Interview with Peter Adamakos
Peter Adamakos was born in Montreal 70 Years ago.
1. Where did you grow up?
assume I grew up. If I did, it was in Montreal.
2. Was there anything
unusual about that time period.
The 1950's was the best time in civilised history.
Of course that's what most
everyone thinks of
their childhood years , even if it was during the
depression. I've heard: "We never knew we
poor...." A childhood is its
own special time period
for those who had a good
3. Who were your parents and what did they do?
They were wonderful - the
best parents. My
father was a businessman who owned
restaurants, a deli, a steak house, a nightclub,
a bakery, and even race horses. He started with
My mother was a stay-at-home Mom during my
4. What influence did they have on you?
Profound. They had me
when they were young,
so they were full of fun and friends as much as
parents. I got my sense of humor from both:
my head from my father, and my heard from my
5. What were you like as a child?
In the summers, I would work in my father's
restaurants starting when I was nine, so I
dealt with the adult world early and
My life was normal, but I
I made my first animated
film when I was ten
in 8mm. The garage was turned into a studio
where kids would come after
school and animate.
6. What were your interests?
Animation, Animation, Animation and
When did you discover you liked films?
In Quebec in the 1950's, you couldn't
go to the
movies until you were 16. They
forbidden fruit - only children's and
movies were allowed, so almost all
shown were Disney cartoon features
like The Ten Commandments.
basements offered Laurel and Hardy,
old Tarzan movies for 25 cents on
Snow White was the first movie I saw,
became obsessed with it and with
Getting out of my seat to chase the
the dwarfs family history says.
I would grill my
parents about details when they came
after seeing a movie. I would read
pages in the newspaper and all the
magazines that came my way, and the
serious books on film then
8. What were your school days
Pretty normal, with great teachers. I
deal with them as people
and adults because of
my working with adults in
could talk current
affairs, and I even knew some
of my grad school and
later teachers for decades
after. One teacher even
invested in my animation
9. What were your interests
I'd get marks of
98, 99 in subjects I liked and
3, 4, or 5, in ones I didn't not like, which drove
my parents and teachers crazy. Some of my
really supportive. They would
photocopy items on
animation for me. There
was only one book
on animation, "The Art of
Animation" by Bob
Thomas on Disney. My
original copy is in
tatters after reading the
book 4,580 times. The school encouraged me,
letting me show my first films to the
What didn't you like about the school?
I would go home and draw.
would check my schoolbag, but I
rearrange the books and things so she
thought I had
11. What happened next?
to high school, then university -
George Williams University in Montreal,
called Concordia University. I
the amateur Disada Production with
200 Montrealers interested in live-action
and animation. We even made a live-
12. How did you start your animation
After I graduated from university, I worked
just over two years in a film company, learning
more. Then I opened my own company in
January 1971. I dragged a 16mm projector
to 14 banks to show the managers the kind
of animation we did and asked for $5,000 to
start a company.
All fourteen said they
wouldn't lend money to start a film company.
Get a real Job.... The fifteenth said he
wouldn't lend us $5,000, but he'd lend us
$10,000 because eh thought we would need it.
It is still the bank and branch we have 45
45 years later. We were the first company in
Canada to get into computer animation in the.
early 1980's. Our studio was located in Old
Montreal. We had the whole three-storey
13. When did you
start teaching film animation
and where did you teach?
In Montreal in the mid-1970's at the Musée
des beaux-arts du Canada. They asked me to
teach animation. I agreed if the students
could come to our studio, where they
would have a more enriching experience and
talk to the staff.
I have been teaching animation, usually
one night a week, ever since. I now teach
at The Ottawa School of Art, and I also
teach a class in Children's Book Writing and
Illustration once a week. It's always good
to help form new talent and young people
keep you young and on your toes mentally
and creatively, though classes have people
16 to 75 years old.
I worked on an animation curriculum
at the Cégep de Vieux-Montreal and guest
lectured in Toronto, Atlanta, North Carolina,
Sherbrooke, Montreal, Tampa and London....
I also taught at Carleton University and
Who were some of the outstanding people
who worked for you?
My first employee was Jack Dunham, an
ex-Disney animator on classic animation
and later production manager working with
Walt Disney. The most outstanding people
who started and learned with us included
Mahon, the most gifted designer
ever. He was a student in my animation class,
and then chose design and puppetry. I gave
him a major Disney show to design that we
got while he was still in design in college,
and he has never looked back. He has been
involved with more Disney projects,
including theme parks, Jim Henson's
Muppets, the largest articulated puppet for
the opening of the Vancouver Olympics,
design for the opening of the European
Games, Broadway, and much more. He
received two Emmy nominations this year.
next goes to England then off to the Middle
Peter Rosenfeld came to us a few days out of
film school at Loyalist College in Montreal and
became our Vice -President for many years.
