What is your name and your current occupation?
Lewis, Lewisone Entertainment, Animation Director for Feature Films and Consumer Psychologist
What are some of the crazier jobs you had before getting into animation?
I drove a tractor on a farm for two years in Junior high school pulling trees out of the ground and driving the product from the fields to the barn. The farmer wanted me to work because I was the only one he knew that could speak spanish to the workers. It was a wine farm with apples and grapes, He told me I could eat all the grapes and apples I wanted. My first big bite made me realize why he said that, fruit for wine production tastes like ass.
I went for one day with a farmer to take care of horses. He had me put on a large glove that went to my shoulders and showed me my job of un-constipating horses. All the farmer saw after training me was a burst of dust and by backside as I go out of there. Soon after I landed an animation job at Warner.
What are some of your favorite projects you’re proud to have been a part of?
It has been a pleasure learning from all the people around me in past projects. I’ve look at each project as a learning experience for the greatest project of all for me, my own feature film. It is very rewarding as an animator and artist to be able to work on some of the demons and voices I have in my head and show them to the masses in my own interpretive story.
Where are you from, how did you get into the animation business, and how did you become interested in animation?
I am originally from Los Angeles, now I live in Denver. Getting into animation was a total fluke for me. I started off my artistic career as a graffiti artist, more into characters than lettering or tagging, although a good mix has always been a part of my arsenal. For a while I was vandalizing the back lot of one of the Warner buildings. Most people came back to where I was to smoke and figured I was suppose to be there, who would paint during the day if they were not suppose to. One day however, one of the directors figured out that I was not suppose to be painting and instead of calling security and having me arrested, he looked at my sketchbook and work to date and gave me a job in the animation department. Studying people and applying that knowledge became my passion to date.
What’s a typical day like for you with regards to your job?
I have put myself in the position as the owner of an animation company to do most of the business side and less of the art now. I wake early and for the first few hours get on the phones and email following up on sponsors and funding for our film while eating a Cheetos breakfast and my favorite wakeup juice Dr. Pepper. I then get with my assistants up to lunch on organizing our animators for their daily tasks and approving production work. A power working lunch with my writers, storyboard artists, and financial officers. After lunch until 6 or 7 I tackle various tasks including: creating/fixing character sheets, storyboarding, sequence development, fundraising issues, acting, audio recording, etc. from 7 till midnight I work on more business side stuff including writing proposals and negotiating projects.
I do public speaking about the psychology of people and how to apply certain knowledge to what it is you do: If you are a sales person, animator, lawyer, or waitress, psychology and a certain knowledge about people can be applied to your work to be more effective and effect your bottom line. When I tell people that I am an animator and consumer psychologist they give me crazy looks: They are incredibly related in that I study people and apply that knowledge to either animation or marketing tactics.
I am also very active in the art community and do art shows to help with the Pit Bull rescues. I produce big shows with my assistants, at least two shows a month where the proceeds help our dog rescues and Bully awareness programs. I try to find time to paint new canvases once in a while to keep up my personal canvas inventory for the shows.
What part of your job do you like best? Why?
I love working and interacting with people. I enjoy talking and learning from the people around me. This is knowledge I can take with me for the rest of my life and apply those things to my projects, storytelling, and art.
What part of your job do you like least? Why?
Sometimes I wish I could draw much more than I do, it almost makes my anxiety go out of control that I can’t get those things out of my head and onto paper when I want, all the time. I am never caught without my sketchbook and am always taking visual notes in it for when I can actually do artwork for my few hours a day. I enjoy the business side of it, but LOVE drawing and creating.
What is the most difficult part for you about being in the business?
Employees. Our shop is up to twenty people and growing very fast. Most artists are a hair psycho and infused with ADD of some sort: so it is a constant struggle with them to find ways to keep them on track. The biggest way I have found to solve this is lots of play time, nap time, and good management. Although I want them to be productive, I also know they need that “out of the box” thinking and freedom to keep them creative and new.
What kind of technology do you work with on a daily basis?
