INTERVIEW WITH TAD STONES!


Continuing Ducktales week, I present to you a wonderful interview with Tad Stones, animator and writer for much of the Disney Afternoon! The main focus is mostly on Ducktales, but in a few months we should be discussing the other shows as well!

TMB: Let’s start from the beginning: how did you get your start in TV animation?

TS: I started in Disney features in the relatively new training  program under Eric Larson about five months after Ron Clemments and about two months before Glen Keane.  After suffering through inbetweening, I moved into Story on The Fox and the Hound, sadly in the years before everyone got a credit.  I then boarded and produced an educational short which got me sent to WED Enterprises to work on EPCOT Center, I did a little stint consulting on TV projects like Donald’s 50th Anniversary then did some random writing and presentational boards for the Consumer Products folks.  I returned to features and developed some original ideas for features.  Then I was invited to meet at Michael Eisner’s house with him and Frank Wells just a week after they started.  Michael felt that Disney Animation should be the premiere studio in whatever medium used animation.  He had been a network executive for Saturday morning TV. I was invited because the Consumer Products guys had been given the job of putting animation on TV and they wanted me there.

After that meeting I returned to features but none of my projects moved ahead.  I was actually thinking of leaving Disney to write science fiction stories while earning my living as a storyboard artist.  I ran into Michael Webster who was running TV Animation under Gary Kriesel.  I asked about storyboard work and instead he invited me on a tour of the office.  I had forgotten they had wanted me from the start.  They made me an offer and I met with Jeffrey Katzenberg who said they could really use me and “it’s not a one way street. You can come back if it doesn’t work out.”  Although it turned out it sorta was.

I started as Creative Manager of the department but spent most of my time creating pitches for shows and giving notes until I became Co-producer and Story Editor of the third season of Gummi Bears.

TMB: Prior to your work on Darkwing Duck and beyond, what was some other shows you worked on? Any favorites? Any embarrassments?

TS: After Gummi Bears I did Chip ‘n Dales Rescue Rangers, then Darkwing. I pitched a comedy science fiction show after that but that’s when they started tilting toward doing feature spinoffs.  So I did Aladdin, inadvertently created the direct to video business, Hercules and produced Buzz Lightyear of Star Command.  I then began an action adventure series based on Atlantis which was cancelled in mid production when the movie performed poorly.

I was in development on a few more shows then shown the door in 2003.  After some random pilot assignments including one for Stan Winston about robots, I produced The New Adventures of Brer Rabbit for Universal Studios then two animated Hellboy movies for Revolution Studios.  After that? Almost two years of near unemployment until I began storyboarding for Bento Box Entertainment where I’m currently boarding on Bob’s Burgers.  But I am also in post production of a pilot I wrote and produced at Bento for Disney Junior.

The favorite projects of my career are Darkwing Duck, Hellboy and a graphic novel I’m currently working on.

TMB: A friend of mine pointed me to this – http://youtu.be/ggmVm2ljDuwSport Goofy in Soccermania. It’s interesting, predating Ducktales, but released the same year (1987). Was Soccermania, to use today’s vernacular, a “backdoor” pilot to Ducktales? How was it working on the short? It’s odd that Disney would produce and air a short while developing a slate of TV animated shows. How did it come about?

TS: That was one of the projects I did for the Consumer Product guys where they got to know me.  I wrote and boarded it then handed it over to a group of artists that I had brought together to do some animation on an EPCOT special I was producing.  The special never happened but we turned the footage into a short called Fun With Mr. Future.  The same group was going to do the animation for Roger Rabbit and needed some more experience.  They took over the Goofy project and reboarded it.   That group was led by Darrel Van Citters, co-founder of Renegade Animation and the late Joe Ranft of Pixar fame.  Roger Rabbit didn’t happen until years later and few, if any, of those guys were on it.   Then the Soccermania  project was taken over by features who used it as a training film for young animators working with Ward Kimball.

Not only was it not a precursor to Ducktales, I was called into a meeting with Kriesel and Webster.  Gary thought that the show was a disaster that could hurt Ducktales which was then in production or about to be.   It was like they wanted to fire me for what I had done.  I was able to laugh about it because it had been so long since I had been on it.  Ironically, the first thing Darrell and the guys did to my boards was strip out all the “heart” and story moments to make it a long gag fueled featurette, all the same kind of stuff that I was giving notes about to put into Ducktales.

