John Bradshaw - Conversation with Hendel Butoy
Welcome to Conversations. I'm John Bradshaw, and my guest today, special guest, is Hendel Butoy, who is a professor of animation at Southern Adventist University. In the past he has worked for the Disney Company as an animator in Burbank, California. And the story of his life is a story of God's leading. It's an exciting story, and you'll be blessed as we explore it here today.
John Bradshaw: Hendel, thanks for joining me today. I appreciate it greatly.
Hendel Butoy: You're welcome. Thank you.
John Bradshaw: Butoy. Now, I know this about you; you were, you were raised in Brazil, but I also know enough about names to know that Butoy is not a very Portuguese-sounding name. So let's start at the beginning. Before we talk about your work at Disney, before we talk about your work with animation and teaching students in a, in a, in an academic setting and teaching animation, let's go back and catch up a little bit about your life story. So, where did the name come from?
Hendel Butoy: Butoy is a Romanian name. My father was born in Romania and, uh, but I also have a Hungarian name. My middle name is, uh, Segedi, which is Hungarian. And so my mother's on the Romanian side.
John Bradshaw: Okay. So somehow a Romanian and a Hungarian, either together or independently of each other, went from what at the time had to have been... was it communist Europe? Close to it?
Hendel Butoy: Uh, early '50s.
John Bradshaw: Yeah?
Hendel Butoy: Early mid-'50s.
John Bradshaw: So from there to Brazil. It sounds like there's a story involved in that. So, so tell me more about that.
Hendel Butoy: Well, my father is a refugee from Romania during the communist takeover. He wasn't part of the party, and so he couldn't get an education or anything like that, and, and he was, uh, he was an Adventist Christian, and, um, felt that he would have a better chance outside of the country at that time. So, he was drafted into their army, um, and during the training he had prayed to God that they would station him on the border, where he might have a chance, and, uh, uh, it happened just as he prayed.
John Bradshaw: Really?
Hendel Butoy: And they had like a nine-day journey through Yugoslavia to finally get to Italy, where they were chased by soldiers. They were captured once and escaped again, but finally got to Italy, where they claimed political asylum, and from there they, uh, had several choices of where to go. Um, and they chose Brazil because, uh, they could have come to the United States, but the United States was in the war, and they were telling them that if they went there, they'd have to be, um, serve in the US Army first before they...but then become automatic citizens. But my father thought, "I just came out of the army. I just came out of a, a bad situation. Brazil, there's nothing going on there with armies and wars, so I'll go there".
John Bradshaw: So, very clearly, we're gonna hear a lot more about God's leading in your life. God was leading in your life before your life had begun.
Hendel Butoy: Yeah, very much so.
John Bradshaw: Did your father used to talk about that story much? Did he tell you much? Did he talk about the details? Or was it one of those memories that, that sometimes these guys will push them away into the back of their mind?
Hendel Butoy: He would talk about it many times because he felt that God had led him, and, uh, it was always, uh, reassuring to his own faith in God as he would retell that story to friends and family and, and others, and to us. Um, I videotaped him telling that story and, um, because I wanted to keep it and also pass it on as well. So...
John Bradshaw: That's a story that even your children would love to hear.
Hendel Butoy: Yeah.
John Bradshaw: So, so, uh, a Romanian flees. Uh, it's an exciting journey, a, a hazardous journey obviously. Now a, now a Romanian, who, who's come out of a, an uprising situation, uh, in Europe, finds himself in Brazil. I mean, so what, what's, how did he acclimate or get used to being in Brazil? Was that a, a radical adjustment, or did God simply open doors, and it was plain sailing?
Hendel Butoy: The, the way that he talked about it is that, Romanian is a Latin-based language, and so is Portuguese. So the transition wasn't that difficult because of that. Um, but he started going to school and then ended up being a colporteur for five or six years and in the process met my mother, who was, uh, close to one of the colleges down there in southern Brazil, São Paulo. And, uh, they met and got married.
John Bradshaw: Your, your parents were, came from Europe to Brazil, then to the United States, so what happened there?
Hendel Butoy: My mother had a sister in the United States already, and, and, uh, she was being invited to come up, and our, our family, my parents thought it would be best for us, and so they went through the process and were able to get the papers to, uh, to come up this way. We traveled by ship. Uh, it was like a one-way... a one-month trip from Brazil up through the Panama Canal, and then ended, ended up in San Pedro, California.
John Bradshaw: But what was it like for you... maybe you don't remember; maybe you do...starting life again, going to a whole new country, coming to a culture that you weren't familiar with? Perhaps you're going to have to learn the language that you didn't know.
Hendel Butoy: Actually I didn't think about those things at the age of 4. I just knew I was with my parents, and we were going somewhere. And, um, when we arrived, we, uh, we stayed with one of my mother's sisters for, for a little while, and then I started going to school. Um, and I do remember, um, going into school and not knowing how to speak English and needing to use the restroom and using the wrong restroom, and being told that, and, um, but, uh, we picked up the language very quickly, as kids do, and, uh, ended up speaking English back to my parents, who would speak to us in Portuguese, and so there was this, uh, uh, cultural language, uh, thing that was going on when we were younger. Uh, and, and I would hear my father speak Romanian, I would hear my mother speak Hungarian, so I grew up with all kinds of languages going on in the home, although English was the one that I picked up and, and stuck with because that's what we were using at school.
