Over the years, especially when I was trying to learn things about becoming an animator back in the good ol 70's, the phone became a way of contacting people to gain some insight. I must have been a real pain in the butt to many silver age animators, but there were really no books out there to learn from. I mean there was the Cartoon Animation Book by Preston Blair, which believe it or not, I picked up from a local Hardware store called Pergament in Bethpage, NY. Frank Thomas and Ollie Johnston's Disney Animation: The Illusion Of Life was still in the planning stages. Aside from some pages of color stills from The World Book Encyclopedia of Bill Melendez Studios and his production of Snoopy Come Home, it was hard to find real material about the process. I didn't even hear about Bob Thomas' The Art Of Animation book from the late 1950's, until sometime in the mid 80's.
I made a decision that the only way to find out any more information about the process was to use the White Pages to find the names that were prominent on the films I loved and call these talents directly. At first I called Los Angeles information to get these guys phone numbers but eventually my father called the phone company and ordered a Los Angeles, California directory.
I managed to contact quite a few from Disney like Eric Larson, Frank Thomas and Ollie Johnston.
I talked with Jack Hannah and Bob McCrea, former Disney staffers then at CalArts. Some of them would be curt and would rush you off the phone. This is absolutely understandable as some people were just very busy. But occasionally, you'd get someone on the phone who was nice and giving of their time.
On Andrea Deja's blog, he talks about how much he appreciates the work of Hal Ambro, but never met him. I never met Hal Ambro either, but I did manage to talk to him by phone at CalArts. Ambro was one of those animators who toiled under Disney's Nine Old Men since the mid 40's, but was a very capable animator and draughtsman in his own right.
He gave me plenty of time as I explained how I wanted to land a job in the animation industry and that there wasn't much material to use as a guide. Ambro asked for my address and sent me a thick packet of material including some of his discarded animation roughs and layouts. That was a real eye opener for me as I pawed through the material. His drawings were loose yet chock full of information..really nice animation ruffs. I remember asking him why he left Disney in the mid 60's and I got this response (I'm paraphrasing) 'Sometimes, you have to move on.'
Virgil Ross was another animator who gave me plenty of time on the phone. Mr. Ross was very helpful as he answered my many questions. The one thing that struck me about Virgil Ross was that he really downplayed the quality of his work. He didn't think of himself as a great draftsman or animator. Of course, I disagreed with him and told him that his work had plenty of personality and was brilliantly animated. But still, I don't think he bought it. He told me that he was amazed by some of the new talents that were entering the business. Thinking back on this I've come to this conclusion, there's people who have a lot of ability in drawing and can do great things with that talent. However, there are people who don't quite have the drawing skills but somehow use what they got to rise about their drawing weaknesses to do some fantastic animation. I think Virgil was one of those guys.
I don't think he realized how very talented he really was.
I still have a drawing of Bugs that he drew for me from the late 70's.