Articles on Animation 24 Oct 2008 08:22 am
- Earlier this week, I posted a piece from the 1975 animation issue of Millimeter Magazine which gave a bio for Tissa David. Within the same column there was another animator who’d made waves in NY back then.
Jim Simon had created Wantu Animation which gave a “black” presence on the animation scene. Jim would annually win a lot of ASIFA East awards with his short spots, and you’d be impressed with the well animated output. His design sense was original. However, he left the city’s animation scene for LA and got involved in Yogi’s Space Race, the Smurfs and X-Men. After that, I’ve completely lost track of his career. If anyone knows where he has ended up, please don’t hesitate to leave a comment.
Many of his short pieces for Sesame Street are up on YouTube, so you can get an idea of his studio’s output.
Here’s the bio that was printed in 1975:
Wantu Animation is the hot new studio in New York, and Jim Simon is the young animator who is making a lot of people sit up and take notice. They notice the infectious brand of humor, the outrageous characters, the catchy music, the non-stop swirl of captivating motion inherent in all of Jim’s work. In fact, they noticed so much that he has been receiving awards for his animation right and left.
Such recognition is not entirely new to him, either; upon graduation from the High School of Art and Design, he received an award for excellence in animation, two scholarships from the Junior Epstein Memorial Foundation and a scholarship to the School of Visual Arts. There he majored in live-action TV production but became more and more drawn toward animation because of the personal satisfaction afforded him. Out of school, he landed a job at Paramount Motion Pictures cartoon studios as a background artist. Four months later the studios closed down, but by then Jim had managed to join the union. Having so little experience, he couldn’t get much work, until the director of’Paramount came back to New York with the Spiderman TV series. After a year and a half on that as assistant animator, Jim decided to freelance on his own. “I was turning out so much work, they had to promote me, because I was earning more money than some of the full-fledged animators. But it got to the point that I was just too excited about the things going on inside my own head, which I could not release while working for someone else. Also, I was young and wanted to gather a bit of knowledge about the different studios and different aspects of the business. After freelancing fora year, I realized that I wasn’t going to be allowed to animate this way either. I figured the only way I was going to become an animator was by making myself an animator.” When he inquired about doing work for Sesame Street, he was told he would need a reel and a company. “So I borrowed $250, hired a lawyer to set up a company, did a couple of story boards on my own but sticking with the Sesame Street vein of thinking, and marched back up there. And right off the bat, they bought four of the five boards that I had brought up.” That was the start of Wantu Animation. “Wantu” is Swahili for “beautiful” and the symbol used for the logo means “new birth.” That’s the theme of the company, the New Birth of Beautiful Animation, and Wantu hasn’t stopped growing since.
“There’s a new show coming out in September called Vegetable Soup. We were contracted to do the musical opening for it, plus 13 cooking spots for which Bette Midler did all the voice tracks, and also 48 thirty-second breaks. When you add it all up, it comes to about an hour’s production for our first year. We’ve won four awards for that particular show already, and two for Electric Company films. One particular film did not win all the awards, which goes to show that we’re a well-rounded studio.”
His unique style of drawing has earned Jim a few puzzled comments. “When I first did the boards for Hey, Diddle Diddle, people looked at them and said, ‘What are they? Some of them don’t even have eyes.’ They were cats, cool cats. No eyes on them, but you believe them when they’re moving. I’m basically a ham. I used to be very shy, but I lived through my characters. If I had another profession to choose, I would probably want to be an actor. When you see my characters moving around and doing crazy things, that’s me letting off steam.”
“There’s nothing coming out of agencies that we cannot do, and deliver on time,” states Jim. “We’ve turned approximately fifty films this year, about three, sometimes close to four minutes a week. Some of our freelance animators can hardly believe that they can see their finished work a few days after they do their part. We’ve gained about four years experience in this one year from the amount of things we’ve done, and the time we did them in. We’ve built up tremendous confidence in ourselves and our capabilities.”
Besides this confidence, Jim also harbors a special kind of optimism. “We’re working on a TV special; we developed the characters around Bette Midler, and she loves them to pieces. We also have concepts for features and other specials, but the hardest is always getting that first one across.”
Such personal flair is making Wantu Animation a studio to watch for, that is if you haven’t noticed it already.
You can watch “Hey Diddle Diddle” on YouTube. Go here.