June
18
2014

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NUMBER FIVE OF FIFTY COOL THINGS

With the help of Star With (the Xerox Department Supervisor) and Allison Leopold (the Ink and Paint Department Supervisor) , I was able to create my next favorite cool thing…

5. AUTOGRAPHED SCOOBY DOO ANIMATION CEL

Working at Hanna Barbera in the pre-digital world was like a dream come true because they had all their original artwork onsite!  I created the piece above by using the original model sheets, xeroxing them onto a cel, and borrowing a paint station in the Ink and Paint department (after hours of course!).  I later got it signed by Bill Hanna, Joe Barbera, Don Messick (the voice of Scooby Doo), and Casey Kasem (the voice of Shaggy).  It’s basically a stock pose of Scooby and Shaggy superimposed in front of an image of the Mystery Machine.

Yes, the Mystery Machine.  Mystery Inc.’s signature mode of transportation.

Even Batman loves the Mystery Machine!

Animation Art had a real life Mystery Machine (which was awesome!) custom made for signings and appearances to draw crowds.  There was a bit of grumbling from some of the artists when they unveiled it because it wasn’t made from a vintage Ford, VW, or Corvair van, but I didn’t care.  It was the Mystery Machine!  It was so cool driving in to work every day and seeing it in the parking lot.  So when we were producing interstitials for “Johnny Bravo” I, of course, asked to do my interview inside, where else…?

One time, back in 1997, Butch Hartman, Seth MacFarlane, and I got permission to bring the van out to Glendale for a school visit with Mae Whitman and her elementary school class.

The interesting part was, when we pulled into the school parking lot, we were followed in by a police car! (You would think they would be in front of us as escorts, but fat chance there!)  As a hoard of kids ran up to the chain link fence to see all the commotion, we started to stress out about the ramifications of getting a ticket in a vehicle we didn’t own.  When the officers pulled up beside us, I asked, “Is there anything wrong, officers?”  One of them nonchalantly answered, “Nah.  We just wanted to see if Shaggy was in the back.”

Seth and I grabbing some Carl’s Jr. after the school visit.

In 2003, I was able to use the Mystery Machine one last time during our wrap party for the fifth season.  We had them drive the van out to Loyola Marymount University where we parked it out in the middle of their Sunken Gardens and used it as a photo op.

“Seriously.  Why rent a photo booth?”

The Mystery Machine is a definite crowd pleaser and Warner Brothers often uses it when there’s something eventful going on.  For example, here’s a pic of Jay Bastian (the head of development for Warner Brothers) and I during the unveiling of the Hanna Barbera relief statue at the Academy Of Television Arts and Sciences in 2005.

So it’s fair to say that I’ve taken my share of pictures with Mystery Inc.’s mobile of choice.

There are several vans now.  Most of them created specifically for the live action movies.  One of them is on permanent display at the Warner Brothers Studio Lot so now everyone can take a picture with it!  Scooby Doo is now a Warner Brothers property and is a part of their lineup as you can see by the WB mural on the corner of Olive and Pass Avenue.


Whatever your feelings are about that, it’s nice to know that he’s being well taken care of after all these years.  You can especially thank them for this swanky DVD box set…

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March
27
2014

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APRIL KICKSTARTER

Hi everyone!  I’m interrupting my “50 Cool Things” posts to let you know, after years of incubation and months of planning, I’m officially doing a Kickstarter campaign from Monday, March 31 – Wednesday, April 30, 2014 to launch my latest project:

I’m producing it alongside a group of industry veterans who bring a whole lot of knowledge and experience to the table.  One of the main people who first approached me to develop this video game is Vince Clarke.

Vince was named the most popular musician of the 80′s by Classic Pop Magazine for his work as the founder of Depeche Mode, Yaz, and Erasure.  He recently released “Snow Globe,” a well-received Christmas album last year with Erasure. Below is the video for the first single, “Gaudete.”  (I know Christmas is over, but wouldn’t it be nice if it were year round.)

Vince and I first worked together on an 80′s flashback episode of Johnny Bravo called, “The Time Of My Life.”  In the episode, we wrote a song that was performed by Richard Butler of The Psychedelic Furs. You can hear the song on this link…

Work It Out by Vince Clarke (with Richard Butler vocals)

Vince is going to be doing all the music for our upcoming game, so you can be sure that it’s going to be the most dancingest game EVER!

Another person who is joining me on this crazy ride is an old college buddy of mine, Scott Eaton.  Scott is a key person in the production and development of this game because he brings the know-how and experience of a real game developer having worked on two of the biggest game franchises in history: “Medal Of Honor” and “Call Of Duty.”

“Okay, your pitch sounds interesting, but…whaaaaat…?”

