Emru Townsend: Did you find any great difference between your experience at Disney and working on
Once Upon A Forest? For one thing, of course, one's TV and the other's a feature...
Yes, it was much different. The TV work, the way we were working at Disney at the time--and I think things have changed since then--we were subcontracting to more studios, so it was more tracking where the scenes were, and which companies were working, and talking to those companies, who was doing what, and where they were with the retakes, etc. On Once Upon a Forest
, it was all under the roof of one studio, so it was much more involved on the line production. Actually running scenes around from place to place, making sure that they were getting taken care of, and really technically getting more involved with the scenes and the problems we were having, because there were a lot of retakes and changes and problems... mostly changes being requested from the domestic studio. So, I really got to learn a lot about the technical side of making a film. And again, that was a really great experience. There's nothing better than working on a project that's in a disastrous state, because you learn so much. Really.
And things are done differently in Taiwan, technically, than they are in Japan. Japan works mostly in 10-field-size cels, and in features, all sizes go. So it was a little different.
So where did you hop over to after that?
After that Hanna-Barbera moved me down to Los Angeles, and that was with the new management. I initially started working as their manager of international production, to help them to restructure and open up their communication, set up tracking systems, and really manage all the talent and supervisors we'd send overseas, and you know, cast the shows to the studios in terms of talent, and the best place to place our shows. I got very involved in that and I also oversaw Filcartoons, which at the time was the largest studio in Asia. Hanna-Barbera owns that studio, so I was very involved in working out some of the problems they'd been having, restructuring communication and some of the way business was done with them. And then I got involved in overseeing domestic production as well. Because it all goes hand in hand, we really worked on creating very tight packages and improving the artwork and packages that we sent over to Asia, because they were having problems. So I was very involved in all that, all the knowledge that I learned in Asia kind of spilled over into the domestic production.
So at this point you're working on things like
2 Stupid Dogs,
Yeah. 2 Stupid Dogs
, SWAT Kats
, Captain Planet
, Flintstones Christmas Special
, oh gosh, I worked on over 100 episodes while I was there. There was a lot flowing through the studio at the time. And getting What a Cartoon! up and running, the shorts unit. We were originally much more of a departmental system, and the management wanted to get into a unit-based system, so I helped to redefine jobs and restructure how we did things.
Well, you started to beat me to my next question when you said your experience in Asia had helped a lot with doing things from this end. Of course by then you'd realized that it makes life a lot easier if you do a lot of your preparation beforehand. But had Hanna-Barbera been doing that much work overseas before you had come in?
Oh, yeah. Hanna-Barbera were really the pioneers of opening up Asian animation. Bill Hanna set up the big studios overseas.
Was there anything that you brought from working at Disney that made a big difference in terms of what you were doing at Hanna-Barbera afterwards?
I think I brought the knowledge of how things are done overseas, and the ability to communicate clearly, and track things. They were having trouble figuring out where their stuff was, and things were coming in late, they weren't on schedule. So I brought the knowledge of where things can go wrong overseas, and how to really get the true information on what's going on. I had a lot of connections overseas, too. They had also done very little work in Japan. Hanna-Barbera owned a studio in Taiwan and the Philippines, and had done a little bit of work in Korea and a little bit in Japan, but they had had some bad experiences, so I placed a show in Korea and Japan, and was able to make things work smoothly through my contacts.
There was definitely a Japanese feel for a lot of the episodes.
Yeah. The first season we did the majority of the work in Korea, and then a few shows in Japan, and then the second season we did everything in Japan.
And after that I presume you found yourself at (Colossal) Pictures?
Then I got an opportunity to produce Æon Flux
, which of course was in my mind a really exciting opportunity. I'd heard great things about (Colossal), it's very artist-driven, very creative, they really treat their artists with respect, and have some of the top talents. So I was really excited about the opportunity to go up there. And also, while I really understood the technical process of animation production overseas, I wasn't as familiar with it domestically. I had more of an overview, because I was involved in so many aspects of production at Hanna-Barbera, I felt that the next step I needed to really understand the process was to go and work on the lines of a production, and roll up my sleeves as a producer, and really understand absolutely every element and what can go wrong.
