What is your name and your current occupation?
My name is Sierra Lewis and I am currently an Art Director at Renegade Animation.
What are some of the crazier jobs you had before getting into animation?
When I graduated from LCAD in 2009 it was right in the middle of the recession. The area where my family and I lived actually had a higher rate of unemployment than Los Angeles at that time. I couldn’t even get a job as a barista at a local coffee house unless I had one years experience working at Starbucks. In short, it was nearly impossible to secure even part time income.
I ended up having to look out of state for work. I have some considerable experience working with horses and doing various barn chores so I packed up my belongings and moved to Arizona working as a Wrangler on a dude ranch. This was a sprawling working cattle ranch that consisted of nearly 150 horses and around 200 head of Texas Longhorn cattle in the beautiful Sonoran desert.
I had a fantastic and unique opportunity to teach folks from all over the world how to ride horses and guided them through thousands of acres of surprisingly lush desert. I groomed, saddled, doctored and fed these horses while doing all my other chores and activities with guests six days a week, fourteen hours a day (in 111 degree heat). It was very hard work but even harder on the horses. After watching a third horse during the exceedingly harsh summer season die in agony from either a careless accident or (most likely heat or dehydration induced) colic, I quit and headed back to California.
What are some of your favorite projects you’re proud to have been a part of?
My favorite project so far has got to be “Attack of the 50 Foot Hero” that I completed last summer (2012) under the mentorship of Eric Goldberg. From concept to completion we had 12 weeks to complete a three minute film. I got to collaborate with some very talented friends and colleagues. It was a great experience to have Mr. Goldberg as our mentor. He taught us some very good production management skills, but more importantly helped us to narrow our focus and become stronger storytellers in all facets of the film making process.
Where are you from and how did you get into the animation business?
I’m originally from a little area in Los Angeles called Woodland Hills. I’ve lived in L.A. County for the majority of my life. I believe I got into the animation business first via working on Facebook Social Games. Through that job I was given the opportunity to demonstrate my character design and animation skills in a professional setting. From there, I was recommended for a Production Design Assistant position at Renegade Animation and have been creating content for them since 2011.
What’s a typical day like for you with regards to your job?
Each day is different! One day I could be taking care of edits on various projects and reviewing new work, and the next day I could be doing anything from Storyboarding, adjusting timing on animation, or doing visual development for a new segment.
What part of your job do you like best? Why?
The part of my job that I like best is that I’m constantly doing different types of work. I also get the rare opportunity to research and experiment with styles of design and animation that greatly interest me.
What part of your job do you like least? Why?
The part of my job that I like the least is probably creative compromise. Sometimes you create something unique you’re convinced the client will also dig and it turns out they want something completely different. I’ve learned not to get too attached to my commercial work in a sentimental way. My responsibility is to give my boss and the client what they are looking for and to give it my best effort. If I can do that with the least amount of edits to the original work, I say that’s a win!
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?
I primarily work with Flash CS6. Some folks seem to have an impression that Flash animation is dying out in general due to HTML5 and its incompatibility with Apple products. However, there are still a lot of animated shows and App content that is generated using vector based programs, and Flash just happens to be a good option for that. It’s simplistic, relatively straightforward, and cheaper than a lot of other pipeline options. Another program that I am pretty jazzed about is ToonBoom Harmony. It’s a fantastic program made specifically with animators in mind. I highly recommend it. I think it may overtake Flash at some point in the TV animation department so its a good idea to get your hands on it when you can. I’ve also heard some great things about TV Paint but I haven’t had any experience with it. Despite all this, if I’m working on some new designs or need to really give a character that “X-Factor” I bust out the Col-Erase and paper and do my sketches and exploration until I find the kind of design I’m looking for. I like working on paper when I can.
What is the most difficult part for you about being in the business?
Well, the most difficult part about this business in my experience is getting into it in the first place! Once you’ve finally gotten your “foot in the door” the most difficult part then seems to be finding a gig that lasts more than a year. Projects are completed successfully and shows can unexpectedly get cancelled. Either way you slice it you’re out of a job and having to look for the next thing to pay the bills. The other tough bit is staying healthy. Just like any other office job we do a LOT of sitting. Having such an immobile existence combined with any sort of poor eating habits will undoubtedly lead to undesirable consequences. It’s very easy to come home and not want to suffer though that hour of cardio or strength training. It’s worth it though!
In your travels, have you had any brushes with animation greatness?
So far I’ve been lucky enough to meet quite a number of animation legends! I’ve had the privilege to learn under great animators like Eric Goldberg, Darrell Van Citters, John Krisfaluci, Dave Pruiksma, David Kuhn, and Cornelius Cole III. I’ve also met and conversed with Andreas Deja & Glen Keane at the after party for our film “Attack of the 50 Foot Hero”.
Describe a tough situation you had in life.
The time following graduation and looking for my first job was extremely difficult. As the eldest kid in my family all eyes were on me to go out there and immediately land “the gig”. Finding work was already difficult and being so far away from LA made it nearly impossible for me to make the rounds and keep my ear to the ground for opportunities in animation studios. The longer my job hunt seemed to go on the more I began to doubt myself. After a while of searching and no results my folks made it very clear that if I wasn’t able to “make it happen” I either needed to go back to school, or move out on my own. It was a very stressful time in my life. As hard as my time was at the ranch however I was really thankful to have that opportunity made available to me at the time.
Any side projects you’re working on that you’d like to share details of?
I’ve been doing some very interesting digital restoration work on a new Jay Ward book that Darrell Van Citters is working on. I’ve had a lot of fun working on that and it’s exciting to see it coming together. As far as personal work I’ve got a few things I’ve been developing that I’d like to move forward with. Some are animation ideas, some comics, some children’s picture books. I’ve been so busy with work and side projects with other professionals at the moment that I haven’t had much time to really get the ball rolling yet!
Any unusual talents or hobbies like tying a cherry stem with your tongue or metallurgy?
I know how to work with and ride horses in a variety of disciplines. I know how to play bass guitar, trumpet, tuba, and sousaphone (although its been a while since I’ve had time to practice). I know how to make clothing and costume props. I dig sculpting little horses with Super Sculpey or wire. I also like to hunt down the best restaurants in LA. I also can cook plenty of tasy dishes!
Is there any advice you can give for an aspiring animation student or artist trying to break into the business?
First off, DON’T GIVE UP! A lot of people told me not to get into animation (period!), and even more told me not to pursue traditional animation at all. I just kept my focus and honed my portfolio as best I could until I landed at Laguna College of Art and Design. Secondly, make connections! Talk to fellow artists and animators. Make contacts. Introduce yourself to that animator or artist you always wanted to talk to. Be polite, be honest, show interest, and listen to what they’ve got to say. Before you’ve even asked to share your portfolio with them you’ve had a real conversation with them. Thirdly, practice! If you have the passion for animation and you educate yourself not only in what is going on in contemporary animation, but also what influenced it, it will make your work all the more unique and rich. It also helps a lot to read books (not JUST animation books) and study nature. Absorb everything around you. Practice is the best way to hone your craft…so draw, draw, DRAW! To me animation is the most powerful communicative art form because it utilizes all of the different arts into one medium. That is what fascinates me about animation, and keeps me hypnotized and eager to study and learn new techniques, styles, and storytelling methods for as long as I can hold a pencil….or a stylus for that matter.