Saturday, December 21, 2013

My Animation Trainee experience...(part1)

 In my last blog I reminisced about my start at the Walt Disney studio on February 10, 1975. Alessandro from Europe who follows this blog, asked me to give more detail about what my (and others') experience was like. He had read other accounts of that time period and was curious about the specific details of the trainee program.

 A little background for context will help before I get started...

Animation is the backbone of the Disney studio. The theme parks, publishing, music, consumer products etc. all stem from animated characters and their environments. Since Walt Disney's death in 1966, Woolie Reitherman had headed up the animation department. The older animators, some who had worked on Snow White in 1937, were still actively animating and were about to retire. Woolie  wanted to find young animators to continue the high quality of Disney animation the public was accustomed to.


LEFT-Brochure to recruit prospective animators "our studio is searching for gifted young artists with a desire to make animated cartoons as Disney makes them. Those who qualify would be trained in the Disney way of making films, but just as important to us would be their ability to stimulate and expand our thoughts and ideas."

The search was begun to find a new generation of animators to carry on this tradition. Legendary animator Eric Larson was put in charge of overseeing this program to train the 'new' generation of animators.

Eric was in contact with art schools and word spread that Disney was looking for animators. Portfolios came to the studio from art colleges and around the world. These were carefully scrutinized by a number of staff and artists looking for strong drawing ability depicting animals and humans in motion. One's drawing ability could get you into the program but there was a whole lot more to learn about film making and story telling with a pencil. How well and quickly these other aspects were picked up was another vital ingredient in becoming a Disney animator. The training would also cover acting, staging, timing, drawing on model, and much, much more.

 By the time I joined in 1975, the program had been in existence for about a little over two years. The first group of trainees included Don Bluth, John Pomeroy, Ron Clements, Gary Goldman, Andy Gaskill and others; they were the  prototype.

I had been directed to the Disney studio by Sam McKim who taught a night class at Art Center College of  Design located at their old campus on 3rd Street in LA. I was a student in his Sketching for Illustration class. One night Mr. McKim brought up the topic of a trainee class in animation. After class I was walking with another student through the parking lot discussing the prospects of working for Disney and he says "they don't pay much". Though the pay was a concern, my main goal was to work in a more creative environment and be surrounded by those who think creatively. I pursued more information from Mr. McKim. He got me in contact with Eric at the studio.

 My interview with Eric Larson went well. Eric was a real classy gentleman brimming with confidence and words of encouragement. I definitely needed his words of affirmation. I had no knowledge of animation nor had I ever been in a studio environment. My only images of the Walt Disney Studio had been from the old black and white Disneyland television program of the 1950's. By the time the Wonderful World of Disney premiered in color in the early 1960's I was in my early teens and had lost interest in all things Disney. At the time I had no Disney history and I'm completely unaware that I was talking to a Disney legend.

 Eric told me that my art work was 'ok'.  'Ok' if I was looking for a commercial art job; as my portfolio was geared for that type of work.  A year and a half prior, I had graduated from the University of Nevada, Las Vegas and hoped to land a job as a commercial artist. No such doors opened in Southern California. So, I ended up at Honeywell where I was employed  as a technical illustrator. The most creative things I did in a days work was make flow charts and block diagrams. This led me to seek out a class at an art school where I hoped to meet creative people or get directed onto a more creative path. Now I was on that path and being interviewed  for a job by Eric Larson. "Do you have any quick sketches?" he asked.

 (RIGHT- a page from one of the sketch books I left at the guard gate)

 Eight years earlier I had been encouraged to carry a sketch pad by my high school art teacher and by this time I had plenty of pads filled. I drove home ( 20 miles) gathered three sketch pads, put them in an envelope addressed to Eric, dropped them off at the guard gate.Then drove another 35 miles back to my job making  flow charts and block diagrams (I was on my lunch break).

A week later I got a call from Disney saying  'you can start anytime you want' in the animation trainee program.

