What is your name and your current occupation?
Mark Simon, Producer, director, story artist. I currently own 3 businesses: Animatics & Storyboards, Inc. (www.Storyboards-East.com) A&S Animation, Inc (www.FunnyToons.tv) Sell Your TV Concept Now, Inc (www.SellYourTvConceptNow.com) Currently boarding commercials, directing animated pilots and working on WB’s Hong Kong Phooey feature. Produced the animation on Fox’s Tooth Fairy 2 with Larry the Cable Guy which was just released on DVD.
What are some of the crazier jobs you had before getting into animation?
I’ve worked in Hollywood since I graduated college. I started off in live-action and still work a lot in live action.
Before that I designed and built my own line of skateboards for Schwinn when I was 12. I published a magazine in college called The Belligerent Beacon. I had a syndicated comic strip called Hollyweird, a parody of Hollywood with animals as the characters which is currently on www.sunnyfundays.com.
What are some of your favorite projects you’re proud to have been a part of?
seaQuest DSV with Spielberg was awesome. Biggest show on TV. Spielberg. Awesome food all day. Spielberg. Sci-fi. Spielberg. Did I mention Spielberg? My series Timmy’s Lessons In Nature is always one of my favorites. That’s the one we won the first Grand Prize in the Nicktoons Film Festival and it also appeared in Spike & Mike’s Sick & Twisted and with Happy Tree Friends & Friends. I love that Timmy is too stupid to talk or to understand pain. Now that’s dumb. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nN3hp9QthQI
I’m also partial to anything I’m currently working on. I get totally stoked working out story elements and creating new projects.
How did you become interested in animation?
Loved it since I was a kid, like most of us. I was doing little animations at home. My dad found a studio in Houston and set up for them to show me around their studio. We took measurements from their discs and built our own animation stand. I still use that old stand. It works great! I studied every word in the few animation books that existed in the 70s and 80s, like The Illusion of Life. How could you watch the classic Looney Tunes and not want to animate? Really. How could you?
Where are you from and how did you get into the animation business?
I’ve lived all over the country and Canada. I was raised mostly in Houston and went to a small college in East Texas, Stephen F Austion State U. I was the only one who knew how to use their animation stand so I had full use of it. I animated through college but stopped for a while when Bill Hanna told me I needed to work on my craft. (actually it wasn’t his fault. I started getting a lot of work designing live-action features and while I love animation, I also love money) When digital ink & paint appeared, I started playing with animation again and did a number of shorts. My first professional gig was animating Tinker Bell for the Disney Cruise line. That launched my first studio, AARGH! Animation. I sold that and started up A&S Animation, Inc.
What’s a typical day like for you with regards to your job?
Typical. What is this word, typical. I don’t know what that word typical means. Every day is different, especially since I wear so many hats between the 3 companies. It gets easier when I’m on a big production and have to focus on just one thing during the day, but then I have to do all my other work at night. I generally get up early and check my email. Spend time with wife and kids at breakfast. Work until lunch. I used to skip lunch on busy days. Now I insist that I take it. The older I get, the more I love food. Work until 7. Dinner and break with family. Back to work around 10 until 12 or 1am.
What part of your job do you like best? Why?
I love drawing and telling stories. I love being creative with creative people. Every day is different. I get bored easily, and hate repetition. Every day in production is different. I love it most when I’m surrounded by a great crew who are better than me at whatever they do. Directing a project with incredible people makes an awesome experience and cool finished work.
What part of your job do you like least? Why?
Spending lots of time making proposals for clients projects that won’t happen. It’s a huge waste of time, but we all have to do it. Every studio owner complains about this. Can’t people just give us a wheelbarrow full of money and let us be creative? Please?
What kind of technology do you work with on a daily basis?
I love my Cintiqs. You can have it when you pry it from my dead hands. I have four, just for myself. Two big and two small. I also use Toon Boom Storyboard Pro. Love that software. Also use Photoshop, After Effects, etc. Spend way too much time on Facebook and browsing the web. Love my Xoom tablet. Have a new Sony A77 DSLR that I love.
What is the most difficult part for you about being in the business?
The smaller budgets every year. Our budgets are 1/10 what they were 12 years ago. But at least we have less time to do better work now. I also want longer days. Is that too much to ask? I just want 36 hour days and then I’ll get close to doing everything I want to do. Please?
In your travels, have you had any brushes with animation greatness?
I feel really lucky to deal with a lot of great people. When I wrote my books, Producing Independent 2D Character Animation and Storyboards: Motion In Art, I interviewed incredible artists. A few years ago I was traveling through China on a speaking tour and met a lot of awesome people. I’ve become good friends with Max Howard (producer of Iron Giant, Lion King, Space Jam, Igor, Roger Rabbit, etc). We’ve also done a few webinars together on producing and pitching animation (www.HitMakerWebinar.com). He’s my mentor. I got to pitch myself to Bill Hanna and Joe Barbera. That would have been a lot more fun if they liked my stuff. Working with Spielberg (have I mentioned him yet?) When I won the first Nicktoons Film Festival, John K. had great things to say about my work. How cool is that? I could go on and on. Ooh, I don’t want to forget. The first person I met in Hollywood animation was Andreas Dejas. He was a friend of a friend and showed me all over the Disney studios back in 1986. My favorite office he showed me was the one with drawings of fornicating rabbits on the back of the door. Got to love Disney artists! I got to thank him again a few years ago at an animation event.
Describe a tough situation you had in life.
My family and I were threatened and attacked by a gang in Houston for a while. That took it’s toll. No one in high school would spend time with me during that time. (the good news is that I was deputized for having the parents arrested for failure to control their kids. The first of it’s kind in Texas) That’s when I joined Drama and discovered a new world and new friends. That started me on my path to Hollywood.
Any side projects or you’re working on or hobbies you’d like to share details of?
Lots. Too many. I’m always developing new concepts. Writing new training materials. I love ping pong We have a table at the studio. There’s no just hitting it back and forth. We have to compete every time. My head writer, Wayne, calls my family The Competibles. I’m also into martial arts. I’m a 2nd degree black belt and 3-time national champion in Tae Kwon Do (2007-2009). I stopped competing in 2010. I don’t buy comics anymore, but I still have my collection of 7,000 from when I was a kid. GEEKS RULE!
Any unusual talents or hobbies like tying a cherry stem with your tongue or metallurgy?
I’m still able to scare my kids’ friends. I think that’s a talent. It keeps my house in 1 piece. I can also see the future when I look back on it.
Is there any advice you can give for an aspiring animation student or artist trying to break into the business?
Any job in the industry is better than any job out of the industry. Sweeping floors in a studio is better than management at Walmart. Who are you going to meet at Walmart who will help your art career. Be willing to pay your dues. It will always serve you well and will extend your career.
Great interview with a great creative force (and I do mean Force)! I have Mark’s book on expressions and took his seminar in San Diego. Now I can count him on my own “brush with greatness” list! If I were on the other coast I would be knocking on Mark’s door to be hired day and night…lucky him!