What is your name and your occupation?
Before I got into the animation industry I used to milk squirrels for a living. It’s surprising how few people know how high the demand for squirrel milk is. Especially in countries like Vanuatu, Uzbekistan, and Liechtenstein. Okay, I made all that up. I didn’t really have any jobs before I got into the animation industry. Especially not involving milking squirrels. That’s sick, SICK I tell ya. On the other hand, hamsters…
How did you become interested in animation?
I became interested in animation after seeing a documentary on PBS on Tex Avery when I was a teenager. There was something about the cartoons Tex Avery made that appealed to me. Especially since I don’t think I had every seen any of his MGM work at that time.
To me, Tex Avery was a comic strip artist making animated comic strips and his cartoons weren’t made for little kids. This was just a novel idea to me. I liked making people laugh and I liked funny cartoons. Something in my head said, “I want to be Tex Avery someday!” I didn’t really pursue this train of thought though. It stayed with me for years until the opportunity presented itself.
I’m from a planet very much like Earth…oh wait…it is in fact, Earth. I was just born in Central America, in El Salvador. My family moved to the U.S. when I was six. We ended up in Burbank, of all places, and it was going to Walt Disney Elementary school where I first began drawing comic strips for fun. I decided then and there that I was going to draw comics for a living. Ironically, I don’t think I would have ended up in the animation industry if my family hadn’t moved 35 miles away from Burbank four years later. In high school, I continued drawing my comic strips until I met up with two fellow artists in my art class who told me about a high school in Rowland Heights that had an animation regional occupational program after school. Realizing I might be able to learn to make animated cartoons reawakened my dormant desire to become the next Tex Avery, so my friends and I drove up to Rowland high school and signed up for the animation classes. We went every other day after school and learned to animate, make our own short cartoons, and put a portfolio together to get hired at a studio. The teacher at the school, Dave Master, had friends in the industry and he got studios to look at our work. This was during the animation boom of the 90s. LITTLE MERMAID, BEAUTY AND THE BEAST, and ALADDIN, had just given the industry a shot in the arm. Everyone was hiring. At that time, the studio Film Roman, had a internship program for kids right out of high school like me. I applied for it, along with two other students, by showing them our cartoons and we all got an internship. A few weeks after I graduated high school, I turned down a scholarship at the Otis art school in LA, and I started my internship at the studio. Four months of being all up in people’s faces at the studio, learning everything we could as fast as we could and being the most arrogant, naive teenagers we could possibly be, we all ended up with jobs. Out all three of us, I was by far the least skilled and the most arrogant (a bad combination). My job was as a character layout artist on THE SIMPSONS. I started my job mid season and it was over almost before it started. I learned a lot, but the most important thing I learned was that I wasn’t going to get hired back the following season because I wasn’t good enough. This lit the fire in me and I spent my entire break, taking art classes and working on my animation so I could resubmit my portfolio to get rehired. It worked out for me and they saw that I had gotten better. They rehired me and I’ve been on the show since.
What’s a typical day like for you with regards to your job?
Well, I get to work, get a cup of coffee, say hi to my friends and colleagues and wonder why they’re staring at me funny. That’s usually when I realize I have to go back home and put some clothes on. I get in to work about 7am. I usually have an assignment already given to me. If I haven’t already, I read the script I’m going to be working off of. I’m currently doing Storyboard Revisions so I watch the current story reel of the show, open up the original board pass in the Storyboard Pro computer program. I start adding all the notes, new dialogue and delete any scenes that got cut. I also add blank spaces where new scenes will be. Once that’s done, I start drawing in all the fixes and I start roughing out any new shots that need to be added. This is then shown to the director, who makes notes on anything he has specific ideas for. When the roughs are approved, I finish drawing everything all nice and purty. If the final pass gets approved, it’s given to the Character Layout Artists while I get started on my next assignment. I’m usually on an new episode every two weeks.
What part of your job do you like best? Why?
There’s a few parts of my job that I enjoy. That moment after working like crazy under a heavy deadline that I don’t think I’ll actually meet, and I actually do, and the work is good. I love that part. It gives me a feeling of such great satisfaction. Then there’s those times where I get a scene I REALLY want to do and I’ve actually figured out, not only how to make it funny or cool, but funnier and cooler than it’s on the script. Then I pitch it to the director who totally loves it. That’s really great too. It really gives me a sense that I OWN that sequence of scenes. That you’ve really contributed. Sitting down in a meeting with the writer(s) of an episode and hearing what they were thinking when writing a certain scene or sequence and being able to ask them questions about it too. Also, these meeting are great because you can come up with jokes and propose them, and if they like them, they go into the show. And of course, I also like it when I finish early, after working as hard as possible and the director says, “Great work, your free”. Then I can relax for an hour of so, feeling like I earned a small break.
