Who is the first African-American to direct a studio animation feature?
Many may not know the answer as an animator’s life is more reclusive: sitting alone, drawing, creating, and revising; not in front of any red carpet, collecting accolades for their work. However, to take a behind-the-scenes look in animation many will find an African-American presence steadily climbing since the Frank Braxton Jr., Disney days.
Kevin Lofton studied illustration at Temple University, and later moved to New York to worked on commercials before getting a call from Charles Stone about working on the MTV animated series, “Beavis and Butthead.” In order to get your break in animation, Lofton feels all is needed is talent, and reports no roadblocks as an African-American animator working in series television. Like many animators, Lofton enjoyed comic books and drew constantly without realizing until later in college, that his talent can be a source of income and provide a lasting future.
Although many get their interests piqued by comic books, African-American characters were largely underrepresented in comic books until Dwayne McDuffie introduced Static, an African-American teen hero. With the creation of Static, more comic book fans were introduced to the fact that black characters can have powers and can be heroes; one fan that took noticed was LeSean Thomas, from South Bronx, New York.
As a kid, his drawings were not colorblind, and his characters were rarely of people of color, mainly because even in two-dimensional art, black characters were not presented as cool. With time, Thomas continued to educate himself, while opening up his lens, and eventually becoming co-director and supervising character designer for Cartoon Network’s “The Boondocks,” an animated series that follows an African-American family living in the suburbs. After the success of “The Boondocks,” Thomas became producer/director for another Adult Swim series, “Black Dynamite.” With two successful series with black characters, the curiosity of who are the faces behind animation grew, and yet Thomas waits for the explosion of more black animators to come to the forefront. Thomas doesn’t want to be the only face for black animation artist and welcomes competition; which can also bring more awareness to the current 15 year-old boys and girls who love to draw and watch cartoons, but don’t realize it can be their career.
Currently, Lofton animates a series for the Philadelphia Eagles, which plays at the beginning of each game. In addition to his Cartoon Network series, Thomas can be found in his web series: Seoul Sessions, which he filmed while living in Korea.
African-Americans in animation may not be a new trend, but old and new faces continue to emerge, such as, Peter Ramsey, director of DreamWorks “Rise of the Guardians,” released in 2012.
If you are interested in more animation events in Los Angeles, check out CTN Animation eXpo, November 15 through 17, 2013 at the Burbank Marriott Hotel.
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