INTRODUCING GARY GOLDMAN...
Gary Goldman is one of the trio that forms the creative side of
Sullivan Bluth in Ireland. Originally one of Disney's new hopes
of the Seventies, he left the studio with Don Bluth to create one
of the most discussed studios of the Eighties. Though now
officially a producer, Goldman continues drawing almost on a
daily basis in an attempt to maintain what he, Don Bluth and John
Pomeroy have christened Classical Animation.
Gary had been Atlantic hopping, handling work in Ireland and
voice direction in Los Angeles. We finally caught up with him via
phone directly at his office in Ireland.
Q: Can you give a brief description of your career in the
business, including studios you've worked at and productions
you've worked on?
GG: After I graduated from art school in Hawaii and returned to
the mainland, California, I went to see Lee Holly, the artist who
does a cartoon strip called "Ponytail" that's nationally
syndicated. He liked my portfolio but he thought what might help
me in the area of cartooning would be to go to Los Angeles and
get involved in animation. I didn't want to go to Los Angeles,
but I did. I, as most young artists would, took my portfolio
around to the different animation studios.
At DePatie-Freleng, the receptionist wouldn't let me in. She said
everybody was on lay-off. I said, "Why don't you ask the
producer if he'd look at my portfolio?" Ed Love was there and he
looked at my portfolio and directed me to Disney. So I began, at
Disney, as a trainee in February of 1972. I spent the next seven-
and-a-half years of my animation career there. That is where I
met Don [Bluth] and John Pomeroy.
I worked as an inbetweener and eventually as assistant to Frank
Thomas on ROBIN HOOD. I worked as an animator on WINNIE THE POOH
AND TIGGER TOO and on THE RESCUERS under the direction of the
late John Lounsbery. I was directing animator on PETE'S DRAGON
and THE SMALL ONE under Don Bluth's direction. Just before we
left Disney, we were working on THE FOX AND THE HOUND as
directing animators. We took no credit on that film.
In 1979, we resigned our positions at Disney to start our own
company, where I've worked as producer and directing animator,
scene planner, cameraman, editor (wearing several hats) on BANJO
THE WOODPILE CAT. We finished it in 1979 and it was released in
two theaters (The Egyptian Theater, in Hollywood, and The Pine
Tree Theater, in Northridge) for Academy Award consideration. It
was licensed to NBC for two showings, but it was not aired until
the summer of 1982.
I worked as a producer, directing animator, and scene planner on
THE SECRET OF NIMH. I didn't animate, but I coordinated the work
on XANADU as a scene planner and line producer for the XANADU
animation. On DRAGON'S LAIR, SPACE ACE and DRAGON'S LAIR II, I actually worked as a producer. I did not animate on any one of
those three projects.
In late 1984 we started AN AMERICAN TAIL. On that picture I
worked as the co-direction producer and sort of a co-director,
but we did not take credit. The same roles were assumed on THE
LAND BEFORE TIME (1988). I was producer and co-director on ALL
DOGS GO TO HEAVEN (1989) and ROCK-A-DOODLE (1990). We're
currently completing ROCK-A-DOODLE and are also heavily into
animation on A TROLL IN CENTRAL PARK.
Q: What art training did you have, if any?
GG: I went to Cabrillo Junior College in Northern California.
My major was drawing and art. I went onto the University of
Hawaii where I majored in life drawing and minored in art
history. My major in life drawing was suggested by Warner
Brothers' Animation Director Robert McKimson. I had gone to
visit him after receiving an Associate of Arts Degree and showed
him a portfolio. Warner Brothers Animation was on a lay-off
period. He had advised me to continue my art training and come
back with the same kind of portfolio, but with more life drawing
He said, "Please do **not** bring me any cartoon drawings, don't
bring me any designs, if you bring me back a strong drawing
portfolio, I'll hire you and I'll train you how to do what we
do." In 1969 it was difficult to find a school that would
actually offer life drawing as a major, but I was accepted at six
schools, including The Rhode Island School of Design, Oakland
Arts and Crafts, and the University of Washington.
