What is your name and your current occupation?
Mike Perez, Freelance Illustrator & 3D Generalist.
What are some of the crazier jobs you had before getting into animation?
Probably has to be delivering newspapers before dawn or selling fireworks in one of those huge tents.
What are some of your favorite projects you’re proud to have been a part of?
Last year, I oversaw Character Rendering for The Adventures of Big Bird and Kami. It was a great project with a great team!
How did you become interested in animation?
As far back as I can remember, I have been interested in cartoons. I had a lot of VHS tapes as a kid. Things like the Fleischer Superman, Looney Tunes and Silly Symphonies.
Where are you from and how did you get into the animation business?
I’m from Miami, and in South Florida there is some game development and VFX work, but
there isn’t much animation business. Telecommuting seems to offer some hope the artists down here, but it’s still hard. That’s why I’ll be moving to LA… eventually. I did some conceptual pre-fabricated homes for a local studio called Pacific Art Studio while I was still in college, but I didn’t start using Maya on a regular basis until I started in Medical Animation. It may not be as glamorous as feature animation, but its a great way to develop a wide range of skills because you end up playing a lot of roles, and it’s pretty stable in terms of job security.
What’s a typical day like for you with regards to your job?
A typical day right now involves constant job hunting. I just finished a new Demo Reel. The strategy I’m employing right now involves using social media sites like Twitter, LinkedIn and Instagram to build the awareness of my new reel and job hunt, inbetween applying and working on new art. I find that its really important to keep producing art, even if it’s just for myself.
What part of your job do you like best? Why?
The two things I like best are Hard Surface Modeling and freehand drawing. They are the two skills where I feel strong enough to be creative without worrying about technique so much.
What part of your job do you like least? Why?
Networking is the hardest thing for me. I’m somewhat socially inept.
What kind of technology do you work with on a daily basis?
Autodesk Maya, Adobe Photoshop and pencils, are what I use most often.
What is the most difficult part for you about being in the business?
The stress that comes from the lack of job security and the long periods of social isolation that are sometimes necessary to produce the work. It takes a toll emotionally if you do not have a good work/life balance.
In your travels, have you had any brushes with animation greatness?
In 2010, I traveled cross country to attend Siggraph. While there I got to meet Glen Keane, and awkwardly told him a story about how as a kid I chose to see The Little Mermaid instead of Back To The Future Part 2. I’m sure my voice was cracking and I sounded totally nervous, but he was as genuine and friendly.
Describe a tough situation you had in life.
Prior to my trip to Siggraph, I hadn’t really grasped the extent to which my social issues affected me in my career. It was a potential networking goldmine for me, but I actually did not make any lasting connections. I realized I was avoiding any interaction with the other people at the conference because I was very intimidated and racked with social anxiety. The few interactions I did have went well enough, but I didn’t feel I had any work that was good enough at the time to show my skills, and I wasn’t really interested in pursuing friendships with total strangers who live so far from me. I still struggle with social anxiety but I do find that I can network much easier on social media sites like Twitter and Instagram than I can in person.
Any side projects you’re working on that you’d like to share details of?
As I’m developing my illustration portfolio I’ve tried to keep some of the drawings tied into a story I’ve had in my head since college. I’m calling it Sunland Story for now, and it is Biopunk SciFi. It only exists as a dozen or so conceptual character sketches and story outlines at the moment, but I hope to do some crowd-funded shorts in the future.
Any unusual talents or hobbies like tying a cherry stem with your tongue or metallurgy?
I can do the cherry stem thing, and I can also wiggle my ears 🙂
Is there any advice you can give for an aspiring animation student or artist trying to break into the business?
Learn how to keep a good work/life balance regardless of how much you love doing what you do. You will still need a good support system even if you have your dream job, and the road to that dream job will likely be hard. It will require persistence and dedication to you craft. Try to do your art for yourself and not because you are chasing a studio job. You will feel more ownership of your work and you will improve in skill. Always challenge yourself, but know when you are being overambitious or a perfectionist. Also, as Disney Artist Chris Oatley said in a recent blog post, “Your Dreams Do Not Define You”. In other words, your self worth as an artist should not need the validation of a job.