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PROFILE: Architecture Student Sketches Cartoon Career, Now He Builds Laughter with Hollywood Stars

One of the humorous highlights of Mike Gasaway’s directing career was the day Mel Brooks ridiculed his name. Recalls Mike, “When Mel makes fun of your name, it has a whole different quality than what the kids at school did when I was growing up. I had to call my Dad right away after receiving a ribbing from Mel.”

Date: 3/29/2004 8:00:00 AM
By: Mary Reilly
Phone: (513) 556-1824
Photos By: Provided by Mike Gasaway
UC ingot While he may have learned to draw a straight line after spending five years in the University of Cincinnati’s top-ranked architecture program, Mike Gasaway’s career since leaving school has been anything but a ruler-straight path.

Mike Gasaway

Mike, 33, from St. Clairesville, Ohio, is now one of two award-winning directors of the animated TV show, “The Adventures of Jimmy Neutron: Boy Genius,” which airs around the globe.  If you have young children, you likely know the thoroughly clever, written-for-kids-and-adults program, which just won two Hollywood “Annies” (awards for animation), one as the Best Animated Television Series for Children.  Mike himself was up as best director but lost out to “The Simpsons” – that being the case, his self-esteem is pretty much intact.

If you don’t have young children and so, haven’t yet caught the Friday-night show, you’re missing a program that employs some of Hollywood’s best comedic talent, including Mel Brooks, Tim Allen, and Tim Curry of “Rocky Horror Picture Show” fame, as well as Christian Slater and Alyssa Milano.  All have provided voices to “Jimmy Neutron” characters.

Jimmy Neutron

If you don’t know the show, it follows the adventures of a 10-year-old genius who makes Rube Goldberg-type inventions meant to help his life but which, instead, generally end up hurting it.  For instance, in one recent episode, Jimmy was being bullied at school.  So, he created three “nanobots” to foil the bullies.  But instead, the “nanobots” began bullying Jimmy’s friends, with Jimmy taking the blame.  So, the boy had to then outsmart his own invention. 

How Mike went from architecture to TV directing – professions which he says have a lot in common as both are about designing a completed work from disparate elements – is owing to his cooperative-education quarters and a magazine in UC’s College of Design, Architecture, Art, and Planning library.  “After five years in UC’s architecture program and gaining work experience on co-ops, I realized the profession wasn’t what I wanted to do with my life.  Frankly, what I really wanted to do was, well, kids’ stuff.  Then, one day, I saw a copy of Animation magazine in the DAAP library, and I thought, ‘This is what I want to do!’”  Everything built from there.

Mike, who left school in 1993, had some experience doing animations and “fly-throughs” of building designs for his last co-op employer: Marks, Thomas & Associates, Inc., of Baltimore.  He left Cincinnati, moved to Minnesota and “basically taught myself everything I could about animation.  By 1994, I was doing software development and testing software, and on my own, I did a short, animated film called ‘Television Monster.’  They were monsters who had TVs as heads.  One had a war playing in his head, and others had butterflies in theirs.  In the end, the ‘war’ monster had his channel changed.”

Mike and his colleagues receive their Annie for having the Best Animated Television Series for Children

Mike sent his film as part of a portfolio to Walt Disney Imagineering, the Disney arm that creates animation for TV commercials and theme-park monitors.  Says Mike, “I had a great, salt-of-the-earth boss who taught me everything he knew.  It was a great beginning for me.  It was my opportunity to just jump in head first, and I took it.”

When he was ready to move on, Mike sent a video portfolio to DNA Productions in Dallas, then gearing up to begin work on the December 2001 movie, “The Adventures of Jimmy Neutron: Boy Genius,” which was later nominated for an Academy Award as the year’s best animated film along with “Shrek” and “Monsters, Inc.”

“I sent my portfolio via overnight mail.  The very next day, they called and offered me a job,” recalls Mike.  “I was a little flabbergasted.  I couldn’t believe it. I remember thinking, ‘I just sent them the tape yesterday!’” 

Mike hit the ground running with DNA, doing animation for the movie.  Within two weeks of starting with the company, he was named animation supervisor.  Now, he’s one of two directors of the TV program that spun off from the movie.

“Jimmy Neutron” has just wrapped its second season and is in full production for its third season right now.  In addition, Mike is working on a proposal for a feature film and a new TV show -- both are animations for kids and adults.  He says his DAAP career has proved an asset in his new career.  “At DAAP, I pulled all-nighters where I still had to pay meticulous attention to detail at 3 a.m. and then perform in front of an audience during the ‘critiques’ the next day.  It’s been the same when working on the film and in the TV show’s earliest days.  The one thing that’s different now is that kids are a way tougher, high-pressure audience than my teachers ever were,” he laughs.

Mike and his wife, Heather at the Annie awards ceremony

Everyone in Mike’s family – from his daughters to his grandmother to his wife Heather, who is a 1995 grad of UC’s College of Nursing – loves the show.  “My four-year-old has the concept that I work for Jimmy Neutron.  She always wants to come to work with me to see Jimmy, but I tell her, ‘Jimmy won’t be in today.’  My grandmother also watches.  When the ratings come in every Monday, me and the other director are always comparing the numbers on our respective shows.  When I beat him out, he says it’s just because my grandmother watched.”

Interested in catching “The Adventures of Jimmy Neutron: Boy Genius?”  It airs Friday evenings on Nickelodeon, at 8:30 p.m. in the Eastern Time Zone. 

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