I had also applied to Chouinard. It was before Cal Arts was
formed. They were transferring the school from Chouinard, in
downtown Los Angeles, out to Cal Arts, in Valencia, and were not
taking any new applicants. The University of Hawaii was
recommended to me by an artist whom I'd known since I was a
child. She was a family friend and a very well-known oil painter
living in the San Jose/San Francisco area. She felt that the
school offered some really great training including professional
painters, artists and sculptors who are making it in today's
commercial world. Some made guest appearances at the school;
Chagall, Wayne Thiebaud, just to name a couple. Chagall would set
up printmaking. He would do printmaking for six weeks and the
students could actually observe the way he approached it and ask
questions while he was working. They did the same with Wayne
Thiebaud in the painting department.
I went on a crash course to get through the last two years of art
school in sixteen months. I came out with a fairly strong
portfolio, the one I took to Ed Love. Out of six different
studios, he was the only one that looked at my portfolio until I
submitted it to Disney. I waited for three anxious days until
they called and said I had won myself a position in their
It was there, during that first week, that I met Don and formed a
friendship and love for animation. It was a year later, almost
to the day, that I met John as he walked through the door at
Disney. I think both Don and I recognized that John had the same
kind of fever for preserving that classical element which
attracted us to Disney in the first place.
Q:What does a producer do in the big picture of animation?
GG: I don't really know. All I can talk about is our case. I
would say, if you referred to the way that Don, John and I take
that title, it's more like a line producer, in that we're totally
active in the motion picture production. I still draw daily; not
scenes that I've been assigned, but over the top of scenes that
animators and directing animators are working on.
Our roles go from choosing the composer who will write the score
for the picture, the song writers, approaching script writers,
scripting a story that may have originated here, being involved
with the story and selection of stories we're going to produce,
approaching the actors and their agents and attending the voice
sessions where we're directing the voices. We're sort of
producers-cum-directors. We also maintain a teaching role.
We're passing on many of the things we've learned how to do to
younger artists and administrators within the company who will
become producers or production supervisors, directing animators,
department heads, etc.
I'd say our involvement is actually all the way through
production. I'm still doing things like sweatboxing scenes as a
director and approving scenes that are going to go to Xerox and
approving final color; right on down to supervising the final dub
with the supervising sound editor and color-correcting the
Q:When you search for new property, what do you look for in that
as a producer?
GG: I think that all three of us might end up saying the same
thing. I think that number one is a strong story. We may have
hit or missed in our past, but to us we're looking for a strong
story with strong entertaining value. We're also looking for
something with an interesting or different twist so it doesn't
have someone pointing a finger at it saying, "It's just like SNOW
WHITE," or one of the other classics created by Walt Disney which
have been the hallmarks up to now.
Q:Once you've decided on a property, what are the first steps to
starting up a production?
GG: We're currently a trained organization with four hundred and
sixty people. But, if we were starting from scratch, as we did
on THE SECRET OF NIMH, it was basically our very small crew of
about 19 people, 19 key people whose skill levels we knew. You
might even refer to it as kind of a nepotism because once you
know them and you become friends with them, you find yourself
counting on their skills and loyalty to help you do the
On NIMH we actually started an all out recruiting campaign. It wasn't anything we had to really work hard at because the
publicity about our departure from Disney excited an awful lot of
people in the animation industry and just about everybody came
running to us. We have 21 departments, from storyboard all the
way through color production camera. You need a certain amount of
people in each of those departments to achieve your weekly quotas
so as to meet your deadline and budget. So, the first thing, when
you start a production, is to figure out what story you're going
to do and how long you think it's going to be (the number of
minutes). Then you get down to some mechanics about how much can
'x' number of animators produce, per week, to get the picture
animated. Then you've got to find a specific number of animators
that can do 'x' amount of footage per week.
Nowadays, animators average somewhere between seven and ten feet
a week. At the time we did SECRET OF NIMH, those, whom eventually
became key Directing Animators, Linda Miller, Lorna Pomeroy and
Dan Kuenster were all animating somewhere between three and four
feet per week. John [Pomeroy] was capable of animating
consistently twelve to fifteen feet per week. If he was really
burning the midnight oil, he could do as much as 30 feet a week.
NIMH was animated by only 11 of us.
Don storyboarded the entire picture and he animated the two-
minute fight sequence between Justin and Jenner. In fact, Don
storyboarded, with the exception of two or three sequences in THE
LAND BEFORE TIME, all of our pictures. It wasn't until ALL DOGS
GO TO HEAVEN that he released a lot of the boarding to other
people. Now we've got about a twelve-member storyboard team.
