"Fearless: A Conversation with Ralph Bakshi" by Jason Anders

Ralph Bakshi is an animation rebel. A hero. An fearless innovator. And just damn cool. When he brought Mighty Mouse to CBS in the 80s, he said that he "wanted to create a Saturday cartoon show so hip you could show it on Saturday night." One of Bakshi's biggest influences was George Herriman, the cartoonist who created Krazy Kat, and the result of that influence is a body of work that not only redefined modern television cartoons but also revolutionized animation in film with pictures like HEAVY TRAFFIC, AMERICAN POP, THE LORD OF THE RINGS, WIZARDS, and the movie that Quentin Tarantino calls "hands-down the most incendiary piece of work in the entire blaxploitation genre," COONSKIN. In the words of Tarantino, "serious treatment of this very fearless satirical artist is long overdue."   

Jason AndersWhere do we even begin... 

Ralph Bakshi: One of the things that interests me is that here I am, 71 years old, my films are still hanging on by their fucking nails, and people are still interested when they were done so cheaply and so fast. It's hard for me to believe. 

I don't see too many new films today as it is - just sitting in the theater and watching all of that money on the screen, wishing that I had even a tenth of it to do some of the things that I wanted. It's just a hard pill for me to swallow. On the other hand, thinking about a place like Pixar having to spend $150 million on a film is another hard pill for me to swallow. I don't think animation is worth that kind of money. I think it's part of the problem. With everything that's happened to this country, where do we come off spending that kind of money? Are Pixar films good? Yes, they're very, very good! 

All of the guys on them, I trained (laughs). I'm only kidding. My whole animation career started as animation was dying. I got into the business when all of the shorts studios were closing down on the East Coast... that's when all the animation in television was just starting. The animation was just so limited. 

I was working at a place called Terrytoons where we didn't have pencil tests to make our films - no one would believe that today or understand how we put them together. I'm not putting Pixar down, but how many Pixar people out there would believe that Fritz the CatHeavy TrafficCoonskin, and Wizards were all done without pencil tests?  Mighty Mouse: The New Adventures was done without pencil tests. I figured it out last week - the first three and a half minutes of a Pixar film equal the entire budget for Wizards.

When I worked with the Warner Bros. and MGM shorts guys, they grew up with the history of animation where you just drew it yourself and flipped it - but that's all gone now! The kind of money they spend, the expertise, and the various departments they have is startling. Those films better be good or they're wasting a lot of money. I think that Pixar is the best studio in town.

JASpeaking of Pixar, what was it like working with Andrew Stanton on Mighty Mouse?

RB: He was very dedicated to what he did. The guys I usually hire are very dedicated to what they do. They come to work with me because they're not afraid of me. When you come to work at Bakshi Productions there's really no place to hide. In other words, the guys sit down and they draw, and they have to draw well. They have very little that I gave them because the budgets were so short. Stanton was a very serious, young cartoonist. Wonderful to work with! 

All the guys I worked with were wonderful. What he's doing now makes me extraordinarily proud of him. All of my artists were very young, but I was very young at Terrytoons so I knew how to handle it. I got involved way over my head when I was young. The way you handle young guys is to make sure they know that they can do it. If you tell them they can't do it, then they won't do it. If you tell them they can do it, then they will do it - John Kricfalusi was that way. I let him direct because I knew he could do it. 

JADid you know John before the show?

RB: Before Mighty Mouse I knew John for many years. I don't know if anyone knows this, but I was doing Fire and Ice and John and Tom Minton walk into my studio as young kids and say they want me to do shorts. I just kind of look at these kids (laughs). I gave them a room in the back to do storyboards to show me what they're talking about. So they started to draw storyboards and I just said, "I don't know what I'm going to do with these boards, but go ahead and make me laugh." 

In a way, they were doing me a favor, because I was sick and tired of doing that realistic shit.  So every day I would come back and see their boards and boy they were funny! They were basically Tex Avery, Warner Bros., and... you know, wolves in bars chasing girls and stuff. I got to know John very well and had a lot of faith in him. He always knew what he wanted to do but he wasn't quite sure how to get there. I knew that he was extraordinarily talented and I was very tired. 

So by the time I gave John the opportunity to direct the Mighty Mouse series I had worked on a lot of stuff with him. I would be over at John's house on Friday nights, looking at his comic book collection and stuff, and he became a very good friend of mine.

