About two years ago fellow Animaniac Valerie, known as "Takineko" on the boards, was suddenly contacted on her Youube account by former WBA director Rich Arons. After some back-and-forth banter Rich agreed to let Val interview him for Platypus Comix. This was pretty cool, because among the small community of WBA fans that have managed to dig up those who made the cartoons, none of us had ever found Arons before.
So why are you looking at only half of him? Because Rich disappeared again midway through the interview. Val sent him several more letters for months, none of which were replied to. Ultimately, we had to make the decision to publish what we managed to get. As it stands it's a nice overview, but Val never got to any specific questions.
Where did you grow up?
RICH: I grew up in the Bronx. I drew as far back as I can remember and loved Bugs Bunny cartoons. I actually remember drawing a picture of Bugs when i was 5 or 6 for my grandparents and they put it up on the wall in their apartment. That was a big thrill for me. My grandfather used to draw for my sister and I, just to crack us up. One time he drew a picture of King Kong standing on the Empire State Building with a big bath towel around his waist for modesty. I wish I still had that sketch.
VAL: You sound really fond of your grandfather, would you say he was a big influence in your life?
RICH: Yes! He was a terrific sketcher. He used to amaze us with his impromptu drawings. My other grandfather used to build these fantastic little houses filled with tiny realistic furniture; log cabins and old living rooms with fire places. My parents and sister Jan were incredibly supportive. My dad went to the High School of Music and Art back in the 50's and he drew for me a 3 wheeled car that he designed. My folks sent me to art school at age 8 and sent my sister to the New York City ballet school at age 6. Your parents' influence can make you or break you. Mine, thankfully, really appreciated the creative part of a child's development and gave me and Jan every opportunity to explore it. You take that kind of thing with you for the rest of your life. Later on, in my 20's, I found that I was good at animating dances from watching my sis in those zillions of ballets she was in as a kid.
How did you become involved with the cartoon business?
RICH: I always wanted to get into it. I drew cartoons in the womb. I went to the High School of Art and Design where I studied cartooning and advertising art. We moved to California when I was a teen and I went to the Disney Animation School at Cal Arts. Had some great teachers from the golden age back then.
What were some of your first projects?
RICH: My first job was rotoscoping and assistant animation (like a thousand other kids did) on Bakshi's "Lord of the Rings". I was 18 and got paid 230 bucks a week. I was in heaven. Made more than my uncle. I animated, layed out, designed and boarded on kinds of stuff (Filmation, DIC, Hanna Barbera, etc...) for about ten years before directing at Warner Bros on "Tiny Toons". Incidentally, Filmation's founder Lou Scheimer is one of our associates in our new company "Gang of Seven Animation" (www.g7animation.com)
You mentioned drawing Bugs Bunny, and obviously you were an
animation fan from the get-go. Was there anyone thing or person
in particular who influenced your work?
RICH: The Looney Tunes of course were/are my favorite cartoons. They were pure fun because there was no studio intervention in their content and to this day you can still feel the energy of the visual writing, the acting, the strong design and fresh/direct sense of humor. They made fun of everything and that's really empowering to kids. The execs thought they were making Mickey Mouse cartoons or something and never bothered them. When i was a kid I actually started to notice the difference between the cartoons that said they were directed by Charles (Chuck) M Jones, Robert (Bob) Clampett, I. (Friz)Freleng or Fred Avery. That may not be a big deal, but I thought I was clever. What a geek.
Mad Magazine was just the greatest too. Parody and satire for kids! Plus all that great, hysterical art by Jack Davis, Mort Drucker and Wally Wood. Of course I worshiped Frank Frazetta, and there was a comic I had of Thor done by Jack Kirby that I must have stared at for several years. Those guys were like magicians with a pencil. I also lived for the Sean Connery James Bond movies. They were the greatest fantasy films outside of animation and I actually used to entertain friends by drawing Connery's face from memory. I could also draw that Nautilus from 20,000 Leagues pretty well from memory too.
It's funny how some images really stick with us from childhood. I also loved old World War II movies and anything with Humphrey Bogart, a fighter plane or a submarine in it. Fantasy war films is the way I look at them. They made it all look like good clean fun. I didn't understand the horror of war or the holocaust until I was about 11, which is for the best, I think. I remember making flip books, writing and drawing comic books and going to the Art Student's League at age 10, where I got to draw naked ladies! What a great scam! I knew right then that art was the way for me.
