Meet Norma Klingler

Norma Klingler joins PCA&D this academic year as an adjunct professor in Illustration. The Emmy-Award-winning artist brings a wealth of knowledge and experience from an active career in animation that includes work for Disney, Nickelodeon, Warner Bros., and Cartoon Network.

Some of her very noteworthy projects include work on Disney’s “Aladdin”, “The Lion King”, and “Beauty and the Beast”. She has also worked extensively on many animated TV series including (but not limited to) “Animaniacs”, “Pinky and the Brain”, and “Back at the Barnyard”.

Where are you from and what are some of your early childhood animation memories?
I’m originally from New York City. Some of my earliest animation memories are of watching Saturday morning cartoons on TV. One was “Winky Dink and You”, and another was “Tom Terrific”. “Tom Terrific” regularly aired as part of the “Captain Kangaroo” children’s show. It was an interactive show that encouraged viewers to draw using an overlay sheet and markers on the TV. I didn’t have that as a kid. I drew on the TV… with a permanent marker. Mom wasn’t happy.

Why do you love animation?
It takes us anyplace, anytime, anywhere, which I love. Most of all, it’s incredible to make my characters and worlds come to life for everyone.

What are some of your favorite cartoons, animators, artists, etc?
Warners Bros. Looney Tunes shorts are still my favorite. They still make me laugh, even though I have seen them multiple times. “Pinocchio” is still a favorite animated feature because of not only the animation but the backgrounds are really beautiful. The storybook quality of the film is unsurpassed even today. As far as favorite artists, there are far too many to name because not only do I have favorite animation artists but I also have many favorite illustrators, painters, and comic artists who have inspired me. I’m also inspired by many new artists today.

Where did you study animation?
I was introduced to the idea of studying animation art in the High School of Art and Design in NYC. I was studying to be an illustrator for advertising and books. I wasn’t aware animation was a class I could take at the time, or that a career in animation was even possible! Then I found out that there was an animation course being taught at my school. Unfortunately, the class was only taught once a year and only accepted 12 students. I never got in, but after high school, I was accepted to study at the California Institute of the Arts, where I earned my BFA.

What/who inspired you to pursue a career in animation?
I can’t say. I was always interested in animation, even as a very young child before understanding what animation was. I did not know it was created using a series of sequential drawings to create the illusion of movement. I believed there was a special land where the characters were being filmed. Of course, my older brother took advantage of me being young and gullible. He would tease me with the thought of someday visiting that land to see my favorite cartoon characters. He led me on for a few weeks before I learned how animations were truly created. Years later I got the last laugh when Toontown was unveiled in “Who Framed Roger Rabbit?”.

What was your first job in the industry? Can you share any info on some of your early assignments?
My first professional job was animating with a friend from college. He called me to see if I was available to help him animate on a video clip that was being done for the Gimbels department store in NYC. We created an animation of Santa flying into the department store to be used as an intro and edited together with live footage of children’s visits with Santa. A VHS tape could then be purchased by parents or guardians to commemorate the child’s visit with Santa.

What were some of your favorite animation projects that you worked on? Why?
I have a few favorites. Disney’s “Beauty and the Beast”, where I met Johan, my husband. As a Breakdown artist on “Aladdin”, I did a lot of work on the Genie with lead animator Eric Goldberg, and I got to meet Robin Williams. I also worked as an animator at a studio called Broadcast Arts, where I got to work on the title sequence of the Madonna movie, “Who’s That Girl”.

What is your favorite part of working in animation?
The possibility of working on new, fun projects and taking audiences to places they’ve never been. Meeting other talented people is always a bonus.

What are some of the most difficult parts of working in the animation industry?
The deadlines. Sometimes there just isn’t enough time to complete the work within normal working hours. As a result, I usually worked around the clock to meet deadlines. Also, sometimes a project you work hard on gets terminated before it can see the light of day.

What are the challenges of getting into the industry?
Not knowing anyone in the industry is a challenge, as is being fully prepared for a career at a studio that requires very high-quality work. Professionalism and a strong work ethic are requirements.

Is natural talent required to be an animator, or can it be a learned skill?
It can be a little of both. There have been many instances where a student learned how to animate while never having done it before. After all, back in the very early days of animation, animators never learned how to animate at school. Many of the first animators were illustrators, and some of Disney’s first animators were originally accountants. At the start of the animation industry, there were no schools. They taught each other. They figured it out on the job as they went along. Many showed natural talent and learned quickly while others had to work at it.

What are the most important skills needed to break into the industry?
Drawing and solid draftsmanship are important skills to have. Good communication and being able to express your thoughts and ideas are key. The ability to adapt to the studio’s needs is essential in working within the team structure. In today’s market, knowledge of various software is also very helpful.

Any career advice for current animation students or anyone considering a career in the visual arts?
Whenever there is an opportunity to introduce yourself to someone in the industry, do so if you can. Maintain professionalism. Sometimes you can “meet” people through blogs or websites or they may even introduce themselves if they like what they see via a blog or website.

What’s the best advice you have for students who one day wish to work as an animator at a major studio?
Keep practicing. The more you practice, the better you develop your skills. Maintain the highest quality in your work no matter what style you have developed. Develop observational skills of the world around you. Sometimes your experiences or things you observe may help you develop your animation art skills, and possibly include them in your art. Do not get discouraged. Remember, the pros weren’t born with the skills they have now. They had to hone them just like any other student.

What advice would you give someone who was preparing their portfolio for college?
Keep a professional attitude, and complete all assignments to the very best of your abilities as if the assignments are going directly into your final portfolio, no matter what year you are as a student.