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Todd Jacobsen Cats Don't Dance Warner Bros.

  • Client: Warner Bros. / Kirschner Prods.

  • Work Performed: Key Assistant Animation

  • Project Dates: 1994 - 1996

In case you’ve landed here from Shelley Pleger’s “Unofficial Cats Don’t Dance Fansite,” welcome!

(But just in case you didn’t, the above refers to an encyclopedic website that’s become the premier gateway to all things regarding this film. From production notes and model sheets to fan art and stories, the site is a genuine labor of love and is accessed by clicking here. Also buried deep within the archive, there’s an 2009 interview with me that delves into my animation beginnings and details my involvement with this film. You can go directly to that by clicking here.) I estimate about 90% of the traffic to both of my old websites came from search engine queries and referrals for “Cats Don’t Dance.” For the first eighteen months Site 1.0 was live (January 2008 to June 2009), I had almost 7,000 unique visitors to the “CDD” section alone. This was how Ms. Pleger found me, and after she published our interview I noticed a huge spike in overall visitors to my site. I was also surprised to see “CDD” fans — literally, from Abu Dhabi to Zimbabwe — looking for related artwork, and up until my old site was put to rest in November 2012, my statistics counter had logged well over 50,000 visitors to the “CDD” section alone. (Site 2.0 [2012 - 2024] far surpassed that.) For a movie that breezed through the spring of 1997 with hardly any notice and made only $3.5M in the U.S. (the only country that ever saw a theatrical release), this thing sure has some legs!

This was truly one of the best experiences in my career. The entire crew absolutely loved working together and it showed…all the fun we had we left on the screen, so to speak. Most of what I have to say about “CDD” and the work I did on the film is found in the tribute site’s interview. But I’ll also add that this was the first project — and my second full-time artist position since deciding to take off my “production” hat — where I really started to feel confident about my abilities as an animation artist.

Before receiving my first job in the animation industry, I studied the art of assisting and cleanup under legendary Disney Key Assistant Dale Oliver when he taught these classes at The Animation Guild. To him, assisting and cleanup wasn’t just about laying down a nice pencil line over a rough drawing. He emphasized that the primary role of the assistant was to make the animation (and the animator, for that matter) look better, as these were the final drawings the audience would see as they viewed an animated project. Dale’s two main ideals for successful assisting were:

  1. Studying and understanding completely every single movement the character was making before putting pencil to paper; then

  2. “Plussing” the action by emphasizing the movements and subsequent changes in perspective without changing the animation.

I’d always reasoned if I was lucky enough to get a job as an artist, the least I could do was give that job 100%. I’d also felt Dale had generously given me a valuable set of tools to work with — theories and methods that were worth far more than their weight in gold. This project seemed like the perfect setting to combine those two elements in complete earnest, so during the early stages of “CDD” I gave 120,000% to my work and was ultimately rewarded with two promotions within a year. Jay Jackson and Bob Scott (the supervising animators on the “Danny” unit) were very instrumental in encouraging these efforts, and my work on “CDD” wouldn’t have reached its fullest capacity were it not for them. One item directly referenced in the interview: the “Darla Dimple” scene I animated with Frans Vischer’s guidance. (I was initially assigned to the Darla cleanup unit, and spent almost six months working on that character.) The main thing Frans wanted this scene to convey was how absolutely snot-nosed-bratty this little (expletive deleted) could be, and he felt a full-blown, kicking and screaming physical tantrum might be effective. And I’d had it in my head since I first picked up this scene that it would be fun to portray Darla as a bit of a bucking, braying jackass while she was throwing her fit.

Fortunately, our ideas seemed to work perfectly for this scene. I was told by Chad Stewart, the supervising animator on “Farley Wink” (and one of the “Danny” animators), that he personally witnessed former Paramount and Columbia studio head Dawn Steel laughing out loud while the scene played during a rough-cut screening of the film. (Steel eventually became a producer with Turner Pictures, the company that financed “CDD.”)

I seriously doubt I ever could have animated this scene completely on my own, especially at that point in my career, and I publicly owe Frans a huge debt of gratitude for being so patient with me while I was finding my way with it.

Another “new” thing is a montage of scenes I had a hand in cleaning up…

To be perfectly clear: this piece is not to suggest I did all the assistant and cleanup work in these scenes. The “Danny” cleanup crew was made up of some incredibly talented artists, all of whom it was my extreme honor to work with, and to take all the credit for the work in these scenes would be arrogant and foolish on my part.

Todd Jacobsen Cats Don't Dance Warner Bros. Cleanup Crew

Back row (L to R): Michael Alcouloumre, Mark Cote, Bob Tyler, Tran Vu, Caroline Brophy, Todd Jacobsen, Nicole Pascal, Chris Hubbard, Niko Frangos, Aaron Kirby, Paul Baumann, Kenn McDonald, Trine Frank Front row (L to R): Al Salgado, Arturo Hernandez, Matthew Schofield

When I made this montage back in September 2000, the U.S. hand-drawn feature animation industry had already begun its descent in favor of CG animation, and the assistant/cleanup artists were among the first to be shown the door. So in an effort to begin establishing myself as someone who wanted to move beyond assistant work, I elected to do something a little different from my past portfolios. Along with the requisite hard copy examples of my work, part of this new portfolio would include a ten-minute VHS cassette tape featuring some of the more difficult things I’d done, like important animation corrections to scenes that were needed in order for them to work properly. Also to this end, I wanted to include a couple of self-directed “music videos” that strung together some of the scenes I helped to assist/clean up. My stated intent on the VHS’ case was that these should only be viewed as attempts to combine some “found elements” into something entertaining. Since I had no way to edit these montages myself, I hired a video editor who had a very small, self-contained facility in Burbank. I brought my ideas for the “CDD” piece to him in a two-page written outline that specified the clips I wanted, the rough time codes of where they appeared in the film, and where I initially wanted them placed in an unedited audio version of “Danny’s Arrival Song.” I sat with him as he assembled the project, and I learned a lot from him about the thought processes and steps necessary to tighten and polish a piece like this. (I wish I could remember his last name, but if you’re reading this, Jim: Thanks again.) One last thing… I feel I can speak for the entire crew in offering our heartfelt thanks to all the fans of “Cats Don’t Dance.” We were all very proud of this project and the relationships built around it, and excited that people are still discovering our “Little Film That Could.”


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