11.27.2006

"My Oscar Experience": An Interview with John Canemaker Part 2

This is the conclusion of my two-part interview with John Canemaker. Click here for Part 1. (Be sure to click on each image below to view its Flickr page and then "All Sizes" to view larger.)

LOS ANGELES, AT LAST

John: That evening [Feb 28] we were scheduled to appear at the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences’ Samuel Goldwyn Theater for a press reception and a screening at 6:30. So when we landed in LA, each of us had about two hours to quickly rent a car, check into our respective hotels, get dressed and head for the Academy headquarters on Wilshire Boulevard.

John and Peggy smile for the cameras
Photographers at the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences Shorts program showcase on Feb. 28, 2006 shoot THE MOON AND THE SON's producer Peggy Stern and director John Canemaker.

Ward: When you say “each of us” you’re talking about all the nominees? Was all this arranged with all the nominees in mind?

John: Yes. All the short film nominees were involved in the screening, including the live-action group. My producer Peggy Stern flew into LA that morning. She was staying at the Hyatt on Sunset Boulevard where Joe and I were also staying, so we drove to the reception together.

Ward: How was that event?

John: It was great fun—a real Hollywood scene. Lots of photographers and all the nominees—animation as well as live-action —were interviewed by a variety of TV and print reporters. There was finger food, drinks, many air kisses and air hugs. Then we were escorted into the grand Goldwyn Theatre which seats over I,000—and every seat was filled! It was standing room only. We were flabbergasted.

Smiling nominees
The Animated Short Film nominees at the Academy showcase on Feb. 28,. 2006 pose for photographers: (l. to r.) Peggy Stern, Andrew Jimenez, John Canemaker, Shawn Acker, Sharon Colman, and Anthony Lucas.

Ward: That’s great. You all deserve it.

John: I sat behind John Lasseter and Ed Catmull, who flew down for the screening. The animated films were screened first, after which Chris Wedge, the evening’s host, brought all of us on stage for a single question each. That’s all there was time for.

Academy Screening Q&A
On stage with Chris Wedge as he interviews Sharon Colman, John Canemaker and Peggy Stern at the Academy screening of Animated Short Films (Feb. 28, 2006).

Ward: And what was the one question that you were asked?

John: Something about...was my film based on a real, true story? And I answered “Yes, Oprah!” which got a laugh 'cause Oprah had recently chastised author James Frey on the air for being less than honest in his book, which she heavily promoted on her show.

Afterwards, Peg, Joe and I went to a supermarket. We were starving and bought salads and beer, which we ate in my hotel suite. Peg’s son was ill in New York, so she spent a considerable amount of time in LA on her cell phone dealing with doctors, and so forth. He’s fine now, but at the time she was under a great deal of stress, beside the Oscar-thing.

Ward: I can only imagine. Kind of hard to be 100% “on” for everyone with a bunch of drama going on back at home. So, at this point, you had four days ‘til the Oscars.

John: Yeah. The week was filled with a blur of parties and receptions. Thanks to Ron [Diamond], all of us animation Oscar nominees showed our films and were feted by DreamWorks (lunch with Jeffrey Katzenberg), Disney (lunch with Don Hahn, Howard Green, Andreas Deja) and Sony studios (lunch with Yair Landeau, Penny Finkleman Cox and Sandra Rabin).

At Disney
March 2, 2006: the Oscar nominees visit the Disney Studio with friends: (l. to r.) Don Sarto (editor, Animation World Network), Peggy Stern, John Canemaker, Julia Lucas, Ron Diamond (publisher, AWN), Anthony Lucas, Sharon Colman, Shawn Acker and Anthony Jimenez.

On the Disney lot
On the Disney Studio lot with Howard E. Green, v.p. Studio Communications and "patron saint of animation historians," with John Canemaker and Peggy Stern on March 2, 2006.

Ward: Wow. Some pretty big names there. Were you given tours of each of the studios? Care to elaborate?

John: Each studio visit included a tour, and we saw storyboards and concept art for features planned for years in the future. And there were many parties. A fun one was thrown by DreamWorks, their annual Animation and Visual Effects pre-Oscar party at Eat On Sunset restaurant. There I met Peter Sallis, the voice of Wallace in the Wallace and Gromit movies. Another party was HBO’s at the Peninsula Hotel; another by Ron Diamond’s company Acme Filmworks at Joseph’s Café on Ivar Street; and a private party by friends of mine who live in Gary Cooper’s former home in Beverly Hills. I also attended an NYU fundraiser party at producer/director Brett Ratner’s home in Benedict Canyon.

Inbetween all that, I did an on-camera interview for a documentary on Tyrus Wong, and had dinner with old friends—Charles Solomon and Scott Johnston at Chameau, a terrific Moroccan restaurant—and former NYU students, Eugene Salandra, now in story at Disney Television and Sue Perrotto, who is directing at Cartoon Network. We ate at El Cholo, the best margaritas and Mexican food in LA! Sue is a bird fancier and she gave me a “magic feather” to help me “fly” on Oscar night like Dumbo. And Dumbo-like, I promptly lost the feather.

Ward: I bet some Oscar-goer was wondering why a feather was stuck to the bottom of their shoe that night.

