John Grusd interview

Glowsquid

Shine Sprite
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Some times ago, I found out John Grusd had an active personal website. I toyed with the idea of sending him questions about his work at DiC and after talking about it with the other staff members, I sent him an email. To my surprise, he graciously agreed to do an interview!

Wait, who?

Well first, John Grusd was the producer on the The Super Mario Bros. Super Show!, and producer and director on Adventures of Super Mario Bros. 3, Super Mario World, The Legend of Zelda, and the third season of Captain N. For DiC, he was also director of the pilot episode of Sonic Satam and Stunt Dawgs, and producer-director the 90's episodes of G.I. Joe.

Before working at DiC, Grusd worked as director of R&D for Filmation and was Art Director on its final shows like Ghostbusters, Bravestarr and the 2nd season of She-Ra. After doing a series of DTV shows for SD Entertainement in the '00s and working as a production assistant on the 2010 season of Bob the Builder, John Grusd retired from the animation business to fully concentrate on photography. You can see his work on https://johngrusdphoto.com/
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The interview


First, let's talk about you. What lead you to working at DiC?


Short answer (sort of): I have a degree in Industrial Design which led to working in a design studio and after that, in special effects for TV (industrial designers were preferred and well suited for fx work). Filmation, a major Saturday morning producer of animation was also doing live action shows. I was hired to do miniature special fx for Space Academy. I did that for a few years on several different shows until that type of work ran out and I was offered some work over on the animation side of the company. From there I worked in a lot of capacities and in a lot of departments at Filmation. I got a very good education in the animation process. I was at Filmation for 11 years.

When Filmation closed, I went over to DIC.

What was the process behind DiC acquiring the rights to make cartoons based on Nintendo's properties?

At DIC I was work for hire and not apart of the deal making decision process. All I can say about it is that Andy Hayward at DIC was very good at selling services, had a successful reputation and did the work at a competitive price. DIC was doing a lot of work at that time.

How much was Nintendo involved in the production of the cartoons; did they give any restrictions or suggestions to DiC?


Involvement with the rights holder is always interesting. Nintendo was no different. Although they often defered to our expertise in animation, they had the right to oversee everything we did. I think that was part of the selling point to make the deal in the first place. To be fair, Nintendo didn't enter that enterprise with any other intention than to ultimately promote its games. We knew this going in. Our responsibility was to go beyond the game and give the characters personalities and stories.

This was going to be the first time anybody, including Nintendo, heard the characters with voices, acting out stories and moving around in a space other than the game track. Of course Nintendo was going to be involved. They were party to approvals on the character designs, the general design of the show, the voices, and the stories. To various degrees, Nintendo had to sign off on just about everything in preproduction. (The networks were also involved in a sort of parallel set of approvals). None of this was out of the ordinary for that time. As structured, it was a very collaborative enterprise.


I don't remember any specific mandate from Nintendo except they wanted to promote their newest versions of the games.

The upshot is we came up with everything (based on game graphics and characters) and made adjustments when the client wanted them.


Are or were you a fan of the Mario series, or have you played any of the games before? Did you have any familiarity with Mario or Nintendo before production began?

Yes I had a fair amount of familiarity with the games although I was never a gamer. I was more of a casual player. Because Nintendo wanted the show based on the newest version, I had to learn the entire game (both Mario and Zelda) in order to be knowledgeable about the characters in the game's cast. The interesting thing was the game wasn't yet made for the American market so I had to learn it all on the Japanese version. I became very good at both games.

The Super Mario Bros. Super Show featured live-action segments with a large number of guest stars. What was the reasoning behind having live-action segments in the series? And why were they dropped in the subsequent two cartoons?

The live segments in the original series was part of the deal before I joined DIC. Like I said before, the dealmaking was outside of my territory. A separate production company was hired to produce those segments. DIC animation had no involvement in the live production. I do know that the production company was the same one that produced Peewee's Playhouse.

My impression was that the live segments were dropped because they weren't as successful as was hoped. (but I don't really know for sure) There could have been a cost issue as well.


Were there ever plans to create more cartoons based on Mario?

Well, we did 3 seasons, didn't we? (I can't remember.) I suppose there were always plans to create as much as the market would bear. There could be any number of reasons why more weren't produced. That's the way those things go.

While the Super Mario Bros. Super Show was airing, every Monday through Thursday an episode of the Mario cartoon would air between the live-action episode, while on Fridays an episode of The Legend of Zelda cartoon would air instead. What led to this decision?

I have no idea. Again, that was the deal made by DIC management.

What exactly led to you retiring from animation?

A few reasons really. Harder to find work. Much of the work you find is through friends or acquaintences in the Biz. As time marches on, many of those connections retire or move on. The newer people in the Biz are now hiring their own friends. That's the way this business works. Nobody should be surprised.

Another reason lies in the politics of production. The reality of constantly serving so many masters is not as glamorous as it sounds. Don't get me wrong. It's one of the best jobs in the world but it's not pure creation and adulation. People think that the Director is king, but in animation the director answers to the producer, executive producer (or owner of the company), the rights holder (in this case Nintendo) and the network. It's not just about making pretty pictures. It's a lot about making people who have different, often conflicting, agendas happy. Lots of pressure comes with the job. Every once in a while you need a break.

The third reason is that many people including me have other interests to persue. Sometimes you need to make that leap.


Overall, what was your favourite gig in the animation business?

That's something I really can't answer. I worked on so many series and features with so many talented people that for me, there is no way to pick a favorite. All were at once the same and different. I supposed what sticks with me the most are the people. I never got tired of watching artists in the trenches, producers, directors, writers etc do their work. Even with comprehensive experience in the artform, I always thought it was like seeing magic being done right in front of my eyes. Amazing.

The Mario cartoons are still quite popular today, especially in the form of internet memes. How do you feel about the cartoon's continued cult popularity?

Of course I'm pleased! I think Mario was successful on several levels. It was fun to look at. The voices were funny. There was slapstic humor and action. There was also a ton of insult humor that I think appeals to older audiences (great writing!). I feel the continued popularity is well deserved.

Certainly the continued success of the game keeps the property in the public's consciousness. The bottom line is that nobody can predict what will have staying power and what won't, ... but I'm happy that this one has it!


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Again, we'd like to thank Mr. Grusd very much for agreeing to do the interview!
 

Hobbes

Star Spirit
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That was a really interesting interview! Thanks, Glowsquid!
 
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