Meet Animation Director Barbara Dourmashkin-Case Who Has Worked on Shows from Sesame Street to American Dad!

She’s artistic to her core.

  • Category
  • Photographed by
    Michael Becker

Give Barbara Dourmashkin-Case a simple sheet of paper and a pen, and she comes alive. She is an artist to her core. As one of the most prolific animators in showbiz, she has worked at all the major studios and mastered nearly every aspect of production, from director to producer to writer. The Sherman Oaks resident chats with VB editor Linda Grasso about her long and fruitful career, which recently includes authoring children’s books.

When you worked on Sesame Street, how much did you interact with the late Jim Henson?

I got to watch Jim rehearse with The Muppets, which was unbelievably fun. A friend was a writer on the show, and she dated Frank Oz, who played the cookie monster. When I visited her apartment, there were cookies scattered everywhere. He really was the cookie monster! Later I was very fortunate to have Frank do voices for my short film Isabella and the Magic Brush, which won an award from the LA Children’s Film Festival.

You have two grown daughters. How did you juggle your career and motherhood?

When I started out, everything was done on paper, but now computer skills are important. The first studio I worked at was Hanna-Barbera on The Smurfs, and all the animation was done here in the U.S. In 1982 there was a strike to try and stop the work from going overseas. I returned to working through my company Dourmashkin Productions, and while one door closed for a while, an even better one opened. Nine months after the strike, my first daughter Natasha, [founder of the Coolhaus ice cream line and profiled in VB’s September issue], was born. Three and a half years later, my second daughter Sarah was born, and I was able to work at home doing storyboards for The Snorks, a spin-off of The Smurfs. I directed animated musical videos for children (Baby Songs) and produced animations on one of the earliest 3D computers, all in my backyard studio. When my children got a little older, I worked at Marvel and freelanced at Warner Bros.

Share a bit about your work with your two most recent endeavors, DuckTales and American Dad!

DuckTales is a huge hit for Disney! I worked on it for more than two and a half years as what’s called timing director (basically planning all the animation that is to be done overseas frame by frame on timing sheets).

In February I left Disney to start on American Dad!; I’m basically working in the same capacity I was at DuckTales. American Dad! is on during prime time at TBS, which is exciting. I really like the humor and quirky characters.

What was it like to win an Emmy for Adventure Time in 2015?

I’d been nominated twice before—once for Phineas and Ferb and once for the Aladdin series. I couldn’t go to the ceremony that year; I was vacationing on Martha’s Vineyard. But I was thrilled to get it. Because of the Emmy, I became a member of the Television Academy, and now I get to nominate and vote on the shows each year.

What has been the most rewarding aspect of working in animation?

Animation combines three things I love: storytelling, art and music. I often have been assigned dance numbers in animation because of my background in dance. My parents gave me all these lessons in art, music and dance, not knowing this is how it would all come together.

What would you say to anyone with aspirations of getting into animation?

When I started not everyone went to animation school. But now there are schools like Cal Arts, and ArtCenter that have animation programs that really teach skills that are very helpful. This is relevant because storyboards are almost entirely done on computers, and there is a huge amount of work doing CG (computer graphics). Like all entertainment/creative jobs, one of the most difficult things is staying employed and being able to move from one project to the next as series start and end. I have been one of the lucky ones.

What skills have been most responsible for your success?

My success is based on the quality of my work, which means doing the best job I can while meeting deadlines. I got into Disney on an anonymous test. Staying employed and moving from show to show happens by being part of a team. Someone recently said, “The most passionate person in the room gets the job.” I’m not only passionate about my work but also passionate about staying employed!

Do you think storylines have gotten more socially responsible?

At a recent meeting, Disney artists, writers and producers were urged by management to create shows that would have diversity of ethnicity, gender, orientation, age, etc. When I first came to Disney, there weren’t any female directors, and now there are. Disney shows are designed to speak to Gen Alpha, who aren’t going to put up with stereotypes or sexist characters and stories.

Tell us a bit about your two children’s books.

My first book was Peggy Day’s Martha’s Vineyard Adventure. It is the story of a girl chasing my beloved, childhood dog (Peggy Day). The dog chases a kitten around my favorite island.

Truman’s Los Angeles Adventure is about my daughter Natasha’s dog, Truman, chasing a parakeet through places that are fun to visit, like the Hollywood Bowl, Dodger Stadium and other places I love in this city. As Truman makes mischief along the way, others—ranging from a conductor to a baseball player—join the chase.

The book is designed to get readers excited about getting up off the couch, putting down the cell phone or computer and visiting these places.

One of the most fun things about writing my books is reading to my grandson, Remy.

Why did you and your husband choose Sherman Oaks to live?

Geoffrey [Case] is an architect and with his firm, Bardwell Case ZinShu Architects, we built a home in the hills. It is on a piece of property that I used to jog to every day with my dog, and then it came on the market. It’s true Zen and feng shui at its finest. This is where I want to be!