot at animation. Clearly, that was a mistake.

Vertigo

What does this movie poster have to do with animation, you ask? Perhaps more than you realize. If you’re a film buff you’ll surely recognize this Saul Bass one sheet. It was first released in 1957 while we were hard at work on another film classic. That movie was Walt Disney’s “Sleeping Beauty.”

I snapped this photograph at USC’s Film School in Los Angeles a few months ago. As I sat typing away on my laptop, I looked up to see the iconic film poster hanging on the wall. Better yet, it was even autographed by film actress, Kim Novak. The director of course was the amazing Alfred Hitchcock. Miss Novak appeared in the Alfred Hitchcock motion picture and it was one of her better performances. Of course, I’m inclined to believe a lot of that was because of Hitchcock’s direction. Needless to say, this remarkable motion picture is one of my favorites and has been ever since I saw it in the theaters back in the fifties. The Walt Disney Studio had its share of Hitchcock fans. As you can imagine, the portly film maker was actually one of us. We admired his art direction and the fact that he meticulously storyboarded his films much the same way we did ours. Many of us Disney kids studied Hitchcock’s movies and even ran his feature films in sweatboxes during our lunch hour. In the sixties, the Master of Suspense even called on the talents of Disney’s special effects wizard, Ub Iwerks to help solve visual effects composting issues when he was directing, “The Birds.” If I recall correctly, some of the filming was done here on the Walt Disney Studio lot using Walt’s Sodium Matte Process which at the time was a state of the art special effects technique. As expected, Walt Disney was ahead of the rest of Hollywood.

I don’t know if “Hitch” ever visited the Walt Disney studio lot, but I heard he was a fan of Walt’s movies. I’m not surprised. The forest sequence in “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs” sure scared the hell out of me when I was a kid. I remember the scary sequence had me practically hiding under the theater seats. Alfred Hitchcock would have been proud to include Walt Disney as a filmmaker who could send chills up your spine as well as make you laugh.

This Alfred Hitchcock film was a favorite of us Disney geeks back in the fifties. The master of suspense admired Walt Disney and we considered "Hitch" one of us.

This Alfred Hitchcock film was a favorite of us Disney geeks back in the fifties. The master of suspense admired Walt Disney and we considered "Hitch" one of us.




The Real Deal

Okay, here’s how it all began. John Cawley had the crazy notion of publishing a book of my animation gag cartoons. Naturally, these were jokes never meant to be published. It was simply the silly stuff animation artists had been doing for decades. Cartoonists, being cartoonist always enjoyed mocking each other. On occasion, even the studio management was up for grabs and jokes and gags were drawn about the boss as well.

Once again, these were “insider gags.” Jokes rarely seen by civilians. Only animation employees were even aware of these goofy cartoons that adorned the walls and cubicles of the cartoon makers. Cawley gathered up a pile of my gags which eventually became the published book, “Faster, Cheaper.” It was a look inside an animation studio and the wacky process of making a cartoon. I think John printed around a thousand copies which at the time was a very big deal. Surprisingly, the goofy book seemed to find an audience and people began to tell me how much they enjoy my book of wacky cartoons about the animation business.

Some years later, I found myself with another stack of cartoon gags. Gags from various studios that had the courage to employ me. The goofy sketches came from Disney, Hanna-Barbera and Pixar and covered a couple of decades of cartoon making. Having already published a book with the title of “Faster, Cheaper,” I decided to call this sequel, “Son of Faster, Cheaper.” Since the book was self published there was never an attempt at properly marketing the book. Word of its existance spread simply by word of mouth. Remember the the Internet was still taking baby steps and few people were even on it in those days. Once again, we had a very limited print run and when the books were gone - they were gone.

Thanks to Bob McLain and Theme Park Press my crazy cartoon book has been given a new life. This time, it’s truly a published book and it’s on sale now. Remember, these goofy gags were drawn a couple of decades ago but it seems the gags still resonate with people. Especially those who make their living in the animation business. If you’ve ever wanted to know what it was like to work at the Walt Disney Company back when the Old Maestro walked the hallways you might want to check out this book. The same would apply to Bill Hanna and Joe Barbera, the guys who ruled Saturday Morning Television in the sixties and seventies. Finally, you’ll get some of the spirit of Pixar Animation Studios where they continually tell you what fun it is to work in the magical cartoon business. However, the real magic, rather than the fabricated image involves working your butt off. When drawing gags I’ve never pulled any punches. They’re often drawn in the moment when the ideas are fresh and exploding in my head. If you want the real deal instead of corporate spin. If you want complete honesty instead of executive blather check out “Son of Faster, Cheaper.” You’ll see the cartoon business the way it truly is.

Skip the corporate spin. I'll tell you the truth about the cartoon business whether you like it or not.

Skip the corporate spin. I'll tell you the truth about the cartoon business whether you like it or not.

