What is your name and your current occupation?
For the past few years I have been Directing. I have Directed many commercials and am represented by Prime Focus in London. Earlier last year I Directed two Episodes of a new animated series for the UK’s Channel 4 called “Full English” which ironically I Directed in LA at Rough Draft who are most well known for Futurama. I am now Directing a wonderful TV pilot called Lost Treasure Hunt which will be on PBS later this year for Argosy Film.
What are some of the crazier jobs you had before getting into animation?
Nothing too crazy! I did work as an Art Director a couple years before getting into the Film Industry. We had a brief for a spoof “sick” ad to run in Tatler Magazine and I came up with a concept for an ad for Euthanasia in which we photographed a coffin and put a cut out coupon in the coffin where you had to fill in your details, The headline was “FILL THIS SPACE!”.
What are some of your favorite projects you’re proud to have been a part of?
Without doubt the first project that comes to mind was being a Lead Animator on Brad Bird’s “The iron Giant”. The film has such a heart and despite failing at the box office due to poor promotion has stood the test of time and found it’s audience on DVD. “Who Framed Roger Rabbit” was also a great experience as it was my first job in the film industry and stands as a classic.
Where are you from and how did you get into the animation business?
I was raised in the English countryside in the beautiful county of Devon near Exeter, My upbringing actually helped shaped me and what route I wanted to follow. This was before the internet or computer games so we had to find our own entertainment. Having quite a solitary upbringing I would go out with a sketch pad and draw all the time. I would also spend countless hours painting; it was an obsession from an early age. At the age of ten I used to watch a show called The Do-It-Yourself Animation Show with Bob Godfrey in which he would interview famous animators such as Terry Gilliam and Richard Williams. It got me hooked. Who knew that year later I would meet all of them! At around this time my Mum gave me a book called “The Disney Films” by Leonard Maltin. It contained black and white pictures and at the back some of Disneyland. I asked if we could go there and was told you had to be rich to go there, this was years before the cheap deals to the US. Years later when working at Disney as a Lead Animator on Hercules I use to have to pinch myself as I cruised into Disneyland with a Silver pass which meant I could bring in six guests for free! I also got to meet Leonard Maltin at a screening in Hollywood of “Who Framed Roger Rabbit” It was quite a moment as we talked and told him how I had got his book as a ten year old boy. He also gave a great review online of my short film “The Journal of Edwin Carp” voiced by Hugh Laurie (House) Although obsessed with animation I never imagined getting a job in the animation business. It wasn’t till many years later when I had left Art School and was working in advertising in London that I heard Disney were in town making “ Who Framed Roger Rabbit”. I went along and did what they call an “in-between! Test. It is where you take the animator keys and look at the timing charts and draw the drawings in between. I remember it being a particularly hot day. Richard Williams the top Animator and Animation Director on the film was away for the day so they sat me at his desk to do the test. There was a bright skylight at the top of the old Camden building and the light shone through which made it particularly difficult as you work on a light box with light coming from below so you can see the two layers of drawings and the one you are working on. With the light coming down from above I could hardly see! I asked the Production Manager at the time for a pencil sharpener and he duly pointed to a red box on the desk. I looked blankly at him as I had no idea what the contraption was and gestured again with my hands a pencil sharpening action. He pointed to the box again and just said “insert your pencil”! It was an electric sharpener and being a country boy I had never seen one! Amazingly a few days later I was asked in for evening classes and ultimately given the job!
What’s a typical day like for you with regards to your job?
As the business is so unpredictable there is no typical day! The only thing that is predictable is my cup of Latte every morning! Every job is so different. I am either Directing in CG or 2D. Storyboarding or animating again in CG, Flash or 2D. I never know what is coming up next!
What part of your job do you like best? Why?
Directing nowadays is definitely where my head is at. It encompasses all the various disciplines I have learnt of design, storyboarding and animating. Putting projects together from scratch form the original conception, to script to finished product.
What part of your job do you like least? Why?
Part of what I like least about the business is the unpredictability and then part of what I like most about the business is the unpredictability. I will explain. I love the variety, the fact that now two jobs are the same. With new technology there are new choices. Yet along with this comes the irregularity of the work. You might get three offers of work and have to turn down two, then a few months later have nothing for a month, it’s hard to get a consistent flow of work, even for the small studios.
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?
Technology has had a massive impact on what I do and has in fact changed what I do. Years ago, before the internet was invented I was happily animating at Disney on films like Hercules and Pocahontas. We were animating on paper. We were starting to shoot “pencil tests” on a computer on Hercules as on Pocahontas they were done on a video line tester. This was just the start however! Later, when I was working over at Warner Bros. as a Lead Animator on The iron Giant we went to a screening of a film called Toy Story by the fledgling studio PIXAR. We were blown away by it but had little idea the real impact this film was about to make on the future of 2D. We thought CGI would exist hand in hand equally with Classical 2D in the same way you have artists using Water Colours or Oils, how wring we were. Classical 2D almost died and is still just clinging on as it has all moved to CG, in term of theatrical releases anyway. Warner Bros. Third 2D Feature “Osmosis Jones” bombed and closed the Feature Animation Unit. I returned to the UK to lick my wounds and slowly re-invented myself as there was not enough classical 2D to survive on that alone, something that I had done solidly for the previous 10 or more years. I started to do storyboard, Flash animation and CG. I also got the bug for Directing. Now whether I would have gone this route if the business hadn’t changed I don’t know. I may have anyway. To be honest I enjoy and embrace the technology. I do storyboards digitally as it is just a tool. The technology is there to help us not hinder. As they say “adapt or die”. I chose to live!
What is the most difficult part for you about being in the business?
As already mentioned, the unpredictability. The unavoidable part of politics in any big studio environment.
In your travels, have you had any brushes with animation greatness?
Absolutely. I can give you a list. Brad Bird, Richard Williams, Chuck Jones, Glen Keane, Nick Park, Art Babbit, Frank Tomas, Ollie Johnston, Ward Kimball, Mark Davis, and Victor Haboush.
Describe a tough situation you had in life.
My Father passed away last year and a few days after his death I had to give a talk along with some other artists about “The Iron Giant” and I didn’t want to let anyone down. I had to put on a brave face for a few hours, it was very tough.
Any side projects you’re working on that you’d like to share details of?
Yes several! We just formed a new Production Company GBK Hybird as an umbrella company for a number of film projects we are developing. When I say we I mean Gary Kurtz (Producer “Star Wars, “Dark Crystal”) , Paul Goodenough (Web Entrepreneur and owner of Aerian Studios and The Film Network) and myself. You can see more details at www.gbkhybrid.com We have a great new Live Action project called The Chimeran www.thechimeran.com in which we have a World in which we have created hybrid creatures to do our labour. We see a new racial system and it’s hierarchal effect . The great thing about this film is the social commentary and relevance it has. It is not a creature movie. It’s a great film about our human condition that happens to have creatures and effects. Another wonderful film we have in development is a CG animated film called “Offbeat”. This is being considered by a Major studio right now and will keep you posted. The poster for it is on our GBK Hybrid site.
Any unusual talents or hobbies like tying a cherry stem with your tongue or metallurgy?
I can do a pretty good Donald Duck voice!
Is there any advice you can give for an aspiring animation student or artist trying to break into the business? You have to love it and be persistent. Never give up. Listen to those you admire.