I also enjoyed the Disney classics, but only got to see a few of them when I was a kid. They re-released Fantasia for the hippies in the late sixties to enjoy while high. I was too young to be a hippie and never really got the whole anti-establishment thing until I was ancient, but I was fascinated with the film. I would have to say that "Night on Bald Mountain", "The Mushroom Dance" and "Dance of the Hours" blew me away. I was thrilled years later at Cal Arts when I had teachers who had been so instrumental in the design and story of those Disney classics.
Do you remember making the switch from animator and storyboard
artist to director at Warner Brothers? Was it a challenging
experience or did it fit you even better?
And for those of us who dont know, what does an animation director do?
Ill try to answer both questions, Val. Its hard to
give a simple answer without explaining the whole arduous process
of animation production. Ill try not to bore you with too
many tedious details:
Suddenly becoming a director was pretty overwhelming for me at first. Before directing, as an artist, all I had to do was pull my weight, make the director happy and be a merry cog in the production wheel.
As a director I found that there was a new strain on my relationship with some of my friends; I now had to tell my artist buddies what to do. A director must tell his artists what he thinks is wrong with their work and how to adjust or redo it to make it fit in with the overall look and story. So now theres a whole load of unhappy, hurt artistic egos! Yet you must nurse them along (so they dont quit) while you cheerlead them through the production and battle your way to make something good while still meeting your deadlines. The most talented and valuable artists working in any production are usually also the most tolerant / durable ones; can they take the directors sometimes mind-numbing notes (not always warranted) and still deliver the goods in a timely fashion, without killing him? (There is a special resort in Animation Hell for directors and I already have my room booked.)
If youve got a good script, then you need to make sure it gets translated to the screen correctly by your storyboard staff. If its a lesser script, then you have to do whatever you can to fix it; even if it means rewriting dialogue, changing the order of events, expanding or creating new sequences that will support and entertain, etc. All of this entails a lot of work for the director and some unhappy noses are knocked askew. If youre working with no script and going straight to storyboard with just an idea or an outline, then you really have to know what the heck youre doing. Silent cartoons, musical sequences or non-well defined scripts really require the full force of the director and his artists story telling talents.
Then youve got the producers and production managers telling you, dont be late and youd better not be making an over-budget epic, but it had better be great so that we can all get picked up for the next season! Having been a producer overseeing five directors and their units, I know both sides of this struggle.
Then, of course, youve got your own ideas as a director on how your scenes should be executed: performed by the voice over actors, played out in angles that work for you as a filmmaker and, oh yeah, all of the episode specific designs needed for characters, backgrounds, props, etc. Presumably all of these elements will be wonderful to look at while still serving the comedic/dramatic needs of the story.
Oh, and dont forget, since this is a series, the whole look of the show may need to be readdressed; are we doing a straight episode that adheres to the over all design/look of the series or are we doing a departure that, for example, takes place in 1946 in black and white with cameos from Harry and Margaret Truman?
With all of this stuff on your plate to deal with, once the production really gets moving, you find yourself working on 13 episodes (or more) at the same time in various stages of production: design, recording, timing, editing, sound mixing, etc!
To sum up the animation directors duties, I would have to say this: He has to understand all of the tedious details of production while still keeping sight of how all of the elements affect the big picture, and keep asking himself the ultimate question: Is this thing worth watching?
When I took over my unit as director, on the one hand I was prepared for this and on the other I wasnt. I was prepared to the degree that I had been a seasoned animator and had a well developed sense of timing, story, design, etc. However, I had been un-prepared for the speed and voracity of television production. Its a monster that can eat up an individuals energy and creativity through sheer exhaustion. Thats why you really rely on getting the best talent possible to help you through it. This is true whether they be designers, animators, actors or writers. Many mediocre directors can manage to coast by and look good if they have enough talented/dedicated support staff to save their butts and are very lucky. But luck always runs out eventually. A director does have to make some good decisions now and again if he or she wants to survive in this zoological experiment that we call TV animation.
If Rich would ever like to continue this interview, the chair is still open. Until then, that's all, folks.
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