I think the memorable line is from the movie, “The Shape of Water.” If I had known I would live so long I would have taken better care of my teeth and had more sex. Anyway, it’s something like that. So, here I am at the ripe old age of 82 zipping around the country teaching classes and meeting people. In the past year or so this has become routine and travel has become part of my life. These days I find myself walking off and on jetliners like an older, blacker version of Casey Neistat. Of course, this late in life activity was hardly expected. While I always feared my animation career would slam to a screeching halt one day I never anticipated this new chapter in my life. It would appear the older I become the busier I seem to get. Who knew?
My recent high profile can be blamed on a documentary motion picture that bears my name. When I gave the young filmmakers permission to document my life and career I honestly never anticipated the outcome. Documentaries hardly ever burn up the silver screen and most are simply forgotten. When our producers decided to make an Oscar run when the movie was released, I thought they were being overly optimistic. Of course, audiences did resonate with the film in a way that was totally unexpected and I confess I was totally surprised at the way people, both young and old embraced this modest little film. While we hardly made any headway at the Motion Picture Academy it was satisfying to know we had made a movie that audiences truly enjoyed. As an old filmmaker myself, I can’t think of a better compliment.
Because of Michael Fiore and Erik Sharkey I found my life had totally changed. The New York City filmmakers were the guys I entrusted with my life and of course they did me proud. Who knew on that fateful day three years ago when I entered the halls of the San Diego Convention Center with my pal, Rick Law, things would never be the same. We were there to congratulate the celebrated poster artist, Drew Struzan on the completion of his documentary. When director, Erik Sharkey wondered about his next project, Rick Law was quick to speak up. “Here’s your next documentary right here,” he replied, pointing to me. Naturally, my immediate reaction was to simply roll my eyes and think, “Yeah, right!” Who the hell would want to watch a documentary about my life? It so happened, a few people wanted to do just that. In the years that followed, we zipped across the country screening our little film to mostly sold out houses. Even after the movie made its move to the small screen courtesy of Netflix, the film continued to play for theatrical audiences across the country. Of course, if the filmmakers were present to give a post screening Q&A we were usually guaranteed a full house. Yet, something else grew out of these screenings. Because I usually answered questions from eager students concerning the animation business and the Walt Disney Studio in particular, I began doing a series of lectures on animation. Suddenly, I found myself in demand to deliver what eventually became known as, my Master Class in Animation.
This latest trip across the country sent me to the campus of Ohio State University where I had the opportunity to speak with an enthusiastic group of young students. While travel can be a hassle, I’ve never had a poor reception on these trips and I’ve found the young people full of interest and ambition. It’s an honor to share my knowledge and experience with these young men and women who will one day have the responsibility of running the country and the world. I have no fear. We’re in good hands, and I mean that sincerely. After Ohio, it was on to New York City for a session with producer and directors, Michael and Erik. In Brooklyn, we met this amazing young man who regarded me as one of his heroes. This kid wants to be an animator and filmmaker and he shared his sketchbook with me. Paying this old timer the ultimate compliment, he even sported a cool sweater and a fedora like the one I wear. Few things in life give you the kind of satisfaction I garnered that evening. When a young person chooses you to emulate there is nothing more satisfying and heartwarming. It makes every choice you made during your lifetime seem more meaningful and you feel a special mixture of pride and humility.
After a delightful evening in Brooklyn it was time to head back to our hotel and prepare for our next east coast jaunt south to Jacksonville Florida. It would only be a two hour flight but it would take us from chilly weather in New York to a sudden summertime in Florida. Off with the winter clothes and time to enjoy the warm embrace of summer in Jacksonville. It’s another screening of “Animated Life” followed by my Master Class in Animation. I’ll tell you all about it next time.