Emery Hawkins Interview

(The following is a transcribed 1977 interview with Emery Hawkins conducted by John Canemaker, done for his book, The Animated Raggedy Ann and Andy. Many thanks to him and Michael Barrier (who sent me the hard-copy transcript, which I retyped) for allowing me to share this with the world.)

EH: Huh? It’s turning. OK. Well we started talking before we went up to where we had the meeting and I just wanted to get one point over was all. That I couldn’t think of any other reason why we’d have an interview till I got to thinking of why I was on that picture.

Most all of the commercials and even the shorts, they’ve seldom had enough footage too, when things change, they’re usually just zip-zip-zip in cartoons. It’s almost cliché that they have a fast pattern of dry brush and all, that’s the way it used to be.

But the thing that has always intrigued me is the actual process of the forms changing. And I always was fascinated with the idea of not going directly from one thing to another, but going by way of something that you wouldn’t know what you saw. Just a kind of a fun thing, you know.

JC: Can you give an example? The Greedy [in “Raggedy Ann and Andy”]?

EH: Well of course that whole sequence is about that. Did you see that, uh – there’s two pictures that I feel a little proud of that way. One was, oh there was three really – there was “Heads Up Gillette” where there was a drop of water and there was a glob of oil, and they don’t mix and it went on and on, which had a lot of changing forms. But the thing that really covered this idea of changing to something and getting more out of it then just the change itself was that Hancock commercial I did of the buildings turning. Well, the flowers and the growth at the foot, at the beginning and end, only that little bit, had that in it, but the whole thing had a fascinating way, opportunity at least, of changing things. And also that a, Utica Club beer thing, which was an evolution thing, a bunch of scribbles well, see that had that same thing and that’s why I was fascinated with it. In fact those things had more of that in them than anything I’ve ever had.

JC: Utica Club was the caveman changing thru history becoming a rock guitarist who looks like a caveman.

EH: Yeah, and the whole thing is it never stops the process of change, I mean there’s always some little thing keeps it carrying on so that it’s a continuous action.

JC: Was there anything you did at Warners or Disney’s that was like that?

EH: Naw. Hm nn. Only tiny little things that go way, way back, and nobody ever looked at em, ya know [laughs]. They’d be more in the class of “effects” although I wasn’t doing effects, they would have been effects or some side incidental thing nobody’d care how it was done. And I could do that. In fat it’s the one thing I found that was more rewarding was working for a small insignificant studio because they just didn’t care, what you did so you had an opportunity without it being cut out or altered because they had a rigid notion about something. You’d get that chance to do it.

Now the whole thing is about that, or at least that’s the way I see it. It’s just in front of you. It’s obvious, that doesn’t matter what his form is, it can go in and out of all kinds of things. It wouldn’t have to, but I feel that it would be static if it didn’t take advantage because he’s not only in a viscous, fluid environment, he’s part of it! And being part of that viscous, flowing mass, he ought to flow and change the same way. The whole thing is changing – his nose, his eyes and his hands – hands form out of parts of him and they may be made like a chicken hand one time and a glob of taffy the next. So that the idea that you don’t know what you’re looking at. And to me that sets up a tension. It’s an interest in itself, to me. And I think it’ll fascinate kids.

But I want to go further than this. And Dick keeps saying well go ahead. But it’s hard to belive tht you an. You know it’s awful easy to feel like you’re nuts when you’re doin’ it. Other words, I never know when I’m being screwy and just missing the boat or when it’s entertainment. There’s no way of judging until somebody looks at it or reacts.

I just feel that this is kinda like a magic that the medium can do and I don’t know where else can be done. In live action they’ve done wonderful things, there’s no question but, and in computers they’ve done things – actually I think everything is moving toward that anyhow. It’s like this is really like a reflection of the public mind. For instance look what space technology had done to our mind. It’s adjusted us to ideas of these tremendous projects. And the possibility of reaching out billions of miles is taking place to day with that Ranger satellite, the two of ‘em that went around Jupiter.

Well this Kabacheck [Stanley Kubrick] (sic) must have felt that things like this were available. Look at the end of that picture, 2001, so I feel like cartoon has a chance for something really way out. I just feel like I’m trying to stretch my head when I do things like that, and I think if I do try to stretch myself then it represents interest to people – I think.

