CATCHING UP WITH JEFF WILSON (2006 interview)
Jeff Wilson was an 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 1999 and we caught back up with him in 2006.
You mentioned in part one of the interview that it was no surprise production was ending. Do you know if this was due simply to lack of interest from the financiers in more episodes? Due to Worlds of Wonder's demise? Ken mentioned AlchemyII had never attempted to end the series.
. I mentioned it was no surprise to us, because Atkinson was shutting down production on Teddy after Episode 65. The people in my deptartment understood the contract was over and many of the staff were transitioning at this time onto other projects, which were a couple of European co-productions and Dennis The Menace for a U.S. TV network. Its possible the parent production companies were planning further episodes, but Atkinson's place in the picture was now complete.
I remember hearing people in the department whispering "Did you hear we're getting the contract for the next Teddy Ruxpin series?" amongst themselves, but without physical evidence no one never took such talk seriously. Certainly not I, because I was being assigned to Dennis the Menace. The drop in pay on that project was so drastic, I couldn't have afforded to live in Ottawa at that time. My family and I ended up moving to another part of Ontario. Also, I didn't know it at the time, but my animation career was over.
There is a rumor posted on WikiPedia, and was also emailed to me by someone who's father worked on the show, that a lot of 'R' rated titles had been written on some books in one of the library scenes (probably in King Nogburt's castle) during a period of boredom, and when these were shipped off to Korea for the finalization of the animation they were never erased and can still be seen in the episode. Any truth to this rumor?
Yes, I do remember that. There had been a scriptwriter's strike at the beginning of production and then, around X-mas time, there was another real lag in scripts and timing sheets, or "dope" sheets, as they call it in the biz. I seem to remember viewing that particular show on Global TV here in Canada, but the titles that got into the final cut were just random words. Nothing at all X-rated and certainly nothing that really made sense. For the most part, the titles were erased.
I remember a co-worker telling me the story of Teddy's sponsors and our brass getting together in a screening room, anxious to see the latest rushes from Korea, when this just hit them in the face. It looked bad for us and obviously there was just nowhere to hide. As I recall the guilty artists were chastised and warned it would not be tolerated if it ever happened again. It never did, but it probably left a bad taste in the mouth of the sponsors.
What projects other than Teddy Ruxpin did you work on and what have you been up to since we last caught up with each other?
Well, let me say it was a pleasure for me to participate in the first part of the interview, Josh. I graduated Sheridan College's "Cartooning" program in 1979 and right after getting the diploma, I flirted briefly with working in the film industry, meeting director Paul Lynch and doing storyboards for the 1980 Canadian film "Prom Night" (starring Jamie Lee Curtis and Leslie Nielsen), then I worked in a number of Ontario locales at various illustration and graphics jobs. After Labor Day, 1987, I was hired on at Atkinson Film Arts and was proud to work as a poser, then later a model/prop designer for the Teddy Ruxpin project.
After Teddy, a comic feature I collaborated on, (anyone remember Blue Collar Bart...?) was a "flash-in-the-pan" phenomenon in the syndicated comics world. A difficult experience, but through it I got to meet Lynn Johnston, the legendary Canadian cartoonist. Through her support, I was able to create and develop a comic strip called "The Avridge Farm", in my opinion the highest quality feature I've ever had the privilege to work on and which ran in as many as a dozen Canadian publications. I have since done a humor panel called "Elmer E. Quipment" for the Equipment Journal and still illustrate articles for a bi-monthly Canadian active living specialty periodical.
In recent years, I have surrendered to the 'power that insists on barricading my artistic talents from the world' and have returned to the realm of the blue collar. I have spent my spare hours researching "Wolf Dog", a 1958 Hollywood film which was made in my hometown of Markdale, Canada and one tangible result of it has been the website I created in 2002. www.geocities.com/wolf1958dog/ It has been a labor of love for me and through it I have met and networked with some interesting people. I have considered picking up pen and ink again, but I've grown tired of fighting a battle it appears I'm not destined to win. So, from now on I'll just draw for my own enjoyment. That's all I have really ever done, anyway!