John Bradshaw: Okay, so it's not everybody, particularly in those days, back then when, when you're getting, when you're looking at going to school. We're talking in the '70s?
Hendel Butoy: Yeah, '60s to '70s.
John Bradshaw: Okay. Right around that time, uh, animation schools weren't a dime a dozen. Today, it, it's not hard to find an animation program. Back then... So, so something was going on in your mind that, that caused you to lean towards animation. What...tell me about that.
Hendel Butoy: I always enjoyed drawings, and I was drawn to pictures. Um, uh, my parents got us, got us kids... there were four of us in the family and, um, uh, they, they got us the Arthur Maxwell Bible Story books, the whole volume, and I remember getting those books and being very intrigued by the pictures. Not so much the words, because I couldn't read English that well. Um, and so I would sit and look at the pictures a lot. And my dad was a great storyteller. I mean, he loved to tell the story of his, his own adventure, but he also loved to tell Bible stories. So he would sit, uh, with us, next to the bed, and he'd act out the stories. You know, Samson or David and Goliath and all. And so, my dad brought it to life; what I would see in those pictures, he would bring to life in the way that he would tell the stories for us. And so, I enjoyed that, and I enjoyed looking at, at the pictures. And then, with television, we saw something else on television, which was animation. There were cartoons. There were short cartoons. But sometimes there were these longer animated pieces that had more intricate stories than the slapstick stuff. And when I saw one of those, I was intrigued that I, I was brought into another world. I knew it wasn't a real world, but it felt believable, and I was intrigued by the fact that these were drawings, and yet they were moving, and I felt like they were real. And, I can articulate it better today, but I think what was going on in my mind then is I saw a powerful medium with this ability to draw me in, and I knew it was drawing other people in, to, to tell them stories, and at the same time, I saw a powerful message in the pictures I was seeing in those books and my father's stories that he would tell us, and I was thinking, a powerful medium and a powerful message, what happens if you combine the two? What would happen? And that intrigued me and, I think, kept me going in wanting to know more about this medium and how to learn it. And so at an early age I wanted to be an animator.
John Bradshaw: All these years later, you're a man of faith. God is still very important in your life. You're particularly close to God. Let's step out of the, the education and the animating for a minute. Tell me about what was going on in your home as your parents invested in you spiritually. What was your home like spiritually? What was your spiritual upbringing like?
Hendel Butoy: We had regular, uh, family worships in the mornings and in the evenings, uh, especially Fridays, was a very special time that we would always... my father was very, um, um, consistent in welcoming the Sabbath, and, uh, and so that, that was always there. Um, he would encourage us to read the Bible. All these were from...because of his own experiences, and he saw how God had led him, that he wanted to impress his children that God was real, and that you can trust Him and that you can put your, your life in His hands, and He'll, He'll lead you, um, to, to be an influence for Him to others. And so, um, on, on Sabbaths it, it was, um, typical for us for, to, to go out somewhere as a family and just be together as a family. And so we were close because of that. And I, I think that all that continued to, um, just impress me in the message that he would constantly talk about and how we can trust God, we can, uh, we can believe in the things that He has to say in His Word.
John Bradshaw: So here you are from a strong Christian home, and you, you had this fascination with animation. Were you naturally an artistic kid? Good at drawing and, and, and, and sort of felt led or drawn into artsy things?
Hendel Butoy: I, I knew that I liked to draw. I never thought myself as being very good at it. Um, but I enjoyed it. And, um, uh, so, yeah, I was always looking at drawing things and, and copying things that I, that I saw. Um, but I never had any other training beyond that, although one day I did, um, draw something in an advertisement which says, you know, you draw this, and we might give you a, a free lesson or something. And, uh, a salesman shows up at our, our door one day who wants to sell, uh, my parents that on a correspondence art course in Chicago. And they make the claim, "Walt Disney took a course from us" way back, you know, in the 1920s or something; that's their claim to fame. Um, but what I was surprised about is that they asked me, "Would you like to do this"? And I, I said, "Yeah, actually I would". And it wasn't, it wasn't, uh, it wasn't cheap. Um, my father, having come from a third, third-world country, didn't have a full education. And he was always able to make ends meet, um, but they weren't financially, you know, well off. But they still went ahead and, uh, allowed me to take this course. And so this encouraged me down the path of developing my skills.
John Bradshaw: So, spiritual home, Christian home, um, but you don't want to become a doctor. You, you're not being drawn to be a nurse. And you haven't said anything about wanting to be a preacher. Um, what else might you have been? You, you, you may or may not have wanted your own business, but that wasn't the leaning. All of those would have been pretty normal. If you told your parents, "I'm thinking of going into ministry," they would have said, "Wow, yeah, that's, that..." I'm sure they'd have said it's great, and they wouldn't have been surprised. It's a pretty typical and traditional route. But you at some stage tell your parents, I imagine, that you want to go down a, a very non-traditional route and pursue, and actually pursue animation. How did your parents react to that?
