Sunday, April 5, 2015

Finding a home in Fantasia...part three

Lesson learned from football...have a plan...

At Clifton Jr. High, art was starting to be a part of my identity. I joined the art club and got to draw cartoons for the sport page in the Cliftonian, the school yearbook.

(Pages from my Jr. High school yearbook.)

I played on the flag football team. We played for the district championship in the Pee Wee division.
 A picture was taken of the team after the game.

From the look on our faces, you can see we lost the game.  My  frown is not because we lost the game, the sour expression is because I did not play. Not one minute. Wasn't late, didn't miss practice, not a discipline problem...just not good enough.

(That's me #14 scowl and all...)
Like my desire to play little league baseball years before, my goal was to play football in high school. How could I play tackle football at the high school level if I could not even compete in flag football in Jr. High?

My Plan - October 22, 1963...

 I determined or it was determined for me by coach Wilbur Brown, that I did not possess the skills to play football. I needed a plan to get stronger and faster.
 My little mind went to work formulating a strategy.
Like a mad scientist, I documented these steps in a 3"x 4 1/2" memo pad what I must do.

 On the pages I outlined a regimen of jogging around the block,  jumping jacks and stretching a bicycle inner tube (in place of weights/barbells). On the seven pages I drew pictures of the exercises to be done and signed it, binding me to my own pact.

1967 football season...

I faithfully followed this routine.

In high school a weight room took the place of an inner tube and joining the track team helped me be a faster runner.

I've always liked this photo, it has the big "M" over my left shoulder. The symbol of my hometown, Monrovia, the Gem of the Foothills.

Running hurdles gave me my first introduction to one of the building blocks of my career in  animation. 

Coach Dink Walker explained to me the difference between jumping over a hurdle and mechanics of hurdling. Being only 5'-9" it was important that I have proper form going over the hurdles.

On the dirt track the coach had me to sweep in front of each hurdle with a broom. Then...
'Boom' went his practice pistol as I whizzed over the obstacles.

In the dirt were my footprints. He pointed out my big toe. It was pointed at a 45 degree angle towards the sideline. If the toe is going in that direction, the body is also. Both should be pointed straight toward the finish line. Between each hurdle the body would have to compensate and get back to running straight down the track. Each time that happened, fractions of a second were added to the final time.

 I would learn years later this study of the body in motion would be an important link in animation known as action analysis and the subject of one of the chapters in my book, Quick Sketching with Ron Husband.

The results of my vow of '63?

My senior season ('67) at Monrovia High I was co-captain of the team...

 Then, Most Valuable Player, All-League and I made the San Gabriel Valley All-star team.

I had had a plan for athletics, but none for my talent in art.

In high school...
 Art had been an on and off affair for me.

Like most budding artists I doodled on my homework assignments.


  My artistic talent came so naturally for me that I took it for granted, not appreciating nor utilizing it.
I did not take art as a freshman. My sophomore year the teacher let me take the second year class, though I was supposed to take the freshman class.

All the students took turns modeling for the others to draw.
(My turn to model.)
  Too long a story to tell but half way through my junior year I was kicked out of art class (deservedly).

  Prior to being kicked out of the class, a pen and ink piece of mine was entered in the Scholastic Art Awards project sponsored by Scholastic Magazine.

150,000 entries were narrowed down to 7,500 regional finalists and sent to New York for national judging. I was one of 412 award winners.

  The award came to the school and a publicity photo was taken by the local paper, The Daily News Post , of me, principal Leonard Morris and art teacher Ms. Dorothy Clemmons silently smiling.  I say silently because she never spoke to me after booting me out of her art class and this occasion was no exception.

(Ms Clemmons, me and principal Leonard Morris-another pen and ink piece of mine stood in for the award winning artwork. It was still on display at the Union Carbide Exhibition Hall in New York.) 

   I did not take art my senior year- all art classes were taught by Ms Clemmons...and she was through with me:-)

  Yet, that year and a half in Ms Clemmons art classes were to have a monumental effect on the rest of my life. She encouraged her students to carry a sketch book and chronicle their experiences in pen/pencil. I have no idea how many took up her challenge, but I sure did.

