Cinema Without Borders honored the legendary artist, Phil Mendez


Cinema Without Borders and The Art Institute of California – Los Angeles, an educational institution for career preparation in the visual and culinary arts, recently held its inaugural animation event, The Ollies Animation Festival.  The event, which is named after animation great Ollie Johnson, showcases work from aspiring filmmakers, industry professionals and animation legends.

The festival also honored industry pioneer and marvel Phil Mendez for his contributions as an artist and animation filmmaker to the industry with Cinema Without Borders Life Achievement Award 2011.  Mendez has been writing, drawing, designing, directing and entertaining millions of people for over 40 years in film, television, publishing and theme park design for companies like Walt Disney, CBS, NBC, MGM and Hanna-Barbera.

Festival goers were also treated to works from seasoned professional Jorge Guttierez, creator of El Tigre. Additionally, the festival showcased student work from the Art Institute of Los Angeles media arts and animation program, including work from the institute’s student-run production studio, Red Giant.

The night began with filmmakers, students, and audience members gathering on the patio of The Goethe Institute of Los Angeles to get to know each other, chat, and have a bite of wonderful Mediterranean food provided by Aroma Café. The festivities moved inside to the Goethe Institute Theater, and two AI students took the stage to begin the show.

Ekaterina Oloy and Raquel Orozco—the Student Producers of the event—kicked off The Ollies Animation Festival, which provided an entertaining evening complete with exhibitions of artists’ works and a number of prominent speakers sharing their wisdom and insight at the podium. Artist and long-time-friend of Phil, Cliff MacGillivray was on hand to address the audience and introduce three industry speakers, who shared their memories of working with Phil.

The first industry speaker was Bruce W. Smith. Bruce began his feature film career on the Walt Disney Animation Studios production, Who Framed Roger Rabbit?   He was Director on Bebe’s Kids and the Co-Director of Animation on Space Jam. He has supervised animation on Disney’s Tarzan and The Emperor’s New Groove.  He is the creator and executive producer of the television series The Proud Family.  Smith recently completed work supervising the animation of the evil villain Dr. Facilier in The Princess and the Frog and currently he’s the Supervising Animator of the lovable Piglet in Disney Animation’s upcoming Winnie the Pooh feature.

Following Bruce was Mark Stephen Evanier.   Mark is an American comic book and television writer whose numerous television credits include Scooby Doo, Plastic Man, Thundarr the Barbarian, The ABC Weekend Special, Richie Rich, The Wuzzles, and Dungeons & Dragons. He is most noted in animation for his work on Garfield and Friends, a seven-season series for which Evanier wrote or co-wrote nearly every episode and acted as voice director.

The audience was then treated to a third speaker, Tom Sito. Tom is a director, professor, lecturer, animator, storyboard artist and author whose screen credits include the Disney classics The Little Mermaid, Beauty & The Beast, Aladdin, The Lion King, Who Framed Roger Rabbit, Pocahontas, Dinosaurs and Fantasia.  Other film credits include The Prince Of Egypt, Antz, Paulie, Spirit, Shrek, Yogi Bear and Hop!  He has been awarded the June Foray Award by the International Animators Society ASIFA/Hollywood for his lifetime’s work for the animation community and has been named to Animation Magazine’s list of “the 100 Most Important People in Animation.”

These wonderful speakers gave the audience some one-of-a-kind insight, straight from the heart of the Animation Industry. As mentioned, one of the missions of the festival is to honor an outstanding member of the Animation Industry for accomplishments and contributions to the field, and this year’s inaugural honoree was Phil Mendez.

Bijan Tehrani, AI faculty member and Editor-in-Chief of Cinema Without Borders, was brought on to introduced Phil and begin his tribute. Phil Mendez is perhaps best known as the author of The Black Snowman.   The revered coming-of-age story has sold over a million copies and won numerous honors, including the coveted Martin Luther King “Living the Dream” award.  In addition to being a best-selling author, Phil is a multi-talented storyteller who has been writing, drawing, designing, directing and entertaining millions of people for over 40 years. Here is just a small sample from Phil Mendez’ extensive background:

Television – For NBC, Phil created and sold two series – Kissyfur and Foofur.  For Hanna-Barbera Productions, Phil was the lead character designer and layout artist on Scooby Doo, The Jetsons, Yogi Bear, Hong Kong Phooey, The Buford Files, Jabber Jaw, Magilla Gorilla and Charlotte’s Web.  For the French studio France 2 it was Donkey Kong.  As character designer and director for Rainforest Entertainment, Phil helped create the CBS series The Adventures of Hyperman.  He also created the sales presentation for Quincy Jones’ Fresh Prince of Bel-Air.