JC: Have you made your own films?

EH: I’m working on one. I haven’t before. I have an animation camera, a studio, and I’m working on a film of my own now. But an entirely different kind of thing. It’s really stop-motion of objects. But I paint backgrounds and things in an entirely different way. I don’t like to talk about it, because, it’s, I’m just in.. it’s a whole different method. I figured out a way to plot and move hard objects on a background. Without cels or anything. I’m kinda fascinated with it. No, I don’t have a track, I’ll have that all dubbed afterwards cause its quite long and its quite a big project. But that’s where I got involved in painting cause the paintings I did were the result of making backgrounds for the picture. No I don’t have any name for it. I have a story written and I’m following it.

JC: Can you give me a bio? When and where you were born?

EH: You mean how old I am? [laughs]

JC: Grim Natwick wouldn’t tell me how old he is.

EH: Well, I won’t either then. [laughs] I was born in a place you probably never heard of.

JC: Elmira, New York!

EH: Worse! Jerome, Arizona. Have you ever been in Jerome? It was on the side of a mountain and it was honey-combed with mining shafts. And it’s tumbling down. Well it’s since become a tourist attraction cause it was a ghost town, finally, cause everyone left it.

And then we moved to Cottonwood and then Camp Verdi and I lived in Stonewood Lake. We just went thru there to California and San Diego when I was very young and then I lived the rest of my life in Hollywood. I mean I lived in Watts for a while. 92nd Street at that time was the northern border [of the ghetto] and 103rd was the center and I lived just over the border. No [brothers or sisters].

Well, my father, for two years running, was the all-round cowboy of Arizona. He won everything and he’s in the books. The redord books. C.T. Hawkins, Charles Thomas Hawkins. And in all areas for two years he was the top. Roping, riding, throwing, everything. All of it. Trick roping, everything. He could play a fiddle and jig and call a dance [laughs] all at once. He had been a dairyman and a cattleman, done all that. He’s dead. Well, he never went to Hollywood. My mother and father split up.

[My stepfather] was a cabinetmaker. He made everything of his own in the days when you couldn’t go out and buy all-electric tools and he made em all. Made all his own, put his motors up, made babbitt bearings for the shafts and that’s where I got interested in shop work. And actually this picture is involved with a shop – shop work, shop material. That really came out of all that.

JC: Did you always draw?

EH: Yeah. Like a lot of little kids, when I was two years old. [My mother] painted, she didn’t draw. The other side [of the family] was also artistic in both music and painting… aunts and things.

No, I went to some of the time to Freemont, then I went to North Hollywood High. No [college]. Went to work (after high school).

I worked in a little cartoon place, but Lantz was the first studio and then Mintz. Walter Lantz and then Charles Mintz Studio where they made Scrappy and Vauncey, and nobody knows what they were [laughs].

I always did it [animation]. I had a desk before I ever saw the inside of a studio, and knew how to do it. I dit ion notebooks. I figured it out on flip books. I took a scene to Disney’s and I couldn’t get past the door. They said, “We don’t want copywork.” And I’d animated it. I was 16 and I wanted on. I did a clown walking and dancing and they didn’t think I did it. I didn’t get in then cause I was going to school.

JC: And when you were 18 you went to Walter Lantz?

EH: I wasn’t quite 18, but I was supposed to be. But all they would give me is inking and I changed all the cels cause I didn’t like the way it was animated so they canned me. So that didn’t amount to much. [Was there] just a couple of months.

I went to Mintz. And there, well, a funny thing happened I never assisted. Dick Huemer was there and he supposedly was going to have me work on stuff but he wanted to leave. So he’d come in the morning and make some drawings and give ‘em to me and he’d put one drawing on the board, turn the light out and kill the day, and I’d animate. After a couple of months I was a regular animator. So I never really assisted.

All the guys went out on strike for more money so Mintz, he just turned his back on em and turned to all the young guys that were there and said, “Look, you’re animators.” So we all started animating. Well, course immediately these guys came scurrying back one at a time. All of ‘em were put back in assistant work but I animated and I never stopped. But I learned of course on my own anyway.

