Meetings

I'm taking my morning stroll down the hallway and I’m doing absolutely nothing. 
If you didn't know better you might even mistake me for a
Disney executive. There are tables of snacks and coffee in the
hallway and all of the meeting rooms are full. That's pretty much the
way it goes in today’s business world. People are either on their way back
from a meeting or rushing to a new one. Back in the old days we
didn't have daily meetings. Heck! We didn't even have weekly or
monthly meetings. When the Old Maestro, Walt Disney wanted to
be updated on things - it was only then we had a meeting.
Unlike the rest of my colleagues I'm able to freely roam the hallways
and observe the business at hand. What I find most remarkable
is the fact that people spend so much time talking about things that need
to be done. Back in the days of Disney long past - we didn't talk
about it - we simply did it. I'll provide an example. Had you been
walking down the hallway of the Animation Building in the fifties or
the sixties you would have seen dozens of artists huddled over their
drawing boards. Upstairs on the second and third floors of the
Animation Building you'd see story artists hashing over a sequence
in the large story rooms. What you probably wouldn't see would be
a group of people sitting around a conference table engaged in
endless conversation.

Some years ago, I remember an executive who held staff meetings in
a large room without chairs. No one needed to get comfortable
because the meeting would never last more than a few minutes.
What had to be said never took longer than five or ten minutes. I'll
bet today's senior managers could easily stretch that ten minute meeting to
at least an hour or more. It's become a way of life and today it's
viewed as quite normal. Further, people are serious about their
meetings. In fact, an employee proves their worth by the number of
meetings they attend.

Of course, today’s manner of conducting business remains a puzzlement. How the heck did this amazing company thrive for decades without all those meetings? How did they manage
to accomplish so much without a bunch of managers sitting around a
table and talking endlessly? The answer is obvious. Back in the old
days people actually did the work or they were not going to remain
employed very long. Today, you can earn a pretty good salary by doing pretty
much what I do everyday. And, I don't do anything.

C'mon, you know you've attended this particular meeting. I know I have.

C'mon, you know you've attended this particular meeting. I know I have.

Trial By Fire

Back in the sixties we had hoped to launch our movie making career by partnering with a new black LA television station, but things seldom go as planned. Sadly, the Los Angeles experiment with black media fizzled out and consequently the small group of filmmakers involved in the project gave up the ghost. Leo Sullivan and I had no intention of calling it quits. We continued to produce live action and animated TV commercials for any client who could scrape up a few dollars to pay our modest fee. 

Richard Allen had been part of the original group of young film makers. When Richard heard we were still producing films, he wanted to be a part of our fledgling company. Allen had worked for years as an LA police officer and he attended the USC film school in hopes of a career in motion pictures. Another police officer named Norman Edelen was ready for a career move himself. The four of us decided to do something incredible. We began making plans to launch our own motion picture company.

It was the summer of 1965. As the four of us pondered a move into film making, Los Angeles suddenly erupted into flames. The Watts Riot captured the attention of the world, and in a bold, crazy move we decided to capture it on film. The local news media was terrified of going into the riot area. And, who could blame them. Watts had become a war zone. I remember hearing a news crew pinned down in the riot area calling for help and Los Angeles police unable to quell the violence. It was clear no white camera crew considered themselves welcome in the Watts area as rioters roamed the streets smashing vehicles and burning buildings.

For us youthful filmmakers, it provided a golden opportunity for our fledgling production company. Leo Sullivan and Dick Allen took our 16mm Bolex film cameras (one recently purchased from Roy Edward Disney) along with packs of high speed film and headed into the riot area. I remember buildings burning as LA policemen cowered in their patrol cars. It was an incredible weekend and no one knew how it would end. After a long night of filming Leo and I took our 16mm riot footage to the NBC studios in Burbank Calfornia. Newsman, Tom Pettit was busily preparing a news special that would be telecast nationwide that afternoon. Our little film company had produced film footage that millions of people across the nation would be watching. There was hardly a doubt in our minds that now we were clearly in the business of making movies.

Remembering the streets of Watts in 1965 Los Angeles. We were young filmmakers in a war zone.

Remembering the streets of Watts in 1965 Los Angeles. We were young filmmakers in a war zone.

Making the Sequel

What were you doing in March 1997? I was at Pixar Animation Studios in Northern California working on an animation feature motion picture called, “The Sequel.” At least that’s what it was called at the time. I was lucky enough to be invited to the cartoon factory in Point Richmond to be a part of a cool new enterprise. Some might think it fool hardy to leave the premiere animation studio in Burbank for a new untried studio. After all, they had only made one feature film and had a second in development. Though the first film did well, some considered it a fluke. Hardly competition for the professionals in Burbank. Back then, Walt Disney Feature Animation could do no wrong. They were the hit makers of the nineties and every time they came to bat they knocked it out of the park. If you wanted to play with the big boys of animation, Walt Disney Animation was the place to be.

