What is your name and your current occupation?
Hello, my name is Gordon Hammond. I am a Character Designer at Nickelodeon where I have been since 2002. I have worked with Butch Hartman on all three of his shows, Fairly OddParents, Danny Phantom and now Tuff Puppy…it’s a blast! I have been in the industry since the fall of 1996.
What are some of the crazier jobs you had before getting into animation?
Well like all of us I guess I have had some wacky jobs. My very fist job back in 9th grade was as a dish washer. All my buddies were working at this Italian restaurant and they got me in. They all made fun of me because I was slow, but I was persistent. I never gave up…sometimes I would be standing with stacks of dirty dishes up to my waist but I always finished, something that I realized would pay off later in life. To all my friends surprise out of the blue one day I was promoted to “Pizza Guy”. When the boss pulled me aside and told me I was so shocked, he said he liked me because I never gave up! I told him according to my friends I was slow, he said ” screw those guys, they’re losers…” (haa) Soon after all my friends realizing they had been left behind all applied for Bus Boy jobs. I only worked there for about another year and then quit to focus on School…but there were some great lessons learned. In the years that followed I worked for a lawn service which was grueling, cut grass at a golf course which as grueling, and worst of all cleaned stables at the local horse track for a buck a stall…not fun and stinky! After I started Junior college I landed my first Art job at a small studio as a key liner and graphic artist and have worked as Artist ever since, I was 19.
What are some of your favorite projects you’re proud to have been a part of?
Hmm, actually I have enjoyed everything that I’ve worked on. But I’d probably have to say Fairly OddParents and now Tuff Puppy. Mainly because I know how happy it makes our fans and especially in the case of FOP (Fairly OddParents) how it’s almost a cultural phenomenon. Above and beyond the work I do on the show I must say the most gratifying part for me is when I go out and meet our fans. I do a lot of charity drawing events both for the studio in our backyard and at places like Children’s Hospital and Shriner’s Hospital for the kids who are sick. Over the years I have drawn for 100’s of kids and seeing the looks on their faces as I bring their favorite characters to life is pretty awesome. That’s when it feels like a real gift to be able to draw…
Where are you from and how did you get into the animation business?
For me getting into animation was something I actually never planned. Originally from the suburbs of Detroit Michigan I studied illustration, graphic design and fine art at the Center of Creative Studies in Detroit, a GREAT school…but no Animation program what so ever. Several of my Art School buddies had moved to Los Angeles after graduation and were getting started in animation, automotive design and feature film. Back in Detroit I left my graphic design job I had held since I was 19 to go work at an Illustration Studio. I worked as an apprentice for a few months and then was “put on the board” as they put it to start do actual illustration work I was terrified (haa)…but excited! It was an amazing opportunity but it was incredibly challenging. I worked with about 30 other Illustrators some of which were “the Old Gaurd” who got their starts back in the 50’s 60’s and 70’s…the stories that I heard and the art work that I saw on a daily basis blew my mind! The deadlines and stress was off the chart and me being the new kid on the block and the youngster lacking experience made it rough. It was like “Art Boot-camp” I did a different style every day! My ability to jump from style to style and versatility improved though day by day, something that would really pay off once I got into Animation. So after a 4 1/2 years at the Illustration studio I felt it was time to leave. Being Detroit they wanted me to paint and draw cars and I wanted to do more decorative/ humorous type illustrations, so I left. Soon after I started freelancing but this was before the internet and it was tough for me get the work that I needed to stay afloat. I worked with a Rep who got me work but I felt the Illustration Industry was dying a slow death. After a couple of years of that I spoke to my buddies in Los Angeles and they invited me out to visit. Me and another friend came out, we both loved it and decided to go back home and pack up our stuff and move to LA and try our hand at Animation. When I arrived one of my friends (Ed Klautkey) was working as a Prop Designer at Disney and suggested that may be a good route for me to take too since I had no real experience. So I went around town showing off my book of Illustrations and got nothing but funny looks and rejection letters. So on the advice of Ed I went to the local art store and bought pencils and paper and sat on my bedroom floor and over the period of about a week created what I thought was a prop portfolio. I did drawings of weapons, vehicles (which I was proficient at since I worked in Detroit), helmets, and funky abstract shapes that showcased my understanding or perspective. I took those drawing and submitted them to DIC entertainment, they were looking for a Prop Designer for Mummies Alive. The next day I got a call and I had the job…! I was so excited!! I am very proud to say that I started at DIC exactly one month after arriving in LA. It was a great project and it helped me get my feet wet in the business as well as make some connections. I did props for about 8 months or so on Mummies which was ending. On the side I had been taking a course in Character Design with Charles Zembelas at Associates in Art and just about the time the class ended another job for Character Design opened up at Sony. I tested and got the job, the show was “Channel Umptee Three” and I have been doing Character Design ever since, that was probably 1997. I felt so lucky to be working….
