John Mahoney

What is your name and your current occupation?
My name is John Mahoney and I am an independent film maker, college professor at Cal Arts and USC and a freelance Concept Designer/sculptor.


What are some of the crazier jobs you had before getting into animation?
I worked as a bicycle messenger in New York City for one day, in which I got hit by two cars and I ran over two people with my bike!


What are some of your favorite projects you’re proud to have been a part of?
I really enjoyed working on Treasure Planet for Disney, I did concept art and concept sculpture. All together I worked on ten disney films. I also did a short film that won “Hottest Animation in Brazil” you won’t find that one anywhere, it has been banned from the Internet!!!


How did you become interested in animation?
I really liked the film American Pop when I was in high school… then much later in my senior year of college the Disney recruiters visited our school and I thought I could combine my love of art with my love of film and start at the Disney studios. Which I eventually did. Now my interest lies more in visual effects animation. I love the new Planet of the Apes, District 9, Battle LA… films like that.


Where are you from and how did you get into the animation business?
I grew up in Up-State New York, then went to school in Brooklyn. I was introduced to animation as a possible career from my Illustration teacher, David Passlaqua. He encouraged me to try and figure out a way to get my characters moving and somehow bring them to life. He was the most influential person I have ever met.


What’s a typical day like for you with regards to your job?
I wake up at 4am and start working on something that woke me from my dreams. I turn on my computer and do some noodling in Photoshop then Zbrush. I spent a year manipulating photos of mine during these hours. Then around 6am, I write my to-do list for the day, then do some cleaning around the apartment, then at 6:30am take my kids to school. Then at 7am head back home and do as much art as I can before going to work at 8:20. Somehow I squeeze in my shower which is always at the last minute. Then I teach class at Cal Arts from 9am to noon… I take 10 minutes off for my yogurt lunch the rush back to class to sculpt until 1pm. Then teach class to 4pm… then rush to the next location to teach a kids class till 7pm… then rush home… eat dinner quickly then… I can relax while do more art and freelance work until midnight. I never watch television but sometimes I watch DVDs.


What part of your job do you like best? Why?
I love solving problems… getting a project started and rolling up my sleeves and right  jumping in. I like being surrounded by talented people who are equally as nerdy as I am. Design work pays well too so I can buy lots of Snapple.


What part of your job do you like least? Why?
I hate having to stop to sleep!!! I have so much I want to do… I feel like I’m running to catch up with all my ideas and as soon as I’m almost there, more ideas keep flooding in.


What kind of technology do you work with on a daily basis?
Zbrush, Camtasia, Photoshop, Facebook… microwave ovens sometimes too.


What is the most difficult part for you about being in the business?
Switching from one profession or field to another! You can easily get type cast for doing a good job in one area. Sometimes I’ve had to completely hide some of my earlier work and just let my new work stand on it’s own. I guess I will have to keep doing this over and over again if I want to keep expanding and growing in new areas.


In your travels, have you had any brushes with animation greatness?
I had a chance to meet George Lucas when I was doing a workshop at Lucasfilm Singapore. I had the privilege to work with Corney Cole and Michael Mitchell for ten years at Cal Arts. I worked for Roger Allers on Kingdom of the Sun. I had a chance to meet Ray Bradbury when he visited the Disney Studio. I worked under John Musker and Ron Clemens on Treasure Planet. I have also met Moebius, James Jean, Pez, Mike Mignola, Stan Winston, Alex Nino, and Michel Eisner.


Describe a tough situation you had in life.
I have had no tough situations… life has just been a bow full of cherries.


Any side projects you’re working on or hobbies you’d like to share details of?
I created a book of my work that I am trying to get published… any publishers out there… please drop me a line!!! Besides this I am editing a feature documentary I shot a while back. Also I teach workshops on creativity around the world and plan on returning to Singapore this summer to continue my work there.


Any unusual talents or hobbies like tying a cherry stem with your tongue or metallurgy?
I collect movie previews. I guess thats pretty normal. Also I keep all my remote controls in sealed plastic. I have a few remotes that are over 20 years old that have never touched by human hands! I really love remote control design, Maybe some day I can open a remote control museum. What an amazing beautiful thing that would be.


Is there any advice you can give for an aspiring animation student or artist trying to break into the business? Learn how to draw!!! Follow your impulses. Study and copy the masters. Keep challenging yourself and just have fun every day. Don’t worry about the future to much, just concentrate on where you are and enjoy the small moments. Eventually all that fun will lead to a career. If you learn something of value, pass it along to the next person. The more positive energy you put out there the more positive your life and the people around you will be. Don’t be shy, get your stuff out there!!!


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  1. Nice interview John. Keep plugging.

  2. Hey, a fellow NYC bike messenger! I lasted 2 weeks. When it rained the job totally sucked, so I quit.

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