Telling "The Ren & Stimpy Story": A Conversation with Kimo Easterwood & Ron Cicero

It was 1991 and I was nine years old. I had recently put on my first pair of glasses when realizing just how blind I was after a visit to the eye doctor. One of the first things I remember clearly seeing was a poster in the window of Spencer's Gifts for "The Ren & Stimpy Show." Ren Höek was not even recognizable to me as a dog (or asthma-hound Chihuahua, to be specific) and I wasn't even entirely sure that Stimpy was a cat. The art style felt rebellious, even though there was nothing of controversy happening on the poster - in fact, what exactly was happening on this poster? Ren was wearing a metal helmet and pointing (with his abnormally large finger) at his gargantuan smile while Stimpy was gleefully aiming a small remote control directly at his head. The Nickelodeon splat accompanied the phrase "Happy Happy, Joy Joy!" - I'd never seen anything like it before. I fell in love with the show before ever even watching one episode, based purely on the aesthetic of this poster. I knew that I immediately had to seek this show out.

"The Ren & Stimpy Show" was more than just a cartoon to me, it was a lifestyle. It was the reason I started drawing, the motivation to begin taking art classes, the reason I studied animation in college, and it was the first subject I started writing about when I created this blog. It led to my first paid gig as a writer when I published a cover story for Hogan's Alley Magazine with an oral history of the series. I interviewed everyone who would agree to speak with me, including my hero, series creator John Kricfalusi. When I first caught wind of filmmakers tackling the behind-the-scenes story of the creation of my favorite characters, I absolutely had to speak with them about it. 

"Happy Happy, Joy Joy: The Ren & Stimpy Story" is such an important film to me, and in speaking with Ron Cicero and Kimo Easterwood, I made the case for coming on board to help them fulfill their vision as an Executive Producer. They are passionate storytellers who saw the importance of this franchise and the drama of its compelling origin and they have created a unique, once-in-a-lifetime documentary on the making of Nickelodeon's biggest and most important cult hit of all time. It's incredible to see the care and love with which they have crafted this tale, and I cannot wait for fans who grew up loving this show as much as I did to see the result of this movie that has been nearly two years in the making. Below is an interview with producer, Ron Cicero and director, Kimo Easterwood on the most important project I have yet to have the honor of being involved with, "Happy Happy, Joy Joy: The Ren & Stimpy Story"... 

Jason Anders: Where did the idea of making a film about Ren & Stimpy begin?

Kimo Easterwood: The whole thing started when my good friend, fine artist Todd White, said five years ago while I was making short documentary films that I should do a piece on John Kricfalusi and The Ren & Stimpy Show. It was way beyond my capacity at the time because of funding. A little over a year ago, Ron said we should work on something together and asked if I had any ideas for a documentary. Once we started researching John and the show we knew it was something we needed to do.

Ron Cicero: Ren & Stimpy was this really subversive thing that had a huge influence and we wanted to take the opportunity to jump into it and ask "what is this thing and why are we still talking about it twenty-five years later?" 

KE: We made a board with a list of people we wanted to interview and of course John K. was the first name we put on there - it turns out he wanted nothing to do with it, so we backed off. We continued discussing the idea and decided that the documentary could work more like a biography in John's absence. We now have forty-five interviews in the film, so if he suddenly decided he'd like to do it we'd have to reconstruct the whole thing.

RC: I don't know John, and can't say for sure, but it's quite possible that we got a better story and full representation of who he is as a human being through the people that were around him than we might have necessarily gotten from just speaking to him. It certainly forced us to go deeper with people to figure out who he was and what was the impact of the show.

Once we got to interviewing Bill Wray it became about more than just John Kricfalusi, it really became a celebration of the artistic achievement of Ren & Stimpy.
JA: What is the origin of your partnership?

KE: I met Ron doing lighting in the film industry in 1991 - we did that for years before he went into producing. I actually grew up in Hawaii where there was nothing going on, honestly. I always loved the movie business, even as a kid. My last job before moving out of Hawaii was usher at a movie theater, which I absolutely loved. I was trying to become a projectionist.

RC: I'm from upstate New York and came to Los Angeles right out of school, just like millions of others. I was such a huge fan of Kimo's photography as well as the short docs he did, I knew we had to work together in a capacity where we were executing our own creative ideas. The whole reason you come out here is to make your own movies. It's a great partnership.

