Fortune seems to have smiled on us again, and the timing couldn’t have been better. It is my pleasure to present as part of our 5 yr. anniversary celebration, a new cat chat with one of Danny's supervising animators, Jay Jackson.

Go on, read!! He’s really cool!

First, a little educational background - Where did you study to become so adept at animating orange cats and the like?

    I studied drawing and painting at the Kansas City Art Institute (where Walt Disney once took Saturday classes). The last 2 years I focused on Photography and Film. My first animated film, done in 1973, was a stop motion Busby Berkeley satire with plastic cows dancing to big band music. Ironically, the Disney film I recently worked on, Home on the Range, includes a Busby Berkeley number with dancing cows. I guess I was 30 years ahead of my time. That first film won a cash award in a local film festival and gave me encouragement.

    Before I graduated, I landed my first animation job at Edutronics, where we made educational films on computer programming. The films were dull, but I learned a little about every aspect of animation. I storyboarded, animated, painted cels, and even shot my own sequences. But I didn't get to do much character animation. A fellow artist and I quit and formed our own small company, which created educational filmstrips and, occasionally, animated commercials.

    When I read a magazine article about how the old animators at Disney were training young people to carry on their legacy, I decided to get my portfolio together and give it a shot. I flew to Los Angeles, and was shocked when I was escorted to the office of Eric Larson, one of Disney's Nine Old Men. He critiqued my drawings, and although he told me I needed to do more quick action sketches, he gave me enough encouragement that I felt I could do it.

    I decided to move to Los Angeles and study figure drawing with some of the teachers recommended by Eric. After I'd been here a year, I read that Don Bluth and his group of animators had walked out of Disney. Knowing they were short on animators, I thought, "This is my chance." I submitted a new portfolio and this time, I was hired.

    For two months, I was in a room next to Eric's, and under his guidance, did 2 short animation tests. Luckily, those tests made it through the Review Board, and I became a rough in-betweener on The Fox and the Hound. Eric was a great man and a patient teacher, someone to whom I'll always be grateful.

How did you come to join Turner Features?

    I left Disney after working on The little Mermaid and became a Supervising Animator at Baer Animation. We did commercials and helped other studios on feature projects. Ironically, Disney hired us to help animate The Prince and the Pauper, so after being away for about a year, I found myself back on the Disney lot. I enjoyed animating Mickey and Goofy.

    I enjoyed my time at Baer Animation, but after five years, the company started to deteriorate. Luckily, Mark Dindal was starting up Cats Don't Dance and asked me to come and work on it. When I signed on, there were only about 8 or 9 people on the project. The script was being rewritten (several times), and while we were waiting for the writers, Mark wanted to do a beat board, which told the whole story in sketches. This really became the outline for the story.

What elements of the 'beat board' did you contribute to? What were some of the ideas that didn't make it?

    One sketch I remember was of L.B. Mammoth in his huge office. He's dwarfed by the size of it and he's standing in front of a huge picture window, looking out over the sprawling studio. It wasn't really a story idea, it was more for atmosphere. That scene didn't make it into the picture.

You were one of Danny's lead animators, - what things did you keep in mind when working on this character?          

    When I started on Danny, I had no idea how he should look. I was confused by Mark's vision of having him walk and dance on his hind legs and interact with humans. My first designs were too human, and pretty awful when I think back on them. I pictured Danny doing sophisticated dance routines, so I studied tapes of Fred Astaire and Gene Kelly. When I discovered the Nicholas Brothers and their incredible tap routines, I was very inspired. My first tests of Danny were based on their steps. I thought the moves looked good, but everyone thought Danny was too human.

    Mark asked Bruce Smith to animate a test and everyone liked the results. Bruce's scene, based on Mark's designs, was a breakthrough for the character. His scene, where Danny glides into Farley Wink's office and says, "Mr. Wink, if you're looking for a talented cat, I'm your man...", made it into the movie.

