What is your name and your current occupation?
My name is Chad Essley, and I’m the owner Â / director of CartoonMonkey Studio.
What are some of the crazier jobs you had before getting into animation?
I started into my animation career in my early 20’s, so I have to goÂ back to my teens to remember early crazy-ish jobs..hmm..
I once worked for a short period of time, at a factory where they madeÂ basketball hoops. A robot would weld the hooks onto an iron hoop, andÂ I would stand with these thick leather gloves on, grabbing the hoop asÂ it came off the robot (still white hot from the welding) and file offÂ all the extra bits before stacking it on a forklift palette. The placeÂ was full of 40 to 60 year old people who really never saw the sunshineÂ outside the bounds of this dismal industrial factory who would drinkÂ on the job, and smoke copiously in the break room. Think I lastedÂ about four days before walking out into the sunshine, never to return.
What are some of your favorite projects you’re proud to have been a part of?
Someone from Microsoft contacted me, and flew me up to the Tablet PCÂ headquarters to design all the game graphics for a children’s handheldÂ tablet console called the KidTab. I was given a big bunch of money,Â and given almost total free reign to come up with whatever I wanted.Â This was for the research and development department, and I workedwith some people on the Tablet Pc team. After seeing the hardwareÂ literally being built and eventually the software put onto the betaÂ device, and there must have been millions poured into this project,Â itÂ was cancelled! The device just wasn’t coming together in the right wayÂ for them to pursue final production. I was, however, told that theÂ KidTab and my animation / artwork was shown directly to Bill Gates,
and that he loved it.Â I’ve done six animations for Sesame Street.Â In the 90’s, I did a short film in flash called “Woke Up Dreaming”
that Wired Magazine purchased rights to, for it’s big flash animationÂ archive. (That they’ve since shut down.. Â Erm..WTFBBQ Wired?!!?)Â Most recently, I’m proudest of a series of educational music videosÂ and animations I’ve done where a child’s drawings come to life. It’s aÂ program sold to schools across the US. It’s an almost ideal niche forÂ me. Creative collaboration and projects done for a truly good cause,Â without imbeciles & agency types spoiling all the fun.
How did you become interested in animation?
I’ve been a cartoonist all my life, and I’ve always been interested inÂ seeing my drawings move. I had a very vivid imagination as a child,Â and when I closed my eyes, I could envision drawing moving in deepÂ space, but I wasn’t sure how to make it happen on paper.
Where are you from and how did you get into the animation business?
I’m originally from Utah, from which I ran quickly when I turned 18. IÂ actually got my start in animation, when I was working at a Kinko’sÂ copy shop in Oregon. I was eavesdropping on a customer who said he metÂ “an old guy at a bar, who did a bunch of Michael Jackson videos, namedÂ Jim Blashfield”. So, naturally, I looked up Blashfield in the phoneÂ book and gave him a call. He answered on the 2nd ring. I essentiallyÂ told him that I was interested in learning animation. When asked if IÂ had ever done any animation before, I said yes, on my Amiga computerÂ in Deluxe Paint. It just so happened that he was using an Amiga atÂ that very moment for some of his new animation work. He invited meÂ down to show him some of my work, and hired me a few months later,Â working on a music video for the singer Marc Cohn titled “Walk ThroughÂ the World”. The video was shot on 16mm film, then projected onto aÂ wall, where each frame was grabbed into the Amiga as a 16 toneÂ greyscale image. These were then loaded into DeluxePaint, andÂ colorized / recombined. My job was to essentially press a button allÂ day (just like George Jetson) to capture those images. We workedÂ together for years after that, and I continued to work for variousÂ large and small studios around town. I haven’t had a normal job since.
What’s a typical day like for you with regards to your job?
I usually try and get started with work before 11am if possible. ThisÂ includes a daily trip out to a coffee shop where I do a little morningÂ meditation. This would be doing a single drawing or short loopingÂ animation for my website, or just doodling on paper. A bit of e-mailÂ and contacting various clients, before heading back to the studio. IÂ usually work until around 6 or 7, take a break for dinner and I resumeÂ work at about 10pm until far too late at night.
What part of your job do you like best? Why?
I love the level of control I have over everything, and the freedom IÂ have to do what I want. Gone are the days of having to work for insaneÂ egomaniacs & Â slave-driving studios who pay far too little, and demandÂ far too much.
What part of your job do you like least? Why?
I actually enjoy every part of my job, in all sincerity.
What is the most difficult part for you about being in the business?