Not as easy a decision as I thought it would be. Leaving one job for another, especially for less money and no guarantee you would be there beyond four weeks. Throw in a wife and two kids and you can see why I had to think this life altering decision  through. With my wife's encouragement I took that step. (To be continued...)

Monday, December 9, 2013


  Like a lot of people this time of the year I was out in the garage retrieving the 'Christmas stuff'. Packed away in boxes, plastic tubs and canvas zip bags is all the "stuff" that my wife, LaVonne, will use to transform the inside of our home into a Christmas wonderland. If your garage is anything like mine, it is filled with other boxes, plastic tubs, canvas zip bags, bicycles, a lawn mower, furniture, books, tools etc. ....and a car or two. Searching through, re-arranging and looking through all this 'stuff' I stumble upon some boxes I haven't seen in years, in one instance, 38 years... 

My blog today is a detailed description of the inventory I found in those boxes of long ago.

A brochure welcoming me to the 'Disney family', explaining the rich history of Walt and the studio on my first day as a animation trainee...

Another brochure explaining all the departments and their functions, designed to help me navigate seamlessly through the work day...the back cover stating Good Luck in your new role...producing "The finest in family entertainment"!


The studio Disneyland Line newsletter, special edition, dated September 20, 1976.

The author is asking if  The Old Disney Magic can be recaptured by the nine new men (of animation?)...time has answered that question with the emergence of Glen Keane, Andreas Deja, Mark Henn,Tony DeRosa, Bruce Smith, Dale Baer, Eric Goldberg, Nik Ranieri and the list could go on and on. Tim Burton, Brad Bird and a host of others also got their start in the animation trainee department.

 The article went into detail about the studios' history under Walt's leadership, past and present productions, some personal insights and the trainee department... a direct quote from the newsletter says, "There are so few women in cartoon work that such terms as story person or layout person have not yet evolved. But the team includes four women and two blacks, representations that were rare and unknown respectively, among the first generation at Disney's."...

This same article refers to the new generation of leadership who were to recapture the Old Disney Magic...left to right: Andy Gaskill, Don Bluth, John Pomeroy and Gary Goldman look at a test on a moviola.

Another Studio newsletter dated January 27, 1978 announcing Frank and Ollie's retirement, the main reason for starting the animation trainee department...

A Newsreel (on the right), dated April 7, 1978 announcing another animation veteran's retirement after 44 years...


On the back cover of this Newsreel is an announcement of six individuals (including me) who were promoted to 'full' animators, a month before my major surgery.

A copy of this July 28, 1978 Studio Newsreel reveals the animation trainee department, under Eric Larson, is still making news. 

A copy of the Disney Times newspaper, (this one dated June, 1979), got delivered to our home doorsteps monthly.


A copy of an Inter-Office Communication, dated April 11, 1979, concerning a proposed project that never got the 'green light'.  We were asked  what our level of enthusiasm was about working on this project...How unique is that?

 Another Newsreel dated February 22, 1985...the story dealt with the "temporary relocation of the Animation Department" to Flower Street in Glendale and how much more efficient the department would be, "we are all together, as one big family" and how 'happy' the animators were in their new surroundings.

  Before it was all over I had worked in three different buildings and a trailer in the Flower St. area...
Smiling animators, Mark Henn and Dave Block, at their desks...wonder what their expressions would have been had they known that it would be ten years before animation would 'go home'.
Wow, maybe I'll find even more treasures when it is time to take "Christmas" down for 2013.  Stay tuned, you never know what's lurking in all that "stuff" packed away in boxes, plastic tubs and canvas zip bags!
(All images are shown for encouragement and inspiration only.)

Monday, November 25, 2013

Second Book Signing in the Marina...

This past Saturday afternoon (11/23/13) was spent signing Quick Sketching with Ron Husband at the Barnes and Noble bookstore in Marina Del Rey, Ca. Four years ago when I started to seriously think about putting this book together, I had no idea that it would lead to this. People interested enough to have my signature in their copy of my book. A very humbling experience for me.

