What is your name and your current occupation?
Ray Alma. I currently work full time doing storyboards and animatics at Larry Schwartz and His Band (formally Animation Collective) I also freelance as an illustrator for magazines and do freelance storyboarding for advertising.
What are some of the crazier jobs you had before getting into animation?
I spent 2 weeks working as a staff artist at World Wrestling Entertainment in Stamford, CT. I had to draw wrestlers for comic books and lunchboxes, that kind of stuff. They let me go because they didn’t think I drew leg muscles well enough.
What are some of your favorite projects you’re proud to have been a part of?
I was a fairly regular freelance artist contributor to Mad magazine from 1996 to about 2003. Mad magazine inspired me to become a cartoonist so being able to become one of the “Usual Gang of Idiots” was a life long dream.
How did you become interested in animation?
I always loved animation, and when illustration work started to dry up on me I went looking for other areas I could work in. Doing storyboards was a natural progression from some of the sequential/comic book work I had done.
Where are you from and how did you get into the animation business?
I’m a native New Yorker. Born in Brooklyn, raised in Queens. I went to the School of Visual Arts and majored in Cartooning. I started looking for storyboard work in 2005 and have been lucky enough to find work in that area since then.
What’s a typical day like for you with regards to your job?
No two days are ever alike. One of the things I like about this business.
What part of your job do you like best? Why?
I love the challenge of interpreting a script and making it into a visual story. I also love when there is a need to add some action or a gag to a scene. That’s when I can get really creative.
What part of your job do you like least? Why?
Having to dumb down stuff or make it “safe” for kids. Ugh. C’mon, I grew up watching characters drop anvils on each others heads and I’ve never felt the need to copy that action in real life (at least not yet).
What kind of technology do you work with on a daily basis?
I storyboard in Flash on a PC. I use also use Photoshop a lot to correct/change any illustration work that I still do. The illustration work is almost always done traditionally, ink and watercolor on 140lb Cold Press watercolor paper.
What is the most difficult part for you about being in the business?
Finding steady animation storyboarding work here in NYC. New York is my home and I freakin love this city but it’s gotten harder and harder to find work here.
In your travels, have you had any brushes with animation greatness?
Not animation greatness, but through my Mad work and side projects I’ve met celebrities. A few years ago, they were filming an episode of the Sopranos near my apartment in Queens. James Gandolfini was outside signing autographs. Mad had just come out with a Sopranos issue: Drew Friedman did the cover. So I got the issue and brought it to have Gandolfini sign it and pose for a picture with it. When I showed it to him, I told him that I was a freelance artist for Mad. He thought I said that I drew the cover. He stared at it…quietly and for a long time. Then he rolled up the magazine and smacked me on the head with it and said “Why’d you make me so F*#%& FAT!?!” So – I was “whacked” by Tony Soprano. PS – He never gave me back the magazine. Last I saw of it, he was reading it and laughing and showing it to the other cast members.
Describe a tough situation you had in life.
Well it’s not the “toughest” situation, but it’s had long term ramifications. I started having a lot of pain in my drawing hand over the years. I ended up being diagnosed with tendonitis. I was really worried about being able to continue to work as an artist because of the growing discomfort. I eventually was able to find information on stretching techniques, strengthening exercises, different ways to grip drawing tools, etc. Fifteen years later I’m able to manage the pain and keep working.
Any side projects or you’re working on or hobbies you’d like to share details of?
Through the National Cartoonist Society I was able to volunteer for the USO and went with other cartoonists to draw for our troops. They sent us to Germany, Kuwait and Iraq among other places. I’m also involved with a group called the Ink Well, that gathers cartoonists, animators and illustrators together to go visit hospital pediatric wards and draw for sick kids. Any animators interesting in volunteering (there are Ink Well offshoots in other cities now) can contact them through their website. I’m currently working on some pieces of art that are scheduled to be included in a show in a gallery that is part of the Smithsonian Institute. It’s about documenting our wounded veterans from Iraq and Afghanistan. That show should open around Veteran’s Day down in DC.
Any unusual talents or hobbies like tying a cherry stem with your tongue or metallurgy?
Probably like most cartoonist/animators, I love toys and have a fairly huge action figure collection. G.I.Joes (the old 12″ tall ones), superheroes, monsters. Currently everything is in storage until I can find a new place to display it all. I also love Halloween. I’m far from a Cosplayer, but I love making myself Halloween costumes.
Is there any advice you can give for an aspiring animation student or artist trying to break into the business?
When I was going to art school, the philosophy was along he lines of finding ONE thing you liked or were good at and concentrate on that. I would hear this quote a lot: “Jack of all trades, master of none” Well that might have been all well and good back then, but these days, with constantly changing technology and a business that is in a constant state of flux, I’d say that any young animator should try to know as many different skills and programs as possible. Try to know it all and you’ll probably be able to find work doing something. Try not to burn any bridges. The majority of work you may get in the future will come from fellow students, old teachers and former co-workers. One more small thing that is kind of related to the above statement… when you introduce yourself to new co-workers or are networking at a party, etc, USE YOUR FULL NAME. You want people to remember who you are. Hopefully your work will speak for itself, but you want to make sure they know full well which Ray, in a studio that has 5 other Rays, did that amazingly hilarious storyboard. Unless it sucked. Then some other Ray did it.