What is your name and your current occupation?
Mike Inman, Background Painter, adjunct instructor: Digital Painting/Visual Development
What are some of the crazier jobs you had before getting into animation?
White-water raft guide, paratrooper 82nd Airborne Division
What are some of your favorite projects you’re proud to have been a part of?
Young Justice, Avatar, Scooby, Dreamworks Feature Animation’s Spirit, Stallion of the Cimarron. Curious George movie at Universal Studios, Angry Birds, Angry Beavers, SpongeBob, Spectacular Spider-Man. I have also I’ve illustrated many Disney, Marvel and Pixar storybooks.
Where are you from and how did you get into the animation business?
I grew up immersed in great art as the son of a well known Atlanta based illustrator. At age 13 I began classical art training at Atlanta College of Art. After a stint as a paratrooper in the U.S. Army it was on to Sarasota to study illustration at Ringling College of Art & Design. While attending RCAD I was encouraged by Frank Gladstone & Jack Lew, both recruiters from Walt Disney Feature Animation at the time, to pursue a career in animation. I saw the days of staff illustrators at ad agencies were waning, so I threw in with the animation studios
What’s a typical day like for you with regards to your job?
I try to get to the studio early each day when things are quiet. For visual development in the very early stages I focus on the script and do preliminary full color illustrations as presentation art so there is something to bounce around as we zero in on the stylistic look of the production and flesh-out the important environments in digital paintings. When I am working on color scripts I convey the psychology of the story sequence through the effective use of lighting and color indications, many times these color scripts will be referred to later on as we create key bg paintings. If I am working in the capacity of art director or bg dept head I will review each bg painter’s work from the previous day and maintain continuity. I will mark up any retake notes for individuals to address. A typical day painting bg’s consists of first studying the storyboards and/or animatics, all existing artwork, associated approved backgrounds that may already be in our inventory so that we maintain a seamless visual narrative. Many times I’ll take the associated storyboard panel and superimpose it onto a layer above my bg painting so my scene reads most effectively.
What part of your job do you like best? Why?
I like sharing ideas with many brilliant and creative artist’s as a team. Together we tell a story in the most imaginative way possible. When it all clicks and you see it all come together, it is magical. A great feeling.
What part of your job do you like least? Why?
Insane deadlines. it is a business. Maybe someone has compressed production time so tight to meet a low budget that you simply can’t illustrate the scenes as much as you like. You have to decide what is most important to pushing the story forward and focus on that aspect of what you are doing and keep sprinting. Episodic schedules can be pretty fast, feature films usually allow for a little more ramp-up and development time. When the profit margin on the production is so thin that there is zero time for ramp-up or visual development it can be challenging to maintain the very highest production value. If there is a super low budget it’s necessary to simplify things. Finding that balance between insane deadlines and great art can be a challenge.
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?
Photoshop: Transitioning to Cintiq’s from the tablets has been a significant improvement
What is the most difficult part for you about being in the business?
The friends you bond with daily and get close with, and then you all scatter, then you start another production, develop strong bonds and these people are your family for the run of the production, it runs it’s course and then we are all scattered…… the tent goes up, and eventually the tent goes down. Happens on every production. You need about 50 lucky breaks to make a career out of this.
If you could change the way the business works and is run how would you do it?
Drastically minimize unnecessary meetings with “clipboard people”!
In your travels, have you had any brushes with animation greatness?
Yes, lot’s of them. Scooby inventor Iwao Takemoto was the most approachable for me, you could just go into his office, sit down and shoot the shit with him like regular people. Chuck Jones, Roy Disney Jr, Bill Hanna & Joe Barberra. I was just mentioning to one of my students today that if you were in it for personal recognition then animation may not be the ideal career decision. I have also worked alongside some greats that are still knocking it out each week. I also had the good fortune to ravel to Jerusalem to work on an animated film, a very memorable experience.
Describe a tough situation you had in life.
“Its was one of those events which at a crucial stage in one’s development arrive to challenge and stretch one to the limit of one’s ability and beyond, so that thereafter one has a new standard by which to judge oneself.”
― Kazuo Ishiguro, The Remains of the Day
Any side projects you’re working on that you’d like to share details of?
I have a significant project coming up but can’t divulge any details just yet.
Any unusual talents or hobbies like tying a cherry stem with your tongue or metallurgy?
I don’t consider being a white-water river guide unusual, although most of my animation colleagues might
Is there any advice you can give for an aspiring animation student or artist trying to break into the business?
Great draftsmanship and a mastery of drawing is the foundational skill of anyone who draws and/or paints for a living. Don’t take the easy way out on your drawing skills, go draw, go paint, keep growing.