What is your name and your current occupation?
My name is Elroy Simmons and I’m a 2D Traditional Animator (and sometime Director/Designer). I’m also a part-time tutor on the Access to Motion Graphics course for adults at Tower Hamlets College, East London
What are some of the crazier jobs you had before getting into animation?
I’ve been relatively lucky – so far, in so much as a lot of the stuff I’m able to derive the most pride from, is work I’ve designed and directed – as well as animated; so though the budget may be small, the amount learned is broad and the fulfillment felt is massive (“A Haven In a Brick Jungle”, “No Search/No Entry”). I think the best time I’ve had professionally was working on a cartoon short called “George et Alfred”; it was a ‘souped up’ spin off from a series shown on TF1 called “Ca Cartoon”, and it was broadcast that Christmas. The Director – Mark Woods, wanted two Supervising Animators – and asked me if I wanted the role, and to know who I’d suggest as the other Supervising Animator. I suggested a friend/colleague – Rob Newman. The studio that made the series (and presumably still do) wanted British Animators to work on the cartoon (their thinking was that British and American cartoon animation had ‘compatibility’, and more importantly that British Animators work longer – and for less money. So, for about three months we worked on the short with a crew of French Animators, in Paris, being put up in a Hotel about five minutes from the studio, and the studio even paid for weekly Eurostar travel back to London. Believe me, this level of care is stuff of myth in London. We had a party for all of the crew – even the Producers – at the end of the job. I’ve worked as hard since, but I’m not sure I’ve laughed so much – and I’ve not had reason to be as competent at speaking French since, either.
How did you become interested in animation?
I remember seeing the workmen building the circus tents in”Dumbo” on what must have been “Disney Time” (a show that would pop up on the BBC) when I was very young. I was confused by how they seemed real, but were like moving sweets; I think I was ‘hooked’ then. I’d enjoyed drawing from very young, about 3 years old, but the time I was six, I’d said ‘out loud’ “I want to be an Animator”. My teachers at Primary School (Mrs Sheffield at the time, then Mr Fairhall and later Mr Bandey) were all very aware and very encouraging (I was a bit of a ‘swat’, generally – so it never really interrupted my school progress), so I drew relatively often, regularly pestering my Mum for ‘Drawing Books’ to keep me entertained at home – and then by the time I was eight years old, I’d got into ‘flickbooks’ (Mum was a nurse, so there were thick Medical books that she didn’t mind me drawings on the corners of) – and it just went on from there, really. I remember thinking I could make an animated cartoon film based on “Asterix” during one Summer Holiday when I was eleven. I also remember putting that idea ‘to bed’ about a fortnight later.
Where are you from and how did you get into the animation business?
I’m from Southampton, on the South coast of England. By the time I started Secondary School, I was quite practised at drawing, and when I started selling drawings – me and a schoolmate set up a ‘company’ called TFM (which stood for Two Fat Men – though we were only thirteen years old), the Animation dream was a growing, ‘explicit’ ambition. I took Art at GCSE level, then A level, then took a Foundation Certificate in Art and Design at Winchester which led to me applying for the “Animation” degree place at Farnham. While on Foundation, I made lots of model animation (stop-frame) films on a Super8 camera but it wasn’t until I was on degree that I started drawing animation. I wasn’t convinced that I could make things appear to move – and in a ‘space’ before then. At the time (1992), British ‘indy’ – and commercial Animation had a lot of attention – the time on the degree was a steep learning curve. Right at the end of my degree, while I was living in Farnham, working as a painter and decorator for the Art College (not knowing whether my hopes were all for nothing), I got a phone call one evening from Daniel Greaves! He was the college ‘poster boy’ because he’d won an Oscar for his short film “Manipulation” – and was a former student (Incidentally, I recall, college was also still reeling from the rumoured mass poaching of students to work on “Who Framed Roger Rabbit” about five years before we started; it was a big source of ‘chatter’). Daniel co-owns “Tandem” and asked me if I’d come in and show some work – as he was looking for young Animators on a film he was making (“Flatworld”). I visited the studio, and managed to get a job. I moved to London a few weeks later – and started work on September 25th 1995.
What’s a typical day like for you with regards to your job?
