What is your name and your current occupation?
Juli Murphy*, and I am a timer for “American Dad”, for Fox TV.*(For 14 years I also went by my married name, Juli Hashiguchi, or Juli Murphy Hashiguchi)
I was an assistant to the oldest practicing Magician in the Magician’s guild. I think he was in his upper 70’s, and he had been on the Johnny Carson show previously. I answered an ad when I was in college, and I fit the red sequined assistant’s leotard he had. It was a sad, depressing show. He couldn’t remember how to do all his tricks, and he caught the dove’s wings in the disappearing cage. I only lasted one show with him, because he was a really bad driver (going the wrong way down a freeway on-ramp) and he wouldn’t let me drive the Magic Van.
I also worked for Federal Express for 6 years. Besides loading boxes onto planes and trucks I also de-iced aircraft from a bucket extension on a gigantic truck, gave tours through the sorting facility, and radioed pilots in the aircraft. That was a great job, because one of the side benefits was free flights on cargo planes, exactly like Tom Hanks in the movie “Castaway”, luckily without the crashing part. I have ridden in the cockpit of 727’s and DC-10’s enough times to be sick of it.
I would have to say the best job I have had to date was at Cartoon Network on “The Grim Adventures of Billy & Mandy”. I was the Supervising Director for 5 years, and it was a really wonderful experience. I had the most challenging and rewarding job of my career, and going in to work every day was a joy. This is largely due to the show’s creator, Maxwell Atoms, who was amazingly open and generous with the crew. He encouraged us, at all levels, to contribute ideas to the show, and was never jealous when someone else came up with a good idea. In my experience, that is pretty unusual.
Also, the crew was a really wonderful group of people, and the friendliest I have ever been on. There were no “cliques” among different departments, and many of the crew went to lunch together almost every day. Often, people on other shows would comment that our crew had more “birthday lunches” than any crew they had seen, because they saw us all going in a huge group to lunch several times a week. They were always surprised to find out that there were no birthdays that week, we all just liked hanging out together!How did you become interested in animation?
It was kind of an accident, really. I had been in film school, and transferred to another university. At San Francisco State, the film studies program was really overcrowded, and difficult to get into. As an undergrad, you already had to have a completed film and a thesis paper! I turned the page in the course catalog, and for the animation program all you had to do was sign up.
I had always thought I would study art in college, but was afraid I’d end up starving in a garret, drawing Hallmark cards. After seeing Star Wars when I was a kid, I realized from the extremely long credit roll that there were many jobs to be had in film and special effects. Film seemed a safer bet than art for getting a job after graduation, so I had a film major and art minor. Animation, being a combination of art and film, seemed a good fit for my interests.
Where are you from and how did you get into the animation business?
I grew up in Long Beach, CA. When I was 14 my family moved to Tennessee, and I lived there for 6 years before escaping back to California.
After graduating with a BA in animation, one of my college professors arranged interviews for several of us at the commercial animation studio in San Francisco where his ex-wife worked. I was ecstatic to get work so quickly! I worked there for almost 2 years, but was never put on staff. After a 2 month layoff, I came down to LA looking for a job, and have been here since 1990.
What’s a typical day like for you with regards to your job?
Well, as a timer for “American Dad”, I am responsible for communicating the director’s wishes to the overseas studio frame by frame. Using the storyboard, the animatic, and exposure sheets, I plan out every drawing that will be made for each scene. For example, if the scene shows a character walking and talking, when does that happen exactly? Does he say part of the line and then step forward? Step and speak simultaneously? Stop in the middle to accent a word or phrase? Will I need to do drawings for additional poses? What happens if his line is too long for the space he is walking through? Or too short?
All these things need to be figured out, in addition to the technical things like camera movements or special effects. I work with the timing supervisor, who oversees the work of all the timers and makes sure the styles are compatible with each other, and the style of the show.
Many people don’t realize that all the actual animation for most shows is done overseas. If we were building a house, I would be working on the blueprints, not banging in each nail. I can animate, but I have not done so for years.
What part of your job do you like best? Why?
I really enjoy timing. It’s like choreography, or staging a play. You are moving your characters around, and planning all the movements in time. Little things like knowing where to leave a few extra frames for a sound effect, or the timing of a pause or overlap between lines can mean so much to each scene. The biggest thrill ever is to see your scenes come back in color, especially if they work out just as you imagined.
On some shows I’ve worked on, the board was done prior to the voice recording, and often the actors will add emotions or nuances that the board artists never envisioned. That’s when I get to add my own drawings for new expressions. It’s really fun when you are working with experienced voice actors (you know who you are, Richard, Grey & Greg!) who give you so much to work with.
What part of your job do you like least? Why?
Fox Animation studios is farther away from my house than most of the other studios, so my commute is significantly longer. As a single parent, it adds to the challenge. I have been able to enjoy the extra time by driving part of my commute along Hwy 1. I like seeing the ocean, and the sunset on my way home.
What is the most difficult part for you about being in the business?
The instability of work. It’s not the kind of job where you work for one company for many years, usually. Even so, there are always unpaid hiatuses to deal with. In some years, I have worked for 10 different employers! It can be very confusing at income tax time to keep them all straight.
When you are fresh out of school, it’s not as bad because your expenses are less. Once you have a mortgage, and children, it is much more stressful to deal with the layoffs.
What kind of technology do you work with on a daily basis?
Ha! I am actually still using a pencil. The animatics are in Quicktime, and because timers are not creating artwork on our computers, we usually have the oldest ones in the studio.
In your travels, have you had any brushes with animation greatness?
Well, I have worked with a lot of really fine artists, even though you won’t read about most of them in animation history books. Often, the same personality traits that let you become wildly successful in animation, or in any field, do not translate into excellent social skills. I try to stay under the radar of The Great, it’s safer.
Describe a tough situation you had in life.
Well, in my personal life it would be my divorce. ‘Nuff said there.
In my professional life, I will mention one difficult job I had. It was a show called “Kampung Boy”, which was for Malaysian television. They have a cartoon strip of the same name, that is sort of the Malaysian version of “Peanuts”. A kampung is a communal farm, and Kampung Boy was the central kid. This show was funded by the Malaysian government, to air on their tv station, and to provide work for a Malaysian animation studio. They also insisted on using Malaysian actors for the voices, which was really hard to work with. They had very odd accents and inflections, and the people they chose were just not very good actors.
Also, the work here in the States was all freelance, so the quality was kind of spotty. I remember trying to time a 20 foot (around 15 seconds) scene of a group of kids being chased through an outdoor market stall area by a herd of ostriches, followed by a group of adults and angry market vendors, all from only two storyboard panels!
Any side projects you’re working on you’d like to share details of?
I often work on other people’s projects or pilots when I am asked. It’s never too soon to look for the job I will have 2 years from now! I can’t give any info out about current projects, but one of the previous pilots I directed was “Chowder”, for Cartoon Network.
Be nice. Share. Play well with others. The runner or PA you are rude to will be your boss in a couple of years.
I have seen people lose jobs because someone who knew them didn’t want to share an office with them 40 hours a week. Every job lead I ever got was through a personal connection. Often, when producers have several portfolios spread out on the table, the one that gets the job gets it because someone random on the crew walked by, glanced down, and said “Hmm, I don’t know these 2, but that guy over there is ok.” You wanna be the guy that is ok.