What are some of the crazier jobs you had before getting into animation?
In high school I worked at a hobby/computer game software shop and in college I worked at a music/comic book store in Boston called Newbury Comics. So nothing too crazy, but perfect for a young nerd like myself, priming me for my future career. I was fortunate in that the first job I got after college was an animation job, on King of the Hill as a character designer.
What are some of your favorite projects you’re proud to have been a part of?
I’ve been part of some great shows, and am proud and honored to have had the opportunity to be a part of them. I worked on King of the Hill for over 7 years, which was also my first job in animation, doing character design, then character layout, and finally storyboards. I was at Family Guy for the better part of a year before moving to American Dad, which I worked on for about three years. I had fun and learned a lot on those shows, having worked with some really cool and amazingly talented people, but I must say I’m most proud to be involved with Regular Show. I’ve learned and grown so much during my time there, and I’ve felt more like an integral part of the production as opposed to a cog in a giant machine.
How did you become interested in animation?
I’ve been interested in animation all my life. I was drawing constantly as a kid, I remember my mother bringing me to Disney movies and saying I could work for them when I grew up. I was a regular Saturday morning cartoons watcher, and I’d watch cartoons after school. I watched all the classics, like Looney Tunes, Woody Woodpecker, Tom & Jerry, Tex Avery, etc., but what I really got into were the Japanese cartoons like Battle of the Planets and Star Blazers. Star Blazers was like a soap opera, and I had to run home and watch the latest episode every day after school.
Where are you from and how did you get into the animation business?
I grew up in a suburb outside Boston, and went to the Rhode Island School of Design, majoring in Illustration with a “minor” in Animation (RISD didn’t have minors, so I took all my electives as animation classes). After school, I wanted to either be a comic book artist or work in animation. At the time, the mid-Nineties, comics were in a rut and it seemed like the better move financially would be to try for animation. It seemed like the majority of the work was being done in LA, so I packed up my car and drove out here. A friend was nice enough to put me up for three months while I looked for work. I was just starting to get desperate and was inches away from moving to Japan to teach English when my cousin called me. Her husband’s best friend from high school, Joe Boucher, was a producer on The Simpsons, and he was just starting a new show, which turned out to be King of the Hill. I met with him, and he referred me to Mike Wolf, who hired me on the spot. Looking at my portfolio from then it’s a wonder I got the job! I think I benefited from coming into animation during a boom time when there was more work than there was talent. Well, I’m not complaining, and I’m forever grateful to those two guys for giving me my first shot.
What’s a typical day like for you with regards to your job?
Well, like I said, I’m a storyboard revisionist on Regular Show. What that usually entails is being a support mechanism for the board artists. I’m there to do whatever’s needed, and to get the boards animation/shipping ready. The board schedule is 4 weeks for a two man crew per episode, which isn’t always enough to dot all the I’s and cross all the T’s. Sometimes that’s due to rewrites, or maybe due to an action-heavy episode. Sometimes all I have to do is help fill in backgrounds that’ve been left out, but usually I’ll get sections of a board that are just loose thumbnails that I’ll have to turn into an animation ready board.
What part of your job do you like best? Why?
I like working with funny, creative, talented people on such a cool, funny show. I also love getting to draw such funny characters, which I find myself laughing at all day- both seeing other people’s work, and drawing them myself. It’s great to be a part of.
What part of your job do you like least? Why?
Hmmmm…. that’s a tough one. I guess I miss being a bit more creatively involved, like I was when I was doing storyboards. With boards, you’re a huge part of the process, especially on an outline show like Regular Show where you write as well as compose shots and animate characters. Revisions is more of a support role- an important one, but not quite as creatively involved. It’s a trade off I’ll address with the next question.
What is the most difficult part for you about being in the business?
I’d say the most difficult part for me is the hours required if you want to be a storyboard artist. I’ve only ever worked in TV, so I don’t know if it’s different in features. It’s really not a 9 to 5 job, requiring lots of late nights and weekends. I’m sure there are a few superstars out there who can do it in an 8 hour day and go home and have a life, but the majority of people I know, myself included, aren’t like that. In general, schedules are really tight and/or crews aren’t big enough. Also, a trend in the past 10 years or so is to take the jobs formerly known as storyboarding, character layout/keyframe animation, and BG layout and combine them all into one new job called “storyboard artist”. It basically means more work for less people. It’s a part of why I’ve chosen to work a revisionist job, which hits the sweet spot of workload versus pay. Not to say I don’t ever want to work as a storyboard artist again- I love the job and find it incredibly rewarding creatively. It’s just a huge commitment, particularly time-wise. Two side notes- I wish there were a better way to apply for jobs in animation other than to take tests that can take up to a week of your time, and the fact that we’re the only union in town that doesn’t get residuals. The Director’s Guild, the Screen Actor’s Guild, and the Writer’s Guild all get residuals and animators do not. We’re a huge part of a business that makes so much money, it’s shameful that we don’t get residuals.
What kind of technology do you work with on a daily basis?
The highest tech I work with on a daily basis is my buzz eraser. Everything except color on Regular Show is done the old fashioned way, with paper, pencil, and a light box. I do use a computer to print out reference from time to time, but that’s about it. I have a Cintiq at home and love using Flash and Photoshop, but don’t use a computer at all for my main day job.
In your travels, have you had any brushes with animation greatness?
Well, I’ve been fortunate to have worked with lots of super talented people, many of whom I’d consider animation/artistic greatness. But as far as well known folks… Had meetings with Mike Judge and Greg Daniels when I first started King of the Hill… I went to RISD with Seth MacFarlane- took all my animation classes with him and many drawing classes as well. It’s been fascinating watching his career. He’s super talented, and deserves everything he’s achieved- he knew where he wanted to go in college, and all the work he did there was to that end. I wish I had had that kind of vision and been that focused in school! I also went to school with Scott Clark and Angus MacLane. During college, I was offered an internship at this unknown studio in California. I turned it down, because I needed to make up some extra credits in order to graduate on time. Scott and Angus went to that internship at that studio, which turned out to be Pixar, to work on a film that turned out to be the first Toy Story. Worst career move of my life!! Scott was supervising animator on Up, and Angus directed a short called Burn-E, so they’re both doing just fine. And now I have the good fortune of working with JG Quintel, the creator of Regular Show, who is extremely talented. I’ve learned a great deal from him, and I think he’ll be remembered as one of the greats of his animation generation.
Describe a tough situation you had in life.I struggled with difficult health issues for about 15 years. They came out of the blue when I moved to California, and for a long time my doctors and I couldn’t figure out what was wrong with me other than that I was looking and feeling terrible. It affected my social life, and my career, and was a really difficult time. I’m happy to say that I’ve mostly conquered these problems recently and feel fortunate to have a new lease on my life.