Rowland Animation Circa 1994
One of the most important lessons I ever learned in life was back in my animation school days at Rowland Animation in Rowland Heights California. The teacher Dave Master ran it more like a production than a class.
He has always been well connected with all the major studios, which got us a lot of nice perks!. We had people like Frank Thomas and Ollie Johnston, Chuck Jones and Tom Sito come by and lecture us.
Hanging with two legends….
All of the equipment was donated by Dave’s connections at the studios. The best part was that the class was inexpensive and fun as hell. IT was great! The only catch was that you needed to work your ass off. Laziness was not tolerated, either you produced or you were gone.
Every year we would dust off everything and decorate the class/studio for an open house. Parents and families and more importantly Animation industry professionals and recruiters would come by and check out our spread. The 1994 Rowland Animation Open House was most memorable and that’s where I learned my lesson on what working in a collaborative studio environment was all about.
The Open House and Project from Hell.
That year the theme of the open house was Villains of Animation. So the Entire place was decorated with every single villain from cartoon history you could think of! Every student was assigned a section of the huge Rowland Studio to decorate following the design of the brilliant John Ramirez. I ended up getting a crappy assignment shoved in a corner on top of a massive obstacle. Get this, I had to build a copy of Captain Hook’s pirate ship from Peter Pan wrecked on some rocks. I had to cover up a big ugly wooden cabinet to boot only using cardboard, paper mache and paint!!
Everyone teased me that I would never finish, and that it would be impossible. Or worse, that whatever I did would turn out like crap. I sucked it up like a man and got to work with only a fat little freshman kid I nicknamed “Spanky” to help me.
Lemonade from Lemons
Within a week I had a skeleton up and it was coming along nicely, and then something cool happened. Luis Escobar’s cousin Hugo Soriano and George Benavidez jumped from the projects they were working on to help me! I guess they sensed something cool was going on in my corner! George helped me sculpt the rocks and cannon out of paper mache and Hugo helped me with the ornate skull and bones decor on the ship’s back! We sanded and sculpted foam to form the shapes and Hugo busted out a paint sprayer and went to town! Meanwhile I had Spanky going on covert missions to jack any “supplies” we needed. Tape, brushes, paint, whatever. He may have been chubby, but Spanky was stealth!
I set up lights in the cabin, and using a child’s toy I rigged a light behind the sail to spin around. It looked like Tinkerbell flying around! I even cut out a cardboard silhouette of Peter Pan and placed a spotlight behind it so it would cast his shadow on the sail! It looked AWESOME! Plus I had finished two weeks ahead of everyone! So I was like “Great! now I can kick back and work on portfolio! So long Suckers!”
Dave Master said, “Not so fast Raul you’re not going anywhere!” He then called a mandatory emergency meeting. Dave ordered the tearing down of a majority of the other projects because they were crap compared to my ship. He announced that my ship had raised the bar of the entire open house and was now the new standard by which everyone else’s project had to measure up to.
For the next two weeks I was assigned to take the doomed Fern Gully The Last Rain forest room and save it, plus help out others along the way! I gathered my team and believe it or not got the job done! Turns out I’m a pretty good leader and problem solver!
This open house opened up the opportunity for many Rowland students to hook up gigs in the Animation Biz! 10 of us went to Disney, (yours truly included) others went to Film Roman, Warner Bros and just about every studio out there! You can’t walk into a professional animation studio without finding at least one Rowland Alumni! A true testament to the power of the program!
I gotta say, that group of people at Rowland was the hardest working most dedicated group of artists I ever had the pleasure of working with! Bless them all! Everyone involved turned out the most amazingly fantastic exhibit ever! Rowland Animation Forever!
And the Moral of the Story is….
Dave Master had prepared me (as well as everyone else!) for a career working in animation studios! He taught me leadership, humility, and the dire importance of teamwork. But most importantly Dave had taught me to be a Pro! Not every job would be enjoyable or cool. Sometimes I would have to work on stuff that was lame, or boring, and I had to shut up and get to work!
Thank you Dave and all the Rowland Animation Knuckleheads too!