Oh yeah.  It would probably help if you knew what the game was about…

In DANCERS OF WAR, you play a hardcore marine in a world where dance has been weaponized with the invention of a leotard/exoskeleton called the Exo-Tard 3000.  The problem is, even though you know twenty-seven ways to kill a man with a toothpick, your dance skills are weak and awkward.  Your mission is to dance battle past a population of zombie-like dance soldiers to free a group of kidnapped dance masters.  With each dance soldier you defeat, you deactivate their mind control device and absorb their “Wow Factor” which strengthens your moves.  With each dance master you save, you collect a new piece of armor filled with all-new dance moves to add to your skill set.  Once you’re fully armored, a final battle awaits you with the renegade dance master and his Voltron-ic Dancing Machine.

We plan on creating this satirical, third person action video game for the PC (and hopefully beyond!).

Honestly, we’re taking a leap of faith here.  We’re counting on people who love my brand of storytelling and Vince’s brand of music-making to follow and support us as we develop a video game!  But we believe that the game is worth making and we’re dedicated to finding the audience to create this movement.

This is where you come in.

Just click on the following, https://www.facebook.com/dancersofwar, and when you get to the Facebook event hit the blue button that says “Join.”  That way, you’ll be sure to get a message from us when we launch. We promise not to spam you!  Plus, while you’re there, you can learn more about the project and keep up to date on the latest news from the front lines.

We need people to know about this campaign and spread the word. We need to build a following and prove to developers that everything out there doesn’t need to be familiar and formulaic to be embraced by audiences.

So whether you’re in Malaysia (the heaviest users of social network sites according to Time magazine), the Philippines (Salamat!), Poland (interestingly, I get a lot of fan mail from there) or any other country that uses the word “football” to describe soccer, we want to hear from you.  Log on to Kickstarter on March 30th and help us go global!

And please share this with as many people as you can.  Especially those who you think would love to see this game brought into existence.

I look forward to connecting with you!  :-)

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January
6
2014

2
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NUMBER FOUR OF FIFTY COOL THINGS

I got the following at the Universal Amphitheater, June 5, 1992…

4. SPINAL TAP EARPLUGS

David St. Hubbins: It’s such a fine line between stupid, and uh… 
Nigel Tufnel: Clever. 
David St. Hubbins: Yeah, and clever. 

I was there with my friends from college to see the world’s loudest Rock N’ Roll Band on their “Break Like The Wind” Tour.  I remember sitting in the balcony (We were in college!  They were the best seats we could afford!) and watching Rob Reiner walk in from the back of the audience as all heads turned towards him and chanted, “Meathead, Meathead, Meathead…”  My favorite moment (among many) came when Nigel was introducing the next song and yelled into the microphone, “The sun never sweats!  Look it up!”

I’ve been a huge fan of Spinal Tap for a long time.  Like most guys, I like to quote the movie at random times (“The numbers all go to eleven.”) and get an instant chuckle followed by a series of other quotes from the other guys I’m with (“Eleven.  Exactly.  One louder.” “You can’t really dust for vomit.” “It’s such a fine line between stupid and clever.”).  So you can imagine my excitement when I got to work with Michael McKean and he recorded the following for my answering machine…

David St. Hubbins Recording

It was super cool because his monologue randomly came to him without any prompts.  But as awesome as it was to get him to record a bit for my answering machine, there was more to the story than that. Michael was actually at the studios to record the part of King Raymond for my “What A Cartoon” short, “Jungleboy.”  Below is the “Awkward Family Photo” cast recording we did after the session.

Back Row: Kris Zimmerman (Recording Director), Michael McKean, Maurice LaMarche  Front Row: April Winchell, Cody Dorkin, Candi Milo, Me, Roger Rose

Prior to this recording, I had done “Johnny Bravo And The Amazon Women” with one David L. Lander (A.K.A Squiggy from “Laverne And Shirley”).  At that time, David was talking to me about a CD-ROM that he and Michael had been working on and like a fanboy, I told him, “You know, if you ever do anything with Lenny and Squiggy, I would be more than happy to do anything just to be a part of it!”

Apparently, the boys got the rights back to their characters after “Laverne And Shirley” ended and never did anything with them except for this 1979 live comedy album…

FUN FACT: On the above album, “Lenny And Squiggy present Lenny And The Squigtones,” the guitar work was done by Christopher Guest who was credited as Nigel Tufnel, the character he played on “This Is Spinal Tap.”

In that initial meeting with David and Michael, my then writing partner, Jason Rote, and I pitched them an animated idea for a “Lenny & Squiggy” movie.

