The Toon That Changed My Life!

To celebrate our 200th issue, we asked some of our favorite animation heavyweights to tell us about the movie/TV show or characters that made them realize they wanted to work in the toon business. Here are their responses:

Shane Acker

Director, 9

“When I think back to what were my earliest animation inspirations, two characters come to mind: Gollum from the 1977 Rankin and Bass production of The Hobbit and Medusa from the 1981 movie, Clash of the Titans. The emaciated, amphibious design of the Gollum creature seemed to really fit the character from the books and there was such complexity to his character; such tragedy that he really affected me on an emotional level. The Medusa creature also affected me in an emotional way by scaring the crap out of me. In both instances I was affected by the magic of animation and its ability to make you believe the impossible.”

Craig Bartlett

Creator, Dinosaur Train, Hey Arnold!

‘I’d have to go with A Charlie Brown Christmas, because it broke all the rules of cartoon storytelling, and had its own unique vibe, much closer to how I experienced life than the animated stories I’d seen up until then. I was around Charlie Brown’s age when it premiered on TV, and I was shocked how bummed out about Christmas it was allowed to be. The wide shots with the kids walking in the snow to that beautiful, sad music were revolutionary. I wanted to grow up to make a cartoon that could be that eloquent.’

Eric Coleman

Senior Vice President, Original Series, Disney TV Animation

“Growing up I loved a lot of cartoons’Popeye, Scooby, The Flintstones. But if you’re asking me which characters were my absolute favorite, then it’s Looney Tunes by a long shot. At the time I just enjoyed Bugs, Daffy, and the gang because they were funny. But I think I was also secretly learning to appreciate great comic timing, beautiful animation, fantastic scoring, and the true meaning of breakout characters.”

Eric Fogel

Co-Creator, Glenn Martin, DDS

‘When I was a freshman at NYU, I saw a midnight screening of a film called Street Trash. The movie was awful, but I’ll never forget the animated short that preceded it: Danny Antonucci’s Lupo the Butcher (1987). What an awakening! A caustic, cautionary tale about safety in the workplace, Lupo combined a goofy cartoon look with over-the-top profanity and violence. It was like watching Tom & Jerry on steroids. That film opened my eyes to a world of animation that was strictly for grownups and inspired me to pursue a career path that was a bit more…twisted.’

Michel Gagne

Effects Animator, Iron Giant, Osmosis Jones, The Incredibles

‘At age 11, Watership Down made a huge impression. The moody artwork, dramatic storytelling and beautiful heartfelt score by Angela Morley captured my young imagination. As a young teen, La Planete Sauvage, with its poetic and contemplative narrative, helped shape my taste for the fantastic. As a 16-year-old trying to decide what to do as a career, Lady and the Tramp came to my hometown’s theater and showed me how beautiful classical animation can be. The Secret of NIMH with its magic and mysticism made me want to work with Don Bluth. That was the beginning of my career.’

Jorge R. Gutierrez

Creator, El Tigre

‘Two films punched me in the face and made me want to be an animator! I went to a very strict all boy Catholic school and I remember ditching school to go see The Nightmare Before Christmas on opening day. Seeing that beautifully scary & whimsical world full of amazingly designed characters and gorgeous locations made my little eyeballs explode! Then my first year at CalArts, the Pixar guys came down and showed us Toy Story. At that very moment, it seemed one could do anything in our beloved medium in any technique.’

Peter Hannan

Creator, CatDog

‘There were a lot of animated things that made me think about wanting to do animation myself, from Rocky and Bullwinkle to Pinocchio to Tex Avery to the Grinch to Charlie Brown to Betty Boop to Bambi Meets Godzilla. But the cartoons that just stuck in my mind, and that I probably watched and re-watched more than anything, were Popeye cartoons’especially the musicals, especially Popeye the Sailor Meets Sinbad the Sailor.

‘I’m afraid of nobody under the sun.

All I say is ‘Boo!’ and my enemies run!’

I loved Popeye, I loved the songs, and I think I especially loved the idea of saying, ‘Boo!’ and having my enemies run.’

Butch Hartman

Creator, The Fairly OddParents, T.U.F.F Puppy

‘What most inspired me to get into the animation business were the endless (unedited) reruns of Looney Tunes cartoons I watched on Detroit’s famous Channel 50 during the 1970s. I knew I liked funny stuff, and I knew I liked cartoons. I just wanted to try animating or writing something that came close to the awesomeness of the ‘Rabbit Season/Duck Season’ bit that Chuck Jones did. Hopefully I’ll get there someday!’