My job on Mighty Mouse was to back him up. My job was to let him do what he does, and make sure he got finished. John had a certain disdain for production managers. I've told him all the time and I'm telling him now that the production is crucial- if you can't get it out on time then people are going to start shooting you. All of us would love to take longer on stuff.  

John and all of the guys who worked under him were brilliant - and John's a pleasure to work with. He's an absolute genius. He's one of the best directors in cartooning I've ever seen in my life, and also one of the best designers I've ever seen. For his work he's extraordinarily commercial, everyone likes what he draws, everyone loves his characters, and I think that basically the industry has beat up a good man. But what else is new? I don't like the way he's been treated by other people. Even though some of it may have been his fault, you've got to give a little license to a guy whose got all of that ability. If I was running a station I'd play everything the man ever showed up with. I mean, he created The Ren & Stimpy Show, how good is that? He's an absolute brilliant cartoonist and it's great to have him in the business. When John found me I was exhausted from all my battles and fights, I was on my way out.

JAWhat did you think about the he came up with for you in Firedogs 2?

RB: Well I didn't work with him on that, I just came in and recorded some voices having no idea what he was going to do with it. That was totally his idea. John always did cartoon caricatures, and he was dying to animate me. He thinks I sit in the bathroom all the time. John thinks he has me nailed, but it's wrong (laughs). I'm a very sensitive, delicate individual and John keeps seeing it otherwise. It was great to see him after all those years. He kept yelling at me during the recording to be more 'Ralph'! 

JAElaborate on a story that John has told...

RB: John exaggerates a lot, so let's hear this story...

JA: It's the story of selling the show to the network when you didn't even have the rights to Mighty Mouse- was that just a slip of the tongue, or did you go in the meeting planning to do that?

RB: Oh I didn't go in planning that! We went in to pitch other stuff and she didn't like it, which by the way Ren & Stimpy was one of the things we pitched. John had a presentation with him and when Bakshi Productions wrapped I let him take it with him. When it was over we had nothing else in the house. I had worked on Mighty Mouse when I was a young man at Terrytoons. So I was sitting at CBS with a daytime programming woman and thought, 'how could she say no to Mighty Mouse?' I was basically being sarcastic, but no one knew that. After her turning down so many of the greatest shows I'd ever seen in my life, I went back to something so fucking corny because I knew she'd buy it. It's a no brainer with people like that. She flipped, she went head over heals backwards she loved it so much. John just looked at me (laughs). So yeah, that's a true story. 

JA: ... and how about the controversy that got the series cancelled?

RB: Well John had full control because I had full control when I was a young man, and he did this flower crushing scene where Mighty Mouse crushes up a flower and snorts it. My production manager called and said to me, "this thing looks dangerous," and I agreed. I told him to cut it out of the show. John called after that and said, "you can't cut it out!" So I said okay, put it back in. I told John though that it was extremely dangerous... the guy that caught it was a right-wing nut, he was an asshole, but that was the joke. The production manager actually quit because he was furious. 

We had stuff equally as bad in the show, though. I was forced to let John go by CBS. It did cost us the Mighty Mouse show. The joke was just too close for comfort, even though it could have gone either way. It's not like it was nighttime or prime time, it was a Saturday morning cartoon. It was a mistake I allowed him to make, and in the scheme of things it wasn't really that important of a scene. I'm not angry at John, though, because we always pushed the envelope. It was a bad mistake on all our parts really. 

JAWhat are your fondest memories of working on that series and with the artists at Terrytoons?

RB: Normally when I worked at Terrytoons I was a little ahead of the guys so I never felt much pressure, but these guys were really on my tail! If something wasn't funny and I thought it was funny, they'd jump all over me. It was hard for me, personally, because they were so good. I wanted to impress them with my versatility, but it was hard to impress them! 

We had a great time because they all came from bad studios that were boring, so they were very happy there. We watched cartoons all day and it was a very free place. John was always bringing films in. It was a good time and the guys were geniuses, they put a lot of pressure on me to be cool at meetings and say something that was intelligent. They really stretched me out! It had been a long time since I had that kind of feeling, because before that I was running my own studio making R-rated films. The same way I was trying to catch up to speed on their humor, which was really making fun of television, I was making fun of people.  They learned a lot from those films of mine. It was a good relationship and I have nothing but fond memories about it. That includes just two seasons - I couldn't believe how little of money we always had, which is why I finally quit the business. It was just too hard to make those films with our budget. 

