Dear Mister Selig,
We are the animation history students of Falmouth Junior High. We aren’t sure if you’re still alive but, if you are, can you please answer some animation questions for us? If you don’t want to answer them or if you’re not still alive, can you please forward this email to Keith Chapman? (He was our first choice, but we couldn’t find him and we tried really hard.) Anyways, most of us liked your show Wonder Pets! when we were little kids, especially the duck Ming-Ming who couldn’t talk right. She was funny, but one kid in our class had to go to a speech pathologist for about one-and-a-half years because of it. Hahaha! If you don’t mind, we really need your answers by Tuesday because we have to do an oral report about you (or Keith Chapman).
The Animation Gang
Dear Animation Gang,
First off, thank you for your lovely email. Since I am, at least for now, still alive, I thought it best to reply to you quickly in case things should change on that front.
I’m sorry you couldn’t find Keith Chapman. He is most likely tending his garden and sipping Rémy Martin Louis XIII in Monaco — a small European country which, last I heard, he now owns. I will send him your best regards.
Yes, I would be happy to answer your animation questions. Having just binge-watched The Crown, I find myself with time on my hands as well as a renewed appreciation (or, as the Queen would say, “appre-see-a-tion”) for letter writing. So, please send along your questions posthaste.
Dear Mister Selig,
Thank you for replying to us. We are really psyched! (^o^)
It is good to know you are still alive. Congratulations. (Maybe you should update your Facebook page to let other people know? Just a suggestion.) Anyways, here are our five animation questions. Please fill in the blanks by Tuesday when our oral report is due. And swear you won’t be late or we won’t have anything to say. We will just be standing there. By the way, we cannot pay you for this :o)
The Animation Gang
Animation Gang: How come some animation shows are really good shows and some animation shows are really bad shows?
Josh: Good shows are good shows because they are well-loved. This is also true for a good meal, a good haircut or a good dog. Things that are well-loved are handled with a particular care and attention to detail that things that are not well-loved simply never get. Good shows always come from the heart of a show creator — a man or a woman who has an idea that he or she needs to share — and then they are nurtured by a small army of devoted artists and producers who spend years fussing over every walk cycle, the design of each hand or the way an actor says a particular word. If this delicate process goes well (and it rarely does), then the love that this team feels for their show is also felt — I don’t know exactly how — by the kids who watch the show. For these children, the show’s characters become as beloved as their close friends and family members. In my view, that is what a good show is.
Bad shows, on the other hand, rarely come from individuals. They’re usually stitched together in conference rooms by smart and enterprising people who hope to sell things — almost anything — to children. And the more people who are in the room, the less likely it is that their show will be any good. Since not much passion or love goes into the raising of these shows, they (unsurprisingly) rarely grow up well. The end result is often a show that’s a bit of a Frankenstein’s monster: It has good parts harvested from good people, but nothing quite fits together, so the show walks a little funny and may frighten small children.
Animation Gang: We had a guest speaker last week who said there aren’t any new ideas left. That totally freaked us out. Do you think there are any new ideas left?
Josh: Rest assured, there are still many wonderful new ideas left. Ideas are everywhere. Shows are everywhere. Your breakfast can become a show. Your trip to an alpaca farm can become a show. Even your nose can become a show. The world’s a messy garden of ideas, and they’re all growing right towards you at every moment. You just need to reach out and pluck one. (Kids, of course, are better at this than adults, and I’ve long believed that human beings peak at age four.) The people who struggle the most with ideas are the ones who treat them like rare bugs that they must hunt down, capture and impale with a pin. These folks try too hard, and they think too much. This puts them outside of the garden, where it is rather parched. When you know you are welcome in the garden, you will never be short of new ideas. And, rest assured, every person — especially the Animation Gang — is welcome in the garden.
Animation Gang: Which person influenced you the most? (This can be a real one or a made up one like Pokémon.)
Josh: Many years ago, I worked at Sesame Street. There was a producer and director there named Lisa Simon. She was very strong and she was very gentle. She believed in me long before I believed in myself. And when I struggled, she did not abandon me. Lisa’s life and work made a big impression on me and so many others. She passed away a few years back, but I still think of her almost every day. You would have liked her a lot. And she would have liked you.
Animation Gang: What parts of your job do you not like so much?
- Birthday parties in conference rooms.
- Notes that do not help shows.
- Pitching while eating.
- Any show in which the characters laugh for no reason except that it’s the end of the episode.
- Show bibles without pictures.
- Explaining jokes.
- Anything more than two drafts and a polish.
- Comedy that’s based on physical pain.
- The brevity, anonymity and nastiness of social media.
- The need to adapt to changing technologies whilst believing in my heart that humans will never improve upon the hand-written letter or the candle.
- When people with power are unkind to people without power.
- Airplane food.
- Losing my phone.
- Talking about money.
Animation Gang: What parts of your job do you like the most?
Josh: This one is easy. Sometimes, it all just goes right. The show that you create matches the era that you live in. And the team that you assemble is uniquely qualified and motivated to bring that particular show to life: The writers, the artists, the composers, the producers, and the broadcasters. They all just get it, and so do the kids. I cannot say I have experienced this often — something always seems to get in the way — but I have experienced it. And when it happens, it’s not only my favorite part of my job, it’s my favorite part of my life. The act of creating a good show (or film or song or pinch pot) is an act of God. Not every time, but sometimes.
Well, Animation Gang, it’s late here in New York and we need to take the dogs out. Good luck with your oral report on Tuesday. If you decide to make your own shows one day, please try and do so in your own way. You need not follow me or Keith Chapman or anyone else. And try not to care too much what other people think of you or your work. Too many hopeful beginners have gone silent out of fear, or because others have been cruel. Forgive them, for they know not what they do. Just make your things and share your things and your lives will be forever full. I swear 🙂
Josh Selig founded Little Airplane Productions (a Studio 100 company) in 1999. He is the creator and exec producer of the Emmy-winning series Wonder Pets!, 3rd & Bird and Oobi. He has received 10 Emmy Awards for his work as a writer on Sesame Street and a Humanitas Award for his work as head writer of Little Bill.