Have you ever wanted to work in animation?
Wondered how it works or thought it to be interesting?
Marlene Robinson May did too, and for the better part of 50 years, she put her interests to work for some of the giants of the industry.
Robinson May worked for companies like Walt Disney and Hanna-Barbera, studios like Warner Bros. and DreamWorks, and on networks such as Nickelodeon and Comedy Central. During her career, Robinson May sketched, directed and supervised many of the television shows and movies that you, your friends and likely your kids have watched and enjoyed.
"I've certainly worked on a lot of stuff," Robinson May said, "for a lot of different people."
Robinson May — who moved to Forest Grove about a year ago — grew up in Southern California, where she attended and graduated from Santa Monica High School in 1955. It was there that she first began sketching, and it was not long after that she put that acumen to work professionally.
"After I graduated, I went right into Disney and their program," she said. "I really kind of lucked out."
As part of her training, the young professional learned to do "effects," essentially pictures in motion, which would later pay dividends. As effects became more popular, there were too few people to do them — and at the same time, far too much work. With her expertise, Robinson May found herself in demand, keeping her busy during a time in which the industry was laying many people off.
"At first, I wasn't all that happy about doing effects, because I wanted to create more," Robinson May said. "But I also wanted to work, and this always seemed to get me jobs."
From there, she went to work for Hanna-Barbera, again doing effects, then spent more than a decade picking up freelance work before moving to London in 1973 for a year to work on the "Raggedy Ann & Andy" movie for 20th Century Fox. After that, she continued to work for various studios and companies, but it wasn't until 1989 that she got her first big break.
An opportunity opened up in South Korea, and after a strong recommendation from a coworker in the United Kingdom, Robinson May was given the job as the supervising timing director on the cartoon show "Alvin and the Chipmunks."
The timing director, as Robinson May put it, makes things move. They sync the motion with the sound and piece things together. Robinson May did such an outstanding job that the high-level executives on the show kept her there for five years, working not only for the "Alvin and the Chipmunks" show, but also for "Care Bears," "DuckTales," "Winnie the Pooh" and a handful of others.
After that, Robinson May went to Canada, by way of Washington state, to work both as a sketcher and the timing director for the shows "Ed, Edd n Eddy" and "CatDog" for the Cartoon Network and Nickelodeon, where she spent nearly 10 years before a year in the Philippines working on "Curious George" for Toon City Animation — which wasn't your typical production.
"It was really scary over there," daughter Kelley Robinson said, referring to the Philippines' high rate of violent crime. "She had to have a full-time bodyguard and a personal driver."
In 2017, Robinson May was diagnosed with breast cancer, but her daughter said she went through treatment "like a champ" and has been cancer-free for two years. Since then, however, she suffered a broken arm, and it took her a little time to mend — a frustrating experience for a lifelong artist.
"I'm able to draw now," Robinson May said. "I still like to sketch."
As one might expect, Robinson May has collected more than her share of memorabilia over the years. The house in which she and her daughter live is littered with framed posters, photos, and signed artifacts commemorating the 83-year-old's time on the job. So much so that they're looking to sell some to fans of the various cartoons and movies.
Robinson May's career also afforded her the opportunity to meet her share of celebrities, including Walt Disney himself. Within her first two weeks on the job, the company newcomer was waiting for the elevator, and when the doors opened, she saw Disney, the company's founder and namesake, standing inside. Starstruck, as she recalled, she stood staring at the entertainment icon until he smiled, motioned her towards the elevator and jokingly said, "Come on." She quickly snapped to and enjoyed a nice chat with Disney before they both exited.
"He was very nice," she said.
Robinson May also met Dick Van Dyke on the set of "Chitty Chitty Bang Bang," met actor and comedian Howie Mandel, stood on the soundstage during the recording of The Beatles' "Yellow Submarine," and became quite good friends with the late cartoonist and filmmaker Chuck Jones, best known for his work with Warner Bros., including the Looney Tunes and Merrie Melodies cartoons.
In all, it was a great career and a fun one to look back on. Aware of that though she is, Robinson May takes it all in stride and is humble about her endeavors.
"She has no ego about this at all," Kelley Robinson said. "To her, it was a job. (It) paid the bills."
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