Film – Phil was the character designer and director for MGM’s Tom Sawyer, the character designer for Secret of NIMH II, and Mike Young Productions’ Clifford the Big Red Dog.  He was the concept supervisor and character designer for XD Productions’ Pinocchio and King Arthur, and 310 Studios’ The Secret to Thunderbird Pass.  He was concept designer for two David Kirschner projects – American Tail and Hallmark’s Rose Petal Place.  Phil was a character designer and layout artist for the Hanna-Barbera feature, Heidi.  He also left his mark at Walt Disney Studios on two enduring classics, Robin Hood and The Rescuers.

Theme Parks – As a Co-Founder of Landmark Entertainment, from 1980 to 1991 Phil led the animatronics design concept for all the Six Flags Parks, and won the Japanese Fellowship Award for best designed animation character for a theme park.  He was also the character designer, writer, storyboard artist and children’s book illustrator for Gary Goddard Entertainment’s “The Deepo 3-D Fish Show at the Atlanta Aquarium.  For good measure, Phil spent five years as concept and development designer for various shows and rides in Epcot’s World Showcase.

Art – Phil’s one-man fine art show Mendezia sold out on opening night.  His poster introducing the Dumbo ride at Disneyland, is one of the most popular lithographs in Disney history.  He illustrated the comics Three Musketeers, Sugar `N Spike, Top Cat, Peter Potamus, Magilla Gorilla and The Jetsons.  Phil has two works on display in Paris’ renowned Louvre, which is part of the Mickey Bear Les Micquets exhibition.

Commercial Success – Phil was an art director and was responsible for character development and storyboarding of Dancer-Fitzgerald-Sample’s Cheerios, Trix, Kixs, Lucky Charms and Cocoa Puffs accounts.  He was also a plush toy designer for Dakin Toys for 2 years.

Mendez addressed the audience and was met with thunderous applause. Shelley S. Glickstein, Art Institute of California, LA Dean of Academic Affairs, and Mike Libonati, Chair of the Animation department, joined Phil on stage and honored him with an Ollies Animation Festival Certificate for his lifetime achievement in the field of animation. Toon Boom awarded Phil Mendez with Animate Pro and Storyboard Pro to show their appreciation for his work.

The Festival didn’t stop there, of course. Phil Mendez remained on stage to announce the winners for the Student Film Awards, chosen by Cinema Without Borders’ film critics.

The Third Place prize was awarded to Adam Rubin for “China Cat Sunflower”. Adam got to take home an Animation Magazine Yearbook. Second Place went to Lars Ingelman for “Class”. Lars was also given a subscription to Animation Magazine. The winner of the Best Student Film Award was “Spencer High” by Andrew Brumder. The award came with the prize of Toon Boom’s Animate Pro, a $2,000 value. Kat Oloy received an honorable mention for her artistic vision in creating her short-animated film “Alaska” and she received an Animation Magazine Yearbook as well.

The inaugural Ollies Film Festival was a unique and memorable event which successfully showcased professional and student work from the realm of Animation. The event wouldn’t have taken off had it not been for the hard work of AI staffers and students, including the efforts of Nick Kozis, an Art Institute of California, Los Angeles faculty member and a great filmmaker. The Ollies Animation Festival will return next year!

Photos by: Aaron Perez. Aaron is a professional photographer based in Hollywood, CA and the Production Designer for the South East European Film Festival. E-mail:


About Author

Luz Aguado

Luz Aguado was born in Guanajuato, Mexico and grew up in East Los Angeles. She is the oldest of four siblings. Prior to attending The Art Institute, Luz was a student at the University of California Riverside where she studied biology and aspired to become a medical doctor. Now she studies Media Arts and Animation at The Art Institute of Los Angeles and hopes of one day having the opportunity to work for Disney Animation Studios. Three dimensional animation and the innovative techniques that have given animation a more realistic appearance is something that she wishes to focus on while at The Art Institute.

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