Based in Los Angeles, Joel Fletcher creates character animation and visual effects for feature films, television, commercials, and video games. Although most of his current professional work is achieved by computer, he continues to pursue a love of the traditional fine arts of drawing, sculpture, and canvas painting.
Joel grew up in Madison, Wisconsin, where he exhibited a talent in the arts at an early age. As a teenager, he began to paint prolifically, both acrylic and oil canvases, with the goal of becoming a book illustrator. As a result of making a Super 8 film for a school project, he became fascinated with the power of animation and ultimately changed his priorities. After high school, Joel continued painting and creating short films as a true "starving artist". He worked as a carpenter, picture framer, and waiter to cover both living expenses and the considerable costs of independent filmmaking. By 1981, he had accumulated a body of work impressive enough to convince the University of Wisconsin Board of Regents and their affiliated PBS television station to give him a special filmmaking grant. In his spare time, Joel labored over the next two years and created a half-hour production, in the 16 mm format, which combined stop-motion animation and live action. With the completion of that project, it became clear that opportunities for animation filmmakers would be nearly impossible in Wisconsin. Since a friend lived in Los Angeles, Joel decided to visit and ultimately move to the filmmaking capital of the world.
In 1985, getting a foot in the door of a movie studio without industry contacts was a difficult task; however, with persistence, Joel managed to find work as a model maker, prop fabricator, set builder, and finally as an animator. He contributed both animation and model-making expertise to movie adaptations of children's books for Churchill Films under the direction of John Matthews. These films included Frog and Toad Together, Stanley and the Dinosaurs, and Runaway Ralph. During 1986, he became an avid 3D stereo photographer and soon found stop-motion scenes to be the perfect subject matter for 3D. Joel began working on several television specials and commercials and was nominated for an Emmy, in 1989, for the title sequence of Pee Wee's Christmas Special. In 1992, he moved to San Francisco to work on his first major feature film as a character animator on Tim Burton's The Nightmare Before Christmas. Back in Los Angeles in late 1993, Joel continued animating stop-motion creatures for several features by Full Moon Productions, under the supervision of the late David Allen. These movies were the last ones made using Ray Harryhausen's "Dynamation" technique, now obsolete due to the rise of computer graphics.
Knowing the animation industry was about to change forever, Joel bought a Macintosh computer in 1994 and began teaching himself the art of digital character animation. Acquiring this skill helped him become one of the earliest converts to CG animation, and he soon landed a position at Walt Disney Feature Animation, animating for their Dinosaur test project. Dinosaur quickly ramped up to full production as a feature film, and Joel became a supervising animator and mentor. He worked at Disney for over five years, moved on to more movies and commercials, then ventured into video game cinematics - short storytelling movies that occur between game levels. In 2005, Joel moved with his wife and daughter to New Zealand where he worked for a year at Weta Digital animating for Peter Jackson's King Kong.
Since returning to Los Angeles, Joel has continued working on various projects using computer graphics. He has also been giving more priority to the fine arts, "brushing up" on his drawing and painting talents. His ultimate goal is to make the transition from digital back to analog, thereby coming full circle with a return to the traditional art of painting.
Further information in print:
Jay, D. (2017). It Came From The Video Aisle! (pp. 73, 92, 357, 433). Atglen, PA: Schiffer Publishing.
Gaines, C. (2011). Inside Pee Wee's Playhouse (pp. 104-105). Toronto: ECW Press.
Berry, M. (2002). The Dinosaur Filmography (pp. 73-74). Jefferson, N.C.: McFarland and Co.
Penso, G. (2002). Stop-Motion (pp. 190, 199, 345). Paris: Dreamland.
Kurtti, J. (2000). Dinosaur: The Evolution of an Animated Feature (pp. 93-94). New York: Disney Editions.
Pettigrew, N. (1999). The Stop-Motion Filmography (pp. 193, 441, 442, 516, 565, 670). Jefferson, N.C.: McFarland and Co.
Thompson, F. (1993). Tim Burton's Nightmare Before Christmas: The Film The Art The Vision (p. 148). New York: Hyperion.
Scott, E. (1992). Look Alive: Behind the Scenes of an Animated Film (pp. 21, 38, 45). New York: Morrow.
Sharon (2014, vol 64) Tattoo Art Joel Fletcher. Tattoo Extreme, 10-11.
Counts, K. (2000) Joel Fletcher Supervising Animator, Neera. Dinosaur Movie Magazine, 66-70.
Robley, L. P. (1995 June) Low-Budget Magic. Cinefantastique, 40-41.
David, P. (1994, Aug) A Bad Day In Oblivion. Starlog, 39.
Giller, P. (1993, Winter) The Film, The Vision, the Book. In Toon!, 21.
French, L. (1993, Dec) Tim Burton's Nightmare Before Christmas. Cinefantastique, 32-46.
Lee, N. (1991, June) Mickey Pops On Parade. American Cinematographer, 86-92.