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Back to the drawing board

Profile: Award-winning Valencia animator returns to his roots for a new children’s book

Posted: December 30, 2011 1:55 a.m.
Updated: December 30, 2011 1:55 a.m.

Rich Arons, of Valencia, illustrates a page for the second “Turbie the Turtle-Duck” book. A graduate of Valencia’s California Institute of the Arts, Arons has been in the industry for more than 30 years.

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At 7 years old, inspired by Daffy Duck and Mickey Mouse, Rich Arons knew what he wanted to be when he grew up.

He just didn’t know what it was called.

“I asked my mom, and she told me — ‘cartoonist,’” Arons said with a big smile.

As director and producer of such animated shows as “Animaniacs,” “Freakazoid!” and “Tiny Toon Adventures,” Arons has certainly reached that goal, winning both an Emmy and a Peabody for his work.

Now the Valencia resident is going back to the drawing board for a new venture — children’s books.

His debut, “Turbie the Turtle-duck,” was released in October by HoundKids books, and Arons is happy to return to his illustrator roots.

“All animation is fun, but there’s something about picking up a brush and painting again. That’s the most fun,” he said.

A storied past

Born in the Bronx area of New York, Arons grew up with the classic Walt Disney movies and Warner Bros. Looney Tunes characters.

“I was amazed by the motion, of drawings coming to life,” he said.

At 17, Arons relocated with his family to Redondo Beach and attended Valencia’s California Institute of the Arts after graduating high school.

“This was in the late 1970s, and the animation department was taught by all the old Disney guys,” he recalled. “It was tremendous to learn from them. They taught us classical drawing and anatomy, in addition to animation. All the things an artist should know.”

During the summer, Arons and his peers would intern or take jobs in Hollywood. For Arons, the first gig was working on Ralph Bakshi’s “Lord of the Rings.”

“He had shot the movie in live action, then had us trace it. It was good training for us kids in school,” Arons said.

Upon graduation, Arons went on to Hanna Barbera, Filmation and Disney Studios.

In 1989, Arons got his big break when legendary Hollywoood director and producer Steven Spielberg came calling.

A vivid, new canvas

Spielberg was heralding a return to the classic heyday of television cartoons with “Animaniacs” and “Tiny Toon Adventures.”

“Steven wanted to see what he grew up liking,” Arons said. “He loved Looney Tunes.”

Arons’ charming, colorful illustrating style was a natural fit for the Spielberg animation venture. He moved up the ranks quickly, becoming director, then producer.

During that time, Arons also worked with George Lucas’ Industrial Light and Magic, learning CG-animation in the process.

“I was very lucky to be trained by the ILM guys. It was challenging, interesting and fun. I like learning new stuff,” Arons said.

That meant eventually crossing over into CG animation feature films, such as Spielberg’s production of “Casper” and Warner Brothers’ “Marvin the Martian in 3D.”

“Adjusting from two dimension to three dimensions and CG was a big factor for me. Some people didn’t make the transition. It’s hard, but to stay on top, you have to learn new technologies,” Arons said. “You have to stay educated and connected to people in the business.”

Doing so helped Arons become a partner in G7 Animation, co-directing “The Life and Adventures of Santa Claus” and working in story development on “Space Jam” and “Ice Age.” G7 Animation also produces commercials and videos.

His advice for anyone going into animation now:

“Learn everything you can, in 2D, 3D and CG. You never know what people will ask from you in terms of a job,” Arons said. “Storyboarding is a valuable skill to have. It’s labor intensive. Basically, access a need and make sure you’re good at it.”

 

‘Turbie the Turtle-Duck’

For years, while working on various projects, Arons had a character forming in his mind. He had written a story about a half-duck, half-turtle named Turbie, who is taken in by a little boy and his family.

Eventually, the little turtle-duck grows larger than his human counterpart and learns to read, leading the duo on an adventure to the isle of Animoxie, where Turbie hails from. There they encounter other hybrid animals, such as Pea-Cocker Spaniels.

“The theme is adoption and finding out where you come from, but it’s fun, too. I tried to be lighthearted about it,” Arons said.

Once he finished the drawings earlier this year, Arons’ wife Jill, a graphic designer, found an agent for “Turbie the Turtle-Duck” while chatting online.

The book was quickly picked up by HoundKids, and is available on Amazon.com, as well as Barnes & Noble’s website (bn.com), and houndkids.com. A deal is also in the works for “Turbie the Turtle-Duck” to become available soon at bookstores and big box retail outlets across the country.

If all goes well, Turbie will be the star of a 13-part series. Arons is already drawing the second book, “Turbie Meets Mammoth Mouse,” which has the turtle-duck rescuing a new friend seconds before he would have become a casualty at a mining operation.

Arons hopes his rhyming stories, while geared towards kids 5-10, will have appeal for all ages and generations.

“‘Dumbo’ just turned 70, and I can enjoy it without any problem,” Arons noted. “I just want to make something people want to see. If it turns out to be timeless, I’ll be very happy.”

To order a signed copy of “Turbie the Turtle-Duck” and watch some of Arons’ animated works, visit www.richarons.com.

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