Born:December 21, 1930 in Fresno, California
Occupation: Cartoonist and animator, movie director & producer, television director & producer
From the time he was eleven, Phil Roman always knew he would be an animator. Beginning as an usher in a theater that screened cartoons, he worked his way through the animation ranks to become one of the most successful and talented animators and animation producers America has seen. A six-time Emmy winner and founder of two film companies, Roman has directed, produced, and animated a number of television series, movies, and commercials.
Phil Roman was born on December 21, 1930, to Pedro and Ceceña Roman. The son of immigrant grape workers, Roman's first few memories were, according to Latino Success, "going to the vineyards and picking grapes in the hot summer." Although no stranger to hard work, he was always told that he would succeed beyond picking grapes in the vineyard. He remembered his mother constantly stating to Roman and his siblings "You guys are going to get ahead!" That would not be the last time his mother played a pivotal role in the journey that became Roman's life.
In 1942, when Roman was 12 years old, his mother took him to see the animated feature film, Bambi. It was from this moment, that Roman knew what his life's calling would be. Sitting in the dark theater, Roman found himself hypnotized by the characters on the screen. He had seen animation before Bambi but he had never seen characters come to life like Bambi, Thumper, and Flower. He was hooked. From that moment on, animation was Roman's driving force.
After the spark created by Bambi, Roman began drawing. He would copy Bambi onto scraps of paper. His love of drawing continued on through high school, where Roman gained the courage to ask a nun running the school newspaper if he could draw for the paper. She agreed. Roman stated this instance as one of the influences in his life as an animator. Such events, he stated in an interview with Contemporary Hispanic Biography (CHB), gave him "more impetus and belief" in himself.
During high school, Roman also took correspondence art courses. This was one of the few ways young people, growing up in small towns like Fresno, could gain an arts education. One of his courses was taught by a gifted artist everyone called Sparky. Sparky's real name was Charles Schultz. In an interview with CHB, Roman stated that this was one of "those strange twists of life," as he would later go on to work with Shultz on the Charlie Brown cartoons. After graduation, Roman knew that he had to go to Los Angeles if he was to make it in the animation business. Having only $60 to his name, he boarded a bus to Los Angeles with a letter of introduction from the manager of the Fresno theater in which he worked.
Phil Roman arrived in Los Angeles at the Hollywood Art Center School. The kind and rather savvy head of the school noticed something in him and he was admitted as a work study student. Roman paid $30 down and $15 thereafter for tuition. Working two hours of manual labor after school allowed Roman to pay off the remaining debt. It was a reasonable arrangement and all was well until the outbreak of the Korean War. Roman left the Hollywood Art Center School for a three-year stint in the Air Force. He worked as a radio mechanic and was mainly stationed in France. He served his country well and upon returning stateside, continued his training at the Art Center. This time, the G.I. Bill helped pay for tuition. Soon, Roman completed his training and was off to find a job in his dream field.
In 1955 the dream that began by a Disney film came full circle as Roman began working at Disney Studios in California. He was hired as an assistant animator and was paid 99 cents per hour. His first assignment was animating cells for Sleeping Beauty. It seemed as if all was exactly how Roman had first dreamt it, but there no room for growth in the booming Disney empire. Roman could continue to work at Disney, but he would have had to stay with the company for nearly a decade before he would become a full animator.
This was too slow for Roman, so in 1957 he left Disney for Imagination, Inc. in San Francisco. He recalled being told by his Disney colleagues that he was making a mistake and would wind up not being successful if he left the Disney studios. However, years later, those same people were laid off from Disney in a downsizing period and Roman had used the skills he'd learned at Imagination, Inc. along with his natural talent to become a success.
Imagination, Inc. was mainly a studio that specialized in television commercials. At the San Francisco firm, Roman was exposed to all aspects of the animation world. Roman gained more knowledge in animated production including contacting clients, sound design, camera work, storyboards and budgeting. This education would come in handy in the future as Roman built his own animation empire.
At Imagination, Inc., Roman's portfolio grew. He directed well-known animated commercials like Star-Kist Tuna's "Sorry Charlie" ad and the Western Airlines bird who sipped champagne and knew "The only way to fly!" He learned every step of the process and gained valuable experience. He was now armed with education, knowledge, and experience. After two years at Imagination, Inc., Roman was ready to take on Hollywood again.
Returning to Hollywood in 1959, Roman began working for several top studios including Warner Bros. Cartoons, MGM Animation and UPA Film. Throughout the 1960s, Roman honed his craft and gained more and more experience in the animation industry. He worked on many projects in this period including the 1965 MGM Oscar-winning The Dot And The Line. In 1966, Roman worked as an animator on the CBS Christmas special, How the Grinch Stole Christmas, animating the Grinch and Cindy Lou Who. Roman also had the chance to work with such talents at Jay Ward and Chuck Jones. For MGM, Roman worked on shorts of a cat and mouse team named Tom and Jerry. He would come back to the famous duo in the early 1990s in a movie.
