Thursday, April 9, 2015

Art Directors

   Terri was the only true American who lived at the apartment on Seventh Avenue.  
   In 1987 a bunch of us stayed there. A South African, a couple of New Zealanders, a Thai, an Englishman, an Irishman, an Argentinian and Terri, the American. 
   Every one of us was an artist of some type.  
   She was tall, well-built and outgoing, like you’d think an American would be. Truth was she came from some underpopulated state in the Midwest, but she told everybody she was from Texas. She attended acting school and had been in a couple of local TV commercials.
   I’d been in New York a couple of months and I hadn't found any animation work yet, so money was tight.
   Nowadays, I like to laugh and call this time of my life my Starving Artist Period. 
   In those days, however, it didn’t seem quite so funny.
   Odd how time distorts things. Or does it remember them better?
  Terri understood about show business. How you had to keep plugging away and hope for a lucky break. And keep laughing! We would often get together and laugh at the crazy business of making TV commercials. 
   “You know art directors!” she said as she rolled her lustrous eyes. “Well hon, I’ve got an art director story for you.” Terri was the first American I got to know in New York. She confirmed my opinion that Americans were honest and smart and funny, and had the world on a string.
   “It was on a breakfast cereal commercial,” she continued. “They kept us waiting on the set for the whole day,” Terri remembered, “while two art directors argued over whether the product was crispy or whether it was crunchy.” Terri sighed with impatience. She wanted to be a movie star and these small jobs on the way to stardom were something she endured, as the princess of legend must sometimes endure the pea under her mattress.
   As an out of work animator I’d have settled for one-tenth of a 30 second commercial, crispy or crunchy or pan fried.  
   “We all got double the union rate for it because it was so cold in that warehouse,” said Terri. “I was goose pimples all over!” She shivered with remembrance, while I pictured Terri in a large bowl of cereal and  milk with goose pimples all over. 
   “And I mean all over!” she repeated. “My nipples were sticking out to here!” Terri was the happy possessor of a near complete lack of modesty regarding her body. And she had every reason to be proud of it. She had a magnificent figure.  
   “While we were waiting around, the damn assistant director made a grab for my ass and I had to break his arm. Jerk! He was married, too, the little toad! Imagine that!” Terri laughed at the folly of men. I suppose every pretty girl in the world learns that trick. “His wife used to pick him up with the kids in the car after work!” she continued. “It was a blasted STATION WAGON! Hahaha!”
   She laughed a dazzling laugh, her perfect American teeth sparkling in my eyes, before adding, “We get along okay now. He just had to find out that I’m not that kind of girl, you know? His arm healed fine. He has almost complete use of it again. 
   “Remember Sugar,” she added, her big movie-star eyes aglow, “You have to be careful how you treat the little people on the way up in this business.” 
   Terri knew she was on the way up. It was just a matter of time.
   She was probably joking about breaking the art director’s arm, but just to be sure I nodded agreeably. I didn’t always know when to believe what Terri was saying or not. It’s a problem I still have with pretty girls today. I didn’t care if Terri spoke Swahili, she sparkled like a diamond.
   With Terri, the world was her stage.
  “Okay,” I answered. “Settle back and let old Rusty tell you all about art directors.” 
   She leaned back in her chair and said with a cheeky smile, “Tell me all about it, Rusty.”
   “It’ll be a pleasure, my dear,” answered I. “In this story the art director wanted to make a slight costume change. After the fact.”  
   I told Terri my art director story. 
   I’d produced a 30 second TV commercial for peanut butter, which starred, naturally enough in the animation business, a talking peanut. It was during post production, when the work is complete and being transferred from 35 mm negative to broadcast quality 2 inch tape. We were in a video editing room costing thousands of dollars per hour. The transfer was going well. Everyone was happy. 
   The art director, after arriving late, leaned in over the editor’s shoulder, spilling some of his coffee on the editing equipment. “Oops,” he laughed. “Someone please get me some more coffee.” Then he pointed at the main character on the screen, asking, “Can we lose his hat? It makes him look too… upper class.” He cocked his head and stared at the little peanut on the screen, adding, “I’m not sure he relates well enough to the common man.” 
   He was one of those art directors who didn’t know much about art, and wasn’t very familiar with directing, either.
   I looked at the translucent coppery film negative threaded thru the glistening editing machine, winding this way and that, and thought of all the hard work that went into the making of that 30 second commercial. Forty-five feet of film. Seven hundred and fifty video frames. Over 600 animation drawings, individually drawn, copied, inked, painted, punched. A dozen layouts corrected, backgrounds painted, cels cleaned, photographed painstakingly one frame at a time, sound effects added, negatives cut. 
   Imbecile, I thought. It took me twelve weeks of hard work to make that commercial, including, as usual with animation, some all-nighters. Now it was done. Of course I couldn’t just take off his bloody hat! 
   I had animated the company logo, the creature to be seen on all the company product, a suave little peanut with a top hat and cane. It looked just like him, only this one could talk. Maybe it was the monocle he was wearing that made him look imperious and out of touch with the common man, I wanted to suggest, or the silver-tipped cane he carried, or the white gloves covering his three-fingered hands, or the spats he wore upon his cartoon feet. Or maybe it was simply because he was a talking peanut. 
   I also wanted to suggest that the art director jump in the lake. 
   Instead I laughingly said sure, I could remove his hat. If they had enough time and money, I could do anything.
   “Oh. Well,” said he, adding magnanimously, “We’ll leave it as it is, then.” 
   We aired the commercial like it was. Everybody loved it. I even got a note from the art director, telling me how pleased he was with it. Personally signed on his monogrammed card.
   I wasn’t paid for months.

1 comment:

  1. Oh Rusty....please keep these stories coming. Absolutely fantastic.