The story of SEVEN EXTRAORDINARY THINGS was inspired by my own experiences in art school, but it is not autobiographical. This is a good thing for two reasons. First: my own life is fascinating only to me. Second: even when I intend to tell a true story the facts are not to be trusted. My habit of reshaping events for dramatic impact is deeply ingrained. I justify it as artistic license.
That said, I’m about to give a brief account of myself. But since I admitted to rampant fabrication — believe it at your own peril.
I grew up in Santa Barbara, a town on the Southern California coast whose beauty and charm I didn’t fully appreciate until I left it behind. I spent my youth reading comics and Edgar Rice Burroughs novels and wishing I could draw like Frank Frazetta. When my parents dragged me to the beach, I took along a yard stick and a book on dinosaurs and amused myself by drawing life-size images of prehistoric beasts in the sand.
As a young teenager I became enamored with the art and practice of falconry, a fascination that haunts me to this day. Although I gave up raising and training birds of prey when I started making films in High School, I still get excited when I see a hawk in flight.
In the late seventies I went to California Institute of the Arts during the first year that the Disney Character Animation Program was in existence.
How I ended up there is something of a mystery. I recall finagling a tour of Walt Disney Productions when I was still in High School, and showing some of my short films. I remember getting a call from the head of personnel at Disney, inviting me to send in my portfolio.
I had no intention of becoming an animator, but when your life’s ambition is to work in a film studio — and a film studio calls offering a scholarship to an art college — you say “yes”. Or at least, I did.
One day at the end of my second year, my former roommate Brad Bird rushed over with important news. “You, me, John Musker and Jerry Rees are wanted in the dean’s office,” he told me.
“Why?” I asked.
“I think they’re going to offer us jobs at Disney.”
“No, Brad” I replied with a sober shake of my head. “They’re going to offer jobs to John and Jerry, not to you and me.”
But he was right, and I was wrong.
It was the summer of 1977. A film called STAR WARS had just come out when I found myself employed in the Feature Animation Department of the premier animation studio of the day. I was twenty years old and I had achieved my life’s ambition.
I stayed at Disney for four years, and loved most of my time there. In many ways it felt more like college to me than college. Many of my friends who stuck with animation went on to make film history. They did projects like THE LITTLE MERMAID, ALADDIN, THE INCREDIBLES, and one of them started a place called PIXAR. A few of my classmates did all right for themselves in live action as well; for instance, there was this guy named Tim Burton.
After I left Disney I made my way as a writer, illustrator and storyboard artist. Storyboarding was something (I can say with very little modesty) I was pretty damn good at. As usually happens when you find something you’re good at, people want to promote you until you land someplace you’re not good.
Whether I’ve landed or not is open to debate, but in the early nineties I started directing.
Sometimes I feel like I’ve crashed a party to which all the cool kids were invited; eventually they’re going to find me out and send me home.
The fact that I’ve returned to drawing comic books (something I hadn’t done since I was fourteen and drew a 49 page epic about two American Astronauts who crash land on Venus) isn’t likely to help.
It also wouldn’t help if I admitted I had more fun drawing SEVEN EXTRAORDINARY THINGS than anything else I’ve done (professionally) in the last thirty years. So it’s not something I’m not going to admit. In fact, please forget I wrote that.
It’s funny how we always end up back where we started.
West Toluca Lake, CA