Thursday, August 19, 2010

"Double-O-Darkwing"

An early design sketch of mine for the pitch.
"DuckTales" had been a wildly successful series for Walt Disney Television.  It was inevitable that among the 100 episodes produced for the "DuckTales" series that somewhere among those stories would lurk a possible spinoff. "What do you mean spinoff?" you say? "Disney would consider spinoffs?"  Well, like pretty much all the Hollywood studios, in one word- YES!  Sometimes they turn out well, and other times you wonder why they even made a sequel (moolah). However this project was to turn into the kind of spinoff to be very proud of. "Double-O_Duck " and "The Masked Mallard" were a couple of "DuckTales episodes that were able to stay around in the minds of a few folks back at the studio. They originally aired on November 17th and 18th, 1989 respectively during the DuckTales run. The original concept had Launchpad McQuack not Drake Mallard, as the star of the show. "Double-O-Duck" was written by outstanding DuckTales regulars Ken Koonce and David Wiemers, and along with "The Masked Mallard", became very popular in the "DuckTales" universe. So popular that they would be at the top of a very short list of sequels to be placed into active development and ultimately become a new show a year after "DuckTales uttered its last quack.

My secret lair bridge suggestion and its cable "road"
Disney Television had been sheparding this spinoff into a pitch and with the sudden demise of the new "Bullwinkle Show",  Mike Peraza was an artist without a series and became immediately available for show concepts and washing windows. As I wasn't crazy about heights, I chose the former. There had already been a few character designs done based on the original shows that I was given as "...what to avoid". Gary Krisel  asked me to "Disney-fy" the characters up a bit while placing them in some new original Peraza set ups. (Whatever the heck THAT is) I wasn't crazy about the basic Double-O-Duck character designs. The models exhibited no exaggeration, peppy proportions or interesting dynamics within their shapes. Double-O looked like a very stiff non-descript sterilized combination of the absolute dullest features from 2 otherwise great iconic mallards: Donald Duck and Daffy Duck. The beak was short with barely any curve, the head was so round you would think they had regressed to tracing quarters to get the shape. You have to realize that the character design this was being based on was most likely created in less than an hour during our fast paced "DuckTales" days and was obviously never intended to be a star in his own right or to stand out too much since he was created as a sidekick for Launchpad in those episodes. Even though our hands were tied with character art,  some changes were made in the premise including reversing the two roles so that Drake Mallard, alias Double-O-Duck was now the star instead of  just second banana. He would live in a quiet suburban home with his adopted daughter Gosalyn,  Launchpad would now fill the sidekick slot, and Honker Middlefoot the son of a next door neighbor  would also come along on the adventures.  When villainy attacked the fair feathered city of Saint Canard, Drake would change into his super hero alter ego, Double-O-Duck!

Kids don't try this at home
This was now Friday morning and the presentation was Monday. Yeah... no kidding. I sat down with a young fellow named Tad Stones and went over ideas for setups that would give the feeling of this show and hopefully help sell the pitch. We tossed all the suggestions that had been done to date by another crew and started with a fresh slate. The pieces done originally for the presentation made the show look like another extension of DuckTales. Tad and I both wanted something more visually exciting and with a combination of "The Shadow", "James Bond", "Green Hornet", "The Scarlet Pimpernel", and the new Tim Burton film, "Batman" mixed into the artwork so I kept that direction in mind while sketching. I VERY quickly drew up over a dozen pieces in thumbnail size and showed these roughs to Gary. He pretty much loved most of them and the couple he wasn't too crazy about were quickly round filed (office lingo for tossed in the garbage can).


