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Saturday Cinema: Interview with animator John Pomeroy

Animator John Pomeroy working on the animation for 'Pocahontas.' Courtesy of Artist

John Pomeroy, animator for films such as Pocahontas and Curious George talks with Saturday Cinema host Lynne Warfel about his life as an animator and the films he created. Tune in on Nov. 21 at 10 a.m. central for the full interview on Saturday Cinema.

LISTEN Nov. 21 at 10 a.m. central

Puppets first captivated John Pomeroy. He loved building puppets and anything to do with puppetry, but soon his path led him to painting, and then to a career he never anticipated: animation. His passion for painting, especially landscapes, led him to the idea of being a background artist, creating the landscapes and scenes on which animated characters come to life and tell their stories.

Once he made that decision, some pretty venerable studio doors began creaking open for the young man. In the early 1970s, and on the third try, he was accepted into the Disney Animation Training Program. He still wanted to stick with background art, but his boss advised him that to be a good background artist, he needed to understand everything about animation, so he was assigned to learn at the drafting table one of the "The Nine Old Men", Eric Larson.

Walt himself gave the nickname to the men responsible for most of the studio's output from Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs in the 1930s, onward for the next 40 years. In the animation world, "The Nine Old Men" are legendary. Soon after, when John saw his first animation test, he was hooked. Or, to quote John, "I was obsessed."

John worked on Winnie the Pooh and Tigger, Too as his first short feature. It was nominated for an Oscar. From there it was on to The Rescuers, The Small One, The Fox and the Hound and Pete's Dragon. John went from background artist to animator, a job he calls "an actor with a pencil" but by the late 1970's, John and fellow animators Gary Goldman and Don Bluth became disenchanted with the rut they found themselves in at Disney and decided to strike out on their own to create feature films in a new vein.

They created Don Bluth Studios in Ireland where John gave life to memorable characters as an animator and directing animator in An American Tail and Land Before Time, working with composer James Horner. Secret of NIMH holds fond memories of working with Jerry Goldsmith. Other Bluth projects included All Dogs Go To Heaven, with the opportunity to work with actors Burt Reynolds and Dom deLuise, and another James Horner score. John also helped in the creation of the laserdisc video games Space Ace and Dragon's Lair

By the early 80s, Bluth Studios dissolved in Ireland and John and his wife, Cami, returned to America and settled again in Burbank. John felt burned out. As a much-needed break from the intense life of an animator, he returned to his first love, painting, until he was approached about creating Captain John Smith as a supervising animator for Disney's Pocahontas feature, and before he knew it, he was back at Disney.

After Pocahontas came a chance he had always dreamed of, animating the Firebird in Stravinsky's "Firebird" segment of Fantasia 2000, again as supervising animator. He went on to work on other features including Atlantis: The Lost Empire.

Eventually, as the studios went from traditional 2D animation to CGI, John's contract at Disney wasn't renewed and he struck out as a very successful freelancer on animated features like The Simpsons Movie and Curious George. He's a true Renaissance man, with his career also including being a painter of famous historical events, a sculptor, portrait artist, puppet builder, lecturer and college professor.

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