Hendel Butoy: They were supportive. Um, I think that my father would have liked me to have tried something else, um, but was still...still felt that if he supported me in something, as long as I was following the Lord in every step, that the Lord would have a mission or, or a reason for it. Um, otherwise he would not have let me go down that route. Um, uh, he would occasionally sit down and talk to me and just ask me, you know, "What, what's your future plan? What, you know, what do you plan to do"? But it would always end with, "Make sure you make God first in whatever you choose to do".
John Bradshaw: Well, your story is, is fascinating because God's leading is clear. Today you're leading young people, and you're, you're, you're pouring yourself into their professional and personal growth. And all the way along, since before you were born, God was clearly leading you. So we're going to talk a little bit more about God's leading in the life and ministry of Hendel Butoy on Conversations in just a moment.
John Bradshaw: Welcome back to Conversations, where my guest today is Hendel Butoy, who is a professor of animation at Southern Adventist University. He's leading young lives today and preparing people for lives of service. God led his life, and down an unorthodox route. When you look back, do you feel like it was unorthodox, unusual, or to you was it just as normal as anything to be led into a, a career as an animator, particularly in the era when you were coming up?
Hendel Butoy: Um, I heard that it was unorthodox, but I never felt it because I, I had great support from my parents.
John Bradshaw: So, you, you tell your parents one day, you know, it's not a lawyer I want to be; it's not a doctor. I don't want to open a business. I want to draw pictures. And, uh, you mentioned a moment ago your dad was the sort of man who said, "As long as God is leading, our support is there". Kids everywhere have aspirations... and I would say, and I think you'd agree... that many people would say, "Unattainable". It's a rarefied field that not everybody who feels like they want to get into, gets into. How did you get into animation?
Hendel Butoy: I just took the steps, uh, to get there, but, um, always feeling that if this wasn't going to be for me, there'd be a door shut, and then I'd go somewhere else. But as long as the doors kept opening, I would, I'd continue to walk through. So, um, I, I began to dabble with it a little bit. My father had a Super 8 movie camera, and I was playing with that. The, uh, although in those days you'd have to ship the film out and wait a few days to come back...
John Bradshaw: Sure.
Hendel Butoy: ...before you could ever see what you did. But I played with that and then did a little, uh, film with it and showed it at a art festival in, uh, Loma Linda one day, and there was another student there who saw it, who was going to, who was a student at, um, California Institute of the Arts and told me about that and said, "Hey, would you like to do this for a living? Because they're training people actually to do this". And I said, "Really? I never heard of a place where they're actually training people," because no school actually was doing it at that time. But actually this one was. California Institute of the Arts was started by Walt Disney. After he passed away, he had it in his will that he wanted to start this school that would, um, uh, bring, uh, creative students to, uh, to work with each other, and, and one of the programs at the school was animation, and it was being taught by Disney veterans who were, uh, were there realizing that they were moving on, and they hadn't trained a younger generation yet to come up for, um, with them, and so they had started this program. And the time that I entered that program was its third year. So it was fresh, brand new. And in fact, the students that came were there before me, the first and second year. And then several years after, uh, many of us who went through that, today they're the leading artists in, in the animation industry today. Uh, so we were all in school together during that time and, uh, were learning from each other as well as from these Disney veterans who were there.
John Bradshaw: Was it difficult?
Hendel Butoy: It was, it was difficult kind of like, um, um, searching for firewood in a campfire. You gotta go out and do it and cut it and go through the struggle, but you love every minute, minute of it. It's like the pleasure is there as well as the, uh, the struggle.
John Bradshaw: It seems to me this has to, this would take an inordinate amount or an enormous amount of patience to be an animator back when every, everything was hand-drawn at the time, right?
Hendel Butoy: Just doing things over and over and over until you've got it. And, uh, actually that never changes. It's, that's still the way it's done. It's just that you learn that that's the process, and you, um, uh, you acclimate with that, and you just go through the process of, of struggling to get things right.
John Bradshaw: So when you were studying animation, what was the animation scene like? You would say, well, the, the leading lights or the big productions, what was the talk of animation at the time?
Hendel Butoy: At the time when I entered animation, um, it was sort of a low point in the industry, um, because Walt Disney had passed away a decade and a half earlier, and so the studio had no real guiding vision, and they were sort of living in the past and trying to do things, uh, of the past. Um, and so the, uh, the, uh, that time was one where it was sort of a rebuilding time, and a lot of the animators were young, just fresh and green and just getting started, um, because, as I said, the, the original veterans of animators had moved on. And I think when I actually got to Disney, there were only like two or three of them left. And, um, uh, I was fortunate to actually be mentored by one of them, but they weren't there for very long. So, it, it was like a new generation trying to find themselves and discover things and learn it as, as they went. Um, there came a point where, um, Disney almost shut down animation.
John Bradshaw: I was going to ask you. At the, at the time, what was the sense of the future for animation? When you got in there and you... okay, you had a job doing what you loved, but what was the idea of where are we going to be five years from now, or what's on the horizon? What was that sense like?