Yet, this fledgling animation studio managed to do quite well with their first movie back in 1995 and it was enough to motivate me to move north. I honestly wanted to work with these guys. Was it their cutting edge technology that caught my attention? Hardly. The tools animators use never mattered that much to me. No, it was their storytelling that caught my attention. It reminded me of an old gentleman I used to work for back in the sixties. He recognized the need for appealing characters and a solid story. Remember, I said, “solid story,” not great story. The story doesn’t have to be great to make the film work. If you’re wondering how I know this, it’s because the old gentleman told me this himself. It’s rare I’m convinced I’m working on something great. More often than not, you really don’t know the outcome of a motion picture. I often tell people we work just as hard on the flops as we do on the smash hits. After all is said and done, it’s the audience that tells you whether you have a hit or a miss and most of the time we have no idea of the final outcome. Yet, this time it was different. When the producer and director pitched the story to us in the third floor story room in Burbank I immediately felt this was a motion picture I had to be a part of. I felt in my gut this movie was going to be a hit and a big one at that. All we had to do was not screw it up.

Perhaps you’ve seen the film. In time, the sequel was given a name and that name was, “Toy Story2.” The animated film was blessed with great characters and a solid story line. I’ll confess the story development process wasn’t the easiest I’ve experienced in my long career. We storyboarded the movie at least three time with many headaches and train wrecks inbetween. In the third year we were blessed with brilliant storyman, Joe Ranft and director, John Lasseter and the story moved through another complete pass. However painful and exhausting, the final result was well worth the ordeal. “Toy Story2” opened in November 1999 to rave reviews and impressive box office. Having done my job, I was ready to pack up and move back to Southern California. However, my old high school pal, Dave Doctor had a son who worked at Pixar Animation Studios. Pete Doctor would be making his feature directing debut on a film called, “Monsters, Inc.” How could I leave Pixar at a time like this? I decided to return to Pixar Animation Studios and get to know Mike Wozowsky, James P. Sullivan and see what these crazy guys were up to. However, that’s a story for another time.

An early screenplay by Steve Boyett. We were only a handful at the time but something great was in the works. It would be another two years before we would know the answer.

An early screenplay by Steve Boyett. We were only a handful at the time but something great was in the works. It would be another two years before we would know the answer.

Advice for Aspiring Animators

Welcome to our crazy club. You’ll get no lofty comments or pretentious b.s. from this old cartoon veteran. That’s because animators are simply entertainers. We’re not teachers, scientists or humanitarians. The truth is, we're really not that important. This is not to demean our profession because we do provide a valuable service. We make people smile and laugh. And that, in my humble opinion, has considerable value.

When I was a kid I fell in love with moving drawings and I couldn’t wait to try my hand at this remarkable medium called animation. Even at my advanced age today I remain fascinated by the special magic created by the animation artist. When I sat at my tacky handmade drawing table in my Santa Barbara home so many years ago I knew I was doing something very special. I knew I was becoming a part of a unique group of creators and that feeling has never left me. Many years later, I would sit at a drawing desk at the Walt Disney Studios and place a blank sheet of paper over the Disney animation pegs. At that moment I realized how far I had come. All the way from a kid drawing in the corner of my parents home to the world’s premiere animation studio in Burbank California. Who says dreams can't come true?

Today, I wear the title, “animator” with special pride knowing my work will never reach the lofty heights of the Disney Masters or even my talented peers. However, I did crank out my fair share of footage over the years, though I confess most of it would probably be described as marginal at best. In any case, there were special moments. One day my heart soared when I received a gracious compliment from an old master animator I truly admired. As the animation veteran viewed my meager offerings on the clattering Moviola he suddenly laughed out loud and said, “That’s pretty funny stuff.” It was the greatest compliment I’d ever received in my professional career and I drove home that evening feeling like I was on the top of the world. 

In spite of my efforts, my animation career came to an abrupt end one day when an old gentleman decided I might be better at another job. The old gentleman with a mustache was known for his intuition and insight so I thought it best not to argue with him. I traded my animation disk for the sketchpad of a story man, but I never lost my love for moving drawings.  Honestly, I don't think I ever will. Animation is an amazing job that never loses its magical luster. Of course, I still remember the palpable fear at the start of a new scene when this kid was suddenly confronted with a blank page. Clearly, animation has always been a daunting task. However, I remember the joy when the work is completed and my sketches have suddenly sprang to life. Magic accomplished with only paper and graphite. It’s the magical medium we call animation. I’m glad I’ve spent my life doing what I love while other poor souls trudged off to work each day. Of course, you will work, and you’ll work hard. However, if you’re anything like me - you’ll love every minute of it.

Welcome to the club.