*Subject:* Phil Nibbelink

*Birth:* June 3rd 1955

Animator, Director, Actor, Animation Director, Character Designer, Character Animator, Background Artist, Writer

*Bio Summary:*
“Phil Nibbelink is an American animator and film director as well as comic book writer and illustrator. Nibbelink worked for ten years at Disney and was a directing animator on Who Framed Roger Rabbit?. Then he spent ten years working under Steven Spielberg as an animation director, working on films such as An American Tail: Fievel Goes West (which he directed) and Casper as animation director. He also directed an animated adaptation of the children's book We're Back! A Dinosaur's Story for Amblimation. He was working with Dick Zondag (who co-directed We're Back! A Dinosaur's Story) and the upcoming movie, Cats, when it was cancelled due to the closing of the Amblimation studio in London.

Nibbelink later turned his attention to independent filmmaking, cranking out, not one, but three full-length animated features single-handedly. These films would include Puss in Boots (1999) and Romeo & Juliet: Sealed with a Kiss (2006). He is the founder and owner of his company, Phil Nibbelink Productions.” (Personal Wiki Page)

*Early Life/Family:*
As a child Phil Nibbelink loved drawing cartoons, he had filled his closet with a multitude of sketch pads. Some of his favorite Cartoons were Bugs Bunny, the Roadrunner, the Sesame Street animated shorts and most anything Chuck Jones did. During junior high Phil purchased a super 8 camera and began to create animated shorts. These shorts varied between flips books, cut outs, and stop motion with his sister's Barbies. Phil said “I was just bitten by the animation bug, and I’ve never turned back.” (animatedviews.com) During High School Phil would ask certain teachers if instead of writing a final paper, he could create a film. Many instructors loved the idea and through this process Phil ended up making many films early on. Through these early projects he ended up teaching himself the ins and outs, of the art of film

After high school Phil went to Italy to learn cinematography at Il Instituto di Stato per la Cinematografia el Televisione. He studied film there for a year, the school was part of Dino De Laurentiis’ studios. When he returned to the United States Phil attended Western Washington University where he studied art and film. From there he went on to California Institute of the Arts to study in the Disney animation program.

*Career Outline:*
Phil Nibbelink worked at Disney Animation for 10 years beginning in 1978. He initially started as a trainee under Eric Larson. Working very hard he moved on to be an in-betweener. He then worked as an animation assistant on “Fox and the Hound”, and shortly after was promoted to full animator on the film. Phil's next project was “The Black Cauldron”. He worked closely with Andreas Deja doing character designs and stayed on the film for 4 to 5 years. After that Phil worked on “The Great Mouse Detective” using early computer animation to create the clock tower mechanisms in the film. During the remainder of his time at Disney he did story work for “Oliver and Company” and then went to England to work on “Who Framed Rodger Rabbit”. While on that project he worked with Richard Williams and Steven Spielberg.

After “Who Framed Rodger Rabbit” was finished Spielberg asked Phil Nibbelink as well as Simon Wells to co-direct “ An American Tail: Fievel Goes West” at Amblimation (Spielberg’s London animation company). Over the next 10 years at Amblimation Phil worked on “We're Back! A Dinosaur's Story”, “Balto” and “Cats”

*Comments On Style:*
Phil has a beautifully fluid style of animation. Many of his designs and animation echo his early work on “Fox and the Hound”, “The Black Cauldron” and “Who Framed Rodger Rabbit”. Phil Does a great job conveying the emotion of his characters as well as their personality through their body movements. He captures the essence of his characters whether it be a close up emotional shot or a frantic action sequence.

Bugs Bunny and Road Runner Cartoons, Sesame Street Animated Shorts, Droopy the Dog, Chuck Jones, Steven Spielberg and Mort Drucker.

Phil is a genial and witty man. He shows great independence starting his own studio, and has incredible dedication to his craft shown through his films “Romeo and Juliet”, “Puss in Boots” and “Leif Erickson”, which he produced entirely by himself.

