Sunday, June 18, 2006
MY INITIATION INTO THE ANIMATION INDUSTRY
On the strength of my portfolio I got my first storyboard job way back in 1979 at Filmation, the studio that did Fat Albert and Flash Gordon for Saturday Morning TV. I was in heaven! I showed up my first day, eager to work, pockets full of sharpened pencils and a cumbersome, giant mirror because the animation books always showed the Golden-Age animators mugging into a mirror and I didn't want to look like a piker by showing up without one.
I think my boss-to-be was amused by all this becuase he made a big show of finding a place for me to sit. "Leeeeet's see...wheeeere shall we put Mr. Fitzgerald?" I've got it! We'll put him in with Paul Fennell!" Every face in the vicinity dropped. People said things like, "No! No! No! It's too cruel!" and "No! Even this kid doesn't deserve that!" I had no idea what they were talking about.
They introduced me to Paul and he seemed likable enough. He'd been in animation since the days of rubber hose. Now he seemed to be in his eighties, just storyboarding away, biding his time till a late retirement. On the way out my boss said, "Paul's supposed to take heart pills every day but some days he forgets. If he ever forgets, and you find out about it, get out of the office! Work somewhere else! If you don't you'll be sorry!" I couldn't even imagine why he said that.
In the following weeks I immersed myself in the life of the studio. The company did everything under one roof: ink & paint, animation, assistant animation, layout...everything! Every moment I wasn't working I would walk around the halls on some pretext just revelling in the thrill of being with other cartoonists. There were times I thought I'd just burst with happiness. Also during this time one of my new friends introduced me to Bob Clampett cartoons. The effect, to put it mildly, was not subtle. Even though I'd only been working in the industry a few weeks I went around the studio telling the old animators that they were doing everything wrong, that Clampett and Scribner were the only ones who knew how animation works. This didn't make me popular with the old animators and they all complained to Paul.
One day I overheard Paul tell one of his friends that he forgot to take his heart medicine. I didn't think anything of it because it was the day of my first deadline and I was working feverishly against the clock. Paul by this time had gotten in the habbit of going into long, daily rants about what a bum Clampett was and what a punk I was and this day was no different. Usually I listened politely but my first deadline was hours away and I was afraid I'd end up on the street if I missed it. I just couldn't think with Paul's rant going on! Impulsively I turned around and shook my finger at Paul, "Paul, you've gotta give me a break here! I've gotta get this board done!"
I thought Paul was on the other side of the room but it turns out that he was right behind me. When I shook the finger I was suprised to see it happen an inch away from his face. He did a cross-eyed look at the finger then at me then hauled off and BAM!, punched me hard, right on the nose!
I was shocked. Shocked and hurt! The nose is a sensitive spot! I held my bleeding nose yelling something like, "Paul! Are you nuts!? Why did you do that!?" Paul was red-faced, caught up in the fury of it all. On the way out of the room he shouted, "Because Clampett is a punk and so are you!Punk! Punk! Punk! I'm gonna tell my friend Bill Hanna about you. You'll never get a job at that studio!"
Later on at lunch a couple of artist friends said they thought I was a wuss for not hitting him back. A wuss? Because I didn't hit a man who was a half century older than me!? That didn't make any sense. What I was really worried about was that I'd be blackballed from the animation industry. All my friends were of one opinion about that. It was probaly an empty threat and Paul probably didn't even know Bill Hanna. They pretty well talked me into their point of view when I returned to the studio and found Paul on the hall phone saying, "Here comes Fitzgerald now! Never hire that bum! he's a dirty-no-good punk!"
Well, I have to end the story somewhere and this is as good a place as any.