If you’ve ever been re-watching “Toy Story 2” and thought to yourself “I wonder who came up with the design for Buzz Lightyear’s archenemy the Evil Emperor Zurg, wonder no more. When current Cetati Studios Supervising Director Ken Mitchroney worked for Pixar Animation Studios, he was asked to come up with a design for Zurg…and he had an hour to do it.
“When I started on “Toy Story 2” it was in its complete infancy—it was just 12 drawings on a wall and we started coming up with characters for the movie. They had the name Zurg, but didn’t actually have the bad guy. So I thought ‘what are the tropes?’ I then thought I’d use the flowing robes of Emperor Ming (from Flash Gordon), adapt the chest from (Fantastic Four villain) Doctor Doom and make his head a frightening tiki. I drew it and they thought it was pretty freakin’ cool.”
A co-worker, Randy Berrett, then took Mitchroney’s drawing into the toy realm adjusting the forehead, mouth, horns and Zurg’s glowing red eyes.
“I asked him where he got the eye design and he said ‘Oh I just went out to the parking lot. Those are taillights from a Dodge Viper.”
As a thank you from former Disney Chief Creative Officer/“Toy Story 2” director John Lasseter, the voice of Zurg on Disneyland’s Buzz Lightyear Astro Blasters attraction is Mitchroney’s.
Ken Mitchroney grew up in South Florida and was always able to draw.
“I had and still have crippling dyslexia so I became a visual thinker and I made comic books and cartoons to tell my stories visually. When I was a kid that’s how I communicated. Spielberg has that same problem.”
Mitchroney shot a lot of 16 mm films when he was a kid with model kits and costumes which he called “goofin’ around,” but he later attained a 4-year film scholarship to DiBacco School in Lake Worth, Florida and graduated with honors. After that he started working for Disney and Warner Bros. where he was mentored by Looney Tunes legends like Tex Avery and Chuck Jones.
The list of projects that Ken Mitchroney has worked on is staggering and includes, but is not limited to: illustrating Archie’s Comics’ “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles,” illustrating Marvel Comics’ “Ren & Stempy,” illustrating DC Comics’ “Tiny Toons” and “Classic Characters,” doing storyboards and layouts for Warner Bros. Animation’s “Tiny Toon Adventures,” working as a story artist on Pixar Animation Studio’s “Monster’s Inc.,” doing storyboards and development work on Dreamworks’ “Shrek 2,” doing storyboards for Warner Bros.’s “The Lego Movie,” being supervising director on the Cartoon Network series “Mighty Magiswords,” and doing the mascot design and art for the Baltimore Orioles, Oakland Athletics and San Francisco 49ers.
And that is only a small fraction.
“I’m a live action director too and I’ll be taking a break from Cetati Studios and will be working on a movie as second unit director with my buddy Dave Evans who made “The Sandlot.”
Mitchroney’s knowledge of film and direction is impressive and can also be, according to him, annoying.
“I am the worst guy to take to the movies. My wife hates it because I’m like ‘oh, why did they cut there?’ and ‘why did the characters change?’ and ‘these effects are just terrible!’ I can’t watch network television because I spend most of the time over-directing it. I can’t enjoy myself unless it’s an old classic movie by John Ford or Michael Curtiz whose work I can trust. I’m horrible!” (laughs)
Mitchroney helped flesh out the staff at Cetati Studios with a little help from his friends.
“I brought in a lot of my friends like Bonnie Gordon who did voice work at the Cartoon Network. When I saw that (artist/animator) Danny Ochoa was available, I knew we had to get him. I worked with Dave Feiten at Disney and at Pixar on “Toy Story 2” and he was available. I brought my buddy Steve Boyett who I co-wrote the book “Fata Morgana” with as well. I’m doing what I can to populate this place with very talented people I’ve worked with in the industry before and it’s worked out pretty well.”
The steady stream of co-workers bringing their unique skill sets to the table undoubtedly strengthened Cetati Studios’ operations and brand, but, according to Mitchroney, also led to co-founder/CEO Brian Lovrin asking questions.
“Brian said we now have an animation director: I thought that’s what you were going to do. We now have a storyboard artist: I thought that’s what you were going to do. What are you going to do? Then he sees me get there at 9 AM and go from animation to story to characters and then I’m cutting the animatics and then I’m doing voiceovers with Bonnie. I oversee everything as far as production goes—from the scripts to the story to art design to the direction to the cinematics to the storytelling—I kind of touch everything that happens.”
Cetati Studios’ revolutionary approach of making digital materials that teach rigorous math using A-list animators to make it all more approachable, palatable and engaging, struck a chord with Mitchroney.
“I was very good at science in school, but I was terrible at math. When you have trouble reading, as I did because of my dyslexia, math is a real pain. So I’m actually learning as I am going. I think what we are creating here is cool and one-of-a-kind. I’m turning down work to do this because I believe in it. At the end of the day, I am doing it for the kids who will benefit from Brian and Ed’s vision. I’m just here to make it fun and look good.”
For more information about Cetati Studios’ Supervising Director Ken Mitchroney’s work, please visit his website at http://kenmitchroney.daportfolio.com/about and his IMDb page at https://www.imdb.com/name/nm0593838.