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Students & Teachers: Sherie Pollack’s Awesome Lecture Part 1 - A Little Background!

May 6th, 2009

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Recently I had a sit down with one of my favorite people, multi-talented animator and director Sherie Pollack, whose body of work ranges from edgy primetime programming (like animating and timing on “The Simpsons” and directing “God, The Devil, & Bob”) to pre-K entertainment like“Dora the Explorer” and “Mickey Mouse Clubhouse.” I took the opportunity to discuss her journey into animation success and her upcoming lecture “My Career in Cartoons”.

Bailee DesRocher: What got you started in animation?:

Sherie Pollack: I was 17 when I first started thinking about colleges, I flipped a coin - it was either going to be theatre, or fine arts. That’s when my mother pulled me into the pantry and said,”Do ya have to do this? Isn’t there anything else?”

Going forward, I combined the two. I didn’t know I wanted to be an animator. As a kid I was always drawing and I was very lucky - my parents would take me to museum classes and my mother was painter so when I said I wanted theater…no…ceramics… wait, drawing! My parents would say “Go, do!” But I was hooked on Carol Burnett. But I was always drawing. And Snoopy was there also. And Rocky & Bullwinkle! I was hooked on that too, because it was satire. Even though I didn’t get a lot of it, Fractured Fairy Tales sold me. I knew the fairy tales, and I knew they were telling them in a funnier way.

BD: I was thinking of a story you had told me about right after you got out of college… about getting onto a feature film at a festival by showing your flipbook around and saying “Hire me.”

SP: I graduated from Washington University in St. Louis in Fine Arts. I went directly to Chicago. I worked in advertising, putting food coloring on Arby’s sandwiches. That was my big art director job. And I didn’t like it. I went home to St. Louis and I was like…”What am I going to do now?” I started drawing comic strips. One day I looked down and thought, ‘these should move’. That’s animation. So I looked in the St. Louis yellowpages and looked under animation. And there was one tiny little line that read RYAN2 Animation. I called them and said, “Hire me.” And John Ryan (a terrific animator) did! I learned everything. It was a small commercial studio, all hand drawn work, but I learned everything from in-betweening to painting cells, timing, and running walk cycles.

While I was there 4-5 days a week, I studied more traditional animation techniques from the Preston Blair book and the Animation Book. This name kept popping up in the articles, Richard Edmunds. He was a film Professor at Columbia Film School in Chicago. I called him and said,”I want to learn animation.” He said to come over. I met him, and he said that I should really immerse myself in an animation festival and they happened to have one more seat on the plane, and that’s how I went to Zagreb. I had a plan to work on a film there. I drew a little flipbook. I took it with me, and I ended up working on a film called Fearless John. Eventually, I left because my work visa didn’t go through… and I didn’t wanna marry some guy to stay there, y’know?

BD: HA!

SP: It was 1982, and all these European girls were doing that! All the guys thought I was really rich because I was American. Anyway, I went to New York. I wanted to do more animation and there wasn’t a lot going on. I decided I needed to be in Los Angeles. I’d never been. But ten days later I packed up my bags and went out to Los Angeles and applied to work at the LA Zoo. I told myself quite naively that if I didn’t have an animation job by my first week, I could always be a zookeeper like I had been in St. Louis while I was in college. Within three days I was working on a commercial.

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Above: Still from “God, the Devil, & Bob”

BD: But you also went to school at UCLA?

SP: Yes, I worked as an animator, assisting whoever I could for 3-4 months after I first got here, and then I met a terrific animator named Corny Cole. I worked with him on a litigation film where this high school kid had broken his neck, and during the trial they wanted animated footage of the accident so a lawyer had hired Corny Cole. And so we worked and got to know each other and he said,”What do you want to do?” and I said,”I want to make cartoons.” He said I should go to school. I said I had - a whole four years. He just said,”Go meet this guy”, which was Dan McLaughlin who was the head of the UCLA animation workshop, and I knew about that workshop because they had done everything. I really didn’t think I could get in. Anyway, I thought I knew everything, I didn’t have to go to school again. So I put on a suit… pumps… carrying my giant portfolio. Jacket and vest.

BD: So this was a three piece deal?

SP: Shoulder pads. Well, I walk into the workshop, and everyone looked at me and started laughing. I mean pumps! Animators wear pajamas. I met Dan McLaughlin and we had an interview right there. All of his students crowded around and looked at all my stuff and I had a lot of stuff - assistant animation from commercials, freelance storyboards, things that had been produced. I was accepted into the program and it was great.

The philosophy for that program was one student, one film, whereas other programs you crew on someone’s film… We did help each other,there were many cel painting parties, but there was one director with one style, that’s what he encouraged. So I thought about it and I said,”I think I can work and pay my way through school working as a freelance animator,” since that’s what I was already doing. I called UCLA admissions and got some lady who said not to apply, because it was very competitive. Really? So I applied, and was accepted and worked constantly too. Sometimes I would take a year off to go work on a film or other projects. But that’s how I learned many different styles.

Stay tuned for Part 2 of Sherie’s interview, as she goes into detail about her amazing lecture!

For booking information for Sherie please visit www.sheriepollack.com

-Bailee DesRocher

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