What is your name and your current occupation?
My name is Dan Forgione, and I am an Animation Director at Titmouse,Inc, working on Season 1 of Randy Cunningham: 9th Grade Ninja.
What are some of the crazier jobs you had before getting into animation?
My first job ever was as a caddy at a local country club, and in HS I worked in the food service dept at a local hospital where I was part of an assembly line putting together patient meals. I later went on to wait tables, bar tend, and even manage a restaurant during my first few years of college. Also I originally went to college to become a Phys Ed teacher, but transferred after a year an a half to art school.
What are some of your favorite projects you’re proud to have been a part of?
I’m proud of all the work I have done both past and present, but there are a few that stand out in particular. Most recently would definitely be the work I’m doing at Titmouse, as well as the work I’ve done at Six Point Harness, where I was able to work on a number of projects with great crews of artists, some of whom have become my closest friends since moving to LA two years ago. I also got to work on a very unique project back in NY with Flickerlab, where I got to traditionally animate an entire 2- min piece for BNY Melon on paper napkins which was then shot as stop motion. Before that, there were numerous projects that I did with Dancing Diablo, including several spots for the Bronx Zoo . And of course, the pencil test I did as my proposal to my beautiful wife, Amanda.
How did you become interested in animation?
I always tell people I consider animation my “astronaut dream.” You know when kids are asked what they want to be when they grow up, and they respond with “firefighter,” or “superhero,” or “astronaut,” mine was “Disney animator.” As a child I loved to draw and by the time I was old enough to form some sort of idea of what I wanted to be when I grew up, the Disney era was being revitalized by The Little Mermaid, The Lion King, Beauty and the Beast, and Aladdin. I was still pretty young at that time, but I knew I wanted to be one of those guys who created those films, even though I knew very little about what was actually involved. However it wasn’t until much later, as I mentioned before, when I realized it was actually a profession I could pursue and make a life out of.
Where are you from and how did you get into the animation business?
I grew up in Parsippany, NJ which is in Morris County right in the middle of Northern NJ between NYC and Pennsylvania. I actually got into animation in an unexpected way. Although my dream as a child was to become an animator, as I grew up, that desire faded as I became more involved in sports. I played baseball most of my childhood, and then started football and wrestling once I reached middle school. By the time I reached HS, though, I was competing pretty seriously in wrestling, which became my passion. I had barely even lifted a pencil to draw in years, let alone did I even think about wanting to become an animator. By my senior year, my goals were set on getting a wrestling scholarship somewhere, and like most seniors in HS, wanted to have a simple schedule to ride out until graduation that would allow me to focus on working out, and competing. By then, I hadn’t drawn a single line in years, but I knew I still had the ability to draw, and stacked up my schedule with my very first art classes ever, banking on them being easy A’s during my last year of HS. Well midway though the first semester I had done a few pieces that won a few local awards, and had my teacher lobbying for me to go to the School of Visual Arts in NYC. But my mine had already been made up that I wanted to wrestle at a college with a campus, and study physical education, so that I could one day coach. I graduated, and went on to wrestle for East Stroudsburg University in PA, which was Division 1 at the time, and majored in Phys Ed. But I quickly realized that there was something else I wanted to do with the rest of my life, and a year and a half later I was taking the semester off to put together a portfolio to apply to SVA’s animation program.
What’s a typical day like for you with regards to your job?
Since moving to LA, we’ve managed to get by with only one car which my wife takes everyday. So for me, that means my day starts out with a bike ride to where ever I am working at the time, unless I freelance and can work from home. Currently, I ride a little over 8 miles from Glendale to Titmouse, in Hollywood. Lucky for me, they have a shower, so I don’t have to worry about offending anyone with post commuting odors. By 10am, I’m at my desk, checking emails, notes, or animation that’s been turned in overnight from a studio in Ireland. Since we’re already half way through the production, most of the pre production is done, so my days as the animation Director are spent working closely with the Supervising Director, and Art Director to get each episode to look as good as it possibly by doing revisions on both storyboards that are sent out to be animated as well as fixing or giving notes on animation that has already been done. Eight hours later, I hop back on my bike for the 8 mile trek back home.
What part of your job do you like best? Why?
The best part of my job is always having that desire to learn and improve. I am a very competitive person, and I feel I am at my best when I am constantly being challenged. And in this industry we are all surrounded by artists that are better than us in one way or another, and that inspires me to work hard and become excited about learning something new or improving upon something with each new project.
What part of your job do you like least? Why?
Studio politics and patronizing crits. I think the first one is pretty self explanatory. For me, when I show work to friends and colleagues, I always hope and appreciate when I get an honest response to it regardless whether it is positive or negative. Because I have such a strong desire to continue to improve upon my skills, I prefer to know when something I’ve drawn or created isn’t communicating quite as clearly as I wanted, or if a pose/acting choice could be stronger. But I find, sometimes people are afraid to say something negative in order to spare one’s feelings. But as an artist, if the negative response is communicated in a constructive way that can be learned from, it only helps in the long run.
What is the most difficult part for you about being in the business?
The long hours I pull, more often than not, working on freelance or personal work. Not because I don’t love what I do, but because it can take away from the times I have to spend with my wife, and our friends.
What kind of technology do you work with on a daily basis?
Right now I use a Mac Pro and 21in cintiq both at home and at work. And most of the work I do is in Flash, but I also you Photoshop, After Effects, Harmony, and Storyboard Pro.
In your travels, have you had any brushes with animation greatness?
Everyday I am surrounded by countless talented artists, and I have been fortunate to experience that on both coasts. But as far as encounters with people I grew up admiring, when we first moved to LA, I was introduced to John K, and got to work with him for a short period of time on a freelance project.
Describe a tough situation you had in life.
Without going into too much detail, my father had been diagnosed with glioblastoma, which is a very severe case of brain cancer during my third year at SVA. He lived with it for 3 years despite the doctors only giving him months to live when he was first diagnosed. It was a tough time for our family, especially in the last few months when the cancer really took a toll on him.
Any side projects or you’re working on or hobbies you’d like to share details of?
I almost always have a number of side projects in the works, whether it’s freelance, or just personal projects. Many of which are part of my ever growing To Do list. But right now, with starting a new job, I’m concentrating on that, and spending time with my wife, our dog Mina, and hanging out with our friends.
Any unusual talents or hobbies like tying a cherry stem with your tongue or metalurgy?
Not really. I like hiking with my wife and our dog, I enjoy drinking whisky or scotch, smoking cigars and playing an occasional round of golf.
Is there any advice you can give for an aspiring animation student or artist trying to break into the business?
Work hard and don’t ever stop learning and improving your skills, regardless if it’s one of your strengths or weaknesses. Love what you do, and be passionate about the work you create, regardless of how big or small the project is, and remember that there’s always something you can do to get better.
Also, any animation community in any city, is always a lot smaller than you might think. Which means pure talent, by itself, will take you only so far in your career. So if you’re difficult to work with, or have the mind set that you’re better than the people around you and the projects your hired on, or just have a bad attitude in general, it won’t matter how talented you are. People will not want to work with you, and eventually stop calling you to work for them.