Jan 132015
 

In late 1996 I was in a mood to travel. There was an impasse in my life and, as with similar confusing junctions before and since, I hit the road, spending Christmas in Britain with friends, planning to head to Paris in the New Year, by way of the train through the CHUNNEL.

Paris1996_97_RERParis1996_7_gendarme

Nobody was riding the EUROSTAR train that year, and with good reason. In addition to a recent tunnel fire, The IRA (an Irish terrorist organisation) had tried to blow up The Chunnel from the British side, and not to be outdone, The GIA (an Algerian terrorist group) had vowed terror strikes from the French end, while labor strikes (a Brit terror tradition) were threatened at British Rail. The general public was wary of being caught in the crosshairs of technical failures, industrial disputes, two terrorist plots and mother nature– being flung at high velocity through a claustrophobic tube beneath the British Channel was still a relatively new concept in 1996– and people who wanted to cross it flew instead. The panicked marketing departments of both British Rail and France’s SNCF offered great deals as an incentive to put caution aside and ride the flaming-undersea-terror-express, so I did, on a nearly-empty train from London’s WATERLOO INTERNATIONAL STATION (Eurostar service switched to St. Pancras Station in 2007).

This wasn’t my first time in a high-speed train. Earlier, when working in Paris in 1990 I’d ridden the TGV, and earlier than that, when living in Japan in the 1980s, I often rode the ORIGINAL Bullet Train, the SHINKANSEN (an Aussie friend in Tokyo hilariously observed; “that thing goes faster than a sharp stick!”) So my experienced eye was initially unimpressed by Eurostar. Though it looked the part, it dawdled till the coast because British Rail hadn’t yet upgraded the tracks from London to the Channel, and the Bullet Train couldn’t truly ’bullet’, lest its 1990s high-tech slickness was shaken to pieces on the 1890s tracks. Thankfully, it picked up speed in the Chunnel and when it made landfall in France hit a cruising speed of 176MPH for a remarkably smooth and speedy ride to Paris. I’d made the Paris-London flight several times before, and although the flight itself is markedly quicker than the train, that speed is more than offset by getting to your departure airport, check-in, customs, immigration and bag retrieval, and the journey from the airport into the city at the opposite end. The Eurostar was downtown London to downtown Paris in about 3 hours.

paris1996_7_DaveCigarParis1996_97_TonyReading

Weeks earlier, when planning the trip, I’d told Tony and Dave that I’d lived in France, and smugly assured them that Parisian winters were mild.. cross-dissolve to: France’s frightfully cold winter that year. We spent most of our time indoors, enjoying Paris’ wealth of bistros, bars and museums with our pals Simon & Tanya, and had a great time. Nevertheless, we were in the “City Of Light” and felt obliged to see Paris, and occasionally braved the arctic weather to ‘enjoy’ the scenery through chattering teeth. After traipsing through the picturesque cold, Tony, Dave and I and paused to take in the view from the middle of one of the beautiful bridges across The Seine.

As we leaned on the guard rail, we saw some rubbish drifting by in the water below us; an LP record album cover of Simon and Garfunkel‘s “Bridge Over Troubled Water” floated into view in the swirling eddies under the bridge. We each saw this freakishly-apt moment of coincidence at the same time, looked at each other with a wide-eyed laugh, then watched “Bridge Over Troubled Water” meander in the currents of the Seine and float off under the next bridge. Cheered by this quirky piece of random chance, we headed into a nearby bistro to discuss the joys of synchronisity and 1960s folk-pop over a chocolate chaud and a croque monsieur..

A few days later, we three travellers went our seperate ways, and I took a side trip to Denmark before heading back to London on the Eurostar from Paris’ GARE DU NORD STATION. I entered a totally empty train carriage, put my bags in the baggage rack near the door, and took a seat up the other end. It seemed I’d have the luxury of an entire carriage to myself until just before the train pulled away, when a large group of largish men bustled aboard and occupied the back two rows. Brit athletes in suits, I thought, perhaps returning from a game in France? The Eurostar depated and I enjoyed the French countryside zipping by until the train entered the Chunnel, when I went to the dining car to eat and write letters (on-paper letters, remember those?) telling family and friends about Chartres Cathedral, the Catacombs and other tourist sites I’d seen in my brief forays into the frigid French winter. I finished my writing and went back to my seat.