My office at Hanna Barbera circa 1996.  From left: Jason Rote (writer), David L. Lander, Michael McKean, Me, Miriam Goodman (clean-up artist)

Both of them were on board to do something with the idea and still are today.  Unfortunately, because our schedules have been so all over the place, the project has somehow taken a back seat to other things going on in our lives.  But once they agreed and trusted us with the characters, we had several meetings where David and Michael basically taught us everything there is to know about Lenny and Squiggy and schooled us on the art of being stupid.  It was like a master class in improv (which makes me so glad we recorded those sessions!). Over the years, I’ve had other story sessions with the two of them, we’ve developed a script, we’ve gone into a recording studio and laid tracks, and even got character designs and an animatic.  It’s been a long process, but we hope to someday take it out and get it made.

The neatest thing about this project has been the friendship I’ve struck up with David.  As many of you may know, David has multiple sclerosis and has been a spokesperson and advocate for finding a cure since he went public with the fact in 1999.  Knowing what I know, I see him as a remarkable and strong human being who can’t help but create comedy amidst his situation.

In my time with him, he’s shared some amazing stories about his time as a kid growing up on the east coast and watching live theater in it’s hey-day, not to mention his time with The Credibility Gap.  For me, it’s fun to hear him talk about baseball because, if I remember correctly, he said that if he never went into acting, he would’ve loved to be a baseball announcer (which he got to do in “A League Of Their Own.”).  So it made me happy to know that, for a while, he was a scout for the Anaheim Angels and later the Seattle Mariners.

I’d like to end with an excerpt from the rarely seen press kit for David and Michael’s 1979 album.  I think the two gave some great insight into their characters when Lenny wrote about Squiggy…

And Squiggy wrote about Lenny…

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December
15
2013

2
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NUMBER THREE OF FIFTY COOL THINGS

I got the following fan-created item on May 13, 2000 at the Museum Of TV and Radio (now known as the Paley Center For Media) in Beverly Hills.  A few folks (super fans of the show we were about to see) were handing them out to everybody as mementos from the event.  I’ve taped it up in every office and cubicle I’ve ever inhabited, and now I post it for you.

3. MCKINLEY HIGH SCHOOL BUMPER STICKER

For those of you who think that William McKinley High is the fictitious school from the television show “Glee” you’re correct.  But not for the purposes of this blog.  McKinley is the name of the high school in “Glee,” but their mascot is the Titans and their colors are red and black (as opposed to the green viking).  If you think McKinley is the school from “The Wonder Years” then congratulations!  You’re also sort of right.  Except my bumper sticker is actually from another show.  This bumper sticker is a reference to the amazingly amazing television show, “Freaks and Geeks!”  By the way, if you’re wondering, “What’s the deal with all the McKinleys?”, you’re not alone. According to Judd Apatow, William McKinley’s name “was the only president’s name that was legally clearable.”  

I’ve been friends with the fun folks at The Paley Center since 1997 when I drew pictures for kids at their International Children’s Festival. Because of that, I’ve had the privilege of attending a number of sold out events, one of which was a special screening for the public (along with the cast and crew) of the final six unaired episodes featuring a live Q & A with both Paul Feig and Judd Apatow.

FUN FACT: The special screening was one of the only times they ever publicly showed the episode, “Noshing and Moshing” using the song “Only Love Can Break Your Heart” by Neil Young.  For me, that song was used so well in the show, that when the episode finally made it to air in the summer, it was jolting (not to mention disappointing) when the Dean Martin’s song, “You’re Nobody Till Somebody Loves You,”  played instead of Neil Young.  Unfortunately, they couldn’t get the licensing rights to the song which is too bad because it made that particular scene really poignant and memorable.

By now, you’re probably thinking, “So how does ‘Freaks and Geeks’ apply to Van’s career in animation?”  Or you’re thinking, “I could go for some Cheez-It’s right about now.”  Either way, I’ll tell you (as you enjoy your mid-blog snack).

It was during Judd and Paul’s panel, that I was inspired to pursue a career as a writer.  I don’t remember exactly what they said, but I remember how they made me feel (exactly like the Maya Angelou quote!).  They made me want to write about my life experiences in a way that touched audiences the way they did for me.  It wasn’t that long before I started on the Christmas Special of Johnny Bravo and the subsequent fifth season.  Not only did I write two Johnny Bravo holiday specials (my first full-on scripts), but I also ended up writing almost half the episodes of the 13 episode order.  After that, I wrote several full length features (both animated and live-action) not to mention several other television scripts.  And I haven’t stopped since.

And because I was such a fan, I had to spread the gospel of F & G. Since I had all the episodes recorded on VHS tapes, I brought the uninitiated into the fold by having weekly screenings at Cartoon Network.  On top of that, I was still casting and recording episodes during these marathon screenings so, of course, I had to get some of the actors from the show to do voices!

First off, was Samm Levine in the episode, “Back From The Future.”

