What is your name and your current occupation?
Ron Doucet, Animation Director.
What are some of the crazier jobs you had before getting into animation?
I harvested fish eggs for a couple summers when I was a teenager. Thousands of fish come in on a water-fed conveyor belt, you grab the females, slice open their bellies, remove the sack of eggs, slap them in a box, and repeat a million times. Not so much crazy… but incredibly boring.
What are some of your favorite projects you’re proud to have been a part of?
So far I have a few. The very frist production I ever directed holds a special place in my heart because we had so much creative freedom, the series was Olliver’s Adventures, a little cartoon that aired on Canadian and Australian television from 2002-2006. It was a lot of fun to produce, the crew turned out to be a well-oiled machine by the 3rd season, and we were creating our own stories and scenarios and having a blast doing it. I made an independant short film back in 2005. Me and a few others got together for a few weeks to create it, it was fun and spontaneous, and even though it was brief and made with no budget, it was pure fun. Another cool one was the MSTRKRFT music video for the track ‘Work On You’ I sort of played the roll of Producer and FX Supervisor for it. Again, the enjoyment came from plenty of creative freedom, from developing a story, designing characters, to animating the whole thing. We were pressed for time (as always), but had lots of laughs creating it. The only direction the client gave us was “Make it feel like Astroboy, transformers and Akira.” — we were in heaven.
How did you become interested in animation?
My parents say I was drawing since the age of 2. But as far back as I can remember I was always drawing the cartoons that I’d see on TV. I had a chalkboard when I was 8 years old, and I’d draw scenes as they came on screen of Coyote and Road Runner, and quickly draw squiggles of the characters and try to finish drawing the scene before the shot would cut, essentially doing retro-storyboarding without even knowing it. The first animated film I saw was the Fox and The Hound. The grizzly bear gave me nightmares, but it definitely sparked something in my brain. Of course the Star Wars and Star Trek films inspired me the same way as many others from my generation. 80s movies influenced my in ways that I only come to realize many years later, like when you think about what moments in your childhood may have began one’s appreciation for the filmmaking process. From Back to the Future, Goonies, Dark Crystal, Ghostbusters, and Jurassic Park, it fuels the imagination and makes you say “how’d they do that?” Flintstones, He-Man, Garfield, Inspector Gadget, GI Joe, Robotech, Aeon Flux, Beetlejuice, Tiny Toons, Animaniacs, Ren and Stimpy, Sesame Street, Looney Tunes/Merry Melodies, The Muppet Show, Fraggle Rock, NFB shorts and a million other shows all made me the type of kid that was glued to the TV all weekend long, absorbing every frame. When I graduated high school I took a Graphic Design course (I didn’t know animation courses even existed), after two years I saw an ad for a new Digital Animation program at a community college. Once I took the tour, I saw the classical animation instructor sitting at a lightable with his trusty pegbar and flipping animation paper, and I knew this was it for me. I drew non-stop, day and night during that 2 year course. Practically ignoring the 3D-CGI portion of the program and focusing on traditional animation. I became a full blown cartoon junkie, and I never looked back.
Where are you from and how did you get into the animation business?
I’m from the very small town of Meteghan, Nova Scotia. The way I got in the business was when I graduated college in 1999, I immediately began to search for work in studios across Canada. At the time the internet was still in its infancy and not every studio had a website, and if they did, very little information was on it. I applied everywhere, but not many were hiring. During my 6 months of searching, I continued to work on my demo reel, adding more polished and colored animation works, and began applying for arts grants to produce my own independent short. Then I suddenly got my first job as an animator at a little web-site making company called Collideascope in Halifax. For 2D-animation; a couple shorts, commercials and web stuff is all the company had done so far. They took me on to help do a demo/pilot for an IP called Jerk Chicken for Nickelodeon. The show went way over schedule and ended up not getting picked up for series. But it was the perfect trial-by-fire, learning how to use a Wacom Tablet and Flash (version 3) was all new to me. We were just 4 people in the animation department, working with Sean Scott (creator of Olliver’s Adventures, Doodlez and Jimmy Two Shoes) and we were just laughing all day coming up with some crazy stuff. Fast forward nearly two years and I got bumped up to Director on Collideasocpe’s first animated series.
What’s a typical day like for you with regards to your job?