I shuttled between studios. They used to have, I guess they felt like they owned ya. I wanted to go to work at Disney’s and I quit and went over there and then Mintz called up and said he was gonna raid em if they kept me. I don’t know. Maybe I didn’t really impress them cause Sharpsteen came in and said “We can’t hold you cause he’s raisin’ hell.” I only worked there a few days and I had to go back. No, they hadn’t yet worked on “Snow White”. ’33 or ’32. Oh gosh. I sat next to Woolie Reitherman. I should remember the picture. It had a tree in it.

JC: “Flowers and Tree”?

EH: Something like that. Very detailed action of a tree in the wind. Can’t remember. But I went back and forth. They blackballed him once. At the timed they did that it was much later and the studios had agreed not to hire each other’s people, so I couldn’t get a job anywhere else, and I had to go back. I only mention this because that was the nature of the studios, not myself. That’s the way thing swere then.

[Mintz was] actually a nice person. He had this feeling, you know; I mean they broke me in, give me the opportunity and I owed ‘em something ya see. George Winkler was a partner of his. [Married to Margaret Winkler] You know I didn’t know that?

[Huemer] went into story. I learned a lot from him. He was a very fine animator, at that time. Ahead of his time. Kind of an inspiration. He got out of it, he’d had it, I guess. He was one of the earliest people in the business, who’d helped originate the way we worked in America, at the time when they were doing cut-outs and all.

For a while I worked in story directly for Walt. They made a lot of pictures off what I did. Half a day and then I’d work for a director, Jack King, half a day. And they took the stuff I turned in and made pictures out of it. It was really material. Situations, like a roadside market and different things that they built pictures out of. There were no outstanding pictures. It’s strange. And the things I worked on I swear I can’t remember the pictures. They were not outstanding pictures that Jack King did, I never felt. Actually, most of the time there I was doing changes on sequences where animators had gone to the features. Pluto and Donald. Goofy some. Nothing really outstanding.

Actually I’ve always been kind of a renegade in the business to be honest with ya. It seems like I’d do little bits and then was gone. I’ve moved about 47 different times at different jobs. Do little parts and bits of a picture and off I’d go.

It’s just that I get bored easy and awfully impatient. I was never real good at sticking to a standard thing everybody was doing. Doing a sequence, that’s sort of a steady reliable thing and I guess I never was really too—I like change.

JC: Did you ever work on any Disney features?

EH: Naw. Non of ‘em. I got a sequence the day the strike happened. I can’t remember (what picture). Might have been “Dumbo”. Fergy had it, a scene, some stuff he was gonna give me. The very day.

JC: Did you go out on strike?

EH: Yeah. I didn’t know why. But all my friends went out. They said “If you go through that picket line we’ll never speak to you again.” Well, I didn’t care – I went out. I didn’t know why I was going out to be honest with you.

JC: Neither did Tytla.

EH: I know he didn’t. So he stayed home the whole time. He never went to the picket line at all. Think he felt ashamed, you know. Well, Art [Babbitt] got right in there and swung with Disney, I saw that. It was funny – that was two egos battling away. Both of ‘em insulting each other, cussing each other. I’m the only guy, Hubley at that time, wanted to make a picture of the strike and the people together, some kind of a film like that. And he got a bunch of guys and I was part of it, and I’m the only guy that turned in scenes. Everybody else was talking about it but nobody did anything. For whatever it’s worth, I worked on that. (laughs) I don’t know if there was a film, but I turned in scenes to him.

I guess I found it oppressive [at Disney’s]. I didn’t really feel good about it. Guess I’ve always been kind of a loner. Not a system man, I’m not a joiner, or group type. I never fraternized with the top. I never was that close to it. I knew ‘em but I never had anything to do with ‘em, outside of [John] Lounsberry, I did. Ed Kinney’s brother, Jack, few like that. But socially very few of them.

JC: After the strike you didn’t return to Disney’s?

EH: Yeah. I did. [laughs] In ’44 I went back. I worked at Lantz again. I was still bobbing. I worked in a number of times at all of them. Couldn’t stay put. Well my father was like that. And I guess I’m still doin’ it to a certain extent. I don’t know what it is. I guess I’m too stupid to work with formulas. I guess I’m too stupid to work with formulas. I guess I don’t have enough memerie to make a formula out of. I go berserk as far as the formula. I just can’t resist the temptation to take the formula and change it. Cause everything I’ve ever done I’ve always changed changes. Change, change, change, change, change. Try to push a thing, stretch it, go further. And a lot of times this never went over because they had fixed characters with fixed walks and so many beats. And I was always fighting that. True at Disney’s, same thing. I just was restless with that and I guess I still am.