Last weekend at CTNX, held at the Marriott hotel in Burbank, I did a book signing.  My publisher, Focal Press, sold out of all the copies they brought with them.

 Saturday there were no lines out the door and wrapped around the building, but there was a steady stream of those seeking a signature. This gave me time to carry on a conversation with each individual, learning who they were, their connection to me, their appreciation for animation or art in general, how the book would effect their talent or just to shake hands.

I met those who were not artists but had purchased several copies to give as gifts to friends, a person who wanted to 'get back into drawing more', one who saw a posting on facebook and brought his copy to be autographed, several who were in the store and out of curiosity started up a conversation which did not lead to the sale but provided  interesting dialogue. There were those who I knew personally who came in support and even store sales persons who took the time to make me feel welcome and purchased a book or two.

Judy and Larry, former neighbors of ours from San Dimas, forty miles away, stopped by as a pleasant surprise to support support my work.

Animator, Bruce Smith and wife, stopped by to say 'hi' and picked up a couple of copies.

My daughter Melissa and her family came out to support Dad.

I had the opportunity to talk with a lady who was concerned that her grandson, who had a talent to draw but was not motivated to do so. She wondered if purchasing my book would help motivate him to exercise his talent.

The book signing gave me the opportunity to be reacquainted with the Schweizer family. They refreshed my memory of them from years earlier as they had seen me sketching publicly. A conversation ensued that ended with me inviting them to the Disney animation studio and giving them a tour. Kevin, their son, was barely a teen then and now this grown man with a beard accompanying  his mom and dad were here recounting our meeting that happened so long ago. They saw an advertisement that I would be at the store and they came by, making my day memorable. (Kevin posted a picture on facebook of our reuniting).
( left to right) Thelma Jones, myself, my wife,LaVonne, Lonnie Stokes and his wife Josephine. There is a dedication in Quick Sketching with Ron Husband honoring Thelma and Ben Jones on the occasion of their 50th wedding anniversary.

Thanks to all who came out.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Busy Weekend at CTNX 2013...

Quick sketching at CTNX 2013...

This brain child of Tina Price has blossomed over the years into a world wide gathering and celebration of the art of animation and those who love this medium. Those in attendance: instructors, students, aspiring writers and directors, illustrators, freelancers and venders. Those working as animators as well as those looking for employment. There were networking opportunities and endless information and encouragement for those who needed encouraging. The fans of animation got to rub shoulders with, pick the brains of, listen to lectures by, and sit in on interviews of professionals on program and lots, lots more.

This is how I got involved: Several weeks ago I got a call from Tina, whom I've known for years dating back to our time spent at Disney animation. She inquired if I would be available the weekend of CTNX. Another message the same day outlined a thought that had brewing in her mind. On this 5th anniversary of CTNX, in addition to photographing and filming the events, "lets also have the events sketched, then compile the sketches in a book to be made available in the future".  Over the phone I was extended the invitation to be the 'official sketcher' of these events. That proposition to me was like saying 'sick'em' to a hunting dog or 'amen' to a preacher. Yes, I was ready to sketch!

The attendees started to line up out side the hotel (Burbank Marriot Conference Center) early each morning, several hours before the doors opened.

The line beginning to stretch out to eventually wrap around the building...

My duties this past weekend would include sketching as many of the events as possible. Not as easy a task as one might think. With events starting at 7 in the morning and running until midnight, there were scheduled events constantly going on, overlapping one another in the convention center, in one of the two tents set up, and in the ballroom.

 These multiple events happening simultaneously kept me happily and busy sketching through out the weekend...

   sketching and sketching...

In addition to sketching the unfolding events, I was on schedule to do a live demo session on Saturday...

and then broke away from sketching for a book signing...


