Chuck Grieb

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What is your name and your current occupation?
My name is Chuck Grieb; currently I am a tenured Associate Professor and head of the Entertainment Art/Animation concentration at California State University, Fullerton.

What are some of the crazier jobs you had before getting into animation?
As a young college student I worked a slew of unusual and sometimes interesting jobs. One summer I spent as an Asbestos Remover. Another summer I spent working two jobs at once(75 hours a week), one as a Peer Tutor helping Learning Disabled students in a College Prep program, the other as an “Egg Cook” in a Perkins Diner. I spent a day working in a trash sorting facility and 4 weeks on an assembly line waterproofing nuts and bolts for the Navy. I also painted houses, delivered pizzas, waited tables, worked as an Assistant Theater Manager, as a Sound Mixer for live shows, photo tech, and various others.

What are some of your favorite projects you’re proud to have been a part of? 
Hmmm, tough question. I am particularly proud of the work on Genie’s Great Minds, a project I worked on when I was a part of the Special Projects Department at Walt Disney TV Animation under the direction of Gary Katona. The Larry Boy show I worked on at Cornerstone Animation had a very challenging schedule, but was a very fun, if intense, work experience. My wife and I storyboarded an episode of My Life as a Teenage Robot, a premise based show, which I found to be a very rewarding experience. It is a lot of fun to see my own films in festivals. I remember how neat it was the first time I saw my first animated short, Roland’s Trouble, on screen at the Newport Beach Film Festival.

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I was four year old, watching Ray Harryhausen’s Jason and the Argonaughts with my dad. The skeletons blew my mind. I asked my dad how the skeletons ‘came alive’. His answer, ‘They got skinny actors’. Even as a four year old I knew no one could be that skinny. By the time I was seven, I was working on my first Stop Motion Animation armature.

Where are you from and how did you get into the animation business? 
I grew up just outside of Philadelphia, near a place called Norristown. My dream to create Stop Motion was planted at a young age and fed by the Star Wars and Indiana Jones movies of the 70s and 80s. Determined to make movies, I researched every school in the old Barron’s College guides that offered a degree program in Cinema. I learned that George Lucas had attended USC and made it a goal to attend. Money is always an issue and my family didn’t have much. I attended Edinboro University of Pennsylvania for my undergraduate studies as it was an affordable state school and one of the only schools in Pennsylvania with courses offered in film and animation. At Edinboro I studied art and film, creating a couple of Stop Motion animated films. I built ball socket armatures, foam rubber cast models, constructed miniature sets, built a system that allowed me to animate a camera tracking into the scene, built a rear projection set up, etc. I also created traditional drawn animation and took a variety of art classes, completing a BFA in Applied Media Arts with a concentration in Cinema. After graduation, I applied to USC for grad school, was accepted, and continued my studies in the Film Production program of the USC School of Cinema/TV. At USC I met Jun Falkenstein (story artist and director, directed the Tigger Movie) and Bill Spitzak (long time with Digital Domain). Jun invited Bill and I to work on her ambitious animated short, The Wolf, the Demon, and the Stone. While a student at USC, I created two traditionally animated short films of my own and was employed as a Teaching Assistant in the animation/motion graphics department. After graduating from USC with my MFA, I moved to Maryland to marry my college sweetheart (she was an elementary art teacher working in Maryland at the time). With ambitions of finding work in the animation industry, my wife Wendy and I put together portfolios and reels, made arrangements to stay with friends in LA for a month, flew to LA, and took the portfolios all over town. Together, we taught an animation class at the LA science museum to help pay for the trip. Wendy was picked up by Film Roman to work in their licensing department and I was brought on at Walt Disney TV Animation to be a part of their storyboard training program. We had the neat opportunity to meet people like Bill Melendez, Darrel Van Citters, John Lamb, and Dave Brain along the way. We had five days after we flew back to Maryland to pack up our house and move to Los Angeles so Wendy could start her new job at Film Roman (my job at Disney TV started two weeks later).

What’s a typical day like for you with regards to your job? 
I fear my current role as a teacher may not be in line with the intent of this website, but I will go with it. I arrive at the school pretty early, usually between 7:30 and 8:00 AM. From 8:00-9:00 I meet with students, assisting them with everything from selecting courses to career decisions. Class starts at 9:00 AM and runs until 3:45PM. Different classes operate somewhat differently, but it is common to spend the morning in a critique. The previous week’s animation is critiqued by the class and me. Afternoons are devoted to discussion of the week’s topic. If time is left later in the class, there may be in class work time and opportunities to interact with me (the teacher) one on one.

