What is your name and your current occupation?
Ellis Goodson, freelance artist specializing in storyboards and web comics.
What are some of the crazier jobs you had before getting into animation?
I was a paperboy. A group of kids were all waiting at our bundle pick-up in the middle of the night. Suddenly it was hysteria. Numerous unexplained lights had appeared in the sky and every sharp eyed kid there was blowing his top reacting to these flying objects. Except for me. I was horribly near sighted and this failing had yet to be discovered and corrected. So I was a frustrated “witness” to one of the more famous UFO armada sightings as it zipped across the Oklahoma City night skies. I worked in the Elevator trade. Primarily working on construction sites building the elevators. One time I nearly fell off the unfinished platform to the pit. My life was saved when a sheet-rock screw in the shaft punctured my back and stopped my momentum. While working in this trade I had falling dreams. I’ve been a soda jerk. At this job I found a dead mouse in a large tub of the malt. I’m a shake guy myself. I was a newspaper lay-out artist. There I worked with a Glenngary Glen Ross type of sales crews. I learned I wished to avoid a certain level of extrovert. I was a yellow pages lay-out artist-illustrator and did a lot of fun tracing illustration on vellum paper. This job description would be non-existent today. But it was actually very enjoyable, low stress and about medium-creative. Worked for a wonderful old guy named Cliff Hansen who had two passions. Falconry and Highland Bagpipes. He introduced me to Andrew Loomis. Not the actual guy, the book, Fun With A Pencil. I went to New York to get into comic books and actually showed some woefully bad art to the indispensable Marie Severin at Marvel. Bounced right off of New York after a week. But during my dazed wanderings, blundered into Central Park as it was mysteriously filling to capacity. It was for the famous Simon and Garfunkle concert. I’ve watched the film. I didn’t see myself. I’m in a black sweat shirt with a cream color horizontal stripe. Freezing my butt off. I’ve done illustrations for collectible guns and knives. This while I lived in Dallas in the mid 1980s. The owner had been instrumental in the high resolution film used on printed circuit boards for the burgeoning Texas Instruments. He had taken a microscope micrometer with him. We were supposed to use this extreme macro lens instrument to look at our line work. Using triple ought technical pens on super fine vellum paper, black line work under this piteous magnification looked like a dog had dragged its bleeding anus across shag carpet. Completely worthless process. But it was something the owner insisted on as a ritual. And to get some use out of an instrument that was probably worth thousands of dollars. I also did two freelance feature film storyboard jobs while I lived in Dallas. One was called Getting Even with Edward Albert and Joe Don Baker. It got a so-so release. The other one was called Final Cut. I own a copy of it on VHS and it shocked me to discover that it existed in any format. I brute forced my way through this work. Had no experience whatsoever. But loved the incredible labor intensive process. I have two thick bound copies of the boards to this day. I’ll scan some of it. Doubly impressive in that I had no idea what I was doing. After that I came to SoCal. Rather quickly getting into video games and sticking in that for almost 25 years. I’ll make a blog entry of games I’ve been a part of.
What are some of your favorite projects you’re proud to have been a part of?
Video games are almost always a high profile item. It takes too much money to make a game for there not to be a belief in success by a large entity bankrolling the game. There is always some attendant prestige from being part of the juggernaut necessary to get a game rolled out. But the experience I’m most proud of was a small group. My friends at the Neverhood hired me after they had already made game history with their puzzle platform classic, The Neverhood. That group of guys was a gold time. The only bad thing is you compare it to everything that comes after. But the true favorite thing I ever did was putting out an independent comic book. There is no gatekeeper. It’s all you. Good, bad or indifferent. Comics aren’t storyboards, aren’t animation, but they are story. We all want to tell a story. We want to pop the top off a beer and sit down and hold forth on what we know, what we saw on TV etc. Look at blogs. Half of them are writers in the synopsis business. We like to tell stories even when we’re re-telling stories. I also like the new world of POD. Publish on Demand. Books that can sell only one copy. I use Lulu. I’ve made PDFs of my notes from Marshall Vandruff’s great anatomy course and sold myself a copy. Feel free to sell yourself a copy or grab a free digital version. My favorite POD book is this. Idle Hands. It’s also free digitally, but send for a copy. It’s a fun book of the type of publishing that does so well at the Cons these days. The personal sketchbook. I also put some Otis students work in POD lulu books. It gave them something to shoot for knowing they would be published.
How did you become interested in animation?
I was always a comic book guy. Very nerdy, always a seeker of arcane knowledge. About artists and their working methods. My growth was always a personal culling from books like George Bridgeman and Andrew Loomis. If I had the mentoring and native good sense to focus early, I could have been a contemporary of John Lasseter when he was going to Cal Arts. That’s the alternate universe version of me. Instead I always fed myself jobs that satisfied a fairly small portion of my creative interest in storytelling. Learn from me. Do exactly what you want to be doing as early as you can brute force or charm your way into it. The animation that I really dug early on in my Game life involved Deluxe Animator. A fabulous program born out of the Amiga world. During a certain fun period of my life, the Sega Genesis days with Blue Sky Games, I had a lot of fun doing “sprite” animations for side scrolling games like Vectorman and Jurassic Park. That’s when I first felt like I could animate, not just storyboard. That has led to having an avid interest in Flash. I like straight ahead animation and I like the gimmick of setting up a program to run a process based, tweening animation. It’s all good.
