What is your name and your current occupation?
Kenn McDonald. I’m an animation supervisor for Dreamworks on the Dragons tv series.
What are some of the crazier jobs you had before getting into animation?
I don’t know if I’ve had a truly crazy job. I’ve made pizza, served ice-cream and taught English in Japan. The coolest job outside animation I had was working at a fine art foundry that cast bronze statues. That was a gas.
What are some of your favorite projects you’re proud to have been a part of?
Going way back to my 2d days I’d say Cat’s Don’t Dance. I love that movie and it was one of the best times I’ve had on a production. Some other high points would be Stuart Little 2, Beowulf, which was my first gig as a supervisor and Watchmen. I’m having a great time on Dragons now.
How did you become interested in animation?
That would go all the way back to sitting on my Dad’s lap while he drew for me. He’d draw a lot of superheroes and stuff like that. He still paints. From there I was hooked on Saturday morning cartoons like Johnny Quest and Japanese imports like Astroboy and Gigantor. Later I became an avid comic book collector and considered going into comics for a while, but animation won out.
Where are you from and how did you get into the animation business?
I grew up in Denver Colorado. During the early 80’s I rediscovered Japanese animation and joined a local Anime club to watch shows and trade tapes. There wasn’t much available commercially in those days, so it was pretty much a guerrilla operation to get new shows to watch. The Japanese stuff reminded me of shows like Johnny Quest or the science fiction I was reading at the time. Robert Heinlein’s Starship Troopers was one of my favorite books at the time and when I saw my first couple of episodes of Mobile Suit Gundam, I was hooked. From there it was a few short steps to studying animation in Japan. I lived there for about 5 years, but did very little work in the industry. I learned a lot though. I eventually came back to the US intending to do a graduate film degree at USC, but ended up landing work in animation before I got started and never looked back.
What’s a typical day like for you with regards to your job?
Oh man. What a question. It really depends on what kind of project I’m working on. Right now I’m doing a tv series with Dreamworks for Cartoon Network. I’m in Bangalore, India splitting my time between 3 studios that are working on the show. In general most of my day is spent looking at shots with animators and helping them hone the performance and animation to make sure the director’s vision is realized. That’s true for any project I’m working on. Depending on what kind or project and how a specific studio works, I might also be working closely with modelers, riggers and pipeline TDs and even look development artists. Sometime’s it’s just the animation.
What part of your job do you like best? Why?
That’s a tough question. There are so many aspects of the job I enjoy, but the best is probably when production really gets rolling. The rigs are done, the pipeline is running smoothly and the animators are up to speed and know the characters and the style of the show really well. Then it’s just me and the animators working together to get the most out of every scene and it just seems to flow.
What part of your job do you like least? Why?
That’s an easy one. Budgets and schedules. Bidding. It’s an important part of the job, but not what anyone thinks about when imagining what the job is like.
What kind of technology do you work with on a daily basis?
I’m spent most of my career working on Maya. I’ve done a project in XSI and little work in 3D Studio Max, but I’m really a Maya guy.
What is the most difficult part for you about being in the business?
The long hours. Crazy schedules. Recently it’s been the need to relocate or leave the family behind. I’ve done both of those. The industry has really fragmented over the past 10 years and it’s continuing at an accelerating rate.
In your travels, have you had any brushes with animation greatness?
I’ve been doing this for 25 years, so I’ve had plenty in both animation and VFX over the years. I’ll drop a few big names. Darrell VanCitters, who I was fortunate to have worked for, for over 4 years. Eric Goldberg, Mark Dindle, Ken Ralston, Jerome Chen and probably the biggest name on my list, Robert Zemekis.
Describe a tough situation you had in life.
I’ve had a pretty good life all things considered. I can’t really think of anything to share here.
Any side projects or you’re working on that you’d like to share details of?
Too busy to work on anything on the side. I have projects that I’ve been enveloping, but nothing ready to go. My family is what I do when I’m not working.
Any unusual talents or hobbies like tying a cherry stem with your tongue or metallurgy?
Right now I’m teaching myself the ukulele. I played violin and bass when I was young, but it’s been years so the ukulele new and fun. I’m also into astronomy and space exploration. I was pretty bummed out last week when Neil Armstrong passed away. Only a few guys left who have walked on the moon. We need to get back out there.
Is there any advice you can give for an aspiring animation student or artist trying to break into the business?
Love what your do. You really need to love it. And want it. There is a lot of work out there, but there are even more people getting into the business. Let yourself be absorbed by it. Study and draw and learn animation, not just software. And keep learning. On the practical side, keep you reel brief. Put your best stuff up front and close with a strong piece. Replace your student work with pro work as soon as you can. If you’ve got enough pro work to make a solid reel do not include any student work. And, please, for Heaven’s sake, go easy on the techno dance music. If you must include it at the beginning, fade it out after the intro. Good luck!