Comedian Louie Anderson: How to Draw Your Life in Animation
Co-sponsors: Toonseum, The Labs @CLP
October 22, 2013 | 4 p.m. | Carnegie Lecture Hall, Oakland
Louie Anderson, of the Emmy-award winning animated series “Life with Louie,” led the discussion: “How to Draw Your Life in Animation,” joined by series creator Matthew O’Callaghan and Pittsburgh’s own Joe Wos, Executive Director of the Toonseum. For more about Louie’s journey interview on Pittsburgh Today Live.
Orange Is The New Black Writer Lauren Morelli
Co-sponsor: University of Pittsburgh
October 15, 2013 | 7 p.m. | University of Pittsburgh
Writer and Pittsburgh native, Lauren Morelli, of the critically acclaimed show “Orange Is the New Black,” kicked off the Steeltown Spotlight Series. For more about how Lauren went from growing up on Pittsburgh’s North Hills to writing one of television’s hottest shows, read this article in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette and watch Lauren’s interview on Pittsburgh Today Live.
Saturday Night Live director Don Roy King
Four time Emmy Award-winning Saturday Night Live director Don Roy King joined us the evening of February 5, 2014 to discuss his journey from growing up in Pittsburgh to becoming one of the most versatile and experienced directors in television. The event was held at the University of Pittsburgh Frick Fine Arts Building.
King has directed 7 seasons of SNL, earning him 3 Prime Time Emmys. In addition, he has won an Emmy directing The Mike Douglas Show, and has also directed ABC’s Good Morning America, CBS’s The Early Show, Survivor, The Howard Stern Show, and the Olympics, among many others.
King is also the creative director for Broadway Worldwide, a venture that brings theatrical events to theaters and pay-per-view cable. The company has produced four major productions, all directed by King, including the 2010 Tony-winning musical Memphis, which earned a 2011 Emmy for Technical Direction.
From his home in Valencia, California, affable Matthew O’Callaghan – character designer, director and series creator of Life with Louie – spoke about the lasting rewards of meaningful collaboration, like the one he has had with Louie Anderson, and how he got his start in the animation industry.
Matt: “I was an artist as a little boy. As soon as I could hold a crayon I began to draw. I was a big fan of Disney and Warner Brothers.”
He started, as many kids do, by drawing cartoons and then developed an interest in animation, learning what he could from books.
Matt: “Kids today have so many more resources than I did. I started with some little super 8 movies – just 15 or 20 seconds.”
With the encouragement of his father, Matt broadened his drawing skills and developed a portfolio that won him admission to the California Institute of the Arts, a school created by Walt Disney and affiliated with Disney Studios to this day. By the age of 20, Matt was animating for Disney and working on big projects, like The Little Mermaid and Who Framed Roger Rabbit?
Matt: “Then I got interested in story and writing, and creating and directing, so I decided to leave Disney in order to branch out. That’s when I met Louie and he was interested in creating a show. Watching his standup I noticed that he talked about his family and about growing up and I thought, ‘There’s an idea there. That’s something I can work on that everyone can relate to — growing up in a family.’
It was challenging because we really didn’t know each other at the beginning – and that took some trust. He had to trust me to animate his life – his idea for how to share stories based on his life. I had to prove to him that I was going to handle this material in a way that respected him and his stand-up act and his childhood. It was this little tag team of creative ideas.
The process of creating an animated character based on a real person, especially one with whom you’ll have an ongoing collaboration, requires sensitivity and skill.
Matt: “Sometimes I would look at Louie – the real Louie – and I would just draw him over and over. That’s what I did for the first couple of days.”
From those drawings, I started caricaturing him. Then came the process of transforming an adult Louie into the character of a little boy. You want to make him as appealing as you can, so you have to look at the adult and then at pictures of little kids and their proportions. Generally little kids have bigger heads, and they have smaller limbs. So I had to draw it, put a piece of paper over it, and re-draw it — put a piece of paper over that and re-draw it. You keep pushing the proportions. And I kept working at it that way until I had the character of Little Louie. And all along I had pictures of the real Louie Anderson all over my room!”
