Tom Sito: Animator, film historian, Professor & Chair of Animation at USC School of Cinematic Arts

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Tom Sito was born in Brooklyn, New York, the son of a fireman. Today he is an animator, film historian,  Professor and Chair of Animation at the School of Cinematic Arts at the University of Southern California. His movie credits include Walt Disney’s Beauty and the Beast (1991), Who Framed Roger Rabbit (1988), The Little Mermaid (1989), Aladdin (1992), The Lion King (1994), Warner Bros’ Osmosis Jones (2001) and DreamWorks’ Shrek (2001). In addition, he has worked on TV series such as The Superfriends (1978), HeMan and the Masters of the Universe (1983), and SheRa, The Princess of Power (1985).  He has taught and lectured around the world on animation. In 2011 he was awarded a June Foray Award for a lifetime of service to the animation community. President Emeritus of The Animation Guild, Local #839 Hollywood. Member of the Motion Picture Academy of Arts & Sciences, Hollywood Heritage, SIGGRAPH, and the National Cartoonists Society.

He attended the High School of Art & Design (1973), The School of Visual Arts (NYC) (BFA 1977), and the Art Students League.

His books include: Drawing the Line: The Untold Story of the Animation Unions from Bosko to Bart Simpson (U Press of Kentucky, 2006), Timing For Animation 2nd Edition (2009), and Moving Innovation: A History of Computer Animation (MIT Press 2013), and a section of the upcoming Taschen series on the Art of Walt Disney.

He recently appeared in the PBS documentary The American Experience: Walt Disney  

What do you do best?

I am an animation cartoonist, who has sought to teach the skills of the artists of Golden Age Hollywood to future generations. I also like to write oral histories of my profession.

What makes you the best?

I don’t consider myself the best at what I do, but I to feel I have made a difference in the quality of the films I worked on, and the caliber of the students who graduate from my instruction.

How will you stay the best?

Churchill said “ Art without Tradition are like sheep without a shepherd. Art without Innovation is like a corpse.” The animation program I head up thrives on innovation, as much as it needs to build upon the traditions of the past.

Most challenging moment?

Right after burying my mother, finding out I was being sued by some former business partners, one of whom I once considered a close friend. Not a happy time.

Biggest success?

I’ve had a few highs. The premiere of Who Framed Roger Rabbit? at Radio City Music Hall. We the crew cheered madly, then made the Rainbow Room stay open late to party; the first time I saw a book I wrote featured in the window of the flagship Barnes & Noble on 5th Ave.; Seeing my graduates go out and succeed, and knowing I played a small part in their growth.

What are your aspirations?

Personal: I once wanted to be a Warrior Pope, but getting married has made that a bit problematic. Seriously, I long ago put aside ambitions of being the next Walt Disney. Now I want to continue to grow in knowledge and understanding, and see as much of the world as I can.

Business: As USC is the oldest, best live action film school in the world, I want to make the USC animation program the best in the world.

What fascinates you?

Politics, history. How we all came to be where we are. The audacity of people who achieve what others said was impossible.

History after all, began as story-telling. Homer, the Skalds, the Shahnameh.  Filmmaking is storytelling, and animation the study of character. Much of history can be understood from analyzing the personalities of famous people.

Favorite Motto:

Success may not always go to the most talented, or the best hustler. Success always goes to the stubborn.

Favorite People:

Richard Williams, Chuck Jones, Harvey Kurtzman, Shamus Culhane, Marc Davis, Art Babbitt, Bill Tytla, my wife Pat.

Favorite Places:

Midtown Manhattan late on a rainy night, Paris, Venice, London.

Favorite Products:

Belvedere Vodka, Simon Bolivar maduros, Cintique digital drawing tablets, Blackwing Pencils, Spellcheck.