Author and illustrator William Joyce ('81), creator of the box office hit Robots, received SMU's Distinguished Alumni Award in November 2004. Joyce has won awards for his books and the television show "William Joyce's Rolie Polie Olie." In addition, his illustrations have appeared on magazine covers, and his paintings are displayed at museums and galleries across the country. Prior to the movie's release, he offered some insight into his work on Robots, his books, and his life.
What was it like making Robots?
I worked on Robots for five years, and itís taking computer animation five steps further than itís gone before. Itís extraordinary what weíve been able to accomplish in this movie. Itís terrifying and fantastic at the same time. I have a feeling itís really going to become a part of the culture in a way.
What did you like best about working on Robots?
Getting to spend four years with a bunch of people who are very clever and very talented, and trying to make the most extraordinary and beautiful thing we could.
I donít know if I can go back to working any other way. Itís really exciting and invigorating and fulfilling. Itís like getting paid for recess. Itís grotesque how much fun it can be.
You've created books, television shows and movies. Whatís your favorite medium?
Each one has something particular and special about it. Doing books, itís just me sitting down making up a world exactly the way I want it to be. Itís a singular endeavor, and a little bit lonely. Television is all about deadlines and getting it done fast, and you learn to think on your feet, which has its own excitement. Motion picture work Ė its allure is that you get to spend so much time getting it right.
Why did you choose to do childrenís books?
Ever since I was a kid, I just thought they were cool. Thereís something substantial about childrenís books. I was lucky enough to see really good ones when I was growing up, and I loved the craft and beauty and scale of them. And most of the stories I wanted to tell were like, ďWouldnít it be neat if you went on a family vacation, and you found a dinosaur and brought it home?Ē ďWhat if you woke up one day and you were only three inches tall?Ē
Your books appeal to kids and grownups almost equally. How do you manage that?
These books are made to be read by an adult to a child, for the most part. I want to do stories that challenge kids to begin with. Sometimes I use big words that they wonít know, but one thing Iíve found is that kids donít balk at big words. So Iím always trying to entertain the child and the adult, or the child within the adult, or the adult within the child.
Are your characters drawn from your family?
You wouldnít believe how many times my wife turns up as various people Ė sometimes male, sometimes female. My wife is in every single book. All the moms bear a striking resemblance to Elizabeth. Roly Poly Olie is a robot version of me when I was a kid combined with my son, Jack.
How has your family influenced your life?
My mother and father didnít try to stop me from what I wanted to do. My dad was the kind of guy who couldnít have a boss, and that permeated the family. Everyone had to work for themselves. I could never see myself having a 9-to-5 job.
How did you end up at SMU?
It was because my father wouldnít let me go to LSU. He said, ďYouíre going to go down there and get drunk with your friends, and youíre going to flunk out. Iím not paying for that.Ē I knew there were two things I wanted to study: art and filmmaking. And SMU had a department in both.
How did SMU influence you?
I went in a clean slate in a lot of ways. I was a snob Ė but I came out completely different. I just saw things I never thought Iíd see. I was around people I never thought Iíd be around. I saw a different perspective of things. I met people from a different way of life and was exposed to ideas that Iíd never seen or heard or never thought about. SMU taught me life.