Paris1996_97_SimonDrawing

Paris1996_97_Tanya

Pulling into LONDON a mere 3 hours after departing PARIS, I went to get my luggage from the luggage rack by the rear door of the carriage, and absent mindedly noted that in the midst of the large group of very large men was a smaller, rather ugly fellow. Perhaps he was the manager of this burly group of be-suited athletes. He looked like a balding Mr Bean with glasses… Wait, is that Rowan Atkinson? I did a double-take, I knew that face.. it was unmistakably SALMAN RUSHIE, surrounded by his bodyguards. For a time, Rushdie must’ve had the most recognisable ugly face in the world. His hooded-eyed mug was always in the media back then, after The Ayatollah Khomeini placed a Fatwa on him for writing the Satanic Verses. Many famous writers could be passed in the street without being recognised (it must be a pleasantly anonymous occupation for a famous person to have) but not so with Rushdie. He’s highly recognisable even now, but more so back then at the height of his notoriety, when his Bond villain gaze was on magazines and TVs almost daily. As I pondered these things, the rapidly spinning wheels in my mind must have been audible to Salman’s wall-of-muscle, and they gave me their undivided attention with intense alphadog stares. I grabbed my bags and scuttled away.

As I stepped off the train, I thought about my brief brush with fame. In the past, it had already struck me (as it has many others) that famous actors were much shorter in real life. Based on my brief meeting of Rushdie, I wondered if the similar principle with plain-looking famous folk is that they are even uglier in person? Being instantly recognisable must be one of the curses of fame even at the best of times, but extra uncomfortable when under a Fatwa; a game of “you’re it” with homicidal nutjobs weilding rocket launchers and Kalashnikovs.. Clearly, Rushdie’s security team had chosen this mode of travel precisely because there were less people on the Eurostar that year. Their entourage was less likely to be ’made’ by the loons, and there’d be less collateral damage if they actually were. Then it hit me; I’d not only had a brush with fame by meeting Rushdie, but had worsened my odds in my brush with terrorism too. As well as the two terror groups I already knew about, The IRA and the GIA, who’d vowed to blow the Chunnel and therefore had me in their sights by proxy, I’d been riding a train that had been a potential target of a third terror group; the deadly yo-yos unleashed by the Ayatollah. Had they known Salman Rushie was sitting behind me, they would most certainly have shown up, guns-a-blazin’..

a BULLET train indeed!

Mar 112009
 

Here is an old pen and marker drawing I found; a long-ago attempt to design a space ship, complete with the bogus engine specs. This was inspired by the airplane drawing battles that my pals Simon and Arthur used to do. (Those same battles are now enshrined in the DRAWN PATROL blog). I knew nothing of planes so I tried to come up with a spaceship instead; the StarDart AstroCat DELTA!

Feb 252009
 


Earlier I mentioned Arthur Filloy‘s Airplane drawing blog, Drawn Patrol. He now has another blog called PISSTAKE PLATOON which likewise showcases old drawings done at work, though this time the focus is not on planes, but general silliness; Caricatures, in jokes and other drawings done to amuse each-other while we all worked on mind-numbingly terrible Saturday morning cartoons. If you worked in the Sydney animation community from the late 1970s through the 1980s then check out Arthur’s new blog. You may see some familiar faces, perhaps even your own. More and more people are digging through their old stashes of art and submitting pics to the blog; I am scanning mine at the moment, so there are likely to be updates each week for the foreseeable future

May 262008
 

Years ago, I worked at a studio where a lot of extra-curricular funny drawings were done by the crew. We drew caricatures of eachother, or of people seen on the streets at lunch hour, and we traded goofy doodles about funny things that happened around the studio, in-jokes and other silly stuff, and I joined in all these shenanigans as best as I was able.

