What is your name and your current occupation?
Chuck Maiden—color designer on American Dad! at Fox Television Animation.
What are some of the crazier jobs you had before getting into animation?
Crazy, huh? Well, I don’t know about crazy, but I’ve worked at a lamp factory, delivered Dreyer’s ice cream, worked at a 7-Eleven, delivered pizzas for a half of night, played in rock bands, colored comic books—I could go on, but you might fall asleep.
What are some of your favorite projects you’re proud to have been a part of?
Well, definitely, this one, American Dad! and also King of the Hill, which I worked on for 12 years.
How did you become interested in animation?
When I was a kid, I watched Popeye, The Flintstones, Bugs Bunny, as well as a lot of others. There was one old cartoon, where it showed an artist’s hand drawing the character, which then came to life. It made me realize that people do this as a job and I thought that would be a pretty cool thing to do.
Where are you from and how did you get into the animation business?
I was raised in Canoga Park, California, which is near Los Angeles. Even though I wanted to work in cartoons as a kid, I got sidetracked as a young man and became a musician and singer-songwriter. I stayed with that for a long time, as a main career path, but it was a struggle, so eventually I went to a technical school and got a certificate in graphic design. When I got out, I worked as a graphic designer for a few months, but realized I wasn’t that into it. One day, in 1994, I noticed a want ad in the local paper for a Photoshop colorist. It turned out to be a position working for Malibu Comics. I took a test and got the job somehow. I didn’t make much money at first, but it was really fun! Marvel bought the company and so we colored for them for a while. But then they shipped our jobs to Ireland, so most of us who were left started looking for jobs in animation. This was at the beginning of 1997. I took a couple of classes in background design and painting and put a portfolio together of sorts. I dropped copies of my portfolio off at various studios and followed up with phone calls. Nothing happened for a couple of months, but then I got a call from Jay Francis at Film Roman. He asked me if I was interested in taking a background layout test for The Simpsons or King Of The Hill. To be honest, I balked at first because I wanted to PAINT backgrounds, not draw them. Silly, when I look back. But my wiser instincts told me to take the test. I picked King Of The Hill, because I loved the show (it had just started airing). I dusted off my perspective book and took the test, which was a challenge. I turned it in and thought I didn’t have a chance. A month later I checked my phone messages from Seattle where I was visiting some family. There was one from Mike Wolf at Film Roman. I called him back and he offered me a job! I was over the moon.
What’s a typical day like for you with regards to your job?
A typical day involves going over the line art for characters, props, effects and backgrounds in my section of each show and coloring them according to time of day, story, mood, etc. I constantly check the storyboard to see what’s going on and where the characters are placed in each scene. At the end of each episode, we (there are four of us) review with the director and Matt Weitzman, one of the creators, who gives final approval.
What part of your job do you like best? Why?
I love being able to color the characters and props as well as the backgrounds. It’s nice to have some control over how they play off of each other. It’s also nice seeing my work on TV and helping to make people laugh and forget about their problems.
What part of your job do you like least? Why?
There is very little to complain about, honestly, but occasionally, I’ll be painting a million bottles of booze in a bar or something and it can get tedious at times. But those days are rare.
What kind of technology do you work with on a daily basis?
Photoshop on a Mac. On King Of The Hill, the last couple of seasons I was credited with doing “Digital Backrounds”, which meant I was in charge of using Google SketchUp to set up shots and do some modeling in a 3D environment. The Hill kitchen, living room, yard and alley were all constructed in SketchUp by Phil Hayes, who turned me onto the application.
What is the most difficult part for you about being in the business?
Without a doubt, dealing with extended layoffs. It’s only happened twice for me, fortunately—once when we got backed up and had a short season on King Of The Hill in 2005 and once when the series was cancelled. But it’s always a little worry in the back of my mind.
In your travels, have you had any brushes with animation greatness?
Well, everyday I get to work with very talented people who have done very well in the business. Once, I did get to meet Bill Justice, the Disney animator for Bambi’s Thumper, when he had an art show at Film Roman. Swampy Marsh, one of the creators of Phineas And Ferb, was one of our prop designers on King Of The Hill. He was instrumental in teaching me how to draw cars. Meeting Mike Judge and other actors has also been a thrill.
Describe a tough situation you had in life.
So many to choose from! I’d have to say, in regard to animation, seeing King Of The Hill end was very sad. It happened to coincide with my father passing away. I was out of work for 10 months before one of my good buddies from my Malibu Comics days, Kim Bitsui got me a job as a colorist on Super Hero Squad. Incidentally, another good friend from Malibu Comics, Micky Rose presented me with the opportunity to work on American Dad!.
Any side projects or you’re working on or hobbies you’d like to share details of?
Well, I’ve created an adult animated show called “Frank And Harley”, which I’m pitching. I’m also still doing music. I have two independent CD’s out.
Any unusual talents or hobbies like tying a cherry stem with your tongue or metallurgy?
Ha! I’m told I can do a pretty good Hank Hill impression.
Is there any advice you can give for an aspiring animation student or artist trying to break into the business?
If you can afford to do it, get a job as an intern at a studio. I’ve seen many interns move into jobs. The Television Academy has intern programs also. Keep improving your portfolio, even if you have to make things up. Always include life drawings in your portfolio. Study animation art that you admire. Above all, believe in yourself. Don’t tell yourself it’s not possible, because it is.
Great interview Chuck!
I have the great pleasure of working with Chuck on American Dad. He’s not only a great artist, but he’s also a very gifted singer/songwriter. Look up “talented ” in the dictionary, and you’ll find a picture of Chuck!