I’ve been directing off and on for the past 10 years, and each production is different, sometimes you oversee all aspects – from script, to storyboards, to design, to animation, and post. Sometimes your just managing a short service gig, so you only supervise the animation and BG art portion of the project. A few elements that are always present in the directing job is the developing of group plans for improving artistic skills, identifying training opportunities, explored new tools and techniques to streamline production flow. key stakeholders to communicate design and animation needs and issues, the plan for implementation. Going through the process of hiring new artists and animators. Directing your chosen staff of animation artists from Junior to Supervisor level. This includes leadership training and guidance, artistic skill development and continuously pushing the overall team’s quality bar. Working with the show runners and executives to ensure all story themes and artistic components of the production are met and executed as per the creative vision. Translating written and verbal notes from the clients/producers into visual solutions, creating style guides and systems to ensure uniformity across the animation teams. Reviewing all reference materials prior to pre-production, and organizing all creative content to understand what artistic direction to take based upon franchise parameters and goals. Collaborating with everyone on the production, from the production coordinators to the art directors, and all department leads to develop the look, overall style, and general quality level required for the project, taking into account the advantages and restrictions of the animation system being used. Coordinate freelance artists working from remote locations, as well as Organizing the week to week work load for character animators’ quotas; structuring the posing, breakdowns, in-betweens, clean-up, color and compositing for every shot. Providing notes to each department regarding staging, layout, models, color, timing, and acting for all animated sequences for each episodes, up until final delivery. Making certain that each stage of deliverables are all kept to the producers’ expectations of quality and speed, straight through from concept to completion. I often aid in the scheduling the budgeting of each new series or project coming into the pipeline, to make sure I have the adequate resources to make the production run smoothly. Boring parts of the job include filling out checklists and shortlists and writing production reports.
What part of your job do you like best? Why?
The best part is collaborating with artists to solve some problems, whether they be story related, composition troubles, or acting choices. It can be very rewarding to just sit down with a board artist or animator and breaking down a scene to make it work. Reviewing the daily completed designs, artwork and animation is always the main task that takes the most time, but seeing the shows come together always feels really good.
What part of your job do you like least? Why?
It may just be bad luck on my part, but I find dealing with producers to be one of aspect I like the least. Producers are a necessity, no matter what, but it’s unfortunate that most of the productions I’ve worked on have had executives that do not understand the creative process or how animation is made. This leads to conflict, and of course producers do everything they can to cut corners and save money, this creates a constant obstacle in the director’s path for creating the best quality product possible. Often the long hours I’m forced to work are a result of those producers fighting against the creative team; more time, more money, more resources are always in the director’s demands and dreams, and those struggles against executives are what always leads to stressful situations in production.
What kind of technology do you work with on a daily basis?
Flash, Photoshop, FinalCut, After Effects. I prefer Macs, but PC/Windows are much less expensive, so it depends on what the budgets are and what the studio owners prefer.
What is the most difficult part for you about being in the business?
The long hours and the gaps between contracts. ”Feast of Famine” is the most over-used and common cliche in this industry, and for good reason. With the coming of online animated web-series, iPhone/iPad 2D games and the 3D video game console industries – more and more opportunities are growing for certain types of animation artists. Companies for years now, have started to give benefits, residuals, and permanent employment for their staff, it’s slowly becoming more and more common, but still for many 2D animation artists, they are forced to do long hours to keep to the schedule, and then must search for new work in other towns to keep going and survive. For most medium-to-small size Flash/Toonboom studios it’s is still difficult for animators to work only 9 to 5, five days per week and to be permanent employees of the company is a rare thing. For me being a director, the hours are very long, and once the project is over, whether it’s 3, 6, or 12 months long, you start looking for the next job, or you wait until the studio locks in another production for you to supervise and manage. Until then, you do freelance work, or whatever else to stay alive. It’s the nature of the business, especially film and television. The production is over, the season comes to an end or the movie gets finished, and you move on. You nearly burn out from working so hard, then it’s dead stop as you loo for new work, recover from exhaustion, wait for the next contract, and apply for new work.
In your travels, have you had any brushes with animation greatness?
Scott Fellows (creator of Johnny Test) was one of the first truly legitimate and authentic creative geniuses I’ve had the pleasure of working for. Being an animation director for two seasons of Johnny was a career high and his scripts were simply amazing.
Describe a tough situation you had in life.
In 2008, the company I had been working for my whole career had to shut down permanently. Over the course of that year we had to gradually lay off 80 of the 100 artists we had on staff. Then one day I had to do nor last production’s staff meeting., announcing that we were closing our doors for good. My first-born child was a few weeks a way from being born, the uncertainty of being jobless wasn’t something I had felt so strongly, and it broke my heart telling what was left of the crew that the end the production (and the studio) was just a month away.
