What is your name and your current occupation?
Mark Lewis. On my most recent gig, I did prop design, color and board revision. I’ve also done character cleanup and design.
What are some of the crazier jobs you had before getting into animation?
I worked in one of the art departments at Lawrence Livermore Lab. People say artists are nuts, but there were stories about things some of the physicists had done… Also, I worked for a while in a sign shop that was headquartered in a storage facility. You were surrounded by corrugated metal, no real insulation, heating or cooling. So it would get freezing cold during the winter months, and into the 100’s inside during the summer months. Hard sometimes to make your hands (and your brain) work in those conditions.
What are some of your favorite projects you’re proud to have been a part of?
Conan: Red Nails has to be one of the coolest projects I’ve worked on. We got to do some things I’d never seen done before in a western-produced animated film. I hope to see that released one day, finished at the same level of quality with which it started. And I was glad to get a chance to work on what turned out to be the last outing for the classic Warners Batman, Batman: Mystery of the Batwoman. There are lot of other projects I could mention, but that’s probably a good place to stop, before the list gets too long.
How did you become interested in animation?
I always liked it (grew up seeing Disney cartoons and the like, and had my Saturday morning favorites), but it was actually secondary to my interest in comics. As a kid, if you’d asked me, I was more likely to get into doing comics for a living than animation.
Where are you from and how did you get into the animation business?
I’m originally from the S.F Bay Area (East Bay; specifically a town called Livermore). I’d moved down here to attend Art Center, after which I began to pursue a career in comics. I was doing okay for awhile (independent publishers), but my prospects began to dry up and I saw where things seemed to be heading. Recalling something an Art Center instructor had said about animation being a good way to supplement your income, I got hold of a list of Union studios, took a portfolio around, and ultimately got my first animation job at Graz Entertainment, working on the show “X-Men.”
What’s a typical day like for you with regards to your job?
There’s kind of no such thing as a “typical day” for me. Each gig is a little different. I’m not one of those guys who always does the same narrowly specialized job on each show. I’ve had days where I’ve done coloring, prop design and board revision all as part of the same day! And to be honest, I like that variety.
What part of your job do you like best? Why?
I like working with other artists whose work I admire, being inspired by what they do, being part of a team where everyone pulls their weight and contributes. In the process, I always learn things and get better myself.
What part of your job do you like least? Why?
Dealing with in-studio politics at some studios. Instead of having to use a portion of my energy to watch my back, I’d much rather invest all that energy into the production. If you’re on a production at a studio where people are mostly on the same page and there are no hidden agendas, it’s always much better. I’ve always said that if I have to choose between working on a cool property where there’s politics involved, and the property that’s maybe not as cool but you’re working with people who are good and decent, I’ll choose the decent people. Life’s too short to deal with political nonsense any more than you have to.
What is the most difficult part for you about being in the business?
The downtime sometimes gets old. I’d prefer more sustained employment. The key though is when you have that downtime, not to just sit on your hands. It’s important to find projects to work on while you’re off, to keep that art part of your mind working. Otherwise, you run the risk of finding out you’ve gotten rusty once you’re hired again.
What kind of technology do you work with on a daily basis?
I spend a lot more time on the computer (Macintosh; thank you very much!) than I did when I started out. I use Photoshop for coloring, of course. I’ve also used Illustrator from time to time for various graphics needs too. There’ve been productions where I was asked to conform storyboards to the animatics, so in those cases I’d be watching the animatics in Quicktime, pausing etc. as needed to work along on the board.
I’ve not yet worked on the Cintiq, though that is probably the next thing that will happen. It seems like all the studio “help-wanted” ads for board revision now say “must be familiar with using the Cintiq.”
In your travels, have you had any brushes with animation greatness?
Let’s see; I’ve met both Mr. Hanna and Mr. Barbera (though a lot of people have done that). I also met Iwao Takamoto, and spoke with him a number of times.
In addition, I’ve also met a number of people who are recognizable names from comics that were working in animation, but I guess that wouldn’t necessarily qualify as “animation greatness.”
Describe a tough situation you had in life. Any side projects you’re working on you’d like to share details of?
The year my grandmother died, I was working on the “Duck Dodgers” series. It was a bit hard at points to focus on the work, but you do what you have to do. Is that the kind of thing you’re after?
As far as side projects go, I’m occasionally doing comics-related things. Late last year, I did a cover for the FCA (the Fawcett Collectors of America) section in Roy Thomas’ Alter Ego #100. I’ve included that image here. Had a lot of fun with that. And I just finished another very intensive comics project where I colored and lettered a short story. I can’t say much about that just yet, but will be able to go into more detail (and post work from it on my site http://marklewisdraws.com/ ) in a few months from now.
Is there any advice you can give for an aspiring animation student or artist trying to break into the business?
You have to work hard at it. There are a lot of people out there right now competing for whatever jobs there are. The thing is, you’re just not going to learn everything you need to know for the job in a class in school. Some things you can only learn on the job. Back when I broke into the industry, it was a lot easier for people to find jobs that allowed them the latitude to do that. But now, it seems like you have to hit the ground running. So the better you are at what you do, the better your attitude and your willingness to learn and pitch in, the better your chances are of finding your way in.