What is your name and your current occupation?
My name is Maxwell. A. Oginni. I’m an animation director, animator & illustrator, working mainly in commercial advertising.
What are some of the crazier jobs you had before getting into animation?
Way back in my student days, when I was broke & hungry, I once took on a Summer job as a street fundraiser… That was pretty crazy. I met some very “interesting” people… I also (mistakenly) once asked a woman when she was “due”… she wasn’t pregnant.
What are some of your favourite projects you’re proud to have been a part of?
Last year my good friend Gosia, who teaches at a primary school invited me to give an animation workshop/ pep talk to her graduating class of 11-12yr olds… Before my visit, I had the kids design their very own cartoon characters, as an exercise to explore their ‘personal’ creativity… The day finally came; the kids were so charming & adorable! Originally I was to choose only one winner from the bunch who’s character I would re-design & animate; but on seeing each design, I was so impressed by the effort & skill they had all put in, that I decided I’d get my industry pals involved… I made a quick announcement on my Facebook page inviting animator/ illustrator friends to help me in re-designing ALL the characters. Within two days I had over 20 artists on board! The project, which I hosted via my Facebook page, ran on for about a month or so. The re-designs were fantastic, & the response from everyone on my friends-list (artists/ non-artists) was great; people really got involved & it pretty much became it’s own thing… Anyways, I had all the re-designs sent over to the kids via their teacher as high-res images they could print & frame up as posters. According to Gosia, the kids nearly hit the roof once they saw their designs being “brought to life” by industry professionals… It was honestly one of the most rewarding experiences I’ve ever had.
Where are you from and how did you get into the animation business?
I live in London, but was born in Benin- Nigeria. My story into animation I’m sure is pretty much the same as most other animators, really… As an introduction, back when I was a kid in Nigeria (about 5-6yrs old, late 80’s), I remember watching kids TV; back then we had a whole lot of UK/ US shows on, like, “G-Force”, “Voltron”, “M.A.S.K”, “Super Ted, “Pigeon Street” & so on… Anyway, I recall this one show, which was a sort of kids “how to” art program, would come on; & in one episode the host (who may well have been Rolf Harris) was giving a demo on drawing cartoony explosions & ‘smoke’ effects from rocket thrusts etc… I remember being completely taken by this & would practice drawing it all the time! There was another day where he had up an awesome illustration of the Spiderman villain, “Mysterio” in his classic outfit… Can’t explain it, but seeing this had a huge impact on me! It was my first conscious acknowledgement of character design/ aesthetics, & also my first introduction to the world of comics & super heros. Primarily though, I guess the seed had been planted from way before I was born, as my Dad was very gifted at drawing… my Mum was too in fact. As far as getting into the animation business, I majored in classical animation at the Glamorgan Centre of Art & Design University, in Wales [UK]. My graduation film (though not quite finished) was entered into various exhibitions & screenings; one of which was a new media show held by Aardman, which I was invited to, along with one or two other classmates of mine. These events really were my door into the industry, as they gave me the opportunities to meet some of the top industry folk & studio owners at the time. From there I caught my first break with two very well known london-based animation studios, “Bermuda Shorts” & “Tandem Films”. At Bermuda, I was sort of a hybrid “runner”/ freelancer kid; I did studio-runs delivering Beta SP tapes etc, post-office errands & occasionally made the odd cup of tea, but I was also involved in some pitch/ production work… At “Tandem” however, I was a full-on freelance animator. In fact, the day it dawned on me was just after I had completed my first job there, & was asked by the producer what my day-rate was… I paused for a second or two, then mumbled, “umm…I don’t know.”… And the rest is history.
What’s a typical day like for you with regards to your job?
A typical day varies from job to job, really. I’m currently represented by a production studio, but I also do a lot of freelance animation work outside, so it really depends. Generally, I try to start off the day by either sketching or doing a speed-paint, to get myself in a creative mood. I’ll also spend a little time browsing the Net watching cool new animated short films & checking out illustration blogs (for a little inspiration kick)… If I’m directing a commercial via the studio, my day will also consist of checking emails in the mornings for briefs, schedules, & client notes. From there it can be anything from briefing/ directing freelance animators working on the production, to research, character design, storyboarding, building animatics, animating or compositing… Throw in a client conference call or two & that’s pretty much a general day of commercial production work for me… The freelance animator side however is slightly different; particularly if working on site for a studio that has simply “hired” me… With that, it’ll be all the above, except directing a team. It’ll be more me just working on what I’m given for the day…
What part of your job do you like best? Why?
I have a real love of the pre-production design process. There’s really something quite remarkable in the act of generating an idea from your imagination, & breathing “life” into it; be it a single character or a whole world… On saying that, I also absolutely love character animating! I don’t always enjoy the time it takes, or the pain involved; but I do very much enjoy the performance side of animation… I was pretty dramatic as a kid, & have always been into the theatrics when it comes to joking around. Those who know me well are fairly used to seeing me break into full-on character acts mid-conversation (accents & all)… I’m surprised I haven’t been “committed” by any one of them yet… I’m truly blessed to be here at this very point doing exactly what I set out to do all those years ago from the age of 12… I owe it all to God almighty, & I’m thankful to Him for this gift & the constant guidance He has given me throughout my life.
What part of your job do you like least? Why?
