The Vicarious Satisfaction of a Parent

JULY 22, 2009
Check out the mini documentary behind-the-scenes recording of the music to United's "Heart". http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SfUW5_Qd5ys Alex spent the day observing these brilliant artists working out the changes on their respective pianos at one point phoning me, "Hey Dad, you'll never guess who I'm standing next to..."

Those of us who are parents, and even those who are not but have carefully observed, can pretty much agree that one of the greatest satisfactions of the process, not to mention a huge source of relief, is knowing that your kids grow up and find careers in life that give them joy and fulfillment and, hopefully, a measure of success.  Our sons have pursued different dreams in their respective Odysseys, and, so far have been making their marks in the world.  Our eldest, Max, is the complete Type A personality, which works well in his line of work, keeping him top dog as VP of sales and his office number one in the company, and yet remains an affectionate, loving husband and an awesome daddy to his son, Magnus.  Our youngest, Ben, is as they say in the Marine Corps, “a hard charger”, currently a Sergeant in RECON, training in counter-intelligence (anything else I say about what he’s doing and he’ll have to kill us all), loving the Corps and what he is doing, and making it his career.   Recently married he, like his oldest brother, is also a very loyal and affectionate husband.  

Then there is the middle guy, Alexander.  The animator.

For much of their growing up years the boys lived in a house with a single, pretty stressed out, sort of crazy, self-employed, illustrator father- me.  It was not a very smooth ride balancing single parenting with the demands of career, and the guys got a good look into the world of a free-lancer (you can read that any which way you want).   While all three exhibited pretty impressive skills in drawing as kids, it was Alex who really followed through and took his talents to the next levels.  With one caveat.  His acute observation of dad in the studio convinced Alex that he was not going to follow a similar, constantly pressured, path.  He was not going to get sucked up into the world of “working for the man”.  

His years at School of Visual Arts, as any number of teachers could probably attest, (certainly Tom Woodruff and Frances Jetter) were marked by exhibitions of lots of talent and charm but frustratingly short on follow through.  When he graduated, I began a period of the long held breath.   In many respects he was more advanced and skilled at his age than I was at the same period.  But that fire in the belly- to use a really tired term- seemed to be consciously suppressed.  What I lacked in cogent polish as a Parsons graduate, I supplemented with passion and desire to work.  Finding constant work with art directors like Eric Seidman and Steve Heller at The New York Times was a blessing and helped enormously to build on the foundation of my career.

Alex seemed to float.  He did some private work, painted signs, took part in gallery shows, played a game of tag with obscure publications that paid little to nothing.  He found plenty of odd jobs, and honed many other skills in brickwork, landscaping, and home design (painting interiors).   I made one or two offers to Alex to arrange contact with art directors and then let the notion drop, intuiting that that was a terrific way to guarantee disastrous results.   He wasn’t starving. He somehow managed to stay current with his rent.  I stopped holding my breath, but wasn’t exhaling completely either.

Somewhere along the way, and this is where it gets hazy in my memory, Alex found an interest in animation.  (Actually he always seemed to have animation as a career in the back of his mind, as we did pay a visit to Cal Arts in L.A. before settling on SVA in NYC.). At some point he also decided to move to California.  This was probably the single most momentous and effective decision he could have made.  Apparently he intuited a need to get out from his comfortable rut, a predictable level of coasting within the Jersey City confines.

He hooked up with the extremely talented director/animator, master of stop-motion animation, Jamie Caliri, of LEMONY SNICKET closing credits fame, to mention just one, and soon found himself artist and background designer on a multimillion dollar animated commercial for United Airlines titled “DRAGON” http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hYhcE6Qm9p0 which premiered during the 2006 Super Bowl and ran during the Olympics that year.  It was an award winner.  It was also Alex’s first real taste of  “working for the man” and, truth be told, he met any and all challenges, pressures, revisions and 12th hour re-dos, with flying colors, as I truly expected he would.  It was also his first taste of real money.  It’s been Alex’s great good fortune to learn and grow in the craft in what I consider the best way possible- the hands-on experience way- and Jamie has been a remarkable mentor/friend.  They have teamed together on a number of projects and seem to complement each other’s skills and temperments to achieve, from the obvious results and accolades, a consistently high level of artistic success.  Alex is a favorite uncle to Jamie’s kids, and has lived in a studio-sized tent in the Caliri backyard in Ojai since moving out to California.  Hey, it’s California.   When weather is perfect, living in a tent is not such a strange idea.  Even so, Al will be moving into real solid living quarters in Ojai real soon as we found out when we visited last week.  

The successes have continued.  Their collaboration on the United Airlines animated commercial for ‘HEART” http://motion.tv/blog/2009/05/25/jamie-caliris-30-for-united-airlines-%E2%80%93-heart/ won them an Annie Award this January.  Alex worked on character design and did the drawings.  I especially love his Cate Blanchett-like lead character and am charmed by the empathy he brought to the character in his drawings.

While we were in California last week with him we found out that the title sequence for THE UNITED STATES OF TARA http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ivFAuqpeaz4 on Showtime was nominated for an Emmy Award.  Alex did the illustrations.  Drew it all and painted it.   Also on board for the project, besides Jamie, was the awesome Anthony Scott, of Tim Burton’s NIGHTMARE BEFORE CHRISTMAS and CORPSE BRIDE, and Morgan Hay, the main line producer.

Finally, I must mention the particular sense of vicarious satisfaction I felt when Alex won the gold medal in the Sequential category at the Society of Illustrators Annual Exhibition a couple years back for his drawings for United’s DRAGON.  It was the first time he ever entered anything to the Society.  First time.  As an illustrator who has submitted innumerable entries over the years, and has seen remarkably few pieces selected for the Annuals, to the point where I suspect an accident has occurred if a piece IS accepted, it was a huge joy that the name Juhasz be attached to a medal.   Parents can never feel happier than when their progeny do better than them.  

Throughout all this, Alex remains a laid back, observant, warm hearted, generous, hilarious, engaging, creative and curious human being, when not being a wonderful son and a joy to hang with.  He is an artist who actually keeps a sketchbook journal with him almost all the time.  His visual journals alone are a joy to look through.  Whether he intended to or not, Alex works like a dog just like his old man.  His only demonstrations of ego (of which there is far too much of the malodorous kind in this profession) come in the sincerity and pride he puts in his work.  His girlfriend, Sarah, along with her father, also an avid vertical climber and what I would consider extreme sports enthusiast, has turned the tall, lanky guy into a tall wedge.  

And this is just the beginning.  He’s not even 29.  

With the Master. Alex with Howard Brodie, one of the titans of illustration, whom we paid a visit to last week at his home in San Miguel. I'll be posting one about Howard soon.