Thursday, May 24, 2018

Birthday Card From The ALF Crew, 1987

This is a Birthday Jam Card I received in 1987 to commemorate my birthday. I’m posting not only the overall card but cropping and cleaning each artist’s individual drawing for readability sake. Also, some fool spilled coffee on it at some point, so there’s some slight damage in that regard.
Artists I can identify are Kevin Altieri, Dan Riba, Al Zegler, Steve Swaja, John Calmette, Richie Chavez, Dan Quantstrum, Gabi Payne and Alex Stevens. I don’t Moe's last name.

ALF and ALFTails were really good series, and y’all should check them out.  It was one of the 10 best written series I’ve worked on in my 30+ year career. Up to this point I accepted the reality that I would have to ignore the staging directions in scripts. Frequently, on ALF, I could use them exactly as-written; I felt almost guilty, like I wasn’t doing my job.

 Al Zegler was part of the D.I.C. quality unit for 3 years until it was dissolved in 1989, as D.I.C. surrendered whatever pretensions it had to producing quality animation. He later went on W.B. to board on “Tazmania”  Season 1, at the same time as most of the rest of the D.I.C. quality unit was starting on  “Batman” Season 1. I lost track of him after that. Perhaps he felt more comfortable drawing comedy that action-adventure, though he was equally skilled at both, in my opinion. His comedic clarity of posing would have made his Bat-boards something to see. Oh well…
Alex… Who? Could it have been Alex Stevens? I don’t remember knowing him that far back, though he must have been around. I recall Bruce Timm (before his success on Batman) complaining about the then-prevalent tendency in animation to “draw every shoe-lace”. Alex Stevens was exemplary of that since that was his precise critique of Bruce’s character designs on a project Alex was art directing. (? I could be wrong about all of this; don’t quote me.) His IMBd page says he designed BGs on the series, so it must have been him.
 Dan Quantstrum designed backgrounds, or was it props? He came from an illustration career, having work appear regularly in “Rolling Stone Magazine” among other places. He later went on to art direct at Rhythm and Hues. I haven’t seen him since 1997 when I took my Art Center storyboard class to Rhythm and Hues on a field trip.
 Dan Riba and I were hired simultaneously for our first jobs-out-of-art-school in 1983, at Ruby-Spears, on the action-adventure storyboard crew. John Dorman ran the unit (he storyboarded the “Tarna” sequence in the “Heavy Metal” feature, later went on to helm the “Black Water” series for Hanna-Barbara in the early 90’s.) 
On Dan and my first day at work, John gave us a intro-pep-talk that boiled down to: “Take the script, cut it apart and tape it down to the storyboard paper (including the staging directions); Long Shot, Medium Shot, Close-up; don’t jump cut, don’t cut between set-ups that are too similar because the layout crew will combine, keep the camera low because the main characters are children and dogs. Oh, and you know what a Pan and  a Truck is, right?” 
“Right, Boss”. 
As soon as he left, I turned to Dan and asked, “What’s a Pan, whats a Truck?”
Dan answered, “A pan is back and forth, a truck is in and out”. 
“Right. Got it”.
Dan was somewhat of a mentor to me in my not-quite two months at Ruby-Spears (before John Dorman fired me). He knew more about film and cartooning than I (which was just about ZERO) and was extremely generous in passing on his knowledge and enthusiasm to my hungry mind (since I received no further training from Mr. Dorman).
Dan’s drawing is a reference to my having joined the ALF crew late because I had spent the first part of the season boarding on Ralph Bakshi’s “Mighty Mouse” Season 1.
 Gaby/Gabby/Gabi (nee’ Gary) Payne, character designer, animator. At this point, Gabi was 2 years into her public transition from Male to Female. I’ll be forever grateful to her; she gave me incredible cover as a gay man trying to come out. Excellent artist also.
 John Calmette; background painter. He took Dan Q and Richie Chavez’s baroque b.g. designs and painted them like Edward Hopper-meets-James Wyeth. Beautiful, creamy, atmospheric, moody, lending real class to our efforts.
 Kevin Altieri has directed a number of projects I’ve worked on over the years. This caricature of me as the Stay Puft Man is a references to the previous year we (and much of the ALF crew) spent working on The Real Ghostbusters Season 1.
 Moe (? don’t remember his last name, except that it was Italian.) He was one of two or three artists I had to keep busy cleaning my storyboard roughs. His drawing (and Al Z’s) make reference to them celebrating my birthday late that year. I guess. 
Moe later went on to Disney Feature, I vaguely recall. 
 Paul Wee went on to “The Simpsons”, where he’s been for at least 20 years. I run into him occassionally at the House of Secrets (the industry’s Comic Book Store of Choice, in Burbank, California). As  you can see, he has a Neal Adams feel to his artwork. Between Paul, Moe and another guy who didn’t sign my card, I had really great clean-ups on my boards for 1987.
Richie Chavez, background designer. His drawing references our shared history on “Rainbow Brite”. IMBd says we collaborated  on “Rainbow Brite”, “The Real Ghostbusters”, “ALF”, “ALFTails”, “C.O.P.S.”, “Nick’s Thanksgiving Fest”, “Batman: The Animated Series”, “Gen-13” with Richie designing back grounds. In the past 20 years he’s worked in features for Disney and Dreamworks.
Stephen Dale Swaja (12/31/38 - 01/16/18) was the old man on the unit (most of us were in our 20’s). Wikipedia says, “Steve Swaja is an American dragster designer in the 1960’s. Swaja was responsible for both Tony Nancy wedge cars of 1963, “TV Tommy” Ivo’s Videoliner in 1965, and another of others.” IMBd lists his tv animation credits as “Lazer Tag Academy”, “Centurions”, “Chuck Norris: Karate Commando”, “Maxie’s World”, “ALFTails”, “Starcom: The U.S. Space Force”, “G.I. Joe”, “James Bond Jr”, and “RoboCop: Alpha Commando”.

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