HBO KICKS IN

John: Saturday, the day before the Oscar show, HBO—which paid for most of my film’s budget—took over. They organized everything: from ordering a stretch limo to assigning two publicists who would accompany Peg and me on the red carpet; arranging our attendance at after-show parties (including the Vanity Fair party). And they also moved Peggy, her husband Alan, me and Joe to the Beverly Wilshire, one of the most posh and well-run hotels I’ve ever had the pleasure to be in. We were staying at the Sunset Hyatt, also known as the Sunset Riot because of the noisy parties that go on there constantly. The Beverly Wilshire is pure deluxe. HBO also gave us each a food per diem and business class seats on our return flight to New York.

Meanwhile, Peg and I kept practicing our speech, just in case we won. The Academy sends you the most nerve-wracking DVD starring Tom Hanks, who tells the nominees what they can and cannot do on stage if they win. Can’t read from notes, must look into the camera, must say something memorable, and so on. Jeez! The most frightening information on the DVD was Hanks saying we have exactly one minute [!] from the time our names were announced to get up on the stage, make our speech and get off!

Ward: That’s nuts! How do they expect anyone to not be nervous after viewing that DVD? Were you scared after that?

John: Petrified. So Peg and I each wrote out what we wanted to say. In our hotel rooms at unexpected times, Joe would yell: “Go!” and then time us as we ran across the room, picked up an ashtray or Coke can, held it and went into our speeches. And we screwed it up each time! But since we were convinced we would never win, we weren’t terribly worried.

DAY OF THE OSCAR

Oscar tickets
John Canemaker's tickets to the Academy Awards ceremony.

Relaxing before the Big Show

John Canemaker at 1 p.m. relaxes at the Beverly Wilshire Hotel, an hour before leaving for the Oscar ceremony on Sunday, March 5, 2006.

Joe and John
All dressed up and somewhere to go: Joseph Kennedy and John Canemaker waiting in the lobby of the Beverly Wilshire Hotel for the limo that will take them to the Oscar show.

Ward: Talk about the day of the Oscar show.

John: Well, the limo picked us up at two in the afternoon. It was a beautiful LA day—bright sunshine. There we all were in our tuxes and formals, like we were going to the ultimate prom: Joe, Alan, me, Peg, Peg’s brother Tom Stern, Dave Mehlman, the film’s editor/sound designer who flew out just to be part of the whole shebang, and Lana and Jessica, the two HBO publicists—all eight of us rode in the limousine. Darby Scott, a friend of Peg’s who makes expensive handbags for the stars, designed her dress. And she loaned Peg a gold weave purse with diamond inlays. It was worth about $120,000, which we joked was more than the budget for our film!

Ward: Unbelievable! Your entire film budget right there in Peg’s hands....What was the limo ride like?

John: The limo drive took about 30 minutes to get to the red carpet site at Hollywood Boulevard. There was a lot of traffic and crowds along the way—including some crazies holding signs saying we were going to burn in hell—but what a way to go, right?

Ward: Absolutely.

John and Peggy
John Canemaker and Peggy Stern in the limo on the way to the Oscar ceremony.

In the limo
On the way to the Oscars: (l.tor.) John Canemaker, Joseph Kennedy (one of the film's writers), Tom Stern (radio personality and Peggy's brother), Peggy Stern, and David Mehlman (the film's editor and sound designer).

Prepare
A quick snapshot of one of the signs from some Oscar-haters, en route to the ceremony.

John: The whole Oscar ritual is so well-organized that it was like being part of a smooth-running, super-greased machine. At Hollywood Boulevard, there were large crowds behind barricades across the street who were yelling and cheering every arriving limo. Security was incredibly tight. Each car was inspected underneath with mirrors when we got near the entrance to the red carpet, and we entered a tent where everyone’s photo ID was checked, and we were each “wanded” by guards like at the airport, and all cameras were confiscated until after the show.

Stepping out
Peg and John arrive at the Kodak Theater and step out onto the Red Carpet.

Finally, we exited the tent and walked onto the red carpet—which was lined with banks of reporters and cameras. Behind us were huge statues of Oscar (like statues out of a de Mille epic), and sets of bleachers filled with thoroughly-inspected, cheering movie fans.

On the Red Carpet

John Canemaker and Peggy Stern (and her expensive pocketbook) on the Red Carpet at the Academy Awards.

Our publicists proceeded us and handed out information about our film and us. They waited until a celebrity was far enough away so we could attract the attention of the press. I mean, who the hell were we—a couple of animation short producers—compared to George Clooney or Jennifer Aniston? Some reporters from overseas spoke with us but the “interviews” were brief and banal. “How does it feel?” was the most asked question. Mostly we were feeling like a couple of pieces of sushi.

So we walked the walk and said hello to Robert Osborn from Turner Classic Movies, and my old friend Leonard Maltin gave us a good luck hug. The publicists thought Joan Rivers would love to gab about Peg’s expensive bag, but she was getting her lips glossed and passed on it and us.

Ward: It’s probably a good thing you weren’t accosted by Joan. You never know with her.

John: We finally went inside the Kodak Theatre, up the grand staircase into the lobby where food and drink were served. I was too nervous for any of that. My friends Charles Solomon, Scott Johnston and Andreas Deja were there and wished me and Peggy luck. We all decided to enter the theatre early and watch the stars arrive, which most of them did right at the last moment before broadcast. Must have been busy on the red carpet.