JC: Anything that you did at Disney’s that really satisfied you?

EH: Not a damn thing. Not a bit. Cause I would spend weeks, by their instructions, trying to get something like some other bloke had done. It was just not fun. The only time I really had fun was when some studio opened that oughtn’t to have opened. Like I remember Screen Gems opened and Tashlin had the studio and Al Geiss was the director, and when he acted a scene out he’d scream and run up the walls almost. And Jesus I had a ball cause I took the damn scene and I did it like he acted.

Tashlin didn’t get wild. [Geiss] had bug eyes. Tash was running it to a certain extent as the spirit of a cartoon studio ought to be run: important thing was funniness and good animation. Well Tash liked me, I got along fine with him. But the front office was run by, I forget the name of the guy, who was sent over from the main lot and he was trying to get things for nothing, and he soon broke it up. Actually I did my best work there. And nobody knows. I did some things I’m extremely proud of. Crazy stuff, crows and stuff and they really might have a Shakespearian actor walk through. Some stuff I was really proud of. Probably good work, but it’s kinda lost in the picture, you know.

JC: Warners must have been fun.

EH: Yeah, some of the things were fun there. I wasn’t there very long. Couple of years. Up to the ‘50’s. Oh yeah, [worked at MGM]. Yeah, right [Zander] was there around the same time. I worked for Hanna-Barbera and Milton Gross. I got a long tremendous with him. Jeez I had a ball with him – he really liked my work. It was kinda pre-Tom and Jerry. It was forming. It was the strip stuff – Katzenjammer Kids. Yeah I worked [for Friz] I think so [on Katzenjammer]. [Enjoyed work with] Chuck Jones. I enjoyed working with Friz, though I got into a fight with him over the ways of doing things. Sometimes [Chuck’s stuff] would get a little serious. But at that time it was my impression that he did have some ideas that were a little fresh.

I worked with [Shamus] at Lantz. I quit directing and he took the job. I tried directing at Lantz and almost went out of my head. Well, every night I’d go home and you know how it feels if you start yelling with a waste basket over your head – we don’t do that very often – but I mean that reverberation. That’s what I would have and my face would be hot because all I was doing was talking and it’s not for me. Somewhere else I did a little bit [of directing], can’t remember.

Yeah, I did stuff on [“Barber of Seville”] and [“Rabbit of Seville”]. I like things like that. I like things that were exaggerated to the extent that you were no longer animating the thing as it was normally. So you had license. All I kept wanting all the time was license. License, license. I’m just not a good formula-type, routine animator. I never have been and I just can’t stand it sometimes.

Lar Colonius had a studio on 53rd Street where Hubley later had a studio. I went there ’50 or ’51, somewhere in there, I can’t recall the exact year. I worked here [in New York] for a year. And I worked for Lars on television for the first time. I’d never worked on TV commercials. I worked for him for four months and his studio folded. And I went with Shamus Culhane who at the that time had those Owl Cigars “Come Up and Smoke Me Sometime” and I did that [Mae West character] with the stickers, stats, moving around the cigars, horrible thing. And then I did some Goldilocks thing and the Bears and then quit. And I went to work for Zander at Misagast [?] at Transfilms and that was my third job in TV commercials. Well, I loved it. Because I had gotten to the feeling that I couldn’t quite stand people being hit over the head and making ‘takes’ in the shorts cause they got into a rut and commercials were a challenge and I enjoyed it. And I worked for Jack the rest of the year and then I went out to John Sutherland and worked for years I worked out there. He had a commercial house doing industrial films. In the time that I worked I once figured I did 47 jobs at different places. I didn’t leave places in a huff or have fights, nothing like that.

