Saturday, April 05, 2014

Duck Soup and the 6 old men

Animators have all heard of the fabled 9 Old Men of the classic period of the Walt Disney Studios, I personally started my animation career under the 6 Old Men of the Santa Monica commercial studio, Duck Soup Produckions. It was a pivotal and illuminating experience, starting at age 14 in 1974. I had the pleasure of mentoring under and meeting some of animation’s heavy hitters in the 70’s and 80’s- Betty Boop creator, Grim Natwick, animation director Duane Crowther (UPA), animator Corny Cole (Looney Tunes), animation director Frank Terry, master background painter Toby Bluth, and animator Amby Paliwoda (Disney). All of whom are no longer with us, but are truly remembered for their talent and generosity. Duck Soup Produckions (or Duck Studio) was started by Roger Chouinard and Duane Crowther in 1972. It was the Tiffany’s of the small commercial studios that dotted the Los Angeles landscape in the 70’s and 80’s, which included Film Fair, Spungbuggy, Murikami-Wolf, and Kurtz and Friends. As mentioned in earlier posts, I first met animators Corny Cole and Sam Kirson in 1974 while drawing cartoons for my mother’s first grade class in Santa Monica. Sam Kirson’s son, Wolf introduced me to his father Sam and Corny, who in turn invited me to the Duck Soup studios for a visit. I was invited to a studio cartoon screening of Disney's "Mother Goose Goes Hollywood", there I met, Duane Crowther, Amby Paliwoda, Grim Natwick, Arnie Wong, Mark Kausler, and many other talented folks. Duane was kind enough to shoot pencil tests of my early attempts at animation on the end of their commercial dailies. I was bitten by the animation bug right there! Later during college summer vacations in the late 70’s I was hired by the studio as a runner/ assistant animator, I was happy as a kid in a candy store! I worked there for 5 summers until I graduated from CSULB.
Duane Crowther- From the UPA studios and also of the Beatles "Yellow Submarine" movie was my main mentor at the studio. Duane was very helpful, generous, and funny. He taught me to loosen up my drawings and snap up my timing. Duane directed most of the classic Kellogs spots and many others like Crave Cat Food, Nestle’s Quick, Froot Loops, etc.
Grim Natwick- Was a close friend of Duane’s from the UPA days, (probably on UPA's Rooty Toot Toot). Amby knew Grim from the "Snow White" days at Disney. Grim freelanced at the studio in the early 70's. Grim started in the silent film days, and lived to be over 100.
Corny Cole- Was my animation surf mentor, I also worked with Corny at Spugbuggy and on the first relaunch of "Alvin and the Chipmunks" in 1983. Corny did the amazing layouts on the "Sylvester Nine Live" spots and many Kellogs commercials. Corny went on the teach life drawing at Cal Arts.
Frank Terry- Frank directed many of the "Raid" commercials and the more experimental spots at the studio using the latest post 70’s graphic techniques. Frank went on to head the Cal Arts animation department.
Amby Paliwoda- Amby was a classic Disney animator who started with Walt in 1935 and worked there for over 25 years. I assisted Amby with many of the Kellogs spots, and even a talking dog for Levis. That got a me gig at ILM animating JFK on the film Forrest Gump, which won an Oscar in 1994 for VFX.
Toby Bluth- Toby was the master watercolor background artist for many of the classic Kellog’s commercials, and also directed the MGM feature "Babes in Toyland". His watercolors still inspire me to this day, reminding me of Harmon Ising cartoons and early Disney shorts! His brother is director Don Bluth who you might have heard of. I’ll be forever grateful and inspired by these men, I was lucky to live in an age when animation secrets were handed down to each generation by careful guidance and patience. I’m now in my 50’s and I still use those skills today. I’m now in the process of completing my first independent feature film, The Kustomonsters, which is a compilation of shorts which I have done over the last few years, as well as heading up the reboot of "Rainbow Brite" for Hallmark. I owe these men a a debt of gratitude for their early inspiration. Duck out.