What is your name and your current occupation?
Stu Livingston — I work as a storyboard artist in animation – I also write and draw comics.
What are some of the crazier jobs you had before getting into animation?
I had a lot of customer-service-type jobs before breaking in, but the most unusual was the summer I spent working at Meadows Field Airport, back in Bakersfield, CA where I grew up. The crew and I were responsible for checking-in passengers, loading and unloading luggage, as well as taxiing in and out the airplanes. Somehow, I became the guy at the front with the orange batons leading in and out the planes each day. You have to learn all the signals (turn left, go straight, slow down, stop, engine 1 is on fire…), it’s crazy…there’s definitely nothing like having an airplane in your face once or twice a day haha. I was also a court sketch-artist for a major murder trial that took place in Bakersfield back in 1994. They had finally tracked down the key-witness to the crime in 2006, so they scouted out artists at CSUN, where I studied, and I was the one they picked. Interesting story, actually — I helped land, park and service the very plane that brought that witness to Bakersfield, then a few months later I was drawing his picture in court. Probably the most ridiculously unlikely coincidence of my whole life – I can barely believe it happened.
What are some of your favorite projects you’re proud to have been a part of?
With storyboarding, I’ve had the great pleasure to work on Futurama, a show I’ve loved and watched since its debut. Due to the large cast and the great variety of stories from script to script, each episode of Futuramacomes with its own unique challenges. As I’m winding down on an episode, it’s a good feeling to have knowing the next one will most likely be totally different. With comics, I’ve had the great, great fortune to contribute to the Flight series, which I’ve been a huge fan of since college. It’s led to some unbelievable opportunities to meet and work with some of my favorite artists! Most recently, I contributed a story to Explorer: The Mystery Boxes, a new comics anthology from Kazu Kibuishi (who also created Flight). What made that experience memorable compared to some of the other stories I’ve done was the chance to work with a really hands-on editor who helped challenge, discipline, and guide us until we each came up with stories that we were all really proud of. Suffice to say I learned a LOT from that experience, I’ll never forget it.
How did you become interested in animation?
I made the choice to become an artist very early on – around age 6 or 7 maybe? It was a shockingly easy choice to make and one I, thankfully, never lost sight of. Cartoons, animation and drawing were always huge for me as a kid, but I think I was twelve years old, reading some Peanuts collection or Charles Schultz biography (it’s a pretty vague memory) when I decided that animation was for me.
Where are you from and how did you get into the animation business?
I was born in Pago Pago, American Samoa, wayyy out in the Pacific Ocean…making me the only Samoan in this business that I’ve ever heard of. If there’s any others out there, talofa lava ‘o a’u o Stu! When I was six I moved to CA with my parents and sisters living first in Fresno, then settling in Bakersfield where I spent most of my life. I studied Art at Bakersfield College for two years, then transferred to Cal State Northridge, finishing my last two years in 2007. When I was just about to graduate, a CSUN alumni employed at a small web-animation studio in Burbank emailed our department about Storyboard Artist openings, and I jumped on it right away. I didn’t really know much about storyboarding, but I had a portfolio (of sorts) prepared, called ‘em up, interviewed and got the job the day before graduation! I’ve been working in animation, more or less, ever since!
What’s a typical day like for you with regards to your job?
Things can really change at work depending on where you are with the storyboard, that is, whether you’re thumbnailing a sequence or cleaning it up. With thumbnailing, I’m usually pretty early-on with a new script, and I like to take my time at first; a lot of my time (especially at the beginning) is spent merely thinking about and researching the sequences assigned to me. During this phase I might have to visit with my directors to get specific information on complex settings or characters – but not very often. After 2 weeks or so of thumbnailing, we start pitching our thumbnails with the supervising director, and once all that is done, we start cleaning up the panels and make everything as on-model as possible. These remaining weeks require a lot of focus to be drawing, drawing, drawing for most of the day, so you’re not visiting with coworkers, or going out to lunch as much…it can get exhausting! No matter where I am with a storyboard, I try to get in a decent 30 minute sanity-walk a day – I highly recommend that everyone do this!
What part of your job do you like best? Why?
My favorite part is definitely finding points in a storyboard to make things up or, God-forbid, break from the script! Whether it’s really unique acting, or the chance to write and storyboard an entire action sequence on your own, there’s nothing more satisfying than creating your own individual moments where you can.
What part of your job do you like least? Why?
The cleanup process (as I mentioned earlier) can get tedious at times, but that’s because I’m pretty impatient haha. Other than that, having to do revisions on your own sequences, or being forced to phone it in due to a staggering deadline can be tough. If your work wasn’t as great as you think it could’ve been, don’t worry about it, and do your best the next time around!
What kind of technology do you work with on a daily basis?
I draw on a Wacom CINTIQ 21UX, and I storyboard with Toon Boom Storyboard Pro 2.0, as well as Photoshop and Flash. I’m also starting to learn Sketchbook Pro…
At first, it was adjusting to the mindset of a professional artist. My background didn’t really provide many resources for one seeking animation as a career, and I didn’t have much help in the way of “how to act” or “what to do” starting out…so yeah, I made a ton of mistakes and professionally I was pretty clueless. Also, as I was starting to come in contact with certain people or projects (usually on a professional basis) I was apt to placing them on some sort of pedestal. I still felt like a kid in school, and had to remind myself “Hey man, you’re actually HERE…WITH these people. So act like it!” The consequences of being an animation/comics nerd.
In your travels, have you had any brushes with animation greatness?
It isn’t entirely correct to consider them “animation” people (although a great many are), but getting to know and eventually work with the Flight Comics artists (Kazu Kibuishi, Vera Brosgol, Rad Sechrist, Katie Shanahan, Scott C., Jen Wang, Johane Matte, et al.) has been a dream come true. As I mentioned, discovering the series was a huge step for me, and has led me directly to the artists who inspire me the most. I can’t emphasize that enough!
Describe a tough situation you had in life.
Hmm, I guess anytime I’m making my own comics haha. Each story I do seems to stretch my brain to its limit, but as tough as it is I love doing it more than anything. It’s a pretty masochistic art form haha.
Last year I completed my first self-published comic, The Table! I plan on putting out at least another new book this year. Other than that, a couple short stories for anthologies…but nothing I’m ready to show or talk about just yet.
I have a creepily strong knack for remembering faces, particularly for B-list celebrities, or indie cartoonists that the general public has no idea about. This often occurs with people I’ve only seen online, which I’ve discovered makes me something of a weirdo (oops). I also eat a lot if that counts (it does).
Is there any advice you can give for an aspiring animation student or artist trying to break into the business?
Find a group of artists who inspire you, study their work, show them your work and make friends with them! Draw a lot, create even more and try to have a good attitude no matter how tough things can get. Keep putting yourself out there and you’re bound to get noticed!