KE: It's like a romantic comedy.

JA: What is it about Ren & Stimpy that stood out to you?

RC: The show was really something special that makes you want to dig in deeper and figure out how the hell it got on the air! Bobby Lee from MADtv said that what really captivated him was that he'd never seen those kinds of emotions expressed - not only in a cartoon but on television in general. There's so many unfamiliar shades of emotion in The Ren & Stimpy Show.
JA: What are your favorite episodes?

KE: Son of Stimpy.

RC: The more I watch Stimpy's Fan Club the more I love it. When Ren breaks down and loses his mind it was so ahead of its time. It's so different - there's nothing cute or for kids in it and it's lit in a depressing noir style. What kind of kid is going to be into that?

The story of how Son of Stimpy came about and its music, artwork and the emotional content juxtaposed with what it's really about is just awesome.

JA: What has been the reception of Ren & Stimpy fans?

RC: They're super excited - we've gotten a range of stories, everything from "it was a huge part of my childhood" to "my dad was sick and the only thing that would make him laugh was Ren & Stimpy." Having the constant encouragement from fans of the show has been amazing.

KE: We went to ComicCon and handed out 5,000 Log stickers with our website on it - out of the thousands of people we gave them to, maybe only two had heard of the documentary.
JA: What has been your favorite aspect of making this documentary?

KE: For me the fun has all been in the interviews - you never know who you're going to meet! Just showing up in someone's life who you've never met before and sitting down to a conversation is great. We now have 70 hours worth of footage. We love driving away from an interview just thinking, "Damn, that guy was cool."

RC: Honestly, working with Kimo has been one of the great joys of this process - both because I respect him as an artist and we make great partners. Maybe it's because I've been traumatized by so many shitty partners in the past. Also, you can't not be inspired after meeting so many phenomenally talented men and women.

JA: How would you best describe The Ren & Stimpy Show?

KE: It's two pals who have very opposite personalities trying to make it through life...

RC: A psychotic Chihuahua and a dimwitted cat trying to survive life's obstacles.
JA: What has been the biggest challenge of making this film?

KE: It's creating something that satisfies both the fans and the person who has never heard this story. We can't just make it fan-centric because you lose an entire audience if you do that, so we are trying to find the balance that makes everyone happy. It's been a ton of work and will be worth the wait.

RC: It's also been an opportunity for the fans to go right to the source. Any time you have something with a cult following you get a huge group of people who are expressing commentary and their perception of what the show is and why it is what it is. It reminds me of film school when a professor tells you the meaning behind specific scenes in a movie and then I talk to the filmmaker and they say, "No, we just did that because we ran out of lights."

I think that now we have, hopefully, gotten to the bottom of it.
Visit the Ren & Stimpy documentary website HERE!

"A Chance Conversation with Erin Nicole Cline" by Jason Anders

"There is nothing funny about a clown by moonlight."
- Lon Chaney, Sr.

She's been a part of the Universal Orlando family for a decade now, bringing to life classic characters like Lucy Ricardo on the streets of Hollywood and Betty Lou Who in Islands of Adventure’s ‘Grinchmas’. She hilariously parodied pop culture icons Lindsay Lohan and Megan Fox at ‘Bill & Ted’s Excellent Halloween Adventure’, and her ‘Frozen’ parody with Sharon Joy Yost at HHN 24 brought down the house nightly with roars of laughter. She made the 25th year of Halloween Horror Nights unforgettable with her macabre performance in ‘The Carnage Returns’, and this year Erin Nicole Cline took center stage as Chance, the Icon of the event.   

If you haven't been to Universal Orlando's Halloween Horror Nights, you don't know Jack. Jack the Clown, that is. Jack Schmidt (as he is also known) took the reins last year as the ringmaster for the silver anniversary of HHN, celebrating twenty-five years of monsters and mayhem with an all new carnival of carnage. HHN 26 picks up right where 25 left off. UO Creative Director Michael Aiello describes the "aftermath of the carnage" as "still fresh", and “Jack's right-hand woman, Chance, finds herself incarcerated for the crimes of last year.” 

"Chance bides her time within her cell. But this is not a tragedy for her. This prison is a toy box. It's within the confines of her cell that she enters her horrific "theatre of the mind." She knows that the acts committed inside her mind will manifest in the real - both equally deranged and gothically beautiful."