The most difficult part about it, can be the long hours when a big jobÂ comes in, and strangely enough, getting paid on the smaller jobs. TheÂ more money a company is willing to pay, the less problem they haveÂ paying an invoice on time.Â Back when I worked freelance for other studios, having guys come inÂ and work for peanuts was just damaging to everyone’s wages across theÂ board. It seemed really selfish, and shortsighted.
What kind of technology do you work with on a daily basis?
I work daily with a Motion Computing Le1700 tablet pc, when I’m on theÂ go, and a Wacom Cintiq 21″ with a custom built Intel workstation whenÂ I’m in my studio. My work has been primarily Flash based, but as timeÂ goes on, I’ve wanted to get away from the flat vector look, and I’veÂ moved onto doing a lot more hand drawn animation, both on paper, andÂ using a French bitmap based software called TVPaint.
In your travels, have you had any brushes with animation greatness?
I helped Bill Plympton out with some animation for the premiere of hisÂ film Hair High once, and he’s one of the first animator types I metÂ when moving to Portland Oregon in 1992. Each time I see him, I sayÂ hello and he squints as if he’s trying to remember my name, becauseÂ he’s just too darned famous. I’m friends with the amazing Rose Bond,Â and I’m also proud to say I’m pals with two of my favorite independentÂ animators in the world, Joanna Priestly and Joan Gratz, whom I sharedÂ the same floor of an office I rented some time ago.
Describe a tough situation you had in life.
I was essentially soft-blacklisted in Portland, for pushing for aÂ standard wage. They typical modus operandi of the two commercialÂ studios in town, is forcing long work hours, and trying everythingÂ possible to avoid overtime pay. These studios would (and still do!)Â hire people on at $20-$25 an hour, and have people work extremely longÂ hours & weekends. Â Don’t like this? There’s a long line of artÂ students waiting in line for your job. Being a specialized flashÂ animator whose skills were in demand at the time, I would constantlyÂ lobby my fellow animators to all push for $40 an hour, with a strictÂ 40 hour work week limit. We’re talking having an animator make $1600 aÂ week, on national commercial projects with budgets in the hundreds ofÂ thousands here. And then, the independent animator is let go when theÂ project finishes, (usually after about a month and a half’s time,Â depending) and you’re back on unemployment. Meanwhile big studio A orÂ B, uses all of your hard earned cartooning and animation skills toÂ procure yet another blockbuster series of ads, dangling that “you’llÂ be a director some day” carrot over everyone’s noses. So of course,Â having this rabble-rouser out there unionizing the workforce was veryÂ frowned upon. But I will say, working independently has been theÂ greatest boost to my career, hands down. I haven’t looked back once.
Any side projects or you’re working on or hobbies you’d like to shareÂ details of?
I have bunches of things in the works: Animated kids learning apps forÂ Android Â / Iphone / Ipad. A short hand drawn music video for anÂ unnamed internet celebrity. A short film for the British comedian TomÂ Basden, and an ongoing project for John McAfee of McAfee antivirusÂ fame, Â involving zombies.
Is there any advice you can give for an aspiring animation student orÂ artist trying to break into the business?
1) I would say that the most important thing, is to find a workingÂ animation studio, or independent animator to work with.Â 2) Keep a sketchbook and constantly doodle ideas. It’s important toÂ look at others work, and try to emulate and copy techniques, in orderÂ to develop your own style.Â 3) Take all your skills and make a short film to show around that hasÂ a nice beginning, middle and ending. You can ask around forÂ internships, or work independently with someone when you’re Â starting
out. Hanging out with your local A.S.I.F.A. chapter can also be a veryÂ good thing.Â 4) If you’re considering going to school, take a really long hard lookÂ at what you’re in for after graduation, for your investment. AnimationÂ as a profession can be very hit and miss. For example, I know peopleÂ who have paid money to go to an animation school, graduated, and areÂ working in the film business in LA doing 3d animation. But for theÂ work involved, they’re not having a very good time, and still have 6 kÂ plus in school bills hanging over their head. I feel that with 3dÂ animation your choices for living in a particular city are few, butÂ with 2d and your own individual style, you can really take thatÂ anywhere and work from wherever you choose.Â 5) Don’t do work cheaply or for free. Ever.Â 6) Take long walks and bike rides as much as possible.Â 7) Steal time. Everyone wants to take it from you, but it’s your jobÂ to steal it back.Â 8) Â Do what you do well, and the world just might come knocking at your door.