Animator draws on diversity

— Animator Bruce Smith is literally not missing a blink as he focuses on Papi's eyeballs.

He's working on an upcoming episode of the Disney Channel's "The Proud Family" in which Suga Mama rescues Papi, her Spanish-speaking beau, from a miserable retirement home.

"The Proud Family" airs at 5 p.m. Fridays through Sundays on the Disney Channel, Sunflower Broadband Channel 39.

In the scene on the computer editing screen at Smith's Jambalaya Studio, Papi is trapped, menaced by the ogress who runs the home, and he needs to look a bit more frightened.

"His pupils should be in the center of his eye, and add a blink," Smith instructs an assistant. "In that scene, too, where she has her finger on his nose -- the last 2 seconds -- his pupils should look back at her."

The brightly hued and wryly humorous cartoon about the Proud family -- grandma Suga Mama, Oscar and Trudy, their 14-year-old daughter, Penny, and infant twins -- is now in its second season on the Disney Channel, airing at 5 p.m. Fridays through Sundays.

Smith, 41, grew up in Los Angeles. He began displaying his artistic talent as a child, inspired by the TV shows and movies he watched, including Disney's animated classics.

Smith recalls running home after seeing the original "One Hundred and One Dalmatians" and trying to draw everything he could remember, including "Cruella, the dogs, and the car chase because that blew me away. I'd never seen cars animated in that way that felt real although they were cartoons."

He made his first animated movie when he was about 10. He describes it as a "hodgepodge" of the pop culture of the era, including a character "that actually streaked!"

It was when he was studying at the California Institute of the Arts in Valencia that Smith became aware of how few black characters existed in the animated films of that day.

When he began working as an animator, he also discovered that he was one of very few blacks in the field. Recognizing that the "cultural melting pot" was too often ignored by the industry, Smith says he became more conscious of "what would roll off my pencil."

He co-founded Jambalaya Studio with the goal of producing ethnically diverse projects.

The company's first venture was "The Proud Family."


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