2016 was certainly a year of coulrophobia (fear of clowns) if ever there was one as a killer clown hoax swept America alongside HHN’s debut appearances of Twisty the Clown (American Horror Story) and Koodles the Clown (Eli Roth’s Terror Tram). Their presence paled in comparison, however, to Cline’s Chance, who could be seen in virtually every aspect of 26’s marketing campaign as HHN’s joyfully psychotic harlequin of horror.   

Erin was kind enough to engage in a Q&A with me about her career at Universal and her eclectic performance as the frightening face of the nation’s premier Halloween event.  
Jason Anders: How does it feel to be the Icon for the highest-rated Halloween Horror Nights in history?

Erin Nicole Cline: It is a huge honor and a great achievement, especially as a woman. There is an ever-present stigma in entertainment that women are neither scary nor funny. I believe Chance proves that invalid. I have loved this character for many years, ever since we created her in 2007. There is quite a bit of emotion and sense memory attached to that time in my life - some good, some not so much. I believe that is why I have such a deep connection with Chance; she is very much a part of me.

This years’ HHN had a bang-up line-up of houses and scare zones, which contribute greatly to the high numbers. I’d like to think she had a little something to do with it.

JA: What is your personal take on the character?

EC: Tisk, tisk. A girl never tells her deepest, darkest secrets. Chance is shrouded in mystery. It is one of the most intriguing things about her. When it was decided that she would be the icon of HHN 26, our creative team thought it imperative to continue the storyline, picking up where last year left off, but never earlier in time. Often, when a villain (or hero, in my opinion) is given a backstory, they are given a tragic flaw… a weakness. It was very important to us to showcase the fact that Chance has no weaknesses. Now, of course, I know who she is and where she came from, but I’ll never tell.

JA: What was your initial reaction to Chance being the Icon?

EC: There were several strong contenders for Icon of HHN 26 and it is quite a lengthy process to present each possible storyline and finalize a decision. I knew Chance was on the table quite early in the year. Some may say it was in the works from the previous year’s Carnage Returns show. She was not only a strong choice, but a smart choice as well. She already had a following of loyal maniacs and that made her a heavy-hitter in the decision room. I was humbled and thrilled. 
I couldn’t have asked for a better partner in crime – or horror, in this case. She is a dedicated, thoughtful, and talented actress. She was a joy to collaborate with, and she always puts so much energy into everything she does. I could tell by the reaction that she and Chance were getting last year that she was destined to be an HHN Icon! And the fans loved her this year. I hope Jack and Chance meet again soon.
-       James Keaton (Jack the Clown)

JA: Tell us about Chance’s scare zone, A Chance in Hell, and what it was like to see other actors portray a character that you made popular.

EC: A Chance in Hell gave guests a theatrical presentation of some of her handy work inside the Asylum. It allowed guests the opportunity to see her and her maniacs in their true element. I assisted with the rehearsal process for the girls portraying her, but I did not take center stage on the street during the run. Each of them brought an individuality and uniqueness to the role, and I was proud of their hard work. 
JA: The artwork and advertising for HHN 26 is the best it's ever been, particularly the poster with Chance's cracked face. How surreal is it to see yourself in the advertisements for the event?

EC: The image you see of the cracked face on the merchandise is an artists’ computer-generated rendering that was developed from pictures of me and character concepts for HHN 26. The billboards were certainly a cool thing to tick off of the old bucket list, and it seemed that my face was everywhere. That was a very neat thing.

I am a professional actress, so it is not uncommon for me to see myself on television in commercials, ads, and shows, so perhaps I was prepared for it. But the joy and pride that it brought to my family to see my face (albeit scary) on those billboards, cardboard cut-outs, and Internet ads was the best part of the experience. The shoots were scheduled in the spring, not long after the makeup tests for her new look were finalized. They were two very long, exhausting days but I was so proud of the images and footage our team captured. The photo shoot was particularly memorable, as I can recall both Mike Aiello and Patrick Braillard practically laying on the floor with me while we went on a very dark emotional journey. Though some of the pictures were never released, we were able to capture and expose Chance through a camera lens, and that was a beautiful thing.
"Erin is a fantastic actress. Of the many roles I've been fortunate enough to see her perform here at UO, Chance is her most unique. Chance's look was created by us, but Erin has built that character all on her own. It is her commitment to the role that has made Chance what she is to so many HHN fans around the world."
-       Michael Aiello, Director of Entertainment 

JA: What has your ten-year career in Entertainment been like for the company, and do you have a favorite moment as a performer?