Ward: What stars were you able to spot?

John: George Clooney, Dolly Parton, Matt Dillon, Reese Witherspoon. And, of course, Nick Park and Steve Box and their big bowties.

Ward: What was the theatre like? I know it’s fairly new.

John: It was a big television studio set. When I walked in and saw the cameras and the crew going about their pre-show activities, I felt strangely comfortable. I guess because I’ve done so many TV shows and been on so many sets. The theatre seats 3,400, but the Academy Award set on stage had an intimate feel, seemed smaller than it appears on TV. It was very glitzy and white. Which meant it would look really bright and sparkling on camera.


Shot of the animation nominees at the Academy Awards. (©2006 The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences & ABC, Inc. All Rights Reserved.)

All the animation nominees were seated together near the back. A crew member with an earphone named “Heath” came by and told us that during the second commercial break, he would move us to seats right in front of the stage. And “extras”—beautifully dressed unknown actors and actresses—would fill in our seats, so the theatre would always look full on camera.

Ward: An episode of Seinfeld comes to mind. Were you nervous?

John: I was enjoying just being there, spotting celebs. I was excited but not nervous. I knew we weren’t going to win, so I was just enjoying the experience. When Heath did escort us to the front before our category was announced, I again felt this is what one does before performing—getting into position. I was sure that Pixar was going to take the award, so I wasn’t even worried about my speech, cause I knew I’d never have the chance to recite it.

Ward: And then a CGI Chicken Little looked in his underwear and announced your film and you and Peg...

John: Yes! Very classy intro, eh? Of course, there was nothing, no chicken on stage, but on the monitors we saw what the TV audience saw. Peg and I were both shocked for a moment. Then we quickly got up and made our way up the stairs to the stage. The cameras didn’t catch me making a “who knew?” gesture to my fellow nominees.


Peggy and John take the stage. (©2006 The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences & ABC, Inc. All Rights Reserved.)


John giving his acceptance speech with producer Peggy by his side. (©2006 The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences & ABC, Inc. All Rights Reserved.)

Ward: And you somehow remembered your speech.

John: Yes, by some miracle, it all kicked in. First time we did it correctly. And my line—thanking the Academy for their belief “that hand-drawn animation can still pack an emotional wallop”—got a nice ripple of applause from the balcony. From several animators, no doubt.

Ward: Believe me, I was cheering for you at home and even more so when you said that! On behalf of all hand-drawn animators, we thank you.

John: I’m biased, of course, toward drawing, but it does seem to me the more layers of “reality” you strip away in animation, the more soul is revealed. It’s a paradox. When ultra-real CGI goes in for extreme close-ups of fuzzy animals, I start to count the hairs on their fur. And that distracts me from the narrative. Story is the most important element of the process, not the tools used to tell it, and...well, now I‘m getting away from the story I was telling you.

Ward: That's quite alright. You were giving your speech...

John: Anyway, the Oscar statues are surprisingly heavy—8 and a half pounds. And by the way, there is dead silence on stage during the speech, I assume so the winners will not be distracted in any way. That light music playing underneath is only heard on the public’s television sets and is pre-recorded. At the end of the speech, the live orchestra comes in with the winner’s exit music.

Ward: What was it like backstage?

John: That was one of the most amazing things about the whole experience. Immediately, the moment you get off-stage, the one-word whispering begins: “Congratulations!” As we were ushered through the dark labyrinth, down corridors, into an elevator and up to the press rooms, everyone we came in contact with or passed by—grips, gofers, techies, guards, executives, p.r. people, extras, stars—all whispered “Congratulations!”

Our arms bearing the two statues were like torches that turned people on as we swept through the backstage area. It reminded me of the living, torch-bearing arms in Cocteau’s BEAUTY AND THE BEAST. Here the arms were mobile—Peg and me—walking fast through corridors alive with whispering, smiling faces.

Oscar winners

Peggy Stern and John Canemaker leaving the ceremony, Oscars in hand, March 5, 2006.

We were first taken to a room that looked like lightning was flashing behind it’s closed door. It was a room full of photographers and after we were announced, we were told to stand in three spots while the camera men and women yelled at us “Look here, John! Over here, Peg! Here, look here. Good, good. Now step to the middle of the stage.” Then they shot a whole bunch more photos and yelled at us to look various places. By the time we left the room, we were blind!

Then we were escorted to a large silent room, where many reporters were seated at computers. We were asked two questions. And then we were returned to the theatre lobby and immediately surrounded by more congratulations from friends and strangers alike. I stayed in the lobby and missed most of the show. I phoned my brother in Seneca Lake, N.Y. and an old friend in northern California. Course they were surprised to hear from me since they had just seen me on TV. I stepped outside for some air and chatted with Tim Burton and Helena Bonham Carter. I met Tim twenty years ago in Pasadena where I was hosting a Disney Channel TV show. Tim knew the director and dropped by. Back then, he was having a hard time selling a children’s book idea about Christmas and Halloween. Back then he gave me a sketchbook of his marvelous drawings, which I still have.

Ward: Of course we all know what became of that children’s book idea: THE NIGHTMARE BEFORE CHRISTMAS. What did you talk about with Tim? Or was it just small talk?

