What is your name and your current occupation?
My name is Chad Essley, and I’m the owner / 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 go 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 made basketball hoops. A robot would weld the hooks onto an iron hoop, and I would stand with these thick leather gloves on, grabbing the hoop as it came off the robot (still white hot from the welding) and file off all the extra bits before stacking it on a forklift palette. The place was full of 40 to 60 year old people who really never saw the sunshine outside the bounds of this dismal industrial factory who would drink on the job, and smoke copiously in the break room. Think I lasted 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 PC headquarters to design all the game graphics for a children’s handheld tablet console called the KidTab. I was given a big bunch of money, and given almost total free reign to come up with whatever I wanted. This was for the research and development department, and I workedwith some people on the Tablet Pc team. After seeing the hardware literally being built and eventually the software put onto the beta device, and there must have been millions poured into this project, it was cancelled! The device just wasn’t coming together in the right way for them to pursue final production. I was, however, told that the KidTab and my animation / artwork was shown directly to Bill Gates,
and that he loved it. I’ve done six animations for Sesame Street. 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 animation archive. (That they’ve since shut down.. Erm..WTFBBQ Wired?!!?) Most recently, I’m proudest of a series of educational music videos and animations I’ve done where a child’s drawings come to life. It’s a program sold to schools across the US. It’s an almost ideal niche for me. Creative collaboration and projects done for a truly good cause, 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 in seeing my drawings move. I had a very vivid imagination as a child, and when I closed my eyes, I could envision drawing moving in deep 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. I actually got my start in animation, when I was working at a Kinko’s copy shop in Oregon. I was eavesdropping on a customer who said he met “an old guy at a bar, who did a bunch of Michael Jackson videos, named Jim Blashfield”. So, naturally, I looked up Blashfield in the phone book and gave him a call. He answered on the 2nd ring. I essentially told him that I was interested in learning animation. When asked if I had ever done any animation before, I said yes, on my Amiga computer in Deluxe Paint. It just so happened that he was using an Amiga at that very moment for some of his new animation work. He invited me down to show him some of my work, and hired me a few months later, working on a music video for the singer Marc Cohn titled “Walk Through the World”. The video was shot on 16mm film, then projected onto a wall, where each frame was grabbed into the Amiga as a 16 tone greyscale image. These were then loaded into DeluxePaint, and colorized / recombined. My job was to essentially press a button all day (just like George Jetson) to capture those images. We worked together for years after that, and I continued to work for various 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. This includes a daily trip out to a coffee shop where I do a little morning meditation. This would be doing a single drawing or short looping animation for my website, or just doodling on paper. A bit of e-mail and contacting various clients, before heading back to the studio. I usually work until around 6 or 7, take a break for dinner and I resume 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 I have to do what I want. Gone are the days of having to work for insane egomaniacs & slave-driving studios who pay far too little, and demand 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 job comes in, and strangely enough, getting paid on the smaller jobs. The more money a company is willing to pay, the less problem they have paying an invoice on time. Back when I worked freelance for other studios, having guys come in and work for peanuts was just damaging to everyone’s wages across the 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 the go, and a Wacom Cintiq 21″ with a custom built Intel workstation when I’m in my studio. My work has been primarily Flash based, but as time goes on, I’ve wanted to get away from the flat vector look, and I’ve moved onto doing a lot more hand drawn animation, both on paper, and 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 his film Hair High once, and he’s one of the first animator types I met when moving to Portland Oregon in 1992. Each time I see him, I say hello and he squints as if he’s trying to remember my name, because he’s just too darned famous. I’m friends with the amazing Rose Bond, and I’m also proud to say I’m pals with two of my favorite independent animators in the world, Joanna Priestly and Joan Gratz, whom I shared 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 a standard wage. They typical modus operandi of the two commercial studios in town, is forcing long work hours, and trying everything possible to avoid overtime pay. These studios would (and still do!) hire people on at $20-$25 an hour, and have people work extremely long hours & weekends. Don’t like this? There’s a long line of art students waiting in line for your job. Being a specialized flash animator whose skills were in demand at the time, I would constantly lobby my fellow animators to all push for $40 an hour, with a strict 40 hour work week limit. We’re talking having an animator make $1600 a week, on national commercial projects with budgets in the hundreds of thousands here. And then, the independent animator is let go when the project finishes, (usually after about a month and a half’s time, depending) and you’re back on unemployment. Meanwhile big studio A or B, uses all of your hard earned cartooning and animation skills to procure yet another blockbuster series of ads, dangling that “you’ll be a director some day” carrot over everyone’s noses. So of course, having this rabble-rouser out there unionizing the workforce was very frowned upon. But I will say, working independently has been the 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 share details of?
I have bunches of things in the works: Animated kids learning apps for Android / Iphone / Ipad. A short hand drawn music video for an unnamed internet celebrity. A short film for the British comedian Tom Basden, and an ongoing project for John McAfee of McAfee antivirus fame, involving zombies.
Is there any advice you can give for an aspiring animation student or artist trying to break into the business?
1) I would say that the most important thing, is to find a working animation studio, or independent animator to work with. 2) Keep a sketchbook and constantly doodle ideas. It’s important to look at others work, and try to emulate and copy techniques, in order to develop your own style. 3) Take all your skills and make a short film to show around that has a nice beginning, middle and ending. You can ask around for internships, or work independently with someone when you’re starting
out. Hanging out with your local A.S.I.F.A. chapter can also be a very good thing. 4) If you’re considering going to school, take a really long hard look at what you’re in for after graduation, for your investment. Animation as a profession can be very hit and miss. For example, I know people who have paid money to go to an animation school, graduated, and are working in the film business in LA doing 3d animation. But for the work involved, they’re not having a very good time, and still have 6 k plus in school bills hanging over their head. I feel that with 3d animation your choices for living in a particular city are few, but with 2d and your own individual style, you can really take that anywhere and work from wherever you choose. 5) Don’t do work cheaply or for free. Ever. 6) Take long walks and bike rides as much as possible. 7) Steal time. Everyone wants to take it from you, but it’s your job to steal it back. 8) Do what you do well, and the world just might come knocking at your door.