Back Row: Pete Oswald (Production Assistant now working character designer), Danny Strong (actor, Buffy The Vampire Slayer), Samm Levine (actor, Neal Schweiber), Jeff Bennett (actor, Johnny Bravo), Amanda Foreman (actor, Felicity), Craig Bartlett (creator, Hey Arnold!)  

Front Row: Robert Serda (recording engineer), Collette Sunderman (VO Director), me, Dee Bradley Baker (actor, Perry The Platypus) 

The next actor I got to work with was Biff Tanner himself, Tom Wilson!

Back Row: Jeff Bennett (actor, Johnny Bravo), Tom Wilson (actor, Coach Fredricks), Collette Sunderman (VO Director), Catherine Cavadini (actor, Blossom on Powerpuff Girls), Tara Strong (actor, Bubbles on Powerpuff Girls), Lea Salonga (actor, Miss Saigon), Lou Fagenson (composer)

Front Row: Pete Oswald (Character Designer), me, Diana Ritchey (Line Producer)

Both actors were a joy to work with and it was fun “Freaks And Geeks” bonding with them.  It was Tom that told me that they did some commentaries playing their actual characters for the upcoming DVD release.  If you haven’t heard it yet, it’s pretty awesome.

Finally, as a treat, before I end this post, I thought I’d elaborate on my number 3 “cool thing” and share a few of the items that went up on Ebay after the show was cancelled.  I didn’t have the money to buy them, but I’m positive that these items were bought by true fans who gave them a good home.

So, to reiterate, I don’t have any of the actual items, but I downloaded the low-res facsimiles of them from Ebay back in 2000.  Now, without further adieu, I give you…

3.1. THE LEISURE SUIT

Does it look familiar?  Maybe if you saw it in context…

BILL:  I heard my mom say to her girlfriend, “Any guy with feathered hair is foxy.”

3.2 CINDY SANDER’S CHEERLEADER OUTFIT

BILL:  Sam, don’t worry. It’s just a game. I mean, I’m good at Mouse Trap, and you’re really good at Kerplunk.
SAM:  No. No no no, it’s not that. It’s just this thing with Cindy. She’s kind of, she’s kind of boring.
BILL:  Really?
SAM:  It’s weird hanging out with her friends. And, I mean, all she ever wants to do is make out and stuff.
NEAL:  I’d kill to be that bored. 

3.3 SHIA LABEOUF’S VIKING MASCOT COSTUME

If you were the one that bought this item on Ebay, please write in and let me know.  I’m just curious because I wouldn’t even begin to know what to do with it.

3.4 TWO PICS FROM THE FAMILY ROOM

In the words of Neal Schweiber, “Friday night – always a good night for some Sabbath.”  So until next time, shine on you crazy diamonds!

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November
26
2013

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COVER ME

“The new alumni magazine is here!  The new alumni magazine is here!” (dialogue read a la Navin Johnson in “The Jerk” )

“Doink!”

In every alumni magazine of every major university in the nation, there’s a section that highlights each graduating class and how they’re contributing to the world.  It shows who’s getting married, who’s having babies, who’s cured cancer, etc.  From my calculations, roughly 1500 students graduate from LMU every year, yet in that section of the magazine there are only about three or four (if that) alumni from every graduating class that write in to let everyone know how they’re doing.

A couple of months ago I got an email from the fine folks at Loyola Marymount University (my alma mater) to see if I was interested in writing an article for the “First Person:” portion of their alumni magazine.  The only guidelines were that the story needed to be 750 words long and it needed to be personal.  What intrigued me about their proposition was that they weren’t looking for a propaganda piece (what alumni magazines are inherently supposed to do) or fishing for compliments.  They wanted an honest POV piece from one of their alumni.

With our alumni barbecue coming up that month, it really got me thinking about my life’s journey.  It was our 20th reunion and I was bummed to find out that a lot of my friends chose to skip it this decade. (I know, right?)  For some it was because they had something happening that weekend and/or the distance was too far for them to travel.  For others, it just wasn’t their thing.  Still, I imagine if they were in a rough season of life, the marker in time could have highlighted any number of disappointments they’ve experienced since graduation. After all, we’re still coming out of a recession where jobs aren’t low hanging fruit and bankruptcy isn’t out of the question.  I know a number of people who never got married, or are divorced and raising kids on their own, or even caring for their family paycheck to paycheck.  So I thought, why not get my grief on (to put it mildly) and address that?

So I dug back into my past and pulled out a snippet of my life to share with others who were going through a tough time in their lives.  I wanted them to know that we’ve all gone through some valleys since that initial launch called graduation.  And just because I’m on the cover, the moment is still only a snippet of my life.  At the end of the day, that cover and $2.95 still only gets me a cup of coffee (or a chai latte at Starbucks).

