Saturday, May 27, 2006

More NYIT Memories

Here, courtesy of John Celestri, are more memories of his time spent at the New York Institute of Technology's animation studio.


Growing up in Brooklyn during the 1950s, my childhood was full of day-and-night dreams of being powerful like Popeye, Mighty Mouse, and Superman. Oh, what I wouldn’t have given to be able to fly through the air, leap over buildings in a single bound, or be able to pound the neighborhood bully by simple swallowing a mouthful of spinach.

These fantasies were fueled by images I’d seen in the old Terrytoons and Fleischer/Paramount cartoons broadcasted over the local TV airwaves. From the ages of 5 through 12, I was glued to the screen of my family’s old black and white Sylvania, soaking it all in. And when I wasn’t watching Popeye, Mighty Mouse, or Superman cartoons, I was reading their comic books and copying their images onto whatever paper I could find, using whatever pencils I could get from my father, who was a mechanical draftsman.

It was at NYIT that I met some of the artists who created those images of power---power I so desperately wanted to have coursing through my tiny, childhood muscles.

When I first started working at NYIT, I expected to meet animators, but I didn’t realize they were responsible for some of my most cherished childhood fantasies. I was just excited about getting a break at learning the business. Back then, animation fandom wasn’t as developed as it has become since, so I didn’t know that Johnny Gent was the best Popeye artist and could animate a punch better than anyone in the business.

I knew about Bill Tytla and Freddy Moore, having studied their work on old super-8 millimeter sound versions of sequences from Disney cartoons released for home viewing during the late 1960s-early 1970s. But the plain fact of the matter was that I’d been more of a comic book fan and could pick out a comic book artist’s style just by glancing at the line work on the printed page. So I was shocked and surprised to see the name “Boring” on the folder of one of the first TUBBY THE TUBA scenes I was given to inbetween.

The name wasn’t written in the animator’s area of the folder, but rather in the layout section. I looked at the layout drawings in the folder and recognized the familiar sketchy line that I’d seen inked by brush in my favorite Superman comic books of the 1950s. Could this be the same Wayne Boring, whose images of Superman I strained to copy back when I could barely control my pencil? If so, what the heck was he doing in this out-of-the-way place on Long Island and why had he stopped drawing Superman? These were the questions of a person who had no idea of the realities of life as an animation or comic artist. But I didn’t ask --- again, I was too excited at not only getting the chance to draw and learn the animation business, but also getting paid to do it. The other reason was that in those days older artists were looked upon with respect, and I didn’t think it my place to question his choice of jobs. On the other hand, why wouldn’t Wayne Boring work on TUBBY, after all it was turning out to be the single biggest source of employment for the New York animation industry, both union and non-union talent. (A side note: the union strike at NYIT gave me my second real break --- but that’s a story for another time.)

Anyway, I asked the head assistant animator to point out Wayne Boring. I took it from there, politely introducing myself as a long-time fan. I didn’t know it, but Wayne was already past retirement age --- a youthful-looking 70 years old. He was short in height and had a certain military air about him, walking with a slight rolling gate that reminded me of sailors on shore leave. I found out during our few conversations that I was right, he’d been in the Navy and referred to himself as being a Chief Petty Officer.

In that introductory meeting of ours, I brought along two pages I’d chosen from all the hundreds of Superman drawings in Wayne’s style I’d copied from comic books when I was 11 or 12 years old. I just wanted him to know that he’d had a dramatic influence on my life.

“Yep, Johnny Boy,” Wayne said, “I recognize my poses.”

From that point on, Wayne always addressed me as “Johnny” or “Johnny Boy” when we’d pass each other in the hallway or outside the studio building. He was the silent type who kept to himself, going out alone for lunch and staying at his desk, working on layout drawings.

I didn’t pester Wayne about his days drawing Superman --- I picked up a strong impression that he didn’t want to talk about it. I figured after a little while of getting to know him, I might find the opportunity to broach that subject. I never had that chance.

Four weeks after I met Wayne Boring at NYIT, he left. I knew nothing about his impending departure until that final Friday afternoon, when I heard about it in conversation with several other artists. I immediately went to Wayne’s office, which he shared with storyboard artist George Singer, to say goodbye.

Wayne was alone and he and I shook hands, exchanging good wishes. Then just as I was about to leave to return to my desk, Wayne slide a drawing out from under his desk blotter and presented it to me. “For you, Johnny.”

It was a pencil sketch on Bristol board of Superman in his classic heroic fists-on-hips pose.

Wayne said, “Don’t tell anyone I did this for you. You never bothered me for a drawing, like all the rest here have.”

That Superman sketch is still one of my most prized possessions.
(Click on the image for a larger view.)

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