EC: The roles I have performed during my career with Universal read in chronological order as follows:

·      Blood Masquerade Vampire
·      Betty Lou Who
·      Disaster Studios Assistant Director, Lonnie
·      The Reader
·      Ring Mistress (20 Penny Circus: Fully Exposed)
·      Lucy Ricardo
·      Chance

I am currently holding a full-time contract as Lucy Ricardo. I can’t say that I have a favorite moment. This lists reads so eclectic, but I will say that there is nothing like performing in the final show of Bill and Ted’s Excellent Halloween Adventure.

JA: Where did the idea for Chance to be the Icon for HHN 26 come from?

EC: That would be a question for our creative team, but I will say that capitalizing on a year in film entertainment where women were seemingly taking over was probably a factor. 
JA: Tell us about the story behind Lunatics Playground 3-D.

EC: It is a journey inside the mind of Chance. The guest moves through the space and essentially in and out of her realities - the actual reality versus the beautiful disaster that she sees. We see how she has taken over the asylum, killing all the doctors and guards, and building her empire of loyal maniacs. My fiancée recorded the victims’ voice-overs for the house, which was a cool connection that we were able to share. And quite funny, as well.

JA: What is your favorite thing about being an actor, both in theme parks and film?

EC: Acting in theme parks will teach you skills that you can never learn in a classroom or a workshop. It is a constant character study and you must quickly develop the ability to read people - whether that is by their body language, tone, or family dynamic. It is a skill you can use in all walks of life, and I feel fortunate to be able to utilize and refine it. For me, acting for the camera is the most vulnerable and exposed performance you can give. I have been drawn to it since I was a young girl. I feel like performing for a camera is the most honest position you will ever find me in. It’s addictive. 
JA: What are your all-time favorite Universal attractions?

EC: Universal Ride - May very well be a tie between Jaws and Back to the Future: The Ride / Universal Show - Universal’s Horror Make-Up Show / Universal HHN House - Nevermore: The Madness of Poe

JA: In your mind, where does the end of HHN 26 leave Chance?

EC: Perhaps she will return for an anniversary year. You’ll find out…

JA: How would you describe yourself in three words?

EC: An even better question is: How would you guys describe me in three words?
         Three words to describe Erin would be: talented, fearless, and beautiful.”
-James Keaton (Jack the Clown)

JA: What is your advice for both working and aspiring performers in the industry?

EC: Search deep within yourself and understand what your true meaning of success is - it may change over time (which is okay) and the answer may surprise you. You have to put in the work to see the results; train, focus, take classes and workshops, understand your business, spend the money on good headshots. You may have to start small and work your way up. Do not compare your successes or failures to someone else's. In this business there may always be someone better than you, but there is no other person like you. Everyone has a unique journey.

Follow Universal Orlando's Halloween Horror Nights: @HorrorNightORL

A Conversation with EARTHWORM JIM Creator Doug TenNapel

Animator. Writer. Cartoonist. Video Game Designer. Comic Book Artist. Doug TenNapel is all of these things, and in 1994 his many talents funneled into one project when created the critically acclaimed video game, Earthworm Jim. Originally released on Sega Genesis, the story follows Jim, a normal earthworm until  a "special suit" falls out of the sky and allows him to operate much like a human, at which point he is tasked to rescue and protect Princess What's-Her-Name. Earthworm Jim stood out amongst all other titles as being a unique, wildly rebellious dark comedy that played as a parody of other games. The television commercial, which featured an elderly woman eating live worms, was pulled from multiple networks due to complaints from nauseated viewers. However, that did not stop the game from becoming a hit; earning itself a sequel, toy line and animated series. Today we take a nostalgic look back at the career of the man who told us to "eat dirt" in the 90s, and discover all of the things he did that brought him to Earthworm Jim, and where that game took him.   