 Storysketch I based on Tad's script
I still couldn't stand the Double-O-Duck design but this was the character design we were expected to use and at this point we were behind the 8-ball time wise. After lunch I xeroxed my drawings up in size to about 8 inches across and did a rough color pass over each with pastels. I had one of the few balconies with a sliding door so that I could go outside and spray matte fixative on the pastels to keep them from smudging. Tad also had a balcony and each time he heard my door slide open, he closed his to avoid the evil odors of asphyxiation wafting over into his domicile. I didn't blame him. My goal was (and I met it ) to have all the setups roughed and in color before the end of the day and then go home over the weekend and complete them in a larger 11" x 17" size for the pitch presentation. That was one of many "lost weekends" serving the mouse factory. Lost weekends it seems are a part of most animation folk I've known and worked with. It seems no matter how long something has been in development talks, there is ALWAYS a last minute, "we needed it yesterday" pressure that comes up right before a presentation date.

Very quickie setup, no time for reference or studies.
On Monday, I brought my artwork for the pitch in and luckily for me Gary was thrilled with it. My only guess was that he must have had a heckofa great weekend but who am I to argue. I had come up with a location atop a cable suspension bridge where Double-O could have a secret base of operations to look out over the city and bay of Saint Canard. I also had a "car lift" to use one of the few vehicle designs we salvaged from the earlier artwork. Someone had mentioned having him ride on a motorcycle so I thought it would be a dynamic shot if I had him ride it directly up the cable to his secret hide-a-way. Tad went along with the idea and I included those setups in the pitch. Thank goodness my simple chunky motorcyle design along with the rather pedestrian old model car was later put on some artistic steroids for the series resulting in those very cool Darkwing vehicles he uses to track down the villains with. We composed a very entertaining script for the verbal part of the presentation that would have made a great radio show all be itself without any artwork to back it up. The pitch went very well, especially when you realize we had originally planned to be presenting the new updated "Bullwinkle" show instead of a last minute replacement named "Double-O-Duck".

tomboy baking her first cake
One interesting side note was the when Jeffery Katzenberg saw the secret lair on and in the tower, he remarked that it reminded him of the "Great Mouse Detective" (Basil ) clock tower which he said might be a "good thing." Since I had developed both of these locations, I took it as a compliment. The truth was that I had zero time to develop the idea beyond my basic proposal and so relied on my own memories sans any reference and motivated by sheer desperation. The pitch included my color setups along with the character suggestions by Bob Kline who would go on to do spectacular Art development for "Talespin". In fact in my opinion it was his stunning designs along with some great pieces done by Carol Police that made the "Talespin" series such a visual treat, but that as they say, is another story. To say I wasn't very happy with my pitch artwork shown here is an understatement but you have to keep in mind that it was done in a couple days from beginning to end, or at least that's my only excuse. The bottom line is though, the series sold!

A dingy dank dark desolate artwork encrusted alley in St. Canard
Two major changes were to come next. The first was renaming the show. As it turned out, "Double-O" was copyrighted by "007" creator Ian Fleming and owned outright by "007" movie producer Albert R. Broccoli. We had skated by unseen with one "DuckTales" episode but they were not going to allow a new series to do the same with a knock-off of their registered name. So we went  from the overtly sounding James Bond spin "Double-O-Duck" to the overtly sounding "Batman" take, "Darkwing Duck". Still, it was an improvement. The main character got redesigned, thank goodness, through the talent of Toby Sheldon, who was the most responsible for the dynamic final look you saw on the series. The cheeks were an obvious adaptation of Roger Rabbit's head shape but it worked well in that it separated Darkwing from his famous cousins, Donald and Daffy. Also included in the mix were catch phrases (all the best super heroes had em') like,  "I am the screeching fingernail on the chalkboard of justice!" and "I am the terror that flaps in the night,  I am the batteries that are not included. I am Darkwing Duck!". Obviously some lines worked a little better than others.

