Fast Company: Your name is explicitly listed with the Teacher’s Pet title. Not since Walt Disney himself has an artist had his name in the title of a Disney movie. Did you have to fight for that?
Baseman: Oh, yeah. Nobody gives you anything. They respected my work, but no company is going to give you anything without you fighting for it.
FC: How much of Teacher’s Pet is yours?
Baseman: I came up with the concept of the little dog, and the artwork is mine. And then you work together–the writers, the animators, the directors–on how you want to tell the story. When I do my own paintings, I’m trying to keep myself inspired. With this, I’m trying to keep all my artists inspired. Instead of them just copying what I do, I’m inspiring them to do better than I ever could.
FC: Let’s talk about the gore. How did you get away with squishing entire choruses of cockroaches in a Disney film?
Baseman: We had to be very playful. And we had a certain sensibility. Like with Day of the Dead, it isn’t about death, as in morbid, but celebrating life. We’re telling people not to be afraid to take chances, to open up and take risks.
FC: So what are your influences? What are the roots of pervasive art?
Baseman: Hieronymus Bosch, mixed with Day of the Dead, mixed with my Eastern European roots, mixed with a certain sensibility of cute Japanese pop art, mixed with my love of Americana . . .
FC: Is there a commercial direction in which you wouldn’t go? Handbags? Fashion?
Baseman: Not at all. I like the idea of commerce. As long as you keep the quality high. Like with Martha Stewart–regardless of her unfortunate situation now, her products at Kmart were very good, quality products for the mass audience. And Ralph Lauren. People laugh, but he’s somebody who creates merchandise that works both at the very high end and for everyday people.
FC: Does it surprise you what people like and don’t like of your work?
Baseman: Always. I never know. That’s why I try to focus on what I enjoy.
FC: What’s more important to you: massive audience or critical acclaim?
Baseman: Both. Not a lot of people can do it, but I believe I can make both work–walk that razor’s edge.
FC: Any advice to someone in the position you were in 20 years ago?
Baseman: That’s the one thing I wish I’d had. Perspective. When you look at every little hill, it looks a mile high. Then you look 20 years back and you’re like, “That’s not a giant mountain.” Everything smooths out.