What is your name and your current occupation?
Andrew Kaiko. I am a creative developer at an advertising agency on internet content in Manhattan, New York.
What are some of the crazier jobs you had before getting into animation?
My jobs before animation were pretty tame. So the only thing that comes to mind is when I had to not only sort and prepare illustrators’ promotional packages for their clients at an illustrator agency, but take care of the boss, who was an old lady, and her home, where she ran her agency out of. I replaced light bulbs and emptied water from the air conditioner all the time. One time she actually booked me with the task of getting myself ice cream, as a break!
What are some of your favorite projects you’re proud to have been a part of?
‘Kappa Mikey’ was the first show I worked on at Animation Collective and was also the first show I ever had credit on, and you can’t very well forget something like that! Not a week went by after getting my bachelor’s certificate, I got a phone call to go into the city for an interview there, and they gave me an offer right then. This led to animating any anime-esque character who happened to appear in the shot (95% of the cast), and that meant six principle characters, various background extras, and occasional effects and props. This never happens- I couldn’t believe my luck! It had a superb cast of voice actors, which turned out to be the best thing about it. The show isn’t liked by all, and yes, I am familiar with all the complaints, but I loved every second of production. No other show since, even the shows following it at Animation Collective, was as enjoyable as this one, and that is true even into 2012.
How did you become interested in animation?
I’ve been interested in animation my whole life. I think my parents gave me a gift as well as a curse when exposing me to cartoons so much, since children often think the first things they watch are the norm in the industry, and that they will never change! I hardly ever watched live-action, and if I did, it was a mix of that with animation or puppetry. But if I had to isolate this answer into one moment, it had to be seeing Eric Goldberg’s animation of the Genie in Aladdin. I saw it twice in the theater. I discovered that you don’t always have to make characters move like you expect them too, and that film can show absolutely anything you can think of! I never animated seriously until getting accepted to the Rhode Island School of Design. When you grow up, most people have a hard time deciding what they want to do, but I knew an art and design school was the way to go off the bat- all my choices were art schools! And I got into every single one of them. It was then that I realized my specific inspiration, the Genie, did not move like most other characters. …. In fact……none at all…which was all the better for me to learn how to animate normal characters. And I am still learning.
Where are you from and how did you get into the animation business?
I was born in Manhattan, New York. At 3 years old, my brother was born, and the apartment became too small for us, so we moved to Weston, Connecticut, where I grew up. As for the “get into the animation business” part, after going to RISD, I moved …back to Manhattan, in 2006, where Animation Collective was making shows for Nicktoons Network, as said above.
What’s a typical day like for you with regards to your job?
I wake up at 7 am, though most times I get out of bed way later than that. I get ready for the day, do my online rounds, and commute to work. There’s a half-hour for lunch. My job requires me to be a graphic designer, animating shapes, text, photos, etc…, even though I was really hired to animate any cartoon characters that appear in online content, and there are not that many, which makes it irreplaceable. I leave around 5:30, eat dinner, and my evenings are extremely varied. It entails either continuing working on my own projects, doing freelance work, meeting a client, meeting friends, going to animation events, or just relaxing at home.
What part of your job do you like best? Why?
I’m one of the few animators on Pepperidge Farms’ Goldfish children’s website, where you can play games, view characters’ faux online statuses, and look up recipes on goldfishfun.com This is the most fun of my job because it’s the closest to what I used to do a few years before this. We do not animate the CG commercials for television- the brilliant Blur Studios is responsible for those- but we work in Adobe Flash to redesign vector equivalents to how they look in those commercials, and translate them into banners, games, and the like. We animate to the same voice talent as in the commercials.
What part of your job do you like least? Why?
I don’t hate anything about my current job at the moment. I have to work late on occasion, progress gets messed up resulting in last-minute revisions, and co-workers miscommunicate sometimes, or I misunderstand them, but those come with every job. Nothing major has occurred yet.
What kind of technology do you work with on a daily basis?
I found Adobe Flash to be an extremely versatile tool for any animator who wants most digital 2D styles, from cut-out, to hand-drawn, or scanned images, and it eliminates any messes you would need to clean up when working with actual tools. That’s been my bread and butter since graduating. I know AfterEffects, which in this decade, is even more in demand than Flash. I also use Corel Painter, Anime Studio Pro, Photoshop, Illustrator, some MAYA, and good old paper and pencil. Occasionally I voice-act on my own projects so I have my own mic and recording software.
What is the most difficult part for you about being in the business?
Staying in the business, on which I will elaborate below… This is almost similar with your question ‘what part of your job do you like the least’, but you can read more about my answer to this one under my tips and advice for students thinking of working in the industry.
In your travels, have you had any brushes with animation greatness?
This past March I bumped into Peter De Sève at Blue Sky Studios’ opening for their gallery at the Society of Illustrators. Other people I met in my life include Igor Kovalyov (Klasky Csupo), Rob Paulsen, Michael Sinterniklaas, Bill Plympton, David Levy, and Jeff Smith (‘Bone’). I once tried to apply to a studio, and didn’t expect Jim Jinkins (Nickelodeon’s ‘Doug’) to answer the phone instead of a front desk!
Describe a tough situation you had in life.