Hendel Butoy: For the artist, it was, well, we never know if we're going to have a, a job after this production. Who knows, you know, what's going to happen. But eventually what happened is, uh, Roy Disney, who was the nephew of Walt Disney, was part of the board, and he actually is the one who got things started. He, he found some...there was going to be a takeover of the company by, I think, a hostile investor, and, uh, Roy was able to get these other... they call them white knights investor...to come in and buy the company, and with that he brought in a new, uh, regime of executives who saw that animation was the crown jewel, as he put it. "This is the crown jewel of this company. We can't let this go. "Otherwise, if we do that, we're going to let the whole company go". And they began to shake things up. And, um, began to actually put a lot of the younger people, uh, the animators, they actually put, put them in positions of, of, um, leadership, to actually begin to direct or come up with story ideas and such. And that began to, began to turn things, things around.
John Bradshaw: So when you got in there, I, I want you to tell me what it was like for a kid to walk into Disney... uh, a young person... to walk into Disney, and it sounds like this is your first job out of college, and, my goodness, I'm working at the venerable Disney. How is that?
Hendel Butoy: It was both intimidating and exciting at the same time, because you would, you would walk through the halls and see the pictures and see the drawings that they had done. We always had access to what the artists had done in the past. We could go down to a room that they called "The Morgue," where they would keep all the old drawings, and we could, uh, pull those out, look at them, study them, draw from them, um, and, and learn from that. So, that was the exciting part, is that you had all this wealth of, of knowledge and of, of past artwork that was always around you. Um, it was overwhelming in that there was expectations that you would be doing the same kind of things that they had been doing, and, um, I remember thinking as, when I first arrived there, I thought, I, I don't know how long I'm going to last here before they finally discover I can't really draw, you know, or I can't draw as well as they can. But then I find out other artists like me, young artists, are thinking the same thing. And then we find out that a lot of the Disney veterans when they first arrived, that's the way they felt and the way they, that they, uh, um, had experienced things. And so, what we discovered is that we actually, we learned from each other as, as we look at each other's work, critique it, remind ourselves of the, of the principles of making this thing work. And, and, um, and we'd just do it. Just the pleasure of sitting down and drawing, making something come to life, um, there was, uh, there was joy in that.
John Bradshaw: Tell me about the, the environment. So you're working at Disney. What's it like? What are the people like? What are the attitudes like? What's the guiding principle? When you get inside and you look around and you take the temperature, what is it that you find the company's actually like from the inside?
Hendel Butoy: They're all people wanting to do something that's fun and entertaining. And, uh, we talk about it. We have story meetings where we would, uh, discuss ideas. Um, there were, many times there would be a script that we'd, we'd begin with, but then we'd veer off the script, because as you begin to draw, other ideas come.
John Bradshaw: Which I find interesting, that the animators actually had input into the script and affected what the story ultimately looked like.
Hendel Butoy: All the time. Uh, the script was never the final thing. Uh, they'd work on a script to get us started, but then when you begin to draw, uh, other ideas begin to come to your mind, and the story starts veering different directions, um, and then, uh, and then there's also the, uh, the designing of the characters, what the character is going to look, uh, like, and searching for that and what, what, what makes a character appealing. And so there's a lot of, uh, uh, there's a lot of back and forth and looking at, at each other's work, aAnd, and, uh, comparing things for what had been done in the past and trying to measure up to that. Um, all that, I think, was part of the, the growing process for us as artists.
John Bradshaw: And so you were able to have your, your own material input on, on to the way a story may, may develop or grow, or this aspect of the story?
Hendel Butoy: Yeah, they, they, they would encourage when there was a production that was being worked on, and there was a test screening or a, a process of screening in, in process, and they would show the, the department, they would always encourage us to give feedback to the directors or to the art directors and such in order to, um, improve and to strengthen the stories. So, it was very much a collaborative effort from the ground up. Animation has to be. It's, it has many layers and many levels to it in order to be, um, uh, a well-crafted piece. And so, yeah, we all had input, not only on the things we drew, but also on ideas and, uh, and on, uh, the quality of things.
John Bradshaw: I want to ask you about this. There are some people, and I don't think it's everybody, but there are some people who will see Disney as problematic, uh, a great, big evil empire corrupting the, the minds and morals of, of people everywhere. Uh, but you worked there, so, explain what you saw, as opposed to what other people may surmise or suppose.
Hendel Butoy: What I saw was, uh, artists who loved their work and wanted to tell stories. But they were not always converted Christian people, and they had worldviews. Uh, and they had views of ways of making things entertaining, and that's the process that they would go by. They, they would try to make those in order to be pleasing to the audience. And, uh, as a Christian, uh, what I had the opportunity of was that I would sit in meetings like that, and if something came up where it bothered me, I could say it, and nobody would, uh, nobody would mind. Everything that was said was always welcome in terms of ideas and such, because they felt that it would be, uh, um, strengthening the, the stories. And there were times where I would say something; they'd go, "Oh, yeah, you know, right, we shouldn't, maybe we shouldn't put this in there. We shouldn't do this this, this way or that way". And so, there is a place there for, for the Christian who's...God can work or speak through them to remind people of things that people actually already know in the back of their heads that, or they forget, or they're just now aware of, and it can be brought up to the front in terms of, um, how to say things or how to portray things.
