Phil Cummings

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What is your name?
Phil Cummings

What would you say has been your primary job in animation?
I was an assistant for a long time. Then I was an FX animator. The last twenty years I have been a slugger / sheet timer but at first went back and forth between FX and timing jobs.

What are some of the crazier jobs you had before getting into animation?
Taking tests and ghost-writing papers for fellow students in college, doing deliveries for a wholesale coke dealer, panhandler, selling underground newspapers, harvesting pinion nuts.
What are some of your favorite projects you’re proud to have been a part of?
Sometimes doing the job can transcend the project. I’ve been proud of work that I’ve done on projects that were awful. I slugged and timed whole episodes of shows like ‘GI Joe Extreme’ and ‘Samantha The Teenaged Witch’ that were not great series but I got to make the decisions and felt really good at the outcome of how I did my job. I did a lot in Michael Jackson’s ‘Moonwalker’ that were all my idea and my execution. I worked on hundreds of commercials and rock videos; I would hate to single any one out. I guess I should mention the two shows I won awards for…an ‘Annie’ for ‘Billy And Mandy’ and an Emmy for ‘Camp Lazlo’.
How did you become interested in animation?
My first animation religious experience was ‘Fantasia’. I couldn’t have been older than five. In the 1950’s after school was all kid’s stuff. ‘The Mickey Mouse Club’ showed those amazing Disney shorts (only B&W TVs in those days), I loved the WB/ Mel Blanc cartoons but my special love was ‘Popeye’. The other big input was comic books. DC at first but in the 60’s Marvel changed everything. That led to Zap Comix and trying to draw underground comics.  I got a job as a cel painter just to survive and started doing my own film and got absorbed into the milieu. It had art and humor, what more could you want?
Where are you from and how did you get into the animation business?
My family moved to Las Vegas from back East when I was eleven and I consider that my home town. I had lived on the streets and in communes after I left high school and I couldn’t adjust when I tried to go back to college. I moved to LA and was working selling designs to t-shirt companies when I got introduced Bob Kurtz who gave me the idea of doing my own film. To earn money while I did that I worked painting cels for Fred Calvert at the old farmhouse. When the show I was painting on ended I went over to Ron Campbell’s studio and he hired me as a driver-inbetweener trainee.
What’s a typical day like for you with regards to your job?
It varies widely. It usually starts with looking over what I did yesterday and thinking about what could be made better. If I’m working at home its focusing and working things out. If I’m in a studio I look for input from other people and seeing what they’re doing and how they’re solving problems. But it always ends with clearing my brain and trying to let things flow as much as I can. If I cant focus then its painful.
What part of your job do you like best? Why?
Creating a structure of actions and interactions that is as simple and expressive as possible in the context of the show. I find thinking about time, motion and dramatic effect very satisfying.
What part of your job do you like least? Why?
Weak storyboards, vague timing guidelines, puerile scripts, egomaniacal control freaks in charge, and the fact that my job is being phased out and that I have to find a different one.
What is the most difficult part for you about being in the business?
The feeling that the whole process has been corporatized and has lost a lot of its vitality. The economics of it have gotten a lot tougher in the last three or four years.
What kind of technology do you work with on a daily basis?
I’m always amazed to find that people have computers but not Photoshop. I do a lot of drawing and photographic stuff with that. Some After FX.  Wacom tablet, of course.
In your travels, have you had any brushes with animation greatness?
I brushed into Corny Cole. I worked for a few months with Oscar Grillo in London. I worked for Dale Baer. I looked over the shoulder of Tony Sgroi. I did H&B free-lance that had the name Avery on the folder. I shook hands with Bill Hanna. I met Jefferey Katzenberg once.
Describe a tough situation you had in life.
A tough situation? Being 60 years old in a part of the industry where there’s a third of the jobs there used to be (hand-drawn 2d).
Any side projects you’re working on you’d like to share details of?
Side project? I’ve written a novel called ‘Sin City High’ about a high school drug dealer in Las Vegas in the 1960’s. It has 650 illustrations but is not a graphic novel. Its an attempt to set Petronius ‘Satyricon’ in modern times done in a Bukowski-Orwell writing style. Havent found a publisher yet but these days you just need a clean PDF file done in InDesign to do print-to-order sales so I get to have a book instead of a manuscript. I’m writing and illustrating the second book. You can see illustrations with text from SCH by going to my Facebook page and finding the photo album entitled ‘Sin City High’.
Is there any advice you can give for an aspiring animation student or artist trying to break into the business?
Do your own film. Now with Flash, Photoshop, Illustrator and After FX most of the things that used to take months can be done in hours.  It shows enthusiasm and what you can do when you aren’t working for somebody else. Doing a film shows you how to solve problems, how to believe in your own talents and how to overcome your doubts.
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