CTN Animation Expo Recap

This past weekend I attended the first annual CTN Animation Expo in Burbank. What a fantastic weekend! Hundreds of animation artists descended on the Burbank Marriott for three days of workshops, seminars, networking, and hanging out. There were dozens of artists exhibiting their work and some top people in the biz giving incredible lectures and interviews.

Here’s a quick rundown of some of the many highlights

Throughout the Expo several top artists were stationed out in the lobby doing live demos. Here Tony Bancroft (former Disney animator and director of Mulan) does a demo animation of Pumbaa from The Lion King. An overhead camera projected his work on large monitors.

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Animator Phil Nibbelink

A few weeks ago I attended the Motion ’09 animation conference in New Mexico where I gave two presentations on character design. One of the mainstays of the conference is animator Phil Nibbelink. Last year he taught at least three sessions relating to animation and this year I think he gave about a half-dozen presentations including a panel discussion with three other long-time Disney animators. Phil really knows his stuff and I’ve learned a lot from listening to him expound on various aspects of filmmaking.

Phil worked for ten years at Disney and was a directing animator on Who Framed Roger Rabbit? Then he spent another ten years working under Steven Spielberg as an animation director, working on such films as Fivel Goes West (which he directed) and Casper. In recent years Phil has turned his attention to independent filmmaking, cranking out not just one but three full-length animated features single-handedly.

Phil does a lot of freelance work these days. He’s an experienced animation pro who really knows the ins and outs of the business. Give his website a looksee.

VeggieTales Creator Partners With Tyndale For New DVD Series

Some exciting news about an upcoming project I’ll be working on:

Phil Vischer, the creator of VeggieTales (the best-selling direct-to-video series of all time) and of the kids’ media website JellyTelly.com has just announced a partnership with Tyndale House Publishers to create a 13-volume educational DVD series called “What’s In The Bible?” The DVD’s will take kids through the Bible from cover to cover using a combination of puppets, animation, and live action to teach about the Bible and the Christian faith. The DVD’s will be released this coming Spring.

Announcement on Phil’s blog.

Press release from Tyndale

The best part (for me at least) is that I get to play a small role in the project. I’ve been hired to animate three segments, and if that goes well there will likely be more to come.

The DVDs are going to echo back to the spirit of the old Disney educational films from the 1960’s but with a modern, snappy sensibility. I’m a huge fan of the early Disney and UPA-style educational films (especially the work of Ward Kimball like the classic Toot, Whistle, Plunk and BoomAmazon link). For years I’ve been thinking how cool it would be to use educational animation to teach the Bible and theology. Bible literacy is on the decline in America so this series will help fill a huge need. I’m thrilled to play a small part in it. Based on what I’ve seen so far, it’s going to be a very fun and quality product!

Look for the first two DVDs to be in stores in Spring of 2010. In the mean time, for samples of Phil’s latest offerings visit JellyTelly.com. Just what exactly is JellyTelly? Glad you asked.

Toy Design: Surfs Up Mickey Mouse!


For over a year now I’ve been designing toys for a company called DecoPac. They create many of the fancy birthday cakes you see in the grocery store bakeries, the ones with little plastic licensed characters on them. They offer a wide variety of quality cake designs for all occasions, and often develop fun themes using licensed characters to tie in with movie and TV franchises. On occasion they will hire me to develop toy concepts for some of the cakes. They are a terrific client and its a ton of fun.

The toys are manufactured overseas, and because of the many factors involved (including the length of time it takes to ship them across the ocean) the concepts may have to be developed a year or more ahead of time. Today I finally received samples of the very first toys I developed for them back in April of ’08, figurines of Mickey and Minnie Mouse for a surfing-themed cake. The shipment also included toys from two other cake designs which I’ll be posting in the near future.

For the surfer Mickey I developed a few different rough thumbnail ideas and then the final turnarounds. From there my sketches were sent to a sculptor and then finally to the overseas manufacturer.

Here’s the final turnaround designs as well as a promo photo of the final cake design from the DecoPac catalog. At the time the client wasn’t sure which colors to use on Minnie’s bow and swimsuit so they asked me to give them a few options:




(Toy designs copyright © 2009 Disney/DecoPac. All rights reserved.)

Walt Stanchfield’s “Drawn To Life”


For twenty years Walt Stanchfield was a drawing instructor at Disney, teaching and inspiring some of the worlds’ best artists and animators to help them hone their craft. He often gave his students handouts filled with inspiring sketches and valuable insights into the process of gesture drawing. The handouts were so popular that they were photocopied and traded like baseball cards. Several of them have also popped up here and there on the internet. (A few years ago I downloaded a batch from a website which unfortunately no longer makes them available.)

Academy Award® nominated producer Don Hahn (Beauty and the Beast, The Lion King) has collected those notes and edited them into a brand new two-volume set entitled Drawn to Life: The Walt Stanchfield Lectures. The books will be available in late March/early April but are currently available for pre-order at Amazon.com (Volume 1 and Volume 2). The books total 800 pages of inspiration and instruction so at $20 each it’s a steal.

You can view a short video “trailer” for the books at www.donhahn.com.

Tod Carter Interview

Tod Carter is an uber-talented artist. He’s worn a lot of hats over the years from animator to story artist to director to illustrator. He’s worked on projects for companies such as Disney, DreamWorks, and Big Idea (VeggieTales) as well as several TV commercials. I had the privilege of working under him on 3-2-1 Penguins! (he directed several of the episodes I worked on) and he was always a terrific boss. I’ve also had fun inking Tod’s pencils for a couple of VeggieTales children’s books through Scholastic, such as the one pictured above.

Recently the website Animated Views posted a lengthy interview with Tod. Among other things he talks about what it’s like to work on a Disney “cheapquel”. Fascinating stuff.

While you’re at it, check out Tod’s blog (which I’ve added to my blogroll at left) and the website of his new company, Brain Freeze Entertainment. You’ll be glad you did.