In case you’re not an alum, I’ve reprinted the text of the article below for your reading pleasure…

Van Partible has a success story that’s almost too successful to be true: college student creates animation for senior thesis, graduates, takes a job to get by doing daycare, then becomes golden when his professor shows the idea to friend at Hanna-Barbera. Partible’s idea became the Cartoon Network’s hit “Johnny Bravo.” Imagine our surprise when, after we asked if he’d write about the experience, he said he wanted to write about failure.

As with television, I often look at my life in terms of seasons. Sometimes my life feels like an endless summer, other times a colorless winter. Regardless, each season is time-limited. Unfortunately, in real life, it’s hard to know beforehand when one season ends or another is beginning. It truly is a journey of faith.

In 1997, after graduating LMU, I sold my senior animation thesis project, called “Mess O’ Blues,” and developed it into the cartoon series “Johnny Bravo” for the Cartoon Network. It was an amazing first season, but I was taken by surprise when the company fired me amidst the Warner Brothers takeover of Turner Broadcasting. The show continued on for several more seasons, but with a completely different crew from Warner Brothers. I can only compare it to being forced to give up your baby for adoption and watching it go to parents who were making choices you didn’t agree with.

Because of the nature of the business, the next production I worked on only lasted for three years, and in 2000, I found myself on the job market again. I was still only seven years into my career, but this time, I let despair take over. After months of pounding the pavement, I was faced with the reality of a non-existent income and no job prospects on the horizon. Some hard talks ensued with my wife, and I reconciled with the fact that I needed to expand my job search outside of the entertainment industry.

After doing an inventory of my marketable skills, I focused on the fact that I could write and that I was good with people. With that as a starting point, I began applying for jobs at hotels, where I felt my people skills would be best utilized. Plus, I would meet interesting characters from all over the world and write about them. I ended up getting a front desk job at a nearby Marriott.

I was relieved to have a job again, but inside, I felt a deep sense of shame and failure. I wasn’t really prepared to go from earning a six-figure salary to minimum wage. My lowest moment came when my boss brought me into his office and told me, “Guess what? I know you’ve only been here a month, but I’m happy to say that you’ve earned yourself a twenty-five cent raise!” Then he pulled his arm back like he was working a slot machine and said, “Cha-ching!”

When faced with adversity, I often ask myself, “If I believe I’m exactly where God wants me to be, then what is He trying to teach me from this experience?”

When I was let go from “Johnny Bravo,” I felt like a victim. I was told that it had a lot to do with the fact that I lacked the managerial skills needed to handle a multi-million dollar production. I saw things differently and took the news more personally. Interestingly enough, the orientation program at the Marriott had a course in managerial training. It was there that I discovered the holes in my thinking and learned a multitude of skills that I still use today. The course was a huge confidence builder, because it illuminated the fact that my being fired had more to do with my inexperience than it had to do with my talent.

Six weeks into my hotel stint, I mustered up enough courage to schedule a pitch meeting at the Cartoon Network with the same people who had let me go.  It was a pitch for a new show idea, but the meeting was a huge risk because some awkwardness remained between us, and it still felt fresh. The pitch was one of the most difficult that I had ever made, but it was also the most rewarding because something about my presentation in that meeting led them to offer me the job of producing another season of “Johnny Bravo.”

I turned in my two weeks’ notice at the Marriott later the same day.

My current manager once told me that, in order to have a successful career in Hollywood, the No. 1 thing you need is the ability to cope with despair. It’s a tough lesson to learn because being successful means putting yourself out there and risking failure.

But even with the shame that comes with failure, I’ve gained a greater gift of competence and confidence that I could never take for granted.  The lessons I’ve learned have worked well for me in the seasons since this story, and I know that they will in the seasons to come.

FUN FACT: For those of you who didn’t see the video on the LMU Website (Spoiler Alert!) the pompadour wasn’t my real hair.  It was a wig. (wah wah wah)  My hair fashion was coiffed to perfection by stylist, Trish Gossett (it wasn’t as big as it is on the cover, as you can see from the picture above).  And in case you were wondering, the cover photo was taken by the university photographer, Jon Rou and photoshopped by DJ Stout, a major, award-winning, internationally-renowned designer in Austin, Texas.

 

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November
18
2013

1
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NUMBER TWO OF FIFTY COOL THINGS

This past weekend, I put a call out to a few of my friends to see if they had any old television sets or computers lying around their house, waiting to be recycled.  Not that I was on a recycling binge, but I needed something for a particular soiree I was going to that night. Luckily, my friend, Ryan, happened to have a computer tower that he had been meaning to get rid of for a few months now…

2. THE HP PAVILION MEDIA CENTER

Now this may look like an ordinary computer tower, but it was actually my ticket to pure unadulterated aggression: The 8th Annual Titmouse Smashing Party!

