What is your name and your current occupation?
Tony Santo and I am a Freelance Storyboard Artist.
What are some of the crazier jobs you had before getting into animation?
When I got out of college I cleaned apartments in Manhattan for a short time. It was actually fun work, getting got see some very cool apartments around town. I also did paste-up design, which is crazy in a sense of how tedious it was. For those who don’t remember life before computers, “paste-up design” was how magazines and newspapers were put together by hand, with columns of type, a t-square and several pinched neck nerves. I was also a bartender part time for a year.
What are some of your favorite projects you’re proud to have been a part of?
I loved all the Disney films I worked on, like Mulan and Brother Bear. I also had some exciting and rewarding cycles as Art Director on “Madden NFL.” Recently I enjoyed working as storyboard artist for Dan Riba on the upcoming “Ben 10: Ominiverse.”
How did you become interested in animation?
I loved Fantasia and how the Disney designers interpreted the music so imaginatively. I really got into animation for the storytelling and development approach. Shows like “Batman: the Animated Series” gave me extra inspiration to break in.
Where are you from and how did you get into the animation business?
I am from Staten Island, New York. I had been drawing for years, and did freelance illustration fore a few years. It was a struggle to get work and to keep growing as an artist. Eventually I became an art director at a magazine, enjoyed the stability, and decided it was a good idea to pursue my interest in animation. I took a night class at SVA in animation, and stayed up at night in my little Manhattan studio doing 12 field animation tests to bring my concepts to life. When I applied to Disney, it wasn’t the animation that got me in. It was my drawing, draftsmanship and idea exploration, which I think are my true strengths.
What’s a typical day like for you with regards to your job?
I work mostly at home, so I drop the kids at school in the morning. Then I either go exercise or go home to look for leads, referrals, classifieds or potential clients. I am always thinking of what is next. If I feel I am in a good place for the week I will crack open one of my personal projects to develop. I keep to a schedule, or else I wool get nothing done. When I get an assignment I get a burst of energy which tends to carry over into my personal work.
What part of your job do you like best? Why?
Getting paid. I love to draw and can do it all day, but to get a paycheck with it is an added blessing.
What part of your job do you like least? Why?
I don’t like the silence that often comes with freelance. Since I work at home, that can get tiring. When the phone isn’t ringing and I am not getting inquiries I get restless.
What kind of technology do you work with on a daily basis?
I use a Mac and use a lot of Photoshop combined with scanning in rough drawings to make my boards. One day I might use Storyboard Pro, one day Photoshop, one day I may draw by hand on my Disney animation desk (which I purchased when the Orlando studio closed). I use Final Cut and After Effects to put reels together. I play with Maya occasionally, doing anim tests or modeling, but eventually I get interrupted with a job or personal project.
What is the most difficult part for you about being in the business?
The hardest part of the business is seeing studios shrink their budgets and try to take advantage of artists. In addition, there are a lot of inexperienced “professionals” out there. I’ve met some real clowns who call me for an interview and when I show up they don’t know why they called me. They don’t know anything about the industry and are out for their own advancement. This is true with big and small studios as well as recruiters, unfortunately. You have to be judicious with your appointments, because many people have no regard for your time.
In your travels, have you had any brushes with animation greatness?
At Disney it was a privilege to work with so many great artists of all disciplines – background painters, layout artists, animators directors and story artists. Working on Mulan in the Orlando studio was the first time I had the feeling that I was working on something that would last forever. The vibe in the studio at that time was tremendous and you couldn’t walk the halls without seeing brilliant works in progress. There were amazing resources as well, all for the betterment of the artists. One time I was able to hold original paper cells for Lady and the Tramp in my hand. I could not believe how astoundingly well drawn the were, and I still cannot describe the level of refinement they possessed.
Describe a tough situation you had in life.
I suffered from anxiety years ago. I had insomnia for like two months straight and it was hell. I was looking like a zombie before his time. When the insomnia passed, I felt great. Suddenly I started jumping out of bed with panic attacks in the middle of the night. I was nauseas out of nowhere, and my head started spinning walking down the street. I didn’t believe it was anxiety related and worried what it might be. You can imagine the depression that followed. I never thought I’d make it past 32. Fortunately I had some friends and family who helped me get help, and I turned my life around as a result.
Any side projects or you’re working on or hobbies you’d like to share details of?
I have a few things I am developing, like a TV pilot and a comic book. I also am illustrating Charles Dickens “A Christmas Carol” at my own pace.
Any unusual talents or hobbies like tying a cherry stem with your tongue or metallurgy?
I like to do impressions. Also, I have an uncanny memory for details that goes back to near infancy. For almost every movie theater I went to, I remember the movie and who I was with when I saw it.
Is there any advice you can give for an aspiring animation student or artist trying to break into the business?
Quit now while you still can. (Kidding). Learn to draw well, and study different types or art and schools of thought. Don’t just learn software. It’s good to have a strength, but also keep in mind that animation is more than one medium. Study everything and learn what is great about it.