Nassos Vakalis

What is your name and your current occupation?
This is Nassos Vakalis and right now I’m a story artist at DreamWorks animation studios.

What are some of the crazier jobs you had before getting into animation? 
I had very little working experience before starting at animation so I can say animation is the craziest job I ever had, or to be more specific some of the projects I worked on were just a bit too crazy!
What are some of your favorite projects you’re proud to have been a part of? 
From the 2d animation era I loved working on Spirit for DreamWorks. I did storyboards and some animation. The same time I worked on Joseph King of dreams for DreamWorks again. I boarded pretty much most of the film and animated a few scenes. It was lots of fun, I had to travel a lot to Canada to see work done in a few studios that were subcontracting part of the movie. From the 3d films I think Bee Movie and Puss in Boots are few of my favorite films I have worked on.
How did you become interested in animation? 
Since I was a small kid I loved watching cartoons so eventually I thought of taking a career in drawing and animation. Early on, on my life I found out I was able to draw well so taking this direction came naturally to me.
Where are you from and how did you get into the animation business? 
I was born in Athens Greece and grew up there but I moved to the United States in order to study animation. Though I had smaller animation jobs and illustration jobs in Greece my first big job was to work for Sillivan Bluth on Rock-a-Doodle. They send people to the school I was attending to see what students are doing and pick up new talent and I was one of the people they liked.
What’s a typical day like for you with regards to your job? 
Pretty much like any other job. I have an office in the Dreamworks studio and I go there every day around 9:30 and leave at 6:00. I spend the day working on my sequences using the cintiq tablet. Sometimes I have to go to meetings or get together with other artists to exchange ideas. It is a great environment, obviously there is demand for good work but we also have the time to looks at movies, get inspired and experiment with things.
What part of your job do you like best? Why? 
Coming up with story ideas is the part I enjoy the most, drawing these ideas and selling them to the director is the challenge. It is very rewarding to eventually see them in the big screen and say…hey I thought of that!
What part of your job do you like least? Why? 
Politics…possibly because I do not like to play them.
What kind of technology do you work with on a daily basis?
DreamWorks is using digital storyboarding as most of the major animation studios now days. So we all have a cintiq screen tablet and using photoshop to draw our boards.
What is the most difficult part for you about being in the business?  
The most difficult thing is to sell you ideas to the director and the producer. Sometimes it looks like it is the easier thing and other times there is no response. Coming up with more ideas is the easiest way to eventually get your ideas into the film, but you have to be careful not to start pitching bad or mediocre ideas. You must be sure it is a good idea and it must be presented the best way possible in order to have a chance. Showing to the director a half baked ideas is a bad idea.
In your travels, have you had any brushes with animation greatness?
If you mean any animation legends I have meet a few, I was lucky at Calarts, the college I attended, to meet some of the Great Disney 2d animators of the golden era of animation. Besides them I also know a lot of the people who are in this industry now days, I was lucky enough to go to college with some of the bigger stars.
Describe a tough situation you had in life. 
Well, you know it is a tough business and some times you don’t click well with a production or the people who work in a show. You can’t win all the battles so there have been times that I had to leave a project for these reasons and move to another project.  Sometimes I had to leave a company and move to another. This is part of the business.
Any side projects or you’re working on or hobbies you’d like to share details of?
I have been working in many side projects. I have my own 3d animation studio in Greece and produced two Christmas specials Recently I finished a short animation film of my own. The name of the film is HUMAN NATURE.  I also have some internet project-businesses selling T-shirts with my designs in a number of platforms.
Any unusual talents or hobbies like tying a cherry stem with your tongue or metallurgy?
Most of my abilities are revolving around animation and art. I was never good at sports and my music talent sucks.
Is there any advice you can give for an aspiring animation student or artist trying to break into the business?  
I would say that people now days with all this technology seem to underestimate the power and the communication of a good drawing. This art form is based on drawing and trying to get drawing out of the equation is a mistake. Maybe the final product is not drawing anymore but the way to that end it can’t come anyway other then drawing. Having said that I would like to add that story is also very important. You can have the greatest animation and effects but in a storyless piece you only have movement and visual. That alone can’t hold an audience for much time. This is where many people fail to come through; even the big studios sometime fall short.
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