As we neared completion of our work on "The Rescuers", I learned that our next picture, "Pete's Dragon" was being staffed, and Don Bluth was the Director of Animation. He was using most of the trainees to animate the film under his instruction, and had pulled them over to his unit for this opportunity. Ollie and Art told me that no more animation was available on "Rescuers", so I would have to spend about three or four more months doing follow-up work and clean-up-- or I could try to be included on "Pete's Dragon". I hadn't spoken to Don for almost two years! Now-- if I wanted any significant future here at all-- I would have to heal this rift.
I decided to approach this in a purely professional manner. I worked on a new personal test at home that I hoped would impress John Pomeroy, a brilliant trainee who had become a full-fledged Animator and sequence director on the film. He was a close friend of Don's. I'd always had a respectful rapport with John, who I knew had advanced under his own talent and perseverance, and I trusted him to be businesslike. I felt he would probably respond according to the merits of my work, and if favorably impressed, he might bridge the gap.
I collected model sheets of "Elliot" the dragon, studied his character, and conceived of an original scene for my test. The dragon anticipated a sneeze, tried desperately to hold his nose, but sneezed through anyway-- helplessly blasting smoke and flames from his nostrils. When the smoke cleared, he stood there apologetically, looking sheepish and blinking. It turned out pretty cute... having personality, timing and humor. I had requested no assistance from any other Animator on this one, as I wanted my bid for inclusion on the new picture to remain a secret. What if I was rejected?
When I received my first film loop from the editing department and threaded it up, the scene looked just the way I had envisioned it. Could I possibly have created something which looked that good on the very first try? That was a rare occurrence-- even for an experienced Animator. Since time was of the essence, I took a deep breath and headed right over to John. He and everyone else close to Don Bluth had re-located in their own separate wing of the building... coincidentally, dubbed, "B-wing".
Feeling like I was entering hostile territory, I anticipated possible defensive maneuvers from the local natives. Had I been talked about these last two years? Would someone see me entering the hall and warn the chief of a hostile invasion? Not a soul saw me tap on John's door, and enter to his welcoming and non-specific, "Come in!" His eyes widened, and then softened knowingly as I peeked around the opening door. He postured himself, back straight, chin tucked in, pale gray-green eyes looking right into me from beneath wavy black hair and arched brows... always the courtly gentleman with a deliberate air of self assurance. He beckoned me in with a graceful gesture. Eyeing the film loop in my hand, he offered, "You have a test to show me?" I nodded gratefully. John faced his desk and continued to draw as I threaded my film onto his Movieola. His hands were fine, elegant-- he held his pencil with as little pressure from the thumb and index finger as possible, gliding it across the paper like a figure-skater on point, tracing perfect curves across the ice. His draftsmanship was exquisite, and he knew it.
"Ok John... I'm ready." He stepped down from his chair and positioned himself beside me. I pressed my right foot on the pedal and held my breath as "Elliot" sniffed three times, held his finger against his nostrils, blinked, tried to hold back, and sneezed smoke and flame into the camera. I shifted my eyes in John's direction without moving my head, catching his warm smile. When the smoke cleared, revealing Elliot looking self-conscious and apologetic, he chuckled warmly.
"That's really cute. Was this your own idea?"
"Yes... I imagined this and thought it might be fun. This is my very first version. I haven't changed anything." He raised his eyebrow in my direction, and looked impressed. "I heard about 'Pete's Dragon'. I was hoping a good test might earn me a chance to work with you guys. Don and I haven't spoken in about two years. That's why I came to you. I hoped time might have healed old wounds." I finally stopped rattling on and waited for his response.
"I heard about all that." His tone indicated a tense refusal to discuss it further. Pause. I looked at the floor-- wondering how Don had presented his own point of view, and if John agreed with him. I sensed that the tension accrued from not wanting to take sides. "I'll take this in to Don right now.", he offered, warmth sifting back into his voice. "Wait here."
As John decisively left the room I fought back tears. His kindness seemed to evaporate any defenses I'd maintained. I quivered inside. About five minutes later, John reentered alone, but smiling. He told me that Don was heading right into Ed Hansen's office to have me transferred from "The Rescuers" onto this picture, and to come back to his room next morning to receive an assignment. When I stepped back out of John's room, I saw Don's back as he strode briskly down the hall and turned into Ed Hansen's office. I was at my desk for only a few minutes before the phone rang, and Ed called me in to see him. He seemed happy to give me the good news, and I was overly conscious of my own irrepressible relief and happiness. It embarrassed me.
I could hardly sleep that night, and the old emotions welled up with newfound intensity. Don Bluth wanted me back! I had vivid fantasies about walking into his room and meeting his gaze with mine. Without uttering a word, he would send his Assistant Director on some trumped-up errand, lock the door, and I would capture his glance just before collapsing into his waiting arms. Passionate tears would be shed in a unison of realization that we were meant for each other now that I was single again!
I selected one of my best outfits that morning, and my intestines knotted up all the way down the freeway to Buena Vista Street. I had to take a detour to the bathroom before I could even progress to B-wing. I strolled into Don's room, feigning nonchalance. It was choked with people. The Assistant Director, Rick Rich, busied himself with Exposure Sheets at the table next to the wall, and another animation trainee stood at Don's desk, receiving suggestions. I awaited my turn. When the other young, aspiring Animator headed off with his stack of drawings, I moved gently over to Don, afraid to look at him now that the moment was nigh. He kept facing his desk and flipping his drawings. I stood there quietly