Friday, March 5, 2010

Once...

....there were two students of animation at the University of Essen called Holger and Dietmar. They were taught by a certain Hans Bacher who one day approached them – as if it was the most normal thing in the world – with the words: „You two should make a show reel and shop it around in London“

In 1990, London was the place where „it happened“. Disney made „Treasure of the Lamp“. Universal was working on „American Tail“ and then there was Pizzazz, Felix Films, Oscar Grillo's Klacto and many others in the commercial business.

Well, in proper „deutscher Arbeitseinstellung“ Holger and I went to work. Today you would copy your portfolio on a DvD, in 1990 we cut and assembled everything on 16 mm film. After that, we needed to pay a laboratory to transfer the film to a U-matic tape. I remember this cost being so high, that we only got one copy.

The next step in „deutscher Gr├╝ndlichkeit“ was to phone the different studios in London to make appointments, only to find out that there was a much more relaxed atmosphere there than with german studios. Basically we were told to just „knock on the door“ when we were in London.

In 1990, this worked not only for the small studios that did commercials, but also for the feature film companies. Already on our first day we had appointments at Disney („Sorry guys, we are closing the studio here“) and Dick Purdom. They had a job that they would offer to one of us, all we had to do is duel ourselves outside for it. Oscar Grillo and Eric Goldberg advised us to show our stuff to Dick Williams. Williams wasn't officially hiring, but they had heard that he would be looking for people soon. Through Hans Bacher we were familiar with Williams' work and we had seen several inspiring documentaries, one of them about his masterpiece „The Thief and the Cobbler“ - but while dreaming of working in London was in order, dreaming of ever working on the „Thief“ seemed outrageous.

We showed our tape at Universal and got an offer to start as inbetweeners on „American Tail“ for the astronomical sum of 250 pounds per week. Could it get any better? We were so upbeat about the opportunity to work in „proper“ animation that we decided to go for broke. We took the tube to Camden Town and walked up to the famous building on Royal College Street – No. 138. Our flamboyant ringing of the doorbell produced a slightly irritated Ian Cook, Williams' production coordinator, who greeted us with a brief „Mr. Williams does not meet any applicants“. We were further told, that we could leave our tape in the studio, with no promise that Mr. Williams would actually take a look at it. „Almost no chance“ seemed better than „no chance“, so we handed our tape over. After the door closed, we realized that we had in fact given away our one and only tape and we were now stuck with 2 days in London and nothing to show if we wanted to apply elsewhere. Bit of a bummer.

I don't remember how we killed the next days, waiting for the flight back, but at least we tried and phoned 138 times and again to see if there was any feedback from the maestro. Alas, it was the answering machine every time and finally it was Friday, our plane was scheduled to leave in a few hours and we decided to try and enter the lion's den once more to at least retrieve our precious tape. Once again our not-so-flamboyant ringing of the doorbell was answered by Ian Cook and before we were finished uttering some nonsense about planes and flights and our only tape, Ian Cook said the words I shall never forget: „Mr Williams wants to see you“.

To sum up the next 30 minutes: heartbeat at 120, walking on clouds, holy choirs singing, cherubs blowing trumpets, the world seen through a soft focus lens, a grin on the face like an idiot.

Somewhere in there we met Dick and Roy and got a job as assistant animators „starting tomorrow if you want“. Oh boy, did we want to – but the small issue of having to break this news to my newly-wed wife and arranging things at the university and around the house delayed our start a little bit.
Later Hans Bacher told us that Dick had called him up to ask if he could recommend anybody else. Hans knew 2 other German guys from Muenster, Andreas Wessell-Therhorn and Michael Schlingmann. They also went to London to see Williams, were hired and we all started to work on the Thief on March 5th, 1990. Andreas and Holger entered the hallowed halls of 138 to work there and Michael and I were among the first to occupy desks in „The Forum“. And the rest is...as they say...history. On which we now look back, 20 years later.