Tony Fucile | Let’s Do Nothing
October 9, 2009
Dr. Kent: Welcome to Sound Authors. We have some great guests on the show today. It’s a brand new show format. This week, the featured guest is Peter Mulvey. I’ll be talking with him for upwards of half an hour later on in the show. He’s put out his latest album called ‘Notes from Elsewhere.’ Actually, ‘Letters from a Flying Machine.’ They’re both recent albums. I’ll be excited to talk to him and play some great music. On this show, I talk to both Sound Authors and Authors of Sound, so before that, I’ve got a couple sound authors indeed on the show, at the very beginning. Right after my first guest, I’ll be talking to Tom Edwards, who’s the author of ‘Blue Jesus.’ It’s an incredible folk tale. It explores faith, miracles and racial divides in Appalachia. That’ll be fascinating. But my first guest is the incredible author and illustrator Tony Fucile. He’s written a fantastic picture book called ‘Let’s Do Nothing.’ It’s absolutely hilarious and beautiful. Welcome to the show, Tony!
Tony Fucile: Thanks for having me.
Dr. Kent: How do you pronounce your last name?
Tony Fucile: ‘Foo-chili,’ like chili beans.
Dr. Kent: Fucile. I like that. Tell me about this book; it’s awesome.
Tony Fucile: Well thanks, thanks a lot. The idea of doing nothing didn’t come right away. That was kind of a product of two bored kids. I just sort of invented these two kids that were bored out of their minds, and then had them talk to each other. Out of that came this idea of trying to do nothing.
Dr. Kent: I can recall, when I was a kid, summer vacation was all about doing nothing, to my parents’ chagrin.
Tony Fucile: Oh, yeah. It’s one of those things where I feel like I discovered what I love because I had nothing to do. I was just sort of trying everything on a whim. Drawing was the thing (and eventually the animation) that I found. That may not have happened had I been overscheduled, like a lot of kids are.
Dr. Kent: Now you’ve worked on a bunch of big films, and some really cool stuff. One of my favorite movies ever is ‘The Incredibles.’ You were on that film as well. Now you’re a children’s book author: are there similarities, differences?
Tony Fucile: They’re amazingly similar in a lot of ways because you’re telling a story. In a sense, the picture book is more like a short film. You’re coming up with an idea, and you’ve got a beginning, middle and end. You’re staging everything, and you’re designing props. For me the comfortable part of course was animating the character. If you want, look at the book; you can see that it’s very similar to animation poses: key expressions; what we call ‘storytelling poses’ when we’re animating. Every scene in an animated film has a ‘key pose,’ that kind of describes what the character’s feeling or thinking; kind of a mix of a lot of emotions, a lot of the other drawings. So the book is a little bit like a bunch of key poses. So there are a lot of similarities. The one thing that I have to get used to is the solitude because animated film, a feature film especially, takes hundreds of artists. We all do our own thing, so it’s a bit of a shock for me to have to figure out color, because all these years I’ve been drawing basically in black and white. The experts, painters and color specialists, do all the other stuff. Also, staging, that’s something that an animator generally doesn’t do. Also designing the world; in this case, the room or backdrops, and the props and things. It was fun, but very different in that regard. You’re not really collaborating as much. There is collaboration with your editor and art director, but not nearly the same as being on a film.
Dr. Kent: When you’re writing for children, and when you’re animating for children, or drawing for them, what do you think about? Do you get yourself back in that summer vibe of not having anything to do? How do you get yourself back there? What do you do?
Tony Fucile: You know, I don’t have to do anything. I don’t think I’ve ever really left. I started really young; I started making films when I was 12. I knew I just wanted to be an animator early on. I even had the notion of making storybooks too, but animation was the thing that got me going. So I never really got out of that. I never had that thing where I would go to an animated film and feel all sheepish about it: you know, the 17 year old guy going into the Disney film and feeling a little embarrassed. It’s always been a part of my brain; it’s been stuck in that childhood way of looking at things.
Dr. Kent: Tell me a little about this book. What do you do as a children’s author to support it? Do you do readings for kids? How did you end up writing in the first place?
Tony Fucile: I had another idea for a film, for a storybook, that I wanted to do first. Then, while I was working it up, I saw that someone else had done it: Jules Feiffer had done it, ‘The Daddy Mountain.’ I was a little bummed about that. I had such a strong idea for this thing. Then this idea came to me one night in bed, and I told my wife; it was midnight, or whatever. She told me to write it down, and I said ‘I’ll remember it tomorrow.’ Of course, she kicked me out of bed and said, ‘Write it down, write it down.’ So I ended up writing the whole thing that night. The basic beats are pretty much what I came up with that night. I definitely wanted to do picture books; it’s something that I’ve been sort of quietly thinking about for a long time.
