Animation


©Photo  by Lois Siegel

Peter Adamakos
Disada Productions Ltd.


©Photo  by Lois Siegel

American Pixel Academy's Pixel Award
2016 Gold Award to Disada Productions
"Home Fires"
Directed by Peter Adamakos

Interview with Peter Adamakos
2017


Peter Adamakos was born in Montreal 70 Years ago.



 1.  Where did you grow up?

       You 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 were

      poor...." A childhood is its own special time period  

      for those who had a good one.

 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
      virtually nothing. 
      My mother was a stay-at-home Mom during my
      formative years.

 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
      mother.

 

 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  easily.

      My life was normal, but I was ambitious.

      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 Film

 

                                

 7.
  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 were the
        forbidden fruit - only children's and religious
        movies were allowed, so almost all the films
        shown were Disney cartoon features and things
        like The Ten Commandments.  Church
        basements offered Laurel and Hardy, Chaplin,
        old Tarzan movies for 25 cents on Friday nights.
        Snow White was the first movie I saw, and I
        became obsessed with it and with animation.
        Getting out of my seat to chase the witch with
        the dwarfs family history says.  I would grill my
        parents about details when they came home
        after seeing a movie. I would read the movie
        pages in the newspaper and all the movie
        magazines that came my way, and the few
         serious books on film then generally available.

 

 8.     What were your school days like?
         

              Pretty normal, with great teachers.  I could
          deal with them as people and adults because of
          my working with adults in restaurants.  We
          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
          company.

 

 9.      What were your interests in school?

           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
           teachers were 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
           students.
  

 10.     What didn't you like about the school?

            Homework.  I would go home and draw.
            My mother would check my schoolbag, but I
            would rearrange the books and things so she
            thought I had done it.

 

 11.      What happened next?

             I went to high school, then university -
             Sir George Williams University in Montreal,
             now called Concordia University.  I
             started the amateur Disada Production with
             about 200 Montrealers interested in live-action
             films and animation. We even made a live-
             action feature film.
 
  12.      How did you start your animation business?

 

              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   
              building.

                                      

 

   13.       When did you start teaching film animation
               and where did you teach?

 

            

              In  Montreal in the mid-1970's at the Musé
              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

           
   Algonquin College.     

 14.         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
               Nicholas 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.

                 He next goes to England then off to the Middle
               East.

               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.          

               I met 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 interesting stories
                regarding the development of your
                business?

 

                                

               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.

 16. 
         What were some of your favorite animated
                characters and why did you like them?
 

                  I liked the classic characters. They had full
                personalities, unlike today's smart-ass,
                oh-so sophisticated ones. I'd put Thumper,
                Dopey,  and the rest against them any day.

 

 17.          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.
            This started a relationship that lasted until
          they died - up to 25 years later.  I visited
            them, they came to Montreal, and I  spent

                  time with them at the studio and in their
                  homes.

                  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.

 

  18.             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 win?

             I like the one from the L.A. Film Festival 
             because it was for Creative Excellence, and
             earlier this year we won the Gold Awards
             for Animation from the American Pixel
              Academy.  We never win in Canada, only in
              other countries.  Never a prophet in your
              own land.
    

 
20.        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 
                 discussion.

                  It is often said that the two new art forms of
                 
the 20th century were jazz and the motion 
                  picture. There
it was also animation as a new
                 
art form. Early animation moved drawings
                  about and were mostly comic strips come to                    to life.               

                  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
                  achievement. 
 

                                     

                  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
                film. 
            
                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
                is now.

                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.

 

 22.        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?

 

 



              I 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 

               (2005)by Pulitzer Prize-winning American  
              
historian Doris Kearns Goodwin, published
              
by Simon & Schuster 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
               book form.        
                                
                         
   24.       What kind of movies do you like?

 

                 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.

                
                    
   

  25.          What was your most interesting
                  experience?

 

        Four things 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 good 

        work.  We talked for a while and when
        we parted he said, "You know,  I did
        my best work when I was with you."
             

         Another animator - producer-director
         and Academy Award Winner for
         animation came to visit and at the end
         he asked if I knew how he got into
         animation. I said, "No,"  and he said

         when he was nine-years-old a
          relative took him to an animation
          studio where he saw the process and
          people were good and encouraging to
          him.  From then on, that's what he
          wanted to do. I asked him which studio
          that was, and he answered, "It was

           yours."

             

                                                                              

              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
               compliment.

 

               

 26.        What is your greatest accomplishment?
                                       

 

                      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.

 


 


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