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Faculty Spotlight: Ron Fleischer

May 13, 2013

By Megan Kirby

What do The Powerpuff Girls, the tooth fairy, and a squad of suicidal lemmings all have in common? They’ve all been animated by Ron Fleischer, animation program director at Columbia College Chicago.

Well before Fleischer was creating animated shorts or teaching at Columbia, he was a kid making stop-animation videos with action figures on a Super 8 camera. “I always wanted to get into this very unrealistic field,” he says.

Fleischer graduated from Columbia in 1984. In 1990, he joined Startoons, which had a subcontract with Warner Brothers Animation. From there, Fleischer served as a director and production manager on cartoons like Tiny Toons, Animaniacs, and Pinky and the Brain.

When Fleischer moved to Los Angeles to work on The Powerpuff Girls Movie, he got involved with Columbia’s Semester in L.A. program—and through lecturing there, he found out about a tenure track position back in Chicago. He was offered two jobs in one day—one from Columbia, and one from Disney.

Today, he’s been teaching at Columbia College for 11 years. “The next best thing to being offered a job by Disney is being able to turn them down,” he laughs.

Fleischer uses his experience in the field to lead by professional example. “Your students will respect you if you actually practice what you preach,” he says. “Show them where the bar is. Show them what they need to aspire to, what they need to reach for.”

He continues to create short animated films, with 2005’s Lemmings winning the Chicago Award at the Chicago International Film Festival. While Fleischer describes Lemmings as more for “the Adult Swim crowd,” his new feature, A Tooth Tale, is geared for a younger audience. It follows six-year-old Tommy Malloy’s plot to trap the tooth fairy and shake her down for her loot. “Even if it’s for kids, there’s always a little darkness in there,” he warns with a smile.

Fleischer says sticking to a traditional animation process—with thousands of hand-drawn frames making up the bulk of the films—helps him to stay in control of the final product. He also stays on top of things by hiring former students and Columbia graduates.

 So where does Fleischer get his story ideas? “Usually my creative process is involuntary,” he says. “I have hundreds of really bad ideas. If I can shake out a good idea every few years, that’s great.”

As far as animation inspiration goes, he cites last year’s Paperman short as a “beautiful hybrid” between traditional and digital media, and points to Pixar as a pillar of great storytelling. He jokes about his technical knowledge occasionally getting in the way of watching new animation—the first time he saw Monsters, Inc he was so fascinated by Sully’s fur he missed out on large chunks of the plot.

Still, he believes storytelling is the cornerstone of a solid cartoon. “If you don’t have a story that’s going to connect with the audience, with engaging characters that the audience cares about, then you’re not going to have a successful film,” he says.

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