When asked why he does what he does Phil responded: “I have no choice. I’m addicted to creativity. I’ve tried to quit. But I’m just not strong enough. I left the big studio environment because I hate meetings. I just want to make movies. Not talk, talk, talk.” (frederatorblogs.com)

“Phil Nibbelink: That was at the time when Frank and Ollie were just leaving. They had started Fox and the Hound, and they were writing the book upstairs of The Illusion of Life. So we got to see a lot of them. A lot of the old guard were just dying and retiring at the time. It was kind of a ‘changing of the guards’ time for us.

I went on and worked with Andreas Deja on character designs for The Black Cauldron and was on that show for about 4 or 5 years. It seems like forever. Gosh, that was during the time of the takeover. Eisner and Katzenberg came in, and they moved us all out to a little warehouse in Glendale.

We did Oliver & Company. I must say we also did The Great Mouse Detective. I had the great fortune to work with the computers, doing the clockwork mechanism for the Big Ben tower sequence. That was the first foray into computer graphics, back in the days when the most a computer could do was draw lines on a plotter. I was animating to the line art, and the computer drawings were then Xeroxed and painted. That was back in the days when computers couldn’t do full-color rendering or anything like that.” ( animatedviews.com)

“Phil Nibbelink: We formed Amblimation, which was Spielberg’s animation company in London. We did quite a few pictures. I spent another ten years then in London, working with Spielberg. We did Fievel Goes West, We’re Back and Balto. We developed Cats forever and ever and ever. Unfortunately, that got shelved.

Ultimately, the whole production got moved to L.A., where it became DreamWorks. So the core staff at DreamWorks hails from those days in London.” (animatedviews.com)

“Interviewer:What can you tell us about that production of Cats?

Phil Nibbelink: Well, it was originally a London production by Andrew Loyd Webber. I was attached to that for – gosh, I don’t know – six years or something. We developed and developed and developed, and we must have gone through about six or seven different scripts.

I think it probably would have gone forward had it not been for Jeffrey Katzenberg leaving Disney, joining Amblin and creating DreamWorks. During all of that big ruckus. Cats kind of got spun out the back door, during the process. I think if that hadn’t happened, we probably would have made Cats. It never got made, unfortunately. But I worked long and hard on it.

We never got as far as nailing a cast down. It was always in storyboard development. We had many meeting with Steven Spielberg and Andrew Loyd Webber, and it was a lot of fun. But it just never quite took off.

In fact, I got separated from DreamWorks to continue working on Cats for Universal. But then, there was the big buyout from Matsushita. We had new management then. The old guard was kicked out. In typical style, when a new guard comes into a studio, they tend to want to bring their own projects and lose the old projects. So I was considered an old project, and out of the door we went. That was the end of Cats. We’d love for it to be started up again. But I don’t know, if it’s possible.” (animatedviews.com)

“Interviewer: Why did you decide to develop “Romeo & Juliet” by yourself?

Phil Nibbelink I just enjoy working by myself. It’s just a pleasure to wear all the hats, everything from the writer to the director to the storyboard artist – well, I didn’t do storyboards, because I didn’t need them. If I write the script, I have the vision in my head.

In a big studio animated feature, you have to be a specialist. You just have to do one character; you can’t do everything. But it’s kind of fun to be able to play all the parts. Animators are like actors, in that it’s fun to do the villain, the hero, the heroine and then the clown. So to go back and forth is exciting, fun and challenging.” (animatedviews.com)

“Interviewer: Would you break down what exactly the process for Romeo & Juliet was over the 4 1/2 years it was in the making?

Phil Nibbelink: Well, it was 4 1/2 years of animating. Then, it was another half-year of posting, which means editing and sound. Then, another year of all the mumbo jumbo of trying to sell the film and then completing all the masters.

People don’t realize how much work goes into completing the distributables. In other words, people want to have the thing in PAL and NTSC, and they want it in Betacam and DVD. Plus, they want you to do the DVD menus and the poster. Then, we did the promotional art and all the advertising stuff. So a lot of work goes into this stuff. I was drawing all of it.