John: Just small talk. He and Helena congratulated me on the gold guy I was carrying. After the Oscar show, Peg, her husband Allen Ruskin, Joe and I attended the Governors’ Ball upstairs. There was a big band playing, a formal banquet and lots of champagne. I dined at Academy governor Carl Bell’s table and Peg was at John Lasseter’s.

After the win
Peggy and John beaming with joy after their win. March 5th, 2006.

Outside, as Peg and I waited for our limousine to take us to the Vanity Fair party, crowds behind the barricades on the opposite side of Highland Avenue and Hollywood Boulevard spontaneously began to cheer when they saw us holding two Oscars. Even though they had no idea who we were. So we hoisted the statuettes in the air in response to their cheers. Which made them cheer even louder. Then I waved mine to those on the other side of the barricades, and they responded the same way. That gave me the idea to play one group against the other—a giddy Sorcerer’s Apprentice moment—“conducting,” with Oscar in hand, the crowd’s cheers—that mercifully ended when I was tucked into the limo.

The Conductor
Click on the image above to watch a short video (8 MB) of John Canemaker and Peggy Stern in the limo before the Oscar ceremony, right after their win, and of John doing his best Mickey Mouse as the Sorcerer's Apprentice conducting the crowds outside the Kodak Theatre. At the end of the clip there's a bit of confusion, but what you hear is all the commotion on the plane as John and Peggy's Oscars are being passed around among the flight attendants during their flight back to NYC. (Video courtesy of Allen Ruskin.)

As our limousine pulled up the entrance to the Vanity Fair party, a young guy poked his head inside the window and asked what we had won for. I said, “Best Animated Short.” So he hands me an autograph book and as I am about to sign, he said “You’re Nick Park, right?” When I said no, he took his book back. [laughs]

Ward: [laughing] Oh no! That's terrible!

At the HBO party
At the HBO party after the Oscars: (l. to r.) Tom Stern, John Canemaker, Peggy Stern, Jackie Glover (one of the film's two HBO Executive Producers), Allan Ruskin (Peggy Stern's husband), and Lisa Stern.

John: Anyhoo, with our Oscars in tow Peg and I brought the dozen or so people who rode with us in the limo into the restaurant. We did another press gauntlet thing on Vanity’s red carpet with the two publicists. Finally we were inside, where there was lots of food, drinks, and people. I had brief conversations with Jon Stewart, Lauren Bacall and Tony Kushner, among others. I thanked Graydon Carter, editor of Vanity Fair, for his party—polite small town boy that I am.

We finally got back to the Beverly Wilshire around 2 a.m. and I started to answer each of the 300-plus emails that had come in. Polite boy that I am.

Ward: I’m sure I was one of them!

John: Yes. I recall you wrote something about my burning in hell. [laughs] In any case, we had to pack and be up early to catch a plane to New York, and there were more fun adventures with Oscar along the way from LA to New York. There was the private airport club we crashed, Oscars in hand. The man in charge said not only would he allow us in, but that he “would be fired if he didn’t.” Then there were the airport check-in guards who made Peg and me take off our shoes and empty our pockets, and they wanded us, too, all the while posing for snapshots with our two Oscars. As did the airline stewards and stewardesses on our flight. They disappeared with them for about a half hour. Everybody seems to go kind of nuts when they see the statuette.

Ward: I can only imagine.

Oscar in hand
Peggy Stern on the phone at the airport with Oscar in hand.

John and Peggy at the airport
One last shot before we go: John and Peggy at the airport.

John: And then in New York there was a wonderful morning reception from my students and faculty colleagues at NYU with champagne and a cake shaped like an Oscar. It was magic all the way. However, two days after arriving back home in New York, I served on jury duty. Talk about being brought down to earth! THUD! [laughs] Oh well. Keeps ya humble.

Ward: Absolutely. So where do you keep your Oscar, if you don't mind me asking?

John: I keep the Oscar next to my computer, where it sometimes wears my Golden Ear-ed Mickey Mouse hat.

Ward: Now that all the Oscar dust has settled, what's next? Do you have any book or film projects that you're currently working on that you can share?

John: I am guest-director of an episode of the kid's TV series WONDER PETS for Little Airplane Productions. It's called "Save the Pangaroo" and I designed the main character, a little combo-creature that gets lost. A former student of mine, Jennifer Oxley, is the Creative Director of the series. So I'm having a lot of fun. There is another personal short I want to do based on a short story, but I need the time to concentrate on it. Peggy is preparing a documentary on dyslexia and there will be animation in it. Recently, I did on-camera commentaries for a Droopy DVD collection, a Ray Harryhausen DVD collection, and Ted Thomas' [directed FRANK AND OLLIE, son of Frank Thomas] new doc, a work-in-progress on the 1941 Disney artists' trip to South America.

On December 7, I will appear at the Egyptian Theatre in Hollywood to host the DVD launch of the Disney True-Life Adventures, and I'll emcee a panel that includes Roy E. Disney. The first half of my article on Disney story artist and children's book illustrator J.P. MIller will be in the next CARTOONS magazine (published by ASIFA). I have some book ideas; but again, I need time to get my thoughts together. I have a year-long sabbatical from NYU coming in the Fall of 2007 and I hope to use my time wisely then to do some of these dream projects.