A doodle I did of St Canard's waterfront based on Naw'lins
Like most of the work I did for WDTVA, I moved onto the next set of concepts for new shows, commercials and specials and didn't work on the actual series. My "DuckTales"buddy Alan Zaslove along with Tad supervised production of the show expertly along with a solid talented crew. This series would become yet another notch in the Disney TV belt running from 1991 to 1995. "Darkwing Duck" was the first Disney Afternoon offering that was created as a parody of a specific genre. It was a marvelous send-up of superhero , pulp fiction presented within a canvas of film noir imagery. You would think that after cancellation, that would be it for our mighty mallard but only recently Disney revised the franchise by licensing an ongoing monthly comic book series entitled, "The Duck Knight Returns." I mean really, can a new series be far behind?   Do I hear...
"LETS GET DANGEROUS!"

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Bullwinkled

A quick sketch I did for a pitch that was never presented.

It was in early August 1989  and I had recently finished up with Little Mermaid when I once again returned to Walt Disney TV. It was a different animal entirely by then. The once tiny staff had ballooned enormously and had taken over much of the once almost empty address on Cahuenga. I eventually found my  all official looking name tag formally spelling out  Michael Perazza instead of Michael Peraza, posted on a nice room with a balcony view. I figured with a room like this, the spelling was close enough. I was just moving in when I got a call to come to a meeting. I was immediately asked to help kick off a new series idea that Gary Krisel, President of Walt Disney Television Animation, was putting together for a pitch.  Gary was an unusual executive in that he was approachable with suggestions and took time to listen to any valid opinions. He had taken a wildly diverse background in finance and marketing and progressed from producing hit records as president of Disney's Worldwide Music Publishing to overseeing some very successful animated creations for Disney TV. .Like most of us, Gary was also a fan of the old classic Jay Ward show "Rocky and His Friends" later to be know as its more famous moniker "The Bullwinkle Show". Tad  was the point person on this and he was likewise excited over the possibilities. I remember all too distinctly though, my first question to both of them. "So does Disney actually OWN the rights to these guys?" I went on to explain that I had been to Universal Studios only the day before and watched the "Rocky and Bullwinkle" live show right next to the "Duddley-Do-Right" Emporium, so how could Disney have the rights? Gary answered quickly that we (Disney) did in fact own, "all the video rights." That answer didn't quite settle my questioning little mind but I assumed we wouldn't be going forward into development without the rights all sewed up. Boy was I ever wrong.

A few of the sketches I made for the pitch
Jay Ward created many iconic characters for his shows  including Crusader Rabbit, Rocky & Bullwinkle, Dudley Do-Right, Peabody and Sherman, Hoppity Hooper, George of the Jungle, Tom Slick and Super Chicken. Those of use who like to start out our mornings right will never forget his other creations like Cap'n Crunch, Quisp and Quake breakfast cereals. His Bullwinkle show however was most likely his most fondly remembered cast. He had segments within the show such as "Fractured Fairy Tales" and "Aesop and Sons" that were a hilarious send up of childhood stories told with a wry satiric wit. The announcer, "William Conrad) might be out of breath prompting another onscreen character to question his huffing and puffing while very often "breaking the forth wall" and addressing the TV audience at home. Just a few of the terrific voice talents used on the show included Bill Scott (Bullwinkle,George,Dudley Do-Right, Mr. Peabody), June Foray (Rock,Natasha, Nell Fenwicky), Paul Frees, Hans Conried, Charlie Riggles, Edward Everett Horton (Narrator for Fractured), and Daws Butler. Subjects from current events to politics and famous celebrities were often the genesis of these satirically entertaining shows. An inside joke around the Jay Ward studio was to add a "J" throughout the shows for middle initials or store front signs in homage to "Jay". Examples are Bullwinkle,  J Moose, Rocky J Squirrel and so on.

