Animation in Paradise

Picture this. You wake up on a beautiful island with a lush topography of mountains, rainforests and reef-lined beaches. Before heading to your drawing board in a new animation studio, you’ll go for a quick run down the beach or maybe try out that new surfboard. Whatever your choice, you’re lucky enough to work on a Caribbean island that is famed as the birthplace of reggae music as well as the destination of choice for many well-heeled vacationers. Yeah, man, where you tink we are? You’re in Jamaica, my friend.

Back in the eighties, my partner, Leo Sullivan and I produced television commercials for the Caribbean television market. Naturally, this was pretty much a “black market” or perhaps I should say, a market for people of color. There were many advantages of working in this market. Not the least of which was the immediate loss of a label that plagued us for years. In Jamaica we were no longer, “black producers.” Finally, we were simply known as producers from America. You’ll never know how much I hated that “black label” we wore for many years. In a country comprised of people of color there was no need to identify us as, “black.” My partner and I were simply, people. Finally the color of our skin meant absolutely nothing. This is something white people seldom think about because they don’t have to. One of the major perks of being white is, nobody notices or cares.

Let’s get back to that animation studio I mentioned earlier. Did you know that my partner and myself had plans for an animation production facility in Kingston Jamaica? That’s correct. Leo had already produced a number animated commercials for the Caribbean market. Naturally, because there was no animation facility in Jamaica the production had to be completed in Hollywood. In time, Leo partnered with a Jamaican businessman who had a plan to raise government money to fund a Jamaican cartoon studio. Leo and I would gather a group of animation professionals who would train and mentor our young group of Kingston artists. It was a perfect plan because stateside producers were continually looking for new production facilities around the world to handle their ever increasing production load. When informed we were launching a new cartoon studio in Jamaica we immediately had production deals offered to us. Of course, it was hardly difficult to find animators willing to relocate to Jamaica for a few months. The thought of being paid to work on a tropical island in the Caribbean didn’t sound like an ordeal. Before we knew it, a number of California animators were ready to go.

One particular trip to Jamaica was strictly for training. We had already selected a number of young men and women eager for a shot at American animation and we began our classes at a local Kingston art college. The enthusiastic young artists were happy to put in long hours in order to perfect their craft. After all, a good paying job was in the offing. I remember one day feeling rather light-headed because of the island heat. I guess I was still a California boy not used to the humid climate of the Caribbean. However, once I began to hydrate myself thoroughly I was back in action again. I was impress by the hard work of the young men and women in my class. I was convinced our island animation studio would be up and running in the next few weeks. Plus, our American supervisors were getting their passports ready for their upcoming trip to Kingston Jamaica.

Like all stories this one doesn’t necessarily have a happy ending. The Jamaican government failed to provide funding for the new Caribbean studio and without government backing the new Jamaican studio never got off the ground. We alerted our pals in California that the dream had ended before it began. Years passed and I was told that a handful of our young trainees had made their way to America, Europe and the UK where they were able to find jobs in the cartoon business. However, our Caribbean dream was never realized and animation professionals never got to create their own special magic while working on a tropical island in the Caribbean.

We were producing animated television commercials in Kingston Jamaica back in the eighties. Was it really like this? Yeah, Mon!

We were producing animated television commercials in Kingston Jamaica back in the eighties. Was it really like this? Yeah, Mon!