Shortly after Teddy Ruxpin Online began in 1998, (Then as Josh's Teddy Ruxpin Supersite) Jeff Wilson was my first interview. In the years since, Jeff has become not only a dear friend to me but also to the Teddy Ruxpin community. Parts of this interview are new, and parts were conducted in 2007 and 1999.
Check out Jeff's Book and Website to see more of his talent at work, and learn more about him.
JOSH: Tell us how you came to work on The Adventures of Teddy Ruxpin
JEFF: I took the subway to downtown Toronto for my interview with Chris Schouten, probably in June of 1986.
I was worried over so many things, but felt an inexplicable calm come over me when I disembarked the train. While waiting in the lobby of the hotel where the interviews were held, a gent in his 60s sat beside me and leafed through a newspaper. He turned my way and mentioned he could see I was troubled and asked me what was concerning me.
It shook me a bit that this stranger was so forward with me, but I told him I was there for this job interview and it would involve moving my young family far away from home, yet I dearly wanted to be given a chance to do well at it, but here I was trained as a cartoonist, not an animator. I was worried over my chances of success.
As I spoke, a lady probably also in her 60s, entered the lobby, sat near us and looked at me with empathy in her eyes, as I poured my heart out. The next thing I knew, the two of them were talking about how moved they were about what I'd just talked about.
About then, I got the call for my turn and the gent looked squarely at me and said. "I have every confidence that you will get this job and do well at it."
I met Chris Schouten and we hit it off immediately, although we were never close during the production. To my surprise, I was offered a job as a Senior Animator before the halfway point of the interview.
The moments in the lobby never made a lot of sense to me and kind of got lost in the years to follow. Now I look back and wonder how much impact that brief interaction had and what it really might have meant on a spiritual level.
JOSH: What was a regular work week like on the show?
JEFF: A regular work week was heavy on the whole staff. Often I would work 50 to 60 hours in the posing department, and then 10 more in the model design dept. After a sluggish start, we worked at an unbelievable rate of 2 and a half episodes a week. Some weeks we completed three! For our first few shows, there were two rooms of key animators, but production was falling behind schedule. The idea came along to divide the group into two "teams". I was in the group headed by Marc Sevier, and the other group was headed by Drew Edwards, both very experienced animators. We became friendly competitors, and production sped up dramatically.
JOSH: What were your favorite characters and scenes to draw and what specific tasks did you work on?
JEFF: Grubby was the most fun. Drawing all those circles was easy! I became known as the "love scene" expert. The episode where Grubby fell in love with Karen the Caterpillar contained some of my better work. In fact, one of the scenes appears on the videocassette packaging. I also did the love scene, where L.B. proposes to Buffy Bounder. It was funny how some people seemed to be better equipped to do certain scenes better than others, and the team leaders knew who these people were. My title was "intermediate poser". My task was to draw the key movements of a scene in black pencil. I would often complete 10 - 15 scenes a day. I was later added to the model design department - doing model sheets for the characters, and often designing new characters.
JOSH: Did you or the cast ever listen to music, or do anything else for inspiration before you went "animatin"?
JEFF: There was a rule. Nobody inflicted their music on others without unanimous consent. Most times, "Walkmans" were the medium of choice. One of the neatest things about music was in Feb of '87, when we worked on the Grunge beach party episode. In Canada, February is a harsh month because of the wintery weather. Anyway, somebody in our dept. had this idea of having a "Beach Day", and everybody got into it! The cassette players played actual songs from this episode and people would get up from their desks and just boogie on the studio floor. This guy came and stood at the doorway with his eyes bulging out of his head. Someone said "Lighten up, we are just enjoying ourselves". The man said. "It's not that. It's just that I wrote that song, and never thought I would see anyone actually dance to it!" Turns out he had been in another department and recognized his tune, and came to investigate! Needless to say, he joined in on the celebrations. It was a special moment!
JOSH: How long did production last?