I didn’t know it but for years I developed a real neurosis with pencils. I couldn’t work without a certain kind of pencil and it just coincidentally turned out to be a pencil they quit making everytime. And it would be hard to get. Well years later it dawned on me that I had been bored, and I didn’t know it. I was creating artificial problems. Soon as I got into TV I could draw with a flashlight. Because I wasn’t bored anymore. Really all those changes, it was just boredom. All it was. I was just to restless for that. I evidently didn’t fit into a pigeon-hole [at Disney]. They tried to do that with Bobo and it didn’t fit either. Bobo Cannon, fit any better with him. He came to me one day and said “Jesus, they said I should use this kind of a pencil. I can’t use this kind here’s the kind…” I said, “My God, Bobe, use what you use, why are you bending for them? Be yourself.” He got out of there, he had to. He was a mature artist who had to do things.

I almost, but didn’t [work at UPA]. I worked with Sutherland and then I worked for years with Hubley, worked by mail for him for couple of years, and then came back here and worked for him. I did some of “The *”, and “Tenderly”. From there, let’s see, I went back to Hollywood and got hooked up with Jack Zander. I started through the mails with him cause it worked fine with Hubley.

I worked with Jack from ’59 to ’62 by mail and it worked out so good I asked him if we could move to Taos and he said sure. In ’62 we went to Santa Fe for a year, then in ’63 we went to Taos and we’ve been there ever since.

Curious thing is my jobs have been getting longer over the years. I guess I’m slowing down. I’m not bobbing fast.

[This] is the first feature I ever worked on. I almost worked on things but it never quite worked out. Like the Hubley Finean’s Rainbow, I almost worked on that, but it never materialized. [Williams] just went out looking for people. He claims he asked everybody who the best animator was and they said I was [laughs]. I don’t believe that, but then I’ll accept it. Why not?

JC: Ever get bored with animating?

EH: Well that’s what this film is about. I tried to find something else to use my knowledge with. It’s not animating.

JC: Seems you’ve never been out of work.

EH: No I haven’t. [knocks on wood] I always tried to freelance but never could. I always ended up at the place. Freelance makes more money, is why.

JC: Do you use pose drawings?

EH: I do everything. Upside down, in and out, this way, everyway, I animated backwards, forwards, and then straight ahead, and then planning staging it all in stills, everything is different, every scene has a different kind of thing it needs. I envy animators that only animate one way. Cause it kinda settles the nerves, it settles problems easier. I never seem to be able to. Maybe they can visualize more clearly. I don’t know what the hell it is.

I studied Nikolaides book for 14 years. 14 solid years. Shamus introduced me to it. I’d go out and sit at a bus stop in a car and fill the back with roughs. Studying the core and the contour and the mass and the gesture of a figure until I could see it in my sleep. And when I got through, I couldn’t animate the same as I used to. I ended up having to make extremes. Like I’d make the end drawing or the middle drawing and build. It destroyed that thing where you make a loose little soft drawing and the next and the next and the next, so that you end up with the action. It destroyed that cause I felt I had to get the guts out of it and get this thing first. In the other way you could never predict which way you’re gonna go. Not really. I don’t care who they are. It’s like – yard unwindling. It’s soft. Now of course they get beautiful results, a lotta the guys get magnificent stuff, but still, you can’t make specific staged positions that you arrive at and yet make ‘em look accidental.

I worked around people like Paul Julian and at one time at Warners we had classes during the day, they’d give us projects and we’d go home and paint ‘em. Hubley I learned a lot from. I took Don Graham’s and I’ve always gone to life classes ever since I’ve been in the business.

For years [before Nikolaides’ book] I had made a oft light line and then you go over it and make it clean, animating. And I got what I thought was pretty good results, but it was a terrible nervous strain, I can’t explain it. When I started drawing these figures of people, how their figure is shaped and how it bends getting into poses, how the neck and the torso and all that works, it started getting fascinating and I could see it with Daumier and different artists. It’s a wonderful thing, and an alive thing! And I don’t care how a person draws. Now I never got past the second lesson of Nicolaides, you know, cause I got hung up on gesture and that was all I wanted cause the contour, going on into that I probably should have done it, but I wasn’t interested enough.

For instance, when people talk, so often in animation, even at Disney’s, they have this, [Emery gets up to demo] “Well, I dunno. Maybe you should go over there, and then I’ll be over here!” Well, all it had was two poses. The one here, I don’t care what it does, is one pose. And then finish with whatever the thing is. That’s just one thing.

Or they have this goddamn thing [Emery imitates sliding body into a pose with arms open, ala Mickey Mouse] at Disney’s, that you know dammit people don’t do. They just don’t do that.