Jason Anders: Long before creating Earthworm Jim you worked in television animation. What led to your job as an animator on Attack of the Killer Tomatoes, and what was your experience on that series like? 
Doug TenNapel: That first job was a big one for me. I was like many artists who graduate from college and ask, “How am I going to ever get paid for what I love doing?” I had been a freelance illustrator for just over two years when that opportunity opened up and I lucked out to get it. My animation skill was clunky at best, but I figured my workaholism would make up for my lack of skill. After a year at that job I learned so much about how television animation worked. I learned to read an exposure sheet, make sure my shots hooked up to the previous and following content, and I had to work with others on a large crew. Many of the friends I met on that project in 1991 are still dear friends of mine today and we are dispersed throughout the entertainment industry working for feature, TV and video game animation companies.

JA: Did you meet John Astin while working on that show?

DT: I did not meet John Astin but our crew was far stranger than his role on The Addams Family! I did get a chance to meet his son, Sean Astin, a few years ago. He's a nice guy.

JA: In 1993 you were an animator on the Sega Genesis adaptation of Jurassic Park, easily one of the greatest 16-bit video games of all time! Tell me about your transformation to video games and the challenges involved.
DT: After leaving Attack of the Killer Tomatoes I went right back into unemployment despair. I was in San Diego and discovered that many of my co-workers on Killer Tomatoes were getting animation jobs in video games. This was news to me because for some reason I assumed all video games were made in Japan. There were a number of small gaming companies that were alive and well in San Diego. I started contracting on little-known titles and I quickly got a reputation for being able to animate really fast. Due to the limitations of the cartridges at the time, I could do all of the animation for a game in two weeks. That saved the developers a lot of money and I found enough work to keep me busy around the clock. I had a decent amount of animation to show other video game companies that were exploding at the time due to the sheer amount of games being made in the early 90s.

My first real job was at BlueSky Software. They hired me and paid me a little extra to not do any side freelance work. I became a company man and got to work as an animator on a number of titles at the same time. Within the first year they landed the Jurassic Park game and I was offered the lead position. I got to visit the Jurassic Park set and meet two of my heroes who were working on the movie: Stan Winston and Phil Tippet. The latter just found out that the movie wouldn’t be using his stop-motion work because they decided to go with computer animation on the dinosaurs.
There are moments were I’m just lucky enough to be at the right place at the right time - and on my day that I visited Phil Tippet, he was so upset at losing the Jurassic Park gig that he threw a stop-motion puppet of one of the Velociraptors into the chair right next to where I was sitting! I picked up the puppet and it felt absolutely amazing in my hands. This was the most high-end puppet I’ve ever touched. The machining of the armature was the best money could buy, and the foam work on top of the armature felt like real skin. It moved like a dream. I looked at Phil and asked if I could shoot the puppet and digitize the images for the video game. He put us in contact with the studio lawyers and they agreed to let us use it if we took out a $75,000 insurance policy on the puppet. 

Like my work on Killer Tomatoes, I wasn’t the greatest animator to inherit such a great project, but I worked long hours to get my stop-motion skills to some level using that puppet. I had done a lot of stop-motion puppet animation on my dad's 8mm camera since the 4th grade. The game was finished on time and on budget and while I find the gameplay a little clunky, that project taught me a lot about gaming and opened up an opportunity to work for Virgin Interactive where my career was about to step up far beyond what I could have imagined.
JA: Was it fun to animate Ren & Stimpy: Stimpy's Invention?

DT: I remember that we had to slam that game out pretty quick. My animation wasn’t great, but I really love John Kricfalusi and respect his work. We made the game really silly and just wanted the players to be able to get together and have a good time. That’s back when studios didn’t get too involved in our work because they considered video games voodoo. Games are, of course, voodoo. That may be the first time the studios were right about something.

JA: Let's talk about the origins of Earthworm Jim...

