Interview with Tony Fucile


Tom Jordan
Richard Bazley
Tony Fucile
Wilford Jackson
Grim Natwick


Scott Johnston
Mark Whiting
Will Bilton


Michael Reaves
Lance Falk


Richard Bazley
Mark Whiting

Head of Animation for The Iron Giant

Tony Fucile is a Cal Arts alumni and has animated and designed on several feature films over the past 13 years. He supervised Mufasa in The Lion King and Esmeralda from The Hunchback of Notre Dame. His first job as an animator was on Brad Bird's Family Dog. He reunited with Brad as Head of Animation on The Iron Giant.

Animation Artist: The Iron Giant has received rave reviews from press everywhere. What is it, in your opinion, that makes The Iron Giant such a great animated film?

Tony Fucile: In nutshell, I think it's a wonderful story told with great showmanship and taste. Brad was amazing to watch. He was all over this film from the first pitch to the studio to the last little bit of sound mixing. It's rare in this business to see something like this, believe me. There was very little compromised in The Iron Giant. It's about as well rounded a movie as I have ever seen, live action or animated.

Animation Artist: As Head of animation for The Iron Giant, what was the biggest challenge you faced and how did you solve that challenge?

Tony Fucile: This was the most difficult movie I've been involved with. Originally I was a character designer/supervising animator. As the picture progressed my role shifted into sort of a First Lieutenant of Animation type thingy. I was right there alongside Brad on design, casting, sweat box approvals, animation approvals and cleanup as well as animating my own scenes. I was glad to do it because I loved the film and Brad needed me in that role. I really had to Zen out and flow with the everyday challenges. At times it was almost unbearable but eventually I was able to delegate some of the responsibility.

Tony Fucile (left) with Brad Bird working on The Iron Giant.

Animation Artist: What was the process used to form your animation team? Were they already a part of Warner Bros. or did you go out and recruit the team you wanted?

Tony Fucile: A little bit of both. I think the thing that worried me the most going into this was getting the team to pull off what I knew was going to be some "choice" bits of animation. Quest for Camelot was uneven animation-wise, but you could see there was talent there. Brad and I, with the help of the training/recruiting guys Dave Master and Tom Knott, went on a mission to find the best talent available at the studio, regardless of experience and position, to fill the slots. There was a lot of detective work involved, looking through Quest dailies, endless reels etc. They were young but hungry and very resilient. But most importantly, talented. Richard Bazley, Greg Manwaring, Chris Sauve and Mike Nguyen all had years at Disney and were brought on as supervising animators. Stephan Franck and Wendy Perdue brought their experience to the supervising team as well. This Mentor-pupil relationship was crucial to speeding up the learning curve and getting the quality we were shooting for. Eventually a couple of the "pupils" were doing so well they were promoted (Bob Davies and Dean Wellins).

Animation Artist: How was the determinations made on what the characters would look like?

Tony Fucile: Designing characters is a strange and unpredictable process. Sometimes a design will just hit you and the director will say "that's it!" from one quick doodle. Other times it can take months to come up with a design that works. On this picture for example, the character of Kent came to us without pain. At Brad's request, Teddy Newton and I filled the walls with a wide assortment of heads, hundreds of them. Brad would whittle them down to the ones he wanted to see expanded upon. Kent started from a sketch of Teddy's that he probably spent 10 seconds on. It had this very unusual and untypical head shape to it. Teddy is a brilliant caricaturist who can come up with tons of drawings that all have their own unique flavor to them. I took his Kent sketch, filled it out a little bit, added some little goodies and that was it. I wish the rest of the designs went that smooth! I think because Kent was our most extreme personality he came the quickest. That isn't uncommon.

Animation Artist: Who were your influences stylistically speaking?

Tony Fucile: Our major influences came out of the period the movie had taken place, the fifties. We studied work from Chuck Jones, Hank Ketchum, Al Hirschfeld and the Disney films from that era like The 101 Dalmatians. We wanted our drawings to feel as economical and pleasing to the eye as possible. We tried to keep things shapely and crisp, but also 3- dimensional. We needed our drawings to not flatten out against the super 3-D Giant.

Animation Artist: Some of our readers are very interested in animation, but not completely aware of the process. For example, can you describe exactly what a model sheet is and the importance it plays to a movie like The Iron Giant? Are sculptures made from the model sheets?

