By Tom Sito
Up into the 1980's every Disney animator had a big 1930's era black brass editing machine in their room. There was a rumor in that one of these ancient machines was haunted by the ghost of John Lounsberry. The Moviola would turn itself on unexpectedly while no one was around, animated, as it were, by the poltergeist of the former Nine Old Man. Andreas Deja reacted," If that is true I would not be afraid. I just want him to crit my scenes!"
Andreas Deja and his mentor from beyond.
One of the creepiest places you can ever work in animation is a closing studio.
I was one of four Animation Supervisors that stayed on until the very end at the Walt Disney Studio in Sydney. Walking around four floors of a studio that, for the past decade, employed 280 people after everyone had left was very, very spooky. It was like being in there on a weekend - times ten – without the prospect of bumping into someone catching up on a bit of work. There were empty desks with pencils scattered on them, chairs swung around like someone had just got out of them, Coke cans sitting there like someone had just drank them. Remnants were everywhere – an old poster left behind in a cubicle, a sketch on a wall, a farewell drink invite on the notice board. Things like this would give you flashbacks of friends who had been there everyday for so, so long. It felt like poison gas had hit the place and everyone had just evacuated.
In the end the four of us were left alone on the animation level, which was a huge floor that used to house over 50 animators. As animators finished scenes and shipped out, we kept moving offices to get closer and closer together – like climbing higher and higher into the hull of the Poseidon. The other departments dropped off too, so sitting in the rec room at lunch was eery – a deathly silence, with no music, no pages over the intercom, no phones ringing and no ping pong.
And finally, the doors were shut for everyone to what was, at the time, the last 2D Walt Disney Studio on the planet.
Back in the late 1980's when Birdworks Animation finished the original Family Dog for Amazing Stories, a bunch of us in the crew decided to get together and make Brad Bird a really unique birthday gift. Brad was already a larger than life personality with a spotty career of ups and downs and FAMILY DOG was poised to be another real "up" experience. So we decided to make a Citizen Kane-type videotaped retrospective of Brad's illustrious career; strictly fictional and strictly silly from the vantage point of the year 2050.
Booby and the Beast
by Steve Moore
Upstairs, we were creating a beloved children's film. I worked in a room with Kirk Wise, Kevin Lima, Randy Cartwright, and Rebecca Rees, with no air-conditioning, just two windows that opened out to an alley. If we got a breeze, a waft of garbage came with it. Yes, it was non-union shop.
We started to notice the sound of scurrying feet across the water-stained drop ceiling. Rebecca began to notice little paw prints on her animation paper. Snacks left on desks were nibbled on overnight. Mice!
Rebecca brought in a Tupperware tub to keep her snack crackers safe from the night nibblers. The next day, she came to work to find her tub empty. A hole the size of an Eisenhower dollar had been chewed through it and all of her crackers were gone. These weren't mice, but RATS!
At the rat infested The Brave Little Toaster studio, 1985. Above, Steve Moore and Alex Mann. Below, Randy Cartwright and Kevin Lima (sleeping). Photos by Rebecca Rees.
Slowly, I opened our office door. I let go of the knob, letting it swing open. In the middle of the floor sat the trap, sprung, upside down, four feet away from where it had been set. I approached the trap......empty. The trap that had been sprung was empty. The rat was still at large. A trail of blood led to Rebecca's desk.
Just about then Kirk and Kevin arrived. They stood in the doorway with shocked looks on their faces. I pointed to Rebecca's desk. They armed themselves with trash bins. I stealthily worked my way behind Rebecca's desk, looking to flush out Mr. Wounded Rat. I had visions of this thing leaping for my jugular. "Heeere Mr. Rat." I said, trying to diffuse the tension. Layout artist John Norton quietly joined our trash bin militia.
I had searched everywhere except behind the trash bin in the corner. Shit! Not a cornered wounded rat! The Cub Scouts really frown upon messing with cornered wounded rats! I leaned over, way over, my head touching the wall. Looking down between the trash bin and the wall, I saw him - the biggest rat I had ever seen. It was - no lie - the size of a dachshund. That's right, a weiner rat. I looked to Kirk, Kevin, and John, holding up my hands to indicate the size of the beast. They mouthed "Holy shit."
Randy Cartwright burst into the room shouting "Goood morning!", scaring the shit out of everyone. The rat made its move, running right through my legs. It scurried around the room like a pinball; a big, hairy, wounded pinball. The trash bin militia jumped and dodged like The Three Caballeros, shouting like The Three Stooges. At last, John managed to catch the beast beneath his upturned trash bin. We weighted the bin down with a few of reams of animation paper to keep the beast from taking off.
We started working, with an eye on the bin in middle of the room. Rebecca arrived, and approaching the bin said, "What's this bin doing h-"
"DON"T TOUCH THAT!!!" We all shouted. I swear we could hear the rat laughing; a slow, satisfied laugh. The kind Satan makes when a new producer comes through his gate. Eventually, the janitor came by our room and took Beelzabub outside........and let him go!
A few weeks later, I went to the third floor, where the producers' offices were, for a morning bagel. They had a table spread at the end of the hall with jelly and cream cheese and butter. There, on top of the tub of cream cheese, sat Mr. Rat! He had chewed through the lid and was scooping out handfuls of cream cheese. No lie! I just stood there, staring. He could care less that I was four feet away. Animator Tanya Wilson arrived and shoo-ed the rat into a producer's office. She closed the office door and shrugged, "Oh well!"
Days later Mr. Rat died in the wall of art director Brian McEntee's office, causing an unbearable stench for a week. Poor Mr. Rat, he could have been a player in this town.
By Rebecca Rees
Living in Taiwan was no picnic. It was difficult to adjust to half dollar size mosquitos whose bite could cause ones lip to swell to the size of a radish. And an open sewer system left my nostrils flaring. Still, I seemed to adjust to the inconveniences because I was there for a good reason (working on The Brave Little Toaster in 1986 ).
But, there was one thing about living in Taiwan that I still have nightmares about.....
One night, we were sitting and watching TV. Then this familiar dark shape crawled across the screen. The State Insect of Taipei had returned and seemed quite interested in a badly dubbed sitcom. I shouted my usual, "Kill it! Kill it!" Jerry got up, grabbed a rolled up paper and took a swat at the screen. In a split second, our crawly visitor sprouted wings and skydived toward Jerry. It was flying!!!! I was running around screaming; the roach was flying at us; Jerry was leaping around swating at everything in his path. I think we lost a few vases but mostly I lost my mind.
Was this a freak of nature? Were they from Krypton? I learned that during springtime, Taiwan roaches developed wings. Guess it's a mating thing: "Gee, babe, what tremendous wings you have and those antenna...wow! Gimme a smooch".