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How did you become interested in animation?
A typical day from when I was an animation artist full time?
It would vary depending upon the project and the role I fill. As a storyboard artist, I would follow a procedure beginning with the handout from the director. This would often entail receiving the script/premise in advance, followed by a meeting with the director in which ideas are exchanged and the director expresses what he would like to see in the board. If a dialogue track exists, I listen to the dialogue track a number of times and read the script. Thumbnailing ensues, working out solutions to various problems and the major decisions regarding pacing, shot selection, etc. Pretty quickly I move to roughing out at size. Once the roughs are complete, the piece is pitched/reviewed by the director and producer. The producer’s/director’s notes are addressed and the board cleaned up. The next script is delivered and the process begins again.

What part of your job do you like best? Why? 
As a teacher, seeing the effect I have on other’s lives. I started teaching one night a week at Glendale Community College quite a few years ago. Dave Brain had asked me if I might be interested in teaching a class; I had never actually considered teaching before that experience. I found the experience to be much more rewarding than I had expected, seeing the positive impact I could have on a young person’s life. I taught one night a week at Glendale for quite a few years while working full time as an animation artist, and in 2002 became a college professor full time.

Back to animation, oddly enough, what I think I have enjoyed the most have been the people I’ve met and worked with. I found that the people I work with have more to do with the experience of the job than the “prestige” of the job itself. Within 6 months of starting my first job, I found myself in Disney TV Animation’s Special Projects Department, working with Woody Yocum. Woody took me under his wing and mentored me, a tradition of sharing animation knowledge that has been consistent for many years.

What part of your job do you like least? Why? 
Grading. To my mind, the content of the critique is what matters; too often the student focuses exclusively on the grade.

What is the most difficult part for you about being in the business? 
There always seems to be so much more to learn. It is exciting and fun to see all the new tools, but it takes a lot of work to maintain currency.

What kind of technology do you work with on a daily basis? 
Lots! I teach classes using Maya and Mudbox, PhotoShop, After Effects, Premiere, Flash, Final Cut Pro, and various other digital tools. I draw on a Tablet PC and Cinitq, animate in Flash, TV Paint, and Maya and use an iPad to manage my course materials. Digital technology is an integral part of my teaching and art creation.

In your travels, have you had any brushes with animation greatness? 
Yes I have. The chance to meet Bill Melendez was particularly memorable. The summer my wife and I were dropping our portfolios off all around town, we took them to Bill Melendez’s studio. He called us up for an interview. When we arrived, we met with Mr. Melendez in his office. He didn’t have any work for us, but had been very impressed by our portfolios and wanted to meet the two of us. We spent a very enjoyable hour with Mr. Melendez as he shared many of his experiences as an animation artist whose career spanned from Snow White, through the Peanuts shows, to the then present.

Describe a tough situation you had in life. 
Not sure I want to. How about a tough experience that taught me something as a professional? A buddy and I had started a small studio; we worked for a variety of clients providing various animation services, from boards to timing direction to visual development, After Effects, and Flash animation services. In this instance, we had a negotiated a price for providing everything from visual concept to a finished first episode for a hoped to be series of web based Flash animated shows. The negotiated price seemed good, but the development stage of the project was reset time and again. What we had thought was a set initial story concept was soon discarded and changed, an occurrence which was repeated again and again. The time frame for the project was extended and then extended more. The sheer quantity of development art and time we had never expected and the show was not green lit for more episodes; the time invested did not equal the pay we received. I would never sign so loosely defined an agreement again.

Any side projects or you’re working on or hobbies you’d like to share details of?
There is always a project or two going! I am currently submitting my latest 3D animated short film, Oliver’s Treasure, to film festivals around the world. I have a couple of other short animated films in various states of production as well as a graphic novel in process. The project on which I am spending most of my time right now explores an illustrative, cutout style of animation, set in a 3D space. The artwork is being painted in Corel Painter and animated using Maya.

Any unusual talents or hobbies like tying a cherry stem with your tongue or metallurgy?
I enjoy taking my old sports car to the race track when time and funds permit.

Is there any advice you can give for an aspiring animation student or artist trying to break into the business? 
Persistence! Keep at it. A successful entertainment career takes a lot of heart. Learn what is expected of you as a professional before you get the job. Animation is a business that employs artists. As artists, we often find it to be hard to release ownership of what we create. Understand what you own and what you don’t. Love what you do and what you create then let it go. Always give your best! Learn and respect the history of animation. Draw! Read this website (I thought Eddie Houchin’s and Barry Ward’s interviews had some great stuff for a young person to read and understand).

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