If I say this and then I change to that move, well then they might be something else then, hell I don’t know. There’s three or four poses I’d make before I animate it.

I think that a person learning animation the most wonderful thing in the world would be to get acquainted with the human race more. [laughs] That’s all, that’s what they’re doing. The way you are right now, picking your finger and laughing, your head is tilted this way and it’s interesting. It’s not up this way. You’re casual. I mean there’s different little things going on that are interesting in animation. And I think the formulas kill all that. There’s no vitality, no excitement in the nature of people. You get a group and man! I used to sketch groups – you find the unity of the group if they’re all interested in something. It electrifies it together. It’s like Rodin, that group thin he had. In the village of all those elders and they’re all around that thing, you know. Well artists have been doing it from the beginning of time, sketching and sculpting and painting, and here we are following old formulas.

JC: Sounds like you would prefer the rough drawing to the cleanup.

EH: Yeah, if it had guts and got at the, uh.. yeah I like crude cartoons. I think we’re missing the boat on all this stuff. It’s a shame cause we spend all our money on it!

JC: They ought to release the pencil test.

EH: I said that tonight! Yeah, and it ’spells cheap-schlock’ as Dick would call it. But – I don’t think so, and it’s true, unfortunately, he’s right, really. In terms of the client, you know. They would look at it that way and that’d be it. So it’s kinda, but that’s what fascinated me with Pintoff’s stuff, was the crudeness, I liked that. Loved it!

Aesthetics are dwarfed. Alexander Woollcott, the writer, was at Disney’s one time and he saw a pencil test and he flipped out of his head and said, “My God, why aren’t you showing this?” In those days, they had a negative, it was a white line with black and it even enhanced it more. And he just flipped out of his head. He said, “Why aren’t you showing the public this? This is magic!” He dug it, he understood it.

JC: Who is an animator that is into your way of thinking?

EH: I think Ward [Kimball] would be. He’s pretty hep. More than most of ‘em, I think. Most of ‘em work so hard at polishing and perfecting, and they’ve done a beautiful thing, there’s no denying it, they wouldn’t want to give that up, it’s kind of an investment, like, and it’s understandable, course. [Ward] should be doing something instead of being bitter. He was always receptive to new things.

I do a lot of times get up early, work till ten, then go out and have breakfast, read the paper, come back and work after I kill an hour or two. I don’t do this every morning, [start at 6] but I do quite often. Then sometimes even at night instead of knocking off at dinnertime, I’ll work late if I happen to be wound up. Sometimes I kinda goof off a bit. Like a lot of times I’ll take a problem to the restaurant with me. And I’ll scribble on the papers like storyboard ideas for the scene, trying to improve my own graphics for the animation. When I’m away from the stuff it works better. I’ve always painted and drawn all my life, but nothing to put a frame on. Taos among other things is a tourist town, too. And it’s a ski resort. It’s an old adobe village, used to be old dirt streets, all have been paved now. [Have] a house. Taos is at the foot of the mountains, course it’s 7,000 feet, but the mountains go up from that, so it’s all flat where Taos is and it runs out to where the Rio Grande is, there’s a big drop, it’s deep and the mountains are behind the town and very pretty.

Beautiful blue skies, clean air and sweet water, and quiet at night. Real nice combination. And lotsa room and our house is an old house with big rooms, big lot at a dead end, nothing crowded or rushed , and it’s kinda private and its very nice. Very lovely place.

[Visiting New York] acts as kind of an opposite thing and I really enjoy it. I like to be alone a lot, I like to be with people a lot, I liked to be in the city, I like to be in the country, I like all of it.

No, my son is [a Gemini]. He just went up near the Yellowstone, he’s got some job in forestry. Two [sons]. They did [draw] when they were young, very well too, but my first wife and I split up, and they never got the encouragement, they dropped it, I dunno.

I have some of Corney’s [Greedy], cause I made a storyboard for the studio and it’s been approved. If we have three features go over, our business is made, because it will attract all kinds of other feature money. It’ll be terrific. Remember when UPA came out with that thing and it flopped? For a long time there was no feature work and no activity at all. That was the result of that I think. I don’t know if I’d be comfortable around [Ralph Bakshi]. He’s a driver and pretty dynamic.