Gavin Dell

What is your name?

“Gavin Dell”

What are some of your favorite projects you’re proud to have been a part of?

“Cat’s Don’t Dance was a film that Turner Feature Animation made before merging with Warner Bros. It had one of the best crews I’ve ever worked with. It had such a positive vibe the whole time which was probably because
of the Director Mark Dindal. The film was a total flop at the box office but was well regarded in the animation business. ”

How did you become interested in animation?

“I always love cartoons growing up but had no idea how they were made and never thought it was something I could do. I heard about the animation program at Cal Arts and applied for it but did not get accepted. I did get accepted by the art program. Once I was there I hated the art program and asked if I could transfer to animation. It was sort of a back door entry. I busted my ass to do a good film and made the producer’s show my freshman year. I was 1 of 4 from a class of 69 students to make it in.
Never say never…”

Where are you from and how did you get into the animation business?

“I’m from Kansas City. Home of Walt Disney’s original studio. Honestly I though I was going to be stuck drawing Hallmark cards my whole life. I heard about Cal Arts in Los Angeles from my Mom’s friend, who’s son was going there and was having a ball.”

What’s a typical day like for you with regards to your job?

“I wish there was something glamorous about my job but my day goes like this: Long drive in traffic, walk in and sit down, draw or work on my computer, have lunch, draw the rest of the day, long drive home in traffic. As long as you like what you are working on it’s fun. If not it is grueling.”

What part of your job do you like best? Why?

I like the excitement of the first month of a project. That is when you are most challenged to rise to the occassion. Each day a new challenge. After a while you go into cruise control.

What part of your job do you like least? Why?

“The worst part of any animation job is the end. Looking for a new job is no fun. There is nothing more stressful than having to look for your next job while you are trying to do a good job on the current one. The other worst thing is working for someone who is less qualified than you to do lead a project. Watching someone make bad decision after bad decision while you have to sit and watch the project go downhill is common.

What is the most difficult part for you about being in the business?

“The animation business is a very difficult way to make a living. It is ridiculously competitive and you should expect to be unemployed once a year. The salaries of animation artists have not increased with the cost of living. I was making 40% more money 10 years ago. As the cost of living has increased about 4% or more per year, animators salaries have only increased 2%. Over 20 years you find your life getting harder and harder. The studios should take more responsibility for their employees and show some loyalty. I think it reflects badly on them as a company to lay off their employees after every project. It is even worse to make them re-apply for your job on the next project after doing a great job for the company already. Giving each project leader the benefit of choosing their own crew sounds good but isn’t good for the business. What about the benefits of having crews that know each other? Crews that are a finely tuned machine that compliment each other? If you crew is looking for a job for the last two months of every project the productivity goes down. Do you think their heart is in it at that point? In my opinon there is something ethically wrong with companies disregarding their workers and their families.”

What kind of technology do you work with on a daily basis?

For almost every cg project I have worked on we used Maya. Others were 3D Studio Max and XSI. As a 2D artist I use Storyboard Pro.

In your travels, have you had any brushes with animation greatness?

I loved meeting the great Maurice Noble. I worked for Chuck Jones twice in his later years but never met him. He didn’t come into the studio. Maurice was at Warner Bros. during the Iron Giant Days. He was there to consult with artists for any reason. He was a wonderful man with great wisdom and charm. He was always open to you coming into his office and hanging out for a chat. He is still the greatest art director ever in my opinion.

Describe a tough situation you had in animation. Any side projects you’re working on you’d like to share details of?

One of my toughest jobs was working for a lead animator who was super anal retentive and not good on top of that. He would get caught up in having you draw contruction lines on your character and making the geometric shapes look differnet. His animation was always generic and over acted and I hated when he would draw on my scene. It would immediatley take the soul out of the character. He even made me redraw my thumbnails to look pretty. Can you imagine! What a waste of time. Thumbnail drawing are for the soul purpose of getting your thoughts out for your scene. If you are going to draw them nice you might as well be doing the real drawing. I was amazed I got any good scenes out of the entire project.

Any side projects you’re working on you’d like to share details of?

I have been designing characters for a new product coming out called Growums. It is an elementary school age product which teaches kids how to grow a garden. I’ve design all 50 characters and I’m looking forward to seeing them in stores.

Is there any advice you can give for an aspiring animation student or artist trying to break into the business?

I’m sorry to give this advice to someone with hopes and dreams of getting into animation. DON’T DO IT! The business is becoming too outsourced. There is a giant workforce over in India swallowing up jobs faster than we can keep up. The studios show no loyalty to their employees and lay them off after every project like they are expendable. I have the ability to Direct, animate, do character design, and storyboard and have 20 years of experience and still have a hard time finding  jobs. It used to feel like the studios would never send all of the art overseas and I always thought they would want to make the projects with the most quality possible but that is no longer true. Every year the studios are looking for new ways to increase their profits for their stock holders. The shows cost the same amount to make in general. They get around the same advertising revenue on the networks. The overseas studios charge about the same. So the only thing left to cut to make more money is the artists salaries or the artists themselves. I wouldn’t be suprised if everything isn’t outsourced by the next 10 years. The only thing that will remain is feature animation and that is also being farmed out in some cases. Spare yourself and do your art for fun and get a steady job. Make films and put them on youtube. Start your own website. If you dare to try it, good luck. You’ll need it.

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One Comment

  1. Wow! a half-empty glass kinda guy huh? Geesh 🙁 A lot of traditional guys had a REALLY hard time transitioning to the newer digital medium. I get it, I guess. Good news is that there is A LOT of respect ( and work opportunities ) for traditional animators / designers in the MoGraph world….. just saying. Check out =>

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