Professional recognition of the Life with Louie series, including multiple Emmys and three consecutive Humanitas Prizes for Children’s Animation, validated the creative investment that Matt and Louie shared.
Matt: “The things that work really well are the things you fall in love with and I really fell in love with this concept and this kind of storytelling, and Louie fell in love with the project, too.”
Still, with all of his continued success and opportunity, the experience of creating Life with Louie has provided lasting, personal rewards for Matthew O’Callaghan.
Matt: “It’s still one of my favorite things that I’ve done — and I’ve been able to do a lot of nice things. And Louie’s still passionately proud of this property. And we kind of have this lifelong friendship because of it.”
Over the years, Pittsburgh has developed a reputation for producing reality TV stars. Two Pittsburghers have won “Survivor,” and locals have appeared on “The Amazing Race,” “So You Think You Can Dance” and “America’s Got Talent,” to name a few, plus who could forget when former Steelers star Hines Ward claimed the Mirror Ball Trophy on “Dancing with the Stars?” This pedigree of reality stars is one of the reasons Emmy winning TV producer Bob Kusbit and “Survivor” and reality TV casting manager Ellen Berkman Davis were able to team up with the Pittsburgh Innovative Media Incubator to find “Pittsburgh’s Next Reality Star.”
“I’m a Pittsburgh girl,” said Davis. “The way we talk [in Pittsburgh] is very genuine….My approach to casting is very grassroots–I always want to look in the neighborhoods. I was really interested in the project here because Pittsburgh is my neighborhood.”
Kusbit, a Latrobe native and Clarion College alumnus, agreed. “Pittsburghers are great simply because they aren’t New Yorkers, or from L.A. or Miami. In those cities, people are very aware of the media and they all want to be stars. When you’re removed from that, you live your own life and do what makes you happy. Someone who’s a colorful character in Pittsburgh is doing it because that’s who they really are. At the end of the day, if you’re faking it, the audience will see through it and the show won’t work. Pittsburgh is full of people who are being themselves on a daily basis, and that’s exactly what we need for reality TV.”
Both Kusbit and Davis returned to Pittsburgh from New York and Los Angeles, respectively, because they valued Pittsburgh as a great, affordable place to raise their families. After returning to Pittsburgh, both got involved as judges with the Steeltown Film Factory, and it was through Steeltown CEO Carl Kurlander that the two met. “Steeltown has really done a lot to build up the entertainment industry in Pittsburgh,” Kusbit said. “We thought ‘Pittsburgh’s Next Reality Star’ was a stunt that would be good for everybody. It was a good way to get Steeltown ties in the entertainment community, it would benefit Pittsburgh as a community by showing off how many creative people we have here, and it would be good for my production company because it would help us find someone interesting to build a show around.”
Kusbit is the President of One Louder Productions, and he produced a number of series, including MTV’s multiple-Emmy winning reality “MADE.” Davis was a casting manager for such reality shows as “Survivor” and “The Amazing Race.” “Ellen was the perfect person to partner with because of her casting experience with these huge reality shows,” Kusbit said. In cooperation with the Pittsburgh Innovative Media Incubator, the two agreed to team up to hold the contest to scour Pittsburgh for the next dynamic Pittsburgher to be the star of a reality series. “Pittsburgh’s Next Reality Star” set up a website calling for applicants, held open calling in places like the South Hills Village, and started a Facebook page promoting the contest. “We found a wealth of talent, and endlessly interesting people” Davis said. “We had a number of excellent applicants, and I think we’ve chosen a great story about people with great hearts.”
“In the past, if you weren’t from New York or L.A., people would wonder what you were doing pitching shows,” Kusbit said. Now the bias has gone away. The more people who [work in the industry from outside of New York and L.A.], the more New York and L.A. people are willing to work with them.” Davis echoed similar sentiments: “When I was in L.A., it was huge, and I wanted to make it feel like Pittsburgh. Living back here was a choice for that reason.”
You can get a sneak peek at the winner -, Chet with his partner Bob, two farmers mentoring girls to become pageant contestants – this year’s “Pittsburgh’s Next Reality Star” in this piece from KDKA TV.