Monday, April 6, 2015

We Stand Upon the Shoulders of Giants

   I had lunch with my friend Rachele the other day. We met at a restaurant by the marina on the lakefront in St. Cloud, not far from where I used to live. They make a pretty good blackened grouper sandwich there, and the beer’s not too expensive. The only gripe I have is the overly friendly approach the staff adopt. Not being originally from the South, in fact having grown up in New Zealand, a place where people are more reserved socially, I always wince whenever my server calls me, “Hon.” 
   I know they don’t mean it that way, but I’m nobody’s hon.
   My second wife and I used to live in St Cloud. 
   She’s not the wife I blog about and fight with all the time. That’s my current wife. My pugnacious muse, you might call her, and, although I often wince when she speaks to me, she never calls me hon.
   No, the wife I used to live with in St Cloud is the wife who went a little cuckoo and started wearing tinfoil on her head, to keep out the voices that she heard. She also threw all her possessions into the street, ripped up every floorboard in the house, and installed video cameras in the attic, looking for the demons who were torturing her. And more nutty things, but why mention them? She did all this, by the way, well after we’d got divorced. So you can’t say, as some might, that I drove her crazy. When I lived with her I had no idea she was destined for such a fate. 
   Nobody knows for sure what their destiny will be, do they?
   She was a sweet-natured person, completely undeserving of the pain and confusion she was given. I feel badly, because towards the end of our marriage I wasn’t much of a husband. Some restless devil seemed to grab hold of me, and I couldn’t be happy with what I had. 
   Maybe I was the one who was cuckoo. 
   If you’re reading this, my dear, please accept my apologies. I’m sorry for the pain I caused you, and I hope your life is good now, and that you are happy.
   Anyway, about my lunch with Rachele. I hardly recognized her, she’d lost so much weight. One of the few of us in America who is reversing the trend. She used to run the training department at Walt Disney Feature Animation Florida, and was a popular ‘mother’ figure to the young interns that came through the place. They were usually nervous in the beginning, these interns, for it’s not an easy thing to be an animation artist for Walt Disney. There’s so much heritage and history, and at the time we were making the best animated movies in the world.
   They had yet to learn what every artist must learn; to trust themselves. 
   Occasionally I was called upon to instruct these interns. Animation cannot be learned from books, but, provided one is diligent, observant, and persistent, from trial and error. One has to make many thousands of terrible drawings, before the good drawings start to flow. And, if you’re lucky, animation is learned by a sort of apprenticeship to a more experienced animator. My original mentor had been my father, whose name, for you historians, is John Ewing*. He had worked for Disney, where his mentor had been John Lounsbery. Lounsbery** was one of Disney’s Nine Old Men, as Walt christened them. These nine men virtually perfected the art of character animation as we know it today. (I met the surviving members of this most exclusive of clubs, Marc Davis, Frank Thomas, Ollie Johnston and Ward Kimball, as well as production designer Ken Anderson, layout artist Ken O’Connor and sound effects man Jimmy McDonald,*** shortly after the Florida studio opened in May of 1989. I was one of the Florida studio’s original crew members. I’d met Mr Lounsbery when I was a child. We, that is my family and I, visited his ranch for a picnic, where I rode a horse for the first time. My sister and brother were too young to ride, and I remember my mother was anxious, for I was still her little boy and knew nothing of horses or riding them.) 
   Thus I can trace my animation heritage, winding through the Disney company, all the way back to the 1930s.
   After the Disney execs came out from Burbank and casually laid us all off (closing the Florida studio in 2004), I taught animation at Full Sail University. During my years there, I taught thousands of students. Some of them even worked hard enough to have learned something, and to begin upon their own journey as animators. 
   Now they can trace their heritage back through me, and my father, and John Lounsbery.
   We stand upon the shoulders of the giants who came before.

*His Disney credits include 101 Dalmatians (1961), The Sword and the Stone (1963), and The Jungle Book (1967).

** Whose mentor had been Norm ‘Fergy’ Ferguson, the artist credited among the first to show an animated character ‘thinking’ on screen. That character was Pluto, and he was thinking about flypaper.

 ***Inventive sound effects artist and the voice of Chip from those wonderful Chip and Dale cartoons of the 1950s. He was also the second voice, after Walt, of Mickey Mouse.


  1. Sam, what an exciting life you have lived. I can't wait to read more!
    Keep this blog running :)

  2. Heartbreaking to read about S. She was (and I assume still is) indeed a very sweet-natured person. The brain is an organ as susceptible to illness and defects as any other. It's a shame that our culture treats such illnesses as a failing in character rather than what they are; a failing in chemistry. I truly hope that she has fully healed and is enjoying life again.

    1. Your sensitive words are well received.
      She still is a sweet natured person.
      I will have occasion to write more of my wonderful adventures with her.