Any side projects you’re working on that you’d like to share details of?
During the time when I was teaching at a local animation college 4 years ago, I’ve been picking away at a script for a 45 minute film. I’ve been continually inspired by the many success stories of independent animated films being crowd-funded through kickstarter/indiegogo. I’m hoping to go through that process someday, finish the script, do some boards and designs and see if I can raise some money to get it produced. Writing a script has been more challenging than I though. I assumed that after reading over a thousand television scripts myself that I could whip one out with no problems, but it’s proven to be far more difficult than that. I’m enjoying the process and I look forward to creating the film someday.
Any unusual talents or hobbies like tying a cherry stem with your tongue or metallurgy?
Back in 2006, I got my hands on a couple good-quality monster puppets, I was always secretly obsessed with the Muppets and the whole Jim Henson world, I wanted to try my hand at puppetry just for fun. Once I got started there was no turning back, I have over 12 puppets now, I’ve filmed a few silly shorts with my characters, and I love performing with them, it’s practically the only hobby I have time for. Puppets and animation have so much in common, all the principles of animation can be found in puppetry, it’s like live-action cartoons at your finger tips.
Is there any advice you can give for an aspiring animation student or artist trying to break into the business?
The MOST important thing is making yourself valuable to employers. To do this, you must keep upgrading yourself, continue exploring, learning, study and practice… constantly. Whether it’s a full time contract work or part time freelance work, making yourself valuable is by far the number one goal you must always keep in mind. Keep that demo reel and portfolio up to date, and research constantly. Sites like imaginism studios, videocopilot, idrawgirls, gnomon, jason ryan, cgtalk and countless others, all have many tutorials and references that enhance your skills in modelling, design, digital paining and animation, both on a creative & technical level. Continuos learning and sharpening of your skills is what will ensure that you remain valuable to those who want to pay you for your abilities. Get inspired from the hundreds of sites out there that offer so much insight on the process of art, design and animation; concept art, storyboard art, animation backgrounds, CG design, artistic anatomy …and there’s a hundred more out there waiting for you to go and learn and apply it to your own work. If you want to make it in this crazy industry you need to train yourself ceaseless, and you have to be constantly upgrading your skills. Mark Andrews (Director of ‘Brave’) once said that there are no more secrets for how to make a good-looking film. Therefore all aspiring animators need to learn these readily available secrets for creating great visuals, and learn them quickly, there’s no excuse anymore. Competition is fierce, the animation / special effects / video game industries are growing fast, and if the answers of how to create appealing shot compositions are all online or in books, the animation artists must get familiar with these principles if s/he hopes to maintain a career in this field. Story structure and character development have their own secrets to be explored and there is plenty of guidance on those subjects online as well, but visual development, acting in animation, and design are no longer these tightly kept secrets, the answers are bountiful on the internets and in books, one must learn these principles and learn them well. Another important piece of advice is – carry a sketchbook! Equip yourself creatively by exercising daily. No excuses, it’s a pencil not a dumb bell, just do random sketches and designs everyday. Spontaneous doodles from your head don’t have to make sense, and they don’t have to be perfect. When you’re drawing from life, the sketches don’t have to be complete, they don’t have to be clean and accurate. It’s all about simply capturing spontaneous thoughts and ideas to doodle, writing down notes and ideas, and drawing from life while developing those observational skills. Don’t focus on how good or bad your sketches are, instead focus on doing your best to capture what you see and learn from it. In order to carry a sketchbook around I had to just tell myself that my sketchbook is just for learning, not filling it with beautiful pictures. Focus on just doing a drawing. It doesn’t have to be perfect. You’ll get a lot out of just moving your pen around and trying to capture what you see. You’ll inherently sense what could be better and apply that next time. No matter what specialization you go into in the field of visual arts, filmmaking, special effects, or video games; a sketchbook is more than a way to improve your drawing, it forces you to focus on the world around you and to analyze it. And it’s a great way to thumbnail down some ideas for characters and compositions as well. Your sketchbook is only for YOU, and not to show to people, once you program your brain to think like this, you’ll be more free to doodle whatever that comes to mind, without fear of what anyone thinks. Make yourself valuable, make your demo reel have believable performances, convincing physics, with strong entertainment value and appeal. Then keep learning, observing, exploring new styles and techniques, study and practice ceaselessly.