What is your name and your current occupation?
Arshad Mirza Baig Freelance Animation Artist – Currently storyboarding
What are some of the crazier jobs you had before getting into animation?
I have been fortunate enough to have been involved with animation from an early age The first freelance job I obtained was at age 15, whilst still a schoolboy – I had to animate characters for a PC adventure game. I did however help out at my father’s pharmacy whilst going through college and then university…I gained a lot of information about medicines and health that I still draw on today and often advice my colleagues what they should take and when they should take it…something I really should stop doing as I am not a qualified pharmacist!
What are some of your favorite projects you’re proud to have been a part of?
Its funny because as a child growing up I dreamed of being a part of the Hollywood machine – of course the stuff they produced was amazing but after having being involved with a few of those higher end projects such as ‘Tale of Despereaux’ and ‘Fantastic Mr Fox’ I personally found the work I done for the smaller lesser known projects far more rewarding. If I had to choose one it would be the low budget feature film ‘Sokator 442’ (produced by Galleon entertainment and Zoo films). I was given the choice to work on Tim Burton’s ‘Frankenweenie’ as a story artist or head the story and art department of this smaller project and I even surprise my self when I think back to how I didn’t hesitate when I chose Sokator 442. I had the creative freedom to rework the script direct the action sequences design all the central characters. Aid with animation and editing…even throw in a voice or two it was a dream job for me! Sadly the film only sold to Nickelodeon in Australia and New Zealand – but I have no regrets – it has certainly been the highlight of my career and I can look back on that project and really feel that my art made a difference to the outcome.
How did you become interested in animation?
As a child I was drawn to the Asterix and Tintin comics and still love them to this very day. I began writing my own comics at around 6 years old and then I think at age 7 I saw Disney’s The sword in the stone and I was hooked! It was like an Asterix book but moving! It was then I realised that I wanted to be an animator!
Where are you from and how did you get into the animation business?
I am from London, England yes I know I have an exotic name – but that is due to my parents being of Indian origin – so I guess one could class me as a British Asian. As stated above animation was always something I wanted to get involved with – but I guess I got into the business because of my older brother who also had a passion for hand drawn Walt Disney animation. As a boy of 17 he would go around London studios asking advice from professionals and I would soak it all up. I recall in 1991 my brother had a meeting with James Baxter who was in England at the time and I gave my brother a drawing to show to the great man and I was advised ‘do life drawing’ and so I did! But I obtained my first job through a commission my brother obtained for a video game . Then after animation school I just started working on Tv shows.
What’s a typical day like for you with regards to your job?
Draw, draw and draw until you drop!
What part of your job do you like best? Why?
I take great pride in the fact that I am able to do what I love doing for a living. When Hand drawn animations dominance dwindled I feared for my career a little but then I fell into storyboard and I have to be honest I prefer it in some ways. There is a lot of talk about how the drawing ‘doesn’t matter’ with regards to storyboard and to some degree, particularly in the CGI age I acknowledge that point but for me personally it matters. The story art of old was beautiful and the storyboards by directors such as Hayao Miyazaki and Katsuhiro Otomo look almost identical to the final frame of the film and that is my ethic. So I will put in extra hours -14 to 16 hour days to make sure I can get the drawing as nice as time will grant me – of course getting the staging and flow is primary but many times I can block a sequence out in a matter of hours and it’s the filling in part I love! I particularly love working on 2d projects because many times my clients have informed me that my boards were used as straight layouts and the departments in the far east were told to trace them to the letter… I recall once watching an episode of Novel entertainments Horrid Henry that I storyboarded and it was literally an exact translation of my storyboard – but moving – these moments are the most rewarding for me!
What part of your job do you like least? Why?
The deadline – I answer this tongue in cheek a little because of course there has to be a deadline and it keeps you in check and keeps you moving – but ultimately it also stops you from making the drawings as nice as they can be! I also must make a mention to the rapid state of the industry jumping on the bandwagon of latest software and forcing artists to work only with one particular programme…I have often turned such clients away – If they come to me for my expertise then I can not guarantee my best if I don’t feel I can give it to them using packages that limit my drawing ability.