One of the drawing battles I was happy to watch from the side lines was the ongoing airplane drawing contest between Simon O’Leary and Arthur Filloy. Both of them were, and still are, incredible cartoonists and mad-keen airplane enthusiasts. They would outdo eachother in drawing great caricatures of fantastic aircraft; both real and imagined.

Now, all these many years later, Arthur has a blog showing those great old drawings. Please visit DRAWN PATROL to see doodles of real planes (such as this cute little ME 262 drawn by Arthur) or drawings of made-up Soviet fighter planes, experimental aircraft of the Luftwaffe, or failed aircraft of the RAF and Japanese air force (complete with bogus engine specifications and made-up aircraft histories). With any luck Arthur will set up other blogs for his hilarious Star Wars sketches and very funny fake Japanese toy designs…

May 302007
 

These days, many artists (even those still in school) have their own web-sites, with links to artists who have influenced them. Hop-scotching around the internet from site to site has been a great source of inspiration for me in recent years. You can see links to artists that I admire on my LINKS page, but some of those who have influenced me the most have been those that I have worked with personally, and in many cases they don’t have websites and are therefore unknown by people who have not worked with them too.

Part One: Early Influences
I didn’t attend art school. When I started working in animation, at the age of 17, I was trained on the job and there wasn’t time for much “proper” training in the midst of production. So, while a lot of people remember the early influence of their art teachers, I am grateful to those few artist/co-workers who took time to show me some tricks and give encouragement when I was starting out, and had even less idea of what I was doing than I do today. Here are a few of the cartoonists who influenced me early in my career.

JON McCLENAHAN is an American, but he entered the animation industry in Australia, which is where I met him, when I started out at Hanna-Barbera’s Sydney studio, as an inbetweener. Jon was already an animator and he was the first artist ever to take an interest in me and I owe him a lot for that. He gave me encouragement and help with some animation I was doing in my spare time, because I was getting frustrated with being an inbetweener. Partly due to that after hours experimentation, and Jon’s encouragement, I did eventually get a chance to animate. Jon was, and still is, a very focussed, hard worker and he got a lot of work done by staying in his chair all day and drawing, rather than yakking with co-workers, which was my habit back then. I have since acquired his ability to work hard, day after day, but sadly I have never been able to apply Jon’s straightforward approach to creativity; he doesn’t second guess himself, and forges ahead with his first idea. I admire that approach very much and tried to adopt it for myself, but sadly I am rarely happy with my first idea, and so my method is is to “noodle” and try alternatives and throw away a lot of work along the path to making something I am proud of. Years later, after Jon and his family had moved back to his home town of Chicago, I had a chance to work with him at his own studio, called STARTOONS. Fans of Animaniacs, Tiny Toons, Tazmania and other quality TV cartoons from the 1980s and early 1990s may have heard of that studio because many of the funniest (and Emmy winning-est) episodes of those popular shows were animated by Jon and his crew.

Jon and I haven’t worked together for many years but we are great friends to this day.

Simon and Chris. These guys are often mentioned in the same breath by people who know them, because they are such complementary friends. When I first started working, they were like the big brothers I never had as a kid. In addition to picking up a cynical sense of humour that I hadn’t really earned yet, I learned a great deal about animation and cartooning from watching these two blokes:

