What is your name and your current occupation?
My name is Daniel Spencer , I am Producer in Giant Creative and Chair of Pegbar.
What are some of the crazier jobs you had before getting into animation?
During college I worked a lot of hours in a late night petrol station as well as Magner’s photolab. They were busy places to work, but were rich in inspration from the eclectic mix of customers. The petrol station employed loads of art students, 3 of which were animators, so we were constantly taking turns in sketching customers and creating backstories for them. We also transformed the garage into an open air disco & an adventure course, in the early hours of the morning. Fun times. Previous to that, I worked in a scuba dive centre, as well as a lot of kitchens, prepping food & scrubbing pots.
What are some of your favorite projects you’re proud to have been a part of?
I’ve had many animation and design projects that I have hit milestone’s in my career. However, starting up Pegbar with a few of my college mates, is one project I’m quite proud of. After college, we were finding it hard to communicate or get an ‘in’ with industry. There were 52 film events in Ireland at the time, but few had serious animated content. We were networking as much as possible but could not find the right people to critique our work in order to improve and get jobs. So we created our own animation networking event, and put our generation of animator’s portfolios on showcase, to which industry came to check out this well marketed, mysterious animation event. The event has been growing ever since, and has hosted many talks from a number of prestigious animators.
How did you become interested in animation?
I was always interested in animation, comics, anything related to visual storytelling. I used to draw all the time when I was a kid and for all of the usual reasons. The turning point was when I left school. I hadn’t made a decision on where I was going after school. To appease the folks, I enrolled in an art and drama course so I wouldn’t waste an entire year whilst trying to find out what I wanted to do in life. Thats when I found out that writing scripts and drawing all day was a lot more appealing to me than marine biology or computer science.
Where are you from and how did you get into the animation business?
My education included a diploma in Animation from Colaiste Dhulaigh, and a BA Hons Degree in Animation from Ballyfermot College of further education a.k.a. The Irish School of Animation. After graduating, I co-founded Pegbar and got a couple of small contracts within animation and design companies. These small contracts, got bigger and bigger as time went on. I encourage everyone to read David Levy’s ‘How to thrive and survive in animation’. It was my bible to kick start my career. After a while, I became a freelance designer for a few independent Irish games companies. My job was to design characters, assets and animate them in their various states. In 2011, I was asked by 3 other super talented freelancers to join in their start up company, Giant Creative. I’ve taken on the official position of Producer within the company and love being back in an Animation company.
What’s a typical day like for you with regards to your job?
It is a diverse work load at best. Firstly, I oversee the day to day management of the studio and make sure Giant are constantly in on current animation conversation. The first few hours of my day involve phone calls, mails, meetings and general marketing of the company. Secondly, I make sure all production is running smoothly, and that decisions are made to keep wheels in motion. Thirdly, I check over research and development with Giant. And lastly I develop content and scripts for potential use in the future, these go into the company’s think tank sessions.
What part of your job do you like best? Why?
Participating in the research and development process. Who doesn’t love researching and developing tech and stories?! Its like playing with new toys and reading books before they’re on the store shelves. Also, I love when you solve a random problem that occurs…..and they generally occur everyday, but thinking on your toes and solving the problem with ease feels great.
What part of your job do you like least? Why?
Its sad I know, but I haven’t encountered a horrible part to my job yet. Before taking on the roll, I had a honest fear, that I would become a ‘suit exec’ running around on the phone 24/7 whist having my head in excel documents. Since I have started, I organise, I create, I learn, I push the company and love the rewards that come with good producing. I look towards really creative, hands on producers, as inspiration, these include Bruce Block, Darla K Anderson, Allison Abbate and Heidi Egger.
What kind of technology do you work with on a daily basis?
These days I’d mainly be on Photoshop, Sketchbook Pro & Sketchbook Designer. I might have to jump on After Effects & Final Cut for some comp’ing if needs be.
What is the most difficult part for you about being in the business?
Animation is a vast sea, with tons of variety, and life in it. It is very easy to get lost in that sea. So I recon the hardest part of being in the business, is to let your ideas and goals naturally evolve, without letting yourself get lost. I’ve seen many people fail in animation because they trail off and get frustrated, either because they end up in a position they don’t honestly want to be in, or they dont evolve themselves within the creative industry, or they don’t know what to be doing with themselves on down time. It is so easy to lose track of ones self whilst trying to achieve a number of things at once.
In your travels, have you had any brushes with animation greatness?
What is animation greatness? 99% of the people I know, or have worked with, or have met in the animation world are pretty much heroes and legends in their own way. Everybody is making their own collaborative contribution to a constantly growing art form and industry.
Describe a tough situation you had in life.
Helping out with my mam’s battle with cancer for the past two years hasn’t been easy. Some days are great, some others, not so great.Life deals an enormous amount of highs and lows for every individual to manage in their own way. I suppose my toughest animation related situation was the death of Philip Heffernan, a good classmate of mine in Colaiste Dhulaigh. It led to the final year in there a bit of a nightmare, to which I nearly dropped animation all together.
Any side projects or you’re working on or hobbies you’d like to share details of?
I like to play with arduinos, and making basic patches with pure data, quartz and xcode. My interest in this sort of stuff grew from taking a post grad in the National College of Art and Design. ADW was a perfect course for me to take some time out to question the nature of storytelling, the relationship of virtual and visual storytelling, as well as, to look at the increasing mediation of culture in animation and art.
Any unusual talents or hobbies like tying a cherry stem with your tongue or metallurgy?
Both my hands are double jointed, all fingers and thumbs included.
Is there any advice you can give for an aspiring animation student or artist trying to break into the business?
Animation is a marathon not a sprint. Everybody’s learning curve is different. Network amongst like minded animation folks with a positive attitude. Make critiques your new best friend, try and get the harshest reviews back from the most talented people you can find. Step back and review yourself and your goals every month if not every week. When you get an opportunity within a company, find the most talented person in the studio to learn from, without getting in their hair. (that could mean, just studying and deconstructing copies of their work files after hours) If you are struggling with a problem, ask for a professional’s advice. Try and get yourself several objective & unofficial mentors who will give you sound advice when you are gearing up for an animation test or portfolio review. For the first couple of months after graduating, whilst trying to score that first gig, give yourself unrelenting hard tasks and horrible challenges to achieve. This will allow you to try loads of different avenues, to see where your strengths and weaknesses may lay. It will also make decisions a lot easier in the long run. Get a GOOD internship, don’t make the tea & coffee for 2 months and learn nothing. Find a proper internship where you get hands on experience. Even if the internship involves production admin work, filing work and making the tea & coffee, you make sure you are spending a portion of your day learning the trade and developing your skills. Watch Chris Landreth’s ‘Ryan’…….if you’re in animation…..there is a good chance you have an addictive personality. Don’t let any stimulant take advantage of you, know the line in which you are still in control of your life. Scars are going to happen, just learn from your experiences.