Hawai'i man drew love for animation early on
By Wayne Harada
Advertiser Entertainment Writer
"My favorite cartoons back then were 'Lady and the Tramp,' 'Pinocchio,' and '101 Dalmatians,' " said Hofstedt, 45, a Disney animator who supervised the animation of Mr. Arrow in Disney's highly-touted holiday film, "Treasure Planet," opening today.
"In the third grade, I remember I wanted to be an animator. But I got into music, rock, baseball until age 20, when I came back to my animation dream," he said.
The dream has become reality in a big way for Hofstedt.
His latest project is animating the goodhearted secondary character in Disney's update of the Robert Louis Stevenson classic, "Treasure Island."
The new movie, with its nod to extreme sports, projects a sky's-the-limit vision in a free-wheeling fantasy universe where ships sail through clouds and dodge meteor storms, and the young hero, Jim Hawkins, takes flight on a windsurfing-skateboard-starship gizmo.
"My dad was, to some degree, an influence in my career choice," said Hofstedt, who lived along Kalaniana'ole Highway, attended Niu Valley Intermediate School, and graduated from Kalani High School in 1975.
"Dad was a caricature artist at the International Market Place, from 1969 to the early '80s, but he also did caricatures at Disneyland before moving to the Northwest," he said.
"Since he worked at Disneyland, we had free passes, and I would watch him draw there. So in a way, I feel I have art and Disney in my blood."
Hofstedt joined Disney in 1991, after graduating with a B.A. in character animation from the California Institute of the Arts. He worked briefly at Hanna Barbera as a character animator on "The Smurfs" TV show, and later joined Sullivan/Bluth Studios, where he was a directing animator on a variety of features, including "An American Tail," "The Land Before time" and "All Dogs Go to Heaven."
His first Disney feature was "Aladdin," and he's been on a hot streak since.
"If I weren't doing animation, I might have been a singer," he said of his spare-time passion, singing and strumming guitar. But his zeal for caricatures and animation has made him a busy creator in the Disney 'ohana.
Hofstedt said he's been working on and off on "Treasure Planet" for about three years, experimenting and tweaking the Mr. Arrow character, a visual symbol of strength and cool.
"I had to design the Mr. Arrow character, which was assigned to me, and I initially did some hand drawings," he said. "I also worked on a character called B.E.N., a robot, but the Arrow character was a bigger burden."
In Disney tradition, each major character generally is supervised by an animator, who may have as few as a dozen or as many as 30 animators working on the one figure.
Since Mr. Arrow appears only in five sequences the character is a lieutenant to Captain Amelia, the skipper of the treasure ship (and, yes, a deliberate role reversal characterization) Hofstedt did most of the work alone.
"There's a description in the script about personality attributes, and I know that Mr. Arrow was very loyal to his captain," said Hofstedt. "He was a creature from a rock planet, so he's strong and he's big.
"I came up with different versions, trying to suggest his background. He was very orderly, runs a tight ship, honest, brave and true trying to keep the pirates from mutiny. But while he's strong and intimidating, he's also fair, gentle and likeable. So he couldn't be a mean guy.
To help him with the visuals of Mr. Arrow, he did a thesaurus search on the words stone and rock, and found such characteristics as steadfast, immovable, unmoving, unwavering, solid elements that helped flesh out his look.
Actor Roscoe Lee Brown voices the role in the film.
"Treasure Island" isn't the first Disney feature that displays Hofstedt's creativity. He earlier worked as an animator on Young Simba in "The Lion King," Frollo and the Gargoyles in "The Hunchback on Notre Dame" and the Muses in "Hercules."
As a supervising producer, Hofstedt oversaw the animation of Ben and Lon in "Pocahontas," the Emperor in "Mulan," and several characters in "Tarzan."
With "Pocahontas," he remembers seeing his credits with his wife's family in Wyoming. His relatives cheered when his name appeared in the end-title credit crawl.
While doing the Emperor, voiced by Pat Morita, in "Mulan," he generated such a bond with the popular actor-comedian that he wound up calling him "Uncle Pat." "He gave some great inspiration to the role, some texture and some heart, so I feel, in retrospect, that it was a real team spirit," said Hofstedt.
He had hoped to be involved in "Lilo & Stitch," the summer hit for Disney set in Hawai'i, because he had a previous relationship with the film's co-director and co-writer, Chris Sanders, a buddy from their Cal Arts days. Sanders teamed with Dean DeBlois in mounting "Lilo & Stitch."
"I was pestering him, early on, with some great ideas; and helped find some Web sites for him, including the hula halau in Long Beach, where he got his live action references for Lilo's hula class," Hofstedt said.
"I was bugging him to work on this one, but this one was destined to go to Disney Florida and I was in California, so I didn't get a chance to do that one."
Hofstedt said "Treasure Planet" aims at a diverse audience, "kids of all ages, from 2 to 92. The movie touches the heart, with something that appeals to the child in us all.
"Sure, it taps into the extreme-sports mentality, aiming toward the surfboard culture and targeting the boys; but there's balance; the captain is a female and a strong leadership character, someone girls can look up to."