J.J. Sedelmaier could always draw. Drawing is a skill Sedelmaier developed in grade school, one that gave him a niche among his peers and one that his parents, both creatives, fostered.
J.J. Sedelmaier could always draw.
Drawing is a skill Sedelmaier developed in grade school, one that gave him a niche among his peers and one that his parents, both creatives, fostered.
"I drew constantly. I drew in art class, in history, in geometry," said Sedelmaier, who has run his own animation firm since 1990. "I learned that, if I could draw, it didn't matter if I could do sports. It became a way to attract people, a very handy situation."
His animation projects have attracted a few people, too. J.J. Sedelmaier Productions, Inc. is responsible for many of the most talked about broadcast productions of the past two decades - the launch season of MTV's"Beavis and Butt-Head," "Saturday Night Live's" "Saturday TV Funhouse," the pilot for Cartoon Network/Adult Swim's"Harvey Birdman, Attorney at Law" and "Tek Jansen" for "The Colbert Report."
"J.J. is a perfect example of someone who might not have high visibility but who is making high visibility content," said Charlotte Belland, chair of the animation program at CCAD, where Sedelmaier will present Thursday, March 18. (It won't be Sedelmaier's first visit to Columbus; he often visited his grandmother's home off Indianola Avenue with his family.)
"I've been able to forge a career as an art director/producer/creator," Sedelmaier said, "but I can still draw."
That some of Sedelmaier's highest-profile work is inspired by comic books is no accident.
"I grew up reading my dad's comics, fortunate enough that my grandmother never threw them away," he said. "It was a golden age of comic books. My generation is the one that grew up with Jules Pfeiffer's 1965 'The Great Comic Book Heroes.'"
Sedelmaier studied art at the University of Wisconsin (where he still serves on an advisory board to the Art Department), taking as wide a variety of courses as he could to gather "perspectives on how art can be done."
Interested in comic books and in animation, Sedelmaier, upon earning his undergraduate degree, set for himself one of two courses - move to New York City and pursue comics, or to Los Angeles to do animation. He, naturally, moved to New York, where he eventually got into… animation.
"Something got all fucked up there," he joked.
The path to running his own animation firm was a bumpy one at first. Sedelmaier was rejected at all of the cool places he imagined working - MAD, DC and Marvel among them - and he spent time working in a restaurant and an antique store.
"I got my precious feelings hurt," he admitted. "I thought, 'Maybe this isn't going to be as cool as I thought.'"
Professionally, he considers his restaurant/retail experience invaluable, but he was still happy to land a job as a staff animator for a company that was making shows like "Strawberry Shortcake" and "The Berenstain Bears."
"It was terrible stuff, but I had a job," Sedelmaier said. "And I was working with people who'd been in the animation industry since the 1920s."
He subsequently joined R.O. Blechman's animation firm, starting as an in-betweener and eventually becoming the top assistant to the storied artist/animator.
"We made a good team," Sedelmaier said. "He was very quiet and unassuming, and I was hardly that."
He was doing both creative and producing work for Blechman, gaining insight to the overall picture of animation, "with an increased level of control and contribution, serving basically as the studio's representative within the industry."
In 1990, Sedelmaier and his wife, Patrice, started J.J. Sedelmaier Productions, Inc., providing creative direction for animation projects for shows and advertising (the latter following in the footsteps of his father, Joe Sedelmaier, a commercial director responsible for, among other ads, "Where's the Beef?" for Wendy's). The firm was approached by MTV to help develop the network's first series, "Beavis & Butt-head."
"They (MTV) were trying just as much as we were to figure out what they wanted to do and how they wanted to do it," Sedelmaier said. "Since it was mostly just them sitting on a couch, we developed this static production, and use the dumb-ness to further the idea of what the show was."
Sedelmaier bowed out of the series after the first season, not wanting his firm to be consumed or "treated as a wing of MTV."
The company was contacted by "Saturday Night Live" writer Robert Smigel to develop a series of animated shorts that would eventually become "Saturday TV Funhouse," including features such as "The Ambiguously Gay Duo" and "The X-Presidents."
"When the SNL stuff happened, everybody wanted to work with me," Sedelmaier said, "but you also end up with people itching for you to fuck up."
Sedelmaier also feared becoming pigeon-holed.
"We were known for doing this purposefully shit design, and crappy animation that was funny," he said. "The studio got branded."
"When we bailed from SNL, we got calls asking if we'd even consider working on commercials," Sedelmaier said with a laugh. He has since worked on campaigns for S.C. Johnson & Son, Alka-Seltzer/Bayer and Converse/USA, Ford and the Boston Bruins.
In recent years, Sedelmaier has collaborated with some of his heroes, including Al Jaffee, Don Martin and Al Hirschfeld. He is also a contributor tothe "Print Magazine" blog Imprint.
"I see myself as lucky enough to get involved in terrific projects that have good creative integrity, and that were fun," he said.