#11. A Conversation with Fred Osmond
JA: Let's start with the work you've done for John K.; how did you get involved working on Weekend Pussy Hunt as a clean-up artist?
FO: Weekend Pussy Hunt was by far one of my favorite cartoons to work on at Spumco. It was probably one of the biggest learning experiences I've had in animation so far. I started cleaning up the work of some really super talented artists like Jim Smith, Aaron Springer, and of course John K., and a lot of others. It was such a great opportunity to learn in a way that hasn't really existed in animation outside of feature for the past several decades.
I remember during that period at Spumco, John would have after work drawing lessons for the crew at his house. He would put on a laser disc of some amazing Looney Tunes cartoons and freeze frame certain poses. We'd all be there with our clipboards and printer paper drawing Bob McKimson poses of Bugs Bunny. John would disappear for about 20 minutes, then he'd come back in and go over our drawings. He'd look over your shoulder and say "Here, lemme sit down" and then he'd grab your clipboard and start drawing the pose and pointing out where you went wrong, the whole time sweat would be dripping from his head onto your paper because he'd just spent that last 20 minutes tap dancing in his garage. We'd repeat that process for the next hour and a half or so and by the end of it, we all had these great studies by John that were just drenched in sweat! I have to say though, that was such a great learning experience.
Eventually I got bumped up to Character Layout on that show and by the end John had me teaching my own class at the studio. He wanted me to take all the new people that were coming in and teach them construction. It was kinda like a basic cartooning class and we would do the same kinda thing. I'd put on an old MGM Tom and Jerry and freeze frame one of the great poses by Irv Spence or somebody and we'd all draw from that. I skipped the tap dancing though! I still needed the practice, so I'd draw the pose and then walk around and go over everyone else's drawings. Teaching that class was an amazing learning experience in and of itself. There were people in there that went on to really make names for themselves -- Katie Rice, Eric Pringle, Jerry DeJesus, Eric Bauza, Leticia Lacey, a bunch of people I'm probably forgetting right now. I wish I could say I was responsible, but I think I learned more from all of them then they ever did from me.
JA: You went on to work on two Jetsons shorts; what was that experience like, and how were the episodes generally received by fans of Hanna Barbera?
FO: Those were fun. I think John was in Canada when we worked on them, so Gabe Swarr wound up directing at least one of them. It was a nice change of pace working for a different director, and I learned quite a bit from Gabe as well. From what I recall, we didn't have a lot of time on these shorts, and we had a really small crew, so it was kinda like get 'em done quick. I believe Derrick Wyatt was art directing. He has a really great style that was well suited for HB cartoons which made it fun. As far as how well it was received by HB fans, I don't remember. I'm sure there were those people out there that thought the stuff was sacred and shouldn't be messed with though.
JA: You became a Layout Supervisor on Ren & Stimpy: APC, which episodes were you involved in, and is there one lost episode that stands out as being your favorite?
FO: I was involved with most of the episodes, however there were some like Naked Beach Frenzy that were mostly done in Canada. (Katie Rice and Luke Cormican did do some great layouts on them here though.) Overall, the show as a whole was really tough to work on. John had super high expectations for all of us and it was really difficult to live up to the original series. I think it was twice as difficult too, because John was splitting his time between both the U.S. and Canadian studios. He'd fly down here and yell at all of us for a month or so and then fly back up and yell at the Canadian studio for awhile. But they really had it made up in Canada. We were in some dumpy little building in North Hollywood dodging bullets while we worked (literally there were bullet holes in the windows and blood stains on the sidewalk and little old ladies getting mugged right outside our building.) The Canadian studio meanwhile had leased this amazing old house with beautiful hardwood floors, a wooden staircase, and something like 15 rooms. It even had a meadow just outside with the greenest grass and trees you've ever seen in your life. Even so, there were some really great people working up there. Unfortunately, I never really got to meet any of them face to face, but I did see a lot of the work that they did and there was some really good stuff. Nick Cross, who was the art director on the series, produced some absolutely amazing drawings and paintings.
