What is your name and your current occupation?
Carlos Ramos. I’m currently freelancing as a storyboard artist, character designer, writer. I just got done storyboarding on all the Madagascar trailers and ads and a bit on Dreamwork’s Rise of the Guardians. And as always pitching, pitching.
What are some of the crazier jobs you had before getting into animation?
Thankfully I only had one job before getting into animation. In high school through my freshman year at college I was a Show Controller at Universal Studios Hollywood. Basically crowd control and making all the park announcements. That place is a real dump and I can’t imagine why people would pay money to go there but it was a really fun job.
What are some of your favorite projects you’re proud to have been a part of?
Well, I haveto say the show I created at Nickelodeon: The X’s where I served as art director as well. The design theory was “No lines” so everything was colored shapes. AND it wasn’t in Flash. All hand drawn and animated by the amazing crew at Rough Draft, Korea. An extremely tough series we all bled on. I just recently rewatched a few episodes and it still holds-up.
How did you become interested in animation?
My earliest memory was attending a screening of a pencil test of The Black Couldron at the Disney Burbank lot when I was a kid. I was forever changed by the experience and actually seeing the bungalows where the animation happened intrigued me for sure. I was obsessed with Mad Magazine growing-up and always assumed that’s where I’d work when I “grew up”. But after the original editor William Gaines died the magazine’s quality did too so I had to think of another plan. I was going to Fairfax High School in the magnet arts program and one Saturday took an animation class and the instructor said that Cal Arts was the only school for people seriously contemplating a life in cartoons. I took those words to heart and was determined to get in even after being rejected and having to re-apply the following year. Looking back it was funny because I never visited the campus before the day of registration. And it was just a short drive from my house. I just knew it’s what I wanted.
I’m from L.A. born in Burbank. Attended Cal Arts and got a job at DIC as a development artist the summer of my freshman year. My plan was to graduate college with a BFA with 3 years of experience under my belt. It was a balsy plan that worked out. I did the full four years and worked the summers and freelanced for Disney Television and DIC. Looking back I got really lucky. DIC was the funnest job I’ve ever had and at Disney I was a character designer on Nightmare Ned – a show I doubt anyone remembers but had the most hardcore bad ass crew ever assembled. Seriously everyone on that show went on to fame and fortune. I didn’t know it at the time but I was spoiled rotten with the talent I was surrounded by: Tim Biskup, Paul Tibbitt, Vincent Waller, Conrad Vernon and an endless list of others. And while I’m waxing poetic I will say my Cal Arts experience was the same. Most of the 9 old men were still alive and along with countless others gave weekly talks. My brain was filled every Thursday by geniuses like Brad Bird, Chuck Jones, John Lasseter, Maurice Sendak, Frank Oz, Marc Davis etc. It really shaped my tastes and made me always want a level of quality control on anything I’ll ever work on because all those people strived for such a sick level of perfection.
What’s a typical day like for you with regards to your job?
There’s really nothing typical. These days being a freelancer means working from home on a Wacom. Lots of studios don’t pay the overhead of in-house crews anymore and prefer having a global stable of artists all working thru email and FTP sites. And the schedules are pretty nuts so you could be emailed at 8AM or midnight with notes. So, typically you get a digital pack with a script etc. and a due date. I start work around 10-11 and depending on how tough the gig is can run into all nighters for sure. It can get lonely working from home but it’s nice to pet my sleeping dog while I work too.
What part of your job do you like best? Why?
I like being in the dirt at the beginning of projects. Figuring out exactly what the thing actually is. Versus coming onto something like The Ricky Gervais Show for example where everything is already set in stone. From writing to designing there is a true rush from shaping a new idea. I remember fondly sitting with Dave Wasson when he sold Time Squad to Cartoon Network where I was the first writer hired. We had about 2-3 weeks to start writing it before the crew started occupying offices. Just me and Dave spinning in our chairs with our fists in our faces trying to create a universe without the luxury of time. The best.
Politics. Politics. Politics. It’s a crazy business now. I had the good fortune of starting out with Fred Seibert at Oh Yeah! Cartoons when I got out of Cal Arts. And back then you could walk into his office and say, “It’s called Squirrel Robot and here’s what it’s about..” and Fred could say, “I hate that.” or “Go make it.” and with those words you had a budget and a schedule. Execs like that don’t exist anymore. Now anything pitched has to go up a chain of command like telephone and who knows what the idea sounds like three people up when it’s not being pitched by you? The problem is nobody is accountable anymore. It’s too risky for an exec to actually back a project at the risk of losing their job. It’s then left to projected ratings, focus groups and cancellations by an unseen Oz. And the fact of the matter is an animated series will never be a hit right out the gate. It takes time for an audience and a crew to figure out what a show is. And don’t get me wrong I really do feel for the execs. It’s tough being a middle man in such a huge creative process that can get you fired if you back the wrong show even if you think it’s amazing. The economy has alot to do with it too. Bottom line cartoons are expensive verses a reality show or other options. But seriously that’s all okay. It just makes for tougher competition and I like working hard. And Fred is still kicking ass.
What kind of technology do you work with on a daily basis?
I’m a Photoshop guy. I think if I ever win another award statue I’ll thank Photoshop first. It’s changed the way we all do everything and I can’t imagine life without it. But I still love pencil on paper on my animation desk and scanning the images when time allows.
In your travels, have you had any brushes with animation greatness?
Hells yes! As stated before the bulk of that happened in college. One of my favorite memories is Maurice Sendak creator of Where the Wild Things Are. We all were waiting for this sweet senile old man to walk in and in comes Maurice who proceeded to yell at us all for two hours about how much animated features suck and what the hell was wrong with us?! A sentiment yelled louder to us annually by Brad Bird. I’d sit like Max Fisher in Rushmore listening to Herman Blume. Brad Bird my favorite angry dude.
The X’s being cancelled. The hardest thing I’ve ever gone through professionally. You’d have to have gone through it to really understand. By the time it happened I was a mess. I wasn’t sleeping from stress and it was generally hurting my health. It was just a tough show. And in the end I knew I couldn’t handle taking on another season. That mixed with being in total love with my crew (overseas as well) and not wanting to fire a small army of people with lives and families. I’ve created other things and know there’s more in the future but that show was just tough. I learned alot and grew from it a ton.
Dear lord yes. I think I’ve always been kinda a renaissance man in the sense that my artistic interests are wide. I’ve been painting fine art for the last few years which has been a blast but also comes with just as much politics as animation. I got into stand-up comedy too but haven’t been on stage in awhile. Need to get back to that. What I’m really excited about this week is the documentary, ‘Room 237’ directed by my pal Rodney Ascher. It’s a film about all the hidden meanings in Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining. I did the poster and animated a tiny short within the film. It went to Sundance and we just did a screening of it at Pixar since Toy Story 3 director Lee Unkrich payed the bulk of the Kickstarter. The film just got bought by IFC and should be out in the fall.
I also do caricatures as a hobbie and am a huge Howard Stern fan (getting to listen to him all day is a benefit to working at home) and started a tumblr page where I post Stern caricatures daily.
Hmm. I’m pretty good at karaoke and recently the wife has gotten addicted to it too (and she’s amazing at it).
Yay, Carlos was one of my favorite teachers at Calarts!
One day hopefully we’ll get you up here too Thurop!