The Dan’s Papers cover of Riverhead’s Main Street by Don Duga is a long way from the artist’s movies, Frosty the Snow Man and Rudolph the Red Nose Reindeer. Yet those classic animation films will always be remembered by kids and adults alike, partly because they represent the “good old days” when animation images were drawn by hand. Thus, we perceive, perhaps unconsciously, the “characters’ souls and interesting design” in a more intense way. No doubt about it, Duga is a purist when it comes to animation techniques.
Q: You’ve been living on the North Fork for a long time, since 1980, and you’ve been teaching at New York’s School for Visual Arts and also creating animation even before that. Let’s start with your living here. What is it that attracts you to this place?
A: I live on the Sound in a nice little community. I participate in the local activities at the East End Arts Council, the Eastenders Coffee House, where I hung a series of drawings of the Beatles (the place is no longer there) and Green Earth, where I did other drawings of the Beatles and from The Last Unicorn, a feature animated film I created.
Q: How about your teaching at the School of Visual Arts (SVA)? It’s well known for its animation; you still teach the students drawing, however, as a basic tool.
A: Yes, the way it used to be. Through the years, I thought the students would complain about traditional animation, but I got a lot of enthusiasm from them. Now I teach them animation projects; some are done on computers or other devices or there’s a combination of techniques we use, like colorization or scanning.
Q: Now, how about your long career in animation, when you’ve created different kinds of films. You’ve done feature films and also educational ones. What were the educational ones like?
A: In the 1960s, we did educational projects for Sesame Street and The Electric Circus. I prefer these kinds to big feature films because you work with a much smaller crew, and you have more creative control. I even wrote the stories myself. You can be more creative because you don’t have a lot of money; and you have to ask yourself, “How can I get this done?”
Q: How about the commercials you did?
A: I did commercials for Hostess. But I found out that the product would sit in the warehouse for 10 years before being out on the shelves.
Q: UGH. You do independent animation films as well. Are they difficult to get done?
A: No. I can just make a film; I don’t have to worry about getting money. I did them like a painting, where I can do my own art. I can do something meaningful with animation, instead of just entertaining. That’s why I started my independent production company, Polestar, with Irra Verbitsky. Irra has had her films shown at MOMA.
Q: You’ve just finished another project that’s not a film.
A: Yes, illustrating a children’s book, but eventually it will go to animation.
Q: Any other animated films you are thinking of doing?
A: I want to do a film on a mandala I drew that was in the The New Yorker magazine.
Q: With all your achievements, I’m curious about your art background.
A: I went to one of the best art schools in California and after graduation I was working as a waiter in a restaurant. A former teacher sent me to UPA, which made animated films like Mr. Magoo. I learned on the job to do animation there. Then I worked for a company in San Francisco where I learned how to put together a film. Then I came back east and got involved in commercials film, learning to work with clients. Then I went to Europe and first worked with Irra in Milan making commercials for theatre.
Q: You’ve always been so creative all these years. Will you ever retire?
A: I’m not someone who is looking to go into retirement.
“Riverhead Imagined by Dan’s Papers Cover Artist Don Duga” is brought to you by the Riverhead BID.