What is a Smashing Party you ask?  Well, according to the invitation, “We supply the tools, you supply the items to smash.”  The event has been going on since about 2004 and I always had something going on that kept me from coming.  But this weekend was different.  This weekend I was going to see what all the hubbub was about.

Besides food trucks, live bands, and free booze, the activities included “Smashing stuff (like TV monitors, computers, pictures, vases, plates, statues, and things you hate) with one or more of the following implements: hammer, baseball bat, axe, brick, golf club, lead pipe, 2 X 4, bowling ball, and sledgehammer.”

I brought the HP Pavilion Media Center.

What you can’t see, are all the people in the bleachers sitting beside the cage and the crowd of people watching on the ground, surrounding the cage behind the yellow tape.  It was like a scene out of “Fight Club.”  People were cheering, holding up their phones, capturing the moments.  Before I went in, people were smashing old tube TV’s (they made the biggest explosions), toilets, and one guy even smashed a Teddy Ruxpin doll.  The crowd cheered like crazy with every hit (fueled by the fact that the majority of them were enebriated).

It was my first time out, so I was kind of nervous going in.  First of all, you have to gear up with hand and face protection.  I went for the safety goggles and full “Dexter’s Lab” gloves.  When you first enter, there’s a bucket filled with a number of instruments for smashing.  I bypassed the samurai sword and settled on the hybrid ax/sledgehammer.  I thought about using the bowling ball, but knew that I needed to take out more aggression.

I figured I wasn’t going to get a huge crowd of people watching me since I had a simple computer tower (no expectant crowd-pleasing explosion).  But as I walked in the cage, the founder of Titmouse, Chris Prynoski, went on his bullhorn to make an announcement to the crowd. As the crowd thickened, I waited my turn to hear what Chris had to say.  At one point during his call for people’s attention, he turned to look inside the cage and saw me.  I playfully waved over to him and, to my surprise, he yelled into the bullhorn, “Hey everybody!  Let’s watch Van Partible smash something!”

The crowd cheered and, with all eyes on me… it was on.

My years of untapped anger unleashed itself for a little under a minute until I swung my last swing and walked off, thug appeal intact.  And just so you know, it felt REALLLY COOL!   There’s something about holding an ax/sledgehammer with a crowd cheering you on that feels kind of… “demented and sad, but social.”  (Big thanks to my manger, Schuyler Evans, for capturing my inner “Rick Grimes” on camera.)  

Just so you know, it wasn’t all smashing (although, it was smashing in a Thurston Howell III kind of way).  There was also a lot of waiting. There were about a thousand people there (which you can’t really tell from my pictures) and I had to wait about an hour and a half to smash my tower.  Some people waited over two hours!  But I got to meet some really cool people in line so the time went by pretty fast.  Luckily, the party lasted from 5 to 11:oo that night so just about everybody got to smash something.  Afterwards, I got to catch up with old friends from all the different studios.  A fun run-in I had was with Maxwell Atoms (creator of The Grim Adventures of Billy & Mandy) whose Kickstarter campaign literally ended that morning!  He is now in the process of creating a new web series about a reimagined puppet apocalypse called “Dead Meat!”  Definite cause for celebration!

So now I’m looking forward to next year when I plan on bringing a tube TV.  Maybe then I’ll use the bowling ball.  But only for starters.  I really liked the feeling of using the ax/sledgehammer.

 I need to go watch some “Leave It To Beaver” now.

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November
14
2013

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NUMBER ONE OF FIFTY COOL THINGS

Since 1995, I’ve been teaching an animation class off and on at Loyola Marymount University.  And whether I teach beginning animation or character design, the thing I always stress is character.  Sure, there are tons of amazing artists out there, but it takes a lot more than great technical skills to create a character that can make an audience “feel.”  So (transition to blog topic), since I’m constantly trying to help students find ways to flesh out seemingly ordinary characters, I thought, why not do the same with this blog?  Why not write about seemingly ordinary objects that have special significance to my career in animation?  Thus began my excavation through the “boxes of stuff” that have survived my countless office moves from studio to studio.  (The experience was fun, but it made me feel like I was on an episode of “Hoarders!”)

After purging myself of worthless giveaways and Post-Its with names and numbers of people who were significant to me at some point in my life, I settled on fifty items (a nice round number).  So fifty it is, and fifty it shall be!  In the next few months I will be posting, in no particular order, fifty random items from my years in the animation industry that have a story behind them.  I may swap out new items for old ones as I move forward (after all, my years in the animation industry are still going!) but I’ll still keep it at fifty.  So, without further adieu…

1. MY AUTOGRAPHED FARRAH FAWCETT SHAMPOO BOTTLE

Like most kids who grew up in the 70′s, I had a huge crush on Farrah Fawcett.  But as much as I was crushing on her, I didn’t feel the need to use her shampoo to make my hair feel soft and bouncy.  (Filipinos don’t do soft and bouncy.)  I actually bought this after it was discontinued.  The funny thing is, I didn’t spend hundreds of dollars at some collector’s show for it.  I actually found the bottle on a shelf at a neighborhood San Francisco drugstore in the 90′s! (I’m guessing that restocking wasn’t one of their strong points.)

