The year is drawing to a close and the storyline in Scooter and Ferret is referencing that old Rankin-Bass annual staple, Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer. I’m going to tell a short story that keeps that cartoon very personal for me.
My first job was a perma-lance gig with Primal Screen Studios. The Cartoon Network was keeping them busy with a lot of commercials, and that meant a group of young artists was always on hand. But the space at the time either didn’t allow for real desks to be installed for the non-staff, or the non-staff couldn’t be bothered with. So a bunch of desks were pushed together and the artists would try to make some part of that space their own. Since we were never sure when we would be working, we could never quite be sure when we might come back and find our paper trays missing, our pencils moved around, or heaven forbid, someone else sitting in our spot. We were acutely aware of our non-status and the transient nature of our existence.
That awareness gave us a sense of comraderie. The area had been dubbed “Freelance Island” before I was even hired on. Some of the artists that served with me included Chris Purdin (Will Vinton), Brian De Tagyos, Claude Edwards (Primal Screen), Brian Ludwick (University of Indiana), Todd Wahnish, John Henshaw and a series of one hit wonders. Brian D. immortalized Freelance Island by comparing it to the Island of Misfit Toys and drawing each of us as one of the toys. I’m happy to say I was the doll.
It’s been three years since I left Atlanta behind, and it feels as if I left an entirely different way of living. The Atlanta animation community has a curious quirk; it’s primarily made up of men in their late 30s/early 40s who have an obsession with the 1950s and 60s. And old friend use to theorize that we become obsessed with the generation of the decade in which we were born; either he’s incorrect or Generation X doesn’t think the 70s are interesting enough to obesess over.
A couple of relevant examples: Alton Brown is classic Atlanta, and if you watch his show often enough you’ll see plenty of retro dishes. And then there’s the Starlight Drive-in. Every summer they host B science fiction double features, and then ramp up the festivities with surfing bands (who play on the roof of the snack bar) and tiki merchandise. People arrive in Betty Page haircuts and mopeds to watch the show, and some of them seem a lot more interested in being part of the image than watching the movie.
But the heart of retro Atlanta for them who cartoon is the annual Clay Croker Halloween party. Clay is the voice of Zorak and one of the creators behind Space Ghost: Coast to Coast. He’s also a collector of all kinds of oddities, including film reels and Godzilla models, and his home is a monument to the mid-century. When one of Atlanta’s drive-ins closed down he bought the leftovers, and on Halloween he plays monster movies on a backyard screen while serving popcorn from a tiki bar. Who knows if the parties are still going on, but when they were it was the place to see every animator in town, young and old, in every medium, even when they weren’t getting along. They would pass in and out, eat hot dogs and cheer on the cartoons, Japanese serials and space schlock flickering on the screen. There was always a crisp bite in the air, there was always plenty to eat, there were always dramatic reunions before sober mornings brought back the drama. He would probably laugh if he ever found out how much I looked forward to those parties.
As Halloween rolls around again, remembering those days got me thinking about doing something similar on a tiny scale. Too bad I won’t have the tiki torches, but at least I can make hot dogs.
It’s a bizarre day indeed when the Disney 2003 Annual Report arrives in the mail and the Mickey on the cover has an enormous inflated head. We are getting our report late, it’s true, it’s been sitting around for two months in Atlanta with Scott’s parents.
Now Mickey has gone through some legitimate design changes. But the transition of Mickey into 3-D has been a bumpy ride, with lots of unintentional off-model mishaps. This article from VFX is a must-see for the pictures alone. One animator’s comment that the 3-D versions of the characters “look like the huge, rigid models of Disney characters that used to be posed up by the ceilings of Disney Stores” is right on the mark.