Monday, August 9, 2010

Days of DuckTales, PART 3





Scrooge on thrilling ride thru a dinosaur skeleton

In the mid 1980s, Disney Television Animation was comfortably ensconced in a dark walnut stained multistoried building that resembled an accordion from the side. I had a nice spacious office in one of the accordion "flaps" with windows sandwiched between the writers' rooms and the directors' rooms. Alan Zaslove was next door and Steve Clark one more beyond. Alan would come in and we'd kibbitz about the latest script and he would want to see what I was designing for it, especially if he was directing the same tale. He was also a veteran animator and contributed wonderful ideas for his episodes. I enjoyed his company immensely and loved to listen to his stories of life at UPA working on classics like "Gerald McBoing! Boing" and his experiences alongside animation greats like Bo Cannon and Shamus Culhane. He gave me a heaping helping of model sheets and art from those UPA days after seeing how enthused I was over that era of animation and the artists involved. The impact of the style and technique not to mention subject matter that the innovative artists at UPA employed cannot be understated. The UPA "look" has been retro-fitted by every studio to some degree since in one series or another from Nick to Cartoon Network and Disney to Warners. Alan was also an "old school" director and by that I mean he earned his way up through the ranks with talent. He was excellent at distilling the story given to him in a script and producing remarkable little thumbnails to hand out to his storymen to further illustrated his perception of the actions he wanted. He was also just plain fun to hang out with.


Olivia Miner caught working
Our staff at this point was still very small which was wonderful as far as we were concerned. When someone had a birthday party, our Production Manager Olivia would squeeze the entire crew into the kitchen to warble the song and blow out candles. I can assure you that that simply can't be accomplished anymore with the large Disney staff sizes of today. We all had out assignments and got things done on or ahead of schedule. Back then we were a "Lean, Mean Animating Machine". That didn't stop a few of our rowdier prisoners from scaling the walls with gags and jokes. We had many, MANY characters designed for the series, some memorable, some well.... We had one cartoon weasel drawn with a nose that resembled something that should not have sprouted out of that part of the anatomy. Actually being a Disney character, he really shouldn't have sprouted anything anywhere. Let me first say this, I knew the guy who drew it, and he didn't mean it to be mistaken for anything other than a nose. In face when someone mentioned it, he grew so red I thought his head would sizzle and pop. Now keep in mind all this work made us hungry and the studio would sometimes order  pizza for lunch from a place called Pizza Man to thank us for our efforts, or thinking back maybe it was to punish who knows?. Both of these events came together one one day when we had a frantic scramble to ready a pitch to extend the series into the second season. At the last minute it was discovered that we needed one more art piece so I was asked to rush out it less than an hour before the meeting. Brad explained it was OK if I didn't get it done which I of course took as a personal challenge.

DuckTales crew Halloween 1986
I had previously blown up the offensive weasel character to five feet high using the xerox cut him out and glued him to foam core and was waiting for the right time to unlease the varmint. I might add that the enlarged drawing not have a nose job done but was still "au naturel"  as his original design at this point. I attached a used Pizza Man box to his cut out and articulated hands and along with my fast and fresh "DuckTales" drawing, some cord and tape, scurried up to the roof. The corner room meeting was going along smoothly although Brad told me later he really missed my drawing. Suddenly mid sentence, eveyone looks to the window to see the 5 foot tall weasel being lowered and holding a pizza box. After a moment to swing in the breeze the "pizza weasle" opens the box and displayed my sketch. I would hear the details later. I dropped the paper puppet and hauled back downstairs to my room. I barely got to my desk when I heard the uproar down the hall with Brad leaning into my doorway gasping between laughter and wheezing out, "Thanks Mike, I owe you one!" They were still cracking up as he went back to the meeting and closed the door. That gag was hardly the last prank played by me or others during "DuckTales" production  but I just don't have room to list more except as simply their secret code phrases: rubber band door, trashcan pyramid, smoke in the kitchen, moving stink bomb, elevator attendant and other innocent escapades. Oh by the way, we got a second season in spite of all the fun.

3 comments:

  1. Great stuff Mike. Keep the stories coming.

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  2. Hopefully you can share some of your UPA art some day... :)

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  3. Hi Steve, thanks for the support my friend, glad you liked em'.

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