Interview by Jukka Issakainen - July 2012
Can you tell a bit about yourself?
I was born in Louisiana, raised in L.A. and as far back as I can remember I've always drawn. Saw Star Wars when I was a kid and was hooked. Loved Sci Fi,and the thought of creating, monsters and aliens and space ships with lasers ever since. Around 1994-95 I met Gary Hartle and Mike Goguen and before long I was working at Film Roman on Mortal Kombat at the age of 22...just down the hall from where Hartle was working on the Mask animated show...been working at various studios ever since.
What do you do in the field of animation?
On Mortal Kombat I started out as a character designer, to keep me around, they tried me out as a storyboard revisionist...I liked it so much I wanted to try Storyboards and did for a while after Mortal Kombat ended. I was a storyboard artist on Men in Black, Time Squad, Johnny Bravo, Jackie Chan Adventures, Dragontales, Boondocks, Legion of Superheroes to name a few....but in recent years i kinda fell out of love with it. Storyboards are for young single people who have time to spare,I have a family now and my man hours are at a premium, I just can't do it anymore. I took over the Character Design duties on the second season of Legion of Superheroes and it was a blast. James Tucker was another amazing producer to work for. Currently I did produce, write and direct my own animated pilot/short for DC Nation, based on the character "Black Lightning" and his family.
Where and when did you hear about a He-Man cartoon was being made?
I believe it was after my stint on Jackie Chan Adventures...Gary Hartle and I have remained friends for years, as is the case with most of the people working in animation...it's a very tight-nit community, that's why you always see the same names on the end credits. But yeah, Gary was hired by Bill Schultz and Mike Young to shepherd the new He-Man show that Mattel was funding to promote its toy line...Gary corralled a bunch of us who were in between jobs like Vinton Heuck, Eric Canete, Jay Oliva, Byron Penneranda, Poe Tan, Tim Divar, Adam Van Wyck, Jo Jo Aguilar and a bunch of others...Lauren Montgomery was a student brought in by Jay Oliva...I don't know what she's been up to lately (Sarcastic Laughter)
What were your projects on the He-Man show?
I started out as a Storyboard Artist on that show, but to be real honest, I wasn't gonna last...Jay Oliva was our Storyboard Supervisor...okay really he was our series director, and Hartle was Supervising Producer....don't know why they didn't give them those titles. Anyway, Jay is crazy talented and super demanding, and admittedly, I wasn't cutting it to his level...still not to this day...so as opposed to firing me they switched me to Character Designer once Ed Lee left to do feature films I believe. It was cool though, I really dug it...got to flex the Sci-Fi Fantasy muscle again.
Any specific good/bad memories working at Mike Young Productions?
MYP was a REALLY tiny production, so we didn't have the facilities of the major studios like WB, Nick, or Cartoon Network. But the bi-product is the crew becomes a lot tighter and a lot more intimate. The crew took on more of a college dorm room vibe which was a lot of fun. There are some experiences you would never have happen if it were a bigger studio, like the day garden lizards would wander into our studio, and one crawled up Gary Hartle's pants (BWAHAHAHAHAHA!) My bad memories....hmmmm, I didn't like the writers...nuff said.
Did you know/watch the original He-Man animation in the 80s?
I unfortunately did watch the show. I hated it when I was a kid. Mind you, I grew up in the 80's and for a good while, action adventure cartoons were pretty weak. But thankfully better shows like G.I. Joe, Thundercats, Transformers and Robotech were on the horizon and they gave me that shot in the arm I needed. Jay Oliva's about 3 or 4 years younger than me so he was a lot more wide-eyed back when the original show aired and he loved the show.He thought it was one of the best shows ever. I remember weeks before we officially started production, I believe it was our Executive Producer Ian Richter brought in a bunch of the old episodes as inspiration for us. I recall it was the episode where the Pink Anthropomorphic Bunny [Plundor from "Quest for He-man"] was the villain... like I said, Jay is really demanding and has high standards, and the look on his face as his beloved childhood memory of the show was slowly crushed was priceless!
Who is your favourite hero and villain?
Favorite Villain, ALL OF THE SNAKE MEN, they were a lot of fun to draw.
Favorite Hero? Zodak and Cyclone, the Black Guy and the Asian Guy (yes Cyclone was the Eternian equivalent of an Asian)
Do you have a full list of which characters you designed for He-Man cartoon? Ian Richter has mentioned that you designed The Faceless One, father of Evil-Lyn. Anyone else?
Ummmm Evil-Seed, Count Marzo, the original Sorceress Veena. The Eternian Council (all the other Aliens in the realm) most of the creatures and characters that weren't apart of the "Four Horsemen Toy-line" design...all that stuff is in a portfolio gathering dust in my garage.
How did the process go for designing a character? Did you work off from a concept-artwork by the Four Horsemen (toy sculptors for MOTU-figures) or were you given any guidelines?
Pretty much what you said. Often there would be a description from the script or concept design for a toy that they would incorporate...often Oliva, or Hartle, or even other people working on the show like Tim Divar or Canete would do a scribble or a full on model and I would use that. there was a lot of one hand washing the other while working on that show.
Do you remember which characters Ed Lee designed? Were you two only character designers or were there more?
Ed Lee did all the main cast from Man-At-Arms, Triklops, Mekanek, TrapJaw etc. Remember, MYP was a small studio...they couldn't match the wage when feature film came-a-calling. Once he left for greener pastures I took over.
Did any character-design end up on the "cutting room floor" that you liked more than how the design finally ended up?
Shokoti, and other Blue-Skinned characters from Keldor and Cyclone's race...but most of the time doodles and concepts would just be dusted off and revised and squeezed into the background somewhere else. I wasn't totally a fan with the color choice for Buzz-Off's Queen, she was colored a little too "Post-It" yellow for my taste. A lot of the colors were too bright and crayon-box for my taste...oh well.
Can you elaborate on Shokoti?
Shokoti was just an outline I pitched for an episode, it got shot down.
She was a character me and Oliva dusted off for the series....hell the dusted off Count Marzo and Evilseed from the old Filmation series. I wrote an outline for a story where she was the main villain, but that got nixed by the powers from up above...oh well. Same thing goes for Gary Hartle's She-Ra story arc...
What are you working on now?
Currently am working on a pilot for James Tucker, unfortunately I'm doing storyboards. After that a DTV movie here at WB with James Tucker and Jay Oliva, unfortunately I'm doing storyboards. I'm currently waiting for footage to come back for my Black Lightning, DC Nation short which should be airing around May or June...I also produced an animated short which is a revival of a very popular 1970's/1980's animated Superhero which I'm dying to tell you but can't...
Where can people find your work? (online-gallery, etc)
Unfortunately I don't understand the whole notion of posting artwork on a website (it's just me) I could understand it if I was some young kid in high school or college looking to get some recognition in hopes to getting a job in animation...but I got the gig, so I no need for that. Also, I draw all day long, if I had free time, I'd rather be doing something else with my family and friends like Snowboarding, Airsoft, Warhammer 40K, BBQ-ing or playing in the pool with my daughter.