Tuesday, May 25, 2010

20 Questions with Bob Scott

If you’re an animation fan, you’ve likely seen Bob Scott’s name in the credits of your favorite film.

Bob’s worked on WALL-E, Ratatouille, Cars, The Incredibles, Monsters, Inc., Prince of Egypt, The Road to El Dorado, Ferngully, and Cats Don’t Dance, just to name a few. That’s quite a resume!

Bob’s also a comic strip creator. His strip, MOLLY AND THE BEAR, currently runs on Comics Sherpa.

The versatile Mr. Scott was gracious enough to submit to the 20 Questions treatment, although he still wouldn’t divulge the ending of Toy Story 3. Dang it!

1. When you were a kid did you want to be a cartoonist?  Did you draw?

My mom tells me that I was glued to cartoon shows from the time I was 9 months old. I think I wanted to BE a cartoon.  Early on I discovered drawing and spent hours in front of the TV drawing the characters from the screen. The Flintstones, Bugs Bunny and  Woody Woodpecker were on every day, and I tried not to miss an episode.

2. What was your first paying cartoon job?

Like most kids who draw, I had a teacher who encouraged me.  An eighth-grade teacher hired me to draw up things for her holiday bulletin boards. I don’t remember how much she paid me, but I liked seeing my drawings all laminated and on display.

I grew up in the Detroit area where there was always a fair or public picnic going on throughout the summers. My friend, Butch Hartman (Fairly OddParents creator) and I hit a gold mine when we started drawing caricatures at these fairs.  We were maybe 15 or 16 at the time, drawing these fast caricatures on white card stock with magic markers and ending the day with pockets absolutely stuffed with money.

Art, it seems, is a cool way to make a living.

3. You’ve worked at Pixar for about a decade. How did that come about, and is it, in fact, the coolest job in the world?

Yeah, almost 11 years.  Boy, that makes me feel old. A lot of my Cal Arts friends were already at Pixar when I was approached to “come North,” My family and I drove up for a visit and within a year we sold our house and moved. I really thought it would be a great place to work. I admired the films that they made and was inspired to give it a try. I feel very fortunate that I got in and I haven’t looked back since. 

And, yes, it’s a cool place to work.  

4. Can you take us through a typical day at Pixar?

I think the most remarkable thing about a day at Pixar is the constant feedback and support of so many topnotch artists.  We start off with dailies and the whole team is there. Everyone is welcome to speak up at this point, and this keeps us challenging ourselves and each other. It was a lot to get used to at first, but it’s a great thing. I love seeing what the other animators are doing with their scenes.

The artists are really committed to their craft, always working on growing and exploring.  Many of them have had their personal work published and shown in galleries. Quite a few of them are also gifted musicians, filmmakers, and actors on the side. It’s exciting to be around so much creativity and that keeps it from being “just a job.”

5. Computer animation seems to be the norm these days, although last year Disney released The Princess and the Frog, a film featuring traditional hand-drawn animation. Do you prefer one type over the other or does it depend upon the project?

I like both. My background is traditional animation, which I love, but I enjoy working on the computer as well. I am really lucky to have been able to work on the 2D projects that have come along at Pixar.  We had a VERY small crew for the end credits of Ratatouille and "Your Friend the Rat"."  To be able to bounce back and forth is the best of both worlds.

6. In addition to your animation work, you write and draw a comic strip on Comics Sherpa called MOLLY AND THE BEAR. Can you tell us about the strip?     

I’ve been drawing comic strips in my spare time going as far back as high school. (I have stacks of rejection letters from all the syndicates to prove it.)  Someone told me about Sherpa a couple years ago, which seemed like a good idea to me.  Finally, a way to get my strips out there without the syndicate gatekeepers! I started posting MYRON, a strip I’d been revisiting since my Cal Arts days when it was published in the Newhall Signal. 

After running MYRON on Sherpa for about 6 months, I switched to MOLLY AND THE BEAR, a strip about an 11-year-old girl and her giant pet Bear. Bear is the opposite of a real live 900-pound bear. He’s full of insecurities and fears. Molly is his caretaker and key to understanding the outside world. She’s his biggest coping mechanism.

7. Where do you stand in the print comics vs. web comics debate?

I think that there’s room for both.  I guess if I HAD to choose, I’d pick print.  I like to read them as compilations.   

8. As someone who’s done both comic strips and animation, what’s the best part about each?

Strips are great because within a matter of a couple of hours you can sit back and look at something that is finished. I like the immediacy of the medium With very few tools, you can create something all by yourself that’s not a  massive undertaking. And with Sherpa, I can draw a strip, post it and have feedback first thing the next morning.  

In contrast, animation takes years to finish a film. But what’s exciting about animation is seeing all the extraordinary work done by your colleagues. I get so much from working with others. The most exciting part of animating is creating a performance.  I still love to see characters come alive on the screen. That never gets old to me.
9. Many may not know this, but you worked for Jim Davis back in the 1980s. Tell us about the job and your time in Indiana.

