What is your name and your current occupation?
Hello, my name is Esteban (Steven) Valdez. As for what I do… Anywhere from mail clerk to director jerk, janitor to animator… janimator?
What are some of the crazier jobs you had before getting into animation?
I plead the 5th.
What are some of your favorite projects you’re proud to have been a part of?
None of them. Loved the places and people I’ve worked with, but when it comes to my work I always feel like I could do better.
How did you become interested in animation?
Well… from graffiti-ing my mom’s womb as a fetus to the atrocities I do now, I’ve always been drawing. Originally, I did not intend to get into animation; I was interested in doing film, comic books and becoming a painter. I went to study animation, film and architecture because my competitive nature wanted me to be the best draftsmen and storyteller out there (ha…). After many failed attempts at having a comic book studio with friends (sorry Ren and Adam, we tried); many failures at shooting short films (sorry Liz, Gina, Robbie, Moe and the City of Boston); I decided I had enough. Comic books weren’t satisfying me, and films were just a pain in the ass to get done… so I went with animation. I got the best of both worlds; I could express like a painter, and if my actors gave me trouble, I’d erase them.
Where are you from and how did you get into the animation business?
I’m from Boston Massachusetts. Back in the late 90’s/early 2000, there a few joints around. I didn’t really care for any of them. Seeing as I had some experience having a ‘studio,’ back in college, I started my own. It’s better to make work than find work. It was a slow start, but we had a lot of fun. We worked with the crew who went on to create ‘Ask A Ninja’, a few spots for FedEx, the Spike TV 2005 Video Game Awards (the Sam Jackson ones), and others. That closed down due to a combination of delinquent clients and… well… the other part gets dark. Like many others, I did the relocation thing for a while, but seeing that I had certain responsibilities, the animation industry was just to unstable to stay in. I got into the video game scene working as the Lead Artist for Gameloft in LA and New York, and produced my own animated shorts at night… but that got old really fast. Gene Fowler, who I had become good friends during my previous venture, offered me to direct animation for a new classically animated show, ‘Three Delivery.’ I took that in a heart beat and moved my ass up to Canada. After that gig, I moved back to the States just in time for The Great Depres… er… Recession. I started Echo Bridge Pictures and have since been working pretty steadily.
What’s a typical day like for you with regards to your job?
Wake up at 5, at my studio working by 6AM. The day starts by working on developing, writing, storyboarding, designing, creating any studio projects that are in the works. There’s two current projects, so whatever I feel like doing that day. Do that until about 9AM, then check emails, go over budgets, schedules, review work, make some phone calls, and work on whatever project that’s on the table. Call it a wrap at 8… and by 8 I mean 11PM… or 2AM.
What part of your job do you like best? Why?
When the client has looked at what we’ve done, and lets us go to town on it. Or when what we’ve done make an impact on someone… even if its just one person.
What part of your job do you like least? Why?
Being a studio ‘owner’ keeps you busy 24/7, and the days when you’re literally working 24/7 are the day I like the least. I’m social person, and I’d rather get a good game on with some friends. Skip-bo anyone?
What kind of technology do you work with on a daily basis?
Cintiq 20WSX, Mac Pro Tower, iMac 27, Adobe Creative Suite (Flash, Illustrator, Photoshop, blah blah blah), Final Cut Pro, Pro Tools, Soundtrack and a lot of musical instruments.
What is the most difficult part for you about being in the business?
Running a business. Aside from juggling artists and animators (which I’m good at), projects and prospects and budgets (which I’m ok with), what I find the most frustrating is making the ‘big’ decisions. I want to stay indie, but sometimes its hard especially when you’re doing everything yourself. I don’t want to get to a point where I’m not able to personally get involved, that would defeat the purpose, or at least… my purpose. Oh… and raising capital… ugh…
In your travels, have you had any brushes with animation greatness?
Depends on what you call great. I’m not one for being on the ‘who’s who’… I find it kinda snobby. Though, I feel like I’ve worked with many ‘great’ talents like Lynne Southerland, Jill Gilbert, my professor Jim Hoston, Andrew Embury, Joon Choi, Tavis Silbernagel, Andy Coyle, Alan Foreman, Joe Stucky, Justin Coffee, Chuck Collins, Jason McArthur, Rob Anderson (Hoff), Gene Fowler, Mike Valiquette, Robbie Anderson, Billy Zeats, Oso, Gord McBride, Lou Solis, Brandon Easton, Brandon Schultz, Blackhorse, Ben McSweeny, Rod Amador, Rick and Cory Morrison, Ian Schleapher, Andrew Bado, Maya Anderson, Jonathan Woodard and Jared J Lee… just to name a few. Very hardworking, driven, fun, passionate and great friends.
Describe a tough situation you had in life.
Without getting too dramatic… There was a period when I was living in Los Angeles where I lost everything I had, minus a laptop and a bag of clothes. Relocated to NY via rail, and lived in a window-less room in a hostile that had more needles floating around it than a hospital for one solid year. Even though I worked full time, due to my situation at that time, I was virtually penniless. A big thanks to Chuck, Keith, Maya, Brandon, Jim, and Ian for keeping me and my mind fed. While there, I wrote and storyboarded my award-winning short film ‘PetrolFAME’ there. Then got to walk the red carpet at the Boston International Film Festival about two years later. Times are still tough, personally, but it’s gotten a bit easier to deal with.
Any side projects or you’re working on or hobbies you’d like to share details of?
Tons of projects! That’s was the whole point of going into business for myself. But aside from all of that… I love reading. Mostly non-fiction, true crime, history and politics. I just finished reading this book no medical fraud and the age of flimflam in America called ‘Charlatan’ by Pope Brock; amazing! Love learning new things; right now I’m learning how to play a few new instruments, and brushing up on my French and Russian. I also play bass guitar in a ska/punk band here in town.
Any unusual talents or hobbies like tying a cherry stem with your tongue or metallurgy?
My comprehensions skills are as fast as Wolverine’s healing factor, but not as fast as Neo’s brain jump… and I have a very charming smile or so my mom tells me.
Is there any advice you can give for an aspiring animation student or artist trying to break into the business?
‘The Artist is he who detects and applies the law from observation of the works of Genius, whether man or Nature. The Artisan is he who merely applies the rules which others have detected. …Success usually comes to those who are too busy to be looking for it.’ – Thoreau. You have to be honest with yourself. Some people might have great talent, but aren’t cut out for studio or freelance work. But that doesn’t make you less of a ‘professional.’ LA and NY are over saturated and tend to produce more crap than content. Make big waves in your own home town. But, if LA or NY comes a calling… rob ’em blind. But really… Don’t take this shit seriously. Life’s got a lot to offer, so why seek to keep yourself behind a desk? Take a chance, make mistakes; don’t be afraid to live. Spend time with your family, friends and loved ones.