What is your name and your current occupation?
Michael Cawood, and I’m currently working as a bit of a general dog’s body (that’s English slang for doing everything that’s needed) setting up a new Animation pipeline for a popular CG series. Some interesting new challenges, and lots of familiar old ones… but it’s all good and I’m having a lot of fun.
What are some of the crazier jobs you had before getting into animation?
Paper boy? Cleaner? Brief stint in a tube factory? Erm… working in a supermarket selling the alcahol and cigarettes while making announcements over the tannoy and taking care of customers? I’m not sure I really have anything crazier than working in Animation. Oh wait, I did spend some time helping with the family business packing and branding surgical instruments for hospitals. There were some weird things in there!
What are some of your favorite projects you’re proud to have been a part of?
It depends on how you view it and who you’re talking to. Film people love to hear about my work on Happy Feet and Prince Caspain. Games creators like to hear about my days at Rare working on Starfox Adventures and Kameo. Commercials people like to hear about my work at Passion Pictures. I love them all in one way or another but it’s the short films I’ve nurtured that I’m most proud of. ‘Devils Angels & Dating’ is my latest and the first one I’ve made time for since my student days, over a decade ago.
How did you become interested in animation?
Same old tale, too many cartoons as a kid, throw in a dash of art skills, an interest in film and effects, a strong imagination and animation was in my targets since I was in my early teens.
Where are you from and how did you get into the animation business?
I’m from the UK, I guess the South of England is a good generalization, but I’ve moved around a bit over my lifetime. I went through one of the very few animation courses in the UK (back in 1996 there weren’t that many), got my Degree as a traditional 2D Animator and immediately got my first job in games doing CG Animation (since 2D was all but dead at that point).
What’s a typical day like for you with regards to your job?
It’s very varied at the moment, I’ve not been with this particular company long enough to really have a typical rhythm. It involves a lot of problem solving, figuring out what’s going on and pre-emptying more problems before they exist. I can’t say my other jobs have been the same though, things tend to move in phases. Sometimes you’re coming up with ideas for projects, sometimes you’re laying down the foundations of a project, sometimes you’re talking to people and getting them setup in their jobs, eventually there’s usually the actual meat of production and that can last a while depending on the scale of the project, then mad crunch, a few deadlines, blink, wake up and realize you’ve got nothing cool to work on and it’s time to rest the brain… then the creativity kicks in again and it’s back to work again. Typical days come in phases, but they don’t stay typical for long before it’s the next phase.
What part of your job do you like best? Why?
Creativity, problem solving, pulling together disparate skills into a cohesive whole that’s more than each piece could achieve on it’s own until you’ve formed an emotional experience for the audience. I guess it’s just what drives me.
What part of your job do you like least? Why?
Lack of respect. The visual effects and animation industry is at a bit of a low these days and I think it’s workers’, that used to be heralded as magicians, are being taken for granted. I’ve experienced a fair taste of the way things have changed over my career so far. Not often in big ways, but usually in lots of progressive little ways that add up. At it’s core, specialists in animation can still have to do some real drudgery day after day, and when you take away the perks of the normal working world we used to get… that drudgery can be even more debilitating.
What is the most difficult part for you about being in the business?
As an extension of my earlier answer, not having job security is a huge issue. Too much competition inevitably leads to fewer full time job opportunities. I feel lucky that I’ve done as well as I have compared to the sheer number of people I see applying for jobs every day. It’s bewildering.
What kind of technology do you work with on a daily basis?
I wish it was a pencil… that’s the kind of tech I signed on for, but alas… I fight with computers day after day. I’m of the generation that almost grew up with them as they became the norm, so I’m very comfortable with them and I have always pushed them to do more than they were designed for, but I still marvel when they can’t quite keep up and do the basics they should be able to do easily.
In your travels, have you had any brushes with animation greatness?
I enjoyed working with George Miller, largely because… of all the big names I’ve crossed paths with he was extremely respectful to everyone, including me, and even made an effort to remember my name on a very big production after only meeting me once (even if he was probably fed it by an assistant previous to meeting me again). I had a lengthy random conversation with Matt O’Callaghan once, as he was taking an interest in my work on my short film. Very nice guy, I was dumbstruck to have his attention.
Describe a tough situation you had in life.
Coming to America. Like a lot of people I was fed a lot of lines about how easy it was to cross the pond if you had the talent. But 2D animation died just as I graduated, 9-11 happened and coming to the land where Animation was born suddenly became a really hard.
Any side projects you’re working on or hobbies you’d like to share details of?
‘Devils, Angels & Dating’ was more than enough of a hobby to last me another decade or so. I’m hoping my day job will be my passion for a while now. But I know I’ll always be percolating new ideas, drawing and writing when inspiration comes.
Any unusual talents or hobbies like tying a cherry stem with your tongue or metallurgy?
I think Animation is enough… oh wait, I can talk like a robot. Think ‘Speak and Spell’. It freaks people out!
Is there any advice you can give for an aspiring animation student or artist trying to break into the business?
Evaluate the market you’re entering and the competition for the position you’re aiming for. Even if you have to follow your passion and go into a competitive field, make sure you have a secondary skill in an area no-one else wants to do (or they don’t know they want to do it yet). Be original, and smart. Be considerate, and take some time to let life in.