The Hollywood Bad Boy

This post may seem a little bit odd, but trust me, there is a Disney connection. When you work in the entertainment industry you’re sure to cross paths with a few celebrities. I’ve had more than my share. Here’s one you might find interesting. for a number of years, I’ve had this odd relationship with Hollywood bad-boy, Dennis Hopper. No, It’s not what you think. The former star of teen age rebel movies and counter culture films of the sixties eventually grew into a grizzled old timer and amazingly enough he managed to stick around for quite a few years. Dennis Hopper continued to appear in films and television commercials with his usual roguish charm.  However, back in the fifties Dennis Hopper and I were just young kids having arrived in Hollywood to begin our careers in the film business. Hopper was a contract player at Warner Bros. and I was a young animation apprentice at the Walt Disney Studio. If you weren’t around during those days you probably wouldn’t know how it felt to be a kid in this crazy business. Because we were all pretty much the same age I truly identified with talented young kids like James Dean, Sal Mineo, Natalie Wood, Nick Adams and Dennis Hopper. Warner Bros. had just released, “Rebel Without a Cause,” and James Dean was quickly becoming a teen idol. However, young Dean seemed uncomfortable with the  “movie star” label and I still remember the Burbank apartment where the reclusive actor lived during his early days in movie biz.

After James Dean’s tragic death in 1955, the young group of actors continued with their careers. Yet, it would appear that their colleague’s early demise would eventually haunt their lives as well. In the years that followed, each of them died tragically - and all of them died young. Even lesser known actors who had appeared in the fifties teen movies would have their careers cut short as well. Talented actors such as Tom Pittman and Corey Allen, the tough kid who fought Dean with a switchblade in Rebel Without a Cause, would meet an early end. It almost makes you wonder if these kids were somehow under a Hollywood curse. All were young and showed so much potential. Now, all were gone. All, except for Dennis Hopper.

I continued to follow the career of Dennis Hopper as we moved through our film careers. It’s almost as if our careers though very different, were somehow linked together. Back in the fifties, I lived in Los Angeles and I had to drive over Barham Blvd to the Disney Studios in Burbank. I assumed Dennis Hopper must have lived in Hollywood because he made the drive over the hill as well. I still remember Hopper driving his little sports car as we moved ever so slowly in the thick morning traffic. Since we made this trek day after day, Dennis Hopper would sometimes glance over at me as if he was thinking, “There’s that guy again!”

The sixties ushered in the Counter Culture and films like “Easy Rider” grabbed the attention of the moviegoing public. The teen rebels of the fifties may have been gone but protesting was just beginning. “Easy Rider” became a Hippie anthem as Peter Fonda, Jack Nicholson and Dennis Hopper stormed their choppers across America changing our perceptions forever.    Dennis Hopper continued to work and even garnered glowing reviews from critics on occasion. Hopper seemed to enjoy playing weirdos and his turn in David Lynch’s “Blue Velvet” still makes my skin crawl.

By the early eighties, I was back working at Walt Disney and the studio had a new science fiction movie in production. The time travel special effects epic would take place in a local high school where a group of students would battle monsters, mutants and a T-Rex on the campus grounds. Their science instructor was a slightly spaced out former Hippie played by - you guessed it - Dennis Hopper. The writer/director, Jonathan Betuel must have had a sense of humor when casting Hopper as the burnout sixties science instructor, Bob Roberts. The freaky teacher even drove a hippie van with a peace symbol emblazoned on the side. Once again our paths had crossed and I headed out to stage three on the Walt Disney studio lot to see Dennis Hopper in action. Not surprisingly, Hopper glared at me and I was sure he was thinking, “There’s that guy again!”

With the passing of years, Dennis Hopper and I were soon old guys in our seventies. I’ve had the opportunity to meet a lot of actors in my career, yet I’ve never met Dennis Hopper. While I’ve seen him around town and on movie sets, I’m reluctant to engage the actor in conversation. As much as I admire Hopper as an actor, I’d hate to be seen as another annoying fan. Many of our colleagues have since passed on, yet Dennis Hopper and I continued to practice our craft. Both of us looked back on a long film career even though they had little in common. Yet, I still remember the fifties and the early morning drive over Barham Boulevard. A time when two kids in their twenties chased the perennial California dream. We knew if we worked long enough and hard enough we just might make it big in Hollywood. Though Dennis Hopper could be described as the “weirdest of weirdos” he’s always been kind of a hero to me. With his passing, Hopper will now become a Hollywood icon. Who can forget the image of Dennis Hopper, Jack Nicholson and Peter Fonda on their choppers with their long hair flowing in the wind. Dennis Hopper’s bold, brash motion picture forever changed Hollywood and a good portion of America as well.

Of course, our lives couldn’t have been more different. While Dennis Hopper’s journey was often self-destructive - marred by drugs and alcohol, I remained at my drawing board drawing cute princesses and bunny rabbits. When I received word that Dennis Hopper had suddenly passed away I realized I hadn’t even finished the piece I was writing on the actor. I had put the story aside because I didn’t have an ending. Sadly, now I do.

Each day Dennis Hopper and I drove over Barham Blvd to Burbank. Each headed to  our respective jobs in the wacky movie business.

Each day Dennis Hopper and I drove over Barham Blvd to Burbank. Each headed to  our respective jobs in the wacky movie business.