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How CalArts Came To Dominate Hollywood’s Animation Industry

Vanity Fair doesn’t write about animation often, but when they do, it’s guaranteed to be memorable. Their new Hollywood issue offers an excellent 6,500-word longread by Sam Kashner about the legendary CalArts animation program of the Seventies and Eighties. The program, which is famed in the animation industry as much for its cliquish alumni support network as for who came out of it, spawned directors like John Lasseter, Chris Buck, Henry Selick, Brad Bird, Rich Moore, John Musker, Kirk Wise, Tim Burton, Mark Andrews, Andrew Stanton, Rob Minkoff, Pete Docter, and nearly every other middle-aged white male who directs animated features today.

Kashner’s piece focuses on the roots of the program in the Seventies, and includes several amusing never-before-heard anecdotes:

But the teacher who made the biggest impact on that first cadre of CalArts students was Bill Moore, a design teacher who had come out of the Chouinard Art Institute. “Bill Moore,” says [Henry] Selick, “was exceptional—a wake-up call, especially for some of the kids right out of high school. He was clearly gay, and this was a time when people from Iowa would say, ‘What the hell? What’s with that guy?’ And he was flamboyant.”

[John] Lasseter considers Moore one of the biggest influences on his life, though he “was legendary for being extremely difficult. Very, very critical and very hard.” Mike Giaimo says that when Moore was at Chouinard in the 1950s, when he saw work he didn’t approve of during an art show, he “would hold his cigarette up to the piece, threatening to set it on fire.” Thus began the legend that Bill Moore set fire to student work. “But I did see him tear pieces off the wall and stomp on them,” adds Giaimo.

[Gary] Trousdale remembers, “Usually there was only one piece that stood out [to Moore]—you were the genius of the day. And Lasseter was the genius of the day for like three weeks running. He was getting pretty proud of himself—his head’s getting a little big.” So when Moore walked by the fourth week and looked at Lasseter’s work, “he goes, ‘That’s true shit,’ and just walks by.” Lasseter was crestfallen. Moore “saw the effect it had on him,” Trousdale remembers. “He goes, ‘John, you can’t wake up with a hard-on every morning.’ ”

The piece also includes an Annie Leibovitz group photo (top) in CalArts classroom A113, which has achieved iconic status as a result of the self-mythologizing of the program’s alumni. Click for a close-up view of (from left) Steve Hillenburg, Tim Burton, Brad Bird, Mark Andrews [in ape suit], Jerry Rees, Chris Buck [with Viking helmet], John Musker, Genndy Tartakovsky, Leslie Gorin, Mike Giaimo, Brenda Chapman, Glen Keane, Kirk Wise [in beige sweater], Andrew Stanton, Pete Docter [with Lei], Rob Minkoff, Rich Moore, John Lasseter, and Henry Selick.