Talking with Brian Tiemann
An Interview with Brian Tiemann
by Jason Blatchford
Jason Blatchford: Welcome, Brian, to our humble magazine. First off I would like to get a few of the easy questions out of the way. So can you just tell us all who you are. Such as your age, maritial status, where you live, where you work, favourite food, favourite TV show etc. Just the low down on Brian Tiemann. Don't be shy, tell us everything..;)
Brian Tiemann: Hokay, well, here goes. :) I'm 20 years old, and I'm partway through college-- I had a good enough high school record that I was able to get into Caltech, but after a couple of years there I realized I had other interests than math and science, so when I started drawing, it began eating up enough of my time that I've had to take about a year's hiatus from college while I get things back under control. I hope to resume at Caltech in January.
When I'm not battling my profs in Pasadena, I live in Ukiah, California, which is about 100 miles north of San Francisco, in the Wine Country of Northern California. I wrote its home page-- www.ukiah.ca.us. :) Because that's what I do for a living... I'm the full-time webmaster at Pacific Internet (www.pacific.net), my local ISP. I code corporate web sites and the internal support pages, and I do tech support and PR work too. Hopefully I'll be able to get a job down in Silicon Valley soon, or else-- perish the thought-- as an animator in some studio. :)
Because since last October, I've been rather deeply engrossed in drawing. It's something that TLK inspired in me. I've been opening up connections with animators in both WB and Disney Feature Animation, and the pros are telling me that in a couple of years I'll be able to do animation as a full-time job. My art teacher and a few other animators I'm talking to have been trying to get me to go to CalArts, but this just adds yet another piece to the puzzle I have to put together.
At any rate... I'm single, which is kind of the way I have to be while I'm trying to fight through college. I do have an SO, however, who lives in Texas. Since I live out in the sticks, my family has never had cable, or in fact even decent reception of the major networks, so the only TV I've ever really watched is the news; I am, however, a big fan of The Simpsons. :)
I've got pictures online on my home page (www.pacific.net/~btman) in case anybody's curious as to what I look like. I'm a big fan of things like dill pickles and lemons and other such sour things that other people often can't believe I like; I maintain that it's no weirder than people who like hot and painful food. :) Now THAT is something I can't understand.
I'm a deep Tolkien fan; I can write rapidly in the Tengwar, and know a little Quenya-- talk about a useless language. :) I love classical music, and much of the modern instrumental music that's put out by labels like Narada-- stuff that borders on New Age is what appeals to me the most. I'm also getting into music from the 70's and 80's, and Peter Gabriel is fast becoming my favorite singer. I love the mountains, and skiing is one of my favorite pastimes when I can get into the Sierras in winter. I'm not big into sports, but I do like to look good, so I try to have a few hobbies that are more physical than drawing and HTML. :)
JB: Are you a big Disney or for that matter animated movie fan, or was TLK a first for you?
BT: I was never a fan of Disney, really, at all, until TLK. Sure, they made interesting movies , and I never questioned the fact that it was big news when a new Disney feature came out... but until TLK, I'd never really taken the time to notice them. The Lion King was the first movie I'd seen in theatres (except for "Who Framed Roger Rabbit", which was sort of the thing that everybody was going to see just because... well, just because.)
A few weeks before TLK came out, and it was opening, I kept hearing little noises about it travelling by word of mouth around my high school campus. People said to each other, "Are you going to see The Lion King?" I remember being at a birthday party and talking to a girl who had on a tee-shirt with a concept sketch of the Beast from BatB on it; we discussed the TV promos, and decided that we each were going to go and see it soon. I later ended up taking her to see it, as I recall-- it was my second time, and her second also, I think.
Since then, though, I've been totally changed in my attitude towards animation. I have seen behind the scenes, and I know what it takes to make an animated feature; I know what kind of talent is involved in the art, sound, music and every other aspect, stuff I'd never paid attention to before.
JB: What made you go and see Lion King?? Was it everyone talking about it that aroused interest or was it like, "Who Framed Roger Rabbit," just something that had to be done?
BT: I guess I was seized by a kind of inexplicable madness. I hadn't gone to see a movie in the theater for literally years, but something about the promos on TV, the little pictures in the movie listings in the newspaper, the general feel of electricity in the air... I really can't say I know what happened, but I'm sure glad it did. :)
JB: When did you first see TLK?
BT: I saw it a couple of weeks after it opened. The birthday party I just mentioned was a combination birthday/graduation party, as I remember it, and it took place a week after school ended, which was in mid-June 1994; I'd say that this means the first time I saw TLK was about June 25, 1994, or thereabouts. It was no later than the 29th, since I remember buying the soundtrack one week after I saw the movie, and I fell in love with the Hans Zimmer score as I listened to it booming in my ears through my headphones as I watched the Independance Day fireworks lighting the horizon southward.