Then, every new territory wants a whole new set of deliverables. I mean, the Spanish wanted a Spanish poster. I had to do a trailer in Spanish, so that meant more work too.

But the 4 1/2 years of just animating – the way that worked was that I had to come up with a process that cut a lot of the steps. I think that if you work in the big studio environment, many of the steps that are taken – like storyboarding, for example – they need to do a storyboard so that you can communicate to a staff of 300 or 1,000 people exactly what this shot is and what it’s about. But in my case, where you have the director, writer and animator all sitting in one chair, I had a very clear vision of how this thing could go.

I think any writer will tell you that characters tend to run away with the plotline. They tell you what they want to do. You write the script with good intentions, and you know your structure. Then, these characters start to come to life, and they dictate the plot basically – or not the complete structure, but at least how you get there is dictated by how the characters want to go. You find you write it one way. Then, the characters say, ‘No, no, no. I would never say that! I would never do that! I would go that way!’ If you’re courageous, you let your characters take you where they will.

In the case of Romeo & Juliet, I realized that halfway through, you lose Mercutio. Mercutio is killed halfway through – at least, we think he is. And that’s your sidekick; that’s your clown. That’s your entertainment that’s being killed, basically. So I slowly had this little character of a goldfish, played by my daughter Chanelle, who was originally three years old at the time. Over four-and-a-half years, she became better and better and funnier and funnier and quite a character in her own right. So this character emerged slowly and got up to speed. When Mercutio is killed, Kissy the Kissing Fish just stepped right into the vacuum of the clown and took off and ultimately stole the show.

It was kind of fun to watch that blossom, and it was completely unscripted. I would just take these silly improvs that my little daughter would do. I mean, lines like, she would say, ‘Babies – p-ew! I hate stinky babies!’ I said, ‘That’s hilarious!’ So I just would use it.

She was so little when I was recording her, she would get very impatient and very fussy, and she would only do one or two lines and then jump out of the chair and run away to go play. And it’s impossible to work that way, in a big studio situation. But because I have my own recording studio in the basement, I was fine. I would just record the line I needed for that day’s work. Then, she’d run away. I’d go animate. The next day, I’d coax her down with cookies and orange juice, and we’d get another line out of her.” ( animatedviews.com)

“Interviewer: How many drawings did you do for the film?

Phil Nibbelink: Well, I calculated that I did 112,000 drawings. Much of the film is on ones, which means a drawing for every frame of film. Some scenes are on twos, but then there are multiple characters that are also animating on twos – you know, all the crowd scenes. On those particular shots, you have many more drawings per frame, because you have multiple characters. So a lot of work went into this film.

Interviewer: About how many of those drawings did you do every day?

Phil Nibbelink: I had a basic benchmark of about a hundred drawings a day. If I did a hundred drawings a day, I could keep on track. In fact, I made it within a month of my original prediction. I was that tight on the math. ” (animatedviews.com)

“Interviewer: And what was the average day for you like, during the making of the movie?

Phil Nibbelink: Since it was in my basement, of course, I commuted in my socks. [laughs] Get the kids off to school and then go downstairs. I would work on a graphics tablet, and I worked with Flash. The backgrounds were done on a program called Painter – I guess it’s now owned by Corel.

Flash was used for the character animation. Behind it, I would put a bitmap. Flash is a vector-based drawing program. The computer draws in two ways. It either draws with bitmaps or vectors. A bitmap is where the painting is done like a checkerboard. It understands all the pixels going right across the screen, you know, the top left-hand corner is pixel #1, second pixel over is pixel #2… So you can get very painterly effects with that.

Then, with the character stuff, I wanted perfect lines that could be blown up on the big screen. That’s hard to do in a bitmap world, especially because I wanted to keep the files small. So I used Flash, because it draws with vectors. What I mean by that is, the computer understands a line in terms of its start point and end point and one point in the middle that creates the curve. What that allows the computer to do is output the line work to incredibly high resolution, which I would do. I would put out these giant files that would go to the film recorder and those would be shot one frame at a time on film. But, for me, animating vectors keeps the files very small so I can go very fast.