What’s a typical day like for you with regards to your job?
A typical day for me is designing lot and lots of characters. We do most of our designs after the board so I’m usually working from the storyboards Artists interpretations. In most cases I’m working out complicated poses of the existing characters, or doing costume changes on existing characters or mouthcharts or doing new incidental characters, which are my favorite. In most cases our board artists (who are all amazing) do a great job of putting everything in their board but it’s kind of my job to make sure everything is on model and to push any new characters as much into the style as possible and make them as interesting as possible. It’s really fun…
What part of your job do you like best? Why?
The fact that I get to draw everyday and the fact that Butch lets me inject a lot of my own style and creativity into my characters, he really seems to trust us that way. I’ve done some PRETTY wacky and super pushed incidental characters over the years and Butch always seems to like them.
What part of your job do you like the least? Why?
Hmm, well the shows are BIG. Most shows range anywhere from 75-100 or 150 characters designs including crowds. At times the toughest part is just making it through that list, (haha) but when you do it feels great….and the more we do here the better the shows look when they come back from Korea.
What kind of technology do you work with on a daily basis?
I work mainly on the Cintiq these days, rockin Sketchbook Pro. It’s a very simple program that to me it perfect for character design. I love to customize brushes…really fun.
In your travels, have you had any brushes with animation greatness?
Well not any of the old School greats but I feel very lucky to work with all the amazing people on our crew and all the other great people I know at Nick. For me coming from Michigan we don’t see many celebrities. So it’s great to see and sometimes meet all the great voice talent that pop up at the main building. Over the years I have seen people like Sid Ceasar, Carl Reiner, Henry Winlkler, Adam West, Tim Conway and Ernest Borgnene, William Shatner, Pamela Anderson and Kelsey Grammer just to name a few. In one episode of Fairly Oddparents Mom and Dad when to the M.A.R.F. festival (middle aged rock festival) and KISS was the headline act. I not only got to do their designs but I got to meet both Gene Simmons and Paul Stanley when they cam in to do their records. They were both super cool, I had done their designs on paper and was able to get them to sign them for me…
Describe a tough situation you had in life.
Mmm, yes. When both of my parents became ill back in Michigan and had to be moved into a rest home. Turned my hair gray… I am so happy to say though that they both were alive long enough to see me win my Emmy Award in 2005. My folks were always so supportive of me and my art.
Any side projects you’re working on or hobbies you’d like to share details of?
I’m always painting drawing and doodling things for fun, but nothing really animation related. I would eventually like to get some of my personal work into a gallery. That and my friends are always telling me I should publish a book of my doodles.
Is there any advice you can give for an aspiring animation student or artist trying to break into the business?
Yes, I would say learn the basics as well as you can. For me having a good foundation in drawing and having a decent grasp of perspective and color knowledge has allowed me to adapt well. Everything else you can learn on the job, wether it be character design or BG design or story boarding. For me it was the basics and my love for funny drawings which I got from looking at comic strips in the news paper and reading MAD magazine that helped propel me through this industry.