J.J. Sedelmaier

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What is your name and your current occupation?
J.J. Sedelmaier. This week I’m a filmmaker, graphic designer, cartoonist, author, curator. . .

What are some of the crazier jobs you had before getting into animation?
I don’t know if it’d be classified as “crazy” but in school and right out of school, I worked as a waiter/bartender/asst manager in restaurants (this best thing I could have done to prepare for running a business), and also worked as a furniture stripper/salesman.

What are some of your favorite projects you’re proud to have been a part of?
In terms of longer form stuff, launching Beavis and Butthead for MTV, creating the Saturday TV Funhouse/Saturday Night Live cartoons with Robert Smigel (especially The Ambiguously Gay Duo !), the co-creation with Stuart Hill of Captain Linger for Cartoon Network, doing the Harvey Birdman Attorney at Law pilot for Adult Swim, and designing the Tek Jansen character and launching the cartoon series for The Colbert Report. In terms of our short form/commercial stuff, some of the highlights have been, being a part of the Fido Dido branding of 7Up Intl, Speed Racer for Volkswagen, resurrecting Speedy Alka-Seltzer in CG, but most importantly, getting to work with people like Al Hirschfeld, Garry Trudeau, George Booth, Gary Baseman, Seymour Chwast, David Levine – what seems like an endless list of amazing artists !! Finally, it’s a wonderful feeling to know that the talented people that have past through our doors have acquired experience, a sensibility, and exposure to stuff that they’d never find elsewhere.

How did you become interested in animation?
 I grew up around cartoons – both printed and film. Both my parents are creative types and they seemed as into the stuff as I was ! When I got to college, I found myself using animation techniques to address assignments I was given in drawing classes. When I finished school, I decided I had two choices: 1.Californiafor animation. 2.New Yorkfor comicbooks. I chose NY because I had family in the region and was familiar with the city. After initially exploring the comicbook industry and determining it wasn’t as exciting as I’d hoped, I started showing my portfolio around to anyone that would see me. THAT’s how I found out that there was animation going on in NY ! Go Figure – who knew ?!

Where are you from and how did you get into the animation business?
Grew up inEvanston,Il. Went to college for 1 year at MillikinUniversity in Decatur,IL, then transferred to UW/Madison. In addition to the journey described above, once I started to spread myself around by showing my work about, it was meeting animator Tony Eastman in 1980 that had the biggest effect on my introduction to the animation industry. He took a liking to me and tossed me some animation to play with. Soon I was assisting him, and it was Tony who helped get me my first studio staff job at Perpetual Motion Pictures working as an inbetweener on a Strawberry Shortcake cartoon. I was in heaven !

What’s a typical day like for you with regards to your job?
This totally depends upon what sort of work is going on at the time. I usually am in my studio by 7:45 and use the time to catch up on everything from email to reviewing the prior day’s events. I’m constantly thinking of what I can do to get our work and name out there. My responsibilities in terms of production are simply staying on top of what’s being done and making sure it’s consistent with what I’ve envisioned AND what I’ve promised. I produce the studio’s projects, so as a result I’m staying in touch with pretty much EVERYone involved on all sides.

What part of your job do you like best? Why?
I’d say that solving creative problems and working hand in hand with artists/designers, run neck and neck as my favorite experiences. I also enjoy looking for projects to associate my interests and the studio’s services with. Preserving and restoring architectural gems. curating exhibitions,  and other fun stuff ; Do I really have to define why
What part of your job do you like least? Why?
I don’t like confronting issues that shouldn’t have anything to do with the process of producing the work. Sometimes I receive feedback or instructions that come from someone – or a committee of folks – who haven’t been integrally involved with the project up to this point. Regardless of the frustration level being high when this happens, I still enjoy finding a way to solve the problem. I like having the nimbleness that’s necessary to make the problem go away. . . It’s kind of a “Go ahead – gimme yer best shot !” kind of reaction. . .
What is the most difficult part for you about being in the business?
Getting people to truly understand the benefits to the endless flexibility of the craft. It’s really hard to see work that I know could’ve been better had ALL the people involved been aware of something so fundamental. . . so simple. . .
What kind of technology do you work with on a daily basis?
First off, we’re primarily a Mac based studio, so anything we use: Photoshop, After Effects, Flash, etc., all work off of a Mac platform. Freelance people who do work for us use everything from Cintiqs, to Toon Boom, etc. . . I’ve been spending a lot of time in development lately and as a result I’m online a lot and using Facebook as a blog.

In your travels, have you had any brushes with animation greatness?
I’ve had the pleasure of working with Richard Williams, Tissa David, Gordon Sheehan, Shamus Culhane, Jack Zander, Bill Littlejohn, and also am grateful to have had friends like Marv Newland, Bill Plympton, Tony Eastman, John K., and John Canemaker.

Describe a tough situation you had in life.
Aside from any personal events, when it comes to my career – Three.  1, Patrice and I opening the studio. Not really “tough”, but certainly a carefully thought out and calculated decision. . . 2. Deciding to discontinue our relationship with Beavis and Butthead after the first season. We had found that the all consuming nature of producing the animation of a TV series was not what we wanted our studio to do. We favored variety and diversity in the work we did to a guaranteed flow of work. . . 3. Deciding to discontinue our exclusive involvement with the SNL cartoons. After creating and producing the groundbreaking cartoons with Robert Smigel for 3 years, we had found that we were becoming branded by the high visibility of the work. People (especially in advertising) were under the impression, thanks to our studio’s credit logo, that ALL we did was SNL TV Funhouse. We made a calculated choice to step back (except for The Ambiguously Gay Duo cartoons and select parodies) and make an effort to promote our other work. In retrospect, it was relatively futile – to this day most people think we did ALL the cartoons. . .
Any side projects or you’re working on or hobbies you’d like to share details of?
I have strong interests in a variety of historical subjects, and write and/or contribute to pieces on design, architecture, railways, Samuel Insull, Chicago, and have helped my friend Karl Kirchner with various restorative aspects of his Black Beauty automobile used in the 1966 Green Hornet TV series. I’m all over the place in this respect and always receptive to getting involved in stuff that seems like it would be fun, or expand my knowledge in any given area. . . I also plan to write a book or two in the near future. . .

Any unusual talents or hobbies like tying a cherry stem with your tongue or metallurgy?
I have a copper tongue the color of a cherry. . .

Is there any advice you can give for an aspiring animation student or artist trying to break into the business?
Realize that it’s perfectly fine (even advisable) to be possessed with the idea of doing what you want to do, but don’t be blind to the stuff you pass along the way. The more you circulate and expose yourself to things around you, the more potential there is that an opportunity you hadn’t considered might present itself. . . and finally, be a sponge ! It’s your obligation to soak up everything around you – experience as many things in and out of your basic interests as you can. To this day, I’m the first to admit that probably the most valuable experience I’ve had in life – the one thing that continues to benefit me to this day – is having worked in a restaurant for 2-3 years while I was in Madison. Busboy, waiter, bartender, host, asst. manager. . . it taught me everything I needed to know to run a business, but more importantly, it taught me how to be comfortable in my own skin.  Go figure. .





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