    Bob Scott did some great drawings of Danny that were full of appeal, so we used mostly his drawings for the model sheets. I eventually reanimated my Nicholas Brothers steps using the final Danny model. One is when Danny jumps off the cab and dances up the ladder to the theater marquee.

    On a side note, my 14-year-old son is a very good tap dancer. When he danced at the Ford Theater in Hollywood this past August, Fayard Nicholas (now in his 80's) was in the audience.

You must have been very proud. :) Speaking of legendary dancers, I understand Gene Kelly was consulted for parts of CDD. Did you ever get to meet him?

    I did meet and talk with him. Several of us had been working on boards for the song Danny sings when he arrives in Hollywood. We pitched them to Gene and asked for his ideas. One of his suggestions was to have people coming out of the buildings and following Danny down Hollywood Blvd., like a growing crowd of followers. (Picture that big scene in Ghandi, only everyone's singing and dancing!) That would have felt like Danny was immediately accepted in Hollywood, which was contrary to our story, so we couldn't use it.

What were your favorite scenes?

    I had a lot of fun animating the scenes where Danny and Sawyer get their scripts for the Darla Dimple ark scene. As an animator, I really like seeing a

character THINK, and this was a great opportunity to see Danny go through several emotions. It was also fun to have him impersonate Edward G. Robinson.

    Another favorite scene was when Danny and Sawyer are leaving Farley Wink's office, and Danny slams the door on Sawyer's tail. Scott Bakula's voice and acting gave me a lot to work with.

Was a lot of Danny's' personality based on Scott himself, or did you have other influences too?

    I met Scott and remember going to at least one of his recording sessions. We taped the sessions and studied them for interesting mannerisms. A lot of my acting was based on Scott's great vocal performance, but not much on his physical actions or look. We talked a lot about Jimmy Stewart in "Mr. Smith Goes to Washington" as a model. I got a lot of my acting ideas by lip-synching the lines in front of a mirror, and sometimes videotaping myself.

Who IS Danny to you?

    Danny is enthusiastic, energetic and creative, much like Mark Dindal.
Danny's also naive and innocent, but very determined and charmingly

What was your hardest scene?

    Probably the hardest scene was also my favorite--the script scene. I did many versions before I felt the acting was right.

Was there anything you WISH had been done or left in?

    If I did any scenes that were cut out, I don't remember at this point.

Was there anything you would have done differently?

    When we had just finished the film, I was disappointed with Danny's character and a lot of the animation. Now that some time has passed, I'm more forgiving, and I enjoy the film more.

What disappointed you? Was it on a visual level or a character personality issue?

    I guess it was a little of both. I think I was looking for more subtlety and more depth to Danny's character. If he has any faults, I can't think of them. Generally, I like more complex characters. Also, Darla was such a strong character and I was concerned that she overshadowed Danny. I think that Frans Vischer and crew did a great job with her. It happens in a lot of animated films--the villain or the sidekicks are more interesting than the main character.

What films have you worked on since CDD?

    Hercules, Tarzan, Atlantis, Treasure Planet, Scooby Doo (my first computer animation), Eight  Crazy Nights, Home on the Range.

3D seems to be where a lot of feature animation is headed, has rising to meet the challenge been hard?

    I enjoy learning new skills, and I like working on a computer, but it is difficult for me so far to get the same enjoyment out of animating on a computer. Like many traditional animators, I'm hoping the software improves so that CG animation can be more intuitive and less restrictive. With drawn characters, you can squash, stretch and exaggerate whatever you want. With a CG character, you're limited as to how much you can manipulate the character. If you want to exaggerate something beyond the limits of the model (or rig), you have to ask a Technical Director to change or add a control. This slows you down and interrupts your flow. However, I'm going to keep working at it. I'm inspired by Pixar's work.

I realize every film has it's setbacks, but hopefully there were some fun moments too. If CDD was to have a sequel, would you be there?

    I doubt that's going to happen, but sure, I'd take another crack at Danny.

True, but we're all glad you were there to help bring the first CDD 'dream' to screen. Thank you!