Gary assigned Tad Stones to help flesh out the writing for the pitch. I had known Tad back when he was briefly at Disney Features Animation and his excitement over this project easily matched mine which was bordering manic. Tad was a speed demon on the typewriter, yeah, no laptops in those days. Gary asked if I could have a full presentation ready by the following Monday morning. As it would give me a week plus the weekend, I said most definitely yes, no problem. Tad and I went back to his room to kick around ideas. Tad came up with a butter and popcorn caper  cooked up by Boris and Natasha that Bullwinkle and Rocky would foil of course by the end of the episode. I came up with "Fractured Scary Tales", a spin on Jay's famous series within a series. The basis of this would be to lampoon the then never ending slate of horror films the way the fairy tales had been targeted for an earlier generation. It wasn't easy gathering the reference for the Ward characters back then but luckily the studio was able to scrounge up a few video tapes of the old shows that I could study. As I viewed the old episodes I quickly realized that although some references-  like the cold war, was dated it all still had such a sharp freshness about it that was a joy to watch and listen to. The limited animation Jay had used was well planned and designed to work exactly in that format and the overall art direction was wonderfully reminiscent of the UPA styling so prevalent of the 1950s.

More drawings of mine that never saw the light of day
I dove into staging the setups to illustrate Tad's funny ideas for the popcorn caper building upon his suggestions. One nice thing about working with Tad is that he listened to your ideas. You could bounce things back and forth, improving the storyline  together instead of a producer just ordering a single inflexible direction with no opportunity to improve.  After I did Tad's "popcorn" segment, I then did some drawings for the horror spoofs I had concocted including "Pie-Day the 13th"  and "Nitey Nite on Elf Street".  The first would take that mask motif and turn it into a pie tin as helpless victims were soon eating custard pie without aid of knife or fork. I also made fun of the Freddy Krueger character by making him an elf with cooking utensils instead of razor blades on his glove. He would visit chubby kids on diets during their dreams and stuff their gullet full of junk food. I came up with some snappy writing to back up the visuals along with the never ending puns.  I also added a "Mr Know-It-All" segment that would pay homage to Jay's original segment. I wanted to have Mr Know_It_All (Bullwinkle) show the folks at home how to set up their home tape recorder. Yes this was many years before Goofy would find himself in a similar situation. He would also help get rid of that annoying "flashing red clock" for good. I had Bullwinkle's voice down and a so-so version of Rocky to hep with the presentation. I showed Tad my assembled setups on Wednesday morning and he almost choked laughing which I took as a good sign. For the rest of that day and til the end of the week I had plenty of time to  complete the entire pitch in color. Tad meanwhile worked away writing up a hilarious verbal storyline that would be narrated during the pitch while I just kept my nose to the grind ... er...  animation desk. Our offices were literally side by side so we could constantly check in on what the other was doing and add some suggestion or remark or just bug each other. I could hardly wait to see this show get into production.

Happy Landings Bullwinkle.
I came in early Friday morning around 7:30, my usual time and turned on the coffee maker in the kitchen to make a little wake up juice. While I waited for the caffeine brew to drip, I sat down to finish up a couple of minor color details on the Bullwinkle presentation.   I'll never forget what happened next. Gary Krisel came running down the hall shouting, "We don't have the rights! Put down your pencil! We don't have the rights!" Gary was a tad upset. When Tad got in a little while later, he too would be a tad upset. I was a tad upset and I wasn't even related to him! Gary had unfortuantely been given the go-ahead by the Disney legal staff telling him that we indeed had all the necessary rights when we in fact only had rights to the "video distribution" of the old Bullwinkle show. In other words he was up Frostbite Falls without a paddle. It wasn't his fault nor mine or Tads. Placing blame was pointless anyway as we were all in panic mode now as the presentation was only days away.  We had to get a replacement pitch and fast! Luckily at about  the same time Tad had also been hard at work in development with a possible spinoff series coming out of an old "DuckTales" episode I had worked on that had paired Launchpad with a superhero of sorts called "Double-O_Duck". He secret identity was Drake Mallard but we woiuld eventually know him as "Darkwing Duck".

