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Cartoon Culture

Tom Hignite’s Home Imaginators

Miracle Mouse

Tom Hignite, the Wisconsin home builder who thinks he’s Walt Disney, is back – in a series of local infomercials which ultilizes lush character animation created by a team of former Orlando studio animators he hired a few years ago. Since his misguided plans for making 2D animated features went bust, Hignite is back to building houses, using poor Flash animation (pictured above) to move his characters, and pretending he’s Uncle Walt in these TV spots. You can read the full story of Hignite’s wacky true-life adventures in this Milwaukee Magazine article – and, if you can stomach it, watch one of his informercials here.

  • Milt Neil

    This is either a huge file or it won’t download because the bank repossessed.

  • Rat

    I think this embedded autoloading file is killing Miracle’s servers.

  • Tom Pope

    Agreed, the animation is not great. No question.
    However, in what continues to be an unfortunate trend, the Brew’s critiques of product turn quickly to snide criticism of the producer. It would be one thing to comment on a veteran industry insider who should know better. It’s another thing entirely to use terms like “misguided” and “wacky” in unaffectionate tones when speaking of an obvious outsider with a (not necessarily informed) vision.

  • Tom Pope

    PS- It does take a very long time to download.

  • “Tom Hignite, the Wisconsin home builder who thinks he’s Walt Disney, is back – in a series of local infomercials which ultilize lush character animation created by a team of former Orlando studio animators he hired a few years ago.”


    The team of former Disney Orlando studio animators (and a few from California, too) moved on soon after they were laid-off by Tom Hignite two years ago. Most of them moved to L.A. or Portland. I believe the recent Flash animation that you are referring to in Hignites new infomercials is probably the work of Tom Hignite himself.

  • C’mon, Jerry, ease up…I mean, how would you be able to do a ‘worst cartoons ever’ modern edition if not for thickies like this guy?

  • Fred Sparrman

    I agree with Mr. Pope above. While Jerry is far from the worst offender (hmm, who does that leave?), reading Cartoon Brew is too much like watching Fox News for my tastes. Maybe this site doesn’t set out to be “fair and balanced”, but like it or not people come here for news, not to worry whether they’ll be the next ones to have their work torn apart by the administrators of the site.

    The reader comments, however, I think should be fair game.

  • The guy is nuts. When I was reading the article at first I thought it was kind of cool that he hired a bunch of 2D animators. But by the end of it, I wanted to vomit. If he was so into Walt, he would never treat his animators like that. Walt let them do their thing, this guy is just “Plane Crazy”.

  • Oh, hearts and flowers. For God’s sake, lighten up, people. Create shitty product and get criticized. That’s the way it works.

  • A reader

    I was just thinking: two posts in as many days that focus on ugly, incompetent animation work. Not by major players, professionals or anyone that is taken seriously or even would generate attention outside of this blog, but truly marginal people. Fish in a barrel.
    Their output-an ad for a weird project and a tribute obit and a developer with an infomercial-has zero bearing on anything, really, and is only cited here to fill space with “OMG look you guys at this crap! Your eyes will burn!!” etc. for presumed hilarity value.

    It just seems unworthy of the Brew. Makes me think things are really slow/boring right now. Fair enough maybe, but really it’s a total left turn of focus and I for one hope June doesn’t become “ugly/terrible/worst-ever cartoons” month at CB.

    I’m still eagerly waiting for a report of some detail from Amid on Annecy. How would that be? I mean more than a paragraph, with pictures? Or a link to wherever those might be?

    How about a lead up to the San Diego Comic Con, and what else is going to be there of interest to animation people, along with Jerry’s shows?

  • Since I noticed these new Hignite masterpieces and posted of their existence at AN last night, something has changed at the Miracle site. Yesterday, there was no huge delay when loading the infomercial download page. Maybe it’s getting hammered. Grab the videos while you can. They’re crazy wrong fun.

  • I work with the animator who did these spots, his name is Sam Drake, he is an animation instructor at MIAD here in Milwaukee. While I can’t defend the animation itself, Sam had a shoestring budget and was under the creative direction of Mr. Hignite, who is indeed quite mad.

    Sam himself is an talented animator that can knock this stuff out with both arms tied behind his back…

  • Paul N

    I had to check twice to make sure Jerry had posted this item. It reads like a not-Jerry post.

    After a three-hour attempt at a download, I decided I don’t care enough about whether or not this is any good.

  • Re:
    —Sam had a shoestring budget and was under the creative direction of Mr. Hignite—-

    No attack intended. I spend too much time producing stuff that’s even more primitive than that, at micro-deadlines and micro-budgets, just to pay the bills. Those jobs don’t get included in demo reels…

  • My computer says the download will take seven and a half hours. I think some different compression is in order.

