Elroy Simmons

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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’m not sure about crazy jobs, so much. When I was on my degree, I worked as a caricaturist – at local markets and for a company that organized swanky, massive Office parties in London. I’ve sold drawings (with varying success) since I was 12 (to schoolmates), but the first time I set up a ‘pitch’ and drew absolute strangers was, as I said, while I was ‘studying’ Animation at degree level.
What are some of your favorite projects you’re proud to have been a part of?
 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.

What part of your job do you like best? Why?
 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?

 My light box and electric pencil sharpener are the most consistently used technologies I use. I’m fairly acquainted with Macs (love the Macbook Pro) and PCs, and have been very acquainted with Photoshop, AfterEffects and even Final Cut Pro when I’ve need to be (I say that, but I don’t use these software daily – so can feel a hint ‘foreign’ in their presence). The tutoring sometimes affords ‘back seat’ 3D animating in Maya and Flash – but I’ve not had enough exposure to them to confidently tout myself for work using them.
What is the most difficult part for you about being in the business?  
 Oh dear! I think I covered that far too well/badly in the ‘Worst Part’ question, really! I think a bit more comfort (work) during that period (2004 – late 2005, for me, was the worst) when drawing seemed to fall away big time, might have meant I’d have built to owning my own home – and not spent 2006 and 2007 playing ‘catch-up’/amassing debt. Who knows? I’m sure readers might glean the answer to this question via parts of the previous questions’ answers.

In your travels, have you had any brushes with animation greatness?

Yeah! I met Richard Williams at an Animation Workshop he ran in the late 1990s! Not the massively expensive 3 day Workshop – but the bargain One Day Workshop. I was about 23, and two colleagues and I travelled to Cardiff, staying in a Trust House Forte, I think. I met him! Actually, ‘greatness’ in animation is something regularly possessed by a lot of Freelancers, isn’t it?
Describe a tough situation you had in life. 
 The tough situation I’m bound to find myself in, having made the last remark.  I remember thinking – or realising that I didn’t want to work in any other sphere as much as I wanted to continue in this, in my room (in Brixton, then) – in 2003. I’d had no work in three months and was very unprepared. I wasn’t sure if I was going to work again – and was being sent ‘tenners’ in the post by my Mum – on a weekly basis. That issue of the ‘worth’ of the product – alluded to in the “Worst part of your job?” question felt very tangible. It was another couple of months before I got any real work and I’m loathe to forget the situation or the feelings it provoked.
Any side projects or you’re working on or hobbies you’d like to share details of?
 At around the time I got the call from Daniel Greaves (“…how did you get into the Animation Business?” from earlier), I came up with an idea for a short film – that I’m still making now. It’s called “A-Z” and it’s a co-production – between me and a studio called Spider Eye (who are based in Cornwall). At the beginning of 2004 – when I was very unsure of my prospects, I presented the idea and some scenes to them, and they liked and said they would help. It’s a bit of a running joke, I suppose. I’m hoping (and Spider Eye definitely are) that it’ll be completed around Easter this year! Lots of friends have contributed to elements of it (my good friend and Jazz pianist, Tom Kincaid is in the process of re-arranging the film’s original score; and a few scenes are to be completed by Animators younger than myself; and my good friend and Animator, Rob Newman (mentioned earlier on the Paris job) has helped on a couple of scenes, as well. I’m hoping this year to sell a product via my site – “Pasticiherie”, as well. The product is also “A-Z” related. I know, very ‘enigmatic’ – but I’m reluctant to say more ‘before time’. The lines between ‘hobby’ and ‘job’ can sometimes get a little blurred in Animation, I think. Pasticherie and Spider Eye hope to work together more – in the future; A more reason for my ‘wild’ – if couched, optimism (I’m pleased to say)!
Any unusual talents or hobbies like tying a cherry stem with your tongue or metallurgy?
 I sometimes do dreadful impersonations – Nelson Mandela, James Mason and Billie Holiday are among my worst/best. I took tap dancing lessons when I was fifteen – does that count?

Is there any advice you can give for an aspiring animation student or artist trying to break into the business?

 Persist, Persist, Persist! Develop skills that you can record and show BEFORE going for jobs. I think there are many, many people looking for work – so to demonstrate some competence is your best bet. Also, everybody you’ll meet started somewhere, so daunting as it may feel, enough people will and express empathy for your ‘green’-ness, for you to be assured solace in your ‘novice’ status; you will only get better, learn, through practice and interaction, so if you’re nervous, take solace in the fact that you likely possess all of the right motivation/attitude to progress. Oh, I’m inclined to add that not every part of what you’re animating is ‘cool’, so hold on to your bookish, geeky/nerdy-ness is you possess any, because that might be an indicator of your unconscious, internalized ‘observational’ skill – which will render you a threat, potentially – but will likely put you at a distinct advantage.
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  1. Yeah…too right…not read all but mostly very interesting views…Thanks for publishing this…and I’ve just sold my BOLEX camera…but I’ve kept my rollex …far out…Elroy. I’ll be looking for bits of genius in your forthcoming work. Keep up and stay put. xx best wishes.

  2. I’ve not looked at this in months; Is this Fabrice Langelier? If so, how are you? I’ve just finished my “A-Z”! I’ve been working on it for AGES….

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