JB: Whew, it's a dedicated fan that can recall to the day the first time they saw TLK. :) Did you see it by yourself or with a friend?
BT: It was with two friends, Eric and Damon, both of whom I'd known since about kindergarten. They are both quite cynical about animated movies; they will crack intellectual but crude jokes throughout them. Damon (who's now a devout Mormon missionary) commented on Scar as he left Mufasa in the cave: "He's got a good butt."
As we left the theatre and walked through the parking lot, we all agreed that "Circle of Life" was one of the coolest songs we'd ever heard in a movie. We could all still remember the theme of the score running through our heads. As we reached the car, Eric said to me, "Brian, buy this soundtrack." So I did, the very next day. And one week later, I saw the movie again.
JB: Sounds like Damon has got good taste. What is it about TLK that you like? What was it that caught your attention?
BT: The first four minutes were the most spellbinding thing I'd ever seen in a theatre. It was handled completely differently from the flippant, cartoony, frivolous style previous Disney movies had used in their openings; I'd seen Aladdin on video the previous Christmas, and its opening, while its music was striking, was full of humour and caricature.
BatB had an opening which told the viewer right away that this was a fairy tale, with a "Once upon a time" moral built right in. TLM's style of opening, with its stilted dialogue and odd music and animation, looks starkly weird now that we've seen Pocahontas, with its far more impressively done ship-at-sea scene. TLK, on the other hand, was completely different from anything they'd ever done. No dialogue. No humans. Just a single voice, singing words none of us knew, stirring our blood as the sun rose-- making us think, even though we knew it was evening outside, that it was morning on the savannah, with a crisp breeze tilting the grasses and bringing new life to the plains. Animal heads rose.
Something was happening. Golden light flowed over all their faces as they woke and began to move... and then the song fell easily and naturally into a chant, and we suddenly realised that there was music in it... music, a chord progression so simple and beautiful that it gave the feeling of being the music of the very land itself... we watched, all voices in the theatre suddenly stilled, as animals gathered, congregated, moved in an inexorable stream in one direction. And suddenly, a voice. "From the day we arrive on the planet..."
We all know the words. Of course. :) It was all blurring together at this point... I watched with my mouth hanging open, unable to speak-- but that was OK, since Eric and Damon were also dead silent... we numbly watched the camera zoom grandly in towards Mufasa over the heads of the gathering animals as the music roared into its full grandeur; as Mufasa tenderly nuzzled Sarabi and she licked newborn Simba; as Rafiki reverently anointed and crowned the new king; as he paced slowly up to the point of Pride Rock, and then we all sucked in our breath as one when he thrust the cub into the sight of all, with the camera dramatically zooming from several angles as the music suddenly erupted into a celebration of life itself... and when the title BOOMed onto the screen leaving the echo to roll around the theatre while we all held our breath, we all silently realised that THIS was no ordinary movie.
Of course, the rest of the movie was fantastic too... but that opening completely won us all. :)
JB: How many times do you think you have seen TLK so far? How many at the theatre? How many at home?
BT: I've seen it seven times in theatres; the first four were during its initial release, once more in its second release in November, and then I saw it twice when they showed it as the campus movie on Friday nights last spring. :)
I've watched the video about five times, and the laserdisc twice; I don't have much time to watch videos, nor do I have a TV, VCR or any tape besides TLK. :) I don't have a LD player either, though I did spend the $125 on the CAV Deluxe LD...:)
JB: Are you a big TLK merchandise collector or do you just enjoy the movie? What's your most prized TLK item? What's your most unusual TLK item?
BT: I don't have a lot of merchandise; there's no Disney store anywhere near where I live, so I'm sort of limited to what people have given me as gifts. I treasure most highly my 3.5-foot-long plush Simba, whom I use as a pillow. :) I also have a Simba/Nala PVC figurine, some assorted plushies that don't often make public appearances, and some pencils or something. Wow... I guess that's about all I have, besides a couple of posters.. :)
JB: I just have to ask-- is Simba as cuddly and cute in real life as he is on the big screen?
BT: Understuffed and squishy, yes. :) His mane makes me sneeze sometimes, but I bet it'd happen in real life too...
JB: Assorted plushies? Tell me more. I hope you don't conduct private recreations of TLK?
BT: Oh, no, no. Not really. Often. Heh. :) No, just kidding. I don't bring the rest out of hiding very often; theres a Mufasa and Cub Simba That-Squeaks-When-You-Squeeze-It that's arguably one of the stupidest things I've ever seen, I have a Zazu which is good, I have a little infant Simba that is kinda useless, and then a couple different versions of Timon (one of which has a plastic face and then plush hair that gives him a creepy Don King expression). So you can undestand why they live permanently in my closet.
JB: Which character is your favourite in TLK? Also who do you dislike the most?
