History and Entertainment

An Animator’s Tale: An Interview with Phil Nibbelink

Animated cartoons have always been a major part of my life. They were my Parent’s babysitter. I would be glued to the screen watching hour after hour of the classics: Bugs, Popeye, Betty Boop, Beany and Cecil, Woody Woodpecker and of course anything and everything created by Walt Disney.

I was so engrossed, my fondest dream was to become an animator myself. Unfortunately I lacked one key ingredient, talent. I worked hard, spending much of my free time and trying my best, but to no avail. Stick figures, poor ones at that, were the result.

In spite of this I never lost my love for the art.

1988 saw the debut of “Who Framed Roger Rabbit?”, it was a dream come true for fans of the medium.

Roger Rabbit brought back virtually every major character in the history of Cartoons. Not only that, for the first, and probably only time, Characters from competing Studios actually interacted with each other. Donald and Daffy, Bugs and Mickey working in tandem. It was amazing.

Several months ago during the course of a conversation with my friend Alex Cirulis who helped me found this site, I learned that he was friends with one of Roger Rabbit’s lead animators. I was star struck. What are the odds? The man’s name is Phil Nibbelink.

He and Alex became friends when the Company Alex and his Father started for converting CGI to film sold him some of their equipment.

Phil was a Directing Animator on Roger Rabbit. He also spent ten years working for the Crown Jewel: Walt Disney Animation where he was a Character Animator for the “The Fox and the Hound”, Character Animator, Designer and Voice Talent for “The Black Cauldon” and Character Animator for “The Great Mouse Detective.”

He worked along side Don Bluth who eventually struck out on his own and created such classics as “The Secret of NIMH” and “An American Tail.”

After leaving Disney, Phil went to work for Steven Spielberg and directed the sequel to “An American Tail”, “Fievel Goes West” which was nominated for a Golden Globe Award and stared such Hollywood luminaries as Jimmy Stewart, John Cleese, and Dom DeLuise. He also directed the Children’s classic “We’re Back! A Dinosaur’s Story.”

He later went out on his own forming Phil Nibbelink Productions where he wrote, directed, animated and voiced the Character of the Prince for his own full length Feature: “Romeo and Juliet: Sealed with a Kiss” as well as a 1999 version of “Puss in Boots”

Nibbelink has also worked as a storyboard artist for Marvel on both X-Men and Wolverine cartoons.

Upon discovering Alex’s unique friendship, I asked him if Phil would be willing to do an interview for Torchlight. As it turned out Phil is on-site in China working on a new project, however he was kind enough to respond to a list of questions I submitted.

I’m very pleased to be able to share this with you now and of course want to thank Mr. Nibbelink for taking time out of his very busy schedule to do so.

Torchlight:

How did you first become interested in Animation?

At what age did you first start experimenting with animation and how?

Phil Nibbelink:

“I’ve always drawn cartoons…ever since I can remember, and that became flip books. Then at 13 I bought a Super 8 camera and I was off and running and I’ve never looked back!”

Torchlight:

Were there any particular animators or styles of animation that inspired you? Warner vs Disney? Your preference?

Phil Nibbelink:

“I’ve always been a Disney nut. “Animation” by Preston Blair was my go to book and it is still my touch stone for style and technique.”

Torchlight:

What Schools did you attend?

Phil Nibbelink:

“Straight out of high school I went to Rome to study film, then Western Washington U to study art and film and then off to California Institute of the Arts for Disney Animation.”

Torchlight:

What was your first job in the field and how did you get it?

Phil Nibbelink:

“I was selling cartoons in Junior High, and animated commercials in High School. The jobs just came to me.”

Torchlight:

How did your involvement in “Who Framed Roger Rabbit” come about?

Phil Nibbelink:

Richard Williams, the animation director for Roger Rabbit, was walking around the studio looking for animators to join him, and I begged him to hire me.”

Torchlight:

What were you responsible for on that film?

Phil Nibbelink:

“I was a directing animator for Roger. I’m enclosing a show reel of my work.”

Torchlight:

What was it like working with Richard Williams?

Phil Nibbelink:

“I loved and respected him. A real genius.”

Torchlight:

What were the biggest challenges on “Who Framed Roger Rabbit” and how did it differ from your previous experiences?

Phil Nibbelink:

“We were working to the live action. They printed every frame from the movie and we would draw Roger over top of the prints. It was an amazing experience really.”

Torchlight:

How did you come up with the idea for “Romeo and Julliet: Sealed with a Kiss?”

Phil Nibbelink:

“Seals have no fur, fingers or costume…so they’re fast to draw. I had to do 100 drawings a day to stay on schedule so “line mileage” was an important consideration.”

Torchlight:

What were your biggest challenges on that film both technically and financially?

Phil Nibbelink:

“I did EVERYTHING myself. I was a one man band. I worked for 4 years on that film. So it was a LOT of work.”

Torchlight:

At the time critics took you to task for changing the ending of a classic yet in 2011 Gnomeo and Julliet did exactly the same thing. Do you think you were just ahead of the curve?

Phil Nibbelink:

“Every movie gets criticism. It’s unavoidable. If I had a Shakespearian ending with a double suicide I would have had far MORE criticism.”

Torchlight:

What project brought you to China?

Phil Nibbelink:

“I’m currently working on the Chinese classic “Monkey King: Journey to the West.”

Torchlight:

As you’re a traditional animator, what’s your take on Computer animation?

Phil Nibbelink:

“Computer animation is harder. Far more technical problems, and harder to breath life into the characters.”

Torchlight:

What do think the future is for animation technologically? Do you think computers will ever be able to accurately mimic traditional animation?

Phil Nibbelink:

“Sure. They already can and do. Have you seen “Paperman”?”

Torchlight:

What’s your next project?

Phil Nibbelink:

“Not sure…probably the sequel to Monkey King. These things take years to make so I’m not in a hurry to line up the next gig.”

Torchlight:

Thanks Phil for taking the time to do this.

Phil Nibbelink:

“My pleasure.”

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s