John Bradshaw: Let's talk about that for a moment. Again, I'll, I'll repeat this. I've already repeated it; I'll repeat it again. Uh, the way God has led you and your family, dramatic really, not, not too many families have a story that your family has. God led you; He put you in a, the cocoon... I say it in the most positive way... of a, of a strong Christian family. And now you're working in a thoroughly secular environment. So Disney or otherwise, I want you, from your experience, to talk about how people working in a secular environment, uh, can maintain their faith. How do you maintain your faith, and how can you let your light for Christ shine in an appropriate way? You have tons of experience with this, so tell us about it.
Hendel Butoy: It's not accidental; it's very deliberate. You have to want to be walking with God, and you have to be making that choice, and you must be in His Word, because as you, as He's with you and as you read the Word, the things will come out. The Holy Spirit will, will speak at the right moment through you in, in different occasions. Um, I think in, in my case, um, I think the Lord led me to a... I shouldn't say "twist my arm," but I don't mind if I say that, because it was a good thing. He put me in a place where I had to study and read the Bible. I went to church one day, and, and I was attending a, a Sabbath school class where there was this elderly lady that was teaching, and I continued to come to that class. And this was in Burbank, California. After I started at Disney, I started attending church there in Burbank, and, uh, this lady would teach the Sabbath school, and I think she was, uh, happy to see this young person amongst everybody else there. And so she was drawn to that and, and invited me to her home with her husband to have lunch, uh, one day, and she popped the question that I'd never thought I'd hear from somebody, but she said, "You know, I can't do this forever, teaching Sabbath school. Would you be willing to teach lessons"? And my first thought is, "No, I don't know anything. I, I, how can I"? You know. And it was like, yes, you can. You read; you study. And then she said something to me that I'll, I'll never forget.
John Bradshaw: You know, I'm going to jump in here. You know why I'm going to jump in? We're gonna take a break.
Hendel Butoy: Okay.
John Bradshaw: And you want to know what that lady said that Hendel will never forget. The leading of God in a person's life, to lead him to a place where he's crafting and impacting the minds and lives of young people. More on Conversations with Hendel Butoy in just a moment.
John Bradshaw: Welcome back to Conversations. I'm John Bradshaw. My guest is Hendel Butoy. A moment ago he mentioned that a lady in a Bible study class asked him a question. The context is this. I asked Hendel... who for many years worked as an animator at Disney, today is a professor at Southern Adventist University in Collegedale, Tennessee, where he teaches animation... I asked him how you work in a very secular company and still maintain your Christian experience. His answer is enlightening. So, you said you, you were very intentional about keeping close to God. You attended church. A lady asked you a question. What was that?
Hendel Butoy: Well, she asked me if I would take her class, to lead in, in, in these Bible studies, and, um, I was hesitant, but she ended up by telling me, she said, "I believe this will be the salvation of your soul". And for her to say something like that to me, uh, very sincerely, um, it just hit me back a little bit. And, and, so, well what is she saying? She's saying I ought to get into the Word that I can tell others about it. And I couldn't say no at that point. There was nothing in me that, that could make me say no. So I, I, uh, I took her class little by little until she finally gave me the entire class. I ended up teaching every week, which means I had to be in the Word every week, because I couldn't just stand there, up there and talk about... and when I got in the Word, it began to change me, which the Word does. So, that was all God's plan, was in order to change me, to, to, uh, make my mind connected with His and see that He's worthwhile. Uh, that the things that I heard in the past, though I admired my parents and the way they had walked, I had to experience it my own self in a real way. I had to get to know God myself.
John Bradshaw: So do you think she was right? Was it the saving of your soul?
Hendel Butoy: I can't wait to meet her... uh, because she's since passed on... but I can't wait to meet her in, in heaven and, and embrace her, with, uh, with giving me that opportunity.
John Bradshaw: Can't help thinking a young guy in southern California has got his dream job, it's the, it's the, it's the center of the universe in terms of creativity and animation. There's a lot that could have drawn you away or distracted you, distracted you from faith in God. So, so speak to the person right now who is working in a secular environment, and that's most everybody who works, unless you work for a church. Working in a secular environment, what do you do? What do you think you need to do in order to preserve, not just maintain, but strengthen your faith in God while you work in this distracting environment?
Hendel Butoy: Three things come to my mind really quickly, is what I just mentioned, is walk with God, be in His Word, um, get to know Him in His Word, and listen to Him. The second one is, pray and ask for the opportunities for when they come up. We could, we would be sitting together, a, a story artist, and, and, and something would come up in, in a story that would be just biblical or spiritual in nature, and somebody would ask a question about it, and I found myself in a position to answer something, uh, regarding the Bible. Like, somebody might say something regarding evolution, and then I could interject something about, well, did you think about it this way? You know, can happen this way as well. So, um, pray for those opportunities for where, where God opens up things for you.
John Bradshaw: And what's a third one?
Hendel Butoy: It's when those moments happen, where you see God leading, that you tuck those away in your back, in the back of your mind, so when He appears not to be there, you can remember them and say, "I remember God led me here. I remember when He spoke through me in this occasion or that occasion. I remember how it touched this person's life here or there". And those re-inspire the inspiration that God is real, He's really there.
John Bradshaw: This is a narrow question and a broad question. Are there fields that young people should just not work for, work in, because of the, the content? Or are there some of these very secular fields, for instance, animation and these kinds of things today, are they just too secular, or can people survive in those industries today?