CHRIS HAUGE has animated on the influential Gorillaz videos, including that first one for “Clint Eastwood” that blew everyone away (I must have watched it about 100 times). He did those when working in London for Passion Pictures. Before being part of that buzz, years and years earlier, Chris turned on a light bulb over my noggin when he was the first animator who explained to me that animation wasn’t just individual drawings or even pretty drawings… it is the relationship between those drawings that is important; he made me think about TIMING, which is something that he excells at himself. Chris showed me how to plan out the action in thumbnails first so as not to jam too much “stuff” into a scene, and ensure that the drawings each had enough screen time to “read” for the audience. That may seem obvious, especially to those of you who have had formal training, but it was a revelation to me when I was 18. (He later tried to teach me to surf, with much less success. My thrashing and splashing around made him look “uncool” in front of his surfer peers). As well as enjoying working with Chris at Hanna Barbera in Sydney, I also learned a lot from him when we both worked on commercials at Colossal Pictures in San Francisco (my favourite company I ever worked at). Chris now has his own animation studio in Sydney called HALO PICTURES with not only a great showreel but also a great location; near the beach. (Being close to the surf was one of the major factors in choosing a studio location for Chris).

Chris is the only of my art-pals on this list who actually does have a website, so please check out his animation for GORILLAZ and various other bits and pieces of coolness.

SIMON O’LEARY has worked on projects such as Disney’s Tarzan (in the Paris unit) and now directs commercials in Sydney. His cartooning ability, dry sense of humour and unpretentious approach to working were all major inspirations to me when I started in the animation industry and he inspires me to this very day. He is one of those guys who can do FUNNY drawings… drawings that’ll make you blow your coffee out your nose; you are laughing so hard. This is especially so when he busts out a savagely accurate caricature of a co-worker (or YOU) or a funny doodle based on something that happened at lunch hour. For 25 years or so Simon has both written and drawn a comic strip called Fred Gassit which runs in the Australian Motor Cycle News magazine (and several other motorcycle magazines around the world). While the strip is ostensibly related to the world of motorcycling, the humour is really about Simon taking pot-shots at the world in general, via the persona of Fred; a sarcastic dog-like character who is a cantankerous bastard but appealing none the less (much like Simon). Both the humour and the artwork are vulgar yet sophisticated (much like Simon), which is a winning combination for me; the hardest laughs happen when neurones within the low-brow and the high-brow are firing simultaneously. I have a collection of these strips that is a treasured possession I look through when I want a laugh or need to swipe ideas on how to draw a vehicle, a goon, a bikini babe, or anything for that matter. To my mind these cartoons are insanely funny and I wish that Simon was rich and famous as a result, but the fact is that he doesn’t even sign them let alone “promote” them. Self-promotion is not what Simon is about. Which explains why he doesn’t have a website and why you probably haven’t heard of him.

I have worked with Simon in Sydney, Paris and San Francisco and I look forward to working with him again some day.

DEANE TAYLOR may best be known as the Art Director on the Nightmare before Christmas (and a spin-off game). He also did design work on the animated shows Cow and Chicken and I.M. Weasel by Dave Feiss (yet another animation hero of mine, from later in my career). But years before that, Deane ran the layout department at Hanna Barbera in Sydney. After I had been animating for a few years, Deane offered me a chance at learning layouts under his supervision. Consequently, most of what I know today about composition I learned from Deane, or picked up by working with him and watching him go. He was the most prolific artist in the department. He has a very dynamic drawing style, featuring a clever use of shape and silhoette, that many of his trainees tried to copy, but nobody ever matched Deane for graphic dynamism and energy of line. He taught me some simple compositional guidelines that I learned to apply over and over again, but apart from art tricks, he also showed me quite a bit about work ethics and attitude. Even though the shows we worked on were pretty crappy in those days, and many people just went through the motions when making them, Deane was one of the few who tried his hardest on every show, no matter what. He took pride in his work. He respected people who did a good job on whatever they were given to do, rather than those people who will work on only 2 cylinders, saving themselves for the big deal job on the distant horizon.

Deane taught me to always think of how to “plus” the material that came across my desk. That is certainly what he always does.

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I am very lucky in that I have worked all over the globe, at some really great studios, on some quality productions, with loads of amazing artists over the years… but these guys listed here had a huge influence on me, disproportionate to the quality of the projects we worked on together. In many cases the stuff we collaborated on was a lot of crap, yet these artists are still some of those that I respect the most.