Written by Don Ratzlaff Tuesday, 09 February 2010 19:40
Low-key and soft-spoken, the retired concept artist who started drawing for Pixar in 1992 answered every question tossed to him last Tuesday when he visited Brian Stucky’s class of 19 Goessel High School art students.
But Luckey made it known at the start that his presentation was going to require some effort on their part.
“I do a few of these show-and-tells, and I don’t talk much,” he said quietly and with the hint of a smile.
By the end of class time, much of the truth had come out.
Luckey may be best known for his work at Pixar as a character designer for “Toy Story,” “Boundin’,” “Toy Story 2,” “A Bug’s Life,” “Monsters, Inc.,” “Finding Nemo,” “Cars,” “The Incredibles” and “Ratatouille.”
Luckey was the voice of Agent Rick Dicker in “The Incredibles,” and he wrote, directed, composed the music and designed the characters for “Boundin’,” which was nominated for an Academy Award in 2003.
“That may be the best thing I’ve done,” he said.
Prior to signing on with Pixar, Luckey was an animator for “The Chipmunks” early in his professional career, helped bring to life Tony the Tiger (Kellogg’s Frosted Flakes), Toucan Sam (Fruit Loops) and Snap, Crackle and Pop (Rice Krispies) for TV commercials, then wrote and animated many short films for Sesame Street and the Children’s Television Workshop.
And that’s only scratching the surface.
Luckey told the students he joined Pixar as the fifth animator on a staff of 40 people.
“Now Pixar is over 1,000 people and probably 300 to 400 in the animation department,” he said. “People have asked me what the secret of Pixar is, and the secret is they work until they get it right.”
Luckey’s experience as Woody’s creator illustrates the point. It was his vision to make the lead character for “Toy Story” a cowboy, and he created more than 200 versions of Woody before the final one was selected.
Drawing a character is barely half the process.
“You have to figure out who they are, and you have to act,” Luckey said. “You do a lot of defining of what kind of gestures they do, what kind of jokes they tell.
“I don’t know, it just happens. You don’t get away with doing one and forgetting about it.”
Students’ questions ranged from the nature of his work on various projects to how much he got paid.
“When I started in the business I was making $40 a week,” he told them. “Some of these kids today go to art school and might make $120,000 a year right out of school.”
To work at the professional level Luckey achieved may be appealing to high school students, but it’s not easy to make it there.
“You can’t just do a few drawings and send them off to a studio and think they’re going to hire you,” Luckey said. “Nowadays, you’ve got to have a good clip of film and a storyboard that show your sense of story and concept.
“It’s tough to get into, really,” he added. “It’s not so much being able to draw anymore—unless you’re a concept artist—because (with computer animation) they build a model and we use it forever.”
Luckey has talked about his craft and career in schools and other settings around the world. His booking at Goessel High was the unexpected result of his boyhood friendship with Goessel resident Larry Barnett—and the insistence of Patty, his wife.
“He probably wouldn’t have done it for me,” Larry said with a chuckle.
The Barnetts moved to Goessel to be near their grandson, Cody, who is a freshman at GHS. Luckey was visiting the couple to help celebrate Larry’s birthday.
Patty took some books of Luckey’s artwork to Stucky, and informed the teacher the animator was in town if he would like him to visit the class.
Stucky was quick to say yes.
“Sometimes a great teachable moment just falls into your lap,” Stucky said.
Though his gifted hands now bother him on occasion, Luckey agreed to appear.
“He loves kids,” Larry said of his friend, “and Patty talked him into doing it. She’s the one who made arrangements for Bud to be at the school. I can’t say no to her, and I guess Mr. Stucky and Bud couldn’t either.”
After the presentation, Stucky said, “This was a tremendous opportunity for our kids to see a real world-class person.
“What this meant to me as a teacher is that it opened a door of opportunity for the kids—for them to get a picture about what could you do even coming from a small town,” he added.
“Regardless of where you come from, do you have the dream to do something great with your life? I think he really did that.
“What struck the kids, too, was that he was such a humble guy,” Stucky said. “He just did not want to brag about himself at all. But this was something he wanted to do his whole life, and he did it.”
Larry Barnett agreed with Stucky’s assessment of his old friend.
“Bud was one of those kids who knew all along what he wanted to do when he grew up,” he said. “He’s done so many things that we don’t even realize because he doesn’t blow his horn, so to speak.
“He loves kids, and he was more than willing to talk to the class.”
At Patty’s request, Luckey created a sketch of Woody as his young audience watched the master animator demonstrate his craft.
Stucky was the one who was lucky enough to claim ownership of the autographer sketch when class was over.
“I’m going to frame it, absolutely,” he said.