CFDb Interviews Tom Bancroft ~ Animator
= > What inspired you to become an animator?
My first love was comic strips. I grew up loving Charles Schulz’s “The Peanuts” and wanted to draw comic strips for a career. At the same time, I also loved the old Ray Harryhausen stop motion (early visual EFX) films like “Jason and the Argonauts” and “Sinbad”. I was also a child of ‘70s Saturday morning cartoons. So, in college, when a buddy of my brother and mine showed us some clay animation he had done with a Super 8 camera, the light went off in my head that animation (especially Disney style drawn animation) was a combination of all the things I loved! We found out about the nearby California Institute of the Arts (one of the only schools that taught character animation at the time) and the fire was ignited.
= > Do you have a favorite project you worked on? Please tell us why.
For Disney, it would have to be “Mulan” because of my large involvement in the film as the Supervising Animator/character designer of Mushu, the dragon (voiced by Eddie Murphy). It was a dream assignment for any animator. After Disney, it would have to be a few publishing projects like the MY FIRST MESSAGE kids bible that my business partner at the time (Rob Corley) and I illustrated as well as my two “How To” character design books.
=> As a supervising character animator do you choose the final look of Mushu? How many other versions of Mushu were made until this one was chosen?
Yes. It’s the responsibility of the Supervising Animator of a character to create the final animation design and model sheets for that character. I was working on “Mulan” almost a year before we went into animation production so I had plenty of time to do hundreds of different versions of Mushu! It was so early in the process so the script and Mushu was changing almost daily. Mostly, his involvement was growing and growing and once the directors decided that Eddie Murphy would play him, then he really started taking over the movie! In that year, I also did many animation tests of Mushu that no one has seen outside of the production. Before we had landed on Eddie Murphy as the voice, I even did animation tests with different voices like Joe Pesci. Richard Dreyfus was also a contender believe it or not! He would have been a very different Mushu with either of them as his voice.
=>Did Mushu inspire certain qualities for animation characters you worked on after Mulan?
No, I can’t say he did. Each character has their own personality and needs for the film they are in. After “Mulan” I animated the adult elephants that argue about piranhas in “Tarzan” (yes, you have me to thank for your kids screaming “My butt!” after seeing that film) and then animated John Henry and his wife in Disney’s “John Henry” short film. Both couldn’t be more different that animating a small, lizard-like dragon with an attitude. That said, I grew a lot as an animator during my “Mulan” days and that experience directly affected the work I did after Mushu.
= > Please tell us about your time and work for Big Idea Productions.
It’s a long story how I decided to leave Disney (soon after I animated on “Mulan” and “Tarzan”) but the short version is that I felt God was leading me to leave my dream job because I had made it too important in my life. He was telling me that the most important things in my life needed to be Him and my family. Through a chain of events, I discovered the small studio Big Idea Productions and their “Veggietales” series. I also discovered that they were gearing up to make their first feature film. I contacted Phil Vischer, the founder of Big Idea, and he got excited that I had an interest in coming to work there in Chicago. It was a huge step and an even bigger move for my family and myself! I worked on the “Jonah” feature film but also was able to serve as the co-creator/Supervising Director of the 2D “New Adventures of Larryboy” DVD series. I made many great friends and was able to use my abilities (more directly) for God. Unfortunately, the company went bankrupt within about 2 and half years of me getting there. I briefly went back to Disney to help them finish up the animation of “Brother Bear”, then launched my own company. A year later, my business partner and I decided to move our company to Tennessee.
Big Idea Productions moved within a mile of our office! God had put us back together with some dear friends and we were able to work freelance (via our company) on the second Veggietales feature film “The Pirates That Don’t Do Anything”, direct 6 episodes of “3,2,1 Penguins” for ABC TV, and create storyboards and development artwork for many of the direct to videos.
= > How can your book “Creating Characters with Personality” help other inspiring animators?
I created “Creating Characters with Personality” to be a great entry-level to intermediate-level book for people that want to learn how to design their own characters for animation, comic books, comic strips, video games, children’s books and more. I teach through shape-based instruction. Its different from the basic Step-by-Step style of adding lines to a drawing and- boom- you end up with an OWL! I try and give the thought process behind creating specific characters with personalities- for a reason. Each is different and should be. The goal is also to be able to turn your character in space and still be recognized as the same character. The old Step-by-Step style of learning does not give you the tools to be able to replicate that owl in any other pose or expression. Because “Creating Characters” is one of the first books on the subject of character design, it has become one of the best selling books on the subject. It is used at many of the art schools around the world. My second book, “Character Mentor”, picks up where that one leaves off. It teaches you how to bring your characters to life through posing, expressions and staging.
= > Are there any upcoming projects you’re working on now that you can tell us about or any big news?
YES! My present job is as the Lead Character Designer (among other things) on a new TV/ Direct to video series called “Superbook” for Christian Broadcasting Network. It is a reimagining of their Anime-style sOeries (with the same name) from the early ‘80s. We are well into Season 2 already. They are beginning to sell the DVD’s via their website (CBN.com) and will be getting the series out to the world soon.
On the side, I also have a (semi-autobiographical) family-friendly web comic strip called “Outnumbered” that I upload every Monday. It’s about a Dad living with a wife and four girls. Basically, it’s a man living in a woman’s world and all the crazy things he deals with because of it. You can find that here: www.outnumberedcomic.com.
Thirdly, I am also launching a crowd-funded (Kickstarter) graphic novel series called “Opposite Forces.” It’s a series I did a few years back, but now I am compiling all the issues together into one graphic novel. It is an all-ages story about a geeky guy named Marty and his beautiful, but snobby next-door neighbor, Alexis, and how they deal with life together when they are accidentally given superpowers that only work correctly when they are in close proximity of each other. You can find out more information here before March 18. 2013:
= > How can others find out more about you and your work?
I am all over the web, so here are a few places people can go to for more information on my work and me.
-I have a bio page on About me: http://about.me/tombancroft
-My twin brother, Tony, and I have a “fan” page where we show stuff we’re working on and talk about animation and kids stuff like that at: https://www.facebook.com/thebancroftbros
-My website, Character Mentor Studio is the place where you can find links to buy my books as well as information on online classes I occasionally teach here: http://www.charactermentorstudio.com
-And I have an animation reel of my Disney work on YouTube here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rb2ZhhIGiWY