Our Exclusive Interview with Bill & Ted's Excellent
Animation Supervisor, Craig Zukowski

Bill & Ted?s Excellent Online Adventure: How did you first become involved working in animation production?
Craig Zukowski: Hanna and Barbera had classes at night, training artists for entry level positions in the in-between department.  Harry Love was in charge of this program.  He would have some of the Great Old H&B Animators come in after work to teach us how to be good assistant animators.  After a few months production picked up, and there was a need for new in-betweeners.  I was lucky enough to be one of them.  This was in 1977.  I started working on "Superfriends."

B&TEOA: How did you get the job working on Bill & Ted's Excellent Adventures for Hanna-Barbera?
Craig: I just finished supervising animation retakes on "The Bible Story" at H&B's Studio in Poland.  Paul Sabella, and Jane Barbera were happy with the work I did in Poland, and asked if I would be interested in supervising production in Taiwan?  I said may be.  What kind of show would I be working on?  Paul said that I could choose between "Gravedale High School" or "Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure."  I asked if it was the same Bill and Ted as the live action movie.  Paul said, yes.  I said, Excellent, this is exactly the kind of show I would love to work on.

B&TEOA: What exactly was your job (explain what an overseas supervisor does) and where were you working?
Craig: On this project as an overseas supervisor I was responsible for all of production.  I would go over the storyboard with the layout artists; make sure they had the correct models of the characters, props, and locations.  We would find out the best ways to set up for camera moves, what field size would work best, make sure backgrounds and action hooked up to the next scene.

After I checked the layouts I would hand the scenes out to the animators.  Here we would talk about the story moment by moment, and how the acting would best tell the story.  How to make the acting funny.  How to time the actions.  We talk about any technical problems, like camera moves, animating backgrounds, cell levels and paint problems.  Keep in mind that the shows were all hand painted on cells and shot on film, not done on the computer.

When I met with the background painters we would talk about time of day, hooking up lighting from scene to scene, the different styles needed for the different times in history, and make sure the overlays and under lays all worked with the animation.

Most of the work was done at Wang Film in Taipei Taiwan R.O.C.  If I remember correctly about six of the thirteen shows were done at H&B's studio Fil Cartoons in Manila Philippines.  One show was completely done by Fil Cartoons.

I would fly to Manila from Taipei at 5:00 AM.  Get there at 11:00 AM.  Check into a hotel, have lunch in their five star restaurants.  Then be at Fil Cartoons to hand out layouts for the next show.  The next two or three days I check layout from the previous show.  Packed them up, and hand carry the layout to Taipei.  Then handed them out to the animators the next day.

B&TEOA: Was there any language barrier working in Taiwan?  If so, how did you work through it?
Craig: Yes there was.  I had a translator.  I would explain one idea or problem at a time to her, then she would translate it to the artists.  This took a long time, but gave me time to prepare for the next idea or story point.  This was the best training I ever had for becoming a good director.  This forced me to be very simple and clear in my directions.  I learned fast that there was no time or energy for artsy / fartsy B.S.

Also all the storyboards and x-sheets where all translated and written with Chinese characters.  The problem was some of the translators just looked the English words up in a translation book.  This would leave room for interpretation with the Chinese meaning.

For an example of how the translations changed a story point.  The word relax (in the dictionary) was translated as sitting beside a river fishing.  There was no mention of fishing in the story.  The character was to change his acting from very upset to relaxed.  However the scene came back re-drawn with the characters sitting beside a river fishing.  As you can see even with a translator I needed to rely on other means of communication.  I would act out much of the story and the animator would draw my pose and expressions.  Of course it would be drawn like the model of the character in the story.

Many times the artists and I would draw what we wanted to say.  With this approach there was no miscommunication.  Over the years the translators and artists learned western humor and slang very well.

B&TEOA: Did you enjoy working on the series?  If so, what specifically did you enjoy about it?
Craig: Yes. It was one of my favorites.

I enjoyed making the animated characters act like the real actors in the live action movie.  I also was creatively challenged by making the animation style match the styles of the different times in history.

B&TEOA: Any interesting anecdotes about your time working on the program?
Craig: I was very pleased with the quality of animation we reserved from these two studios, when you consider the fact that these were somewhat new studios and they did not have much experience doing animation, or understanding American humor.

Now when you add in the fact that Wang Films produced more minutes of animation in that one year then Walt Disney studios produced in all their years to that date, 1990.  You can see that this show had very inspired people attached to it.

B&TEOA: There seemed to be a lot of love that went into the show . . . from getting the original voices to reprise their parts to the detail in the background, basing the historical figures on modern and classic celebrities . . . plus the show stayed really true to the spirit of the Bill and Ted movies without adding any talking pets or setting it on Mars.  What (or who) can you attribute this to?
Craig: I would say the writers and director first. Then my production team overseas. And I like to think that all my efforts showed on screen as well.

B&TEOA: Oddly enough Hanna Barbara dropped the series after only one season and production went to DIC (we won't talk about that unpleasantness).  Yet the series had done fairly well in the ratings.  What happened?
Craig: I'm not sure, but at that time the only reason to have D.I.C. produce a show was to have it done cheaper.  We used to joke that D.I.C. meant Do It Cheap.

B&TEOA: A very specific question: I noticed when the Hanna Barbara episodes aired on Fox as part of their package a few of the minor mistakes in the show had been fixed (things like wrong backgrounds, Ted speaking as Bill, Bill speaking as Ted, etc.).  I thought this was quite interesting . . . any idea who fixed these things?
Craig: Sure I know.  A retake list from LA. came to me every week.  I would find the problems, then meet with a team that would fix all the mistake or retake as we call them in animation.

It became common this year to air the shows with a few mistakes in them.  We would fix them before the re-runs would air.  Again, there was just too much animation being produced that year.

B&TEOA: What have you worked on since?  Give us an update about yourself.
Craig: After this project I met an Actor/ Writer/ Producer, by the name of Dennis H Christen.  He had a script that he was developing with Universal Studios.  They asked him to add animation to it.  We met by chance that day.  I was out of work and thinking it was time for me to produce and develop some of my own ideas.

It turns out that we had common goals and started writing together the next day.  Together we wrote a wonderful story titled "Lundon?s Bridge."  Several studios were very aggressively going after this script.  But in the end, they were afraid to take a chance on an unknown story that would have 3D animation in about one third of the script.

You see at that time 3D was only used in short commercials.  They did not think it was technically possible to do this much animation in a feature film.  Also the budget simply would have been too costly.  The other problem was that it is a fantasy adventure.  They were looking for the next Terminator film, not a fantasy about the love and belief a little girl has in her family.  After three years of putting all my money and time into this project, I was financially and emotionally burned out.  I needed to find a paying job.

Paul Sabella was then in charge of MGM Animation.  He gave me a job supervising layouts in Taiwan.  Once I was back in production, I came right back to life, and back on salary.

The good news is that Dennis and I now have a novel coming out very soon based on our script.  The name of the novel is "Lundon's Bridge."  Now with 3D animation so popular, and fantasy being the choice of many filmgoers, we have new hopes of getting the story on the big screen.

Our many thanks to Craig Zukowski for taking the time to answer our questions!!!!!