Mark Henn

Animator, The Lion King, Enchanted, The Princess and the Frog

“The two movies I saw as a young boy which most inspired me were Cinderella and The Reluctant Dragon. Cinderella was my earliest Disney film I saw in the theaters. I was taken with Cinderella herself, as well as Frank Thomas’s animation of the step mother. The Reluctant Dragon sequence showing Robert Benchley watching Ward Kimball animate Goofy had me hooked on animation. From that point on I wanted to be a Disney animator.”

Byron Howard

Director, Bolt, Rapunzel

“Chuck Jones is my hero. My anvil-dropping, wabbit-twacking, ‘ooh-that-dirty-bee’ hero. When I was just a little pencil-stub, I wondered why his cartoons were funnier than all the others. As I grew into awkward, gangly animator-hood, I realized that this was not only due to Chuck’s superior draughtsmanship but also to his unbelievable sense of timing. My other hero is Chuck’s main writer, Mike Maltese, who made me appreciate the importance of having brilliant writing talent behind your script.”

Jeffrey Katzenberg

CEO, DreamWorks Animation

“My singular influence was the man who showed us all how to make the magic’Walt Disney. He set the bar high, continually challenging himself and his team to stretch the bounds of animated storytelling. During my 10 years at his company, Walt’s presence went far beyond being the ‘name above the door.’ In the Disney Archives, he left an extraordinary record of his creative thought processes that guided us as we sought to produce new animated films worthy of his legacy. Walt once said, ‘If you can dream it, you can do it.’ I can think of no better anthem for all of us who work at this incredible art form.’

Bob Kurtz

Animator, The Pink Panther, George of the Jungle

‘So many wonderful animated films and filmmakers have influenced me. Frederic Back and Oscar Grillo come to mind quickly, along with Marc Davis and T. Hee. And who doesn’t love Disney’s Pinocchio or Dumbo, or now Up? Great films! If I have to pick just one film I think it would be UPA’s Rooty Toot Toot by John Hubley. Besides being smart, funny and inventive, that film made me aware of how close animation is to the dance. That animation is choreography and we don’t have to be limited by realistic actions. Thank you, John Hubley, for your innovations.’

Phil Lord

Director, Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs, Clone High

‘The shorts in the International Tourn’e of Animation. I made my parents take me to this rank arthouse to see them annually in the late ’80s and early ’90s, when I was barely a middle schooler. It was the first time I saw Bill Plympton, Ren and Stimpy, and The Simpsons. I saw that cartoons could be divergent, subversive, contemporary, intelligent and wildly funny. It was also the first time I saw so many people with thick glasses and bad posture assembled in one place. I said to myself, “Ah, these are my people.’

Mark McCorkle

Producer, The Penguins of Madagascar

‘It was perfect that I was pondering my inspiration to pursue a career in animation during the holidays, since that’s when it all began for me. The stop-motion work that the folks at Rankin-Bass did on Rudolph the Red-nosed Reindeer and Santa Claus is Coming to Town was magical. The understated simplicity of A Charlie Brown Christmas and the comic genius of Chuck Jones’ How the Grinch Stole Christmas were brilliant in completely different ways. That such a range of styles and techniques could achieve the same goal’entertainment that would endure for generations’made me fall in love with animation.’

Tom McGillis

President, Fresh TV

‘For me, it was Battle of the Planets. The year was 1978 and my excitement over Star Wars and Battlestar Galactica was barely containable. Then I discovered this awesome animated show about five fearless kids who called themselves G-Force and defended Earth from the evil Zoltar. They wore bizarre bird costumes and whizzed around the universe in a flaming bird contraption. Little did I know, I was actually watching an English version of the classic Anime series Gatchaman from 1972. Warner Bros is planning a CGI Gatchaman feature for 2011. Bring it!’

Christopher Miller

Director, Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs, Clone High

‘The 1953 Chuck Jones short Duck Amuck. Watching this cartoon as a kid I realized the freedom of imagination and the creative possibilities that only animation can provide. Later watching it as a young adult I saw it as a ‘meta’ exploration of the animation process and the relationship between the animator and the worlds s/he creates. And on top of that, it’s really, really, really funny.’

