INTERVIEW WITH BRIAN LEMAY (2007)
Brian Lemay was a Key Animator on The Adventures of Teddy Ruxpin TV series and also worked at Atkinson Film Arts on other projects. He talked with us about his involvement and memories at Atkinson in 2007.
First, if you would like, just tell us a little
about yourself, your duties working with Atkinson on
the Teddy project, and the other projects you've
I went to Sheridan College in Oakville, Ontario and
took the Animation program for two years then dropped
out to get a job in 1980. I was hired at Nelvana as
an inbetweener on a 1/2 hour special titled "Take Me
Up To The Ballgame". Nelvana was already in
preproduction on the feature film, "Rock and Rule" and
were basically hiring for this. I was an assistant
animator to Tom Sito. We worked on incidental
characters in the film and most notably the Beast
sequence at the end of the film.
After Rock and Rule was completed, everyone was laid
off. I was called back in January the next year to be
the character designer on the show "Inspector Gadget".
I was responsible for pretty much every character in
the show, except Gadget, Penny, Brain, Quimby, and The
Claw.After Gadget and another short lay-off where I worked
on some Hanna-Barbera shows, I went back to work at
Nelvana on "Care Bears" in the layout department.
They then got the contract to do the "Ewoks" and
"Droids" shows for George Lucas. After these shows
were done, they went back to Care Bears again.
Hanna-Barbera opened up a farm studio just down the
street and I started picking up some freelance work
I'd go to work at Nelvana at 9:00 - 12:00 then run
down the street and pick up some work from
Hanna-Barbera, grab a quick sandwich on the way back
to Nelvana, work on Carebears from 1:00 - 5:00, drive
home and work on Punky Brewster, Flintstone Kids,
Smurfs, etc. 'til about 1:00 in the morning, get up
the next day, drive to Nelvana and do the whole thing
again.I did this for about a month and noticed the
difference in my paycheques. I decided to quit
Nelvana and focus all my energy on the Hanna-Barbera
stuff. This lasted for about 8 months until I went in
one day and they told me to pack up my stuff because
they were closing the Toronto studio down.
I went home kind of dazed as to what to do next when I
got a call from a friend who had gone up to Ottawa to
work at Atkinson's. He said they were looking for
Animation Posers for this show called "Teddy Ruxpin".
I didn't really care what it was called as long as it
meant work. I phoned the studio the next day and
spoke to the supervisor of the posing department. It
turned out that it was a college buddy of mine from
Sheridan that I sat next to in class. The
conversation kinda went like this:
Brian: "Hi Mark. Hows it going?"
Mark: "Pretty good."
Brian: "I hear you're looking for posers."
Mark: "Yeah, you need a job?"
Brian: "Yeah, when do you need me?"
Mark: "Can you come up tomorrow?"
Brian: "I'll be there. See you tomorrow."
Mark: "O.k., bye."
So, I hopped in my car and drove 6 hours up to Ottawa,
Met with Mark and got the job right on the spot. I
then walked down the street and found a house with an
apartment to rent, signed the lease, went out and
bought a T.V. and moved in.
The posing department was responsible for taking the
layout poses and putting them "on model" and basically
key animating the scene. Even though the show was
animated in Taiwan or Korea (I'm not really sure which
it was) we still had to plan out the actions for them.
I started in around show 5. As the shows came through I was noticing some really
big problems with the layouts and the overall work
flow from the layout department. They had never
produced a 64 show series before and weren't properly
set up for the work involved. Having worked at both
Nelvana and Hanna-Barbera and using their finely tuned
systems, I could see the problems quite clearly.
I went to the owner of the studio and met with him to
discuss the situation and I proposed a new system to
make things work more efficiently. He asked me to be
the assistant Layout Supervisor and get things going.
I shuffled things around a bit and got a library
system working so that we wouldn't be generating so
many original backgrounds all the time when we could
re-use the common locations such as Gimmick's house.
