I first met Lou Hertz in the fall of 1995, in the lobby of DesignEFX, a (now defunct) animation/design house here in Atlanta (part of Crawford Communications), as I was in the midst of networking and desperately trying to find a job in the local animation scene. I had heard about DesignEFX through word-of-mouth and by seeing their work while working as a tape op at a film production/editing company, Majick Lantern. I was very impressed with the quality of work, and thus, I knew that I had to get my foot in that animation door, somehow. I began to ask around about who to talk to in getting an internship at DesignEFX, but I soon realized that I didn't have to ask too many people, as everyone knew Lou. "Talk to Lou," was the usual mantra I heard.
And so I called him. Getting his answering machine, I left a message. No reply. I called again the next day: answering machine. I decided not to leave a message this time for fear of coming across as TOO desperate. Still no response. So I waited for two days and called again: answering machine. At this point, I began to think, "He's so busy, he probably doesn't have the time to talk to a silly, young & naïve animator, fresh from graduation," but actually Lou was a very, very busy guy. I left a message and went about my business. Finally! he called me back and told me to come on in to show him my stuff. I was elated.
It was all set: I would come in, show Lou my resumé, we'd go over my portfolio, and have him take a look at my (meager) demo tape, and then I would be on my way. I was psyched.
As I was waiting in the lobby, I happened to thumb through some of the trade magazines they had on the coffee table in front of me. Soon I realized that all these mags had some article about DesignEFX, or mentioned some award that they had won recently: Clio, BDA, etc. I started to get a little nervous. Man, these guys are top-notch, I thought to myself. In came Lou.
"Hey there! I'm sorry I'm late, I just had a heck of day already!" he said with a thick Alabamian accent. I had not expected an older, graying man in his 60's. When I talked to him on the phone, he had this bold and youthful voice, so I figured that he was maybe in his 40's or possibly early 50's. But not some old dude! I was a little taken aback, but when he shook my hand and showed me around the place, he had this youthful energy about him. He was young at heart, and it was infectious. As we walked, I handed him my resumé, which had taken me quite a while to finesse and print out. He took one look at it, suddenly folded it -- TWICE -- and put it in his back pocket. I was a bit appalled by that action, but I figured, oh, what do I know, maybe that's the way they do it in The Biz.
The 2D animation department was located back in the warehouse of a former store, part of a small strip-mall of sorts. It was located off-campus, so to speak, far far away from all the busy-bee activities of the broadcast production world that consumed the main building. That was a blessing, I was told later. After walking past a couple of impromptu offices, filled with programmers, we finally entered the slight hole-in-the-wall corner that housed the animation department. I was so excited to meet actual animators, as such a creature was a rare find. And there they were, busily working, flipping, and drawing on animation discs, which I had only seen in Frank & Ollie's The Illusion of Life. I started to get more nervous. These guys were professionals! They do work that wins awards! Better yet, they do work that is seen on TV! My mind was racing.
Lou then introduced me to the group, "Hey guys, guys -- this here's Ward. He's gonna show us his portfolio!"
My heart sank. Us??? I thought to myself. I thought it was only going to be me and Lou! In his office! That's it! I can't possibly show these award-winning professional animators my feeble portfolio, filled with asinine scratchy gesture drawings and ignorant character designs! Sheesh.... I reluctantly opened my portfolio and turned the pages. As I did, I felt sweat stream from my armpit, down my side. Literally. I was doomed.
The guys were very nice in their comments about my work, but I wasn't ready for what was next.
"Okay, now. Let's take a look at your demo tape!" Oh dear Lord, help me.... Again, the guys were gracious in what they said about my work on screen, considering that it was a simple, one-minute animated short, shot on 8mm film, videotaped while being projected up on a wall at school (apparently I fooled them all), but I was dripping with sweat by the end of it.
Even though I had expected to show my work to Lou in a private manner, I did see Lou's intentions after looking back on it all. Animation is a communal art-form, employing many to complete one job. There is a common bond that we all possess, bringing us all together like a team. And so, Lou was basically introducing me to the team. If I was to be a part of this team some day, I should meet them now, and they should see what I can offer.
Lou Hertz had a great sense of humor, always the butt of his own jokes. He loved animation -- all forms of it -- even after being in it for so many years. It was as if he was always fascinated by the business, always in a state of wonder by it all. Eager to please, and never one to complain about the smallest of concerns, Lou was a great father-figure to many in this town, including me. With his aforementioned jovial voice, and his down-home sense of humor, Lou made you feel like you were family. Whether it was some odd story about growing up in Alabama, outhouse ethics, working at UPA, washing cels -- you just knew that you were in for an interesting conversation with Lou. I loved the way he addressed you as a friend, with his signature, "boobie."
"No problem, boobie!"
Lou gave me my very first job as an animator. I am forever indebted to him.
Lou, you will be sorely missed. Thanks for everything.
UPDATE: The Atlanta Journal & Constitution did a nice write-up on Lou. You can read it HERE.