Ashanti Miller

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What is your name and your current occupation?
Animation teacher and VFX artist

What are some of the crazier jobs you had before getting into animation?
Working in day care and retail. The job is so much easier without the parents and  customers 🙂

What are some of your favorite projects you’re proud to have been a part of?Sesame Workshop’s The New Electric Company and Mondo Media’s Piki and Poko’s Adventures in Starland. I love working directly with the writers rather than interpreting the writer’s vision through my director. The results are always peachy keen 😀

How did you become interested in animation?
Bugs Bunny. The instant I was able to draw him when I was 7 years old, I was determined to be a “Bugs Bunny drawer” when I grew up.

Where are you from and how did you get into the animation business?
I am from the Bay Area, mostly Oakland. I grew up innards based schools in both Oakland and San Francisco. Through them I attended The California State Summer School of Arts (CSSSA), which was held at Mills College in Oakland in 1990 and someone told me about CalArts. When Christine Panushka of CalArts’ Experimental Animation program came to CSSA to recruit, she told me to get a fine art education from another school for two years and then transfer to CalArts, which I  did.

What’s a typical day like for you with regards to your job?
Depends on the job. When I was a character layout artist, it was a grueling race against an impossible deadline. I learned a  lot about how to problem solve a storyboard’s continuity and thus make a film go smoother with fewer surprises. It’s no fun when scenes don’t quite hook up in the final result. Layout remedies that.  At Sesame Workshop, I was a VFX effects artist, visual development artist and independent filmmaker. I got to do everything! Dream job! The schedule was lighter and the crew loved me. Production for the individual works so better when you have entered the company as an intern. Everyone likes the artist they got to know for 3 months  as a friend before officially hiring them.

What part of your job do you like best? Why?
Design. When the producers let me. If I design the project, I have a much easier time with the subsequent tasks for I know the characters and environments inside and out.

What part of your job do you like least? Why?
Trying to interpret directions. I don’t fit well into mainstream genres. I just don’t understand the motivations of suburban protagonists (unless it’s a common story of financial survival). So, when a director tries to pitch the story and then technical aspects of what I am supposed to do with the characters, sometimes I tend not to yield favorable results.  I had this problem on Futurama, Dilbert, and a feature project I worked on for Storytime Pictures. However, I was successful at Warner ( Space Jam), Disney,  Spumco, Mondo Media and Sesame’s The Electric Company. An animator, in essence, is an actor. Therefore, it is important to work within your genre. That’s why I try my best to choose productions that are the correct genre for me, instead of just applying everywhere and signing with the first producer who calls like I did in the 90’s.

What is the most difficult part for you about being in the business?
The studio tests. I won’t even do them anymore after the last disaster. I modeled camera match-moved the characters and set of the Dora Explorer test I was given and the director STILL said that the perspective was off. I am still scratching my head about that. Perhaps I should’ve tumbled the environment in maya to assure that the horizon line was not smack dab in the middle of the scene? Maybe that was it. If so, would it have been so difficult for the director to tell me that and send the test back for revisions? I guess not.  Studios don’t have time to train nowadays, so I won’t bother applying to the big 5 for hand drawn and preproduction anymore. I’ve been away from the LA industry too long.  My advice in regards to studio tests that you just can’t pass: go the other route and get hired by people who know you. They’ll know your faults and how to correct them without hassle or much studio time.

What kind of technology do you work with on a daily basis?
Image editing and filmmaking software. Adobe CS5, Maya, After Effects and Flash.

In your travels, have you had any brushes with animation greatness?
Oh good Goddess, yes! CalArts brought in the golden age heroes, Chuck Jones, Frank and Ollie, Marc Davis, Frank Oz and Frederic Back. Industry experience brought me Wendy Pini, Skip Jones, Leon Joosen, and John K. I have drawings from  ALL of them and you will NEVER EVER see the doodles on bay!  There MINE I tell ya! Mine! All MINE! You know the rest of the Daffy Duck drill…

Describe a tough situation you had in life.
Futurama and Dilbert. They will always be nightmares for me. Both jobs had huge learning curves in interpreting directions and perspective. So man of my scenes were revised. I am ashamed of the paychecks I took from Rough Draft, but I can’t pay them back. . The art direction jobs I’ve had were eye openers too. Since I can write a book about what went wrong, let me just some the challenges up to the following: Management is more about knowing idiosyncrasies of who you work with than about completing a film–which I can do myself after all the crap you go through with crews and your superiors. Then again, doing everything yourself is not the job of a manager.

Any side projects or you’re working on or hobbies you’d like to share details of?
I am finishing up my second graphic novel Superficial. no need to promote it. My first two graphic novels are more diaries than mass market fare. The third book, however, is total conformity and I am pitching it as a tv show a la Daria. I have dismantled the web comic ( for it went to print).

Any unusual talents or hobbies like tying a cherry stem with your tongue or metallurgy?
I can sing like Gizmo of Gremlins 🙂

Is there any advice you can give for an aspiring animation student or artist trying to break into the business?
Learn perspective and light sources in addition to the drawing with form and story that is standard in most school curriculums. Those are the skills I’ve been yelled at by directors for not knowing.

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