What is your name and your current occupation?
Pablo Leon; I am a freelance illustrator, visual development artist and I also do motion graphics animation for educational digital media.
What are some of the crazier jobs you had before getting into animation?
I have had a few. Stock supervisor for Levi’s, Sign Artist for Trader Joe’s, but one that stands out the most was the early morning shift I had as a loader for UPS. Almost everyone in my vicinity was rude, cranky, and sleep-deprived. Loading a truck for a very racist driver wasn’t my cup of tea either, so it didn’t last very long.
What are some of your favorite projects you’re proud to have been a part of?
I worked on an animated info-graphic for the “Story of M-Pesa”. M-Pesa is kind of like the Western Union of Africa, but their business was conducted through the use of cell phones. It made it’s way through the World Bank, who liked it a lot, and that project has gotten me a lot more work as a result.
Where are you from and how did you get into the animation business?
I am originally from Guatemala and currently live in Washington DC. My last year of college I was hired by a start-up company to be a graphic designer (I had no real GD knowledge). However, my boss was very interested in creating animations for educational purposes, so things kind of clicked from there.
What’s a typical day like for you with regards to your job?
I head into my office, grab some coffee, get a script, fight about the length of the script versus the deadline, lose the fight, and then grab some coffee. Once all the storyboarding and approval is out of the way, I start creating assets (that is my favorite part), grab some more coffee, and then start animating. There is a lot of coffee involved in this process.
What part of your job do you like best? Why?
There is a little more job security doing work for educational/social companies, because they will always have content that is important but needs to be presented in a way that is interesting to their clients. For the most part, companies do not want you to click “agree” without reading the print, so I take the print and make a cool video out of it.
What part of your job do you like least? Why?
Dealing with complex business procedures is not the dream job of every artist for sure. The content can be a little dull and sometimes it can be hard to connect with clients who sometimes do not understand the importance or influence of professional creative vision. And when they do not see the value of the product, they tend not to understand the importance of a lot in regards to making the product, such as consistent communication or payment, which can make the job more complicated for both of us.
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 work with a Wacom Cintiq, the Adobe suite (mostly Photoshop and After Effects) and probably the least advanced of my practices, a lot of Sticky notes. The Cintiq has definitely cut my production time in half; it is the best investment I’ve made in my future. And advances in technology generally mean faster output on my end whether it is software updates that fix glitches that cause the program to break, or hardware that helps to render a video faster. Although there are a lot of artists who condemn technology the truth is that it doesn’t make things like animation easier, it just gives the artist more time to focus on the content instead of the extraneous details. If upon request of a client, I can change the character’s hair in an entire animation to a darker shade of brown in less than a minute, it doesn’t make me less of an artist. It means I can focus on the aesthetics and less on the commercial aspects of my trade. So, keeping up with technology is something I fully encourage in my career, if for no other reason then I have more time with the fun parts of animating a video.
What is the most difficult part for you about being in the business?
Aside from difficult clients, the most frustrating thing for me can be the start of a down time period between animations, especially after working hard for months. It takes me a few days to cope with all the free time that I now have to effectively manage between my personal projects and the general aspects of life I had put off while under a tight deadline.
In your travels, have you had any brushes with animation greatness?
I have had quite a few on different levels. Personally, Sam Ellis, the former character designer and Illustrator for the show “Archer” is a friend and mentor or sorts, and is always willing to take some time out of his schedule to help me. Outside of that, I have had found that conventions are an invaluable resource, especially when I went to the CTN Expo last year. Ignoring the many fan moments I had (I stood ten feet away from Glen Keane during one of his demos, listened to Andreas Deja’s lecture, etc), I was able to talk to many great artists in the Artist Alley and get feedback on my portfolio from some personal heroes, such as Bobby Chu (though he is not an animator). A lot of attendees in an Artist Alley don’t take the time to see an artist past any “fan” art on display, so virtually the most talented people in the industry will be sitting at a table alone (Cory Loftis, Tony White, Brittany Lee) because there’s not a giant sign that says, “I worked on your favorite such and such”. So virtually anyone who has enough drive to actually research the art they love and pay for a convention ticket can meet some of their favorite artists personally.
Describe a tough situation you had in life.
About two years ago during Christmas time my back was broken when I was a passenger in a T-bone car accident. I had to wear a body brace for entirely too many months that looked like a bad Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles cosplay. At first, I couldn’t even walk, so college was put on the backburner for quite some time. What was even worse was that the suit wasn’t conducive to me being the slightest bit elevated so there were months of just laying in a bed, without a setup to be able to create art. After a lot of hardships and frustrations, I had to admit I couldn’t draw while having the brace, which was a serious downer. Needless to say though, it helped me gain an entirely new perspective and by the time it came off, I had the focus of Balboa in Russia.
Any side projects you’re working on that you’d like to share details of?
Plenty of side projects, but not a lot I can share at the moment (please feel free to follow my blog, I plan on posting things as they are finished). The ones closest to being completed is a satire of a children’s book poking fun at the joy of a girl growing up, a collaboration among friends for a side-scrolling app games that involves beating up one of the most adorable enemies in the world via a Scotsman ghost, and an animated short I would like to pitch of a highly intelligent being stuck in a horrible situation thanks to ruthless children (which is really the story of everyone’s life).
Any unusual talents or hobbies like tying a cherry stem with your tongue or metallurgy?
My most incurable talent is foot in mouth disease, which is probably in part because English is not my first language and I often do not understand the connotation of a word until I find out the hard way. But if I had been a more intelligent, savvy or social individual as I grew up, my life wouldn’t be nearly so interesting and probably infinitely more successful. But because I was not, I can say from experience, you can learn English via the Power Rangers, do not under any circumstances use the word fetish professionally even though its literal definition implies nothing sexual, and do not ask anybody if the child who freaked out at a party when you offered him a high five is retarded: because it has become highly offensive since the first time I learned English, because he will have autism, and because you will have asked, of all the people at the party, his parents.
Is there any advice you can give for an aspiring animation student or artist trying to break into the business?
As old and tiring as it is to hear this, just keep trying. Eventually opportunities will open up if you keep pushing, even if the opportunity is taking an odd job that may not be exciting between things you actually would love to do. Aim for the top, and when you fail go a little bit down and try again. Once you find the highest point willing to work with you, you conquer it, and go try at the top again.