TMB: On to Ducktales: It’s a fantastic show based on the comics by the talented Carl Barks and Dona Rosa. How did you best determine how much of their works would be used for the cartoon? A few episodes credit Barks specifically. How much say did Barks have in the show’s creative direction? Did he enjoy working on it?

TS: Barks had no say in the production. I never met the man.  Tedd Anasti and Patsy Cameron were brought in from The Smurfs to story edit.  I remember their early pitches included “The Lobster Mobster.”  Very young, gaggy stuff. They backed off that but still had a lighter touch on their stories. I think they created a lot of the new characters.  Jymn Magon loved the Barks stuff, as did I, and story edited/wrote the big five part adventures.  He was also the one to work with Don Rosa.  I would’ve liked to have seen more Barks in it but in truth it might have been the mix of Jymn’s adventure work and the sillier adventures of Tedd and Patsy that created the mix that was so popular.

And understand that Ducktales was HUGE.  George Lucas once said Ducktales was to syndicated TV what Star Wars was to the movies.

TMB: Scrooge McDuck is a fascinating character. At the risk of over-analyzing, Scrooge loves his family, but loves his wealth almost as equally. It’s an interesting dichotomy. Usually when the typical wealthy miser finds out “what’s truly important,” he falls into the “family first” trap. Scrooge often has that as being a central conflict to his actions, often getting hung up in the pursuit of wealth over his family’s safety. I suppose then my question is how much of this was cognizant to the crew during production? How did you approach that balance of “love of family” vs. “love of wealth”?

TS: The TV Scrooge was always a softy.  His love of money or investments might start them on an adventure but if it came to a choice between the nephews and gold it wasn’t really a choice.  Jymn certainly mined the Barks stories for ideas  but really the show was more inspired by those stories instead of based on them.  It wasn’t like the writers were constantly comparing it to the source material.  Hey, early on I was giving notes to them and that certainly wasn’t my mandate.

TMB: You managed to get 100 episodes, which is fairly rare for a TV show, let alone a cartoon. How do you feel you best managed such a lofty goal? What do you think was key to such a development?

TS: Man, I always seem to be bursting bubbles in these interviews.  The number of episodes was purely a business decision.  They did 13 weeks of five episodes right off the bat.  That’s 65.  It was a huge hit so they did more.  New characters were wanted to freshen the show so I pitched Alien Duck, Bubba Duck – a prehistoric duck and Roboduck.  Eisner and Katzenberg picked Bubba and Robo turned to Gizmo.  I think Jymn Magon was responsible for taking that one line description and turning him into a real character.  I did more development on Gizmoduck, even naming him Fenton Crackshell but it was the writing team of Ken Koonce and David Weimers that fleshed him out.

TMB: What’s your favorite episode? Who’s your favorite character?

TS: I haven’t watched them since then but I’d say it would be Jymn’s five parter with the giant gold coins and lost temple.  I had no favorites among the cast although I grew to love Launchpad when we redeveloped him for Darkwing Duck.

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  1. #1 by Michael Howe on February 18, 2013 - 3:25 pm

    Wow, it was weird to see you guys bring up that ‘Sport Goofy in Soccermania’ short.

    I did a small ‘Retro Recap’ on my own blog regarding it last August:

    http://theentertainmentnut.wordpress.com/?s=sport+goofy

    I always found it to be one of those strange animation anomalies from Disney: it’s just ‘there,’ not as the beginning of a series, but as a ‘special.’

    It almost sounds like there’s a story regarding the development of it as well. Most of what I know came from a small conversation I had on AnimationNation back in the early 2000’s. However, it would require finding the key persons to tell more about it.

  2. #2 by kjohnson1585 on February 19, 2013 - 10:57 am

    Hey Michael,

    Mr. Stones gets into the Soccermania short in the interview. It was a basically an advertising piece for the Consumer Product. It a great short, but definitely an anomaly, like you said, both as a piece of production AND pretty divergent in tone in relationship to their prior shorts. I quite liked it.

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