This helped save a lot of time and also cut the budget
by a bit. I think it was somewhere around show 22 that I
formally took over the layout department as Senior
Supervisor. We had to hire on a bunch of new layout
artists (some of which we had to retrain from
scratch). I hired on a few friends that I had worked
with at Nelvana. My place became their place to sleep
until they could find an apartment of their own.
We used to play ball hockey during the summer and ice
hockey during the winter, baseball, football. We'd
all go out after work and have a lot of fun.
Tell us about the overall history/timeline of TAoTR production and any special moments/memories you think fans would enjoy hearing about.
It's funny thinking back to those times, it was a lot of fun. It wasn't so much that we were working on the show "Teddy Ruxpin" because we had no idea as to what it was going to turn out like, it was the people that were involved in it that made it so much fun. Every production that I've worked on has had a mixture of people that either make it fun or incredibly unbearable. It's usually always in the fun zone though.
While I was in the posing department for the 20 odd shows that I key animated, I was working under Marc Sevier, my old college buddy. There were about 12 people in our group; Howy Parkins (who gave me the heads up about the job in the first place), Bob Jaques (another class mate at Sheridan), Kelly Armstrong, Chris Damboise, Daniele Deblois, Jill Halliday, Wayne Lee Pack, Dave Parks, Rob Shedlowich, Robert Waldren, and Pat McCourt. Howy ended up later going to work on the Simpson's show as an assistant director. Bob Jaques and Kelly Armstrong worked on the original Ren and Stimpy Show, doing some amazing stuff there. Bob is an amazing artist. I remember one day he went out to lunch and we saw some of his poses on his desk, they were absolutely beautiful. We noticed that he was using a pencil crayon to do his drawings. After we finished going through all his drawings in his shelves, we all went out and bought pencil crayons too and it really improved the quality of our drawings. Bob has always been a big inspiration to me.
I saw Chris Damboise recently while visiting a fellow instructor at Sheridan College. He was taking the Maya computer course (and doing a lot of swearing).
I saw a few other people a few years ago at the Ottawa Animation Festival and had a chance to catch up.
I read Jeff's interview and he mentioned the "beach party" we had in our room. It was the middle of winter and insanely cold. We all decided to have a beach party the next day to try and remember what the summer was like. We all dressed up in shorts and brought beach blankets, danced to summer music and generally goofed around.
The production in general is pretty much a blur now. I remember a few key moments like moving from the posing department into layout. I just watched a few of the early episodes that recently came out on DVD to try and jog my memory. I only have the first 12 episodes and after watching them I now remember what the problems were. Many of the scenes were very poorly fielded; characters too high in the frame, camera angles looking down too much, awkward shot selection. Some of this was the storyboarding departments errors but they should have been corrected in layout before they got into posing. There were also lots of really bad cuts from one scene to the next.
One of the things that really stands out watching it again is the horrendous lip sync. I guess the Koreans just couldn't get it.
The show from a story point of view are still fun to watch and it's neat to see the scenes that I worked onagain. It's funny, but I don't have very much stuff saved from that show. On all the other productions I've worked on, I would keep the model sheet package and make copies of my layouts or poses but for Teddy, I only have a small handfull of layouts and poses. I seem to remember that we were all given swipe cards for the photocopiers and were only allowed a certain number each week. I guess it was an effort to cut the budget overhead.
The studio itself was a remodeled church with attachments added onto it. Our group was on the second floor that was built into the main sanctuary. Dave Parks and I were taking Tae-Kwon-Do and decided to do some sparing late one night in the studio. We taped off a ring on the floor and put on all out equipment then went to it. We were lightly tapping each other with kicks and punches then Dave accidentally caught me with a perfect cresent kick right across the bridge of my nose and smashed it flat. I knew it was broken right away and ran into the bathroom with blood everywhere. Looking into the mirror I saw my nose mashed off to one side and I just instinctively took my thumb and pushed it back into place with this sickening cracking sound. It looked o.k. but my girlfriend (later my wife) was a medical student and told me to go to the hospital just in case. After waiting in emergency for 6 hours I had some x-rays taken and the doctor asked, "Who set your nose? I said that I did it, and he said, "Nice job!".