I was hired right out of Cal Arts to relieve Gary Barker from drawing the U.S.ACRES strip.  (He was penciling the Garfield strip AND all the merchandise art as well as U.S.ACRES!!) My good friend Brett Koth (creator of DIAMOND LIL) and I were working at Marvel Animation when we heard that Jim Davis was looking for an assistant. Brett and I were the only two people that applied. 

To make a long story short, Jim flew us out for an interview and ended up hiring both of us. Brett and I penciled the strip together. My wife, Vicki Scott, was hired shortly after to ink the strip and draw Garfield for merchandise. 

Gary, Vicki, Brett, and I all sat next to each other in the Paws bullpen and had a great time drawing and laughing a lot. It was a very fun atmosphere, and I will always be grateful to Jim for giving me the rare privilege of drawing one of his strips. 

10. Name five of your favorite comic strips or cartoonists.

My top five strips of all time are: PEANUTS, BLOOM COUNTY, DOONESBURY,  

Of the more recent strips my favorites are DIAMOND LIL, CUL DE SAC, KISKALOO, CITIZEN DOG and  MONTY.

11. Can you divulge the ending of Toy Story 3? Seriously, we won’t tell anyone. 

I’ll tell you all about it after it opens on June 18. I will say this though: Woody and Buzz are in it.

12. Do you think animation will ever replace static comics?

I don’t think so, at least I hope not. I’m not a big fan of the motion comics being done for the web these days. When I read a comic strip, I want to be able to just read it the way it is. Adding mediocre flash animation and sound effects actually takes away from the beauty of the art form to me.  

Now, if someone makes a well-animated cartoon based on a strip, that’s great! The Charlie Brown Christmas is brilliant, but it’s not trying to be a comic strip anymore; it’s an actual animated film. It’s well executed and entertaining on its own terms, independent from the strip. If someone just took the art from a Charles Schulz daily comic and slid the poses around to simulate some kind of animation, that doesn’t work for me.  

I’ve seen motion comics done right, though. Tony Fucile did an animated piece for his wonderful children’s book Let’s do Nothing! And Ann Telnaes does a great job with the  animated versions of her political cartoons.

13. What’s more important, talent or perseverance?

I’m a firm believer in working at something you enjoy. If it gives you personal satisfaction, chances are you’ll keep doing it and you’ll keep getting better naturally. Are you better because you’re more talented than someone else or because you just kept drawing?  I don’t have an answer.

14. What are your favorite books, TV shows, songs and films?  (Yes, that counts as one question.)

I mostly read biographies. I recently finished Harpo Speaks, which I really loved.  Of course this means I had to see all the Marx Brothers’ movies again. Duck Soup is genius!  

Recently I’ve been on a Bill Cosby kick, revisiting the 1980’s The Cosby Show which I think is hilarious. I also can’t get enough of his original 1969 sitcom, The Bill Cosby Show.  That show is highly underrated and absolutely incredible. 

I’m a huge hip hop fan. Eminem, Jay-Z. Mostly old school rap. Public Enemy, Beastie Boys,  3rd Bass, Run –DMC.

15. What are the tools of your trade -- for MOLLY and your work at Pixar?

 I draw my strips the way I always have, with plain old white Bristol board, blue pencil, and really good India ink. And white out. Some days more white out than others. 

I don’t think I can disclose what we use at Pixar. They have their  own proprietary software for animation. When working in story, everyone draws on Cintiques and uses Photoshop now. All new school.

16. What’s the best part about being a cartoonist?

Just getting to draw funny pictures, I guess. Even at 45 I still love to draw. It also gives me a chance to write.  

17. Have you met any of your cartoonist idols?  Under what circumstances?

One of the benefits of being in the industry for twenty-some years is that I’ve had the opportunity to meet many of the inspiring pioneers of animation.  While working at the Warner Brothers’ shorts unit, I got to meet Chuck Jones, Friz Freleng and Maurice Noble. It was thrilling to meet these living legends.

A friend of mine took me to lunch with Frank Thomas and Ollie Johnston. That was an incredible day! We went to their homes and hung out for a bit. I even saw the trains in their back yards.  

Jim Davis introduced me to Jim Henson at the Emmys once. I was actually nominated for an Emmy that year, and the hands-down highlight of the evening was being introduced to Jim Henson. He’s been my hero ever since I was 5 years old when I saw Sesame Street for the first time. He was such a nice person, very warm.  

18. What advice would you give aspiring cartoonists?

Don’t let anyone tell you that you can’t make a living doing what you love. Draw all the time and most of all, enjoy yourself. You’ll find a way to work in this business somehow.  
19. How important are awards?

Well, not very important. Although they may seem like a good thing, they actually get in the way of the creative process.  I believe Alfred Hitchcock never won an Oscar in his lifetime.

20. What’s something that nobody knows about you?

In Monsters Inc., the monster who said, “I tried to run from it, but it picked me up with its mind powers and shook me like a doll!” was me.