Hendel Butoy: I think with anything that you go into, you need to do it prayerfully. You need to ask if God would have you there, if, if He has a purpose for you being there, and then, if, if you sense a desire is tugging you in that direction, I don't think there's anything wrong. I think God, God places that there for us as long as we put Him first and we're seeking His guidance in it. When you find yourself there, continue to pray and to ask for His guidance. Um, because He will fulfill that purpose for, for being there. It is to influence; it's to touch other people in some way for Christ, whether it be with a word that helps them or that reminds them of things, um...
John Bradshaw: So let me ask you this. Let me ask you what you see, if any, are the moral, ethical implications of working for a company like Disney. There are people who'll analyze Disney's content, and they say, "Whoa, that's not even Christian". They'll...the, the mouse is a wizard, uh, in fact. And, um, might look at some things that you find in there in story lines that they may, uh, appear to be directly opposed to the principles of the gospel or teachings of the Bible. So, how...did, did you have to reconcile that in your mind, or, or how did you go about that, or was it not a concern? Walk me through what you undoubtedly went through when you were considering your career.
Hendel Butoy: There were concerns as to what some of the things I might work on, if they would trouble me in terms of, uh, contradicting my faith or my belief in things. Um, so I did have to make a choice and a determination if something like that ever comes up, what am I going to do about it? Am I going to just go ahead and work on it, or, or not? Um, I did have a couple occasions where I had to say, "This troubles me" or "bothers me," "I can't see myself doing this," and not knowing what the response was going to be. I know that on one project where I made that, um, uh, made that known, the director that I was talking to said, "Well, I'm not sure what, what to do with you, then, you know, because here we are in the middle of production, and it's got to get done, and so I'm not sure. Uh, we'll have to go talk to the, uh, production manager or something". But... I went and talked to the production manager, and I found out that he himself was a Christian. And so, I was fortunate in that regard. I was actually able to explain what it was that was troubling me, and he says, "Uh, well, I understand. We're going to try to find something else for you". That, to me...but, again, in my mind I was ready to say, okay, if they're going to say, "Sorry, you can't," then I'm out of a job, and that's okay. If that's what, if, if that's, if this is the point where God is saying, "The doors are closed now; you've done the work here; now it's time to move on," I would be okay with that. And I think a person going into a secular situation like that needs to always have that attitude, that if God is leading you there, He may also lead you away from it, because there may come a time where He needs you somewhere else or, um, or you, you continue. So I was fortunate in those cases where they liked me enough to want to put me on something else. Um, and so I would say that if a Christian finds themself in that situation, speak up about it. Um, let your, let your conscience, the way the Holy Spirit is impressing you, um, to, uh, to speak out on it, you might be surprised at the reactions that you get.
John Bradshaw: I imagine you've had to have conversations like this with, with students. As animation students, there's not a lot of, a lot of demand for animation in the Christian world. I can't say there's none, but there's not an enormous amount, and the default options are what? Pixar and Disney and Dreamworks and these kinds of things. So do you find that you, that you need to speak with young people and help them to understand some of the temptations or challenges that they might face?
Hendel Butoy: Yes. One of, one of the things that I really like to impress or try to impress on students here is the need to make God part of their artwork. The world will tell you that art is about self-expression. Um, but really, we ourselves are an expression of God. He's created in us in His image, and if His Spirit is working through us, then everything that we do becomes His expression. So, artists are really intended to be God's expression through our hands as we're connected with Him. And in various ways I like to try to get that message through to students, and...but you never know what, what makes it in and what doesn't, so it really is encouraging when I hear stories of students who leave here and go somewhere else, and they work at, at a company... uh, where we've had this happen where a company has wanted to do something that they felt bothered their conscience in terms of the content. And, uh, and they spoke up about it. They, they, they, they told them about it, and the company, instead of firing them, changed the product. They, uh, they rejected the contract for the original product and got something else because they like the students that much. So again, you might be surprised if you are walking with God, and He's working with, with you and through you, the reactions that you might get when you speak up on things.
John Bradshaw: Let me ask you this. So people will watch an old Disney cartoon or an old Disney film, and they'll freeze frame it and say, "Look at that". And it might be something, uh, unsavory or unfortunate. So, what is it? You were on the inside. Is it because the Disney Corporation is intentionally putting images every 17 and 1/2 minutes to corrupt people's morals, or...I have a suspicion as to how it might be. I'm interested in what you would say. Or, or how did those images that occasionally get in there get in there?