  • What a misguided man.

    Even with the way he treated those animators, it’s hard to think of this guy as anything more wicked than a sick person with an obsession. And when you consider the amount of money he poured into that obsession, the risk involved for his business.. My god! Insanity!

    Neither the video here nor the ones on the companty site seem to be loading. Has anyone got an alternate source for them?

  • Vixie

    I am good friends with one of the animators hired by Tom, he was with Disney for over 11 years in Burbank. I also have had the honor, and I use that term very loosely, of visiting the studio when it was full swing, and having dinner with both Tom and my friend. To his credit, Tom did treat me very well, he first gave me a VIP tour of his showplace home, and treated the two of us to dinner.

    It’s fun today to hear my friend tell stories about Tom, the fact is, even though he had good intentions, he had a very inflated opinion of himself and his work. He basically felt he could create a feature using unknown characters rather than getting them known through shorts and such. His reasoning? Nobody else ever did it that way. it went downhill from there.

    A post mentioned Sam Drake, he is a good friend of my friend, and I do know he is a talented animator, but was given an impossible budget to work with. Basically, Tom wanted a full minute of animatin done for $2000. If nothing else, I do get entertained hearing stories from my friend from his days at Hignite Studios.

  • Ron

    Yeah I agree. I went to Cal Arts with Sam Drake. I didn’t know him very well but I was always super impressed by his work and he was one of the best animators there in my opinion. I don’t know if his student films are on line but if they are I highly recommend viewing them. Why he didn’t end up at Pixar is beyond me. Maybe he can get away from this Hignite guy and go somewhere where his work will be appreciated and properly rewarded.

  • David O. Street

    It’s a pity that such mad obsession begat just this uber low budget Flash excrement. At least Dick Williams has tons of genuinely brilliant hand drawn animation to his credit after whacking his nose to the grindstone all those decades. Does this good evangelical Christian even realize he made the ultimate dope cartoon?

  • So basically… the guy had a dream of producing feature animation tried to do it, but it didn’t work. Along the way some animators made some money. There are worse things a rich guy can do with his money.

  • PorkyMills

    I can just see the forthcoming headlines of bankruptcy. Hignite is going to be one of those people, who wakes up one day to a ruined fortune – and is forced to examine what went wrong. Instead, I get a feeling that he knows what his inadequacies are and how they will lead to his likely misfortune, yet he supplants them with his evangelical belief in God. If nothing else, I kept reading the article with a glimmer of hope that he had atleast made a genuine effort to harvest the talents of the animated team, but alas, he never directed such an effort. Anyone know if the caricatures are posted online somewhere?

  • Zep

    “I get a feeling that he knows what his inadequacies are and how they will lead to his likely misfortune, yet he supplants them with his evangelical belief in God.”

    -Stupefyingly presumptuous (while the guy’s obviously a christian neither you nor anyone else has the inside poop on why he has his religious beliefs or how his psyche works) and offensively judgmental. But then, having any spiritual beliefs whatsoever is SO uncool, isn’t it? Especially when it hurts you personally.

  • paul

    i think jerry was being kind, this guy seems like a self aggrandizing douche! I think everyone can sympathize with the guy that had to do the animating. “Draw me younger!” “Make it more magical!” “No secondary movement on my wife… its sinful!”

  • Is a homebuilder any less occupationally qualified to animate than a former military ambulance driver?

    He should only be criticized for throwing good money after bad, and not daring to fail.

  • PorkyMills

    Zep writes:

    > Stupefyingly presumptuous (while the guy’s obviously a christian neither you nor anyone else has the inside poop on why he has his religious beliefs or how his psyche works) and offensively judgmental.

    You are overreacting, and for no reason at all. Hignite himself provides an insightful quote in the article:

    ““If He wants us to succeed, great,” says Hignite. “If He wants us to do something else and not succeed, great, then that’s what it will be.”

    So I was not solely relating my own views, merely re-iterating his beliefs within the framework of what I see as his probable misfortune. I hope that the irony is not lost on you that you yourself commit the same criticisms that you lob at me (namely of being presumptuous and judgmental) and you twist my words for no reason, perceiving me as some religion-basher.

  • Thanks for posting Jerry, I came across this about a year ago and found the article you reference quite a fun read. Nothing mean-spirited about it: Tom Hignite has a bizarre, out-sized idea of himself and had the means to fund his fantasy. Anyone who is so sincere about resurrecting the spirit… nay, the LOGO of Walt Disney as his own and does it with such a thorough lack of self-awareness and natural aplomb is going to produce a few laughs. Seems like a sweet guy, but please folks, read the article, its a charming read. Would that we could all be Don Quixotes…

  • ridgecity

    So he is like a white Michael Jackson? once you reach a certain “peak” for your life you wanna do something that might be remembered by everyone. I don’t think he is mad, he just wants to copy his hero, I guess Walt Disney, since he also was into building stuff. How big you get really depends on you, but times are not the same as the 40’s and 50’s. things are way harder thanks to big corporations that leave nothing to the little guy and probably will absorb anything good before it even makes it to the spotlight.

