Rob Davies


What is your name?

Rob Davies

What would you say has been your primary job in animation?

I don’t know that I’ve had a ‘primary’ job in animation to be honest. My longest stint is as one of the founders/owners of Atomic Cartoons in Vancouver. However, I’ve worn many hats in and out of Atomic.
I started as a traditional animation layout artist. Anyone who’s been around for awhile (pre-digital) knows what that is…
Other titles include character designer, art director, storyboard artist, storyboard supervisor, director, producer, series creator, and presently VP of Development at Atomic Cartoons.

What are some of the crazier jobs you had before getting into animation?

Before I broke into the ‘toon biz, I worked as a sign painter, dishwasher (lasted one night), construction laborer, duty-free store clerk, T-Shirt designer, political cartoonist, silk screen printer, art supplies store clerk, even worked the camera counter at Kmart…
Can’t say there was anything that was particularly ‘crazy’ (like juggling flaming chain saws at kids’ parties) although the duty-free store at the BC-Washington State boarder was strange. It required I run down the highway to just past the nearest exit to the boarder crossing and then hand customers their shopping bags. This was to prevent Canadians from loading up on smokes and rye whiskey at the duty-free and then hanging a quick right just before customs. I ran in all sorts of weather. It is Canada after all. Eventually they just closed off the street. Easier.

What are some of your favorite projects you’re proud to have been a part of?

I’m grateful to have been a part of anything, to be honest. But I’m most proud of Beetlejuice the Animated Series, Asterix Conquers America, Eek The Cat, Pinky and The Brain, The Zeta Project, Captain Flamingo, and Atomic Betty.

How did you become interested in animation?

It was pretty obvious, especially in math class, that I was destined to do something with a pencil and paper, besides math. Most of my drawing experience comes from math class.
I’d always wanted to do something related to cartoons, whether comic books or animation. Animation is where I ended up.

Where are you from and how did you get into the animation business?

I’m from Vancouver. Actually, I’m from a beach town an hour south of Vancouver called White Rock. I got into animation when I was 24. An opportunity came up for a summer ‘layout training course’ and I jumped at it. A month and a half into the class I was hired to work on Beetlejuice (the animated series) and never looked back.

What’s a typical day like for you with regards to your job?

A typical day might have me reading/looking over development materials, sometimes from various writers and artists. Currently we have 7 projects in various stages of development. All different demographics and genres, so it’s always interesting. I’m also on the phone or in face-to-face meetings with the creators or artists and writers. Other times I’m on the keyboard, pounding at the keys trying to make magic or scrawling something on a post-it note. Depending on how far along in development a project is, I might also get on the phone with broadcasters to pour over notes and comments. It’s surprising how much goes into just the development stage, well before it ever makes it on air, or not.

What part of your job do you like best? Why?

I’m in development so there’s a lot about this job that is fun and rewarding. I get to work with some very talented people and make (or attempt to make) cartoons. I also get to travel to international markets to pitch ideas. What’s not to like?

What part of your job do you like least? Why?

Well, to be honest, the job really is fraught with blessings and curses. I’m very fortunate to be in a position to travel and meet with broadcasters, something that I only dreamed of when I started in the biz. The downside is that it is an extremely competitive industry. More times than not, a property is not an exact fit and doesn’t find a home. When you do get a green light on something though, there is no better feeling. It’s a law of averages so you just have to keep swinging until you connect. So, in order to keep going, you have to constantly dig deep and drink lots of caffeinated beverages. Oh, and be passionate about your project – but be sure it’s not the only arrow you have in your quiver.

What is the most difficult part for you about being in the business?

It’s probably one of the best businesses to be in (especially if you’re on the creative side) if you do a side-by-side comparison to other industries. However, it’s not without its pitfalls. If you’ve been in the biz for a while you know of what I speak. For those of you just starting out, don’t let this be a total downer just a reality check. Know that with doing what you love for a living , you may have to pay a bit of a price:

It’s a cyclical business. Some years are better than others. Some decades are better than others. Sock some money away when you can.
It’s a seasonal business. Some months are better than others. Sock some money away when you can.
It’s a trend-driven business. Toys, games, apps, vampires…keeps you on your toes, but you can get dizzy trying to keep up or stay ahead of the curve.
It’s heavily affected by changing technologies. Gotta stay on top of it, but cost and time makes this easier said than done.
It’s heavily affected by shrinking budgets due to global competitiveness and changing technology. Some days it feels like a race to the bottom. Stay ‘competitive’ and if you’re just starting out in the industry, don’t lease that Lambo just yet.

All-in-all, you take the good with the bad and roll with the punches (I think I have a handle on this sports cliche thing) if you want to make animation your life. There are no guarantees and no stability in this industry. I hate to say it, but there it is. Ups and downs, highs and lows. A real roller coaster. As long as you understand this and don’t become overly complacent, you should do okay but it can be a real gut-wrencher at times. Just saying.

What kind of technology do you work with on a daily basis?

Personally, I do most of what I have to in Word (for writing) and Photoshop for pitch pack assembly. However, the rest of Atomic Cartoons is way ahead of me. We’re set up for Flash, Harmony, Maya, and After Effects here.

In your travels, have you had any brushes with animation greatness?

I met Chuck Jones briefly when I first got into the biz. Years later, we (Atomic Cartoons) were EXTREMELY fortunate to work with Chuck on what turned out to be his last animated endeavor, Timber Wolf.
There was a ton of amazing and accomplished people at Warner Bros when I worked there, pretty much the best of Warner’s heydays of the 90’s. I was very lucky to have made it on to the WB roster.

Describe a tough situation you had in life.

Honestly, I’ve had a really good life with a couple of ‘hiccups’. More than hiccups of course, but nobody’s immune to the bad that comes with the good. The trick is to find the strength to soldier on during challenging times, whatever they might be.
Any side projects you’re working on you’d like to share details of?

I have too many projects for side projects. Of course, what I do every day would seem like perfect ‘side projects’ for most so I certainly can’t complain.

Is there any advice you can give for an aspiring animation student or artist trying to break into the business?

Here’s some advice it took way to long for me to figure out (but I finally did):
Work hard at what you do, get good at it, make the industry connections you need to make, put your time in…but be sure to maintain some ‘balance’ in your life. Don’t lose sight of your family and friends. Don’t hastily throw away other interests and passions you have in your life. Animation is fantastic but can be incredibly time-consuming as well as physically and mentally demanding. I understand the quest for perfection, the thirst for knowledge and experience, the pressures of deadlines, and that you must ‘make hay while the sun shines’, but be careful what you sacrifice for animation. You need balance in your life or you will burn out, probably at a point when you can least afford to.

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