Well generally on the freelance side of things, I dislike hearing the following phrases/ questions… “No pay, but lead to future work”… “I know that’s your rate, but can you do it for this amount in stead?”… but to be fair, I don’t receive those anywhere nearly as much as I did when I first started out… Might sound like a “rant” to some, but if people really understood how much time & effort it takes to do what we do, & how difficult this profession can be, I’m sure we’d be spoken to & seen with a lot more respect… After all, we’ve all got bills to pay & mouths to feed; a freelance artist isn’t any different.
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 animate in Flash, then generally go from there into After Effects. I also illustrate in Flash for initial line-work; mainly due to the fact I just can’t get my head around illustrator. From there, I’ll take the line-work into Photoshop & flesh out the rest & so on. Art Rage is another great app I like to use from time to time (very affordable). I’m running CS5 on all my adobe apps except Flash, which (for me) CS3 is far more preferable… In the past I’ve mostly worked on a Wacom Intuos3 tablet, but managed to pick up a sweet little 20″ Wacom Cintiq about 2years ago… I’ve not looked back since! it’s made such a huge/ positive influence to my general workflow. Leading up to getting the Cintiq, I was experiencing pretty severe RSI using my tablet; but working on the Cintiq has thankfully fixed that… I think there has been many fantastic developments tech-wise over the last few years. One area I’m seeing a lot of positive change in right now is the affordability of alternative tablet screens, like the Yiynova.
What is the most difficult part for you about being in the business?
*chuckles* Where do I start…? Having people (clients, family or friends) not quite understanding what it is you do, how hard it is & how long it takes, can be a pretty difficult thing to deal with on a regular basis… More so on the family side though, I think… Oh, & self promotion also… I’d honestly rather hire someone else to do that stuff.
In your travels, have you had any brushes with animation greatness?
Last year I attended the Annecy International Animated Film Festival, where I met & had a brief chat with one of my industry heros, Genndy Tartakovsky… That was pretty awesome. Whilst there I also spoke with Aardman Co-Owner, Peter Lord, who I had met previously back in 2006. I bumped into Pascal Campion there also & got a snap with him… A huge one for me was meeting Richard Williams back in 2006. At the same event, I also met the lovely Joanna Quinn. At one point I was in a three way conversation with them both, & almost passed out from disbelief… I met Peter de Seve some years ago at the Pictoplasma animation festival in Berlin, where he gave a brilliant lecture on character design; had a great chat with him afterwards. I fulfilled one of my major childhood dreams last year at the London Super Comic Convention, where I met & took a photo with Stan Lee; I have the signed photograph framed up & mounted on my studio wall. My Dad once asked, “Who is that old man you’re in that photo with?”… Worked with Kevin Dart & Stephen Coedel last year on the “Randy Cunningham Ninth Grade Ninja” opening seq; which was pretty cool. Renowned film titles director, Richard Morrison, who has created opening seqs for some of the most iconic movies such as Batman (1989), Brazil (1985), All Dogs Go to Heaven (1989), Scott Pilgrim (2010) plus many more, is someone I’m honoured to say I’ve worked with, & still do occasionally today from time to time… Probably the greatest of all for me, was meeting Mr Ray Harryhausen a couple of years ago. He was such a humble & genuine person. One of my prized possession is a signed book by him.
Describe a tough situation you had in life.
My final year of university was the toughest period in my life, due to a very personal loss. Only by God’s grace was I able to complete my final year & graduate as well as I did.
Any side projects you’re working on that you’d like to share details of?
I’m currently working on a short film (which this’ll be the first I’m announcing publicly). I’ve been working on it on & off between commercial jobs for quite sometime now; but once it’s completed, it should hopefully be a visually striking piece with a story that’ll provoke much thought among viewers… That’s really all I can say about it at this stage, but I very much look forward to sharing it with the world… Aside from that, I hope to host my first art exhibition sometime this year. Lastly, a few months ago, I officially started selling prints of my work; one of which is a series of Faux retro movie-posters. The response has really been great! So I’ve now created an official section on my blog displaying various artworks of mine up for order.
Any unusual talents or hobbies like tying a cherry stem with your tongue or metallurgy?
Well it’s not unusual… but I just happen to be a solid-gold dancer.
Is there any advice you can give for an aspiring animation student or artist trying to break into the business? There’s still an awful lot I’m learning for myself, but from the experiences I can say I have gone through, I’d just say, *keep going*… Follow what it is ‘you’ aspire to be; not what someone else expects… Avoid following the crowd… I see this whole trend going on with many young artists online who pretty much draw the exact same way, & have the exact same “look”; other than their signatures, there’s really not much setting them apart. Stay humble, & surround yourself only with positive/ pro-active people. This whole artist journey is tough enough as it is without skeptics dragging you down & sucking the ‘zeal’ out of you (though some genuinely may mean well)… An important lesson I’ve been learning also is to accept that family & friends may not always understand what it is you do… but that’s OK… so long as ‘you’ stay focused, know where you’re heading & are being pro-active, the results will begin to show around you & will eventually become undeniable to others… Lastly, by the very nature of what we do, it’s all too easy to fall into a state of isolation; so on the topic of “Family & friends”, I’d just stress the importance of both. Your family are all you physically have in this world; & your true friends follow closely behind… so appreciate them whilst you have them. I’ll sign off with this bit of general life advice I receive from my Dad every now & again, which I feel applies here also… “Don’t Compare, Don’t Compete, & Don’t Control”…