    In the other case, this site is for animators, and since everyone bashes big guys like Disney and Dreamworks and the new third world companies, why should you go soft for a real state guy dipping his feet in animation?? I consider this place to talk about quality not about budgets or experience, a Pixar movie can be featured at the same time that a small website can be acclaimed.

  • Jesse

    My favorite part is after all the happy glitz and gleeful song-making, he talks about these wonderfully innovative… nay, creative homes. Then there’s a close-up of a car woefully enveloped by snow, like some kind of carcass. hahaha It might’ve been a better idea to show a happy house, with a happy (but fuel-efficient) car basking in the sunlight of a summer afternoon. Uh… they do have those in Wisconsin, right? ;-)

  • Brian O.

    I had to go back and re-read the post because I thought Amid penned it based on the tone.

    I have to agree with Pope and the others. I feel like you’re close to being the kind of guy who is picking on the kids riding the short bus. I don’t mind having such a story posted on Brew but you’re holding Hignite to the same level of scrutiny and criticism as Disney. Hignite is nowhere near the threat to the industry as Disney or even DIC, Filmation, Ruby-Spears, etc.

  • Re:
    –picking on the kids riding the short bus–

    It’s not the “kids” that are being ridiculed in this instance. It’s the shortness of the bus.

  • OK, you Brewmeisters have to do something about the link to this #$^&(*#@! video file. It repeatedly downloads itself while I’m trying to read other posts, and sometimes even after I have left this site. Sometimes it turns up hours later, like some sort of irritating bug.


    Thank you.

  • hibbity bibbity

    For the love of god, take this crap off the page. Its really slow and automatically loads and starts playing every time I visit the brew. Which I will cease to do for a while to wait for this post to get buried.

  • The frame grab you’ve put on top of this post now is from one of the recent Hignite infomercials. Unfortunately the way you’ve phrased your post still gives the impression that this low-budget Flash animation was done by former Disney Orlando animators.
    It was not. The former Disney people had all moved on after being laid-off by Hignite in 2006.

  • Ed Hogan

    The dude who invented ‘Cabbage Patch Kids’ also had an outsized Walt Disney wannabe complex, and because of the flash-in-the-pan success his product line enjoyed in the early 1980’s, actually believed he was well on the way to being the next Walt. Ruby-Spears made the lone Cabbage Patch Kids Korean-animated special and you can guess what a classic it became. There’s probably an ice show being planned right now to commemorate its 25th anniversary – in HELL.

  • “Is a homebuilder any less occupationally qualified to animate than a former military ambulance driver?”

    He is if he, unlike the military ambulance driver (actually Red Cross ambulance driver) hasn’t had any arts training and hasn’t served any sort of apprenticeship by actually working as a commercial artist, an apprenticeship that included time actually spent doing animation work for others before going out on his own – and incidentally going bankrupt the first time around.

  • Tom D.

    The people who are complaining that things here are too negative should go “hang out” over at newsarama, where their rose-colored glasses turn mud puddles into chocolate milk lakes.
    jerry and amid are right on the mark.

  • droosan

    Will Finn, hibbity bibbity: If you’re using the Firefox web browser, I highly-recommend the “flashblock” extension; it will keep flash files from automatically loading when you visit a page, and will play them only when you click on them.

  • I hate to disagree with Tom Pope on being too harsh to an ‘outsider’ of animation. What about the cereal commercials? Or Coke commercials? What about the old Raid commercials? Do you think any of these product creators know alot about animation? I don’t think so. So giving this guy a harsh critique on the animation in his show isn’t that bad. Especially when you consider the amazing high quality custom building that he does. (I mean, didn’t Amid and Jerry just post some good comments about some animation done for an exhibit in my old home town area of New Orleans–and that place got trashed.)

  • Killroy McFate

    That frame grab makes the Baby Jesus cry.

  • Scotty A

    Holy heck.. I thought that graphic was a mash-up to make fun of him…. it’s an actual screen capture!
    This guy is Grade-A bonkers… and not in a good way.

  • Yep well… that Flash work is definitely bad, but the fully animated pieces are well done. Besides I like seeing people, misguided or not, who put a lot of love into what they do.

    And the homes seem fun.

  • Bert Garner

    Uh, “Huck’s Landing”, anyone?