Ward: Wow, lots to look forward to. Well, John, this has been an incredible journey for me. I am deeply honored to be able to talk with you personally about your trip to the Oscars. Thank you for your time; I know that you have lots of stuff going on and how precious your time is these days. It's been a great pleasure and I wish you the best of luck in everything that you do.

John: Thank you, Ward.

-------------------------------


THANKS AND LINKS:

Big big thanks to John Canemaker, of course, for his generosity for allowing a lowly animator to take a peak into his life during the two weeks of late February and early March, 2006. Big thanks go to Joe Kennedy and Allen Ruskin for the use of their photos and video for this interview. And more thanks goes to John Martz for hosting the video via Drawn! I really appreciate it, guys.

All the photos featured in this interview (and more) can be viewed together in a Flickr photoset: John Canemaker's Oscar Experience.

To read more about John Canemaker through articles and interviews check out the following links:

John Canemaker's Official Website
THE MOON AND THE SON's official page on HBO (with a preview, storyboard slide show and interview)
Full Media Coverage on THE MOON AND THE SON
John and Peggy's Acceptance Speeches
Oscar Press Room Interview (Must have Flash Realplayer to view.)
Buy John's DVD: Marching to a Different Toon
John Canemaker on IMDB

Other John Canemaker interviews you might find interesting:

Animation World Magazine: Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3
The Evening Class (August 2006)
HBO Documentaries (with Peggy Stern)
Animation Blast (2002)
The Laughing Place (May 2002)

11.24.2006

"My Oscar Experience": An Interview with John Canemaker

John Canemaker is perhaps one of the nicest guys you'll ever meet. A tall, genteel man with salt and pepper hair, John speaks as if he's carefully thought about what he's going to say, with nary a word in the wrong place. There's a certain soft-spoken approach to his delivery that when he's speaking you are pulled into what he's saying almost immediately. You hang onto every word.

And on March 5, 2006, 38.8 million people hung on to every word that John said as he gave his acceptance speech for winning the Oscar for animated short film, for his brilliant and moving THE MOON AND THE SON: AN IMAGINED CONVERSATION. It was a bizarre moment if you think about it -- a first-time Oscar nominee who's been animating for over 30 years wins with his very low-fi hand-drawn and painted film in a catagory that seems to be in the midst of a hostle CG takeover.




It's interesting to note that this could be the very last animated short film Oscar winner that was shot on an Oxberry animation stand. With real film. Old school, yes, but a technique that brings out the heart and soul to a film without all the cold and calculated ones and zeros that high-tech computer programs seem to project. There's an added warmth to animated images when shooting with film. For John's piece, this kind of warmth perfectly magnified the extremely personal story he brought to the screen. And when the camera pulls back to reveal the animation stand from which each and every painted drawing was being placed upon in one of MOON AND THE SON's scenes, it was only fitting. At that point, the viewer is given full view of what John lives and breathes: the art of animation.




I'm sure that to many in the audience and at home on Oscar night, the name "John Canemaker" didn't ring a bell. But to those of us in the animation community his name rings many bells. He's written countless books, many of them found on must-have lists for animation, most notably Winsor McCay: His Life and Art, Before the Animation Begins: The Art and Lives of Disney Inspirational SketchArtists, Paper Dreams: The Art and Artists of Disney Storyboards, and one of my favorites: Walt Disney's Nine Old Men and the Art of Animation (for more John Canemaker on Amazon.com, click here). A world-reknowned author and historian, he's also written for the NY Times (and other periodicals) and is a full professor and the director of animation studies at NYU's Tisch School of the Arts. Now John can add "Oscar winner" to his already impressive resumé.

Several months ago, I was reading an interesting article about John and his film THE MOON AND THE SON in a Korean animation magazine called Animatoon. It focused on what he had to do to get the film done, as well as his whole Oscar appearance, which I found extremely engaging. The article mentioned that John, along with the other Oscar-nominated animation filmmakers, got to go to San Francisco and spend a night at Skywalker Ranch, visit LucasArts and Pixar, as well as attend numerous screenings and events that lead up to The Big Night. As I was reading this, I thought about how great it would be to hear more. So I called Mr. Canemaker to see if he'd be willing to be interviewed about this entire experience. I'm not going to lie here -- I interviewed John for selfish reasons. I was so curious about what goes on behind the scenes for Oscar nominees. During the course of the interview though, I realized just how fascinating and inspirational this could be for others in the animation industry, if not for anyone who's ever chased a dream and had it come true.

And now, without further ado, my interview with John Canemaker:

NEW YORK TO ARIZONA TO CALIFORNIA

Ward: First of all, John, I'd like to thank you for taking the time to talk with me. Ever since I read that Animatoon article, I was so fascinated by all the events that were briefly mentioned leading up to the Oscars and I just had to know more about it!

John: Was that the one written by Karl Cohen?

Ward: Yes, I believe it was. Care to go into excruciating detail about your Oscar experience?

John: Sure. Starting on February 26 [2006] Ron Diamond [co-founder of Acme Filmworks and the publisher of AWN] organized a wonderful tour of several studios in San Francisco and Los Angeles for all the Oscar nominees in the Animation category.

Ward: So you flew from NYC to San Francisco first?