Jamie Mitchell

Director, Co-Exec Producer, Special Agent Oso

‘My inspirations in exactly 100 words: Drawings of Heinrich Kley, Honor’ Daumier and Bob Pauley, George Herriman’s Krazy Kat, Hal Fosters Prince Valiant, Bob Mitchell’s 7 UP commercials: ‘Intermission’ (1971), ‘See the Light’ (1975); Further Adventures of Uncle Sam by Bob Mitchell and Dale Case; Yellow Submarine‘s Eleanor Rigby sequence; Pinocchio, Dumbo, Bongo, Tinker Bell, The Jungle Book, Walt/Roy, Bill Peet, Mel Blanc, Carl Stalling, Harman/Ising; Elmer Fudd, Yosemite Sam, Daffy Duck, Gumby; Fantasia‘s Dance of the Hours; Fleischer’s Gulliver’s Travels; The Incredible Mr. Limpet; The Grinch Who Stole Christmas, A Charlie Brown Christmas, Nilsson’s The Point, Ward Kimball’s Steam Engine, and the Original Disney Animation Building.’

John Musker

Director, Disney’s Princess and The Frog, The Little Mermaid, Aladdin, Hercules

‘On film it was Sleeping Beauty in its original 1959 release. The Prince leaping that drawbridge and fighting his way through those thorns to fight that terrifying woman/dragon Maleficent: that was the James Cameron action spectacular of 1959 to a highly impressionable six year old. I continued to see Maleficent in my closet for a year or two after that. Then Bob Thomas’ Art of Animation book that I found in the local public library explained the animation process using examples from Sleeping Beauty, and it all burned deep into my six-year-old brain.’

Everett Peck

Creator, Duckman, Squirrel Boy

‘When I was a little kid I saw a 35mm copy of Steamboat Willie. I guess that got me started down the path to animation, although to this day I have no idea what the parrot says at the end.’

Bill Plympton

Indie Director/Animator, I Married a Strange Person, Idiots and Angels, Guard Dog

‘I think one of the most influential films I saw was The Do-It-Yourself Cartoon Kit by Bob Godfrey. I was in college at the time and I’d never seen an independent film before. I loved Disney and Warner Bros. of course but they never showed indie films on TV. So it was a complete revelation to me that one could make a film without studio support. And of course the humor and style were completely different from anything I’d ever seen. This was my first hint that I could make animation by myself and as you know that’s been my style throughout my career.’

Dan Povenmire

Creator, Phineas and Ferb

‘The movie that really did it for me was The Jungle Book. Not only was the animation and the story great, but the songs got stuck in my head when I was five and never got out. Even now, 40 years later I can still sing every word of every one of those songs. Also, it was the first animated movie in which I was actually aware of the strength of the lines and posing. It was the first time I saw it as an art form and not just entertainment.’

Joanna Priestley

Indie Animator, All My Relations, Utopia Parkway, Missed Aches

‘For over two decades, my favorite animated film has been The Man Who Planted Trees (L’homme qui plantait des arbres, Canada, 1987) by Fr’d'ric Back. I have seen it 25 or 30 times and still feel a deep thrill when I hear the opening string music. The film is based on two stories published in 1953 by French author Jean Giono. Most people think the film is based on a true story, but Giorno said ‘Elz’ard Bouffier is a fictional person. The goal was to make trees likeable, or more specifically, make planting trees likeable.’

Fr’d'ric Back balances luscious, pastoral imagery with bleak monochromatic landscapes and glimpses of violence. The drawings are exquisite and scenes like the final zoom from the face into the eye of the old man are etched into your memory forever. It has a brilliant score and sound design by Normand Roger with Denis Chartrand and thoughtful editing by Norbert Pickering. See this movie!’

Troy Saliba

Animation Supervisor, G-Force

‘I was a big fan of Disney’s 101 Dalmatians, Jungle Book and Sword in the Stone. That was the era where they started photo copying pencil drawings onto cels, instead of inking them. These movies really looked like moving illustrations to me. I think that is what truly inspired me to learn animation. Being able to generate a living performance with nothing but a pile of paper and a pencil.’

David Schaub

Animation Supervisor, Tim Burton’s Alice in Wonderland

‘I was a huge fan of Disney cartoons as a kid, and I still remember the day the light went on for me. It was a flip book that I got from a Disneyland souvenir store. There they were’Chip ‘n’ Dale and Mickey Mouse coming to life right there in my hand as I flipped the pages! It was pure magic, and I felt like the magicians had just revealed their secret. That awakening inspired many epic creations in the corner of every phone book I could get my hands on. There was no turning back from there.’