Producer is a very malleable title in the entertainment industry. In this case, did this just mean managing every little detail, if possible?
My definition of a producer is somebody who is able to pull the entire team together in conjunction with the director. Obviously the director has to have a part creatively, has to have a vision for the kind of talent he or she needs to work on the project. So I was involved in absolutely every aspect: finding the overseas talent, working with Peter [Chung]
to find the domestic talent--and Peter was very involved in the overseas talent search as well; he was very particular about who he wanted to work on his show--pulled all the administrative staff together, all the postproduction, figured out new methodologies for animatics and digital color-styling, I pulled the whole production together. The role is not a creative role, however I had to have a very thorough, in-depth understanding of what, creatively, Peter was trying to put on the screen, and what his expectations were, and I had to be very in sync with him, in terms of what our parameters were, so that I could give him as much rope as possible, and give him as much creative leverage as possible, but keep this on budget and on schedule, and make everybody else possible.
It's a juggling act.
It's a real juggling act, and you've got to have a creative understanding, intuition for what the project requires.
I imagine that in this case it was a little bit easier, because--well, as you mentioned before, one of the problems you had was dealing with changes made by the director in the States, while of course the studio themselves were in Japan; in this case the director was over in Japan or Korea for a while.
Right. The great thing about Peter is, he did all the preproduction in San Francisco, but because he spent so much time overseas animating and directing with the talent over there, he also understands how important it is to pull a tight package together and not be making changes all the way along. So Peter ended up calling very few retakes when we got into postproduction, because he was very clear about what he wanted. I mean, there were a couple of shows where he wanted to change things, but generally speaking, he was incredibly clear and had a great, tight package. So the retake count was very low. And he could also sympathize with the talent and the changes that directors ask for, and how sometimes they're so ridiculous and frustrating for the talent overseas. And he really respects the artists overseas, so it was really good to work with him, from that perspective.
And now of course you're working on
In this case, the animation is being done where?
I'm in the process of working that out right now. More than likely it's going to be done in Japan, and maybe part of it in Korea.
In this case, HBO is producing it.
Yeah. I'm the executive producer of animation for HBO.
So now in the case of
Spawn, you're dealing with a property that is not completely developed in-house,
Spawn being from Image Comics.
Yes. Todd McFarlane is the executive producer of the show, and I'm the actual producer, the director's name is Eric Radomski...
Eric Radom-- from
Mm-hm. He just started last week.
This is going to look good, then.
We've got a good team. It's really exciting.
This is backtracking way back: while you were in Japan, you didn't have much experience in the animation industry at the time, but did you follow Japanese animation at all?
No, not initially. The only exposure I had was the Japanese manga, the comic books. I'd be sitting next to a Japanese salaryman, on my way to teach, on the subway, and I'd look over, and I'd usually be shocked at what I was looking at [laughs]
so I didn't really read them too much, because they were pretty wild. But no, not until I got into animation, and then I got more exposure, obviously. Because I had some of the best artists over there training me in the process, and it was really great.
Anything in particular catch your eye, say, that became a favourite later on?
I love Totoro
It's a great movie.
I don't know what else to say. [laughs]
That's not surprising, I guess. Miyazaki works are almost always on someone's favourites list.
So what do you think of this surge in popularity of Japanese animation in North America?
I'm not overly surprised. And I think it's great, actually. I think it's really important that there's a cultural exchange. I think, having lived abroad for a long time, people are always frustrated that we're always exporting our culture, in terms of entertainment, to them, and no one is very accepting of their culture here.
How about content-wise? In terms of the stuff that's coming over here, there's one
Totoro for lots of Bubblegum Crisis, Akira, cyberpunk, bla bla bla, martial arts...
It's probably not my choice in terms of content, but I also compare that to some of the stuff we have on the air, so it's not surprising. [laughs]
Yeah, and I suppose our stuff is just as tiring as constant girls with big guns and things.
Yeah. Of course I should talk, having worked on Æon Flux [laughs]
[laughs] Yep. Well, I guess that wraps things up. Nice talking to you.