Rudi Bloss draws on swimming to be a top creative at Disney
Rudi Bloss knew exactly what he wanted to be when he was 8 years old. Growing up in the small northern German town of Göettingen, Bloss and his family would often vacation near the Mediterranean Sea, where they’d explore ancient ruins and swim in the ocean. He fell in love with the water and playing in the waves with his brothers and sisters. It was a picturesque childhood.
Around that time in his life, Bloss watched “The Rescuers” at school. The classic Disney animated film is about an international mouse organization dedicated to helping abduction victims around the world. The movie stars Bob Newhart and Eva Gabor, who hope to save a young girl being held prisoner in Devil’s Bayou, Louisiana.
Bloss was captivated by the animation, specifically the scenes on the water. So much so that he had an epiphany right then and realized that he would like to create those exact scenes someday by working as an animator for Disney.
“That was my goal from an early age,” Bloss says.
From then on, nothing would get in the way of his dream. He appeased his parents and earned a bachelor’s degree in Göettingen and then spent years moving all over Europe and later to the U.S. and Canada working in animation. Over the past 30-plus years, Bloss has worked at nearly every major studio, including DreamWorks Animation, Paramount, Warner Bros, Nickelodeon, and, yes, Disney. He actually started at Disney while living in Paris in the ’90s and worked as an animator on “A Goofy Movie, which premiered in 1995. In May 2020, Bloss returned to Disney and is directing “The Proud Family: Louder and Prouder,” which is a reboot of the original animated TV series from 20 years ago.
Bloss loves his career but describes it “kind of like a gypsy lifestyle” with all the moving around the globe he’s done in the past three decades. One thing that provides necessary stability is swimming, which he’s been doing consistently for years, currently with Golden Road Aquatics in Burbank, California. He never misses a workout, and his co-workers know that he’s unavailable during lunch because that’s when he heads to the pool.
“Swimming,” he says, “is becoming more important than animation.”
BLOSS HAS STUDIO-HOPPED so much because his business is akin to a gig economy: There’s no stability. Animators like Bloss work on a project that could last nine months or a year and a half, and once production ends, the company lets them go. Bloss is sometimes quickly hired back and sometimes he’s not, so he’s always looking for his next job while focused on his current assignments. It makes work-life balance difficult.
Swimming helps. Bloss loves the Golden Road community and strives to swim four or five times per week, always at lunchtime for one hour.
“I don’t know what the water does, but it puts you in a different world,” says Bloss, who will swim any event but prefers longer distance races. “I try to switch off completely. Usually after 10 or 15 minutes, [work and stress is] out of my mind. If it’s not, then I swim harder. And then after training I have a great endorphin kick and feel super happy. Things that felt unresolvable or stressful usually feel small or insignificant.”
Bloss is passionate about his work and creates his own illustrations on the side. His website, rudibloss.com, showcases various storyboards from films he’s worked on such as “The SpongeBob SquarePants Movie” and a short film he directed called “The Moving Pyramid,” which was named the best animated short at the Los Angeles Shorts International Film Festival in 2001.
He also has a page dedicated to swimming. Several years ago, Bloss started drawing scenes he observed at the pool. “It’s all the stuff that goes through our minds that he’s able to express in a fun way,” Golden Road Aquatics Coach Mike Lucero says. Bloss has drawings of everything from his teammates showing up late and jumping in the pool in the middle of a set to his coach’s super recognizable swimming ensemble.
“I was like, ‘That is so me!,’” Lucero says, laughing about the caricature of him, complete with tattoos, hair sticking straight up, and a red skull drag suit. “I’m one of those people that can only draw a stick figure. I can’t draw a dog or a person or a face. It’s just amazing how talented he is with each detail.”
Bloss started doing these drawings a few years ago when he couldn’t swim after having surgery. His first illustration was a caricature of himself in a brief happily running to the water. The series was so popular amongst his teammates that he expanded the portfolio to include them (after getting their permission), and he posts most of the images to the team’s Facebook page for everyone to see.
“In general, people love it,” Bloss says. “It’s a combination of my two passions.”
BLOSS FOUND COMPETITIVE swimming early in his career when he wasn’t in such a great place. He says the culture at his first job was toxic, competitive, and unfriendly. His co-workers often went to pubs after work to hang out, smoke, and drink, and Bloss felt pressure to join. He quickly found himself getting into an unhealthy routine, but it wasn’t until his brother came to visit when Bloss realized he needed to make some lifestyle changes. Bloss always beat his brother playing sports growing up. But this time, his brother kicked his butt on a run.