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Days of DuckTales, PART 4 (fin)

I opted to re-deisgn the small comic Mansion completely into a Tudor estate 

I had done work for TV years before like Hanna-Barbera  but had long since settled into working for Disney features. As such we had the budget and the time to put in extras and push the quality. Even the Disney TV division had devoted more resources into their product than most of the other studios and it had showed in "Gummi Bears". I had busted my hump like everyone else to make "Ducktales" special so when the day came to screen the first episode I had been busy finishing a couple of keys for a future show. Everyone started coming down to tell me how great the show looked and I finally caved in and went down to enjoy it. I wasn't quite prepared for what I was to see. I was less than enthused over the results on screen. I think everyone's accolades beforehand made it seem all the worse when I viewed it. When the lights went up I saw a lot of happy faces looking at me to get my opinion. What could I say? I just smiled and nodded, not wanting to hurt anyone's feelings. Over time I realized my reaction was one of outright ignorance. The show had a set and limited budget and schedule. Everyone involved did the best they could.
Disney Fine Art announces latest works from Disney Art Director Mike Peraza

A scene based on but not found in Carl's comic
I confided my feeling with Alan that maybe the "DuckTales" show wasn't exactly up to par as a Disney production and he assured me that it was actually a good effort by the studio. He was right of course and when "Ducktales" aired, it was an immediate hit with fans of all ages. Soon after it premiered and over the years since that time I have been fortunate to meet many fans from all over the world who really love the series. I guess sometimes we just get too close to our own work and need to step back, take a deep breath and listen to other opinions a bit more. As I looked back through my notes and artwork while researching this blog, I realized I had worked on two out of four versions of "Scrooge McDuck" to reach the screen. The first was "Spirit of '43", followed by "Scrooge McDuck and his Money" in 1967 (Ward Kimball supervised and wanted to include the darker side of Money, something he said Walt would have done but was vetoed), "Mickey's Christmas Carol," and "DuckTales". I guess maybe we could include the 2 second clip of him during the opening of "Mickey Mouse Club",  ... nah.

Studio invite to Wrap Party
"DuckTales" went on to a second season in 1990 with 25 additional episodes and eventually reached a total of 100 for the entire series. It also became a theatrical feature with the release o f"DuckTales, Treasure of the Lost Lamp." There have been two spinoffs to date, "Darkwing Duck" (which I did the original concept art for over a long weekend when it was just known as "Double-O-Duck") and another one I did not work on entitled "Quack Pack" and tons of merchandise from clothing to action figures. Carl Barks was very impressed with the "DuckTales" series when it first aired on television but lost interest in the later episodes citing too many characters and the complicated plots. I received a mysterious yellow envelope addressed to Michael Peraza delivered by the traffic boy. I opened it to find a small yellow invitation to celebrate our hard work. So late on a Monday evening after work, the Disney Studio threw a nice little wrap party for us at Maison Gerard. Looking around the restaurant I realized how lucky I was to have worked alongside these people, from a management including Michael Webster and Tom Ruzicka, writing and the art department they were all amazing and I was kind of sad to see it end.  Still, it is truly fitting that the series originally inspired by Carl's' creation in a comic book was now not only a hit Disney series but would be re-introduced to a fresh generation within a new line of comics entitled what else? "DuckTales"!
Disney Fine Art announces latest works from Disney Art Director Mike Peraza

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.

Friday, August 6, 2010

Days of DuckTales, PART 2

I designed Scrooge's estate to have a heliport, pool, etc.
If I listed every single member of our remarkable "DuckTales"crew, this chapter would be 3 pages longer so please forgive me if I only mention a few. Fred Wolf wore the bill as "Top Duck" Producer with Tom Ruzicka watching his back, direction by Alan Zaslove and Steve Clark, with Tedd Anasti and Patsy Cameron story editing the "tales" supported by seasoned writer Mark Zaslove. The Ducktales Art staff included our fearless leader, Brad Landreth as Art Director, Skip Morgan was his trusty associate,  Mike Peraza on Key Layout Styling and concepts with Ed Wexler providing additional layouts. Storyboards were expertly sketched by Thom Enriquez, Rick Chidlaw, Marty Murphy, Steve Gordon and Hank Tucker ( They even allowed me to storyboard a couple of shows). Background Painting wizard Paro Hozumi brought breathtaking color into the settings assited by Gary Eggleston and topped off with Jill Stirdivant adding perfectly matching color models. 

