What is your name and your current occupation?
Chris Bailey, Animation Director.
What are some of the crazier jobs you had before getting into animation?
Hah..great question. I have asked that of colleagues in the past. I think the craziest job, or furthest job from animation was working in a steel warehouse for my dad the summer before attending Cal Arts. I loaded steel I-beams onto trucks, drove a huge forklift, learned to weld and use a cutting torch. I caught myself on fire twice! In the warehouse were rows of 20′ and 40′ I-beams stacked to the ceiling. We’d leap from stack to stack looking for the right ones to fill orders and they’d sometimes rock back and forth threatening to fall. I felt like Daredevil.
What are some of your favorite projects you’re proud to have been a part of?
I’ve been pretty lucky and worked on some great projects. It’s hard to pick, but if I were to list a few highlights, I would start with the Marvel Productions Logo. It featured a chrome Spider-Man doing a flip and landing on the big MP. I was at the beginning of my career and thrilled to animate Spider-Man, even if it was only for one little shot. Next up is The Little Mermaid. It was a great film and broke animation out of the animated film ghetto and into a mainstream audience. I was a little fish swimming in a big pond and trying to learn as much as I could… Runaway Brain with Mickey Mouse for letting me play with the corporate icon and the resulting Oscar nod, Disney’s Mighty Joe Young for it’s groundbreaking CG animation, X-Men II because it’s such a great movie I’m a huge Marvel Comics fan, Kim Possible because it was as much fun to make as it was to watch and finally, the Despicable Me: Minion Mayhem 3D Ride because the minions are so damned funny and I love theme park rides. The Pepfar (President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief) Shorts for WB were interesting too. The shorts were done to advertise an educational action videogame for Kenya’s youth centers. I got to travel to Washington and pitch the boards to the State Department. Unlike in Hollywood where the costume of a director is shorts and t-shirt, I was pitching cartoon storyboards in a formal conference room wearing a suit! Ha! The Judy short in particular was a way to experiment with Kim Possible style animation and design in 3D. It was boarded by one of my favorite Kim board artists and Batman comics artist, Dave Bullock.
Where are you from and how did you get into the animation business?
I grew up in Portland Oregon and went to Reynolds High School. I always liked comic books and wanted to draw them since I was 10 years old. Later in High School, I read an article in The Comics Journal that mentioned Cal Arts and their Disney animation program. It was a combination of that article and watching a classic Pepe Le Pew cartoon that convinced me to change course. I spent 6 months working on a portfolio and never applied to any other college. In retrospect, going into animation made sense because I always liked animated cartoons and when comic book artists would draw/animate the characters in multiple poses within a single panel, I would analyze them and could tell when their “animation” worked or not…how well they could move the figure around.
What’s a typical day like for you with regards to your job?
There is no typical. Haha…I’ve worked in studios, I’ve worked from home, I’ve worked overseas and once traveled for the better part of a year around the country. For the past year I’ve been largely working from home. I get up somewhere between 5:00-6:00 AM, I’ll make coffee, feed to dog and start work about 6:00-6:30. I’ll work for a couple of hours reviewing animation, maybe have a conference call with the studio, then take a break to walk the dog again and go to the gym. Then I’ll work steady again until dinner typing notes or drawing boards or pose suggestions in Sketchbook Pro. I’m often working on more than one project at a time, reading and writing projects, doing character designs and development art. Some days the work is spread out from morning till night and other days I tackle it in one big chunk.
What part of your job do you like best? Why?
Kicking off a scene and discussing it with an animator or story artist and seeing it come back better than I imagined is always an amazing surprise…like opening a present Christmas morning!
What part of your job do you like least? Why?
Not always being able to draw what’s in my head. I understand good drawing, but wish I could draw better. I still work very hard at it.
What kind of technology do you work with on a daily basis, how has technology changed in the last few years in your field and how has that impacted you in your job?
My 17″ laptop (Mac) is always open, but I draw on my Fujitsu tablet PC using Sketchbook Pro. I do 90% of my work on them. Programs have gotten easier to use over the years for sure. The big change for me was getting a tablet PC where I could draw directly on the screen. I was never good at drawing on an external tablet and seeing the drawing appear on the screen. Before the tablet, I’d do sketches on set or in dailies using Post-It notes and I’d invariably lose them or hand them out and have to draw them again. Now they’re all (relatively) safe in the cloud.
What is the most difficult part for you about being in the business?
Watching great projects come out that I wish I could have been a part of…but that’s a good thing because it means the fan inside me is alive and well and I’m not completely jaded.
If you could change the way the business works and is run how would you do it?
One lament is how ignored the animation has been from the hybrid films I’ve worked on. The character animation in Garfield II, the Alvin films and Hop is outstanding, but because the films play young and were for kids and families, they were not taken seriously in the way the Hulk or the Avengers were. I’d love to see more action comedy films like The Incredibles. The Broadway type musicals in animation are great, but not the type of films I would generally go see on my own. It’s vexing that sci-fi, monster and superhero movies thrive in TV animation and live action, but not in the feature animation arena. I saw a privately funded trailer for the monster and zombie fighting comic book character The Goon recently and thought it was amazing. I love the comic book and hope they can get it going. I’ll be the first in line.
In your travels, have you had any brushes with animation greatness?
Everyday! I’ve worked with the best of the best and am lucky to count many of them as friends. I’d name them, but then I’d leave someone out and that would make me feel bad.
Describe a tough situation you had in life.
Choosing oatmeal or cereal for breakfast… or living alone and being the first to discover the milk has gone sour or that I’m out of toilet paper.
Any side projects you’re working on that you’d like to share details of?
After a long hiatus, I’ve gone back to my superjock character Major Damage and am boarding some shorts that I plan to animate in 2D. I had a deal in place to develop it into a feature film with Imagi (Astro Boy), but just as the ink was dry, they lost funding and went under. I’ve been teaching myself Toon Boom, but the problem is that I have to leave it for weeks at a time and when I come back, I have to learn it all over again…I need a mentor…or a memory enhancing pill!
Any unusual talents or hobbies like tying a cherry stem with your tongue or metallurgy?
In grade school, there was a kid in my class who was from from Haiti. He told stories about believing in Zombies in Haiti so of course we became friends. He could flair his nostrils at will and I thought that was the most amazing thing. Haha. Try as I might, I couldn’t do it. I practiced whenever I could and about a year later, Bam! I could do it. The only bummer was that I had moved over the summer and away and had no way to show him. Oh well… I can make a pretty good mai tai too!
Is there any advice you can give for an aspiring animation student or artist trying to break into the business?
Study people and learn how they move and act. Take a drawing class…even if you can’t draw well, it will help you understand what makes a good drawing or pose. As great as the animated films and visual effects are today, I see a lot of shots where the characters move like stiff dolls. Backbones don’t twist and basic drawing skills like opposing the axis of the hips with the shoulders seem to be lost. Just as learning to type doesn’t make one a writer, learning an animation program and manipulating a CG puppet doesn’t make one an animator. Now go make some fun stuff!