WHAT IS YOUR NAME AND CURRENT OCCUPATION?
My name is Kevin Petrilak and I am an animation director…I detest the title “sheettimer” because it is the studios’ way of diminishing the importance of what we do.
WHAT ARE SOME OF THE CRAZIER JOBS YOU HAD BEFORE GETTING INTO ANIMATION?
I guess the two that come to mind would be in my high school years. I worked for a garden nursery where I moved bags of manure from one place to another ( some things never change). The other would be working in super market meat locker, bagging frozen chicken ( some things stay the same).
WHAT ARE SOME OF YOU FAVORITE PROJECTS YOU’RE PROUD TO HAVE BEEN A PART OF?
ZIGGYS GIFT and BACK IN ACTION come to mind as being a combination of enjoying the work and the crew. Although I get a lot of mention for animating the opening credits to THE SIMPSONS (original versions) .
WHERE ARE YOU FROM AND HOW DID YOU GET INTO THE ANIMATION BUSINESS?
I was born in New York and I had the bug since I was a little boy. While visiting my Uncle Gerry, who was an animator, in his home in New Jersey he showed me some flip animation of Popeye. I knew from then on that animation was the road for me. I have been fortunate to have been guided by some wonderful teachers. My high school teacher, Lenny Lang, mentored me and was extremely helpful in my getting into the SCHOOL OF VISUAL ARTS in New York City. At S.V.A., Howard Beckerman and Gil Mirrette, (who both knew my Uncle) were instrumental in getting me on the crew of RAGGEDY ANN. That was the leap that got me into the animation community. While working on RAGGEDY ANN, Howard took my portfolio and showed it to Friz Freleng who then offered me a job if I were to come to Los Angeles. ( I still have that letter!) From then on I continued to work meeting and working with some wonderful, gifted people.
WHAT’S A TYPICAL DAY LIKE FOR YOU WITH REGARDS TO YOUR JOB?
I’m an early riser, so any where between 3-4 am the coffee pot goes on and I start my work. It’s quiet and I am usually done by noon. When freelancing at home it’s a matter of making sure that each show gets the right attention. Every studio has it’s own requirements, so I like to finish one before stating the next. When I work in studio, I like to keep to the old time schedule of 9am to 6pm. I think the studios ran better when everyone showed up together and left together. The work got done and we did it all in studio. Shipping was not part of the animation process.
WHAT PART OF YOU JOB DO YOU LIKE BEST? WHY?
When I was animating, the best part was when the scene clicked. You know when it was going right and I didn’t have to struggle. The joy is seeing the test work and being proud of what I had just accomplished. Now, it’s more of problem solving. A lot of time is spent fixing storyboards. When I was directing and animating commercials at RICHARD WILLAMS; Dick impressed upon me that when the scene leaves my desk, it should be in the best possible condition…don’t leave a mess for someone else to clean up. You should not only know your job, but every step of the process. It will insure that your intent will not be altered later down the line.
WHAT PART OF YOU JOB DO YOU LIKE LEAST? WHY?
I guess dealing with people who don’t know their job or what is expected of them. This is not entirely their fault. The studios no longer have apprenticeship levels. When I entered the studio system, I worked with some of the greats in the business and as I followed them up as an assistant and I learned how they worked. This wealth of information can not be taught /learned in college. Today I find that most, not all, don’t know how to do their job and how it affects everyone else down the line.
WHAT KIND OF TECHNOLOGY DO YOU WORK WITH ON A DAILY BASIS, HOW HAS TECHNOLOGY CHANGED IN THE LAST FEW YEARS?
I use very little of the new technology. It is great to have a system where I can access information such at Quick Times or look at artwork or sheets/ storyboards to previous shows on the server. This info helps when I need to recreate an effect that is used in a show. Having programs like the ones today allows anyone to be a one-man band. You have the capabilities to complete an animated film without having to use a camera service, lab, editorial service etc. With the invention of the Lion Lamb testing system back in the 70’s an animator didn’t have to wait to have a pencil test shot on film and developed to see how the scene worked. Pencil tests were then done in minutes on video tape. Today’s new digital programs have expanded to allow you to take a project to completion by yourself if you have the knowledge of how to use them.
WHAT IS THE MOST DIFFICULT PART FOR YOU ABOUT BEING IN THE BUSINESS?
Staying in the business! Work is scarce for those of a certain age. After being in the business 38 years I still have to be interviewed by 20 year olds who don’t know me or care. Today, it’s all very corporate. I was interviewed by Friz Freleng for work; I respected this man ( legend). Today no one wants to meet you face to face, it’s all “ send your portfolio on line”. There is a lot to be learned about a person by talking to them…are they eager to learn; what are their work ethics. It’s so easy to dismiss some one you never meet. The changes in the business have also forced me from animating to directing others by way of exposure sheets. I have also done storyboard work and design, but my passion was to be an animator, which I was for quite a while. One would be hard pressed to find any studio that actually does any animation here……I remember the phrase after the original Tom and Jerry cartoons…”MADE IN HOLLYWOOD”
IN YOUR TRAVELS, HAVE YOU HAD ANY BRUSHES WITH ANIMATION GREATNESS?
I have been fortunate to work with or meet animation greats both old and new. The list is long so I will just highlight a few. Art Babbit, Tex Avery, Richard Williams, Frez Freleng, Chuck Jones, Maurice Nobel, Bob Clampett, Irv Spence, Norm McCabe, Virgil Ross, Dan Haskett, Eric Goldberg, Andres Deja, Glen Keane, Al Hirschfeld. I must say that there are many wonderful artists that I worked with that never got the credit they deserve. They are the unsung artists in the trenches who make very complex films.
DESCRIBE A TOUGH SITUATION YOU HAD IN LIFE.
Life throws a lot of’ “STUFF” at you. I think we all experience difficulties and no one person is greater or lesser than another. If I had to pick one situation it was 1993-94..We had just lost my mother-in law after Thanksgiving; the family dog died just before Christmas; the earthquake in January (the house had to be rebuilt ). Then my mother passed away in May, followed by her brother the next month. During all this we were raising two children and I had a commercial business to deal with. Through it all my wonderful wife (Jill) kept it all together. In this 6 month period Jill would say ‘God never gives you more than you can handle”. We saw it through.
ANY SIDE PROJECTS YOU’RE WORKING ON THAT YOU’D LIKE TO SHARE DETAILS OF?
As I tell all who start off in this business, animation is a collaborative effort. If you want to make personal statements – make your own films at home. I have started on a new animated short. It’s takes a long time since working to pay bills takes priority. It is hand drawn (old school) but I will be finishing it with the help of new tech programs ( new school). That’s all for now.
ANY UNUSUAL TALENTS OR HOBBIES LIKE TYING A CHERRY STEM WITH YOU TONGUE OR METALLURGY?
No nothing that exciting. I enjoy gardening when it doesn’t become overwhelming from neglect. I grow vegetables as well as flowers. I also peck at the piano when I think about it.
Is there any advice you can give for an aspiring animation student or artist trying to break into the business?
Interesting interview, and a great artist. I really enjoyed reading it!
Kevin is my younger brother and I’m so PROUD of him. Like he said his ambition since the age of about 5 years this was his passion. He NEVER let anything stand in his way.Keep up the good work!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
You didn’t give his reply on advice he could give new animators.
He chose not to answer that one.