BT: This one is always a toughy. I have my own reasons for liking Simba... ahem. :) Nala spent a good six months on a 17" x 11" foot thermal-wax printout on the underside of my desk, where I slept while at college... Timon-- well, I play Timon on FDCMuck, so I guess I have a non-trivial connection with him too. :)
I don't think too highly of Pumbaa. I don't like his character design or his crudity... he and Timon remind me a lot of Ren and Stimpy. :) (Am I the only one who's noticed this?)
Other than Pumbaa, though, it's hard to say I actually dislike any of the characters. They all have their own traits which make them memorable. :) But as far as being downright appealing, I think Simba gets my vote.
JB: Well, there you have it- I don't think many people can say they have slept with Nala. :) You say that Simba is your favourite character. Why? Do you see a little of yourself in Simba? Truculent, playful, fun-loving or just lazy?
BT: Hmm, this is a toughy... I have to say what I can without being self-incriminating. :) I played Simba for a few months on TLKMuck (I built the place and was an admin), and I found that the role of king was one that just does not fit me at all. I really hate having power, or more appropriately, having to exercise power over others. I do identify with Simba, but mostly with the carefree, adolescent-to-young-adult Simba who's in the prime of his life and wanting to stay young. It's the one area where I feel justified and safe in not being mature enough to make it in the rough-and-tumble world of today; the most part of my life is based on being as adult as I can, projecting an image which will propel me upward in corporate America. It's refreshing to have an outlet like this.
Still, though, I must admit there's something of the appeal in Simba that Nala has for most of the devout Nalaholics...
JB: Which sequence in TLK would you say is your favourite?
BT: Oh, it's got to be CoL. But I've rhapsodized enough about CoL earlier...
JB: Which sequence do you dislike the most? IJCWTBK perhaps?
BT: You hit it right on the head. I still can't justify to myself the need for that sequence. I'm one of those who thinks TLK would have been unmeasurably better without any songs, or at most one song like CoL or CYFtLT where none of the characters actually sing.
JB: Apart from friends on the Internet. Do you have any friends that are right into TLK?
BT: Well, a classmate at Caltech, David Hilvert, is deeply into the movie; he's got an embroidered button-down shirt with Simba on the back that I would kill for. :) And he's done some pretty intense philosophy on the subject-- at one point we were exchanging 30K-a-shot email messages back and forth about human/animal nature and the respective world views of lions and hyenas and so on. He usually ends up intimidating my brain, so... :)
JB: Have you converted anyone who had never seen TLK into a fan?
BT: Not that I can think of. I've tried it on my parents, but my mom got up and let a cat in right in the middle of CoL, so it obviously didn't quite enthrall her the way it did me... sigh. Ah well... :)
JB: No one would argue that your TLK site is the biggest on the Internet.
What was the driving force behind this site? A good forum to practice those HTML skills you discussed earlier?, A place to hone your art, or just a little project you whipped up in a couple of hours?
BT: Thank you indeed-- I still find it immensely gratifying when people compliment me on my work, since I'm a webcoder by trade and have done pages that look much better (I think) than the TLK one. To anybody who's visited my site, and still more to anybody who's found it good enough to take the time to write me with words of encouragement, my most heartfelt thanks to you.
It was by no means a two-hour project... it's been an ongoing time-vortex since January 10, 1995; if you read through the revision log at www.lionking.org/log.html, it leads you through all the misadventures I've had in revising the page over the months-- freaking out over copyright infringement issues, fighting to stay ahead in the Race for More Images, trying to figure out why the first mention of my site on an Infoseek search is about at number 65 on the list of results, optimizing it to look best on a variety of browsers, and so on. It's still my biggest bank of HTML junk, so if I ever need to refer back to how to do something, like some kind of weird table formatting, or a META tag, or things like perl code (the Archive runs approximately ten CGI scripts whenever you hit the main page), I can always rummage through it and find what I'm looking for.
So it's really all those things you mentioned-- a place for me to play with HTML, a place to display some of the more embarrassing of my old TLK art (I've done lots of stuff that's a lot more on-model, but I haven't archived it in the Fan Art section, for whatever reason), and just generally something for me to identify with.
I have to continue to put up new stuff for users to do. I expected, about a year ago, for interest in TLK to drop off, and gradually the hits would peter out, and I'd be able to retire without getting sued (didn't Dilbert say that that's the goal of all engineers-- retiring without being blamed for a major catastrophe?). But no, that hasn't happened at all. We all know that TLK has become a long-lasting event in movie history, something that will have as much cult staying power as things like Star Trek and the Rocky Horror Picture Show. :) And I've watched the access to the Archive double in the last year, until now I'm having nearly 1000 hits per day, and Disney still hasn't come to guillotine me. I'm optimistic for the future.
