Darrell Van Citters certainly has enjoyed the national attention he and his Burbank animation boutique have attracted for their creation of a burger-swallowing tattoo that runs around on the body of basketball bad boy Dennis Rodman.
The tattoo, featured in a Carl’s Jr. television commercial, has brought Van Citters’ Renegade Animation Inc. one step closer to its ultimate goal creating its own characters and doing animated television shows and feature films.
“When we started the company we felt that commercials would be the best place to break in and make a name for Renegade,” said Ashley Quinn, who handles the business side.
Commercials are fine for now, but it’s the lengthier and more prestigious animation projects that Renegade is after. And while no feature film jobs have been locked in yet, Quinn said she is optimistic.
Even though Renegade is still small, employing just two full-time animators in addition to Van Citters and Quinn, it is well established.
During peak work loads, as many as 65 freelance artists are employed, and so far this fiscal year, which ends in October, it has generated revenues of $2.2 million.
The firm has even produced the Rolls Royce of commercial animation projects a Super Bowl TV ad for Nike.
The 90-second spot featured basketball superstar Michael Jordan and Bugs Bunny traveling to Mars in a tiny space rocket to recover Nike shoes stolen by Marvin the Martian.
“That kind of put us on the map,” said Van Citters, who was director of Warner Bros. Classic Animation Department and began his career at Walt Disney Co.
The Super Bowl spot was actually a sequel to a commercial Van Citters had created while at Warner Bros.
“I’d done the first Michael Jordan-Bugs Bunny commercial at Warner Bros. It seemed like a good time to leave, to get some mileage out of that spot.”
The timing was good. The company brought in almost $1 million when it started in 1993, and has grown steadily since then.
Van Citters says the growth has been a welcome change from the relative stagnation he felt while at Warner Bros.
“Working for Warner Bros. was just getting kind of old,” he said. “It was a very limited market because we could only use the Warner Bros. characters for commercials. I had staff to keep busy, and I didn’t see how I could keep them busy with just Warner Bros. work.”
So he resigned and with his former assistant, Quinn, opened up shop in the garage of his Burbank home in July 1992.
Quinn set up the business end of the company in the guest bedroom of her Silver Lake home.
“I would take care of the business as much as I could out of my home,” said Quinn. “About 30 percent of the time was spent in the garage.”
The garage was Renegade’s headquarters for about a year and half.
“Luckily in the first time period, most of our clients were in New York,” Quinn said. The only frequent visitors were freelance animators, who were picking up and dropping off their work.
Renegade has since moved to nicer digs. It leased a studio in Burbank that sits adjacent to a Blockbuster Video parking lot. Brightly colored cells of Bugs Bunny, Daffy Duck, Marvin the Martian and others line the walls of the shop. The deep-red carpeting, light-gray walls and black borders are designed to make studio occupants feel they are themselves immersed in a picture frame.
Besides its upgraded physical facility, the company has also grown professionally. Since its breakthrough Nike spot, Renegade has produced animated commercials for Kraft General Foods, Kellogg Co., Apple Computer Inc., Mattel Inc. and Pepsico Inc.
Renegade has also created animation for DreamWorks and Disney CD-ROM games.
“Their work is fantastic,” said client Michelle Strank, referring to a recent Trix yogurt commercial, where Renegade again incorporated live action with animation.
The commercial begins as black-and-white live action of two children, who dip spoons into the yogurt and use them like paintbrushes to transform their surroundings into brilliantly colored animation.
“(Renegade’s) animators brought our story to life.” said Strank, a TV commercial producer with Saatchi & Saatchi Advertising in New York.
Such satisfied customers go a long way toward helping develop a reputation. But an overemphasis on producing top-quality work without minding the bottom line can be a problem. Renegade learned that lesson the hard way a few years back when it underbid a cereal commercial.
“That one hurt,” recalls Van Citters, explaining that his company actually lost $8,000 on the job.
Quinn, being the one in charge of the business side, also remembers. “The client wanted a ton of changes. They didn’t like the way some things were looking,” she recalls. “At that point, to keep the client happy and keep your reputation as a company that does good work, you just keep going. We learned a lot by doing that.”