What is your name and your current occupation?
Lucas Martell. I’m a writer/director/producer currently developing my own projects through my company: Martell Animation (martellanimation.com) I also freelance occasionally as a Line producer or CG Supervisor.
What are some of the crazier jobs you had before getting into animation?
For one summer I did school photography. You know the guys who go around and take pictures of high schoolers for the yearbook? Worst. Job. Ever.
What are some of your favorite projects you’re proud to have been a part of?
A while back I did a short film called Pigeon: Impossible. It was a lot of fun, and I learned an immense amount by going through that and dealing with every single step of the animation process.
Where are you from and how did you get into the animation business?
I’m from a small town in central Illinois. In college I was a music major, but did a lot of technical work in the recording studio, as well as music videos. I moved to Austin TX after graduating in 2003 with
the expectation of getting into sound for film. Someone saw a few simple VFX shots I had done for a music video and hired me to do a few shots for their film. Before I knew it, I was getting regular work as a VFX artist. I started working on Pigeon: Impossible as a way to expand my skills into 3D animation, but fell in love with the creative and storytelling aspects of the medium, so I’ve have since shifted my focus to that side of things.
What’s a typical day like for you with regards to your job?
It changes drastically depending on what the priorities are. When I first moved into the writing/directing side of things, I realized that I needed to have a handful of projects going at any given time. So, there’s usually something I’m writing… usually just me at a coffee shop with my laptop. Something I’m developing, which is taking meetings, doing business plans, rewrites, visual development, budgets, fundraising and a host of other things. Something that’s in production which on smaller projects I often serve as the Director, Line Producer and CG Supervisor so its a real mixed bag in terms of what I’m doing day in and day out. And finally there’s usually something that we’ve finished which I’m promoting through videos and blog posts on the web, film festivals, speaking at schools, doing interviews, etc.
What part of your job do you like best? Why?
Production is always fantastic. It’s great to see ideas start to come to life. Writing is also be very fun, but its always an emotional roller coaster. When things are going well, it’s amazing. When they aren’t, it’s like pounding your head on the wall hoping that it will eventually crack.
What part of your job do you like least? Why?
Paperwork. I love the “just do it” indie attitude, but as I try to make bigger and more ambitious projects, the amount of legal junk that has to be tended to grows exponentially. Contracts, distribution agreements, plus all the usual trappings of running a small business.
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?
Because I’ve been doing less of the hands-on stuff, the new technology doesn’t impact me directly nearly as much as the artists. One big push lately has been for more and more remote collaboration, but I actively try to avoid that whenever I can because getting everyone in the same room and working closely together can speed things up immensely, as well as making things a lot more collaborative and enjoyable.
What is the most difficult part for you about being in the business?
There’s a whole world of development that most people on the production side of things barely know exists. If you ever wonder why there’s so many producers on a project, development is why. The easiest way to describe it is that you have a boulder (an idea) at the base of a mountain, and the only way to get it made is to push it all the way to the top (greenlight.) When it does finally reach the top and you can finally let the thing start rolling down the other side (production) the challenge becomes trying to steer the boulder around obstacles, but it’s a lot more fun than pushing that !@#$ boulder uphill for years on end.
In your travels, have you had any brushes with animation greatness?
It was a lot of fun to be in a festival screening with Bill Plympton and Don Hertzfeldt.
Describe a tough situation you had in life.
I prefer to focus on the future and where things are going. There are lots of things that don’t go as expected, and new challenges come up daily. The big ones are still too painful to talk about publicly, and the little ones seem trite by comparison.
Any side projects you’re working on that you’d like to share details of?
At the moment my big focus is “The OceanMaker,” a 9 minute short that takes place after the Earth’s oceans have disappeared. The story is about one courageous pilot who fights against vicious sky pirates for control of the last remaining source of water: the clouds. It’s very much an independent short film, but as I mentioned, I don’t care much for remote collaboration so I wanted to find a way to get everyone in the same place… we ended up moving the first round of production to a small island off the coast of Belize. That was an amazing experience because we were all able to work very closely together with hardly any distractions, and it was a lot more fun than being holed up in some windowless office building for weeks on end. Production turned into this sort of “artist retreat meets animation camp” situation that was a very refreshing experience, and the crew bonded in a way that I’ve never seen with any other team. You can learn more about it on the IndieGoGo page we just launched: http://www.indiegogo.com/
Any unusual talents or hobbies like tying a cherry stem with your tongue or metallurgy?
Nothing too unusual. As I mentioned I was a commercial music major (saxophone) and I’ve been amazed at how much that has helped with virtually all aspects of my animation knowledge. There’s a lot of crossover, and sometimes I even describe story or animation beats in terms of music, especially dynamics, rhythm and pacing.
Is there any advice you can give for an aspiring animation student or artist trying to break into the business?
My biggest recommendation is to always have your own projects. Maybe its a story idea, graphic novel, short film, video game… As an artist in the field, there are a lot of things that are out of our control, so its great to have your own projects to provide a creative outlet that YOU have final say on. It’s also great to help understand the other parts of the process. Even if you work specifically as an animator, it can help out immensely to know more about the other parts like modeling and lighting. You’ll be able to see how your work fits into the larger picture and communicate more easily with people in other departments.