What part of your job do you like least? Why?
DEADLINES. It’s bad enough when you’ve just got too much to do and not enough time to do it. But it’s worse when you’ve got a sequence you REALLY want to do and do well, but you haven’t got the time, and end up rushing it. That really stinks. Getting assignments at the last minute and not being mentally prepared for them. Not being able to put in a joke or sight gag that might be funny, because it’s not in the script. It’s not my job.
What is the most difficult part for you about being in the business?
There are two things I really don’t like about the business. The first one is, the drive to work. Now, you might not think that has anything to do with the business, but it does. I have to drive an hour into work everyday and on the way back home, I drive for well over an hour sometimes. Traffic is just awful. This is a California problem, and the core animation business is in California. I don’t like how the business makes if difficult to work anywhere else except California. The other is how, the western animation business limits it’s genres to kids cartoons. Don’t get me wrong, I love kids cartoons, but I think animation is a much more versatile medium. Things are slowly changing but it’s still has a long way to go.
What kind of technology do you work with on a daily basis?
I have this incredible pencil I like to use. It’s crazy. It’s a plastic transparent pencil. I take out the eraser off of the end of the pencil, like a cork, and there’s a hole that leads INTO the base. So what you do is, you put these little pencil leads inside, you put back the eraser and then…ready for this…you push down on the eraser and magically the lead comes out the tip. You don’t need a pencil sharpener or anything. When you need more lead you just press the back. It’s called a “Mechanical Pencil”. I also use Storyboard Pro for doing my storyboards in. And a Wacom Cintiq to draw on. You know, nothing fancy like my Mechanical Pencil.
In your travels, have you had any brushes with animation greatness?
At Rowland, I actually got to meet Chuck Jones, Friz Freleng, Frank Thomas, Ollie Johnston, and Andreas Deja. They were really nice guys. Years later, I had friends from Rowland that got hired at Disney. I went to visit and my friend introduced me to James Baxter. He showed us a test he was working on. At the time they were producing HUNCHBACK OF NOTRE DAME. The test was of Quasimodo and it was really amazing to see his process.
Describe a tough situation you had in life.
BOY HOWDY, DO I?! Where to begin…well…there isn’t THAT much…okay maybe there’s nothing. Okay there is. I like doing my stuff on the side. It’s something I’ve gotten into lately. It’s something I recommend anyone to do. Especially if doing your own thing is the reason you started drawing and creating in the first place. I now have so many projects in the works, I have a difficult time staying focused enough to finish any of them. That said, I’ve finished at least two and I’m currently working on a third that’s almost half way done. And I have more where THOSE came from. So here are my side projects: The first one is a comic I did for fun. It will eventually become a small part of a larger idea for webcomic I’m developing. MY BESTEST ENEMY. The fun loving but naive superhero Black Terror Kid, thinks his archenemy, The Claw, is only pretending to be evil and is really his friend, but when he tries to hang out with him against The Claw’s wishes, he accidentally ends up foiling The Claw at every turn. The next project is one I’m currently working on right now. It’s going to be an “Illustrated Film”. In order for me to be able to finish this project, it’s going to be more like a colored animatic than a finished animated cartoon. Which is fine with me as long is plays well. (CURRENTLY UNTITLED) In an open air shopping area, a good, honorable, but starving warrior finally gets a chance to sit and eat a hot dog when three, ambitious, sorcerers attack him, thinking by doing so, they’re saving the world.http://youtu.be/zHmsGUE-0iI
Is there any advice you can give for an aspiring animation student or artist trying to break into the business?
Yes, stay away from my job! It’s mine…my own…my preciousssssss. Actually, there’s some really good advice out there for aspiring animation students or artists on the internet. Specifically from audio sources. For some of the best advice on getting into the industry I recommend two very special podcasts with blogs. These two podcast are full of information on what you need to do to get into the animation industry. I can’t recommend them highly enough. If there’s something you think they should cover, you should contact them and ask them to. They’d be more than happy to talk about it. That said, if I was to pick one thing to tell someone, I would say to do and COMPLETE a personal project that shows people what you can do.
The Paperwings Podcast
The Man vs. Art Podcast