What is your name and your current occupation?
Michael K. Foster, character designer and animator.
What are some of the crazier jobs you had before getting into animation?
Not sure if they’re crazy, but when I was younger I was a stock boy for a health food store, talk about nut jobs. I was a professional mover for three years and spent many of those nights sleeping in the back of the moving truck trying to keep warm in those dirty moving blankets because there was no time to go home. My first art related job was designing yellow page ads. Ever see those ads? That’s pretty much the lowest design job there is.
What are some of your favorite projects you’re proud to have been a part of?
Wow, um…I guess one would be a new product for Anagram Intl. a company I used to work for. They’re a huge national and international mylar balloon company. Not what you may think of when talking animation, but I was contacted by them with nothing more then an idea and told to make it work. It was all based around the QR codes that you see everywhere that can be scanned with a smart phone. I developed a line of character driven mylar balloons for children with themes such as pirates, skateboarders, princess’s & mermaids. Each balloon had a scannable QR code printed on it and when scanned, a short fun animation played based on the balloon. It was a way to “continue” the story from the balloon. The balloons are being sold throughout the U.S. It may not be a huge deal, but for me, it was something because it started as a blank idea and it turned into something bigger. This also helped my approach for new clients because it showed that animation is not just for TV and Film, but many other industries.
Where are you from and how did you get into the animation business?
I was born in Ann Arbor Michigan and raised in Hillburn NY a small village about an hour north of NYC. I got into animation some what by chance. A company I used to work for was in need of some simple character driven animation to help promote a few new products. My boss came to me and basically said, “you’re the guy, get a copy of Adobe Flash and learn how to animate.” I didn’t think I was the “guy”, but I’m glad was I wrong. I was immediately hooked.
What’s a typical day like for you with regards to your job?
Since I work for myself, my day to day job varies. Depending on what my clients need, I could be designing characters, drawing up storyboards, creating character libraries in Flash, animating or all of the above. I think this helps keep things interesting for me and to a degree wards off burning out. I will say that one of the first things I do is spend about the 20 minutes sketching whatever comes to mind or something I may see out the window or from the previous day. For me it’s a great way to ease into a day’s work.
What part of your job do you like best? Why?
I personally feel I have some of the best clients. They hire me based on the work they see on my site or the work that I’ve already done for them in the past. I’m fortunate that most trust me enough to give me creative control over the look and direction of an animation as long as it meets the basic requirements they have and it meets the overall vision for their project. For me, this trust is an honor.
What part of your job do you like least? Why?
Finding new clients. It’s tough to seek out those new jobs. I may send out dozens of feelers, make cold calls, look for any avenue or connections to land a client, but more times than often due to a variety of circumstances it comes back void. But, you have to keep pressing on and some jobs come about in the strangest ways.
What kind of technology do you work with on a daily basis, how has technology changed in the last few years in your field and how has that impacted you in your job?
I’m a Mac guy. I use a Mac Pro Tower with a Wacom Cintiq. I use a mixture of Adobe Photoshop, Flash & After Effects, plus a number of other programs that I feel will help get the job done. Obviously technology is changing so quickly it’s hard to keep up, but for me and what I do and the methods I use to create an animation I don’t really depend on having the latest software or equipment. Half of what I do is still done by hand like character design, concepting and storyboards. All animation is done in Flash more in a frame by frame approach. Working this way has allowed me to not worry about having the most current versions.
What is the most difficult part for you about being in the business?
Working alone. I spent the majority of my career working for corporations with large art departments. The daily back and forth conversations and aid with other artists is something I really miss. I do have a core group of artist friends I communicate with through Skype or ichat. It helps, but it’s not the same.
In your travels, have you had any brushes with animation greatness?
I don’t know about greatness. But besides client work I also produce my own inhouse toons and properties. I do have a preschool show geared for the Christian market currently being distributed on DVD and sold in various stores throughout the U.S. I’ve also had the opportunity to pitch original shows to Cartoon Network, Disney, Frederator Studios, Nick. Huge learning experience and really surreal to think that I was in the offices where so many wonderful cartoons have been produced. I guess the biggest thing is that one of my original cartoons was optioned by Atomic Cartoons. They are currently producing a teaser for it in hopes of pitching it to the major networks.
Describe a tough situation you had in life.
Not art related, but, the day when my son was two years old and collapsed on our front porch and stopped breathing. The overwhelming feeling that their was absolutely nothing I could but to trust in the ambulance crew and ER and more importantly God was difficult. Just for the record, my son is 11 now and doing great.
Any side projects you’re working on that you’d like to share details of?
I’m actually working on a rather large project on the side. Most of my clients are within in the Christian children’s ministry market and being a Christian myself, I’m working on developing a block of original cartoons that are fun and whacky, but teach kids about the Bible. When most people think of Christian kids entertainment they think Davy & Goliath which is at least 40 years old or Veggie Tales which has gone more of the morality route. The idea is to show what Christian toons could look like, on par style wise with main stream but with biblical lessons. I’ve hooked up with some great voice over actors and have already completed the first show. I have a distributor lined up so we’ll see where it goes.
Any unusual talents or hobbies like tying a cherry stem with your tongue or metallurgy?
Unusual? Not really. I’ve been playing guitar for over thirty years. I also got into building cigar box guitars and if you don’t know what that is, look it up online, they’re so cool. I’ve built about 8 of them within the last few years.
Is there any advice you can give for an aspiring animation student or artist trying to break into the business?Tough question. Well, I guess I could answer with the typical, just follow your dreams, but that sounds too generic and not helpful. I think being realistic is a good thing. Most starting out see what others in the industry are doing and desire to do the same, but those same people worked at the bottom at one point and paid their dues to get where they are today. It takes time and effort. I will say though to dedicate yourself to your craft, keep an active and “breathing” blog showcasing your talents. With the way social media is today, it’s easy to spread the word about what you do. Draw draw draw, practice practice practice, I can’t stress that enough. When I was in school my favorite illustration teacher was a man named Charles Rowe. He could draw anything. He stressed everyday how important it was to sketch all the time. Most of us kept sketchbooks, but to be honest most of us weren’t too consistent. He knew it and our work showed it. One day he came into class with the biggest manilla envelope I ever saw, we’re talking huge and this thing looked like it was about to burst. He dumped the contents out onto one of the work tables and out poured napkins, scrap paper, envelopes, ticket stubs and every type of paper imaginable. On every piece of paper were sketches and drawings, nothing was bare. He then told us that this one envelope was from that week alone. We got the point. If you want to get better, quit talking and start working.