My name is Jason Lethcoe.
What would you say has been your primary job in animation?
Mostly as a Story Artist, but I got my start as an Inbetweener, worked up to Animator and even Directed for a bit. But at the end of the day, I fell in love with Story.
What are some of the crazier jobs you had before getting into animation?
Selling funeral plots. Seriously. I actually went with my dad to a seminar on how to do it and after trying it for one day, the whole thing creeped me out so badly that I had to find a better way. Other jobs included Assistant Manager at Morrow’s Nut House. I also used to build elaborate props for parties, 12 foot tall telephones and stuff. It was crazy.
What are some of your favorite projects you’re proud to have been a part of?
I was lucky to get an early start to my career by working on The LittleMermaid. Getting to work on the project that got Disney going again was really great. I also had fun on Sony Pictures’ “Surf’s Up”, and my years at Disney Feature Animation were awesome too.
How did you become interested in animation?
As far back as I can remember, I thought it was cool. I loved watching the Wonderful World of Disney on T.V. and couldn’t wait until Saturday for the cartoons. Of course, the Disney feature films were awesome, but you had to wait until they released them in the theaters. Where are you from and how did you get into the animation business? I was born in Portland, Oregon. My folks moved to California when I was fifteen and I’d met a friend who knew a lot about making Super8 films and stop motion. After getting to Southern Cal, I wasted no time looking for schools that taught animation. I ended up taking a bit of life drawing at Brandes Art Institute and got some tutoring from a couple of great guys named Lenord Robinson and Jesse Cosio. But mostly I was self taught, working hard to learn how animate.
What’s a typical day like for you with regards to your job?
After driving an hour and fifteen minutes to get out to Sony, (I listen to a lot of books on tape), I settle into my office and hit the drawing board. I really like drawing on the Cintiq… the time flies by so fast. And after being given about a week to do a first pass on the storyboard, I’ll pitch it to the director. I really like everyone I work with and, crazy commute aside, enjoy my days a lot. What part of your job do you like best? Why? I love to watch the characters come to life. The stuff I like best to do are character moments, like the “making the board sequence” in Surf’s Up. I was able to write that one and it stayed almost unchanged until the picture’s release! A rare treat!
What part of your job do you like least? Why?
When all of the development time is used up and I’m drawing ’til midnight for weeks. That’s not fun.
What is the most difficult part for you about being in the business?
I always encourage other artists to make sure and not forget to do your own work on the side. If you look to Hollywood to be your ultimate fulfillment as an artist, you might be disappointed. I write children’s fiction on the side and have had about eleven books published. It helps me stay objective about the project I’m on, and roll with the changes.
What kind of technology do you work with on a daily basis?
Photoshop CS5 and a Cintiq. Although boarding on storyboard pads was a lot of fun, the Cintiq really raises the bar. You really get a sense of the film when you pitch the boards and can see the edits.
In your travels, have you had any brushes with animation greatness?
I guess my greatest moment was over at Disney Features. I had a board all pinned up and had left the pitch room for about five minutes to get a drink of water. When I came back in, Joe Grant was standing in the room studying my boards. I mean, Joe Grant! Disney legend! Talk about panic! But it was the greatest feeling in the world when he turned with a serious expression and told me, “Nice stuff”. I’ve never needed another compliment.
Describe a tough situation you had in life.
Losing my parents a couple of years ago was tough. It really brings new perspective to your life when you’re orphaned, even when you’re forty! But I have a great wife and family and appreciate them even more. No matter how crazy your work schedule can be, it’s important to put your family first. You won’t have them forever!
Any side projects you’re working on you’d like to share details of?
As far as side projects go, I have a new book called “No Place Like Holmes” coming out in May. It’s all about Sherlock Holmes’ next door neighbor, Rupert Snodgrass who is also a detective and is bitter at living in the shadow of greatness. Everything changes when his nephew Griffin Sharpe comes to live with him. It’s a really fun series!
Is there any advice you can give for an aspiring animation student or artist trying to break into the business?
Don’t give up. Keep drawing and if you’re interested in Story, READ! Books are the best way to build your storytelling chops.