Where are you from and how did you get into the animation business?
I am from Oklahoma. Oklahoma City raised. One day, frustrated with my bounce off of the comics profession and the lack of jobs for a guy like me that could draw and tell stories, I put together a portfolio of boards to show to the art director of the only big Ad Agency in Oklahoma City. This sage guy just asked a simple question “What are you doing here?” Next stop Dallas- Next Stop San Diego- Next stop Orange County-Next stop L.A. etc. You have to go to markets that are doing what you want to do. If you have the talent and drive, you will get work.
What’s a typical day like for you with regards to your job?
I am currently following my advice about getting a high gloss on a presentation to sell myself to the animation studios. I’m switching from Games to Animation. I’m digging into an old pitch I did for Frederator. I’m going to make it look good and make it into the main piece that says I’ve got the talent of an animated series storyboard artist. Here’s the old crude boards I’m digging into. So my day is about firing up photoshop and drawing over old art, inserting new panels and in general getting a work discipline that I’ll use when I get into a new work environment.
What part of your job do you like best? Why?
I like to draw. I like that first grid you throw down that says this is my stage. The first couple of gestural strokes that says this is what’s happening. No one else could possibly read it at that point but you know exactly where you’re going. It’s an internal trip best done without distraction. Wanna see me draw? A great person named Lily Feliciano has something called sketch theatre. She has speeded up versions of artists as they sketch.
What part of your job do you like least? Why?
First up, I realize this is very stupid to say because this is the most important part of a job. The part that is hardest is always going to be communication. Getting all the intellectual engines stroking along on all cylinders is always going to require high level communication. And for visual types interacting with technical types interacting with managerial types, the tower of Babel sometimes constructed between camps can be a bear.
What kind of technology do you work with on a daily basis?
I love photoshop. I love everything about it. I love learning something I didn’t know that I can use from that point on. Gnomon videos are great for exposing yourself to guys that have fun knowledge of photoshop. It’s best to stay focused and not be too gimmicky. But it’s also fun to have a pencil sketch at the bottom of about 20 layers and that top layer is a fairly impressive painting. Or just a nicely revised, cleaned up drawing. One of my favorite Gnomon pieces of info came from a video called conceptual storyboarding by Derek Thompson. He uses layer comps in a way that made me realize I always needed to know how to do what he was doing. I also love Storyboard Pro by ToonBoom. And the go-to guy for tutorials on that is Sherm Cohen. It is so much better for visual people to see how to do something rather than cull it from a technical manual. Watching Sherm’s tutorials really makes you want to dig into an otherwise daunting, menu rich program. I also like Maya. Here’s a call out of work I did in Maya for my Character Modeling days at Heavy Iron…
What is the most difficult part for you about being in the business?
You have to be ready to sell yourself. You are in a volatile business. All entertainment business is insecure and short lived employment. This need to integrate into a new personal dynamic of new co-workers and bosses is always going to be a challenge. It helps to have the “dumb” stuff at a high professional gloss. The web presence, the resume, the reel.
In your travels, have you had any brushes with animation greatness?
Oh yes. Doug TenNapel that ran the Neverhood, created Earthworm Jim and The Neverhood pitched and sold Catscratch and is a prolific Graphic novelist and all around great person. Mike Dietz is the Dude. The Man. He knows every thing about appeal in animation. Fabulous stop motion animator. Frequent collaborator of Doug’s. I worked with Mike on some Pixar licensed games that came out very well. Jeff Ranjo is a highly thought of story artist at Disney. He’s also worked at Sony. A Cal Arts graduate. Jeff and I date back to San Diego. We used to have life drawing with a group of friends and fellow artists. We called that group TAG for Tuesday Art Group. We have a this URL where we still share a connection via mutual administration of the blog. And others. It’s the quiet guys that scare you with how good they are. I worked with a couple of guys that knew each other from Disney. Gary Myers and Todd Ammons. They really should become the new Hanna-Barbera or something major like that. And then I’m lucky enough to have met people just starting to make their mark that I know are going to make history.
Describe a tough situation you had in life.
I had a lung collapse and had surgery for it. Other than that it’s always family that draws the grief out of me. Their dying, having setbacks and challenges. I lead a fairly blessed life.
Any side projects or you’re working on or hobbies you’d like to share details of?
I’m trying to get the wordpress-comicpress mastery I need to be independent at web comics. I have a cowboy story I’d like to do as a webcomic. That’s just an excuse of course. It can be done with Blogspot just as easily.
Any unusual talents or hobbies like tying a cherry stem with your tongue or metallurgy?
I am an amateur mold maker. I like pulling resin copies of 3d objects out of silicone rubber. I’ve had prototype printing done of 3d files and then made the silicone molds that allowed me to pull other copies.
Is there any advice you can give for an aspiring animation student or artist trying to break into the business?
It really is who you know. Get to know people with the same interests and be social. Go to schools and take full advantage of networking. It’s one of my biggest failings even though I know the truth and wisdom of this basic fact of life. And get smoking good at something you really like to do. Success is inevitable.