The 1970s saw continued success for Roman. This was not only a time of professional success, but personal success as well. In 1970, Roman married his wife Anita. They met 15 years earlier at the wedding of his brother. Roman was the best man and his future wife was the maid of honor. They dated whenever he would make it back to Fresno, but he did not make the final commitment until things began to move along in his career.
In 1970, Roman also began his association with Bill Melendez, of Bill Melendez Productions. This relationship lasted until 1983, and allowed Roman to rise from the title of animator to co-director alongside Melendez. While working with Melendez, Roman directed sixteen animated specials including He's Your Dog, Charlie Brown!, Bon Voyage, Charlie Brown!, and Race for Your Life, Charlie Brown!. Out of Roman's 16 specials, 15 programs received Emmy nominations. Three of the specials won Emmy awards. Along with Melendez, Roman associated with Ralph Bakshi, who also had his own production studio. Roman worked as an animator for Bakshi's 1978 Lord of the Rings.
In 1984, Roman founded Film Roman, Inc., with a contract to produce animated specials based on popular comic-strip character, Garfield, created by Jim Davis. The first two Garfield specials, Here Comes Garfield, and Garfield on the Town, were directed by Roman while he was still working for Melendez Productions. The first special produced under Roman's new company was Garfield in the Rough. The special was awarded an Emmy. Film Roman went on to produce nine more Garfield specials. In 1986, two of Roman's Garfield specials were the only animated specials to receive Emmy nominations. He was assured an Emmy that year, winning it for Garfield's Halloween Adventure. The final Garfield Emmy came in 1989 with Garfield's Babes & Bullets.
In 1992, Film Roman began a relationship with a yellow family created by Matt Groening. The Simpsons, the longest-running animated series, became one of Film Roman's most successful ventures. Between the years of 1992 and 1999, Film Roman was responsible for seeing that the popular family made it to the television screen weekly. This responsibility paid off as the show garnered Film Roman three Emmys. Film Roman also produced the popular Butterfinger commercials that featured the Simpson characters.
In 1990, Roman brought his animation success to the former Soviet Union by co-founding ASK/Roman Animation Studios, one of the first full-service animation facilities in the former communist country. Known since the 1920s for their animation talent, the Russian animators welcomed the venture and the joint company went on to produce a five-minute animated short, "Lucky Start." This relationship continued in 1993 when Film Roman acquired old Russian cartoons from the 1920s. His company took the old cartoons and restored the prints plus added music. The result was the Animated Classic Showcase which featured these old cartoons refurbished for new viewers.
Stateside, Roman continued to take on more projects including such popular series as The Mask, Bobby's World, and The Critic. In 1996, Film Roman had exclusive animation rights to Izzy, the Olympic Games mascot, and Film Roman produced a prime time special featuring the character. Roman's company also created and produced Fox Network's hugely successful King of the Hill cartoon.
The late 1990s saw trouble brewing for Roman and his company. Since its start, Film Roman grew from freelancers to a staff of more than 300. Profits rose to approximately $50 million. The company went public to garner funds for more big budget projects. The UPN Network backed out of a deal that cost Film Roman $2 million. With investors shaky, Roman was demoted from CEO to creative director. With most animation being done by computer, many thought he would jump on the bandwagon. Instead, Roman tendered his resignation and started another animation production company, Phil Roman Entertainment. This company would focus on keeping the cell tradition alive. However, Roman remained a major shareholder in Film Roman. Under his new company, Roman continued to produce animated specials including, Grandma Got Run Over by a Reindeer. He rejoined Film Roman's board of directors in 2001. In 2002 his two companies combined focusing on both computer-generated and cell animation.
Roman has not forgotten his experience and the mentors that helped him get where he is today. In honor of his experience, Roman established an internship program that allows high school students and other young animators to work in the animation studio. This gives them the chance that Roman received when he began his journey at the Hollywood Art Center School.
In addition to assisting youth in their careers, Roman is also involved in the enrichment of the Hispanic-American community. Roman serves on the U.S. Republican Conference Task Force on Hispanic Affairs and frequently travels to Washington, D.C., to attend meetings with political and industrial players. Roman also serves as a member of the board of trustees for the Hispanic College Fund. He has received the Trailblazer Award from Hispanic Magazine as well as a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Imagen Foundation.
Roman saw his heritage as a contributing factor in his creativity and imagination, but also gave credit to his diligence as a factor in his success. He stated in Latino Success, "The great thing about this business is that you're judged only on what you do, not who you are.… Your product should speak for you, nothing else. Absolutely."
Born Philip Roman on December 21, 1930, in Fresno, CA; married Anita in 1970. Education: Hollywood Art Center School. Military Service: US Air Force.
Additional information for this profile was obtained through an interview with Contemporary Hispanic Biography on May 20, 2003.
Contemporary Hispanic Biography. Vol. 4. Gale, 2003.
Reproduced in Biography Resource Center. Farmington Hills, Mich.: Gale. 2007.