I had been drawing sporadically in sketch books long before this time (today I have sketch books dated 1962). Her challenge was to sketch constantly. Fill one up with sketches and immediately start on another. How else are you going to sharpen your talent as an artist?

 This habit picked up in a high school art class has made me a better artist. Sharpening my skills in observing and capturing the actions of both human and animals in motion. It has enhanced my illustration work by bringing a feel of movement and design to the projects.

 I was hired by the Walt Disney Studios Feature Animation department not because I knew anything about animation, but because I understood movement and could capture those actions on paper. My initial interview with the studio consisted of presenting a portfolio of finished art samples. They  wanted to see 'quick sketches' of which I had many filled books by this time. Seeing my sketches, I was hired which led to a thirty eight year career with the studio.

 This passion of mine also served as the genesis of a book about what to look for in subject matter and how to sketch with a purpose.  Though she no longer lives, Ms. Dorothy Clemmon's memory influences each page of my sketch books.

(Last game of the season my senior year in high school.)
  On the bus home from the last football game of the season I remember thinking, "this would be the last time I would have a football uniform on".

I had dreams of going to an art school but no plan on how to get there.

Stay with me, I'm still trying to explain how I got on the cover of the UNLV Magazine:-)

to be continued...

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Finding a home in Fantasia...part two

"It is a common mistake to look at someones career from the outside and assume from its apparent success that it was a path paved with ease and direction from the beginning."  
                                                                                                                                            - Jai Husband

Spring 1997...

  A lesson learned from many years ago during Little League baseball: Don't give up...

  Often times where we end up is a result of decisions we make along the journey...How I ended up on the cover of the UNLV Magazine is in part because of a decision made as a ten year old. The decision to not give up on my dream, to continue along the journey, even though it was not what I first envisioned.

  At 10 years of age my desire was to play little league baseball. Actually it started a year earlier. You had to be ten to play little league. My 9th summer I played minor league at the local Recreation Park. For a dollar we got a hat, the color of the team you were on. Games were played with a rubber coated ball, not the rawhide balls the 'real' little league used or the full uniforms they wore. All the more reason to long for next year when I would be 'of age'

Spring of 1960...

Tryouts for Monrovia Youth Baseball League were all the buzz at Santa Fe elementary school in Monrovia, CA. where I attended. You were not assigned to a team, you had to 'try out'. Show the coaches what you had to offer athletically. Can he run, hit and catch?, that was what the try outs were all about. All the ten year olds from all the elementary schools in the district gathered at Clifton Jr. High to show off our skills. I was picked/drafted by the Elks, the winners of last summers' championship. I finally was on a little league team.

 I don't remember a whole lot about the practices leading up to the start of the summer season. But, this I do remember, as it is seared in my mind. Before the third practice the coach read off the names of some of the players and said,"If your name isn't called, you can go home."
 My name was not called. Stunned, in shock and disappointed, I went home and cried (like a baby).
 Back to the minors and Recreation Park for my 10th summer. With hopes of next year.

The next year all the 10 year old boys from the last year were 11. You were on the same team all three years of your little league life. Though I tried out, I was not drafted.
Back to another summer of minor league baseball.

 Spring of 1962...

  All those years of minor league ball were about to pay dividends.

Prior to the tryouts, my friend Calvin Bourne's team the Optimist,were having impromptu practices. He told me one of the 12 year olds was moving out of the city and there would be an opening on his team. "Come with me to practice"

...I did.

  I stood behind the fence in back of the catcher and watched the coach hit balls to the players. Time passed and getting bored, I started to play catch with a kid behind the fence. I heard a voice say, "who do you play for?" was the coach, Lou Moody.
"I don't play for a team". The coaches face showed a slight grin.
"Wanna practice with us?"..."Yes,sir!"
(The Optimist of 1962-Calvin:second row, first on left, me: standing/third on left)
After practice the coach gave instructions on when the next practice would be and ended it by saying, "Calvin, bring your friend with you."

Almost there...

  I still had to 'try out'.
Per the coaches plan...I had to "look bad, so nobody else will want to draft you".
So, at the try out I purposely dropped balls, struck out and over threw balls to the bases.
I was at the drinking fountain as coach Moody, under his breath whispered, "I gotcha," as he walked by.