As far as "lost episodes" go, I think the one I was most looking forward to was Life Sucks. The board for that episode was so amazing and I think if it had ever been made it would have been one of the best Ren and Stimpy cartoons ever.
JA: What was it like going from working with John K. at Spumco, to working for Disney with The Buzz on Maggie?
FO: Oh wow … it was actually super inspiring and a bit depressing at the same time. I mean, we worked on the very same lot where Disney made some of his greatest movies from the 1940's - 1960's. Sometimes a group of us would walk through the old animation building and think "Wow, I wonder if Ward Kimball sat in here, or maybe Milt Kahl." That part of the experience was super inspiring. The depressing part was that no animation whatsoever goes on in the old animation building anymore. Now, it's full of production offices. In fact, most of the TV animation people are in this 80's looking office building that looks out onto the old animation building, or even worse, off the lot entirely at a separate location in Glendale. Unfortunately, those buildings have almost sterile-like environments too. Not the most conducive environment for creativity! That being said, the people on Maggie made it a fun place to work
So yeah, it was very different there! No more muggings or blood stained sidewalks right outside. The crew was great, Dave Wasson was the director on that show and, as far as I'm concerned, he made a huge difference when it came to making the show as good as it was. I mean, as cartoons go, it really wasn't my cup of tea, but Dave was great at letting all of us board artists plus it as much as possible. He even encouraged us to put in a lot of funny expressions and cartoony acting. Quite a few of us Spumco people made the transition to Maggie not too long after Ren and Stimpy A.P.C wrapped up -- Luke Cormican, Katie Rice, Gabe Swarr and Ray Morelli. We all got to know and work with a lot of talented people over their, many of who ultimately went to go work on El Tigre.
JA: After working for a while as a Storyboard Artist, you arrived to work on Nickelodeon's El Tigre; tell me about your experiences working on this all digital series, and some of the artists who worked with you.
FO: El Tigre was great! Jorge Gutierrez and Sandra Equihua were the creators, designers, and executive producers on that show. I got to know them while working on Maggie. When their show got picked up, they were able to bring a lot of the Maggie crew over onto El Tigre. It was a really smart decision on their part too. The Maggie crew got along great and worked so well together. They saw that and really took it into account. I appreciate Jorge and Sandra's approach to "networking" as well. Sometimes you meet people in this industry that think networking means "How can this person get ME to where I want to be?" Jorge and Sandra's approach is more like "How can we forge a lasting, mutually beneficial relationship with this person" which ultimately is better for everyone and is better for the industry as a whole.
Dave Thomas, and later Gabe Swarr, directed on El Tigre. I learned quite a bit from Dave Thomas. I think he was a little more into filmmaking than some of the other directors I'd worked with in the past. I learned a lot about things like shot selection, when and how to cut from one scene to another and the difference between formal and informal compositions.
The best thing about working on El Tigre though, was all the different jobs I got to do. I started out on boards, then later I was doing full character layout on all of the key scenes in each episode. I also did quite a few specialty designs and got to dabble a bit in doing promotional artwork for the show. Later on, I was promoted to Assistant Director where I got to supervise all of the jobs I previously had on the show. So that job was a lot of fun but a lot of work at the same time. That was definitely the most involvement I've had on a show and it was great! When you're in a position like that you get to see things pretty much all the way through the pipeline, from the board artists hand out and thumbnail pitch all the way to layout and inks.
JA: Being involved in so much of today's television animation, what are your thoughts on the industry today compared to what you grew up watching?
FO: You know, today you hear so much talk about children's shows being so crappy, but there's actually some pretty good stuff out there … especially when you compare it to the stuff I watched as a kid. We basically had only three channels that would show cartoons and even then you'd only really see them on Saturday mornings, or for about an hour or two on weekdays after school. Most of it was crap too. Stuff like Smurfs, Snorks, He-Man, She-Ra, etc. But now, thanks to cable, DVD's and the internet, you can pretty much watch cartoons 24-7. There is some pretty good stuff out there too. Mighty B is a really beautiful looking show that's pretty funny, and of course Sponge Bob is consistently good. Chowder over on Cartoon Network is great. And one show that really stands out right now is The Misadventures of Flapjack. It is by far one of the funniest cartoons on TV ever. It's hilarious! I highly recommend watching it if you have the opportunity.
