What is your name and your current occupation?
My name is Ray Leong and I’m currently a digital inker/clean up artist on Fairly Odd Parents at Nickelodeon Animation Studio.
What are some of the crazier jobs you had before getting into animation?
I used to work in a library for a medical school that was also a research facility. The one window I had in my office faced the loading dock where a delivery service would drop off animals for testing. I assume they all knew their fates, because they would scream bloody murder and would want to get out of their cages. It was very depressing. It’s a good thing I had responsibilities in other buildings, so I would just work elsewhere. I did see prisoners in orange jumpsuits and chains being brought in as well. Not sure if they were being used for testing too, but I didn’t feel sorry for them. 😉
What are some of your favorite projects you’re proud to have been a part of?
My initial run on Fairly Odd Parents was one of my favorite projects. I had only worked as small studios and it was first job at a larger facility. There were tons of new people to meet, I got to utilize my skills on Adobe Illustrator for the first time on an animation production (I don’t think many places were using it back then) and the show itself was a funny show. I’m glad to be back working on the show again. Actually, I’m just glad to be working period.
Where are you from and how did you get into the animation business?
I was born and raised in Philadelphia, PA. I studied art in college and the animation industry seemed like a good fit at the time. People get paid to draw funny pictures? Where can I join? haha! However, there were not many animation jobs in Philadelphia, so I had to move where the work is. So I moved to Burbank and went to an animation convention. I met a recruiter-type person and got contact info for a small studio. I eventually got a job cleaning up character designs at that company. Eventually they let me work on backgrounds and even designed some props too.
What’s a typical day like for you with regards to your job?
I’ll get assignments from the production staff to digitally ink character/prop/background roughs so they are clean and in the style of the show. The show has a certain graphic look to it and requires a particular line quality. I use Adobe Illustrator because it’s great to create hard-edge, clean looking lines. Because it’s vector, I can scale the image and not have to worry about it getting blurry. It’s also great for re-using/modifying existing artwork.
What part of your job do you like best? Why?
Working on a crew that knows it’s a team effort and appreciates every person that participates. Being paid to draw funny pictures is nice too.
What part of your job do you like least? Why?
I don’t do it now, but when I was a supervisor I had to keep track of who had artwork to be done, what is it’s status, and what show it was for. I was working on 2 productions at the same time. It was a lot of work dealing with 2 crews.
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?
Right now I’m primarily using Adobe Illustrator and occasionally Photoshop. Some of the new features that Adobe has put out makes things easier to do, but the basic functionality of the programs haven’t changed for what I need to do my job.
What is the most difficult part for you about being in the business?
Staying employed for the majority of the year. It’s such a project based business. You get hire, they let you go if the project doesn’t get renewed. Having a 2-6 week hiatus in between seasons is not a problem because I know when I’m coming back to work. But being let go and not knowing when my next job will be is a little nerve wracking. Thankfully, my longest stretch outside of the business was only 7 months. Even then, I was working at another company so I could pay the bills.
Describe a tough situation you had in life.
Moving to California was pretty tough for me. I moved to the other side of the country by myself. I didn’t know anyone here and didn’t have a job lined up. Not having a car in California also isn’t great. (first world problems, right? 😉 But a little adversity never hurt anyone. 😉
Any side projects you’re working on that you’d like to share details of?
Not sure if any of my employers want me to divulge anything, so I won’t say anything just in case. I like to keep working if possible.
Any unusual talents or hobbies like tying a cherry stem with your tongue or metallurgy?
When I have the time, I like to do wood sculpting and incorporating found objects. Most animation artists sit at a desk and stare at a computer screen for a third to half the day. Doing the wood carving exercises a different part of my brain and it gets me moving around. I used to rent a space with friends and we could work on different projects (painting, sculpture, electronics, etc). It was fun hanging out and making things just to be creative.
Is there any advice you can give for an aspiring animation student or artist trying to break into the business? Draw/paint as much as you can and get the fundamentals down (anatomy, structure, perspective, thinking in 3 dimensions, color theory, etc). After that, learn the technology that will allow you to show your fundamental skills (e.g. painting in Photoshop, building 3-D models in Maya, etc). Next, push yourself further with other skills like writing, story boarding, editing, comedic timing, etc. You may not need all of the skills you have learned for any one particular job, but it will make you more employable when a new opportunity arises.
Have you tried other programs .. say Inkscape or Corel ? How did you end up with Adobe ? Is it because so many who “do graphics” use a MAC ? I ask because I find Adobe to be rather convoluted to use for my projects.
I’ve never used Inkscape or CorelDraw. I’ve used Freehand back in the day before they got absorbed into Adobe. My skills in Illustrator allowed me to grasp that program quicker.
When I was in college, computer graphics just started to take off, so I figured I’d learn something about it to keep up. I found an old version of Adobe Illustrator for sale and bought it during one summer. It took me months of self teaching to figure out the program. But eventually it clicked. I can understand how you would feel that Adobe products to be “convoluted.”
Are there alternatives? Yes. I know many character designers use Sketchbook Pro or something similar. Storyboard artists use StoryboardPro. However, Adobe products are industry standards. Most employers will want you to know (or be very familiar with) Adobe programs along with the alternatives.
Hope this helps!
Very nice interview
Dear Ray, So glad you are still working in the animation industry. I remember our days at Sunbow and making “Captain Cosmos” very fondly. I’m retired but still work, writing novels, and screenplays, and going to conventions. I’m working on a series about a young girl who lives in outer space, “Starflake” without the need of any life support. Here’s a sample: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4_NBrNfOTlo