My dream of playing little league baseball, though delayed, finally became a reality, if only for one year. At the end of the '62 season I tied for the league's highest batting average and made the all-star team. I made a lot of great friends and had adventures that would not have happened if I had let momentary discouragement dash my dream.

Similar episodes along my life's journey into adulthood would resurface and give me further opportunities to give up or keep trying.  These early life lessons helped me navigate through some trying times at the studio.

  to be continued...

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Finding a home in Fantasia...

May 1996...
  After animating on Hunchback and prior to Hercules, my curiosity got the best of me and I trained in CGI in preparation to animate on the then called Dinosaur Project (released as Dinosaur). Thoroughly enjoyed the training experience, but after about six months I missed 'pushing a pencil' . After a conversation with director Eric Leighton in which I explained how much I missed drawing on a daily basis, I left the project.

(Me training on computer for The Dinosaur Project...)

  During this time I continued being a spokesman for Disney animation. My first opportunity to do this came while animating on The Black Cauldron. I spoke to an elementary school for their career day in Victorville, CA. As 'Guest Speaker' I would get many more chances to talk about my passion and love for this art form. These speaking engagements would help hone my skill and quiet my nervousness in years to come:-)

(Me as 'guest speaker'...)

   Attached to no production I wandered aimlessly around the studio in search of a project to latch on to.  Hercules, in need of animators to complete the feature brought me on board.

January 16th 1997...

  The animators who worked on Hercules started off the year with an appreciation luncheon in celebration of  the features' run in the theaters the past few months.

January 20th 1997...

  After my brief venture into and out of the world of CGI and the short stint animating on Hercules, I was once again without a production home. Wandering through the hallway of one of the many buildings Disney occupied on Flower St. in Glendale and looking at storyboards of the then called "Fantasia 99", Paul Brizzi walked by.We engaged in a conversation about the boards. The storyboards outlined Stravinsky's Firebird Suite which Paul and his twin brother Gaetan were preparing to usher into production as directors of this segment of the newly revised Fantasia.

  Released in 1940, this piece married classical music with animation. The original intention was to take out a piece and replace it with another musical number every few years. By this time there should have been all new segments in place. Things did not go as planned as other studio priorities came to the front of the line. But, now it was time.

    Paul walked me through the story boards and my interest peaked. John Pomeroy was to animate the Firebird and Tony DeRosa the Sprite; the only other character was the Elk. I wanted to animate the Elk and voiced my desire. Paul wanted to see what I could do with a four footed character before he would consider me animating on this ungulate. I dropped off my reel of Djali tests done for The Hunchback of  Notre Dame for the brothers to look at. A few days later I got a call welcoming me on board. I found a home:-)

The Elk...

  As ruler of the forest the Elk was to show strength, majesty, courage, encourage another (Sprite) and be regal at all times...without dialogue. Body language and timing would be the rule.

  In addition to these spiritual qualities, the Brizzi brothers had a particular physical kind of elk in mind. Of the three kinds of elk in North America, the largest of the species, the Roosevelt Elk, embodied the brothers vision.

Getting started...

  My research of articles, video and photographs had yielded plenty of information.

(Information from books and articles.)

(Hoof placement of rear right leg in walk)

(top:Thumbnails of first rough test)

 Thumbnail studies gleaned from video and photographs.

No substitute for the real thing...

   Stepping away from the books, a trip to the local LA Zoo would finalize my information quest and then I could start animation.

   A couple of problems emerged. There were no Roosevelt elk locally and any in California zoos had already shed their antlers (they would grow back at a rate of 1/2 inch  a day for months producing a 50"+ rack).

 How could I draw live elk with full antlers; observe them in their natural habitat and touch them up close?  Simple, go where they are. Unfortunately, calls to zoos and wild life habitats in Southern California were fruitless. Northern CA, same results. Up the coastal states of Oregon and Washington, nothing there.

  Finally we hit the jackpot...the Nybee Elk January...28 degrees below zero.

Bundle up, here we come.

  Paul Brizzi, Fred Herrman and I flew out of  Los Angeles to Denver, CO. From there we took a small plane to a small airport in Idaho. A car was rented and Fred drove us across the state line to Plentywood, Montana where it was 28 degrees below zero at night (it warmed up to 14 below during the day:-)                                                    
(Our small plane and Fred and I on board)
(Elk outside the van.)