Peter Rosenfeld, camera operator
Jeff Cronenweth, ASC
First A/C Harry Zimmerman
On the set of Hitchcock
He chose cinematography and learned while
working on our live-action films. He is now
a cameraman on Hollywood films: Chicago,
The Notebook, X-Men origins, The social
Network, Ant-man, and Suicide Squad.
John Gaug when he was a teenager in
1967 attending the fantastic animation film
festival at Expo. We were there every screening
and eventually talked. After the festival we
formed the animation unit of the amateur
Disada. We studied, ate and slept animation,
got a group of would-be animators together
and experimented and started to make a short.
He did animation and backgrounds.
The short was
distributed by Columbia and
Disada went professional in January 1971.
John worked on our first commercials then
left the company, working in New York and
elsewhere. He died in the mid-1980s
15. What were some of the
regarding the development of your
It was a unique experience of work,
accomplishment, and fun. I am putting
these stories on Facebook under my name
Peter Adamakos. I don't have time to write
my "memoir," so this is it. It's not in any
order. I write just as the stories come to me,
which is far easier than doing a formal book.
What were some of your favorite animated
characters and why did you like them?
I liked the classic characters. They had
personalities, unlike today's smart-ass,
oh-so sophisticated ones. I'd put Thumper,
Dopey, and the rest against them any day.
How did you become involved with Disney?
I wrote a letter to Disney after Robin
Hood came out, praising the advance in
animation with the Moody Prince John.
The director, Woolie Reitherman, wrote back
and said to let him know if I would be in the
area. I started saving my money, and a
year later I had lunch with him and my
heroes, like Frank Thomas and others.
a relationship that lasted until
they died - up to 25
years later. I visited
came to Montreal, and I spent
time with them at the studio and in their
I also knew the people at the archives at
Disney. I did exhibitions on Disney and
others, and they would lend us items
where our collection was spotty, and I
visited the archives and their homes.
In more recent years, we designed and did
an exhibition to celebrate the 30th
Anniversary at Disney of director Ron
Clements (The Little Mermaid, Aladdin,
Hercules....). Nick Mahon and I spent a lot
of time with him and at the archives at
Disney going through his work and the
animation of my favorite scenes from the
early classics. Who needs to die.
I'm already in heaven.
What other companies did you work for?
Sesame Street, various governments,
Bell Canada, Coca Cola, Ford, Hydro
Quebec, Johnson & Johnson,
Yoplait, The Olympics....
19. What awards did you
I like the one from the L.A. Film Festival
it was for Creative Excellence, and
this year we won the Gold Awards
Animation from the American Pixel
Academy. We never win in Canada, only in
other countries. Never a prophet in your
Why did you move your business to Ottawa?
Mostly for personal reasons. My parents'
health was failing. I was the caregiver,
and the rest of the family was in Ottawa.
We rented a place for a summer, and it
was good for them to move.
21. How has animation
changed over the years?
Good and Bad.
About 15 years ago, I wrote an article on
the state of animation - "The Mouse Race.
It received wide comment and distribution.
I am thinking of doing a follow-up - one that
would be titled "The Death of the Art of
Animation." While nothing is absolute, of
course, I hope it will get attention and
It is often said that the two new art
the 20th century were jazz and the motion
picture. There it was also animation as a
art form. Early animation moved drawings
about and were mostly comic strips come
But for an amazing twelve years from
1928 to 1940 it became a new art form,
developed in one place during that short
time. The Walt Disney studio spent the time
and the money to revolutionize animation
and see it become a personality, story and
character-based art form. developing the
storyboard, stretch and squash and all the
other new "rules". The year 1929 saw the
first Mickey Mouse cartoon, black and
white and 1940 saw Fantasia. An unequalled
The rest of the industry continued to do
lackluster cartoons until Disney's first
feature, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs
(1937). It made more money than any film
to that date. They improved their product,
adapted Disney's quality methods, and it
is not coincidental that Bugs Bunny,
Tom and Jerry, Woody Woodpecker and
other better done and known characters
began in 1940.
