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Matriculate, Animate . . . or Enlist?
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Travis was not one to skip school. He attended regularly and generally paid attention in class, but he refused to do homework. “It infringed on my study time,” Travis says. “I had my own curriculum which I pursued avidly. I wanted to write and produce feature length cartoons — musical satires, of course. I read all I could find on related subjects and while in high school, I did animation for national television advertising campaigns.” He even wrote a medieval musical adventure, “Sir Smudge,” with the idea of making it his first animated feature film.
Aurelius “Sam” Skapars was somewhat of a loner, too. “Sam” made good money. His step-father was a building contractor and Sam was much in demand as a finish carpenter. Somehow, he and Travis came to be good friends. Sam taught Travis about finish carpentry and Travis taught Sam about animation. Sam built Travis his first “light box,” as much to see how it worked as anything, but the first time Travis ran the results of his hours of work, Sam and his younger brother, Zinthus, were hooked. Both excellent draftsmen, they even assisted on the animation for Duncan Yo-Yo's “Shrieking Sonic Satellite,” when Travis was facing an impossible deadline. And they taught Travis enough Latvian to get in and out of their house without scaring their grandmother. For a while, it looked like Travis had the start of something, but supplies were expensive, assignments were rare and the pay was not as good as finish carpentry. When Travis and Sam graduated high school, Sam had a new Corvette and a well-paying career as a finish carpenter before him. Travis had some cels, some cel paint, some expensive camel hair brushes, a fair supply of Rapidograph pens, some pencils, his own pencil sharpener and about 1,000 sheets of pre-punched cel paper.
This was long before computer animation and some basic math was required. There are (still) 24 frames to a second of film (1,440 per minute). Allowing for an average of only 4 cel layers per frame, that's 5,760 cels per minute, which, multiplied by 85 minutes, about the average running time for a feature length cartoon, means 489,600 cels. Cel animation was labor intensive, demanding long hours of meticulous artistry and attention to detail, and not just graphic detail. A rudimentary understanding of physics, keen observation of facial expressions and body language and a profound sense of the ridiculous are also required.
Galloping Cedric
Travis's older brother, Jim, after two years at Boston University, had joined the army to get his military obligation out of the way and to earn credit toward school through the GI Bill. In the early 60's, the draft hung over young American men who were not going to college like the Sword of Damocles, so after about half year of scraping and scratching and working incredible hours to keep his little animation company going, (all the while everyone was telling him to get a job) Travis followed his brother's example, except that he joined the Navy.
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