What is your name and your current occupation?
Dan Shefelman, Cartoonist, Director, Head of Story, Writer.
What are some of the crazier jobs you had before getting into animation?
Hanging 200 feet on the side of a building painting a trompe l’oeil mural on Park Avenue in NYC. The owner of the company was color blind but we were’nt supposed to know. So he would come to the site and tell us to add more red. We would do nothing and the next day he’d say it looked much better. The union guys on the site hated us because we were non-union. They would tip over our paint. Once I got stranded 200 feet up on the scaffold when the electrician shut off the power at quitting time. I had to swing like Spiderman on my safety line over to a fire escape and climb down. I finally quit the next day when I realized I was risking my life for “art”.
What are some of your favorite projects you’re proud to have been a part of?
Teaching storyboarding at NYU. It’s so great to see new talent develop. I did a flash political web cartoon during the 2008 election on CNN.com. Wrote, designed and animated it. I love the collaboration of big productions but it’s always very satisfying to do everything on your own. I have always been proud of working on the story team at Blue Sky on Ice Age. It was the first feature for Blue Sky and it was great to be there in the beginning as we all flailed our way to discover how to get these monsters done. I am particularly proud of the cave painting sequence I storyboarded which dealt with difficult issues of loss and forgiveness in a family movie without terrifying the kids in the audience. The big challenge was to show these feelings in an 8 ton mammoth, a baby, a sabre tooth tiger and a sloth. I’m also proud of a recent project on which I was Head of Story in Taiwan. Can’t say much about it since it’s still in development but I co-wrote the script and led a team that got a story reel up in 3 months.
How did you become interested in animation?
My father is an artist/architect and always encouraged me to draw. He was a cartoonist in the Navy so he really enjoyed and encouraged my cartooning. It was when I picked up a pad and made a flip book when I was 10 that I was hooked on the magic of animation.
Where are you from and how did you get into the animation business?
I grew up in Texas and moved to NYC in ’86. I came here to be the Editorial Cartoonist at New York Newsday but always wanted to get into animation as well. I banged on a lot of animation studio doors. Then by chance called up the Ink Tank just when a bunch of people had been laid off and the secretary said there is no work there but everyone went to Jumbo Pictures. I called Jumbo Pictures where Howie Hoffman was design director on Doug. He gave me my first assignment of drawing a hat on Porkchop.
What’s a typical day like for you with regards to your job?
It depends on the job. Right now I am writing a script so I spend a lot of time staring at a blank screen and chewing my nails. I also work with a lot of overseas studios supervising development of features. So my days are spent thumbnail sequences, revising the story artists’ work and then skyping with in the middle of the night on Asia time.
What part of your job do you like best? Why?
Shaping the story. I love the process of creating characters and story. Seeing characters come alive. That’s what animation is about – literally.
What part of your job do you like least? Why?
Honestly… sometimes the sheer volume of drawings — being chained to a drawing board for hours on end. It can get a little much. It’s a job.
What kind of technology do you work with on a daily basis?
Final Draft. Cintiq. IPad. Photoshop. Final Cut. Pen. Paper. Desk. Chair. Espresso Machine.
What is the most difficult part for you about being in the business?
Ironically, the part I love most is also the most difficult. Story. I love it because it’s difficult.
In your travels, have you had any brushes with animation greatness?
I’ve worked with a lot of great directors and learned everything from them. Mike Judge, Eric Fogel, Chris Wedge. I have worked with so many great story artists, modelers,animators, editors, TDs and R&D nerds — too many to name. And I once interviewed Matt Groening during the first season of the Simpsons for Newsday. We talked for 2 hours.
Describe a tough situation you had in life.
I think working on Robots was the toughest job I’ve had so far. We struggled for a long long time to nail the story. And in the meantime Blue Sky laid off 120 people because we didn’t have a greenlight. I felt partly responsible. I’m not sure we really ever nailed it but I probably learned more from that process than any other before it.
Any side projects or you’re working on or hobbies you’d like to share details of?
I would but then you would disappear mysteriously.
Any unusual talents or hobbies like tying a cherry stem with your tongue or metallurgy?
I can wiggle my ears and raise one eyebrow. AT THE SAME TIME.
Is there any advice you can give for an aspiring animation student or artist trying to break into the business?
Bang on a lot of doors and be cheerful and eager. But don’t wait for someone to hire you to make animation. Do it yourself. Make things.