From Nelvana’s studio in Toronto, Adrian Thatcher has been expertly steering the Bravest Warriors Space Whale from the Director’s chair. We here at Frederator have had as much fun watching Adrian’s work, as he’s had creating it! Here, Adrian discusses his windy path toward directing animated TV, and the many awesome shows and films he’s contributed to along the way. I’ve gotta echo Adrian on one BIG point: bring Clone High back!!
Did you go to school to study animation, or anything else?
I went to Sheridan College in Ontario. I applied for almost every artistic course I could think of: Illustration, Graphic Design, Industrial Design, and of course Classical Animation. I ended up taking one year of Illustration before switching to Classical Animation.
When did you know you wanted to work in cartoons, and what inspired that choice?
Like a lot of people in animation, I didn’t even realize that working in cartoons could be an actual career. Drawing was pretty much the only thing I did as a child, so I knew that I’d have a career in something creative. But animation probably would have been very far down the list—I really enjoyed graphic design and advertising in high school. I didn’t make a conscious choice to pursue animation professionally until about halfway through my first year of college. The industry was booming and it was in the news a lot. Jurassic Park, Toy Story, The Mask. It didn’t take long to discover that many Sheridan graduates were key players in some of these films. These were people that went to the exact same school I did; I thought, “I can do that!”
So that was my first concrete inspiration, from a career perspective. But I had early brushes with animation as a kid. My big brother showed me how to make flip books. The subject of which mainly consisted of a little stick-man skateboarder doing tricks before falling off of cliffs, smashing into walls or onto a bed of spikes. Inspiring stuff as a kid, seeing your drawings move, but not exactly something that I thought I could turn into a career.
What shape did your path through animation take, position to position?
Great question! Let’s see, a walk down memory lane. My first job was at Walt Disney Animation Canada. Yes, they had a Canadian studio. Two actually: one in Vancouver, one in Toronto. I was hired onto the pre-production crew for Hercules II after my second year at Sheridan. The first job I did was inbetweening for Sylvain Chomet (The Triplets of Belleville) on development animation for a new Hercules villain. I enjoyed that but also wanted to explore my options, and pre-production was great for that. I did a little character, location, and prop design, as well as storyboarding. After Hercules II, we began Peter Pan: Return to Neverland; by then I’d narrowed my focus to location/prop design. I learned a ton from lead designers Ted Collyer and Dermot Walshe. From there I moved into production layout on Little Mermaid II, Lady and the Tramp II, Jungle Book II and a few smaller projects. For those films, I moved to Walt Disney Animation Australia for two years. Sydney was awesome and I learned a lot from the people down there, even if I didn’t know it at the time.
When I returned to Toronto, I started my 16+ year career with Nelvana as a location/prop designer on Clone High. A couple production layout gigs at Nelvana followed and then I was given my first art direction job on a show called 6teen after doing the development location designs in full colour. I loved the job even though I’d never planned on being an Art Director. I don’t think I even knew what an Art Director did until I started! I remember going home after being offered the job and searching the Internet for information about being an Art Director. I must have found the right stuff, because after that, I art directed Ruby Gloom, Willa’s Wild Life, and Scaredy Squirrel before getting my first directing job on The Adventures of Chuck and Friends. I even managed to win an Emmy award for Outstanding Individual Achievement in Art Direction on Willa’s Wild Life. After Chuck and Friends I went on to direct Oh No! It’s an Alien Invasion, Ranger Rob and then….wait for it… BRAVEST WARRIORS!
Ahh ye-ah! Since you’ve done everything from layout to design to art directing, do you have a favorite role? Was directing your goal?
I think that my favorite job has to be directing – it’s definitely where I’m happiest. At times it almost feels like that first week on the job at Disney, where I could choose what I wanted to do. Directing allows me to have a hand in many areas of the production. I still design some characters and locations, like the Slumber Sisters (BW, “Chained to Your Side”) and the Techno-Cavern (BW, “Whispers in the Morning”). I’ve even storyboarded a little! Ted Collyer and I teamed up to board the new Bravest opening. My favorite part of directing is working closely with, and having the support of, so many great people. People like my Assistant Director Campbell Bryer, who can step in and handle production details when my schedule gets crazy—and it often does. Marc Sevier, who keeps an eagle eye on the animation; Davian Bobrowska’s amazing art direction. Everyone on the team, really. I never chased directing: I just focused on learning as much as I could in the role I was in. Once I felt I’d learned enough in the role I was doing, I wanted to learn more, and that’s what really led me to directing. I’m still learning more every day.
What qualities are most important for a Director in animation to have?
Wow, there are so many and they all feel of equal importance. But a few in no particular order: I think that you need to remain humble. Having a big head as a Director will not serve you well. The ability to listen to the ideas of others and to collaborate is paramount. And having a sense of humor, of course!
If you weren’t a Director of animated TV, what would you be?
That’s easy. I’d be a general contractor. For some reason I really like mudding and taping and I can cut in with a paint brush like a pro… I kinda wish I was kidding. Either that or a very low paid singer/songwriter. Yeah, I play a little guitar. No, not a ukulele. I mean I play guitar a little.
Do you have a favorite project ever, and why?
I’d have to say that I’m currently experiencing it! Directing Bravest Warriors here at Nelvana and getting to know all the great people at Frederator over the last year and a half has me in a permanent state of happy.
Aww, yay! What do you like best about the show?
Making Bravest is a blast. I get the biggest pleasure from the writing and humor. It has a great balance of weirdness and intellect. Benjamin Townsend (Story Editor) has done a fantastic job of guiding the writers through the Bravest
Multiverse. He’s very well read and a student of culture – it shows through in every script. We’re lucky to have him on the team.
Who is your favorite character on Bravest, and why? Do you have a favorite episode of the current season, so far?
My favorite character changes every day. I think it might be Danny…or Wallow…but then there’s Beth. Arrgh, this is tough. I think I have to say Danny. John (Omohundro) brings so much to the role. He’s a super funny dude! And my favorite episode? That’s even tougher. So far, I’d have to say it’s episode 416 “Nothin’ Stays the Same” by Ryan North. It’s a great Beth episode with a Groundhog Day theme. I really like the fast pace of that one.
How was it to work on Clone High – do people still tell you how much they love it? (I love it, so that counts as one).
HA! Clone High. I still love it. Yes, I still drop that name and get great reactions. Even now we quote Clone High on a daily basis here at Nelvana. Interesting fact: when I got the Bravest Warriors job, the very first person I contacted was Ted Collyer (Director of Clone High) to be part of the Bravest storyboard team. Lucky for us, Ted was just finishing up another series and accepted. Ted has been a huge part of Bravest; he was my teammate in boarding the opening. Clone High definitely deserves a reboot! Bring it back! Bring it back!
What were your favorite cartoons growing up, and what are your favorite animated shows or movies?
My absolute favorite cartoon growing up was the Bugs Bunny Road Runner Show. Sooo many iconic characters, and I loved the short formats. I think a show of the same format and structure would do well today. Of course The Simpsons. For animated movies, I’m a bit of a Disneyphile. My favorite of all is Aladdin. Toy Story II is right up there too. And, even though it’s not animated: Back to the Future. I’ve watched that movie too many times to count.
Thank you for the interview Adrian, and the awesome work on Bravest Warriors! Which everybody can catch up on riiiiiiight here 🙂