DT: That whole game happened because I met David Perry, Mike Dietz and Ed Schofield when I got hired at Virgin Games. I didn’t do well when I landed at that company. I inherited the SNES version of The Jungle Book Game and the crew and I didn’t click very well. Within a few months I felt like I made a big mistake leaving BlueSky, but David Perry and his crew had made so many hits for Virgin Games that they decided to leave the company to start Shiny Entertainment under direct funding of Playmates Toys. They were looking for an animator and I had become friends with Mike and Ed, so I was begging them to put in a good word for me. I was super desperate and not sure if Virgin Games would ever pan out for me. That unemployment knot in my gut was rearing its ugly head on the horizon.
Mike Dietz was also interviewing Larry Ahern (Day of the Tentacle, Monkey Island) and he didn’t get back to Shiny because he was on vacation in Hawaii. Shiny said they knew I could animate but wanted to know if I could be creative. They asked me to come up with a character that weekend and bring it in. I sat down and came up with Earthworm Jim and most of the bad guys. It was one of the easiest things I’ve created, but I was mostly just terrified of not getting the job. When I presented the characters to them they hired me. 

Once I landed at Shiny we started to goof around with Earthworm Jim as a game idea. We put together a pitch for Playmates but still weren’t certain they would let us do the game. We were entertaining doing the Beavis and Butt-head game instead. But once Playmates saw our pitch they agreed to make the game. That’s just another instance of how lucky I am. It’s hard to believe that something like that would happen, especially when life doesn’t seem to go the way I want it to when I really need it. But those first three years in animation took me from Killer Tomatoes to working on my own character that became a smash hit thanks to the Shiny team. 

JA: Do you have a favorite element that made its way into the Earthworm Jim games?

DT: My favorite part of the EWJ game was that the lead character is just a total idiot who does his best and ends up saving the world. He has become a symbol of my whole career! I like how he is a moron but has just enough competence and heart to be a hero. He’s a vulnerable worm that fell into a super suit that cannot be destroyed. 
JA: Only one year later saw the release of Earthworm Jim 2 - how did the idea of a sequel come about, and were there any story elements or characters that never saw the light of day?

DT: While working at Shiny, we always overdeveloped our games so there would be a lot of ideas that didn’t make it in. We didn’t come up with great stuff, we came up with a lot of stuff and threw out the things that were too stupid or too difficult to make. What’s left over becomes the game! We knew we would make a sequel because the game did so well with the gaming press. They went ape for it. I think we needed to just capitalize on the game engine and see if we could squeak out another game. Some of our ideas were a little too aggressive and the game suffered for it, but most people still respected what we were trying to do. I liked having that kind of support. This was at a time where gamers were more about playing and having fun than being professional critics. It was different back then.

JA: How surreal was it to see Earthworm Jim brought to life by Universal as an animated series and to hear the voice of Homer Simpson speak as a character you created?

DT: That was a surreal moment. The Simpsons had only been on the air for three years back then and Dan Castellaneta was a real catch. I remember listening to a lot of people trying out for the voice and his was the clear winner. Having my own TV series was an even bigger dream come true than the video game because I’d been watching cartoons a lot longer than I’d been playing games. I went from animating other people’s characters to executive-producing my own series. Suddenly, I was tracking Neilson ratings and monitoring a mass audience. I became aware of how a lot of people feel about my work instead of just me looking at an isolated image in my sketchbooks.
The Earthworm Jim series was animated by Universal, so I got to spend a lot of time on the lot. I remember driving my beat-up pick-up truck around the sets, sitting in on the record sessions and reviewing scripts. I didn’t have a lot of input on the show, I just did approvals and designed any new characters that showed up on the series. I was mostly just watching and learning how to make a show by experiencing it from the front row. 

JA: Do you have a favorite episode?

DT: I suppose my favorite episode was "The Anti-Fish". It’s just a really stupid, silly episode that I can’t believe exists!

JA: Is there a medium you most enjoy working in? 

DT: I like comics best. No offense to the other mediums I work in, they’re all a wonderful experience, but when I make a graphic novel I get to write and draw the whole story by myself with little collaboration from others. It’s where my storytelling is best, and I think it’s the most powerful medium for my skill set. 
JA: Creature Tech is such a wonderful, original story - do you think Fox will ever move forward on production of a film adaptation since they obtained the rights?

DT: I don’t know if they will, but they should if they want to make a lot of money and entertain the masses! Last time I checked that was Fox’s job so let’s hope they get to it. That graphic novel is one where I just made something very personal and I thought I was the only one who would like it. Come to find out a lot of us are on the same page. It’s a broadly American sci-fi comedy with mile-long flying space eels, so how could it not work?

JA: What is the last thing you drew?

DT: This:
JA: What are you working on now that you are excited about?