  • Chris Sobieniak

    Managed to download all the vids, and god, I thought he was gone for good! I couldn’t tell I was watching an infomercial or Tom Hignite’s Wonderful World of Homes… IN COLOR! Like noticing the pseudo Oscar on his desk, and one of the animator’s leftover tables being used as a prop for their ‘plans’. And who could go wrong with that music emanating from every nook and cranny to leave your ears in disdain shock.

    Perhaps I outta get Tom to help design the Sobieniak Family Compound one day. :-)

  • FYI – I just received this email letter from Mr. Hignite himself:

    Dear Mr. Beck,
    I had heard about your site recently from an associate who mentioned you had written a few items about my local show Tom Hignites Home Imaginators. While I may have seen your site some years ago, I think the format and graphics are very appealing and congratulate you folks on a very nice resource.

    I have no issue with anyone expressing their opinions except to stress to you and your forum visitors that our opening flash animation should not reflect poorly on the artist who was mentioned. This artist is an exceptional talent trained at Cal-Arts and has been praised by all the ex-Disney artists who worked alongside of him.

    As for any shortcomings from the production, it is proper to aim them squarely in my direction as I conceived and boarded the sequence. It (obviously) had tight budget and time constraints which should never be an excuse for sub-par end results.

    Please fell free to share this. I wish you all the best from sunny Wisconsin.

    Tom Hignite
    Pres. The Miracle Companies
    [email protected]

  • Dear Cartoon Brew forum visitors,

    I heard from an associate that my show was being discussed on this website. First, I want to congratulate you all on a great web resouce (and to the site designers) a most visually appealing format.

    Your comments are certainly fair game and I do appreciate your taking an intrest (good or bad) in “Home Imaginators” and specifically the opening flash animation segment. I both conceived and boarded the sequence and any shortcomings are properly directed squarely towards me.

    The reason for this commentary is to stress that the artist who did the production is an exceptionally gifted talent. He was trained at Cal-Arts and each and every ex-Disney artist he worked with gives him the highest of praise for talent and work ethic. Budget and time constraints ( obviously not in the power of the artist) are evident in this work but should never be an adequate excuse for sub-par end-results.

    With help from observers such as yourselves, we will strive to improve our future works.

    Tom Hignite
    Pres. The Miracle Companies

    Mr. Beck, I understand you spondor a “Worst Of…” event? From what I understand here,you may want to e-mail me an entry form.

  • Tim

    Hmm…well at first I thought that the initial comments by Jerry were mean-spirited, but after reading through the article is appears as though Mr. Hignite is truly suffering of delusions of grandeur, and that this example serves as a good lesson to those who are looking into investing time and money into a start-up studio with no prior experience in the field.

    Hignite’s bizarre dream to become the next Disney is both creepy and worrisome….especially when he decided to put the welfare of his employees at stake.

  • Morry Benton

    It’s nice for Mr. Hignite to respond personally on the site. While a great resource for cartoons, all too often the authors of this site engage in snobbery against cartoons such as these that they mock with the most elitist intent. I certainly enjoy your efforts on animation journalism, but these here are the low points of an otherwise professional site with much to offer. As for Mr. Hignite, though he may not be well-versed in the art of animation, at least he has shown remarkable maturity in handling the all-too inflammatory and unconstructive criticism lobbed against him. You may lecture him on the merits of the quality of the animation his company produces all you want, but I doubt you people can ever come to terms with the art of human relations, for which Mr. Hignite’s post stands as an excellent example.

  • Tom D.

    Jerry and Amid, please do NOT listen to the nay sayers! your actions and attitudes are right on the mark!
    call ’em like you see ’em!

  • Wow, the prices for some of those homes, compared to out here are really terrific!!!

    Of course, I’m not sure I would want to tell people I live in a “Genesis” or “Miracle” development…..

    Can you imagine a “Revelations” development? Fire and chaos all the time, beasts breaking thru your foundation at all hours, horsemen trampling thru the living room. I’m sure they’re well priced but still. Who could sleep thru all that racket.

  • For a while, there was a very interesting subterranean rumble on the web concerning the frankly-told, highly correlative experiences of various customers and subcontractors of Miracle Homes. It sprung up a couple of years ago when the Miracle Studios story was in high gear. It has little to do with the studio’s output, but it dovetails nicely with details provided from ex-Miracle animators to give a more comprehensive picture of the Miracle empire and what to expect in dealings with it. Very juicy were the tales, told by contractors and home-buyers, of the behavior of a certain other Miracle principal, the true hammer of the organization, not the guy shown Lantzing around in the infomercials. Even GOOGLE’s cache and THE WAYBACK MACHINE doesn’t have most of that stuff any more, unfortunately.

  • Steve Wojcik

    Ugh, this guy is just really creepy.

  • It’s hard to believe that someone like Tom Hignite, would be full of so much shi– I mean “dedication” that he would have the audacity to even pretend to be Uncle Walt.