“After that, I promised myself every day after work that I would work out,” Bloss says. He found a pool in London and from then on, anywhere he moved, the first thing he’d do was find the closest pool.
Bloss swam in London, Paris, and Montreal. When he settled in Los Angeles, he found a home at Rose Bowl Aquatics before following Lucero when Lucero started Golden Road Aquatics.
“At first I was scared of joining because everybody looked so strong,” Bloss says. “But they took me under their wings, and my swimming has improved a lot since then.”
Bloss swam a lot as a kid but says the teams in Germany didn’t compare to the technical coaching he has received as a Masters swimmer. Growing up, he’d swim one or two days a week for 30 or 45 minutes. “I didn’t get much out of it, and my parents didn’t want to drop me off at the pool, so they pulled me out and made me do track and field,” Bloss says. But swimming is what he’s always enjoyed most, and now at 53 years old, Bloss is stronger and faster.
“One thing I admire about Rudi is he’ll do anything,” Lucero says. “He’ll do the 50 free or the 100 free. He’ll do sprints. He’ll do middle distance like the 200 or long distance like the 800 or the mile. He’ll do the breaststroke. A lot of swimmers either do sprints or distance or just one stroke, so it’s fun to have a swimmer like that at a meet who will swim pretty much anything when a lot of swimmers don’t do that.”
BLOSS IS AN episodic director at Disney, a role where he oversees everything from storyboard artists to editors to revisionists involved in the production. His current project is repurposing the TV series “The Proud Family” from the early 2000s. He says it’s been one of the most fun and meaningful projects he’s worked on because the script touches on current topics like Black Lives Matter and the coronavirus pandemic. Bloss also has a multiracial 14-year-old daughter who is the same age as the show’s main character, Penny.
“It’s been the best experience I’ve had in TV,” he says.
Bloss loves working at Disney. It’s a big studio with big budgets and supportive and professional co-workers with reasonable deadlines. Unlike other places he’s worked over the last three decades, “they never cut costs like some other studios,” he says. “They really pay attention to detail.”
Bloss’s goal of working for Disney was many years in the making. He was always good at drawing. “I wasn’t extraordinary, but I always won first place in drawing competitions,” he says. “My brother was good at drawing characters like Snoopy and Batman, and I couldn’t. But what I learned, just like in swimming, is if you work really hard at something, you get better at it. I was so obsessed with [drawing] that I would buy myself sketchbooks and sit down and draw humans. The human body, bones, everything, and teach myself to draw characters. I drew as much as I could. Putting in the hours I think I just got better.”
Bloss isn’t 100% sure if his talents are genetic, but his great grandmother was artistic too. She painted when she was younger, “but back in those days, it wasn’t considered fashionable, so she had to give it up,” Bloss says. She made one oil painting of a vase with sunflowers that Bloss has somewhere (and admittedly says he needs to hang up). She also illustrated a children’s book that has been in the Bloss family for years. “I always found [the book] inspiring,” he says. “I just loved drawing. That was my thing.”
His family wasn’t always supportive of his creative dream though. His father, who was a professor at a Turkish university, didn’t want him to pursue animation. His preference was that his son go to college and make money. Bloss understood and earned his degree but still left for London to become an animator. Only when Bloss was independent and started making money did his father express that he was proud of him.
Bloss got his big studio break at Amblimation in London in 1990. He very quickly reached his goal of making it to Disney, working on A Goofy Movie a year later while living in Paris. He jumped around, which included a stint working on special effects for “The Phantom Menace,” “The Mummy,” “The Mummy 2,” and “The Adventures of Rocky and Bullwinkle.” He later went to DreamWorks for which he was an animator for “Shrek 2,” to Sony Pictures for which he worked on “The Polar Express,” to Nickelodeon for which he went from animation to storyboarding while working on “The Penguins of Madagascar,” and to Paramount for which he worked on the SpongeBob movie. Eventually he found his way back to Disney.
“He’s able to follow his passion,” Lucero says. “It’s, as he put it one time, like going to an amusement park every day and having fun every day. Many people don’t get to do what they love.”
But for as much as he loves his job, he couldn’t do it without a pool close by.
- Human Interest