DT: I’m finishing up our last season of VeggieTales in the City for Netflix/Dreamworks and I’m excited about that. I’ve got a few pitches in the hopper I’m getting ready to take around to the studios this spring, and I am writing two graphic novels. I’m always excited about what’s next because that’s where I live. 

JA: What originally inspired you to get into animation?

DT: I got into animation because when a drawing moves, it seems alive. It’s a study of life. I love life and making drawings come alive is a great magic trick to pull off. I like drawing, but the drawing sits there and someone needs to make that thing come to life! 

JA: What inspires you now?

DT: All things that are true, good and beautiful. I find little patience in media that’s ugly, dark or false… and there’s a lot of that. 
JA: How has working in the industry changed since you first started?

DT: Well, the Internet happened. That changed a lot of problems that artists used to have with accessing a mass audience. The audience has a lot more power than when I started, as we are all digitally connected and we all consume a lot more media, so there is a bigger work force required to create that media. Unfortunately, the quality of storytelling hasn’t progressed much. If anything, I’d say we’re going backwards culturally.

JA: What advice would you give to those who want to follow in your footsteps?

DT: Turn around and run away! Seriously, I think someone who works harder than the next guy and gets a few lucky breaks can do what I do. It’s not easy, and I still feel that unemployment knot in my gut, but I wouldn’t have it any other way. I’m an artist, no matter if I’m successful or not. I can’t change that.

JA: If you had to sum up your art in three words, what would they be?

DT: Fun, odd and thoughtful. That’s what I’m trying to do, anyways.
Follow Doug on Twitter: @TenNapel
Visit Doug's Website: 

Hurricane Life: A Conversation with Dana Terrace

Storyboard Artist, Animator and Director Dana Terrace stops by Fülle Circle to discuss the race cars, lasers and aeroplanes that may or not be in her next big project (with Showrunner Matthew Youngberg and Co-Producer/Head Writer Frank Angones), Disney XD's nostalgic return to Duckburg in a reimagining of the 1987 series, DuckTales. We also discuss Gravity Falls, her childhood obsession with cats, the appeal of Carl Barks, and her advice for aspiring animators.  

Jason Anders: Do you remember the first cartoon you fell in love with as a kid?

Dana Terrace: I had always watched cartoons as a kid, but the first thing I obsessed over was Pokémon. It was 1999, I was eight years old, and I wanted a furry friend with magical powers to beat people up for me. I watched everything else but I never missed a new Pokémon episode. I didn't know what an animator was, but I knew "I want to do that - whatever it is." 

JA: What first influenced you to start drawing and what were your favorite things to draw?

DT: I don't know when I started. I've been drawing since I could hold a pencil. What encouraged me to continue was that every time I sat down with a marker and pad of paper the adults would leave me alone. I was an anti-social kid so when I discovered this trick I used it as much as I could.

I was big into cats. Every character was either a cat or a cat-girl in a dress being chased by ghosts and dinosaur ghosts. One of my favorite drawings from 1998 shows a cat-girl swinging by a vine over a pit of lava, and the cat is saying "this SUKS" (suks crossed out twice and rewritten in all caps). 
JA: Was DuckTales a show that you were into as a kid?

DT: Nope! I never watched it until I was hired onto the show. I watched a bunch of episodes for study but had a hard time with the relationship between Webby and the triplets. It felt hateful and mean. That's something I love about the writers on our show, they treat Webby like one of the kids and make her a joy to board! Besides that, I've read a lot of Carl Barks/Don Rosa comics. Those are just delightful. 

I feel like I should add a caveat: Though I didn't grow up with the original show, literally everyone else on the crew did - all of the writers, board artists, designers, directors, etc. They are very aware of keeping the "spirit" of the show intact. I just wanted to work on a show with cute animals going on adventures.

JA: Where are you from originally?

DT: I'm from New Haven County in Connecticut. Then I was in NYC for four years to go to college. 

JA: Is college a path you'd encourage for those who want to pursue a career in animation?

DT: My time at School of Visual Arts was a mix of experiences. It wasn't perfect. I made some great friends there and they had the facilities I needed to make my own short films. However, I found the program lacking in actual knowledge of how the industry works. Many of the teachers hadn't worked in the industry for over twenty years and were very out of the loop with how things worked. Of course there were exceptions; I had some amazing animation/layout teachers and a couple of figure-drawing teachers who completely changed the way I approached drawing. But because we were so far away from LA studios it was hard for us to imagine what an active professional looked like. I learned a lot from my peers, online tutorials, and students from CalArts and Gobelins that I would talk to in forums. 