Tony Fucile: Model sheets are both inspiration and information. On the information side of things are what we call "rotations". These are not very interesting to look at because they are strictly information. A head rotation for example, is typically made up of 10 or 12 drawings of a static head rotating in space. These are the blueprints an animator needs to know how the head will look and be constructed from various angles. On the inspiration side of things are the model sheets that are filled with various expressions, attitudes and poses. These are often made up of drawings from the coolest scenes that have been animated and serve as inspiration as well as some good information on the "intangibles" of a good animation drawing (degree of caricature, appeal, expression, spark). Computers can be of assistance in making up rotations but I've never heard of anyone doing that yet. I think animators are afraid that something like that might stiffen them up (a big fear among us animators). On The Iron Giant, our sculptor, Carla Fallberg, came in after our first rotations on the heads were complete and made very cool busts for us to use. These really are helpful when you have a weird angle and can't seem to visualize it.

Animation Artist: What does it mean to draw on "on model"?

Tony Fucile: It means to draw as close to the information provided on the model sheets as you can when you are animating your scene. Some people are great mimics and can nail a model very quickly. Most animators do their best but still bring their own style to the character. It's easier to do when you have lead animators on a specific character with their own team on that one character. On The Iron Giant we had supervising animators in charge of sequences (the exception being Steve Markowski's Giant).

Animation Artist: What was the reasoning behind that? Don't most studios use lead animators on individual characters?

Tony Fucile: Brad wanted animators to have pieces of the film. It was an old Disney model from the days of Frank Thomas and Ollie Johnston. This way the animator could, not unlike a musician playing a piece of music, control the tempo of the entire piece; when to hit a scene hard and when to let up when necessary for dramatic effect. Hopefully the result is sincere acting. I think what happens sometimes with the character system is you get animators wanting to outdo one another or show their animation chops when maybe something simple and understated would be more appropriate for a particular moment. Another thing we couldn't afford to do on this film was restrict our strongest animators to one character. The big moments were in the right hands that way. Myself and an ever growing team of people kept tabs on the model of all the characters to make sure things didn't get too far off. We did lose some consistency model-wise but I think for our situation it was the right choice.

Animation Artist: We understand that a number of students were recruited from Cal Arts to work on the film. How many came from Cal Arts and what determined who was chosen to work on the film?

Tony Fucile: Pete Sohn, Eddie Rosas, Andy Schuler and Shane Prigmore came on to animate a chunk of the film (the classroom scene). We could tell from their reels that they had the stuff to step right in and do great work. Their stuff was amazingly advanced for student work. It was a great break for them to be sure, but from our standpoint it was great too. Because they did a wonderful job with very little hand holding. Others came aboard a little later and helped us out through the crunch as well.

Animation Artist: Were there some scenes that were left out of the Iron Giant? If so, what scenes were they and what was the determining factor in cutting them from the film?

Brad Bird (left) with Tony FucileTony Fucile: We had this amazing scene where the Giant was having a bad dream in the junkyard late one night and Dean picked it up on his TV while watching "The Tonight Show". You got these glimpses into the Giant's past and what led him to land on the Earth. It was great but we had to bring the film in at 84 minutes or whatever so it got axed. There were other casualties but that one in particular was very cool (Look for it on the DVD Special edition).

Animation Artist: Now that your work on The Iron Giant is finished, what is your next project?

Tony Fucile: Right now I'm helping out on Osmosis Jones but will soon be taking a break for a month or two then begin on Brad's next project. I wish I could tell you what it is but I can't at this point. It's cool though!

Animation Artist: Many of our readers are interested in breaking into the animation field, but don't know how. What was your first big break in getting into the business and what tips would you give to a person wanting to break into the business?

Tony Fucile: I was fortunate to have gone to Cal Arts when Hal Ambro (veteran Disney animator) was teaching there full time. We all picked up a lot from Hal as well as from each other. My second year film got me a job with Brad on the Family Dog episode of Amazing Stories back in ‘86 and then as an animator under Glen Keane on Oliver &Co. I would recommend Cal Arts if you can afford it. Sheridan College has grown some amazing talent over the years as well (Toronto). The other avenue would be to get your foot in the door as a production assistant or something at a studio and then try to break in as an artist. Some of our best young cleanup talent made it in that way.

Animation Artist magazine is very grateful for the time Tony Fucile took to share his excellent insight with Animation Artist readers.

All images on this page are ©copyright 1999 by Warner Bros. and used with permission

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