John: Actually, my trip to Oscar-land began almost two weeks before the award ceremony. On February 22, after teaching a full day at N.Y.U., my partner Joe Kennedy and I flew to Arizona, where I participated in the Sedona Film Festival’s animation workshop. That’s where I met Andrew Jimenez, the co-director [with Mark Andrews] of Pixar’s Oscar-nominated ONE MAN BAND. He was part of the festival conference/workshop. I had seen him and his film at Annecy in June 2005, but this was the first time we spoke. He’s a great guy and very gifted. We’ve become friends and he has since visited my classes at NYU, where he demonstrated his mastery of AfterEffects in THE INCREDIBLES story reel and the fabulous “wall of art” he created for Pixar’s exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art last year.

Ward: Yes, I remember watching him talk about the “100 Mile Dash” sequence as part of the multitude of extras included for THE INCREDIBLES DVD. It’s amazing what he can do with that program.


Andy Jimenez as featured in the extras of THE INCREDIBLES DVD.

John. Yeah. Andy makes story sketches come to life and can literally move you into the drawings so you feel the texture of the pencil lines on the sketches and concept art. Marvelous!

Ward: So, what was the Sedona Festival like?

John in Sedona
On the road to the Oscars: John Canemaker at the Sedona (Arizona) Film Festival, February 23 - 26, 2006. (Be sure to click on all the photos to view larger.)

John: Very well-organized, very friendly people enthusiastic about film and animation. Gorgeous scenery, of course, all those red rocks and mesas. I felt like I was in a 3-D Roadrunner/Coyote cartoon. They put us up at the luxurious Amara Resort, which also has a great restaurant. They gave me a Chevy SUV to get around and Joe and I visited Flagstaff and Jerome, a former mining ghost town that is now a tourist Mecca in the mountains. Wandering through an ancient movie theatre that is now a museum/store, in the former projection booth we found an old Movieola with the initials “WDP” on it and the date “1940.” I got a thrill looking at this old Walt Disney Productions editing machine, thinking pencil tests for FANTASIA might have been viewed on it. How it ended up in Jerome, I don’t know. [The theater is the Jerome Liberty Theater.]

Ward: Wow. I bet that was pretty wild to see this relic right in the middle of the desert!

John: Yes, it was. Anyway, for one of the Sedona workshops I gave an Action Analysis class—a frame by-frame breakdown and comparison of animation principles of staging, motion, stretch and squash, anticipation, exaggeration, follow-through, etc. of Mickey Mouse in “Sorcerer” and Fred Astaire, Ginger Rogers, Victor Moore and Helen Broderick in SWING TIME.
Problem was I had to do it five times that day for five different groups of fifty people, young and old, who signed up for the conference. I was pooped by the end and later, in my hotel room, I accidentally fell into a large standing mirror and cut my head. I also cracked the mirror and wondered if it might be a bad omen. ‘Course, as it turned out, cracking your head on a mirror is good luck, if you want to win an Oscar!

Ward: I’ll make a note of that, next time I’m nominated!

John: Next day, at a brunch with all the festival guests and organizers, my film won an award for “Outstanding Achievement in Animation.” Charles Solomon’s piece on me and my film appeared that morning in the New York Times [26 Feb 06] and it was announced at the brunch. Then Joe and I drove two hours to Phoenix to catch a plane to San Francisco.

GATHERING UP THE NOMINEES

Ward: Is that where Ron Diamond picked you up?

John: Yeah. He met us at the airport with a van that evening in the middle of a cold and wet “monsoon.” What a contrast to the dry heat of Sedona! We drove into soggy San Francisco to pick up the others at their hotel, then we all took off for dinner and then Skywalker Ranch.

Ward: Who were the others?

John: Anthony and Julia Lucas, who produced the fascinating THE MYSTERIOUS GEOGRAPHIC EXPLORATIONS OF JASPER MORELLO. We first met at lunch in Annecy last summer, where their film won the Grand Prix.

Ward: I saw JASPER in Ottawa [International Animation Festival] last year [2005] and was immediately blown away by it.

John: Yes, it’s marvelous. There was also Shane Acker, a gifted filmmaker whose film “9” has beautifully subtle animation. The project has been picked up by Tim Burton and is being produced as a feature. And Sharon Colman, who animated the very droll and funny BADGERED. She has the best dirty laugh and most delightful Scottish burr. By the way, Sharon was recently hired by DreamWorks’ story department, which is great for both parties. Andy Jimenez was on his way back from Sedona and we would see him the next day at Pixar.

Ward: I can’t imagine how everyone felt during this whole experience. Did you spend a lot of time with the other filmmakers? Did you and Sharon become “kindred spirits” of sorts because you both had traditional-animated films?

John: Sharon and I email each other quite a lot. She is a darling and has a sharp wit, which I appreciate. Well, all of us nominees spent the better part of a week the end of February and early March going to parties, dining and screening our films in two cities at various studios, and we got to know each other rather well. And we all liked each other very much. I can honestly say we all were fine with whoever was going to win the award. It was such fun just to be part of the whole shebang.

SKYWALKER RANCH

Ward: So tell me about Skywalker Ranch.

John: We checked in late in the pouring rain at Skywalker Ranch in Marin County on Sunday evening, February 26. [For a quick tour of Skywalker Ranch, click here.]

