Tony: It sounds like the studio was pretty split back then from a managerial standpoint . . .
John: Yeah, there was us CalArts kids, then Bluth’s guys. And then there were the sort of odd floaters who were like Ron Clements, and Glen Keane . . . And there was an attempt to try and pull them together but it remained fragmented, even as I went on to Black Cauldron. One of the first things that was suggested to me when I came onto Black Cauldron was from John Lasseter, John, who by now had graduated CalArts and started at Disney. He said “You know who you should get to do some stuff on this? Tim Burton. Have you seen his stuff?” and I said, “Well, I know Tim’s animation,” and he goes “Yeah, but have you seen his sketch books?” and I went, “No, actually, I haven’t seen his sketch books,” and he told me “Look at Tim’s sketch books,” so, Tim had these great sketch books that he had done of people he saw and just oddball, one-shot ideas he had . . . They were Ronald Searle influenced, and Dan Wilson, and Edward Gory, and Chuck Jones and all that . . . All that mix that turned into Tim . . . So I showed them to Joe Hale, the producer and said “We should get Tim to do drawings on this,” and he said, “Yeah, definitely. Let’s do it,” So, Tim did a whole set of drawings. They were very Tim, and Joe Hale initially, is, like, “Yeah, let’s do Black Cauldron like this. Let’s just use these Tim designs. There’s no reason why it always has to look the same. Let’s use Tim designs.” But the other directors were horrified. They were, like, “This isn’t Disney. This is something weird. What are you doing?” And so, ultimately Joe didn’t know which way to go. He went to Ron Miller, the executive producer, who was Walt Disney’s son-in-law, and he said, “I’m being pulled in these different directions.” The story guys wanted to do
Black Cauldron more like the books, and wanted a younger protagonist, and the other directors just saw it differently, and they were like, “Let’s make it more like Star Wars.” So finally, Joe presented to Ron as “Now, on one hand you could do something really different. You could do this UPA kind of crazy Tim Burton, avant-garde new thing, or you could do the classic thing. You know, the classic Disney thing.” and Ron said “Well I want to do the classic Disney thing.” He said, “Lady and the Tramp was just re-released in France, and it’s doing great. Why would we want to change that? No. I want to do classic Disney.” I tried to argue it and said that the question wasn’t framed fairly but I got nowhere. It’s funny, if you look back at that time I storyboarded a number of sequences but they didn’t like my boards. I never got to the point of actually directing anything. I was there when we auditioned actors, and we recorded some of the actors. I never got to direct the actors, but I was at various auditions and things like that and so I did watch the other directors and so I learned about directing that way. Burny Mattinson had his style of directing where he would stand in the studio with the voice actors, and be over their shoulders, and, kind of, coach them through it, right there in the room, and he would give them line readings too, which I learned fairly quickly, “No, no, actors do not want line readings.”