Basically you need to fill pre-production and leadership roles.
When you're wearing the Producer's hat you're looking at the
first part of the production for ways of how you're going to get
the production finished. You need to fill the leadership roles,
in each department, with people who will inspire the crew, people
whom you, as a producer, can depend on. Our struggle is to keep
the crew happy and satisfied on a day-to-day basis. It's pretty
much a hard-nosed drive all the way through. I've always looked
at the director and the producer's jobs as servants to the crew.
Even though the producer and director positions, at least to the
crew, appear to be the Lord high Poobah [from Gilbert and
Sullivan's MIKADO], when you're in those shoes, you'll find the
job can get quite uncomfortable. But with the right leaders,
production can run smoothly. It's finding the right people, with
some or a lot of experience, that is difficult. We've found that
training our own crew is best. We have a great Irish crew as well
as an experienced American and Canadian animation staff.
Q: When you're gathering your staff, what sort of people do you
GG: In our case I think we look for people who are artistically
productive. We look for people who have flair. We're looking for
people with strong drawing ability because an animator, a layout
man, a storyboard artist or a background artist, are limited by
their creative craft or skill level. They're limited by how well
they can actually draw or paint. We're looking for both those
who are experienced and for potential animation talent. Also
people who want to do animation, it takes a lot of drive to
conquer this medium and a lot of stamina.
Q:On an average day, what do you do at the studio?
GG: On an average day I come to the studio at between six and
seven in the morning and I leave between seven thirty and nine at
night. That's just **my** hours. We take a short break for
lunch. I think all three of us are in the same boat.
My day starts off usually on a steenback or a moviola and I try
to spend those early morning hours, before the crew arrives at
nine, doing, what I call, "sweatboxing." This is more wearing the
director's hat. I will approve scenes to go into Clean-Up, or
review scenes to be approved to go to Xerox (the final process
after you've had clean-up and effects animated and shot on black
and white film as a pencil test). I approve color scenes to be
cut in and readied for negative assembly.
At nine o'clock the crew arrives. I am then heavily involved with
the animators all day long. The animators need attention or
approval on a video or to flip their scene. I give them approval
to have their scenes completed by their assistants and
inbetweeners. I may spend most of my morning and afternoon in a
directional mode. There are story meetings and meetings where
we're deciding on who's going to do what as voices, or song
writers, etc. There is scheduling, working with the production
manager and accountants on where we stand on the motion picture,
what can we do to cut the costs, how can we inspire the crew, how
can we meet our weekly deadline or it might be that we have eight
weeks left to deliver the project. We're usually in meetings or
on the phone together about how we might solve the problem in the
I've never seen any production without a daily problem in its
schedule or meeting its budgetary requirements. In many cases,
you end up making decisions where you have to cut either story
content, production value, or eliminate a song you've already
paid for. You have to wear two hats in this area, too. You have
a "creative integrity" hat you have on and you also have a
"marketing" hat that you must wear with your investor and the
distributor of the film. You might want to hold your integrity to
something you feel is quite beautiful on the screen, but you
might have to alter it to achieve commercial success.
Those are the hardest decisions to make because you have to
answer to yourself, morally. You also have to answer those
artists who have fallen in love with certain things in the motion
picture. Since most of the artists are adults and we're creating
a medium for the genre that spans from three-and-a-half year old
to the grannies and grandpas out there, we have to acknowledge
the fact that many of the audience are very, very young.
Sometimes we show our dark side. Some of the most artful things
to us are on the dark side.
I'd say my daily routine spans being a producer where I'm talking
to an agent, a scriptwriter, a songwriter, or an actor. Securing
an artist's interest in working with us on a film, actually drawing on an animated scene or going down to camera to see how a
particular scene is coming along. Your interest in those scenes
and those crew members who are doing those jobs is instrumental
to creating inspiration to those facing daily quotas. It's
important that people know you care, not just about the film but
about what they are doing.
Q:How much freedom are you usually given on a production?
GG: We've been probably more fortunate than most people in an
independent film production nature. The most limited I think
we've ever been on freedom would probably be on LAND BEFORE TIME.