  I signed for about an hour and a half before there was nothing left to sign... the book had sold out! The rest of the day and Sunday, Focal Press (my publisher) offered 'free shipping' for orders:) unfortunately, without the signature.


 Me with marketing manager Elyse Lebel and aquisitions editor David Bevans from Focal Press...

I was like a humming bird flitting from one activity to another. My wife calling to remind me to "take time to eat lunch and take a break." I thought by doing so I might miss something; which I did, by the sheer volume of activity going on. Yes, I did finally take a break... at times.

Sunday morning I did another live demo on quick sketching. Then back to catch more events at the Expo. I also managed to squeeze in...

a filmed interview session before I returned to the sketch pad.

A great aspect of the conference was the interactions.  As I made my way from event to event, I was constantly stopped by younger animation hopefuls and gladly dialogued about every thing from where animation is headed, will traditional animation make a comeback, advice on portfolios and those who just wanted to say 'hi'.

Another added benefit of attending CTNX is that I ran into friends and colleagues I had not seen for years.

The wonderful friend of mine, Jamie Bolio...

And, outstanding writer, director and old friend John Musker. We had worked on many films together. John had done a caricature of me for my retirement a few months ago. He was out of town at the time of my retirement and posted it online. At this gathering I had the opportunity to thank him in person. John  not only stands tall in the animation industry, but is a top notch caricaturist as his take on me attests.


Thank you Tina Price for bringing us all together for a marvelous and unforgettable weekend.

One weekend leads into another as I navigate through my retirement.  I'm busier now than when I was working...I'll be signing my book this coming Saturday (11/23/13) at the Barnes & Noble in Marina del Rey from 1pm -3pm.

Hope to see you there!

Barnes and Noble
13400 Maxella
Marina Del Rey, CA 90292








Monday, November 11, 2013

Into the 90's...

1990- The animation department continued to grow (in our new space off the lot). Who would not want to be a part of the expansion?... I signed on for another stint in my animation adventure. The photo below to the right was taken by Ruben Aquino when we were on Airway street in Glendale, dated 10/90.

 During this time I continued freelance illustration for Cricket and other children's publications...

and had opportunities to be an ambassador for the animation department. Quenching the thirst of youngsters who wanted to get a first hand glimpse of how our films are made and meet an animator. The wide eyes and dropped jaws were priceless. And each session ended with the inevitable, "can you draw Mickey Mouse?"during the question and answer period.


To the right, is the crew photo from, The Rescuers Down Under, first sequel to an animated Disney feature...

To the left I'm holding a maquette of Cody from RDU-you'd be smiling too if you had gotten a reprieve from crowd scene purgatory. 

This is how I escaped: the animation phase was ready to start but was put on hold as the story was being worked out. This dragged on for several weeks as the story was being overhauled. I had a friend who had a son about the age of Cody and I called him  and asked if I could to come over to film and draw his son. I got the ok and spent an afternoon observing a kid at play. I took the insight, film and drawings and turned them into a pencil test that I showed to the directors Hendel Butoy and Mike Gabriel. They liked the direction I was going with the character and assigned me to the Cody unit, headed up by Russ Edmonds.

 The years spent doing multiple character scenes had given me insights into how to best plan out a scene. In crowd scenes each character has to work independently and as a group, with as little  or no overlapping (if  possible:) depending on what the scene called for. Thorough planning is a must to avoid a multiple headache. This same thought process carried over into the scene planning of individual characters, only a lot less complicated.

I had great time working on Cody and those around me could feel the enthusiasm as management sent out congratulations to us. I looked forward to the next hurdle as we wrapped up the animation...

 Speaking of wrap, we were treated to a double feature followed by cast and crew wrap party.
 LaVonne and me with Ms Bianca at the wrap party...

