Among the featured artists at Pac Con Palouse is 61-year-old Thomas Cook. While his name is unfamiliar, the characters his hand brought to life are in the childhood memories of an entire generation.In the 1970s and ’80s, back when cartoons were only on TV on Saturdays and were drawn frame by frame by human hands, Cook worked as an animator at Hanna-Barbera and other animation studios. Just like a flip book, page by page Cook sketched the movements of characters like Scooby-Doo, the Smurfs, He-Man, and Thundarr the Barbarian.
Now semi-retired and living in Hayden, Idaho, Cook talked to Inland 360 about his career, which began in Los Angeles when he enrolled in a comic book art class while working as a bus driver. The second class the teacher pulled him aside and recommended he try animation. In three weeks he had a new job.
“It was so much fun I couldn’t believe I was being paid to do this,” he recalls.
360: Did you have an artistic bent before you became an animator?
Cook: Yeah, I can remember when I was about 9 when “The Flintstones” came out on TV, I would sit in front of our black and white TV and every time Fred turned his head in a certain direction I’d sketch, because there are certain directions characters would repeat. By the end of the show I’d have a drawing I’d done. That was the beginning of the drawing.
360: What was the most popular cartoon you worked on?
Cook: He-Man is the one that seemed to connect the most with people. In 1982 Mattel created all these toys — He-Man, She-Ra, Skeletor, Castle Grayskull — and they came to Filmation Studios because they were interested in making a syndicated TV show that would play Monday through Friday after school. … It was very popular because it was the first show where there were actually toys.
Before that it was always kind of weird when somebody would say, ‘Hey what do you do for a living?’ I would say I’m an animator, but they really didn’t know what an animator was. They’d ask what shows, but unless you were a kid, you didn’t know who Thundaarr the Barbarian was. Now, because kids were asking for He-Man for Christmas, it was really the first time everybody I met knew what I did.
360: What do you think of cartoons today? Is it possible for someone to have a career doing what you did or has technology changed that?
Cook: I ended up working at Microsoft in 3D animation in the mid-’90s when it first started. I got in on the ground floor. When Disney went 3D there were animators in their ‘60s who just couldn’t figure out how to use a computer. A computer doesn’t make it easier, you fight the computer like crazy. What it’s done is taken people that can’t draw and allowed them to become animators. … A character is already built for you. Now you don’t have to struggle with a picture of him looking up. It’s just moving the camera. You do lose something. I had a friend who had a character that was an owl. In one scene he took off flying really fast. My friend drew in a frame of a space shuttle and so for a second it looked like the owl was a shuttle. It’s really tough in 3D animation to change your character and make it look like something else. … I assume at some point you’re going to hear these words, ‘the return of classic animation.’
Cook will present the talk “The Art of Animation Production” at 1 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 1, at Pac Con Palouse.
if you go
WHAT: Pac Con Palouse
WHEN: 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 1
WHERE: SEL Event Center, 825 Schweitzer Drive, Pullman
COST: $20 general admission, $15 students and military, available at Safari Pearl in Moscow or online at pacific-conventions.com
OF NOTE: Comic books from every era will be for sale along with graphic novels, action figures and collectables. Panel topics include kick-starting a graphic novel, makeup specialists and live art demonstrations. Also featured are arcade and card games and a costume contest with a $250 cash prize and gift certificates.