David Stephan

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What is your name and your current occupation?
My name is David Stephan and I am currently a story artist for live action and animation. My real passion is writing and trying to get my own projects made. I started B Positive Fims with another writer/artist (after our blood type) We are working with producer Max Howard on a film project and have interest from the studios on a horror film.
What are some of the crazier jobs you had before getting into animation?
Maybe not crazy but I washed dishes, pumped gas, worked construction just get by through college. Once I got started in the film business I haven’t had to look outside for work but the last couple of years have tempted me to seek other opportunities.
What are some of your favorite projects you’re proud to have been a part of?
I am proud of my career at Disney. I was lucky enough to be part of Disney Feature Animation and the 14 year arc from Black Cauldron through Lion King.  I also was part of Sam Raimi’s first Spiderman. It was such an unknown. I credit that film’s success with the glut of super hero movies today. But I would have to say story boarding “Simple Plan” is my most rewarding. It was my first live action film and learned so much about film making.
How did you become interested in animation?
I kinda fell into it. I was graduating from highschool and I really wanted to be a painter and go to the Ontario College of Art in Toronto. My highschoolart teacher Ms Venebles was very encouraging me to go into art as a career. Coming from a working class family I was going against the grain. My Dad wanted me to get a “trade”.  On my way to OCA I stopped at Sheridan College outside Toronto to interview with the Illustration faculty but they were unavailable but the Animation course director agreed to see me. Knowing nothing about animation, he showed me a clip of student samples. I was blown away by the level of animation. I was hooked. I can make my drawing come alive. I never made it to OCA. I registered that day in the Sheridan College Classical Animation program. At the time it was a little know program, now Sherdian College Animation and its graduates are know all around the world equal to Cal Arts program.

Where are you from and how did you get into the animation business?
I am originally from London Ontario Canada. My goal from the beginning was to go and work at Disney in California. At the time in the early 80’s it was impossible to get a green card and almost impossible to get into Disney Feature. It didn’t stop my determination. My first job was with Steven Lisberger in Boston which was relocating to Venice California. It was a show for NBC called Animal Oymplics. It was my first professional experience as animators Bill Koyers assistant. I was thrilled. After that show ended I struggled in LA looking for work and making new contacts. Steve finally invited me to work on a film he had sold to Disney called Tron. I started on that show at Disney and I never left for 14 years. I was the first Sherdian Grad to make it into Disney feature animation.

What’s a typical day like for you with regards to your job?
If I am working in house at a studio I follow their hours but if I am working remotely I like to start working later in the day and work late into the evening. I work on digitally which I love.  On any project I get a handout by the director – take notes – and then start planning the scene – first with thumbnails, check with the director and then make corrections and tie them down for the animatic.
What part of your job do you like best? Why?
I love the working on a good script. There are few but when it comes along it is great to visualize especially if the director trusts you. I can visualize and design the sequence myself. It is rewarding when the sequence you boarded you see up on the screen. I was taught how to bring a character to life and bringing a story sequence alive uses the same principals. I must make a point transitioning from animation to live action wasn’t easy. In animation you board the emotions of the characters – in live action you board the shot. I learned on the job and luckily I survived with Sam Raimi and learned a lot from him. I wasn’t fired 🙂 In fact I went on to be a second unit director for him.  Also working with great directors like Sam Raimi/ Robert Redford/John Dahl/Rob Minkoff and Tim Hill. I loved working with Ron Clemens and John Musker.

What part of your job do you like least? Why?
I don’t like the politics. I haven’t really learned it but its a definate part of the business. Its all who you know. I thought if you do great work you will get rehired but it doesn’t happen that way.

What kind of technology do you work with on a daily basis?
I use a 12 inch Cintq because it portable. I attach it to 13 inch Macbook Pro. I use the prgrams photoshop, corel painter 12, and Sketchbook Pro a great program for storyboarding. I can’t get enough of the new technology.

What is the most difficult part for you about being in the business?
For me its the long hours – its gotten worse in the last few years. Producers are turning storyboard artists into an everything artist. You have to layout, add breakdown poses A to E, filmically make the sequence work even with bad writing. Of course the deadlines are impossible and have gotten shorter. But it is now expected to do all these jobs that at one time were divided up among other departments.
In your travels, have you had any brushes with animation greatness?
I trained under Glen Keane which was the best thing that happened to me. He taught me an approach of thinking that has never left me. It was animating on Oliver and Company and animating the birds in Georgett’s sequence all the hard work with Gen finally came together.

Describe a tough situation you had in life.
I think leaving Disney after 14 years was tough. It was leaving home. The artist in me was restless and I had to explore more of my creativity.  I think the toughest was being on the road for a couple of years working on live action films. I had a young son who I had to be responsible for and it was hard juggling my film responsibilties with being a Dad. Lots of calls, sending balloons and cards. One year I to filed taxes in 6 different states.
Any side projects or you’re working on or hobbies you’d like to share details of?
I love to surf. I took it up about 15 years a go. The ocean is a place to go and forget the pressures of life.  I am working on a bunch of my own projects. A Children’s book called “Major Bob and the Beasts from Beyond the Moon which I am self publishing on Amazon. I have a Zombie film called Zombie Express and another kid project called Kites – both live action. Its funny with all my years in animation my stories are more suited for live action. I knew I had moved into the grown up world of film when we filmed 5 murders in two weeks on the movie Simple Plan. That would never show up in animated film. Disney came close with Mufasa’a murder by Scar in Lion King.

Any unusual talents or hobbies like tying a cherry stem with your tongue or metallurgy?
I don’t have any unusual hobbies.

Is there any advice you can give for an aspiring animation student or artist trying to break into the business?
I can pass on some advice that my third year teacher Jim MaCauley gave us when we were about to graduate. He said “Your only security in the business is your professional reputation and the people you know”. The other was when the famed Canadian animator Dick Willams came to Sheridan. He told us to ” Hang out with people who want to DO something and run from people who want to BE something.”  Both are true today.


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  1. Hi David Stephan,

    I would like to make a connection with you please visit our face book web page and send me an email. Thanks, Gavin

  2. Nice interview. Thanks for the intro to David’s wonderful work! Sam Raimi went to my high school (I had a TV class with his younger brother Ted) but I never got to meet him. I’m so envious! Great work.

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