What is your name and your current occupation?
Elliot Blake, and I’m an animation producer and sometimes writer. I just wrapped up a lengthy gig with the fine people at Six Point Harness.
What are some of the crazier jobs you had before getting into animation?
I’ve kind of been lucky in that I haven’t had to do a lot of crazy jobs before getting into the animation business. Certainly the most unusual job I had was helping to wrangle pigs one day when I was a p.a. on a low budget family feature called “Gordy.” And when I was in high school, I worked at a Cinnabon for two or three weeks. To this day, I can’t eat those things.
What are some of your favorite projects you’re proud to have been a part of?
Well, I got to work on the original run of Futurama, all 72 episodes, as the design coordinator; that was fun, and I’m definitely proud to have been a part of it. Working on that series was really the foundation for my animation production education, and it was great to get to see it all come together, from the initial design phase, all the way through to the final original episode. I think my favorite projects were two I produced: Re\Visioned: Tomb Raider and Re\Visioned: Activision, both of which were web series
for GameTap, which was originally owned by Turner Broadcasting. I won an Emmy for the Tomb Raider series back in 2008, which was a thrill, and also got to voice-direct Minnie Driver, who played Lara Croft. For a web series, the Tomb Raider project was obscenely well-funded, but unfortunately, not as widely-seen as we would have liked. A few episodes are up on my website now , but at the time, the management thought putting the videos on YouTube would mean no one would come to watch them on GameTap. The videogame company that publishes the Tomb Raider games recently put the episodes on YouTube, so now they’re readily available. I got to work with a bunch of great comic book talent, like Warren Ellis, Jim Lee, Gail Simone, and Cully Hamner, which was great, as I’m a longtime comic book reader and (and occasional writer). I also got to work with some great animation talent, like Louie Del Carmen, who contributed designs for an episode, Peter Chung, who wrote and directed a three-episode story, and my friends at Six Point. I also wrote and produced nine web-only episodes of Space Ghost Coast to Coast. That was tremendously fun.
How did you become interested in animation?
I kind of fell into animation. I had always enjoyed it, but I didn’t seriously consider it as a career until the opportunity presented itself. I was working at an audio post facility as a transfer engineer, and the wife of one of my friends there was gearing up to produce Spawn for HBO. I knew being a transfer engineer was not the life for me, and I also thought that if I went to work on Spawn, I’d meet some artists who would want to draw my comics. Turns out that animators want to animate, and not all of them want to draw comics, which at the time I didn’t realize. Anyway, I got hired as a p.a. at Rough Draft, and wound up spending almost ten years there.
Where are you from and how did you get into the animation business?
I’m originally from Baltimore, and remain an Orioles fan. Which means I am apparently a glutton for punishment. See above for the answer to the second part of the question.
What’s a typical day like for you with regards to your job?
A typical day right now consists of looking for the next job. But when I’m working, I’m typically reviewing schedules, sometimes revising them, talking to artists, talking to clients, talking to the people I work for, and making sure everyone is doing what they’re supposed to be doing so whatever project I’m working on gets delivered in a timely fashion.
What part of your job do you like best? Why?
I love working with artists, and I love the fact that animation is a truly collaborative medium. I’ve been at this now for 16 years, and I still get a thrill at the creative energy that comes out of a studio environment.
What part of your job do you like least? Why?
Well, I don’t think anyone enjoys working with jerks, and that’s my least favorite part of the job. Life’s too short for that, but like any job, you’re going to encounter jerks along the way, and it’s how you deal with them that counts. I think the other least favorite part of my job is dealing with schedules that are sometimes just too compressed. As a producer, I feel like it’s my job to create or maintain an environment where artists can do their best work, but there’s always that tension between taking the time to do the work properly and the time you actually have, and too often, the time you actually have is not quite enough to do a job exactly the way you would like. And everywhere I’ve worked, the quality bar has been set at a high leve, which is something I’m proud of. That said, it’s easy to noodle at something forever. At some point you have to say, “That’ll do, pig. That’ll do.”
What is the most difficult part for you about being in the business?
I don’t love freelancing.
What kind of technology do you work with on a daily basis?
A MacBook Pro and my iPhone, which I love in a way that might be considered unholy.
In your travels, have you had any brushes with animation greatness?
I have indeed had brushes with animation greatness. I spent close to ten years working at Rough Draft, and like I said above, that experience provided the foundation of everything I know about animation. You can’t work with people as talented as Rich Moore, Gregg Vanzo, Peter Avanzino, Wes Archer, Claudia Katz, and many more who passed through while I was there, without learning something. I learned a lot about storytelling as well, specifically from Rich Moore, with whom I got to write a couple of things; I can’t say enough nice things about that guy, and I feel lucky to be able to consider him a mentor and friend. And getting to work with Peter Chung was an experience, too. The man is some kind of mad genius.
Describe a tough situation you had in life.
Well, we lived in Atlanta for four years, and for the last year we were there, I was out of work. Turner sold GameTap and laid off about half of that unit in mid-2008, including the GameTap TV group of which I was part, and that was right about the time the economy started to tank. So combine that with the fact that Atlanta is not quite the animation production hub L.A. is, and you have a recipe for not-working-pie, which doesn’t taste all that good. But we weathered the storm, moved back to L.A. in 2009, and for the most part I’ve worked since.
Any side projects or you’re working on or hobbies you’d like to share details of?
Yes! I wrote a graphic novel – a crime comic, really – called “The Package”, and I’m currently raising money to pay the art and printing costs on Kickstarter. We’re closing in on 50% of our funding goal, and I would encourage people to check it out and consider making a pledge. If you like crime comics, this is for you, and we have some really cool pledge rewards.
Any unusual talents or hobbies like tying a cherry stem with your tongue or metallurgy?
I can tie a metal cherry stem into a knot with my tongue. I also make a pretty good cocktail. One of these things is true.
Is there any advice you can give for an aspiring animation student or artist trying to break into the business?
Draw every day and always strive to improve your craft. And if for some ungodly reason you decide that being in animation production is the life for you, be organized, be friendly, be detail-oriented, and be organized. And detail-oriented. Also organized. I can’t stress those last two bits enough.