Articles on Animation 24 Oct 2008 08:22 am

Jim Simon – 1975

- 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:

JIM SIMON
    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.

10 Responses to “Jim Simon – 1975”

  1. on 24 Oct 2008 at 11:04 am 1.R.Dress said …

    “I figured the only way I was going to become an animator was by making myself an animator.” That’s a great attitude! Thanks for posting this article.

  2. on 26 Oct 2008 at 12:49 am 2.Dagan said …

    Wow, wonderful post Michael!

    ‘Loaf of bread, stick of butter’ had everybody of my generation HOOKED as kids! So many people I know STILL recite those words… just a special piece!

    So cool to learn where these amazing pieces of animation came from. Do you know if Jim Simon also did this short for Sesame Street?…

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=I6NsCvCn2EY&feature=related

    Judging by the style I would think not, but it’s an especially haunting little short and I can find NO information on who is responsible for creating it.

    Thanks again for this awesome piece of NY Animation history!

  3. on 26 Oct 2008 at 8:29 am 3.Michael said …

    Hi Dagan, Judging only by the soundtrack – it’s obviously Dizzie Gillespie speaking and singing (and maybe doing the music) – my guess would be the Hubley studio. There’s also a looseness in the inking that might give that away. Though it looks like a spoof on Yellow Submarine.

  4. on 26 Oct 2008 at 8:42 pm 4.Tom Minton said …

    Jim Simon was at Filmation in the late 1970′s, where he designed the distinctive “Brown Hornet” segments for the 1980 season of the Fat Albert show. For some reason, Jim Simon wasn’t mentioned in the DVD notes on those episodes. Then again, all of the storyboard, layout artists and animators got stiffed in the onscreen credits on the DVD of that thing, too. The educational consultant got top billing and that was it. I boarded every third one of those Brown Hornet segments (alternating with Wendell Washer and Eddie Fitzgerald) and Simon’s designs were the freshest thing in that show. Always wondered what became of him. He had a unique way of seeing things.

  5. on 26 Oct 2008 at 9:08 pm 5.Tom Minton said …

    Here’s a link to one of the “Brown Hornet” segments Jim Designed. That dissipating smoke around 1:47 was stock #1200, animated by Tony Pabian. God, the clerical data Filmation filled our young minds with. And the production year was 1979 on these segments, which seems correct upon reflection.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4ncMZzqfcII

  6. on 26 Oct 2008 at 9:19 pm 6.Tom Minton said …

    Looking at the thing, Jim designed the main characters, not the incidentals. How he got that ship the Hornet rides around with past the network censors remains a mystery to this day.

  7. on 08 Dec 2008 at 4:22 pm 7.Jim Simon said …

    Hello,
    This is Jim Simon! I would like to thank Michael Sporn and his Michael Sporn Animation-Splog for the recent October 2008 splog that covered my past career as a producer, director, animator and designer.

    I’m artistically alive and well, living in San Diego, C.A., with my faithful and furry companion Bullet. I thank all who have shown an on-going interest in the animation works I created in the 70’s and 80’s. After leaving the Hollywood Animation scene and that entire world it entailed – I found myself so emotionally drained that I was unable to bring myself to lift a pencil to create a cartoon design, characters or animation for ten or more years!

    I have recently been endowed with a wonderful blessing from God in that he has given me newfound motivation and inspiration to express my artistic talents. I am ecstatic that my artistic scope has been expanded to include portraits and paintings in oils, charcoals, acrylics and pastels. Currently, using oil pastels, I have artistically captured my feelings of the charged emotions of President-Elect Barack Obama’s historic run for the White House and his ultimate election. The finished artwork has garnered a response from numerous people of all ages and ethnic backgrounds with acknowledgements of the work as being “awesome”, “inspirational”, and “great”, etc. The positive responses alone have rekindled my emotional feelings from my old animation days. Then to have seen Michael’s Animation Splog, my mind and spirit entered into another artistic level… THANKS!

    It is my plan to exploit my new found art talents (beginning January 2009) under my web site “www.Simonized Portraits and Art by Simon.com” as well as “www.Craigslist.com”. I hope that you will continue to enjoy my humble efforts to express my God given talents.

    Peace-Out

    James A. Simon
    E-mail: 62withabullet@cox.net

  8. on 08 Dec 2008 at 8:01 pm 8.Michael said …

    Hi Jim, it’s good to see you’re alive and well and going forward with art. Animation’s lost a treasure in your talents, but I’m sure you’re probably enjoying your creativity more.

  9. on 04 Dec 2009 at 11:29 pm 9.PhiL Stapleton said …

    Hey Jim Simmons, Phil Stapleton. Hopefully you remember me from working with me over at Cartoon Network, back in 2001? Ive been tryin to find you for more than a minute. it was great working with you and im glad that you are doing well. STAY CREaTive. GOd bLESS. WE ALL MIS YOUR YOUR AMAZING GIFT IN THE ANIMATION INDUSTRY?

  10. on 21 Sep 2012 at 5:10 pm 10.TSMOOVE said …

    MOST PEOPLE DIDNT KNOW HE DID THE SOUL TRAIN ANIMATION FOR WHICH HE NEVER PUBLICLY RECEIVED CREDIT FOR.

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