This letter from the National Religious Broadcasters becomes a part of my journey towards the end of 1990. My oldest son Mikel (1972-2007) was in his first year at Howard University in Washington D.C.  LaVonne and I had taken him back east in August to start school and he had come home for Thanksgiving. We had not planned to see him again until school ended in May. Glen Keane had a speaking engagement in Pasadena after work. For some reason he could not make it and asked me to go in his place. I had nothing scheduled that night and filled in for him. I gave a short talk about animation. Ted Baehr the chairman and ceo of Good News Communications was in attendance and invited me to give a similar Washington D.C. at the the NRB convention. I jumped at the chance to kill two birds with one stone, speak at this event and see my son. 
 The end of 1990 at our Christmas party somewhere in a converted warehouse in Glendale, CA.

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Book signing 11/23/13

I will be signing my new book, 'Quick Sketching with Ron Husband' on Saturday, November 23rd from 1pm-3pm at the Barnes & Noble bookstore in the Marina. I hope to see you all there.

- Ron

Barnes and Noble
13400 Maxella Ave
Marina Del Rey, CA 90292
(310) 306-3213

Monday, November 4, 2013

Stretching out into illustration... (part 2)

    Like most budding artists I doodled in class. As a junior in high school I wore #22 playing for the 'Wildcats' and doodled while taking notes.

The illustration below was done while I was a sophomore in high school; executed with a metal quill pen point dipped in an old fashioned ink bottle. The image is from a black and white photo I had seen in a magazine. I kept the illustration for about ten years in a drawer until I ran across this paragraph in a book. The image and text blended together perfectly and I framed them both together. This type of sensitivity and my animation training helped me see the value in telling a story minus text, through my pen and ink illustrations.

 My pen and ink subject matter typically represents the 1930's era south. My mom, Mamie told me many interesting stories from her childhood. She was one of 14 children growing up on a farm in Mississippi. I have also talked with other older people about their experiences in the south and I'm always on the lookout for that story of the south to illustrate in pen and ink. 

Back to high school-  the lady in the picture to the right, is Ms Dorothy Clemmons, the teacher who flipped my switch into quick sketch mode. In 1966 she encouraged me to carry a sketchbook at all times. Needless to say I took her advice. This picture was taken after I had been asked in the art class she taught to, "get the hell out and never come back," were her exact words. I can hear those words as plainly as if she said them yesterday.

This is what  led up to the incident...After class, the day before I was asked me to leave her room, she asked me to to wash some paint out of brushes that some other students had left. I looked at the brushes and without a word, walked out of the classroom.

Ms Clemmons had broadened my artistic horizons by taking me and other students on field trips, most notably to the Art Center College of Design in LA and making it possible for me to enroll in Art Center's Saturday high school program. In addition to being exposed to her unique teaching methods which included exposing the students to various art styles, participating in lively art discussions and much, much more. At the beginning of class the next day, I took my usual front row seat . She walked over to my desk, stood in front of it and the rest is 'my' history. When she asked, no demanded me to leave her class room, I immediately understood where her frustration emanated from. Those were the days when art and music instruction were taken for granted. In elementary school we had art  and music instrument instructors come to our schools once a week (for free- part of the curriculum), my grand kids don't have such luxuries and I did not make the most of that golden opportunity.

A few months before my infamous exit from art class I had done a pen and ink illustration that Ms Clemmons entered in a regional competition. The piece won an award  and was sent back east for further judging, ultimately winning a national award. The award arrived after my dismissal from class. Here is the newspaper clipping from the above press shot with principal Leonard Morris, with Ms Clemmons looking on, presenting me with the plaque from NY. I'm not quite sure her smile is genuine or posed for the publicity photo. She had not spoken to me since the incident, during the photo shoot or since.
 I did apologize to her. The day after my dismissal from class I talked to my football coach, Dick Robbins. His advice was for me to go to her, face up to my callousness and apologize.
 I went to my regular art class period (open period for me now), asked if I could speak to her, she ushered me into a small room adjoining the class room. She sat down and I across from her. I looked her in the eyes and said "I'm sorry"...she nodded and pointed towards the door. That was the last of my high school art instruction.