Hendel Butoy: First of all, let me say, there were things like that that did make it into those films. And, you know, people have, have pointed them out. But they were, they were always done by, um, one individual here or there who wanted to do something as a gag or as a, as a, you know, practical joke in some way and would kind of share with their, you know, buddies there at the studio, "Look what I did"! and all. There was nothing that was ever mandated on the artist. In fact, when that was discovered, when I was there, when things like that were discovered, and people were starting to, to talk about it, um, the executives called the entire department and sat us down. They said, "We don't want to see anything like this in our films. If we catch anybody doing this kind of thing, you're not going to last around here". So, um, it was never a corporate thing. Now, but I will say, as a secular studio with a secular mind and worldview of things, um, they don't know God. And so, when you remove God from anything, something else takes its place. So instead of miracles, you'll have magic. Uh, in, instead of, um, um, something that speaks to eternity, you have something that speaks to what we've evolved from. So, something takes the place of God when you remove it. And in a secular environment where you don't have God, these things naturally come in. So, as a Christian, you know this, you see it, and again, you have the opportunity, when it arises, to point some things out or to help influence, to guide this way or that way. You may not have all power to completely change something, but you may change somebody's life when you say something, and it triggers something in their mind. Maybe down the future they'll remember that, and they'll want to look into it more and get introduced to God in some way.
John Bradshaw: Young guy living in Burbank, working in Burbank, raised in Glendale, the weather's perfect; life is good. You've got your dream job. It was your dream job?
Hendel Butoy: Yeah, it was.
John Bradshaw: All right.
Hendel Butoy: Since I was 12, I wanted it.
John Bradshaw: All right. Your dream job since childhood, and you are working at one of the best-known and most beloved companies on the entire planet, yea, verily, in the history of the planet. And you quit, to move 3,000 miles and take a job teaching at a small Christian school. You've got to tell us what in the world you were thinking. And he will. He's Hendel Butoy, professor of animation at Southern Adventist University. We have more questions for him in a moment on Conversations.
John Bradshaw: Today on Conversations my guest is Hendel Butoy, a professor at Southern Adventist University in Collegedale, Tennessee, teaches animation. Hendel, you worked at Disney for a number of years drawing. Animation didn't stay; it fell out of love with the pencil and, uh, kind of fell for the computer. You, I imagine, had to transition through that. What was that like?
Hendel Butoy: It was great, but it wasn't easy because, uh, the computer is a different machine. Actually, we like to talk about the computer as being a more expensive pencil because you still have to learn how to manipulate it. But it's manipulating something different than a pencil. So, um...yeah...
John Bradshaw: Seems to me like that'd be a bit like going from, going from drawing to sculpting, almost. Is it, is it that radical a change?
Hendel Butoy: Uh, to a degree, um, because it, when you're doing something 2-D, you're having to think three-dimensionally, but now you actually got the three dimensions, that when you do something on one side, you have to make sure it's right on the other side as well and kind of turn it around. And not only that, then it has to move properly in different, different angles also. So, it, it was, it was a bit of a, a challenge just learning the whole medium of, uh, of computer.
John Bradshaw: Well, you survived the transition, but I'm, I'm wondering if there were artists who did not survive the transition.
Hendel Butoy: Well, there were. Uh, the artists that didn't survive the transition are basically the ones who never wanted to let go of their pencils. Um, the, the writing was on the wall that this was coming, because, uh, a, a picture had been made. It was very, uh, uh, uh, very well-received, and it was very well done. And so, this was the, this was the direction of things. But there were some artists who were saying, "No, we, we love our pencils, and this is where we're going to stay," and, and the technology moved on without them. The jobs became less and less for pencil work and more for computer work. And those that hung on to their pencils were left behind, so to speak.
John Bradshaw: So things have changed dramatically since you were a 12-year-old wanting to become an animator one day. What do you see today? What are examples of animation today that make you say, "Wow! That's really well done"?
Hendel Butoy: There's a lot of great animation being done today. It's, it's really pretty impressive. When, when I was a student and when I was just starting out, it was very few and far between; very few places were doing it. And it, they would just come every once in a while. But it seems like today the understanding of the principles and the storytelling, all these are important things that people are able to grasp it sooner because of the information age. This is all readily available to everybody, and therefore do more with it. So, there's a lot of really good animation out there in terms of how things move and how they tell stories. Um, I don't particularly like the content of everything that I see and would like to see things that have more eternal and spiritual-based things under them. Um, but in terms of the quality and level of that, it's, it's pretty high now. You can go anywhere to find it.
John Bradshaw: Now, my guess is you'd love to see more animation incorporated into Christianity and using that to tell the Christian story, like you dreamed of when you were looking at the Uncle Arthur's books as a kid. So how does that happen? Uh, what's it going to take, or, or how can animators blend their talent, professional talent, with their love for God? We don't see much of it. What's it going to take? How can it happen?
Hendel Butoy: Well, the love for God comes first. And if you've got that, your art is just an extension of that love for God. And you'll want to do anything that you can to express what God is, is, is, is telling you. Um, animation's a very expensive art medium, even with the computers. When they first brought in computers into animation, they thought, "Oh, this is going to solve all our financial problems because it can be done just like that". And people still have this misconception that all you've got to with the computer is push a button and it does it for you. But the computer's not a human being, and therefore you have to tell it things that it doesn't know, and, uh, and so there's a whole learning process there in order to be able to, uh, to learn it. Therefore, it still requires a lot of people and a lot of time, and this is what makes animation expensive. And so to do something on a high quality feature-type thing would take an enormous amount of investment and people to believe in it to make it happen. But artists and Christian artists can still do smaller projects that can still, in, uh, in, in a very short amount of time, still deliver powerful things. And there's examples that you can find with this that, that some Christians have done, uh, online that you can see. And, um, it's just, first of all, having that walk with God, having that experience with Him, and then wanting to share that. Because a Christian can't but share the good news. And so they look for ways to do it.
