Stephen Nicodemus

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What is your name?
Stephen Nicodemus

What would you say has been your primary job in animation?
I have primarily been a background painter for most of my animation career although in the past five years I art directed at Cartoon Network a show called My Gym Partner’s a Monkey and have been a background paint supervisor for Marvel Animation. Currently I am an art directing for Scooby Doo Mystery Incorporated at WB Animation. Having a background painting foundation gives me the experience I need to direct color and lighting and painting style for the the show.

What are some of your favorite projects you’re proud to have been a part of?
Every time I’m on a project I think that this is the one I’m most excited about and put my all into it. You have to have that attitude about your work. When I do a personal painting I think this is gonna be my best painting I’ve ever done. So right now I am most excited about Scooby Doo Mystery Inc. It is the best Scooby Doo series so far and I’m proud to be a part of it.I was proud to be working on the last few Marvel dvd releases. Planet Hulk, Hulk Vs and yet to be released Thor: Tales of Asgard. Before that on My Gym Partner’s a Monkey, there were some shows I was proud to pull together as an AD and the painting style I enjoyed. One WB dvd I really thought came out great was Batman: Under the Red Hood. My work really was showcased in there but the whole show was great to me.

How did you become interested in animation?
I was always a fan of animation but never thought I would work in the business. I grew up watching Popeye, Looney Tunes, Speed Racer, all the H&B cartoons along with some live action shows like Get Smart, Gilligan’s Island, The Three Stooges and The Andy Griffith Show. These were like cartoons to me because the characters were so animated. TV was an escape for me so I watched a lot. In real life though, I followed a more serious painting career path early on. I wanted to be a fine art painter. I studied traditional painting and did a lot of outdoor painting and painting from life. Although I loved traditional painting I still needed to make a living and became an illustrator in my twenties. What a mistake for me. I was so unhappy doing that. I soon found myself working in animation because I was much more suited for it.

Where are you from and how did you get into the animation business?
I originally came from upstate New York but lived here in southern California since I was 11 years old. I went to Art Center when I was 21 then as I said tried a career in illustration after graduating. I think that’s because that was what artists did back then. There were no animation jobs like there are today. Today students are trained to work in animation after they graduate. I got into animation when working with a friend who painted backgrounds needed help on some freelance. I thought it was fun work so I took my portfolio to all the studios. I ended up at WB Animation. I keep trying to leave but keep finding my way back here. Just kidding. It’s a very good company to work for.

What’s a typical day like for you with regards to your job?
I really have to know the story through reading the story board. I have to figure out from the board, the time of day the action is happening and try to set up the times that are most dramatic and create a special lighting situation to identify that time with that particular creature or monster. We want to give each show and creature that is introduced a particular lighting and color treatment to dramatize the scary moments. After I have an idea then I spend a lot of my time color comping the key moments of the show so the bg painters and color key artists will know what to do. Of course we have meetings about this with them as well but the comps are there to see the actual color and lighting. When I get the time I help out painting some of the backgrounds so we stay ahead of the schedule. after everything is turned in I make the neccessary adjustments and check the color models (characters and props) over the backgrounds. When all is approved

What part of your job do you like best? Why?
I still like painting. I like the color comping because you set up a direction but the final painting is how you interpret it. All the choices that I’m given are always a challenge for me. It’s rewarding to have a winner at the end of the day. I sleep better that night.

What part of your job do you like least? Why?
Negotiating a salary. Because I never get enough.

What is the most difficult part for you about being in the business?
I can’t think of anything. It’s been good for me.

What kind of technology do you work with on a daily basis?
Of course I have to use a computer. I use a Mac with a Cintiq 21UX, Photoshop CS4. iChat, Adobe Bridge and iTunes.
In your travels, have you had any brushes with animation greatness?
Well yes. I have worked at WB for a lot of my career. Bill Hanna and Joe Barbera were around quite a lot and used to chat and joke with them before they left us. Joe was more funny. I enjoyed working Bruce Timm  and see him at least once a week still. Bill Wray is working with us on Scooby Doo right now. I loved his Ren and Stimpy paintings. I worked with Dan Krall quite a lot who is a current star in animation as well as Scott Wills, Mark Whiting, Ted Blackman, and Seonna Hong. These are my friends and I feel privileged to know them.

Any side projects you’re working on?
I have a lot of children’s book ideas sketched out and cartoons gags that I do for fun and therapy. I also have my personal painting I do on the side. I try to post some stuff on my blog but I’m lazy about that. I don’t want to see a computer on the weekend and would rather work on my motorcycles. I like old BMW motorcycles that I restore and customize. It’s a nice break from this business.

Describe a tough situation you had in life.
I think the toughest thing I’ve had to overcome was myself. I am the only obstacle that can make my life a success and so I examine myself a lot. I don’t like to point the finger at others, I first look at myself to see what I can do to solve a problem first. If I can’t do it on my own, then I start reaching out for others to help. Sounds like therapy I know but I get tired of the finger pointers. They go nowhere in life.

Is there any advice you can give for an aspiring animation student or artist trying to break into the business?
Do as much drawing and painting from life as you can. Think about design when you do it. Take a lot of classes from pros. Shoot high in your goals and remember it’s a competitive business. There’s always someone that will be better and work harder than you out there so push yourself.The main thing is try to find your own style and personal signature. This is what makes animation stars. They have that.

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