James Wood

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What is your name and your current occupation?
My name is James Wood.  I am currently employed as a freelance animator under contract with a major Canadian animation studio creating character animation for a tv show.


What are some of the crazier jobs you had before getting into animation?
One summer I got a job working in a hospital as a photographer’s assistant.  One of the duties required me to take photos in the operating room during surgeries – usually done on Fridays.  On the day when I was “indoctrinated” into that task, I was assured the surgeon was doing “just a little operation on someone’s hand.  It shouldn’t be very extensive” he said.  Little did I know, they were doing an elbow reconstruction.  When I walked in, I thought the patient was lying on their stomach with their elbow bent out behind them.  Then I realized the patient was lying on his back, and their elbow was opened up and bent (urp) the wrong way.  I didn’t hurl, but I was mighty shaky – not a good state for taking pictures.  Every Friday for the rest of the summer… I hid out in the darkroom!

What are some of your favorite projects you’re proud to have been a part of?
I was fortunate enough to work with the highly-skilled, very clever, fun, very hard-working people at Weta Workshop animating Dragon and other animals on the tv show “Jane and the Dragon”.  It meant I got to spend a year in New Zealand which was pretty interesting.  The work was quite demanding, but I think the end product was pretty darn good.  Also, in the summer of 2012 I did a  short for an animation contest.  We were given sound tracks and six weeks to animate whatever we wanted.  Just a few weeks before the contest I’d finished programming an autorigger, so I whipped up a character model, rigged it, modeled and rigged props and created a location, animated like crazy, added sound effects to the audio and posted the thing about two and a half weeks after starting it.  Sure the model is crude, and the animation is far from wonderful, and even though I didn’t win the contest (no comment) I feel very proud of my work.  The autorigger worked great (it took about an hour to fully rig the character), the animation is serviceable, and the whole thing tells more story than what was conveyed by the audio.  I realized how do-able it was to create a reasonably good short and it was great to hear how well it was received.  I’m eager to do more.

Where are you from and how did you get into the animation business? 
I’m from London, Ontario in Canada.  When I was a kid, I was always drawing and making flip-books.  After high school, I went to an art college, but other than their “New Media” program (that you could only apply for after 3rd year) through which one could take a single computer animation class , I didn’t see anything I wanted to study.  I took a year out and applied and was accepted into Sheridan College’s Classical Animation program.  During the summer after my last year I was hired into the biz.


What’s a typical day like for you with regards to your job?
I get up a bit after six a.m, shower, get dressed (no, I don’t work in my pajamas!), make a cup of tea, commute to my desk and start working.  At about 8:30 I have breakfast with my wife, then I get back to the computer.  Some days I go to the gym and after that, we eat lunch and I get back to the computer to work to mid to late afternoon.  Then I walk the dog and try to shake the animation out of my head.  I find I’m most productive early in the day, so I try to do the most before noon.


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

Animating the action sort of stuff is fun – a character running and jumping or somebody doing a colossal wipeout.  It’s often hard and time consuming, but if you get it right, it can look pretty funny or interesting  which can be rewarding.  Moreover, when animating characters in a 3d animation package, it’s sort of like playing with toys – you gotta make sure their hand hold is good there, that their feet are well placed, and that they’ve got their gun accessible in case a cobra agent comes round the corner of the couch…ah… sorry, I got carried away there, but maybe you get my point.
What part of your job do you like least? Why?
Talking heads, especially if the character is supposed to be tired and yawning.  If the voice actor is yawning or sounding sleepy, it totally knocks you out.  But actually, I think I like quota’s the least.  The constant need to push on and push more work along is like a ticking bomb.  It’s stressful, I can feel panicky and often have to go with my first idea and get the work to “good enough” and leave it.  I know quotas are crucial, and deadlines are good for everyone, and I like the fast pace of animating for tv, but I wish there were a way to schedule projects so that there was enough time to do some great work and not burn out.

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? 
I use a PC running Windows 7, animate with Autodesk’s Maya and use a tablet instead of a mouse.  The graphics cards and computers have gotten so fast and so cheap that it’s totally do-able for me to work outside the studio environment – when I first got into animation in the mid 90’s, there was no way I could have afforded a computer loaded with the appropriate software and of course, the internet means I can work from home.  The tablet is also a great advance.  I was working on “Jane and the Dragon” when I took the plunge and started using one.  It was the steepest, the scariest (where the cuss is the right mouse button?!  It’s a pen, fer crying out loud!) three-day learning curve I’d had in a while, and one I couldn’t reverse, but I’m faster, and I think (I hope) it has put off repetitive strain injuries somewhat.These changes have helped me achieve a great work/life balance and for anyone in animation, you’ll know that’s not small potatoes.


What is the most difficult part for you about being in the business?
Well, the solitude can be pretty dismal socially (the dog is no conversationalist).  When you’re working in a studio, it can be great to commiserate (read “gripe”) with your colleagues about the work, have a laugh, go for a coffee and spitball some solutions, but out here in the wilds, solitude can be a challenge.

In your travels, have you had any brushes with animation greatness?
I went to school with some greats and had some top notch teachers, but I think you want the really big names..  I met Andreas Deja at Disney and think I saw Kaj Pindal at Sheridan.  I’ve seen Richard Williams and Steve Williams (no relation) give talks.  On my first job I worked at Fox Animation Studios which was led by Don Bluth and Gary Goldman and at Weta I saw Richard Taylor and Peter Jackson (wearing shoes) upon occasion.  How’s that for name dropping!
Describe a tough situation you had in life.
When I was at college, living in an apartment, I opened the medicine cabinet and my toothbrush dropped into the toilet.  Why do they put medicine cabinets over toilets?!  Anyway, I said to myself “You know what goes in there?!  Ain’t no way I’m gettin’ that”… FLUSH.  Outta sight outta mind, right?  A few days later the toilet stopped flushing what it was supposed to flush, and my apartment mate called the landlord who called a plummer who found my toothbrush.  When I got home from school, my apartment mate asked me very nicely… “James, turns out the toilet wasn’t flushing ’cause there was a toothbrush in there.  Do you know anything about that?!”  What did I do?!  What would you do?  Give a clever George Washington sort of line -  “I cannot tell a lie” and then just shut up and leave it hanging there?  I tell you, that was one tough day.  Other than that, I’d say being a rough inbetween artist on Anastasia was close behind toothbrush-gate.


Any side projects you’re working on that you’d like to share details of?
I’m trying my hand at comic book stuff, so I’ve got a 5 page story on the go, I’m working on a landscape painted in acrylics and am also trying to add a facial rigger to my autorigger.  There’s a small video game project that I will find time to work on somewhere, somehow, and I’ve got a story concept that I’m rolling around..  Gimmie a week and I’ll add a few more to the list!

Any unusual talents or hobbies like tying a cherry stem with your tongue or metallurgy?

I enjoy the programming and what it allows me to do with computers and software, so I guess that could be listed as a hobby.  In the summer I ride my road bike.  Nothing too exotic there.  It’s hard enough to drag me away from the computer that I don’t need any other hobbies – computers are like the best toy there ever was.

Is there any advice you can give for an aspiring animation student or artist trying to break into the business?
My older brother said something really wise to me, so I’ll pass that along.  I was in high school, and I drew in my spare time, but by no means did I do it all the time or in any concerted way – it was a way to pass the time.  He came into my room and said “If you’re smart, you’ll draw every day.”  So I did.  You gotta put in tons of hours to become any good at anything.
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