John Bradshaw: So there you were in southern California, living the dream, living the dream, uh, but today you're, you're living in eastern Tennessee teaching animation at a Christian school. Uh, that was not the original vision. I think this question is really significant because there are a lot of people who, who achieve and experience terrific success, uh, in their chosen field. They, they make it a long way on that professional road. Then they're called. They're called to ministry. They're called to teaching. It's a wrestling. So explain to me how that went on with you, and I want to hear how you managed to cross that bridge. You were able to, to look at Disney in the rearview mirror of your car and, and leave that all behind to teach.
Hendel Butoy: Yeah. Many times I have students ask me the same question because that's where they're trying to get to, and they're, they ask, you know, "Why'd you, why did you leave all that"? So, before I ever got to Disney, while I was still at Cal Arts, I, um, I was praying and asking, "Lord, would You have me in this, in this industry? And if You will, I'll continue to walk in it, and please be with me. But if You don't want me in this industry, let me know. Close the door. Shut me out of something". And I had that attitude before ever coming into Disney. And so when I actually got in, I felt as if God was leading, and I felt it was a privilege to be, for me to be there. And I couldn't take that for granted. And so I continued to make it a point and to keep that same attitude, "Lord," at the end of every project, "do You want me to continue"? This was a constant prayer, a constant prayer I had at the end of every project. Um, one day a call came from, for something different. Um, a dean of the school, uh, here at, at, uh, the school of visual art and design. I don't know how he got my number, because I don't give out, artists don't give their numbers out in the studio in their offices. Um, but somehow he found it and called me and said, "We're an Adventist Christian school out here in Tennessee. We're just starting the animation program. Would you come out and just talk to the students, just give a lecture of what it's like to be a Christian, an Adventist Christian, in a place like this, and, uh, just lay out that perspective"? I said, "Sure. I'll come out just to do that". Not thinking anything else about it. I'd been asked to do that kind of thing before, but never at a Christian college. And so I came out to Southern here and did that. And then they called me again the next year and would, uh, nudge me a little bit more, like, "Is there, is there more that you can do for us"? And I continued to get calls, until the question was finally popped, you know, "Would you consider... we're just fresh, brand new, starting, but we don't have any professional professors out here who are Adventist Christians. Would you consider coming out here and helping us out with that"? I recognized that as something completely different, and I thought, "Well, here I've been praying all this time. Is it coming now"? After talking with my wife and hearing that God was speaking to her also that this is a move we should make, we made that choice, and we came out here. So, what I tell my students when they ask me that question, "How'd you get out here? Why? How did it happen"? I say, "Prayer. Prayer is the reason that I'm here".
John Bradshaw: What do you enjoy about teaching?
Hendel Butoy: What I enjoy about teaching is that I get to see, um, the influence of, of getting to know God with my students face to face. As opposed to doing something where an audience is going to see the work that I do, but I never get to really see them in a tangible way to know what kind of influence I'm having. With students, I can see tangibly what's going on. I enjoy that.
John Bradshaw: So a kid is thinking, you know, "I've got this idea, I would like to be an animator, um, and there are only so many opportunities. I'm very spiritually inclined. I want to serve God. I'm not quite sure where the future is going". Speak to that, speak to that young person now. They're thinking of coming to Southern and doing arts or animation or, or something like that. How, how do they weigh it up and make that decision, if this is, if, if there's a Christian future for them in this?
Hendel Butoy: First of all, put God first in everything and decide that if you're going to go down this route, that everything that you're going to do has Him involved with it. And then seek to improve yourself in whatever that is, uh, um, if it's drawing or if it's understanding movement, find ways to improve yourself on that. If...before you enter school, find ways to draw well or to, uh learn about the computer and moving things around. And then get an education with it, but always do it with an attitude of asking God to lead you every step of the way. And be prepared that if God turns you a different direction, that you'll be content with it, because you know that it will be better than what you currently think is best. Um, because I thought I had the dream job, but I always felt like there was something still missing, because I could not express my full faith and Christianity in there. I could to different individuals, but I could never put my faith into my work. And they were actually pretty adamant about that at the studio. They didn't mind how you lived, and they were really very supportive of you. I was, never had problems with the Sabbath or anything. But if I ever tried to put my faith into their work, then that's when the walls went up, or, or the hand, you know, stop, you can't do that. Um, so you had to find, uh, covert ways to do it, which I did find a few of those. Um, so, and that's what I would say to the Christian going into something like this is, you will find those moments and times where you can either touch as individuals, people that you work with, or the projects that you work on, as you walk with God, you'll find ways that you can say and do things that when people see it, they will respond, and you'll go, "Wow! God is actually "speaking to them the way that I was hoping that He would. They, they actually responded".
John Bradshaw: Well, thank you for sharing your story. Thank you for what you're doing to impact young people, point them in the direction of God, and train them for a future where they can be especially useful in the work of God. It's been a joy. Thanks for your time.
Hendel Butoy: And thank you.
John Bradshaw: And thank you for your time. He is Hendel Butoy, professor at Southern Adventist University. I'm John Bradshaw. And this has been our conversation.