FUNKY FUN THING #6: "IT'S A SMALL WORLD" ALBUM

I've had the following item since I was a toddler (I can't give an exact date, but I can say that it was well worn)...

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My guess is that my parents bought the album for me after my first trip to Disneyland in 1973.

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That's me in middle with the golden vest.

If you're just joining my blog, this list is about seemingly ordinary objects that have special significance to my career in animation.  So it goes without saying that this Disneyland album was one of the many inspirations for me as a child.  I listened to this album ad nauseam while staring at the simple, yet intricate, designs of Mary Blair on the cover.  It fed by cartoon obsession when it wasn't Saturday morning.

The thing that I didn't expect was that I would one day sing for the man who directed this amazing album: Paul Salamunovich.

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As noted in "The Hollywood Reporter:"

He conducted choral music on the scores for more than 100 films and TV projects, including Francis Ford Coppola’s The Godfather (1972) and Bram Stoker's Dracula (1992). His work also can be heard on Flatliners (1990), First Knight (1995), Air Force One (1997), A.I. Artificial Intelligence(2001), The Sum of All Fears (2002), Peter Pan (2003), Angels and Demons (2009), and on the NBC drama ER.

With the choir at St. Charles Borromeo, he recorded five albums of sacred music and was featured on Andy Williams’ 1969 recording of “Battle Hymn of the Republic.”

Salamunovich sang on the soundtracks of such films as Judgment at Nuremberg (1961), How the West Was Won (1962) and The Trouble With Angels (1966). His musical contributions spanned the spectrum from classical, pop, and jazz to folk and new age music with such diverse artists as Stan KentonLiz Story and Cirque de Soleil.

Salamunovich guest-conducted throughout the world and prepared choirs for such notable conductors as Igor StravinskyRobert ShawBruno WalterEugene OrmandyAlfred WallensteinGeorg SoltiZubin MehtaCarlo Maria GiuliniValery Gergiev, and Simon Rattle.

But even though he was a world renowned maestro, I was first introduced to him as Paul Salamunovich: choir director for Loyola Marymount University.

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1990 LMU Yearbook Photo, 2nd row, 2nd to last

For me, animation is all about timing.  Having said that, music is an integral part of understanding timing.  You need to understand the life that's in music if you want to bring life into any character.  It's like finding the heart in a performance.  It's an intangible that you need to experience in order to find.  Animation is often about taking your drawings and creating moments.  There's a certain rhythm to life and, if you miss it, you miss the moment.  In fact, Chuck Jones often used musical bar sheets to time out his animation. 

Through studying music under Paul, I also learned the subtleties of interpretation.  In 1990, we were one of four men's choirs invited from the United States to participate in The Pacific International Festival of Male Choirs in Vancouver.  It was an international festival where some of the greatest choirs in the world gathered to perform.       

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I'm in the 3rd row, fourth from the left.

Before we went onstage, we sat backstage and listened to another choir perform "The Battle Hymn Of The Republic."  It was the exact same arrangement we were planning to perform, but you could tell there was a definite difference in interpretation of the text.  The tempo was slightly slower, the intensity of the singers wasn't evident, and the richness in their sound wasn't very deep.  I don't say that to be pompous (God knows that our choir wasn't great because of my singing), but because Paul knew how to interpret music on a page.  

Battle Hymn Of The Republic (You can click on the link and listen to our recording.) 

*Credit also has to be given to our pianist, the legendary Bob Hunter.  The above arrangement was so complicated that the other choir had to bring in a second accompanist to handle it.  Bob did it all by himself.

Through the LMU choirs, I learned how to listen.  I mean really listen. There's subtleties in balance, tone, and pitch that I never would have discovered had it not been for my choral training.  By showing me when to breathe and why, how to phrase a sentence, how to dramatically tell a story, and the importance of balance in a group's dynamics, Paul taught me how to go from being a kid to becoming a world class performer.

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Obviously, it took some time getting there.

So the next time you're on "It's A Small World" at Disneyland, rather than sit there and complain about how the song keeps going on and on, just shut up, look at all the beautiful designs, and listen.  Once you appreciate all the countless hours of work and talent that went into making the ride, you can leave and work out your issues at The Radiator Springs Racers at California Adventure because that thing is awesome!  (Just make sure you get a Fast Pass early.)