The greatest technology ever is Pencil and Paper. Some digital artists forget about the basics, so it is the core of our company that each artists work with paper and pencil to solve some of their issues and creative ideas on paper as much as they can. I like all my artists to carry a sketchbooks as it is an instant way to throw ideas out there and it is much faster to open a sketchbook than turn on a computer.
For our traditional animation production we are upgrading our shop to ToonBoom Harmony running on Macs with a Mac server (Just my opinion that Windows Sucks, lol). We also use Maya and Blender to create some objects and background pieces. Everyone has a Cintiq Tablet by Wacom, the greatest tool ever built. We also use the entire Adobe product line including Premiere and After Effects.
In your travels, have you had any brushes with animation greatness?
I have meet many greats and have been able to chat with them about the business side of things. Most of them look at me a little weird when I ask my questions because most of the other people ask art questions. I never wanted to be a starving artist, so I always inquire about business.
I met up with Will Vinton (Free Will Entertainment) and had an amazing discussion about how to manage your sales department from his experience in the up’s and down’s at Vinton Studios. He talked about how he re-managed his new company on a track for success and getting back to doing what he loves, claymation.
When I first got into the industry I ran across Roy Disney. He seemed at first to be one of the goofiest people I have met (meeting him with a Mickey Mouse sweatshirt tucked into jeans pulled up to his chest and a MM baseball cap): however very smart and had an amazing passion for the traditional observational animation being lost in todays market. I could only have wished that he had succeeded in building his own studio and producing film on the same track and ideals of Walt. Roy taught me to keep my passions about observing people and keep an eye on those subtile details that make us who we are as individuals in order to translate those into a believable animated character. In a slightly different tangent I hung around with artist Joe Waldrum for a while. His concepts about how to present yourself in the art world and treat your artistic skills like a business and job was eye opening in my quest of achieving a non-starving artist status. Many artists have a difficult time keeping focused on the goals of your artistic career, to make a living while keeping your passion.
Describe a tough situation you had in life?
Growing up as a graffiti artist running around at night painting where I could was not the ideal influential situation for a child growing up in LA. I was very fortunate to have just enough beneficial influence around me to keep me on track with goals and keep me out of jail. I’m not quite sure how the bad situations I had gotten myself into when I was young, developed into a focused road of success. I can just be happy that those people I ran into, who could have stopped me in my tracks with jail time, beating, or death, enlightened me on a new track and way of thinking utilizing the talents I had developed on the street. Those things I learned from my local pimp, drug dealers, and armed robbers translated easily into the career I am in today.
Are there any projects you’re working on?
We are in full production of a niche market movie “594”, along with 7 shorts that accompany it.
594 is police code for Malicious Mischief and the movie revolves around two Street mercenaries Kilnk & Madder have no use for rules but enough dirt on the right rats to stay out of jail… and the morgue. They’re about to go head-to-head with Big Brother’s Black Ops Feds bent on putting the wrong rat in power. Out-manned, out-gunned and with half the city looking to burn them down, they have to fight for someone else’s rules and pick which rat rules the roost. And it’s really pissing them off.
594 is a bloody stage in an apocalyptic future where the human race has gone the way of the Neanderthal and the world’s dominant creatures are cockroaches and rats. See the reality of life where Big Brother is always watching and evolution leads the masses inevitably to revolt. Take a ring-side seat to this satirical parody of the struggle between Big Brother and the common roach, of fighting chickens and those bent on freeing them, of homeless drunks, the legalization of “medication,” and the subtle truth to be found in political street art.
Has life on Earth learned the futility of absolute control, or is it doomed to once again eradicate itself in that pursuit? The revolution will not be televised, it will be animated.
The shorts are parodies of the seven deadly sins with the new morals of our futuristic setting finishing off some of the stories missing in the 594 feature.
Is there any advice you can give for an aspiring animation student or artist trying to break into the business?
The biggest thing you can do is to draw non-stop: Every opportunity you can take to translate life onto a piece of paper, take advantage of it. Draw from life, not from memory. Watch those subtile things that each of us have that make us who we are.