What is your name and current occupation?
Aliki Theofilopoulos Grafft
What are some of your favorite projects you’re proud to have been a part of?
Well I suppose I will go in order and explain why…The first would be my first job in animation…the movie “Hercules” at Walt Disney Feature Animation. I had completed a 3 month training internship, and was hired on to this film to work with Supervising Animator, Brian Ferguson, on the character “Panic”. He was the one who gave me my break, and taught me so much. His love for animation was infectious and I felt so lucky to be mentored by someone with such talent. Next would be the movie “Tarzan” also at Disney. On this film I mentored with Supervising Animator John Ripa on the character “Young Tarzan”. I had seen an animation test John had done and just knew I had to work with him. I went to his office and asked if I could assist him, and he told me yes, but under one condition… when a student of animation, or anyone seeing knowledge asked for help, that I would pass on what he had taught me. He said James Baxter had made him give that same promise and he had tried to keep it. I learned so much from John and will be forever grateful for the teaching, the time and the kindness he gave me. He was completely generous with his knowledge, and never let an opportunity for teaching pass by. This made working on the film so exhilarating for me. I will never forget it. And yes, I have tried to keep my promise. Later I would move into television and was honored to be a part of Fred Seibert’s shorts program at Nickelodeon, “Random Cartoons”. I created two shorts..the first was “Yaki and Yumi” and the second was “Girls on the GO!”. It was an incredible experience making my own films. This is where I believe I went from being a draughtsman to a filmmaker. I completely fell in love with telling stories and the whole process of making a film. I also discovered a love for television type storytelling, and cartooning rather than animating. And of course the show I am currently on, Phineas and Ferb. I am writing and storyboarding on the show and am also an Emmy nominated song writer too(still shocked about that)! I am really proud of the work that we are all doing on the show. I have really grown as a storyteller from watching my peers and working with some insanely talented people. I laugh every day at my job! I am surrounded by some of the funniest people I have ever met and I love the challenge of keeping up! It’s never a dull moment, and I think the fun we have with each other has a big impact on the way the show is turning out. It is fun to be on a show that is loved by so many people and I am honored to be a part of it.
How did you become interested in animation?
My grandfather loved cartoons and drawing. He would sit down with me and draw. He always encouraged me and would patiently sit by my side and teach me little things he knew. But I feel like I was born with a love for animation and cartoons. I don’t remember a time without them! From shows like Popeye and Loony Tunes, to films like Dumbo and Peter Pan…it just did something to me..and I knew one day I just had to be a part of it.
Where are you from and how did you get into the animation business?
I am originally from San Diego. I came to L.A when I became a Fine Arts major at the University of Southern California. After I graduated, I took some more animation-focused classes at various little schools around Los Angeles. One of the schools had an open-house night where a few people were chosen to display their portfolios for the studio executives that would be visiting.
I was invited to apply to Walt Disney Feature Animation to work on The Hunchback of Notre Dame as a clean-up animator but I didn’t get hired, although some of my friends did. I was crushed. Thankfully, they asked if I was willing to take an “in-betweening test” to work for the animation studio in Florida. I dropped off my portfolio again but this time around I had added some new drawings so I put a note on top asking them to take a second look. The next day I got a call telling me that I was one of four people that were chosen to participate in their animation training program. Three months later I was hired onto “Hercules” and the rest is history!
What’s a typical day like for you with regards to your job?
It usually begins with fear and panic, which evolves into drive and ambition! Ultimately, I love the challenge of breaking a story outline, and then facing the unknown of the blank page. It is exciting to see what will turn up there. Every time I think “how am I going to do it this time”? and it always works out. A typical day includes large amounts of dark chocolate, complaints about my computer, updating on facebook, oh, and lots and lots of drawing drawing drawing writing, and more drawing!!!!!
What part of your job do you like best? Why?
It would have to be the people. I have met some of the most brilliant, imaginative, inspiring, and downright hilarious people through my years of working in animation.
What part of your job do you like least? Why?
I think the four horsemen of fear, insecurity, comparison, and self-doubt that plague most artists. But I have learned to rise above these and live by the motto of “do it anyway”. When thoughts come up like “But I can’t draw that”, I tell myself “that’s nice, well do it anyway”…or “it might not look good” again I tell myself, “oh well, do it anyway” etc…Okay, I sound like a crazy person now….next question!
What is the most difficult part for you about being in the business?
For me right now, it would definitely be finding the time to do everything I want to do. I have a lot of creative ideas and things I want to work on, and there are just not enough hours in the day to do it all! Plus I have two children that I like to actually see, so I end up doing personal projects late at night. Anyone have a cloning device??
What kind of technology do you work with on a daily basis?
I am not too tech savvy, but pretty much Storyboard Pro, and Photoshop.
In your travels, have you had any brushes with animation greatness?
I have had the honor to meet and work with some of the greatest creators and animators of our time! I have worked with John Ripa, Eric Goldberg, Glen Keane, Brian Ferguson, John K, and of course, Dan and Swampy! I also got to meet Chuck Jones, Marc Davis, and Joe Grant before they left us. However, no one will ever come close to having the impact on me that my teacher Walt Stanchfield did. If you are a student, or even a pro, get a hold of anything and everything you can find on him.
Describe a tough situation you had in life.
I worked on a production for a brief time where they hated everything I did!! It was the first time in my career, and I didn’t know what to make of it! It was my worst fear/nightmare come true. Luckily some supportive animation friends, and esp. a particular network executive encouraged me to leave and look for another job…and I found one in a day! The lesson learned was that not everyone was going to like me, and like what I did, and that’s fine. In fact the new job lead me to many great things that may not have happened if I kept trying to be the square peg in a round hole.
Any side projects you’re working on you’d like to share details of?
I am in the early stages of development with a pilot for Disney. But I am constantly thinking up ideas for new projects and in fact have a feature idea I would like to pitch one day. I also created two shorts for Nickelodeon/Frederator called “Yaki and Yumi” and “Girls on the GO!”. These were made around 2005-2006. I have learned a lot since then, but SO enjoyed being a creator, and hope to keep doing more of it! You can find some of my artwork at aliki.carbonmade.com. However, I am really excited to finally have a blog and will be uploading lots of really cool stuff, so c’mon and follow me at my tumblr page. I am also a member of “Girls Drawing Girls”, and we recently published our fourth book.
Is there any advice you can give for an aspiring animation student or artist trying to break into the business?
Work hard, but have a life. Glen Keane used to always say “You can’t animate life unless you have one”. Also, here’s another great quote from Chuck Jones : “Every worthwhile endeavor is almost certainly 10% love and 90% work…but only the love should show.”