What is your name and your current occupation?
Big Jim Miller – Storyboard Supervisor on ‘My Little Pony’ currently airing on the Hub network in the US, and Treehouse in Canada.
What are some of the crazier jobs you had before getting into animation?
I haven’t had any real ‘crazy’ jobs, but I worked in retail, made signs and awnings, and one summer, painting gas meters.
What are some of your favorite projects you’re proud to have been a part of?
I haven’t worked on too many different projects, but I am proud of the board work I did on ‘Ed, Edd n’ Eddy.’ I learned so much more on the job than I did in film school, and it really helped to define me as an artist.
How did you become interested in animation?
I was a big fan of all the Warner Bros and MGM shorts that were repackaged for Saturday mornings when I was a kid. The humour and style of storytelling definitely had an influence on me. Those cartoons led to all the toy brand series of the 80’s which led to buying the comics of those series, then buying all sorts of comics! It was my love of comic books that got me drawing (I originally wanted to be a comic book artist), and while I pursued more of my scientific studies at first, I knew I had to try drawing professionally at some point, or I’d regret it.
Where are you from and how did you get into the animation business?
I grew up in a couple small towns in the interior of British Columbia (Logan Lake – Pop. ~ 2000, and Salmon Arm – Pop. ~ 14,000). After I graduated high school, I moved to Victoria, BC to go to university and major in genetics. It wasn’t quite what I was hoping it would be (read: it didn’t hold my interest), and I had always had a passion for drawing. I heard through the grapevine that a high school friend was in film school for 2-D animation. I gave him a call, and he told me he was having a hell of a time. I put together a terrible portfolio (a motley collection of random doodles on pages of notes from lecture classes, a few pages of a terrible strip I drew briefly for the university newspaper, and a feeble attempt at a ‘real’ sketchbook), went to an admission interview for the school, and dropped out of university to start the program in the fall. We had all been told that there was a 95% hire rate for graduates, but the reality was there was no work to be had once we completed the program. I bummed around for a few months before my parents called and said I had better get a ‘real’ job or move back home. I toiled away in retail for a few months, but managed to get a board test from a.k.a. Cartoon Inc. and worked on that in my off-time. Thankfully, just as I was laid off from the retail job, a.k.a. called me up to start the following Monday. Holy crap, that was almost 15 years ago now!
What’s a typical day like for you with regards to your job?
Seeing as how I’m doing board supervision this season, my days can vary drastically. I could be reading scripts for the next batch of boards to be started, reviewing thumbnails with the board artists, spitballing ideas, shots or working out story issues, sitting in with the directors during board presentations, revising boards based on director or network notes, or making jokes at my own expense to try (often unsuccessfully) to keep my crew laughing.
What part of your job do you like best? Why?
There’s a lot of aspects of my job I enjoy. I really like the challenge of working out a story visually, trying to encapsulate a character or story point through the use of shot choice, mood and acting. There’s something really special about seeing a story come together and affect you on an emotional level when everything’s working right (and equally as devastating when it’s not!). I also really love the many talented artists I get to collaborate with every day. They’re all so amazing at their jobs, and bring so many new and unique approaches to the craft of storytelling, and it’s a real honour for me to be a part of bringing their visions for the story to life.
What part of your job do you like least? Why?
As I’m sure many folks will agree, it’s the schedule. A necessary evil to be sure, but as with most things, I feel like I could do so much more, make things that much better if only I had JUST A LITTLE MORE TIME!
What is the most difficult part for you about being in the business?
Definitely the varied consistency of the work. While I was very fortunate to be employed fairly regularly for the duration of ‘Ed, Edd n’ Eddy’ ‘s long run, I’ve come to realize what an anomaly that is. Hustling for a new gig once one is finishing up, or even trying to plan financially for the inevitable end of a contract (and the potential of extended downtime depending on the current market) can be tiring and stressful.
What kind of technology do you work with on a daily basis?
Currently on MLP we’re doing all of our boards using Sketchbook Pro on Wacom brand Cintiqs. While there are many advantages to going completely digital, I often miss the feel of graphite on paper. “Ed, Edd n’ Eddy’ storyboards were done completely on paper, and I’m grateful to have learned that way. As amazing as computer technology is, nothing will ever replace the sensation of flipping through a completed board, one three panelled page at a time.
In your travels, have you had any brushes with animation greatness?
I’ve had the good fortune to work directly for Danny Antonucci, arguably an animation great for his creation of ‘Lupo the Butcher’, ‘The Brothers Grunt’ and ‘Ed, Edd n’ Eddy’, for over 10 years. I’ve also had the opportunity to do some work with Lauren Faust on the MLP project, and I once met Tom Kenny, voice of Spongebob at a party in San Diego. I’ve also been very lucky to work with many brilliant artists and production staff who may be unfamiliar to most as of now, but I expect some of them will go on to animation greatness. Then I’ll be able to say I ‘knew them when’!
Describe a tough situation you had in life.
Well, it doesn’t have much to do with animation, but it is a somewhat interesting story. I was 15, driving home with my mother and sister after seeing ‘Terminator 2: Judgement Day’ in Kamloops, and we hit a cow moose. I was in the passenger seat, and ended up taking the brunt of the collision. Thankfully, the moose hit on such an angle as to flip over the car and land in the ditch. The windshield was smashed and crumpled in such a way that I was unable to open my door once I regained consciousness after a brief black out (I don’t recall the actual impact). I had to climb out through the open area the windscreen once occupied. My sister suffered bruising from her seatbelt and some slight PTSD,my mother had some cuts and bruising to her face from hitting the steering wheel, and I had a broken collar bone (which later had to be set with a stainless steel pin that stuck out of my shoulder until it healed), cuts all over my left hand and a large gash at the back of my head (probably from the manner in which I exited the wreck). I still have some small pieces of glass in my hand over 20 years later!
Any side projects or you’re working on or hobbies you’d like to share details of?
Nothing of great note, but I have done a little comic work for a friends independent publishing house, and designed the characters and drew the first instalment of another friends’ webcomic ‘Mystery Solved!’ . I have the odd idea floating around for a series pitch of my own, and perhaps one day I’ll get around to putting it together properly.
Any unusual talents or hobbies like tying a cherry stem with your tongue or metallurgy?
Nothing supercool like double jointedness or the ability to ingest train parts or anything, but I have started taking some improv acting classes. It’s fun and a nice change of pace to try and tell stories in a faster, ore immediate manner.
Is there any advice you can give for an aspiring animation student or artist trying to break into the business?
I don’t know that I’m one to give much in the way of advice, but I would definitely say to keep drawing. Chuck Jones wrote in ‘Chuck Amuck’ about an old art teacher of his who told him that everyone has something like 100,000 bad drawings in them, and the sooner you get through those, the sooner you can get to the good ones (I’m still working through my firs 100,000!), and I believe that to be true. If you aren’t constantly challenging yourself to be better at every stage along the way, you should just stop.