Ward: The Ranch has rooms, like a hotel? That’s really interesting.

John: Yes. The accommodations were very comfy and very film oriented. Each guest room is named after a famous film director, such as the Frank Capra Room, the Fellini Room, the Hitchcock Room, and their décor includes an original poster or artifact of their work. Shane was listed for the Winsor McCay Room, until I begged him to trade rooms with me. I had to stay there. He was kind enough to do so, not wanting to see a grown man cry.

Ward: Of course! What artifact of McCay’s was in that room?

John: Two beautiful original drawings by McCay! A political cartoon of a funeral procession of rats and a late period “Little Nemo” strip with Dr. Pill shooting off his gun willy-nilly—looking and acting like Dick Cheney. I’m pleased to say my 1987 biography of Winsor McCay was in the bookcase.

Next morning, it was still raining. But we were all up early for a help-yourself breakfast and a tour of the ranch’s main house, which is way up-the-road-a-piece in a pastoral setting of trees, rolling hills and roaming sheep. Chris Wedge had breakfast with us 'cause he was there to mix ICE AGE 2 –THE MELTDOWN. The house itself is lavishly appointed with antiques and artifacts from STAR WARS and other films, and lots of original movie posters. George [Lucas] was not around.

Ward: [laughing] I was just going to ask you if The Man was there!

Signing the Winsor McCay book

February 27. In the Skywalker Ranch library, John Canemaker signs his 1987 biography "Winsor McCay - His Life and Art"

John: We also toured the large research library and the librarian asked me to sign the library’s copy of my “Winsor McCay” biography. And we saw the vast underground start-of-the-art recording and mixing studios. We said hello again to Chris Wedge and director Carlos Saldanha, and watched a little of their mix session for ICE AGE 2. Then Ron drove us over the Richmond Bridge to the East Bay: Emeryville and Pixar. The great thing I learned that day is that even an independent producer can hire the Skywalker facilities. You don’t have to be a big studio to record or mix your film there. If they are interested in your film project, they will work with you to tailor a budget that works for you.

Ward: That's good to know.

PIXAR, LUCASFILM, AND ELECTRONIC ARTS

At Pixar
In the entrance atrium at Pixar Animation Studios on a rainy Feb. 27: ( l. to r.) Julia Lucas, Anthony Lucas, John Lasseter, Andrew Jimenez, and John Canemaker.

John: It was still pouring rain, but a sunny, beaming John Lasseter wearing his signature Hawaiian shirt greeted us with a bear hug at the entrance to the huge lobby of the studio. And so did three of my former students, now gainfully employed there: Alex Woo, Cortney Armitage, and Austin Lee.

Ward: Ah, that’s great! I bet that that was a satisfying moment for you to see your former students now working at such a powerhouse of animation.

John: It was. I have been teaching for over 30 years and now have former students at Disney Feature Animation, Disney Television, Cartoon Network, Lucasarts, DreamWorks, Electronic Arts, Little Airplane, Curious Pictures and Blue Sky, among other studios. Some have even founded their own studios. I’m proud of all my former and present students. I heard from many of them when I won the Oscar.

Anyway, at Pixar there was a full house for the screening of our films and very good questions after. We had lunch with Pete Docter [director of MONSTER'S INC.] and several others, then got a brief tour of the animation area.

Ward: What was that like?

John: The animators have a free-hand in decorating their offices and several of them are really wild. And what we saw of the works-in-progress was only what Pixar wanted us to see. Which was nothing. There is a high degree of secrecy there and rightly so.

Rain was coming down heavier, but Ron carefully drove us over the Bay Bridge into San Francisco to the Presidio and our screening/Q&A at Lucasfilm/ILM.

John and friend

John Canemaker greets R2-D2 at LucasFilm Studio in the San Francisco Presidio.

Another big crowd there, including members of the San Francisco ASIFA chapter. None of us nominees could stand to watch our own films anymore; so after introductions to the audience, we disappeared, wandered about and returned for questions after. We were given a tour of the animation area, which was as secretive as Pixar’s. At Lucasfilm the computers were turned away from us and we were only allowed to walk so far into the work space. Later, we had dinner across the street from the Lucas studio at Liverpool Lil’s, a fun place with good food, joined by animation directors and effects supervisors for HARRY POTTER, PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN, MISSION IMPOSSIBLE 3, and other recent films. Ron drove us to the Sofitel Hotel in Redwood City and we collapsed in bed.

Ward: I feel like collapsing just listening to your busy day!

John: And that was just the first day! Tuesday morning I was up at 6 a.m. to do a phone interview with my hometown newspaper in Elmira, N.Y. Then Joe and I packed our bags and met Ron and the group for a drive to Electronic Arts in Redwood City. We walked into a dark space with the windows blackened and men carrying machine guns. We thought, Whoa! This is the most extreme security we have yet encountered! But it turned out to be a promotion for a new game called “Black.” Whew! The rest of the studio was quite sunny and we had a full house again in the theatre. While our films were screened, we ducked out and caught a preview of THE GODFATHER video game. After an audience Q&A, we dashed for San Francisco airport.

Coming up: LOS ANGELES, AT LAST.

