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DICK ZONDAG SUPERVISING ANIMATOR FOR BOWLER HAT GUY DICK Zondag was a late starter in the world of animation. Just 10 years ago he joined Disney Animation and was a supervising animator on DINOSAUR and CHICKEN LITTLE. Before becoming part of the Disney family, Zondag had worked on the Steven Spielberg films, BALTO, LAND BEFORE TIME and AN AMERICAN TAIL.
What were the inspirations for Bowler Hat Guy?
This is Stephen Anderson’s vision of the villain. When he brought me on to do the villain I am sure it was because I had been doing the villains in my last couple of pictures. He had specific ideas about what this villain was. He said this character was integral to the movie and he was anything but ‘keeping looking forward’. He is stuck in time. The other thing that Stephen wanted was that the character ought to be a classic Disney villain, like Captain Hook. He should be a villain but charming and likeable at the same time. So at the beginning there is a feeling that you have kind of seen Bowler Hat Guy before. Then as the movie goes on you realize that this character is completely different. That was the twist on the character that Stephen wanted to ensure was there. When I started working on the character Stephen said it was important to understand that the character was something of a man-child. He was a full-grown man with the mentality of a child. So he said I should research characters like Paul Reubens from Pee Wee Herman or Rowan Atkinson’s Mr. Bean. These characters do a thing where they tend to keep their arms in by their sides… .which is very child like. On the flip side, Stephen wanted to have what this child like character thinks a villain is, so it had to be over the top. So Stephen said to look at Jim Carrey in BATMAN FOREVER and the very big, theatrical poses. He also said to look at John Cleese’s silly walks from MONTY PYTHON. On top of that Stephen wanted to layer in a bit of snake movement, so that the character tends to have a slightly different way of moving, almost like a snake or a lizard. Once we had all that together I had to bring that to the rig and make sure that the rig could do all those things that Stephen was talking about – because this character would not walk or talk like any normal human being. So everything we did ended up having to be almost choreographed as if it were a dance movie. So the rig was built and we were able to put wires in the arms so that every hand movement was exaggerated. It helped get that snake thing that we were looking for.
Is there a trademark in creating Disney characters?
One thing that is really interesting in this picture for me is the story itself – it’s about an orphan boy who is looking for his mother. The one thing I know that John Lassetter wants is for the directors to come to him with a couple of pictures and he will choose the one he likes. Then he will ask them to tell him the heart felt reason that they want to make that picture. In our case, Stephen Anderson is an orphan, so this is a real hit home situation for him. All these characters have to come from a place in the heart and a place or reality… even though Bowler Hat Guy is not real.
What about John Lasseter’s involvement?
Everything that John did was to make the picture better. Even if John were not there, that would be happening. The day before it is going in the can there are still changes, they are constantly tweaking it all the time. The changes were great.
Was Bowler Hat Guy given a balding look so we feel sorry for him?
Also when you realize that he is wearing his blanket as a cape… how sad is that! It was definitely on purpose that we did things to get the audience’s sympathy. He wants to look like he is smart and he’s not.
Is he one of the characters of whom you are most proud?
This is the most fun I have had on any character and I have been doing his for 25 years. This is my favorite character ever. And there is definitely part of me that is in the work.
How many man-hours were involved in creating the character?
I never calculated the hours. But I was on the movie for a year and a half and had four or five guys working with me. The picture probably took Stephen around four years.
What was toughest to animate?
That personality trait, which he doesn’t move the way you think he should. Everything he did was different so we constantly had to think of different ways to make him move. That was hard.
What is your favorite scene in the movie?
I like the scene where he is telling Goob… ‘Some people keep telling you to move on, but don’t!’ That is the integral scene when you realize he is stuck in the past.
Most Disney villains go out with a bang. But Bowler Hat Guy just fades away. Is that a disappointment?
That is the ending they chose and I think it works.
Do you live with your characters as you create them?
Do I dream about them! Yes you do because you have to become like them. My grandson tells me that he thinks I am Bowler Hat Guy – which tells you how I act in front of him.
Would you like to be part of a sequel when Bowler Hat Guy returns?
If this movie is a hit and there is a good enough reason to make a sequel I would definitely love to be involved because I think the character is so much fun. We might find out whatever happened to him. He might be as waiter in an ice cream sore. We joked at the studio about what we thought Bowler Hat Guy became.
What animation film inspired you to have this career?
JUNGLE BOOK. That is not the greatest story in the world but those characters so came to life and to me it is all about really rich characters. To me the characters in that movie were mind-boggling. I completely bought them. You forget you are looking at hand-drawn characters as you are pulled into the make-believe world. And the character I most liked was Baloo. I had a late start because I had a wife and kids. I was always drawing and realized I was not happy at what I was doing, so we ‘sold the farm’ and moved across the country and my wife supported me through college and we just did. That turned into 15 years of 2-D animation and now 10 years of CG.
What about CG finally creating believable animation versions of the human frame?
If you want that what is the point? Why not just shoot it in live action? We are bringing something straight out of your imagination on to the screen. That is the whole purpose of animation for me in the first place.
How has the process of change been from 2-D to 3-D animation?
I think it has been very successful and is going to work out very well. We have some of the most talented people from everywhere in the world at the studio. But as long as you have a good story it does not matter which medium you make it in. Fog Princess is being made now in 2-D. At the end of the day you need a great story.
Because you live with your characters how hard is it to switch off, say when you take your wife out for a meal?
You mean do I embarrass her all the time… yes! She tells me I have to stop it. So I have to try and act as normal as I can but when I am around the grandchild it’s ok.
So do you scribble ideas on a napkin during a meal?
I do that all the time. That does not bother her as much as when I start doing the actions of a character when we are out in public. She tends to walk 10 feet behind me.