    A van was rented with big side windows. The elk were fed outside the vehicle so we could get a good look at them. With the heat going full blast, I sketched away.                                                                
(Up close and personal...)

  These antlers would be harvested (cut off) while still covered with a furry skin referred to as 'velvet' which has a blood supply to support the fast (up to 5 ft. in two months) growing antlers. They were then sold, usually to foreign markets for medicinal and other purposes.

Our newsletter, The Twilight Bark chronicled our visit in pictures.

(A little below zero humor and I did bring back an antler)

  My cartoon, which was included in the article, is based on true events. We'd walked across the street from the hotel where we were staying to get breakfast. We entered the restaurant and the diners are all in short sleeve shirts and we are dressed like Ralphie's brother in A Christmas Story. They had a good laugh on us as one guy asked "Where you boys from...Florida?"

to be continued...

Thursday, February 26, 2015

February- dedicated to African-American History...

 In 1926 Carter G. Woodson headed a movement to highlight the contributions that African-Americans had made in society. A week was set aside to recognize these many achevements. Canada, the United Kingdom and Germany also recognize this time which has now grown from one week to a whole month.The next few days will close out the this years celebration, but before this months end, I'd like to share an article written by Amy Booth Green highlighting African-American Animators.
 Words of encouragement and advice are chronicled in her interviews of those working in Disney animation at the time.


  "I meet young people who say they want to get into animation and the first thing I say is go to school, get training and discipline yourself. Sharpen the talents you have. The road to animation is narrow. It takes talent, initiative and drive."
                                                                                                                               Ron Husband

Sunday, February 15, 2015

Happy Birthday to my Chocolate Drop...

February 15, 1977...
  How time flies, fortunately we have cameras to freeze a moment in time so we can look back and reminisce. I looked back and this is what I saw...

 a few days home from the hospital in the arms of your first visitors. Linda, with her husband behind the camera.

I saw your first birthday, complete with a sheet on the floor to catch any and all crumbs from your cake...

I saw your fourth birthday anniversary celebrated at The Big Yellow House. You had graduated to the table but not to

On Christmas day I saw a measuring to see how much you, Mikel and Jai had grown from the last year...

Mr. Bill came along a couple of Christmas's before this picture was taken. Opening the box he came in you exclaimed "a fur coat!". He has and continues to serve you well, as we shall see.

(Melissa, Mr. Bill and Cabbage Patch)
Before you took your present job at the Humanitarian Center of Excellence in Disaster Management and Assistance you worked in sales...while your mother and I were at work, the entrepreneur bug had bitten your brothers and they sent you curbside to man the Kool-Aid stand in front of our home...

(What I saw as I pulled into the driveway)

Food and animals were always dear to your heart, in you I see a wonderful cook and animal lover...

(Homemade Halloween costumes and preparing breakfast)

(Bentley, Gretchen. neighbors and Homer)

You have always held education high on your list of  'things to do'...

  I saw your first day of school...

(Jennifer and Melissa on their way to Allen Ave. elementary)

high school brought out Miss Personality in you as I watched you participate in track, student government, three years of prom nights and voted a real princess at homecoming...

                  I saw your high school graduation from the tip of my pen.


On to college...

a tearful goodbye as we left our Choc-Drop in Atlanta...

not totally alone, Mr. Bill to the rescue, a old friend in the dorm.

College included a semester in Paris, giving Mom and I a place to visit and see you...
(Luxembourg Park in Paris)
(Melissa in Venice)
  traipsing all over Europe at Spring vacation (where you couldn't be seen nor did we hear about it until years later) included a stop off in Venice...

 I saw you graduate from Spelman...and years later while taking chemo and radiation treatments, obtaining a Masters Degree from the University of Oklahoma. I am not amazed to see anything you set your mind to do.

Transportation through the years...

I saw you pushed around Disneyland in a stroller...

chauffeured Mom around Tomorrowland in a red car and
took the red car to work at Disney Studio to a job in post production and other departments.

  I saw you take a trial run down the aisle, preparing for the real thing...

years later I proudly walked you down the aisle to the real thing...

      and to the real man, Johann.

                 I have been...

                                                                                  and will always be...

there for you to lean on.

Happy Birthday My Chocolate Drop
Love, Dad