A lot of Animation Cels from the series have been popping up on the web/ebay for sale (I own two of them) I have some question as to the authenticity of a few of them. Is there anyway to confirm the authenticity of a TAoTR animation cel that you know of?
I do not know of anything concerning these cels and I'd be highly suspicious of their authenticity, myself. All I know is that the animation and coloring was done entirely by sub-contractors in Korea. The storyboards were done in Ottawa and probably by Alchemy II in L.A., but to my knowledge, the cels would have to be from Korea to be authentic and I know of no way to certify that.
In the first interview it was so cool to hear you had done the cover art for Grubby's Romance and that those were your best scenes, as that's my favorite episode.
About Grubby's lost love "Karen", you weren't alone in your infatuation with her, as she was quite a hit among male animators in Ottawa. Variations of her image showed up on walls around art desks and circulated around the studio for weeks after that show. The female animators were non-plussed, wondering what all the fuss was about, but guys were gaga over her. That was the thing too: they DREW her best, too! You'd think a female would be more familiar with the female form and how to make it sexy, but guys were the ones who created her aura of attractiveness. When I got the 2nd Teddy DVD, that was the one show I couldn't wait to see again, mainly because of that episode. I guess you're right, she IS the unattainable female. Alas, Grubby couldn't have her and I suppose either can we.
I can remember a female reader approaching me and accusing me of consciously creating this "impossible image" around adult female characters in my features. I apologized that she felt that way, but told her that I was guilty only of drawing from my own life experience. Yes, we are bombarded by so much stimuli in the visual world, but people still have to accept responsibility for how they choose to conduct their individual lives.
Another side to all of that is an observation by Lynn Johnston about her first TV specials, produced in the mid-1980s (at Atkinson Film Arts, coincidentally). She said that it was the macho, testosterone-driven male artists who seemed to best capture the innocent, sweetness of Elizabeth (the Patterson's little girl in the early days of "For Better Or For Worse"), not female artists, some of whom could be said to even exhibit these traits. A scientist could probably study the phenomena and discover the reason why, but for now it remains one of those things that make us go "huh?"
Any other memories you'd like to share, anything funny or special you remember about your time working with the show.
I remember a carload of artists (I'm pretty sure it included all of the following: Bob Jaques, Greg Holfeld, Kelly Armstrong and John Delaney) doing a regular Toronto-Ottawa commute along the MacDonald-Cartier freeway, along which were exits to a couple of Ontario towns named Tweed and Belleville. One trip I guess they got a bit silly, as animators are prone to, cleverly re-dubbing them "Tweeg" and "L.B.-ville"! I've never forgotten that and whenever I travel that way that memory gives me a great chuckle.
I recently bought a book on Canadian animation called "Cartoon Capers" by Karen Mazurkewich and E. Chester Ong, full of some interesting and amusing anecdotes of Canadian animation and animators from the 1940s to the present, some of whom I knew and worked with on Teddy. Through it I found out that Bob J. and Kelly A. later got hitched, going on to do some important animation on the "Ren & Stimpy Show."
As far as what others went on to do, I personally saw John D. on TV in a brief stint back in the early 90s as a music video show host out of Vancouver, B.C. and Greg H. drew the B&W independent "Dan Panic" comic book series. I know that because I bought (and saved) a copy. That group at least, went on to do other interesting things. One of our layout artists named Blake James was actually the subject of a National Film Board of Canada film back in the 1960s. Here's a link to film details at the Internet Movie Database: (http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0064094/). Brian L. could tell you about Marc Sevier, one of the Key Animation teamleaders and his championship model car racing career! Alas, it was a pretty cool time, as so many interesting people were a part of Teddy.
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/Jeff Wilson and may not be republished or printed elsewhere without permission.
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