What is your name and your current occupation?
My name is Gennaro Morra, but my buds call me Gio, and I’m currently a character designer at ShadowMachine.
What are some of the crazier jobs you had before getting into animation?
My parents own an Italian restaurant in Beverly Hills called Da Pasquale and I grew up in it. I basically knows the ins and outs and I did everything from prep cook to delivery boy to pizza boy and even your dreadful waiter.
What are some of your favorite projects you’re proud to have been a part of?
I’ve worked on a few pilots that never made the cut. The one I’m working on now really feels like it’s going all the way.I designed some of the main characters and my director really gave me a lot of freedom.
Where are you from and how did you get into the animation business?
I’m from Los Angeles and after I got my BFA in Illustration from Long Beach State, I really dedicated my time to character design. I drew and posted on my blog and was fortunate to get the attention of Randall Sly. He interviewed me for his blog the Character Design blog, and the freelance work started coming in as soon as the interview was online.
What’s a typical day like for you with regards to your job?
I get my direction first thing in the morning and from there I go to town. I work side by side the head of puppet fabrication and the head sculptor, two awesome dudes who I constantly get advice from to make the stop motion process easier. My designs can get somewhat complex sometimes, so it’s nice to have them around to explain the ins and outs of stop mo.
What part of your job do you like best? Why?
I like everything about my job. I went from serving tables which I absolutely loathed to designing characters which I absolutely love. On the plus side I get to work alongside people with tons of experience who are further expanding my knowledge of animation. Since I’m the designer and I’m working in stop-motion, I love designing a character and seeing it come to life, that for sure is the best part.
What part of your job do you like least? Why?
The whole approval process can get a little frustrating sometimes, but that doesn’t bother me much since I’m getting paid to do what I love.
What kind of technology do you work with on a daily basis, how has technology changed in the last few years in your field and how has that impacted you in your job?
Well it was all col-erase pencils and brush pens, until I discovered PS a year and a half ago and I can’t get enough of it. I used to do just characters with it but now I got comfortable enough to do some vis dev as well.
What is the most difficult part for you about being in the business?
Well I’m a baby in this industry. I only have a year’s worth of freelance for experience. Shadowmachine is my first in house studio gig. In there I’m working alongside Michael Murnane a great sculptor. He told me getting in is difficult but maintaining a steady career is even harder. I know I’m going to be done with these guys in a couple of weeks and then I’m out working on the portfolio and searching for another possibility. I just hope the layover between jobs won’t be too long or else I’ll have to rely on unsteady freelance or being a waiter again. Ayayayy.Keeping my fingers crossed.
In your travels, have you had any brushes with animation greatness?
Well I have a friend who works at Dreamworks and I met him there for lunch once. Marco Regina an animator there gave me the grand tour and he introduced me to a majority of my art heroes. On the top of the list was Nico Marlet. I was truly starstruck and couldn’t cope with the fact that I was looking at drawings and in the space of the great Nico. Surreal. I met a whole bunch of greats at CTN. Peter de Seve, John Nevarez, and Armand Baltazar to mention a few, all who had nothing but nice things to say about my work. Truly nice gents.
Describe a tough situation you had in life.
Well growing up in a restaurant wasn’t really the easiest upbringing. Certainly not the worst. My parents sacrificed a lot to provide for me and my brothers, and I really can’t complain. Their hardcore Italians and for a long time they thought I wanted to take over their legacy, and it’s been difficult leaving them to pursue my own career. They understand and support my decisions, and since I’ve been getting work here and there the transition has been a lot easier, now if I can only keep it up.
Any side projects you’re working on that you’d like to share details of?
Wish I could but NDA’s have me on a tight leash.
Any unusual talents or hobbies like tying a cherry stem with your tongue or metallurgy?
No unusual talents, but I considered myself an all around sportsmen until I got married and put on 30 pounds. But I got back into bball and I’m starting to get back into my old high school figure. Slowly but surely.
Is there any advice you can give for an aspiring animation student or artist trying to break into the business?
Keep at it and get your stuff looked at. There’s conventions going on every month there’s no excuse to stop over someone’s booth and have them look at your stuff. I didn’t go to a well known animation school or even take an animation course. I didn’t know what a character design portfolio was supposed to look like. So I sent my portfolio out via email to my favorite artists and I took their critiques and applied them. I bumped into Steven Silver at comic con and he had so many great tips. A good portfolio critique can take you up another level.