Skip decades and computers could be used
to move images about- albeit cold, plastic-
looking characters. Millions of dollars were
spent trying to get them to be and look
"real." Computer animators were
interchangeable, in effect pushing buttons
rather than drawing, never capturing the
emotional force of Bambi, Dumbo and
others. Computer animation is a
technique, not an art form, and so the art
of animation is dying, if not already dead.
And so of course robots, cars, planes and
other cold objects are made to move in
computer animation whereas Bugs Bunny,
Donald Duck and Homer Simpson lived.
To mask its deficiencies, violent action, quick
cuts, smart-ass comments take over, and
big box office is made for a few weeks, but no
classics to last forever. Characters basically
run around screaming and yelling or talk and
talk and talk and.....
Except for a few at the top who write the
stories and design the characters, the rest are
minions, who make little difference to the
An animator can drop dead in the middle of a
scene and before he or she hits the floor
another can take their place and the scene
will be finished seamlessly. It's become an
assembly line where most people no longer
creatively contribute. No wonder why so
many, after years of animation school, leave
the business when they find out what it really
It all comes down to pudding. My local big
supermarket, I found out last week, no
longer sells pudding in a box you have to
cook. Their only offerings now is pre-made
pudding in a cup, a concoction of chemicals
they call "pudding." The consumer suffers. In
animation the audience suffers, offered only
computer animation. Given one choice that we
are told is what audiences "want," an
assembly line of sameness. Funny that what
we "want" is what is easiest to make and
makes the most profits. An animator pushing
buttons costs less than a master character
personality drawing animator
and can be found on any street.
The press kit for the first Toy Story actually
tried to impress by stating that every tree
consisted of 76,000 leaves, each put there
individually. How anal.
What are your projects now?
I have collected about 75,000 items on
animation and film and in the spring of
2017 we will have an animation
convention in Ottawa to sell them.
We want to aid, in part, The Kidney
Foundation, which has sent volunteers for
two years to catalogue the items (original
Disney and other animation art, movie
posters, books, magazines, toys, records,
clippings, and tons more. Since I recently
found out I can't take it with me. We need
volunteers for marketing, publicity, and
computer requirements. We also have
finished a new children's book based on
Winnie and Potato and have a storyboard
completed for a short film that will use both
drawn and computer animation the way we
think they should be used.
23. What do you like to read?
haven't time to read other than about
animation and film. I recently took my first
real vacation in 15 years and read a
huge book on Abraham Lincoln:
Team of Rivals:
The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln
that I'd wanted to read
for ten years. After reading 25 books on him
over the years, this was the best. I read
history and politics, but not usually in heavy
24. What kind of movies do you
I have become so discouraged by today's
Hollywood movies that I rarely go out to see
them. I was going to see the new Star Trek
movie until I read the reviews and talked
to friends who saw it. I do see all the films
Peter Rosenfeld shoots, so Suicide Squad
will be next. I am revisiting favorite old
movies instead, often on YouTube:
Chaplin, Laurel and Hardy, Hitchcock,
and How Green was My Valley.
What was your most interesting
still resonate. One day I
was walking downtown and ran into
a former animator, who had made a big
name for himself and done a lot of
talked for a while and when
we parted he said, "You know, I
my best work when I was with you."
animator - producer-director
and Academy Award Winner for
animation came to visit and at
he asked if I knew how he got
animation. I said, "No,"
and he said
was nine-years-old a
relative took him to an
studio where he saw the
people were good and
him. From then on,
that's what he
wanted to do. I asked him
that was, and he
answered, "It was
Frank Thomas was the best animator
ever, in my opinion. One day after
supper at his home, we were doing the
dishes and talking about his Disney
days. He said that of all the music and
songs Disney did, there was one tiny
moment of music that still resonates
and gives him a thrill. I told him I
had one of those moments too. He
said it was in Snow White, and so was
mine. He described the moment, and it
was the exact few seconds I had "
chosen, which was amazing. This was
where the animals take Snow White to
the Dwarf's cottage, just after her
cape gets caught in the branches and
the music of the song "With a Song and
a smile" - when the orchestration
swells on what (if sung) the lyrics at
that point would be the "Who can
fill the world with sunshine."
One time when with Frank and Ollie,
Ollie suddenly said that they liked
talking animation with me, and that
there were very few non-Disney
people who truly got it and
understood. They know a lot but...
Frank said when we'd talk it was as
if they were talking with their
colleagues. I guess that was the best
26. What is your
The summer I left the studio in the
capable hands of others to work on
Terry Fox's Run. I just had to do it.
The whole thing has been an adventure.