What is your name and your current occupation?
My name is Kris Pearn, and I’m currently directing an Animated Feature… but mostly I’m still a happy storyboard artist/ scribble monkey.
What are some of the crazier jobs you had before getting into animation?
I grew up on a hobby farm, so there was lots of lawn mowing, wood harvesting, hay bailing, corn detasseling, urine soaked hay shoveling and the occasional outbreak of goat castration. I wasn’t good at any of it. After that I got a gig pumping gas at Lambeth Olco. I didn’t mind that so much… got to learn about cars and read a lot of Stephen King. Also paid my way through college until I got my first Animation job. Never looked back.
What are some of your favorite projects you’re proud to have been a part of?
I was very proud to be a part of Cloudy With A Chance of Meatballs. It was a cartoon and I love cartoons. It’s rare in Feature Animation to get to work on a “cartoon”. Before that, I had fun on Surf’s Up (for the 8 people that saw it), and I still remember my first feature story gig on Open Season with fondness. I loved working for Aardman… couple of movies coming out soon, Arthur Christmas, and The Pirates!… can’t say too much about them until they’re released. I’ve enjoyed a lot of TV shows and Commercials too… I try to find something good about every job I get… Positive thinking and all that crap.
How did you become interested in animation?
I was always the art kid. That’s how I avoided getting my ass kicked at school. I was glued to Looney Tunes every weekend and I poured over the Funny pages in the paper. Calvin and Hobbes made me want to draw with life (although I wasn’t self aware enough at the time to realize that’s why I was so attracted to Watterson). I had no idea you could make a living as an animator. My Grandmother lived in the city and I remember she would take me to Disney films. When I saw Dalmatians, I was hooked.
Where are you from and how did you get into the animation business?
I’m from Delaware, Ontario, Canada. I got into Animation because a guidance counselor in High School put me onto Sheridan College (up Toronto way). I applied… It was just before Lion King broke and the whole animation school thing blew up with popularity… I got lucky… my crappy India Ink drawings of Ozzie Ozborne, and Paul Bonner inspired renderings of Dwarves and Dragons were good enough to get me in. Sheridan broke me down, taught me how to draw, and gave me the connections and passion to break into the business. It didn’t hurt that Disney, Dreamworks, Fox, Warner Brothers and the rest all erupted and started opening studios everywhere, driving up animation wages… if you could hold a pencil and show up on time, you’d get a job. I started out as a jack of all trades… design, layout, animation… then specialized as a 2D animator and eventually survived the 3D wave as a story artist. I love Story… In my opinion, it’s the best job in the world.
What’s a typical day like for you with regards to your job?
These days, it’s busy with a lot of meetings and conversation. I’m of the opinion that Story can’t happen in a vacuum… we try to run a fluid room with as open a debate as possible. Lots of dirty jokes and arguments. It’s how you get the best stuff. A great day is one where I can sit in my office and draw for ten hours. I used to call those days “Saturday” before I got into Animation. Depending on where we are in the process, we float from the story room, to edit, to our Art Dept. It’s all pre-production now, which is painful, but definitely my favorite part of the journey. So much can happen… it’s all a matter of letting it flow!
What part of your job do you like best? Why?
Drawing. I love to draw.
What part of your job do you like least? Why?
Politics. Dealing with money and execs and marketing… it’s all important… but I like to make stuff… I hate selling it. It’s hard to hang onto your soul somedays in those waters. But it’s a job and I’ve got two kids that have a nasty habit of wanting to eat… so artistic integrity has to work with the reality of a paycheck. Gotta stay positive, and I’ve learned a lot how to ask for, and get what I need from the process… but it’s not always fun or rewarding when the money gets involved.
What is the most difficult part for you about being in the business?
See above. It’s a business and those that survive can come to terms with that. You’ve got to play nice in the sand box. It’s never about you. You’ve got to be part of the team. Ego gets a lot of great artists into trouble. The reality is that most of the money comes from people who don’t have the passion for the medium that we have. I once had an exec dangle the carrot of possibly getting a chance to work in live action if we stayed at his company… so insulting! I got into animation as a choice… not a default. But all along the process we suffer with writers, directors, actors, and executives that look down at what we do. Animation is a stepping stone to bigger things for these people. Whatever right? They come and go… those of us that care can always find work and if we’re lucky, the moons align and we make something good. I’m not saying live action is bad either… don’t get me wrong… story telling is story telling… but more often than not, the money comes from an ignorant source looking for a business angle. If you know what you’re up against, it makes it easier to sleep at night. The hardest part of the business is the fact that its a business.
What kind of technology do you work with on a daily basis?
As a story artist, I keep it simple. Photoshop on a Cintiq tablet when I’m working digital. If I can’t think in my office, then paper, a pen and a coffee shop will usually unlock my creative juices. I prefer the mobility of a laptop with a 13″ Cintiq… I can keep Final Draft open that way too…
In your travels, have you had any brushes with animation greatness?
Sure! I brush with it all the time. One of our board artists wrote a scene a little while back that made me weep with happy tears. That’s greatness… I’m not big on name dropping. I’ve got my mentors and I’ve met a lot of amazing artists in this business. I’ve learned as much from the big names as my comrades in the trenches. I’d have to say the only time I was ever star struck was the day that Mr. T came in to the studio. I know he’s not strictly speaking what you’d call “animation greatness”, but he’s probably one of the biggest influences on my life. A Team was a religion in my house. I wish I could have met Bill Peet. He is my hero.
Describe a tough situation you had in life.
I recently dropped my kid at a Dodger game trying to get a ball, and had no idea that it was all caught on film. I wasn’t prepared for what the internet had to say about that one. For a shy awkward guy who chose a career hidden behind drawings, it really f#@ked me up. It challenged my choice to work in the entertainment business, and made me think about getting out of Hollywood all together. Ultimately, I’ve come through it with a new appreciation of context. We used it in the movie I’m now working on. It was stupid to even let it get to me… My kids are healthy, my wife tolerates me, my dog is housebroken, and I’m an idiot who was never any good at baseball. I was always a better fan than a player, that’s why I drink beer. Live by the joke, die by the joke, eh!
Any side projects or you’re working on or hobbies you’d like to share details of?
I’ve got a couple of things going on… a comic with my friends at work. I’ve just recently self published a Picture Book called “Edward The Tree Climbing Dog”, which is available at pearnworks.bigcartel.com (sorry for the plug… I’ve got to move these boxes of books out of our vacuum closet). I’m also featured in an Aardman Comic called Tales of Spiffing and a book I did a couple of years back with some friends called Anthology 451. I write everyday and I try to keep a sketchbook going. Other than that, my hobbies are my kids and hiking with my dog. That keeps me busy. I love to ride my bike as often as I can too… LA isn’t my ideal place to live, but I do love the beach!
Any unusual talents or hobbies like tying a cherry stem with your tongue or metallurgy?
Nope. I’m bad at everything.
Is there any advice you can give for an aspiring animation student or artist trying to break into the business?
Stay with it. It’s tough. Never think you have a job until you’re sitting at the desk, and never believe a paycheck is going to last forever. Always hustle. Try to have fun with every gig… big or small. I firmly believe in positive thinking. A good attitude will create good opportunities. When all else fails… make your own shit stink! It’s so easy to create stuff these days with the technology we have. Tell your own stories. Make your own art and don’t listen to negative chatter. Separate constructive criticism from bitter artists. Do what you love and work hard. This isn’t just an art… it’s a trade. LEARN YOUR TRADE! Find mentors and gain a respect for the WORK! Study and form opinions. Whew… that’s a lot of random advice. I hope it helps!