JEFF: The preproduction of the opening five episodes was set to begin after Labour Day, 1986. I was one of the team of animators who were called to report to Atkinson's Fairmont Street studio (Ottawa) at that time, but we found the work would not begin for another month! I had packed up my family to move to Ottawa for the job, so there were a few scary moments during this time! So, we moved office furniture and doodled at our desks to keep busy most days. If you got lucky, you got to help storyboard artists complete their work in the first five episodes. At this point the key animation was actually done in Korea. This was so these particular episodes could air in Sept. '86. In television syndication, 65 episodes is the normal length of a series, so we knew when things were winding down. For us in preproduction at Atkinson, the contract was completed in May 1987 - right on schedule!
JOSH: There is a rumor- that a lot of 'R' rated titles had been written on some books in one of the library scenes during a period of boredom, and when these were shipped off to Korea for the finalization of the animation they were never erased and can still be seen in the episode. Any truth to this?
JEFF: Yes, I do remember that. There had been a scriptwriter's strike at the beginning of production and then, around X-mas time, there was another real lag in scripts and timing sheets, or "dope" sheets, as they call it in the biz. I seem to remember viewing that particular show on Global TV here in Canada, but the titles that got into the final cut were just random words. Nothing at all X-rated and certainly nothing that really made sense. For the most part, the titles were erased.
I remember a co-worker telling me the story of Teddy's sponsors and our brass getting together in a screening room, anxious to see the latest rushes from Korea, when this just hit them in the face. It looked bad for us and obviously there was just nowhere to hide. As I recall the guilty artists were chastised and warned it would not be tolerated if it ever happened again. It never did, but it probably left a bad taste in the mouth of the sponsors.
JOSH: Any other memories you'd like to share, anything funny or special you remember about your time working with the show
JEFF: I remember a carload of artists (I'm pretty sure it included all of the following: Bob Jaques, Greg Holfeld, Kelly Armstrong and John Delaney) doing a regular Toronto-Ottawa commute, along which were exits to a couple of Ontario towns named Tweed and Belleville. One trip I guess they got a bit silly, as animators are prone to, cleverly re-dubbing them "Tweeg" and "L.B.-ville"! I've never forgotten that and whenever I travel that way that memory gives me a great chuckle.
I recently bought a book on Canadian animation called "Cartoon Capers" by Karen Mazurkewich and E. Chester Ong, full of some interesting and amusing anecdotes of Canadian animation and animators from the 1940s to the present, some of whom I knew and worked with on Teddy. Through it I found out that Bob J. and Kelly A. later got hitched, going on to do some important animation on the "Ren & Stimpy Show."
JOSH: In closing, let me ask you to elaborate on Grubby's Romance, since it's one of your most memorable works and my favorite episode.
JEFF: About Grubby's lost love "Karen", you weren't alone in your infatuation with her, as she was quite a hit among male animators in Ottawa. Variations of her image showed up on walls around art desks and circulated around the studio for weeks after that show. The female animators were non-plussed, wondering what all the fuss was about, but guys were gaga over her. That was the thing too: they DREW her best, too! When I got the 2nd Teddy DVD, that was the one show I couldn't wait to see again, mainly because of that episode. I guess you're right, she IS the unattainable female. Alas, Grubby couldn't have her and I suppose neither can we.
Another side to all of that is an observation by Lynn Johnston about her first TV specials, produced in the mid-1980s (at Atkinson Film Arts, coincidentally). She said that it was the macho, testosterone-driven male artists who seemed to best capture the innocent, sweetness of Elizabeth (the Patterson's little girl in the early days of "For Better Or For Worse"), not female artists, some of whom could be said to even exhibit these traits. A scientist could probably study the phenomena and discover the reason why, but for now it remains one of those things that make us go "huh?"
Thanks again, Jeff, for talking with us way back when the site was brand new - and for keeping in touch all these years. --- Josh
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