I also used a really interesting program called Anime Studio, which allows you to make a drawing and then put a skeleton into that drawing. You can move that drawing around like a 3-D character. That was used a lot for the crowd scenes and stuff, or sometimes you have an over-the-shoulder shot. The character that is the over-the-shoulder, you just want the heads to turn a little bit back and forth. I would use Anime Studio to animate the back view and then the character you’re looking at would be done in full Disney-style motion.” (animatedviews.com)

“Interviewer: So there were a lot of technical demands. Looking back now on the film, what would you say was your largest challenge?

Phil Nibbelink: It was all a challenge – absolutely everything. I mean, I was fighting technical problems. I had a film recorder that I was fighting with constantly. I was trying to sort through all the technical crazies there.

The other challenge is artistic. I’m trying to be as good as I can possibly be, and I’m constantly frustrated with my own inabilities to draw a straight line. The financial challenges, the burnout… When I was running at full tilt, you know, the kids would come home at the end of the day, and I would have to be with them and feed them and put them to bed. Then, I would go back to work, after they got to bed, and I would work until two in the morning. That kind of schedule, over many years, wears you thin. I was always operating at the cutting edge of burnout.

But I was always artistically challenged and eager – never bored. I never wanted to quit. I was really excited to run downstairs and get those kids off to school so I could jump back into the saddle and wrestle with this vision. It’s a passion. It’s a labor of love.” (animatedviews.com)

Phil's most recent projects include animations for McDonald’s commercials as well as scenes in the Disney Parks “World of Color” show.

- 1979 “Banjo the Woodpile Cat” (tv short) (animator: dogs - uncredited)
1981 “The Fox and the Hound” (character animator)
1985 “The Black Cauldron” (animator) / (character designer) / (voice: Henchman)
1986 “The Great Mouse Detective” (character animator)
1988 “Oliver and Company” (story)
1988 “Who Framed Roger Rabbit” (supervising animator)
1991 “An American Tail: Fievel Goes West” (director)
1991 “E.T. - Entretenimento Total” (tv series) (himself)
1992 “The Magic Voyage” (animation director) / (key animator) / (storyboard artist) / (voice)
1993 “We're Back! A Dinosaur's Story” (director)
1995 “Casper” (animation director)
1995 “Balto” (storyboard artist - uncredited)
1997 “Boogie Woogie Whale Sing-Along” (director) / (writer) / (animator)
1999 “Puss in Boots” (animator) / (director) / (background artist) / (editor) / (writer)
2000 “Leif Erickson, Discoverer of North America” (animator) / (director) / (background artist) /(writer) / (editor) /
2003 “Behind the Ears: The True Story of Roger Rabbit” (video documentary short) (himself)
2006 “Romeo & Juliet: Sealed with a Kiss” (animator) / (director) / (voice: Prince) / (background artist) / (writer) / (lyrics: "Bite My Tail") / (music: "Bite My Tail")
2008-2009 “Wolverine and the X-Men (storyboard artist)
2009 “Ginger” (short) / (actor: Father Morris)

2006 Southwest Digital Film Festival: 1st Place in Animation for “Romeo and Juliet: Sealed with a Kiss”
2006 Southwest Digital Film Festival: Best in Show for “Romeo and Juliet: Sealed with a Kiss”

*Related Links:*
Phil's Website: *http://www.philnibbelink.com/PhilNibbelink.com/Home.html *

*Bibliographic References:*
- *http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0629216/?ref_=nmbio_bio_nm

*Contributors To This Listing:*
Phil Nibblelink
Garrett Kaida
Josh Armstrong from Animated Views
Aaron Simpson from Cold Hard Flash
Julian Phillips from Skwigly.uk

Animators Hall of Fame