Airbrush Story
by Joe Hunt
I was the In-House Staff AIRBRUSH ARTIST /Art Support at Robert Abel & Associates in that "moment before" everything was done by Computer, when key elements were still being ACTUALLY Painted by an ACTUAL Airbrush !...I was "that guy" who did that Airbrush !....
During this “Golden Age” at RA&A, the Art Directors were like Alchemists who along with the Camera Department Magicians turned my unassuming Black Lacquered Animation cels into scores of Colorful Sequences and Dazzling Clio Award-winning TV Spots.
Back then, in order to create a truly smooth slit-scan effect ~ we discovered that nothing gave the required opacity and finished look we were after quite like Black LACQUER airbrushed directly onto clear plastic animation cels. In order to assure the right back-lit appearance, I painted the transparent cels while illuminated on the white glass of my waist-high light-box table….In pursuit of Artistic Wizardry, I literally spent many hours “Looking into the Light.“ !
Strange Patterns were formed by Static Electricity when Airbrushing on Plastic. In order to deliver the Ultra-Smooth Airbrush cels that the Art Directors would use to fulfill their visions, I learned that I had to wipe down the cel with a cloth or paper towel in order to remove the Static Electricity with every pass of the airbrush…Since some final completed cels ( referred to as a“ hero”) took hundreds of passes of the Airbrush (and wipe downs) to create, it became a tedious and time-consuming production, furthered as much by Unbridled Tenacity as by Artistic “Talent” !!! I learned the benefits of patience in making Art…Wax on, Wax off.
Some memories of those days may be a bit “foggy” as the work itself often sent me into a very light-headed state of near-hallucination!…The Lacquer required to produce these lustrous results was seriously toxic ! I tried other, less hazardous paints, but they simply did not produce the flawlessly smooth look of Lacquer, so I willingly placed my health in jeopardy at the Alter of Art ! (The things we will do in our Youth in Pursuit of Excellence !!!) …
The entire 3rd floor would complain on “Airbrush Days“, as even with my door closed, the Noxious Fumes permeated the building !!! Eventually we installed a specially constructed Air filtering system over the Light-box table in my office and I wore a gas mask while airbrushing !!! Those improvements helped with the fumes, but did not entirely eliminate the perilous cloud of Toxicity! .... Surely in today’s Workplace Safety Consciousness a process like this would not be legal….but it was a different time, and we had Urgent Acts of Visual Sorcery to commit !
Sometimes the immediacy of the projects was shocking! I remember one particular time when I created some Artwork for a hurried Art Director, and to my great surprise saw the Finished Commercial Broadcast a few hours later when I went home that evening and turned on the TV !!!
Imagination and Play were encouraged by Robert Abel…As evidenced by the large open Ping Pong Room just outside my office !… The sounds of pinging and ponging were sometimes interrupted by the whir of a blender whipping up Frothy Margaritas in the Break Room!….I will confess my personal “Free-Spirited Indulgence of Choice” was spending hours of “Company Time” perfecting my technique on the full-sized arcade version of the Ms. Pac Man Video Game installed in a room at the end of the hall !
When not watching a “Ping Pong Grudge Match” go down between 2 Famous Art Directors or challenging my favorite Hippie Freelancer to yet another game of Ms. Pac Man, I was actually able to contribute Airbrush Elements to many very memorable TV spots.
Some that stand out for me were commercials for Stephen Spielberg’s “E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial” and TRW’s "Changing Pictures" as well as effects for Disney’s groundbreaking Motion Picture “Tron” …. I also created Hand-Lettering, Illustrations and other elements which were used in spots or title sequences for Hallmark Hall of Fame, NBC, Chevrolet, Pontiac, Burger King and many others....
It is perhaps fittingly poetic that Robert Abel had the surname that he did, for he enabled many of us who worked at RA&A to hone skills and forge alliances in an unparalleled creative environment that would carry us into a variety of other Artistic Pursuits.
My own Art Career took on some varied and interesting "plot twists" including stays in Hong Kong and China as a Senior Toy Designer for Mattel Toys, a trip to Taipei as a Product Designer and Working in Paris, France for a time as an Interior Designer …among other adventures!....
I think it was my time on Staff at Robert Abel & Associates that firmly ingrained my patient “Anything it Takes” Work Ethic ….The days of seeing my “Black and White on Plastic” become Living Polychromatic Motion Pictures taught me that Anything that can be Dreamed ….can be Realized.