If I’m working in a studio, then it could be that I have to get in very early (to get stuff done to distribute before other drawers get in), and leave quite late. This time last year, I was just about to start a job that involved just me animating, for a Choreographer/Director (Matt Stokes) who wanted a character dancing 9 or 10 different dances in a giant two minute long cycle – which was projected on a loop in a disused shop window in Gateshead, last Summer (“Dance Swine, Dance” – Animate Productions). I had some assistance on one two character dance, but each day was a race to get enough done to be handed to the scanner, or to retrieve stuff that had been scanned to in-between/trace/ink. For two months every day seemed to last 18 or 19 hours. It was a necessarily small crew, as it was a small budget. Most of my days animating are long, and most involve low budget projects – so I try to work quickly and for as many hours in the day (and the week) as possibly. I work on a few commercial projects a year (I worked on one that finished just before Christmas) – but the bulk of the work in the last five years has been less lucrative – the ‘trade-of’ being the creative control or fulfillment (I repeat this to myself like a ‘mantra’. This year (2012), is the first year I’ve not been working right from the start for a few years, so this week, an average day is unnervingly relaxed.
I love what I perceive other people to perceive as ‘the actual slog’ of animating; the process of ‘attaching’ multiple drawings. It’s acting and performing and you can ‘be you’ being someone/something else and draw a lot. I think the continuous assertion that Traditional 2D Animation is a really slow (prohibitively slow) process – by comparison to say Digital 2D, or 3D – is a bizarre conclusion. I think by whatever means, the length of time to complete anything is affected by so many criteria, that the ‘textural’/aesthetic requirements ought to impact more on the choice of media/discipline – but it rarely has for the last few years. I sounded like a right ‘dinosaur’ then, didn’t I? Actually, looking at your list of questions, that’ll only get worse. My work (my directing/design) aims to indulge or celebrate the feel of Traditional 2D Animation. I think it was ‘thrown out with the bath water’ somewhat – about a decade ago, and I’ve clung to it – and tried to present its use in a slightly different, hopefully contemporary way since then; because 2D Trad’ animation wasn’t going to happen through the usual Industrial routes so easily, after all – and because these were the means at my disposal to continue animating traditionally (a fairly routine Freelance story, I suspect). So, if it keeps this application – of this process – in existence, then I enjoy every part of it (from the imagining, researching and storyboarding, to meeting up with Elli to hand over/pick up Animation drawings for scanning in a Cafe in North London, to sitting in with Compositor Jonathan Klahr, to waking at 6.00a.m. to start drawing in my room at 6.45a.m., to going to bed at 2.00a.m ish after completing one more drawing, to making the 7-8 hour journey from a mate’s house in Walthamstow, London one Monday morning – to begin a day’s work at that studio, in Paris, for 10.30a.m.).
What part of your job do you like least? Why?
What a nightmarish question! Don’t get me wrong; I think I’m wildly optimistic (ultimately) but…. I think there seems to be a general rule (in ‘business’/life) that limits growth and range – seemingly, while demanding it; that the lucky, or lucrative are the ones who get the most opportunity, most often, so you do get growth – and range, but not much/enough. I say that, knowing I’ve benefitted from this theory – on occasion. I’ve also been at the opposite end of the “they’re making a mint – so they must be good” scale, the end where “you’re not earning much, you mustn’t be any good”. I think compliance counts for more than ability (here in Britain, at least) and I nearly understand that rationale totally, but I’m not always convinced of what’s being successfully ‘complied’ to. Could that have been anymore opaque? How else should I put it? I’m aware that profitability and quality aren’t always ‘bedfellows’. I’m also sure that we’re all aware, that without some ‘risk’/a lot of effort, the need for profit can lead to a narrow ‘orbit’ of activity (all ‘mainstream’ and ‘samey’, or all ‘edgy’ and ‘cool’, and most often, based on something someone else did) and oddly, ironically, to avoid ‘risk’/effort. Management decisions/commissions (in Animation) don’t often seem to be made by people who have done the job they’re asking others to do, so that they can sell it. This situation leaves the likes of me and many of my colleagues in this weird ‘battle of wills’. I struggle as an independent ‘pseudo-Producer’, but the alternative would, for me, have been giving up six years ago, or having one Animation job every year or two at the whim of an employer who invariably doesn’t really see the worth of the thing they’ll seek to sell. That feels an even more real prospect now that I’ve said that ‘out loud’. There would appear little I can do – or should do, to alter this situation – other than to persist/’keep on keeping on’. Now I feel like a ‘left-wing’ dinosaur. To be honest, if all of that made no sense, then I’ll be relieved; I was reluctant to express that opinion anywhere other than in private conversation, on grounds of ‘professional safety’. I’m heartened by the fact I’m still doing what I do, and that you and your website have contacted me – and ultimately, I’m not even sure if I’m right to feel these ‘grievances’ or any feeling of ‘isolation’ for any other reasons than the nature of the work.
What kind of technology do you work with on a daily basis?
In your travels, have you had any brushes with animation greatness?
Is there any advice you can give for an aspiring animation student or artist trying to break into the business?