Sunday, March 02, 2008

Gordan Sheehan Part 4

(This is the conclusion of an interview with Gordon Sheehan conducted by Harry Arnold and Dave Daruszka and printed around 1976 in Zoetrope, a trade publication. You can read part 1 here, part 2 here and part 3 here.)

Zoetrope: What brought you to Chicago?

Sheehan: Wilding's studio on Argyle Streeet, which was one of the oldest studios in the industry. They used to produce the old Charlie Chaplin, Gloria Swanson, Wallace Beery and William S. Hart films. Wildings had a sizeable animation staff in those days. They made me a very lucrative offer to come out and join their staff, and that's what brought me to Chicago. Wildings did mostly technical animation. They made films for many large companies like Ford and General Motors.

After a while I decided to start my own studio, and found a little place down at State and Grand, in the old Graphic Arts Building. I did all types of animation. An animator had to take about anything that came along in those days to make a living. This was in the early fifties.

Zoetrope: How active was the animation community in Chicago at the time?

Sheehan: There were only four or five places doing animation in the city at that time, and this was mostly commercial stuff. The trouble was, and I think it still is the trouble, ad agencies were taking the lush television spots either to New York or to Hollywood, usually to Hollywood. When they had a big budget to spend for a spot, the account executive would take it out to Hollywood where he would be wined and dined and enjoy a wonderful junket even though it was costing quite a bit more money. Not much ad-money was being spent in Chicago. About the only things I got were films with a rush deadline or ones that couldn't afford Hollywood prices.

Zoetrope: Then there was more talent located in Hollywood or New York than in Chicago?

Sheehan: Most of the animation talent was in California or New York. Animation was a very limited field; a character animator had to work for one of the five or six studios that furnished animated cartoons for a major company like Twentieth Century Fox, Paramount, MGM, or Warner Brothers. If you didn't work for them, there wasn't much work available, that is, until television came into its own. Then of course small animation studios sprung up all over the country.

Zoetrope: How long did you keep your own studio in Chicago?

Sheehan: For five or six years. I realized that it was a difficult business here in Chicago. There was a lot of work originating in Chicago in television cartoons but it was going to New York or Hollywood. I got an opportunity to go out to California. It was a very lucrative offer; a year's guaranty of work plus moving expenses. I always wanted to get out to the West Coast, so I accepted. I as out in California for about ten years. I had my own studio there for a while too. I did quite a bit of animation work, mostly television spots. After about ten years of California, I had the opportunity to come back to Chicago with Coronet Films, an educational film producer.

I had done freelance work for Coronet while I was in Chicago, before I went to California. A lot of things were happening in those days; President Kennedy was elected, and started a tremendous educational program throughout the country. There were very generous government grants given for educational material. The educational film business really boomed along with other ranches of the educational profession. That was when Coronet came into its own. Coronet decided to start their own animation department, instead of giving out freelance as they had been doing. So I came back to Chicago to organize a small staff for them, and I stayed with this company up until the time I retired.

Zoetrope: Have you done anything since retirement?

Sheehan: I've done a few little projects, but I like plenty of free time, because my wife and I enjoy traveling. Also I get quite a bit of pleasure out of painting. I've always been fond of painting watercolors, and now I have the time to do it.

Zoetrope: What do you think about animation today?

Sheehan: My opinion of animation today is not a very high one. I don't want to run the business down, because I know the reasons why it is not what I would like it to be. Animation is an expensive process, it always has been. Producers just can't pay the kind of money it takes to put out the kind of animation that was done twenty or thirty years ago. The salaries then were lower, the equipment was much lower...everything seems to be so much more expensive these days. Naturally animation is suffering because of that. Producers have had to find limited ways of making things move on the screen and they just limit animation too much in my opinion.

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