What is your name and your current occupation?
My name is Jeff Ermoian and I teach Digital Media Design at Texas State Technical College in Waco including Character Design, 2D animation, and storyboarding.
What are some of the crazier jobs you had before getting into animation?
Cabinet Power Sander (@ a speaker manufacturing company) and Arcade Tech. (human change machine)
What are some of your favorite projects you’re proud to have been a part of?
When I was in the Air Force I helped develop the congressional briefing to get funding for the C-17. That aircraft has a lot to do with our current airlift capability. I also started a television show called The All You Can Eat Texas Music Cafe with my brothers that featured unsigned singer songwriters. It was aired coast to coast in the U.S. and carried internationally in over a hundred foreign countries.
How did you become interested in animation?
I can’t recall when I wasn’t interested in animation. I remember Wiley Coyote holding up signs I couldn’t read and being angry that I was missing the joke. I remember seeing a cartoon reel before the feature at the matinee and at the drive-in. I remember running all the way home from school to see cartoons on our first color tv.
Where are you from and how did you get into the animation business?
The easy answer is that I’m from America. The detailed answer is Philly, Detroit, Chicago, Indy, Memphis, Waco. As I learned to draw, I copied cartoon characters from coloring books and comic books. I got hold of Water Foster books around that time and later discovered Andrew Loomis. Those things had a profound effect. Maybe I was influenced by going to the Bozo show in Chicago as a kid or seeing Disneyland in Anaheim. I did my first animations on a Quantel Paintbox in the 1980s and in the 1990s on a Mac. Those were usually short looping animations, effects or small animated segments of larger video productions. I learned some 3D animation in the early days and met John Lasseter (VP Creative, Pixar Animation) at a SIGGRAPH conference in Atlanta. I’ve always loved animation but it’s always been only a part of my career in media.
What’s a typical day like for you with regards to your job?
Get to work and check email. Check the Animation Educators Network group on LinkedIn. Unlock the lab. Lead the students in reciting my affirmation, “I believe that practice is the only thing that will make it easy for me to do what is impossible for others.” Go over the assignment objectives. Pace back and forth looking over peoples shoulders to see how they’re doing. Offer advice about (could be nearly anything) and finally remember to take attendance. Lots more pacing, talking, helping, then collecting student work and starting back toward my desk. Stop in the lobby to hear why somebody likes or hates the new movie/game/graphic novel/character reintroduction to an older series/media legislation/academic change etc. Remember I have to make copies before my next lab starts, start the next lab, make the copies, take roll, start back toward my desk, talk to more people about more media stuff, go back to lab, remember what I needed from my desk, answer some email, return phone calls, write a new lab lesson or lecture section, change some test questions, brainstorm with a colleague, collect assignments, give a lecture, lock labs, lock building, work on writing my book, make a list of the things I need to do tomorrow, decide if I have time for food or sleep, go home.
What part of your job do you like best? Why?
The coolest part of my day is spending time with people like myself but younger and less practical. They remind me constantly about what I like about myself, hate about myself, recall from my past, wish for my future. They teach me how to teach creatives.
What part of your job do you like least? Why?
The administrative junk like reports, grading, meetings and stuff. This is maybe because I am really just a performance artist portraying a very inspiring and effective teacher. I would rather be doing the work I have my students doing.
What is the most difficult part for you about being in the business?
The emotional part of my business is the hardest part for me. The cost of letting yourself give a damn about people is that they break your heart. I have to watch people I care about make nearly all the mistakes I have made and warned them about. I have to hold them accountable and some aren’t a bit used to that. I have to fail lots of folks who didn’t want to fail.
What kind of technology do you work with on a daily basis?
Hammers, chisels, candles. Nah, just kiddin’. We use cross platform computing and lots of Adobe software. I most often work with my favorite tool, the ADO (Advanced Digitally Operated) 2.0 Word and Image Processor featuring small or large print (manual Control), user defined styles, polished wooden cabinet, deletion of graphics words or entire phrases with the flick of a wrist. You may know this device better by it’s common name, the pencil, but it’s still great technology.
In your travels, have you had any brushes with animation greatness?
If you mean can I drop any names, then yes. Bill & Joe in St. Louis. Yes, THAT William Hanna and Joseph Barbera selling animation art at a gallery. Watching the rabble gushing and boot licking, it was obscene, but then it was my turn.
Describe a tough situation you had in life.
I got to experience a few learning disabilities before we ever got round to inventing them. In the 70s the smart thing to do was hide it since the only medication I was ever offered was pine. It was applied to the seat of your pants and it was nasty medicine that didn’t really even work. My advice to ADD sufferers who aren’t on meds, stick to what isn’t boring for you, like drawing. Make lists. Realize what you stink at and then decide not to be okay with that, get better.
Any side projects you’re working on you’d like to share details of?
The drawing book I’m authoring now is about the technique I use and teach and will be called Perceptual Layering. This will be available through TSTC Publishing some time next year. I’m also wanting to organize a series of webinars for animation students. I’d like it to feature folks from many animation disciplines including; background artists, voice actors, timing supervisors, storyboarders, writers, colorists, in-betweeners, directors, camera operators, and even occasionally some animators.
Is there any advice you can give for an aspiring animation student or artist trying to break into the business?
I like what Pixar’s John Lasseter tells newbies, “Tell good stories!”. Even 3D animation can’t save a weak story. I’d also add, “Know where your passion abides, then chase it down, kill it with your bare hands and eat it raw. There’s no stopping that kind of ambition.”