What is your name and your current occupation?
I’m Floyd Bishop. I’m currently the senior animator on Free Realms at Sony Online Entertainment.
What are some of the crazier jobs you had before getting into animation?
I was a lifeguard for eight years, mostly summers during high school and college. In the winters, I would work odd jobs. These included a short stint at a bakery where I started as a dish washer but then got to decorate wedding cakes and a bra factory where I would sort bundles of sports bra sections and then carry them upstairs to the factory floor to be sewn together. I tried to learn something at every job I ever had. For example, the average sports bra has five pieces!
What are some of your favorite projects you’re proud to have been a part of?
I’m really proud of Free Realms. There is a ton of animation in the game, and we get to be really creative on the project. I was also a character animator on the first Ice Age movie. I have something like 90 shots in the final film.
How did you become interested in animation?
I always liked cartoons as a kid. I watched a lot of Sesame Street, and that show had a ton of animation on it. As a result, I was exposed to a lot of different kinds of animation at a very young age. I drew a lot as I got older, and started to draw pictures from Disney books, comics from the Sunday papers, all kinds of stuff. I started making up my own characters and stories pretty early on as well. I played a lot of Odyssey from Magnavox at my Aunt Joyce and Uncle Tom’s house. My parents later bought one for my sisters and me. I started looking at how those games were put together, and used a simple editor on the cartridge to edit levels of KC’s Crazy Chase. When I got to the sixth grade, I got an Apple IIgs computer. I started drawing pictures on the computer using a very crude drawing program. All the drawings were done with a mouse, and saved out to 5 1/2″ floppy discs. This early exposure to cartoons, games, and technology was the perfect prep for working in the games industry where I find myself today.
Where are you from and how did you get into the animation business?
I’m from Waymart, Pennsylvania. It’s a very small town in the Poconos, in the north eastern part of the state. There isn’t a whole lot to do there if you’re not a hunter or a farmer (I’m neither), so I drew a lot. Drawing all the time I was growing up, I went to college for Graphic Design. All of my advisors in high school pointed me in that direction and I followed their advice rather than trying to get into college for animation. Two years into school, I decided that I wanted to do animation as a career, and I started trying to meet other animators and artists to show them my work and to get feedback. A friend from school knew a guy who worked at Pixar, and I sent him my horrific first attempts at computer animation, complete with checkerboard floors, chrome spheres, and lens flares out the wazoo. He was kind enough to write back and suggest things to work on and improve. I bought a copy of The Illusion of Life, and read and worked from the book as much as possible. I attended the Ottawa International Animation Festival in 1998, right around the time I graduated from college. There, I met Jan Pinkava and got to help out with a stop motion film he was doing during the festival. The film screened on the last night of the festival, and the response from the audience was enough for me to want to do animation as a career. I was interning at Lucent Technologies in their art department, and was then hired when I graduated from school. There I modeled microchips and other microelectronics for various art related uses, such as posters, wall graphics, videos, etc. My boss, John Theis, was very supportive of 3D technology and how I could use my skills to help improve upon things they were already doing in the art department at Lucent. John was a master airbrush artist, and helped me see the art side of the technology I was learning to use. From there I did a short stint at a vitamin company, doing 112 page catalogs. It sucked, and that made me work harder to get into animation as a career. I moved to NYC and started at a small design studio doing 3D models and animation for clients. At night, we would use the studio to have 3D user group meetings. I met a lot of people through the group, and through them ended up applying and getting hired at Blue Sky where I worked as a character animator on the first Ice Age film. I’ve been in animation ever since.
What’s a typical day like for you with regards to your job?
At SOE, a typical day starts with me drinking a cup of Darjeeling tea and checking email. I then attend several small meetings with members of the development team, where we go over what we did the day before and what we plan on working on next. We use these meetings to track assets as well as expose any interdependencies or needs we might have for other departments. I grab another cup of tea and read the forums for the game, looking to see what the players are up to (what they like about the game, if they are having any issues, etc). I then jump into the game and play for a little bit while I drink another Darjeeling tea. I animate a little bit, and then it’s time for lunch. After lunch, I check email again and animate my afternoon away. Before I know it, it’s time to go. I teach part time at the Art Institute of California San Diego, so on class nights, I leave work around 5 to get down to the school for 6pm. I teach from 6pm until 10PM, and then get home around 10:30. My wife gives me the run down on what went on during the day, updates on the kids, lets me know about any upcoming stuff (class trips, scout camping trips, etc) and then I go to bed around 12.
