From his home in Valencia, California, affable Matthew O’Callaghan – character designer, director and series creator of Life with Louie – spoke about the lasting rewards of meaningful collaboration, like the one he has had with Louie Anderson, and how he got his start in the animation industry.
Matt: “I was an artist as a little boy. As soon as I could hold a crayon I began to draw. I was a big fan of Disney and Warner Brothers.”
He started, as many kids do, by drawing cartoons and then developed an interest in animation, learning what he could from books.
Matt: “Kids today have so many more resources than I did. I started with some little super 8 movies – just 15 or 20 seconds.”
With the encouragement of his father, Matt broadened his drawing skills and developed a portfolio that won him admission to the California Institute of the Arts, a school created by Walt Disney and affiliated with Disney Studios to this day. By the age of 20, Matt was animating for Disney and working on big projects, like The Little Mermaid and Who Framed Roger Rabbit?
Matt: “Then I got interested in story and writing, and creating and directing, so I decided to leave Disney in order to branch out. That’s when I met Louie and he was interested in creating a show. Watching his standup I noticed that he talked about his family and about growing up and I thought, ‘There’s an idea there. That’s something I can work on that everyone can relate to — growing up in a family.’
It was challenging because we really didn’t know each other at the beginning – and that took some trust. He had to trust me to animate his life – his idea for how to share stories based on his life. I had to prove to him that I was going to handle this material in a way that respected him and his stand-up act and his childhood. It was this little tag team of creative ideas.
The process of creating an animated character based on a real person, especially one with whom you’ll have an ongoing collaboration, requires sensitivity and skill.
Matt: “Sometimes I would look at Louie – the real Louie – and I would just draw him over and over. That’s what I did for the first couple of days.”
From those drawings, I started caricaturing him. Then came the process of transforming an adult Louie into the character of a little boy. You want to make him as appealing as you can, so you have to look at the adult and then at pictures of little kids and their proportions. Generally little kids have bigger heads, and they have smaller limbs. So I had to draw it, put a piece of paper over it, and re-draw it — put a piece of paper over that and re-draw it. You keep pushing the proportions. And I kept working at it that way until I had the character of Little Louie. And all along I had pictures of the real Louie Anderson all over my room!”
Professional recognition of the Life with Louie series, including multiple Emmys and three consecutive Humanitas Prizes for Children’s Animation, validated the creative investment that Matt and Louie shared.
Matt: “The things that work really well are the things you fall in love with and I really fell in love with this concept and this kind of storytelling, and Louie fell in love with the project, too.”
Still, with all of his continued success and opportunity, the experience of creating Life with Louie has provided lasting, personal rewards for Matthew O’Callaghan.
Matt: “It’s still one of my favorite things that I’ve done — and I’ve been able to do a lot of nice things. And Louie’s still passionately proud of this property. And we kind of have this lifelong friendship because of it.”