Somewhere on a Malibu Beach with Bill Littlejohn, a remembrance of a master animator.
I just heard the news of Bill Littlejohn’s passing. Bill was an amazing person, artist and animator. I met Fini and Bill around 1974. They, along with others from the ASIFA Hollywood chapter were a force for good in the animation world. They helped in the establishment of the international ASIFA organization. They loved animation and their passion animation had two purposes; to promote animation as an art form and to support animated films and their artists.
Bill was very involved in the first breathes of the animation union, the Screen Cartoonists Guild.
He and Fini were equally involved in independent animation. They spearheaded the Olympiad of Animation, an international effort to have animation as a part of the Olympic Arts Festival, for the 1984 Games in Los Angeles. They pulled it off, too!
A screening of the best animated shorts was arranged at the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. Also, over 200 animated films from around the world based on the “Spirit of the Olympics” were created, of those twenty eight were presented. My film, RUPERT’S OLYMPIC FEET was part of the presentation. At the time, I was president and co-founder of ASIFA Washington. I can’t help but think that my status probably nudged my crude little film in the screening.
Fini and Bill made it happen. They were way ahead of their time when it came to social networking. They made regular calls, sent postcards. Thank goodness back then they didn’t have email – my inbox would have been choked with their messages.
They lived in what became Malibu Colony – they had bought a little place by the beach and the area grew from there. As the years pasted and the area grew their neighbors were folks like
Neil Diamond, Barbara Streisand, Johnny Carson, Michael Landon and many other “Hollywood” folks.
Bill had a tennis court and played with everyone.
I was a regular for a while at their parties – always accompanied by a blonde, after awhile it became a joke. They were gracious hosts. I remember one fourth of July, standing on the beach, staring at the waves crashing in and speaking with Bill Scott (writer, and voice of Bullwinkle), Scott’s normal voice was that of Peabody – we were talking animation and art- to this day it remains a fond memory. Bill Littlejohn once showed me a drawing of a steam-powered locomotive he had drawn when he was age 12. It was amazing! He was a truly gifted artist and a master animator. He could work on feature, TV and independent projects and never skip a beat.
Being a U.S. representative to ASIFA International, Bill and Fini would to Zagerb and Annecy to attend the annual gatherings.
One year, I somehow convinced Bill and Fini to stop over in D.C. for a few days and do a gig for our ASIFA Chapter. I was amazed when they agreed to come and help our fledging chapter. We were not paying them anything and I am sure a ticket to connect from Los Angeles to Washington, D.C. to Paris was more than a non-stop flight from L.A. to Paris. We screened the 2000 Year Old Man – an animated film inspired by a Mel Brooks routine. Bill animated quite a bit of it. We also showed his commercial work including some classic Rain Tire commercials. Bill revealed that he animated with grease pencil directly onto velum cels; he completely skipped the normal paper and pencil process. During his visit to the Nation’s Capital, Bill and I had an opportunity to have breakfast together. I wanted to mine this master of animation for every jewel of information I could. Of course, just to hear him talk about his projects (current and past) was an education in itself. Finally, I asked Bill what one jewel of animation information or advice he could offer me – something I could possible build my career on. Bill looked at me and said, “If you ever get in trouble with your character, make them blink!” At the time, I thought, ”What the heck…I just brought this guy breakfast”! And, the more and more I thought about his jewel of wisdom I surmised that a blink was associated with “thinking” – so having a character that thinks is excellent advise. Let’s face it nobody likes Jar-Jar because he NEVER thinks.
Bill was always right when it came to animation.
Bill Littlejohn was on the Board of Governors for the Academy’s live-action and animated categories. I would make it a point to call Bill the day after the awards to chat with him about the winners. When TIN TOY, the first film with computer animated characters won the Oscar. I called and Bill loved the film and story – he did not like the diaper on the baby because it seemed to be made of “concrete”. Another time I called and found that Oscar winner Frederick Back was there for lunch – having won the night before for THE MAN WON PLANTED TREES. I love Back’s work and I passed along my congratulations.
Bill was great friends with the Faith and John Hubley and worked on many of their films.
I have to admit that over the years our conversations became less and less frequent. When our family relocated to Ireland in 1990 for five years, we lost track of Fini and Bill. Phone conversations to the U.S. were “dear” pricewise. When we returned to the States in 1995, we would chat once in a while, but it was never like before.
I have very wonderful memories of Fini and Bill. Few in the industry have contributed more to every aspect of animation than Bill Littlejohn.
Bless you Bill, keeping blinking!