Bob Schooley

Producer, The Penguins of Madagascar

‘The Fisher-Price Movie Viewer changed my life. In the pre-video days when Disney still rationed their classics to a once-every-seven-years theatrical rarity, this little no-batteries-required film loop viewer allowed me to obsesses and analyze. I could click frame by beautiful frame over abridged Silly Symphonies and Mickey Mouse shorts. Cranking back and forth, the mystery of squash and stretch was revealed. Thanks to the kid controlled speed, the Tortoise could zip and the Hare crawl. Or go backwards. It was a quick leap from this toy to making my own Super-8 cartoons. I was hooked.’

J.J. Sedelmeier

Animator/Producer, TV Funhouse, Harvey Birdman

‘It was the Fleischer Superman cartoons that did it for me’and I’d only seen them in black and white! Next to that, Rocky & Bullwinkle, Yellow Submarine. And the Jean Marsh hosted International Animation Film Festival on PBS in the mid-1970s. This program introduced me to so many of the classic films from Eastern Europe ‘ Sisyphus, the work of Peter Foldes, and lots of stuff from Zagreb.’

Fred Seibert

Exec Producer and President, Frederator Studios

‘When I was a kid I loved Bugs Bunny, Huckleberry Hound, and the Flintstones. And fortunately, my formative years were spent watching TV when there wasn’t enough original programming. So the studios dusted off everything in their libraries and the stations played it all. Felix the Cat, Farmer Gray, Koko the Clown, Crusader Rabbit, Astro Boy, Tom & Jerry, the Disney, Warner Bros., Hanna-Barbera, Fleischers, and all the independent [cartoons]‘they seemed to be on all the time. It was a magic moment. All kinds of cartoons worked and I think I loved them all.’

Henry Selick

Director, Coraline, The Nightmare Before Christmas

“There’s no single animated character, TV show or feature that got me going in animation. Instead, there’s a whole list of things that have tickled my animation fancy from my early childhood through my college years. Some favorites include: The cyclops from Seventh Voyage of Sinbad and the sword-wielding skeletons from Jason and the Argonauts, Tubby in George Pal’s Tubby the Tuba, Chernabog from Night On Bald Mountain and Mickey Mouse in The Sorcerer’s Apprentice in Fantasia, the Pink Elephants sequence from Dumbo, Pinocchio, 101 Dalmatians, The Adventures of Prince Achmed, The Rocky and Bullwinkle Show, Mighty Mouse Playhouse, Gumby, Davey and Goliath, Mr. Magoo, UPA’s Rooty Toot Toot, Caroline Leaf’s Orpheo, Ryan Larkin’s Walking and The Street, Co Hoedeman’s The Sand Castle, Jiri Trinka’s The Hand, Jan Svankmeyer’s Jabberwocky, Norman McLaren’s Pas de Deux and Neighbors, Allegro Non Troppo, and Yellow Submarine.’

Linda Simenski

VP of Children’s Programming, PBS

‘My favorite cartoons were the Bugs Bunny cartoons and I watched them faithfully every day after school. I had decided around seventh grade that I wanted to write Bugs Bunny cartoons, and someone finally told me that most of them’the good ones’had been produced long before I was born. A few years later, a guy in my filmmaking class in high school made his own animated film. We all crowded around to watch his 8mm Don Martin-looking film about a food fight, and at that exact moment, I knew I wanted to be an animator. A few months later, after making my own incredibly mediocre animated film, I realized I actually did not want to be one. But in college, as I watched the 16th Annual Tournee of Animation, I decided that I was still going to have to find some sort of job in animation!’

Michael Surrey

Animator, The Princess and the Frog, The Lion King

“Inspiration for me to get into animation started way before I knew I

could do this for a living. Watching cartoons Saturday morning with a

bowl of cereal was the norm for me growing up. Warner Bros. shorts with Bugs Bunny, Daffy Duck and friends and of course the endless supply of Hanna-Barbara cartoons. But it was at about seven years old when I was home sick from school fighting off a fever watching TV, when I was introduced to Tom & Jerry and Tex Avery. It was like nothing I had ever seen before. The stuff they were doing was so crazy and funny and it made me wonder, how can I do that? It pushed me to try different things with my drawing and is what propelled me into pursuing animation as a career. To this day I am inspired when I look at Tom & Jerry and Tex Avery shorts. It’s timeless knowledge for an animator.”