The bottle usually sits on my shelf at work, nestled in between all the happy meal toys and photo frames.  As far as the autograph goes, it wasn’t me who got it from her.  My friend, Robert Ramirez, actually directed her on “The Brave Little Toaster Goes To Mars” and had her sign it for me.  On the bottle, she wrote, “Van, I have another one for you.  Love, Farrah Fawcett.  1995.”  I was like, “What does that mean?”  Robert told me that, at the time, I guess she was thinking about releasing a new line of hair care products.  If you Google it, I’m sure you’ll find that that never happened, but it’s fun to think that it was in the works.

Anyways, knowing that she was willing to voice a cartoon, it dawned on me: working with Farrah Fawcett was an attainable goal!  After writing her a nice letter and sending her a tailor made script, we ended up working with both Farrah and her son Redmond on the episode, “Johnny Bravo Meets Farrah Fawcett.”  In the episode, Farrah shows up at her cousin Suzy’s birthday party to work the kissing booth.  The whole afternoon was a whirlwind, but one of the things I remember her saying was, it was the script that really convinced her to do the part (Thank you Michael Ryan!).  After she got into the studio, everything went so well, that I got her to pose for a “Charlie’s Angels” picture with us!

From left: John McIntyre (director), Michael Ryan (writer), Farrah Fawcett (Jill Monroe), & me

For this photo, she positioned her fingers like a gun, held her arm out straight with her palm facing down, and said, “I’ve always wanted to hold a gun like this.”  Apparently it made you look more tough.  As you can see from the photo, she was the only one that held her gun that way.  And she looked the toughest.  (I also notice that it was a big sweater day.)  She capped off our time together by autographing one of my Charlie’s Angels photos…

Thus ended my afternoon with Farrah Fawcett.

FUN FACT: Farrah’s assistant videotaped segments of the session to use for her upcoming special, “All Of Me,” where she showcased her painting talents.  I never saw it, but I hear that none of the footage from our recording session made it into the special.

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October
25
2013

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C THREE THE CONFERENCE FOR CREATIVE CONTENT

I got an email recently from the folks over at Visual Communications, reminding me about the upcoming C3 Conference for Creative Content on October 26th.  You can imagine my surprise when this photo was the lead picture on their webpage:

That’s me (or at least a sliver of me) to the left of uber-talented artist/creator, Lela Lee!  Total fun!  It’s as if I photobombed the picture!  (Rather grimly, but I got in the shot!)

Last year, I took part in the conference and spoke at the panel, “It’s Alive!  Creating For Animation!”  It was a really fun panel and was held over at the WGA in Los Angeles.  Moderated by animation professor Tom Sito, the panel included writers John August (Big Fish, Frankenweenie), Cherry Chevapravatdumrong (Family Guy), Johnny Hartmann (The Reef 2), Lela Lee (Angry Little Asian Girls), and me.  If you’re at all interested in seeing what happened on that fine sunny day in October, I just discovered that they posted the entire panel on Youtube:

 

FUN FACT: A few months ago, I went to the premiere of “Linsanity” at the LA Asian Pacific Film Festival, and right before the movie started, they showed a package promotional film promoting the festival. During the montage of events, there was a split second clip of this panel.  So there I was, disoriented because I was late to the screening, sitting in the second row, and BAM!  My face was smack-dab on the screen, just about as big as the real-life me!  But it was only for a split second.  Just long enough for me to give out a little “Whoo-hoo!”

I haven’t watched the entire panel on Youtube (just the parts where I talked, to see if I said anything awkward) but I remember it being fun and informative.  And you can’t go wrong listening to John August! Anyhow, the teacher in me wanted to share this with you because I thought that everyone on the panel had something great to contribute.  I also believe that the audience in attendance was able to leave, at the very least, with at least one, if not several, inspirational nuggets (not physical ones, although, that would have been a cool takeaway gift if they had).

So, until next time, enjoy!

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August
2
2013

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CHINESE DELEGATES

According to the recent “Spotlight On China” study by Ernst and Young, China is expected to be the world’s largest movie market by 2020 (Who’d have thunk?).

But what about Chinese television?

According to my talk with some Chinese delegates yesterday, TV is for children and housewives (they said frankly and honestly).  In China, the most popular TV programs are reality shows with their versions of “American Idol” and “The Bachelor.”  As for the men, it turns out that they don’t watch regular Chinese television, but instead watch American TV shows like ”Game Of Thrones” on the internet.