Our character designs were greatly enhanced by a couple of friends of mine also from Disney features, Ed Gombert and Toby Shelton. I had contacted Ed and Toby, telling how much greener the grass was growing over at TV. To my happy surprise they liked my spiel and joined up.  Toby went on to become a producer in later years at TV while Ed and I were to escape back to features for "Little Mermaid". For some reason a schism developed that wedged between the two animation divisions as far as what was perceived as "raiding" the feature talent pool. It sounds preposterous but it was very real. Staff was called in and asked not to contact feature folks about joining our ranks. I'm just glad we smuggled Ed and Toby out before the barb wire wall went up. Of course they never did discover the third escape tunnel...

My first assignment was to create concept art that would be used to pitch the series to management. Having a great idea for a series and getting a greenlight to produce it doesn't always go hand in hand in Hollywood. We formed ranks and went to work. Brad was in charge of assembling the pieces and I was joined by Skip and Paro to round out the team. We created about a dozen pieces that looked like mini posters of what we perceived as the "DuckTales" world. Some were inspired by Carl Barks comics while most were completely original creations. It was real teamwork as we all shared working a bit on this one, then add something at that one, redo this other one, etc.. The pitch was presented and we held our collective breath. Would the suits like the series proposal or was it "duck season" with us as targets? Michael Eisner and Jeffrey Katzenberg and the rest of management loved it! Bob Jacquemin who was in charge of the new syndication unit really flipped and convinced Eisner to let him ramp up the series 13 episodes to a full slate of 65 for sydication. Michael Webster got us together and relayed the good news and we were ready to fly! Donald Duck would in essence drop off his nephews Huey, Duey and Louie with his Uncle Scrooge while he joined the Navy. Together with their housekeeper Mrs. Beakly and Scrooge's disaster prone pilot Launchpad they would travel the world over during their colorful feather-brained adventures. Now I was sweating. I had to design the mansion Scrooge lived in not just interior and exterior but cut-a-way sections of the various rooms and scaling charts for character placement. I also had to crank out settings from the City of Duckburg to Wild West towns. In short, I had to have settings ready to supply to the storyboard department and to give the background artists something to paint. The hectic hurried "we need it yesterday" pace in television production is a bit different from the ho-hum leisurely shall I say ... relaxing pace one works under when vacationing at the resort villa we call feature animation.

I start with a tiny thumbnail 2" wide
An average week for me on "DuckTales" went as follows: Monday morning arrive as usual at 7:30, either first one in or second following Michael Webster. Tedd and Patsy also got in early and would give me a heads up on the latest story. Plenty of doughnuts and bagels in the kitchen, hey maybe THAT"S where I started my "animator's gut! Damn those rainbow sprinkles! Anyway, I would have a script  soon after and would zip through the story in a few minutes. I love to read which helped me digest the nonstop scripts quickly. By the time the rest of the crew arrived I could give any who asked what the breakdown of the storyline was so they could just sit and draw. I also made a list of locations as Skip did with characters. I then would thumbnail about 15 very tight drawings of those locations, handing out a few to the layout staff to blow up and finish after running them by Brad who almost always OK'd my doodles. Working off little thumbnails was something I had learned from veteran Disney Legend Ken O'Connor. Using his methods I could generate from 10 to 12 layouts a day and these were keys, meaning each was very different. 

