What is your name and your current occupation?
My Name is LeSean Thomas. I’m a TV animation producer/director currently back and forth between Hollywood and Seoul, South Korea.
What are some of the crazier jobs you had before getting into animation?
I think working in-house as production staff for South Korean animation studio, JM Animation in Seoul for a year & and half. I was the only foreigner there. Many American artists/animators have gone to South Korea to work and oversee projects, but they’ve always been represented by giant, corporate funded network studios who funded their trips and stays, but my situation was the reverse. I sought out, hounded Korean presidents and quit my job at Warner Bros Animation to be the first, independent hire by a Korean Studio to be plucked from the states specifically & move to Korea to work there as permanent staff at the time. It was a wild ride and it took me forever to learn, navigate and figure things out. Thank you, JM Animation, haha.
What are some of your favorite projects you’re proud to have been a part of?
I would say Adult Swim’s ” The Boondocks” (Co-Director/Supervising Character Designer) & NIckelodeon’s “The Legend of Korra” (Storyboard artist/Animation production) . For one, The Boondocks, because it was the first, black-created prime-time animated tv show to blend our hip hop culture and love of anime aesthetic with a political satire approach. Absolute genius. And it won a Peabody Award! Makes me very proud. Secondly, The Legend of Korra, because it was the first project i worked on living in Seoul South Korea. Working alongside the korean animators for long, we were like family. I was their little brother. It was a great experience & what we helped make in 2010/2011 was nothing short of magical and groundbreaking> And aside from the astound animation quality, it features a strong, female heroine as the lead who’s not cliched and she’s also of Inuit, cultural descent. Also a first! Truly original stuff with a great, epic story kids and adults can enjoy and it shows with each new episode that airs currently! I’m very proud of that show.
How did you become interested in animation?
Watching Saturday Morning cartoons, Disney features and Katsuhiro Otomo’s Akira as a kid.
Where are you from and how did you get into the animation business?
I’m from the South Bronx, NYC, born and raised. After highschool, i landed a gig working as an assistant designer for a children’s accessories company who had licensed property rights to make accessories based of various characters in animation. From there, i grew and met various freelancers with connections to people in animation. They noticed my work, i landed a few gigs and caught the attention of others in the field. i just grew and learned from there.
What’s a typical day like for you with regards to your job?
As Producer/Supervising Director for the upcoming “Black Dynamite: The Animated Tv Series” at Titmouse animation studio in Hollywood, CA, we’re now at the point where the tail-end of Pre-Production is happening while Main Production is mid-way & Post Production started happening at the same time. So, my days range from approving final designs in Bgs, Characters, Colors, Trouble shooting with the staff, production report meetings, revising layouts and making key animation notes & Skype conferences with our corresponding studio overseas handling main production in South Korea. Then, sitting in on recordings, ADR sessions, color corrections, us going over retakes, editing and me producing contributing illustrations for promotional ads and upcoming Billboards for this summer’s premiere. It’s awfully hectic but fun nonetheless for me. I’ll be flying back out to Korea again this summer to over see portions of production soon. That’s an entirely different day experience, haha.
Black Dynamite Animated Series
What part of your job do you like best? Why?
I like creating with other talents in a studio environment best. It’s a sure-fire way, to me, to humble oneself as you are the sum of a greater whole.
What part of your job do you like least? Why?
having enough time to do good work I am happy with. Looking at something i’ve just finished & realizing it’s not that great. I think the ideas i put into my work at the time that I’m doing them are wonderful, ha, ha. But once I’m finished, all i see are my flaws and then , I’m like ” Well, that sucked.” It’s a constant struggle, but one i value as a personal journey all the more as i continue to learn and grow under the pressure of deadlines.
What kind of technology do you work with on a daily basis?
Pencils, Paper, Photoshop and from time to time a Cintiq
What is the most difficult part for you about being in the business?
From time to time, i seldom enjoy the notion in children’s programming that all of it is created just to get people to buy stuff (Advertising). The art geek in me every so often copes with the reality that this is indeed a business at the end of the day, and that so much craft and love of the art form goes into these kids shows, only to be marginalized into a series of numbers of who sells the most stuff, which sadly determine the fate of a really good show.
In your travels, have you had any brushes with animation greatness?
Jeez. That’s a tough one. To avoid risk of insulting anyone, let’s just say TOO many. There isn’t enough room here to type all the luminaries (domestically and abroad, alive and dead) i’ve had the good fortune of meeting or working with in this field in my short career.
Describe a tough situation you had in life.
In my formative years of artistic growth, I had internal struggles dealing with overcoming bouts of cultural isolation and racism in the animation field. It affected me and my art more than i liked to have admitted then. Growing up, i was often reminded through industry community behavior, the lack of familiar faces/skin color around me doing what i was trying to do or simply the messages in popular media, that making it in commercial animation wasn’t something i was meant to do. I learned to overcome those mental challenges by deciding at that young age, that instead of complaining about what isn’t, I had to firstly: Accept it and focus on being the change i wished to see in the industry. And secondly: Realize that none of that matters so long as i believed in myself and stayed true to who i am.
Any side projects or you’re working on that you’d like to share details of?
I produced & directed a documentary in conjunction with http://www.creativecontrol.tv about life as a foreigner in South Korea working in TV animation production called “Seoul Sessions” currently online now at the aforementioned website. A 3rd volume sketchbook releasing this 4th quarter called “The Foreign Exchange” & my long-gestating graphic novel with a release date TBD.
Any unusual talents or hobbies like tying a cherry stem with your tongue or metallurgy?
I think being myself in a field constantly trying to make me like everyone else is a pretty unusual talent/hobby of mines.
Is there any advice you can give for an aspiring animation student or artist trying to break into the business?
There is no “breaking in” If you do what you love & do it well. Getting people to pay for it, is a different hustle entirely. Surround yourself with like-minded people who can help you grow and achieve your goals and always be professional. Even when the client is not.
Fantastic! Thanks for sharing your story. Absolutely love your work on Legend of Korra.
Hello I am Notorious Hicks, a student at Fullsail University by way of Florida A&M University, I was wondering is there a way to have you as a mentor? not like a advisor but someone to ask questions to about the industry of animation and African American presence in the industry as whole.