Craig Barlett

Craig Bartlett ’81 honed his chops making cartoons from clay

Evergreen Staff
craig bartlett and daughter katie
Craig Barlett and daughter Katie

Craig Bartlett ’81 honed his chops making cartoons from clay, contributing his talents to the iconic “Pee-Wee’s Playhouse” and “Rugrats” series before creating his own pair of kids’ shows, “Hey Arnold!” (for the 6- to 10-year-old Nickelodeon-watching crowd) and “Dinosaur Train” (for 2- to 6-year-old PBS viewers).

“When I was young I thought I wanted to be an artist,” says Craig Bartlett, “but I didn’t have a realistic idea of what that was. I thought you’d live in Paris and paint.” As a broke art student living in Portland, Bartlett was a frequent patron of a free film series at the museum. Once a year the museum would screen the International Tournée of Animation, an annual compilation of independent films from around the world. After watching Closed Mondays, the 1975 Academy Award winner for Best Animated Short Film created by Portland-based clay animator Will Vinton, “I got the idea right then that I could be an animator,” he recalls. “They were like paintings, but they moved, and they had soundtracks that were very often experimental and funny. There was a lot of weirdness in there I could relate to.” 

After asking around, Bartlett learned that Evergreen had an animation studio and better still, “no rules, no grades.” He transferred in as a senior, and learned the basics of the craft from Roger Kukes, an award-winning animator and visual artist. Each quarter he made an animated short (“they were all terrible, two-minute things”) and he became art director for the CPJ, publishing many of the comic strips he had drawn the previous summer. “I had a dream fourth year at Evergreen,” he says.

In the summer of 1987, Bartlett went to Los Angeles to work on the “Penny” cartoons for the second season of “Pee-Wee’s Playhouse,” which was staffing up following the show’s move from New York City. Later, after returning to the Northwest, he and Lisa (who worked as a talk-show producer in Portland) both had the itch to move to L.A. for good. “I’m so glad Lisa wanted to come and I would have been so mad if it hadn’t worked out,” he says. Now, after 30 years in the business, “I’m always trying to keep engaged as an artist,” says Bartlett, who also writes the music for “Dinosaur Train.” “A lot of my work is I’m a salesman. I’m always having meetings trying to convince somebody to pull the trigger on something.”

Now a proud Evergreen parent— son Matt will graduate this spring with a degree in communication, film and video, while daughter Katie is a sophomore— Bartlett never doubted they would love the Evergreen culture, but he had his doubts about the climate. “But both dig it,” he says. “They like the gray weather.”