Blew it up on xerox then cleanup 12"wide
Cranking out the large number of exotic locations so quickly was possible for me due to a huge clip file I had assembled in my room with reference on subjects from ancient Egypt to rocket travel, basically anything that might be a location for an episode. This was a tip I was handed by Disney storyman Vance Gerry who maintained a marvelous clip file in his room at the studio. My mini library was open to anyone who needed it. The next step would be for me to caricature the location to fit the story and business while adding a few "duck" features whereever possible. Sometimes if I had a few moments I would do rough color treatments to pass along to Paro, not that he needed any help, just that sometimes when you're drawing in black & white, you're thinking in color. He appreciated my suggestions and always used them. Paro was a fine example of the traditional step used by Disney production in theory, that every step gets improved as it goes through the creative process. That certainly was the case on "Ducktales" due to the dedication of the staff and management.  As the day wore on we would get our assortment of corrections to the script. I say assortment because they arrived in a multitude of colors, blue pages, pink pages, yellow and so on. A troubled script could look like some kind of freaked-out technicolor phonebook within the span of just a couple days.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Days of DuckTales PART 1

A color rough I did as a suggestion during the DuckTales series Mike Peraza
Michael Webster, was an animation veteran from Quartet Films, Hanna Barbera, Murakami Wolf Films, Leo Burnett Advertising and Rankin Bass but when he answered the call to join Disney Studios, animation history was in the making. In 1984, CEO Michael Eisner created the Walt Disney Television Animation division and placed Michael Webster in charge to oversee the production of its programing with help from Production Manager Olivia Miner.

Apparently Michael Eisner's son had one heck of a sweet tooth for a specific candy and so "Gummi Bears" was quickly put into development before he got a tummy ache. The small but extremely talented staff included Producer Art Vitello, Layout Ed Wexler and BG Painter Gary Eggleston and Thom Enriquez doing storyboards. This crew was really sharp. The studio asked me to help out with the launch so I did some promotional art under Art's able supervision to be used in spots like TV Guide and Disney veteran Ken Anderson whom the studio also roped in contributed his usual great design eye for Gummi Glen. Of the two early series that the fledgling department produced, "Adventures of the Gummi Bears" and "Wuzzles", only Gummi Bears became a success and subsequently aired on NBC for four seasons. Disney Fine Art. Disney Afternoon.

1 of over 600 key DuckTales layouts I designed
Two years sped by and I was working for Ross and Jan Bagdasarian on their first full length animated feature, "The Chipmunk Adventure" when I got a call from a friend at Disney TV Animation. They were doing a pitch for a new show called, "Fluppy Dogs". I worked on it because the person who was in charge was Brad Landreth, one of the nicest people in animation. I also did it for the money which was very good. Unfortunately the plot was a little insipid, they were "not actual dogs, they just looked like dogs" and because of that, they were escorted  to a dog pound. These "dog-like" creatures used a "fluppy crystal key" to open inter-dimensional doorways to their lame adventures. Umm... yeah, that was the setup. It wasn't Brad's fault, not mind either, just another less than terrific idea for an animated series donated by the suit factory. Oh yeah, almost forgot, they were each a different color, like Teletubbies or any other the other endless parade of rainbow hued character gangs substituted for children's programming.
"Back to the Klondike" key setup

I did some concept art and storyboarded the opening sequence that was used as presentation art to attempt a green light of the "Fluppy Dogs" project.  Fortunately for the children of the world this stinker bombed and was never heard of again, at least not in our inter-dimensional portal. 

I kept working on the chipmunk feature doing boards and concepts alongside my good friend and amazing artist Dan Haskett when I was once again contacted by Disney TV. They were going to do a new series based on Carl Barks' famous creation Uncle Scrooge. They were still "negotiating" with the main studio whether Donald could be a part of it but the nephews were on board already. Yes, Disney was and is very protective of its stars. Maybe they had seen Fluppy Dogs? Nevertheless, being a comic book collector and fan, I had also met Carl a few years earlier (Great guy!) and I was ecstatic at the possibilities of putting his genius on the screen. My "Fluppy" friend Brad was heading it up as Art Director and when they asked if I was interested, I couldn't quack YES fast enough. The DuckTales artwork posted here I didn't know I even had as I thought I had thrown out most of that stuff many years ago. My wife Patty  found the ones that are shown here in some boxes filled with animation memories in our garage and looking back, I'm glad I didn't toss them.