The animated art world has a wide open door for new artists and new ideas. Oklahoma or San Francisco, art school or commercial design, whatever an artists’ origins are, the key to the studio comes by getting the portfolio on the right desk at the right time.
“We always are looking for new talent and reviewing portfolios,” says a Warner Bros. executive. The company considers how the artist can render classic characters and also looks for original design, especially “whatever they have that would apply to the project we’re hiring for. If we’re hiring for ‘Batman,’ it doesn’t really matter if you can draw Bugs Bunny.”
At Hanna-Barbera, the introduction of a shorts program for the Cartoon Network has put a new spin on how the studio looks at animators.
“In the traditional sense of development, we make one or two go decisions a year, if we’re lucky,” says H-B prexy Fred Seibert. Maybe one in a hundred good ideas made the air. “Now, we have to say ‘go’ to 48 things in two years.”
Hanna-Barbera has recruited some people from traditional sources, such as agents and competing animation houses.
The problem, says Jeff Holder, VP for development and programming, is that “most of the people we are talking about, who are animators, who really want to do funny cartoons, aren’t working in those places. We’ve had to go beating the bushes.”
Larry Huber, supervising producer, talks of one in particular. “I had a guy send me a portfolio cold from Oklahoma,” Huber recalls. “It started off by saying: ‘Can you help me? I’m a highly talented animator trapped in the body of an Okie.”
“I went on to read the cover letter, and it was very funny. I said this guy’s got a witty sense of humor. I’ll look at the artwork.”
Next month, an animator from Oklahoma will show his film at Hanna-Barbera’s L.A. studios.
The phone at Warner Bros. is constantly ringing with animators wanting to get in the door at the studio.
Many of the people Warners brings on have art schooling, but not necessarily in cartoons. One artist for “Batman” had had experience in car design. He wound up drawing not the Batmobile, but backgrounds.
The company also looks for animation experience, of course, but that can be no more extensive than a successful student film.
It’s the art-school animation connection that eventually led to a new series that will enter ABC’s Saturday morning block this fall, the stop-motion project “Bump in the Night.” ABC has put in a two-season order for 26 episodes.
Danger Prods., based in San Francisco, is co-producing “Bump” along with a unit of ABC, Green Grass Prods.
The talents behind Danger — David Bleiman, president, and Ken Pontac, whose business card calls him “the big cheese”– are boyhood pals who went to art school together.
Most recently, they designed a videogame, “Clay Fighter,” for Nintendo, using images based on clay figures. It puts a twist on combat games: No blood, no guts , just goo.
With that and some animated commercial graphics to back them, the partners went to Jennie Trias, president of ABC children’s entertainment, to sell her on the idea of a kid’s show.
The itch turned into “Bump,” which will be created using armature puppets with clay thrown in for effects.
The apparent influence of Tim Burton’s stop-motion feature “The Nightmare Before Christmas” is no coincidence — Pontac says a number of “Nightmare” veterans are working on “Bump.”
Another Bay Area toonist, Joe Murray, got his start with a student film. But his big break came when he ran out of money.
Murray works with Nickelodeon’s Games Animation in L.A. to produce “Rocko’s Modern Life,” the newest Nicktoon, which started in the fall. Nick already has signed Murray to do 26 episodes beyond the original 13.
Murray had been a political cartoonist since his teens and was running a commerical art studio when he signed up for an animation course “as a hobby,” he says.
His student project, “The Chore,” runs 2 1/2 minutes and follows the trials of a guy trying to put out the cat.
The class instructor urged Murray to put the film out on the festival circuit. It eventually won Murray a student award from the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences.
On his second independent project, “My Dog Zero,” Murray was shopping the pencil-test for money to complete the animation.
He had done work for Nickelodeon’s sister, MTV, and Nick had aired “The Chore.” So it was natural he would regard Nick as a possible source of support.
Linda Simensky, who is in charge of development for Nick, got back to Murray. She said she wanted to talk over an idea.
“After we got the call, we were sitting around,” Murray recalls, “asking ourselves, ‘What does she want us to do? Create a series?”‘ It was intended as a joke.
That’s how Rocko got started.
“We’re really interested in the independent community because that’s where you find artists who focus on their own particular style of art,” says Mary Harrington, Nickelodeon’s head of animation.
Or as she suggests later in the conversation: “Independent animators create characters that are very close to their hearts. I guess the characters are actually them.”
She relates a story about Jim Jenkins, the creator of “Doug” for Nickelodeon. In the course of a story meeting, she commented: “We don’t think that this would work. I don’t think Doug would make that choice.”
Jenkins, she says, protested, “But it really happened that way.”