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USC dropout makes it big in animation

Dan Povenmire, known for his work on cartoons such as "The Simpsons" and "Family Guy," lands a show on Disney.

Lauren Perez

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Published: Monday, May 12, 2008

Updated: Wednesday, July 2, 2008

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Photo courtesy of Sebastien Rabany/Disney Channel

Animated success | Former Daily Trojan cartoonist Dan Povenmire (left) and his partner, Jeff Marsh (right), recently debuted their new animated television show, "Phineas and Ferb," on the Disney Channel.

You've heard of SpongeBob SquarePants and the infamous Hannah Montana, now the latest and greatest in children's entertainment is "Phineas and Ferb," created by former USC student Dan Povenmire and his working partner, Jeff "Swampy" Marsh.

"I'm just a dropout, I'm a cautionary tale," said Povenmire, who spent 1985 to 1987 at USC trying, and failing, to get into the USC School of Cinematic Arts.

Povenmire's life, however, has been anything but a cautionary tale. Besides creating "Phineas and Ferb," he has also written, directed and created storyboards for animated shows such as "The Simpsons," "Family Guy," "Rocko's Modern Life," "Hey Arnold!," "Catdog," "Looney Tunes" and "SpongeBob SquarePants."

A child prodigy, Povenmire started drawing at the age of two. By the time he was 10, he was selling his work at art shows.

At the University of South Alabama, he started a comic strip while making a living acting and waiting tables at dinner theater.

Interested in filmmaking, Povenmire transferred to USC where his comic strip, "Life is a Fish," became his first big success.

Povemire said the first thing he did when he got to USC was pitch the comic to Daily Trojan editor-in-chief Mark Ordesky, who now works for Fine Line Cinema where he was the executive producer of the "Lord of the Rings" trilogy.

Initially, Povenmire said Ordesky "basically brushed me off," but after looking through Povenmire's portfolio, Ordesky invited him to make the comic a part of the paper.

The comic strip ran in the Daily Trojan everyday, continuing for five years even after Povenmire left USC.

"I always felt like I was running out of ideas," Povenmire said.

But, he never missed a deadline.

The comic about the secret life of a gold fish became so popular that Povenmire was able to make $14,000 a year selling "Life is a Fish" books, T-shirts and calendars at the campus crafts fair.

After dropping out of USC, he used the money he made from the craft fairs and being a street caricature artist to support himself.

Eventually, Povenmire got a call from an old USC friend who had a friend who needed someone to work in animation.

Two phone calls later, Povenmire was talking to Tommy Chong of "Cheech and Chong."

He was hired to create two minutes of animation for Chong's film, "Far out Man."

By the age of 21, Povenmire was working with the animation teams behind the "Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles" animated series.

Povenmire continued to freelance for other shows until he ended up doing layout and storyboard for "The Simpsons."

When he showed his five years' worth of " Life is a Fish" comic strips to the creator of Nickelodeon's "Rocko's Modern Life," the creator was so impressed that he gave Povenmire a job as a writer.

While working on "Rocko's Modern Life," Povenmire met his future working partner, Jeff "Swampy" Marsh.

In 1993, Povenmire and Marsh created "Phineas and Ferb."

Initially, Disney also said no to "Phineas and Ferb," but the company asked to keep the packet Povenmire presented.

"Usually that means they throw it in the trash later," Povenmire said.

This time was different, however. Sixteen years after it was initially created, Disney began running "Phineas and Ferb" at the beginning of this year.

Now, all of Povenmire's time is divided between his family and "Phineas and Ferb."

Besides being the show's creator, director, executive producer and songwriter, Povenmire is also the voice of the evil Dr. Doofenshmirtz whose plans for world domination are frequently thwarted by one of the character's seemingly mindless pet, Perry the Platypus, who doubles as a secret agent.

Povenmire said he likes the idea of pets having secret lives because "nobody really knows what a platypus does."

His own cat, Sprocket, had a secret life with his neighbor so that he could get fed twice.

"Phineas and Ferb" is the leading television series in children's entertainment, surpassing "Hannah Montana," "The Suite Life of Zack and Cody" and other highly acclaimed children's shows in ratings.

To keep the show going, Povenmire draws 300 to 400 drawings a week, plus he spends time editing, planning and recording for the show.

"As busy as it is, it's still the most fun I've ever had. My assistant has every moment of my day scheduled out," Povenmire said.

On Fridays, Povenmire, Marsh and the rest of the songwriting team write the songs that have made "Phineas and Ferb" a hit.

They write a new song for every episode of the weekly series.

"We could write a song about any subject in the world in one hour," Povenmire said.

For a guy who calls himself a "frustrated rock 'n' roll musician" and who, during his USC days, was in a band that played in many popular Los Angeles bars and clubs, it is not surprising that songwriting comes easily.

Povenmire also had a small roll as part of a band in Adam Sandler's first film, "Babes Ahoy."

When they are done writing, they sing the song into the composer's answering machine. By Monday, it's ready to air.

Povenmire said that the songs have a huge fan base.

"Those kids are going to remember those songs when they're 45-years-old. This is kind of our stab at immortality," he said.

Povenmire plans to spend the next few years of his life focusing on "Phineas and Ferb" and another show which is still in development.

Povenmire, an artist who endeavors to be as funny as possible, loves going to work where they basically "just try to make each other laugh," he said.

Even though Povenmire achieved success without a USC degree, he said that the connections he made at the university helped him get where he is today.

"Say hello to Tommy Trojan for me," he said.