Craig McCracken
"If it screws up and everyone hates it then it's my fault, and I'm the one who gets fired."
Emru Townsend: Going back to the production aspect--so they give you the go-ahead on this; it's very unlikely that you're going to just sit down and animate the whole thing yourself. This is a seven-minute short, for crying out loud.

Craig McCracken: It's done overseas.

But what is done here, exactly? You, obviously, are taking care of the storyboarding, as you're the director of it. But what else is done on this end?

Storyboarding, all the models, all the backgrounds. We do the background keys, the background paintings. Depending on the production, we either do a really tight storyboard that can be sent overseas and animated from there, or we lay out the show here. Most of the shorts are being laid out here, and that gives us greater control, as far as the final product, because we get the breakdowns, the levels of what should be animated, and what should be held... And the drawings are my drawings, and I've approved them all. A lot of times, if we just send a board over, what comes back doesn't look anything like the model pack, or the storyboard, it looks completely different. Having layouts here just gives us more control.

How do you find that as a method of working? Of course, I've never done anything overseas, but I think that I would find it very frustrating if I were directing something.

Totally frustrating. it's just easier when you're controlling things here, because as far as animation goes, [with] every step of the process you come up with a new idea. So you do the layout, and the layout looks a bit different than the 'board drawings just because you're finessing it more, and then if I had the opportunity to animate it here, maybe the whole theme would change, and have a different feel just because I'm really starting to move stuff around. Going overseas, I'm not there to supervise. So it is frustrating, and we try to control it and give as much direction here as we can, so they can interpret it, but it never has the same finesse as if I had done it here. But it's just cost.

The timing and all the sheets are done here, and that's where we try to put the most information in, and we try to really lock down what we want. If we're clear enough, on like, we don't want this to move, and we only want these things moving, and it should be timed like this, and we do that over and over again... and if we get it back and it's completely different, the producers here are pretty faithful to what our first intentions were, and they'll just send it back and go, "Do it again. You didn't do what we asked you to do."

The shorts are getting a little more care as far as that goes. I mean, [with] normal television production, we just have to get stuff in the can, to get on the air. But the shorts, we're sending it back and forth more times, and trying to get it as close to what we wanted as possible.

Well, TV is more rushed. You have, say, thirteen half-hour episodes for one season for one show, whereas here you've got, what forty-eight seven-minute shorts?

Yeah, forty-eight seven-minute shorts, and the directors are doing one short at a time, so we can spend more time to make that one short work. So it's a little bit different than regular television, but still not the perfect situation but the best that we can have.

You mentioned "we". Who else is on your team on this side of the Pacific?

I just mean all the other directors working on the shorts program. A few of the shorts are being animated here in the States, but the majority of them are being sent overseas.

What I was referring to was for The Powerpuff Girls--you oversaw everything, but was there anyone else who worked on it on this end?

Yeah, there are other people--Paul Rudish worked on it, who art directed Secret Squirrel, and a guy named Genndy Tartakovsky, who was my animation director, and he has one of his own shorts in the program [Dexter's Laboratory. --Emru], and he also worked on Dogs; it's all basically mutual friends who I've worked with in the past, whose work I trust.

So you still have that sense of control over it, of it being your work when it's done.

Yeah. I mean, it's a lot of mine, what I wanted to do with it, compared to what it's like on other shows. I haven't really experienced the real horror stories of the industry, where some big producer is making all the decisions and saying what he wants, and his wife comes up with a funny idea so it has to be stuck in the cartoon, because he's the boss. I know that stuff happened for a long time, that's the way the industry is basically run, but I really haven't come across that.

So you have the good fortune to have your first production actually be your first production.

Yeah, it really is. There have been times where a producer will say something, and he'll go, "Well, maybe we should do this." And I'll go, "No, I don't know if I really want to do that." And he's like, "Okay, it's your show." But if it screws up and everyone hates it then it's my fault, and I'm the one who gets fired.

Still, that's a pretty rare thing for Hollywood, and for animation. That's pretty impressive, at 23!

Yeah, I lucked out.

So what do you see yourself doing at 25, my old age?

Oh, I don't know. I'll probably be bitter and tired of it by then. I'll be out of it. [laughs]

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Originally printed in fps #6 (Summer 1995)