Friday, October 24, 2014

Falls artist's Halloween cartoon rises from the dead

Falls artist's Halloween cartoon rises from the dead
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Posted: Friday, October 17, 2014 3:00 am
Jimmy Cross says he’s been looking for Jonathan Rogers since he was 7 years old.
Cross’ curiosity about Rogers began in front of his family television. He remembers the exact moment when he was transfixed by an animated Halloween special called “Witch’s Night Out.”  
“My mom and sister were putting away groceries and I turned the television on to NBC,” he said, describing his first viewing of the animated cartoon created by Rogers in 1978 and featuring the voices of “Saturday Night Live” stars Gilda Radner and Dan Akroyd.
“I knew from that moment what I wanted to do,” Cross said. “I can’t describe how it changed my life.”
In the meantime, Rogers, a resident artist at the Niagara Arts and Cultural Center, was putting his life back together in his fourth floor studio at the NACC, thinking his past was passed. 
He had long since spent the money and fame he received from producing one of the most watched animated specials of its time. His tumultuous life featured great highs and lows, including stints at Disney and Sesame Street, a failed animation business in Korea, lots of AA meetings and a suicide attempt.  
In his sunlit studio at the NACC, the former Torontonian, surrounded by a small community of artisans who respect his gifts, continued to paint, creating a series of work depicting dark memories from his abusive childhood, compellingly animated by colorful, whimsical creatures. 
The work has brought him some acclaim. One such painting was purchased by the Castellani Art Museum where his work has been on special exhibit; and the Burchfield Penney Gallery is planning both a screening of “Witch’s Night Out,” on Thursday and an exhibit of his work in 2017. 
While Rogers worked on reanimating his career, young Jimmy Cross grew into a man and became a successful animator, producer and director, working on cartoons including “Casper the Friendly Ghost,” “Osmosis Jones” and other Fox Kids specials. And every now and then, he would tap Jonathan’s name into his computer to try and find him. What he didn’t know is that the artist had changed his name from Jonathan Leach to Jonathan Rogers.

Then one day, Cross stumbled across Rogers’ name, linked to “Witch’s Night Out.”
He emailed the artist to thank him for inspiring his career. Then the two talked on the phone. They hit it off so well, they decided to become partners.
“He said, ‘Hey man lets create some stuff together,’ “ Cross recalled. “I said, ‘Sure.’ “
Cross went on a mission to find all the elements of the original “Witch’s Night Out,” and an earlier video Rogers had created called “The Gift of Winter.” It wasn’t easy. 
“All the original elements of the shows are in a landfill somewhere,” Rogers told him.
So, Rogers said, “(Cross) started a search to try and get good quality reproductions and put them all together. With lots of hours of digital enhancing and fixing, he restored both of the shows.”
Now “Witch’s Night Out,” and “The Gift of Winter” are on the shelves of all the big box stores like Wal-Mart, Target and Barnes and Nobles. They are also available online through Amazon. The two artists have started a company and plan to do a whole new line of holiday animation specials.
Cross is in awe of the opportunity to work with Rogers. They have still never met in person. “I don’t know what he saw in me to trust me with this thing, but I’ll honor it with my heart,” Cross said in a recent phone interview from Los Angeles. “It’s the most important thing I’ve ever done in my life.”
“My main goal in my life is to protect him and protect what we’ve built,” Cross added.
As for Rogers, he’s delighted to have Cross’s fresh energy surround his labor of love. “It’s absolutely transformed my life,” he said of meeting the 44-year-old father of three from Los Angeles. 
he pair has a Valentines special and a Thanksgiving special written and ready to go, providing sales are good on the DVDs. 
 “It’s absolutely transformed my life,” Rogers said. “It’s astounding.”

Falls artist's Halloween cartoon rises from the dead

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