Startoons founder, Animaniacs director McClenahan speaks at Columbia College

Startoons founder Jon McClenahan directed the new German feature “Jester Till.”

Jon McClenahan, founder of the now-defunct Chicago animation studio Startoons, is back in town?speaking Dec. 3 at Columbia College?and exploring his options, having just completed a German animated feature.

“The film was released Sept. 26, and I was released Oct. 1, as per contract,” McClenahan said. McClenahan directed “Jester Till,” based on legendary Renaissance German Till Eulenspiegel, for Munich Animation. “Unlike most Germans, he was a pretty funny guy,” McClenahan said.

“Till” had grossed $3.7 million in Germany, Belgium and Austria as of mid-November. “It’s a fairly pretty film, the producer got well more than his money’s worth on the production, and the kids seem to enjoy it,” McClenahan said. “For my part, I’m satisfied the artists did their best under the circumstances.”

McClenahan is currently directing a 5-minute film for the American Dental Association, and determining his next step. “The ADA film will keep me out of jail until March,” he said. “In February there’s another German film starting, and I was approached about possibly directing it, but while I’m back in Chicago I’m putting my feelers out.”

McClenahan started his animation career at Hanna-Barbera Sydney (Australia) as an assistant in 1980 and was studio director from 1985 until it folded in 1987, when he returned to his native Chicago and started Startoons.

McClenahan ran Startoons from its founding in 1988 until the studio closed shop in 2001. Among a variety of work, Startoons did episodes of Warner Brothers series including “Animaniacs” and “Tiny Toons.” McClenahan won an Emmy in 1997 for an “Animaniacs” episode he directed. He attributed the tapering off of business to the rising popularity of Japanese animation, unfounded rumors about the demise of traditional animation, and executive mismanagement at the studios.

“I hate to say it, but the only way this industry will get back on its feet is when the lawyers and accountants lose interest,” McClenahan said. “They’ve driven animation, especially 2D, so far into the dirt that I believe they’ll lose interest soon.”

McClenahan argues for government subsidies to stem the tide of animation jobs moving overseas, and he maintains that keeping the jobs at home is still better for producers in the long run. “Americans are still the most productive workers in the world, so even though American labor costs more, you’ll get more for your money.”

He advises young animators to keep one foot in traditional animation and one in computer advancements. “Stay on top of technology developments, but don’t stop drawing,” he said. “Eventually the software will be user-friendly enough that you’ll be able to do anything a pencil could do. Until then, just make sure you know what you want the pencil, or the computer, to do.”

McClenahan speaks Dec. 3 at 4:30 p.m. at Columbia College, 1104 S. Wabash. Free and open to all.

Reach McClenahan at ? by Ed M. Koziarski,