What part of your job do you like best? Why?
I like the fact that I’m on a live title, which means the game is a living virtual world. We can alter and adjust pretty much anything about the game from update to update. This allows us to try things out, add to features that are doing well, and pull back on features that weren’t as well received as we thought they would be. I really enjoy interfacing with the players, and finding out what they like about the game in pretty much real time. It’s a kind of audience intimacy that film can’t provide.
What part of your job do you like least? Why?
File management is probably the least exciting (but most important) part of my job. If something isn’t named correctly, or put in the right place on the server, to the game it doesn’t exist. Lots of bugs I’ve gotten back are usually because I typed a file name in a hurry and mistyped something, making it invisible to the code that is looking for an exact file name.
What is the most difficult part for you about being in the business?
There is a lot of instability in the animation industry. I’m fortunate enough to have always been able to find work, but I have a lot of friends who have left animation all together. It’s hard sometimes to keep track of where people are and where they’re headed. It’s a roller coaster industry, whether you are in games, film, tv, commercials, web, etc. Try not to get too excited when things are good (and they can be very good), and try not to get too bummed out when things are bad (and they can be very bad). Projects end, team needs change, companies go under, etc.
What kind of technology do you work with on a daily basis?
Primarily I use Maya, along with a bunch of proprietary in house tools in order to get my animation into the game. We’re all PC here.
In your travels, have you had any brushes with animation greatness?
I worked with a lot of great people at many places, but one that stands out as a mentor would be Tom Bisogno. He was an animator on the original Tron film. I worked with him at Blue Sky on Ice Age. He really helped me see the personal side of being a professional animator. Families are important. Friends are important. Tom always has his feet on the ground, even though he worked on such great projects and knows so many industry people that are high up. I worked with Tom quite a bit after Blue Sky, teaming up with him and his wife with Icepond Studio. We met a lot of great talent, worked on a lot of fun projects, and helped a few people get into the industry as well. After working at Blue Sky on Ice Age, and getting let go with the bulk of the team before the film was even in theaters, I was at a very low spot in my life and a crossroads in my career. I emailed Frank Thomas, who had a website at the time. I told him all about working on Ice Age, and that I was considering going back into graphic design as a career. He offered to look at my work if I was ever in the area. He lived in La Cañada Flintridge (just outside LA) and I lived in Connecticut. My friend Tom Bisogno and I booked a flight and we came out to see Frank and tour some of the studios, pitching some ideas. We spent the day at Frank’s house, and Ollie Johnston joined us about halfway through the day. It was great. They told me what they thought of my work, how they thought I could improve, and different experiences they had along the way. Their humility and warm advice really helped, and I’ve been in the animation industry ever since. I also run into industry people from time to time at different events in and around LA. I’m not much of a mingler, so I usually just gawk at them awkwardly from across a room, but the people I have met have all been great.
Describe a tough situation you had in life.
I ran my own animation studio for a little while. It was a non profit (not on purpose). I had a really hard time getting clients to pay on time, and making payroll. I ended up going under, laying off my staff of seven people, and owing a ton of money to a ton of places. It’s a hole I’m still getting out of, but it was a great lesson. Everyone should fail really hard at least once.
Any side projects you’re working on you’d like to share details of?
I do some really simple animations that I post to YouTube. They’re mostly educational shorts that my kids and I make, but I also have some more experimental things on there as well. I wouldn’t mind doing some short film projects in the future, but between full time work and part time teaching, I don’t have too much time for that. I do have a few things boarded out, but that’s about as far as it’s gotten for now.
Is there any advice you can give for an aspiring animation student or artist trying to break into the business?
Yes. Seek out animation professionals, show them your work, and get feedback. Take the feedback and use it to strengthen your skills. Go to industry events and meet people. If you are in school, ask lots of questions, and work very hard on your skill set. Get out of your comfort zone and try a technique of challenge that you have never tried. Also, remember that it’s nice to be important, but it is important to be nice. It’s a small industry. Burning bridges never helped anyone. You never know when you may need to look for work, and at a time like that, it’s great to have a network of friends you can reach out to for job leads.