According to these students.

This past week, voice actor and director, Charlie Adler, and I had the pleasure of speaking to a number of animation students and professors from The Beijing Film Academy at Loyola Marymount University.  With the help of our two student interpreters, Ming and Edwin from LMU, we talked to them about the creative processes we go through in order to produce animation here in America.

Lucky for me, Charlie was the first to go.  I say, lucky for me because I was able to adjust my talk by watching how he interacted with the students.  It was a lot like pulling teeth at first because they didn’t want to talk or engage with Charlie (they later said it was because they were scared of him!), but they soon warmed up to his speaking style.  For those of you who know or have seen Charlie perform, he is a whirlwind of energy: fast, loud, and brazen.  But in this forum, he had to pull things back a bit, be careful with the words he used, and really focus his talk for a non-English speaking audience in a way that was non-threatening and inviting.  By the end of his talk, the students said that he was, by far, their most favorite speaker.

As a treat to the audience, Charlie brought up two LMU students, Alex and Edwin, to help him do a dramatic script reading of “Who is Supercow?” an episode from “Cow And Chicken.”  As many of you know, Charlie did the voice for all three main characters (Cow, Chicken, and the Red Guy) so it was entertaining (and mind-bending) to watch Charlie go back and forth between characters.

My three hour slot (which became three and a half hours) came two days later.  As I began, I learned that they understood more English than I thought when I said a joke and they laughed before my translators had time to translate what I said.

Random things I learned:  They like superheroes like we do, but find it difficult creating their own.  Being an artist doing animation in China is like working in a factory where it’s more about productivity than it is about artistic integrity.  They also told me that their programming is the result of a governmental push to make their shows educational.

The topic I was asked to share about was regarding my experience in the animation industry, both domestically and overseas.  What grew out of that talk was a fun conversation about the similarities and differences between our cultures and pop cultures.

The big takeaway that I’d like to share in this post:  Don’t just talk to talk.  Talk and share ideas as often as you can.  Especially with people you ‘re afraid won’t understand you.  Because, once you begin the dialogue, you may discover that you have more in common than you thought.

Finally, Chinese food isn’t just Sweet & Sour Pork and Orange Chicken.

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July
26
2013

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SCRIPTNOTES CELEBRATION


I heart Scriptnotes.

The Scriptnotes Podcast hosted by John August (Big Fish, Frankenweenie) and Craig Mazin (The Hangover II & III, Identity Thief) just celebrated their 100th episode with a live podcast at the Academy’s Lab on Vine in Hollywood, CA.  Big thanks to their mysterious assistant, Stuart Friedel, who scored me a seat for the show after it sold out within minutes!  (For those of you who frequently listen to the podcast, I’m happy to say that he really does exist and is as nice as nice can be.)

I first met John in 2012 when I participated in a panel with him at the Writers Guild Of America.  After an informative talk, I invited him to come speak about his experiences in animation with the character design class I teach every so often at Loyola Marymount University.  In preparation, I decided to binge listen to seven of the latest episodes of Scriptnotes (which you can download on iTunes) to familiarize myself with his work.  It didn’t take long before I was hooked.

For those of you who haven’t heard of this podcast, John August begins each show (in his family-friendly tenor voice) by saying, “Hello! And welcome.”  From there, we hear “My name is Craig Mazin.” Much like the beginning of The Simpsons where there is a different couch gag every week, Craig finds a creative way to say (or sing) his introduction. Finally, John finshes his introductions by saying, “And this is Scriptnotes.  A podcast about screenwriting and things that are interesting to screenwriters.”

From there, it’s an enjoyable hour, hour and a half, of screenwriting musings and umbrage from the front line.  To give you an idea about the show, they often do a three page challenge where aspiring screenwriters can send in the first three pages of their screenplay to be professionally and kindly (at least by John) critiqued.  They recently started adding guests and interviewing other screenwriters like Derek Haas (Wanted; 3:10 To Yuma) and Aline Brosh McKenna (The Devil Wears Prada, 27 Dresses).  They even went so far as to interview a psychotherapist for screenwriters!  My most favorite episodes were where they devoted their entire podcast to critique the screenplays for Raiders of The Lost Ark and The Little Mermaid.

For any aspiring or working screenwriter, the podcast is an invaluable tool that not only helps you stay up to date on the latest news that affects the screenwriting profession, it is also a master class in the art of screenwriting.

At the end of every podcast, the two break things up by introducing their audiences to “one cool thing” that doesn’t necessarily relate to screenwriting, but is something that they’d like to share.  In that vein, my “one cool thing” this past week was the San Diego Comic Con.  I wrote about the annual event in a previous blog entry, but at this one, I learned how not to approach a zombie…

Until next time…

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