But, on AMERICAN TAIL we actually had total freedom. All Steven
asked for was approval of the storyboards and the script. He
only requested a couple of changes. In most cases it was either
accepted or he'd come back with an idea that might be a little
bit better or different that he liked better. On SECRET OF NIMH,
we basically had total creative control and freedom. As a
producer or director, people think you have freedom because you
can do it any way you want. But when you're actually standing in
those shoes, you're limited by the twenty-four hour day. That's
the biggest limitation on your freedom.
Money is freedom. However there's a moral aspect of how much
money you're going to spend on a motion picture.
Q:How much freedom do you usually give on an average production?
GG: I would say that we've been pretty tight creatively. In the
last year or two we've become quite generous with the animators.
If it's a really top animator, we'll give plenty of room, but we
still give plenty of direction or, at least, approvals. With the
composer, we're pretty free, but most composers who have worked
with us have liked the way we track the picture. The term
tracking the picture, is the selection of music from other
productions to give the film a mood, or the sequence a mood to
inspire the animator.
Jerry Goldsmith, on SECRET OF NIMH, would not, at first, look at
the film with it's tracking music. (He wanted to look at it with
dialogue only.) When his music editor came, he called Jerry and
said "I think you'll like what they've done, why don't you look
at it with their tracking music." It's been basically the same
throughout all five productions, including ROCK-A-DOODLE. We give
enough information to the composer about what we want to hear in
the music spotting sessions. We try to use synonyms and
adjectives that give the composer an idea of what we're trying to
convey to the audience in each sequence. Then we're basically
stuck with whatever he brings back. There have only been two
times in the five pictures, I can recall, where we've asked them
to alter something. In both cases the composers made the changes
in less than five minutes and altered the music cue
So, freedom-wise, for the crew it's pretty tight except for the
storyboard artists and the key animators. The rest of the
animators are usually anywhere from trainee to borderline journeymen. There are three to five what we refer to as "top
animators," usually the directing animators, on a project. These
top animators usually can tune into what you're trying to achieve
and try to plus it. As the artists achieve higher skills they
also receive more freedom.
Q:What project have you worked on that's given you the most
professional enjoyment or satisfaction, and why?
GG: I'd have to say THE SECRET OF NIMH. I still think it's our
best project, both for its artistic value and the sophisticated
story that we tried to tell. But mostly for the enjoyment of
that crew at that time. We were all young and we shared
two-and-a-half years of absolute crusading, some hard times and
some really good times that are extremely memorable to me. I can
see scenes in that picture that still give me an emotional
twinge. (I personally was involved with every single scene in the
picture, either the scene planning, directing another animator,
animating a scene myself, or actually shooting on the camera late
night there in Studio City.) During the last six months of that
picture we were averaging somewhere near a hundred and ten hours
a week, from six in the morning until eleven at night. It took a
big chunk out of our lives but the experience gave me so much as
a learning experience and a people experience that, I find it was
the most satisfying. On the other projects political negatives
came along that made them not as enjoyable as THE SECRET OF NIMH
was. Not that SECRET OF NIMH wasn't without it's problems, but
it was a heck of a learning experience.
Q: If you were trying to break into the business today, how would
you prepare yourself for that?
GG: I have children between the ages of sixteen and twenty-five
and I'm watching them grow and watching them all at different
levels. (They're in high school and college and the oldest one is
actually one of the editors here at Sullivan Bluth.) You're so
limited at that age with how much you have to offer, I would
think I would concentrate on my education and on improving my
drawing ability. If I wanted to be an animator, I would put
everything I knew how to do and all of my hours into practicing
drawing so that I conquered the skill. I think that your most
prolific animators are your best draftsmen. The Linda Millers,
the John Pomeroys, Don Bluth, himself. Lorna Pomeroy-Cook has got
a complete command of that pencil and she can make it do what she
wants to do. Dan Kuenster is very talented.
They're all going to be stars because they can make that pencil
work for them. If I were to advise a young person who was
fifteen or sixteen and looking at animation, I would push them to
go to an art school. I'm not just talking about a well rounded
education, but one that also made them draw. There are so many
experiences in life that will help make a good animator. It's
those experiences, the ups and down and jerks along the way that
give you emotion to put in those scenes and bring those
characters to life. But, you're not going to bring them to life if you can't draw.
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