When I later went back to Nelvana as the layout supervisor I hired Dave because I felt so bad for him. He was a nice guy with a great cresent kick.
When I moved into the layout department, there was quite a bit of tension because I was saying things were being done wrong and I was basically there to fix it. It took a bit of time to convince them to change their system. We hired about 25 more layout artists and started training them. I wrote a bunch of notes on layout that I eventually used at Sheridan College when I went back to teach layout. This then became the basis for my book titled "Layout and Design Made Amazingly Simple".
We got things on track around show 24 or so and you'll probably see a differnece in the general quality of the episodes from that point on. A lot of it was just basic stuff, but the major improvement was the implimentation of the background library to save everyone from redrawing existing backgrounds from scratch all the time. At first they didn't see the value in it but after about 5 shows they all went "Aha! It does work!"
The remainder of the shows were just a blur. We all knew the end was coming and when the last show was finished, it was very anti-climactic. No wrap party, we just moved onto the next production which was a French co-production called "Y's the Magnificent" and after that was the "Meerkats" 1/2 hour special. After that ended, they were working on the "Dennis the Menace" show. I really did not want to work on that one. Luckily, Nelvana called and asked if I wanted to work on a production called "Ultra Cross". I quit Atkinson's and moved back to Toronto.
What scenes, characters and episodes did you enjoy working on the most?
I can't pick out any specific scenes or episodes although I recall an episode where they played a game of baseball. I remember key animating a huge number of the scenes of the game.
I enjoyed drawing Tweeg and L.B. the most. They were the easiest to draw. Teddy was really tough to get on model because he had a really weird head shape. I remember being really frustrated with the scenes involving him. The Fobs were also really easy. Gimmick was a little tough. Getting a scene with Quellor was rare but fun when you got it.
I thought it was great you mentioned you did much of the work on "Win One for the Twipper" where they play grungeball. That's a great episode. Tweeg in particular looks great in "Win One For the Twipper" and the episodes thereafter, he had kind of a "pear" look to him in the first few episodes.
From what I can recall that was about when all our revamping in the layout department really kicked in. I remember breaking that storyboard down and deciding to take all the ballgame scenes for myself because it was such a neat sequence. I usually broke up the show into locations or sequences then handed them out to specific layout artists based on their particular abilities. Some people were really good with the Gimmick interior scenes, so I'd make sure they got those ones. Some people had troubles drawing the girls so I'd give them to someone who could handle them. I don't think the shows were handed out that way before I took over the department.
Someone emailed me a long time ago and had told me about the passing of Patrick McCourt... I think they mentioned he passed away while production was happening.
Pat was a really nice guy. He actually died while we were working on the Meerkats show. I always have a hard time talking about it as Pat was my assistant animator at that time and I've always felt guilty that I wasn't able to recognize any warning signs or do something to help him. He was a very quiet person. I remember the night he died, a bunch of the guys were playing ice hockey and I was on the bench yelling at some of the guys as they went by and for some reason, I called out his name. After I said it I thought, that's weird, Pat isn't even here tonight.
The next morning John Williamson told me as I came into work and everything at the studio stopped. They pretty much closed down for the day as everyone was in shock. I've always felt terrible about his passing.
Chris Schouten is of course credited as being the Director of the project. Was he over just one particular area, (voices, for instance) or was he in general the show runner?
Chris was a really nice guy. He was right in the trenches with us. Of course he delegated responsibility to the different supervisors but he was definitely overseeing the whole production. Chris was also the Director on Meerkats.
I don't know what happened to him after I left the studio. I think a lot of the people ended up going over to Lacewood Studio which then became Amberwood and then Driftwood (just joking on the last one) They kept changing their name depending on which street they moved the studio to.
Well, the joke drawings just started flying. I did
That one didn't go over too well with the production
teddyruxpinonline.com is not affiliated with AlchemyII, Inc, (who own the World of Teddy Ruxpin and all copyrights and trademarks) or any other manufacturer of Teddy Ruxpin merchandise.
This interview is (C) Josh Isaacson/Brian Lemay and may not be republished or printed elsewhere without permission.
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