This is the end of Part 1 to my two-part interview with John Canemaker. Click here for Part 2.

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All the photos featured in this interview (and more) can be viewed together in a Flickr photoset: John Canemaker's Oscar Experience.

11.23.2006

Ava Thursday: Thanksgiving!

Ava Thursday: Thanksgiving! 1

This year on Thanksgiving Ava drew a little book while visiting her cousin Luxie's. The cover shown above says "What will we do on Thanksgiving?" It's a sweet little book. I had to tweak the levels big time on these scans because Ava drew very lightly with light colored pencils.

Ava Thursday: Thanksgiving! 2

This is the second page. I'm assuming that this is Ava. I notice that she's drawing her faces differently lately, especially in the characters for this book. The nose is a new thing; that is, the way that she draws the nose. I love it.

Ava Thursday: Thanksgiving! 3
This is page 3 and 4 of her Thanksgiving book: Ava is thinking about turkey. On the left, she's starting to think about it (notice that the turkey is very small), and then on the right, we see the turkey dinner full page (in a thought bubble).

Ava Thursday: Thanksgiving! 4
On the last pages, Ava finally gets to eat the turkey dinner she was dreaming about! "It's Thanksgiving!" she yells. I love the face on the girl, as well as her jumping up with excitement.

From my family to yours, I hope you have a very Happy Thanksgiving!

11.20.2006

Fallout Shelter Handbook 1962

Fallout Shelter Handbook: Cover

UPDATE: I've scanned more images -- check them out HERE.

I found this musty handbook from 1962 in a pile of similarly musty magazines and articles in a booth at the Inman Park Arts Festival several years back. The illustrated cover was what initially caught my eye but then I glanced at the large bold lettering at the top and I immediately put it in my "to buy" pile. The cover is classic: your average white American family enjoying life as best as they can after an atomic attack. What I love the most about it is that Mom is in her day dress, apron and all, preparing dinner, and Dad is relaxing in his jacket, smoking a pipe, having just finished reading the liner notes to something by the Ray Coniff Singers, probably. I didn't even take a gander at what was inside until later at home. Most of what you'll find in the handbook is pretty standard construction "how-to's" -- it could've been sold at a Home Depot if they had them back then. In the table of contents you'll find chapter headings with titles like: "How You Can Survive a Nuclear War", "Build a Shelter Now", "Stock Up Now", "Have a Plan of Action Now", "While You Are in Shelter", "Evacuation", etc. This one was interesting: "Guerrilla Warfare", with the tagline, "It'll be done by the people who survive with equipment that survives." The chapter is filled with then-impressive photos of military weapons and vehicles: jets, tanks, missiles, and the like.
Not the best photography, but there are some quaint images that I scanned and would like to share with you. Check it out (click on images to view their Flickr pages, then click "All Sizes."):
While You Are in Shelter

The article follows the Perkins family, who decided to do a test living in a shelter for seven days. Great revelations include: "Mrs. Perkins missed her kitchen and trips to the beauty parlor," (this was during day four); "By the fifth day, the Perkins family began to realize the seriousness of our times and the value of a shelter..."; and lastly: "...the Perkins family didn't enjoy their stay in a shelter, but, on the other hand, they found that it could be done with a minimum of discomfort and danger."
Atomic Family

I just love that bershon pose the daughter is giving there. She doesn't look happy.
Atomic Kid

When in doubt: give a kid a book on surviving a nuclear attack to pull the heart strings of each and every reader.
Checking the radiation

This just struck me as funny. I dunno why. She's checking for radiation levels, in case you're wondering.
Loneliest Man in the World

Ladies and gentlemen: The Loneliest Man in the World. Me thinks this was wishful thinking on his part for installing three beds, don't you agree?
Family Shelter cross-section illustration
Not many illustrations in this handbook, save for the cover and this one, with some nice post-nuclear winter fallout trees in the background there.
There are a few advertisements in the Fallout Shelter Handbook, most of which are dull and mundane. But there were a few that caught my eye:
Family Radiation Survival Set ad

Survival Shelter Ventilator ad
I always use my children for slave labor, don't you? "Pick up the pace, Junior, Sally's looking a little peaked."
Age Chemical Toilet ad

Everybody poops. Even during fallout. If I had my choice, I'd much rather go with this toilet than the following one. But then again, I'm not too sure about chemicals agitating my stink in such close-knit quarters.
Port-O-Biff toilet ad
Nothing like ending a post with an image of a toilet. Enjoy!
You can see all images from the Fallout Shelter Handbook in this Flickr set.
For all things atomic, be sure to check out Conelrad.com. Some great articles and short films on Civil Defense during the Cold War years.

11.16.2006

Ava Thursday: This is rel

Ava Thursday: this is rel in rel laef

It says "This is real in real life." It's the back of this book that Ava drew a while back. I would show the rest, but it's not as coherent as her earlier endeavors -- but there are some great little scenes like this one that I'll post for you. The drawing of the two girls down at the bottom are friends. When I asked Ava what's going on there, she said, "That's real life!" As in, didn't you know? I mean, c'mon! The girl with the long hair is one of the characters in the book. I'll have to show more from this book when I have the chance.

I love the self-portrait there, with Ava showing off her gap-tooted smile. I love it so much that I'd like to see it bigger:

Ava self-portrait