PITCHING JOHNNY BRAVO

How did you sell your show? Do you have any advice on how to sell a show? What is it like to pitch a show? All of these questions are ones that I'm often asked. There's no pat answer (although I do have one). What I can do, is share my experiences and hopefully help people understand that it's all about being at the right place, at the right time, and being prepared.

So. Let's step into the wayback machine, shall we? It was the summer of 1993. I was fresh out of college, working afterschool daycare at Westchester Lutheran School and living on my friend's couch when I heard the news. My old teacher, Dan McLaughlin had just gotten a call from his friend, Buzz Potamkin, at Hanna-Barbera. Like the original ad below says, they were looking for directors to produce a new crop of seven minute animated shorts for the Cartoon Network.

Since Dan was the head of the UCLA Animation Workshop, he was asked to present his best students' films to them. From there, they hoped to cherry pick through them to find the next Tom and Jerry. Dan asked if I wanted to include my student film in the mix.

The next thing I knew, I was asked to meet with Ellen Cockrill, one of the heads of development at Hanna-Barbera. She asked if I were interested in pitching the idea of my student film as a short for their new 7-minute shorts program. Since my student film was basically an amped-up version of Elvis Presley, they wanted to make sure that my character was anything but. Thus, Johnny Bravo was born. A James Dean looking guy that moved like Michael Jackson, talked like Elvis, and had a name from the Brady Bunch. I felt as though I created quite the pop culture fusion.

FUN FACT: As you can see from the original presentation cel above, he was conceived with arms like Popeye. We also changed his shirt from white to black because, at the time, white cel paint was too transparent to shoot under the camera (especially when used in large flat areas).

Before I pitched to Hanna-Barbera, Dan thought it would be a good idea to gather the group of students that Ellen Cockrill had chosen to pitch to the network, and practice pitching our shows to each other. We met a few times and developed our pitching skills (not to mention our nerves) so by the time we got to Hanna Barbera, we were prepared. After going through the experience and talking with people about it, I learned that practice is key.

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I was fortunate enough to pitch Johnny Bravo at the very first pitch session for Cartoon Network's initial shorts program. My project was the last in line after projects from Bill Hanna, Tony Craig and Roberts Gannaway, Will Panganiban, and Pat Ventura. I have random flashes that I remember about my pitch. For instance, I remember wearing a white shirt and tie and feeling really out of place amongst all the other working professionals who were dressed in everyday jeans and button up shirts. I also remember showing my student film and having Fred Seibert walk out of the room in the middle of it. I'm sure it was for a good reason, but I was hypersensitive!  And to make things more awkward, I brought my portfolio along with me and nobody looked at it!

The bottom line after my pitch was that it wasn't "cartoony" enough. Fortunately, they liked it enough to have me redraw a new sequence to show how cartoony it could be. I later learned that they were going to pass on the show until three women, Ellen Cockrill, Janet Mazotti, and Julie Kane-Ritsch fought for my project to be made. I emphasize "women" because the gentler sex have always been champions of Johnny Bravo. I think it's because they know Johnny Bravos in their lives and can relate. They also enjoy watching him get his comeuppance.

I got the green light on November 5th, 1993. I heard the news from a development executive at HB, Dan Smith, who informed me of their decision at the Annie Awards that evening. When I got home, there was a note from my roommate informing me of my new "step deal." That meant, I was going to be under careful watch and evaluated after every step of production to see if they wanted to continue to go forward.

That's a whole other story.

When I arrived at Hanna-Barbera on my first day of work, Ellen gave me a big hug and said "Finally!" My new producer, Larry Huber, told me that this was going to be a type of graduate school where I was going to learn how to make cartoons from the ground up in the studio system.

And it was.

I was there for the next four years, much like any university, and learned how to make cartoons the old fashioned way. I was fortunate because, I don't think that my presentation was polished enough to have sold in today's climate. At the time, the Cartoon Network was in a place where they could afford to take a chance on a college graduate with no experience. Nobody was really paying attention to what they were doing. There's a lot more risk involved today.

Like I said before: Right place. Right time. Prepared.