JB: The Sex Vs Sfx issues seems to have raised its ugly head again. I just have to ask, in your opinion what does it say? ;)
BT: Heh. :) Well, I haven't formed my own opinion on that, frankly. It does look like they were trying to spell SOMEthing there in the dust, but whether it's SEX or SFX I can't really say... either one has equal backing, as far as plausibility goes. So some effects animator wanted to have a little fun. Big deal. :)
JB: Describe your perfect Sunday..
BT: Hmm, let's see. Perfect Sunday. It'd start with me getting up late, reading the Sunday comics with some raspberry pancakes and missing Calvin & Hobbes... then ... hmm... you're trying to get me to say I'd watch TLK for the rest of the day, aren't you?
...Nah... I'd as a matter of fact probably rather spend most of the rest of the day drawing, practicing caricature, getting detail and cloth folds to work, and actually being successful at some of the projects I'm trying! Then I'd maybe get some CGI running while I listen to Peter Gabriel or Dire Straits or Weird Al, and then after dinner (a nice thick steak, or something at a nice restaurant in town), I'd curl up with my SO and watch a movie or two. Not a very exciting day, I'll grant, but as long as I get to spend it at home with clear crisp spring or autumn air, and maybe some light clouds clearing out the skies, and then a brisk starry night, I'll happily consider it perfect. :)
JB: Favourite tv show?
BT: Hmm. I really don't see a lot of TV, as I've mentioned earlier... however, I can safely say that I'm a staunch Simpsons fan. :) As far as animated shows go, I think TaleSpin is as cool as the Disney ones got (after the original DuckTales had evaporated from memory). Things like Animaniacs and the Batman series are overtaking Disney by leaps and bounds, right now, though... I'm watching some old wartime WB shorts as I type this, and the humor and acting are on a maturity level that makes today's fare look suitable for little more than cribs. So I'm rapidly growing into a fan of the kinds of animation that are aimed at getting surprised laughs out of adults rather than bemused squeals from toddlers.
Hmm... all animation, it seems. :) Ah well... perhaps I shouldn't be surprised at myself...
JB: Favourite movie?
BT: Well, I don't really know where to place TLK in this one-- it's either my favorite movie, or it's something that I can't quite classify with other movies, since it's become so much more than just a movie to me. So I'll just skip TLK and assume it's a given. :) Others of note: Hunchback is what I think is Disney's most impressive, most well-pulled-off movie, and if it weren't for the TKL issue, I'd call it my favorite movie. Clue is probably my favorite comedy (if you haven't seen it, see it!)... I like the Back to the Future series a large amount (fantastic score by Silvestri!)... I'm not a Star Trek fan, though, which I must clarify because for some reason it seems to be taken as a given that I should be. :) I will watch pretty much anything, and give anything a chance... hey, Casablanca's a film that today's TLK generation shouldn't forget about. :)
JB: Favourite Actor?
BT: Hmm, this one's a toughy. I prefer thinking of animators as actors, so my favorite "actor" in that sense is Mike Surrey (Timon, Clopin). Real actors: Nathan Lane (The Birdcage has *completely* changed my impression of Timon) :), Arnold Schwartzenegger in his more toon-like roles (hey, he can do 'em!), Robin Williams (well, duh!), Steve Martin (but only when he's funny-- p-b-b-b-b-b-b-b! <-- Roger Rabbit voice) ... well, I do seem to have a predilection toward comics in general. :) I have no prejudice against pithy dramas, but hey-- comedy is FUN. :) And I think fun is what I need to spend more time on these days...
JB: Pin-Up? Elle, Simba?
BT: Used to be Nala... I had an 11x17" thermal wax printout of her in her "come to me" pose, taped to the underside of my desk (under which I slept) for several months at college. Course, now it's probably be Simba, or Balto... :) I prefer to draw my own pinup poses these days. :)
JB: Favourite dance? Macarena? I hope not. :)
BT: Oh geez. :) You'd better skip this one... I'm not much of a dancer, nor am I even into much modern music. But I will note this: They go, "Heeeeyy, Macarena-- <weird sound effect>!".... that sound effect is presumably about ten thousand people going "YyyyyAH!"... but doesn't it sound more like ONE person hoccccccching up a loogie? <grin>
JB: What is you favourite food?
BT: I'll have to say dill pickles. "Vlasic Original Dills." They're best when they go with something, like peanuts or almonds or grilled cheese sandwiches or saltines or pizza or pretty much anything... :)
JB: Underwear? briefs, Boxers.
BT: Plain old white briefs. But, hey, at least I *wear* underwear...:)
JB: OK thanks for that Brian, I hope I didn't take up too much of your time.
It's certainly been fun. :) I hope the replies have been sufficiently entertaining.... I read last month's interview and now realize I should be trying to be funnier. :)
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Brian Tiemanns Lion King Archive: http://www.lionking.org