JAWhat do you believe makes a great cartoon, and do you have an all time favorite short?

RB: That's a tough question.  Coal Black and de Sebben Dwarfs is a great cartoon. There's so many I could mention. There's also so many bad cartoons that I could mention. I don't know what makes a great cartoon, other than you really wanna watch it from beginning to end.  

Most cartoons when you're a young adult you don't want to watch. I don't have a favorites list, I'm not a cartoon buff. I love animation and I love to animate. Growing up in the '50s and '60s there was no way to look at these old cartoons. I grew up in a very small area of Brooklyn and we didn't see anything. 

I was a comic strip fanatic in high school, I studied all of those artists and love them dearly to this day. That's what I wanted to be was a comic strip artist. So when I came to Terrytoons we were shown a 16mm print of a Warner Bros. cartoon and we got up and single framed it on the head of this reel to see how the animators did it. You can actually learn animation by looking at something single frame and blown up. You know, through an editing machine we tried to figure out how many frames it took to zip the Road Runner in.

The only cartoon I had seen of Disney's as a kid was Pinocchio and I loved that dearly. I was crazy over that film. That was the only animated theater film I had ever seen, so I didn't have any favorite cartoons. I hated Terrytoon's Mighty Mouse. It didn't take me anywhere. Later on I saw Coal Black and thought it was absolutely great! Then I started seeing Tex Avery's cartoons and thought they were great. I was so busy all the time trying to learn how to do all of this stuff that I didn't have any time to look at it. You couldn't find these films easily - now you can find everything you want. 

Popeye! There we go, the Fleischer shorts were wonderful and I loved them very much. I loved the cartooning in it. I think Popeye is a great character, and paired with Olive Oyl they're sensational. There just wasn't any way to see these films back then. They weren't around. Now you can just punch a button on your computer and see extraordinary events.  

Now I did have a full knowledge of comic strips from 1900 to the 1960s. That was easy to study. I wanted to be a comic strip artist. They were so easy to get and look at, so I was always studying them.  The Spirit was a wonderful comic when I was a young kid, I thought it was extraordinarily drawn. That might have been the most famous comic strip of all time when I was a young kid- just the drawings and the shadows, as a kid I would look at those guns, girls, and layouts, and all of that water dripping... it's absolutely stunning. Especially compared to Mort Walker and Beetle Bailey

JATell me about working with legendary artist Rod Scribner on Fritz the Cat

RB: First of all, those old animators are the greatest guys in the world. No pencil test, just telling them what I want and them going out and doing it. I mean, doing it better than I even wanted. 

Rod Scribner was a sad story; He came to work on Fritz the Cat and sat down with me saying, "Ralph, I can't do this anymore. I love what you're doing, and this is going to be the greatest studio in the world, but I just can't do it anymore." I don't know what was wrong with him, but he was crying. He handed me back his scenes. I looked at his drawings and thought they were absolutely hideous, it was like something was wrong with the man. He died a few months after he left. I knew he was in trouble because he wasn't handing anything in, but I didn't say anything to him. Everyone was a little nervous and thought that he could pull something off, but he just couldn't do it. When he walked out of that studio it was the saddest day of my life.

The old animators are just unbelievable men, and when they all died I left the business too. They couldn't believe what we were making. They would always come up to me and say, "Ralph, do you really want me to do this?" I'd say yes. They'd smile and say, "I love this studio," and they'd walk out. Here were guys who were sick and tired of the stuff they were doing, and I'm letting them run around animate the sheriff's daughter fucking some guy in bed... they couldn't believe that. So yeah, it was a good time as long as it lasted. I have nothing but good things to say about those guys. When I grow up I wanna be one of those guys.

JAI love all of the painting you've been doing lately and wanted to ask you about how your artwork ended up in Vanilla Sky

RB: Well the art director from that movie called me and said, "We want your paintings in the movie. We have a bunch of paintings here, but Cameron Crowe and Tom Cruise hated the paintings so I mentioned your name and showed them your work." That's how that happened. Very peculiar. 

I love painting, particularly because there's no issue of budget. It's hard to explain how much I wish I had some of the budget those guys have today. It's really something. I'm glad these guys at Disney and Pixar have all the money and help they need. 

I am just trying to get people to realize the conditions that we, the generation before, worked under... when animation became popular again.

Follow @RalphBakshi on Twitter!

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: TenNapel.com