I got laid off from Animation Collective in 2008 after being there for two and a half years. It wasn’t my fault or anyone else’s- it was a MASS lay-off. The company finished work for several clients at once, and new projects that we had hoped would kick off were killed because the clients didn’t have the budget, or decided it wasn’t worth financing. Administration couldn’t afford to pay for the office space due to the profits stopping, so they let all the creatives go. Because this was my first job, I had no experience freelancing, and this was right when the Great Recession started, where nobody was hiring for the next several months. Looking back, I came to the realization that I was NEVER good at freelancing. I earned less than half the income I had before leaving the studio. Freelancing is tough for any artist just starting out, but it’s important to remember that this happens to businesses all the time. Several things happened to keep my wits up. The free time gave me more opportunities to visit my family and alleviated my city headaches. I attended the weekly open-drawing classes I knew my former co-workers were going to. I took two MAYA classes and trained myself in HTML basics and ActionScript basics on my own. And the work I did get led to more styles and different kinds of stories and projects I would never expect to get! The New York Department Of Labor required citizens in my situation to attend their job seminars. Eventually, I did get another full-time job in advertising after only a month of computer program training. The people who ran Animation Collective are active again, but they pretty much killed the former company and started a new one, and their animators are working from home. They usually outsource to other countries for cheaper labor now.
Any side projects or you’re working on or hobbies you’d like to share details of?
I am working on my fourth indie short, based on a comic I made in college 10 years ago. The look is very much inspired by the Looney Tunes shorts of old, but the stories are very personal and express my thoughts on what it means to be “knowledgeable” and how it can and can’t help you in life. I always wanted to see these characters animated and now that I have enough experience, it’s the time to do it! It is set in the Northeastern forest, a mix of Connecticut and Vermont, which I see as a miniature fantasy universe human beings have yet to explore completely.
Any unusual talents or hobbies like tying a cherry stem with your tongue or metallurgy?
I can imitate several birds convincingly. I once practiced whistling, but I did it the wrong way and wound up blowing air through my teeth, resulting in a higher pitched sound. I once got kicked out of class one day for it. Today, many of my characters are birds, sooooo…
Is there any advice you can give for an aspiring animation student or artist trying to break into the business? Oooooh boy… These are mainly directed toward hand-drawn animators. Get comfortable- I’m going to be rough here… Accept that you won’t always be working. Let alone in something you want to do. Take up another hobby and nurture that. Enjoy other aspects of life when work is low. Save your money!! Just like how movies have endings, so do their productions. …their SHORT productions! The industry is not big, and it is getting more and more competitive every day. Now if you are business-savvy and already have a business when you’re in college or before that (it’s possible!), you have a starting chance before those who wait after college. An instructor told us this: “The world will always need doctors, lawyers, engineers, scientists, political figures…. They DO NOT need any more artists! No one REQUIRES art to live- some WANT it and some don’t, which, unfortunately, cannot be safely predicted.” It’s all a gamble. The animation industry is the least stable and inconsistent I have ever seen, which only puts more of the work on you. Move to where the work is, depending on what exactly you want to pursue. Expand your feelers. …DRIVE. You will not only be surrounded by those just like you and who you can learn off of, but it will make you grow as a person in the direction you want, and certain employers actually look for people who live in the same town as they operate out of and reject them if they do not, even if they’re otherwise a perfect fit. Learn anything audio-related or be a writer. Animation isn’t just drawing or building or storyboarding. In fact, animation in movies, TV, and the internet is governed by sound.
- But no narrative is worth making or watching if the story isn’t good! Take a creative writing class. Many visual artists also sing or play instruments and contribute to the score of their shorts. Visual artists MARRY audio artists and writers! Artists who have a career in any kind of audio work (actors, voice actors, musicians, singers, sound engineers, sound designers, etc…) are noticeably more out-going than visual ones and seem to be living happier lives, but it’s not the same for everyone. Likewise, writers have knowledge about the world that they can incorporate into a cartoon and make it deep and rich. The point is, animation is not just shiny movement.
- – Internships are great, but beware. Most students enter the field through these, and that’s absolutely wonderful. Please, PLEASE, be aware of those internships that do not pay you anything, unless you don’t care about a salary at that moment! DO NOT take any that requires YOU to pay THEM (yes, these exist)! Not only are they a waste of time, but also they are illegal. Be sure you are not being taken advantage of by being assigned menial chores that have nothing to do with your goals.
- – Meet people. In person! Stay in touch with them. Get a roommate when you’re in college and hold onto them. Keep business cards from those you meet at gatherings. Not only will you open the door to more career opportunities, but your life will be worth experiencing and more exciting. 99% of success stories I keep hearing do not concern following a classified ad, but word-of-mouth from someone you know in person. Humans as a species are social, and those who are not are more depressed.
- – Back up your files.
- – Hand-drawn animators should not be afraid to learn 3D. It is NOT “betraying a dying art form!” I initially didn’t think I needed to learn CG animation because there will always be a place for hand-drawn animation, and I was advanced enough where I didn’t think I needed to spent time learning “how to walk all over again”. …but executives think differently. CG is “in”. It pays more, and animators are not trained in 2D as much as they used to be. Even if you don’t wind up using it afterward, taking a Basics class for 3 months or so will make you see forms in a different way than if you had always tried to get the illusion of 3D forms in pencil lines. In my short, I even used MAYA as a means to an end; I modeled a pedicab and used that as a guide to trace over in Flash, so it would look hand-drawn but the form would still be consistent in different angles! Heck, even ERIC GOLDBERG made a CG pitch test based on the newspaper comic Bloom Country at one point! Even so, no matter how far I advance in CG, I will always consider myself a 2D artist.
You cut off some of the last parts of my interview. Just to point that out. I can resend it if you like.
Sorry about that I’m not sure what happened but I fixed it now!
Yep, that’s the rest of it! Thanks so much!
Nice interview Andrew. Very realistic and insightful for anyone in New York as well as abroad.
BEst of luck!