When it comes to painting, Douglas Vandegrift calls himself a "dabbler." In fact, he has been painting seriously for only about two years now - when he finds the time. He designs computer animation for Access Software during the day and serves as a storyboard director for Jim Henson's "Muppet Babies" in the evenings.
But there is something about Vandegrift's painting style that caused film expert and historian Hunter Hale to ask him to do a painting of scenes from the 1927 film "Sunrise.""Hale knew I was a lover of old films, too," Vandegrift said. "He knew I had done a series of paintings of old movie stars and liked the look of them. He also liked the way I combined scenes to tell stories."
Hale gave a videotape of the film to Vandegrift, who watched it, liked it and accepted the challenge to do the painting.
The artist selected three scenes from the film. He then painted the background and images with acrylics in monochromatic values. Finally, he added oil washes and details.
Although pleased with the way the painting turned out, he admits his first love is cartooning.
"I always wanted to do animated cartoons," he said.
That dream came true in 1982 when he started working with television animation. Hanna Barbera had opened an office in Salt Lake, and Vandegrift worked there until the local office closed. He then moved to the Los Angeles area.
"For three years, I worked full time as an artist, doing `G.I. Joe' for television," he said.
Two years later, he moved back to Utah to get into computer animation, his full-time job. After hours, he makes time to "direct" his "Muppet Babies."
Vandegrift explained the steps he follows as director. He is sent a script that is written just like a screenplay, together with a recording of the words by the actors. As he reads the screenplay and listens to the tape, he visualizes the scenes in his mind like a movie. He then draws the story in a series of squares and writes key words under the frames.
"As I draw these little characters in position, I try for dramatic camera angles and other points of interest that will keep the children involved," he said.
He pointed out that he has to be very careful to show stance, gestures and facial expressions.
"The animation is done overseas by people who don't speak English," he said. So it's very important to be precise when it comes to expressions, etc.
Vandegrift says it takes him about two weeks to complete 400 frames; and the animators about three months to animate a half-hour episode.
He is proud of the Emmy award hanging on the wall of his living room honoring him for his work on "Muppet Babies." He pointed out that only one Emmy is presented yearly to the top daytime cartoon show. And "Muppet Babies" has won it for the past two years.
You'd think that with Vandegrift's flair for cartooning, he must surely have focused on commercial art in college. Actually, in 1977, he received his BFA in theater from USU.
He has found, however, that his experience in the theater has helped him "direct" the characters in his cartoons. Also invaluable has been his experience as scenic artist and art director for Sunn Classics Pictures from 1978-81.
Vandegrift and his wife, Laurie, live in Bountiful. They have four children: Angel, age 7; Brandon, age 5; Doug Jr., age 4; and Andrew, 3 months.