What is your name and your current occupation?
Hello there, my name is Sean Petrilak and I am an episodic director on the show “Wabbit” at Warner Bros. Aside from animation, I am a live action storyboard artist.
What are some of the crazier jobs you had before getting into animation?
I used to be a head referee at a paintball field. I got shot at, broke up fights when tempers got flared, and shoveled heaps of paint, shells, and garbage until my back was sore. Perfect experience for animation. I don’t know if this is considered ‘crazy’, but before animation, I started working in the music industry and working with many high-end performers as a storyboard artist- still do. What I think is ‘crazy’ about it is the pace at which it moves and the politics that can cause workflow to change at a moment’s notice. I sometimes see a morning news report about a mishap with one of my clients. All you can say is, “Well there goes that job.”
What are some of your favorite projects you’re proud to have been a part of?
This sounds cheesy, but everything I worked on so far in animation has been an absolute pleasure, because I’ve been allowed to do different things on each one. “Kung Fu Panda: LOA”(the series), “Randy Cunningham 9th Grade Ninja”, and “Wabbit”.
Where are you from and how did you get into the animation business?
I didn’t look far, that’s for sure. I grew up in an animation family. My father, Kevin, is a director, sheet timer, and character animator. My mother, Jill, is color goddess, BG and BG Key painter. My great uncle Gerry Dvorak was a baseball card illustrator who got into animation as well. No matter how hard my parents tried, I still got into animation. I had a million interests growing up and learned classic film-making and wanted to be a live action guru. I went to San Jose State University and became a Shrunkenheadman(the Animation/Illustration club- FIRE IT UP!). I was humbled, broken, then rebuilt to be a better artist and person. Once I graduated, I was still convinced that I wanted to get into live action storyboarding and pursued it. I was torn because I also love animation, so I applied to animation jobs consistently. On the same day, I was offered my first animation gig and a full time live action gig for a major firm. I looked at the crossroads and picked animation and turned down a more comfortable lifestyle. Yes, more money. I am so happy because of it; it’s far more creatively satisfying and life-fulfilling. Let me tell you something; no matter where you come from, you have to work your butt off just like everyone else who made it in this industry.
What’s a typical day like for you with regards to your job?
On a story launch day, we gather the board artists in the story room, pass out an outline for everyone to thumbnail on post its and pin on the wall. We re-write and flesh out the story, add dialogue and edit it until it’s ready to pitch to the network executives at the end of the day. From concept to cartoon in a day. On any other day I’m working with board artists, revisionists, cleanup crew, production, design, or color stylists. I could be making an animatic in editorial, co-directing the voice talent, attending screenings/pitches, attending video conferences with overseas studios, reviewing checker notes, feed Sloth, and eat while I draw.
What part of your job do you like best? Why?
I enjoy the collaborative aspect of filmmaking. I love to work with people and talk out an idea until the best solution arrives. Aside from funny drawings, what makes me laugh is a clever solution that surprises me.
What part of your job do you like least? Why?
The only time I dislike work is when someone isn’t being receptive to ideas and collaboration. That person has their mind set on a solution to a problem and isn’t considering alternative routes. It can simply kill an idea in its tracks. As a director, I can force the “do it because I say so” method, but the product will always be less than full potential. Of course the same can be forced on me from above my position.
What kind of technology do you work with on a daily basis, how has technology changed in the last few years in your field and how has that impacted you in your job?
Storyboard Pro, Photoshop- the usual storyboarding programs. I’ll use little programs here and there that assist in my workflow. Everything fits into a little box on a humble desk. I wish I had the use for a big ol’ animation or layout desk, but I had one at work and all I did was put my headphones and car keys in the drawer. I’m one of the punk kids that started in this industry when everything was already digital, so I have never felt that hurdle. However, I must stay vigilant and excited over new technology to embrace, or I’ll find myself as useful as that big ol’ animation desk.
What is the most difficult part for you about being in the business?
Finding the next gig. I haven’t been out of work between gigs *knocks on wood*, but I’m always jumping from studio to studio, because either there isn’t anything available at that very moment(so they let you go), or management doesn’t try to keep the talent they have. Some studios are better than others. Sometimes there are long gaps between seasons on a show, causing the crew to scatter to other projects. Trying to re-staff a show that fits the successful model of the previous season is a daunting task.
If you could change the way the business works and is run how would you do it?
Refer to my previous answer. Studios, recognize the talent you have and let them know how much you appreciate them by keeping them employed. Their commitment and hard work will be a tremendous payoff for your investment.
In your travels, have you had any brushes with animation greatness?
Yes, not professionally, but yes. As I mentioned earlier, I was raised in this industry; so to me they were just Mommy and Daddy’s friends. My favorite experience is going to Comic Con with Maurice Noble- what a day! Chuck Jones, Brad Bird, Eric Goldberg(practically raised by the Goldbergs), Andreas Deja, Bill Kroyer, John K, Floyd Norman, Richard Williams, and I know there’s more but you get the idea. But knowing them personally and working with them are two different things. I hope to be in a position in my career to work with and learn from these masters.
Describe a tough situation you had in life.
I’ve had hiccups in my career so far, and I have learned from them; but the most discouraging part of my career in animation was breaking into it. 2008 was a bad time to get into the animation business. There were very few jobs to be had and I was fighting seasoned veterans for the scraps. I took countless storyboard tests, character layout, cleanup- anything to get my foot in the door. I finally had a guardian angel who saved a test that was rejected by one show and made me a board artist on another show.
Any side projects you’re working on that you’d like to share details of?
I have things in the works, let’s see how many of them I can finish. I don’t want to disclose anything, but I have short films and tv series pitches in progress.
Any unusual talents or hobbies like tying a cherry stem with your tongue or metallurgy?
I can laugh in 14 different languages. I play paintball and used to be semi-professional.
Is there any advice you can give for an aspiring animation student or artist trying to break into the business?
Work hard, be nice to everyone, try new things, and stay humble. Opportunities will be everywhere.