JA: Do you have an all-time favorite cartoon?
FO: That's a tough one because it's always changing. If I HAD to choose one though it would be the Looney Tunes cartoon Book Revue by Bob Clampett. I love the pacing and rhythm in that cartoon. The contrast between the super fast-paced, almost manic scenes, with the very slow laid back scenes is great. And the way it builds into this huge crescendo towards the end, it's almost like a great jazz solo by Charlie Parker. GO WATCH IT RIGHT NOW!
JA: What advice do you feel is useful to students of animation looking to break into the industry?
FO: That's a great question, and I'm almost afraid to answer it honestly because I don't want people to get the wrong idea. When I was first trying to break into the industry, I had a pretty tough go at it. I'd keep sending my portfolio off to all the studios and they'd keep sending it back with a rejection letter. Every time I got that letter I'd think "Jeez, I must really suck!" So, I kept redoubling my efforts to get better and better at drawing. However, no matter how hard I tried I kept getting these rejection letters. It wasn't until I moved up here and started making some connections with people in the industry that I realized you rarely ever get a job by just submitting a portfolio. You get jobs mostly through people you know. The really important thing to remember though is that you KEEP jobs based on the quality of your work. So work at getting as good as you possibly can, then make some connections, and finally keep working to get better at your craft so you can retain and even expand those connections.
JA: Tell me about the creation of Dumm Comics, and your weekly contribution of Earthward Ho!.
FO: Well, to me, Dumm Comics is at least partially a result of El Tigre getting canceled. One of the more frustrating aspects of working in animation is that you always have to deal with layoffs, and as a result you start to feel that your destiny lies in someone else's hands. This is a way for all of us at Dumm Comics -- Gabe Swarr, Katie Rice, Luke Cormican, Sean Szeles, Ricky Garduno, Matt Gadbois, and myself -- to sort of regain some of that control and make the kind of entertainment that we want to without any outside involvement. It's really exciting to see what everyone is doing with their comics too. Seeing everyone's work really does help to encourage and inspire one another to do their best work possible. Another great thing about Dumm Comics is how it's set up. None of us really has the time to put out a daily comic, but all of us together can each put out a weekly comic. This gives the site new content 5 days a week.
Earthward-Ho! is definitely a labor of love for me. Even if no one in the world ever read it I think I would still have made it in one form or another, and the fact that I get to do it for Dumm Comics just makes it all the more worthwhile. If you're into sci-fi, or you really like cartoony stuff, or if you just like really weird stories, go check it out.
The way we have set up Dumm Comics also allows us, as artists, to build and grow. If the process was similar to how today's TV animation is run, Earthward-Ho! most likely would have been canceled right after the second or third strip was aired. But because I work with a bunch of people who are familiar with my work, and who can see the potential in something even if no one else can, it has the opportunity to grow into something really good. To me, that's exactly what Earthward-Ho! is doing right now. It's evolving into something much better than it was. I'm super excited about the direction it's taking, and judging by reader reaction it seems like people are starting to dig it more and more too. I'm actually having more fun working on it now than I did even in the beginning. The really fun part is figuring out how everything is going to evolve. Where is this story going and how are the characters changing, what's next? With some of the TV animation out there, it seems that once you have the formula down and the characters set up there is very little leeway for the evolution of the characters or stories. You're sorta stuck telling the same stories with the same redundant characters over and over again.
When you look at some of the best cartoon characters ever created like Bugs Bunny and Daffy Duck you see how the artists didn't limit themselves. If you watch those cartoons chronologically, it's very clear how each of those characters evolved. The creators/directors just kept what worked and discarded what didn't.
JA: If you could sum up your work with one word, what would it be?
FO: Thankful. I am very thankful for being able to do this for a living, thankful for having been able to work with as many great people as I have. Thankful for all of the great projects I've been a part of. And I'm especially thankful for a wife who not only puts up with the sometimes long hours involved with this work but also encourages and supports me in it.