What is your name and your current occupation?
Josh Sobel Owner at Josh Sobel Rigs + Freelance Character TD at Psyop
What are some of the crazier jobs you had before getting into animation?
Not too much crazy. Worked maintenance (painting walls, mostly) and was a cashier in a cafe briefly.
What are some of your favorite projects you’re proud to have been a part of?
I’m the most proud of the animated Disney short, Feast. It was my first simulation project and also probably the most distinct and artistically-driven.
Where are you from and how did you get into the animation business?
Until I was 12 I lived on Long Island and after that I went to high school in Fort Lauderdale. I fell into both art and technology while there and CG animation seemed the natural meeting place of the two. Behind the scenes bonus features on The Incredibles and Lord of the Rings showing off all the fun of working at animation/FX houses helped too.
What’s a typical day like for you with regards to your job?
Pretty inconsistent at the moment. Sometimes I’ll work at Psyop, in which case I have an hour commute. I’d work from 10-7 on whatever project they have lined up for me for that week. Pretty straight forward over there. When I’m working from home on my rigs that I sell online, I don’t really follow any strict schedule. I tend to work later in the day for just a few hours at a time so as not to waste daylight.
What part of your job do you like best? Why?
At the moment I’m enjoying the lack of monotony in my situation. I get to jump around a lot and work from home a decent amount of time, so there’s a lot of variety and I never have to work on the same project for too long. And getting downtime whenever I like is nice!
What part of your job do you like least? Why?
Technical troubleshooting. I’ve always come at rigging from a more artistic side and the tech stuff is still a struggle, so when something stops working I panic!
What kind of technology do you work with on a daily basis, how has technology changed in the last few years in your field and how has that impacted you in your job?
Mostly just Maya. The 2016 version included a lot of improvements for rigging. There was a bug in early releases of 2015 that broke my rigs and I still get weekly emails from customers saying I sold them a broken rig…
What is the most difficult part for you about being in the business?
Not gonna lie, this industry seems pretty unstable to me. Seems like a small minority of hires stick around at each studio but the majority are forced to move around to wherever happens to be hiring at the moment, sometimes internationally. I’m the kind of person who would get pretty bored doing the same for for years, but it’s still a situation that can cause stress over where the next year’s rent is gonna come from.
If you could change the way the business works and is run how would you do it?
I don’t know enough about business or economics to weigh in on that.
In your travels, have you had any brushes with animation greatness?
My second job was at Disney Animation and I saw Lassetter, Ron and Jon, etc. pretty often. The studio is invited to early story screenings and can send the notes to the directors via email, and Jon Musker replied to my notes on Moana with “Thanks Josh, lots to chew on” and that made my day.
Describe a tough situation you had in life.
Well, that’s broad. I guess to be relevant I could discuss when I was let go from Disney (my dream job when I was in college). It was a 1-year apprenticeship with no guarantee of a job after so it’s not like I got fired, but it was still rough being the only Big Hero 6 Character TD apprentice that got let go at the end of the show. Looking back I do think I would have gotten worn out pretty quickly staying on full-time in feature for much longer, but after you work at a studio that treats its employees like family for a year and gives such great benefits and bragging rights (free Disneyland for you and 3 friends), being told you don’t have a home there anymore feels personal, even though it’s not. I’m glad it happened since it taught me not to rely on cushy jobs for happiness, and it led me to create my Kayla rig and find my niche in the independent world.
Any side projects you’re working on that you’d like to share details of?
I’m working on my next rig, which is a biped koala. The model is being created by Josh Brock, a modeler from Nickelodeon and it’s coming along nicely. Planning on releasing this summer.
Any unusual talents or hobbies like tying a cherry stem with your tongue or metallurgy?
I can walk very fast in pools. It’s weird.
Is there any advice you can give for an aspiring animation student or artist trying to break into the business?
I’m a realist so cover your ears if you want the inspirational stuff! When I started working at Disney, which was my dream job beforehand, the magic that I had built up in my head about the studio quickly vanished. That’s not a knock against Disney — it’s a knock against the “dream studio” mentality. I’m against it. There’s no way our dream jobs can ever live up to the unrealistic expectations we fantasize about for years. My advice is to learn to provide your own happiness instead of relying on a job to provide it, especially in an industry where people are forced to jump around so much.