Dr. Kent: How about the characters themselves? You look at the front cover of this thing: I feel like I know these two kids.
Tony Fucile: Sal is sort of based loosely on me and a little bit of my son, Eli. So it’s kind of a combo. It’s really based on me and my friend, Steve Kerr, who’s my buddy. He’s almost a year younger than me, and we were neighbors. We grew up together. I remember he and I going through moments like that, where we felt like we were losing our minds; we were bored. You just sit there and you lay on the ground and writhe in pain because it’s so awful. So it’s really based on him. He was always much smarter than I was. He was kind of like Frankie; he was always a little bit ahead of the curve. I was maybe the enthusiastic one, but he was a little bit ahead. So they are loosely based on him and I.
Dr. Kent: Cool. Are you the one with the goofy glasses, or the one with the cowlick?
Tony Fucile: I have the cowlick: the skinny guy. He has a little paunch on him. He didn’t have the glasses, though. I added those. I needed a prop for him.
Dr. Kent: You’ve got these characters. In your brain, do you know what they look like from every angle? Because a weird thing for children’s illustrators is of course that as he goes through the book, when you look at him from different angles, he’s got to look like the same guy, right?
Tony Fucile: Yes. Especially the little square-headed guy, Frankie. So I sculpted their heads; I did little sculptures. Starting with a square, and I put some yellow hair on it. Yes, so it was rough. I needed that reference to figure out how to draw him from various angles. We had that in animation a lot, especially the hand-drawn animation. We would have mockups that would help us draw particular angles.
Dr. Kent: You actually sculpt the head, like out of clay, or on the computer, or what?
Tony Fucile: I sculpt them with clay.
Dr. Kent: Wow.
Tony Fucile: Then I’d stick them on top of a pencil. Then I would grab the pencil, and if I was having trouble with an angle, I would use it as a prop.
Dr. Kent: So every character you’ve ever created, do you have little pencils with little heads on them?
Tony Fucile: In the studios we had professional sculptors come in and do work with us and do our characters for us. Then we referenced those during production. It’s one of those things that they’ve been doing since ‘Snow White.’
Dr. Kent: Really?
Tony Fucile: Yes, because when you’re trying to get something, you can get away with it with a children’s book because things aren’t moving through space as much. You want it to feel solid and that it looks like it’s fairly substantial and it’s dimensional quality there. With animation you have to actually move through space. You really have to pay attention to where things are attached, and the perspective of the head. It’s one of those really tough challenges for hand-drawn animation especially.
Dr. Kent: So you do draw by hand? You’re not one of the folks that does the digital animation part of it?
Tony Fucile: Do you mean digital drawing?
Dr. Kent: Yes.
Tony Fucile: Well I do a mix. Strangely, I started this on the computer, on a tablet. I like that because you can maneuver things around quickly, shrink things, and then organize things which is good. But the final art, I like to draw it as much as I can. ‘Let’s Do Nothing’ is drawn and painted: painted with acrylic and ink.
Dr. Kent: This kind of has the vibe of the old Dr. Seuss books. It’s got the real tactile feel of real illustration.
Tony Fucile: Well, thanks! Thank you.
Dr. Kent: Cool. It’s a pleasure to chat with you about this. Where can folks pick up this book? Are you doing any kind of traveling around? I know Candlewick Press put it out, and they’re a great children’s publisher. The book, of course, is called, ‘Let’s Do Nothing.’ What are you doing to back it up?
Tony Fucile: I did a couple of school events, and that’s really about it. I went to the ALA last summer; that was interesting – that was fun.
Dr. Kent: Fun. What kind of feedback are you getting?
Tony Fucile: Pretty good. A lot of Internet blogs are reacting to it well. It’s been reviewed fairly well.
Dr. Kent: Any angry parents who are saying, ‘We don’t want our kids to do nothing!’
Tony Fucile: [Laughs] I haven’t had that yet. Kids, it’s so fun to read it to them. I’ve learned how (well, I’ve only done a couple of these now), but I’ve learned to let them kind of do the page turn. When you see that the dog’s about to take a pee on him, and all that stuff, they really like to get in there and yell at me: ‘Hey, wait a minute! The dog’s in the corner!’ So I kind of play dumb when I read it, and they tell what’s going on. It’s really fun. So that’s a blast seeing the kids react.
Dr. Kent: You actually see your audience, yes.
Tony Fucile: They get the whole idea that you can’t do nothing. There’s no way to do nothing. It’s a lot of fun to see that.
Dr. Kent: That’s awesome. I’ve been chatting with Tony Fucile and his book’s called, ‘Let’s Do Nothing.’ It’s out on Candlewick Press. Thank you so much for chatting with me.
Tony Fucile: Thanks for having me, thank you.
Dr. Kent: I can’t wait to see what he does next. This is a great little book: ‘Let’s Do Nothing.’ Check it out.