What is your name and your current occupation?
My name is David Wachtenheim, and I am an animator/director/producer at W/M Animation which I own with my partner Robert Marianetti.
What are some of the crazier jobs you had before getting into animation?
Crazy? I don’t know about crazy. I worked as a P.A. on some furniture commercials which was mainly like working for a moving company. I also worked as a P.A for matte painters Bob Scifo and Ken Allen at the now defunct Dream Quest Images. The craziest thing there was working with James Cameron on some preliminary work for The Abyss and watching so many people fawn all over him and tripping over themselves to do his bidding. I got fed up when I was told to hold the slate for the shots and getting yelled at for not getting the slate out fast enough. I also worked in a pharmacy for a Summer for my brother which was a little insane. He can be pretty intense. You should never work for your brother. Actually, I can’t say that, I don’t know your brother. What I meant was, you should never work for MY brother.
I’m glad you asked what am I ashamed to have worked on. Most of the stuff we have done at our studio has been adult oriented for Saturday Night Live, Comedy Central and Adult Swim and I am pretty ashamed of all of it. Well, not so much ashamed but I can’t show my kids much of it. The stuff we have done for Sesame Street and Cartoon Network I am pretty proud of. To be honest,
I am proud of most everything I have worked on as long as I feel that I am able to make the project better by my contribution. If I am able to add to the comedy or the artistic integrity and make the client happy then I am happy.
How did you become interested in animation?
I had gone to the School of Visual Arts to study Illustration but realized I didn’t want to be an illustrator because the competition was way too fierce. I had always dreamed of being involved in film but never even considered I could combine my artistic abilities with my love of film until I was introduced to someone in animation. Of course, I always loved animation especially the Looney Tunes but as a kid I also watched Popeye, Speed Racer, Kimba the White Lion and every other animated program on in the early 70’s. Although, I never really cared for Scooby Doo or Tom and Jerry. I don’t know why.
Where are you from and how did you get into the animation business?
I am from Los Angeles originally and went to college in NY. After graduation, i went back to LA for a year and needed to work. A friend of mine in NY had given me the name of someone in LA who would be able to possibly help me out to find work. That person was David Steinberg who is currently Head of Production at Starz Animation in Canada. He had worked for Don Bluth in Ireland and was at a producer at Hanna Barbera at the time and he gave me the bright idea of getting into animation. I kept in touch with him and when he later started working on the feature film Rover Dangerfield, he told me there was an opening for a production assistant and I jumped at the chance. I was so happy to be involved with that production and was fascinated by the art of animation which I really had not ever considered before. I showed a lot of interest to the directors Jim George and Bob Seeley and Jim was gracious enough to give me animation lessons after hours. A year later I moved back to NY with a new skill and no job.
Well, these are tough times. A lot of people are looking for work but I think the best thing to do is work on you CG skills. There seems to be the most amount of work in features, and the gaming industry where CG is king. I think it is hugely important that you work on your drawing skills. The best animators even CG animators are great artists. I don’t think you can truly be a great animator in Flash or Maya or anything unless you can draw. Now I am sure there are plenty of people out there working on computers that can’t draw very well but the ones that are better draftsmen will do better overall. Also, as any good animator would say, you have to observe and absorb movement. Watch people, animals, leaves in the wind. See how they move, how they act and react. Find the subtleties which is what will make your work that much better. Mostly, when breaking in, don’t be embarrassed to take a PA job or an internship. The idea in the beginning is to get in to a studio somehow. Don’t go around as a recent graduate thinking you are going to walk in and animate from day one. Be humble and know that there is always more to learn.