Given the impact Star Wars had on you, how was working for George Lucas?
Well George came by occasionally, to see what was going on, but I never talked much with him directly.
When I first got up there, they had just finished the first Indiana Jones film and I went to a few parties for that which was really fun. It was magical being there: they hired great people and let them do what they were good at.
Was there a different vibe, being based in San Francisco rather than Los Angeles?
Very different. San Francisco was not an industry town; in LA, being an animator at that time was about the lowest rung of the ladder. The girls were not impressed! We were just a bunch of geeks.
But in San Francisco, at Lucasfilm, we were unusual. More importantly, my creativity was just exploding because of working with this new technology.
But you were a lone animator in a world of programmers.
Yeah, the computer animation world at that time was primarily in university research labs. It was mostly TV commercials and mostly quite awful.
Everything was made of stone and glass and very reflective and all that, because most of the stuff being done was by people who’d created the software. I thought to myself, ‘You know what? I can make an object move around and give it personality and emotion through pure movement.’
I thought our powers were complementary, that I wasn’t gonna learn what they can do. I’d just sit next to them and co-operate! That became, I think, the single things that set Lucasfilm and Pixar apart: the idea of making tools for filmmakers to use.
Because there’s no software solution for entertainment; it comes from people, from the artists who uses it. So from the very, very beginning I really viewed the computer as just a tool for artists to use.
That logic presumably fuelled your first project, The Adventures Of André And Wally B?
Yeah. It became the first real animation that the computer had ever done – there were some attempts before by other people – but Andre & Wally was very cartoony, and people loved that.
I remember one guy, who worked with a computer graphics company, coming up to me after a screening to ask what software I used to get the humour in!
It really brought home to me how much it was seen as science at the time. No one realised that there were these animation principles that had been developed for like 50 years and I became something of an evangelist, speaking at animation festivals and at computer animation conferences on how computers are just tools you can use to entertain an audience.
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