Spencer Ockwell

What is your name and your current occupation?
I currently make cartoons for Red Bull campaigns at an ad agency called Kastner & Partners. I recently animated the end title sequence for Mr. Popper’s Penguins (starring Jim Carrey). In the near future, I hope to be storyboarding and/or writing on an animated TV show.

What are some of the crazier jobs you had before getting into animation?
I used to make pastrami sandwiches in the CIA cafeteria. Before that, I trained at-risk spider monkeys how to tap dance in Indonesia. I also worked at a Hilton, but never saw Paris and did construction, but it wasn’t constructive for my career.

What are some of your favorite projects you’re proud to have been a part of?
I’m proud to have directed a few music videos and be signed with The Masses on their Masses Lab roster of directors. I’m also proud to be a Writer/Producer on a promising TV pilot for a kid’s puppet show, called Imaginus Zoo. You can get a taste of it atwww.imaginuszoo.com . The pilot is now represented by William Morris Endeavor, sponsored by Panasonic and is currently being pitched to networks.

How did you become interested in animation?
I always loved cartoons, drawing and storytelling. I used to write my own books as a kid and illustrate them. I was in the Fine Arts department at CalArts, took some classes in animation, realized I had found my medium, and soon transferred into the Character Animation department.

Where are you from and how did you get into the animation business?
I grew up in LA. My mom was an actress and taught theater, my uncle’s an editor and many family friends are in the entertainment industry. I was always pretty imaginative as a kid, and my parents nurtured that. Needless to say, my environment influenced my career path.

What’s a typical day like for you with regards to your job?
I freelance so every work day is different. Sometimes I’m working onsite at a studio, sometimes I’m working from my home office. The only thing that each day has in common is: I wake up, work on a project, eat, and go to sleep.

What part of your job do you like best? Why?
The freedom of freelancing comes with a flexible schedule so I’m able to work on my own personal projects as well.

What part of your job do you like least? Why?
The lack of a steady routine and the jobs that I work on from home. I like being around people and working as part of a team.

What is the most difficult part for you about being in the business?
Currently I would say the difficult part for me is landing a full-time gig. I’ve been lucky to get a good amount of freelance work to keep the bills paid, but making the jump from independent contractor to employee at a studio has been challenging.

What kind of technology do you work with on a daily basis?
Photoshop probably is the main one. But AfterEffects, Illustrator and FinalCut are frequent guest stars.

In your travels, have you had any brushes with animation greatness?
I worked at the Platform International Animation Festival a few years back as an assistant to the Film Jury, so I spent time with PES, John Canemaker and others. I also got to hang out at Bill Plympton’s house, since he held a party for the festival staff. I went to CalArts, so I also know many animation superstars from there. Two of my former teachers were legends: E. Michael Mitchell and Cornelius Cole III.

Describe a tough situation you had in life.
The past few years since graduation has been tough, but very rewarding and edifying. It’s not easy to make it in an industry that’s overflowing with talented competition, in the midst of this great recession.
Any side projects or you’re working on or hobbies you’d like to share details of?
Yes, I’m developing a few TV show concepts which I hope to pitch soon. A friend and I started a belligerent brand of drunk cartoons and merchandise called Hammered Company (www.hammeredcompany.com), which is being developed into a show soon hopefully. I have a live action comedy feature that I’m beginning to write. There’s the Imaginus Zoo pilot which I mentioned in an earlier answer. I was in an improv comedy blues band called Billy Blood & Furnace Hemingway in college. I hope to bring that back and make a full-length rock musical with the band (a Bluesical). I’ve been pitching on some new music videos to direct. I have lots of fun projects in the works!

Any unusual talents or hobbies like tying a cherry stem with your tongue or metallurgy?
I’m a bachelor and I cook a lot… so I guess that’s unusual. I once found a way to communicate with ghosts, but then the acid wore off. Just kidding. Everyone knows ghosts don’t like hallucinogenics.

Is there any advice you can give for an aspiring animation student or artist trying to break into the business?
Absorb inspiration from everywhere. Learn the classic rules and formulas… they’re established and followed for a reason. But always maintain your unique vision. Find a way to experiment and explore new methods. Practice all day everyday. Be true to yourself, but don’t be afraid to try things outside your comfort zone. If you want to get work, pick an aspect of production you really love and hone that skill. You don’t have to limit yourself to only one thing, but make sure you have a focus. Find time to keep producing your own original projects. Work hard, but live your life too. The only way to avoid recycled ideas is to pull inspiration from your unique experience. Perseverance is crucial. Stay strong. Remember to blow off steam. When you’re stressed out and frustrated – just smile, put on some funky music and get down.

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  1. Pingback: Mr. Popper’s Penguins/ Spencer Ockwell « bonnydingley

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