Making a Mess

Remember the good old days when animation studios were rather scruffy work-places? I mean, the facility actually looked like a place people worked. I’m an old timer so I fondly remember visiting cartoon studios in Hollywood where drawings littered the floor and art work filled the walls. I’m not speaking of the corporate, contrived displays that fill the studio walls today where the art is simply a reproduction. No, I’m speaking of honest to goodness art that somebody actually painted or sketched. The work was there to inform or inspire the artists working on the project. What little art is actually visible today is hardly inspiring. It’s usually a series of bland digital reproductions. The work may be slick and polished but it lacks the creative spirit of the visuals I remember in days of yore.

I’m not joking when I say I’m often reminded of insurance companies and accounting firms when I visit cartoon studios today. Of course, production houses have taken their cue from the tech facilities of Silicon Valley where coders work in sterile cubes or labor in lack luster open spaces. It’s highly functional, I suppose but it sure ain’t fun. Of course, the cartoon business stopped being fun some time ago. Of course, technology plays a role in today’s brave new animation world. The production pipe line has been totally revamped by our new digital tools and the task of making an animated film is often accomplished a good deal faster. Sadly, the new process has made the job a lot less fun in my opinion - but, that’s just me. I still fondly remember the mad cap Bob Clampett Studio in Hollywood where animated filmmaking was a chaotic affair. I remember Warner Bros. (the real Warner Bros) where cartoon making was energized and creative. Of course, even the Saturday Morning crap we churned out at Hanna-Barbera in the old days was one helluva lot of fun. Our facilities were often tacky and our animation desks wobbled because they were so poorly constructed. But, the guys who labored on those crappy desks were the most brilliant in the business and they produced stellar work even though our product left a lot to be desired.

Of course, the classy studio over in Burbank managed to retain a degree of scruffiness even though the facility was considered one of the best in the business. The Walt Disney Studios still felt like a work place for artists and “suits” had best keep their distance. I look back on our second floor story rooms piled with boards and littered with sketches. This was a place you wanted to visit and you could almost feel the creative energy present in the room. There’s little of that in todays studios where computers and tablets have taken the place of sketch pads and pencils. It’s a good deal more efficient, of course. But, it sure ain’t much fun. And, wasn’t fun the reason most of us came into this business in the first place?

Before you consider me a hopeless Luddite left in the past, remember I made the jump to the new technology some time ago and probably did it before most of you. I brought my own computer into Disney back in the early eighties because I was unable to convince the clueless management that these digital tools were going to be the future. I have to remind people I’m not some old codger mired in the past, refusing to deal with the new technology. Even as I write this blog post I’m busily designing a web site and developing apps for mobile games. However, my desk is still littered with pencils, brushes and paint because I need these ancient tools to keep me honest. They keep me in touch with the reason I came into this crazy business in the first place. And, what is that, you ask? To make a mess, create cool stuff - and have a helluva lot of fun.

 Working on an animated cartoon feature film in Santa Monica. Yes, this old guy actually knows how to use a computer.

Working on an animated cartoon feature film in Santa Monica. Yes, this old guy actually knows how to use a computer.