What kind of technology do you work with on a daily basis?
I am not a tech freak I still get by with a 8 year old work station and a wacom intuos a4 size tablet…I am tempted by the new cintique however and may be updating my workstation anytime soon 😉 For me Adobe Photoshop is king because it enables me to draw just as effectively and efficiently as I would on paper…(well almost)
What is the most difficult part for you about being in the business?
For me the most difficult part of being in the business is experiencing the sudden and harsh nature of the playing field brutally change the way it has. Personally I consider hand drawn animation as the greatest art form in cinema and watching it get slaughtered and abandoned in favour of the CGI aesthetic hurts me to my core. I just can’t believe how such a superior form of storytelling and expression has been cast aside. I could talk about it for hours but I wont do that…Many times I have contemplated quitting the business and becoming an illustrator. It seems so unjust that the likes of Glen Keane and Andreas Deja are no longer considered dominant essentials to the industry. When the drawing is separated from animation all that remains for me is a cold generic robotic performance. Lacking heart and soul. The craft of animation is no more in my eyes and that does depress me. – Then I wake up and realise the bills have to be paid and those guys have made their millions!
In your travels, have you had any brushes with animation greatness?
Not really. I guess I had Eric Goldberg critique one of my animations when I was an animator – I emailed him a test and he was very good to respond (positively to my surprise) But as far as my achieving animation greatness that is yet to happen… if ever…
Describe a tough situation you had in life.
I guess the toughest situation for me was when hand drawn animation was in decline. I taught my self 3d animation in Maya and landed a job animating in the machine. The experience was totally different for me and I didn’t feel like I was working – my whole world was completely turned upside down. After leaving that job I struggled looking for more work and I did not know enough about the software to land sufficient roles and I wasn’t given the same respect by my peers as before because naturally I was just a beginner again and how well I drew was of no consequence…I felt very small and didn’t know where I was going. Thankfully I landed a few (drawn) layout jobs and then found my self falling into storyboard and I have never looked back!
Any side projects or you’re working on that you’d like to share details of?
I have a number of IP’s being developed in my spare time as I am trying to get AMB animation (my little independent company of the ground) One is called the Five a Day Force – its an edutainment about team of 5 superheroes based on fruits that have chased an evil toxic force from their dimension onto Earth to put an end to his evil plan of feeding of the planets life force. The show is designed to get kids into healthy eating and lifestyle and adopt the 5 a day lifestyle – eating 5 pieces of fruit and veg a day. I also have my Youtube channel. Something I continue with passionately. Essentially I share my drawing and animation knowledge for free with any kids or students that should find the videos – because I want to do my bit to keep hand drawn animation alive. Kids today may not be able to afford high-end software but nothing can stop them from picking up a pencil and putting it to paper with confidence!
Any unusual talents or hobbies like tying a cherry stem with your tongue or metallurgy?
Nothing especially unusual…I love to practice the martial art of Taekwondo I have achieved the second degree (dan) black belt… Although I no longer train with my master I keep it up to keep me fit and healthy and bring some balance to my animation-dominated lifestyle!
Is there any advice you can give for an aspiring animation student or artist trying to break into the business? There are two types of advice I could give – one for succeeding professionally and one for succeeding in terms of self-satisfaction as an artist. The first would be no different to what countless of others have said. Learn the latest software become proficient at it. Also in what ever field you choose – focus on the primary directives in that area if its character animation…work on timing and posing – if its storyboard – study composition, editing and staging – also develop drawing …its not rocket science. – But ultimately one also has to play a social game in this world. I like to believe it’s about the work alone but sadly its not. Like it or not you have to sell yourself as a person and a likeable one at that… The second piece of advice is something I practice. Know who you are and what you want out of life and your work. If, for example, you want to be an animator but you don’t rate pixar then why moan if they reject you? – You don’t like their stuff right? So develop your own identity and believe in it. If the work you are doing is something you truly believe in – it will be strong, it will be good and eventually people will notice.