I don't want to discourage anyone from doing anything just because of my singular experience. It all comes down to the individual. Some people have amazing experiences in school, I didn't. Art school isn't for everyone, especially those in financial straights, but there are alternatives! There are a million online classes students can take that offer a solid animation education by current working professionals at a fraction of the cost. It takes a lot of hard work and dedication to strike out on your own but it isn't impossible. I hope students look at both options very carefully to decide what's best for them! 
JA: How did you land a job working on Gravity Falls, and what was your immediate reaction to the offer?

DT: It was strange! I hadn't watched Gravity Falls before they contacted me and sent a storyboarding test. Someone on the crew found my Tumblr and liked my drawings enough to email me! I did the test and they immediately wanted to bring me on as a revisionist. At the same time I was waiting to hear back from Steven Universe for a position. I was leaning more towards SU, I was a fan of Rebecca Sugar ever since I saw her films at SVA, but they took too long to reply and I needed a job so I half-heartedly accepted Gravity Falls’ offer. I think it turned out alright. 

JA: What is your fondest memory of working on Gravity Falls?

DT: There are so many good memories on Gravity Falls - drinking with the crew and playing Smash Bros., drunkenly playing Smash Bros. with the crew, etc. 

One memory I go back to is storyboarding on “Dipper and Mabel Vs the Future.” There was a scene where Mabel is sadly looking through her scrapbook while Stan attempts to cheer her up. It was a real "father/daughter" kind of moment and, having lost my own father around Mabel's age, I poured my heart into it. I don't know how much of that came out in the finished animation, especially after some things were cut for time, but it was the first time I didn’t get notes from my director. If I went back I'd change a million things, but I remember being very satisfied and proud at that moment. 
JA: How did the opportunity of working on the new DuckTales present itself?

DT: The Line Producer for DuckTales was also LP for season two of Gravity Falls. When she heard I was looking for work in November 2015 she hit me up! I was originally offered a boarding position, but I had just finished boarding for a few projects that left a bad taste in my mouth. So I took a chance and asked if they had a director's position open. Fortunately, they did - and even more fortunately, they were desperate enough to try me out! 

JA: What do you love most about DuckTales, both the new and original show?

DT: I can't say much about the original show, but I'm a big fan of the Carl Barks comics. What I love the most is the way he drew Scrooge and Donald. Their closed-eye designs were so cute and their smiles so appealing. Happily, we've integrated some of those Barks-isms into our designs. 

I feel so biased talking about the show I worked on. Of course I love it! The scripts are funny, the characters have depth, and best of all Webby has an actual goddamn personality besides "girl". She's my favorite character to work with. I think people will appreciate what we've done with her. 
JA: What can we expect from the new series?

DT: Same as the old; really cute animal characters going on adventures, but with a little more personality for the kids and a little more depth for every character all-around. I think people will like it!

JA: What is your all-time favorite piece of animation?

DT: If you're talking about animation as in “which piece of pure context-less piece of art do I like”, I go back to the scene in Ghost in the Shell when Major Kusanagi's arms are being ripped apart while trying to defeat a terrorist robot, or the marching parade in Paprika, or just the little looped GIFs made by talented friends like Jeff Liu, Spencer Wan and Toniko Pantoja.

Just for the sake of narrowing it down, my favorite animated movie is Princess Mononoke. It's stunning, heart-breaking and otherworldly. Without fail I start crying ten minutes into the film every time. I'm awful to watch it with. 
JA: What inspires you?

DT: The inevitability of death! Before I die I want to make sure I put 120% into my passion. 

JA: What advice would you give to artists who are just starting out and trying to get their foot in the door?

DT: I say this all the time: DRAW! Draw every goddamn day. Or write every day, if that's your thing, and show your work to people, online and offline. Learn how to take critique and never let yourself hide behind "styles". That's how amateur artists stay amateurs. If you want to get into animation it will behoove you to be versatile. At the end of the day, the quality of your work is all that matters. 

JA: How would you describe yourself in three words?

DT: Very. Tired. UUUGHHH.

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